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Part 13

A Ranma ½ / Tenchi Muyo! crossover story
by Brian Randall

Disclaimer: Ranma ½ belongs to Rumiko Takahashi and Viz Communications.  Tenchi Muyo! belongs to Hitoshi Okuda and Pioneer LDC.

Additional credits: Takada Yuuzou and Kodansha (3x3 Eyes), Takada Yuuzou and A.D. Vision (Bannou Bunka Nekomusume Nuku-Nuku), and Tatsuya Egawa (Golden Boy).

Notes: Diverges from Ranma after volume 24, continuation for OAV 2 in the Tenchi universe (well, one of them). Nuku Nuku is from the OAVs, not TV. Sailor Moon occurs, well, at some point in the series, but it's something of an alt anyway. 3x3 Eyes diverges just before OAV2. This fic uses the bizarrely vague 'Pick One!' scenario. Enjoy.

"One would be inclined to think that if the Emperor had been told what was happening on Earth before the Second Wave departed to Juraian space that the outcome would have been… different. Certainly, the situation was already dire if [the Ethos array] had been called into play, but for what was to follow… There is no way that we can express adequate sympathy for that, but neither can we hold the Emperor responsible for the matter."

—Laruma Karau, of Minor House Laruma, Council Member — Speech to the Council in Old Terran Year 1999, July 30th.

In the midst of the vast wash of nacreous green fire, Ryouga stared resolutely at the reaver immediately before him. The cascading torrent of force was linked with something in him he had never felt before, something that changed the way he realized the technique worked.

If the reavers had no ki, then they had no life. No souls. But the force of his own ki, borne of his spirit, which was a reflection of his own soul… that had the power to harm them. He just needed to put more than ki into it, and push until that sharp pain deep within himself was pouring his very soul into the attack.

He smiled grimly, realizing that he couldn't win… but neither could they. And that, maybe, would be enough.

The raw emotional force pouring off of Ryouga was tangible, filling the air and adding definition to the cascading torrent of green fire that smashed through the trees and slammed the reavers into the ground, pinning them around Ryouga. It flooded through Rei's senses, and she fell to her knees, her stomach churning with the anger and self-loathing that flowed through her, radiating outward from the focus of the boy's attack.

Minako regarded it solemnly, not reacting yet, and Makoto simply stared, her mouth hanging open. "Stop him," Rei managed weakly, resisting the urge to throw up — barely. "He's… he's going to kill himself!"

"How?" Makoto asked, shaking her head, eyes wide. "How can we hope to stop—"

The answer to that question arrived as a giant ball of red ki-flame punched through the coruscating green, picking Ryouga up and flinging him towards the girls. Minako's chain lashed out, carefully wrapping about him and dropping him to the ground, unconscious but breathing. The green energy faded away a moment later, and all of the defenders were left with the sight of the smoking crater, all six reavers struggling to right themselves from the devastating force.

Ryu knelt on the ground a distance away, staring at the sight with wide eyes, his hand still pressed against whatever wound he had taken to his stomach. Standing not terribly far away from him, in pristine white, flowing clothes, offset by golden-scaled armor, an imperious man with greenish-gold draconian eyes raised an eyebrow. "Intriguing," he remarked, eyeing the creatures in the devastated area of Ryouga's attack. "I suppose then, that these are friends of Ranma's?"

Rei gawked, the emotional power fading from the air, and no longer overriding her senses. At the man's side, but barely even noticeable next to his resplendent form, Yosho stood, sword and shield at the ready, a number of other forms clustered expectantly behind them.

"Yes," Yosho said, blinking away his momentary confusion. "We must destroy them while they are distracted!" So saying, the man lunged forward, seeming to bounce off of some invisible ramp, and leapt easily fifteen meters towards the nearest reaver.

Taking that cue, the Amazon trio descended from the foliage above the reaver nearest Ray, weapons poised. "Let's do it!" Minako encouraged, running towards the reaver nearest her.

Rei nodded, drawing Makoto's sword from its holding space, and following at Minako's right side.

"So, the first thing we need to do before I let you go back down to Earth is to put this bracelet on," Washuu explained sternly, handing Ranma what looked like a polished blue glass hoop, smooth and unbroken, but large enough for him to slip over one hand easily.

Ranma frowned, tugging on his red robes — which had been cleaned, he noted — before answering. "Okay," he said, accepting the hoop and eyeing it suspiciously. "What does it do?"

"It's a limiter," Washuu said, as Ranma slipped it on.

Watching the hoop contract about his wrist until it was sitting snugly against his bodysuit, Ranma frowned. "What's that?"

"I know!" Nuku exclaimed excitedly. "It's something that Papa-san put in me to make sure I don't accidentally hurt people!"

"Right," Washuu said, lips quirking into a smile. "It means that you can't access your powers, so you can't hurt yourself. Whatever you had before, you'll still have, plus the benefit of your enhanced physique."

"So you took away my Masu powers?" Ranma asked, frowning at the bracelet, but not removing it.

"No, I just gave you that to keep them in check for the moment. They'll come back once I let you take it off."

"Okay," Ranma allowed, his voice subdued. "So does this mean I can fight, just without using my powers?"

Washuu bit her tongue, and frowned darkly. "I'd rather you didn't," she answered after a moment. "If you have to, fine, but if things get that bad I'll probably remove your limiter."

The boy nodded, and Washuu sighed, taking a moment to survey the small room. She herself sat in one of the two chairs. Tsunami sat in the other, hands carefully folded across her lap. Ranma stood a few steps from Nuku, who was sitting on the bed, idly swinging her feet back and forth while watching Washuu and Tsunami.

Ranma shrugged, tucking his sword into his sash, and shrugging his shoulders — a rolling motion he passed all the way to his feet, testing his flexibility and movement. "Okay," he said, smiling softly. "Let's get back, then. How do we get off of here?"

"Are you that eager to leave, Ranma?" Tsunami asked quietly.

"Hey, it's not…. I'm sorry, Tsunami. I know you'd like to have me around, but you promised; and then, anyway, I should be doing what I can to help," Ranma explained. "Even if it's just sensing where the reavers are, it could help, right?"

"Yes," Tsunami said, bowing her head. "You are correct. I await your return, Ranma."

"Sure," he said, smiling. "What day is today, Washuu?"

"July twenty-fifth," she answered. "Why?"

"Just curious," he deflected. "You still haven't said how we get down to Earth."

"Ran-oh-ki will have to carry us, I'm afraid. Ryo-oh-ki's a little too rattled from the phase valance that got destroyed while she was… busy helping Ryouko."

"Ryouko," Ranma said quietly. "Huh. She's here?"

"On the Throne, actually. The Galaxy Police and the second wave of the Home fleet are preparing to use the Throne's gateway to move back into Juraian space. Since they don't need to carry people for two weeks or more on the journey, they're taking extra people. Already, the bulk of Asia has been evacuated."

"So, everyone but us is safe from the reavers?"

"That's why we're volunteers," Washuu answered. "Everyone from the Joketsuzoku village that wanted to leave has been evacuated already. But we should be hurrying back — I don't know if your friend Herb is going to get along very well with the Joketsuzoku."

"Right," Ranma mumbled. "Well, if I can talk to him, things should be okay."

"Oh, I nearly forgot, Ranma, there are some people who want to talk to you before we leave," Washuu warned.

"Who would want to talk to me?" Ranma asked, frowning.

Spear at the ready, Kura-Wan led the assault against the reaver, her spear-sisters — and lovers — only a half-step behind. Grasping the spear by the haft, she thrust down as she approached, keeping as much distance between herself and the monster as she could. The head of the wickedly barbed spear, infused with her own ki, slammed into the carapace, smashing through it and staggering the beast. Yellow ichor began bubbling up from the wound, pooling on the creature's back.

Riding the spear until she was only centimeters from the expanding pool of yellow ichor, she whooped, and pushed herself away, somersaulting through the air and over the head of the Marine that the lost boy had told her to work with.

She lit on the ground, turning to watch the battle. Jian-Di landed on the ground before the reaver, both swords at the ready, and struck at the monster repeatedly. Pei-Lin was there with her maces, fighting defensively, and keeping the reaver's lashing claws from striking the blue-haired woman.

Yellow-white sparks flew from the contact of the swords against the reaver's hide, spreading long, thin slashes over it. Where Pei-Lin's mace met with a lashing claw, there was a sudden flash of blue-green light, deflecting the lashing claws, and forcing the creature to attempt to crawl away, still run completely through with Kura-Wan's spear. The other two women danced back, regarding the creature uncertainly.

Ray took that opportunity to open fire, projecting a raw shaft of blazing green light into the side of the creature. The light seemed to spread on contact from the creature, washing across it and spreading the damage evenly over its side. It shrieked, as the women shielded their eyes from the display and winced, watching bits and chunks of carapace fly about, torn away from the force of the blast.

The stream of light eventually failed, and Ray dropped to one knee, adjusting something on his weapon, and removing a piece of it. Kura-Wan ignored him for the moment — his weapon was obviously no real match for the strength of her and her lovers anyway. Pei-Lin and Jian-Di led in again, distracting the grievously wounded creature, and Kura-Wan hopped to the top of it, holding one hand over her spear and concentrating.

Jerkily, barbs and jagged protrusions catching on things within the creature, the spear began to free itself, shedding a faintly reddish aura, and forcing the ichor off of it as it returned to her hands. Rolling, she tumbled behind Jian-Di and Pei-Lin, cheering again. Pei-Lin echoed her cheer, viciously slashing at the creature, and avoiding its blood as Cologne had warned. Jian-Di, ever her calm and calculated self, merely allowed herself a smile, breaking to the left without warning.

Mirroring the movement, Pei-Lin distracted the reaver, allowing Kura-Wan an opening. She hefted her spear one more time, white ribbon still undamaged from the ichor, and drove it through the creature's eyes, causing it to shriek in greater pain before it heaved one massive shudder, and collapsed. The cry was lost in the din of the battle, and Kura-Wan retrieved her spear, surveying the damage.

Herb ignored everyone else for the moment, intent on studying these new enemies that Ranma had deemed so dangerous. Monsters, perhaps, and maybe even strong, but they didn't seem to be something so devastatingly powerful that it was worth the trouble.

"Humph," he grumbled, landing before one of the beasts, and gesturing towards it in an errant manner. "Hitou ryuu-zan-ha." Blades of ki leapt from his fingertips, slicing completely through the creature, leaving it to stagger backwards and lie unmoving, thick yellow blood seeping from the wounds. "That's it?" he mused, glancing around the battlefield.

He turned to one side in time to see another of the monstrous creatures leaping towards him. Too late to move out of the way, his eyes widened. How had it caught him unaware? His ki-sense was nearly flawless, and yet, he couldn't sense them at all. He'd thought nothing of it before, because he could see them, but perhaps that was why Ranma feared them so?

A savage yell distracted him from his musings, a crackling blade of writhing electricity cleaving the creature neatly in half, the two halves separating and flying to either side of him. Sheets of crackling electric force kept the yellow ichor in the still-twitching halves of the monster, and a small spray of sparks rained down through the divide, striking him ineffectually. Through the divided creature, which slammed to the earth at either side of him, the Prince of the Musk beheld a female warrior in a strange costume, holding a large tachi in both hands, head bowed, and wreathed in a powerful aura of ki. The blade in her hand hummed, writhing electricity playing across it, though she didn't look up.

Herb found it impossible to tear his eyes from her, until she looked up, smiling wanly at him. "Move," she whispered.

Not bothering to question why, he did as she instructed, stepping forward to study her closely. She possessed a strangely foreign beauty, and he found himself stricken by her appearance. "Yes," he said quietly, stopping before the point of her sword, and staring into her eyes. "What are you?" he asked, finding his voice, and ignoring the combat behind him.

Yosho landed on light feet before one of the reavers, his shield at the ready, and swiped across an extended limb with his sword. He was aware of one of the Marines and a number of Amazons working together to his right, and to his left, Herb was confronting another of the monstrosities.

The reaver before Yosho skittered away at the first touch of Yosho's blade, apparently ready to leave. Surprised, Yosho moved to follow, his chase interrupted as the massive Musk warrior — Lime — landed between them, his hulking arms slapping together against the reaver's carapace. Yosho gaped in shock as the boy growled, low in his throat like an angry tiger, and hefted the reaver upwards, its limbs lashing about wildly.

"Hup!" cried his tiny counterpart, springing upwards from the ground, a number of chains and cords spinning in his hands. Mint flew upwards, dancing through the lashing tangle of reaver's claws, and leaving a trail of small weighted ropes across the reaver before bouncing up again, landing in a nearby tree.

Lime grunted, lifting the reaver above his head, its trapped limbs still struggling, then slammed it down forcefully onto a large boulder. The reaver shrieked, though if it were in anger or pain Yosho couldn't tell, and Lime growled again, raising the reaver upwards, and once more slamming it into the now-fractured rock.

Mint yelled something, and a blizzard of small knives flew from the small boy's fingertips to imbed themselves in the reaver's hide, just as Lime smashed the creature against the stone fragments again. While the rock seemed to do nothing to the monster, the knives were driven into it, turning one side of the monster into a seeping ruin of ichor. The boy moved to raise the creature over his head another time, but Yosho shouted out a warning, "Stop!"

The boy dropped the creature, and stepped back, wincing, and wiping his hands on the furs at his waist. "Why?" he asked dumbly, staring at his hands in confusion.

Yosho spared a glance — the reaver's hides were not meant to be grabbed, and the small spines and protrusions covering them had shredded the thick calluses in his hands, thin streamers of the reaver's acidic ichor making short work of the rest of them. After wiping the ichor off onto his furs, his palms were left pink, but not bleeding. "It's not safe to touch them," he reprimanded, driving the blade of his sword through the confined reaver's eyes, laying it open further. "Now let's help whoever else is still fighting!"

Makoto broke left the second the fighting began. Ryu was wounded, but he was still healthy enough to be running around, and that meant the reavers needed to be stopped first. Minako preceded her charge by a half step, after dropping Ryouga carefully behind the ferns. Rei broke right, but Makoto remembered how much damage Ryouga's attack had done to the lone reaver it had been used against last time.

The battlefield was obviously to the reaver's disadvantage, with the defenders almost completely ringing them, and they already weakened by Ryouga's blast. The blinding flash of one of the Marine's weapons ignited across the ring, and Makoto drew her hands up before her, distantly surprised to note that they were already wreathed in a faint aura of electricity.

Clearing her mind and focusing on her target, she chanted the words that ignited the nearly reflexive surge of magical energy from the long-ago memories in the back of her mind. "Jupiter oak evolution!" she cried, watching the surging flow of electricity leap off of her hands to form the familiar golden leaves in the air about her. The leaves whirled about her like a protective shield, larger tendrils of writhing force snapping out as the reaver made a tentative slash towards her.

The reaver skittered backwards a half step before the attack was released, golden projectiles streaking from about her faster than she'd seen them move before, trailing angry red flames behind them as they shot straight through the reaver, spattering ichor about the field. The sudden release of magical energies left her momentarily reeling, and Minako finished the job with a yell of, "Wink chain sword!" The slash neatly bisected the wounded reaver, leaving the battlefield eerily quiet, with one last reaver standing in the center of all of the combatants.

Breaking the silence, the sound of Ray slamming another cartridge into his fusion rifle echoed across the clearing. The reaver skittered about, non-aggressive, as though looking for an escape.

"Fascinating," announced a boy with blue hair, a white forelock dangling across his draconian golden eyes. "What do we do with the remainder, now?"

Staggering back to the edge of the nearly solid ring of defenders, still clutching a hand to his stomach, Ryu warned, "Kill it — I smashed a whole bunch of their eggs before I ran away."

The color visible drained from Yosho's face, and his eyes widened. "We must destroy the nest," he exclaimed, advancing on the last reaver, blazing sword of blue light at the ready.

Lowering itself to the ground, the weakened reaver seemed to pulsate once, a dark, black aura extending from it, nearly to the ring of defenders before snapping back suddenly. Yosho froze, glancing behind him and through the ring of defenders apprehensively. "Oh, no," he breathed.

"Higurashi Ranma, meet Masaki Funaho," Washuu said by introduction, gesturing to the woman in question.

Ranma nodded politely, taking a moment to study her neat robes and regal demeanor. "Nice to meet you," he offered, shrugging his shoulders uncomfortably, and glancing around the room. A small rounded table occupied the center of the small space, and the walls were neatly ringed in small channels carved into the wooden floors, water flowing through them freely. Three chairs were ready at the table, and the walls were bare wood instead of the leafy surfaces of the room he had woken up in.

"Please, have a seat," the woman offered, studying him intently.

Shrugging, he pulled a seat from the table and sprawled across it, crossing his arms over his chest. Ran-oh-ki bounded from the floor to perch atop his folded arms, yawning contentedly. More reserved, Washuu took another seat, as Funaho joined them at the table. "So, what's this all about?" he asked, frowning. "I kinda need to get back to Earth so that I can help with the reavers."

"I'm sure that the Terran forces can survive another hour without your help," Funaho asserted, her smile not slipping in the slightest. "Tell me, Higurashi Ranma… Do you know why I asked you here?"

"Nope," Ranma answered without hesitation. "Usually it's to challenge me to a fight, or marry me off to someone." He narrowed his eyes suddenly. "That's not it, is it?"

Funaho blinked, clearly taken off guard. "Ah, that is—"

"Funaho-san, please," Washuu grumbled. "Higurashi and I are both very busy, we don't have time to play political games when Earth may need our help."

"Fair enough," the woman allowed, bowing her head to Washuu and attempting to recover her composure slightly. "I see that much has changed in the short time since we've been here last." She turned to study Ranma again. "Higurashi-san. I've asked to have this meeting because of a certain political situation in the Empire. I've heard you're not a great lover of overcomplicated speeches, so I will make my request plain for you. Do you find this agreeable?"

He blinked, confused, and turned to look at Ran-oh-ki, wondering if his partner could decipher the woman's meaning. The creature stared at the woman with glassy eyes, his mind elsewhere. "Right," Ranma mumbled. "Um, yeah, sure," he managed without much conviction.

Washuu snorted, rolling her eyes, and Funaho giggled quietly. "Ah, yes," she said, recovering herself. "I've heard that you know my son, Yosho, yes?"

Ranma nodded quickly. That question was easy to answer. "Yep," he said with much more enthusiasm. "He's teaching me how to use a sword." That Yosho had mentioned the style was secret and known only to his family was calculated into the comment as Ranma let it slip.

Funaho's left eye twitched, as the woman raised her eyebrows. "Oh?" she said quietly. "That is… interesting. Well, I'll try to make a long story short, since I know you're in a hurry, Higurashi-san. Yosho is my son, and Tenchi is his grandson."

"Tenchi?" Ranma asked quietly. "Oh, yeah! I borrowed some clothes from him, but they got a little ruined by a reaver…. Uh, I guess I owe him a favor, now that I think about it. What's he need?"

Washuu smiled, watching Funaho struggle to deal with Ranma's approach towards Juraian politicking. "Ah… well," Funaho said, clasping her hands together. "Tenchi, as a Terran, needs support to be able to run the empire that's been given to him. It would mean quite a bit for his political situation if you were to… act as a bridge… for Tsunami's support."

Ranma scratched his head, frowning. "I don't get it," he said flatly.

"It means that she wants to set you up with Tsunami for political reasons," Washuu answered, frowning darkly. "So that she can say that Tsunami likes you, and you support Tenchi, so Tsunami obviously supports Tenchi, too." Her frown deepened a fraction before Funaho could reply, and she added, "Or maybe even add my own support into the mix, too."

"Oh, right," Ranma said, frowning. "You're the greatest scientific mind in the universe, or something. Is Tsunami a scientist, too?"

Washuu allowed her smile to return, as Funaho grimaced. "I'm not trying to use you," the regal woman defended herself. "I'm asking for your help. And Tsunami is no scientist — she is the goddess of Jurai." She turned her attention back to Ranma, and asked, "Will you help us? Or more importantly, will you help Tenchi?"

"Uh, well, if Washuu and Tsunami say it's okay, then fine," Ranma said dismissively. "I've got to get back to Earth, though. Hotaru and Yosho and everyone else is still down there, after all."

"Of course, and the Throne will be leaving shortly," Funaho said, rising to her feet. "I thank you for your time, Higurashi. Washuu, if I could have a word with you alone?"

Washuu smirked, nodding. "This should be interesting," she whispered to Ranma. "Certainly!" she said, raising her voice for Funaho. "Why don't you wait outside for me for a bit, Ranma?"

Kintaro's notebook sat in the palm of his hand, his pencil tapping out a small doodle of Mihoshi's face above the section he had written down marked, 'Investigation Stuff'. Loitering across the hall from him was the girl he had pushed out of the way that had gotten him involved with the Galaxy Police in the first place. Sighing, he snapped his book shut, and tucked it into the band of his belt. "Hi," he said cautiously, smiling at the redhead. "I'm Oe Kintaro, a cadet with the Galaxy Police."

The girl brightened, her boredom vanishing in a smile, as she hopped forward, bowing slightly to him and introducing herself, "I'm Nuku-Nuku! I'm just trying to help Ranma-papa-san, and Washuu-mama-san."

Kintaro grinned. She sure was cute. Shaking his head, he tried to dismiss those thoughts, and cleared his throat purposefully. "Well, it's nice to meet you, Nuku-Nuku-san. I don't, ah, suppose that you've seen my partner anywhere, have you?" he asked, hopefully.

"What's she look like?" the girl asked curiously.

"Hmm," Kintaro mused. "Well, she's about this tall, she's got blonde hair, blue eyes, and she's really energetic," he said, holding his hand out to demonstrate her height.

Nuku shook her head in negation. "Haven't seen her," she said. "What's wrong?"

"Er…. Well, Mihoshi is supposed to be helping me — actually, I'm supposed to be helping her — with an investigation…. I'm not supposed to talk about what unless you're cleared for it, I'm afraid." He smiled apologetically, changing the subject. "So, what do you like to do, Nuku-Nuku-san?"

"Do?" she asked frowning.

"You know, to pass the time?"

"Oh!" Nuku cheered immediately. "Nuku-Nuku likes to play with… um…. Nuku-Nuku likes to play with Ranma-papa-san, and to ride bicycles."

"Ah!" Kintaro enthused. "I loved my bike — used to ride it absolutely everywhere. So, could you do tricks? I used to be able to all sorts of cool things with mine."

"Oh, I could make it go on one wheel, and balance it on rails, and I could jump over traffic with it," she said. "Is that a trick?"

"It could be," Kintaro allowed, raising his eyebrows. "Maybe someday I could race against you, just for fun."

"Oh! Nuku-Nuku would like that, Oe-san!"

Kintaro grinned, and said, "It's a deal, then." At that moment, the door to the meeting room swept open, and the boy from the landing site stepped out, the same furry creature still perched on his shoulder as the last time he had seen him. "Ah, Higurashi-san," he greeted, nodding his head.

"Hello," Ranma said quietly, one hand dropping to the hilt of his sword for a moment. "Right," he said, relaxing. "Yesterday. You landed the ship that dropped off the crate of weapons for us."

Nodding, Kintaro explained, "I worked at Central Defense in Tokyo, but I slept through most of the ocean voyage. I decided to stick with you guys in Shanghai, but, um, Mihoshi kind of drafted me. I'm supposed to ask, um, someone named Masaki Funaho about—" He cut himself off suddenly, laughing, and scrubbed his hand across the back of his head, dislodging his baseball cap. "Sorry about that," he apologized, stooping to retrieve the hat. "I'm not supposed to say unless you're cleared."

"Sure," Ranma replied, disinterested. Turning to Nuku, he asked, "Are you ready to go back to Earth, Atsuko?"

"Yes, Ranma-papa-san!" the girl replied eagerly.

"You're going back?" Kintaro asked, surprised. Why would anyone who could leave stay and face a fight that couldn't be won? Not even his own father had the power to stave off the reavers.

"Yes," Ranma said levelly, turning to face Kintaro again. "Someone has to fight. The more we fight, the more people we can save." He frowned curiously, and asked, "Didn't you want to fight? Isn't that why you came with us in Shanghai?"

"Yes," Kintaro admitted. "But…. That was because I thought that we needed people to buy time. Now, with everyone who's coming, we don't have to fight."

"But we still should," Ranma countered, glowering. "Just because I can sit this one out doesn't mean that I will. It's not about pride, it's not even that the reavers stole everything I ever valued, piece by piece. It's about protecting what you have left. My great-great… My grandfather asked to me promise to do everything in my power to protect this planet, and every last human on it. I plan to live up to that promise."

Kintaro stared, his eyes widening. Perhaps, then, he and Ranma had something in common. "Your grandfather?" he asked cautiously. "My father made me make a promise, too. What was his name?"

"Inu-Yasha," Ranma answered, frowning. Shrugging, he gestured to his sword and explained, "He was half-youkai."

Scratching the back of his head, Kintaro took a moment to study Ranma's longer-than-normal ears, and fiercely penetrating inhuman eyes. "Oh," he said quietly. "I thought you were, um, from another planet."

Ranma shrugged again, dismissing the comment. "Don't worry about it," he advised. "So you're working with the Galaxy Police, huh?"

Kintaro nodded quickly. "Yes, working with detective Kuramitsu Mihoshi."

Expression shifting to bored indifference, Ranma offered a nod to Kintaro, then turned his attention to one of the large windows, showing the Earth below. One of the boy's hands rose to press against the glass, and his eyes unfocused, becoming distant.

Realizing that there were factors in the discussion that he couldn't completely understand yet, Kintaro bowed his head. The girl, apparently Ranma's daughter despite Ranma's obvious youth, stared at him worriedly, one finger pressing against her lower lip.

Startled by the opening of the door again, Kintaro straightened up, turning to face it as the tallish woman left. She raised an eyebrow at Kintaro, then smiled slightly. "Good to see you again, Oe-san," she greeted him casually. "Funaho is ready to address you and…." Her smile faded, and she frowned, turning to glance down the opposite side of the hall. "Where is Mihoshi?"

"I don't know," Kintaro admitted, chuckling nervously. "But, um, I read the guidebook for how to conduct an investigation on, um, things like this…."

Washuu's smile vanished. "Oh, dear," she said quietly. "That's not good — Funaho wants to speak with both of you now."

"Oh, boy," Kintaro groaned. "Um, maybe I can stall her?"

The scientist shrugged, offering a small smile to Kintaro. "Good luck." Her smile vanishing, she turned her attention to the boy who was still staring at the planet below. "Ranma? Before we go, I need to speak with Tsunami — maybe you can help Oe-san by finding Mihoshi for him?"

Ranma grunted disinterestedly, not changing his position. The small creature on his shoulder straightened up, turning to face the boy, and raised himself to put both paws against the side of Ranma's head before he delivered a vicious bite to his ear. Kintaro winced in sympathy as Ranma showed no reaction other than to twitch, until the creature leapt from his shoulder, barreling down the corridors of the ship at full tilt.

Gritting his teeth together, Ranma grated out, "Now the rat dies," before charging after the departing creature.

Washuu masked a smile, and said, "Atsuko, can you follow Ranma and make sure he doesn't break anything?"

"Okay!" the girl said, gleefully joining the chase.

Kintaro shook his head, walking through the door to the meeting room with no small amount of trepidation.

"So here you are."

Tsunami flinched at the voice, turning an apologetic gaze towards Washuu, and ducking her head guiltily. "I suppose I am hiding," she admitted quietly, not able to meet the redhead's eyes.

Washuu snorted, summoning a small floating cushion from a subspace pocket, and taking a seat near Tsunami, who had climbed onto the lowest branch of the platform's Ouke-no-ki to think about things. "From?" Washuu prompted, smiling softly.

"It is a difficult position that we're in," Tsunami answered, finally meeting Washuu's eyes. "I… I had not known that you made a claim on Ranma."

"Whoa, hold up there!" Washuu protested, laughing softly. "No one's laid a claim on him other than a Terran girl."

Tsunami's face fell, and she covered her mouth with her fingertips, aghast. "Oh, oh, oh dear," she said quietly. "I… I hadn't realized, and now, and now I'm too late? That's not very fair, is it?" she managed, struggling to keep her voice from giving way to frustrated tears.

"Ah," Washuu chided, her smile lessening slightly, "you worry too much. Ranma's choice is his to make, I would think, and I don't know that he's interested in her."

The young woman brightened instantly. "Oh," she said, trying to keep the relief from her voice. "I… I put too much hope in Ranma-dono— in Ranma, I think. He… he will make his own choice when he's ready. What… what do you think his choice will be?"

"I honestly couldn't guess," Washuu admitted. "But what are you afraid of, Tsunami? What are you really frightened will happen?"

"I'm afraid… afraid that I won't be loved," she said quietly, closing her eyes. "Already I've lost my— no — not my mother. Sasami's mother. Already I lost her. Tenchi may care for me, but at the same, he doesn't love me, Washuu." Her eyes opened, brimming with tears and pleading. "I think I pushed Ranma too far, Washuu. I think he won't love me, if he doesn't already."

The scientist said nothing, merely watching Tsunami, as the artificial breeze played through the ship, blowing air across the leaves gently. When she spoke, her voice was quiet, carefully calculated. "Tsunami, I don't… I don't know how to say this. I…. I really never thought I'd be competing against you for someone's heart." She blinked, considering her words, and offered a rueful smile. "Well, I never really thought I had much of a chance at Tenchi, and he's still interesting, but… that's merely an infatuation, I suppose, compared to…." She bit her tongue, quirking her lips in a wider smile. "Well, now. Regardless, Tsunami, I like you very much. You're a good friend, and even when you were Sasami and Tsunami, not just Tsunami, I liked you. I don't want to see you hurt."

Tsunami cocked her head to one side, curious. "What are you saying, Washuu-chan?"

Washuu laughed at the honorific, and shook her head, sighing. "Ah, Tsunami-chan, if you haven't figured it out…. If Ranma cares for either of us — and if he knows what's good for him, he'd better — then he probably cares just as much. He is giving us the same amount of deference, after all," she noted.

The young woman winced. "Ah," she said quietly. "I suppose that it's very hard for him to choose, then."

"You think that's bad?" Washuu asked, rolling her eyes. "Before he sent them away, Ranma apparently had three fiancées. Actually, Cologne said that one of them was a wife, and that there was another suitor, but she also said that Ranma didn't consider himself to be married to her, and that… that I'm rambling." Tsunami's frown vanished, and she offered Washuu a weak smile at the humor of the situation. "Sorry. Now, Tsunami-chan, what I'm suggesting is that we make the choice a little easier for Ranma, once it comes down to it."

"What would you suggest?" Tsunami asked, her worried frown returning again.

"Well now,” Washuu said, looking away, a certain mischievous glint in her eyes. "You're Juraian, so you would presumably follow Juraian marriage customs, wouldn't you?"

"Er… if I were to marry," Tsunami hazarded. "I don't know that Ranma will want me, though."

"Hmm," Washuu said, unable to keep herself from grinning at some as-of-yet unshared secret. "Well, doesn't Juraian custom allow men to take two or more wives?"

"Er…." Tsunami paused, and offered Washuu a wistful smile. "It does, Washuu-chan, but that law was created by Tatsuki. Some of Jurai's sons were a bit, um, lecherous, and Tatsuki thought that the lords of Jurai should be allowed more wives so that they could ensure prosperous families. Unfortunately, that law only applies to Juraian nobles." She bit her lip, considering that. "I don't know if I would be able to grant him that — my influence in the political arena is not very strong, and I detest politics anyway."

"It's something to work with," Washuu countered. "I… ah… spoke with Funaho not long ago."

"And?" Tsunami prompted, curious.

"Did you know that the Amatera live here, Tsunami-chan? On Earth?"

The subject change caused Tsunami to frown unhappily. "I've known for quite some time," she allowed.

"Of course," Washuu mumbled. "Many of the Amatera have taken different names now, but they still bear the title. It would probably only take a slight amount of effort to prove that Ranma was Amatera, too." She sighed ruefully. "I'm sure there are a lot of strings that can be pulled, if you're willing. But you understand what I'm offering, don't you?"

"Not really," the young woman admitted. "I don't see how the fact that Ranma…. Oh." She blinked, shaking her head, and shivered once before looking up to meet Washuu's eyes. "Oh!" she exclaimed, her face taking a faint blush as the complete implications began to sink in. "You… and… You and I…. You and I, and Ranma?" she asked, pressing her hands over her mouth as she realized what she'd suggested.

Washuu offered her an amused smirk, and nodded. "Of course," she said amiably. "I think we've seen enough of Ayeka and Ryouko to know that there's no reason to fight over him." She coughed delicately, and looked away. "And I think… I think I love him enough that I'm willing to share him with you."

"I, ah, that is, I, um, oh, yes, easily," the young goddess babbled, before breaking off in a nervous giggle. "I would be, of course, yes, Washuu-chan. Completely willing," she affirmed, nodding.

Washuu smirked knowingly, and nodded, turning her head away. "I thought you might be," she said quietly. "Though I'm surprised at how quickly you've gotten over Tenchi, Tsunami-chan."

Tsunami sobered at that, and bowed her head. "Tenchi-san's affections lay elsewhere, Washuu-chan. I…. That is, the self that was Tsunami before did love him, but the self that was merely Sasami loved him in a different manner. Ranma…." She bit her lip, looking away. "Well, he saved me, and a spark began there that became something entirely different once I became what I am."

"I won't push you," Washuu assured. "Aside from which, now I get two of the most interesting specimens in the universe to study and do tests on!" Surprised, Tsunami could only stare at the scientist. Washuu's eyes were fixed on some faraway point, hands clasped together in adoration. "I can study the Wings of the Light Hawk from you, and 'ki' from Ranma!"

"Um, Washuu-chan?" Tsunami queried nervously. "For Ranma, I'll…. What kinds of tests?"

Giggling, Washuu shook her head, hopping from her cushion to land on the ring surrounding the platform's tree. "I was mostly kidding," she assured Tsunami, unable to keep from grinning. Her smile faded, as she became serious once more. "So much has changed. Let's hope we can end things quickly."

Tsunami nodded her agreement, too agitated to speak at the moment.

"He's probably found Mihoshi by now, and wants to go back to Earth," Washuu continued, shaking her head. "Take care, Tsunami-chan. We will have quite a lot to discuss once we explain our agreement to Ranma, won't we?"

"Yes," she managed, slipping from her branch to land a few steps away from Washuu. "I hope he is accepting. I do not know what I would do if…." She bit her lip, looking away and leaving the rest unsaid. "Thank you, Washuu-chan."

"For you," Washuu said solemnly. "And him. I don't know if I could do it for anyone else."

The mechanism of the reaver's new ability was beyond Yosho, but the effects of it were plainly visible. The one reaver remaining had managed — somehow — to summon allies to it, making them slide towards it as they phased through everything else.

The newly arrived reavers, undamaged by Ryouga's attack, as the first six had been, landed with ground-shaking thuds, slamming into the ground in a ring larger than that of the defenders. "Shit," Yosho swore, counting. Fourteen more reavers — an even twenty, counting the five slain, and the one wounded. "Don't just stand there!" he ordered, rushing the lone reaver again. "Fight!"

The reaver staggered away from him before his sword pierced the already softened carapace, laying it open easily and deflecting the few reflexive slashes from the creature with his shield. The staggered creature sustained a long, gashing cut from a chain of woven light, licking at it's hide like a lazy tongue of flame, and cutting through the softened carapace. A bevy of miniscule projectiles from two spots in the tree penetrated the carapace, before one of the massive warriors traveling with Herb charged the creature and slammed a foot into it, clearing the center of the ring, and leaving the desiccated husk to fly into the outer ring.

Yosho was dimly aware of further conflicts at the periphery of his senses, but fell backwards — where they had flung the reaver away to protect themselves, three more leapt into the fray, claws battering at what resistance his shield could provide, and slamming him into the forest floor. Rolling away as one claw penetrated his shield, and slashed harmlessly in the dirt, he yelped, "Help!"

His cry was answered by Lime, having recovered an odd spear before the second wave of attackers set in. The boy hefted the spear over his head, and hopped easily into the center of the trio, whipping his weapon about him. So fast were the motions, that for a moment it seemed that his tiger-skin mantle became a solid sphere of reddish-yellow, striped with black. But the motions ceased, and Lime grinned toothily, the resultant force from the attack flinging the reavers back across the line. "Big brother!" he yelled, not looking at Yosho. "We'll keep the middle clear!"

A shorter boy, of a similar build to Lime himself, strode to his side, hefting a matching tiger-spear. The blades of the spear were curved oddly, like a pitchfork missing its central tine, but if they allowed the Musk to repel the reavers, Yosho wouldn't complain. He rolled to his feet, and joined the rough ring of defenders.

"I'm… a soldier," she said slowly, before Yosho's warning broke the moment. Herb glanced back at the man, scowling, then turned his attention to the outside of the circle. His warriors knew battle, and should be able to manage themselves.

He stood at her shoulder as her eyes became distant, and she leveled her sword at one of the awaiting reavers. "I must know more," Herb murmured. "There is something to it."

She nodded, waiting a move to be made. The reavers moved first, charging the defenders, and Herb waited, watching the girl fight. Her body shifted sword forms easily, the crackling yellow electricity from the blade tracing glowing arcs in the air behind her slashes. The reaver that she had charged wheeled backwards, suddenly leery of her attack, as the blade bit into the carapace, laying it open to spill forth its acidic ichor.

Herb grinned his approval, and slid behind the girl, a blade of ki readied as another reaver moved to attack her from behind. He calculated in the back of his mind how much time he had left before the slowly sprinkling water droplets would activate his curse. "This should be fun," he said, summoning a ball of ki into his other hand. The reaver did not halt its charge in the slightest, instead rushing him, two claws raised to stab him.

Herb knew he couldn't afford to retreat — the girl was fighting at his back, and putting her in the way of too much harm before he could have his questions answered did not suit him. Instead, he released the ball of ki at the reaver, his skill allowing the sphere of reddish ki to weave around its claws, and slam into the area beneath its maw.

The blow forced the reaver to rear up, and Herb wasted no time, charging into the gap before his enemy could recover his defenses. The blade of ki slid almost effortlessly through the creature's carapace, and Herb plunged the blade in with grim efficiency. Too late, he realized that the advantage was for the reaver, as his attack put him in easy reach of the angrily lashing limbs.

A double-arm bar blocked a slash towards his face, knocking him towards another pair of claws, and denting his bracers. He cursed to himself, as his perception seemed to slow down, knowing that he'd put himself in danger, but unsure of how to extricate himself from the situation. A signal flared at the edge of his perceptions, and a length of iron chain shot down from above him, laden with ki enough to catch his attention even in the moment of worry.

The chain slammed through the forest floor, digging deeper into the dirt, while the other end whipped sharply downward, away from Herb. The prince of the Musk watched with stunned amazement as one of the same people he'd tried to kill with Ranma stared at him, straining, but somehow keeping the two limbs in check. Not for long, Herb realized, scrambling away with none of the dignity his situation deserved. The chain shattered as Herb scuttled away, shattered fragments of the broken links whipping about, seeming to almost underscore the carnage of the battle.

The reaver surged forward again, now righted from Herb's initial blow, and this time Herb leapt upwards, not wishing to hazard the frenzied blur of claws beneath. Mousse seemed to approve, and threw the broken fragment of chain at the monster like a bola before vanishing into the milling battle. Descending while the creature thrashed with the entangling chains, Herb clapped both hands together before him, summoning a blade of ki much longer than what he generally used. The ki burnt at the air, sliding effortlessly through the reaver's carapace, and allowing Herb to slide on his heels off of the reaver's hide, his blade laying the reaver open.

Struggling limbs fell motionless, and the red light gleaming in its hard, orb-like eyes dimmed, as Herb reached the ground. He nodded in approval at his slain foe before he spun on his heel, turning to regard Rei, and her struggle.

Her movements were fluid, though she remembered wielding a different weapon, and in a different battle. The gritty surface of Mars's soil ground beneath her booted-feet as she lumbered forward, a phalanx of the Guard flanking her.

The rebels stood their ground, refusing to give in to the edict that had been given from Serenity, but she would never think of countermanding the orders she were given. All had to obey, and those who would not obey would be silenced.

But those thoughts vanished as she drew near the rebels, armed with what weapons they could arm themselves with. Blades of the shattered ceramic of the homes that had been firebombed, spears of the supports of those same structures, and armor that was the same patchwork and polished ceramic that their weapons were crafted from. Her own weapon was drawn, the blade already ablaze and hungry for battle. Their armor — resistant to the Guard's lasers due to the highly polished shine -would resist most impacts, and was strong enough that even powerful warriors had trouble breaking it.

But, as she had taught them, that resistance did not protect the men and women inside from an impact that slammed them into a stone wall. No time for that, though. Her body twisted to one side, a salvo of iron spears lancing through the space she had occupied a moment prior, and then spinning with the motion, her sword sent a wash of fire across the enemy. Their armor insulated them well, but the fire blinded them until the Guard were upon them.

Grinning, she charged into the fray, the hot metal of her blade forcing ceramic armor to char and shatter, cleaving easily through it and reducing the defender to ash instantly.

The memory fragment vanished, taking the reason for the battle with it, but leaving the ability to battle behind. Rei blinked, her sword — no, Makoto's sword. Makoto's sword was eerily alive in her hands.

Makoto dashed to one side, and Rei was aware that the strange man with the glowing eyes was fighting at her back. Well, he had seemed capable enough — she could trust him to hold his own while she and Makoto dealt with their current target.

The reaver danced around, trying to keep Makoto from getting on one side of it, though both of the girls remained a cautious distance away. It hissed quietly, a thin stream of ichor issuing from its maw, and then dwindling to a trickle as it began to keen loudly, the call echoed by its companions. Rei and Makoto exchanged a nod and Rei dashed to her right, away from Makoto. The reaver made a choice, and spun towards Makoto, deciding that Rei was merely a distraction.

Rei grinned slowly, raising the sword over her head like a lightning rod, and stepping back. Her hands began to tingle as Makoto's words reached her, "Supreme thunder dragon!" The surge of electrical magic was not Makoto's strongest attack, but it flared out, pushing the reaver back, and making the entire mass of its body writhe with power, which then pulsed out of its body, arcing towards the sword Rei carried. Sheathed in an envelope of power nearly a meter long, and twice that in length, the sword tugged at Rei's grip, and she released, it, allowing it to jerk from her fingertips and blur into a spinning disk.

The magical-sword-turned-electrical-plane-of-force sheared directly through the reaver, laying open a massive cut as the blade entered Makoto's grip. Rei sprinted around the reaver, wary of its death throes, and took the blade back. "That worked," she said happily, scanning the battlefield.

Another of the behemoth monsters surged towards them, and Rei raised the sword defensively in response. Her action was unneeded, as a blazing orb of reddish-black force slammed into the creature, sending it crashing to the ground on one side. Rei glanced over, unable to avoid the smile that rose to her lips at seeing Herb standing there, smugly striding away from a slain reaver. The boy moved to her side, hopping across the distance, then gestured to the toppled reaver as it righted itself. "Shall we?" he asked, sounding bemused.

"Yes," Rei said, her attention snapping back to the battle.

As the surge of warriors marking the defensive perimeter flowed past her, Minako was separated from Makoto and Rei, finding herself with the wounded Ryu and Yosho. The old man checked over the boy's wounds quickly, finally nodding unhappily, and allowing Ryu to rise. Ryu jerked a nod at Minako before turning to face a reaver. A pair of Musk warriors were slashing at it ineffectually with their clubs, though their attacks kept the reaver too busy to counterattack them.

"The battle seems to be in control, mostly in our favor," Yosho hazarded. "We need to seize the advantage while we can."

"Fat lot of fucking good that'll do," Ryu growled, clearly rattled. "If they got any more nests, we're screwed."

Yosho's eyes dimmed, and he became very solemn. "Then we have to fight as hard, and for as long as we can, because the longer we fight, the more people have a chance to live."

Ryu shuddered, then nodded, turning towards the reaver. "Let's do this," he mumbled. Yosho nodded to Minako before the blazing sword of blue light sprang into his hands, and he rushed at the reaver, Ryu just behind him. Calling her chain to her, Minako flung it between the two massive warriors, the end uncurling and leaving a flurry of links to scream along like the blade of a circular saw. She'd seen one a few times, in her father's garage in England, and the adaptation of her attack to fit it worked well. The golden links bit into the reaver's carapace, not as quickly as she had hoped, but with grim inevitability.

A claw struck the chain, and it snapped back towards her, winking into nothingness before any damage could be done. Ryu slipped to the side of one of the warriors, his hand dropping to a lasso at his waist, targeting the legs of the reaver that remained planted firmly on the ground. He snapped the lasso towards the four limbs, crying out, "Kinshi kinbakushou!" The rope, which should have torn and been far too weak to restrain the reaver, pulled its limbs together, sending it crashing to the ground, and allowing the large pair of warriors to smash their clubs against its eyes.

Yosho alit on the back of the monster, and drove his sword into its back, while it was defenseless. Nodding to herself, Minako shook herself from her stupor — the reaver wasn't prepared for as many capable defenders as it was facing. Her chain came to her fingers when summoned, the heart-shaped links flying out and tangling the reavers remaining four limbs before she pulled it tight. "We got it!" she cheered, encouraging the others.

The warriors nodded, realizing that their own weapons did little more than crack its eyes and anger it, while Yosho laboriously lengthened the wound in the unresisting creature. It was then, bursting from the crowd and trailing the chain that another defender had thrown at its own legs, that another reaver leapt near it, lashing claws knocking Yosho out of sight, and away from its pinned comrade. As Minako gawked, the newly-arrived reaver raised one claw and then slammed it down with enough force to nearly cleave one of the men in twain. Another slash severed the rope that Ryu had thrown, leaving the injured boy to tumble away, and then Minako's own chain dissolved under their combined attack.

She faltered, stepping backwards and alarmed, until she backed into someone. Spinning, her eyes caught upon one of the Marines — Eric, his name was. He nodded at her, unlimbering a weapon similar to the plasma rifles the other marines bore, and leveling it at the pair of reavers. "You might want to step back," he advised in his clumsy Japanese.

"When did you get here?" Minako asked, confused.

"Norris thought backup might be good, so me, and Dew, and Mousse followed Ray's trail," he answered, pulling the trigger. A beam of solid, nearly arctic white light leapt from the muzzle of the rifle, only seeming to gently touch against the reavers. Whirring panels on the side of the rifle popped open, raw heat being shunted out from within, as frost began to form on the reavers. The frost spread, until Eric lowered the weapon, frowning at it. "It's got a charge, but is that enough?" he asked warily.

The uninjured Musk warrior, who slammed his club against the reaver that had slain his companion with savage glee, answered that question. Groaning in complaint, the carapace shuddered, then split abruptly, exploding violently away. The warrior ducked back, his hand fumbling for the warrior that had been with him, jerking the fallen one away as the fragments of shattered reaver hide rained down, sparkling with bits of ice and frozen matter.

But there, in the center, smaller now that the protective armor it had generated was blasted away, was the reaver, apparently undamaged. It seemed to shrug, then stepped through the frozen remains of its armor, its companion a step behind as it advanced on Eric angrily.

"This ain't good," Eric observed, dropping to one knee, and aimed at the reaver that was still injured from Yosho's attack. Minako scowled and raised her chains defensively.

"I won't give up," she declared, her chains whirling in her hands.

"Be careful," Eric cautioned, before he fell silent, pulling the trigger on his rifle. The pale blue beam shot out, again, slowing the reaver, but fading out before it was halted. Minako threw her chain out in a sideways throw, the whirring links pushing the reavers away and giving the Marine time to change weapons. Not much time, though.

Her worries were interrupted as Mousse emerged from the press of warriors to one side of their own battle, flaring his arms and diving towards one of the reavers, dozens of chains and ropes trailing from his voluminous sleeves. The reaver nearest to him spun, raising its claws, and Mousse seemed to… flicker… once, before the first claw speared directly through him, emerging from the back of his robe.

Propelled by the boy's own speed, the mass of chains and ropes began whipping towards the monster, even as a second claw shot through, emerging next to the first, and the two swung apart, causing a mass of chain and rope to violently launch away from the point. The swarm of chains wrapped about the reaver, leaving it nearly mummified in their mass.

Minako sputtered at the sight, unable to believe that the boy she'd slowly come to like — though she'd never put it into words for him — had perished, and to save her and Eric, too. "No!" she screamed, not accepting it, and giving herself over to the slowly consuming fury she felt building deep within herself. No names and no words were needed; the golden heart-shaped chains simply leapt from her fingertips, writhing like angry serpents and smashing through the hide of the captive reaver. The reaver was unable to do more than tremble as the writhing chains all burst outward, tearing the reaver apart in the same manner that Mousse had been killed.

But the golden chains weren't done yet, and neither was Minako's anger. Moving onward, as the reaver attempted in vain to scramble away, the chains wrapped themselves about it, rearing upwards and slamming the points of the heart-shaped links into the reaver's carapace. Faring little better than its companion, and having lost half of its armor to Eric's attack, it struggled vainly, unable to overcome the furious girl's temper. With savage force, the chains tore it apart, and only then did Minako allow them to vanish, falling to her knees and staring at her hands in wonder.

Her fingers were bleeding. The tips were rough and abraded. She had known that using her powers caused her fingers to tingle — that was nothing new — but never had she pushed so much and so hard that she'd wounded herself. And yet….

"Hey," someone said worriedly. "Are you okay?"

She glanced up, vision obscured by tears, and stared into the concerned eyes of Mousse, through the thick lenses of his glasses. Eyes widening, she asked, "Are you real?"

"Yeah," the boy said, nodding. "Just lost my robe. Learned that trick from… uh… it's not important," he said, frowning.

"Oh," Minako said, relieved, carefully putting her hands on the boy's shoulder. "I thought you were dead. But there's something I need to tell you," she pressed, remembering, and afraid that another chance might not happen. "You're not wearing a shirt. I like that."

Mousse stared at her, frowning in confusion. Was that what she had wanted to say? It would have to do — she couldn't resist the inexorable pull into the well of darkness that called to her, as she passed out from exhaustion.

Years of trained reflexes coming to the fore, Ray dropped to one knee, not even glancing as his superior officer fell into position next to him, rifle at the ready. "We will distract," Jian-Di announced primly, her swords held before her menacingly. Pei-Lin and Kura-Wan nodded their agreement, the three circling to the left of the nearest reaver, and allowing the men a clear shot.

Making sure to aim well away from the women, Ray opened fire. The blinding stream of green-white fire issued from his weapon, bathing the reaver in its lethal glow, and buying the women time to strike at it. For some reason, its hide was much more resistant to their attacks than the last, but Ray quickly attributed that to Ryouga's initial attack.

At his side, Jim Dew pulled the trigger of one of the other weapons that they had been handed — a kinetic displacement beam. The blue-white fire lanced through Ray's beam. Ray wasn't certain what caused it, but when both beams were focused on the same point, they greedily ate through the reaver’s carapace, leaving it to melt and slide off.

The Amazons whooped as the reaver began scuttling away from their combined forces.

Makoto raised her arms over her head, electricity writhing across her fingertips as Rei and Herb broke apart, one to each side of the reaver. The reaver charged her, and she repelled it, scrambling backwards with a cry of, "Jupiter oak evolution!"

The leaves tore across the reaver's hide, as the strangely beautiful man and Rei hacked at the practically defenseless creature. How quickly the tides of battle had turned, she thought, blinking in surprise as the man severed one of the reaver's limbs, and danced backward out of its range.

Apparently realizing that they were failing, the reavers chose that moment to vanish, sinking through the earth and disappearing.

Makoto blinked, looking around. Six reavers killed initially, the eggs that Ryu had destroyed, one from she and Rei working together, another from the mysterious pretty-boy — who, when she looked closer was actually a girl — two to Minako, and two more to the newly arrived warriors. "How did we do?" she asked, needing some form of confirmation.

"Well," Yosho said, staggering towards the loosely assembled defenders, he and Ryu leaning on one another, "I count twelve." He shook his head, grimacing. "Ryouga's unable to fight at the moment, Aino-san is no better, and five of the Musk were slain. No one else was lost?" he asked, looking around, unsure.

"Only five of my warriors will not heal," the strangely beautiful girl assessed, grimacing. "Ranma was wise indeed to ask for my aid in battling them. I did not expect the enemy to be as powerful as they are." He paused, considering something, then shook his head. "It is of no import. How many more are there? I do not relish the thought of my men dying unnecessarily."

Yosho chose his words with great care, finally answering, "There were three hundred, Herb, and through the efforts of the defenders, that number had been reduced to less than two hundred and fifty… but now that we know they can breed, then things might change. It is not a matter of winning, if they get a foothold. It is merely a matter of stalling until all the innocents that we can save are taken somewhere safe."

"Back to the stars," Herb responded cryptically. "This is… disconcerting. I must speak with the Joketsuzoku about this."

"Right," Yosho mumbled, stowing his weapons. "We should—"

"Run!" Rei shouted, jerking upright suddenly. "We need to run, and quickly!"

Everyone froze, turning to look at the panicked girl in complete confusion. "What you talking about?" Jian-Di asked, frowning.

"The reavers — they can pull themselves through things, and they're—"

Her words were cut off, as a black mass, moving so swiftly that it was only glanced for a moment shot upwards, a stray limb or claw shearing one of the Musk in half before it vanished. The other Musk warriors turned to the Amazons, who wasted no time, quickly fleeing in the direction of the village. No sooner than they had moved, another pair of reavers burst upwards, rocketing into the sky and vanishing from sight.

The retreating warriors stumbled to a halt, as another twenty reavers hissed and clacked their claws together, a solid black wall of slashing force. Makoto swallowed nervously, turning to Ryu worriedly. "What now?" she asked, afraid, as more of the reavers flew from the earth, streaking upwards.

"Okay, so that's that?" Tenchi asked, rubbing at his temples.

Ayeka nodded confirmation, offering, "Funaho has returned from her inquiries, and Jakugo-san was rescued from the planet. The Home Fleet has him now."

"Right. Let's get these people to Jurai, then." He frowned, a thought occurring to him. "Where will they go from there?"

"Ginraii will carry them to Terra-two," Karau offered. "My brother will oversee the operation personally. More Ginraii ships should be arriving within the next few days. I believe that more Galaxy Police will, as well, but am not certain."

"It'll have to be good enough," Tenchi mumbled. "I'm ready to open the Gate, but Tsunami said that I could only do this one more time. Is everyone ready?"

Ayeka nodded, glancing across the Court. "Yes, Tenchi-sama," she answered.

"Offer the Galaxy Police transit with us, so they can unload their passengers faster," Ryouko suggested.

"Done," Ayeka countered, smiling. "They accepted the offer, Tenchi-sama. I thought you would want them asked."

Tenchi nodded again, closing his eyes, and gripping the Tenchi-ken tightly. With slightly more practiced ease than his first few attempts, the Gateway opened, allowing the Throne to cross over, and then, the Galaxy Police, and finally, the Home Fleet, before he allowed the portal to close, and sighed, exhausted.

"I have the strangest feeling that I'm not going to see that planet again for a long time," he said, frowning unhappily.

No one was able to find it within themselves to respond to that comment.

Unused to his partner getting his attention in such a manner, Ranma rubbed at his ear, one hand on Mihoshi's shoulder as he guided her back to the room where she was supposed to be speaking with Funaho. Nuku trailed him, humming something under her breath, and carrying Ran-oh-ki in her hands.

Ranma stopped before the door to the meeting room, glancing inside. Kintaro sat in one of the seats, looking nervous and uncomfortably, and there was no sign of Funaho. "Uh, too late?" Ranma surmised.

"Yeah," Kintaro said, his eyes glassy and unfocused. "Man, this job is harder than it looks."

"Oh, where did Funaho go?" Mihoshi asked, frowning.

"Back to her ship — she said she was out of time and gave me a list of stuff to tell you," he mumbled, pulling himself out of the chair and shaking his head. "We should probably get to work."

"Oh?" Mihoshi asked, frowning. "Okay, I guess. What do we have to do first?"

"Ask Kohito a few questions, if possible," Kintaro said, glancing over his notebook. "Um, we also need to talk to Maintainer Shiname while we're here."

Ranma sighed, indifferent to whatever they were talking about. It didn't concern him, anyway. "Have you seen Washuu?" he asked.

"Right here!" the scientist answered, smirking as she rounded a corner, and stepped into the hallway. "Been waiting long?"

"Kinda," Ranma grumped. "I'd like to get back to Earth soon."

"Okay," Washuu said agreeably. "Let's walk to one of the observation decks that Ran-oh-ki can fit on.

Ranma nodded, then froze suddenly, turning to crane his neck at the transparent ceiling of the station. "Oh, crap," he said quietly.

"Ranma?" Washuu asked, her smile disappearing. "What's wrong?"

"You've got to take my limiter off," Ranma insisted, thrusting the bracelet towards Washuu insistently. "There are reavers coming here!"

"Ranma?" Washuu asked, taking a half step backwards. "What are you talking about? The reavers can't possibly get here unless—"

Her statement was interrupted by a thunderous impact that echoed through the space station, sending Mihoshi to crash into Oe, and Washuu into Ranma. He growled, staring down the corridor. "There are more," he hissed, one hand supporting Washuu, and the other rising to tap the gem at his ear.

A squeal of static sounded, and then, "… evac! Repeat, we are under attack by the reavers and badly outnumbered! More enemy reinforcements are arriving every minute!"

Seizing control of the situation, even though Ranma knew from experience that other people couldn't hear his gem, Mihoshi reclaimed her feet, ordering, "All GP cruisers respond to that signal and evacuate the site! Fire the big guns at the reavers!" She dropped her wrist, apparently deactivating her transmitter, and turned to Kintaro. "You need to find Shiname. I'll get Kohito and meet you back at the ship!"

Echoing a response from someone, though Mihoshi ignored it, a voice complained, "We don't have any weapons! We dropped them for increased cargo capacity!"

Ranma threw out one hand, his reflexes still sharp enough to counter the loss of his ability to levitate. "Washuu," he insisted, as the station shook again. "The limiter!"

"What are you going to do?" Washuu insisted angrily. "Hurt yourself again?"

"No!" Ranma countered, growling, one hand falling to his sword as he glanced down the hall. "Tsunami's still here — I want Ran-oh-ki to take you and Atsuko to safety."

"Ranma-papa-san?" Nuku asked worriedly. "What do you want me to do?"

"I want you to protect Washuu, and help Ran-oh-ki fight the reavers, if you can, Atsuko," Ranma answered, turning to nod at the girl.

"Nuku-Nuku will protect Washuu-mama-san," Nuku vowed, stepping close to Washuu.

Kintaro shook his head, warning, "You two are going to need to evacuate—"

"We've got it under control," Washuu answered unhappily, her hands rising to pull the bracelet from Ranma's wrist. She said nothing else, simply staring at her feet.

"Aren't you going to tell me to be careful?" Ranma asked worriedly.

"You're going to save Tsunami," Washuu returned, raising her eyes to meet his. "Don't be late." She smiled at him, and he blinked in surprise. "Come on, Atsuko, we need to get outside of the station and aboard Ran-oh-ki quickly."

Kintaro spared them one last glance, then broke away, running down the corridor, as another trio of explosions shook the station. Ranma rose a slight distance from the floor, and was instantly elsewhere.

He could feel Tsunami, though he wasn't certain how, and knew she was close — but the sight that greeted him after he teleported left him at a loss for words.

Before the platform's tree, arms spread, and face defiant, Tsunami stared down a reaver. The reaver, for reasons that Ranma couldn't fathom… was afraid. It backed away, unsure, then wailed, and began advancing, its limbs trembling with something that could only be absolute terror.

It was enough for him, and he dismissed the oddity of the situation, teleporting again to stand before Tsunami, drawing his blade. The reaver, previously balked, now cowered, its legs lowering its body to nearly the deck, and yet it still continued to inch forward. "Don't worry," Ranma assured the girl. "I'll take care of this."

"Ranma?" Tsunami asked, worry and surprise evident in her voice.

"None other," Ranma allowed, extending his left hand towards the reaver, and preparing to stun the already nearly incapacitated creature. He reached out, drawing in whatever energy he could, and concentrated on gathering as much force to him as he could. "Mouko takabisha!" he shouted, staggering himself with the sudden concentration of power that flooded through him, sweeping into his body from the tree, and even the ring of water around it. The ball of force burned with a blazing intensity and brightness, streaking from his black-gloved fingertips to smash into the cowed reaver, and crush its carapace, splattering it across the deck, and sending ichor flying across the wooden panels surrounding the tree's ring of water.

He blinked, stunned at the display. "Whoa," he managed, awed. "That was unexpected." He turned to face Tsunami, the shock draining from his expression. "It's not safe here," he said, frowning. "I need to take you out of here."

The girl nodded her understanding, her brave defiance melting into a mask of worry and fear. "What happens now, Ranma?" she asked, her voice quavering.

Ranma sheathed his sword, moving forward by the step separating them. "I'll protect you," he swore. "Just like I'm trying to protect Washuu." Before the girl could respond, he wrapped his arms about her gently, and lifted from the deck, bearing her light form aloft easily. His questing mind found Ran-oh-ki without effort, and he teleported again, placing Tsunami in one of the seats — near Washuu. Nuku was seated in her customary place, the clamps on her ear-sensors locked into place.

Washuu sighed in relief at seeing him, and said, "We're going to try and clear a corridor, Ranma. Brace yourself." He nodded, trying not to notice Tsunami's wide eyes and blushing face as she stared at him.

Kintaro paced along with Washuu and Nuku, watching them until they turned towards one of the other decks. He trusted that the scientist who could manufacture the Gate that had saved all the refugees could manage for herself, and focused on the path to Maintainer Shiname's office. He remembered the path well enough, though much of the station was apparently modular. Another blast shook it, and Kintaro backpedaled, almost colliding with a force field as it sprang up, countering the newly formed hull breach. Pulling itself from the devastated juncture it had destroyed, a reaver pulled itself from the edge of oblivion, and stalked towards the man.

Blinking, he quickly examined his surroundings, his hands finding their way to the emergency controls he had read about in his Galaxy Police training. Punching a quick sequence of numbers, he was rewarded with the corridor — reaver still within — disengaging from the station, and spinning into space. "That worked," he allowed, turning his back to the missing corridor, and marching along an alternate route. If he could remove the reavers that easily, then maybe there was no reason to panic at all….

That thought was shaken from his mind as the same reaver he had just thought vanished leapt through the force field, reentering the station from the vacuum. "That didn't work," Kintaro whimpered, spinning, and running full bore away from the monster, as it galloped along the corridor after him, shrieking. "Man, Mihoshi, why couldn't you give me a weapon!" he wailed, leaping in the lessened gravity, and catching a post at the next intersection with one hand. He clung to the pole long enough to change his course, and flew down the next corridor, landing in a loping run.

"Shiname-san!" he yelled as loudly as he could. "Shiname-san! Where are you?"

His cry was answered as the woman rounded the next corridor, and he collided with her, sending the pair sprawling. She squawked something indignant as he pressed her into the floor, his hand on her chest, but her complaints ceased the moment that the reaver that had trailed him soared overhead, scrabbling claws snagging and tearing at Keitaro's shirt, missing his flesh by only a hair.

Rolling over, Keitaro pushed the woman away, the lessened gravity allowing him to do so without harming her. "Run!" he ordered, rolling to his feet. "Detective Kuramitsu's ship should be able to take you to safety!"

The woman scowled, long years of practice allowing her to twist about in the air and land on her feet, facing him. "That won't be necessary," she announced, drawing a carved wooden object from her robes. The object fit in the palm of her hand, like a short rod, and while Kintaro could guess at its purpose, he felt it would be wiser not to.

Ignoring him, Shiname gestured towards the reaver, and a plane of blue-white force shimmered into being, separating them from the reaver. "Shizu-oh and I can manage one of these," she offered, turning her attention to Kintaro. "We need to hurry, though. I waited until I was certain that everyone else had evacuated — you, your partner, and one other are all that remain on the station. I must see you off."

"No," Kintaro said, shaking his head resolutely. "You're coming with us."

"Cadet," the woman warned, "I will do as I see fit. I will not abandon my Ouke-no-ki — not now."

"Then we'll take it with us," Kintaro offered. "The station's modular, so we can disengage your tree's section, and then grapple it with Mihoshi's ship — but we're really going to have to hurry!"

"What?" the woman asked, taken aback. "But—"

"Hurry!" Kintaro insisted, herding the woman along carefully. "Can you disengage it remotely?"

"I'm doing it now," she answered distantly, allowing him to lead the way. "Are you sure this will work?"

"I've read how to do it," Kintaro said confidently. "I know that ship almost as well as I know my bicycle. What could possibly go wrong?"

Seated on a patch of bare dirt — and not in her civilian clothes at the moment — Ami stared at the screen of her small computer. Yakumo lurked nearby, when one of the women hadn't already ordered him to deliver a message or the like. At the present he was holding an umbrella over her, since Ami didn't feel the need to protect herself from the rain. Her computer wouldn't suffer damage from it, after all.

Currently, she was watching the platform that had been put into the space between the Moon and the Earth, all too aware of the reavers that had leapt — somehow — all the way from Earth, and latched onto the structure. She was also aware of the reavers that had surrounded what amounted to the majority of their defensive forces. She had the uncanny and dismal feeling that she was watching humanity's last defiant struggle, but quashed that down.

It couldn't possibly be the end — how could it end like that, after all? She shook her head, still feeling curiously numb. The screen flickered occasionally, messages that weren't to her, but still using some of the same systems that her own computer used passing before her, until a notice to her specifically appeared. She stared at it listlessly for a moment, before stabbing a button to open a dialogue with the other party.

Unsurprisingly, though the woman looked incredibly perturbed, it was Washuu. "Washuu-sensei," she said. "What's wrong?"

"Ami-chan? We need you to fire the Halcyon array at the orbital platform — the reavers have found a way to get up there, and it's swarming with them," the scientist explained.

"Yes," Ami answered tiredly. "There's about forty more reavers attacking the scouting party. Should I destroy them, too?"

Washuu blinked, frowning. "Not until the GP evacuate everyone they can," she said. "They're coming in to pull as many people out as they can. Did you catch any of what the reavers did to get up here?"

"They have a way to attract one another at incredible velocity while phasing through everything that's not alive," Ami surmised. "I used the Ethos array's tracking equipment to monitor it."

"Okay, I'm going to want to look at that data later. Can you plot a trajectory with the Halcyon array that will pass through the station, and still hit the reavers below? It should be geared to deflect on magnetic pulses to let you arrange it."

"I think so," Ami said, frowning. "Will I kill any more innocents?"

Washuu's eyebrow ticked slightly, and the channel security jumped up several notches. "Kohito lived, Ami. My daughter rescued him. But if you don't snap out of it and get to work, a lot of our allies will die," she warned.

Ami's eyes flew wide, and Yakumo leant forward, placing a comforting hand on her shoulder. "That's not so bad, is it?" he asked.

"I… I'll get to work on setting up the shot right away. When should I fire?"

Washuu glanced at something out of Ami's field of vision for a moment, then answered, "Once all of the Galaxy Police cruisers clear the site — there are about fifty of them, and they're moving at a high retrieval speed. You need to time this shot carefully. I expect that once we evacuate our troops, the reavers are going to flee. Do you understand?"

"Working on it now," Ami said, her fingers flying across the keyboard quickly. "I'm timing it so that the cruisers should have three seconds to clear the site, Washuu-sensei, please tell them that. At their speed that should give them all plenty of time, but they need to know."

"I'll relay that, Ami-chan. Good work." With that, the connection shut, and Ami threw herself into the task, concentrating on Washuu's words. Kohito was alive. Fehdo-oh might be destroyed, but he was alive, and that, at least, was something.

Strapped into his seat, Shiname lurking over his shoulder, and Mihoshi tending Kohito in the rear section of the ship, Kintaro assumed the confident role of pilot once more. The ship would have to make the mission, and with the rapid encroachment of the reavers, it was looking more and more difficult.

"Do you really think you can do it?" Shiname asked worriedly.

"Um…. I think I might," Kintaro said, his confidence fading. "I… We're running out of time, but I'm trying."

"If you make it," the woman whispered, "I'd owe you everything. Shizu-oh means everything to me, Cadet Oe. I'm the only one in my direct line who was judged worthy of having an Ouke-no-ki, and I cannot afford to lose it."

"I'll do my best," Kintaro offered, easing the ship out of the docking berth.

"Warning," Yukinojo announced suddenly. "An energy source was detected from the lunar surface — an attack more powerful than this ship can withstand appears to be headed towards us. I advocate that we evacuate immediately."

"No!" Shiname whimpered, eyes widening. "I can't afford to lose Shizu-oh! Cadet Oe, if you can retrieve my Ouke-no-ki before it's too late, I'll do anything for you! Please don't give up!"

"Anything?" Oe asked quietly.

"I— Yes." Dropping her voice to a whisper, though Mihoshi wasn't in hearing range, Shiname pleaded, "If you can rescue her, I'll sleep with you, Oe-san! Anything you wish that I can provide!"

Kintaro blinked, too stunned to move, and allowing the ship to drift. He turned a shocked face towards the completely sincere woman -and she was an attractive woman, too — and stared, unsure of how to respond. "Huh?" he asked, bewildered.

"Please!" she insisted. "We're running out of time!"

"We have five seconds before the attack reaches us," Yukinojo warned.

Kintaro jerked his attention back to the screen, barking out, "Strap yourselves in, everyone, and brace for collision!" Orienting the ship with the drifting tree pod, he deployed the grappling apparatus from the ship's booster section, fingers flying across the control panel with practiced ease. His other hand gripped the throttle, and carefully increased it, lining up the grasping claws, and activating some of the external monitors to align the ship correctly with the pod.

"Three seconds," Yukinojo continued.

Kintaro grimaced, once the clamps began to engage. Releasing the tree turned what had once been an orbital platform into a veritable sea of debris, with reavers still clawing through the wreckage. Thankfully, the tree's section itself was clear of the monsters.

"One second," Yukinojo droned, agitation seeming to creep into the synthesized voice.

"I can do this," Kintaro breathed. Raising his voice, he shouted, "Yukinojo, remove all limiters, direct all extra available power to shields, and disable the inertial dampers!"

"Done. Impact."

Kintaro grimaced, increasing the throttle as much as the energy-draining shields would allow, and passing the ship, pod in tow, into the shadow of the central observation dome. The reflective shields of the automated dome created a massive pocket of reduced energy from the attack, while the other segments of the platform were simply reduced to atomic components. The attack itself was a pillar of brilliant whitish-yellow light, at least a kilometer across.

"Oe-san?" Shiname whimpered, strapped into the auxiliary seat.

"Cadet, shielding is down to less than thirty percent. We have eight seconds before the dome above us is obliterated. It was a pleasure working with you," Yukinojo noted sadly.

"Yukinojo," Kintaro ordered, "drop all power from shields, and transfer it to the booster unit on my mark."

The computer made a sound that might have been a sigh, then chirped acknowledgement. "Understood. Three seconds remaining."

"Wait for it…."

"Two seconds remaining."


"One — All power converted. Goodbye, Oe-san. Any final orders?"

Kintaro ignored Shiname's muffled whimper, removing the physical safety from the throttle, and slamming it into overdrive. "Pray."

Cowering behind Yosho, and cradling Ryu, who was slumped on the forest floor, Makoto whimpered, "Ryu-chan, are you okay?"

"Been better," the boy said tiredly. "Just hit a tree bad. I'm okay. What about the battle?"

Yosho grunted, his sword stowed, and all power to the shield as the defenders retreated before the reaver's onslaught.

"It's not going very well," Makoto said quietly. "I'm sorry."

"Aw, we'll pull through," Ryu said, trying to sit up, but prevented by Makoto. "Something will come up."

One of the Marines piped up at that moment, exclaiming, "We've got confirmation on evac! They're going to be here in fifteen seconds! Everyone hang on tight!"

Ryu smiled, laughing softly. "See?" he asked. "I told you so."

"Hush, Ryu," Makoto chastised, tears welling up in her eyes. "You need to save your strength."

"Just a scratch," Ryu said. "The reaver… didn't get me."

Makoto's eyes screwed shut, her hand pressing against the compress that she was holding against the second injury he had taken. While not deep, the acrid blood from the reavers had entered his system through it, and because of its location on his torso, no tourniquet could be applied. "Ryu," she whimpered.

"It burns," he mumbled, eyes drifting closed. "Why does it burn, Mako-chan?"

"I don't know," she sobbed, tears spilling from her cheeks to strike Ryu's face. "I'm sorry, Ryu-chan!"

"Ain't dead yet," the boy mumbled again. "Hey, Mako-chan… You know what?"

"What's that, Ryu-chan," Makoto asked, leaning close, her eyes wide, and shimmering with more tears.

"I think I love you."

"Ryu-chan?" she asked, stunned. "I—" But her words met empty air, as he vanished in a flash of white light, leaving her clutching empty air. "Ryu-chan!"

She rose to her feet, whirling, but everywhere, people were vanishing, one-by-one, until—

—in a flash of the same light, she found herself collapsed on the floor of a strange craft, a man in a bulky and armored uniform addressing her firmly. "Are you injured? Do you have any wounds?"

"N… no…. Ryu-chan!"

The man glanced over his shoulder, then back to her. "If your friend's been recovered, he's going to be getting first aid. Don't worry about it — we're going to drop you off at your central defense location. Do you understand what I'm saying?"

"Ryu-chan," she whispered brokenly. "I… I…."

"She's in shock," the man stated in annoyance. "Let's get her to her own medics as quickly as we can."

Ranma stared out one of Ran-oh-ki's viewports, watching the column of energy sweep through the remnants of the observation platform, one last stray ship emerging from the towering blast of energy, tumbling past Ran-oh-ki. Ranma spared it a glance, frowning, then turned his attention to the Earth, where the beam was headed. He wondered briefly at the effects of the explosion before he turned his attention back towards the ship that had tumbled past him.

"Ran-oh-ki, Atsuko, can you find out what's going on there?" he asked.

"Okay!" Nuku chirped, summoning a display before one of the viewscreens. "Here you go!" The display showed a positively dazed image of Oe Kintaro, a Juraian woman sitting in the seat behind him, and equally stunned.

"Are you okay?" he asked, raising his voice slightly.

"I think I burnt out the shielding circuit," Oe responded after a moment. "We're alive, though."

"Oe-san," the Juraian woman offered, recovering her composure slightly. "I'll try and have Shizu-oh bring us back under control."

"Oh, is that the barrier that helped us through the last bit?" Kintaro asked, looking over his shoulder at the woman.

She nodded, dazed, and Kintaro relaxed slightly. "It looks like we're good," he surmised. "I've just added to my list of repairs, is all. Um, Shiname, where can we put your tree, and have it be safe?"

"On the other side of the moon," she mumbled. "She can receive transmissions through it easily."

"Well, if you've got everything under control, we're heading back to Earth," Ranma said, shrugging.

"Good luck," Oe said, smiling before the connection shut off.

Turning his attention back to Earth, Ranma asked, "Do we know what kind of damage that attack did?"

Ran-oh-ki rolled over, reorienting on Earth, and began to accelerate towards it, as Washuu made a thoughtful noise. "I'm checking that now," she said, frowning. "We weren't in an ideal spot to gather data on the subject, but it looks like that got about fifteen of them on the platform, and another ten on the battlegrounds below — the rest used phase-shifting to slide out of the way."

"Not bad," Ranma allowed. "How many are left, then?"

"Hmm. There should only be two hundred and three," she answered, glancing sidelong at Ranma. "Why?"

"Something doesn't feel right," he muttered.

"Ranma-papa-san, someone wants to talk to you," Nuku said, breaking the uneasy silence.

"Who?" he asked, frowning. "There's just the three of us here."

"From Earth," the girl clarified. "Yosho-san."

"Oh. Well, okay, how can I talk to him?"

The screen that had allowed him to speak with Kintaro returned, this time with Yosho leaning over another Galaxy Police officer. "Ranma?" he asked, worried. "You're okay?"

"Fine," Ranma answered, scowling. "What happened down there?"

Yosho's expression darkened, and he glanced over his shoulder for a moment before explaining, "I've got some bad news. We were investigating the report that someone saw a reaver, but we found something much worse." Washuu bit her lip, glancing to Ranma, and Tsunami covered her mouth with her hands worriedly. "Ryu found a nest of reaver eggs."

"Eggs?" Ranma asked quietly. "How long does it take them to hatch?"

"Only about a day," Washuu answered mournfully. "They're smaller and weaker initially, but it doesn't take them long to gain more mass, even though they'll be softer than their normal counterparts. They'll breed at an exponential rate. In a matter of weeks they'll overrun the planet."

"Great," Ranma grumbled. "I guess someone thinks that the job isn't hard enough yet."

"Well, salvaging the situation, we do have Maintainer Shiname's Ouke-no-ki, and that will allow us to send a message to Jurai outlining the situation," Washuu offered. "We need to see what other resources we can assemble. More Galaxy Police will be arriving between now and… ah… July twenty-seventh, to help aid in the evacuation process, but we're still going to be short by millions of innocents."

"Ginraii is on their way," Tsunami said timidly. "I will ask them to hurry, if they can, and lend what power I have to their Ouke-no-ki, so that they may complete the journey more swiftly."

"Okay," Yosho said, settling back slightly, and allowing the pilot in front of him to make some adjustments. "I'll get back to the Joketsuzoku, and explain what's going on — they're probably going to want to have a meeting once everyone's arrived."

"See you there," Ranma said, just before the connection terminated. "Atsuko, Ran-oh-ki, please take us back quickly." He frowned, considering something, then turned to regard Tsunami. "It's not at all safe here, Tsunami. You should probably find a way to go back."

"I'd rather be with you," she protested. "And I can offer my aid to any wounded innocents in the village."

"I guess," Ranma grumped. "You'll be easier to protect if you're close by." He paused, considering, as Ran-oh-ki began to sink into the Earth's atmosphere. "Actually, I don't know what would have happened if I wasn't there when the reavers attacked," he admitted.

"Things could have probably been much worse," Washuu suggested.

Ranma nodded in silence, sighing. "I'm sorry, Washuu," he said quietly. "About the limiter, I mean."

Washuu dropped her gaze, staring outside one of Ran-oh-ki's viewports. "It was a bit much to hope that things would turn out so neatly," she confessed. "Try… try to be careful about using your powers, Ranma. Remember that it's not how hard you fight, it's how long you fight that makes the difference."

"I'll remember that," he said quietly.

Trying to ignore the strangeness of the entire situation, Herb jumped out of the strange craft that had retrieved her, her feet lighting gently against the soil below. The craft hovered for a moment, allowing one of the Marines that had been on the battlefield to jump out, before it lifted off the ground and zipped away, another craft quickly taking its place to unload another set of passengers.

The next one offloaded was Lime, cradling Ryouga in his arms and regarding the boy-turned-girl curiously. "He was much tougher last time," Lime offered, still off balance from the battle.

"I would imagine," Herb muttered, as more of her own warriors were unloaded, along with the other defenders.

The only exception to the orderly evacuation was when one of the armored men piloting the strange crafts landed it, opening the hatch and shouting, "Do we have a medic? We need a medic here!"

Herb's men ignored the cry, and shambled to sit in a rough circle around the girl, staring at her with glassy eyes. She guessed she knew why, though she said nothing yet. The instinctive moronic desire to stare at her chest was overridden with the horrific memory of a battle that some of their brothers had not been able to walk away from.

But they needed someone strong to look up to, and for the moment, that would have to be her. Offering a smile, she said, "If we didn't fight today, together, then likely we would have been caught unaware, and done far worse. For that, I think we all owe Ranma, and that means that we're going to need to work together." She bit her lip, hoping the gesture wouldn't add too much 'cuteness' to her appearance, and undermine her role as the leader of the Musk. "And for that, while you remain and fight, my goal lies elsewhere for the moment."

"Where?" Mint asked, piping up, and frowning worriedly. "Where are you going?"

Herb glanced up, as a number of girls ran towards the landed ship, and then higher, as another star descended from the heavens, much like the one that had borne 'Ryouko' to the Musk. "First, I must speak with Ranma," she said, blinking away a few stray raindrops as they fell into her eyes.

Like a red spark breaking away from the star, Herb's sharp eyes caught Ranma, still in the red robes, breaking away from the strange craft. The other warrior, still too far to discern more detail than the robe itself rocketed downward, passing the ships, and then vanishing from sight. Reappearing only a few meters above Herb, Ranma arrived, in female form, and plummeted towards the earth. She threw her arms out, catching herself just centimeters from the ground, and bobbing there.

"Herb," she greeted, inclining her head slightly, and glancing about. "What did I miss?"

"Very little," Herb responded, rising from the ground to float at a height with Ranma. "But I fear that our powers alone may not suffice for the coming battle."

"You know something?" Ranma asked, frowning. "Or someone?"

Herb nodded, rising higher, to see over a nearby lodge, and pointed at a familiar peak. "That mountain," she said. "It is said that atop its peak, a race of phoenix warriors dwell."

Ranma frowned, glancing around and crossing her arms over her chest. Behind her, her star bobbed over the ground, a beam of light depositing three figures on the ground before it collapsed into a small creature that landed on Washuu's hands. "So they'll help us?" Ranma asked doubtfully.

"Perhaps," Herb allowed. "I cannot know for certain, but…." She licked her lips nervously. The story was known to all the Musk, though, and there was no reason to keep Ranma from learning it. "It is said, in the Musk libraries, that the Musk chose to become the way that they had, using animals in the springs of Jusenkyou, because the founder of the tribe saw the phoenix people, and envied their power. If their power is worthy of envy to a man who wrestled a dragon itself into the springs, then their power must be great. Surely they can lend some considerable strength to our battle, can they not?"

"I guess so," Ranma muttered, frowning. "I suppose this means that I need to fight someone else to get them to help us?"

"Not alone," Herb answered, shaking her head. "I will fight with you, at your side."

Ranma shifted, uncomfortable, then glanced over his shoulder, seeing one of the women who had descended from his star placing her hands on a wounded boy's chest. "Okay," he said quietly. "Let's go do this and get whatever hope we can."

"I believe if we leave now, we can scale the peak by tomorrow," Herb offered, turning away from the healers and wounded soldiers, and glancing at the mountain again.

"I can get us there faster if you don't mind me carrying you," Ranma offered. "I don't like the idea of leaving this place any longer than we have to."

"Agreed," Herb allowed, bowing her head. "I must find the old woman, and give her permission to command my men while I am gone, should the need arise."

"Right," Ranma mumbled, scratching the back of her head. He turned around, watching the last of the ships unload its wounded passenger and rise upwards. "I've got some people to talk to before we do this — I'll meet you back here in ten minutes, okay?"

"Of course," Herb said, nodding.

No sooner then they had landed, Washuu found herself confronted by Cologne. The old woman glanced at Tsunami, frowning, then turned her attention back to scientist, asking, "What happened?"

"We lost the orbital observation platform," Washuu explained, pointing to the kilometers distant pillar of smoke rising in the distance. "That's where Ami-chan fired the Halcyon array. We got some of the reavers, but I don't know if the tradeoff was worth it."

Cologne frowned. "I don't know anything about orbital platforms," she said, "but I know Herb, and if he's here, then Ranma's gotten more allies for us. That's something I can't complain about." She bit her lip, glancing at Yosho. "Anything else? Kura-Wan and her partners look to be fine."

"We've got a lot more reavers to worry about," Yosho grumped. "So we're going to need a lot of help, and fast."

"We've got Ginraii and the largest wave of Galaxy Police ships arriving in the next two days, so I think we can make it," Washuu allowed, frowning. "Moreover, they're probably going to lay low, and try to build up their numbers before they attack again."

"So we only need to survive for two days?" Cologne asked, furrowing her brow in concern. "That doesn't sound terribly difficult."

"When we do fight, it's going to be a losing battle," Yosho warned. "I don't believe they can know how much time we need, so we've got that going for us."

"Washuu," Ranma warned, drawing near. "Herb wants to go pick up a friend of his, to help us fight. I'm all for new allies, so I'm going to go help him." Turning to Cologne, she added, "Herb also wanted to talk to you about taking care of his men while we're gone."

The woman scowled, but nodded, and walked away. Washuu pursed her lips thoughtfully, regarding Ranma curiously. "Is this likely to be dangerous?" she asked quietly.

"Nothing I'd worry about," Ranma said dismissively. "We'll probably be back tonight. If not," she grinned, and tapped the gem on her ear. "You know how to get me."

"Very well," Washuu acquiesced, turning her attention back to Yosho. "Now, let's see what we can finish in the way of planning for the next few days, especially where it comes to choosing a battlefield.'

While Ranma was distracted upon arrival, Tsunami found herself unable to ignore the healers, hard at work. Two young girls; though admittedly, one looked to be older than she herself appeared. A girl with long blonde hair, her face not terribly unlike Amatera Omiki's, was set in a determined grimace, as she tried to channel healing energies into the body of the boy before her. Another girl, in a similar dress with green trim knelt nearby, holding the boy's hand, and whispering words of encouragement.

Stepping towards them carefully, Tsunami knelt next to the brunette and asked, "What happened to him?"

Between her words of hopeful encouragement, the brunette offered, "He got stabbed by a reaver, protecting me."

Tsunami bit her lip, and raised her eyes to meet the blonde's, worry shining bright. "Allow me to help," she offered, placing her hands atop the brunettes, and releasing it to join the blonde's healing powers, scouring poisons from the boy's body, and reweaving destroyed flesh. The boy groaned, unable to wake, but breathing more easily. "I think he will be okay," Tsunami hazarded, removing her hands. "He may not wake for some time, however."

"He'll live?" the brunette asked, pleading. "He won't die?"

"I don't think so, Mako-chan," the blonde said tiredly. "Thank you…. Who are you?"

"I am Tsunami," she said, bowing politely to the girl. "Of Jurai."

"Oh?" the blonde answered, frowning slightly. "I think Hakubi-san mentioned you, once. Didn't you help Ranma rescue a little girl?"

"Ah, yes, the last time I was here. Should we tend the other wounded?"

Another girl approached, this one carrying a tall polearm and glancing towards Ranma. "The other people weren't hurt very bad," she said. "I healed them, Usagi."

"Good work, Hotaru-chan!" the blonde enthused. "I guess that wasn't so bad, was it? Ryu-chan got hurt the worst, right?"

The brunette bit her lip, unable to meet Usagi's eyes. "No," she said quietly. "But the others… didn't make it, Usagi-chan."

The blonde's joy died a swift death, and she slumped forward, dejected. "Oh, no," she whispered. "Mako-chan… I'm sorry."

"It's the way wars are supposed to be, aren't they?" Hotaru asked, suddenly breaking the silence.

"Hotaru?" Usagi asked, confused. "What do you mean?"

"It's not important," Hotaru dismissed suddenly, turning to look at Ranma again. That Ranma was a girl at the moment didn't seem to disappoint her in the slightest.

Tsunami frowned, thinking of Hotaru's words. "You may be right, Hotaru, but we strive to lessen the damages of war, and the burdens that must be borne from them," she offered. Lips quirking in a smile, she asked, "Do you like Ranma?"

"Ranma-san is my boyfriend," Hotaru proclaimed, turning her attention back to Tsunami. "Who are you?"

"Ah…" Tsunami murmured, momentarily at a loss for words. "I am Tsunami. I am the Goddess of Jurai." She bowed politely to the girl, who bowed back, frowning.

"What are you going to do with Ranma-san?" Hotaru asked, suddenly nervous.

"Well, I'd like to spend more time with him, if he's willing," Tsunami said, smiling. "But then, the choice is his, isn't it?" She fell silent, smiling, as the girl in question approached, glancing over her shoulder. "Ranma, is something wrong?" she asked, once the redhead was close enough.

"You two look happy," Ranma noted, glancing between Hotaru and Tsunami for the moment. "Nothing important, just that Herb and me are going to go round up some more reinforcements. I might not be back for a while but if you need me, you can ask Washuu."

"I can also ask Shizu-oh to let me speak with you," Tsunami added, nodding. "Please take care, Ranma. I will wait for your return."

"Um," Hotaru mumbled, staring at her feet. "Ranma-san, you don't have to be my boyfriend if you don't want to be."

"Uh… I'll get back to you on that. I promise I'll explain before this is all over," Ranma answered evasively, turning his attention to Ryu. "Is he going to be okay?"

"With rest," Tsunami answered, frowning at Ranma in consternation. "Is something wrong, Ranma?"

"Nothing important," Ranma said dismissively, offering a weak smile. "I need to get going." She nodded to both Tsunami and Hotaru before turning away, striding towards the Musk warriors.

Both Tsunami and Hotaru stared at Ranma curiously, as she spoke quietly with a girl with strange blue and white hair, and golden eyes. Ranma finished her speech, and the other girl nodded before Ranma picked her up, and vanished. Hotaru sighed sadly, shaking her head, and sat down next to Usagi.

Yosho approached, bowing low to Tsunami, and asking in a quiet voice, "Can we move him? We shouldn't leave him in the rain, should we?"

Tsunami smiled softly, and shook her head. Yosho had failed to notice that the rain wasn't striking near them, but his concern for Ryu's life was gratifying nonetheless. "Yes, Yosho," she answered. "Please be careful with him."

"I will," Yosho returned, stooping to gather the boy in his arms. Sketching the closest approximation to a bow he could manage while carrying Ryu, he turned and strode towards one of the lodges, Makoto only a half step behind.

Touching the fingertips of one hand to her lips, Tsunami made a thoughtful noise, and turned to face the blonde girl. "Your name is Usagi?" she queried.

"Yes," she answered, climbing to her feet, and smiling at Tsunami cheerfully. "And I used to be Sailor Moon, but I'm not now, though I don't know why. But I can still heal people who are hurt, so that's okay. You can heal people too, but you're a goddess?"

"Something like that," Tsunami allowed, motioning towards an awning with a few seats set beneath it. "Shall we speak over there? I would be interested in what you know of the Amatera."

"Okay!" Usagi enthused.

Once inside the meeting hall, where it was dry and safe from the weak rain, Cologne shook herself, and hopped to her seat at the table. "Now that we're getting everything in order, and the Musk are going to be helping us fight, we need to choose where we fight," she advised, glancing at the assembled elders and other assorted representatives.

Nominally, Herb should have been there, but claimed he had some business to attend to. Cologne wasn't about to press the issue, since it wasn't likely too important. "Sun Tzu," Norris allowed, nodding. "If you can choose the time and place of the battle, the advantage is yours."

"I don't think we can choose the time," Washuu countered. "Admittedly, we've got a narrow range of time to fit the battle into, but we can't really choose it."

"Can we predict it?" Cologne asked.

"Tomorrow," Yakumo said, shrugging. "Maybe the day after. I can feel them — lots more of them, but not as strong. They're scared, now. Very scared of what happened at the battle today. I suspect that they think they should have won, and instead they lost dozens, while we lost only a handful."

"It's not an acceptable loss," Washuu countered. "We can't generate more allies; they can."

Yakumo bowed his head, sighing. "That's true," he acquiesced. "For what it's worth, I don't think they'll attack us seriously tomorrow."

"So they won't attack us at all?" Norris asked, furrowing his brow.

"That's hard to know," Washuu explained. "The beacon sends an intentionally diffuse and hard to pinpoint signal. They shouldn't be able to tell where it is, and, of course, we are. But if there are enough of them, they can slowly narrow down the range where it could be, and then they'll all know exactly where we are." She turned to Yakumo, curious, and asked, "If they know where we are, would they attack?"

"Probably," he said, mumbling. "They didn't come here when the ships landed to drop people off, so either it confused them, or they were too scared to pay attention. I believe that if they knew where we were, they'd swarm us in a heartbeat. Since they don't know, they're probably building up their numbers."

"Okay. So they won't attack us today; they might attack us tomorrow, and they will attack us the day after," Norris grumbled. "We need to pick a battleground that gives us the advantage, if we can find one. The way they move, I have a hard time imagining a good one."

"Jusenkyou," Cologne hazarded. "The cursed springs will be dangerous to us, but any reaver that falls into them should suffer the same consequences."

"That's not a good idea," another of the elders complained. "Jusenkyou is dangerous for a reason."

"It's not hopeless," Cologne countered. "If we use waterproof soap, the danger should be minimal, and it gives us the advantage of having at least one direction that the reavers cannot attack us from."

"Waterproof soap?" Washuu asked skeptically. "If you need something to keep you from getting wet, I might be able to make something for you. They'd be small, and they wouldn't last long before they burnt out their own charges, but it would do the trick for a minute or so."

"I don't know about this cursed spring stuff, but if it gives us any advantage, that's something, isn't it?" Norris opined. "Eric and Jim said that the new weapons didn't work so well — it looks like the reavers learned to make a layer of armor from cold for themselves."

"Oh, lovely," Washuu mumbled, furrowing her brow in thought. "It was bound to happen eventually. Hopefully the newer reavers won't mass enough to make themselves armor, but we can't depend on that."

"So, what kind of self-defense time-frame are we looking at?" Norris asked, crossing his arms over his chest.

"If we can survive until July twenty-seventh — the day after tomorrow — then we should have done well enough to see all of the refugees that the remaining GP fleet and Ginraii can carry away," Washuu explained.

"That doesn't sound very hard," Norris said, glancing about the room.

"If we don't put up enough of a fight, the reavers might wander off," Yakumo warned. "Right now they're scared of us, but if they beat us too quickly, they could wander off and start attacking areas where there are still refugees."

"Hmm," Cologne noised. "They can't move that quickly. When I think about it, we might have already won."

"Not if the reavers have a way to catapult themselves into orbit," Washuu objected, shaking her head. "They got onto the orbital platform earlier today, they could easily use that to launch themselves towards Australia, or anywhere else where there are still refugees, not to mention at the ships that are here to evacuate people."

"Point taken," Norris acquiesced, bowing his head. "So we've got to put up the best damned fight we can. Tell me, honestly — what are the chances that we make it out of here alive?"

Washuu bit her lip, unsure. "I don't know," she admitted. "Before Ranma found the Musk, I would have said we had no chance. Now, I would guess our chances are slim, at best. We lost six of the Musk, according to Yosho, and then three of our existing forces were rendered unconscious in the battle. While there will be more of us at the next battle, Norris, there will be proportionately more of them, and we've used the one shot that the Halcyon array has left already."

"No chance at all, then?" Norris asked, unfolding his arm and rubbing at his chin thoughtfully. "Well, the only cause worth fighting is a lost cause. Unless we've got another ace up our sleeves? Maybe someone else like Ranma, or his vicious friend?"

"He did say he was collecting another friend of Herb's to help him fight. Who knows?"

"Feh," Cologne grumbled. "Herb is powerful, but I doubt any friend of his would be enough to turn the tide if it's as bad as you say. We'd need a god to help us out at this point." Her complaints were interrupted by a knock at the door, which Cologne turned to regard curiously. The wooden door swung open a moment later, Kura-Wan stepping in, a little girl clinging to the hem of her shirt and staring around with wide eyes. "Yes?" Cologne asked, frowning.

Ignoring the other attendants of the meeting, Kura-Wan explained in Chinese, "This child wandered in, and said she needed to speak with your son."

"My son?" Cologne asked, looking at the child in confusion.

"Ranma!" the girl said, frowning. "Father said to look for Ranma!"

"Who's your father, Child?" Cologne queried, hopping from her seat to stand before the little girl.

She disengaged her hand from Kura-Wan's shirt, and said, "My father is the Jusenkyou guide. He sent me to look for Ranma, because Ranma knows about the springs from the pantyhose monster." She nodded knowingly, then added, "The springs of Jusenkyou dried up, and father said that he would investigate, but I needed to get Ranma, because someone stole his secret map."

"She must be delusional," Kura-Wan suggested, frowning. "Probably hasn't eaten in days — our spear-sisters retrieved water from Jusenkyou just yesterday, Elder."

Cologne nodded, then asked the girl, "How long did it take you to get here?"

"I'm not sure," the girl admitted. "I got lost a lot, and I got tired and slept a few times…. I'm very hungry."

"It could have been days," Cologne murmured. "But why would the springs dry up?"

"Father says that it's because the bird-people are planning something," the girl answered. "But he didn't say that they'd come back…."

Paling, Cologne managed to whisper, "Kura-Wan, see that she's fed and given a place to rest, then ask Norris's men to ask someone to fetch her away from here — this is no place for a child." She trudged back to the table, the other members of the meeting staring at her with frank curiosity.

"What was that about?" Norris asked in his accented Japanese, frowning curiously. "Bad news?"

"It could be," Cologne answered. "Ancient powers best left alone are being called into play — I wish I knew what Ranma was up to right now."

Holding Herb carefully, and remaining female in deference to her, Ranma scanned the mountain before him. "Looks harmless," she assessed to the Prince of the Musk. "How do we do this?"

"I suppose we could fly in," the girl answered slowly, staring down with great trepidation. "I do not know that we would be welcomed if we were to do so, however."

"How else do we do it?" Ranma asked, frowning. "One way or another, we do need to do this, after all."

"I'll not contest that," Herb muttered. "It is simply that the phoenix warriors who live on this peak are said to follow a god-emperor, a living phoenix. His flames are the lifeblood of his people, and his power is… immeasurable. I would not want to cross him, should we be able to help it."

Ranma grunted, narrowing her eyes. Her keen sight was able to pick out miniscule figures, far away, but beyond them only a short distance was a formation that could only be a building. "I see something," she notified Herb. "So, do you just want to go to it and walk in, or do you think they'd be happier if we climbed the mountain the hard way?"

"I would guess that approach to be less offensive," Herb suggested. "We should do that — neither of us should have any real difficulty claiming the peak."

"Well, I can fly, and you can at least float, so I don't think it's going to take long," Ranma drawled. "But are you sure it's necessary?"

"I feel it is."

Sighing, Ranma teleported them to the base of the mountain, setting Herb down after landing. To her credit, Herb seemed immune to the disorientation that the shifting through space caused. "Well, we don't have all day, let's get to work," Ranma mumbled, leaping up towards a moss-covered and rain-slicked ledge. "As stupid as I think this is."

"You would be well to be cautious of the phoenix people's emperor, Ranma," Herb warned, jumping up after Ranma.

Her efforts at asking for a small room where she could be afforded some privacy had finally yielded results, and she was shown to a small house near the outer edge of the village. The dirt floor was free of furniture, and the poorly maintained walls and thatched roof suggested that the house had been abandoned for some time.

For her purposes, however, it was adequate.

She was seated on the floor, her staff across her knees, and stared intently at a pair of cats. One bluish black, the other white, each with faintly golden crescents on their foreheads. "What seems to be the problem?" the black cat asked, her tail lashing with repressed worry.

"Well, things have changed since Shanghai," Setsuna said, shaking her head, and resting one hand atop the staff in her lap. "I am… concerned, and wanted to know what insight you two might have."

"Us?" Artemis asked, surprised. "Why are you asking us, when you could just check the Time Gate?"

"Well, that would be a small problem," Setsuna muttered, grimacing. "The Time Gate isn't there anymore."

Both of the moon-cats stared at her, surprised, then exchanged a confused glance, before eyeing her with worry. "How can it be gone?"

Setsuna twisted her face into a grimace. "I'm not entirely sure," she admitted. "I'm guessing it's linked to the destruction of the Ginzuishou, but if that's true, then why haven't any other problems shown up?"

"Other problems?" Luna asked. "Like what?"

"Well, the other girls can all transform, except for Usagi." Setsuna sighed, and rubbed at the bridge of her nose wearily. "And that doesn't make much sense either. I would have thought that the process would have been all-or-nothing, not just most of her abilities, and the Time Gate." Sighing mournfully, she added, "I wasn't sure before, but I'm certain now that the future is entirely beyond our ability to know. Events have been set into motion which carry us father and father from any path that I've ever known."

"Well, that's not all bad," Artemis encouraged. "We're all still alive, right?"

"With my primary role declared null, void, and useless," Setsuna grumbled. "There's no gate for me to watch over, and my one goal has been removed, since Usagi decided that we can make a better future than the one that was already set."

The cats were silent, not knowing what to say.

"I suppose you wouldn't know anything about this, would you?" Setsuna asked skeptically.

"I'm afraid not," Luna answered apologetically. "This is most strange…."

"Well, for what it's worth, we can still fight," the woman stated, climbing to her feet. "And that's what we'll do. I also get the sense that sooner or later — sooner than later, really — it's not going to be important."

"What do you mean?" Artemis asked, worried.

Setsuna sighed, tapping her foot thoughtfully. "If we have to leave this planet, and we might, then Yosho said that his empire called us rebels. I don't know what the history there is supposed to be, but I imagine that it's a great way to start off on the wrong foot. So that worries me, too."

Luna looked up at Setsuna anxiously, and asked, "Well… what can we do?"

"Our best," the woman stated simply, opening the door, and stepping out into the rain.

Humming tunelessly to himself, and with his hands buried in one of the consoles behind the access panel designed for the task, Kintaro studiously swapped burnt-out modules for some of the spare parts that the ship was carrying. There weren't many, and the life support couldn't sustain four people for an extended length of time in the ship's slightly damaged condition, but nothing was broken — merely severely worn.

The burnt-out modules could be refurbished with time and effort, and while not as good as new, the parts were designed with the intent of lasting. Standing on the seat in the weak gravity as he was, Kintaro wasn't worried. The section of the station — once they had removed the remains of the reaver they found there — provided enough air for all of them.

Shiname had explained that the Ouke-no-ki created a self-sustaining ecosystem in the area that housed it, and it gathered power from subspace. Kintaro didn't understand how all of that worked, but it meant after Shiname had moved the tree's dome into the shadow of the moon that the ship was able to land on the deck next to the tree itself, and from there, he was able to maintenance it.

"How much longer will it take to repair?" Shiname asked tentatively from somewhere behind him.

Kintaro frowned, considering. "I think there are another few modules to replace, then Yukinojo wants me to look at the booster's plating, since the blast might have hurt it. Yukinojo?"

"The shielding circuits will only provide minimal protection at this point," the computer advised. "Even after replacement. The system was simply taxed too far by recent missions. The hyperspace drive and booster section were not intended to be exposed to that kind of damage, however, so an external inspection will be required."

"I guess that means I need to get outside and look," Kintaro said, shrugging. "What do you suppose killed the reaver that was here before?"

"Shizu-oh said that it was Tsunami-sama's guardian," Shiname said quietly.

"Who's that?" Kintaro asked, popping out another module, eyeing it, and then setting it aside to put in the replacement.

"Ranma, I believe," Shiname said, somewhat nervously.

Kintaro frowned, eyeing some burn marks on the interior of the panel he was examining. "Something wrong?" he asked absently.

"There is more, but I feel it's not my place to speak of it," Shiname explained. "Ah, regardless, Oe-san, Mihoshi is currently using Shizu-oh to give her report, and Kohito, while recovered, is resting."

Kintaro frowned, gathering the modules he had removed into a small box and sealing the panel before climbing down into the seat, then turning it so he could face the incredibly nervous woman. "Well, that's some good news, isn't it?" he asked, smiling.

The woman bit her lip, bowing her head. "Regardless, Cadet Oe, I made you a promise, didn't I?"

"Oh yeah!" he said, brightening. "I forgot about that!"

Jumping slightly, the woman gestured to the closed door leading into the rear section, and asked, "We are… we are alone, Cadet Oe. What… what would you have of me?"

Kintaro glanced at one of the information screens as Yukinojo activated it, and frowned. "Oh, you don't need to do anything for me," he replied, staring at the readout. "It's just my job, after all."

"Ah," Shiname said, relaxing instantly. "You are too gracious, Oe-san."

Herb sat on another of the seemingly limitless moss-covered boulders that covered the nearly vertical mountain face they were attempting to scale, catching her breath. "I hate rain," she muttered darkly to Ranma, who perched nearby, staring at something in the distance. "This is more difficult than I had originally thought."

Ranma grunted, turning to face Herb. "Are you sure it wouldn't be better to just fly up? Or teleport there? This seems kind of… well… stupid, Herb," Ranma grumbled.

"Deference is preferable in this matter, Ranma," Herb countered. "For all that we can do, you underestimate the ruler of this peak, and that could be a mistake."

Ranma frowned, glancing upward and squinting. "Phoenix warriors, huh?"

"Yes," Herb said quietly, rising to her feet, and staring down at the treacherous fall that awaited should she slip. Her floating wouldn't help much over such a great distance, though she hadn't said anything of it to Ranma. The truth of the matter was that her confidence in the scalability of the mountain was flagging, but she wasn't about to let that slip to Ranma. "We should go on."

"Yeah," Ranma said, still looking upwards. "I think I saw one of them."

"Good," Herb pronounced, leaping to a higher ledge, and grabbing onto a jagged stone to keep from slipping on the moss covering it. "If they see us, then hopefully they won't think we're trying to sneak up on them." She paused for a moment, thinking she glimpsed a trio of black specks in the far-off distance streaking upwards. Dismissing it, she vaulted to the next ledge, her foot slipping again on the slick moss.

Cursing loudly, she flailed about, grasping for another stone outcropping, but none provided her smaller fingers enough purchase to stop her descent. She tapped into her ki reserves, trying to float above the moss-covered stone, but reluctant to use her abilities to their fullest. Ranma might have a way to float about without allowing her ki to become a visible force to everyone who knew how to sense it, but Herb had no such abilities. Drifting past the ledge she had fallen from, she scrabbled at it, pulling off the moss to reveal only smooth stone beneath.

She cursed again, until a pair of arms seized her about the waist, and hoisted her upward, setting her on the stone. Turning, she saw Ranma looking away, drifting nearby. "Thank you," she said grudgingly. It was her choice to climb the cliffs in the rain, after all, not Ranma's.

"Having second thoughts yet?" Ranma asked, turning to look at Herb directly.

She shook her head, leaping to the next rock. "My worries of falling are less than my fears of arriving and angering Saffron, Ranma. I cannot make it clearer than that."

"Well, let's hurry up," Ranma grumped, flitting up and landing a few ledges higher than Herb. "Don't worry about it too much — if you fall, I'll catch you."

Composed, in a much better mood after finding that Kohito had lived, and left largely alone, Ami sat beneath a thatched awning near the central courtyard. Yakumo was away, in the meeting with the other coordinators of the defense effort.

Her computer sat in her lap, closed for the time being. Instead she tried to relax, watching the rain trickle to the dirt below. Straw scattered across the ground prevented it from becoming excessively muddy, dripping off of the strange log in the middle of the courtyard. The motion of the water, and the decidedly relaxed air of the village — with all of the Musk put up in a lodge near the Marines — was deceptive.

If she didn't already know, Ami might not have believed that the last defenders of Earth were all gathered there. The quiet air, the rain, and the smoke emerging from the chimneys of the far lodges, but still in her sight, was too relaxing. Usagi, still dressed in her casual clothing, sat next to Hotaru and a very regal girl that Ami didn't know.

She couldn't hear their conversation, but for the moment, she wasn't concerned. Whatever the new girl spoke of fascinated Usagi, but Ami enjoyed her moment of quiet contemplation alone.

As if to spite her, her computer chirped, notifying her of some theoretically important event. Sighing, she set the device in her lap, and opened it, blinking as the image of somewhat tired looking young man appeared. He was dressed, from what she could see, in just a T-shirt and a baseball cap. "Heya," he greeted, raising a hand. "You're with the defense force?"

"Of course," Ami said raising her finger to her lower lip and staring at the man curiously. "Is something wrong?"

The man nodded unhappily, and glanced at something out of her view. "According to some of the other ships in orbit, three reavers just launched themselves from Earth towards the Moon," he explained.

"What?" Ami asked, perplexed. "Why would they do that?"

"Currently, we've got Maintainer Shiname-san's Ouke-no-ki here," the man said. "Mihoshi's using it to send a report to the Galaxy Police headquarters, but if the reavers get here and destroy it, we lose our communication link with Jurai." He bit his lip, worried. "Um, Washuu-san had someone on Earth used the weapon last time…. Can you use that again?"

"The Halcyon array is too old to stand being fired," Ami said, shaking her head. "I can try using the Ethos array." She tapped a few keys, and frowned. "Yes, Washuu-sensei said that the Ethos array was designed to work on things like the reavers. I will take care of them for you." She offered the man a hopeful smile. "I don't suppose that you know of, um, someone named Tatsuki Kohito?"

The winds that caressed the mountaintop that was her home were always cold, but she had long since grown accustomed to that. Aside from which, the weather should be turning towards warmer winds, soon.

She kept her eyes closed, enjoying the stillness, and wishing that events hadn't needed to be rushed. They had been rushed before, and a mere six months wasn't nearly as bad as some previous instances, but it was still an uncomfortable thing to have had to do.

"Kiima! Kiima!" The shout broke her moment of contemplation, and she sighed, opening her eyes.

"Yes?" she asked tiredly. "What is it now?"

"There's someone climbing the mountain! We saw them!"

Turning about, she faced the speaker, a younger boy, and frowned. There was a subtle resonance… there. "I know this one," she said tiredly.


Sighing, the woman shook her head, her wings rustling slightly, uncomfortable. "Nothing. Wait here. I must speak with Saffron-sama."

"Okay," the boy said in a subdued voice.

Not paying him any more heed, Kiima strode away. The emperor's quarters were only a short distance away, not far enough to require the use of flight by any stretch of imagination. The platform she had been standing on was one of the lower parts of the emperor's palace, a platform for receiving warriors as they returned, in days gone past. Now, it was merely an observation deck, if that. The phoenix people had no need for rails, so the platform was merely cobbles, lined in green tile.

Passing across a walkway, into the interior of the mountain itself, she marched up the stairs leading to the chamber that currently housed the emperor himself. They could survive without his light for periods of time, and Kiima expected that this period would be a long one.

"Your lordship," she said, entering the hall that the emperor and his advisors were seated in. She bowed low, waiting for his acknowledgment before rising.

"We know," he said distantly, prompting her to raise her head and look at him in alarm.

He was not seated, as she had thought, but standing in his resplendent robes, hands clasped behind his back, beneath his wings. "It is of little concern to us," he said, still looking away, gazing out a distant window. "There are things that we must deal with that are much more important than foolish mortals with time to waste. They will perish in the climb, and if they do not, then I will deal with the matter personally once they get here."

Kiima blinked, and bowed her head again. "As you wish," she replied quietly.


To be continued.

Author's Notes: Special thanks to The Grum for pre-reading.

And this week's special offer: Want a reaver plushie?


Reaver Plushies! There is a project underway to produce reaver plushies.
The web site for this project is at http://www.plover.net/~skip/plushies.html

Which I think is kinda cool….

Part 14
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