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Chaos Soldier Ranma

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Chapter 1

Standard Disclaimer: I don't own Ranma or anything remotely having to do with Ranma. Additionally, this is portover from Fanfiction.net and is something I started working on back in 2004. I just started working on new chapters after 8 years and decided to upload the previous 31 chapters in all their original glory (cringe worthy as some of the writing may be) here in one giant chapter. I’ll then be adding new chapters as I work on them.
***
Genma was doing something he had gotten quite used to when training under his old martial arts master. He was running for his life. The only difference was that he was no longer under the old master. He was the master now, training his own heir, his son. Ranma Saotome, heir to the Saotome School of Anything Goes Martial Arts. And also the reason why Genma was running for his life.

A set of three deep slashes crossed his chest, tearing his gi and staining the cloth crimson from the welling blood. Fortunately, Genma has jumped back, keeping the wounds from being fatal, although it had been a near thing. Perhaps training the boy in the unbeatable Cat-Fist wasn't one of his better ideas. Especially when he finally got around to reading the last part of the scroll, something about the trainee going insane from the training.

Flashback to just a few moments ago

Just as he had gone running towards the pit to free the boy, the cover had exploded and young Ranma, all of six years old, came bursting from the ground. The aura the boy put out was enough to make Genma pause, before his normal stupidity took over.

"Listen here boy. It was for your own good. Looks like you've learned the technique already. And after only 55 tries!" Genma congratulated himself on teaching the unbeatable technique to his ungrateful son.

"Meow"

Genma blinked. Had his son just meowed at him? Scowling, he made his way towards the boy to beat some respect into him. Only his reflexes, beaten into him from years under the master, saved his life.

Back in the present

Genma kept running as fast as he could, trying to put as many obstacles between himself and the boy as he possibly could. Boulders, trees, anything solid and large. It didn't matter. Ranma just cut his way right through everything, like a buzz-saw.

A column of white light blazed into life right ahead of Genma, a shining beacon just shouting, "Come this way". Well, Genma didn't need a written invitation and poured on the speed. What he saw shocked him almost enough to make him stop in his tracks. A group of ten heavily armed men stood in a rough circle. The men practically oozed violence, seemingly loaded down with weaponry and armor. Genma would have sneered except for one simple fact. Each of the men were fifteen feet tall.

Well, it was obvious to Genma that he wanted nothing to do with a paramilitary group in the middle of rural Japan. With a surprising display of skill, he jumped the entire group and continued running as fast as he could.

Neko-Ranma neared the group. Each of the ten men turned towards the approaching boy. Sure, the boy was small but they had been briefed on the situation. Each man aimed his weapon at the boy and fired a shot. Ranma twisted through the shots at speeds that were hard to follow. Each shot missed the wildly twisting boy by the merest margin.

However, it was enough to distract the boy from chasing Genma as he confronted this new threat. More shots were fired, demanding even more amazing acrobatic feats from the catlike boy. Half a moment later, he had covered the distance separating him from his targets and one of the giant men went down in an explosion of blood, twisted armor and torn flesh.

Discarding their weapons since they would only be shooting themselves, the remaining men tried to dog pile the small boy. Neko-Ranma wasn't playing. Severing an arm from one man, the leg from another, the boy twisted and jumped through the melee, easily dodging his opponents, no matter how fast they were. Two more men went down, clutching deep belly wounds. Only five of the large men remained.

Standing just outside of the combat range, another man waited calmly. Standing just under six feet tall, he looked completely normal. Slightly tan skin, short hair, rather a plain man, but not entirely unattractive. No. What made him so different was that his eyes were completely black. No white whatsoever. He also was putting out a major aura of power. However, since it was clearly not a malevolent aura, Neko-Ranma just ignored him.

That proved to be a mistake as the boy suddenly found himself suspended a few feet from the ground, unable to move. Struggle as he might, Neko-Ranma could not budge a centimeter. The black eyed man smiled at the boy, a sharp contrast to his strangely glowing eyes, if black eyes can be said to glow.

"I'll admit, even knowing how your training would turn out, you've impressed me, Ranma. I expected you to be able to take out two, maybe three of my soldiers before they disabled you, but no, you took down five and seemed to be going for the next five. Since the Resource department hates growing me new soldiers, I decided to spare them the trouble, and myself the cost, of replacing more than they needed to already."

Neko-Ranma just stared at the man, his eyes promising retribution for invading his territory. A low growl rumbled through his chest and a slight hiss escaped his lips. The man just chuckled.
"Well, I can understand how you feel that way. But remember, it was your father who did this to you. Granted my soldiers did shoot at you, but with stun weapons only." The man sighed, rubbing his temples with his hand. "Alright Ranma, this is the deal. I represent a government that doesn't yet exist on this planet. In fact, we are based in a section of space so far beyond this area that to even send a ship here would take several years of travel. Fortunately, I'm walk we call a Dimensional Jumper. I can go places just by thinking of them.

"Now, during my travels I ended up on your charming planet here. Lots of potential amongst you humans. However, many of those with the greatest power levels were already far too old for what I have in mind. So, out of the likely candidates, you were chosen for my new project. What do you think?"

When Neko-Ranma didn't answer, the man continued.

"Right. Thought you would feel that way. However, I assure you, not only will you benefit from treatment for the Cat-first training that your father so lovingly provided, we will also train you in the various combat forms that our member races study. After your tour is up, we will return you to your father and you may deal with him however you like. We'll keep an eye on him for you and give you progress reports as well…"

He trailed off as Neko-Ranma started meowing. He waited patiently for Ranma to finish before answering. "You have some good points. Alright. First, we'll snap you out of the Cat-Fist, then I'll get us all over to my ship."

That said, he reached out and placed his hand on Neko-Ranma's head. A brief flash of light enveloped the boy then just as quickly vanished. Ranma found himself released from his confinement and dropped to the ground. Landing on his feet, he somewhat nervously ran his fingers through his long hair. Six years old he may be, but he recognized a good deal when he saw it. Nodding slowly, Ranma agreed.

The man smiled. "I knew you would. Alright, lets get going. Oh, by the way, my name is Jonathon Avery. Welcome to the Chaos Empire."

TEN YEARS LATER
A pillar of light pierced the sky, impacting the ground in rural Japan. The light lasted a brief moment before fading away as suddenly as it had appeared. When the light faded away, a lone figure stood there, his long black pony tail swaying in the slight breeze. He stood nearly six feet tall, with eyes the color of a clear blue sky. He was dressed all in black, with silver trim at the cuffs of the shirt and pants. He had a small pack slung over his shoulder, from which he pulled a leather bound book. Opening the book, he scanned the pages for a moment before nodding to himself and putting the book away. "Now, all I need to do is find this Tendo Dojo."
***

Chapter 2

Genma stared across at his opponent, sweat beading from his brow. The dirty bandana hiding his bald head did little to disguise his nervousness. It was going to take all his skills and talents to defeat this opponent, but a Saotome never admits defeat, especially this Saotome. It was time to make his move.

"Oh my gosh Tendo, what is that behind you?"

Soun Tendo, patriarch of the Tendo family and long time friend of Genma, fell for the old trick once again. He turned around, confusion evident on his face as he looked around. "What? I don't see anything Saotome?" When he turned back to his old friend, he frowned. "What is you saw?"

Genma merely shrugged, his best innocent look on his face. Considering that this was Genma, that wasn't saying much. However, it was enough to fool Soun. Instead of answering, Genma made his move on the shogi board and a surprised Soun could only look on in shock as Genma won the game.

"Looks like I win again old friend."

"What! Do over!"

"No do-overs."

"Really Saotome, that's most inconsiderate of you. Why, if you take into consideration…" Soun was interrupted mid dramatic moment by the sound of the gate bell. Since it was the middle of the day and both Akane and Nabiki were in class, they weren't expecting anyone. Both men looked at each other, the same question on their faces. They each stayed that way for several moments, neither making a move to answer the gate. Besides, Kasumi was home and would take care of it.

A moment later their waiting paid off, as Kasumi entered the room, followed by a tall young man dressed in black. The young man bowed to Kasumi and thanked her for her hospitality. Kasumi blushed and bowed back, before returning to her chores.
Genma took a moment to consider the new arrival. The young man was at least six feet tall, with his long black hair tied back in a ponytail that flowed halfway down his back. He was dressed in an immaculate black outfit, with silver trim on the cuffs and pants. It was obviously a military outfit and Genma felt himself getting nervous. Looking into the steely blue eyes of the guest as they bore into his own, Genma's nervousness escalated. Soun on the other hand was oblivious and stood to greet the pony-tailed guest. Before he could speak however, the young man smirk at Genma.

"Hello pops. Been a long time."

Soun nearly fell over from shock. 'Pops?' What did he mean by that? He looked over at his long time friend to see Genma visibly shaking and sweating even heavier than before. Yet again before he could say anything, Genma took action.

Genma struck a dramatic pose, going down to one knee, his eyes gazing up towards the heavens. He then pointed at the young man, his face serious. "You ungrateful boy! How dare you let your father think you dead these past ten years? Here I've suffered and agonized over your death at the hands of that Chinese death squad only to learn that you've been living the high life, growing soft. Oh why have the Gods plagued me with such a sorry excuse for a son!"
Soun was dumbstruck. Son? The only son Genma ever had was Ranma, who had died almost ten years ago. Wait a second? Chinese death squad? Didn't Genma say he had drowned and then been buried during a landslide. Something else occurred to him. With Ranma alive, the schools could finally be joined. Oh happy day! He was just about to do his victory dance when something the boy, obviously Ranma, had just said.

"I'm sorry son, but could you repeat what you just said."

Ranma nodded and said, "My tour is over and I am official leave, indefinite. Apparently my superiors felt the war had settled down enough for me to meet my real family. Not including this sorry excuse for a father." Ranma sneered at Genma, who was going red in the face from anger.
"Listen here boy! Show some respect for your elders. Oh how I've suffered these past ten years. It's been too long since I've shown you your place!" With that said, Genma threw a fast punch at Ranma. However, ten years of nothing but playing shogi and drinking sake had dulled his fighting skills to a poor shadow of what they were while training Ranma.

Ranma flowed around the punch, hardly moving as he grabbed the passing arm, twisted, and threw the old man threw the open doors and into the backyard. Instinct took over and Genma twisted in midair to land on his feet. Ranma jumped through the door after his father, taking a neutral stand in the middle of the yard.

Genma gazed at the boy, trying to recognize the style. It wasn't anything he had ever seen before. However, he could hardly even detect the boy's battle aura so that meant he hadn't trained much over these last ten years. Smirking to himself, he decided to teach his son a lesson to make up for the last ten years. Calling upon time dulled skills, Genma launched himself towards Ranma, intent on using his larger mass to flatten the boy into the ground.
Ranma vaulted over the flying man, landing a quick double heel kick to the back of Genma's head, then spring boarding high into the air. Genma crashed into the ground, spitting up dirt as he stood up from the ground. He looked around for the boy, turning his gaze towards the sky long enough to see the same pair of heels come crashing into his face. That was the last thing he saw as he promptly lost consciousness.

The pony tailed boy looked down in disgust. Two hits were all it had taken? Bah, and this is the man who was supposed to have taught me martial arts? Ranma shook his head sadly then easily hefted the fat man over his shoulder and carried him back inside.

Soun looked on in disbelief. Genma had always been the better of them while training under the master, and this boy, missing for the last ten year, had just defeated him with almost no apparent effort. He wasn't even breathing hard. Soun sat down at the shogi board and stared at it, his mind awhirl with the recent developments.

Kasumi entered the room, carrying a tray with some crackers and tea. She bowed politely to Ranma, then served the tea first to her father, then to Ranma, then poured for herself. Since Genma was presently unable to drink the tea, she put off pouring him a cup.

Ranma sat himself down at the table, bowing to a slightly blushing Kasumi, before turning to the Tendo patriarch. "I'm sorry for taking out your shogi partner, but I never really got the chance to properly thank my father for the last bit of training he put me through."

Soun merely nodded. "Quite alright my boy. I'm sure your father will be up and about in no time. We trained even harder under our old master. But enough about your father. Where have you been for the past ten years? Why haven't you contacted your father in all that time?"

Ranma shook his head. "Wasn't allowed to contact family while on duty. I've spent the past ten years working for the military. My contract finally ended and I was sent here to get to know my family. First person I looked up was my father. I'm going to track down my mother next."

"So you were working for the Chinese during this time? I knew that had strange army practices by six years old sounds a little young even for them."

Ranma chuckled. "I wasn't working for the Chinese. Let's just say I was working for someone a little further away and leave it at that."

Soun looked like he wanted to keep asking but decided something more important needed to be addressed first. His hopes for the future had finally been rekindled. "Did your father ever talk about our two families, Ranma my boy?"

Once again Ranma shook his head. "Never even heard of you until I got into the military. We kept track of pops just incase something should happen. That's how I knew he was here. Can't say I'm too impressed with the reports I'd been getting on pops. Doesn't look like he's been doing any training these last ten years."

Soun had the good nature to look sheepishly at the table instead of responding. Ranma continued. "So no, pops never really talked about anything other than the Art. That or food. The one time I even had a friend we ended up leaving him behind after only a few short months. Frankly, I'm surprised he came here instead of heading home to see mom. It's something I intend to talk to him about soon as he decides to wake up."

Soun nodded knowingly. "Ah yes. Well, we'll wait for your father to wake up before we talk about our two families. In the meantime, enjoy the hospitality of our home." He bowed slightly to Ranma before heading back to the shogi board to stare at it, read his newspaper, and wait for his friend to wake up.

Ranma decided to take the time to get to know Kasumi. According to the reports, she was the homemaker of the family, a job that had fallen to her upon the death of her mother. She seemed a nice enough girl. They talked about all kinds of things, from medicine to life in Nerima.
Eventually, they ended up talking about recipes. Kasumi found herself fascinated to find someone who loved cooking as much as she did. They had managed to wile away the afternoon. Ranma had just offered to cook dinner when a chorus of "I'm home" came from the entryway.

Chapter 3

"I'm home" came the call of the youngest Tendo, Akane, self proclaimed best martial artist in Nerima and for some strange reason (A/N I'm still trying to figure it out) the object of desire for almost the entire male population of Furinkan High School. With long blue tresses that flowed down her back and cute little bangs, she was the picture of the budding middle teen.

Standing next to Akane was the middle Tendo, Nabiki, with her short dark hair and easy smile, she was the Queen of the High School. Ever since Kasumi had left school, it had fallen upon Nabiki to rule the student body, which she did with a keen mind and ruthless efficiency. There were some her called her the Ice Queen, but never to her face, or where someone else could overhear. In spite of her ruthlessness, she was a fair ruler. She even managed to ride herd on some of the stranger people that wandered into Furinkan.

Now however, both teenagers were presented with a surprise. Their oldest sister, Kasumi, sitting at the table drinking tea with a complete stranger, Mr. Saotome passed out on the floor of the room, and their father setting by himself by the shogi board. To most people it would have been obvious that it was a casual meeting, a guest who had been welcomed into the home, at least if the smile on the Eldest Tendo daughter was any indication of reality.

Unfortunately, Akane tended to ignore reality, favoring something to spend her temper on. Her eyes narrowed as she started at the young man sitting next to her sister, no doubt taking advantage of her with his mind. And he was dressed in black, all the more evidence of his no doubt black heart. As the young man turned to see who had entered the room, he was greeted by the battle cry of one already enraged Akane Tendo.

"What do you think your doing to my sister, you pervert!" raged the hormonally overcharged teen.

Ranma arched an eyebrow at the short girl. Sure she may be a little cute, but the throbbing vein in her forehead and the angry scowl on her face more reminded him of some of the monsters he'd faced in training. He could also feel nothing but aggression coming from the girl. Relaxing into a more comfortable stance while sitting, he mentally sighed and prepared to defend himself. He hadn't really believed the reports but here was the evidence right before his eyes.

"I would have thought it was obvious. I am a guest in your home, enjoying tea with the hostess and your father. Unfortunately, my father decided to take a nap. And I was really hoping to talk to him more. Now if you don't mind Akane, I was just in the middle of discussing what to have for dinner with Kasumi here."

Akane's scowl depend. How dare he try to play innocent!? Who did he think he was kidding? Wait. How did he know her name? He must be a stalker, out to get all of them. She had to protect poor innocent Kasumi and her sister Nabiki from this menace. Pulling out her mallet, she swung overhand, intent on driving the pervert into the floor.

Nabiki and Kasumi both gasped when they saw Akane pull out her mallet. Well, Kasumi 'Oh my'ed but you get the idea. Nabiki inwardly cringed. They lost more potential boyfriends this way. When would Akane learn. Now they would have to fix yet another hole in the floor, as well as pay for the boys hospital bill when he…

Both older Tendo girls blinked as the mallet went crashing into the floor, completely missing the sitting boy, he had calmly moved to the side without looking or breaking his description of a roast duck dinner he could make. As Akane stared dumbfounded at her mallet, Ranma took the opportunity to swing a lazy backhand at the mallet head. Wood showered the room as the mallet exploded.

All Akane saw was red. This pervert boy obviously meant to harm them. Look at the way he destroyed her mallet and made her miss. He probably pretended not to see her so he could dodge her to make fun of her. With no mallet to squash the boy with, she swung with her right fist, all the power of her body behind the blow. Ranma leaned to the side, dodging the blow, then sighed as he turned to face the now off balance Akane. With a slight shove, he knocked her away to land in an undignified heap on the ground.

"I don't appreciate being attacked, especially since I was politely sitting here talking with Kasumi. Where I come from, that sort of unprovoked attack gets you tossed in the brig or worse. If I'd been any other person, you could have seriously injured me. Although from the weight of that block of wood you call a mallet, its possible to kill with. Why don't you calm down and try to find out what is really going on before you attack an innocent person."

Akane was beyond reason by this point. All she heard was…well, actually she didn't hear anything. The blood singing in her ears kept saying, Get up and kill, get up and kill. She struggled for her feet and dove towards Ranma, her hands going for his throat, since her punch didn't work. Next thing she knew she was passing the koi pond. Then she lost track of everything for awhile as the world got dark and she lost consciousness from crashing into the wall.

Nabiki and Kasumi both stared at Ranma in shock. Kasumi because despite seeing her youngest sister pound any boy he happened to enter her home, she had never seen Akane lose. Nabiki stared because, damn this boy was hot. His block and silver clothes seemed molded onto him. She could see the muscles ripple as he moved and it was all she could do not to drool. Not to mention that the boy obviously was smart, from the way he was talking. Even better, he wasn't after Akane.

Ranma for his part just sighed. Only here for a few hours and he was already in a fight. Figures it would be the people his father was staying with. If pops was the only example of the Saotome clan that these people had exposure to, then it was a point against him already. Since he was already standing from throwing Akane, he bowed deeply to the Tendo patriarch.

"I apologize for bringing violence into your home."

Soun chuckled nervously. "Don't worry about it my boy. Akane is just a little excitable that's all."
Nabiki scoffed from where she still stood in the doorway. She hadn't moved during the entire Akane incident. Kasumi just smiled and waved away the apology. "Don't worry about that Ranma. Akane is a sweet girl, she's just a violent maniac."

Ranma just chuckled, self consciously rubbing the back of his head with his hand. "Heh. Well, I still feel bad for damaging the wall. And even though it's not really my fault, the floor got damaged as well." He reached into his pocket and pulled out a group of bills, then placed them in the middle Tendo daughter's hands. "Here you go Nabiki. That should cover the repair cost for the wall and the floorboards."

Nabiki looked at the money like she'd never seen money before. By instinct, she put it away in her purse before what happened dawned on her. "Just who are you? How do you know my name and how do you know how much it costs to repair the house?"

Ranma smiled sheepishly. "Oh. I was going to introduce myself before I got distracted. I'm Ranma Saotome. Sorry bout this."

Chapter 4

Ranma smiled sheepishly. "Oh. I was going to introduce myself before I got distracted. I'm Ranma Saotome. Sorry bout this."

Ranma Saotome? Why did that name seem familiar? Nabiki mulled it over in her mind. Something about that name just tugged at a memory. She peered at the blue eyed boy, getting a better look while in the back of her mind, she ran through her memories, trying to find some mention of…wait, Ranma Saotome? RS? No way it could be this gorgeous boy. Gorgeous? She chose to ignore that part of her thoughts and instead latched onto what she thought was the influence of this Ranma.

"Ranma Saotome eh? Well, you must be the dead son of Genma then, aren't you? You don't look very dead to me. I hope you aren't here to free load like he is?"

Ranma shook his head and sighed internally. No matter where he went, his lazy father always left a bad impression on the family name. However, at least this was one family who Ranma had been able to help out, at least according to the setup that Jonathon had worked out. "No. I'm only here to visit my father, who apparently hasn't been back to see my mother in the last ten years. I'm heading there next. However, the people I worked for knew pops was here. I would have thought the money we deposited into your account would have easily covered pops living expensive, even if he does eat like a vacuum cleaner."

Nabiki shouted in triumph, in her head at least. However, she acted cool. No need to let this new boy know any more than she wanted him to. Sure he was good looking but he had to realize who was in charge in this situation. Now if only her racing heart would cooperate on this venture. "Oh. So you're the RS who has been making those drops. The bank would never tell us who it was, only that it was securely setup by an anonymous donor."

In the background, Soun perked up at hearing about someone paying for Genma. The very thought that someone needed to pay to stay in his home as a guest was an affront to his honor. He was about to make an issue of it when he was stared down by his daughter. Instead, he turned back to looking glumly at the shogi board.

"However," continued Nabiki, "Just because you happened to pay for your lazy father doesn't score you any points around here." Actually it did but he didn't need to know it. "While you are a guest you are expected to act like one. That means no fighting. If you are anything like half what your father is, I'll be keeping an eye on you while you're here."

Nabiki almost hit her head on the wall in frustration. That wasn't what she wanted to say. It's all Genma's fault. Every time she thinks about him she got angry and wanted to hit something. That's supposed to be Akane's thing.

Ranma just nodded, not wanting to get on the bad side of anyone in the Tendo family. They had taken care of his father for the last ten years and that's saying something. These people got his respect. Well, all except for the father, who was almost as useless as his own.

"Don't worry Nabiki. I don't plan on staying here much longer. I just wanted to meet the people who have been taking care of my father. As soon as he wakes up, I'll drag him with me to see my mom. Hopefully, that will be the last you see of him."

Speaking of waking up, the Saotome elder decided that was the best moment to regain consciousness. He immediately went from completely sprawled out on the ground, to standing next to Soun, leaning over his shoulder and whispering in his ear. Soun just nodded his head a few times, casting glances at Ranma, the two girls in the house, and the inert form of Akane out in the yard.

Ranma watched his father, keeping him in sight. He relaxed into a ready stance, in case his father didn't learn his lesson the first time and decided to take another swing at him. Soun he wasn't too worried about. He barely registered a power level at all, even compared to his father. Besides, from what he could tell, Soun seemed like a nice enough fellow.

Finally, Soun and Genma nodded in unison before turning to the collected children. Ranma and the two girls looked on with mildly curious expressions as Soun began to talk.

"Ranma, as you may know, your father and I trained together a long time ago under our master, the founder of the Anything Goes martial arts school. When we finally freed ourselves from under the master, we made a solemn pack, to create our own branches of the Anything Goes school and then that one day, when our children were grown, we would unite the school."

Ranma didn't like where this was going. Anything his father came up with was a bad idea. The Cat-Fist training came instantly to mind, even after ten years. He was over the insanity the training brought but the memories remained. He started to frown as Soun continued talking.
"Well my boy, now that you have returned, it is time to unite the schools. This is my eldest, Kasumi, age 19, who you've already met and spent the afternoon chatting with. My second daughter, Nabiki, age 17, most popular girl in her school, and of course, Akane, age 16, the heir to my branch of Anything Goes. Choose which one you like and we'll get you married as soon as we can."

Ranma blinked. Married? Is he joking? I'm still 16, way to young to get married. Besides, my commander would throw a fit. Not that she wasn't throwing a fit just for him wanting to visit home but his commander always seemed a little off. Come to think of it, most of the girls in his unit acted a little weird around him…a softly murmured 'Oh my' broke Ranma out of his thoughts and back to the present. It was time to voice his opinion on the matter.

"Married? I am not getting married, least of all to someone I just met. Besides, I'm way to young to get married."

Genma tried to stare down at the boy, the effect ruing by his constantly having to push up his falling glasses. "Boy, you will do your duty and marry a Tendo. This is a matter of family honor."
Ranma couldn't help himself. He just busted up laughing. His father, trying to lecture him on honor, as if the lazy fat man had any honor left. The shocked look on the men's faces just caused him to laugh even harder, holding onto the wall to keep from falling down.

By this time, Akane had crawled groggily to her knees, leaning against outer wall to steady herself. Her back really hurt. As soon as she could stand, she was going to find that black wearing pervert boy and show him why she was the best. As soon as the world stopped spinning too.

Soun couldn't believe that this boy would laugh at being told he could marry one of such beautiful girls. Just who had raised him to be like this these past ten years? Unable to accept the rejection, he unleashed one of his dreaded ki attacks, knowing there was nothing the boy could do against it.

"What are you saying Ranma? Are my girls not good enough for you to marry?" yelled the Dreaded Demon head attack.

Ranma looked at Soun in surprise. A ki attack? Albeit a strange one but more than he thought the old man was capable of. It didn't seem like that hostile of an attack though so he resisted the instinct to blast it into the ground. Besides, he had just gotten done paying for damages from his earlier fight and didn't want to take any more out of his spending money. He had to eat after all.
Calming himself down wasn't quite as easy as Ranma would have liked. His gut reaction kept telling him it was an attack but his senses detected no real power behind it. It couldn't even do any damage from what he could tell. So Ranma decided to act as if he didn't see the giant glowing head with four foot long forked tongue waving about.

"No offense, Mr. Tendo, but I'm not marrying your daughters, at least without getting to know them for awhile. Even then I don't make any promises. I'm not sure how much time I'll have here and I could get called away. I'm a soldier. That's no life for a woman to have to deal with, unless she is in the service too."

Ranma turned to the two Tendo daughters. "Would either of you care to enlist?"

Nabiki shook her head and said "Not my thing" while Kasumi just "Oh my"ed, again. Doesn't she know any other reactions? Have to find that out later. Nice enough girl but not really sure she knows anything other than homemaking. Well, except for medicine.

Ranma turned back to Soun, who by that time had lost the demon head. Genma on the other hand, was back to his dramatic posturing, droning on about uniting the schools and family honor. Ranma ignored him and spoke straight to Soun. The reports on Soun hadn't been all that much better than the ones on pops, but at least Soun had never thought of selling his daughters like a piece of meat. That raised him a few notched above pops. Unfortunately, he hadn't done much of anything for his daughters in the last ten years so those notches were all he got. It was enough to keep Ranma from just pounding his answer into the old man.

"Listen Mr. Tendo. Whatever my old man may be telling you, arranged marriages went out of style a long time ago. His family honor ain't worth squat. I am not a shogi piece that you can move around however you like and neither are your daughters. I would have thought you'd have more respected for them after the way they've taken care of you these past ten years."

Ranma could see his father preparing another tirade about honor and uniting the schools and decided to shut him up before he did anymore harm. A switch punch to the gut had the fat man keeled over, holding his stomach trying to breath. Soun blinked in shock. He could barely follow the boy's actions. He was shaken out of his thoughts when he heard Ranma speaking again.

"You have three beautiful daughters and I would be honored to get to know them better." Under his breath he mumbled 'Except Akane'. "However, I make no promises to marry any of them and they are under no obligation to marry me. If that isn't clear right now, I'll leave my father here and cut ties with your family."

At the thought of Ranma just disappearing, Soun's dream's of uniting the schools started to drift away. He had to make sure that Ranma stayed around or his daughters would never get married. He decided to agree, for now. He had to be subtle.

"Alright my boy. You may date my daughters before deciding which one you want to marry. Why don't you started with Akane. She's closest to your age and would make a perfect match." So much for subtle.

"AIN'T NO WAY I'M DATING THAT PERVERT!"

Akane's battle cry filled the air and inwardly Ranma sighed, again. He found himself doing that a lot since coming home. Life in the military was definitely easier that dealing with people on Earth. Or humans in general. Never really understood them. Absentmindedly dodging a clumsy Akane, Ranma ran back through the things he had gone through during his training and while on tour, and during his few months as a combat instructor. Nope, nothing like this. Sure people there had tried to kill him but that he could deal with and…oh great, now pops is getting in on the action.

With two people attacking him, Ranma actually had to pay attention to the fight. Before he could focus on battle, Genma managed to tag him with a strong side kick that sent Ranma through the open doors and skipping along the ground of the backyard. That almost hurt. Finally, something fun. Smirking, he stood up and beckoned his two opponents into the backyard. Reminding himself that both ki attacks and weapons would cause serious property damage, Ranma decided to enjoy this fight while he had the chance and really work out his frustration on his father. Had to watch out for Akane though. She packed some serious strength behind those punches.

Genma scowled as he watched the boy smoothly evade one attack after another. When did he get this fast? Just what had he been doing these past ten years? Was he really in the military like he claimed? No way. That sounds so far fetched, the boy had to be lying. Its what he himself would have said in the circumstances and since he knew he would have lied, the boy must have too. Decided to up the ante, Genma pushed the battle up a notch.

Akane just screamed in frustration. This pervert wasn't fighting fair. He had to be cheating, jumping around like that. Why didn't he just stay still so she could squash him. She couldn't use her mallet because she almost his Mr. Saotome the first time. Not that she really cared but with the lazy fat man distracting the pervert, she had a better chance of nailing him. Now if he would only hold still long enough.

Ranma smiled, thoroughly enjoying himself. Not only was his father finally taking him seriously but it was fun taunting the angry Akane. She moved so slow he almost didn't need to pay attention to her. His pops on the other hand was moving at a good speed, pulling off moves that Ranma had never seen before. Good. More things to learn. Ranma tucked the information into the back of his mind to study later. However, this battle had been going on for almost ten minutes now and he had yet to attack back yet. Well, enough play time.

As Akane swung with yet another uncontrolled punch, Ranma leaned slightly back, took hold of the arm, and sent the girl flying straight at his pops. Genma caught the projectile with the biggest softest thing he had available. His gut. With the wind knocked out of him, he was an easy target for an axe kick to the head from Ranma, laying the fat man out cold on the grass.
Shaking his head in exasperation, Ranma once again hoisted the fat man onto his shoulder and carrying him into the house. Akane he left where she was. Touching her would no doubt be some kind of perverted act in her mind. What a weird girl. After ducking through the doorway with his oversized package, Ranma made his way to the door, pausing only to bow to the two other daughters and their father, then picked up his pack and made his way to the front door.
Kasumi opened the door and waved as Ranma left, telling him to come by again and try that recipe he was telling her about. Nabiki just watched from the door way, admiring the view and wondering what the future might have in store.

Ranma hefted his father into a more comfortable position on his shoulder, then struggled to get into his pack and pull out his book. After confirming the address and directions, he setoff to find his mother.

Chapter 5

A light misty rain fell upon the quiet district of Nerima. Most people decided to stay inside, although a few people were braving the weather. One of those people had no choice in the matter, as he was currently unconscious, slung over the shoulder of a tall young man in a black and silver military uniform. The young man kept looking at the pages of a small book in his hand, while ever so often shifting the fat form of the man on his shoulder.

Stupid pops, why'd you have to get so big? Ranma muttered to himself as he once again shifted the fat man into a more balanced position. It was the weight so much as the shape that was making it difficult to handle. Sighing to himself, he looked back at the book, checking the directions against his own internal map. Fortunately, the small static field generated by the book kept the pages from getting wet so he had no problem walking and reading in the light rain.

It was nice feeling the weather, smelling fresh air that wasn't recycled a million times over. No matter how efficient the recycling system, Ranma could always tell the difference when he stepped onto a planet. There was a different energy to a planet that nothing artificial could replicate, not even one of the great world ships. Jonathon agreed with him, which was why he always sent Ranma planet side for missions.

Brushing away past memories in favor of the present, Ranma trudged ahead, drawing ever closer to his destination. It was fortunate that his mother lived in the same district. Not that he minded having to walk but this was going to be the first time he had seen his mother in over ten years and he didn't want to waste anymore time traveling. Sure he could have used the teleporter, but it only has a few more charges left and he wanted to save them for an emergency.

Looking back at the book, he went over the report that Jonathon had prepared for him. There were reports on all the major influences in Ranma's life, from his father and the Tendos, to his mother and his old friend Ukyo, although the reports on his mother and Ukyo were both a little vague, especially about Ukyo. All it said was that he started training about the same time Ranma and his pops had left him, before the Cat Fist. No personality profile or anything.

Same with his mother. Information on what she had been doing these past ten years was sketchy at best. All the report did was provide with an address, directions from the Tendo Dojo to said residence, and a holo photo of his mother. And what was this little note saying that his mother looked just like he would if he'd been born a girl? Ranma shuddered at the thought. His life was chaotic enough with him just being a boy. Being a girl would have been just plain weird.

After a few more minutes of travel, Ranma finally arrived. It was a modest home, big enough for a small family, which he guessed they qualified for. There was nothing wrong with the home. Why didn't pops return to mom after I disappeared all those years ago? Heh. Maybe he's scared mom would kill him for losing me. Wouldn't that be a treat.
Shifting his burden on last time, he rang the bell outside the door then stood back and waited for someone to answer. He didn't have to wait long before a young looking lady with auburn hair and maroon eyes opened the door. She looked exactly like her photo, even down to the cloth wrapped burden carried in her arms.

Nodoka's eyes went wide as she say her husband being carried by this tall young man. If that was Genma though, then that could only mean.

"Hi mom, I'm ba…" Ranma never got to finish his sentence as he found himself engulfed in a huge that threatened to crack a rib. Since his mother had both his arms trapped at his side, there was nothing to keep the fat man on his shoulder and Genma tumbled to the ground, ignored by the other to people.

"Oh my little boy is back and all grown up." She squeezed him a little harder, taking note of the firm muscles that were barely sheathed beneath his cloths. Oh my son is so manly! "Oh Ranma, how I've missed you and your father."

"Mom, can't…breathe" Ranma managed to gasp out as he tried to writhe free of his entanglement. All he managed to do was stumbled backwards, tripping over the just stirring form of his father and sending both him and his mother tumbling to the ground. Wouldn't have been so bad had Ranma not found his mother plastered to him in a very uncomfortable position.
Nodoka on the other hand just found her suspicions confirmed. Oh, so manly. After a brief attempt to squeeze her son in two, she reluctantly let him go and stood up, straightening her kimono before hefting her once again unconscious husband into the house and beckoning Ranma to follow her inside.

The inside of the house was very clean and organized, with everything in its place, from the pictures on the wall of little Ranma and a younger, leaner Genma, to the vase of flowers on the coffee table, to the throw pillows on the couch. No TV though, which struck Ranma as a little odd since his mother apparently lived alone. Who survived alone without a TV? Well, besides himself.

Ranma scanned the room, absentmindedly memorizing the exits in the room. In the back of his mind he wondered why he suddenly felt the urge to run but there was no aggressive aura evident and besides, this was his mother. He felt his eyes drawn to a small frame piece of paper that have writing and what looked to be finger painting. He vaguely recalled doing a finger painting before being dragged off training with his pops. His mother must really have missed him to have kept something so childish.

Nodoka seated herself on the sofa, arranging her husband so that he would be comfortable upon waking. With that out of the way, she set about grueling her son on his training these past ten years.

Ranma laid it all out, starting with the Cat Fist training and on through his training in the Chaos Empire, although he had to edit out a lot of the details. Stupid classified information laws but he had to follow them, even with his family. Besides, he didn't want to scare his mother. He could tell she was scared enough already, at least from the reaction she had to hearing about the Cat Fist training. Or was that anger he felt? He noticed his mom clenching tightly to the cloth wrapped bundle in her lap. Just what was that thing anyway? The reports didn't cover it, other than the holo photo.

Ten years. That one thought kept repeating itself over and over in Nodoka's mind. Ten years. She had been forced to be alone for ten years and all that time her wayward husband had been living at the Tendo Dojo, just a half hour walk from her. Was she that frightening to her husband that he felt he had to hide away from her? Well, he had lost Ranma and there was the contract. Stupid man. She would have understood. They could have tried for more children over these past ten years. Instead she had had to fend for herself and deal with herself for these many years. She was tempted to bring the contract out there an then, but knew that she couldn't hold Ranma to that contract yet. She needed more time to judge whether he was the Man Amongst Men he had promised to become, no thanks to Genma.

Her grip relaxed as she smiled at her son. "So, are you married yet?"

Ranma about choked on his tea. (When did she serve tea? Must not have been paying attention). How did she know about the Tendos? Or was that a general question? Chuckling, he replied, "No, not yet mom. I'm still waiting. I have at least another tour before I can hope to settle down. I don't want to drag a wife around where she had to worry whether or not I would be home that night. Not fair to her. She doesn't need the stress."

Nodoka nodded knowingly. She knew all to well the stress of not knowing when your husband would be home. She went through that whenever Genma got dragged out on another training trip with that pervert of a master of his. Still, that shouldn't stop her son from playing the fields and learning what he liked. She told him that and sighed to herself at the thought of the many grandchildren she would one day have from so manly a son.

Ranma did his best not to die from choking on his tea. Being surprised was nothing something he was used to and here his mother seemed able to do it without trying. He stammered something that sounded like an affirmative, promising to 'get around' as she put it, although he promised himself to do no such thing if he could avoid it. Last time he tried to date more than one person at a time his CO had him doing midnight patrols for a week. Why she was so upset he had no clue but he knew he must have done something wrong. Girls and Women made no sense.

After deflecting the topic to his training, Ranma was able to spending the rest of the afternoon and late into the evening just talking with his mother, getting to know her for the first time again, and letting her know the man her son had become. He talked about some of his exploits in the military, although he was careful to word everything to sound like he was still on Earth the whole time. He was under strict orders not to reveal his extraterrestrial lifestyle. Which also meant no weapons.

Soon, night time fell on the household. Nodoka showed Ranma to his old room, then dragged her husband to her room. Genma had woken up about an hour into the conversation but had been too scared of his wife to move or say anything. Even as she dragged him to their room, he appeared to be praying. Stupid pops. He deserved whatever mom had in store.

Ranma setup his bedroll and layed down, staring at the ceiling. He had a hard time getting to sleep. It was always that way the first few nights planet side. He missed the steady hum of the engines, the feel of the ships energy twisting around him. And most of all, he missed watching the stars outside his window. Unable to sleep, he slipped out his window and hopped onto the roof, setting out his bedroll and activating a slight static field, in case it decided to rain while he slept.

The night sky was clear except for a few scattered clouds. The street lights were far enough away that he had a good view of the sky. Stars shined down upon him and he was finally able to relax as a he watched the stars, a little piece of home. With his thoughts turning back to the ship that he called home, he finally drifted off to sleep.

Chapter 6

The room was dark and empty, the cold metal of the walls lifeless and unyielding. Eight year old Ranma stood in the center of the room, alone and unarmed. He wore no uniform, only a brief pair of shorts and a pair of boots. Oh, and a helmet that completely blocked out sight and sound. Ranma was essentially blind.

A subtle shift in the way the air felt against his skin and Ranma threw himself into a back handspring, narrowly avoid the giant metal fist that slammed into the floor at the spot where he had just been standing. The fist was followed by a kick that Ranma somehow twisted around, vaulting over what appeared to be a large robot and kicking it in the head on the way over.
The robot staggered a bit from the blow but quickly retaliated with a backhand that nearly took Ranma's head off and would have had he not ducked at the last instant into a leg sweep that knocked the robot over. As soon as the thing crashed down Ranma was on top of it, pounding away with his little fists, only to somersault away as the robot tried to swat him against its chest. Appearing unaffected by the hits, the robot stood and advanced on Ranma again.

Ranma stood still for a moment, his body tense as he cupped the air in front of him. There was a whooshing sound as the air seemed to rush into his hands. Light flared as a ball of energy shot from Ranma's outstretched hands and slammed into the robot, sending it crashing into the far wall, a large chunk of its body melted away.

Taking the helmet from his head, Ranma smirked as he surveyed the wreckage that was once his sparring partner. Finally he was able to detect non-living targets. It was hard sensing them since they didn't possess the ki that is present in all living things. Without the ability to sense that ki and the intentions of his opponents, Ranma had consistently lost his spars against the infernal machines. Finally, he learned to sense the lack of ki and learned to rely on his instincts to react in time to the robots. A direct result of fighting the robots was that his spars against the living opponents got even better as he could not only predict moves but react even faster than before.

Ranma felt something behind him and reacted before he could think. Ranma's eyes snapped open, waking him instantly from the dream. His body reacted on instinct, rolling to the side just as a large form slammed into the roof where his head had been. Without waiting for a response, Ranma dived off the roof, tucked into a roll and came up into a stance facing his opponent, only to see his father standing dumbfounded on the roof.

Inside Ranma was seething. Not at his pops for waking him up like this, but with himself, because his first reaction had been to blast into ash whatever was attacking him. Only the fact that Jonathon had put a limiter on him kept him from killing his own pops. Getting control of himself, he looked up at his father, standing on the roof in his self righteous pose.
"What the hell you do that for pops? It's only five in the morning. This is early even for surprise training"
"You've gone soft boy. I have to make up for these last ten years that you have been without real training. Don't think I'm going to go easy on you just because you've been away."

Ranma laughed. Go easy on him? What a joke. His father wasn't even worth paying attention to. Although if he wanted him to shut up, he might as well humor him. At the very least, it would be a nice warm up for the day. Ranma hopped back onto the roof and got into a ready stance. "Alright pops, lets see what you got."

What followed was a short and utterly one sided battle, where Ranma casually dodged everything that Genma threw at him, while tapping his pops every time he left an opening. Sadly, that proved to be often. His pops had really let himself go over the years. After more than an hour of this rather boring battle, Ranma decided to give his father a small taste of what ten years in the Chaos Empire Marine Core can do for you in terms of strength.

Just as Genma swung with a horrendously easy to dodge punch, Ranma ducked and struck his father with an open palm, quarter strength strike. The fat man went flying off the roof to crash into the ground near the end of the yard, knocking him unconscious. Ranma sighed to himself. Stupid man couldn't even take a weak hit. Ranma jumped down after his father, then hauled the inert body back into the house, depositing him on the floor before making his way to the furo.
Nodoka made her way from her room as the sound of her husband and son fighting on the roof started to fill the morning air. The loud crash of something slamming into the ground had woken her up a few minutes earlier than her normal 6:30 wakeup.

Last night she had spent getting to know her husband again and they had both stayed up late. However, she was not one to forget her duties and she knew that both would be ready for a large meal after the way they had exercised that morning. As she made her way to the kitchen, she noticed her husband lying knocked out on the floor. Looked like Ranma won this round. Sighing contentedly to herself, she started making breakfast, her mind on just how many grandchildren a son as manly as hers could provide.
Ranma relaxed in the furo, letting the heat soak into his body. There was something special about a nice long soak in water. Back on the ship the sonic showers just weren't the same. Although you could get water showers if you felt like spending the credits. Ranma was took much of conservative to spend money that way. He had other things to take care of.

The smells of breakfast drifted into the room and Ranma reluctantly got out and dressed in his clean uniform. Self cleaning uniforms. Gotta love em. Fully dressed and ready for the day, Ranma made his way to the dining table and sat down next to his father, who looked to have just woken up from his involuntary nap. Smirking happily, Ranma waited for breakfast to begin.
He didn't have to wait long as his mother entered the room, bearing a tray with bowls of food on it. She set the food in front of her husband first, then her son, then served herself. Ranma looked down at the food. They didn't have any like this in the military. Surely somewhere in the Empire but it had been ten years since Ranma had last eaten rice. Still, knowing it was polite to eat what his mother prepared, he clumsily wielded his chopsticks and tried to eat breakfast. This sparked a discussion with his mother over the differences in cuisine between traditional Japanese cooking and those that Ranma encountered while in the service. All the while, Genma tried to steal food from his son's plate only to get his hand slapped by Ranma eat time he reached towards the plate. By the end of breakfast, Genma's hand was red and sore from the constant punishment.

Ranma thanked his mother for the breakfast and was about leave when Nodoka got his attention. She reached over by the couch and tossed a pack to her son. At his quizzical look she said, "Its your school books. You have class today."

Ranma nearly choked again. Amazing since he wasn't even eating anything this time. "School? How can you have signed me up for school already? This was supposed to be a vacation for me. I get enough school while on tour. My superiors always make sure I'm up to date with my education."

Nodoka just frowned, her mind made up. "No son of mine is going to skip out on school, no matter how long you're here for. As for how fast I got you enrolled, well, you've never really been unenrolled. The teachers all understand that you've been on a training trip and have just marked you absent each day you've missed. I'm sure they just expect you to keep up with the class when you return."

Ranma internally cringed. If he was planning on returning home, ten years worth of absences was going to look terrible on his record. Good thing he was getting his education in the military. Maybe they could do something about the whole mess. Something his mother said caught his attention.

"I'm sorry mom. What school did you say I was attending again?"
"Oh, I said you'll be attending Furinkan High School."

Chapter 7

Ranma walked along top the fence on his way to school. He was still dressed in his military uniform, preferring it to the school uniform that his mother had tried to get him to wear. It wasn't that the school outfit was bad or anything, it just didn't fit him all that well. His mother had been pretty close with the fit but even so, it was a strain getting into the clothes just to model them for his mother. As a compromise, he promised his mother that if she got him newer clothes that fit better, he would wear them to school. If he was still there. Before leaving though, he made sure he got directions to the school. As reluctant as he was to go, he couldn't stand to disappoint his mother now that he had finally been reunited with her.

After only a fun minutes of brisk running, he reached the school grounds and hopped over the fence. He was surprised to see a large group of boys waiting around the school gates. Many of them appeared to be wearing sporting gear. He shrugged and made his way over to the building when he heard a loud shouting coming from the gates. "I HATE BOYS!"

Ranma turned to see Akane Tendo plowing through the group of boys. He was half tempted to join the melee just for the fun of it, but could tell that Akane had things well in hand. Instead, he chose to watch her technique. Not bad actually. She obviously had some experience dealing with mobs which meant that this little encounter wasn't spur of the moment. Wonder how long it had been going on.

Finally, the last of the boys fell to the ground in a crumpled heap, Akane standing over his battered body breathing deeply from the exertion. Just as Ranma was about to step forward and congratulate her on a good fight, he felt something flying towards him. Twisting out of the way, his snatched the oncoming object out of the air. What? A rose? He turned to locate the attacker only to see a somewhat tall boy in a white samurai's robes, striking what was almost like Genma's dramatic pose. A wooden sword was thrust through his belt.

The boy regarded Ranma with barely veiled contempt. "And who are you, to interrupt my gift to the blue haired goddess Akane Tendo?" Ranma was about to reply but only got so far as saying 'I'm' before the samurai boy interrupted him.

"Ah, but is it not customary to give one's name first? I am Upperclassman Tatewaki Kuno, age 17, the rising star of the Furinkan High School Kendo Team, known to my fellow students as the Blue Thunder." A peal of thunder accentuated Kuno's remarks.

Ranma nearly laughed out at the wannabe samurai. Blue Thunder? What kinda call sign is that? From the vacant looks on the rest of the student body's faces, he might as well have made that up on the spot. Maybe he did. Well, it was only proper to introduce himself as well.

"I am Lieutenant Ranma Saotome of the Chaos Empire Marine Core, on leave visiting family. For the duration of my leave, I will be attending school here." As soon as he said the words he regretted it. So much for keeping a low profile. His CO was gonna kill him when she found out.
The school yard went quiet. Did he just say Marine Core? Did that mean he was part of the JDF? Wait? Chaos Empire? What does that mean? Several of the nearby students wanted to ask questions but knew enough not to get near Kuno before Akane had the chance to knock him out in the morning.

Up on the third story balcony, one Nabiki Tendo regarded the pony tailed boy. Military rank of Lieutenant eh, Saotome? There was much more to this boy that first appeared. She signaled to some of her own lieutenants and gave them orders to learn more about the new boy in school.
Meanwhile, back at ground level, Akane was wondering why Kuno hadn't made his blundering poetic appearance when she noticed the pony tailed boy from the day before, the one who had been attacking Kasumi. She stomped her way over to the boy, intent to let him know she was onto his game. "What are you doing here?" she yelled.

"Huh? Oh its you Akane. My mom enrolled me in school here so here I am."

"Don't give me that! I know why you're really here and it won't work!"

Ranma just looked at her confused. What was she talking about? He was about to reply when the Blue Thunder interrupted him.

"Who are you to speak so freely with Akane Tendo?"

Before Ranma had a chance to reply, Akane replied for him. "His stupid lazy father has been living with us for the past ten years and this jerk yesterday shows up and…" She never got to finish. All Kuno had heard was 'living with us' and 'this jerk'. That made up his mind.

"What!? Living underneath the same roof as the fierce tigress Akane? I shall not allow it. I strike." With that, he pulled out his boken and swung at Ranma, who was already dodging before the swing was started. Ranma had felt the hostile aura emitted by Kuno and knew an attack was coming, as well as which direction he would attack from. The swing, while powerful, was easy to dodge. Once out of way of harm, he casually grabbed the boken to keep Kuno was swinging again. Just as he was about to talk some sense into the boy, Kuno started trying to tug his sword free.

"How dare you touch the weapon of the noble Kuno family, you honor less dog. For this offense I shall smite you like the cur that you are."

Up in the balcony, Nabiki and he factors were busy taking bets on the fight. She was laying good odds against Ranma but she had a hunch he was going to win the fight. She just knew that everyone expected Kuno to win since he was the best fighter in the school. However, she had seen what Ranma had done to his father and Akane at the same time and knew the outcome of this fight.

Ranma released the sword back to the struggling Kuno and backed away, sighing to himself. No matter where he went, there was always someone trying to prove he was better than everyone else, always looking down his nose at other because of his so called nobility. He had seen it on dozens of worlds and each time, he felt this itch to knock them down a peg or ten. Sadly, he was normally under strict orders to leave local nobility alone. Sadly for Kuno, those orders didn't apply while Ranma was on leave on Earth. This was going to be fun.

Kuno began a series of mad swings, trying to hit Ranma any way he could. Ranma just weaved around the blows, noting the boy's power as he did so. Some decent power levels, especially since he seemed to be using his ki to increase his speed. However, he was nowhere near Ranma's level of skill.

"Hold still that I might smite thee!"

"Like I'm going to follow an order like that."

With that, Kuno stopped attacking and stepped back. He regarded Ranma for a moment before nodding to himself. "I see that you are indeed a worthy opponent. However, you have no choice but to bow down before my superior skill. Very well. You shall now face my most powerful technique. Strike! Strike! Strike! Strike! Strike! Strike! Strike! Strike! Strike! Strike! Strike! Strike! Strike! Strike! Strike! Strike! Strike! Strike!"

Kuno thrust his boken forward at Ranma at a speed where the wooden sword seemed to blur and appear as many swords. People nearby could feel the pressure from the speed of the blades. Behind Ranma, a tree suddenly leaned over and fell, cut down by the strikes of air from Kuno's attack. Ranma however continued to weave around the attacks seemingly effortlessly.
Ranma frowned. This kinda power was dangerous to use in such a crowded situation. If one of those strikes went awry, someone could get seriously injured or maybe even killed. He sighed to himself as he realized he needed to end the fight early instead of dragging it out to get a decent workout like he was planning. Besides, wasn't school going to start soon?

Ranma seemed to blur from sight and disappear only to reappear behind Kuno, a small swirl of dust in the air the only evidence of his movement. Ranma ignored Kuno and started walking towards the school building while the rest of the students looked on in puzzlement wondering what had just happened. Kuno turned towards the retreating form of Ranma and raised his boken into the air. "I fight on!" he shouted, then pitched forward face down onto the ground.

With the fight over, most of the students groaned as the realized that Kuno had lost and with him losing, they all lost out as well. Nabiki on the other had was practically bouncing for joy, along with her factors. Now she could afford that dress she had been eyeing at the mall. Knowing that Kuno would need help getting to the nurses office and that no one was likely to help him other than her, she made her way down to the ground floor and started hauling the comatose boy to the nurse, mentally tallying what he would owe her for her help.

In the class room, Ranma made it just in time for the bell. Looking around the room, he didn't recognize anyone until an out of wind Akane came running into the room, a full thirty seconds after the bell rang.

"Class, looks like we have a new student with us today. Although he has been on the rolls the entire year, it looks like he has finally returned from his training trip. Son, why don't you introduce yourself to the class."

Ranma drew himself up to his full height, flipping his ponytail back behind him and had to resist the urge to salute, knowing it would look funny in a Japanese high school class. Nervously running his hand along the back of his neck to keep himself from doing anything else, he smiled at the classroom full of strangers. "Hi, I'm Ranma Saotome."

Many of the girls in class smiled back at him and for some reason that made him nervous. At least he understood the looks most of the boys gave him, whether it was awe or anger. Those feelings at least he could understand. The teacher then directed Ranma to an empty desk in the back of the room before turning to Akane.

"Ms. Tendo, thank you for coming to class. Maybe holding buckets in the hall will help you remember to get to class on time." Akane shot Ranma a venomous look before marching into the hallway.

As class got started, Ranma prepared himself to learn. However, as the lesson got underway, he quickly felt his attention wandering. Not only was it only algebra, something he had learned years ago, it was taught in a manner that was so mundane as to be mind numbing. Writing it out by hand on a flat board? No three dimensional number manipulation? No holographic displays? No computers to pass notes back and forth? Quickly looking interest, Ranma laid his head down on his desk and let his mind run over the various methods of incapacitating random organoes, or strategies to calm a pissed of Thumper, or reasons why not to piss of a Techno mage. His thoughts had just wandered to a certain Techno mage named Tristina, when his hand shot out and automatically intercepted a piece of chalk that the teacher had thrown at him. He placed the piece of chalk on his desk without raising his head from where it was laying. He did the same with the eraser, book and apple that were all intercepted without him raising his head. Finally, the teacher had enough.

"Mr. Saotome. Since you seem to think that you know the material well enough to sleep through my class, why don't you come up here and answer the questions on the board." That'll teach him, thought the teacher.

Ranma yawned and stepped up to the board, looked at the problems for about six seconds, then wrote down the answers without doing the intervening steps. Kids stuff, he thought, then headed back to his desk and laid his head down again.

The teacher scoffed. No way this kid could get these problems right so fast. He was just about to rebuke Ranma when he noticed the answers were right. He just stared at the board, his jaw hanging open. He turned and regarded the sleeping form of Ranma before turning back to the board. It took him longer than six seconds to work out all three questions. His eyes narrowed as he looked at the boy again. Just what kinda training had he been put through these past however many years? There were no school records during that time. He was just about to continue class when an enraged Kuno burst into the room.

"Saotome you fiend, I shall not allow it! You're engagement to Akane Tendo is a travesty that I shall put right by vanquishing you. No doubt you have somehow put a spell upon the Tendo patriarch to allow such a thing to come to pass."

Every person in the room turned to look at Ranma with one thought on their minds. Engaged to Akane? However, that was where the similarities ended and the different reactions to the news began.

Ranma however was ignorant of the thoughts of his fellow classmates. Instead, his eyes were focused on Kuno. How had that dolt found out about the engagements? It was something he himself was trying very hard to forget. Not that his father was going to let him, from all indications. Remembering what had happened during their fight this morning, Ranma hopped to the window sill. "Alright Kuno. You want to fight? Then follow me." Ranma then dove out the window, noticing that there was a pool beneath the classroom. He made a perfect dive into the water, much to the amazement of the student body. Kuno however, made a painful belly flop into the water and slowly bobbed to the surface, unconscious.

Swimming smoothly to the surface of the pool, Ranma made his way to the side and climbed out, mentally sighing. Now his clothes were plastered to him, leaving very little to the already active imagination of the female portion of the students. He was just about to make his way back to class when he heard a familiar battle cry and mentally curse. How had he followed him here?

"Ranma Saotome, prepare to die!"

Chapter 8

Ranma Saotome, prepare to die!"

Ranma cringed inside. There was no mistaking that voice though, or that battle cry. How did he manage to follow me here? I thought he was still locked up in the brig from last time. Not that he lets it stop him. The Admiral keeps bailing him each time he gets in trouble. Just because he happened to be the Admiral's clone was no reason for special treatment.
All this flashed through Ranma's mind as he tucked himself into a forward roll to avoid the large body that slammed into the ground, narrowly missing him. Ranma launched himself from his roll, spring into the air, twisting around and landing facing his opponent. "Jasdon, just what the hell are you doing here?!"

Jasdon stood up from his hole in the ground and brushed dirt from his uniform, a mirror image of the one Ranma himself wore. However, that was where the similarities ended. Jasdon stood more than half a foot taller than Ranma, at nearly 6'8", with short blond hair and fierce green eyes. His body was bulkier than Ranma's but not by much. Although there was one more thing about them that was alike. The self confident smirk.

"You ran out on our duel, Saotome! We were finally going to settle the differences between us. I was finally going to make you pay for everything that you put me through."

The students of Furinkan High School crowded the windows and balconies, watching the drama unfold. Nabiki and her group were going through the crowds taking bets on the upcoming fight. Nabiki almost laughed out loud but didn't want to give away her thoughts. For some reason, people were all betting against Ranma in favor of the new guy, even after watching how easily Ranma had handled Kuno.

Ranma looked at Jasdon in disbelief. He was still going on with that crap? Hadn't he learned to grow up and realize Ranma hadn't done anything? Then he mentally sighed. Nothing had changed over the past four years, why would this latest stay in the brig have changed anything.
"What do you mean ran out? You got thrown in the brig for assaulting a superior officer, remember?"

Jasdon felt his eye twitch ever so slightly. "You are not my superior in anything, Saotome!"
Ranma just smirked. "Oh? Let's see. I'm a Lieutenant, and you are a Lieutenant J.G. (junior grade). That would make me a higher rank, and therefore, your superior officer."

Jasdon exploded in fury at that. Always he was just behind Ranma. Second in his class, where Ranma had been first. Second best record in all the combat trials, where Ranma had been first. Second pick for all the academy dances, where Ranma had been first. Even his girlfriend had picked Ranma over him. And every time they fought, Ranma won. Always Ranma won. Ranma won. Ranma won.

With an inarticulate cry of rage, Jasdon launched himself at Ranma, swinging away with blows almost to fast to watch. Many of the students looked away, not wanting to see the cute boy getting pounded by the big meany. Ranma however, just sidestepped the punches and launched a roundhouse kick that sent Jasdon skipping along the ground towards the school. An eager grin came to Ranma's face as he took one of his favorite stances. Even though he didn't like Jasdon as a person, he was always a good sparring partner. Not too many people in the academy had the level of skill and power to go toe to toe with him and fights like this just made it all the more enjoyable.

Jasdon got to his feet, yet again having to brush dirt from his uniform. He figured Ranma would dodge the first attack but wasn't expecting the kick as an opening. However, it was time to get serious. He launched himself again at Ranma, this time leading with a feint punch then twirling into a backhand that would have taken Ranma in the shoulder had Ranma still been where he was standing a second ago. A hand on the top of his head cause him to look up to see Ranma neatly vaulting over him, using his head and a pivot point.

Before Ranma could land, Jasdon launched a back kick that caught Ranma squarely in the side and sent him flying away to crash into the wall with enough force to crack the concrete. Ranma grunted in surprise then grinned. Oooo, this was going to be lots more fun than he anticipated. Just as Jasdon closed in for another kick, Ranma reached out, snaking his arms through Jasdon's defenses and pounded his chest his hand knife hand chops. Then, before Jasdon could finish the kick, Ranma moved the remaining foot of distance to that he was standing face to face with a surprised Jasdon. Ranma blurred for a moment and suddenly Jasdon went flying back. The big man skidded to a stop, his boots digging furrows through the grass. He then launched himself back at Ranma, who had also launched himself towards the big man.

Both fighters through punches that could level almost be felt by the student watching. The fight was fast and intense, with neither person giving ground. Punches were thrown and blocked; kicks were dodged or merely taken and then retailed for. It was like a dance of power without music, the two fighters flowing to a beat that only they could sense. It caught the attention of the students and held them captive, mesmerized. This fight went way beyond the brawl with the morning horde, way beyond the matches that Kuno had while doing Kendo. It was something much much more.

An especially powerful blow snuck its way past Jasdon's defenses and sent the big man flying away from the fight and crashing him into a tree hard enough to knock the wind out of him. He looked up to see Ranma just standing there, his fist still extended from where it had impacted him.

After fifteen minutes of fighting, Jasdon had had enough. Straightening out his body, he shot a look of venom at Ranma, and then drew his hands together, cupping the air and charging an attack that Ranma would be feeling for months to come.

Ranma nearly laughed. A ki attack? He could dodge those in his sleep. Sometimes had to with the way Jasdon liked to attack him with no warning. Why the boy hadn't gotten kicked out of the military yet Ranma had no clue but that didn't matter. It wasn't his decision.

Suddenly, Ranma realized that if he dodged, that ki blast would hit the school, which was still filled with students. As soon as he came to that realization, he sprang into action, rushing forward to stop Jasdon before he could unleash his attack. He had to stop him before someone got hurt.

Jasdon grin as he saw his target panic in realization of what was about to happen. With an almost feral snarl, he let loose his attack, flinging the ball of destructive energy towards his hated rival and waited for the resulting explosion.

Ranma had only one thought as he flung his arms up and channeled some ki into them to try and lessen the damage. Oh this is really gonna hurt. Then the ki blast hit him and he was obscured from view as a large cloud of dust erupted at the impact sight. A collective gasp rose up from the assembled students. Jasdon just smirked. He had finally beaten him. He had finally beat Ranma. After all these years.

The dust cloud finally settled and another gasp rose from the crowd, breaking Jasdon away from his revelry. There stood Ranma, batter, bruised, but still standing. Steam seemed to rise from his body and his clothes were a tattered mess, not doing much to cover his muscular frame. The shirt was in complete ruins, almost completely gone except for some stubborn threads that managed to hang onto one shoulder, leaving almost his entire chest and waist bare. Surprisingly, his pants made it almost completely intact, much to the irritation of a vast group of watching female students. Several of them were already working their imaginations overtime, fantasizing over those manly muscles. Even the ever angry Akane could only stare at Ranma in admiration. Just look at that chest. She nearly drooled before she remember what a pervert he was, wanting to get married to her or one of her sisters just to get down their pants. She scowled but didn't turn away like she intended and just kept watching.

Nabiki on the other hand was busy taking pictures and having the film crew do the same. She wished she'd thought about video taping the fight to begin with but the spontaneity of the fight caught her off guard. Besides, from the hungry looks the other girls were giving him, those pictures would make her a fortune. Maybe should could convince him to do a model shoot for a cut of the profits. The yen signs danced before her eyes for a moment before she turned her attention back to the fight. A winner had still yet to be decided.

Ranma struggled to breathe. His whole body hurt. It was almost as bad as the one time he'd gotten in a fight with a Thumper. Not a memory he cared to recall or duplicate. It took a lot of effort to stay standing as his body wanted nothing more than to collapse and go to sleep to recover. Instead, Ranma forced himself to stand tall and defiant, knowing that it drive Jasdon to distraction, especially since he figured Jasdon had put all his power into that attack.

Jasdon could only stare. That had been his most powerful attack. He felt drained from channeling that much energy and found it hard to breathe as he tried to restore his badly depleted strength. How had Ranma survived, let alone stay standing? It wasn't fair! No. There is no time for that. Must finish this. He lumbered his way towards Ranma, intent on finishing what he had started when a pillar of light shot from the sky and into the school yard.

When the light faded, three more people joined Jasdon and Ranma on the school grounds. One of the people looked like normal, standing a little shorter than Ranma, with tan skin, short dark hair, and an otherwise plain appearance. Except for his eyes, which were completely black with no white whatsoever. His eyes seemed to shine and glisten in the light of the morning sun. The other two people were anything but normal. Fifteen feet tall and four feet wide at the shoulders, they could have been human were they not so abnormally huge. Both were armor in the same color scheme as Ranma's now defunct uniform.

Ranma relaxed while Jasdon tensed. The two large figures walked over to Jasdon, picked him up by the shoulders and carried him over to the other man. "Jasdon Efrit III. Once again you are charged with attacking a superior officer. On top of that, you are charged with endangering civilian lives, as well as traveling without permission. Your father is not going to be able to get you out of this one. You'll be in confinement for awhile this time. You'll be lucky not to lose rank for this as well. Traveling without permission is a serious offense." With that, the man gave a dismissive wave and another column of light plummeted to earth, enveloped Jasdon and his two escorts, then vanished, taking the three people with it.

The remaining man looked at Ranma and only smiled in amusement. "You know Ranma, you could have just fired a ki blast to counter his, instead of taking the hit. Although I have to say, your method was a deal more showy, although I'm betting you'll be feeling the effects of your showboating for a couple of days at least."

Ranma wryly grinned. "Maybe you're right Jonathon. However, when have you ever known me to do things the easy way?"

Jonathon chuckled as he thought over the past ten years. Yup, Ranma Saotome never did anything the easy way, especially when there was a way to show off available, even if it meant a little more work. In all his millennia of watching, Jonathon had never had more fun than while working with Ranma. He grinned at the youth and smiled, then reached into the air and pulled out a spare uniform shirt for Ranma.

"You know, you go through more uniforms than any ten people I know, with the exception of possible Becosea and Makae. Those two have to be the most destructive people I've ever met. Oh, and one more thing before I go. Just thought I would warn you. Sargon's great granddaughter finally made technomage. Youngest ever. Last I heard, she was heading out this way to celebrate. Keep your eyes open."

With a friendly wave, Jonathon was covered in another pillar of light, then vanished from sight, leaving Ranma panicked and the rest of the student with a lot more questions than before. Struggling into his new shirt, Ranma walked slowly back to class. Normally he would have just jumped up to the window but for some reason, he just didn't have the energy. Maybe it had something to do with trying not to die a few minutes ago.

The rest of the students reluctantly went back to class when their teachers came around to round them up. By the time Ranma made it back to class, he found a mountain of notes on his desk. Sighing mentally, Ranma took all the notes and put them in his pack before laying his head down to rest. The teacher restarted his lesson, ignoring the sleeping Ranma.

Lunchtime finally arrived and Ranma inwardly groaned. He had forgotten his lunch this morning, since he was so distracted about having to go to school. He had no idea where to get food at the school either. Did they have a mess hall? He stood up and suddenly found himself surrounded by girls, who had somehow noticed that he didn't have a lunch. He was offered enough portions of lunch to keep him fed for a week. There was no way for him to accept all the offers so he politely declined, even though his stomach was screaming at him to accept. However, his problems were solved as the crowd of girls parted. Nabiki Tendo walked up to Ranma, handed him a small bento, crooked her finger and said, "Follow me, we need to talk."

Chapter 9

Nabiki Tendo walked up to Ranma, handed him a small bento, crooked her finger and said, "Follow me, we need to talk."

The crowd of girls reluctantly let the two through, although not without a fair amount of pouting, scowling and otherwise mumbled cursing that the girls made sure Nabiki didn't hear. Nabiki wasn't the most popular girl in school just because she ran all the betting pools. She had a way of spinning people around her fingers. Everyone liked her, most wanted to be her, date her, somehow spend time with her. None would dare challenge her though. If she had set her sights on Ranma, then none of the other girls had a chance until Nabiki herself said otherwise. They accepted it, they just didn't have to like it.

Nabiki led Ranma around the corner of the school building and to a part of the grounds that was relatively deserted. A few trees were scattered about, with a couple students under each tree just enjoying their lunches. One tree seemed empty, off by itself, a good distance from any of the other trees. It was to that tree that she led Ranma. Seating herself, she began eating and promptly ignored Ranma.

Inside, Ranma started to smile. Ah. Mind games. He had gone through more than his share during training. Some of his instructors had been brutal even. Especially while learning to overcome the Cat Fist. Deciding to play her game, he started eating the bento, surprised at the flavor. Did Nabiki make this? If so maybe he should try to get the recipe.

It only took Nabiki a few minutes to finish her lunch. She was surprised when Ranma didn't immediately start asking her questions when they sat down, instead eating at a sedate pace as if he had no concerns. Most of the other students would have been squirming by now. Maybe there was something to this military story that Ranma gave off. She decided to open negotiations.

"Ranma. In light of your recent activities, we need to lay down some ground rules for the engagement."

Ranma interrupted her. When faced with an opponent that you know is better situated than you, attack. Attack from a direction they don't expect. Attack when they don't expect. Most of all, attack how they wont expect.

"I completely agree. As you can see, my life isn't exactly what you would call peaceful. Therefore, this is what I propose. Since I cannot guarantee what will happen should I be with someone alone, all activities will be in public areas. Also, most outings will be planned in advance. I'll need your number. I'll call you this evening to give you my contact information as well. Also, I will not be dating your younger sister. Something about her bothers me and until she learns to control that temper of hers. Oh, and since our fathers engaged me to a Tendo, that means that your older sister is in the running as well. She seemed nice enough that I would like to get to know her as well."

Nabiki nearly sighed in relief when Ranma stopped talking. She had been trying to interrupt him the entire time but he just kept talking over her. "I wouldn't get your hopes up about Kasumi. She has her eyes set on a certain doctor and from what we can tell, he has his sights set on her. They've dated a few times, when he can manage to get away from his practice." She stopped talking as she realized she just gave away way to much information.

Ranma smiled as he saw Nabiki's eyes go wide. Gotcha! "Well, if you are telling me Kasumi is out of the running, and I've already said Akane is out of the running, well, that only leaves you doesn't it? Actually, that does makes things easier. However, just because you are the only one available doesn't mean that I'll pick you. I wouldn't want you to feel that I was accepting an engagement to you just because you are the only one. That wouldn't be fair to you. Now that I think about it, I think we should just continue to see each other at school for awhile before we try dating. We need to become more familiar with each other. I'm thinking of challenging my class anyway and moving up. Who knows? Maybe we'll end up in the same class together."
Ranma tilted his head to the side for a moment, almost as if he was going to wait for her response. Then, before she could say anything, he nodded. "I'm glad we had this talk Nabiki. Well, looks like lunch is over. Thank you for the bento, is was delicious." He handed the empty container to her, then got up and headed back to class.

Nabiki on the other hand was doing her best impression of a fish. What had just happened? Wasn't she here to lay down the rules, to explain that while they could date, he would be the one paying for everything. And only when she wanted to go on a date? Where had she gone wrong? Shaking her head in confusion, she stood and made her way back to class as well, knowing one thing. She definitely needed more information about this Ranma. He was dangerous.

When Ranma reached class, he found another pile of notes on his desk and this time sighed out loud. Why me? This happened at the academy too and I'll never understand it. All it means is trouble. Sweeping the notes into his pack, he sat down and got ready for the lesson. It was an English class, something they didn't have in the Chaos Empire so it was actually something new to learn. Ranma found himself paying close attention to the lesson, following along in the book. He promised himself he would take a closer look at the book after school.

The rest of the day passed by rather quickly. No visitors from his past, no more attacks from Kuno, nothing more interesting than strange looks from the kids in his class. When the final bell rang, Ranma seemed to teleport from class, moving as fast as he could to the assistant principles office to setup the test to move up a grade. At first the man was hesitant, at least until Ranma began a discussion of spatial geometry and how it related to projectile reflections. When the man's eyes glazed over, Ranma new he would get his test.

Fifteen minutes later, he was strolling through the gates of the school when he noticed Nabiki waiting just outside the gates. She fell into step beside him but didn't say anything. There was nothing hostile in her aura so he decided to ignore it. They walked in companionable silence for a few moments. Finally, Nabiki had to ask the question on her mind.

"Why are you walking along the fence?"

Ranma chuckled. "The higher ground is generally more defensible. My combat style if generally aerial so starting out higher gives me more power to my attacks should anything happen. Besides, I'm more comfortable on high places."

Nabiki chewed on that answer for a moment before replying. "Do you expect attacks often? Just what did you do these past ten years?"

"Nabiki, I wasn't lying when I said I was in the military. I'm an assault leader in the Marine Core, meaning I'm one of the first people into a battle zone and one of the last to leave. Because I am ready for an attack at any time, I'm still alive." A pained look crossed his face for a moment before he could control his feelings. "I like fighting and all, but I hate wars…" He trailed off into silence.

The middle Tendo didn't know what to say. She hadn't actually expected the whole military story to be true but from what she could tell, Ranma wasn't lying. So what did that mean really? Why was he really here? And what were his real feelings about the engagement?

"Ranma, I know that when our fathers originally proposed the engagement, you were opposed to the idea. So was I and I know that my sisters aren't too happy with the idea either. However, just because we don't want to get married to you right off the bat doesn't mean we won't give you a chance. Kasumi has already said that she would like to take you up on your offer to cook dinner. Akane…well, lets not talk about Akane. I wouldn't mind the opportunity to get to know you as well. Before you say anything though, lets just get one thing clear. You're buying. Doesn't matter what we are doing, you pick up the tab."

Ranma just nodded. Isn't that they way it worked anyway? He'd always picked up the tab, no matter what happened. Even his CO made him pick up the bill and she made at least twice as much as he did. Bah, I'll never understand women.

"Nabiki, I have a couple questions. About Kuno and that group of boys this morning."

"A thousand yen."

"What?"

"A thousand yen and I'll tell you what you want to know."

Ranma stopped walking and just looked at the girl walking along side him. Pay for information? Why would he want to do that? Was she some kinda information broker? Bah, he didn't need the information that bad and decided to just keep walking.

Nabiki watched the retreating back of Ranma in surprise. He wanted information, she offered it at a discount, and now he was just walking away. That didn't normally happen. Was she losing her touch? Curious, she resumed her walk in silence, staying near the pony tailed boy who had captured her attention. Originally her plan was to go after Kuno but his infatuation with her little sister turned her off. The boy had just seemed to head downhill as he got older. He had been a nice guy until his mother died.

They kept walking for awhile longer. Nabiki began to get annoyed. Who was he to ignore her? As the minutes passed on in silence, Nabiki found herself struggling to control her temper, something she wasn't used to. Boys weren't supposed to ignore her. She was the Queen of Furinkan High School.

Eventually, they arrived in front of the Saotome Residence and Ranma flipped sideways off of the wall and landed in front of the gate. He pulled something out of his pocket and tossed it to Nabiki before bowing and entering the gate. Nabiki just watched him leave, a surprised look on her face. When she finally remember what she was doing, looked at the object in her hand. It was a folded piece of paper. She opened the paper. Inside was Ranma's phone number and a scribble saying 'call me'. She stared at that paper for a moment before wading it up. She reared back her fist and was about to throw it away when a plan came to mind. She carefully spread back out the paper, folded it, and put it in her purse, then started for home. She had calls to make.
Ranma walked into the house, calling out to let his parents know he was home. His mother called out from the kitchen but there was no response from his pop. When he asked his mom where pops was, she said that he missed his friend and went to visit the Tendo family. Ranma frowned. Only home a day and his pops was already running out.

He told his mom he was heading into the backyard to practice and that he would come in and wash up before dinner. He then spent the next several hours pushing himself through a vigorous regime of katas and exercises. Dinner came and went and still his pops didn't return. Ranma was writing in his book when he noticed his mother leave. An hour later, just before Ranma was going to turn in for the night, his mother returned, dragging her husband behind her. Ranma tried to fall asleep but once again found himself unable to sleep. He drifted to the roof, setup his bedroll and gaze up into the sky. The events of the day played themselves out again and he wondered to himself why he bothered coming home. With his thoughts drifting back to his home in the stars, he drifted off to sleep.

Chapter 10

Sparks stuttered from the broken console, illuminating the room in flashes of light that did more to blind and offset night vision. Ten year old Ranma struggled from under the wreckage of a bulkhead, his right arm hanging useless at his side. A slight trickle of blood trailed down his arm to slowly drop from the end of his fingertips. He didn't have time to stop the bleeding though. There had been other people in the building when he had been blasted into it. So much for being the best.

Ranma staggered his way to the door and cursed as it failed to open automatically. The shorted out console must have shorted out the door as well. Looking around, he sighed as he saw the only way out was back the way he came, through the hole in the roof where he had crashed through. Why did I try to fight on my own. Beating up droids in practice made me too cocky. Not a good way to learn to call for backup when he needed it.

All thoughts were cut off as a massive, dark form floated down through the hole. It was ten feet tall, made entirely of black metal that seemed to suck in the light around it, a pit of darkness in the flickering light. A Trian Death Droid (TDD). A killing machine sent in to destroy the living portion of a base. And it had targeted one Ranma Saotome as the nearest candidate for elimination.

Ranma tried to call up his ki, to will himself to keep fighting, but he was so tired. It was a struggle to move. But move he did, as he barely dodged a blast that blew open the doors. He threw himself through the burning metal and into the hallway beyond, his body screaming in protest at the action. Soon as he could stand, he started lumbering towards the exit. He had to get out of the base to get help. Most of the defense droids had already been destroyed and those that weren't were occupied defending the rest of the base. This fight was only between Ranma and the TDD.

A heavy crash signaled the droid entering the hall but Ranma didn't have the moment necessary to turn and look at his pursuer. Instead, he put all his energy into reaching a portion of the base that had some defenses. A girl suddenly hurtled into the hallway from another open doorway and Ranma didn't have enough time to avoid running into her. Instead, he grabbed her about the waist with his one good arm and kept on running for the exit, ignoring the girl's protests.
Finely honed instincts made him twist to the side as a crackling ball of energy shot through the air where he was just standing a moment ago. Unfortunately, he slammed into the wall of the hallway dodging and bounced off, stunning him for a moment. He didn't have enough time to dodge the next blast and braced himself for the impact.

A moment past and nothing happened, not even the sound of an explosion signaling a miss. However, he did feel something, a sort of electrical charge in the air that was making his senses go haywire. It was giving him a headache actually. He looked around and saw the girl in his arm. Her eyes were glowing and she was staring directly behind him.

He turned and saw the ball of energy suspended in the air, not moving. The girl stared directly at the energy ball, the sheen of sweat beginning to form on her brow. The TDD also seemed to be immobilized. Ranma gently set the girl down and reached into his subspace pocket for his gun and started firing away at the drop. Unfortunately, the pistol didn't do much against armor, as it was more of a last resort weapon that Ranma had been forced to take anyway. Cursing to himself, he put the weapon away and looked around for something to do, someway to help safe this girl. It was obvious she couldn't move. Not if she wanted to keep the droid immobilized.

Taking a deep calming breath, Ranma once again tried to gather his energy. He reached out and took hold of his ki, pushing it into his palm. He felt weak as his life drained into the ball in his fist. It took almost everything he had, but he launched the ki attack at the TTD. The blast impacted the droid and enveloped it in smoke, the sound of wreckage hitting the ground music to Ranma's ears. He would have jumped for join when he saw his attack strike the droid, but didn't have the energy to feel joy. Instead, he leaned heavily against the wall, panting for breath.
When the smoke cleared Ranma slumped to the ground. The TDD was still standing, although there was a gouge in the armor where Ranma had managed to blast away an arm of the droid.
Now they were even. Unfortunately, that left the droid in better condition than Ranma. He felt his eyes start to droop. NO. CAN'T FALL ASLEEP! CAN'T LOSE! But his body didn't listen. Even as the top ten year old in the academy, he was still only ten years old.

Ranma was sad. Not for himself. He knew he would die fighting. Didn't think he would only be ten but that was life. No, he felt sad that he wasn't able to protect the girl. NO! He had to protect her. He struggled to his feet, intent on putting every last thing he had into one last attack.
Suddenly, the wall near the TDD exploded inwards and an armored figure stepped into the hallway. It was just as tall as the TDD, a walking suit of armor, a battloid. Ranma looked at the thing through bleary eyes and recognized the crest. Keone Jameson, foster father to Ranma and the best hand to hand fighter in the Empire. His voice came over the loud speaker. "Get her out of here. I'll hold this hunk of metal off. I've got two CAMs coming to finish it off. Now go."

Ranma nodded weakly and guided the girl away. She looked nearly as tired as he did but other than that he didn't have time to examine her. The two kids just stumbled along towards the exit, the leaving behind the sounds of fighting. When they finally made it through the blast doors and into the sunlight, the two were completely exhausted. Ranma sighed in relief to see the outside. A group of droids and personnel were running towards then, a large cloaked figure in the lead.

The large man stopped just short of reaching Ranma and the girl. Ranma looked at the big man with wondering eyes. Was that the sound of bells just a moment ago? A moment later and Ranma's eye went wide. That was the cloak of a full Technomage. The Technomage swept back his hood, revealing his black on black glowing eyes and a long dark hair, tiny silver bells woven into the ends of two long braids. That explained the sound. But what was a Technomage doing at the academy?

His question answered itself as the girl next to him suddenly found a new source of energy and sprang into the Technomage's arms, giggling in delight. "Hello great grandfather." Great grandfather? The man looked barely out of his thirties. Then again, most technomages aged really slowly so maybe he was.

Ranma struggled to attention, saluting the Technomage before slumping over in exhaustion again. A group of medics suddenly surrounded Ranma, poking him with instruments and injecting him with painkillers and healing enhancers. He struggled weakly against the medics, claiming he was fine and didn't need any drugs in his body. The medics just ignored him and kept working.

The little girl whispered something into the Technomage's ear, causing the big man to smile. He nodded and put the girl down, who then walked over to lean over Ranma, who by that time was lying on the ground. "Hi. I'm Tristina. Want to be friends?"
Ranma woke up with a light rain hitting him in the face. He looked into the cloudy sky as he realized he had forgotten to setup the static field before he went to sleep. His own internal clock, having finally adjusted to local time, told him it was just about five in the morning, about the time his father attacked him the day before.

Sure enough, a dark shadow lumbered through the rain and launched itself at Ranma. Ranma parried the attack, knocking his father away and off the roof, before following up with a sidekick to the head. He kicked slow enough that his father was able to block and retaliate. Ranma grinned. Lazy and fat though his father may be, the man was an excellent fighter. Once he got back in shape, he would be more fun to spar with. Currently though, all he could hope for was to learn some new moves from the old man. He deliberately dialed down his own speed, fighting at the level that his father did, then upping the intensity whenever his pops decided to try something new.

They spent the better part of an hour that way, Ranma finally managing to enjoy the fight. He took his time to learn his father's techniques, refining them and incorporating them into his own style. Grinning, Ranma decided to beat Genma with his own style and began to fight like the old man. The look of surprise on Genma's face was priceless and Ranma wished he'd had a holo cam to capture the image. Eventually though, the smells of breakfast cooking caught his attention and Ranma ended the fight with a spinning sidekick that rocketed Genma into the wall and into unconsciousness.

Ranma exited the furo and headed for the table. Breakfast passed by quickly and uneventfully with Genma out of commission. Ranma thanked his mother for the wonderful food, then quickly got ready for school. As he picked up his pack, he remembered the mountain of notes he had stuffed into his bag and pulled them out to start going through them. Most were pretty standard, asking who he was and where he was from, what kinda things he liked to do. A few were pretty graphic and had him blushing red from his toes to his head. He put the rest of the notes aside and decided to read them later, so that he could manage to look at his class mates without blushing. He kissed his mother on the cheek goodbye and made his way out the door.

Nodoka waited a moment until she was sure her son was gone, then began sorting through the notes. Most she discarded as mundane but a group of them caught her attention. The requests were quick specific and she found her breath quickening and she turned to look at her husband with a decidedly hungry gaze. She would have to give some of these suggestions a try. Then she remembered that these were for her son and she just smiled. Oh…so manly.

Ranma made his way across the roofs of Nerima, blazing a speedy trail towards school. Since he already knew where the school was, there was no reason for him to walk the streets. Mere minutes later he arrived on the school grounds, a good half hour before school was scheduled to start. He was surprised to see a large gathering of students already at the school. It wasn't boys like last time. Instead, it seemed like nearly every girl in the school was in the courtyard, gathered around a much smaller group of girls.

Ranma wisely decided to avoid that many girls in one place and stealthily made his way into the school building. He made his way to the vice principles office and found the man waiting for him with the challenge test. Grinning, Ranma pulled out a pencil, grabbed the test, sat down and twenty minutes later, and handed in the fifty question test. The vice principle just stared at Ranma before taking the test and running it through the scanner. Other than poor marks in English, Ranma passed and was moved up a grade. Ranma was handed his new schedule with directions on which room to go to. A student aide was called in a Ranma was led to his new room.

He was the first one in the room other than the teacher. He took a few moments to get to know the instructor, explaining about his time in the military academy. The teacher nodded knowingly but suggested to Ranma that even though he may know the subject, he should still participate to help the others learn as well.

Wow, never thought of it that way. Ranma stood next to the teacher as the students came filling into the room. Most just stared at Ranma, while many of the girls looked at something in their hands, sighed to themselves, then nearly tripped as they walked to their desks. Amongst the last to arrive was Nabiki Tendo, who gave a surprised look that was quickly hidden beneath icy calm. Ranma nearly sighed to himself as he watched her walk to her desk. When Kuno walked into the room, Ranma nearly had a fit before he could control himself. Kuno on the other hand had so such restraint.

"What are you doing in this classroom, foul sorcerer. This is the room of Tatewaki Kuno, age 17, the Rising Star of Furinkan High School, known as the Blue Thunder." Outside the room, thunder peeled dramatically and Ranma almost clapped at the theatrical timing.
"I tested out of my last class and was assigned here by the vice principle."

"What? Surely you jest? Then again, it is only fitting that you would want to bask in the greatness of a true samurai and learn from the scholar such as myself. Very well, I shall allow it." Kuno then turned and headed to the back of the room, taking a seat at his desk just as the bell rang to begin school.

Ranma just looked at Kuno like he couldn't believe it. What world did this guy live in? One moment it's like I'm his most hated mortal enemy, the next I'm some servant begging to learn at his feet. Ranma pulled his ponytail over his shoulder and started playing with the end of it while he waited for the teacher to introduce him to the class.

Akane looked at the desk next to her and wondered where that pervert who was trying to seduce her sisters was hiding. No doubt he was trying to spy on a girl somewhere. She humphed to herself and turned back to listen to the lesson.

When the bell for lunch rang Ranma bolted from the class and through the open window. It wasn't that the class was boring. Actually, the teacher managed to maintain Ranma's interest for the entire portion of class. It was the constant glances from the girls in the class that had him on edge. He needed to get away from those hungry looks. Soon as he landed outside, he saw more girls with the same look. Taking one last look around, he vaulted to the top of the school, mentally thanking whatever power there was out there that the roof was empty. He pulled out the lunch that his mother had prepared for him and thankfully ate his lunch in piece.

Nabiki sighed in frustration, despite bringing in a fortune that morning. She had sold two types of pictures that morning. They were of Ranma his shirt off, changing into a new one after his fight yesterday. The difference between the two pictures was that the more expensive one had Ranma's phone number on the back. But no. What had her annoyed was that Ranma was nowhere to be seen at lunch. She had been intent on laying down more rules, as well as setting up payment arrangements for him to keep her from selling his address. She had gotten reports that Ranma had jumped to the roof but after sending someone up there, had found no sign of him. She spent the entire lunch frustrated and only remembered to eat with five minutes to go in lunch.

Back in the class room, Ranma continued to squirm under the looks of his classmates, continually playing with his ponytail, binding and unbinding the end with a little silver clasp. It was really little more than a ring of silver with a simple hook on the end, to be used in place of a hair tie. It had been a gift almost three years ago, when his hair had finally gotten long enough to put into a ponytail rather than a pigtail.

When school ended, Ranma had never been more relieved in his life. He quickly made his way to the vice principle and explained that he wanted to test out of school entirely. The man merely shook his head and explained that someone Ranma's age HAD to be in school according to the law of the nation, no matter how smart he may be. Ranma left the school for home, his head hanging in defeat as he bounded across the rooftops towards home.
As Ranma opened the door to the house, he was met by his mother, who had a stack of notes for him. These notes weren't the same as the ones he had gotten at school today and yesterday. When he asked his mother what they were, she just smiled at her manly son.
"These are date invitations."

Chapter 11

"These are date invitations."

Ranma looked at his mother in stunned silence. Date invitations? Already? He nearly groaned in frustration. He'd gotten more than his fill of dating back in the military. In the last month before his leave actually. When the people in his division heard he was leaving for awhile, they practically mobbed him. He was doing something different with a different person almost every night. It was torture. Well, the one where he went with little Kitt to watch her father Keone in the freestyle combat tournament was fun. Although she was an active bundle of furry energy, just like her mother, who kept looking at him funny throughout the tourney.

Reluctantly, he took the stack of papers from his smiling mother and made his way to his room where he could go through them and find out what fates awaited him. He was pleasantly surprised to see that most of the dates were invitations out to eat or to the movies. However, many of them were scheduled for the same day, there was even some that wanted him to call them back this afternoon if possible.

Sighing and giving into the inevitable, Ranma made his way over to the phone. Well, he was new in the area and did need to learn the town. Most of the dates were in different places around town so this could be a good way to learn his way around. Besides, something about the first place this girl wanted to take him sounded familiar. Shrugging it off, he dialed up the first number.

"Hi, this is Ranma Saotome. Is Sakura there?"
Fifteen minutes later, Ranma found himself outside the school grounds, leaning against the outer wall. Sakura had said to meet her here. He still wasn't sure who she was as he didn't get a chance to get to know any of his classmates yet. However, she said she would recognize him. He wasn't waiting too long before a girl made her way over to him. "Are you ready Ranma?"
Ranma took a moment to look at the girl. She was a little shorter than him, about as tall as his nose, with long black hair that flowed down her shoulders and back in a swirl of curls. Dark brown eyes peered out from behind a pair of demure glasses, barely large enough to see though. The glasses rested on her nose without any type of support.

"Sakura?"

She nodded smiling, then hooked her arm through his and started leading him down the street. Ranma nearly jumped over the well when she didn't that but barely managed to maintain his composure. The first time he had been on a date and someone did that to him, he actually had jumped through a wall to get away. The girl was not happy about that and spent the rest of date letting him know her displeasure. His foster father had also taken him out for 'extra practice' a.k.a. corrective beating, all the while explaining how to treat a girl while on a date. It had taken awhile before he could be comfortable. For some reason, girls just made him nervous when they got too close.

Sakura smiled and hummed softly to herself as she led Ranma down the street. Even though the date had just started, she already knew it was worth what she had paid Nabiki. Not only that, her ambition in asking for the date right of the bat had paid off. She just knew Ranma was the kind of man to answer a request for a date. Plus the feel of his arm was just to die for. She slowly caressed his arm, like she would pet a cat.

Ranma felt his nervousness relax when Sakura started petting his arm. He had to struggle hard not to start purring. At least he had finally learned to control his cat reactions over the past ten years. It was touch and go for awhile during the first half of his time away. Even now, he sometime found himself reacting to his inner cat. Fortunately, the limiter that Jonathon had put in place helped him control his instinctive reactions as well as locking away his access to chaos energy. Without that energy to tap into, he was a little weaker than before but no longer had to worry about vaporizing someone on accident like he almost did pops.

While he was lost in his own little world, they arrived at the place where they would have dinner. The place looked packed. It must be popular, especially amongst the students. A familiar smell wafted from the inside, tickling a memory. Why do I know that smell? He found himself dragged inside and dragged to a small table for two. Almost immediately, a teenager sporting a yellow and black bandana walked over to take their order. Sakura ordered two specials and the boy nodded and whirled away to take the next order.

"Specials? What kind of food do they serve here?"

"This place has the best okonomiyaki in all of Japan!"

"Did you say okonomiyaki?"

As soon as Sakura had nodded her head, Ranma seemed to vanish from the table. She looked around and found him near the grill, peering over the heads of the gathered students. Not wanting to be left out of whatever Ranma had planned, she made her way through the crowd to Ranma's side. Just then Ranma raised his hand and started waving his arm at the chef.

"Hey Ukyo, is that you?"

The okonomiyaki chef looked up from her grill, looking for the source of the voice calling out to her. She finally spotted the voice and her heart nearly skipped a beat. No way could it be him. He was supposed to have died ten years ago. But there was no mistaking those blue eyes. "Ranchan?"

Ranma smiled, genuinely happy for the first time since returning. Finally, someone from his past who had no connection to the military and didn't want something from him, like his pops. "Ucchan! How you been? Long time no see!" He was ready to hop over the grill and hug his best friend, when he found a giant spatula thrust at his face. Acting on reflex, he dodged back, avoiding having his head removed by the merest of margins. The chatter in the room suddenly stopped as everyone watched the chef leap over the grill and attack a customer. Most of the people backed against the wall. They'd seen fights that the waiter had gotten into and wanted no part of it if the chef wanted to beat up a customer. They didn't want to lose the privilege to eat there after all.

Ranma twisted out of the way of another swing from the giant spatula that Ukyo seemed intent on beating him with. He felt another aura flare up behind him and ducked just as the waiter went flying through the air in a flying tackle, just missing Ranma. The boy went crashing into a table but stood up as if nothing had happened. "What do you think you're doing to my girlfriend!?"

Ranma blinked and stopped moving for a second. Ukyo took that opportunity to swing at Ranma. Not even looking, Ranma caught the spatula in his hand, peering from the boy to Ukyo and back. "Girlfriend?" He took a closer look at Ukyo then pulled back in shock, letting go of the spatula. Ukyo was a girl? When did that happen?

Ukyo unfortunately, misunderstood the question. "Yes, girlfriend you jerk. After you and that no good father of yours left me on the side of the road, my father made me train to defeat you. There were only two ways for me to regain my lost honor and one of those was to kill you and your father. I met Ryoga here at an all boys' school and we started training together. That's when we hooked up."

Ranma just looked confused. "That's great Ucchan. But that wasn't what I meant. When did you become a girl? Did you get cursed or something?"

Ryoga couldn't stand by and listen while this jerk insulted his girlfriend. He punched the remains of the table he had landed on, shattering it beyond repair, and then swung at Ranma with all his power behind his fist. Suddenly he was on the ground, looking up at the ceiling. He faintly heard a 'stay their till I'm done talking' but wasn't sure past the ringing in his ears.

"Listen you jerk. I've always been a girl. When you broke your promise my father made me dress and act like a boy, because he said boys can get revenge but girls can't. I've spent the last ten years as a boy and until I met Ryoga, I almost started thinking I was a boy. And it's all your fault!"

"Promise? What promise? All I remember was your father giving us the cart as a present. At least that's what pops said."

Ukyo was just winding up for another swing but she stopped. He didn't know? "You mean you don't remember the promise? The pact that our fathers made?"

Ranma cringed when he heard the word pact. This sounded way too much like the situation with the Tendo family. If it turned out like that, he was going to have a long talk with his pops. He then shook his head at Ukyo. "What pact?"

Ukyo mentally sighed. So he really didn't know. Ten years of her life, wasted on wanting revenge against a boy, a friend, who didn't even know he had betrayed her. "Your father promised to take me on the training trip with you. When we grew up, we were going to get married. Why do you think I was chasing after the cart when you left?"

Ranma sheepishly rubs the back of neck, wishing he'd never listened to his pops when he was younger. "Sorry Ucchan. Pops told me you were saying goodbye, so I just waved. I didn't want to go but pops said it was time. You're lucky that you didn't come with us though." A shudder passed through him as he remembered the Cat Fist training.

Ukyo found herself unable to answer. There was a definite sense of sadness coming from Ranma, as if he was really sad for what happened. She didn't know what to think when she saw him shudder. The Ranma that she remembered hadn't been afraid of anything. But she couldn't let him off that easy. Not after wasting the last five years. She was just about to ask a question when the decision was taken out of her hands.

Ryoga came barreling into Ranma, carrying them both out the doors and into the street. Ranma pushed off of the angry boy, vaulting into the air and putting some distance between them. Ranma eyed his new opponent. He had a strong battle aura and he looked even stronger than Akane, who was already all muscle and no brains. They also shared that same spike of red anger in their auras, which seemed to control them most of the time. He was reluctant to fight, since Ukyo seemed to care for the boy, but neither was he just going to lie down and take a beating. That's wasn't the way of Ranma Saotome.

Ranma just leaned back, stretching, before going into a relaxed, defensive stance. He gave Ryoga smirk and beckoned him forward. Ryoga rushed forward, going for a straight punch that Ranma casually dodge. Ryoga sidestepped and twirled around, launching a vicious backhand that Ranma blocked. The blow knocked Ranma back a couple stepped.

This Ryoga guy packs some serious strength behind these hits. He could be a serious fighter if he wasn't so slow. Ranma upped the speed, slipping between punches and kicks and giving Ryoga a swift punch to the gut ever couple of dodges. The rest of the students inside poured out through the door, Ukyo and Sakura along with them. Sakura moved over to stand near Ukyo, not really knowing what to say, knowing that her date was about to lay the smack down on what was formerly the toughest martial artist in Nerima.

The two fighters danced in the street, Ryoga raining down powerful blows that could pulverize stone, while Ranma effortlessly dodged around them. Every couple of punches, Ryoga would through in a kick for variety, to try and throw Ranma off, but nothing seemed to work on the ever moving, hoping Ranma. At one point Ranma jumped over Ryoga, placed a hand on the top of Ryoga's head, and then launched himself high into the air. As soon as Ryoga turned around, he pulled several bandanas off his head and sent them spinning through the air at the flying Ranma.

Ranma twisted in mid air, catching the flying blades and tossing them back where they came from. Ryoga dodged out of the way as Ranma came crashing down, sinking an inch into the ground in a self made crater. Ryoga scowled at Ranma, getting even angrier at the happy smirk plastered on Ranma's face.

"Hold still and fight will you!?" "That would be a pretty stupid thing to do, don't you think? I like it much better when you can't hit me." Ryoga gave an inarticulate reply and continued to swing away.

Sakura leaned over to Ukyo and whispered in a conspiratory voice, "Don't you think you should stop them before they cause any more harm to the street?"

Ukyo looked around and finally noticed the crater where Ranma hand landed, and the way the bandanas were embedded in the ground. She suddenly realized how destructive the two could be when fighting. She recalled a time when Ryoga shattered a tree while camping and made it look so easy. He could seriously hurt Ranma. No. It wasn't Ranma's fault. It was that stupid fat father of his. She raced inside the restaurant and came back out wearing a bandolier of throwing spatulas. She took two and tossed them at the fight, one in front of each fighter. "Stop this fighting at once!"

Ranma flowed into a neutral stance and stayed where he was. He didn't relax completely, as Ryoga was still giving off waves of aggression. Ryoga started to protest, but sputtered to a stop as Ukyo stared at him. Ranma finally relaxed as the waves of aggression faded away to nothing. Ryoga gathered up the spatulas and bandanas and made his way over to Ukyo, muttering under his breath. This isn't over you betrayer.

Sakura made her way through the battlefield and latched onto Ranma, who nearly jumped in surprise and was ready to dash away until Sakura started massaging his arm again. Mental Ranma was muttering something about this not being fair tactics while kitty Ranma was purring in the back of his mind. He let Sakura guide him back over to Ukyo. She looked at both of them before speaking. "Both of you are going to sit down and talk about what happened. Later though."

Ukyo looked at the other girl, a flare of jealousy flashing through her until she remembered that she had Ryoga. "And just who are you? I think I recognize you as one my regulars."

Sakura nodded. "My name's Sakura. I go to school with Ranma. I'm his date today."

Ukyo nearly sputtered herself. Date? Is that what he had been doing these past ten years? If that was the case, she had a world of pain in store for Ranma and one really big spatula to deal it out with. Ukyo went back inside, followed by Ryoga, Ranma and Sakura, then the rest of the students who decided to stick around. Ukyo went behind the grill and motioned Ranma and Sakura to take seats on the stools by the grill.

"So Ranma, tell me what you've been up to for these last ten years and why I haven't heard about you at all until now. Last I'd heard, you were dead."

Ranma sheepishly rubbed the back of his head and launched into his tale, starting with the Cat Fist training and ending with his arriving back in Nerima. He gave a much more abbreviated version of his history than the one he told his mother. By the end of the story, Ukyo was in shock. Only long years of practice kept her making okonomiyaki by instinct. Ryoga was still filling out orders so he only get to hear bits and pieces of Ranma's story, but didn't really care to fill in the details. Ukyo would tell him later.

Ukyo wasn't the only one shocked by Ranma's history. Sakura found herself in awe at some of the things that Ranma had accomplished. Ten years in the military at such a young age. Her father would be so proud. He was a member of the Japanese Defense Force and felt that everyone should enlist. She was startled out of her daydream as Ranma stopped talking.
"Oh Ranma honey, I'm sorry. I didn't know. However, my family honor still demands satisfaction."
Ranma just smiled an evil grin. "Oh, I think I know a way for you to get satisfaction of honor. I just know that my pops will be happy to help you. I'll have a long talk with him when I get home. Then I'll bring him by tomorrow for you."

Ukyo nodded, a savage grin on her face as she gripped her spatula a little tighter. Ryoga just continued working, a little confused at what was going on, and more than a little mad at this Ranma Saotome. He silently plotted against Ranma while continuing to work.

The rest of the afternoon was spent getting to know Ukyo again and learning about Sakura. All things considered, Ranma had a good time. Near closing time, as the last of the customers were leaving the restaurant, Ranma finally became aware of the time. With a blush, he apologized to Sakura for wasting her afternoon. She just smiled said it was okay.
Sakura looked shyly at Ranma, biting her lower lip for a moment. "Um Ranma, would you mind walking me home?"

Ranma nodded innocently. "Sure Sakura. Bye Ucchan. I'll stop by tomorrow with pops." He waved goodbye with his free arm as Sakura was once again latched onto the other. He let her drag him outside the restaurant. Ukyo watched them go and found herself gripping her spatula just a little too hard. She had no right to be jealous. She had Ryoga. But damn, Ranma really grew up. Shaking away the images that suddenly popped into her head, she instead tried to focus on the things she was going to do to Genma, with a little help from her boyfriend, Ranma, er, Ryoga.

Sakura was happy humming to herself as she led Ranma towards her home. Ranma was in his own world, thinking about his pops and what he had done to Ukyo. When they arrived at Sakura's home and stopped moving, Ranma was almost startled out of his thoughts. He didn't let it show though. Sakura removed herself from Ranma's side and smiled at him.
"I had a fun time today."

Ranma sheepishly rubbed the back his neck, looking down at the ground, and reluctantly admitted, "Yeah, me too."

Sakura leaned forward and gave Ranma a quick peck on the cheek, before dashing inside. Ranma didn't dodge because he felt nothing but good aura coming from the girl. He stood there staring at the door for several moments before heading home, his thoughts all a jumble. One thought stayed in the forefront though. He just knew that trouble was coming. For some reason, he felt a major headache coming on.
A pillar of light pierced the sky, somewhere outside Tokyo. The light faded away, revealing two women. They both glared at the other. One stood around six feet tall, was dressed in the same type of uniform that Ranma had, only with an additional black cape that flowed around her, even in the absence of a breeze. The other was a little shorter, only about five and a half feet tall, and had some obvious cat somewhere in her DNA.

The caped woman glared at the cat girl. "Listen here you little furball. The only reason I allowed you to come on this trip was as a favor to your father. I will not tolerate your interference with my mission."

The cat girl nearly hissed but didn't back down. "The only reason you were able to get permission to come here was because my father pulled in favors with the brass. We are equals on this trip, little miss Dorsai, and don't you forget it."

Chapter 12

1Genma was in the back yard, going through a set of katas that he hadn't done in years. The moves came to him easily enough, his body still remembering the long years of training he endured under the master. He shuddered as he thought of some of those training methods, of the long hours of running, of the nights spent in jail paying for their master's appetites. Why couldn't that stubborn boy appreciate his training as much as Genma had?

The fat man cursed under his breath as he grudgingly realized how much he had let his training slide over the ten years of his son's absence. With his boy dead, there had been no reason to continue training. His life was forfeit if Nodoka had ever tracked him down, so he had been careful to make sure that his activities could never make it back to the Saotome household.
Then the boy had returned from the dead, trained and with an utter lack of respect for his father.

Thus the renewed training. Unfortunately, simple katas wasn't going to cut it this time. The boy had advanced too far for his own good. Genma's future was at stake. How could he relax in his old age if the boy didn't marry a Tendo. Only Soun understood what Genma had been through. Only Soun was there with the master. Together they had banished that demon and together they had made their pact. Only Soun…

Genma stopped in mid move, his fist still extended in front of him. His old friend had as much invested in this union as he himself did. They had spent these last ten years lamenting the loss of Ranma. Soun understood the depths of suffering. Soun also knew the art of Anything Goes. Together, they could renew their training. Then they could return and show the boy his proper place.

He was distracted by the sound of the front door opening. The voice of his son drifted through the house. Genma made his way inside, to find the boy greeted by his mother, who was asking all sorts of questions about a date. Genma decided to add his own two cents.

"So boy, how was your date? Which one of the Tendo girls was it? And where will you be holding the ceremony?"

The withering gaze that Ranma gave his father should have flayed the skin from his flesh. Fortunately for the old man, Ranma wasn't given lethal authority while on leave, something he was grateful for. He didn't need the stress or the paper work. Instead, Ranma let a feral grin spread across his face as he turned his entire attention to his pops.

"Actually pops, it was a girl from school named Sakura, not that it's any of your business. And before you go off spouting about the uniting of the schools or anything like that, I happened to run into another one of your little promises. Does the name Ukyo ring a bell?"

Genma froze mid rant. The image of a cart flashed through his mind, instantly lost amongst the jumbles of martial arts techniques and various plans to get out of trouble. Unfortunately, this one never had a contingency plan. Instead, he had to fall back on his tried and true technique. Blame the boy.

"Why Ranma, how could you do such a thing to your father? No doubt that Ukyo girl has filled your head with all sorts of nonsense. Who would you believe? Some person you haven't seen in ten years, or your own father?"

Ranma just laughed out loud. "You forget pops, I haven't seen you in the last ten years either, and the last time I did, I was trying to kill you. Or did you forget?"

Genma mentally cursed. He was trying to forget that part and damn the boy for constantly reminding him. What happens in the past doesn't matter. The only thing that mattered was the future of Genma and his retirement. He couldn't let one willful boy ruin everything.
"Listen here boy. Enough with this foolish nonsense of dating other girls. The only people you need to be concerned with are the three Tendos. I just know that you and Akane will be happy together."

By this time, Nodoka was looking at her husband in utter shock. Sure, he had mentioned the Tendos during their 'talk' the night Ranma brought him home finally, but Nodoka thought the boy should be able to choose his own bride. Although she wasn't opposed to some sort of union with the Tendo clan. She had been good friends with Kimiko, back when she was still alive. When she died, Nodoka had drifted away from the family. She was regretting that now, especially after finding out that her husband had been hiding out there. Even after ten years of frustration, knowing he had been so close was enough to keep her from performing her wifely duties to her husband, or even offering. Although she still thought her son needed some siblings.

Nodoka firmly took control of her day dreaming before she rushed off into fantasy land. There were things that needed to be settled here and now. While Ranma and her husband argued about the Tendo girls, Nodoka slowly unwrapped her ever present cloth bundle. The hilt of a katana became revealed and suddenly an aura of fear filled the room. Ranma nearly clutched his head in pain and the power of the fear that rolled in waves from his pops. He had to back away from the man and turned to look at his mother, only to see her with a sheathed katana in her hands.

"Genma Saotome. I find you unfit and derelict in your duty to raise our son as a man amongst men. Not only did you abandon your duty, but when our sun returned, you continued to ignore your duty. I name you unfit and call your contract due."

The fat man trembled and tried to back away but found himself trapped in the powerful grip of his son. Ranma looked from his pops to his mom, confused at what was going on. "Mom, what are you talking about?"

Nodoka made her way to the framed finger painting on the wall, her eyes never leaving Genma for a moment. She took down the painting and placed it on the table. "As a condition for letting your father take you on the training trip, he and you both signed this contract. It states that if Genma fails to raise you to be a man amongst men, then you would both commit ritual suicide."
Ranma looked at his mother in shock, dropped his father from his suddenly nerveless hand.

Ritual suicide? This can't be. He looked down at his father, who was cowering on the ground. Sure his father was a disappointment and sure Ranma wanted to kick the living snot out of him every day, but killing was so permanent. Death never solved anything.

Genma looked frantically around, searching for some form of escape. He didn't stand a chance against his wife, not once she had the katana in her hands. All the doors were closed. There was only one option. The dreaded Crouch of the Wounded Tiger. It was a desperate move but the only one he had left.

He got himself into his stand, kneeling on the floor with his head bowed to the ground, facing his wife. "I'm sorry. I'm sorry. I'm sorry. I'm sorry. I'm sorry. I'm sorry." He bowed continuously to Nodoka, saying he was sorry over and over.

Nodoka's face became stern as looked at her husband's prostrate form. A coward in the end. She lifted the katana into the air, pausing for a moment, and then swung down with all her strength. Blood sprayed into the air but the blade stopped way before it should have. She looked up and straight into the eyes of her son, those steely blue eyes that seemed so sharp, like the cold ice of the north, so cold it burns. A sharp tug on the katana pulled it from her grasp and she looked down to see the blade held firmly in Ranma's grasp, blood running from his closed fist to drip onto the floor. She gasped softly as she backed away from her son's stare.

Ranma struggled with his inner turmoil. He could feel the sharp blade of the katana cutting into his fingers as his grip tightened, but he felt himself unable to let go or relax his grip. His mind flashed back to a memory from one of his missions but he ruthlessly suppressed his thoughts. It was not going to turn out that way. He wouldn't let it. As much as he hated his pops for his greed and for abandoning his mother, killing him would not make it right.

Genma stared at the ground, at the drops of splattered blood. Blood that wasn't his. And his head was still attached. The boy had saved him. That meant the boy still respected him. That thought went right out of his head though, as the words the boy spoke sent chills throughout his body.

"Killing him isn't enough."

Nodoka and Genma both looked up Ranma, at the sheer void of emotion in the voice. Neither knew what to say and for once were unusually quiet.

"Pops doesn't deserve to die. It's too easy of a way out for him. And I don't think the authorities would turn a blind eye to a woman killing her husband in cold blood. Ritual suicide isn't as recognized as it once was.

"Pops left behind my best friend, my only friend, abandoned her in the woods, all so that he could steal a cart of food, which lasted only two days. He engaged me to that girl, knowing he would break the engagement. He's engaged me to the Tendos, no doubt with the same intentions. Who knows how many promises he has made and broken. No one but him. And I intend to see that he pays justice for what he has done. He can't do that if he's dead.

"I'm taking him with me tomorrow to see Ukyo, so that he can start working off his debt to her. When he survives that, I'll take him over to the Tendos and give him to Akane. Then I'm going to find each and every person that pops has tricked, and hand him over to them, one at a time. If this takes my entire leave, then so be it."

Ranma finally relaxed his grip on the katana, taking the hilt in his other hand and holding blade away from him. The metal was warped and twisted from his grip. A flash of hot ki engulfed his other hand in flames, cleaning the cut and clearing away the blood on his hand. His mother finally broke loose from her shock and rushed into the kitchen for some clean cloth to wrap Ranma's hand. Genma stayed kneeled on the floor, digesting what his son had just said. By the time Nodoka had returned, Genma had begun inching his way towards the back door.
Ranma speared Genma with a glare, stopping him in his tracks. "Don't go too far pops. I'm through playing with you. You won't be happy if I have to track you down." Genma just nodded and dashed out the door.

Nodoka feared to look up at her son as she gently wrapped up his hand. She didn't know what her reaction would be. But she had to ask. "Why did you stop me? Why did you risk yourself for that man? I know what you've already said, but I want to hear it again. Why?" She finally looked up, into the blue eyes that had once been so innocent, all those long years ago.

Ranma looked at his mother, his steely blue eyes fairly glowing with the intensity of his gaze. "He wasn't worth it. Our family honor is more important than just pops. I may love him because he was part of what brought me into this world, but he lost my respect before I left him behind for the military. I've done things and seen things that I wish I could erase. But for all of those things, I have never let someone die if I could help it. A martial artist protects the weak. One of the few things that pops ever taught me that I believe. Right now, pops is one of those weak that need protecting, so I must protect him, even from you mother. However, that doesn't mean that I'll forgive him. What he did to Ukyo and who knows how many others, needs to be rectified."

Nodoka nodded her head, a slow, pleased smile spreading across her face. She picked up the contract and promptly tore it half, then into smaller and smaller pieces, then placed those pieces in a neat pile on the table. Turning to her son, she gave him a smile that seemed to brighten the room, even through his cold stare.

"You have proven yourself this day, to be a man among men. There is only one more step for you to take."

Ranma tilted his head, listening closely to what his mother was about to say.

"You have to make me lots and lots of grandchildren."

Ranma nearly fell flat on his face in shocked awe. At a time like this, his mother could think about him having kids. Not just one kid, but lots and lots of them. In spite of himself, he found his cold resolve breaking down and he had to smile at his mother. Not that he was planning on fulfilling that request any time soon. Women were just too weird.

A knock at the door broke Ranma from his musing. He watched his mother leave to answer the door, leaving the katana on the table. Ranma reached out to the katana, taking a moment to really examine the blade. It was finely crafted steel, a rare work of art. He regretted the damage he has caused to it but knew that he couldn't allow his mother to commit murder. Because Ranma was so absorbed in the blade, he can be forgiven for not sensing the pair of familiar auras that entered the home. He could even be forgiven for not noticing a particular one of those auras. Had he been paying attention, he would have been out the door and on his way to the high hills as fast as his incredible legs could take him. Instead, he allowed himself to be caught unguarded as his mother led two people into the room.

He recognized both. The first stood nearly six feet tall, dressed in a military uniform that matched Ranma's own, only with an additional black cape that seemed to swirl around her even in the still air of the room. Her eyes seemed to glow with an inner power and she practically radiated power. However, it wasn't her that made Ranma's heart start to hammer in his chest.
It was the slightly shorter furry cat girl, who was the one that sent the spike of fear through his heart. She smiled at him, like the cat that had just caught her favorite mouse. She pounced at Ranma, uttering the words that he feared more than any other.

"Hello Mate Ranma!"

Chapter 13

2"Hello Mate Ranma!"
Battle honed instincts kicked in as Ranma scrambled to dodge the furry missile that was targeting him. He dropped flat on his back, narrowly avoiding the flying girl as she passed over him. He sprang to his feet and dodged behind his mother, just as the cat girl spun around for another pass.

"Kitt, what the hell are you doing here?" Ranma stared at the cat girl, a displeased look on his face. Kitt ignored his look and smiled at him, a contented purring emanating from her. It was just low enough that Ranma could hear it, but he doubted his mother or Tristina could. What were the two of them doing here anyway, and together no less?

The cat girl looked at her prey, a pleased smile on her lips. If she'd had whiskers she'd have licked them. As it was, she licked her lips as she gave Ranma a good looking over. "Ranma still playing hard to catch?"

"No. Ranma is playing run as far away as possible while still maintaining dignity and rank professionalism. Why couldn't you have entered the service. At least then I could ORDER you to leave me alone."

"Oh Ranma. That's not what you said that last time. How can you say that after all that we've done?"

"All that we've done? It was only that one time and it wasn't even my choice! I swear, if I ever find out that he did that on purpose, he's a dead man."

Nodoka kept looking between Ranma and the cat girl he had called Kitt, a thoughtful expression on her face. Kitt had called Ranma mate and from all the veiled references… Oh! So that must be what she meant. Nodoka smiled happily. Her son was so manly.

Tristina struggled with herself not to fry the little fur ball where she stood. Unfortunately, her great grandfather had expressly forbidden her from using her powers unless absolutely necessary. That didn't leave her many options. Which was probably the point. At least she was allowed to come on this trip. Sure, the other girl may have a leg up on her, whatever that leg may be, but she wasn't going to let that stand in her way. Besides, Ranma was one of her oldest friends. That had to mean something, no matter how far he and the other girl had gone.

Kitt started stalking Ranma, who was backing away slowly, trying to keep his mother and Tristina between him and the cat girl. He wasn't having much luck as Kitt would sometimes dodge between the two other women. Ranma jumped over his mother, seeming to float in midair as he arched over her. He almost made it over before a black and silver blur crashed into him and sent them both tumbling to the ground. Ranma called for help as Kitt molded herself against him, her contented purr now loud enough for everyone in the room to hear.

Normally, interacting with Kitt wasn't this bad. However, Ranma was more than aware of the type of mood the girl was in. She was giving off enough pheromones to nearly choke him. If it wasn't for the last two months of conditioning from Avery after the incident, he would have been doomed. As it stood though, it took all his will power to keep from purring himself. This was the last thing he needed to deal with. Ranma wasn't sure if the girl was part cat or part octopus, her hands where everywhere, literally every, eep!

Tristina growled under her breath then finally had enough. She stomped over to where the two were rolling on the ground and grabbed the back of Kitt's collar, pulling her forcefully away from Ranma, who breathed an audible sigh of relief at his newfound freedom. Tristina dragged the now irate girl to stand next to Ranma's mother and awaited introduction, as she had been doing when Kitt pounced at Ranma.

Nodoka finally remembered the reason she was in the room. She smiled at her son, then motioned to the two girls, eager for an explanation. "Well son, why don't you introduce me to your two friends."

Ranma sheepishly rubbed the back of his neck as he stood up. "The girl with the long dark hair is my best friend Tristina Dorsai, and the energetic one is Kitt Jameson, my sister."

Nodoka blinked in confusion. Sister? She didn't remember bearing any children other than Ranma. She peered out that door that Genma had left through, thoughts running through her mind of just what her husband might have been up to these past ten years. Before should could get far with those thoughts, Ranma interrupted her.

"She's my foster sister. Her father Keone was the one who raised me and taught me most of the martial arts forms that I know. He also taught me several other forms of combat, as well as how to operate various weapons."

Nodoka just nodded as she took in that information. So, no need to kill Genma over this incident. She still needed to have another 'talk' with him soon though. Instead, she latched onto the first thing that the girl had said upon meeting Ranma. "Son, what did she mean when she called you, Mate Ranma?"

Ranma groaned. This was not something he wanted to talk about with his mother, especially not after the way she had just been talking before the girls arrived. He didn't want to talk about it with Tristina in the room either. She still didn't know and he wanted to keep it that way. "Can we talk about that later mom?"

Both Nodoka and Tristina wore identical frowns and Ranma nearly flinched under the combined gazes. It just wasn't fair! He'd rather face an enraged Thumper than a pair of angry women's eyes. Hell, he'd rather go through combat training again, twice. He'd rather… Ranma sighed. Why did he even try to resist?

"About two months ago, Jonathon Avery, the guy who originally recruited me after the Cat Fist training, was helping me go through the last bit of conditioning to help me control the power of the Cat Fist. Just as he had me fully immersed in my inner cat personality, Kitt happened to walk into the room. I don't remember anything that happened after that. All I remember is waking up tired." Try as he might, Ranma wasn't able to hide the blush that started to rise on his cheeks.

Nodoka had stars in her eyes and she realized what had happened. Tristina on the other, wasn't too happy. Okay, maybe that was an understatement. She wasn't sure who she wanted to kill. Ranma for letting it happen, Kitt for getting something that Tristina herself wanted, or Avery, for causing the entire mess. Instead, she settled for roughly shaking the girl and glaring daggers at Ranma. "This discussion isn't over Ranma. You owe me a better explanation than that." Nodoka nodded her agreement.

Ranma looked around the room, trying to find someway to avoid this conversation. He'd managed to avoid it for the past two months and saw no reason to continue avoiding it for the next two years if possible. A desperate thought came to him and called upon the little bit of chaos energy that he could access through the limiter. He wrapped a cloak of light around himself, vanishing from sight and bolted for the back door.

Nodoka frowned as her son, her manly son, disappeared like a coward. He should have been eager to share this information. She started towards the spot where her son had just been standing when she felt a hand on her shoulder. She looked up into the glowing black eyes of Tristina. Wait. Glowing black eyes? She stepped away from the girl as Tristina took a step forward.

Tristina stared intently at a spot near the door, a dark light emanating from her eyes. There was a soft pop and a rush of air then Ranma came hurtling back into the room to land on his back. Ranma looked up at the ceiling and silently cursed. How could she do that to him every time? He got slowly up to his feet, not because he was hurt, but in a vain attempt to delay the inevitable. As he stood up, he saw the stern look on Tristina, the expectant look on his mother, and the joyous grin on Kitt. He would have shuddered under those combined powers but instead called upon what was left of his dignity.

"I guess I really have no choice about this. I've been trying to forget that it even happened but you all seem hell bent on getting it out of me." Ranma took a deep breath before continuing. "When I was training with Jonathon, he was helping me merge with the last remnants of the cat personality that was developed as a result of the Cat Fist training that pops put me through. Part of that training went out of control and I was completely submerged beneath the cat personality. I have no recollection of what occurred but from what Jonathon has told me, I acted like a complete cat. Unfortunately, Kitt here is really close to cat in terms of DNA structure and when she entered the room…" Ranma blushed and found himself unable to continue. An encouraging look from his mom and the scathing look from Tristina jump started the rest of his memory.

"Well, it turned out that Kitt had been in heat at the time and was giving off a lot of pheromones. My cat personality sensed those pheromones and did what came natural to it." By the time Ranma was finished, he was blushing so bright red that you might have been able to read in the dark by him.

Nodoka looked at Kitt with a new appreciation in her eyes, taking her time to examine the girl. She slowly walked around the two girls, getting a good look at the cat girl and wondering just how much of a hold on her son the girl had developed. It didn't seem all that solid from the way he seemed to avoid her. And just how did this other girl fit into the picture?

Tristina was furious. She wanted to kill Kitt and beat Ranma to within an inch of his life. After that was finished, she was going to track down Avery and give him the beating of a lifetime. However, those weren't really valid options. She had to look at this in the true perspective instead of letting her emotions control her. It was sometimes hard to think around Ranma already. Adding this information to the mix wasn't making it any easier. How could he do this to her? How could he give himself away like that? Then she had to admit to herself that it wasn't his fault. He said he didn't remember what happened and she could tell that he wasn't lying. He never had been any good at lying.

Kitt purred quietly to herself, going over the memory of that day. It had been so much fun. He had been her first and only lover and she planned on keeping it that way. Her mother had been all for going after Ranma. Had her mother Kitara not already been married, she would have pounced on Ranma herself. Just because she raised him didn't bother her in the slightest. Father was of a different opinion, thinking that she needed to be more restrained around Ranma, which was why he sent the Dorsai girl in the first place. Still, she had the total advantage in this situation and there was nothing that the others could do about it. Besides, from how she understood Earth culture, now that Ranma had taken her, the mother would force the union. She looked over at the mother in smug satisfaction as Nodoka began to talk.

"Son, are you really this girls lover?"

Ranma waved his hands in front of himself in clear denial. "No way ma. It was a one time thing that I don't even remember. I was a cat at the time so I don't think that really counts."

Nodoka pursed her lips in contemplation before saying, "Well, I like her. You can always keep her as a mistress after you get married."

Everyone looked at Nodoka in shock, Ranma most of all. That definitely wasn't the reaction he had been expecting. Mistress? Just what kinds of ideas were running through that mind of hers?
Of course, if Ranma could read his mother's mind he would have been even more panicked that he already was. Actually, he'd most likely have run screaming from the house. Fortunately for Ranma, he never developed mind reading abilities. Tristina on the other hand, had developed telepathy and trained her talent so that she could automatically scan any surface thoughts from a person. When she scanned Nodoka, she found herself blushing so hard that she let go of Kitt. The cat girl bounded towards Ranma, who just managed to dodge and went darting from the room. There was a quick slamming of a door then all was quiet except for the pacing of a rather large cat. Well, cat girl anyway.

Nodoka turned to Tristina and decided to learn more of the girl, since her son appeared disinclined to answer any questions at the moment. She poured some tea that she retrieved from the kitchen, and then proceeded to ask about her son. What she learned amazed her. Ranma's rendition of events had been positively bland compared to the picture that Tristina painted for her. Ranma was a decorated war hero, expert deadly fighter, and all around good person. All those who knew him love him, with the exceptions of various people who lived to exploit the laws. Ranma had been helpful on more missions than most people twice his age. He was an instructor at the academy when he had time.

Nodoka then began quizzing the girl on her relationship with Ranma, on how the two had met and what she thought of him. Tristina mentioned the time that they had saved each other's lives from the Trian Death Droid. She then talked about growing up in the academy at the top of her class. Even though she was two years older, there had never been that uncomfortable-ness that results from an age difference.

When Nodoka asked her about her feelings for Ranma, she hesitated. She hadn't yet talked to Ranma about the way she felt. To him, she was always his best friend, who wanted nothing more than to just hang out. How would he feel if his best friend started chasing after him like Kitt did, or some of the other girls back in the academy. So she did the only thing that she thought was right. She lied.

"I'm Ranma's best friend. Since he's told me so much about Earth, I thought I would come here and see for myself all that he was talking about. Since he came here on his leave, I decided to take my leave as well, that way I could hang out with him some more."

Kitt padded back into the room, a frustrated look on her face. However, she was able to hear the last part of the conversation and entered smoothly therein. "Ranma still playing hard to get. Lock door and said won't come out until morning. Kitt stay here till morning, wait for Ranma?" When Nodoka nodded her agreement, Kitt bounced back to Ranma's door and promptly curled into a ball and went to sleep.

Tristina looked at Kitt curled up on the ground outside Ranma's door and heaved a heavy sigh of frustration. She asked Nodoka for a place to stay and thanked her for putting up with them. As she settled into the guest room a few minutes later, she couldn't help but wonder what else could happen to complicate her life and her dream of one day marrying Ranma. With those thoughts on her mind, she drifted off to sleep.
A region of space out near Mars twisted and contorted and a hole tore itself across space/time. A portal appeared and through that portal flew a single ship, five hundred meters long and completely black, seeming to suck in the light around it. The ship was built with forward sweeping wings and could have been mistaken for an Earth fighter jet if not for the sheer size of the thing.

Aboard the bridge of the 'Grim Desire', Captain Dreth'kalar watched the view screen as an image of Earth appeared. Dreth'kalar stood nearly seven feet tall and could have been mistaken for a demon, complete with horns, large leathery wings, and a tail. The only difference was that he had grey skin. He currently had his wings draped across his shoulders like a cape. Around him, various other people, ranging from humans to the bizarre, ran around the bridge, checking instruments and obeying commands. A single human walked over to Dreth'kalar and saluted. The captain motioned the man to report.

"We've come through the portal about three days distant from the target. Normally we would be able to reach the target in a matter of hours but our main drives are still offline from when the prisoner escaped."

Dreth'kalar nodded. At last, he would be able to capture his prey and collect one of the largest bounties in history. He motioned to another person on the bridge. "Send out a pair of stealth transports. I want a team of four scouts and capture droid in each ship. They can reach the planet two days ahead of us and prepare things for when we arrive. Make it happen."

Chapter 14

Ranma sat atop the main building of the academy, ten stories above the ground. He looked down from his spot at the distant battleground, where the Freestyle combat tournament was still going on. A tournament where he had been eliminated in the second round. He sighed and laid down on the roof, the cool stone of the building pressing into his back, and gazed up at the sky.

A familiar presence neared but he didn't feel like talking. He just kept looking at the sky, watching the cloud stroll lazily by. He went over the battle in his mind, wondering what he had done, what flaw in his technique had led to his downfall. Over and over again he replayed the battle, but nothing came to him. He gave an exasperated sigh and finally turned to look at his best friend.

Tristina was hovering, the only way she could make it up there. Ranma remember that she had told him once how hard it was for her to hover, how it took a lot of concentration to keep in the air, as well as a lot of energy. He sat up and moved to the side so that she could sit down, but still didn't say anything. Didn't know what he could say. He had always been the best and now, he had lost.

They sat that way for several minutes, neither saying anything. Finally, Tristina broke the silence. "It's not your fault you know."

Ranma turned to look at his friend. How could she say that? Other than his own school, who could he blame? If it wasn't his fault, whose fault was it? He shook his head. "How can you say that? I lost. Me. Ranma Saotome. Undefeated Freestyle Champion." He turned away and looked back at the battleground where competition was still ongoing.

Tristina sighed then laid a hand on Ranma's shoulder. "Ranma. You have to remember that you are only twelve years old. Most of the fighters down there have been competing longer than you have been alive. Some of them are even older than my great grandfather. You shouldn't hold yourself to the same standard against non-humans that you do against humans. They don't fight the same."

He turned to look up into the face of his friend. She was already taller then him. Must be part of being two years older than he was. "Maybe you're right. Doesn't mean that I have to like."

Tristina chuckled and thwapped Ranma lightly on the shoulder. "Didn't say you had to like it. Just remember. You're Ranma Saotome and you never lose. Anything but a win is just a step on the way to another victory. You told me that yourself once. When we first met."

Ranma smiled up at his best friend. "Thanks Tristina. Guess I just needed to remember that. I'm not used to losing. That's why I train all the time. One day I'll be out there, helping to protect the people. Can't do that if I let getting beaten by a non-human bother me. Most of the galaxy isn't human."

He grinned, his old confidence back in his eyes. He then scooped up his friend and started bounding down the building, the wind rushing through his long hair. He loved the feeling of flying through the air. It felt so right. Like he belonged in the air.

He was only a couple dozen feet from the ground when a furry missile intercepted him in midair. "Brother Ranma!" cried the missile as it crashed into him, sending all three people rushing towards the ground. Ranma rotates his body, putting himself between the two girls and the ground as he braces for impact.

Ranma crashes into the ground, struggling to get loose from his blanket. He opens his eyes, squinting into the darkness. What had he been doing off the ground in the first place? He shook himself awake, surprised that he didn't instantly awaken like normal. Something was confusing his senses. A faint tingling all over his skin. Suddenly, the events of last night flooded into his mind.

He groaned in frustration. It was hard to think with her scent heavy in the air. This was supposed to be a relaxing opportunity to meet his family. He didn't need the stress. It was still early in the morning, with the light of false dawn trying to penetrate the curtains. It was more than enough light to see by though.

Fortunately, Jonathon thought something like this might happen and had prepared for it. Ranma reached into his subspace storage pocket and pulled out a black strap device with a tiny box attached to the outside. He strapped the device to his upper arm, then tapped the outside of a box. There was a soft hiss from the box. Ranma grimaced slightly then finally smiled. He was finally able to think clearly for the first time since Kitt arrived last night. The inhibiter in his system should help reduce the affect of the pheromones, at least enough to function properly.

After some initial stretching, he opened up the door and nearly stumbled over a sleeping Kitt. He managed to dive over her, trying to make as little noise as possible but it didn't work. Her sensitive ears perked and she cracked open an eye. Upon seeing Ranma, she went from sleeping on the ground to charging through the air in a split second. Ranma twirled to the side, dodging her, then flipped down the hallway towards the main room. A second later he was out the backdoors and into the yard, followed close behind by Kitt.

The sound of a body crashing into the roof woke Tristina from her sleep. She blinked into the low morning light, confused at the strange surroundings. This wasn't the city ship. This wasn't home. This was…Ranma's home. So that must be Ranma practicing. But who was he practicing with? She threw on some clothes and headed out of the room, easily finding her way through the house. It was a rather simple design and soon she was outside.

Tristina had to dodge to the side to dodge the furry projectile that came crashing to the ground. A slightly stunned Kitt shook her head before bounding back up to the roof, where Ranma proceeded to kick her out of the air and back to the ground. She came crashing down into the same spot and took a little longer getting her bearings. She squinted at Tristina for a moment before turning back towards a grinning Ranma and charging onto the roof after him.

Ranma smiled at his foster sister. This was the kind of interaction he was used to. The daily sparring. She was fast, even faster than he was normally. But he was always stronger and knew enough to compensate for her speed. Plus, sparring with her for the last ten years had helped him develop his speed so that he was almost as fast as she was. They were a blur on the rooftop, fists and feet flashing through the air almost too quick for the eye to see.

Tristina was surprised that Ranma could even function, considering the way he had acted the night before. Instead of running scared, he seemed to be his old self, confident in his abilities and a skilled combatant. Another swift kick send Kitt flying towards the ground and this time Tristina didn't have time to dodge her. Both girls went down in a heap. Ranma leapt down from the roof and landed softly next to them.

Kitt finally managed to writhe free of the jumbled limbs and turned to glare at Ranma. Sure he had always beaten her before but this didn't match his behavior from last night. "Why you no running, Mate Ranma?"

He shook his head in exasperation. "Will you forget about that mate Ranma stuff? You're my sister and that's how I'll always think of you. Besides, what happened with the cat, that wasn't me. I don't care what you think it meant. Since it happened while I was a cat, it doesn't count for Ranma. As to why I'm not running from you, lets just say I came to my senses."

The cat girl looked at Ranma, a tear glistening in her eye, but she blinked it away and scowled at him. Turning away in a huff, she made her way back inside the house. Ranma watched her go and shook his head again, saddened by how things had turned out with her. He had hopped that she would get over this infatuation with him but it hadn't happened yet. He really needed to find her someone else to get stuck on. After two years, this was getting old.

Ranma turned to Tristina, head tilted slightly to the side as he looked at her. Always she had been there for him, no matter what happened. He should have realized that she would follow him here, where he would need a familiar face. He smiled at her and turned to head inside to help his just waking mother with breakfast.

Tristina felt her heart flutter when Ranma smiled at her. She wanted to tell him how she felt, had wanted to tell him for the past several months but every time she tried, her courage failed her. She snorted in disgust. She could face down charging organoes, but she couldn't face her own heart. Sighing to herself, turned to head inside and resign herself to the day.

Fifteen minutes later, breakfast was set out and Ranma, Nodoka and the two girls were seated at the table. Ranma found himself across from his mother and between the two girls. Kitt kept trying to feed him and Ranma had to constantly deflect her advances. Fortunately, he had finally learned how to use the chopsticks just the day before and was good enough that he could block Kitt while still getting his own food. It wasn't easy though. The only reason he was winning was because she wasn't used to using chopsticks and he was.

Nodoka watched her son and smiled. It was so nice to see him flirting with his first mistress. Although she had to wonder at the change in demeanor from the other night. He wasn't running away or trying to avoid her like last night. Instead, he seemed like the Ranma she had come to know again over the last few days. She turned to consider the other girl and just managed to catch a soft sigh escape the girl. Perhaps there was more to this girl than she originally though. Oh, her son was so manly.

After ten minutes of breakfast, Ranma finally asked the question that had been bothering him since he woke up. "Hey mom. Where's pops?"

"I don't know Ranma. I haven't seen him since he left last night."

The chopsticks in Ranma's hand snapped as he gripped a little too hard. He had a bad feeling about this. He looked down at his broken chopsticks and realized he was done with breakfast. He bid his mother goodbye, dashed up to his room for his pack, then out the door, heading towards the Tendos.
Genma staggered in from the dojo, his gi smelling of sake and sweat. The Tendo girls looked up from the breakfast table as their father came in beside the fat Saotome. Both men sat down at the table. The girls moved away as the scent became overpowering. Akane stared at Genma, angry that the fat man had moved back in, even if it had only been for a single night. She knew it had to be that Ranma's fault. Didn't know how but it was probably another plan to get one of her sisters in the sack.

Nabiki looked at the fat man and knew she didn't like where this was going. Since Ranma had returned from the military at the beginning of the week, Genma had been living with him back at his own home. The house had been quiet and calm. Akane had even settled down without Genma always insulting her without even trying. She would have to talk to Ranma about this. Besides, she was out of pictures as the girls had bought every copy she had had printed. She needed to get some new ones taken. Besides, with him in her class, it would only be a matter of time before he found out it was her who pimped him out to their classmates. She had to do some damage control.

Genma nudged Soun with his elbow. The older man nodded and cleared his throat. Kasumi smiled and stood up and left the table. The other two girls watched their sister leave before turning back to their father.

"Now girls. It has come to my attention that I have let my martial arts skill falter since your mother died." A single sniffle escaped the man before he could control himself. "However, the time has finally come to move on with my training. My old friend Saotome and I are leaving today on a training trip."

Nabiki stared at the fat man in surprise. Not once in the ten years the two had been together had they practiced. She sensed something else going on behind the scenes. She turned back to her father and waited for the other shoe to drop.

"Now I know you girls are worried that you will be here all alone without me here to protect you, but I've taken that into account. When we leave for our training trip, we will send a letter to Ranma to have him come here and keep an eye on the house. I've also asked him to start training you, Akane, in the Saotome branch of anything goes."

Kasumi entered the room then, carrying two packs for the old men. Akane however was furious. She knew Ranma was behind this. It was all a plan to get them alone, away from the safety of their father. He would be around while they slept and would no doubt try all sorts of perverted things on them. Her hands bunched into fists and she got angrier the more she thought about it.
Genma nudged Soun again, then thanked Kasumi for the pack and started dragging his long time friend towards the door. A few seconds later the two men disappeared outside and started jogging towards the mountains.

Several moments passed in silence while Kasumi cleared the table. Nabiki finally came to her senses and started helping Kasumi. Akane just left to change into her school clothes, ignoring her mess. Nabiki sighed as she watched her younger sister walk away. When would you ever learn sis?

Just as the last of the dishes were dried and put away, a knock at the door had Kasumi leaving the kitchen and Nabiki heading upstairs to prepare for school herself. She stopped halfway up the stairs as she heard a familiar voice.

"Is my pops here?"

Chapter 15

"Is my pops here?"

Akane's head snapped up at the sound of the source of all her problems. Not only did that boy drive away her father, but now here he was trying to take advantage of them already. She stalked over to the door, ready to protect her sisters.

Nabiki watched Akane leave and just shook her head. No doubt her sister was jumping to another grand delusion to save her sisters. However, her skills weren't enough to work on this particular menace. Akane should have learned she was no match for him the last time she had tried attacking him. Sighing, Nabiki left the table to do damage control on whatever it is Akane decided to try. At least with Kasumi still home she wasn't going to cook.

Kasumi smiled at Ranma as she stood in the doorway. "I'm sorry Ranma, but your father just left with ours on a training trip. They only left a couple minutes ago."

Ranma scowled. He had figured on Genma trying to sneak away before getting dragged to meet Ukyo but he hadn't expected the old man to move this quickly. Apparently, Genma had come to the realization that he was out of practice. This was probably another attempt to get him to marry one of the Tendos again.

He suddenly sensed a large aggressive aura directed at him and spun around in a defensive crouch. Trying to move past Kasumi was a very irate Akane. However, with Kasumi standing in the doorway, there was little that the youngest girl could do. Ranma smiled at Kasumi as she pointed out the direction the fathers had taken. He then turned and left, leaving the fuming Akane stuck behind Kasumi. Maybe he should have dealt with it here but just being around the girl was a chore. He'll deal with it at school if he had to.
Genma felt a sudden sense of foreboding overcome him. He looked down the empty street for any sign of pursuit but saw none. Still, he couldn't shake the feeling of being watched and turned to Soun to urge him to hurry. A flying school bag caught the fat man right in the face, knocking him to the ground. Genma quickly got to his feet, only to get knocked down again by a swift kick to the side of his head.

Soun looked on in surprise as Ranma seemed to appear from nowhere to attack his old friend. He was shocked at the viciousness of the attack. Ranma gave no quarter as he kicked Genma around the street. Every time Genma tried to stand, Ranma was there to knock him back down to the ground. Soun moved to help his old friend when Ranma turned to glare at him. Something about that glare said that Ranma was serious. The Tendo patriarch wisely decided that this was something that needed to be worked out between father and son.

Ranma looked down at the beaten and bruised form of his father. He had tried to disable the old man without injuring him too much but the fat man was surprisingly tough and wouldn't stay down. He had finally had to knock the man unconscious. Where did he get his endurance?

As Ranma hefted the fat man only his shoulder then picked up his school bag, Soun finally made his move. He unleashed the dreaded Demon Head attack, focusing all his ki into the fear aura the head projected. His serpentine tongue dashed towards Ranma, then suddenly recoiled. The boy looked at Soun with eyes of cold blue steel. The Demon Head vanished and Soun was left sweating where he stood as Ranma's gaze continued to bore into him. It was several moments before Soun found himself able to move again. Only one other person had been able to instill this kind of fear in him. Hopefully, that person would stay dead and buried where he was. With that final, unhappy thought on his mind, Soun gathered up the packs and headed back home. What was he going to tell his dear daughters?
Ukyo was just preparing to open her store. She was outside sweeping while Ryoga was inside, setting up the tables and making sure there was no evidence of his fight from the day before. He grumbled to himself at having to clean up. It was all that Ranma's fault. If he hadn't betrayed Ukyo then they wouldn't have had to fight and the table wouldn't have been broken.

A large shadow fell across the street in front of Ukyo and she looked up to see Ranma carrying a fat man over his shoulder. Genma hadn't changed much over the past ten years, maybe a little fatter than she remembered. She finished sweeping and motioned Ranma inside. Ukyo put away the broom and took out her battle spatula as she waited for Genma to wake up from where Ranma had deposited him on the floor.

Her fingers flexed and she stood there in anticipation. For ten years, she had lived with the knowledge that this man had abandoned her. That he thought of her and his promise to her as nothing. That he had dragged Ranma, one of her earliest friends, along with his schemes. She had spent the last ten years preparing for this day, preparing to kill Ranma and Genma both. Ranma proved innocent, so that meant Genma would be paying for two.

Genma slowly came to his senses and wondered where Ranma was. He looked around and found himself in an unfamiliar room. There were tables, a large grill style bar, a tall boy with a yellow and black bandana, and girl with a giant spatula, and Ranma. Wait. A girl with a giant spatula? He tried to scramble away only to get knocked back into place by the giant spatula.
Ukyo gave him a feral grin. "I see you are still trying to get out of your agreement. Well, I'm not the little girl you abandoned on the side of the road ten years ago. You won't be getting out of this so easily."

Genma looked around for some avenue of escape. He eyes fell on Ranma, the one source of safety in the room and was about to start blaming the boy when he happened to look into his eyes. They glowed black for a moment and Genma felt a fear akin to the kind that the master instilled in him. He was still looking at those eyes when a giant spatula connected with the side of his head, knocking him into the wall. He staggered back from the wall, unfortunately still very much conscious. He spun around and just managed to block another swing of the spatula. It made his arm go numb though. How had a girl gotten that strong?

He didn't have much time to think about it as the spatula came swinging back towards him. Tucking into a roll, he managed to dodge the spatula and work his way a little closer to the exit. Another swing and another roll and suddenly he was rebounding against the bandana boy from earlier. Bandana boy had a sneer on his face as he tried to kick Genma back towards Ukyo. However, Genma wasn't a master of Anything Goes for nothing. He intercepted the kick and sent Ryoga flying towards Ukyo.

Ranma intercepted Ryoga before he could crash into Ukyo and both went down in a heap. Ranma was back up a split second later but that was enough time for Genma to bolt through the door, Ranma fast on his heels. Ukyo rushed out after the two Saotomes. As she stepped outside, she saw the two men engaged in a furious fight. Somehow the old man had gotten a second wind and was fighting Ranma with a fury that was hard to believe. He was moving so fast, faster than Ukyo thought possible for a man his size.

Inside, Ranma was giddy. Finally the old man was showing some worth, some sample of the fighter that had mastered a martial art. He was pulling off moves that Ranma had never seen, while also pulling off old moves in new ways. Ranma was hard pressed to keep up with the old man. A sudden kick out of nowhere sent Ranma tumbling down the street.

Genma was breathing hard. How had the boy gotten so strong? He had had to use moves that he had almost forgotten he knew. There were some he had made up on the spot. However, no matter how much Ranma seemed to have learned, the old man still had more tricks up his sleeve. Now, to deal with bandana boy and the Kounji girl and somehow find a way to pin it on Ranma.

Ryoga charged at Genma, swinging away with all his strength. The fat man leaned aside and hip tossed Ryoga in the same direction that Ranma had been sent tumbling. Ukyo faced off against Gemna alone. She wasn't going to let that stop her though. Ten years of training had led up to this day and she was going to show that it was worth it.

Genma rushed the girl, moving faster than she thought he could after so much fighting. He didn't seem winded at all. She just managed to dodge an attack when a side sweep knocked her from her feet. She kicked back up only to see the fat man running away. She tosses several spatulas at the man, all of which he managed to dodge. Suddenly, Ranma and Ryoga were back in the fight, herding Genma back towards Ukyo and her waiting battle spatula. With Ranma and Ryoga organized and working together, Genma had no chance to run and attacking the girl wasn't getting him much more than bruises. His protestations that it was all Ranma's fault fell on deaf ears, although Ryoga was tempted to listen. However, after his talk with Ukyo and watching how Ranma had dealt with the man, he didn't let it since in too deep. Not that he forgave Ranma entirely yet.

Half an hour of pound the old man later, one tired teenage girl, one tired teenage boy, one slightly winded military officer, and one beaten and unconscious old man lay sprawled out on the street in front of Ukyo's restaurant. Ranma finally dragged Genma inside and splashed water on him to return him to the land of the living. Meanwhile, Ukyo dragged her body inside the restaurant. She wanted nothing more than to just lay down but she had a business to run. At least she had finally been able to give Genma the beating she had been training for. However, that was only the beginning of what Genma would have to do to make things right. And selling off Ranma wasn't an option. There was Ryoga to think about. Although Ranma was still as cute as she remember.

After getting Ukyo to promise to keep an eye on Genma, Ranma retrieved his pack and made his way towards school, managing to arrive just after the Akane Boy Squad Destruction Derby finished its morning routine. He quickly made his way inside to the class room. He spotted Sakura on the way and waved. She smiled and waved back, causing all of her friends to converge on her with a million questions for the suddenly blushing girl. Ranma just shook his head and continued on his way towards class.

As Ranma entered the room, a limping Kuno made his way over. "Ah, Ranma Saotome, my good man. I see that you have once again come to learn under the tutelage of the great Tatewaki Kuno, age 17. It is refreshing to see such dedication to the art of the scholar amongst these peasant folk. Truly a boorish lot. But come, I wouldst discuss with you concern a certain Sakura whom I heard thou wast dating."

The entire room went silent. Did Kuno just say that Ranma was dating Sakura? As in the 17 year old, second most popular girl her age, Sakura? They had dismissed the rumors when they heard them this morning but here was Kuno also confirming the information. The rest of the class tried to lean in and listen to Kuno and Ranma without seeming to listen. However, with not another sound in the room other then breathing and Kuno talking, it was pretty obvious what was going on.

"Friend Ranma. Sakura is like a sister to me, as she was best friends with my own dear twisted sister when the two were in grade school together. Ah those days were filled with joy and laughter as we would play with Mr. Turtle. But now is not the time to reminisce. Instead, it is time to look forward into the future. Treat her well, Saotome, or you shall face me. The vengeance of Heaven is slow but sure."

Thunder rang through the room just as Kuno struck a dramatic pose. Ranma had to hand it to the guy, he had really good timing. However, Ranma hadn't understood a single word that had come from Kuno's mouth. Sure, he understood the meaning of most of the words, but it was the arrangement, the sentences that was throwing him off. What did he mean treat her well? He treated almost all girls well, with the exception of his sister.

Now there was a complication that he didn't need. He loved his sister dearly but in his mind she would always be his sister and any kind of relationship other than that seemed completely wrong, especially the kind that she wanted. She truly did love him though. He sighed. Maybe he had been too hard on her this morning. Making his way to the desk, he laid his head down and closed his eyes. Why did this kind of thing have to happen to me.

Nabiki entered room a full five seconds before the teacher, ensuring that she was on time to class. Her eyes immediately sought out a pony tailed soldier with blue eyes. Her gaze settled on Ranma, who seemed a little out of it. By all indications, the date last night had gone pretty well, according to reports. According to the number of people who bought the pictures of Ranma with the number on the back, Ranma would be busy to and through the weekend. She needed to talk to Ranma about that anyway. She reached into her pack and pull out a piece of paper, wrote out a quick note, then handed it to a classmate to hand to Ranma. Then the teacher came in and there was almost no more student interaction until the bells tolled for lunch. Ranma went back up to the roof before anyone could see him and started reading the pile of letters that was on his desk, while eating lunch.

He nearly chocked when he came to the one from Nabiki. The only reason she would be contacting him hmm would have to have it mean that she either wanted a date and wanted to know what happened on his. It said that it wasn't urgent and that they could talk after class. So Ranma leisurely finished his lunch then made his way back into the classroom via the window again. He was the first to return and laid down his head for a quick nap. It wasn't meant to be as a couple seconds later students began to file back into the room. Nabiki looked at Ranma and he nodded slowly. They would talk after class.

Chapter 16

5Genma awakened slowly, his head pounding like a long night of sake. His bleary eyes opened, trying to make sense of his surroundings. He wasn't in the Tendo home or dojo. He wasn't at home with his wife. He wasn't in the yard sprawled out from sparring with Ranma, although is body felt like it. However, there was a hint of something in the air that tugged at his memory. It smelled like okanomiyaki.

Genma suddenly came to full consciousness, his senses clear and questing. He didn't like what he found. Sturdy chains bound his arms at his side and his hands were cuffed behind his back. His legs were also bound with chain and cuffed together. Whoever had kidnapped him really knew what they were doing. Taking a look around him, he found what appeared to be a supply closet. There were brooms, a pair of mops, some buckets and cleaning supplies, all securely placed out of reach. If only his legs had been unbound. He struggled for a moment against the chains but found himself unable to move them. He continued examining the small room by the light that filtered in from the crack under the door.

Bright light suddenly filled the small room as the door was thrown open from the outside and a tall figure darkened the entrance. Genma blinked into the light, trying to make out the figure, when he was grabbed by a rough hand and hauled from the closet. Looking around, Genma discovered that it was some kind of restaurant. The morning events came back to him in a rush and he began to thrash in the grip of his captor, trying to escape. It didn't help. Nothing made the man release his grip.

Genma landed hard as he was tossed on the floor in the backroom. One person waited for him while the other left. Genma looked into the eyes of his kidnapper and saw pure joy, the kind of joy when someone finally realizes a dream after years of hoping. Genma almost cringed away from that look but his pride got the better of him and he lay there, defiant to the end.

Ukyo smiled as she watched Genma just sit there on the ground, wrapped in chains and unable to move. However, the fat man didn't look defeated. So much the better. That meant that this payback would be a long time coming. She reached over her shoulder and pulled out her battle spatula. The tempered steel felt good in her hands and she longed to continue pounding on Genma, but she knew that just like her spatula, vengeance required the proper tempering. With how far Genma had gone to avoid his responsibility, there was going to be a lot of tempering in his future.

Genma shuddered as a sense of foreboding overcame him like a shadow. The look in the girl's eyes made him want to squirm but his pride warred with his sense of self preservation. Fortunately for him, self preservation won. He started begging and pleading, offering Ranma in his place, offering the Tendo girls in his place, offering anything he could think of in his place. Except Nodoka. He shivered again as he remembered almost dying at her hands.

A soft knock on the door heralded the entrance of the last person Genma wanted to see. Nodoka stepped into the room, her katana unwrapped but still in its sheath. She took in the sight of her husband bound on the floor and smiled. "You brought this upon yourself, husband. Your life was spared by our son but that does not spare you from your responsibilities. Ranma told me about your promise to this girl and what his intentions were this morning. He also had a feeling you would try to run out which is why I'm here. If you try to run from this responsibility, you will be cut off from the Saotome line. I've already spoken with father. He has left the decision in my hands. I've turned that power over to Ranma. Don't try to speak. You aren't going to worm your way out of this one. Ranma doesn't know that I'm making this deal with you and I plan to keep it that way as long as you behave.

"However, if I learn that you have run away from your obligations yet again, then our son will not be able to save you from your punishment. You will be cast out of the clan. As it stands, you have no future as a Saotome clan leader, until you can prove yourself worthy. This young girl is giving you the chance to redeem yourself, rather than taking your life as she is justified to. Ranma convinced her to give you this chance, and it is your last one."

Nodoka turned away before Genma had a chance to reply. She headed out the door, having to put some distance between herself and the man she had once loved with her whole heart. How foolish she had been as a young bride. No more. From this day on, she would confront love as any opponent, with a wary eye and distrust.

Ukyo closed the door behind Nodoka then turned back to face Genma. "Alright Genma, its time for you and I to have a little talk."
Kitt sat atop the roof of Furinkan High School, watching the kids scamper around the courtyard. None of them were Ranma. She was still mad at him for the way he had been treating her, but she couldn't manage to stay mad for very long. It had always been that way between the two of them. They were almost the exact same age, which was another reason she had fallen for him. She hadn't meant to. He was her brother for most of their lives together. But something about him drew her against her will. She had fought for four years against her feelings, finally breaking down and telling mother about it.

Now that had been a shocking wake up call. Her mother had told her those feelings were natural and should be explored. Mother was always saying strange things like that. Father was always saying that relationships were special and she would know when she found the right person. That was when she finally let go and started pursuing Ranma. For two years she had been trying to make him understand how she had felt and she was starting to get tired of it all. It wasn't fair. He wasn't her real brother so why couldn't he accept her feelings? Was she not attractive enough? Did she not treat him well enough?

Her breath caught as she finally realized that how she'd been treating Ranma, as a prey to be caught, instead of a love to be wooed. Throwing herself at Ranma hadn't worked for the last two years and it hadn't worked for anyone else over the last two years either from what she could tell. Maybe she just needed a different approach. But who could she talk to? Not mother. Her strategy was to just chase Ranma. That obviously wasn't working. The encounter this morning had been the worst yet. He had never been that cold to her before.

She suddenly looked down as she caught Ranma's scent on the wind. She looked down and spotted him exiting the building, flanked by two unknown girls. Her eyes narrowed and she leapt from her spot on the roof and went straight for Ranma. He happened to look up at the moment she lost contact with the roof and started her free fall. He grinned and suddenly leapt to meet her midair. She cursed as she had yet to win a midair battle with him. This time was no different as a hard kick sent her crashing into the ground.

Kitt rose from her small crater and eyed Ranma, he stood with that same smug look on this face that he always had after beating her. And he always beat her. And those two girls, just looking at her with those fake shocked expressions. One leaned over and asked Ranma a question that she was too far away to catch and he nodded back to the girl. Kitt bit back a hiss and waited for Ranma to make his move.

Ranma walked forward, Nabiki and Sakura at his sides. He hadn't had a chance to talk to Nabiki yet, as Sakura had found him as soon as class let out. Still had no idea what Nabiki wanted but she seemed content enough to make small talk with him and Sakura as they walked through the school. Kitt showing up threw a spanner in the works, especially as the suppressant was starting to wear off. Fortunately, there was still enough left that he could think clearly, but he wasn't sure how long it was going to last.

He came to a stop a good fifteen feet from Kitt, close enough that they could talk without raising their voices, but far enough away that he could react to any move she might make. Just like being back home and the constant sparring. He kept an eye on her as he introduced his companions.

"Kitt, I'd like you to meet my classmate Nabiki Tendo, and this is Sakura, also in the same grade but a different class. Nabiki, Sakura, this is my sister Kitt."

Something in the way Ranma said sister made Kitt flinch slightly. No one noticed except for Ranma and he frowned. He didn't make an issue of it here though. He needed to get home before the suppressant wore off.

Nabiki looked at the new girl with her usual cool. It wasn't every day that that you met someone who looked at least part cat. The orange fur had to be fake. Although the ears looked pretty real. The way they moved independently of each other was fairly interesting.

Sakura looked the new girl over and knew that there was something else going on. Besides the fact that Kitt was obviously part cat, the way she looked at Ranma reminded her of the way a cat learned at a mouse that it had cornered. She didn't like that look on another girl. She acted cool though. She didn't know Ranma well enough yet to know if she wanted to keep him, but so far he seemed worth the effort she was putting into the relationship, soon as she could get herself to admit there was a relationship.

Kitt looked the two girls over. The first one, Nabiki, carried herself like a fighter, but one that had yet to see serious combat. The other girl however was an enigma. She seemed like a fighter but at the same time it was hard to place her station. It was as if she was a warrior with experience who no longer fought. A commander perhaps. Not like Ranma but maybe like Ranma's CO.

Ranma looked from one girl to the next and suddenly felt nervous. The way the girls sized each other up reminded him of some of the tournaments that he had been part of, where there was a free battle royal at the beginning to determine who the final fighters would be. It didn't make sense to him. Kitt he could understand since she was a fighter by nature. And maybe even Nabiki if she had any of the martial arts training that her father should have provided. But why would Sakura be acting that way?

Nabiki smiled at Kitt before moving a little closer to Ranma. There was no way that this Kitt girl was really Ranma's sister so there had to be more to this than was shown on the surface. She linked arms with Ranma, who gave a start at the physical contact. She smiled across at Sakura, who nodded and linked with Ranma's other arm.

All chatter in the school yard suddenly faded away as a large red aura sprang into life amidst the students. Akane Tendo stepped through the sudden gap and began advancing on Ranma. All the students hurried to get out of her way. When Akane got that look in her eyes, there was going to be fall out and it was usually a good idea to make sure that you were as far away as possible to avoid peripheral damage.

Akane stared at Ranma, at the way he was taking advantage of her sister. No doubt he was using that stupid pact as a way to force Nabiki on a date. He didn't even have to decency to do it in private, but was dragging another girl along. Was that Sakura? What kind of dirty trick was this Ranma using to try taking advantage of both Nabiki and Sakura, two of the most popular girls in the school. She was about to attack when a voice from the crowd distracted her.

"Halt, friend Ranma! What do you think you are doing with the fair cat eared girl?"

Ranma groaned as Kuno made his appearance, complete with ill fitting samurai outfit and drawn boken. What world did this man live in?

Kuno held his boken leveled at Ranma, then turned his gaze to the orange furred beauty before him. Instantly his heart began to thunder in his chest. Surely, here was someone who could rival the beauty of Akane Tendo. Keeping his eyes on Ranma, he made his way towards his new love, proclaiming his feelings before all the world. Suddenly, he found himself flying through the air before crashing into the wall. How dare that Ranma attack him while he wasn't prepared. He turned to Ranma and pointed his boken. "I fight on!" Then he collapsed in a heap.

Ranma groaned again and turned to Kitt. "You didn't have to hit him that hard. Now he's going to blame me for hitting him since there is no way he'll blame he supposed love."

Kitt growled at Ranma. "That man has something wrong. He don't smell right. Can't you detect it?"

Ranma nodded. "There is something off about his aura but I don't know what it is. Frankly, I didn't really care as long as he left me alone. I don't think that's going to happen anymore and now I'm actually going to have to deal with him."

Kitt smiled. "Well, you better deal with him next time or I stop being nice. Oh, why is that girl trying to burn hole through you with eyes? I thought only mother do that?"

Ranma and the other girls turned to see Akane, her red aura flaring around her. Ranma sighed as his day took a turn for worse. Nothing seemed to work out where Akane was concerned. The girl had a weak grasp of reality.

Nabiki and Sakura both released Ranma and backed away once they saw the look on Akane's face. When she got like that, she had a hard time telling who her target was and who was an innocent bystander. No such thing as a bystander to Akane, not even her own sister.
"What are you doing trying to take advantage of my sister you pervert?"

Kitt looked between the girl and Ranma, then peered hard at Ranma. "Ranma, why she call you pervert? Why she jealous? It because she in heat like Kitt?"

Ranma suddenly blushed bright red and immediately began backing away from Akane. This was not going to go over well and with the amount of negative energy that girl was already putting out…

Akane paused for a moment as she tried to understand what the girl had said. There was no way she was jealous. The boy was a pervert and should be treated thus. And what did she mean by in heat? The only time she had ever heard that term was when talking about cats or dogs that were ready to…no way! There was no way she could have meant that. Her anger mounted as she thought more about it.

Ranma looked around and made sure that everyone was heading for cover. That included Kitt. He caught his sisters attention and motioned towards Nabiki and Sakura. Kitt nodded and moved to make sure that the two other girls were out of the way. Once that was finished, he moved in to take out Akane before she could hurt anyone. He didn't want to do it that way but didn't see any other way.

Just as Ranma reached Akane, the girl swung with a punch that had all her strength, all her anger, all her embarrassment, all her emotion fueling that one punch. It caught Ranma squarely in the gut and catapulted him straight into the side of the building. Concrete cracked around him and a portion of the wall collapsed on top of him. A collected gasp rose from the students as they watched Ranma become buried.

Akane watched the rubble with a cold dispassion. She suddenly felt drained as the target of her ire suddenly disappeared. A thought came to her that she might have killed Ranma. She took a stop back from the rubble and wondered whether she should run. No one made a move to help, not wanting to have Akane turn her murderous temper towards them.

The rubble seemed to shift. A few pebbles tumbled from the top of the rubble as the pile shook slightly. A grating sound filled the air as the rubble started moving in earnest. A figure emerged from the pile of concrete. Ranma, his clothes turn and tattered, crawled from his coffin of stone. Blood trailed from the corned of his mouth and from a cut on his forehead, turning his face crimson.

Ranma looked at the girl, for once letting his anger show through his eyes. They were hardened ice, a smoldered coldness that burned to watch. Akane almost flinched back from the gaze but her anger suddenly blossomed into being again at seeing Ranma return to life. Ranma however, scowled at the girl. She had just made a serious mistake. That was no sparring attack. That had been an actual attempt on his life. He coughed suddenly as a wave of pain spasm through him. He looked down at his hands, saw blood where he had coughed it up. He looked back into Akane's eyes, whipping the blood away from his mouth with the back of his hand.

Akane rushed Ranma, intent to finish him off with another power punch like she had already laid him out before. There was no way for him to withstand two such hits. She swung and suddenly found her hand caught in a viselike grip. She looked into the eyes of Ranma and finally gasped. There was almost no emotion in those eyes, but a frozen blue ice that seemed to suck the warmth from the air. She whimpered slightly as the hand holding her fist began to tighten its hold. The sound of bone snapping filled the air as Akane's hand broke within the grip. She gasped at the pain.

Ranma let go of the fist then switched his grip to her arm, pulling his arm out to full extension before bringing his other elbow directing on her forearm, breaking the bone with a sickening crack. A single sweeping sidekick sent the girl tumbling. Ranma began stalking towards her prey when he felt a gentle hand on his shoulder. He turned and looked into the worried eyes of Sakura, who almost flinched from the look that Ranma had in his eyes. "She's had enough Ranma. Let her go. She doesn't deserve this. She doesn't deserve your anger. Please?"

It was the please that broke through the combat haze. Ranma's eyes cleared, the ice cracking and making way for the clear blue of his eyes to shine forth. A shuddering passed through Ranma as he focused his feelings, bottled them up and shunted them away for when he might need them. He returned to the world of rational thought, to where he was a commander rather than just a combatant.

Kitt looked at her brother, her lover, in concern. She didn't like the way that this Sakura girl was acting with Ranma but it had the desired results. Kitt walked over to Ranma while Nabiki went over to her sister. "Ranma, you may want to leave while I deal with my sister. The cops are going to want an explanation and I don't want you around when I give it to them."

Ranma looked at the middle Tendo, his eyes searching hers for any more meaning than the words that she had said. He detected no duplicity on her part. Maybe she really did want this friendship to work out. He suddenly wished that he had had the chance to find out what she wanted to talk about. Instead, he leaned on his sister as a wave of exhaustion flashed through his body. Kitt and Sakura helped Ranma leave the school grounds, surrounded by a group of other students who had witnessed the attack. The sound of sirens began to fill the air as the school yard emptied of all students except for those who volunteered to help Nabiki with Akane.

Kitt and Sakura finally reached the Saotome estate. Ranma was barely conscious between the two girls as the entered the home. No one answered when they called so the proceeded inside. They got Ranma into the furo and out of his shirt so that could treat his wounds. Tristina found them that way and frowned at seeing two girls in the furo with Ranma but instantly assessed the situation. With Ranma unconscious that meant that something had to have happened before they returned home. This would have been easier with Ranma awake but at least Kitt was here and would help her protect Ranma.

"Kitt. Something's come up. I just got a message from Sector Command. He has gotten loose and is on his way here after Ranma."

Kitt gasped softly. Ranma had barely survived the last encounter with him and with his internal injuries, it would be at least another day before he was ready for any kind of combat. "How much time do we have?"

"They said he might already be in the system. Some guesses are they had had already landed."
Kitt winced and hugged the unconscious Ranma. No one was going to hurt her Ranma.
Sakura watched the interchange between the two girls and knew that something monumental was going on but had no clue what that might be. Instead, she just nodded at Kitt, offering her silent support.
Somewhere in the middle of China, the side of a mountain exploded as something crashed into it from space. After almost half an hour, a large, winged figure stepped out of the rubble, turned its face east, sniffed the air, then raised itself into the air and started flying towards Japan. A few moment later, a much smaller figure emerged from the rubble, cackling with insane glee, then headed further into the Chine, in search of his darlings.

Chapter 17

A hail of arrows carpeted the forest, desperately seeking the blood of a small, hopping figure who dance merrily through the raining death, dodging and weaving about with that ease almost magical to behold. A group of Amazon warriors, fierce, battle trained women, emerged from the surrounding trees and slowly stalked the small figure, which turned out to be a man about three feet tall. He carried a large sack over his shoulder, bigger than he was. He noticed the approaching amazons and smiled, a mischievous glint in his eye. He pulled a small wooden pipe from somewhere and began smoking it, a small ring of smoke beginning to surround him as he waited for the amazons to make their move.

Moving to an unheard signal, the gathered amazons attacked simultaneously, their weapons striking without flaw the intend location. However, the intended target was not at that location. Instead, he was bounded through the trees yelling 'What a haul' at the top of his lungs. Several of the amazons gave chase, herding the man away from the village. There wasn't much else they could do. He had managed to defeat all the warriors. Only the elders had been able to drive him away from the village, but not before he had managed to steal several important artifacts from the vault. The elders had directed a group of warriors, led by Xian Pu, to keep him headed away from the city while they planned a course of action.

Elder Ku Lohn stood upon the timbered walls of the village, gazing towards the forest. Her great granddaughter was out there, leading the chase against the demon, as he was being called. Once his final destination was discovered, she would form a special team and go after him. However, in the meantime, there were those reports of a demon seen near the village earlier in the day. All indications pointed to the beast heading east, the same direction that Happosai seemed to be heading. There had to be a link there somehow. The signs weren't good. Both demons appeared after a falling star. This required her personal attention.
Ranma slowly returned to consciousness and was immediately aware of three things. His entire body hurt, he was almost completely naked, and he was in a room filled with women. That last thought would have sent him running in panic if he had been able to move. As it was, someone was curled up in his lap and his head was resting in another lap. A third and fourth person were in the room to his side, probably sitting down.

He then became aware of something else and he immediately blushed bright red. A loud purring was filling the room and it wasn't coming from his sister. It was his own purr that echoed back to him. That meant that the inhibitor had faded out. More information filtered to him as his senses slowly returned to normal. The person in his lap was his sister Kitt. The person whose lap he was in was Tristina. The people in the chairs were Sakura and one other person who seemed familiar. It wasn't his mother but it was very familiar.

He cracked open an eye and looked up into the worried face of his best friend. He opened his other eye and got a better look at her. She looked worried but there was something else in her eyes that for some reason made him blush. Great, now he was starting to think of his best friend that way. Damn pheromones. His thinking was clouded.

Tristina looked down at Ranma and smiled to see him awake again. The way he was gazing at her brought a flush to her cheeks but she didn't stop stroking hair long hair as it cascaded over her legs. Even knowing how serious the situation was, she couldn't help taking a moment to admire her best friend, the person who she had fallen in love with slowly but surely over these last six years. It wasn't only his well form physique with all those luscious muscles. It was his caring heart and strong spirit. She looked away and tried to force down those thoughts before she did something she might regret.

Kitts stirred from her position in Ranma's lap when she felt something poking into her side. She purred in sudden realization and smiled at Ranma with a hungry look. She slowly turned in his lap so that she was straddling him, and there was nothing he could do about it. Even with his fantastic healing ability, he hadn't recovered enough to really move. Suddenly she felt a hand grab the back of her collar and yank her bodily away from Ranma. She struggled in the grasp but to no avail and settled down.

Ranma looked up at his rescuer, the previously unidentified fourth person in the room. Soon as he recognized her, he groaned out loud and closed his eyes again, hoping she would disappear. Captain Deborah Mahoran, Commanding Officer of his Marine Core Brigade. Short blond hair crowned her head, barely falling below her ears. A pair of sparkling green eyes gazed from a stern face, full lips pouty even with the commanders expression. She stood at a relaxed attention, even while carrying Kitt in one hand. She was one of the near human races, genetically engineered to be stronger and sturdier for inhabiting high gravity planets. Her body was perfectly proportioned, although she only stood five feet tall. However, she was a great warrior and a valued commander. She was his direct superior and one of the last people he wanted to see while on leave.

Deborah dropped the cat girl and gave her officer a disapproving look. "Tsk Tsk Saotome. Almost losing to a civilian. Here I take time from my busy schedule to bring you information from Sector HQ and where do I find you? Unconscious after only one hit. Soon as your leave is over, you and I are going to be spending a lot of time training together to make sure this doesn't happen again."

Since Ranma's eyes were closed, he can be excused for not seeing the sparkle in his CO's eyes. Instead, he just groaned again, remembering the last training session he had gone through. It consisted of a mostly naked Ranma dodging for his life as over a dozen droids did their best to zap the rest of his uniform from his body. He'd been doing fine for the first couple of hours but somewhere in the fourth hour a pair of droids got him with a lucky shot. It had taken him almost a week before he could walk into the barracks without a series of cat calls erupting when he entered. Even now he got looks that made him shiver and blush.

The door to the room opened and Nodoka stepped through. Out in the hall, a pair of hulking Chaos Soldiers, fifteen feet tall genetically engineered killing machines, stood vigilant. Deborah hoped they would be enough to slow him down if he showed up. She'd only been allowed to bring the two down from the ship and only after pulling all sorts of strings to get them here. Sector HQ already felt there was enough influence on the planet as it was.

Nodoka looked at her son and the room filled with beautiful woman and smiled with a joy that would have brightened the room in other circumstances. She could tell that something wasn't right though. The giant heavily armed guards outside the room would have been enough of an indicator, even without the sense of tension in the room.

"Mrs. Saotome? It's a pleasure to finally meet you. I'm Captain Mahoran. Your son has been under my command since joining active service. I only wish we could have met under better circumstances. I'm glad you're here though, so I only have to explain this once."

Ranma perked up as much as he could from his position laying down. He knew something was wrong as soon as he saw his CO. The guards outside only confirmed it. This meant something big and that meant something bad. What could possibly have convinced her to follow him while he was on leave, not to mention to a planet that was pretty much off limits. He suddenly wished he was back in the service where they could get him fixed up in a matter of hours.

"What is the situation, Captain?"

"Enroute to the prison station, He escaped from his escorts, was recaptured, then managed to damage his captors before escaping again. He was last detecting heading towards Earth. We believe that He touch down somewhere in the region called China. We don't have anything capable of tracking him so we aren't sure of His whereabouts. All we know is that He is coming after you again."

That was the last thing he wanted to hear. This was completely different than the last time they had fought. Ranma had been in top shape and they had battled it out on an abandoned station that was destroyed after the battle. Ranma had barely survived that time and only the speedy return to a medical ship had allowed him to survive the encounter.

"Any chance you have a medical ship in orbit?" It was too much to hope for and he knew that, even before she shook her head no. That meant that there was nothing standing in His way but two soldier and this group of women. He really needed to get out of here. He couldn't be caught lying around where all these people could get hurt.

As he struggled to get up, a firm hand on his chest stopped him from moving. He followed the hand up the arm, along the next, past the moist lips and into the eyes of Sakura. He was suddenly all to aware of his mostly naked state and his cheeks flashed crimson again. If he didn't get away from Kitt and to his inhibitor, he wasn't going to last much longer.

Sakura looked down at Ranma and blushed at being so forward. Sure she had kissed him on the cheek at the end of their date but here she was touching his naked chest. Now was not the time to think of that. "Where do you think you're going? You shouldn't even be alive, let alone conscious, from the pounded you took from Akane. Let the police handle things. Or if its really that serious, call in the military."

A chuckle erupted from Deborah and Sakura turned to regard the shorter woman. Deborah's green eyes sparkled with amusement. "No offense girlie, but you're defense forces here wouldn't even be noticed by Him." She hooked a thumb in the direction of the door.

"See those two giant guards out there? With all the weapons and armor? They won't do much more than slow the guy down while we all get prepared. He is a natural tank, his skin absorbs energy and is tough to pierce with conventional weapons. And by conventional weapons, I meant the weapons used by my Marines, not the archaic chemical weapons you people still use. He tore through a division of my troops before Ranma was able to bring him down."

The Japanese girl looked down at Ranma, a considering look in her eyes. She realized she still had her hand on his chest and snatched it away as if his chest was on fire. Her chest certainly felt that way. She looked back at Ranma, questing for some answer in his eyes. Just who are you, Ranma Saotome?

Nodoka kept flashing from joy to worry as she looked from the girls to her son and thought of the man things she was seeing and hearing. She had already suspected that there might be more to the Tristina girl than the girl was willing to let on. Silently she encouraged the girl to explore her feelings. The way things were shaping up, all four of the girls could end up with his son. She sighed happily, dreams of little grandchildren running through her mind. Then she remembered that someone was coming to kill her son and realize that he would have a hard time providing her with grandchildren if he was dead. But then she would be back to the grandchildren. Up and down went the emotional rollercoaster that was Nodoka Saotome.

Kitt stood up finally from where she had been dropped on the floor, her tail lashing about. All these people were interfering with her play time. Not that she had any objection to playing with Ranma while other people were in the room. Its just that every time she decided to try something, one of the other girls always seemed to interfere. Now that Ranma was awake, things became even more complicated. She had to settle for watching him. It wasn't easy.

A knock on the door broke everyone out of their own thoughts. The door opened and the guards admitted two people into the room. One was a human, dressed as a civilian, although the gun holsters were definitely not civilian issue. The other person was definitely not human. A trio of short horns emerged from a bald grey forehead. The eyes were larger than normal and completely black. The nose was small, barely more than a bump with two slits. The mouth was lipless and filled with needlelike teeth.

The human stepped forward and saluted Deborah, pressing fist to heart. "It is good to see a representative of the Empire here. My captain was worried about capturing his prey here, which was why he sent us ahead to prepare the way. Our ship is only another day out from here. Then he'll send the rest of the team in."

Ranma stared intently at the man for a moment. "Wait. I recognize you! You're from the 'Grim Desire', Captain Dreth'kalar's ship. Who is that old demon after now?"

"He caught an escaped convict and was transporting him back for the reward when the creature escaped."

"Who did he catch?"

"Grikor"

Ranma stared at the man, as did everyone except for Nodoka and Sakura. Grikor? That was him, the one who killed all those marines, the one who tried to kill Ranma. A member of the same race as Dreth'kalar, only far older, and far more sinister. A channeler of life energy, energy stolen from the souls of those upon which he preyed.

"You said he would be here in one day? We might be able to pull this off. But I need to heal if I'm going to be able to do anything. Grikor is coming for me. I know it. I can feel his attention on me, like a wet blanket trying to wrap around my mind. I need to get ready though and I can't do that with all of you in here. Please let me heal."

Everyone there looked ready to protest, with the except of the two bounty hunters, who saluted and let themselves out. However, Ranma turned to each protester, a disapproving glare evident in the hardening blue ice of his eyes. One by one they backed down and shuffled to the door, even the CO. Kitt was just walking through the door when she saw that Tristina hadn't moved from where she had Ranma in her lap. She hissed silently to herself but knew that making an issue of it would be even worse then leaving the room. So she left.

Tristina looked down at Ranma and thought about going as well but couldn't convince her hands to stop stroking his long silky hair. Soon as the door closed behind Kitt, Tristina felt a vibration start going through Ranma. The sound of purring filled the room and a wave of emotion suddenly passed through her. It came from Ranma and she looked down in shock. So this was what he had to deal with around Kitt. But how did he function this morning?

Ranma reluctantly dragged himself away from his best friend and struggled to control his thoughts and actions. He knew he could trust her though, so he reached into his subspace pocket and withdraw the inhibitor. He strapped the device to his upper arm, then tapped the outside of a box. There was a soft hiss from the box. Ranma grimaced slightly then finally smiled. It didn't stop the pheromones that were already coursing through his blood but it prevented him from degenerating any further.

He turned back to Tristina, acutely aware of the way her bath soap smell on her skin, of the way that her hair shifted ever so slightly in the breezeless room, of the way her aura seemed to reach out to his constantly. Her aura was the same it always was she was worried about him, usually after he had gotten hurt in some competition, or after the encounter with Grikor. With his senses heightened by Kitt's pheromones, he was detecting something else from her that he hadn't been aware of before. Attraction. She was attracted to him and it seemed like something that didn't spring into place all of a sudden.

Ranma reached out a tentative hand and took Tristina's hand in his own. He looked into her suddenly wide eyes, those black on black eyes that had become so familiar over the last six years. He knew she could read his surface thoughts. She'd admitted to that once. He didn't know what to say, so he lets his emotions do the talking to him.

In spite of the way the pheromones were playing havoc with his system, he felt that he was finally thinking more clearly than he had in the last few years. He lost himself in her eyes and hoped that what he was feeling was true and not just chemically induced.

Tristina looked into the ocean blue eyes of Ranma, at the endless waves of emotion that seemed to break against the shore of his mind. She opened herself completely to his emotions and suddenly gasped. There was no doubt in her mind how he felt about her. He loved her, on several levels, as best friend and confident, and right now, as a possible lover. However, she wasn't alone in his thoughts. The other forms were shadowed, so that Ranma didn't even know who they were. But that was something for another day.

Gathering her courage, Tristina leaned forward and kissed Ranma on the lips.

Chapter 18

Akane Tendo slowly came back to the waking world, the anesthetic that the doctors had given her finally wearing out. She blinked her eyes in the bright light, the white walls so different from the ones she was used to at home. Instantly she was angry. Something wasn't right. She wasn't supposed to be here, wherever here was. She started to get up something was wrong. There was a pressure against her chest that shouldn't be there. Her arms wouldn't move either. One was definitely strapped down and the other just didn't want to move. She couldn't move her legs either. Her anger increased the move she struggled.

"I'd stop doing that sis. You're only going to hurt yourself more."

Akane snapped her head in the direction of the voice. There sat Nabiki, still dressed in her school uniform, her school bag laying on her lap. "Well? What are you waiting for? Get me outta here."

Nabiki shook her head and darted a glance towards the door, reassuring herself that the two officers were still outside. She could see one through the window and relaxed. Now for the hard part. "I'm afraid I can' do that Akane. The officer in charge of your care wouldn't be happy with me."

"I'm not happy with you! Let me go! And what's wrong with my arm? What did that pervert do to me?" The walls of the room shook with the force of Akane's anger but no matter what she did, she couldn't get free. And her arm still wasn't responding. It felt heavier than normal and she finally took a moment to look at it. A complete plaster cast covered her arm from just above the elbow all the way to cover her entire hand.

The middle Tendo looked at her enraged sister and knew that it was past time for this to happen. Akane had lived in her own little world for too long. Their father hadn't helped matters much. Since their mother died almost ten years ago, their father had turned a blind eye to his family. Genma's arrival only helped to distance the man from the rest of the family. Well, Ranma's arrive was the wake up call that they all badly needed. Maybe after returning from this training trip, Soun and Genma would finally come real martial artists, instead of just remembering the good old days.

"We're at Doctor Tofu's. Ranma broke your arm after you tried to kill him. Not once, but twice. He broke your hand and your arm and stressed a few ribs. The doctor set your arm back into place and put it in a cast. He also hit some pressure points so you won't be able to move the arm for a few days. He felt that it was the only way to prevent you from reinjuring your arm.

"You're also going to be here for awhile under observation. And you're going into anger management. The officer that brought you in had too many reports to ignore and it's been taken out of my hands."

The door opened and a pair of men walked in. One was Doctor Tofu. He looked at Akane, the worry plainly evident in his eyes. However, there was another look that she had rarely seen in the doctor. Anger. Next to Tofu stood another man, tall, dressed in a pinstripe business suit. He held a small briefcase in his hands and from it he pulled a small notepad.

"Hello Ms. Tendo. My name is Doctor Kyle Otora. I'll be your anger management specialist for the duration of your stay in our care. Also, if your problem continues after the time when your injuries heal, we will continue our visits."

Akane stared at the doctor in dumbfounded shock. It took a moment for the information to settle in through the haze of anger, but then she was really mad. Her jaw clenched for a moment then she finally gave an answer. "When I get out of here, I'll kill that Ranma."

The doctor nodded and wrote a few lines on his notepad. This was going to be a long assignment.
Kitt paced in front of the door, her padded feet not making a sound, however, the motion was beginning to annoy Sakura. Back and forth. Back and forth. The Japanese girl wasn't the only one getting annoyed either. Captain Mahoran watched the pacing cat girl, counting the number of times she completed a circuit. Counted down, like the dial of a bomb, waiting to explode. The girl didn't have much longer to go until she was kitty litter.

Kitt, blissfully ignorant of her own impending doom, was busy thinking up ways to make Tristina's life miserable. There was no way that she was going to let that black haired, magic using hussy get her claws into Ranma. She knew what Tristina wanted, something that Kitt had already taken, and there was no way that she was going to just stand here and let the girl take him away. No way. Instead, she was going to pace here, in front of a door that wasn't even locked, and let her take him away, all because he asked her to leave the room.

Since when did she ever listen to him before? That thought suddenly dominated her mind. She stopped pacing and stared at the door. A soft curse behind her went unnoticed as she tried to bore a whole through the door with just her gaze. She started towards the door, only to be stopped by a hand on her shoulder. She looked up into the eyes of Ranma's CO.

"He wouldn't be happy if you go in there girl, not after asking us all to leave. You think I like taking orders from someone under my own command? But I did it. I'm standing here, outside this door, and so will you."

Kitt squirmed in the firm grasp and pulled away, turning to stare at the short woman. This was the first time that the two had never spent the same amount of time in close proximity to each other. Now that she was close enough, there was something about the woman that struck her as odd. She leaned closer to Deborah, taking a deep sniff of her scent.

The hackles on the back of Kitt's neck rose up as she sensed the level of desire coming from Deborah, directed back towards the room from which they had just left. That meant it was one of two people and she was pretty sure it wasn't the Dorsai girl. And that insufferable grin. She backed away, giving herself some room to maneuver.

Nodoka watched the interaction between the two women and frowned. Fighting over her son was all well and good, but not in her house, and most definitely not while he was injured. Her katana was out and between the two before either could blink. Kitt tried to turn her gaze on Ranma's mom but the look in the lady's eye cut her short. That and the confident way she held the sword.

"There will be no fighting in my house. This is neutral ground for all seeking my son. I don't care what you do to each other when you leave but once you enter my house you will keep the peace. If you do not, you will be forbidden from seeing my son."

Kitt bowed her head and backed away, ashamed at her actions. Now was not the time or place. Later, after Ranma was well enough to recognize her efforts in his behalf. She didn't like it though. The Dorsai girl had all this time to snake her way into Ranma's heart. She was already his best friend. But the prize was worth it.

Captain Deborah Mahoran nodded cordially to the Saotome Matriarch. One thing she had learned in her years of service. Always respect the elder of the home in which you were a guest. Take comforts where you could gain them. She had no intention in roughing it on a strange planet. This home offered comforts that weren't available otherwise. She had no local currency, barely spoke the local language, and had no contacts except for Ranma. And as he was currently out of action, this left Nodoka as her only option.

Sakura felt left out. Any resources she might have brought to bear had been deemed insignificant and considering the situation, she was forced to agree. Also, she recognized her chances with Ranma drifted away into smoke with the longer the door remained closed. Granted, Ranma was a wonderful piece to look at, but she really didn't know him well enough to fight over him, especially not with at least three other girls. It didn't mean she didn't want to be his friend, as she had really enjoyed their date. Instead, she was willing to let things develop however the future decided.

Nodoka looked between the three woman waiting on her son, at the two large guards stationed outside the door, and finally, at the two mercenaries. All these people involved with her son. It was a little much to take in. Ranma had never mentioned these sorts of complications when he told her about his past ten years. She knew he had served in the military, but he had made it sound more like he was an instructor than a combatant. She needed more information. That Tristina girl had been nice enough to talk about Ranma but now she had Kitt awake and also this other girl, Ranma's captain. What kinda information could she dig up from these two sources? Also, it would be a good way to diffuse the tension. She motioned everyone to follow her into the living room and proceeded to serve tea. Once everyone was served, she started in with the questions, probing for more and more information. Each answer brought a new ray of light onto the picture of Ranma's past, on the type of man he was growing up to be. With each new revelation, her estimation of her son increased and she was soon beaming as his Captain heaped praise on her son as a soldier and leader.

Sakura sat dumbfounded at the flood of information that poured from both Deborah and Kitt. Ranma was something of a super soldier it appeared, someone that would be invaluable in the Japanese defense force. But the way they made it sound, he was needed even more in this Chaos Empire military, keeping larger threats from reaching Earth. Even though Ranma had spent most of his life away from his home planet, he still considered it his home and was always sent on missions to protect it whenever he could. She felt confused by her own emotions. She didn't want to get involved with someone who was already involved but at the same time, she wanted him.

Almost an hour passed but no one seemed to notice or pay attention, even though the topic of the discussion. It wasn't until the door to the bedroom opened and a slowly moving Ranma emerged, leaning heavily on Tristina. The fact that he was moving was more important than what had happened over the past hour. At least, for most people it was. Kitt sniffed repeatedly for the scent that she wanted most but feared to find on someone else. Fortunately, the scent wasn't there.

Ranma took in the gathered people and smile, his confident grin in place. Gravely injured, he knew what his limitations were, what his body could handle. He really hadn't been expecting as much power as the Tendo girl had manage to put out and hadn't properly reinforced his body for the hit. That was the only reason he had been damaged so severely. But he wasn't going to let something like this keep him down. He had to stop Grikor before anyone else could get hurt. He'd lost too many friends already. He didn't want to lose any new ones.

"I want to thank you all for your concern and support. I'm sorry for making you wait but I had to work some things out. Tristina and I have come to an agreement. She's helped me to understand a few things, as well as pointed some things out that I should have recognized on my own but for some reason, I guess I'm still a rookie in some things."

He made a sweeping motion with one hand, taking in the three seated girls. "To one degree or another, you each want me. I don't pretend to know why, only that those feelings exist. Kitt, I love you like a sister and it's hard thinking of you as anything else. That is why I run. I know you understand this. I don't want you to make this any harder on my than it already is so please, let me move at my own pace and I'll stop pushing you away.

"Captain, I had no idea how you felt. Still don't really, but you wouldn't be here if you didn't care. Don't tell me how many favors you had to call in to get here to warn me. It'll only get me upset and you remember what happened last time I got upset." His eyes sparkled with amusement and she smiled back at him.

"But whatever it is you want between us, lets take it slow and find out what that is together. And as for you Sakura, I'm not sure what to say. You're a nice girl and all but I've only known you for a couple days. I enjoyed our date and I'm glad that you think well enough of me to help take care of me like this, but I don't know what I have to offer. My life is complicated enough as it is. You don't need to get involved with this kind of chaos. No, don't answer yet, let me finished before you say anything. That goes for all of you."

He took a big breath, trying to steel himself for his announcement. "Tristina pointed out and I agree with her, that now is not the time for me to be thinking about anyone, including here. She's my best friend and has been for the better part of my life. However, with someone like Grikor, I can't afford to care. I have to know that no matter what I need to do, I can do it without having to worry about anyone. That means that when the time comes, it will be me, the guards and the mercs against Grikor. Don't try to argue Captain. You know you'll just get in the way. There is no way they let you bring something heavy enough to hurt him."

He ran one hand through his long hair. His pony tail was undone and the long hair flowed over his back and a bit of his fell forward over his shoulder and fanning across his still naked chest. "Because of this, I'm leaving you all here and going somewhere to rest and heal. The guards will take me. Tristina will know where I'm going because I need a way for you to tell me that Grikor is coming. I'll only be an hour away."

The room erupted in voices as Kitt and Deborah both louded criticized the idea as stupid. After thirty second, Ranma gathered his strength and used one of his non combat ki techniques. Channeling his lifeforce into his force, he projected his speech at a volume several magnitudes over normal. "THAT IS ENOUGH! This is my decision and I've already made it. This has to be done, or I have no way to heal in time. Sure, I could heal here but how many of you could control yourself while I'm so close at hand? I think Sakura can, since she isn't as aggressive, but could you Kitt? Captain?"

He waited for an answer but the girls had the good graces to be silent. Finally he nodded and started moving slowly towards the guards. One slipped into the room only to emerge a brief moment later with Ranma's small pack. The other guard picked up Ranma and then both guards and Ranma left through the front door.

Nodoka watched her son leave once again and wondered how much chance there was that she would ever see him again.

Chapter 19

Gravel rained down upon the still street, all that was left of the building occupying the area just a moment before. Ranma tucked into a roll to avoid the larger pieces of building flying through the air, the gravel pinging against his armor. He was tired and he was hungry. Channeling his ki for so long was really starting to drain him, but it was the only thing keeping him alive. Many of his friends couldn't say that anymore.

Ranma dashed forwards just as another ball of energy crashed into the ground nearby. More rubble rattled his armor but at least the actual blast missed him. One had been enough to almost penetrate his armor and would have if he hadn't been strengthening it with his ki at the time.

He sprinted away, putting enough distance between him and Grikor as he could and still keep the beast in sight. The stench of death hung heavy in the air, tinged with the acid taste of ionized air. It was all hard to ignore. Ranma's senses were heightened, as sensitive as he could make them so that his reflexes could help him stay alive. The subtle shifts in air pressure or a change in the sound of the wind. Those little signs were all that let him survive and it was barely enough.

Ranma cursed as yet another energy ball quested for him, smashing through a building before exploding near where he was hiding behind another wall. The blast sent him tumbling through rubble. He tucked into roll then came up running just as the giant form of Grikor smashed down almost on top of him. A sweep of Grikor's wings sent Ranma tumbling against, twisting madly to avoid the energy blasts. Blasts powered by Ranma's own ki attacks. The cursed demon had just laughed at the most powerful attacks Ranma could launch, absorbing the energy into his skin like a sponge.

A close call with about three blasts later saw Ranma running again, heading for higher ground. He hopped along the wreckage, reaching for the sky and trying to buy time. Grikor took to the sky and tore through the air towards Ranma. At the last moment, Ranma twisted in mid jump and landed a savage kick to Grikor's head. The large warrior barely felt the blow and swiped at Ranma, who somehow twisted through the air to avoid the blow. He wasn't able to dodge the next blast though and went careening through the air to crash into one of the few remaining walls in the area.

Staggering to his feet, Ranma doubled over as a cough wracked his body. Blood dripped to the ground from his lips. He could feel at least one of his ribs were broken with that last hit, even through the armor. He had to end this and end it fast. No one was left to stop him and the droids were still another ten minutes away.

Ranma reached inside his mind, searching for that hidden power that was unlocked by the Cat Fist. Always he put up a barrier to retain his sanity but now he let that barrier down and fully embraced his inner warrior. A spasm shot through his body and he curled into a ball on the ground. Suddenly he sprang into the air just before another ball of energy impact him. His now glowing eyes focus on Grikor with an intensity that could almost be felt.

Soon as he landed, Ranma sprang towards the winged destroyer, a blur of slashing limbs. Grikor didn't even bother dodge, just taking the hits and swinging back with enough power to level a building. Ranma twisted and flowed around each move, his body contorting into positions it shouldn't be able to attain. A glow enveloped his hands for a moment then disappeared.

Ranma moved faster and faster, limbs moving almost to fast to see. He was always a black and silver blur, raining blows on Grikor from every direction. The big creature barely felt the hits but the sheer volume of hits was starting to take its toll. He was backed up a step, then another, then another. He swiped at Ranma but caught only air. Ranma started moving even faster and his strikes picked up power. The ground around the two started to crack with the force of the blows. A dark light surrounded Ranma and he seemed to vanish from view.

Grikor remained standing for several minutes, nothing seeming to happen. Finally, he staggered to one knee, supporting himself with one massive hand. He stayed like that for a moment longer before finally calling collapsing to the ground. Ranma faded into view, his entire body quivering. Steam rose from his body into the cooling night air. He looked down on his vanquished foe and smirked. Then his eyes rolled up into the back of his head and he fainted.

Ranma opened his eyes and found himself immersed in a clear liquid, a breather mask keeping him from drowning. He looked through the glass of the tank and saw the worried eyes of his CO and best friend both watching him. He nodded, letting them know he would be okay then closed his eyes. He'd never been that close to dying. He had burned away a lot of his own life energy in that fight and if he didn't rest fully for the next week he could still die. He closed his eyes again.

A sudden jolt brought Ranma awake again. He opened his eyes and saw a wide expanse of forest. He also saw the broad, armored chest of a Soldier, running along with no sign of getting tired. Ranma sighed deeply, wishing he'd had the medical facilities of the Empire at his disposal. There was no way he was going to be able to recover in time to fight Grikor on his own, and the girls would only get themselves killed. He'd lost too many people already to leave something like that happen. His only chance was an advanced healing trance and even that wasn't a guarantee. He didn't know what else to do and wasn't expecting to survive.

Chapter 20

Moonlight filtered down upon the coast of Japan. A single police officer patrolled along the beach, eyes scanning the sandy shore to make sure that things stay peaceful. Things had been peaceful for quite a while. And that's they way the liked it.

A dark shadow passed overhead, blocking out the moonlight for a moment. The officer glanced towards the sky and saw a large grey, winged form gliding through the night, heading further inland. He watched it fly past, moving at a good pace. It wasn't until the thing had flown past the beach and into the city that the officer realized he should have done something. He quickly pulled out his radio and called in to headquarters, warning of a possible threat.

Police officers started scrambling as soon as the call came in. More calls began to filter in from officers already in the field, keeping an eye on the intruder. So far there were no reports of hostile activity but the police weren't taking any chances. From all the reports, it appeared that the creature was heading towards Tokyo. They always seemed to head for Tokyo.

More and more officers gathered in the main districts of Tokyo, or rather, those areas that paid the most taxes to the politicians so they were redirected there. However, it was elements of the Japanese Defense Force that were brought out as a perimeter guard for the city. It wasn't even a major division of the JDF, only a small task force, but they were directly in the path of the creature.

They didn't have to wait long. Just as the first rays of morning were peeking over the horizon, the large, gray, winged shape appeared in the distance. Weapons were trained on the target but no one took the shot. They had to wait for it to make the first move, otherwise the paper work would be a killer.

One officer felt a drop of sweat roll down his forehead as he watched the monstrosity approach. It was like something out of a nightmare. Huge leathery wings, gray skin, horns, those fiery eyes. The closer it came, the more nervous he became. Sweat began to pore down his face and he tried to mop it away with his sleeve. When he could see again, the creature was almost on top of him and he fired. The bullet impacted the creature and knocked it slightly askew but the creature didn't seem too damaged by it. However, it did appear annoyed.

Grikor pulled his wings in close and power dived towards the gathered officers. More shots were fired but they were likewise ignored. He impacted the road, slamming into the hard concrete, a deep crater forming around the impact site. He turned his gaze upwards, wrapping his wings around him like a cloak. A heavy rifle impacted his shoulder and knocked him back a step, but it didn't puncture the skin. He grin, his tooth filled maw shining the in the light of rising day.

Each two steps forward were punctuated by a forced step back from the weight of the rifle fire. The tank shot he dodged though. Unfortunately, the building behind him wasn't able to dodge and collapsed from having most of a supporting wall missing. The rubble managed to bury Grikor and a cheer rose up from the gathered defenders. That cheer was cut off short though as the rubble started to shift and Grikor barged his way out.

The unfortunately tank learned first hand just how strong Grikor was as he proceeded to tear the turret off of the rest of the tank, all the while under fire from the rest of the defense force. The turret was tossed onto a nearby squad car, both car and turret now useless.

By that time, most of the defenders were starting to fall back. Reinforcements had been called in but would take some time to arrive. Grikor scanned the group attacking him and finally found his target. He trudged over and grabbed the officer who had first shot him and proceeded to tear his head from his shoulders.

All action paused for a moment as the JDF considered their fallen comrade. Grikor looked at the body and tossed it to the street. The head he tossed to the rest of the defenders before jumping into the air and unfurling his wings. With a powerful gust that knocked over many of the defenders, Grikor launched himself into the air. He watched the swarming defenders for a moment before ignoring them and flying deeper into the city. He turned around just before leaving view of the still stunned defenders. He cupped his hands, channeling the heat energy he had absorbed from the earlier attacks. A ball of red energy formed between his hands and he lazily tossed it towards to waiting JDF group.

Several of the JDF started scrambling for cover, as they had witnessed energy attacks before. Those less experienced members were dragged away by their friends just as the energy ball impacted the remains of the tank. For a moment there was no reaction, then the entire tank was engulfed in flames and exploded, sending red hot shrapnel flying in every directions. By the time the chaos and confusion was sorted out, Grikor was long gone.
Nodoka was cleaning the kitchen with Tristina when a knock came at the door. Tristina put away the dish she was drying and went to answer the door. She opened it to reveal Nabiki Tendo, dressed nicely in a white blouse and short blue jean shorts. She looked Tristina over for a moment.

"Is Ranma here?"

Tristina eyed the girl for a moment and had to squash down her instant jealousy. There was no proof that this girl had any interest in Ranma, or vice versa. No matter what rumors she might have heard about an engagement, or selling Ranma, or anything else. She invited the girl in.
Nabiki took a look around. This was her first time within the Saotome home. It appeared modest, upper middle class for sure. They seemed a little better off than her family, only without a dojo. It was a nice home. However, there seemed to be a decided lack of Ranma.
"So where is Ranma?"

"I'm afraid he isn't here right now. He left on a training trip and we don't know when he will be back. He left yesterday afternoon shortly after recovering from an injury he received at school."
Nabiki had the good graces to sheepishly look at the ground. "Yeah, that would be my sister Akane. She's currently under police observation at a private medical clinic run by my older sister's boyfriend. And she's going to stay there until the phsychiatrist says she is fit to go. Somehow I don't see that happening any time soon."

Tristina nodded and motioned Nabiki further into the house. She called out to Nodoka to let her know that there as a visitor. Just as Nabiki reached the main room, Nodoka arrived with a tray bearing tea for three. She set the table and all the women sat down to enjoy the tea.

Nodoka looked over the middle Tendo and wondered just where the girl would fit in the world of her son. The news of the engagement had not been handled well. Ranma was not one to be forced into a relationship. He was a free spirit, a true Wild Horse like his name. It had taken her awhile to realize that but it was still hard to let go of her dreams. She had only been reunited with her son for less than a week and now there was a possibility of him leaving her again. It was a lot to take in. Still, ten years of dreaming was hard to let go of and she would always think of him as the boy in her dreams.

The door to the back yard opened up and Kitt walked in, followed by the two mercenaries and Captain Mahoran. The three women in the room looked up with some trepidation, although each for a different reason. Nodoka looked up hoping for some news on her son, although she wasn't expecting any. Tristina looked up expecting word on Grikor, although she was hoping there wasn't any, to give Ranma more time to heal. Nabiki looked up, surprised to see something so obviously alien. Kitt she had seen before but there was no way that the other guy could be human.

Deborah Mahoran saw a new girl in the room and sighed in exasperation. No matter what planet Ranma went to, he always seemed to draw the women. And such a varied group. Not that she was one to talk. She had succumbed to the Saotome charm, even after fighting it. She wasn't going to throw herself at him though. It was so much more fun just to tease him instead. However, now was not the time to dwell on Ranma. Well, it was about Ranma, but not that way.

"Greetings Mrs. Saotome, Mage Dorsai. There has been a development. Grikor has been spotted headed this way. The mercenaries had a pair of capture droids trying to lead him away but one is already damaged and it isn't going to last much longer. Two other mercenaries are there lending what support they can by are under strict order not to fully engage Grikor until the 'Grim Desire' arrives. They are still at least six hours out though."

Nabiki listened to the conversation in confusion, but started setting information aside for later analysis. All information had a use, even if you don't know what that use is right away. So she sat back and let the information be processed.

Tristina looked the Captain over for a moment before nodding. "I'll let Ranma know that Grikor is on his way and has been engaged already. Is there any other information that I should relay to him?"

The human mercenary nodded, his face grim. "It would appear that one of the local defense officer was killed while confronting Grikor. It has the local authorities in an uproar and they have been sending more and more forces against Grikor. However, all they are doing is increasing his power and we don't have to resources to protect them from themselves. It is only a matter of time before Grikor turns his focus back towards the locals and starts annihilating buildings and people. My droids cannot hold him for long. Another half hour at most. My men will not be sacrificing themselves for nothing. Also, I and my companion have been ordered to stay here with Ms. Dorsai."

Tristina blinked. "Why would you be here for me?"

The mercenary shrugged. "Apparently your Great Grandfather learned that Grikor was here and contacted my boss and offered him another job. He's paid us to keep you safe. Paid us a lot so I intend to make sure you stay safe. Which means you are staying away from the battle. Now, before you get all upset, I fully understand that you are a full fledge Technomage, but your powers are useless against Grikor and you know it. Otherwise a Technomage would have been assigned against him in the first place instead of troopers and droids."

Tristina stared at the table for a moment and silently cursed her Great Grandfather. Supposedly one of the most powerful Mages of her generation and she was given a pair of baby sitters like a newborn. It was a blow to her pride but she knew that there was a point. Chaos energy had no affect against Grikor and without being able to channel that energy, she was useless in combat. She sighed and continued to stare as Deborah picked up the conversation.

"We think that Grikor is heading straight here. Ranma's aura is heavy around here and Grikor can no doubt sense that aura permeating the area. We need to move to another location. Hopefully, Ranma will be able to intercept Grikor before he gets close to the home to avoid any collateral damage to the building, but we can't make any guarantees."

She looked around at the each of the people in the room and finally focused on Nabiki. "You. I recognize you from Ranma's file. You would be a Tendo would you not? Is it possible for us to use your home as a base of operations during this situation? You will of course be compensated for your time."

Nabiki was about to say no when her sense of the deal got the better of her. She started negotiating with Deborah on price while the others started their own conversations. Tristina quietly slipped away. Once she was fully away from everyone, she made her way to Ranma's room and closed the door. She bowed her head and the room seemed to darken. There was a rush of air and a slight pop. When light returned to the room, it had three more occupants.

The two Chaos Soldiers stood in a poised combat stance, eyes continually scanning for anything that might threaten their charge. Seated crosslegged on the floor between them was a half naked Ranma. His chest was completely bare, except for some bandages wrapped around his abdomen. His eyes were closed and his breathing shallow.

Tristina on the other hand was breathing heavy, a bead of sweat forming on her brow. Teleportation, even over short distances, always took a lot out of her. Only Avery was able to master mass teleportation. Tristina smiled weakly as Ranma opened his eyes.

"Grikor is about two hours away and heading this way." She filled him in on the details Deborah had shared. Ranma nodded but remained seated. Tristina watched him for a moment and ached to wrap her arms around him and protect him but she new that wasn't the way things were meant to be.

For several moments Ranma didn't answer. Just watched Tristina through half open eyes, his thoughts awhirl with a million possibilities. However, there was only one thing that he needed now, more than anything else. "Tristina, I need you to remove my limiter."

Tristina looked at Ranma in shock. A limiter? How had he gotten one and how long had it been in place? She knelt next to Ranma and took his head in her hands. She gasped at the contact when she searched him for the limiter. It was a powerful limiter, completely blocking Ranma from accessing his inner Chaos reserves. Not only that, but it downgraded his power levels all over. There were few mages who could do something this complicated. She was one of those who could unlock it but it was going to take some time.

Half an hour later, a soft knock came from the door to the room before Nodoka entered alone, closing the door behind her. She found Tristina and Ranma both passed out on the floor, the girl with her hands on Ranma's head. The two huge Chaos Soldier were still in a watchful state. Nodoka smiled at seeing her son but wished that it could have been under better terms.

Ranma opened his eyes at the feather soft touch of his mother on his cheek. He felt the power coursing through his body again. It was a good feeling. Just after the incident with Kitt and the Cat Mind, he had finally learned to channel his natural reserves of Chaos energy. Unfortunately, when combined with his natural fighting instincts, that power proved destructive and many droids had met their unfortunate demise at his hands for waking him up.

He gazed over at Tristina's inert form and let her stay sleeping. He had work to do and he couldn't afford to worry about her or anyone else. He stood and quickly hugged his mother before fading from sight. The guards remained behind as well.

Nodoka looked at the spot where her son had just been and sighed deeply, hoping that this wouldn't be the last time that she would see him.

Chapter 21

The noon sun glared down upon Furinkan High School, trying its best to bake the lonely concrete. It was the weekend, no students roaming the halls or the courtyards. A single student stood upon the roof of the school, eyes locked onto the horizon. Ranma Saotome, Lieutenant in the Marine Core of the Chaos Empire, a master of hand to hand combat, a veteran of war. A wanted man.

Ranma looked across the city, the wind running through his hair, unbound and cascading over his back. A stray strand floated before his eyes. The normally blue orbs flashed black for a moment and the hair floated back into place. A slight shiver passed through his body and he had to grin. After a week without his new energy, having access to his full powers again was almost ecstasy. His senses were heightened and the world seemed more alive. Each color was move vibrant. From atop the roof he could seek each individual leaf on the trees on the school grounds.

Reluctantly, he let the power go and his eyes returned to a steely blue, still locked on the horizon. He could feel Grikor's aura growing closer. The school was the only place with enough room to fight. Since Grikor has so much power to through around, the only way for Ranma to survive would be to keep his distance and take advantage of his speed and maneuverability.

A flare of power in the distance meant Grikor was engaging another group of the JDF. Ranma offered silent support to the men and women fighting Grikor and hoped they managed to get away. Ranma extended his hand in front of him, palm up. Energy coalesced into a glowing blue ball, tendrils of red static flaring across the surface. He stared at the energy sphere, at the level of power he had finally been able to channel. He sighed. That energy wouldn't help. Closing his eyes, he concentrated on his energy and drew it away from the air and into his limbs. Static crawled over him and he gasped. It was like being lit on fire then immersed in a frozen lake. His eyes popped open and he had to lean forward and grasp the railing to keep from falling over.
His attention snapped back to the horizon as he felt Grikor draw closer. A line of black smoke streaked up in the distance, grim testament to the fate of the equipment of the defenders. Ranma only hoped that no lives had been lost in that last attack. Too many people had died at Grikor's claws. This time, it was only going to end when one or both of them were dead.

Closing his eyes on last time, he focused on his subspace pocket and called forth his armor. It was new armor, remodeled after his last fight with new energy dispersion plating and fitted so that it allowed a wider range of motions for Ranma when he was operating at full Cat Speed. He knew that it would come down to that again but he was hoping to do as much damage as possible before going Cat. His body wasn't going to be able to handle the stress for too long.
Lighting flashed from the clear sky and Ranma grinned. Seems Grikor has learned a new trick since the last time they met. Good. Ranma was looking forward to learning some new skills. He had a surprise for Grikor as well. He wasn't the only one to learn new tricks.

In the distance, just coming into sight, a gray figure was flying through the air, heading straight for the school. Ranma grinned again and reached into his subspace pocket and pulled out huge weapon that he immediately swung onto his shoulder. He took sight and let fire. A beam of light flashed out across the distance and a fifty pound piece of tristeel slammed into Grikor and five times the speed of sound. The shockwave following the collision blew out the windows of every building within half a mile, including the school. Shattered glass cascaded to the ground all around the High School.

Grikor was not happy. He picked himself up from the ground with a groan and tried to stretch out his wings. He winced with each movement but found nothing broken. Whatever had hit him had almost managed to penetrate his shielding. Only his instinctual absorption of heat energy kept him from feeling the full effects of the blast. He didn't know what exactly had happened, but he did know where it came from. He looked towards the large stone building where he felt the familiar hated aura flaring for all to see. To Grikor's energy sensitive eyes, Ranma's aura seemed to shine like a beacon, even in the mid day light.

Grikor launched himself into the air, his body screaming in protest but already starting to heal from the ambient energy in the air. This whole world seemed to radiate energy, their power means poorly shielded and leaking massive amounts of electricity into the air. It was like a warm massage against his skin at all times.

With each beat of his wings, he felt more strength returning, flowing into him. It was only a manner of time and then he would be able to kill Ranma. With the amount of energy on this planet, there was nothing that could save him.

Ranma cursed as he saw Grikor get back up so soon after hitting the ground. He had really been hoping that the kinetic accelerator would be able to do more damage to Grikor. The thing had cost Ranma a lot of credits and had saved his life on a number of occasions. Unfortunately, this didn't seem to be one of them. He tossed the useless weapon into his subspace pocket and opened himself to the Chaos Energy within. His eyes flashed black and a new aura flared into existence around him, dimming the light around his body. As Grikor drew closer, Ranma launched himself from the top of the building and unleashed a vicious series of kicks at Grikor's head.

The attack managed to catch Grikor unprepared and he was rocked by almost a dozen hard hits on either side of his head. It staggered him and distracted him long enough for Ranma to get past and out of range of a counter attack. With a final salute, Ranma landed a double heeled kick into the small of Grikor's back, propelling Ranma straight up high into the air.

Grikor spun in midair with the force of the kick, lessening the impact but he might as well not have bothered. He was already healing from what minor damage his inattention might have cost him. Instead, his eyes followed Ranma's blazing aura as it suddenly came crashing down into his midsection, carrying them both to the ground. They crashed together onto the sidewalk, digging a furrow through the concrete and dirt. Ranma rolled off of Grikor and slammed his palms into the ground after rolling to absorb some of the impact. He immediately sprang to his feet and launched himself at a still recovered Grikor.

The winged warrior backhanded Ranma, sending the smaller soldier careening through the air and bouncing along the ground. Ranma came to a stop against the school and braced against the wall to pull himself up. Even with the new armor, that had really hurt. He looked up just in time to see a ball of energy hurtling his way. There was no time to dodge so Ranma put his arms and blocked.

The explosion blew away a good portion of the wall and a cloud of dust billowed from the wreckage. Grikor surveyed the damage and grin, fangs gleaming in his toothy maw. That grin started to fade as he felt Ranma's aura still strong as before. He peered into the cloud, searching for his opponent through the haze.

Another strong aura flared behind him and Grikor spun around, wondering how Ranma had managed to split himself in half. Instead he saw what was one of the ugliest little humans he had ever seen.

"Sweeto!" Happosai was darting across the fence, a large group of angry amazons hot on his trail. Slung over his shoulder was a cloth bag that dwarfed the diminutive man. He hopped across the fence of the school and was just about to keep going when a ball of energy crashed into the fence, meaning there was no fence where Happosai had just leapt and he found himself falling to the ground, his package falling from his grasp.

He turned to the source of the indignation and found what could only be a monster standing in the school grounds. "You dare try to separate me from my darlings? Face the wrath of the Grandmaster of Anything Goes! Happy Fire Burst!" The little man lobbed a small sphere at Grikor, who caught it took at it for a moment before it exploded, engulfing him in flames. The shrunken Grandmaster smirked and posed, giving the victory sign.

The fire gradually faded away and Grikor stood unharmed in a charred circle of grass, a confused look on his hideous visage. He did know one thing though, here was another strong aura that needed to be destroyed. Ranma could wait a moment. Grikor started walking towards Happosai.

Happosai on the other hand was watching Grikor in surprise. How had the beast survived his attack? Well, where one didn't work, many more would. "Happy Fire Barrage!" He unleashed a horde of bombs, rapid fire at the oncoming monstrousity. Grikor was once again engulfed in flames, but this time the fireball seemed to be moving closer. Happosai ran out of bombs and stood there, chest heaving. He gaped when he saw the monster still coming but he was not going to let some character from a bad sake dream get the best of him.

An arrow burying itself deep into his butt cheek suddenly reminded him that he had a large angry group of amazon warriors out to kill him. He turned to consider the nearing horde of women and debated trying his luck against all of them, but this new threat needed to be dealt with. No one damaged his darlings and escaped justice.

Happosai launched himself at Grikor, moving with a speed and grace that made Ranma's normal attacks seem slow and clumsy. He flowed around the powerful swings from Grikor without even trying. The amazons soon closed the distance and lined the fence, watching the battle with eager eyes. Whoever won it would be good for the amazons.

Grikor stopped trying to hit the little menace and started watching, waiting for the right moment. With speed at odds with his previous attacks, Grikor reached out and snagged Happosai in mid leap. Happosai struggled in the grip but was unable to free himself. He rained down blows upon the arms holding him. Grikor grunted, amazed at the amount of power the diminutive pest managed to land on his arms. It was starting to get annoying so he squeezed.

Happosai could feel the sides of his ribs creaking. In his three hundred years of experience he had never felt such pain. He started trying every trick that he knew, twisting his ki in ways that most people could only dream. One even managed to strip Grikor of all his natural Ki energy. Unfortunately for Happosai, Grikor didn't rely on Ki to survive or fighter. A loud snap sounded as a rib gave way to the pressure.

Among the amazons, many of the warriors were watching in shock at the sheer number of techniques that Happosai was managing to pull out of the air. The two elders were also impressed, although Ku Lohn was more than a little angry. Many of those techniques were secrets known only to the Amazons, which meant that the little pervert had managed to steal some of the scrolls from the vault during his last panty raid.

Happosai finally reached his limit as a second rib snapped. He channeled his forbidden techniques, sawing a vacuum blade into one of the arms hold him hostage. The hardened air bit into the arm, causing a spasm to pass through it but not enough for Grikor to let go. Happosai unleashed a second vacuum blade, a third and a fourth into the same spot and finally managed to convince Grikor to let him go. He pulled loose, tearing some of his clothes but at least he was still alive.

That didn't last much longer as a three of arrows pierced his chest. He didn't have long to think about the pain as various toxins began to course through his body. He chuckled to himself as he realized that this was the last panty raid he was going to participate in. Then all was darkness.
Grikor looked from his fallen foe to the others gathered around, testing their auras. There were a few that stood out. Two seemed to blaze in his eyes, similar to the warrior that had just been vanquished. Those auras too needed to be extinguished.

His attention was brought forcefully back to focus on Ranma as the Chaos Soldier landed a powerful double kick to the side of his head. Ranma used the kick as a spring board to launch himself away from the return backswing from Grikor.

Ranma almost felt bad for letting Grikor almost kill that old man but he had been distracted by the number of techniques that man had been using. Ranma must have been able to more than double the amount of techniques from watching the old man and that is without doing any variations. That last technique especially should be helpful with fighting Grikor.
He dashed forward, launching kick after kick, trying to wear Grikor down. Nothing seemed to have an affect though. The more Ranma pounded on Grikor, the more tired Ranma was starting to get. Ten minutes of dodging and attacking didn't seem to have any affect on Grikor.

Ranma backed away from Grikor, trying to put some distance between them but Grikor started to press his attack. Ranma was hard pressed to dodge. Grikor seemed to be gaining speed as the battle progressed, rather than slow. Ranma began drawing on his Chaos energy, channeling the power into his limbs, increases his speed and power to more than twice normal. He could dodge everything that came at him and hit harder but it still wasn't doing enough to Grikor.

Grikor growled in frustration as Ranma continued to dodge his attacks and hit him hard enough to make him grunt. Fortunately, all the ambient energy in the air was allowing him to heal. These new attacks were beginning to hurt though, much like the small human earlier. And much like the human earlier, there was only one way to keep Ranma from dodging like a fool. He stopped attacking and started focusing energy into his arms, preparing for the burst of speed he needed to grab Ranma.

As soon as Grikor stopped attacking, Ranma backflipped away all the way to the walls of the school grounds. The amazons lining the walls gave Ranma an appreciative look the Ranma didn't see and fortunately for Ranma none of the girls at home had the chance to see either.

Ku Lohn watched the young warrior and knew she had a seasoned combatant before her. Not just a fighter but a blooded warrior. The attacks the boy had been using were designed to kill, not defeat. If he could be convinced to join the tribe, he would be an invaluable asset. She looked over to her great granddaughter, who seemed to be watching the warrior with a hungry look.

A rush of energy caught her attention and she suddenly rushed towards her great granddaughter as a ball of energy shot from the monster and sped towards the warrior, who happened to be standing by the same portion of the wall as Xian Pu.

Ranma reached within him and called for the last of his reserves, holding nothing back. There was only one way he was going to survive another blast and that was to somehow absorb it. He wasn't successful the first time but you learn through experience. He crossed his arms before his chest and channeled his ki into a shield just before the blast hit him. The energy ball slammed into his arms and pain wracked his body as he tried to channel the energy into his screaming muscles. He hurt like nothing else in his life, as if his entire body was on fire. It worked though. He could feel the energy filling his muscles, renewing his strength and endurance. However, there was no way he would be able to do this more than once.

With a single grunt, he pushed off the wall straight at a surprised Grikor. They exchanged a flurry of blows that sent Ranma skidding along the grass again. However, it managed to stagger the big monstrousity. Ranma was back up in half a second and swinging and kicking away. Grikor staggered under a few of the blows but managed to deflect a good portion of the attacks, no matter how strong.

Ranma backed up and tried to reevaluate his strategy. He needed more speed and power. He reached inside and reluctantly released his inner cat. Immediately, his body started to vibrate and he launched his attack again, almost fading from view with the speed of the cat fist combined with the Chaos Energy. Ranma had never been able to go all out but he was doing so now only to survive and kill Grikor. It was finally starting to work. Grikor was slowing down, blocking less attacks.

Grikor wasn't happy. Ranma was giving him a beating worse than before, faster than before, strong than the first time. He had to stop this attack before he lost again. He kept slowing his attacks, channeling more energy into his arms, preparing for that last opportunity. After another series of painful blows he reached out and snagged Ranma's arm in mid punch and broke the forearm. Ranma howled in pain but nothing compared to what happened next. Grikor kicked Ranma savagely in the chest. Ranma howled again as his arm popped out of its socket. The sickening sound of flesh tearing accompanied the next kick In a fountain of blood, Ranma's arm tore loose and pulled free, howling from the pain. His eyes narrowed as he fought the pain but instincts took over. A channeled a ball of red hot ki into his other arm and slammed in into his bleeding shoulder, cauterizing the wound. He howled in pain again but the bleeding stopped. However, the Cat had had enough.

Grikor staggered back as vacuum blade after vacuum blade hurtled into him at machinegun speeds, chipping away at his body. He tried to dodge but the blades found him wherever he turned, followed him into the air where they tore at his wings and he was unable to fly. He could do nothing but try to endure but he didn't have much luck as his body started to disappear under the assault. He grinned at Ranma, a knowing grin that said I almost had you and made you resort to this. I still win. Then he saw no more as his eyes exploded from a vacuum blade.
Ranma kept pouring forth vacuum blades nonstop from his one good arm, his eyes staring hatefully at Grikor. Ranma was drenched in his own blood but it only served to heighten his anger and he poured that anger into his attacks, adding a little Chaos Energy to increase the speed of each vacuum blade. He continued attacking for several minutes until there was nothing left of Grikor but a scattered mess. He staggered over to the mess and look down, a snarl on his face. He hissed at the remains of his most deadly foes, then collapsed into the bloody remains, steam rising from his body.

Chapter 22

Tristina washed the dishes then handed them to Nodoka, who dried them a put them away. They each went about the task mechanically, minds far away but on the same person. It had been several hours since Ranma had left to fighter Grikor and still no word. Not even the mercenaries had reported anything. Their droids had been destroyed just about the time that Ranma had vanished.

Kitt had been endlessly prowling the grounds of the house, constantly glancing at the wall as if she wanted to vault over it and go looking for Ranma. Captain Mahoran had been keeping an eyes on her, making sure that she didn't do anything to distract Ranma. The least thing that he needed was to be worried that someone else might get hurt. He had always performed best on solo missions.

In the living room, the mercenaries were doing their best to deflect the million rapid-fire questions from Nabiki Tendo, who had taken it upon herself to grill the aliens for as much information as she possibly could. If she was going to have anything to do with Ranma, she wanted to know exactly what she was getting into. As none of the girls seemed to want to stick around long enough to do more than say hello, that left the mercenaries as the only source of information.

The details that she had thus far managed to pry from the close lipped mercenaries were enough to raise her interest far beyond any project she had ever tried to undertake. There was much more to this Ranma than just being a soldier. The way these mercenaries talked about him, even as they danced around the subject, made him seem like a hardened war veteran, not some teenager still in high school.

Her cell phone ringing startled her and she quickly retrieved it from her pocket. She listened for a moment, nodding her head every few seconds. "Right. I'll be right there." She closed the phone and stood up from the couch. She debated with herself before heading into the kitchen.
"There's been a fight at the school. There were reports that it might have been Ranma. No one was able to get close though as a group of women kept driving people away. I'm on my way there. I was wondering if you would like to join me."

Nodoka and Tristina turned to look at each other for a moment, then nodded at Nabiki, following her out of the kitchen and into the backyard. There, Nabiki gave the same offer to Kitt and Deborah, with the same results. Together, the group left the Saotome home and head for Furinkan High School, gathering the two Soldiers and the mercenaries on the way out.

When they arrived, there was a large gathering of people already surrounding the school. Most of the people parted when they caught sight of the hulking Soldiers. Those who weren't paying attention were gently lifted out of the way. Even so, it took almost five minutes to make it through the crowd to the gates of the school.

Guarding the gate were a group women, each one bearing a weapon help at ready against the crowd. Nabiki eyed the women, not recognizing them or their garb. The women on the other hand seemed to tense when they saw the Soldiers. Understandable, since it isn't every day that two fifteen feet tall walking behemoths stare down at you.

Nodoka made her way to the front of the group and addressed the women guarding the gates. "My son is in there. You will let me pass." She let the wrapping fall from around the hilt of her katana, prepared to get through to Ranma, one way or another. Kitt and Tristina flanked her, Tristina's eyes glowing a deadly black.

One of the amazons stopped forward, a buxom girl with purple hair. "You warrior matriarch? You come. Others stay."

Nodoka nodded before any of the others could object and quickly stepped through the opening in the warrior women and then beyond the gates. Kitt and Tristina tried to follow but found their way barred. Just as they prepared to fight their way through, they felt a hand on the shoulders. Captain Mahoran gently pulled the two girls back. As she did, the amazons visibly relaxed.
Inside the courtyard, Nodoka looked around at the devestation, searching to any sign of her son. What she found was a short lady kneeling over a body, a blue glow surrounding both. Nodoka sprinted over and found her son laying in a pool of his own blood. "Ranma!"

Ku Lohn looked up, weary and frustrated. She recognized the aura as kin to the warrior, who must be Ranma. She gave the mother a tired nod. "I'm afraid there is not much else I can do for your son. He has lost a lot of blood and pushed his body far past its limits. There is only so much I can do to keep him in this world. He has another hour at most before his body deteriorates to the point where he will perish. I'm sorry." She stood and backed away, letting the mother cradle her son.

Nodoka looked down at Ranma's battered body, at his blood encrusted clothes, his already darkening bruises, and at ragged stump of his right arm. She gathered his body into her arms, cradling his head in lap and gently rocking back and forth. Silent tears streamed down her cheek and falling onto Ranma's inert form.

Ranma stirred in Nodoka's arms, his face breaking into a pained smile. Everything hurt, even parts he hadn't known he'd had. He couldn't open his eyes, but that didn't matter either. That same roguish grin came to him, that same cocky attitude that had seem him through over a hundred missions as a soldier. "You think I look bad, you should see the other guy. Don't worry mom. A Saotome never loses."

One arm slowly lifted from his side and curled around Nodoka, squeezing with just enough pressure for her to know what he was trying to hug her. A moment later and the arm fell away, the smile slowly fading from his lips until his head hung limp in her lap.

Chapter 23

Ranma opened his eyes to darkness. No sight. No sound. No feeling. He knew this wasn't reality, for he couldn't feel his body. Couldn't feel anything. Just an empty void that stretched out endlessly before him. Was this what it felt like to die? He had known that this was a possibility. At least he had managed to kill Grikor before dying.

He floated there for what seemed like an eternity. It was hard to tell time. There was no sense of anything. All Ranma could do was think. So he thought. He ran through the fight over and over, searching for what he could have done better. Nothing came to him. At least he had something to do in the shapeless void.

A light formed in the void and for once Ranma was able to see something other than darkness. He still had no sense of feeling, no touch, and no sound. Instead, he watched the light as it coalesced into the shade of a man. When he recognized that man, Ranma cursed.
"Even in death you can never leave me alone, can you Jonathan?"

The man of light chuckled. "Why would I want to leave you alone, Ranma? But no, you aren't dead, and I'm not really here in your mind. Well, technically you are dead, but for you, that is only a temporary state. You see, your father was right about something. The Cat Fist is the ultimate technique, that when mastered, makes you almost invincible. And like a cat, you have nine lives.

"I'm not saying you can come back from anything, so stop looking at me like that. If say, your head were to be removed, it would very difficult to come back from that. Although…" Jonathan paused, a thoughtful expression on his face.

Ranma growled, a low deep sound that was soon lost in the vast darkness.
Jonathon chuckled. "Sorry. You're right. Back to the explanation. You possess incredible regenerative abilities, ones which let you slowly heal from almost any damage. However, this can only happen of you fully integrate with the Cat Fist, which you have yet to do."

Another ball of light appeared over Jonathan's shoulder, coalescing into a small black kitten. The kitten jumped off Jonathan's shoulder and at Ranma. He reflexively moved to block, but the cat passed through his hands and landed on his shoulder. Ranma had long ago gotten over his fear of cats, but was still uncomfortable around them. Only long association with his adopted mother and sister had allowed him to overcome his fear.

He looked out the corner of his eye at the kitten and nodded, then turned back to Jonathan. "So, I need to finish bonding with the Cat Fist then I'll start regenerating? Sounds too simple to me."
Jonathan shrugged. "Well, you're actually regenerating right now, just not fast enough to keep your body alive, which is why you died. Completing the bond will allow you to heal fast enough to come back alive. If you can do that, then we can save you, and even save your arm. But you need to complete the bond."

Ranma reached up to his shoulder and gently took hold of the cat. He held it in front of him, gazing into its eyes. He looked from the cat to Jonathan, then back to the cat. Time passed and Ranma continued to stare. Finally, he gave an exasperated sigh and turned back to Jonathan.
"What am I supposed to be doing? And why are you here? You still haven't explained that to me."

Jonathan chuckled, a rich laughter that seemed to echo through the void. "I'm not really here. At least, not in the sense that you are thinking. I'm more of a physic echo, placed here by the real Jonathan Avery, and manipulated by your own mind. Although granted, the real Jonathan left quite a bit on information that you can't consciously access. You won't even remember this conversation when you wake up. If you wake up."
Nodoka cradled her son's body in her arms, gently rocking back and forth. She refused to cry, refused to acknowledge the loss of her son. Ranma had told her that he never loses and she believed him. Soft as his voice had been, there had been a strength in his tone, a sense of absolute conviction. She trusted him and wasn't going to give up.

Ku Lohn watched on in silent anger. Anger at the monster that killed the boy, and anger at herself for being unable to save him. Anger at Happosai, for dragging her across the ocean to Japan. At least the old pervert was dead. She turned to look at his body, filled with arrows, and nodded in satisfaction. Justice had found at least one soul this day.

The ancient amazon matriarch watched the mother of the fallen warrior and debated with herself on whether to offer comfort. Losing a son was never easy but there seemed to be a well of strength that the young mother was drawing from. No tears had been shed, no screams of anguish. Just a silent rocking.

Suddenly, a flare up of energy caused her to whip her head around towards the gate. There was something massive brewing. Ku Lohn watched the mother for a moment, then hopped onto her staff and pogoed towards the gate, to save her fellow warriors.

Tristina was not happy and an unhappy technomage is a bad thing. Especially for those at which that anger was directed. In this case, it was the unfortunate amazon warriors keeping her from getting to Ranma. Her eyes were dark, a burning black that drained the light from the air. An occasional crackle of energy flared along her skin. The air around her shifted and swirled, a small, contained tornado that kicked up the dust in the immediate area.

Kitt wasn't happy either. Her tailed lashed sharply side to side as she watched the assembled warriors keeping her from Ranma. Her hands kept flexing, her claws extending and relaxing. She almost never used her claws, as her father had taught her to fight in a different manner, but when she got mad, all things became fair game.

Captain Mahoran was muttered a string of curses that had the mercenaries blushing. She had been going strong for the last several minutes, without repeating herself. For perhaps the millionth time, her hand drifted to her hip, to where a blaster holster should have been strapped. She added bureaucrats to her list of people to curse and switched to another language to continue her tirade.

Nabiki was wandering the crowd, gathering information. Not many people had been able to view the actual fight, but they had felt and heard the affects. She spotted Sakura in the crowd but decided to avoid her. Until Nabiki was sure of her own feelings about the Saotome boy, she was determined not to get involved with anyone else who might be vying for his favor, including her own customers.

A corona of black energy suddenly enveloped Tristina, the wind picking up speed. Everyone backed away from her, except for the amazons. They were determine to follow their orders at all cost, as they had been raised to do. Tristina didn't care. She wanted to get to Ranma and nothing was going to stop her. With Grikor dead, there was nothing to stop her.

Tristina felt a light tap on her back and turned to see a short old woman withdrawing a cane from where she had just pressed it against her. Tristina scowled at the old woman before turning her attention back to the group of amazons. Then her eyes rolled up into the back of her head and she fainted. The mercenaries managed to catch the girl before she could hit the ground, looking at the old woman in shock and anger.

Deborah stepped next to the mercenaries, placing a hand on their shoulders to keep them from doing something premature. Finally, something to do other than worry about Ranma. She turned to confront the old woman.

"What did you do to the girl?"

"I just rendered her unconscious for the moment. She will regain consciousness in a few minutes. I didn't want her killing my warriors. I could see from her aura that she was very angry and very powerful. I don't know why she was that angry with my warriors, but I felt it was better safe than dead."

Deborah slowly nodded. It was pretty much the same idea she had come up with, only she had no way of rendering a technomage unconscious, at least not without weapons. Still, that didn't answer a very important question. "Who are you? And who are they? And where is Ranma?"
Ku Lohn chuckled, a rasping sound that sent shivers through everyone who heard her.
"Suppose some introductions are in order. I am Elder Ku Lohn, of the Chinese Amazons. We were chasing a thief when we came upon a battle. My warriors were ordered not to let anyone in until I told them otherwise. However, since the battle is over and there is no more danger…" She motioned to the warriors, who stepped aside.

Kitt immediately vanished through the gates, followed by the mercenaries, carrying Tristina. Deborah waited a moment, watching the amazons, then nodded and hurried inside.

They found Nodoka gently rocking Ranma in her arms, his body hanging listlessly. Kitt pressed her cheek to his, tears cascading down her cheek to mix with the blood on his face. Tristina was set gently on the ground, the mercenaries stepping back a respectable distance. Deborah stood her ground, fighting the instinct to gather Ranma into her arms as well. She had seen too many friends die on the battle field, but never expected one of those people to be Ranma, no matter how much crazy stuff he pulled.

For several minutes, the only sound in the courtyard was the crying of the cat girl. Tristina finally awakened, her eyes flashing open and immediately scanning the surroundings. She caught sight of Ranma and a gasp escaped her. She took in his missing arm, his blood soaked clothes, and the way he wasn't moving. She bit back a cry and inched her way closer to Ranma, reaching out a tentative hand, then pulled back, unable to accept the lose of her best friend, the man she loved.

A flash of light filled the courtyard as a familiar pillar pierced the sky. When the light flooded away, the courtyard seemed filled with Chaos Soldiers, the hulking, fifteen feet tall soldiers fully armed and armored. A pair of figures stepped out from among the guards. Tristina immediately recognized them and scowled. Senators Toroa and Ki'kita, both influential members of the ruling senate operating under the Emperor. They were also big supporters of the military, although they had the military sense of a beetle.

The Senators walked over to the group. They were both human and dressed in long, flowing black and silver robes. They stopped in front of Nodoka. "We're here for Ranma's remains. He is property of the Chaos Empire and as such should be returned to the Empire upon his decease."
Nodoka looked up at the two men in shock. They were here to take her son away? He wasn't dead yet. He had just told her that he wouldn't lose. She shook her head in denial.

The senators just smiled. "I'm afraid the matter isn't up for discussion ma'am. These soldiers are here to bring Ranma's body back with us. And don't think of interfering, Ms. Dorsai. The Technomage Council has already been made aware of our activities and we are perfectly within our legal rights to collect a fallen soldier, even if he fell on a planet we do not control. His body belongs to us."

Nodoka and the assembled women exchanged glances, a determined look mirrored in every face. However, when they turned to look at the senators again, they realized just how outnumbered and out gunned they were. Other than dying to save Ranma, there was nothing they could do to prevent the senators and their soldiers from taking his body.

With one final glance, Nodoka released her son, placing him on the ground. She stood up and backed away, gently taking Kitt by the elbow and directed her away as well. Tristina watched the soldiers gently lift Ranma's body and felt the anger building within her. She knew that this wasn't right, that the body should have been left with his mother, but the senators were right, unfortunately. All Soldiers became property of the Empire until such time as they leave the service.

Light filled the courtyard once again and the soldiers and senators vanished, taking Ranma's body with them. The girls watched the sky for a moment, different emotions passing though them. However, they were united in one thought. Those Senators were going to pay for taking Ranma away.

Atop the roof of the school, Jonathan Avery turned away from the edge and walked back towards the middle of the roof. "So, moving fast, aren't you Senator? Well, we'll see how things turn out?" He vanished before reaching the center of the roof.

Chapter 24

A low humming filled the room, barely audible. Clean, bare metal walls surrounded a large glass cylinder, filling with a murky grey fluid. A hazy body was visible through the fluid, and people in sterile white uniforms gazed from the cylinder to hand held instruments. Another pair of cylinders flanked the one filled with fluid, although these were empty.

Three pairs of Chaos Soldiers guarded the doors, a pair to each door, fully armed and armored. A single human officer occupied the room, discussing with the two senators who had just dropped off a body on his ship. The two senators were influential men and to refuse to help them was a good way to end a career. Didn't mean that he had to like it. The captain looked the two men over and frowned.

"Now, tell me again why you have commandeered my ship and my cloning facility? This is the only cloning facility in the sector and I try to keep it open for medical emergencies. That body looked completely dead to me. Who is he and why are you trying to clone him?"
Senator Toroa looked the captain over with a superior gaze, as if the captain were beneath his notice. "Who he is need not concern you, captain. However, he is valuable to the Empire and cannot be allowed to just die, especially not on some backwater planet like Earth. Even in death, he will continue to serve his Empire."

The captain wasn't satisfied, but there wasn't anything he could do to question the senator. All the proper authorizations seemed in place. He nodded to the senator then turned away, stopping to whisper to a technician, "Don't let them clone that body. Something doesn't seem right. Keep the equipment offline while I look into what's going on."

The technician nodded and quickly returned to work, pretending that nothing was out of the ordinary. With a final look around, the captain saluted the senators and left the room.

Both senators watched the captain leave, their faces expressionless. The man was asking too many questions, instead of just obeying. This was an important task, one that would continue to make the Empire strong and perhaps finally earn them the funding they wanted for their cloning projects. All these talented warriors, unique and so easily lost. A waste of genetics. There should be armies fielded for the cause of the Empire, but the Emperor was against the cloning of unwilling individuals. Now they could finally show the benefits of mass cloning things other than the Soldiers.

Senator Toroa walked over to the fluid filled cylinder, running his hand slowly over the cool transparasteel. A sudden lurching of the room sent him careening and he tried to brace himself against to cylinder to remain standing. A second quake shook the room and sent the senators crashing to the ground. The lights in the room flickered for a moment, then gave out.
Emergency power came online immediately, bathing the room in soft blue light. The senators and technicians slowly picked themselves up from the floor, looking around in confusion. The Soldiers remained where they were, having not really moved during the shaking.
The two senators looked at each other, then over at the cylinder, checking to make sure their precious cargo was still safe. Once that was confirmed, they made their way to the nearest technician to find out what happened.

"I don't know, Senator. Reports are still filtering in. Looks like one of the main generators blew and we are working on repairs. However, the other generators have been rerouted to main power, meaning that secondary functions will be limited. That includes this facility."

Senator Ki'kita was not happy. Actually, neither senator was happy, but Ki'kita even more so. This entire plan had been organized by him. The Grikor clone, the escape and his arrival on Earth. All carefully orchestrated to bring Ranma to the height of his power and then kill him, releasing his body to use by the Empire. Cloning, while not technically illegal, was highly regulated by the government. Generally, the permission of the person being cloned needs to be obtained before cloning was allowed to occur. However, Ki'kita had found a nice loophole that could be manipulated in regards to the Soldier program that Ranma had signed up for. A little line that said that all options would be expended should the Soldier fall in battle, up to and including cloning.

He stared at the cold cylinder, at the body barely visible through the murky fluid. So many hopes and dreams rested on this one person and the abilities locked within his genetics. There were so many possibilities, so many military applications. So far, the Emperor was banning cloning against the wishes of the participant, but some people should be cloned no matter what. And this experiment was going to prove that to the military. When the usefulness of the Ranma clone became so apparent, other Soldiers would be cloned and the Empire strengthened. No more hiding behind droids and machines. The age of muscle and inner ability would return.
Senator Ki'kita turned to a nearby technician. "I want power rerouted to the cloning facility."

The technician nodded, then shook his head. "Sorry Senator, but the cloning facility is considered a secondary function in terms of ship defense. Until the generators are up and running, we are unable to have more than emergency power here. Those are military standards and only a high ranking officer can order otherwise. Unfortunate, but those are the rules, Senator."

Eyes narrowed, the Senator considered the young technician for a moment before nodding. "Very well then. Signal the captain to change course. He is to head for Diralis Four at best possible speed. Use portal drive if necessary."

"Aye sir. Message sent."
Tristina slammed her hand down on the table, staring hard across the table at the her great grandfather. She wasn't happy and wanted to make that known. Sargon looked back with a smile on his lips. In his 1200 years of life, he had seen many a tantrum. This wasn't close to being something he needed to worry about. His fifth wife could through a mean tantrum though. He would have still had the scars if it weren't for advanced regeneration developed over the last 500 years.

Still fuming, Tristina tried to stare down the old man but eventually had to give up. That insufferable, knowing grin was too much. "This isn't fair and you know it. I don't care what the law says. What they are doing is wrong on so many levels that I can't stand it." She slumped down into her chair.

Sargon smiled from his chair. "You're lucky I even picked you up. If I hadn't been in the area, I wouldn't have even received your signal. There isn't a relay station in that system you went to visit. And the only reason I was in the area was because of Grikor. I had those mercenaries keep you out of trouble. Don't try to deny that you would have gotten involved. I know how you feel about young Ranma. You're going to have to face it that he is dead though and there is nothing you can do to bring him back. I'd bring him back myself if I could, if only to spare you this pain, but that is beyond me. That is beyond any technomage. I doubt even the Emperor can do it."

An angry hiss from the other side of the room cause him to turn and look at one of the rooms other occupants. Kitt was pacing across the length of the room, every now and again spouting curses in several different languages. Under normal circumstances, he would have been impressed by such a vocabulary at such a young age. As it was, he was more than a little upset at the crossbreed.

"As for you, Ms. Jameson, you're lucky you aren't in the brig. Threatening a council official is generally considered treason. The only reason you aren't locked up is because I happen to understand the situation. However, were you anyone else I'd still toss you into the brig. As it stands, your father is on his way out here."

Kitt visibly wilted. The thought that her father had left work to come after her meant that something big was up. She went back to pacing the room but at least stopped her cursing. Father was not going to be happy about this. At least mother wasn't coming.
"Your mother is coming with him."

That brought another string of curses from the already upset cat girl, eliciting a chuckle from Deborah. The kid had an impressive vocabulary. Still, there was no excusing this kind of behavior. Something needed to be done. Not just talked about. Unfortunately, she was out of favors. It had taken all she had just to get to the planet the first time. Getting Sargon to let her onto the ship was a major break.

Only knowing that Sargon would look down on her swearing kept Deborah from spouting out her own long string of curses. Instead, she settled for watching Kitt pace along the room, slowly counting down. Sooner or later, the girl would be alone and then vengeance would be had!
Tristina slammed her hands down on the table again for emphasis. "Why can't you get Ranma back? Over a millennia of service to the Empire and you can't call in some favors? Surely you have friends you can talk to and get this resolved?"

Sargon looked across the table at the young technomage and sighed. "Unfortunately, my hands are tied. I'm way too high profile to do anything against a pair of recognized Senators. And as you well know, all of my friends are high level officials that can't do anything since what the senators are doing is still legal, even if it is morally wrong. There is no one in the Empire that is able to do anything about it."

Tristina paused her tantrum to peer at Sargon. Something in the way he had said that last sentence stuck in her mind. Just what did he mean by that? She looked up as the door chimed and slid silently open. In walked two familiar faces and she allowed a smile to cross her lips.
Matthew Makai and Nic Becosea, two men recruited by the Chaos Empire from another dimension who never officially joined, sort of like mercenaries with a salary. However, since they operated outside the Law, they technically weren't subject to all the laws that applied to officers. Both were human and over six feet tall. Matthew had short dark hair and brown eyes and Nic had brown hair and blue eyes. Matthew was a mech mechanic and Nic was an expert fighter pilot. They even had their own cruiser, operated by Matthew's custom droids.

The two mercenaries smiled when they caught sight of Tristina and Sargon. Matthew grinned broadly, walking over to give the smiling Tristina a big hug. "Ahoy! Sorry we're late. Ran into a group of Dividians on the way here. Took longer than I thought to take care of them. Otherwise we would have been here a couple hours ago. But Nic had to show off and wanted to take on all the fighters himself. He wouldn't let any of the droids help out."

Nic had the decency to look sheepish. "Sorry. Got caught up in the moment. Don't worry, we'll get Ranma's body back. I know the captain of the ship the senators took the body to. He sent me a message just after I got the one from old man Dorsai over here."
Sargon glared at the mercenary for a moment before smiling. "I'm counting on you two."
Senator Toroa paced the length of his quarters, while the other senator looked on in amusement. The generators had finally been repaired and the cloning center brought back online. However, by that time, they had already reached the planet. Now it was only a matter of time. He still had his suspicions about the first generator failure. Still, it didn't matter. Everything was finally back on track and the future was secured. However, this waiting was killing him. He turned to his fellow senator and was about to speak when theroom lurched suddenly. He was thrown to the ground before he could catch his balance. Both Senators quickly got back up to their feet, Toroa quickly calling for a report.

"There has been an explosion in the cloning facility. All personnel are being evacuated from that side of the station. The Soldiers have been sent in and there has been reports of combat. We aren't getting any signals from that area though. More Soldier on are the way."

Inside the Cloning Facility, several vague shapes moved through the smoke filled rooms. Occasionally, a hulking Chaos Soldier could be seen through the smoke, only to encounter a set of blue energy beams, then collapse in a spasm of twitching muscles, unconscious. Other shapes solidified into droids, equal in size the Soldiers, smooth metal and cold weaponry, efficient machines with the task of disabling any soldier that might enter the room.

Mathew and Nic made their way slowly through the room, eyes scanning for any signs of trouble. They weren't expecting it though. The explosion in the room hadn't been caused by them. When they cut their way through thestation into the Cloning Facility, the room had already been filled with smoke. Both men were heavily armed and encased in battloid armor that made each man about twelve feet tall, barely able to fit into the room.

A single figure emerged from the smoke and both men trained their weapons on the figure. When the smoke cleared enough for them to see what was going on, they relaxed. It was Ranma, albeit a staggering Ranma.

Ranma shaded his eyes with one hand while trying to wave away the smoke with the other. "Becosea? Makai? That you inside all that armor?"

The two armored figures nodded, then motioned Ranma towards the hole in the wall. "Come on man. We've got to get you out of here. I don't know how you cheated death this time but we're here to get you out. Hurry. There isn't much time. We have to get out before they can identify our ship. If they do that, we'll never be able to pull something like this again."

The rescuers and suddenly alive Ranma began to file through the hole in the wall just as the doors started to buckle from the outside. With just seconds to spare, the last droid left the room and the wall resealed.

Chapter 25

The small airlock aboard Sargon's ship was already cramped to begin with, yet with the number of people crammed into the tight space, it had become downright claustrophobic. Tristina found herself pressed against Kitt and Captain Mahoran, neither of which looked pleased. The elder Dorsai looked even less pleased as he was crowded by three anxious women. The airlock had only been designed for two people and just barely at that. Four people made things just a little too friendly. Sargon sighed to himself. When his wife heard about this she was not going to be pleased with the amount of female flesh pressed against his body, even if one of those bodies was related by blood.

Kitt quivered in anticipation, dreading the sight of Ranma's dead body but need to see that he was safe from the Senators. Deborah managed to remain cal, though it was a close call for her. She'd had many experiences watching fallen comrades brought back from the battlefield, but never had they needed to be rescued from supposedly friendly forces. She sighed internally. This shouldn't have happened. Ranma was invincible. He's always come through in the end. She'd lost track of the amount of times that Ranma had flirted with death, or the number of times that he'd saved her life.

Tristina stared at the airlock doors, each moment that ticked by just adding to the number of stressed nerves. She needed to see Ranma. She needed the time to grieve over his body that the senators had denied her when they stole the man she loved from his mother's arms. She eyes flashed black on black for a moment and a stray lock of her hair was tucked back in place by an invisible hand, a habit she had picked up from Ranma only a few months ago.

The hiss of the airlock broke her out of her thoughts as the doors swung open, revealing the forms of Makai and Becosea. The two men blinked at the group gathering in the airlock. "Well, we weren't expecting this kind of welcome. If we'd known, we have put on our formals," remarked Makai with a smirk.

The girls just glared at the mercenary. Tristina was the first to speak. "Where's Ranma?"
Makai jerked a thumb towards the inside of the ship. "He's in the infirmary waiting for all of you." A rush of wind was all he felt as the three women dashed by him and deeper into the docked vessel. Matthew gazed after the retreating forms and shook his head, smiling to himself. Sargon noticed the smile and asked what was so funny.

With an insufferable grin, Matthew patted Sargon on the shoulder as he walked by, "Just that the girls are in for a surprise. Looks like the legendary Saotome luck has come through again."
Tristina rushed through the corridors of the ship, having memorized the path while waiting for the mercenaries to return. It was only a matter of moments before she arrived at the infirmary and was through the doors. Her eyes quickly scanned the room. She found Ranma's body on the examination bed. An instant later she was at his side, laying her head on his chest, the tears flowing freely. If she'd been paying attention, she'd have noticed that something wasn't how she expected it.

Kitt noticed as soon as she entered the room. There was a subtle flow of energy that was almost like a caress against her skin. Her eyes snapped to Ranma's body, her mouth hanging open as the only explanation came to her. "Ranma, you're alive?" Her voice was slightly shaking, disbelief warring with another feeling. Hope.

Tristina stopped crying, looking down at the body and finally noticed the slight rise and fall of his chest. She stared in disbelief but couldn't deny the fact that here he was, alive and safe. She laid her head on his chest again, tears returning to her eyes, only these were tears of joy.
Deborah bit back her own tears, refusing to show any sign of weakness, though inside she was jumping for joy. Before he'd left, Ranma had acknowledged her feelings, but hadn't said what he planned on doing about them. Now that he wasn't dead, she would have the chance to properly interrogate him. Slowly. Once he fully recovered that is.

Ranma for his part went from sleeping to fully awake as he heard Kitt's voice, sitting up on the bed and accidentally sending Tristina tumbling to the floor. The first thing he noticed was that he was still in the infirmary when Becosea had brought him to rest. The second thing he noticed was the crying girl on the floor. He was instantly at her side, stammering apologies, wrapping his arms around her in an effort to get her to stop crying. He felt another pair of arms wrap around him as Kitt joined the ground. Tristina wrapped her arms around Ranma's waist, snuggling into his shift as her crying subsided.

Captain Mahoran watched the seen from a few feet back, restraining herself from joining the group, remembering how nervous Ranma got with physical contact. She smiled softly as the saw the big warrior fall apart when faced with a crying girl. The man could stand toe to toe with some of the strongest creatures in the known galaxy and not even bat an eyelash, but you put a crying girl in front of him and he turns to putty. She decided she'd get her own time with him. Later. In her cabin. Alone.

As Deborah drifted off to her daydreams, Ranma tried to disentangle himself from the mass of limbs wrapped around him. Once Tristina stopped crying, Ranma started getting nervous at how close he was to everyone. As he tried to pry his best from out of his lap, she suddenly looked up and pressed her lips to his, surprising him. He locked up, not moving or resisting the kiss.

Tristina pouted as she broke the kiss. Their first kiss was much better than that. At least he's responded that time. She was just about to lean in a try again when she saw a motion out of the corner of her eye. Kitt leaned forward and nips Ranma in the ear. A rush of wind later and the two girls with in a heap, Ranma on the complete opposite side of the room, a panicked expression on his face. From her spot on the ground Kitt could only sigh, "At least we know he's alright, if he can move like that."

Ranma had the good graces to look sheepish, rubbing the back of his head, "Sorry bout this."
Nodoka stood in her kitchen, the sound of running water overrunning the sound of crying as she tried to do the dishes to distract her. No parent should outlive their child and no parent should have their child taken away from them. That had already happened once in her life and this time…

She looked down at the plate in her hand and slowly placed it in the dish rack, careful to move slowly. The fragile ceramic had already felt stressed from the way she was gripping it. Instead, she turned away from the kitchen, turning the water off before heading towards the main room. Her thoughts flowed to her son and the few days she'd had him in her life again.

A loud boom echoed from the backyard and she went rushing to investigate, grabbing her new katana on the way out. What she saw took her breath away.

A ring of fire burned in the short grass, a naked body curled up in the fetal position in the center of the fire. Nodoka gingerly made her way closer and gasped at the sight. Long raven hair curled against a broad, muscular chest. One arm ended in a raged scar just below the shoulder. Ranma lay on the ground, barely breathing. She blinked and looked again. He was breathing!
She cradled his body into her lap, happy tears flowing freely down her face. A tender hand reached up to caress her face and she looked down into Ranma's beautiful blue eyes, though they appeared a little different than before. They were slit like a cat's eye. His lips curled up into a confident smirk, his voice soft, "I told you mom, a Saotome never loses." His eyes drifted closed again as he snuggled in closer, his arm falling slowly to his rest in her lap.

A pillar of light pierced the sky, crashing nearby. The light faded away, revealing the non-descript form of Jonathon Avery. The short man made his way over to Nodoka's side, bowing deeply before her. Nodoka regarded the strange man with a regal silence, waiting for him to identify himself. That he was dressed in the same uniform that Ranma normally wore was the only reason she was giving him a chance to talk rather than bombarding him with questions.

Jonathon look down at the sleeping form of Ranma and had to smile. Once again the boy had managed to surprise him. He'd felt the spark of life actually leave Ranma for a time, but somehow, Ranma had managed to fight his way back to life. Shaking his head in amazement, he smiled at Nodoka and bowed again. "Allow me to introduce myself. My name is Jonathan Avery. I am the man who originally recruited your son ten years ago. I've also been one of your son's trainers. And, if I'm not mistaken, I'm the reason he's alive again."

Nodoka frowned as she considered his words. "What do you mean, alive again? He was just healing right? He told me he didn't lose."

Avery just nodded. "True. He didn't lose. He killed Grikor. But he died afterwards. I can only think of one thing that could have brought him back, and that would be fully bonding with the cat-fist training. You'll have to ask him when he wakes to learn more. It is not my place to say anything. I just wanted to be here and let you know what really happened. Your son did die and will be changed by this event. Try and help him adjust. Things will be a little tense for awhile. And I'll try and see what I can do about that arm of his."

The Saotome matron nodded and looked down at her son, gently stroking his long hair. The future seemed brighter with her son in her arms and she knew that no matter what was coming, they could face it together, though hopefully not alone. She allowed herself a moment to daydream about the many grandchildren her manly son would be able to provide for her. She slide her hand along the firm muscles of his back, tracing over his shoulder to the stump of his arm. For a moment she wondered how the missing arm would affect things, the shrugged it off, knowing her son could handle it.

Chapter 26

Ranma stood there, sides heaving as he took deep breaths, exhaustion burning through his muscles. Yet, he would not be beaten. Raising his arms before him once again, he summoned his famous smirk, deep blue eyes gleaming with the joy of battle. Sliding into his favorite stance, one foot just before the other, he beckoned his opponents forward once again.

He barely managed to dodge the ball of black energy that flashed by him, dark lightning crackling over its surface. The muscles of his side twitched from the ambient energy and he almost didn't manage to block the next series of blows as two of his opponents threw switch punches and gives that threatened to knock him across the room. A tail last caught him across the cheek, dazing him just long enough for a wicked right cross to slam into his jaw, sending him careening across the floor.

"Ranma!" came the startled cry as Deborah darted after the fallen warrior, Kitt hard on her heels. Tristina beat them both to Ranma's side, kneeling next to him and running her hands over his body, checking for injuries, worry etched on her brow. Stupid, stubborn man, not knowing when to quit.

Ranma tried to scurry away from the girls. Each of them stirred emotions that he tried to fight, not knowing how to react to their concern. He could almost feel the waves of desire filling the room, overwhelming him. Ever since he'd woken up yesterday he'd felt something different within him. Something had changed and he wasn't sure if he liked it. He was snapped out of his self examination as Tristina grabbed his head, those black on black eyes boring deep into his own. His own sapphire gaze was locked with hers, unable to turn around. Not that she was going to let him, considering the death grip she had on his head.

Several tense moments later, she finally released him as his breathing grew steady and less erratic. Tristina sighed, cursing once again the nature of her own powers. Chaos energy wasn't conducive to healing. She knew more ways to kill someone than she cared to think about, but not a single way to heal someone, not even enough to take away their fatigue. She leaned forward to kiss Ranma on the forehead, sighing again when he stiffened in embarrassment, almost freezing in place.

Kitt quivered in indignation as she watched Tristina get in the first kiss. During the last three training sessions, the Dorsai girl had managed to beat her to it each time. Her tail lashed in agitation. Not to be outdone, she leaned forward, wrapping her arms around Ranma, purring contently as she nipped his ear. Once again he managed to disappear and almost teleport to the other side of the room. How did he manage to do that even when exhausted?

Deborah considered her young (relatively) lieutenant and shook her head, chuckling softly to herself in an effort to hide her feelings. There still hadn't been a chance to corner Ranma and give him a proper debriefing. In fact, the boy had hardly been out of sight of the three women, much to the amusement of the Elder Dorsai and the two mercenaries, who stopped by on occasion to make sure that they didn't hurt Ranma with their enthusiasm. Of course, Ranma's own desire to test himself wasn't helping either.

Glancing across the room, she took in the sight of the skittish warrior, amused to no end at his reluctance to deal with the female gender. For a man who had women literally throwing themselves at him, he had to be one of the shyest people she'd ever met, which was strange considering that his family was among the most social in the Empire. Still, she just adored his innocence. It would make taking it from him so much more delicious. A blush dusted her cheeks as she became lost in her daydreams.

The doors to the room swished open, saving Ranma from the attentions of the women as the Elder Dorsai strode into the room. He took one look a the situation and smiled to himself. "How goes the training, Ranma? The girls playing nice?"

All three women turned to stare of the powerful Technomage and the man could have sworn the temperature in the room dropped several degrees. He wasn't about to back down though. "I'm here for Ranma. I need to check him for psychic trauma from dying. Oh, don't give me that look, Great Granddaughter, you know you aren't certified for deep probes yet. I've been doing this for centuries and have scanned Ranma before. You remember, that time you wanted to see if you could mindlock?" The girl had the decency to blush and Sargon grinned.

Motioning the besieged boy to follow him, Sargon turned and strode from the room. As the doors closed behind then, Ranma heaved a sigh of relief, eliciting a chuckle from the older man. "Your life never ceases to amaze me, Saotome. How a man like you can stay the way you are…" Sargon trailed off and just chuckled at Ranma's blank expression. "Don't worry about it. You'll understand one day. And when you do understand, you'll look back and wonder what you were doing with your life until now." He continued to chuckle as he guided the boy towards the infirmary.

As the doors to the room swished open, the lights slowly filled the room. A small droid hovered over, enquiring as to the status of the visit. Dorsai waved the droid away and motioned Ranma towards one of the examination tables, a large bed of smooth metal. Ranma hopped up, immediately settling into the repulsor field that sprang to life above the cool metal.

Sargon reached out and placed his hands lightly on Ranma's temples. Darkness flared for a moment as he drew upon the power of Chaos, the elemental field that surrounds the universe. He felt that power flow through him, filling him. The world took on a new light as his senses sharpened. The slight tang of the air, even though filtered by the remarkable circulation system, the best the Empire has to offer. The faint hum of the repulsor field, Ranma's light breathing. After a moment of allowing himself to revel in the exquisite details of life, Sargon turned his attention to Ranma, focusing past the formidable mental blocks of the warrior and delving into his mind.

The ancient technomage staggered back in shock, almost dragging Ranma from the table before releasing his grip on the boy's head. He stared at Ranma for a moment, shaking his head sadly. "You aren't the real Ranma. There is no trace of the Cat Fist training within your mind."

Ranma blinked. Not the real Ranma? What did that mean? He reached within himself, searching for the influence that he had spent the last ten years of his life struggling to control. Try as he might though, there was nothing to grasp. His eyes snapped open in panic and he held his hand in front of him, willing the ki blades into life. Nothing. He turned to look at Sargon, pleading. "What happened to me?"

Several scenarios flashed through Sargon's mind but he settled on what was most likely. "We rescued you from a cloning facility. My best guess is that you are a clone and the real Ranma is still dead and somewhere." He sighed and took a seat on a convenient chair. "I don't think the cloning process can capture things like psychic imprints. You may have a hard time accessing your Chaos reserves as well. And you're limiters aren't in place, yet your power levels seem where they would be with the limiters."

Ranma stiffened as the implications sank in. A clone? He never wanted to be cloned and now he was the clone. Closing his eyes, he took a deep breath and ran through a cleansing ritual, allowing his senses to flow through his body. What he discovered managed to shock him. His power was perhaps half where it should be. There was no Chaos energy, no Cat Fist. The knowledge of them still existed and his body still remembered them, but the powers simply didn't exist for him. A deep sigh escaped his lips.

"I'm going to have to do a lot of training to rebalance my body. Especially without the speed of the Cat Fist. That explains why I did so poorly in those spars earlier. No wonder everything felt off and I got tired so much faster than I'm used to." He turned his sapphire gaze towards the Elder Dorsai. "Those senators have a lot to answer for. Sure, I may have been dead but that doesn't give them a right to clone me against my wishes. After we get to Earth and I see my mom, we're heading to the nearest command center so I can report this to the proper authorities. The senators may see their powers stripped. I am the evidence of their illegal activities."

Sargon nodded slowly, "Those two have a lot of influence, Saotome. It won't be easy bringing them down. Politics are always a touchy subject." He reached over and rested his hand upon the boy's shoulder. No matter how much Ranma had been through, he was still only sixteen. He didn't deserve this. No one did. "But I'll see what I can do. You might want to break the news to the girls though. I'm not sure how they'll react but you can trust them enough that they won't reject you."

Ranma watched as Sargon strode through the doors and out of the infirmary, leaving him to his thoughts, alone except for the droid resting idle against the wall. His thoughts whirled about, a tumult of emotions unlike any he had ever felt. Rampaging warlords, violent invaders, crazed assassin, those he could take in stride without breaking rhythm. Tell him he's a clone and he entire world comes crashing down. He looked down at his hands, idly noting the lack of calluses. He wasn't Ranma Saotome anymore. So who was he?

An hour later he was still there, thinking, when Deborah found him. She looked at him in concern as he failed to respond to her entering the room. "Lieutenant? Are you okay?" Her voice, while full of command, held the faintest trace of worry.

Ranma looked up at his commander, his eyes a dull blue like the sky before a storm, grey clouds on the horizon. "I'm not really your lieutenant, Captain. I've just learned I'm not even really Ranma Saotome." He raised his hand to run his fingers though his hair, unbound from its normal ponytail.

"What do you mean you aren't really Ranma?" She looked at him, frowning, her brow furrowed in thought. "The only way you could be someone other than Ranma would be for you to be a clone…" Her eyes widened slightly as her own words rang loudly in her ears. "You're a clone? But how? I thought you escaped from the facility. There couldn't have been enough time for them to mature a full clone. Not by a long shot." Worry crept into her voice and she was unable to fight it off as she normally would. Cloning was a sore topic between the two, though there was no doubt as to how Ranma felt on the matter. He hadn't talked to her for almost three days because she had been adamant that he sign up for cloning following a particularly stressful close call

The pony-tailed soldier looked up from his seat, gazing at his captain, the tumult of emotions whirling through his mind visible through his eyes, the dark orbs like the sea at storm, waves crashing upon the rocks of his soul. "I don't know who I am anymore. Or what I'm supposed to do? Is the real me out there somewhere?" He took a slow deep breath, drawing his confidence around him like armor, his eyes clearing to a startling sapphire that glowed in the light of the room.

"Well, I'm not doing anyone any good just complaining am I? A Saotome never loses, right? That includes being a clone. Even if I'm not really me, I still have my responsibilities. One will be finding the real me, though I should let Ranma's mother know what's going on." He hopped down from the table, landing lightly on his feet. Even without the enhancements of the Cat Fist or the Chaos energy, he was still a powerful warrior, the best of his generation. It was hard thinking of himself as anything other than Ranma though. He wondered what to call himself though.

Deborah could only look on in stunned amusement. Only Ranma could go from the depths of depression to cool confidence in a matter of moment. Always the survivor, aren't you Ranma. She walked after the boy as they made their way to the bridge. Kitt and Tristina joined them along the way but Deborah motioned them to silence, beckoning them over and explaining the situation to them. Kitt quivered in agitation, tail lashing behind her as she struggled against the urge to run up to Ranma and wrap around him.

Tristina could only watch in morbid trepidation, wondering how she'd missed something so profound. If she'd been paying attention, she would have noticed that his moves, he mannerisms, indeed his entire body spoke of something being wrong. Never had she imagined it would be something like this. She knew though, that she had let her own enthusiasm keep her from analyzing the situation.

The doors to the bridge swished open and Sargon looked up to see Ranma enter the room, followed by the three women. By the look on the boy's face, he had finally come to a decision. "So Saotome, what will it be?"

"We're heading back to Earth."
Nodoka glances out the sliding doors, watching her son practicing in the backyard, blurring from kata to kata in a dazzling display of skill. He had been going strong for several hours and looked to be in no need of a break. She smiled and hummed softly as she returned to preparing the dinner. Coming back from the dead was hard work, or at least it gave one quite the appetite if Ranma's performance at breakfast was any indication. He packed more food away than she thought possible. She was more than happy to make more for him though, especially considering his enthusiastic response to the food.

Ranma grimaced as he messed yet another kata, the missing weight of his arm throwing off his sense of balance. He had just run through ever kata he knew, trying to find his center and each one felt off. It was almost as if he was going to have to start from scratch. Sighing softly, he pulled his pony-tail over his shoulder, running his fingers through the long, silken hair as he pondered how to change his moves to accomidate for the missing limb. His stomach chose that moment to interrupt and express its own opinion of the manner and he sheepishly chuckled, heading inside to get cleaned up before dinner.

A good ten minutes later found him kneeling next to the table, sharing dinner with his mother. He beamed a smile at her, his slit sapphire eyes gleaming in true joy. The day had been relatively calm, something that was a rarity in his life. Even though he had spent most of the day in the backyard, just working through his stances, he felt that he had gotten a lot accomplished. There were many changes that he would have to get used to, first and foremost being his missing arm. Secondly, would be the various changes that seem to have taken place when he bonded with the Cat Fist. Not all of those changes would be readily apparent. He twitched slightly when he thought how he might react when Kitt was in heat. If he would be more in control or if he would try and bed her like the first time he lost control. His senses seemed heightened as well, almost as if he were drinking in the power of Chaos energy.

A knock at the door broke him from his reverie and he waved his mother back down, saying he'd answer it. Gliding from the table towards the entry way, his senses suddenly kicked in, telling him that he should have let Nodoka answer the door. Shaking it off, he wondered what could possibly be better for his mom to answer to them. The faint whiff of a familiar perfume final caught his attention as he opened the door and suddenly worried that maybe he should have listened to his instincts after all.

Standing just outside the door were a stunned Nabiki and Sakura. Nabiki was the first one to recovery. "We were just coming to pay our respects to Nodoka…" she trailed off lamely, not sure what to say as the object of their mourning stood nervously in the door way. Sakura looked Ranma over, delight warring with confusion at finding him alive and well. "I thought you'd been taken away? What are you doing here?"

Ranma reached up and pulled his pony-tail over his shoulder, nervously running his fingers through the long raven strands, "Yeah, I kinda died. I'm better now though." Both girls looked at him in disbelief. Did he just say that he had died? Each one considered Ranma, taking in al the details, including the missing arm and strange slits in his eyes. They did the only thing that made sense considering the situation. They fainted.

Chapter 27

Nabiki cuddled closer to the person in bed with her, enjoying the warmth, as she slowly rejoined the land of the fully conscious. As her arms tightened around her living teddy bear, she felt a pair of somethings that didn't belong on a teddy bear and her eyes shot wide open. She founds herself face to face with a wide eyed Sakura. Looking down, she was relieved to note that they were both fully clothed, just resting over the covers of a large American style bed. Slowly, both girls untangled their arms from each other and scooted to opposite sides of the bed, wondering how they'd gotten their. Flickering images dashed through their minds as each tried to recall what had happened to them to bring them to bed together.

A polite knock at the door broke them from their silent contemplations as Nodoka stuck her head into the room, followed quickly by the rest of her, a wide smile gracing her face as she considered each girl in term. They were here because they cared for her son. She owed it to them to explain what had happened to Ranma, the changes that had occurred and what it would most likely mean in the future and for anyone who might want to be part of his life.

"Glad to see you girls back with us. Ranma said you had awakened and wanted to make sure you were both okay, but I assured him I could handle you girls." A girlish giggle escaped her lips and Nodoka fought to keep from losing herself in the dreams of grandchildren from her manly son. Her bright eyes regarded each girl in turn. "However, there have been some changes to my son that will affect how he's going to be treated, both in school and in Japan as a whole. I didn't truly understand his role in the military until this battle where…. Where he died." She trails off, suppressing a sniffle of sadness.

Nabiki was the first one to regain her voice. "You mean he really did die? But we just saw him downstairs. Sure his arm was missing but he didn't look like a zombie?" What she didn't mention was the other things she had managed to notice in that brief moment. The way he held himself, light on his feet, as if ready to pounce in any direction at any moment. And those eyes, so exotic. Her thoughts were echoed silently by the girl sharing the bed.

Nodoka noticed the slightly tinting of the girls' cheeks and knew that they had noticed some of the changes already in her son. She herself was finding it harder to not think of her son in a manner that wasn't very motherly. Pulling out a small fan, she attempted to cool herself off as she continued her tale. "Yes, he died. That's what he told me as well as an associate of his. I don't know how he survived and he hasn't said anything about it, just that he was changed…" She had to fan herself a little harder as she thought of some of the changes she'd seen when she found him.

Sakura watched Nodoka give her little speech and had to wonder what kinds of changes would allow a boy to come back from the dead. Even his arm was missing. It was obviously the same Ranma. She recognized those tight muscles rippling just out of sight and knew they would feel the same way wrapped around her waist as on their date. She quickly blushed as the line of her thoughts turned decidedly more intimate and struggled to turn her attention back to Nodoka words.

"Mom, everything okay up there?" Ranma's voice drifted through the door and Nodoka smiled at the note of caring in her son's tone. "Everything is alright dear, I'm just explain things to the girls. We'll be down shortly. Make sure you have the extra portions ready when we get down there." "Sure thing Mom."

The Saotome Matriarch returned her attention to the young women, all smiles as she silently calculated the number of grandchildren each could provide, if they were willing to follow her family. The last bit of news was the hardest to take and yet the most important, even more than the fact of Ranma's return. "There is one more detail that needs to be brought to the fore about Ranma." She paused before taking a deep breath and continuing. "Ranma is leaving Earth and heading back to the Chaos Empire and I will be going with him."

It took a moment for those words to sink in and the reactions of each of the girls was slightly different though there was a common element running through both. Shock. The middle Tendo daughter blinked incredulously at Nodoka. "What do you mean you're both leaving Earth? How can you possibly afford that? I've never heard of any military force that keeps soldiers in space and even if they did, why would you go with him?"

Sakura was content to let Nabiki ask all the questions, though she was burning with curiosity. If Ranma was leaving Earth, then that meant the military he was working for wasn't Earth-based. It would fit with the strange uniform and the power of some of the people that he has interacted with, especially the mercenaries and soldiers that followed Ranma when Grikor attacked. Her gaze searched Nokdoka's carefully, seeking any sign that this might be some form of deception but could find none.

Nodoka beckoned the two women to follow her and turned to leave the room, giving the girls the choice of joining her or remaining in the dark. Both girls clambered from the bed and fell into step behind Nodoka. The tantalizing smell of stir fry rose to greet them as they made their way through the hall and down the stairs to the main sitting room. The table was set for four and already have rice and other foods at the table. A moment later, Ranma arrived from the kitchen, carrying a large wok in his hand, a dish towel resting on his head. Giving his head a quick toss, he launched the towel towards the center of the table where it settled to a stop. The wok containing dinner soon followed, the mixed meat and vegetables still hot from the stove.

Ranma busied himself getting everyone served and tried to hide his nervousness and wondered why he was nervous. Just because it was the first time he'd cooked Japanese food and the first time he'd cooked for his mother and the fact that this was going to be one the last days he would spend here on Earth? Those weren't things he should feel nervous about. It wasn't like he was going to be facing a rampaging Trihorn herd or chasing down a rogue dark thumper. No, this was much more important.

Taking his seat next to his mother, Ranma watched as everyone took their first bites of the food, and then suppressed a relieved sigh when they appeared to be enjoying the food. Turning to his mother, he nodded and asked, "Did you tell them?" Nodoka nodded slowly in return, though she added, "I haven't told them why though."

All eyes turned to focus on the pony-tailed warrior and he sheepishly reached up with his good hand to rub the back of his neck. He looked from person to person, his slit blue eyes searching, trying to get some read on what they were thinking with the information that they had already been given. Even his mother didn't know the full story and Ranma constantly debated with himself on how much he should tell her. If he wanted her to come with him when he left Earth he would have to tell her everything. These two girls at least deserved a glimpse into his life.

"I had thought that when I was granted leave, all the trials of life in the military would be left behind, that they wouldn't follow me home." He paused a moment to pull his pony-tail over his shoulder, stroking the long silken strands with his hand. "The government I work for is called the Chaos Empire and spans most of the known galaxy." Which was true, not to mention several other dimensions but those satellite colonies didn't really apply here.

"I'm in the marine core, an officer and usually a front line soldier. As such, I end up dealing with people like Grikor, that power hungry behemoth that tore off my arm and killed me." A flicker of remembered pain dashed across his eyes but he ruthlessly suppressed it. This was not the time to remember dying. "I didn't think anyone could follow me here but if Grikor can, that means others can too and I can't fully protect those I care about here on Earth. The technology isn't right and the laws of the Empire won't let me bring in my own supplies or soldiers. So I need to leave, so that whatever follows me won't endanger those around me."

Ranma lowered his gaze to the table, the plate in front of him still untouched. He couldn't bring himself to eat though. He knew his mother accepted him no matter what but this was still a lot to ask of her, to uproot from the way of life she had become accustomed to over the last ten years. She seemed eager though and genuinely interested in meeting his foster parents.

Nodoka watched her son as he explained his life and wondered how the girls would take it. She would have had a hard time believing it all herself had she not seen her son die in her arms as she wept over his body, then seem him alive again, minus an arm and with some new additions. Mentally shaking her head, she struggled to rid the thoughts that threatened to skip past motherly. She did make a note to divorce Genma and start a new life with Ranma in his world.
Each girl found herself with chopsticks halfway to her mouth, stir fry forgotten for a moment while they each processed the information. Nabiki had to wonder how much of it was true. Huge galactic governments that didn't include Earth? Though she had seen the aftermath of the battle and here was Ranma, alive and apparently quite healthy. Very healthy.

Sakura slowly nodded. This wasn't as far fetched as it could have been. Advanced technology was something that the JDF had dealt with before, as well as rampaging monsters like the Grikor that Ranma had fought. If Ranma said he was from somewhere that could deal with people like Grikor, she wasn't going to call him a liar. Ranma had won in the first place after all. Though at what cost? What was he now? Certainly wasn't human anymore, not with those eyes. "When do you leave?"

Ranma blinked and tilted his head to the side slightly, looking at Sakura with curious eyes. She finds out he's from outer space and the only question she asks is when he's going to leave? Somehow he was expecting a little more reaction than that. "Um… I'm not sure. I have to get in contact with my superiors. Not really sure how I'm going to do that. I seem to have lost most of my gear between the time I killed Grikor and when I showed up at my mom's. I only have the gear I stored here. Which isn't much and none of it communication gear. So I have to wait for then to come and get me. I don't think it will be more than a few days. There is a sense of anticipation in the air."

He trailed off, the silence almost deafening in the wake of his last sentence. The serious mood was broken as Nodoka began eating as if nothing was the matter. Ranma smiled at his mother in appreciated and picked up his own chopsticks and began eating. The girls hesitated a moment before joining the others at dinner. The meal was simple yet filling and Ranma's mother complimented him on his cooking. He answered with a smile and swiftly set about clearing the table when the meal was over, giving the girls the semblance of privacy they needed to think things over.

Nodoka considered each of the girls in turn as she drank her tea, then decided to open the conversation. "So, which one of you would like to accompany my son?"

Nabiki nearly choked on her tea but managed to control her reaction before any physical sign could manifest itself. Well, the woman was definitely direct. How best to answer her though? Just as she opened her mouth, Sakura beat her to the punch.

"Mrs. Saotome, I don't think either of use really know Ranma well enough to consider leaving Earth to travel with him. I don't know about Nabiki, but I've only been on one date with him. While it was fun, it wasn't enough to make this kind of decision. Also, when I last saw Ranma, he was dead. And now he's back, from the dead, and so different…" Sakura trailed off as a blush dusted her cheeks at the thoughts of the new changes in Ranma, those rippling muscles just out of reach. Shaking her head, she continued, "However, Ranma did say it may take awhile before anyone came for him. I'd still like to get to know him and maybe I'll be able to make a decision by the time he has to leave."

Nabiki nodded though she was a little more hesitant. To leave Earth would mean leaving everything she had worked so hard to establish. Her reputation as the most popular girl in school who didn't have a horde of overly hormonal boys chasing after her. All the networking she had done, the contacts and contracts she made. Not that her family would need her. The family finances seemed well enough in hand, since Ranma had been compensating for his father's presence with those anonymous deposits. But could she leave all that behind for a life among the stars? So much possibility yet so much was unknown. Still, a few days to think about it, to get to know Ranma better. She nodded her agreement to what Sakura had said.

The Saotome Matriarch beamed broadly. Knowing her son, both of these girls would be accompanying them, so she simply nodded and agreed, then called Ranma from the kitchen to tell him what was going on. His listened to the explanation, nodding at the appropriate moments before smiling at the conclusion. "Mom, can you work out the details, I want to get a little more training in." At her nod, he stands from the table and heads to the back door, stripping from his shirt on the way and tossing it neatly onto a nearby chair. Soon he was a blur of motion as he ran through his katas, flowing from stance to stance in rapid succession.

All three women sat at the table watching the young Saotome as he danced through the backyard, his moved a marvel of motions. Pulling out a small fan, Nodoka tried to cool herself off as she turned to the two girls, a feral grin on her lips as she began working out the ways that they would 'get to know' her son.

Chapter 28

The fabric of space twisted and contorted as a hole was ripped through the thin veil of the dimensional boundaries, a tunnel bored through time and space until it pierced through to the other side. From the tear in reality flew a familiar ship, one crewed by members of the Chaos Empire, including a clone of one Ranma Saotome. On the bridge, said clone watched through the view port as Earth came into view. Even using the jump drive, the trip took an entire day as it was forbidden to use Jump Technology near planetary bodies. Even now, they had to place the exit junction for the Jump above the solar ellipse so that they wouldn't interfere with any of the planets. That put them another hour from Earth. At least he could bring up the image on the view screen.

Ranma watched the slowly turning sphere of blue, green and white and wondered what he was going to do. This life wasn't really his own but as far as he knew, he was Ranma. All the memories and emotions of the pony tailed warrior were his to draw upon, with the exception of the Cat Fist training. It wasn't easy thinking of yourself as a clone, a mere copy of someone else. Well, Ranma Saotome was no mere anything. No matter what ended up happening to the original, whether dead or somehow rescued, THIS Ranma would continue his life and continue being confused as hell about women.

This past day traveling was perhaps one of the most stressful days in his life. In addition to the harsh training he put himself through, the three ladies that were with him seemed to make it their duty to make sure he was okay. Not that their attentions were unpleasant in and of themselves, but that the three of them seemed to be trying to compete to make sure that the discovery of his being a clone wouldn't bring him down. As if something like that would ever phase Ranma Saotome.

They weren't helping him make a decision in his life either. His feelings for Tristina were strongest among the three women but the affection he felt for his 'sister' was something that was beginning to confuse him. Before dying, he had insisted that their relationship stay in the realm of sibling propriety. Now though… it was as if the loss of the Cat Fist took something else away from him that he wondered if he could ever truly be the same. And what it would mean to those in his life.

What was he going to do about his commander though? Deborah had always been his superior officer, someone to be respected for their rank and experience. The day that he had discovered the truth about himself and felt those strong arms around him was the day that he finally allowed himself to understand the feelings that she had had for him for years. Why hadn't he noticed? Was this part of being cloned? A slight change in his personality from how he remembered himself?

Shaking his head to banish those thoughts, he instead concentrated on the scene before him, the rapidly approaching Earth. 'I'm sorry to have worried you, Mom. I told you I never lose. I'll be back soon and I'll never leave you again. I swear I'll bring you with me when I leave to return to the Chaos Empire.'

Outside the bridge, Tristina stood in fierce conversation with her ancient though remarkably (and annoyingly) young looking ancestor. The elder Dorsai continued to shake his head as the younger generation tried to layer arguments as to why she should be allowed to accompany Ranma down to the planet surface. Finally Sargon frowned. "That's enough. The decision is final. He is going down there to pick up his mother and no one, not you, not me, not anyone, is going with him. This is family business. The ONLY way I'd allow you to go down with him is if the two of you are married. And no, I won't marry the two of you. The boy isn't ready and neither are you." Sargon folded his arms across his broad chest, the silver bells in his hair chiming faintly as he stared at his wayward descendant, daring her to question his authority.

Tristina glared at Sargon for a moment, her raging emotions tempting her to deny that authority. Finally, she wilted under the power of his gaze and rank, years of training overriding the demands of her heart. Slowly, she nodded and turned to walk back to her temporary quarters to sulk.

Why did this have to happen to Ranma? So many strange things occurred and he always managed to find a way to prevail against the odds. Even death was somehow avoided as he escaped almost on his own from the cloning facility. Somehow, being a clone didn't stop the extraordinary amount of Chaos that surrounded him. Tristina lay on her bed, staring at the monotone grey ceiling of her quarters, mind awhirl with the various layers of complication that had overtaken her life and that of her best friend and love interest. Not that he ever reciprocated or acknowledged her feelings, except at the final moments before fighting Grikor. She took small comfort in the fact that he didn't seem to respond to anyone else so she at least still had a chance with him.

When he went down to Earth to get his mother, would she agree to leave her home and join her son among the stars? Would he be able to tell her that he was really a clone and wasn't her real son, just some copy. She shook her head at that thought. Ranma would never be just a copy. Clones who chose to join society were recognized as complete individuals, unique from their donors, no matter how complete the copy was. Especially clones like Ranma, who were made against the will of the donor. He would have to start from scratch though. This Ranma was no longer a Lieutenant Command in the Chaos Empire Marine Core. Instead, he was a civilian in the Chaos Empire, under the protection of the Dorsai Clan. He would eventually have to think of another name or some other way to distinguish himself from the original.

She sighed and rolled over, starring at the wall in the direction of where Ranma was standing. She could feel him. Everything about him felt the same, although the slight aura that she had come to associate with his bonded Cat Fist was absent. Ranma had explained that but… her thoughts trailed off at the computer chimed the time, saying that there were only a few minutes left for Ranma to board his stealth transport back to the planet surface. Getting out of the bed, she made sure she was presentable before heading to the hanger to see Ranma off.
Captain Deborah Mahoran stood at attention outside the entry to the transport, a nervously pacing Kitt stalking up and down the short length of the corridor. Ranma hadn't arrived yet and both women were beginning to wonder what was taking the soldier so long. Deborah was mainly wondering what to do about her former subordinate. With the revelation of his clone status, their relationship had completely changed. No longer was there the faint stress of an interpersonal military relationship. Now he was just a civilian, though a civilian with more combat experience than most seasoned veterans.

She gazed down the hallway in the direction he was supposed to come and pondered, running through various scenarios that would allow her to explore the feelings that had budded within her the first time Ranma had saved her life, during one of their first ground campaigns. A pair of Phantom Crust Devils had burst from underground right underneath a troop transport, ripping into the cabin and quickly killing four marines. Ranma had blurred into the on of the beast just before it could reach for her, literally tearing it apart. The concentrated fire of the rest of the marines took out the other one. Standing there, covered in blood, Ranma scowled at his fallen opponent before beaming a smile at his captain.

It was a struggle to control her breathing as the memory of that smile and a thousand like it danced across her mind, but Deborah reigned herself in with the discipline of a trained soldier. That Ranma wasn't this Ranma. Her Ranma was gone and she wasn't going to transfer those feelings to the new man she had found herself entangled with. He deserved a chance to form his own life. That life may take him far away from her, though at least they would have the trip back to the Chaos Empire to explore the new feelings. She'd spent many hours mulling over what to do and the decisions she had come up with all revolved around what Ranma wanted to do. If he went back to the military, which seemed most likely, she'd have been access to him and they could try a relationship if he was willing. If he stayed a civilian, then they would stay friends.

The faint gasp of a half tigerian broke Deborah from her musing as she turned to her fellow lady in waiting, only to see the girl break into a loping run, turning into a purring, furry missile that honed in on the pony tailed man striding down the hall. Ranma scooped up his 'sister' into a fierce hug, almost crushing her against his broad chest. The hug lasted only a moment before he let her go and gave the same treatment to a surprised Marine Captain.

Ranma looked at his companions and smiled at the looks of surprise that adorned each face. "We'll talk again when I get back. I don't know what will happen to me when I return home, and especially when I deal with the issues of my being a clone, upon my return to the Empire, but I do know that something is different about me from what I remember of my former life. I'm going to have to forge a new one and I'm going to need all the help and support that I can get. I know that you will all be there for me, especially you…"

He turned around to indicate the startled Dorsai girl who had just arrived behind Ranma, trying to sneak up on him. His smile softened as he considered her, then pulled her into the same hug as before. "I can't imagine life without my best friend." He tilted his head slightly and kissed her cheek, then turned away and strode quickly through the entry way into his transport before anyone had a chance to react. The doors hissed shut behind him with an authoritative snap, closing off any chance of following. Not that any of the women knew what had happened. Both Deborah and Kitt turned to regard Tristina, who blushed a deep crimson and dashed back to her quarters before she could be subject to any questions from her rivals.

Kitt frown after the girl, then shrugged. She had no problem sharing. She just wanted a kiss of her own. Deep in thought, she stalked down the hall towards her own quarters. Deborah, left alone, had only one thought on her mind. Damnit, why didn't I think of kissing him.

"Now, Miss Tendo, I'm going to ask you series of questions and I'd like you to answer them with the first thoughts that come to your mind. Don't try to reason out an answer, just be honest. Miss Tendo? Excuse me?" The doctor sighed as he tried to get the attention of the girl, though he doubted she could her him over the sound of her teeth grinding together, or the constant mutters of "I'm going to kill him" the tumbled from her lips every few seconds as she continued to struggle against the reinforced restraints. Restraints that had been replaced three times already, each time stronger than before. The two guards standing nearby nervously fingered their tranq guns.
Ranma Saotome, one armed warrior, Lieutenant Command in the Chaos Empire Marine Core, veteran soldier, and all around unstoppable force of chaos, sat upon the roof of his mother's home, looking for all like the most serene man in the world. His one hand rested in his lap, relaxed. His eyes, the most visible change about him, were closed, as he tilted his head and listened to the wind, pony tail fluttering slightly in the breeze. If one listened closely enough, they could detect the subtle purr that seemed to buzz from his chest.

He was at peace with his situation. After nearly four hours of straight training this morning, allowing him to regain that crucial balance he had lost with the absence of his other arm, he was cooling off on the roof, he light breeze playing over his hot skin. Down below, his mother readied lunch, along with the two girls, who had returned from school. How they had managed to get permission for that, he didn't know and it really didn't matter. This afternoon was to be a combined date, with both girl accompanying him for a quick shopping trip in town to get some things that Nodoka wanted to bring with her when they left. Each of the girls was also allocated some spending money in addition to whatever they decided to bring on their own.

His thoughts drifted with the breeze to consider the two girls. What did he really know about either of them and why was he allowing them to accompany him back to the Chaos Empire? Granted, both were beautiful in their own way and seemed nice. That Nabiki girl was a refreshing challenge mentally though he wasn't looking forward to the time when she unleashed her untamed focus upon him. Sakura had potential, with a keen mind and a background in the military, if what he could gather of her family life was accurate. She would make a useful officer if she ever went out for the military.

Other than him though, what reason did they have to transplant their lives from somewhere reasonably stable like Japan and just travel to a foreign land, let alone another solar system? Maybe the date this afternoon would be able to provide those answers. Having finished his meditations, he turned towards the shadowed branches of a nearby tree and smiled, his eyes opening to reveal the slit cat eyes that was his new heritage.

"You might as well stop hiding. I've been able to sense you since you first arrived in the area. I don't know what business you have here, but if you had to hide yourself, it can't be all that legitimate, now can it?"

A tiny shadow detached itself from the tree and hopped up to the roof, resolving into the diminutive form of the Amazon Matriarch. Ku Lohn regard the boy from atop her staff, a wry grin on her wrinkled face. "I'm impressed, sonny boy, that you were able to detect me. I've been able to evade even the best of the trackers from my tribe."

Ranma smirked as he uncoiled from his seat and relaxed into a loose stance, his good arm held loosely at his side. "It's your soap. I remember it from when I fought Grikor. You were there, with a group of girls. Not sure what you were doing there. I know you weren't on his side, so I won't assume you are enemies. However, that doesn't automatically make you friends."

She chuckled softly in response. "Indeed right. And wise for someone so young. I could feel your aura the moment you reappeared yesterday, but couldn't really believe it. I was there when you died. Felt that same life spark fade and disappear. My warriors and I were just about ready to return home to China when I felt your return. I was curious how you survived and decided to investigate. The rest of the warriors remain at the docks, ensuring that our freighter doesn't leave without us." She grinned at the implications of that statement.

He returned the grin, knowing full well what that meant. He'd had to the same on occasion on some of the neutral or lesser patrolled planets among the rim systems during one particular nasty campaign. Cocking his head to the side, he examined the woman with his new senses, feeling out the hidden power simmering just below the surface, cleverly masked. Seems she didn't really trust him either. Not that he blamed her. Were the situation reversed, he'd be just as wary.

"Allow me to put some of your worries to rest. I'm the same man you watched die. And if you're wondering, yes I did die. I'm still not sure how I came back, but rest assured, it is me." He indicated the empty socket of his missing arm.

Ku Lohn nodded from her position balanced on her staff. "I can see that. Though I would love to learn how you cheated death, I will accept your word that you do not know the method by which you did so. However, should you learn, my tribe would be most grateful and generous if you would share that secret with us. Though I'm a little interested in the other changes in your aura and physical appearance, such as your cat eyes. I've never encountered the like."

Ranma shrugged. "Something happened when I died that bonded me with the aura of the Cat Fist." He paused at her sharp inhalation of breath, another smirk gracing his lips. "I see you recognize the technique. Rumor can't begin to touch what really happens to the person being trained. I survived and over the years, finally managed to gain control over the technique. Somehow, in order to 'cheat death', I had to fully bond with aura. The result is what you see. Though I had hoped it would regenerate my arm. It's throwing off my balance." He absently rubbed the healed over wound where his arm used to be.

The Amazon Matriarch regarded the man in front of her, a study in contradictions that went beyond the understanding of three thousand years of Amazon history. A sane Cat First trainee, a regenerator that came back from the dead, a strong male. All of those things thought impossible by tradition. Her mind flashed over several scenarios that could bring this boy into the tribe. Those amazing genes would propel the tribe to new heights in skill and ability.
"There is a way for you to get your arm back. I could give you a new body, one that is complete in every way. It is a bit of Amazon magic. With it you could…" Ranma cut her off.

"Thanks but I've never had any luck with magic. I've seen the results and I don't want to have anything to do with it. No offense."

She nodded slowly, silently cursing the boy for making her do things the hard way. She decided to give him one last chance. "If you come back with me to China, I'm sure we can find a way to help you regenerate. We have over three thousand years of history to draw upon. I myself have seen over three hundred years and can call upon that experience to your aid."

Ranma just chuckled, amused at the clear pride in the Amazon's voice. "Once again, no offense, but three thousand years of history is nothing. Where I come from, the Emperor is thirty thousand years old and has been the leader since the foundation of the government. I think they have you beat in terms of experience."

If there were a way for her jaw to drop any further, it would have hit the roof tiles. As it was, she had to close her mouth with an audible click. Her eyes narrowed. The boy was obviously making fun of her at this point. So much for him being a strong male. He was no different than any other. Reaching into her robes, she pulled out a small flask, unscrewed the top, and flung the contents at Ranma.

Surprised at the move, he didn't dodge, not sensing any danger from the water. He hadn't even felt any deadly intent from the woman and couldn't imagine why she was trying to get him wet. That is, until the water hit him and blinding pain engulfed his body. It was as if he was being torn apart and put back together again, his body pulled and pushed in ways it wasn't meant to bend. He collapsed onto the roof, shuddering in pain. His entire body felt off, different. Steadying himself with his arms, he struggled through the pain to get back to his feet.
He blinked. Then looked down at his arms. Both of them. There was something off though. While he had his arm back, it looked wrong, they both did. Smaller than normally. Then a lock of his hair fell into his eyes. His RED hair.

Chapter 29

Pain.

That was his entire world, condensed into that single feeling. An agony so encompassing that it blocked out all other though, leaving Ranma writhing on the rooftop, trying to draw some sense from the hell he was going through. Every piece of his body felt like it was on fire, as if someone had torn him apart and put him back together, slowly, except that the pain was slammed into one intense moment of raw feeling. Not even the battle with Grikor had felt this bad. Having his arm torn off hadn't hurt nearly this much.

Was it a moment or an hour that passed while Ranma was surrounded by pain? He wasn't sure as he groaned, turning onto his side, trying to brace himself against the tiles. Everything felt off. He couldn't find his balance, his center, even his sense of time felt different. Reaching down with both hands, he tried to push himself into a sitting position.

Wait a second. Both hands? Ranma's gaze was drawn to the hands pushing against the tiles, his eyes widening at seeing two of them. Yet there was something wrong? Why were they so small? Where was the hard earned muscle mass? The sleek lines of a warrior with power sheathed within skin of velvet softness? A stray lock of hair felt across his vision, the red strands matching the red haze of anger and pain that seemed his entire world.

One thought managed to force its way past the pain. Retribution. Slowly continuing the path to fully upright, Ranma tried to focus his senses, reaching out for the diminutive woman who was the cause of his suffering. A moment later he found her there, standing in the exact same place she had before the journey of agony had begun. "Alright lady, I'm giving you exactly ten seconds to tell me what you did and how to fix it before I rip your arms off and beat you with them." The words came out a lot higher pitched than they should have. Something was definitely off.

Ku Lohn suppressed the shudder of fear that tried to inch its way through her mind. This male was not a threat and of course, he wasn't even a male now. There was no access to his power and he would be as weak as a newborn kitten. Straightening slightly on her stick, she drew the aura of authority around her, assuming the mantle of an Amazon Elder. "It's a shape shifting curse. You're in a female body now, what you would have looked like had you been born a woman. A truly great gift for any male."

There were many reactions possible to that revelation. Anger, fear, panic. What Ku Lohn wasn't expecting though was laughter. The newly formed woman before her was currently struggling to a standing position, holding her side as she fought against the peels of mirth that erupted from her.

Ranma worked to control the laughter, making a mental note to have a long talk with his friend, Jonathan Avery. Born female indeed. Thanks for the warning old man. Upon seeing the confused look on the amazon's face, Ranma smiled again, slowly slipping into his smug grin. It was still hard controlling the new body. His cat instincts were going haywire, making it hard to focus on anything and every time he tried to focus his energies through his new body, he found himself confused further. Nothing worked the way he was used to and there was no way for him to operate and full power or anything near to it. Glancing over at the amazon, he made sure to keep the frown off his lips. She probably expected this to happen, which is why she didn't expect him to kill her. Well, let's see if I can't still surprise her.

"Magic curse? Shape shifting? Well, that's a new one for me. I mean, I've been blown up, shot, stabbed, had my arm ripped off, and just recently, killed. And now you've gone and made me a woman. Guess it could be worse." Slowly straightening to his new height, he continued to categorize the changes in his body. He lost nearly a foot in height and a ton of weight, leaving him feeling lighter on his feet. The pain was mostly gone now, a mere memory of the agony. Energy was coursing through him, aligning with the new body in an effort to prepare him for what was needed. Tilting his head to the side slightly, he felt the muscles cord and pop as he stretched.

"Ah, that feels much better. At least I'm still human." Turning back to the ancient amazon, Ranma shook his head slightly, eyes mostly closed. "So what did you hope to accomplish from this, besides pissing me off?" His eyes slowly slid open, revealing the slit sapphire eyes of his new cat bonded form.

Ku Lohn tried valiantly to hide her shock at the almost unremarkable response. How did this boy just shrug off such a violent change? Forcing those observations to the back of her mind, she hopped just a little closer. "I'm showing you that you can be healed, that your body can be whole again. The one I've given you now is just temporary." First comes the carrot. If that wasn't accepted, the stick was still an option. She felt her fellow elder at the edges of her senses, ready to lend her aide should the need arise.
The grin on Ranma's female face took on a decidedly feral gleam. "Temporary you say? Well now, that really is good information. Means I won't have to leave you conscious to get out of this." Before Ku Lohn had a chance to ask what he meant by that, Ranma shot forward, tile bursting into the air in the way of his powerful charge.

Only reflexes honed over centuries of combat allowed Ku Lohn to dodge out of the way, her prey darting past like a human missile. Ducking backwards allowed her to evade a backhand attempt at her head though she had to dismount to block the kick sent her way as a parting gift. The boy was good, too good for someone who hadn't had that body for very long. How was he adapting?

Inwardly Ranma was cursing. That kick should have knocked the old crone off the building. Still not nearly fast enough. Can't understand this body. Just as he was getting used to one arm now he had two again. Whirling to face his target, Ranma began channeling more energy, drawing on the chaos that surrounded him, infusing his limbs with the power. Something within him cried out to use the vacuum blades, but he wasn't quite ready to kill the woman. Not yet.

Dashing forward again, Ranma reached out with a series of punches, each faster than the next, working hard to try and hit the matriarch. Nothing got through her defense and he felt himself being pushed back by the counter attack. With a growl of frustration, he backflipped away, reaching into his subspace pocket for his bracers, slipping them onto his slim wrists. With his body so much smaller than normal, he couldn't wear any armor, not that he had any. Only his spare bracers, though they were still a bit big on this new form. He slipped them on, and just in time too as Ku Lohn launched a strike with her cane that he just barely managed to deflect with the otherworldly metals. Sparks flew from the combat, illuminating the battle.

In spite of herself, Ku Lohn felt a small smile creeping onto her face. She hadn't had a fight this energetic in a long time. None of the newer generation of fighters in the village had this much speed, even after the Chestnut training. "Come on sonny boy, you've gotta do better than that if you want to match up to three thousand years of amazon martial arts! You're two hundred years too early to try besting me." Strong words, pitched just right to drive an opponent to distraction. The feral gleam in the boy turned girl's eyes wasn't quite the reaction she was expecting.

"Two hundred years too early eh? Well, my foster father always said I was early to everything. Let's see if I can't be early for what you were expecting as well." Ranma flipped backwards, sailing off the roof to land in the middle of the backyard of his home, eyes completely closed, the light around him seeming to dim as he drew upon the natural energies of his body. Ki and Chaos energy wove through him, answering the call of his mind, red pigtail fluttering in the unworldly breeze flowing around his body.

Nodoka glanced out the window of the kitchen, seeing some strange girl standing in the backyard. Was it another suitor for her many son? Smiling to herself, she continued working on the lunch, glancing occasionally at the other two girls in the kitchen working with her. She noticed them looking out the window with wide eyes and turned back to see shadows coalesce around the girl. Where had she seen that technique before?

Ranma cracked open an eye and watched the amazon ghoul land lightly a small distance away. Smiling in anticipation, he slowly opened his eyes, the new slit cat eyes having vanished beneath the black on black that was normally reserved for technomages. "You know, I couldn't figure out why I was having such a hard time hitting you before. Can you believe it was something really simple holding me back?"

Ku Lohn cocked her head to the side, wondering what the boy had up his sleeves. She could sense her backup watching just out of sight, ready to lend her aide or call upon the other amazons for assistance. With that support ready, she stood waiting for whatever the boy pulled out. Suddenly she had a face full of cat fist induced warrior. Eyes wide, she darted back, striking out with her staff, gasping in surprise as the ki enhanced wood sparked and cracked against something she had hoped never to experience first hand.

Blades of ki shimmered at the end of Ranma's hands, jutting up between his knuckles. The feral snarl on his face was more pronounced as he leaned forward, nearly crouching on the ground as he prepared to spring forward again. "My reach was off. Guess I've found a way past that." He sprang forward, the ground beneath him erupting in an explosion of dirt and gravel. Each slash was faster than the one before until his short arms began to blur.

Sweat beading on her brow, Ku Lohn called upon her ki reserves, forcing herself faster, pushing beyond the speed of the chestnut fist, for once cursing the strain of her years as the pain began to mount in her joints, only the force of her will keeping her from succumbing to the stress of the battle. The legends had spoken of the berserker rage of the true cat fist users but never had she thought it would be something like this. She couldn't even get through with her staff to hit any pressure points, too constant was the attack from the former boy. Words drifted through the battle to her ears. "Release the spell and spare your life. Turn me back to what I once was and leave me alone. I will have the answer or your blood for my suffering."

This was a teenager? What happened to a Japanese boy to turn him into something so cold blooded? Was it the fight from before? Was it death? The shock of turning female? All these thoughts raced through Ku Lohn's mind as she desperately tried to put up a defense. A hiss of pain accompanied a missed block as Ranma feinted a punch only to twist into an elbow drop that clipped her shoulder, sending her smashing into the ground before a kick sent her crashing against the wall of the compound. She rebounded fast enough to continue the fight but she could sense her reserves dwindling.

The sound of something piercing the air was Ranma's only warning as he nearly folding himself in half backwards to avoid something that crashing into the wall beside him. A steel dagger quivered where it was buried to the hilt in the concrete. Reacting to the thought, Ranma spun in place, unleashing a pair of vacuum blades towards the location from which the dagger had originated.

Even as the blades flew through the air, Ranma wished he could call them back. Darting away from the amazon elder towards his would be assassin, the boy could only hope to save them long enough to get them to talk. How had anyone found him and recognized him in this form? A cry of pain pierced the afternoon air and Ranma forced himself to ignore the sound, female as it was. Don't think of the consequences, just do what needs to be done.

Bursting through the brush he found another amazon, dressed similar to the one he had just been fighting, the woman struggling to hold back the flow of blood from the sharp cut that ran straight across her diminutive chest. A few other daggers lay scattered at her feet, leaving no question as to if she was the attacked or not. The only question that remained was why, a question he snarled at the woman even as her life continued to flow from between her fingers.
While he was caught up in the drama of watching someone's life bleed out due to his actions, Ranma wasn't so far out of it as the miss the approach of his original target, flipping out of the way of a straight jab from the staff. He turned his original question to her, wondering why? Why him?

Ku Lohn didn't stop to answer the question, for once ignoring the boy as she fought to keep her old friend alive. Magic had never been her strong point and definitely not healing magic but what little she knew she tried, hoping to save her fellow elder and one of her oldest friends. The blood seemed so vibrant against her tiny hands as she wove the magic into the wound, drawing on the power of her spirit to sew closed the wound with the body's own strength. She had to stop as she felt a strong hand on her shoulder. When had the boy gotten so close?

"You'll not heal her until I get my answer." The words seemed to drip venom, the promise of pain and suffering if the wrong answer was given. The boy's eyes remained an eerie solid black, eyes that never belonged on the face of a human child. They were demon eyes and ones that sadly condemned the boy to death. Yet Ku Lohn knew she couldn't handle him on her own, not if this was any indication.

"Hot water. It changes you back. Now leave us unless you plan to help me save her life."
His answer stunned her enough that she turned around to watch his back as he strode back towards the house. "Her life was forfeit the moment she tried to take mine."

Ranma's blood boiled and sang, the seductive siren of battle calling out to him to finish the job, to return and grind the women into the dust their ancient bones came from. Only through a supreme effort of will was he able to dim the red and black haze that covered his sight as he stepped through the door into the house, watching his mother and the girls staring at him like they didn't recognize him. Which they didn't. Cursing himself for a fool he sighed. "Can I get some hot water please? The lady said it would change me back."

"Ranma?" That one simple word carried volumes of information as Nodoka continued to stare at her once manly son. That the petite girl in front of her was her son was something that she just couldn't accept. Her views of the world wouldn't allow for it, although given that she'd seen him come back from the dead, was this really so hard to accept? A moment later Sakura arrived from the kitchen with a cup of hot water, handing it to the petite redhead.

Ranma glanced at the cup for a moment with a frown. Bah, stupid magic. With a scowl he lifted the cup and upended it over his head. Another ripple of pain flowed over him, knocking the boy to his knees as he felt his body ripped apart again. Then the information came rushing back to him, the call of battle singing even louder to combat the flood of pain that tried to surge through him.

Nabiki, Sakura and Nodoka watched in morbid fascination as the cute little girl vanished, her body contorting into the pigtailed warrior they all had come to know. Ranma's cry of anguish tore at their hearts and they shied away from the thought of what it must feel like to have your body change so fundamentally. Nodoka knelt at her son's side, wrapping her arms around him, drawing his shaking body against hers in a moment of tenderness so at odds with her earlier thoughts of disbelief.

Sakura watched the entire display, shaking her head slightly to herself as if trying to dissipate a dream, except that the reality of the situation was undeniable. Reaching down slowly, she placed her hand on Ranma's shoulder, offering her own slightly strength to help him recover from whatever it was that afflicted him. She couldn't begin to understand the pain he must be going through, but she could sense the strength laying within him. Glancing behind her through the still open doors into the backyard, she noticed the small amazon from earlier glaring at them all. Sakura frowned in response.

Nabiki caught the look on Sakura's face and followed her gaze towards the tiny amazon. Nabiki's own face was a mask of calm that she definitely didn't feel but for the first time, she wished she had the ice queen persona that some people gave her as a joke from her serious business attitude. "Haven't you tortured Ranma enough?"

Ku Lohn regarded the girl with narrowed eyes, blood still on her hands from trying to save the life of her friend. Her scowl became even more pronounced as she considered her prey. That her friend had died was part of life as everyone had a die eventually, even the long lived elders. What was disconcerting was that she was killed by a male. Not since the phoenix lord or the dragon prince had they encountered someone with the raw power and the control and desire to actually kill an elder. There were no laws to cover what happened, except to slay the one who had done the killing.

"That boy has earned himself an enemy this day. For the life of an Amazon Elder, his own life has been deemed forfeit, to be taken by the tribe as restitution. Thus sayeth the law and thus do I rule as the reigning matriarch. Best you be telling that to the boy when he is coherent again." With those words, Ku Lohn mounted her staff and bound away. She needed to contract the tribe and explain what happened and what must be done. She'd need more than just the warriors she'd brought with her to bring justice against the boy.

As the amazon elder disappeared from view, a groan escaped the pigtailed boy as he struggled to sit up, pushing against the floor with his good arm. The comfort of the girls around him and his own mother was enough to help the last of the bloodlust bleed from his system. "Great, just great." Leaning back into the warm embrace around him, Ranma rested his cheek against the warm hand on his shoulder, drawing strength and comfort from the presence of those who cared about him. A light purr rumbled in his chest, one he couldn't stop even if he wanted to.

Nodoka looked down at her son, wondering at the contrast between the emotions in his words and the obvious relaxed expression of his body. If he'd been a cat, there was no doubt he'd be… her thoughts were cut off as Ranma's fingers dug into the silk of her kimono, kneading her thigh. The warmth of his ki flowed through her and she mentally scolded herself. Mothers are supposed to think of their sons that way. Shaking away those thoughts, she tried to distract herself. "What's wrong son?"

Ranma shook his head, unconsciously rubbing against the hand on his shoulder. As he lifted his cheek away from the hand, he could have sworn he heard a soft sigh somewhere above him but he pushed that thought to the back of his mind as he turned to face his mother. "Just realizing that I have yet another warrior civilization after me based on their own stupidity." Ranma was reluctant to leave the embrace of his mother but he forced himself to stand, making his way over to the kitchen counter, taking note of the mostly completed preparations for lunch. The pain of the transformation had mostly faded away, leaving him feeling drained. Most of what he wanted to do was lay down and take a nap. After lunch. Staring longingly at the food, he tried to suppress the growl of hunger that forced its way past his lips. Blushing lightly, he turned to sheepishly smile at the ladies of the house.

Rolling her eyes at her son, Nodoka stood up and started working on the meal again, followed by a reluctant duo. Just as Ranma was turning to head towards the dining room table, Nodoka's voice rang out. "Don't think you're going to get out of explaining that little story to us, Ranma. I want to know all about this particular tale. I don't remember it from when you told me about yourself."

Inwardly Ranma cringed. It wasn't one of his better moments and he was still kicking himself each time he thought about it. It wasn't like he'd meant to insult their priestess or their culture. How was he supposed to know that by winning the fight with all the other combatants he would be chosen for the mating ritual that was the high point of their cultural celebration? Come to think of it, wasn't Avery the one who sent him on that mission? Looking back on his career, Ranma began to notice a disturbing trend in the number of incidents on missions assigned by his oldest friend. Bringing himself back to the present, he noticed his mother's expectant look and just nodded. "Yes Mom, I'll tell you all about it over lunch."

Nabiki kept glancing looks over her shoulder at Ranma as she helped Sakura and Nodoka finish getting the meal ready. Just what type of man was Ranma? Sometimes he seemed just like the sixteen year old boy he was supposed to be and sometimes he seemed to be an old veteran of war, like some of the people her father spoke about on the city council. And had Ranma really just left that woman to die in his own backyard? Was he a murderer or was it self defense? She could still see the light glistening off the dagger embedded in the outer wall. How would the law respond to finding out that a minor had killed someone or would the amazons even press charges? Would this keep them all from leaving? Did she even want to leave with them? So many questions running through her mind as she began helping get the table setup.

Sakura was trying to find her own center amidst the chaos that had been introduced into her life. Before meeting Ranma, she had been one of the most popular girls in school, influential among her peers and knowledgeable among the community. Her family was well connected. Her leaving was going to devastate her parents but this type of opportunity was not one that she could just turn away from. She still hadn't come up with a way to break it to her family about her leaving the planet, let alone that she had someone she was really interested in.

Glancing at Ranma out of the corner of her eye, Sakura finally allowed herself to admit the truth. She'd fallen for the boy even in the short time that she'd known him. His fierce friendship and confident personality, the way his body flowed with every movement. He was like a tiger turned into a man, powerful and elegant at the same time. And with his resurrection there was a new quality, something primal that tugged at her senses. A faint blush stained her cheeks as she set about helping Nabiki set the table.

Ranma looked down at the table, his thoughts on the recent events that had forever changed his life. Facing down Grikor again and finally destroying him forever, something he wished he'd been able to do originally. His own death and rebirth and the transformation that had occurred. And now his encounter with the amazons. What was he going to do about them? He was interrupted from his thoughts as he picked up a familiar hum heading towards the backyard. His head snapped towards the backyard and he was up and on his feet before he even completed turning around.

Skidding to a stop in the middle of the yard, Ranma turned his gaze upwards to the transport slowly touching down. He recognized the emblem blazed on the ship. What was the Dorsai clan doing here? He couldn't sense Tristina on the ship, or the old man so who was it? Reaching out with his full senses, he tried to pierce through the shielded metal on the transport, frowning in concentration. He could vaguely sense his mother and the girls standing at the door, watching him, watching the transport.

Dropping into a defensive stand, Ranma waited for the transport to touch down. It was a medium sized personal transport, big enough to support a few people, though with little in the way of comforts. No matter who came out of the transport, he would be ready for them? One way or the other.

With hardly a sound the transport alighted on the ground, the landing pads sinking into the grass. A slight hiss of air heralded the entry way cracking open, the lights from inside flooding into the afternoon air. A gasp of surprise was heard in stereo as both Ranma and the man inside the transport felt each other. Nodoka and the girls couldn't come up with any kind of response either.

Stepping out of the transport… was Ranma.

Chapter 30

There are very few people who truly get to look at themselves from the outside, to get a new perspective on the way that others view them. Rarely are those situations ones that people choose to be in. That single thought floated along the consciousness of the one armed Ranma as he saw his two armed doppelganger standing in the entryway of the Dorsai Family Transport. Neither soldier made a move, examining each other with all their senses. One armed Ranma ( hereafter called Ranma Prime ) could sense something off about the other Ranma.

Along the same line of thought as meeting one's self, Ranma Prime realized that he'd done more than his fair share of that particular activity. How many shape shifters and metamorphs had he been confronted by? How many killer replicants? Every time someone came around who looked like him, they eventually ended up fighting. For once though he felt that this wouldn't be one of them. There was no hint of deception coming from the lookalike. Only honest confusion and no little bit of sadness. That last emotion caused more than its share of confusion among Ranma Prime's already scattered emotions.

Sadness warred with stubborn pride as the cloned Ranma caught sight of what he could only acknowledge as the original. There was no denying the reality before him. Even had the tests aboard the ship not confirmed his status as only a copy, the physical evidence of the original Ranma stood before him, complete with missing arm, though there was something off about his aura. Momentarily pushing aside his guilt and confusion ( why was he feeling guilty? ) he opened himself fully to the limited senses he now possessed.

Eyes widened as Ranma glimpsed some of the changes that had come over his original self. The missing arm was an obvious change, one that he remembered, though there was none of the phantom pain that he was expecting. Having both arms probably explained that. There were other physical differences. Slit eyes like the cats from which he drew his abilities. A manifestation of the full bonding with the cat fist. Ranma suppressed a sigh as he felt another nail in the coffin of his identity, forever locking him away from regaining his sense of self.

Beyond the cosmetic changes were the ones that lay beneath, only readable by those who knew where to look. Ranma was used to having a strong battle aura, constantly struggling to maintain a low profile among races that can detect the strength of individuals. This close to his original self, Ranma could feel the power rolling off him like waves in the ocean, crashing against a protective wall just a few meters from the original. Considering the strength being held in check, the barriers around that power were substantial. Even more surprising was the tendrils of chaos energy that swam through that ocean of power, lurking beneath the surface.

A slight shudder coursed over the cloned warrior though he was quick to retake control. Nodding slightly to himself, he made his way down the entry ramp, his eyes focusing on his original. Out of the house came a trio of women, women he remembered yet they looked on him in a mixture of surprise and caution. His mother had that icy calm that only someone who had lived through a traumatic experience could summon.

That thought made him sadder than anything else. Learning more about his true mother was one of the primary reasons he'd agreed to spend his leave on the planet and knowing that she wasn't really his mother was a little tough to accept. However, Ranma Saotome wasn't one to let anything stop him, and as Ranma's clone, he had a reputation to uphold.

Ranma Prime watched his double slowly make his way down the ramp and ruthlessly suppressed a sigh from escaping his lips. He could well imagine the thoughts going through his clone as many of those same thoughts had to be echoed within his own mind. Sensing the girls and his mother behind him, he drew strength from their presence, wrapping their support around him like armor. This was going to be a battle unlike any other he'd ever been in. This wasn't a foe he could fight with his hands and weapons. It was one that needed to be fought with words. Now was definitely a bad time for this little confrontation. How would Ranma react to learning that Ranma Prime had managed to get them involved with yet another fanatical culture.

"So." It wasn't the best of beginnings, but it was a beginning nonetheless. Besides, he had to start somewhere. "I take it you know what you are and who I am?" Ranma Prime cocked his head to the side, eying his counterpart.

Ranma slowly nodded his head. No sense in withholding information. "Old man Dorsai told me about it when he did a deep delving to find out what was wrong with me. I wasn't feeling right when I was sparring with the girls. I couldn't find my center or access any of the powers that I was used to." He left unsaid how he'd felt about that. "He told me I was a clone. I'm not sure what I would have done about it without the girls, even the commander. Still, I had to do keep my promise to mom. So here I am. What I wasn't expecting was to see you alive. Or myself alive. Or whatever. We're going to have to figure something out. Talking to myself is confusing enough without trying to figure out what to call each other."
That little admission brought an unexpected chuckle from Ranma Prime and he shook his head at his counterpart. "Since when has our life ever been easy, eh? For now though, I think we need to figure some things out. First though I think I should let you know, since it will involve you as well. We've picked up yet another warrior race after our hide."

A string colorful curses lit the air as Ranma II proceeded to curse himself six ways up and down, though he did it in a language that hopefully no one would recognize. No reason to let everyone know how he felt about himself. After a few minutes he finally managed to calm down, though it was hard to ignore the looks that the girls were giving him. Ranma Prime was just watching him with a slight smirk on his lips. "You about done?"

Ranma II thought about it for a moment before slowly nodding. "Yeah, I guess so. What did you do this time? Ignore a priestess? Defeat a blood warrior? Slay some immortal idol of death, doom and destruction?" While there were a few other examples he could think of, those were the ones that rose immediately to mind and had given him the most trouble over the years, especially that last one. Just because something tried to kill you didn't mean it was a good idea to kill it first. Not that you let it kill you either, but that was a whole other argument.

Shaking his head, Ranma Prime reached up to scratch the back of his neck, toying with the base of his ponytail. For a moment, embarrassment seemed the dominant emotions, until another rose to take its place. A scowl descended upon his face, curling his lips down into a grimace. "The amazons attacked me, pretending to offer a way to get my arm back but instead granting only pain and deceit. When I took exception to their method of recruiting me for work, they took exception to my continued state of living. I ended up killing one of them before her blade could pierce my heart." Each word tumbled across the scant distant like a chilled fog, cold and uninviting, hiding more than it revealed.

The memory was too fresh and Ranma Prime felt that same hurt and anger fighting for control, asking to be unleashed upon the world of the amazons before they could try and hurt any of those he cared about. Closing his eyes, he took several breaths to try and control those feelings, quivering with barely contained rage. Ranma II narrowed his eyes in echoed anger, easily understanding the feelings coursing within them both.

A delicate hand alighted on Ranma Prime's shoulder, cutting him off from his pained introspection. Tilting his head slightly, he noticed Nabiki standing beside him, concern etched on her face. Taking a slow shuddering breath, he nodded to her, pulling away from the memory, drawing the control around him once again that was so critical to who he was. Behind him, still in the doorway, Nodoka and Sakura watched in silent support, ready to lend their aide should Ranma Prime prove to need it.

Ranma II couldn't help but compare the girls before him to the girls waiting in back in the ship. Even without his former enhanced senses, he could feel their genuine concern and support. The memory of his first date with Sakura darted across the surface of his thoughts, even the first time he'd met his mother. And seeing Nabiki being so concerned with him… shaking away from those thoughts, he allowed Ranma Prime another moment before interrupting.

"If we've earned another enemy here, then we really should get going. I already told the old man that I would be coming back here to get my mother. There should be plenty of room for the three of us." He swallowed, suddenly nervous as he felt the weight of the next few words weighing down upon him. "I know that everyone on the ship will be happy to see you."

There are many times when Ranma Prime was oblivious to the emotions of those around him, when he would miss an innuendo so blatant that to get any less subtle would be to wear a sign declaring their intentions. Lately he'd been going through a crash course in understanding people, beginning with Tristina and continuing on to the girls around him during his resurrection. Not that he was ready to understand the female race, but he was better able to understand himself. He could hear the sadness rolling off every word coming from his clone. He didn't feel real, especially seeing the original alive and well. Time enough to deal with the emotions. Maybe what he really needs is a distraction.

Turning slightly, Ranma Prime smiled at Nabiki, patting the hand on his shoulder even as he addressed all three women. "Looks like our time table got moved up. I hate to do this to you all, but I need to know who's going and who's staying. Mom, I already know your decision." Taking a step away from Nabiki, he cast his cat-like gaze at the girls, weighing each of them in his mind, fighting the sudden urge to purr as his senses started to stand on end. Who the heck was putting out that many pheromones?

Nodoka couldn't have been more proud of her son. The situations around him were beyond anything she had ever thought possible, yet he was reacting in a way that spoke both of his honor and of his strength of character. Accepting the existence of a copy, a clone? That one threw her for a loop and she knew that she would need time to deal with it, but for now she accepted that it was something to be dealt with later. Nodding to her sons, she turned and headed deeper into the house to begin packing. She was going to pack light, only as much as she could carry, but there were certain items that just needed to make the trip.

Nabiki stood there in a rare moment of confusion before she suddenly remembered where she was supposed to be going. The reality of the spaceship not to mention the sight of what could only be a cloned Ranma had knocked her off center. The emotions she could see running through her Ranma had tugged at her heart strings, an escalation of the feelings she had at first felt upon learning that he was the one who had really supported her family. Those same feelings had only intensified at learning just what a force of personality he could really be, from the utterly frustrating encounter at their first lunch, to his latest selfless sacrifice to save those around him.

This was not a choice to made lightly. She would be leaving her home behind, travelling to a world where she had no contacts. Starting from scratch would be hard, but could she really turn this away? Even if things didn't work out between her and Ranma, the opportunity was undeniable. The entire universe open to her exploration. That alone would have caught her attention, but throwing Ranma into the mix… slowly, she nodded her head to Ranma. "I'll go. I better go break the news to my sister and father. Someone needs to know to check up on Akane from time to time." Before she had a chance to back down, Nabiki turned on her heel and headed through the house, already planning on what she would need to bring into the new world.

Sakura found herself alone with her thoughts, even though there were still two people in the immediate area. Two people who just happened to be the same person. She'd heard stories of dopplegangers from her father and her relatives in the JDF, but never had she thought those encounters would manifest in her own life. It was like stepping through the looking glass. One day she was enjoying the company of a nice boy on a relatively interesting date, someone who didn't see her as just a pretty face, and wasn't afraid of her for her popularity, and the next she was thrust into an epic struggle between titanic forces, where lives hung in the balance.

The opportunity presented to her wasn't one that could be taken lightly. Originally, Sakura had expected a couple of days to think things over, to talk to her parents and find out how they would feel about her leaving, chasing after some boy to parts unknown. That's how they would look at it at least. Without the proof of the spaceship or Ranma's presence, how could she convince her family that she was really going into space, to another world, instead of just heading off into the country? So many questions skipped along her mind, throwing her into turmoil. Split decisions were not her forte.

Turning to consider the two Ranma's, she tried to search their eyes for some sort of reassurance, something less tangible than the ship yet all the more real for its ethereal nature. Starting with the clone, she scanned his gaze, seeing the recognition yet not finding what she was searching for either. When her gaze fell upon the original, with his missing arm and cat-like eyes, the corner of her lips curled into a smile.

There was desire there, laid bare and unhidden by any clouds of doubt. Beneath that desire was the strong will to protect her, to hold her close. Even from this distance she could feel the powerful emotions, the almost primal force just barely held at bay. It was an intoxicating feeling, knowing that she was the cause of such emotion. Slowly nodding, she turned, heading towards the house. "I'll go talk to my parents. It will take some convincing, but I'll be going with you too. Don't leave without me."

Both Ranma's just gaped at the backs of the departing women. Ranma Prime turned to the other, leaning in close. "Do you think we'll ever understand them?" Ranma II could only shake his head and wonder just what type of trouble this latest development was going to get him into.

Chapter 31

There were many thoughts racing through Sakura's mind as she walked home from her encounter with the Ranmas. Even away from the physical presence of the one armed Martial Artist, she could still feel a lingering touch of emotion, as if a gentle hand was caressing the back of her neck. It was as exhilarating as it was frightening, to imagine that much charisma in the hands of one man. The possibility of abuse was high but for some reason, she didn't feel that he would take advantage of it. Was this part of that same charisma or was it something more? Some recognition of the spirit, the man behind those slit sapphire eyes?

Trying to push those thoughts away, Sakura instead tried to focus on what to tell her parents. How do you tell them that you want to run off with some boy they've never met to outer space? Who would believe something like that? Sighing heavily, she continued on her trek, each step measured and calculated to bring her closer to home and closer to the point of no return. Several explanations flashed through her mind only to be discarded immediately. None of them seemed adequate.

"Sakura dear, is something the matter?"

The darling voice broke Sakura out of her thoughts and she looked up to discover she'd already arrived at home. Her mother was looking at her from the gate to their house, the older woman leaning against the wooden frame. Though the woman was in her mid thirties, she didn't look a day over twenty and was often confused for a sister while in the company of her daughter. It was a trait that was carried throughout her entire family and one that Sakura herself was looking forward to benefiting from, later. For now though, those bright eyes and kind smile only drew worry from the girl.

"Nothing is the matter, Momma, I just have a lot on my mind and I'm not sure how to explain it."

The Tendo home was one of general peace and calm. The head of the household, Kasumi, kept the order and maintained the feeling of serenity through force of will and the quiet power of her personality. That order was being disrupted and Kasumi looked around the house, trying to find the source of the disturbance. It was as if the house was sensing a giant change and was letting her know about it.

Padding lightly through the house, Kasumi looked from room to room, finding everything at piece on the main floor. Climbing the stairs towards the rooms, she could sense the feeling increasing. Eyes wide in sudden terror, she dashed down the hallway to Nabiki's room, tossing open the door. She was greeted by the sight of the room in disarray and the normally impeccably organized girl dashing to and fro, tossing clothes every which way.

With a soft gasp, the short haired girl turned towards her elder sister. Nabiki stopped moving, a pair on jean shorts in her hands, the clothing forgotten as she realized she could no longer put off telling Kasumi what was going on. Nabiki had hoped that by packing first she would have more time to prepare herself, more time to come up with an explanation that wouldn't make her look like someone completely off her rocker. Wringing her hands together and wrinkling the shorts beyond hope of salvation, she struggled to find where to start.

"So you're going with Ranma to outer space?"

Nabiki's head snapped up and her eyes widened even further as she stared at her older sister. There was a soft smile on the girl's lips and for the life of her, Nabiki couldn't understand how Kasumi could have known or why'd she be smiling like that.

Shaking her head gently in quiet amusement, Kasumi reached into the front pocket of her apron, producing the cell phone that Nabiki had insisted she always carry. Nabiki stared at the object in confusion for a moment before it dawned on her.

"Mrs. Saotome called ahead, didn't she?"

A quick nod was her only response and Nabiki shook her head. Such an amateur mistake and it had gotten her so worked up. Looking at her sister, she paused for only a moment before leaning in and wrapping her arms around Kasumi in a grateful hug. Her voice was soft as she spoke from the embrace. "Good. You can help me pack."

"Come on Daddy, you don't have to do this."

Sakura's words fell on deaf ears as the man continued to strap on his armor. The poor girl stood at the entrance to the family armory and fretted, for once not sure how to handle her father. This was exactly the kind of reaction she had been dreading. At least mother had convinced father not to bring a platoon of officers with him but it had been a near thing.

"Now dear, don't you trust the judgment of our daughter?"

That got a reaction out of the man. Pausing in belting on his weapons, Sakura's father turned towards the beautiful woman he had married, his eyes searching hers, the bright smile on her face doing little to calm the sudden nervousness that blossomed within him. There were certain times when his wife scared him. This was one of those moments.

Suppressing a shudder, the father of two tried to shake off the sense of impending doom as he caught the glint in his wife's eyes. "Of course I trust our daughter, dear. It's this Saotome character that I must be sure of. Gallivanting across the galaxy with a boy we know nothing about. I insist on meeting him first before I will allow such a thing."

Mentally congratulating himself on presenting such a logical reason for bringing all his weapons, Sakura's father reached for his assault rifle when he felt the chill of impending doom fall upon him. Turning slowly in place, he caught sight of his wife, a faint red haze outlining her body. Eyes widening in slight terror, he backs up slowly, leaving the weapon where it is. Upon seeing his wife return to her normal cheery self, he sighed in relief. There were times that he wondered just what power his wife possessed.

Straightening with a tug of his armor, the trusted officer of the Japanese defense force turned to face his daughter, reaching out with one gauntleted hand and resting it on her shoulder. "Your father loves you and wants to make sure that nothing happens to you. What kind of father would I be if I didn't show any concern when something of this magnitude comes up? We will all go together to meet this boy and his mother and we will find out what details need to be taken care of."

The doctor glanced down at his clipboard and shook his head. Was there even a point to him checking up on this patient? Every day it was the same, her mutterings unwavering even if they recorded her. She even muttered in her sleep, as if she wasn't aware of the depths of insanity in which she swam. Shaking his head sadly, he looked up, nodding to the four guards standing with ready tazers. "Let's get this over with, shall we?"

One of the guards reached over and slid aside the massive deadlock keeping the two inch thick steel door closed and two others leaned in to help shoulder open the door. It took a few moments to leverage the door wide enough that all five men could step in. The lights inside the padded room kept the ambient level at a comfortable glow though the room's sole occupant seemed oblivious.

"How are we feeling today, Ms. Tendo?" The doctor's voice was pleasant enough, though there was a slight hesitation to each word, as if he worried what the reaction would be to each syllable.

Turning as much as her restraints would allow, Akane Tendo regarded the doctor with a level stare, her mutterings pausing for a moment. Suddenly she smiled, a hopeful gleam in her eyes. "Are you here to finally let me go? I've been a good girl!"

The doctor blinked in surprise. A good girl? The only reason she hadn't hurt one of the orderlies in the past few days was because they'd upgraded her jacket to a new Kevlar tear resistant model donated from a nearby prison. Each observation of her provided new insights into self induced delusion and the funding behind her study kept increasing with each report. But her being a good girl, there was very little chance of that, given her complete disregard for reality.
"Now Ms. Tendo, we've talked about this. As long as you continue to believe that you need to kill this Ranma person, we won't be allowed to let you go."

At the mere mention of Ranma's name, Akane snarled and started thrashing at her restraints, mutters growing louder until they filled the room. "Kill Ranma, kill Ranma, kill Ranma." The orderlies nervously fingers their tazers, eyes locked on the seemingly harmless girl.

A piercing scream broke everyone's focus on Akane as the guard who had been stationed outside the door came flying into the room to crash head first into the padded wall at the back of the room. The guard fell bonelessly to floor with a single twitch before stopping. Everyone in the room turned to stare at the door where a large armored figure ducked and turned through the entryway.

Even crouched over like it was, the figure dominated the room. It was humanoid, easily over ten feet tall with the way it had to scrunch to fit in the room. Covered completely in smooth silver metal, there was no way to determine race, sex or any other features. The helmet had no openings, just an emotionless expanse of featureless metal.

A voice boomed into the room, shaking the walls and sending the men in the room to their knees, clutching their heads. "So this is the one that gave the Saotome so much trouble. Not much to look at as she, but oh the hate and anger burning within her. Delicious." Reaching out with one enormous gauntlet, the figure grabbed one of the orderlies by the face and slammed him into the wall, blood splashing against the armor only to slide away, finding no purchase on the strange metal.

"These creatures seek to keep you here, locking away your potential. But my Gods know better. They saw past the veil that the Chaos Empire tried to wrap around this world. They sent me to pierce the veil and learn what has been done. Wuno felt the life flicker of the Saotome and yearned to learn more." Releasing the dead guard in its hand, it reached over and grabbed another orderly, tossing it from the room, leaving only the doctor and one final orderly quivering on the ground.

"These humans have always been fragile but I never imagined I'd find ones that break so easily. Even you, with your anger and power, would snap with a flick of my wrist." Backhanding the last orderly into the wall proved the point. "Yet Wuno would see your potential unlocked and have you join our campaign again the evil of the Chaos."

For the first time since she had been admitted to the care of the doctors, Akane knew true fear. The scent of blood hung heavy in the air, filling her senses and sending a thrill through her that she didn't understand. Never before had she felt so helpless. Not the hentai horde, not that pervert Ranma. Nothing had made her so aware of her own mortality. Seeing those men slammed around the room silenced the constant mutters, forcing her to focus on something other than the hatred welling within her.

"What do you want?" Akane's words were soft, spoken through teeth clenched tightly to keep them from chattering. Closing her eyes, she took reign on her emotions, seeking to overwhelm the fear with something more familiar, struggling to latch onto the anger that had been her constant friend since the death of her mother.

"I want to set you free, Child." Giant hands took hold of the Kevlar vest and in a casual display of power, ripped it to shreds. "Free of these physical restraints, free of the mental restraints of this world. And free of the influence of the Saotome."

Akane's head snapped up and focused on the helmet of the monster before her. "You can help me kill Ranma?" The corners of her lips curled into a small smile.
"Yes, Child. That and so much more."

As the last customer from the lunch rush left the store to the sound of the door chime, Ukyo slumped into a stall, letting out a deep sigh. Not that it had been that rushed in the store, but things had been crazy since Ranma's return. Glancing over at the empty place where a table used to be, she let loose another sigh.

Lumbering over and putting away the broom he'd been using to clean up, Ryoga leaned down and kissed the top of Ukyo's head. "Still thinking about that jerk?" He looked at her with concern brimming in his eyes.

Nodding slowly, Ukyo leaned forward and rested her head on her boyfriend's hip, taking comfort in his solid presence. "I've spent so many years wanting to hate him, thinking he'd abandoned me. Now he's shown up again and his past is so… so… I don't even know what to think."
Shaking her head, she head butted his hip before standing up again. "I don't want to dwell on it but I need to do something to move forward."

Ryoga's lips curled into a smile, a fang peeking out. "We could always double team him and pound him into the ground." At her dry look he shrugged his broad shoulders. "Just to work it out of your system."

Ukyo rolled her eyes at her bloodthirsty boyfriend. "And this has nothing to do with how upset you are at how easily he handled you out there?" She smirked as she saw him look away in embarrassment. "You can't lie to me, Ryoga honey. You want to fight him again. You want the challenge, to prove you're the better fighter. To prove to me you're the better fighter."

Wrapping her arms around him, Ukyo leaned in and pulling him into a tight hug. "You don't have to prove yourself to me. You've more than proven yourself over the years. You…" She trailed off as something passed her window. "Is that Sakura and her parents?"

Nodoka hummed quietly to herself and she bustled around the kitchen, preparing lunch for her twin sons. That thought made her pause in sheer incredulousness. Twins. Such a thing shouldn't have been possible but she need only look out the window and the two boys dancing around the yard to understand the reality, no matter how hard it was to believe.

A single tear tracked down her cheek as Nodoka fought back the wave of sadness that threatened to engulf her as she remembered watching her son die in her arms. There was no need for sadness though. She had had her son returned to her and more. Another chance at life, away from the memory of loneliness, away from the memory of being abandoned by her husband, away from Earth.

The sound of the doorbell broke Nodoka from her thoughts. Putting down the lunch fixings, she wiped her hands on a nearby towel before making her way through the house, wondering which of the girls was there first. A smile on her face at the thought of the girls, she threw open the doors. "Welcome back…" She trailed off, blinking as she took in who all stood outside the door.
Sakura was glaring at her father, while her mother stood behind her with arms folded across her chest. Ukyo and Ryoga stood just off to the side, seeming a little confused at what was going on. Nabiki and Kasumi were standing up front with luggage in hand.

"Oh. Hello everyone."

Chapter Text

The living room was quite full as Nodoka bustled around, serving tea with a content smile on her lips and a happy hum filling the air. So many people here to see her sons. It was so nice to see that even in the short time he’d been back that he’d managed to make connections. Especially among the girls. Sure, only two of them intended to join her and her sons in space, but there was still interest from the Kuonji girl. A slight frown adorned Nodoka’s lips as she returned to the kitchen. That boy, Ryoga was it? That one seemed slightly off to the Saotome Matriarch. She couldn’t quite put her finger on it, but she was going to keep an eye on the boy nonetheless while he was there.

Shaking away those bothersome thoughts, she gathered her own tea and rejoined those gathered in wait of her sons. She engaged Sakura’s parents in small talk, learning more about the girl while sharing what little she knew about her son. It was good to see such a protective streak in the girl’s parents, especially the father. A smile ghosted across Nodoka’s lips as she noted the way the mother kept an eye on the man, as if daring him to interfere with their daughter’s decision. That was the way a mother should be. Allow the children to grow. And hopefully it would allow them both the chance to dote upon grandchildren soon.

Nodoka caught the eyes of the mother for a moment, noticing the familiar gleam there. Oh yes, this one would definitely be joining her in the campaign to get the children to provide them with the next generation.

Moving past those pleasant thoughts, Nodoka turned her attention back to the Kuonji girl. “So Ukyo dear, I understand why everyone else is here, but I’m not quite sure what brought you and your boyfriend. I thought with my dear husband chained to your restaurant that you would have already started working on satisfying the debt he owed you.” She cocked her head to the side as she considered the slightly squirming girl.

Ukyo looked down at her hands for a moment, wishing she had one of her spatula shurikens in hand so that at least she’s have something to grip to help steady herself. Looking back up, she considered the Matriarch for a moment. “I’m still not sure of that myself, really. Curiosity mainly?” She shook her head. “I guess I’m still angry at the lug, even though I realize it’s not his fault. Playing pound the panda can only do so much. I mean, I’ve been angry with Ranma for nearly as long as I can remember…” She trailed off as she felt Ryoga’s hand settle onto her own.

There was a quiet strength of that calloused palm as it wrapped around her shaking hands, holding her in a gentle, yet firm embrace. She took a deep breath before continuing. “I know that Ryoga sugar would love another go at Ranchan and frankly, so would I. Well, I guess it’s more of a first go? We didn’t get very far before Ryoga barged in.” She gave her boyfriend a grateful smile, even as the boy blushed slightly. He never let go of her hands though.

Nodoka suppressed a frown. What was it with people wanting to attack her son? Though, once she gave it a moment’s thought, it made sense. Martial artists were an extremely competitive bunch, at least the ones she’d had the pleasure of interacting with. Her son was quite the same, hence the spar currently going on in the backyard. It made sense that those around her son would be no different. Allowing a small grin to grace her lips, she nodded. “I’m sure that’s something can arrange before we leave. Though it will have to be brief. Ranma has already stated that he wanted to leave as soon as the girls had returned. In fact…” She trailed off as her sons entered the room.

Other than the light sheen of sweat adorning the twin brows of the Ranmas, there was little to indicate that either had been involved in what was no doubt an intense spar just moments before. Well, perhaps the slight smile that graced their lips. Ranma Prime’s eyes seemed to shimmer in delight at seeing everyone in the room and even Ranma II’s held a hint of affection to see so many people there. There was a slight frown on both faces though as they caught sight of Ryoga in the room, their fight still fresh in their minds. With little to no sense of hostility in the room though, they were content to push that memory away in lieu of taking care of things. No telling how much time they really had.

The Ranmas looked at each other before II gave a slight nod. Ranma Prime returned a quick nod before turning his attention to the group. “Good to see everyone could make it, even our unexpected guests. Not sure what Nabiki and Sakura have told you already, but here a quick background. We are leaving Earth and returning to the Chaos Empire. This was going to be a nice leisurely event but has taken on a sense of urgency due to the Chinese Amazons.”

He raised his hand to stall any questions before continuing. “Yes, Amazons are unfortunately real. I say unfortunately because just earlier today they attacked us here and I was forced to kill one of them in self defense.” Ranma Prime’s eyes focused on the man in armor next to Sakura, her father if he had to guess. He saw the man’s eyes widen at the admission to killing someone. Ranma also noted the way the woman at his shoulder seemed to keep him pressed down into place, though how the slight woman could manhandle the JDF member he wasn’t quite sure.

“As a result, they’ve declared my life forfeit. As I would rather not have to fight for my life or endanger anyone else, we’ve decided to leave immediately. Mom and I are already packed to go.” He turned to regard Sakura and Nabiki. “I assume you both are ready as well?”

Nabiki offered a quick nod to Ranma. She felt Kasumi’s gentle hand on her shoulder, a tender squeeze offering her support. “I’m ready as can be without a lot more time to get things settled with school, my factors, father…” She trailed off for a moment before shaking her head. “I’m ready.”

Sakura noticed her father about to speak and jumped in. “I’m ready. This is an opportunity that I can’t push off. Space… it’s something I’ve always dreamed about but never thought…” She too trailed off before just smiling at Ranma, then turning that smile to her mother. Her father got the cold shoulder for the moment… at least until the man settled down. “Anyway, I’m ready to join you as well.”

Finally having enough, Sakura’s father shook off his wife’s hand and stood up, trying to loom to his full height. “Now listen here, boy. I’m not sure what tricks you’ve pulled to get my daughter to go along with this scam, but I’ve had enough. All this talk of space is ridiculous. And you!” He whirled to face Nodoka, scowling. “How could you let your son get away with this kind of thing, and how could you possibly help him with something like this.”

The sound of simultaneous facepalms by both women in his family went ignored by the self-righteous father, right before a hand clamped down on each shoulder. “Dear.” “Daddy.” The man managed to not cringe at those words, but only barely. He focused his attention on the boy trying to steal away his daughter. When all he got was a smirk in return he felt his scowl deepen. He opened his mouth to continue when boys turned and walked out of the kitchen, beckoning him to follow.

As he stepped out to the backyard, he opened his mouth again to continue to berate the two, only for no sound to come out. Instead, he felt his jaw hang lower and his eyes bug out at the sight of craft nestled on the grass. He’d heard rumors of something the JDF was working on but this seemed unreal. He staggered forward to run his hands along the smooth surface of the vehicle. How had these two tricksters managed to get their hands on something like this? Especially without someone else realizing it. Were something like this really in his neighborhood, he was sure he would have been informed.

It had to be another part of their elaborate scam, right?

“You’re welcome to examine the exterior of the ship, but unless you’re planning on coming with us, you are not allowed to step foot inside.”

Puffing himself up, the man stomped past the boys as he went about proving them wrong. The feel of metal along the outside of the ship, should be easy to fake. Not that he could figure out how at the moment. It definitely had a solid feel to it, a light hum seeming to fill the air of the background of the backyard. While it had to be coming from the so-called ship, he wasn’t actually able to place the origin of the sound. It was as if the sound permeated the air.

Shaking off the first tendrils of doubt that threatened to worm their way around his anger, he continued examining the ship, walking fully around the structure, taking in the details. There were definitely a lot of details. What he couldn’t find though were the controls for the ship. Was it something controlled remotely? A signal from inside the house? Carried by the boys? The mother?

Just as he was turning to the Saotomes to restart the interrogation, he grunted in pain as he was tackled to the ground. The sharp snap of breaking wood was enough to snap him out of whatever he’d been about to say to the person pinning him to the ground. Half a moment later he was showered in the shattered remains of an arrow that he impacted the ship near where he’d been standing.

Ranma II pushed himself off the man he’d tackled, whirling to scan the surroundings even as Ranma Prime settled himself in front of the group of onlookers by the house. Another arrow whistled in, this time straight for the clone. Biting back a growl, he slapped the arrow from the air before leaning down to grab the vest of Sakura’s father. He dragged the man towards the cover of the house as more and more arrows came flying in.

Ranma Prime finished pushing everyone back into the house, barking orders to Ryoga to get the front door secured before rushing out to help his twin, providing cover from the arrow onslaught while they got the man back inside. As he scanned the nearby rooftops and fence lines, he found no sign of the attackers. Even the angle of the arrows continued to shift seemingly at random. No way to guess how many there might be out there. Fortunately, it only took a moment longer to get back into the house and secure the backdoor.

The respite was not to last.

The front door shattered into uselessness as a pair of girls dressed in what Ranma was coming to recognize as the Amazon style and wielding what appeared to be metal staves stepped through. In a synchronized attack, the girls slammed the butts of their staves into Ryoga’s stomach, launching him away from his post and through a wall. Ranma Prime had only just begun to step towards the new attackers when the wall closest to him caved in, admitting another Amazon girl, this one dual wielding matching maces. Grunting, he moved to engage her while the other Ranma rushed towards the first two.

Sakura tried to keep her eye on the growing melee as she made her way to her father, her mother at her side. She was starting to regret mother not allowing father to bring some of his weapons. What were they supposed to do with armed attackers? She glanced over to see Nabiki and her sister ducking behind the couch, trying to stay out of the way. But where was the Saotome Matriarch?

The sound of steel rasping on steel rang through the air as Nodoka drew her katana and entered from the kitchen. Her eyes were drawn to the two on one fight at the front door. That’s where she was needed. She hadn’t been able to be there for her son for over a decade. She wasn’t going to stand aside now that she finally had him back in her life, especially after having lost him once already.

She ran the short distance across the room, sword slashing towards the nearest Amazon. A moment later she was flying back across the room, sword flying from suddenly nerveless hands. As she crashed into the couch, nearly uppending it upon the cowering Tendos, Nodoka thought she might have practiced more before trying actual combat. All those years carrying the blade had been more of a comfort rather than any actual skill with the katana.

Ranma Prime growled as he sensed his mother attacked, the deep rumble seeming to shake the room. There was no more time to play around. Snaking an attack through the Amazon’s guard, he snagged the front of her shirt, dragging her forward before slamming his forehead into her nose. In that brief moment where his opponent was daze, he shifted his stand, turning with a grunt before yelling, “Incoming!”

Ranma II had just an instant before ducking the amazonian missile that slammed into one of his opponents, sending both tumbling through the ruined doorway in a tangle. He was back up just as quick, driving a kick into the sternum of the remaining Amazon that sent her to join her friends. Turning to consider the original, he nodded at the silent plan and reached into his pocket for the remote.

“Everyone, get to the ship!”

After checking through the doorway to ensure that the amazons were still distracted, he made his way to the couch, motioning the Tendos to hurry along. Gripping one end of the couch, he gave it an experimental lift before grinning. Just as the Amazons tried to come through the doorway again, they were met head on by flying furniture. One of the Amazons let out a squeak before all through were blasted back the way they came.

Turning around with a grin, Ranma II made his way through the house before skidding to a stop near the back door. Everyone was gathered at the door, Sakura standing in the doorway itself. Why wasn’t everyone moving? Slowly, Sakura turned to everyone, confusion and pain etched on her face. The glint of metal dragged everyone’s attention to the dagger nestled in the center of her chest, a dark stain growing around it.

“Sakura!” A tortured scream erupted from the girl’s father as he rushed to gather the girl into his arms. Everyone else tried to move aside, though the Ranmas hurried to move past as there was only one way for this to have happened. Both made it through the doorway without another attack, only to stop as they caught side of the Amazon Elder perched on her staff at the entrance of the ship. Another trio of warriors stood behind her, blocking entrance to the vessel.

“Tsk. That wasn’t supposed to hit the girl. Really thought you’d be the first one through, sonny boy. Yet another life to be laid at your feet. Surrender now so that more lives are not lost.”

The Ranmas growled, the sound reverberating together. Something snapped within each of them. Ranma Prime pulled upon the Chaos energy before taking hold and twisting the energy in a way he wasn’t quite conscious of nor understanding. He then took that energy and slammed it into his clone. Both warriors crouched over slightly as their eyes swiftly filled with black.

Ranma II dashed forwards, body angled low to the ground as he moved to engage the Amazon elder. Just above his rushing body, the air wavers and rippled as a trio of vacuum blades swept past him. The Elder has just enough time to bounce out of the way, though one of the vacuum blades managed to clip her staff, cutting several inches from the ancient wood. Blood splashed into the air as the trio of warriors with the Elder were not as lucky to dodge out of the way. Their pained cries meant they weren’t dead yet, but hopefully they would at least be out of the way for the remainder of combat.

With an angry snarl, the Amazon elder darted back into combat, engaging the twin of the boy whose life was forfeit. No doubt a twin as this one retained both arms. The boy wasn’t quite as fast as the original but he still possessed a degree of skill. However, the boy was still forced to retreat when Ku Lohn ducked back and a pair of arrows slashed in, nailing the boy in the shoulder.

She had little time to celebrate her victory though as her original target was soon upon her, her staff sparking as she struggled to deflect the attacks from the boy. Limbs a blur, she struggled to fight off the boy, struggled to make an opening for her warriors to finish him off much like the twin.

This was insanity. Even remembering their fight from the day before, there was no way for the boy to have improved enough in that short a time to give her pause. She never imagined she would have to dig so deeply into her skills just to defeat some young upstart. Dancing further into the yard, she managed to push off of an attack with her staff, landing far enough away to give her that split moment to gather her ki.

The earth around her rumbled in protest before leaping up in a way, catching the boy by surprise as a shark of dirt and stone slammed into him. The elemental attack dragged the boy away, giving the Elder a precious moment to collect her thoughts and strategize.

With a grunt, she felt herself fall to her knees, confusion and pain on her face. She looked down to the smoking hole in her shirt, the smoking hole in her chest. Looking up, she caught sight of the twin, what looked to be some sort of science fiction gun in his hand. Arrows still sticking out of his shoulder, the boy held the weapon in his other hand, a look of pure fury on his face.

“You lose.”

Turning away from the dying Amazonian, the Ranmas hurried to the house to check up on the rest of the group. Spotting Sakura struggling to stay awake and everyone else unsure what to do with the dagger embedded in her chest, Ranma Prime called out to get their attention. “Get her onto the ship. There is a medbay on the main ship that we need to get her to, but we need to hurry.”

Ranma Prime growled at Sakura’s father when the man moved to protest. “It’s either that or she dies. Get her onto the ship, get everyone onto the ship. We’ll sort out who goes where after we save Sakura.”

Seeing the group being handled, Ranma II made his way to the entrance of the ship, tossing the groaning amazon warriors down the ramp to crumple on the ground. They were in the way and time was of the essence.

***

Senator Ki’kita slammed his fist onto the console. “How could there not be any recordings of the attack? Those ships are filled with recording equipment, every cloning facility is heavily monitored to make sure that regulations are followed exactly because of the sensitive nature of the equipment. Valuable and irreplaceable equipment has been stolen and you have no idea who is responsible?”

Standing just out of sight, Senator Toroa frowned at the way his fellow Senator was losing control of his emotions. For a moment, he contemplated taking over the conversation. However, there wasn’t much else he could do given the evidence. Or lack thereof. Anyway, let Ki’kita be the public face. Let him be the one that everyone remembers the most when the investigation into everything began.

Toroa’s had to suppress a grin as Ki’kita went off on another tirade, berating the ship personnel and the Captain in particular. Yes, it was definitely time to start distancing himself from this entire debacle. While he agreed with the principle behind the attempt to clone Saotome, the execution had been amateurish at best from the beginning. While going through proper channels would have taken longer, it would have been more secure with the appearance of legitimacy.

Ultimately, their goal remained the same. The safety and prosperity of the Chaos Empire. Anything was forgivable in pursuit of that goal. The forces that were arrayed against the Empire were growing stronger every day while the Empire had been stagnant for decades, if not a century. Sure, their technology was already at the peak of perfection and sure, their fleet was the largest in the galaxy. Unfortunately, their opponents were from beyond the edges of known space, from other galaxies and other dimensions. They wielded powers outside the realm of understanding, with resources that they had no way to estimate.

The war against the Trians, for instance, had been going on for nearly twenty years, with no signs of a decrease in the enemy’s ability to wage war. Their gateships lumbered into an inhabited system, shrugging off attacks until they had time to open a portal. Through that portal flooded enemies of all sizes, requiring months to clear out the attackers before it all happened again in another place. It was endless.

Then there were the Organoes. Monsters with the ability to warp space/time, to bend reality. Their monstrous forms adapting with each confrontation. They would appear from nowhere onto a planet and consume. In the end, the beasts were defeated in combat but the loses in both lives and resources was staggering at times. What’s worse was that there was almost no way to predict where those attacks would take place.

The traditional clone warriors, the Chaos Soldiers, fifteen feet tall genetically engineered weapons of war, were being outmatched. While they were able to produce the soldier en mass they were also being destroyed en mass. They needed a new generation of soldiers, ones like young Saotome and Jasdon Ifrit III. Both were exceptional specimens of their races and head and shoulders beyond the Chaos Soldiers in terms of adapting to combat with the Organoes. The Empire needed more of those types of warriors. They needed more Saotomes and more Ifrits. Yet Saotome refused to do his part for the Empire!

Senator Toroa felt his arms trembling and looked down to see his hands clenched. With visible effort, he drew his thoughts away from the sheer audacity of the boy to deny the Empire the use of his body. Sure, he was already serving in the military, but that was only as one soldier. What could one soldier really be worth in the eyes of the Empire?

Shrugging off those thoughts before he ended up running down another angry road, he turned his focus back on the conversation between Senator Ki’kita and the Science Ship they’d lost Saotome aboard. The Captain on the other end had just given a long winded sigh.

“Senator, whether you accept the reality of what I’m saying or not is moot. Go ahead and order an inquisition. They’ll only confirm what I’m going to say once again. All recordings of the attack were erased from the computers. Even the backups. Whoever did it was a first class hacker, beyond anything I have access to aboard my crew or even the station. All of my droids were disabled and the soldier you had brought were stunned. Otherwise, there were no casualties. I’ve already turned in my report stating that everything be turned over to the proper authorities for further investigation.”

The man on the screen leaned forward, hard eyes glaring at the Senator. “I still don’t know who you had, nor do I think you’ll tell me. But I know, whatever it is, that it wasn’t quite as above board as you seem to want me to believe, Senator. So go ahead and be a blow hard. Be both know you don’t want this dug into any further than it already has been.” The screen then cut out, returning to the normal display of the surrounding space.

Ki’kita scowled at the screen for a moment, anger and shock warring within him. After a moment he visibly shook himself, then turned to his partner. “Well? How are we going to salvage this?”

The other man just looked at him for a moment before slowly shaking his head. “I’m afraid we’re going to have to let this one go. We both used up a lot of capital to even get as far as we did. In the end, we gambled and lost. Now it’s time to distance ourselves from what happened as to not get further in trouble.”

A voice sounded from the shadows. “Oh, but I think it’s far too late for that, lads.”

Both Senators whirled to confront the voice, Toroa reaching for the small blaster that he kept for defense at all times. He grunted in pain as his hand was encased in a sphere of black energy. Chaos Energy.

“Tsk tsk, Senator. We wouldn’t want things to get violent, no would we?” Stepping into the light, Jonathan Avery offered both men a smile. “After all, the Emperor is going to be violent enough for all of us.”

***

Tristina pointedly resisted glancing at the display at her station. She wasn’t interested in how long Ranma had been gone. Wasn’t curious about what he might have been doing with the girls on the surface. There was no reason to wonder why it was taking so long to just grab his mom and get back right? It was a simple mission… one that should have been over hours ago.

Reaching up she grabbed her hair for a moment, holding in a silent scream of frustration. The worst part was not being able to do anything. She couldn’t talk to Ranma, she couldn’t watch him on the ship’s sensors. She couldn’t even convince the mercenaries to go check on him, since they’d already left the system after being paid by her Great Grand Father.

Both men were just frustrating. Her relative and her best friend. Mostly because they were right. It was a family matter and no matter her feelings for the boy, she had to respect that. Releasing her hair, she turned away from the display and made her way out of the room. There was no point in brooding. She was a Technomage, one of the elite wielders of Chaos Energy, the force between the moments, between the changes, the possibilities in the universe. She was not some lovesick teenager pining away while her love interest was elsewhere.

Striding from the room, she made her way down the corridor towards the training room. There were better uses for her time than just waiting. Striding purposefully into the training room, she nearly skidded to a halt at finding it occupied.

Seated at the resistance machine dialed to a truly obscene weight, Captain Mahoran was slamming through the repetitions, the machine fairly groaning at the strain. Sweat streamed from her brow, staining her singlet, dripping from her short blond hair. Even with the amount of effort being shown, the Marine Captain seemed perfectly at ease. Tristina tsked to herself at the injustice of genetic engineering at times. Sure she had access to Chaos Energy but it would be nice to have those physical gifts as well.

Shaking away those thoughts, the young Technomage made her way towards the open area of the training room, silently ordering up a pair of targeting drones. Closing her eyes, she pulled the power towards her. When they opened again, her eyes were completely black, a faint haze surrounding her body. Focusing on the targeting drones, she started launching bolts of black energy at the wildly dodging machines, trying to keep the energy low to avoid punching holes in the training room.

The minutes passed away, burned in the haze of focused training. The rest of existence faded away as Tristina concentrated on her targets, noting as the drones began adapting to her style after the third replacements. It was getting harder to lead the drones, impossible to trap them. Though she was keeping each attack small, the sheer volume needed for the drones was beginning to take its toll.

A low burn was beginning to form in her temples, a sharp contrast to the sweat pouring down the side of her face. Still… she was smiling. While she might not be as crazy about it as her best friend, she couldn’t help but pick up his love of training. The pleasure of a good workout to clear the mind.

With a final yell of effort, the technomage managed to trap the drones in spheres of black energy. Slowly the spheres collapsed until they were a tiny pinpoint of light, then winked out, taking the drones with them. Tristina collapsed to the floor, panting from the exertion, a satisfied smile on her lips.

“Don’t worry. He’ll be back soon.”

Tristina turned to look at the room’s other occupant, finding the shorter marine leaning against the wall, a towel draped across her shoulder. For a moment, Tristina allowed her gaze to glide over the older woman. She had to admit, the Captain was an attractive specimen. She could understand why Ranma might be interested in her, though his feelings for her seemed to be new. As new as his feelings for Tristina it seemed.

Standing, she reached up and snagged a towel out of the air that the marine had tossed to her. Rubbing the sweat from her head, she nodded slowly. “I know.” She paused, draping the towel around her neck just like the Captain. “I know. It’s just not in me to side idly by waiting. Especially since he should have been here by now.”

Pushing away from the wall, Deborah nodded. “Aye, that he should be. Not sure what could be taking so long. Unless his mother wanted to bring the entirety of the house… which is a possibility. Don’t really know much about the woman. Even the reports on her are pretty slim. Not like we had people in the area building up dossiers of the planetary inhabitants. This is still considered a protected planet and is well off the beaten path.”

The young technomage nodded agreement. “True. Well, I’m going to hit the shower before Ranma gets back. Gramps is letting me take an actual water shower since this is his ship and he doesn’t have to pay for the water recycling!” With an excited skip to her step, Tristina headed out of the training room.

Deborah watched the girl until she disappeared from view, a slightly amused smile on her lips. Slowly the smile faded away as the marine captain made her way back to her own quarters. Just what was taking that boy so long?

***

AN: Nearly 8 years since I last updated this story. I’m back to writing again though which is exciting to me. I have some ideas on where I want to go with this story as well. Expect more updates to my works coming.

As for what happened here, I’m still undecided on what to do with Sakura. What do you think? Save her or not?