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A Ranma ½ story
by Brian Randall

Disclaimer: Ranma ½ is property of Rumiko Takahashi and Viz video, and Project A-ko was borrowed from Soeishinsha Co., Ltd. and U.S. Manga Corps.

Notes: Something of an alt for both, with changes becoming evident as appropriate. Assume that Ranma is as canon, with the exception of his memories, and keep in mind that the events in Project: A-ko part one have not yet happened (with the exception of Shiko arriving, which happened about 16 years ago). And a little tweaking to move the Eiko timeline back about thirty years to be even with Ranma's. The intro was just the setup — the actual divergence for Ranma takes place in volume 11. So here it is!

Chapter 3: Strike! Sink or Swim?

Eiko gaped at the boy in front of her as he offered a nervous smile, hands fidgeting absently with the staff slung across his shoulder. His eyes were still the same cerulean blue that she had expected to come to accept she would never see again — the hue so full of that warm love and trust that she had thought she would have to learn to live without. Her heart skipped a beat, seeing that the glow from his gaze hadn't dimmed, and that — however it had happened…

Ranma was back.

Flushing, he lowered his gaze to his feet, dropping his hand to his side and letting the jo tap against the ruined carpet below. "Um," he muttered, before pausing to clear his throat. "Um, I'm really sorry about this." Swallowing back further words, he bit his lip, allowing his empty hand to rise and scratch the nape of his neck.

The redhead slowly smiled, realizing that the situation was real, more than a passing dream or cruel fancy. Wrenching her ankle free of its concrete confinement, she took an unsteady step towards him. "Ran… ma?" she whispered, unable to summon the strength to speak any louder. That whisper turned to a muffled sob, as she managed, "Ranma? Is that… you?"

He nodded, raising his eyes to meet hers again. "I… yeah, it's me, Eiko. I'm… really sorry."

She blinked, taking another slow step, and coming to a halt just before him. Looking up into his face, she could see the lines of worry and more recent lines of anger in his face — lines that had not been there before he… he…

"Aren't you supposed to be dead?"

Ranma flinched at that, and shook his head. "I'm sorry," he muttered plaintively. "Pops… Pops told me that you were dead. I mean… I would’a come back, but…" He trailed off, biting his lip.

Eiko slowly began to smile. "But you're not dead," she stated. "Right?"

The boy shook his head quickly, still staring at his feet and unable to meet her eyes for the moment. "Not last time I checked…"

Releasing a whoop of joy, Eiko grabbed him in a hug, spinning him around quickly, and barely restraining the urge to jump up and down in a madly gleeful dance. "You're back! You're back! YES!"

He returned the embrace, emitting only a muffled sputtering noise until she set him down — but did not release him. "Finally," she managed, nearly at a whimper. "I missed you… oh, Ranma, you don't want to know how horrible it was, thinking you were dead and trying to go on without you…" She released him, looking up into his flushed and smiling face. "I always somehow hoped… that you would come back. Ranma? Do you…" she trailed off, her warmly glowing eyes peering into his and nearly brimming over with moist affection.

Ranma swallowed, blinking, and suddenly appearing to remember something. "Uh…" he began, slowly. "There's a lot we have to catch up on…"

Agent CD138621 S113, code-named 'D', was unable to restrain a smile of delight. True, the injuries taken in pursuit of the princess had pained the agent horribly… but sacrifices had to be made in the name of duty.

And those sacrifices had paid off, because today D was planning on returning to the people that had been left behind in pursuit of the mission. The princess had been found at last, and would be returned to her people! She sniffled, wiping away a stray joyous tear.

Thumbing the com-link active while the engines to the Leota Class Scout warmed up from their long disuse, the agent considered the vehicle. D smiled again, thinking that the machine had gone on too long without being piloted. A hand patted the navigation console tenderly, as D's deep rumbling voice asked, "Did you miss me? I'm back! And we're going home, soon…"

The com-unit finally finished negotiating the connection through a now heavily scrambled ionosphere — a good sign in D's book. It would mean that the Egota Class Cruiser was on the descent, and its point-defense systems would be creating heavy disturbances, most likely disrupting the relatively primitive communications technology of the natives.

A perky seeming green-haired girl was on the moderately distorted viewing pane, her image blurring out at short intervals. "Agent CD138621 S113?"

D nodded, answering, "Code name 'D.' I'm bringing the princess home."

Captain Napolipolita smiled, rolling a bottle idly around in one hand. The native barbarians had been repelled by the automatic defenses so far, but the Egota Class Cruiser was low enough in the atmosphere for the captain to deploy their ship's own units in response. The fighters would throw the natives into disarray, providing D enough cover to escape without risk to the princess.

Nodding curtly at the communications officer who had relayed D's message, the Captain's voice rang out to the bridge crew. "Ready the Widows for launch. We'll destroy these barbarians yet." Slurring slightly, the tone shifted from one to formal command to an indignant whine. "And someone get me another bottle of bourbon, damn it all! This one's empty."

Ranma cleared his throat, glancing behind him towards the hall that Biiko had disappeared down mere moments ago. "Um, well… you see, Eiko… uh… Pops screwed up a few other things, too…"

Eiko shook her head, pressing her face into Ranma shoulder. "I don't care," she declared. "It can't be anything really bad. You're back, right?" She broke off and stared up at him in worry. "What could he have done?"

Looking nervous, Ranma admitted, "He, uh… engaged me to some other girls…"

Eiko stepped away sharply, peering into his eyes and hoping to see a trace of humor. "You're kidding. Right?" Shaking her head, and trying to keep a certain hysterical edge from her voice, she asked, "What does this mean?"

He scratched the back of his head, looking away. "Um… don't mean nothing, yet. I mean, I ain't married or anything, just engaged, you know… Er… well…" he trailed off with a frown, unsure of what to say.

After a moment of consideration, the redhead grinned again, her golden eyes shining with hope. "But you came back for me, right? That's great!"

Ranma ducked his head meekly. "Err… it's not quite that easy, you see, 'cause… well… you haven't met 'em yet." Eiko's cheerful demeanor persisted, as he continued. "See, first off, I'm supposed to marry this girl that Pops engaged me to before I was born, and inherit her dojo and stuff…"

The girl nodded, maintaining her hopeful smile.

"Then there's this girl I met when we were kids, and I'm supposed to marry her, too. Er… she's a good friend, though… she makes okonomiyaki." Ranma released a puff of air, his hands fidgeting with his jo uncertainly. He wasn't even sure why he included that detail, but the way Eiko's face darkened at the mention of okonomiyaki worried him. "Er… anyway, and then there's this Chinese Amazon that I beat in a fight…"

Eiko shook the frown from her face, smiling hopefully again. "But," she said, poking Ranma in the chest, "you came back for me, right?"

Ranma stumbled back a step at Eiko's prodding, catching himself and fidgeting uncertainly for another moment, before he nodded apologetically. "Yeah, and… 'cause I… uh… there's some other stuff too, ya see-"

"I don't know who you are, but you'll pay for messing with me!" The shout rang out, surprising both of the teens. Further conversation was interrupted by the arrival of one slightly singed and very angry Daitokuji Biiko, flying down the corridor towards Ranma.

Eiko clasped her hands under her chin, her eyes flying wide and sparkling with joy. Ranma was going to fight to protect her? It was all she could to keep from jumping up and down from the sheer elation the moment inspired within her.

The pigtailed boy made a face and leapt into the air, neatly arcing his leap over Biiko bringing himself to a position to strike the girl-become-airborne-projectile.

Biiko stared in shock as Ranma stabbed towards her left arm with a single finger. After striking a point not protected by Biiko's armor, Ranma curled himself into a ball and flipped free. Tumbling in midair, the pigtailed boy managed three seemingly lazy flips before he came to rest on his feet, arms low and jo clasped loosely in his free hand. He smirked, facing Biiko in a relaxed ready-stance. The battle-bikini-armored girl flew down the corridor, missing Eiko by mere inches as the redhead belatedly ducked to avoid an unpleasant impact.

Ranma's eyes followed Biiko's course as it shifted from straight line to slowly expanding corkscrew, and he winced in sympathy as she slammed into the far wall. "Well," he remarked to Eiko, watching the bluish-gray-haired girl struggle to regain her feet, "I guess she had it coming after everything she did to you."

The normally haughty girl staggered forward, bits of wood and masonry sloughing off of her arms as she removed herself from the indentation in the wall, smaller clouds of dust rising as the falling chunks of debris struck their larger cousins on the floor. Clutching one arm in shock as it hung limply, she stared at it for a moment uncomprehendingly before the reality of the situation registered. "What did you do?!" she shrieked. "My arm! I can't feel my arm!"

Ranma's smirk grew wider as he nodded and leant against a not-entirely-ruined wall. "Shiatsu paralysis. You won't be able to move that arm for a few hours, unless someone else unlocks it."

"There's no such thing," she sputtered indignantly.

Scowling, Ranma tensed, releasing his aura, and causing both girls to stumble back in alarm. "And I suppose there ain't anything like ki, either, huh?" The blue ki-flames bled easily into the visible spectrum, their uppermost reaches licking at the ceiling while its width was easily three times Ranma's own.

Biiko said nothing, only able to gibber at the display. The pigtailed martial artist nodded, glad that the girl was unable to know that while Ranma could sheathe himself in an aura of ki… he couldn't do anything with it, yet.

That aspect didn't bother him, though. There was time, and he could come up with something if he had to. Aside from which, as Ranma had learned, good bluffers didn't get called often.

Eiko merely blinked, taking a tentative step forward. "Ranma?" she asked, wonder apparent in her voice.

He suppressed the essentially harmless light show, still staring at Biiko. "And if you want to do anything to Eiko, you gotta go through me first. Got it?"

Biiko said nothing, merely growling as she stabbed a button on the bracer she wore about her paralyzed arm. Dismissing her, the pigtailed boy turned towards Eiko again. "Anyway," he said, losing some of his bravado. "Um… Oh, yeah. What I wanted to talk to you about… you see-" He threw himself to the floor suddenly, a brief volley of missiles passing over his head narrowly, the searing heat from their exhaust making Ranma wince. He tried to roll away as they arced sharply downward after he dodged, forcing them to slam into the floor and scattering debris across him as they tore up more of the swiftly deteriorating school. "What the-" he gasped, spinning again to search out where they had come from.

He groaned, seeing Biiko smirk at him, her arm no longer paralyzed. Raising her voice in a haughty tone, she sneered, "You underestimate the power of technology, whoever you are. You're a mere peasant, and cannot hope to combat the mighty Akagiyama M-line 23's internal diagnostics and intensive-care functions!"

Ranma rolled to his feet, swiftly sidestepping the next barrage of missiles, and ducking another hail of blasted masonry. Growling, he charged forward, only to change direction and leap, narrowly avoiding yet another salvo. "Geez!" he exclaimed, hanging onto the nearly smooth ceiling, and causing both girls to gawk. "How many of those things do you have?"

Biiko shook her head, trying not to wonder how Ranma managed to cling to the ceiling with two feet and one hand, still holding his jo in the other. Eiko sighed longingly, causing Ranma to look down and momentarily distracting the boy with the view that his vantage and Eiko's uniform provided.

Seizing the opportunity, Biiko leveled her wrist to fire the next burst at the pigtailed boy.

"Well," Ukyou panted, leaning against a skyscraper, and peering at the sky with worry. "What now?"

Akane shook her head, more winded than the okonomiyaki chef, and wheezed out, "Don't know… we safe… here?"

Swallowing, the taller of the girls let herself sink to the ground, one hand going to the stitch in her side. "Think so."

Gulping for breath, Akane sank to the ground opposite her, and groaned weakly. "Oh, no…"

Ukyou let out a slow breath, frowning. "What?"

Akane rifled through a pocket intently, her face a mask of concentration, and produced the newspaper clip again. "I just thought… of something…"

Ukyou eyed the clip, having memorized the picture already. "Yeah? What's that?"

Akane managed a sickly grin. "I think this article's just about a girl… er… 'Eiko' it says here."

Blinking, the okonomiyaki chef took the paper tentatively, reading the article. "Um…" she began, uncertain. "Well, Ranchan wouldn't wear a dress… would he?"

Rolling her eyes, the youngest Tendo complained, "He has before, hasn't he? But I don't think that this is him."

Ukyou grimaced at the article. "Yeah, you're right. So you think we came here for no reason? Just chasing after a girl?"

Biiko managed an indignant squawk, as her attack preparations met with a sudden and fierce tornado, a giant column of battle-aura fueled wind bore her upwards, tearing through the ceiling and upper floors of the school with frightening ease. The concentrated maelstrom shrieked in fury for a long minute, shredding everything above it and flinging debris around recklessly, before it shrunk and faded, leaving a huge fall of dust to cloud up and obscure the end of the hallway.

Emerging from the cloud of dust, a grizzled and ancient amazon hobbled forward, balanced precariously on her staff. Her knowing smirk complemented her tone of voice. "So, my dear Ranma-chan… Impressed by my Amazon lore, hmm?" She addressed the question to Eiko, who was staring at the display with wide eyes. "I trust everything has been well for you?"

Ranma looked up towards the voice, managing to lose his grip and fall, landing awkwardly atop Eiko. He blinked, before looking down to see Eiko's startled eyes peering back at him, wide and shimmering golden. "Ack!" he sputtered, leaping up and landing in a defensive stance, facing the Amazon elder.

Flushed, the redhead climbed to her feet, smirking at Ranma's mirroring blush before she turned to watch the display. Eyes widening further, she thrust a finger towards the elderly figure, exclaiming, "That's my competition?!"

Ranma looked at Eiko and winced, coughing slightly. "Um… no." Turning to face Cologne again, he scowled, addressing the oddly shocked Amazon. "What are you doing here?"

Cologne collected herself, ignoring the 'thud' as Biiko landed roughly, as well as the subsequent groans. "Ranma…" the Amazon said slowly, eyes darting between Ranma and Eiko. There were many possible explanations for why her Son-in-law was standing next to a nearly identical copy of his girl-form. None of them were good, in her estimation. "So… you came here for her?"

Ranma nodded tersely, holding an arm in front of Eiko as though to protect her from the ancient Amazon. "Yeah," he muttered. "What's it to ya?"

Cologne grumbled, simply shaking her head, as Biiko regained her feet behind her. The armor-clad schoolgirl glared, and waved her fist threateningly, shouting at Eiko. "What's going on here? Have you no honor? Bringing all these people into the fight — Eiko! Prepare yourself!"

So saying, the girl launched herself over the still-dazed Cologne's head, catching Ranma off-guard and slamming into his chest. He had enough time to dazedly wonder at the similarity to some of his father's beloved techniques before he had the wind knocked out of him.

Grabbing onto the pigtailed boy tightly, Biiko increased her acceleration, plowing straight through the already damaged wall behind him, where Eiko had impacted previously. The redhead gawked, then turned to follow, Cologne trailing her closely through the newly created and dust-filled aperture that led outside.

Miss Ayumi narrowed her eyes, trying to avoid staring at Shiko, as the young blonde gazed out the window, lost in her thoughts. Her students, not being as diligently devoted to her curriculum, began to shuffle around in their seats uncertainly. She ignored them, lecturing, "And so we can see that the inverse of the square is proportional to the events of sixteen-fifty-three, where, if you consult your math-books, we discover that it is in fact, a combination of the base alkaloids…"

A sudden tremor shook the building violently, causing all of the schoolgirls to look up in alarm. Struggling to maintain her balance, Miss Ayumi shot a glare at the window, wondering what had caused the event. "Everyone remain calm," she ordered. "It's probably just another little accident from the chemistry lab."

Shiko's eyes flew wide, and she turned away from the window, crying out, "Eiko!"

The teacher frowned, wondering at the little blonde's shout. Before she could reprimand Shiko, the diminutive girl was on her feet, and charging towards the classroom door, a second yell of, "Eiko!" trailing behind her.

Ayumi shouted after her, "San-san! Come back here!" She halted her pursuit of Shiko, seeing other students begin to edge towards the doorway.

Asa, a reasonably becoming girl with her hair in a ponytail and sporting a bandage about her temples led a secondary charge, taking Ume and Ine with her as she followed Shiko out the door.

The confused teacher chased them to the hall, whereupon they increased their pace. "Hey! What do you think you're doing?!" Miss Ayumi shouted after them. Any response was cut off in a clatter of shattered glass and crumbling masonry as Mari smashed through the wall, her powerful muscles rippling beneath her school uniform.

"Eh…" Ayumi managed, watching Mari shed her bandages and join the chase. The final girl was a real behemoth, and Miss Ayumi gave in to the temptation to remain silent, rather than risk the schoolgirl's 120-some kilo ire, as Mari's inarticulate bestial cry echoed down the corridor.

Ranma choked, struggling for breath against the crushing force on his ribcage. "Damn," he wheezed, resisting the urge to simply club Biiko about the head, as another stone barrier smashed apart, the brunt of the force directly on his spine.

Taking stock of his options, he swiftly struck several shiatsu paralysis points, numbing her arms and dropping painfully to the ground. He rolled along the asphalt of a street, momentarily thankful that he didn't land in someone's house, and slammed into a final cement barrier.

He was distantly aware of Biiko passing through another part of the same concrete wall, yelping something indignantly.

Eiko and Cologne followed the line of destruction that Biiko's charging assault had left, following the swath of destruction closely. The redhead slid to a stop near him, and helped him to his feet, worriedly asking, "Are you okay? Ranma? Are you okay?"

He nodded, patting the side of his head as though to dislodge the sudden fit of dizziness. "Believe it or not," he stated, wobbling unsteadily, "I've had worse."

Eiko nodded weakly after a moment, not quite sure how to interpret the remark. Ranma shook his head a few more times, then settled for watching Cologne warily as she visually inspected him.

The aged Amazon clicked her tongue and sighed, tossing Ranma's jo to his feet. "You dropped this, Son-in-law," she commented. Her scrutinizing gaze picked out the way Ranma was moving. Confidently. Like a fighter. The fighter he'd always been, simply… more cautious. She knew that Ranma was resourceful, but she had never expected him to simply take something like the strength-sapping moxibustion in stride.

Ranma took the staff, wincing slightly as he rubbed a shoulder, while Eiko glanced between the two of them, confused. Shaking her head, the girl looked behind Ranma, at the bowl-shaped indentation he had left in the wall, right next to the irregularly broken segment that Biiko had smashed through, littering the ground behind the wall with rubble and filling the air with dust. "Wow," she commented, wondering how sturdy Ranma was. He was strong, fast, and tough when she had known him those long twelve months and more ago… had he gotten stronger, too?

She smiled at him brightly, even though he was intent on staring the Amazon down. If he was faster and tougher, then it stood to reason that he would be stronger, too. Maybe even stronger than her. Strong enough to let her feel normal, at least.

Cologne shook herself out of her reverie, frowning. Who had taught Ranma to deal with it? Was he just more adaptable than she had thought? "Well, Son-in-law, you seem to be doing quite well for yourself."

Ranma nodded guardedly at the old woman. "Yeah? What's it to ya?" he asked crossly.

Frowning irately, Cologne said, "Wouldn't you like to know a trick that even a weakling like you could use to defend himself?"

Eiko's smile faded, turning into a reproving glance at the old woman, while Ranma raised an eyebrow speculatively. "What do you mean?" the redhead questioned, curious to this development.

Glancing towards Eiko momentarily, Ranma sighed. "I, uh… got this strength sapping… thing… on me that makes me weak." His gaze focused back on the old woman. "So what are you trying to sell me, ol' ghoul?"

Cologne walloped Ranma over the head with her staff, hiding a relieved grin. "Who's an old ghoul?" Ranma scowled, rubbing his head and saying nothing. "At any rate," Cologne continued, still shooting the occasional glance at Eiko, "I know a technique that even someone as weak as you can use…" she trailed off, staring at something behind Ranma blankly.

Ranma swallowed nervously and turned around, not entirely surprised to see Biiko standing atop the wall, heaving for breath, and holding a tank over her head. A large tank, covered in cannons, treads, and other massive, heavy pieces of steel. He had never tried before, but was willing to bet it weighed much more than he could deflect on his best day.

"Oh boy," he muttered. "This just keeps getting better and better."

Shiko stared uncertainly at the rope ladder dangling before her. Asa, Ine, and Ume all peered down at her expectantly, and after a moment, Mari joined them in looking down from their perches in the giant-schoolgirl-powered gyro-copter.

She bit her lip nervously, looking towards the line of destruction tearing across the city in the distance. Another look towards the hot-pink craft hovering above her decided her, and she grabbed onto the rung dangling before her, hauling herself upwards.

Ine and Asa began hauling the ladder up, while Shiko struggled to climb, and Mari began pedaling faster. Smirking, Ume took the controls, and began accelerating slowly, giving Shiko time to board before using the maximum speed they had available to them.

Shiko squinted, just barely able to make out a trio of fleeing figures followed by another, this one hefting a… tank? "What's that?" she asked, worriedly.

Ine stared intently forward, grabbing a pair of binoculars from beneath her seat. "It looks like Biiko, and she's chasing Eiko and some other people with a tank!"

Shiko blinked at that, before frowning unhappily. "She's having fun without me?"

Ukyou winced as another blast rocked the city, and her eyes widened at a giant spider-like tank scurrying down the street, bearing a familiar redhead and an even more familiar pigtailed boy as it fled. "Um… Akane?"

The youngest Tendo looked up, climbing to her feet wearily. "Yeah, Ukyou?"

Ukyou wordlessly pointed at the pair on the oddly shaped spider-tank as they receded down the street, tailed by an ancient Amazon on a walking stick. "I think we found him."

Akane's eyes widened as another girl rounded the corner, this one dressed in a metallic version of Kodachi's normal mode of dress, and hefting a giant tank over her head. "Hey!" Akane shouted, chasing after the tank bearing girl and joining the procession. "What do you think you're doing!?"

Ukyou sighed and joined the chase, trying to ignore the hot-pink gyro-copter that was following her.

Ranma looked back from his perch atop the spider tank, next to Eiko, where she was gasping for breath, and groaned.

She caught the groan over the rushing of the wind, and looked back with Ranma. "Who's that?" she asked, pointing towards the enraged girl chasing Biiko.

Wincing, Ranma coughed. "Er… that's Akane, she's my, ah… fiancée."

Eiko narrowed her eyes, seeing someone running behind the schoolgirl. "That's the boy that kissed me this morning!" she exclaimed, pointing at Ukyou as the okonomiyaki chef came into sight momentarily.

Ranma lost his grip, stunned, and fell from his perch, rolling with the fall and coming to a rest on the street as Cologne paused near him. Dazedly, he asked, "Huh?"

The redheaded girl leapt from the moving spider-tank and landed near Ranma, watching Biiko hurl the tank towards them in a fast, low arc. "Ranma!" She shouted, "Look out!" Ranma rolled to one side as Eiko threw out her arms and caught the tank, the recoil forcing her to slide backwards and tear long gouges in the street beneath her where her feet tore through the pavement.

Cologne blinked again, saying nothing for the time, as Eiko grunted, and threw the massive tank back at Biiko.

Biiko leapt over the hurled tank, firing another salvo of missiles at the apex of her leap. Unnoticed by Eiko, Akane slid to a halt, seeing the eight-ton tank swiftly descending towards her. Just before impact, Ukyou leapt in a low tackle and bore her to the ground only centimeters from the edge of the new crater.

Ranma and Eiko regained their footing, scrambling backwards defensively, as Cologne stabbed her staff into the street before her, throwing up a defensive spray of rubble, which detonated the missiles harmlessly.

Eiko swallowed, unconsciously grabbing onto Ranma's arm as she watched Biiko pause in befuddlement. The armor-clad girl's face twisted from confusion to anger in a moment, as she cursed at the ancient Amazon, rubble still raining down about the ancient figure. "Not fair! Not fair using your weird little friends, Eiko!" Biiko heaved for breath, seething in rage, and was oblivious to the muffled explosion in the distance.

Ranma turned swiftly in response to the sound, seeing the walls of a building down the street explode outwards to spray more rubble onto the road. People began streaming out of a wide, gaping hole in the wall, the crowd failing to keep level enough heads to not fight each other and evacuate in an orderly manner. A massive spider-tank moved about slowly above the crowd, outlined by the massive gap and occasionally knocking additional chunks of masonry free in its scan of the surroundings.

A man emerged from the panic-stricken crowd for a brief moment, running a short distance towards the teenagers and yelling, "FLEE! The Hottentots are running amuck!" before disappearing into the rush of people.

Biiko took advantage of the pair's confusion, sweeping down towards Eiko and Ranma while they were distracted, only to be deflected by a metallic blur striking her bracer. She somersaulted backwards to a more defensive position as she registered a projectile disrupting one of her suit's power systems. The girl's eyes widened in shock as she stumbled backwards to halt on the pavement several meters away, frowning at the implement wedged into the steel bracer of her armor. "What the…" Growling, she tore the spatula free, dropping it to the ground and turning towards the latest distraction.

Akane stomped forward, a furious expression on her face, and snapped, "What do you think you're doing, beating up someone who can't protect himself!?"

Ukyou nodded righteously, grabbing her large battle-spatula from her back and brandishing it menacingly. "If you think that you can beat up my fiancé, you've got another thing coming!"

The shorter girl shot her a glance at that statement, but said nothing for the moment, instead taking another step towards Biiko. "It's a martial artist's duty to protect the weak, after all."

Ranma stared at the pair blankly, along with Cologne and Eiko. "Um," he commented. "I can take care of myself, you know…"

Eiko nodded, smiling at Ranma to give him encouragement before turning to watch the current debacle. Cologne sighed wearily, observing the proceedings dourly, and wishing that she could get Ranma's attention long enough to talk to him.

Biiko took a step back as the two angry fiancées drew nearer, trying to ignore the short spray of sparks from the damaged armor followed by a writhing tendril of electricity. "What are you talking about?"

As it occurred to her, Eiko turned back to Ranma, asking, "Why did that boy say that your fiancée was his?"

Ranma groaned, shaking his head. "Oh, man," he lamented. "This is just as bad as Nerima!"

Shiko’s hands clasped the edge of the cockpit as she peeked over the rim and down onto the street, watching the people below squabble. Frowning, she noticed that Eiko was standing next to some boy she'd never seen before. A new friend, maybe?

Shaking her head, she waved over the side of the gyro-copter and shouted, "Eiko-chan!"

The redhead and her pigtailed companion looked up, while the aged women next to them simply folded her arms across her chest and began to stare upwards darkly.

Before Eiko could respond, Shiko added, "I've got lunch ready for you!" So saying, she waved a bento at the girl excitedly. The boy next to her just shook his head, spreading his arms in a helpless 'what next?' gesture.

Shiko drew in her breath to add more, but paused as she heard a low rumbling noise, as a craft completely unlike the claw tanks, F-15Js, and spider-tanks drew near, an odd protrusion of metallic tentacles reaching towards her. The other girls on the gyro-copter panicked, Ume veering away sharply to try and evade while Mari's growling intensified, pedaling harder to provide enough power to escape.

The tentacles darted forwards quickly, one of them nicking the rotors in their pursuit of Shiko. The blonde shrieked in terror as the gyro-copter violently rocked to one side from the rotor damage. "Eiko! Help me!" she cried out, as the cold steel protrusions grabbed her and bore her upwards. "Heeeeelp!!"

Ranma stared along with the other combatants on the street, slack-jawed. "What the…" he began, uncertainly. "That was weird."

Eiko blinked in surprise. "Shiko?" she asked worriedly. "What…" The girl trailed off, looking at Ranma for support as he stared upwards.

"What," he asked, pointing upwards, "is that?"

The others turned to look, seeing a gigantic distortion in the clouds, vapor sweeping aside and parting to make way for the immense bulk of a spacecraft of some sort. It descended slowly, its bulk blotting out the sky as it's halo of flashing light from the SDF craft and the invaders battle intensified.

Biiko said nothing for a long moment, simply gaping at the light show until one thought managed to make itself known. "Shiko!" she gasped, slapping yet another button on the bracer of her power-armor and activating the self-repair feature. While the bracer wove itself shut quietly, Biiko stomped towards Ranma and Eiko, waving a finger beneath the redhead's nose in an admonishing manner. "You fools! Eiko, if you hadn't brought all your weird friends here to distract me, this never would have happened! I'll go save Shiko myself — I'll save her and win her heart! Ha!"

With those words, she gave a self-satisfied nod and launched herself skyward. Ignoring Ranma's weak gestures towards her, she activated the boosters on her power armor, and took flight, her laugh trailing her ascent.

The pigtailed boy shook his head, sighing. "Now what?"

Eiko stared as Biiko ascended past the recently stabilized gyro-copter, nearly causing it to crash again as her wake swept across it. "Shiko," Eiko breathed. More urgency returning to her voice, she turned to Ranma and insisted, "We have to save Shiko!"

Ranma stared upwards, seeing Biiko vanish in the distance. "Well," he drawled. "That's going to be kind of tricky, isn't it?"

Agent D grumbled quietly, wishing that there were a way readily available to quiet the shrieking blonde. "Hey!" D exclaimed. "What's wrong? I'm taking you home!"

Shiko shook her head violently, whipping tears across the craft's cabin. "I don't wanna go! I wanna be with Eiko!"

D grumbled, thumbing the com-link active again. The perky green-haired girl from before answered, wincing at the exposure to Shiko’s shrieking. "Er… I've gotten the princess and am bringing her back."

Nodding quickly and cringing as the static briefly died down, enabling Shiko’s voice to come across more clearly, the girl answered, "Understood!"

Sighing, D closed the link, sparing a moment to eye the wailing girl before increasing the craft's pace slightly.

"Shiko…" Eiko collapsed to her knees, staring upwards at gargantuan craft, still-descending towards the city.

Ranma scratched the back of his head, looking around for something to give him an idea. "Dang…" he muttered, not finding anything. Sighing, he looked up, as Akane and Ukyou drew near. Wincing, he said, "Uh… hi?"

Akane opened her mouth to say something, but was cut off by the spider-tank down the street finally smashing through the wall completely, dislodging the large, hand-painted, "Gravi-con!" sign above the aperture that crowds of people had escaped from mere moments prior.

Ranma pointed at the tank as it scurried towards them, exclaiming, "Got it! Let's hijack that crawly-thing and have it take us up there!" The girls simply stared at Ranma in confusion for a long moment, while Cologne raised an eyebrow in a considering manner. Ranma nodded, more to reassure himself than anything else. "See," he began again, pointing upwards. "These things can fly. We just gotta get one, and make it take us up there!"

Ukyou shrugged, and drew her battle-spatula, standing in the path of the still advancing machine. "Hey," she said, winking at Ranma. "If Ranchan thinks that it'll work, I trust him."

Akane nodded after a moment joining Ukyou. She glanced at Ranma, her expression clearly stating, "We've got a lot to talk about once this is over."

Eiko snapped herself out of her stupor and joined the other pair of girls, as the tank drew closer. "Right," she stated. "If Ranma thinks we can get up there and save Shiko, then I believe him too."

The tank began to slow, seeming hesitant about confronting the determined trio. Eiko darted a few worried glances towards Ukyou before edging away uncomfortably. The Okonomiyaki chef was resolutely trying not to blush while failing to meet Eiko's worried glances. Akane, however, was trying — not very successfully — to keep from giggling at Ukyou, remembering when the chef had kissed Eiko earlier that day.

Ranma shrugged, bounding forward along with Cologne and landing astride the vehicle. The three girls followed a moment later, Ukyou giving it a passing whack with her spatula, and yelling, "Up! Take us to your leader!"

The boy groaned, tossing his jo to the ground, and managing to hide his look of surprise as the spider-tank actually began to rise.

Japan's Self Defense Forces Pilot Yamamoto Kobato swallowed, throwing his plane into a steep incline, hoping that he could momentarily rise above the combat and get his bearings. He patted the control console with one hand affectionately. "You'll see me through this one all right, won't you, Princess?"

The plane gave no answer, but he smiled in gratitude anyway. He made a note in his head to learn the proper English word for 'Princess' and have it painted on the plane when he made it back.

The last time it had occurred to him, he had forgotten the spelling, and had the name of the plane — his 'little princess' — shortened to the few English characters that he knew. 'Little' because of his own first name, and 'Princess' because she carried him to heights he would never be able to reach alone…

He grinned, leveling out, preparing to reenter the fray. "You're holding up great, P-chan!" He whooped, diving back into the dogfight, before he noticed that he was out of fuel.

Ranma gritted his teeth, trying to convince himself that he knew what he was doing, while the spider-tank they had managed to semi-commandeer hurtled upwards, passing a startled and furious Daitokuji Biiko.

The power-armor clad girl caught up with the vehicle's flight, latching onto a leg as the craft juked around a passing fighter plane, and rose above the giant ship as the larger craft continued its descent. Changing direction abruptly, the small flying vehicle darted across the surface of the much larger craft, passing a mere thirty meters above, as though it were searching for something.

Ranma coughed weakly, gripping onto a handle-like protrusion tenaciously, while the three girls clung to him even more tenaciously. "Can't… breathe" he wheezed out, prompting a snort from Cologne, where she had driven her staff through the tank's hull and was clinging to it with a casual attitude.

Deploring whichever kami had seen fit to consign him to such a fate, he rolled his eyes upward beseechingly, only to see an out-of control F-15J veering towards them unsteadily. He continued watching as the craft adjusted its course, aligning itself on a direct collision course with the small pod.

"Oh, man," he gasped, releasing his grip and sending himself and all three girls rolling in a loose tumble to knock into Biiko as she laboriously tried to clamber up the side of the craft.

The pilot activated the ejection seat before the impact, and a similar pod ejected from the tank. The five teens scattered to the gale-force winds, Cologne abandoning the craft moments before it slammed into the F-15J with a resolute 'thud,' instead of the deafening explosion all had expected.

Ranma found himself tumbling, and loosely attached to one shrieking girl, though he wasn't able to ascertain which one due to the violent and sudden motion. Grumbling to himself about the indignity of it all, he wrapped himself around the girl, quieting her struggles instantly, and braced himself for impact.

Flying backwards, he idly tried to compare the situation to something safe, like leaping from a speeding train. He focused his vision forward, seeing the halted hulks of the F-15J and the spider-tank fall. A single, black projectile burst free of the debris, arcing in a long trajectory.

Ranma tracked it distractedly, as all of his attention and skill was focused on bracing for impact, and protecting the girl in his arms.

He slammed into a wall — harder than steel, but far more forgiving than he had expected — with enough force to daze him, rattling his teeth and rendering him nearly unconscious. Belatedly, he raised one hand, catching the soft black projectile in one hand, eliciting a startled and nauseous, "Bwee!"

The girl in his arms shifted, slipping from his grip and down to the ground, peering up at him worriedly. "Ranchan?"

Akane shrieked, wondering what was going to happen next, and grabbed for the nearest support as she broke free from the disaster area. She found soft but firm arms encircling her, and looked up to see Ranma -no, a girl that looked like Ranma — holding her, looking ahead with a determined expression. "Hang on!" the girl shouted over the wind, whipping her body around to angle towards a swiftly approaching bulkhead feet-first. "This might not work very well."

Swallowing nervously, Akane braced herself. "Uh-oh."

Biiko looked up, seeing a tangle of the combatants from the street all slam into her, knocking her free of her hard-won purchase, and sending her spinning free. She righted herself, and increased her altitude to evade an approaching barrier, wincing as something impacted with it forcefully enough to override even the sound-dampers built into her armor.

Turning away from the distraction, she focused on a vaguely familiar building set amid the vast fields of protrusions. Weapons, communications… she could only guess at the their functions, but the anomaly of the building ahead was too interesting to pass up.

She darted forward, once-again in control of her flight, peering at the almost Greek construction in confusion. "Hmm…" she mumbled, glimpsing a figure between the pillars.

Japan's Self Defense Forces Pilot Yamamoto Kobato stared at the ruins of his beloved craft as he drifted away on his parachute, unable to resist the urge to wipe away a tear. "P-chan," he whimpered, staring at the smoking wreckage of the plane.

"Ranchan? You okay?" Ukyou peered up at Ranma worriedly, seeing him suspended in the center the giant bowl-shaped depression he had created to shield her. She bit her lip, worriedly, seeing his dazed expression shift to a tired one, then watching his eyes drift closed.

Grunting, she leapt up the three meters to the bottom of the bowl, grabbed his leg, unceremoniously yanking him free and catching him before jumping back down onto the plated deck below.

She laid him down, wondering where on earth the piglet that he had caught had came from. The animal squirmed free of Ranma's grip, and marched resolutely in a tight circle, confounding the okonomiyaki chef further as it dragged a chain of knotted clothing behind it.

"Okay," Ukyou said. "This is starting to scare me. Ranchan? Wake up?" She patted him on the cheek a few times to rouse him.

Shifting slightly, he murmured, "Aw… Tofu… sleep more… train later…" Slowly sitting up, he blinked at Ukyou. "Ucchan?"

She nodded, beaming her best and brightest smile at him. "Hey, Ranchan! You okay?"

He peered about, nodding dazedly. "Where's everyone else?"

Ukyou shrugged, standing up and looking around. "I'm not sure… What should we do?"

Ranma climbed to his feet slowly, wincing as he pulled himself upright. "Oww… Find Eiko and Akane, then find her friend, then get away."

"Um… okay. Where should we start?"

The boy grabbed the trailing article of clothing from its tangle around the piglet, and hefted it up to eye level. In a very solemn voice he stated, "I'm not sure I even want to know how you got here." Grunting at Ranma in annoyance, the piglet looked resolutely away, its eyes still seeming to spin dizzily. Ranma snorted, slinging P-chan over one shoulder. "Let's get some hot water, and get inside this thing."

Ukyou nodded obediently, falling into step behind Ranma.

Unleashing a 'Kiyah!' Eiko struck the bulkhead with enough force to tear it wide open, leaving both herself and Akane unscathed. Stumbling once awkwardly, they come to rest in the middle of a large, abandoned corridor, both of them breathing heavily.

Akane gasped for breath, wheezing, "That was… scary…"

Eiko nodded, her eyes still wide. "Yeah, it was."

"Can you put me down now?"

Flushing nearly dark enough to match her hair, Eiko set the other girl down, while they caught their breath. "So," the redhead began, "how did you meet Ranma?"

Akane groaned, frowning uneasily at the other girl. "I met him the day we were engaged. What about you?"

Eiko shrugged, eyeing her theoretical competitor guardedly. "We met over a year ago, before he… left."

Frown deepening, Akane asked, "Why did he leave?" She knew Ranma wasn't half the womanizer she claimed… was he?

Eiko's eyes took on a pained tinge. "His father," she muttered, "told my father that Ranma was… was… dead…"

Akane winced, mulling things over. Had Ranma, then, not been fully over her when she had met him herself? "Oh," she said softly, considering things. "That… explains a lot…"

The redhead smiled brightly, driving back the upset and the depression. "But he's back now."

A twinge of pain assaulted Akane, an unfamiliar pinch near her heart. "Oh?" she said uncertainly. "What does that mean?"

Eiko shrugged, taking a step forward, Akane falling in behind her. "I don't know yet. I hope he still wants me… I mean, he did come here for me, so that means something, right?" She shook her head, smiling softly. "Maybe… maybe things won't work out perfectly, but he's not dead, and I'd rather he was with someone else than… that…"

Akane winced again, considering things. Did she have a chance? This, at least, was enough to make her reconsider. She knew now that she wanted the chance, but it was certainly going to be harder…

She sighed, smiling at Eiko warmly. At least Eiko was good-natured about it. "Well," Akane stated, peering around at the unfamiliar and alien design of the hallway. "Where should we start looking?"

Biiko grumbled, feeling the plate of… glass?… that separated her from Shiko. Her suit's visor could not identify the composition of the substance, but she expected that it would break easily enough.

Nodding to herself, she hovered back a few steps, leveling her bracer at the window, and pressed the activation switch.

And nothing happened.

Blinking, she read a flashing notice on the edge of her visor warning her that she was out of ammunition. She reached behind her, to where the extra packs would be clipped to her armor with a shrug.

They were missing.

Biiko blinked, trying to twist and turn, to see behind her and where the clips should have been. "Argh!" she yelled, beating her fists ineffectually against the barrier. "Where the hell did they go?"

A voice from above her dryly informed the frustrated girl, "It would appear as though Son-in-law has taken them from you."

Biiko shrieked, batting herself about the head frantically, as Cologne nimbly leapt off of the armored girl's helmet. Heaving for breath, eyes wide in alarm, Biiko asked, "What?"

Cologne smirked, shaking her head. "Son-in-law doubtless thought that you were being too childish in your behavior, and took away your toys."

Biiko's eyes narrowed, and she pouted. "I am not childish."

Sighing, Cologne jabbed at the barrier with her staff, causing it to detonate inwards. "Personally," she said in a conversational tone, shards of glass raining down behind her, "I don't think there's a real need for weapons like that. A stick or a bare hand seem to work just as well, wouldn't you say?"

The armor-clad girl stared at the Amazon, dumbfounded, then sighed, and floated into the building, settling to the floor and marching towards Shiko. "Whatever," she muttered, shaking Shiko gently. Biiko frowned, calling, "Shiko? Are you all right? They didn't do anything… sexual… to you, did they?"

The diminutive blonde yawned hugely, shaking her head. "Huh? What? Where am I?" She blinked at the armor-clad girl before her, and then the old woman that was staring at her with a patently bored expression. "Oh, now I remember… I cried myself to sleep."

Biiko groaned, rolling her eyes. "Right. Well, let's steal one of their vehicles and escape."

Cologne raised an eyebrow at that. "Can't fly down on your own?"

The girl grabbed Shiko's wrist, beginning to tug the girl away. "Too risky," she snapped at the Amazon. "We should be safer in one of their craft."

The old woman shrugged, following as Shiko began to prattle. "Where's Eiko? I want to see Eiko…"

Ranma shook his head, wincing slightly as the pain began to fray at his self-control. "That was some landing," he groaned, rubbing his shoulder. The pig dangling over his opposite shoulder made a non-committal grunt in response.

Ukyou bit her lip again, then gestured towards the ruined remains of the F-15J and the spider-tank. "Well," she said uncertainly. "What do you need hot water for?"

The boy muttered, saying nothing, and began to poke through the wreckage. After a moment he emerged from a particularly dense pile with a slightly worn — and oddly familiar — brass kettle in one hand. He stared at it dubiously, then shrugged, and looked Ukyou in the eye. "Can you turn around for a moment?"

Ukyou turned around, uncertain, but trusting of Ranma. There was a splash and some muffled cursing, but she resisted the urge to look until she heard Ranma's voice, "Okay, you can look again."

He looked incredibly weary, eyeing another boy speculatively and nodding to himself. Ukyou's eyes tracked to the other boy, and she rolled her eyes, muttering, "Of course. Ryouga."

Ryouga glanced over towards her from his irritated glare at Ranma. "What?" he said, sounding hurt.

Ranma waved a hand at them both dismissively. "We can fight later. Right now, we have to find our friends, and hopefully get off of this thing."

Ukyou bit back her tongue, falling in step next to Ranma with Ryouga trailing just behind. After a moment, she asked, "Where did the little pig go?"

The pigtailed boy's laugh — echoed shortly by Ryouga's — contained little humor, and there was a highly strained note to it. "Dunno, Ucchan. He gets lost easily, I guess."

Ryouga interjected, halting that line of conversation, "When did you two join the S.D.F.?"

Ukyou snorted, shaking her head. "We didn't; we just ended up on this ship… But we're trying to find Akane, that girl and her friend, then escape."

The lost-boy nodded knowingly, marching towards a vaguely door-like structure. "Akane's in danger and Ranma's too weak to save her. So… do we need to get inside?"

Ranma muttered something under his breath, but bit it back, nodding. "Yeah, whatever. Now, break the door down and we'll get inside and rescue her. "

Eiko trotted forward, as she scanned around for some clue to lead her to the others — or Shiko. "So," she said, wondering at the lack of any personnel in the corridor. "What next?"

Akane skidded to a halt, pointing towards a glowing disk inset into the floor. "What do you suppose that is?" she asked, a faint frown creasing her face.

The redhead blinked, scrambling to stop and backtrack to the alcove that Akane was indicating.

The pair eyed the panel for a moment before nodding once at each other and stepping forward.

Akane yelped briefly, startled, as it began to rise, bearing them with it. A flash of color and movement caught her aye, and she smirked at Eiko, struggling with the skirt of her uniform and momentarily glad that she was wearing a more sensible T-shirt and jeans.

Eiko giggled in embarrassment, as an unseen breeze wafted her skirt upwards, nearly revealing her panties. Akane turned away studiously, leaving the pair back-to-back as the alien elevator ascended. The redhead muttered quietly, wrestling with her skirt for control. "You know," she commented to Akane, "the next time aliens attack, I'll wear jeans, too."

Akane's grin widened, and she nodded. "Normally I don't wear things like this, but it's colder here than Tokyo, so…" she trailed off, kicking herself backwards and knocking Eiko sprawling behind her as the elevator reached its peak. "Eeep!" she finished, as a gigantic sword cleaved through the space that she had occupied only a moment prior.

Ranma stared down the corridor for a long moment, unmoving. Then he winced, shaking his head. "Do you hear that?" he asked, gesturing down the empty hallway.

Ryouga shook his head, after exchanging a glance with Ukyou. "I don't hear anything. Say, Ranma? Where is Akane, anyway? I know you're too weak—"

Ukyou whacked Ryouga upside the head with one fist. "Hey!" she hissed. "Don't you talk about my Ranchan that way."

Ranma sighed, looking at both of them irately. "No," he stated. "I came here to try and fix some of the things Pops screwed up."

Ryouga and Ukyou both shut up, the chef not able to meet Ranma's eyes. Ryouga shifted his weight from foot-to-foot uneasily, then shook his head. "Er… right. Well," he began, "what next?"

The pigtailed boy shrugged, then pointed down the corridor. "I don't know exactly where were going, but I think I got an idea. Follow me." He turned and began to trot down the corridor, leaving Ukyou and Ryouga barely able to match his pace.

"Oh, yeah, almost forgot," he said, almost as an afterthought, glancing back at the pair following him. "Duck."

The trio ducked, sliding forward as a barrage of bright lights flashed overhead, searing the air where they had been and melting the bulkheads behind them. "Ack!" Ukyou squealed, mimicking Ranma's next motion as he rolled to the right, evading another laser beam, and then another as he hopped high and to the left again…

Biiko dragged Shiko behind her, darting her head quickly back and forth, searching for… searching for…

Cologne sighed, wondering why she had chosen to follow this girl in particular. "You're lost, aren't you?"

The armor-clad girl glared at Cologne for a moment, coming to a halt at a cross-shaped intersection. Smoothing her features back into a mask of control, she stated haughtily, "I am not lost."

The Amazon sighed, nodding at Shiko as the young girl glanced between the two in confusion. "So you're just taking the scenic route, hmm?"

Biiko scowled, grabbing Shiko’s wrist and dragging the girl down yet another corridor. "I know what I'm doing," she huffed.

Eiko climbed to her feet, Akane slipping off the redhead's back and taking up a ready stance next to her. "Hey," said Eiko as she turned to face the gargantuan warrior in battle-bikini. "I recognize you!"

Agent D grinned, hefting her sword. "I'm sworn to defeat you and protect the princess!"

Akane could only stare for a long moment in befuddlement. "Um," she began uncertainly, "what princess?"

D frowned, eyeing the two uncertainly, while Eiko prepared for battle. "What do you— You mean… you didn't know?

Eiko shook her head in negation, not lessening her ready posture. "I have no idea what you're talking about. We want Shiko."

The agent-turned-armed-guard shrugged in a dismissive manner, her glance shifting between the two girls before she settled on Eiko. "Whatever," she said offhandedly, "neither of you are getting past me to the princess."

Eiko grit her teeth, leaping above a sword-strike as it descended towards her, arcing over D's back, and elbowing the giant as she descended. Grunting in pain, D spun, smashing her sword towards Eiko again, as the redhead caught the blade between her hands, straining to keep the edge from striking her.

Her grip began to slip, the slick metal working its way free of her hands, inexorably drawing down. The redhead snarled in determination, wishing she had thought to remove her bracers first — but then the pressure was gone, leaving her holding the sword while the overly-bulky agent rolled away, colliding with a narrow railing with a painful sounding 'thump.'

Akane scowled, reassuming a defensive posture, as Eiko flashed her a grateful smile and reversed the blade, gripping the hilt easily in both hands. "Thanks." The martial artist nodded once, eyes remaining trained on the giant woman as she climbed to her feet.

"Hey," rumbled D, "that's not fair!" She scowled at the pair of girls, somehow producing another sword from her shield, and advancing on them again.

"Neither is the way you ambushed us!" Eiko snapped, using her sword to deflect the giantess's blade as Akane slipped beneath her guard and delivered a powerful palm-strike to the massive woman.

Wincing, D drew away, nearly unbalanced by the blow. "Hey!" she complained, lowering her sword momentarily and rubbing at a quickly growing bruise with her shield hand. "I promised to defend the princess with my life, and I'm going to do it!"

Akane shrugged, commenting to Eiko, "She's strong but I don't think she's very skilled."

Eiko nodded noncommittally, muttering, "Then again, we do outnumber her…"

D fumed, producing another blade from somewhere, and tossing aside her shield. "Okay," she declared, "No going easy on you this time!"

Akane blinked, as Eiko shoved the heavy blade into her hands, whispering, "Watch out, she's a lot stronger than she looks." The Tendo girl could only wince at the thought, as the gargantuan muscle-bound woman stomped towards them.

"This can't be good," Akane observed, stepping to one side as Eiko moved the opposite direction.

Ranma ducked, coming to a quick halt. Not having enough time to duck, Ukyou tripped across him, falling to land in his lap, the pair of them then tripping Ryouga into a large steel door. Startled, the lost boy only had enough time to yell a single panicked, "Aaarg!" before barreling into the door and smashing it out of the way.

The pigtailed boy blinked at the now-open door, and shrugged, while Ukyou dazedly peered about. "Ranchan?" she asked.


"Did you do that on purpose?"

He nodded, still looking towards the dark doorway. "Yep."

Ukyou flushed darkly, clinging to Ranma, and hugging him tightly. "You do love me!" she squealed.

Ranma blinked again, struggling for breath. "Huh?" he wheezed. "I just made Ryouga smash into the door."

The lost boy called back from the dim recesses ahead of them. "Ranma! We don't have time for you to play around with your fiancée. Why don't you move her off your lap, and hurry up?"

Ranma snapped, "Because I can't, you moron. She weighs too much."

Ukyou's smile lessened drastically, as she turned, loosing her hold -but not leaving Ranma's lap — to stare at him. "What?"

The boy shrugged uncomfortably, looking away. "You weigh too much. I can't move you."

Ryouga snorted, rolling his eyes. "Of course it's her fault; it's not like he was too weak to move her," he muttered sourly.

Biiko turned yet another corner, wondering if her guidance system were failing her, and she was lost… but no, the monitor on her visor would tell her if she were crossing familiar territory. She sighed, glancing at the old woman easily keeping pace next to her. "So," she said, addressing Shiko as the blonde trotted next to her, "I don't suppose you would know the way out from here?"

Shiko blinked twice, then shook her head, offering only a cute 'I'm sorry' expression. "Nope. I don't know the way out."

Sighing, Biiko came to a halt, and consulted the map on her visor again. "Well," she grumbled. "What now?"

Cologne snorted, "You could always ask your betters."

"Elder, maybe, but not better." An inarticulate cry of rage and a loud 'smack!' rang out from the bowels of the ship, causing both Biiko and Cologne to pause before the argument could escalate. "Um," Biiko continued, unnerved. "Okay, how in the hells do we get out of here?"

The Amazon elder nodded knowingly, brandishing her staff. "We take the path of most resistance."

Ryouga chuckled at Ranma, who was scowling irritably, and rubbing at a throbbing, red, handprint-shaped mark on the side of his face. "What the heck, Ucchan… what was that for?"

The okonomiyaki chef sniffed disdainfully, remarking, "It's horribly rude of you to tell your cute fiancée that she's overweight."

He groaned, rolling his eyes. "Great," he muttered, "now can you get off me so that I can stand up?"

Ukyou flushed darkly, but stood, rubbing at her sore hand when the pigtailed boy wasn't looking. He sighed, clambering through the opening and into the darkness. "Hey!" he said after a moment. "Ryouga!? Do you know what this stuff is?"

Ukyou frowned, climbing into the darkness after the pair, and waiting for her eyes to adjust to the dim lighting. Ryouga's voice rumbled from near the dimly illuminated entryway. "Um… no?"

"Oh man… look." With that, Ranma's body erupted with fire, blue tongues of ki-flame flaring outwards and illuminating the pair of panties that Ryouga was holding to his face.

The lost boy blinked, turning the article over several times before comprehension struck him like a bolt of lighting. His eyes widened suddenly, turning eerily blank as he fell stiff on the floor, blood trickling freely from his nose.

Ukyou stared around, first in shock at Ranma, who had never presented as much focus in his aura, then at the mounds of feminine undergarments littering the room. "Dang," she muttered, glancing around and shivering. "It's all girls' stuff…"

Ranma nodded absently, peering at the dim recesses, and grinning as he found another door. "Great," he muttered, eyeing the door. After prodding it for a few moments, he nodded to himself again, and walked back to Ryouga. "Wake up, Ryouga. We need you to open another door."

The lost boy roused slowly at the mention of his name, only to pass out again at the sight of the panties he still clutched in his hand. Groaning, Ranma set about untying one of the lost boy's bandanas. Ukyou watched attentively, as the pig-tailed boy re-tied the bandana over Ryouga's eyes. "Wake up!"

Ryouga woke with a start, turning his head about in alarm. "Arg!" he said, a panicked edge to his voice, "I can't see!"

Ranma exchanged a pained glance with Ukyou, before taking a step back. "It's okay, Ryouga. Just come here and open a door for us." Nodding obediently, the lost boy stumbled around at random until Ukyou led him to the door.

Making sure Ryouga was facing the right way, Ranma removed the bandana, commanding, "Knock it down, Ryouga."

Ryouga pulled back his hand and slammed a single finger into the door, reducing it to a hail of shrapnel as Ranma and Ukyou ducked behind him. The lost boy nodded in a self-satisfied manner, oblivious to the jagged pieces of metal as they rebounded from his hardened skin harmlessly.

Ranma slipped past the lost boy, rubbing at his cheek again absently as he peered around. Ryouga trundled after him, frowning. "What now?" the lost boy asked, absently retying his bandanas.

"Well," Ranma stated, pointing towards a glowing disk on the floor. "That looks good."

Ryouga and Ukyou exchanged a puzzled glance, following the pigtailed martial artist as he dashed towards the glowing impression.

Akane stumbled away, one hand sliding from the handle to the unsharpened back of the blade instinctively to improve her chances. "Ugh," she grunted, straining against the immensely powerful swordswoman. Slowly, she felt her footing begin to give way, and edged back. Only the fact that D was primarily occupied with Eiko, who seemed able to match her blow for blow had saved her, so far.

Eiko struck quickly, each attack being deflected by D's speed and skill. "Well," the redhead grunted, launching a kick into D's ribcage between exchanges, "I think we can win this!"

Akane nodded dubiously, wishing she didn't have to rely on the weapon, but not trusting her bare hands against the woman's brute strength and naked steel. Slipping back, she overbalanced, one foot going behind her and finding… no support. Her eyes widened as she flailed around blindly, dropping the sword, and managed a single startled shriek before she disappeared from sight.

Eiko's eyes widened in alarm, and she suddenly found herself harried, trying to evade both swords at once, without one of her own. She feinted a leap to one side, hoping to buy some time, and dove beneath the woman's legs, rolling onto her back and landing a vicious kick to the inside of D's thigh as she tumbled away.

D bellowed in pain and wheeled about, spinning to bring both swords to bear on the redhead — but Eiko wasn't there. She dashed around to remain behind D, tagging her kidney with an elbow smash before the giantess spun, a forearm crashing into her and sending her tumbling to land near the elevator.

She whimpered, realizing that as hard as Biiko had hit her, the alien had hit her much harder. Staggering to her feet, she squared off again, ready to continue the fight. "I'm not going to let you kidnap Shiko," she declared resolutely.

D scowled, swinging the swords at Eiko in a pair of diagonal slashes. "And we'll never let you take the princess from us!" she retorted.

Eiko staggered back, the sword's edges missing her narrowly, but slashing through her flimsy clothing easily. "Gaaah!" she sputtered, windmilling at the edge of the elevator as she belatedly noticed the tear in her clothing that ran all the way from the hem, and clear through to… nothing.

A pair of hands supported her from behind at the last moment, and an irate voice announced, "Okay, now I'm angry." Eiko flushed, looking down at the cut in her skirt that laid it open from the waistband on.

She spun, seeing — of all people — Ranma standing behind her, leaning in an odd stance to support her before shifting his position back to a more normal one.

Behind him was a boy she didn't recognize, wearing a hot-pink bandana, and the boy from that morning, looking stunned and carrying Akane in his arms. Akane looked equally stunned, and Eiko had to admit that they made a cute couple, with Akane clinging to the okonomiyaki chef so tightly.

Ranma stepped forward, joined shortly by the bandana-clad boy. The new boy nodded, eyeing D distastefully before declaring, "For your crimes against Akane-san, I can never forgive you!"

Snorting in response, Ranma pointed the boy towards the discarded sword. "That's right, Ryouga. Anyway, you don't mess with my friends and get away with it." Ryouga glanced at Ranma uncertainly, then nodded, the pair breaking apart to encircle D and attack from both sides.

D growled, "I will halt you at all costs!"

Ranma snorted, easily ducking a blow and eyeing D carefully. Ryouga deflected an incoming strike with some effort — snatching up the discarded sword at the last moment — but he did deflect it, leaving the pair of fighters momentarily unbalanced. Ranma charged behind D before she could completely rebalance, and struck her back, the air snapping with the speed of the blows as he struck too quickly for the girls to count the number or blows. The pigtailed boy gave a self-satisfied nod and stepped away, smirking.

Ryouga sweated, wondering how long he could hold D's swords at bay as her swords held against his, the edges grinding together slowly. He clenched his eyes shut, straining to keep the sharp death-dealing implements away from himself, grunting and pouring as much strength as he could gather, halting the inevitable strike. "Ranma," he grunted, feeling his strength ready to give out. "I can't… hold her… back… long…"

The pigtailed boy gave an annoyed sigh, rubbing at the discolored patch on his check. "She can't move, Ryouga. I paralyzed her."

The girls blinked, as Ryouga slowly, uncertainly, and with no small show of embarrassment, stepped back. D worked her jaw, trembling at her inability to move, while the swords remained in the same position.

Ranma grinned, looking around. "So," he said casually, as Ryouga dropped the sword, "where next?"

"Um," Akane said after a moment. "I'd like to be set down now."

Shiko and Biiko dazedly wandered behind the amazon as she destroyed the obstacles before her with casual grace, smashing through metal bulkheads and alloy barriers in a straight line.

She paused after coming across an oddly shaped room. Peering about, she asked, "What's this, now?"

Biiko stumbled in, making sure not to trip over the rubble that lay scattered about, and eyed the room. "It looks like… an elevator."

Cologne nodded knowingly. "I see, I see… and can you make it take us where we want to go?"

The girl stared at the old woman blankly, while Shiko simply observed the pair. Shrugging, Biiko turned to study what looked like a control panel of some sort. "Probably…"

Captain Napolipolita raised an eyebrow as a sudden explosion reduced the elevator door to shrapnel.

She was left with a view of a gaggle of teens in various states of irritation. The redheaded girl with the indecently torn skirt stepped forward first, her face carrying mixed messages of worry and anger. "Hey!" she shouted. "Give Shiko back to us!"

Standing next to her, a thin, nearly invisible blue aura visible about him, a pigtailed boy stepped forward, offering his silent support. He was joined by another pair of boys, once with a hot-pink bandana, and another with a massive, unfriendly looking spatula. Behind them was another girl, this one with short, bluish-black hair, glancing at the pig-tailed boy briefly and emulating his stance.

Swallowing, the captain considered her sidearm, frowning. "I can't do that…" she complained, eyes nervously darting between the opposition, while the bridge crew stared in apprehension. Straightening herself to her full height, the captain proclaimed, "She is the Fourth Princess of the Fifth Queen of the Lepton Kingdom of Alpha Cygni. We will never abandon her!"

Eiko shook her head angrily, complaining, "Maybe she is, but most importantly, she's my friend! I'm not going to let you just take her away!" She nodded once in affirmation, wiping at a stray tear.

The captain edged away a step, shaking her head before slumping to the floor, kneeling awkwardly. "Arg…" she muttered, clutching weakly at her side. "Can't… fight… need…" She raised her head slightly, a frown twisting her visage. "Need…" As her voice dropped to a whisper, the teens crept closer, trying to make out her words. Nearly whimpering, Captain Napolipolita managed, "… booze…"

Ranma opened his mouth to say something, but caught himself, and spun towards the elevator as it whirred to life. "Uh-oh," he muttered, as D reached the top of the lift, snarling angrily. Eiko winced, as the mammoth warrior stomped forward heavily, seething in rage and snarling incoherently. The pig-tailed boy shifted his position, preparing to dodge. "Guess her pressure points are different from humans. That should have held her for a few hours."

The redhead nodded, spinning again as the central elevator in the control room activated, bearing Biiko and her traveling companions into the bridge. The girl's voice carried, augmented by her power armor, "Well this isn't the right way either!"

The old woman next to her shook her head, pointing with her staff. "No, I'd say it worked."

Shiko broke away from Biiko, dashing towards Eiko. "Eiko-chan! I found you!" she cheered.

Eiko leapt forward, calling out, "Shiko!"

Ranma shrugged, sparing only a glance as she darted away, and he squared off against his much larger adversary. Ryouga solemnly removed a bandana, spinning it in one hand and reducing it to a hot-pink blur before hurling it at D.

Everyone froze, wondering what the hot-pink projectile was, as D batted it out of the way. It landed on the deck at her feet. Soft, frilly lace trim, and hot pink decorated with occasional blue hearts. It was a pair of panties.

Ukyou snorted, rolling her eyes. "Figures," she muttered under her breath, as Ryouga goggled in embarrassment.

The lost boy turned to Ranma, his features paling nearly white. "Ranma," he squeaked out. "Did I have… that… tied around my head the entire time?"

Grimacing, Ranma nodded. "Yeah…"

The lost boy nodded solemnly, "I see," and promptly fell over backwards, rolling down the stairs to come to a halt near Eiko, as she swept Shiko into her arms and dove for cover. Biiko belatedly joined them, and after a moment of hesitation, Cologne sent Ryouga rolling behind another bit of cover, standing idly to watch what would happen next.

Ranma nodded, gesturing Akane and Ukyou back. "Be careful," he warned.

Akane bit her tongue, simply nodding, and mirroring Ranma's stance, while Ukyou nodded, readying her battle spatula.

Surveying her options and finding them lacking, D dove for the captain, snatching up her sidearm and turning to face the teens. Ranma, Ukyou, and Akane shared a confused blink before springing away and diving for cover themselves.

The ailing captain clung to the agent weakly, trying to dissuade her from shooting blindly. "Careful!" she shrieked. "You'll hit the princess!"

Ignoring the captain, D grunted, firing recklessly.

Akane huddled to the port side, cowering next to Biiko, Shiko, and the redhead, while Ranma and Ukyou joined the prone Ryouga and Cologne. The ancient Amazon regarded Ranma inscrutably. "Well?" she asked. "I hope you have some sort of plan?"

Ranma winced as a hail of energy beams lanced through the floor nearby, narrowly missing him, and tearing long molten gouges in the floor. "Kinda," he said after a moment. Waving towards the group of girls, he yelled, "Why don't you shoot back at them?"

Biiko glared, but settled for a rude gesture in lieu of speaking.

Shaking his head, Ranma turned his attention towards Akane, shouting, "Catch this!"

Akane nodded, raising her hands to catch a small black box wrapped in yellow-and-black tape and large, garish warning labels. Biiko stared at it, snatching it from the other girl's hands and frantically slapping it into her wrist bracer. Grinning viciously, she popped up, firing a salvo of small missiles in retaliation of the energy beams.

D squawked in terror, avoiding being hit directly, but singed by the explosions regardless. The captain took the brunt of the attack, and was flung backwards into a smoke and debris filled cloud.

Biiko grinned, offering Ranma a begrudgingly respectful nod before turning to glare further at the singed alien. Emerging from the smoking rubble, and cackling like some hell-borne demon, the captain hauled a large assault weapon into place, kicking the brake and leveling the multitude of barrels towards the teens.

Ranma groaned, ducking behind his source of cover again. "This day just keeps getting better," he remarked bitterly.

Cologne shrugged in a consolatory manner. "I've had worse."


"No, not really."

"Great," he deadpanned.

Ukyou latched onto him, whimpering, "Ranchan! I'm scared!"

He sighed, rolling his eyes beseechingly again. "What next?"

Eiko glanced over, seeing Ranma and his other friends huddling for safety. Biiko was holding herself tightly to the ground, having blanched after looking down the many barrels of the engine of destruction that was even then tearing apart the bridge. Shiko made a frightened noise, and Eiko held her close, preparing to shield the little blonde with her own body, should it become necessary.

The fire tapered off, after one central column of instrumentation was destroyed, and a faint, "Oops," echoed about the suddenly quiet control room.

Ranma sighed, trying to disentangle himself from Ukyou. "C'mon, Ucchan, I have a feeling we should move." Seeing him eye Ryouga, Cologne nodded and prodded the boy with her staff.

Ukyou let go of Ranma unsteadily, as the ship gave an alarming lurch and shudder, followed by the activation of a shrieking alarm system. The two groups of martial artists poked their heads up over the control panels to look, only to see a flustered looking D trying to console a wailing captain.

Ranma groaned, looking out the front of the bridge's wide windows. "Oh look," he commented dryly, "we're going to crash."

The boy shook his head, bracing himself near a console beneath a bulkhead, and gesturing the others near. They crowded around bracing themselves in similar positions. Eiko squeezed next to Ranma, Shiko in her lap, while Ukyou claimed the space on the opposite side of Ranma.

Ryouga sat next to Ukyou dazedly. Biiko wedged him into place firmly, before sitting next him. "You'll protect me, right?" she asked. He blinked, unable to do much more than goggle and nod at the scantily clad girl.

Akane stumbled, sprawling loosely across Ranma and Ukyou's laps, staying there when Ukyou grabbed her wrist and tried to nod reassuringly.

The craft began to vibrate violently, so Ranma turned to Biiko, shouting to be heard across the low — but building — roar, "Why don't you just fly away?"

Biiko scowled, then pointed towards Shiko, curled up in Eiko's lap and seemingly unalarmed. Ranma shrugged, bracing himself again, while Cologne subtly found a spot near Eiko and braced herself as well.

Ranma closed his eyes, preparing to take yet another impact. "Too many," he muttered under his breath. "Too many for one day."

Eiko turned to face him suddenly, and yelled over another roaring explosion that sent the deck angling sharply, "Ranma?"

He nodded briskly, still wincing at the remembered pain from the last impact. "Yeah?"

Staring him in the eye, she yelled, "Thank you for coming after me, Ranma."

He nodded again, unable to resist smiling. "Glad to help!"

Flushing slightly, and shifting from her braced position, Eiko planted a kiss firmly on his cheek before settling down to await the impact again.

Akane and Ukyou's eyes widened as they stared, while Ranma simply reddened, stunned.

Eiko skipped towards her house, lighthearted. Her clothing was signed, torn, and her skirt was torn open to the point of indecency, but she wasn't going to let it get her down.

She hummed lightly, traipsing through the doorway. "I'm home!" she called out.

Her mother blinked, adjusting her spectacles and taking in the various signs that her daughter had been in battle recently. "Oh?" she said, taking in her daughter's condition. "How was your day?"

The redhead giggled, saying nothing and dashing upstairs to the shower. Her mother frowned crossly, setting aside a laundry basket with a blue-and-red costume. "Now I'm worried…" she muttered, making a note to discuss it with her husband.

Safely ensconced in the cleansing warmth of the shower, Eiko smiled again, and whispered, "Today was great."

Ranma limped towards the ruined remnants of what he had dubbed 'the ugly yellow building,' using a new staff and shaking his head wearily. Tofu looked up from the corner of the street, grinning as he saw Ranma approaching, and largely intact.

"Ranma! How was everything?"

The boy smiled widely trying to ignore the trio of red, handprint shaped marks on his face. "Pretty good so far," he managed.

Tofu shook his head, looking towards the sunset, oddly offset by the massive bulk of the alien warship above them, balanced on the central spire of Graviton City. Tofu sighed, then offered a hand to Ranma. "I know you've got your own plans, but I found a place, if you're looking.

Ranma nodded hesitantly. "Might be good to find a place to stay… what do I have to pay you?"

The doctor began walking down the street, Ranma trailing him. "Well, I figure you can help me set up my sand garden, and chores around the clinic…" After a moment, he added, "And I think you could probably use living around someone to patch you up, hmm?"


To be continued.

Author's Notes:

5/11/01 — pre-reader draft.
5/14/01 — secondary draft. Removed completed Unification Theory due to its irrelevance to this story.
5/20/01 — Tentative final.

Thanks to all of the pre-readers who helped with this project: Nathan Shuker, Bjorn Christianson, Donald Mc, and last — but not least — Corwin and Ginrai.

If you're wondering who the 'Hottentots' guy was, ask Mad-Hamlet.

And thank you Carlos, that was not a BDSM ref. (You are all so much happier not knowing.)

And I shouldn't go on without thanking the real source of inspiration… So thanks to my muse, Rouge-hime, because this would never have happened without her.

Chapter 4
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