Converging Series: A Crossover of Unexpected Dimensions.

Act 1

The Beginning


Prologue:Once Upon A Time....

    Once upon a time...

    Young Shampoo, eight years old, wandered around her
village.  She was restless, as she always was.  Though the wind
howled and chilled the bone on this winter's night, she ignored
it.  There was a feeling in the air that night... something that
made her restless.  She crept quietly to her great grandmother's
hut (for it was there that she witnessed much magicks and other
things of wonder) and knocked politely.

    [Shampoo?  Why aren't you asleep?  It's rather late.]

    [I know, great-grandmother, but I'm not tired.]

    It was at that point that she noticed the stranger in
the hut.  He was an old man seated at a table, looking tired,
with a bag and some scrolls placed on the table.

    [Who's he?]  asked Shampoo.

    [Him?  Why don't you ask him yourself?]

    She shyly approached him, and he regarded her with a smile.

    [Well, hello there, small one] greeted the stranger.

    [I'm not small!] protested Shampoo.

    [Shampoo!  Mind your manners!] reminded Cologne.

    [Yes great-grandmother.]

    [Ah, I am sorry I offended you] offered the old man with
an amused smile. [Who might you be, one who is not small?]

    [I'm Shampoo, and I'm almost nine years old!] she said proudly.

    [Well, Shampoo, nice to meet you.  I'm Lo Fei Shen, a
humble old collector of stories.]

    [Mr. Shen is here to check with us about an old legend] added
Cologne.

    [An old legend?] asked Shampoo.

    [Yes, quite a story,] said Lo Fei Shen, nodding.

    [I like stories!]

    [Do you?  I'm glad to hear that.]  He stroked his white
beard.  [Perhaps... you would like to hear this one?]

    Shampoo nodded enthusiastically, and the old man
couldn't help but smile.

    [Well... this story has been passed from generation to
generation, throughout much of mainland China, and even to Japan.
However, it is a total mystery as to how it got started, and how
old the story is indeed. It may merely be a simple tale twisted
to grand proportions through the passage of time and the
exaggeration of men's tongues, or it could be a true detail of
something that really happened many years ago.  I cannot
tell.]

    Shampoo listened on, eager to hear the tale.

    [This is the Legend of the Heart of Destiny... or
Destinies, depending on how you view it.  It is an artifact that
is the cause of much speculation.  It has never been found.
According to the legend, at one point there were _two_ Hearts of
Destiny... but as of today, if there is a Heart of Destiny, it
has yet to have been found.  But that is later in the story...]

    [Enough explaining!  Want story!] piped up Shampoo.

    The old man smiled at her eagerness, and said [Well...
this is a story of chases, and fighting, magic, miracles,
goddesses, dark forces, hate as dark as night, a love as bright
as the sun, and a love that was fated not to be.]  He checked
briefly to see if Shampoo was listening, and she was, spellbound
by the introduction.  Seeing that, he resumed his tale with a
smile.

    [Once upon a time, there was a boy and a girl.  They
were both descended from a long line of valiant and brave
warriors, although the girl did not practice the arts herself,
but instead turned her attention to the healing arts, and the boy
was more of a thinker than a fighter.

    [Obviously not Amazons] said Shampoo smartly.  Behind
her, Cologne grinned with amusement.

    [These two were in love, deeply in love, and were
already arranged to be married by their parents.  All was perfect
in their lives, until one day a strange girl appeared.  She had
an item on her person, a silver heart-shaped item, which flared
of magical light.  It is unknown where she had gotten it, but
this is the first time in any tale where it had appeared.  It was
the Heart of Destiny.  With it, she attacked the boy and his two
companions.  While they were all great warriors, she defeated them
easily, and took the boy with her.]

    [The girl was heartbroken when the other two told her of his
defeat and disappearance.  They searched far and wide, but met with no
success.  The boy was gone, and they had all feared the worst.]

    [What happened to the boy?] asked Shampoo nervously.

    [Wait for it,] said the man.  [Now then... the girl
with the Heart of Destiny... or Destinies... she was quite
smitten by the boy the moment she saw him, and so took him away
with her on her.  Unfortunately for her, she was traveling by
means of magic, a magic she had not fully mastered, and so she
had accidentally lost him as they traveled across the borders
of unseen worlds.]

    [The boy awoke in a strange land, populated by many
great warriors and a few wielders of magic as well.  Amongst this
lot, he gained allies, a sword wielding warrioress (no doubt an
amazon, for where else are there mighty female warriors?) and a
warrior who was cursed to be half a woman, half a man, but still
formidable in either shape.  Together, these three tracked down
the young woman, who was actually a student and agent of an evil
sorceress.  The three fought hard and valiantly against the
forces of the sorceress, her assistant, as well as foes both
human and from other worlds, and finally defeated the evil
witch.]

    [That's it?] wondered Shampoo.

    [Shh.  There's more.  Wait for it.] He smiled, then
continued telling the tale from memory.  [The boy thought his
travels over, and foolishly took the Heart of Destiny, feeling
that such a device was best left in his protection.  However, he
did not realize that the Heart of Destiny had a mind of it's own,
a whimsical, sometimes dangerous sort of spirit that only obeyed
those with a will strong enough and focused on it. And so,
lacking that knowledge and thinking it a mere tool to be used, he
took hold of it and commanded, "Bring me home!"]

    [And what happened?] anxiously asked Shampoo.

    [The Heart of Destiny took hold of him, and flung him
into yet another strange world.  Here, he met more allies.  A
great and mighty warrior with no memory of his past and hunted by
unknown foes.  A warrior who was cursed to wander eternally, a
woman who was heir to a long dynasty of great warriors, and yet
another warrior woman, strong in mind as well as body, but also
with a longing heart.  The Heart of Destiny had taken them all
somehow and brought them there for an unknown purpose...]

                              * * * * *

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                          Act One:the Beginning

----------------------------------------------------------------------

    Consider a goldfish.

    Most goldfish spend their short lives in a bowl.  This
bowl is their world, their universe.  Some bowls have pretty
rocks at the bottom, others have artificial plants, a few have
both, and lots have neither.

    Sometimes people keep more than one goldfish in a bowl.
Usually the fish just swim around together, but sometimes they
eat each other.

    Not many people dump blue food colouring in their
goldfish bowl,  cover the top, and shake it around like a
fake-snow-filled paperweight. But if you told this story to Ryo
Saotome, he'd know exactly how the fish would feel.

    Ryo, Tachi Kuno, and Ranko Saotome stepped out of thin
air and  into the middle of a dimly-lit restaurant.  "I think
this is where you want to be," Ryo said as he looked around.
"I'm not sure; I've never been here before.  Knowing what you
want seems to be the key, but the Nekohanten doesn't exist in my
world."

    Tachi nodded.  "This is the place.  And the century.  My
mom made my father take us here two weeks ago.  They still
haven't changed the decorations."

    "Lucky you," grumbled Ranko.  "Pop's idea of eating out
is goin' to  Ucchan's."  Ryo frowned at his transdimensional
half-sister.  "D'oh, sorry," she apologised.

    "What do you plan to do now?" Tachi asked, nodding at
the locket Ryo held tight in his fist.  "You can go anywhere
with that.  Anywhen.  The possibilities are endless."

    Ryo stared at the battered piece of heart-shaped silver.
"Knowing what you know, having spent a day in the past, what
would you do?"

    Tachi made a face.  "I'd throw it in the deepest well I
could find."

    "That sounds like a good idea to me."

    "Three for dinner?" asked an elderly Chinese man.  He
held out menus.

    "That," said Ryo, "is my signal to go home.  Bell-chan
is waiting."

    Ranko took a menu from the man and studied it, trying to
puzzle out the Chinese writing.  "Well, it's been cool knowing
you, Ryo."  She punched the boy in the shoulder with her free
hand.  "Keep practising; you've got some good moves hidden in
there."

    "Don't listen to her," Tachi advised.  "When you start
thinking with your muscles, you stop thinking with your head.
It was nice meeting a boy my age with a brain, Ryo.  I almost
wish you had a counterpart in my world."

    Ryo stared at her in surprise.  "I'm teasing," she told
him.  "I mean, you're an almost-married man, and Bell-chan is my
friend."

    "Oh."  Ryo shook his head.  "You did have me spooked for
a bit.  Remember, the Tachi Kuno I know is a boy."

    Tachi laughed, and patted Ryo on the cheek.  "Go on, get
out of here."

    Ryo held up the locket, and vanished in a flash of azure
flame.

                              * * * * *

    Ratiko Hibiki paced back and forth.  Ordinarily, that
simple act could have landed him in Antarctica, but Childra
Jansen was watching him, and he never left the Nekohanten.
"Where is she?" he asked the brown-haired woman.  "Or, 'he.'
Or, 'them'... you know who I mean."

    "They'll be here," she reassured her friend.  "They _do_
have to avoid the C-Ko's, after all."

    I guess you're right."  Ratiko continued his pacing, lost
in thought if not in body.

    A dark-haired boy with a distinctive pony-tail appeared
out of nowhere.  He blinked his eyes in shock.  "This can't be
right."  Then he stared at his own right hand, which was
clenched in a fist.  "Focus, Ryo, focus."

    Ryo was facing away from Ratiko.

    Ratiko wasn't looking where he was going.

    They collided, then vanished in a ring of silver-blue
energy.

    [This is not good,] thought Childra.  She grabbed her
bo, then jumped through the rapidly narrowing gate after her
friend.

                  * * * * *

    Miyabi Saotome tugged at the apron she was wearing.
[Why did Mom and Dad insist I get a part time job here?] she
asked herself for the tenth time that afternoon.  [It's not like
I'm doing anything important here.  All I do is catch the orders
when Aunt Shampoo throws them at me.]

    Two boys appeared out of nowhere and fell on the unhappy
waitress; all of them went down in a tangled heap of flailing
limbs.  Miyabi tried to push herself free, but the hand pressed
against the back of her skirt demanded attention first.  "Leggo,
pervert!"  She rolled over and slugged the first face she saw.

    Ryo was on the top of the pile; his hands had
reflexively splayed open in a futile attempt to prevent his
fall.  The pig-tailed boy, mortified, tried to apologise, but
"I'm sor-," was as far as he got before Miyabi's fist caught him
square in the jaw.  Then the world became cerulean fire, and the
three teens vanished.

                  * * * * *

    Ishido knew he was in trouble.  A dozen hooded men had
surrounded him; neither they nor the weapons they carried looked
very  friendly.  "I don't supposed we could talk about this?" he
asked.

    One of the men took a menacing step closer, and Ishido
felt his conscious mind slip away.  Reflexes honed by years of
training took control.  The first man went down in a hail of
punches and kicks.

    There were still eleven more, though.

    Two more assassins and a slightly wounded Ishido later,
the battle came to a temporary halt.  The cute girl and the two
boys that appeared out of thin air might have had something to
do with that.

    "Uh, where am I?" asked Ratiko.

    "Where have you taken me?" demanded Miyabi.

    Ryo didn't say anything.  His jaw hurt too much.

    Ishido blinked, reason returning briefly to his eyes.
"Um, excuse me, but do you think any of you could lend me a hand
here?"  Then the nine standing assassins renewed their attack,
and his programming carried him beyond words.

    Miyabi jumped into battle; the girl was a caged
hurricane, wreaking devastation on the hooded men who foolishly
thought they had nothing to fear from a beautiful young woman in
a short skirt.  Ratiko shoved Ryo away and tried his best not to
get killed.  Ryo blinked a lot.

    [This is wrong], his befuddled mind told him.  [This is
really wrong.  This whole day has been really wrong.  I wish I
could start over.]

    A glowing gate opened up, swallowing Ryo and Ratiko.
"Hey, come back here," Miyabi shouted.  She ducked under an
assassin's sword, then dove through the closing portal.

    The part of Ishido's mind that still functioned
evaluated his remaining opponents.  Four to one were not bad
odds.  Then reinforcements arrived.  The gate was still there,
so he made a tactical retreat.

                  * * * * *

    Cold water worked miracles in Nerima, and Ryo returned
to full  consciousness.  He sat up, spit out a mouthful of the
canal, then ran his fingers through his bangs.  In the process
he managed to hit himself in the head with the locket; its chain
was wrapped around his fingers.  [That was close,] he though as
he slipped the charm in his pocket.  [If I'd lost that, I'd be
in _big_ trouble!]

    A fruit bat tangled itself in Ryo's hair and tried to
beat him to death with her wings.  "Go away," he told it.

    Then Childra fell out of the sky.  She landed near Ryo,
accidentally hitting him in the head with the bo staff she
carried..  "So sorry," she said.  "I didn't expect the gate to
open over a canal."

    "You know about-" Ryo began, but then Miyabi appeared.
Like Childra, she appeared above Ryo.  Unlike Childra, she
landed in his lap.  The pig-tailed boy tried to catch her, but
instead he caught the front of her apron.

    "Pervert!" Miyabi's full-armed slap gave Ryo's dentist a
full afternoon's worth of business.

    Just when Ryo thought that nothing else could possibly go
wrong, Ishido appeared.  The mind-warped assassin-in-training
had jumped through the gate head-first; consequently he skipped
the intervening steps and hit Ryo in the head with his own skull
before hitting the water.

    [Why can't I ever get hit in the stomach?] Ryo asked
himself before passing out.

                  * * * * *

    This had been an... odd... Tuesday, thought Childra.
Usually, on a Tuesday afternoon she could expect to sit down
with a nice cafe-au-lait and leaf through some history texts
until evening, when she would do research of a different sort at
the campus bar...  Today, she had ended up fighting leotarded
nuns alongside a ghost to save the life of a Jyusenkyou-cursed
were-bat and a resurrected martial artist/gender bender, only to
later leapfrog through space-time and end up landing in a canal.
And now, she had an unconscious boy, a pair of conscious lunatics
and a fruit bat to deal with...

    "What IS it with you and men's fragrances, anyways?" she
asked one of them, a long-haired boy with a lupine figure.

    "Must... find... COLOGNE!  Must... find... COLOGNE!"
Childra sighed.  Must have been quite a blow to the head.

    "Go to sleep, hon.  You need it."  The boy nodded and
then collapsed into unconsciousness.  Childra pulled his face
out of the water. [No sense letting him drown,] she thought.

    "Poor guy," said the girl.  Miyabi, she thought her name
was.  Rat-bat had taken a liking to her, and was perched on her
shoulder.

    "Oh, he'll be fine...  Looks like a strong-enough
fellow...  And handsome, too..."

    "Hai." Miyabi suddenly realised what she'd said, and
blushed.

    "No need to worry 'bout it.  We're both girls." Smile.

    "Thanks.  You're SURE you don't know the way to the
Nekohanten?"

    "I do, dear, but, like I told you, I've never seen you
before..."

    "I've worked for Aunt Shampoo for months!"

    "Well, your 'Aunt Shampoo' has been in China for a
century, unless I'm much mistaken, and she only came back to the
Nekohanten a day or two ago." Miyabi looked puzzled.

    "Are we talking about the same person?  Purple hair,
Chinese Amazon?"

    "Hai, but..." they were interrupted by a voice - or
rather, a yell - familiar to them both.

    "RANMA NO BAKAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!"  Akane was chasing
Ranma alongside the canal with a mallet.

    [Ranma and Akane?] Childra thought to herself. [Must
have only been a teleport, and not a time jump...]

    "Daddy!" shouted Miyabi, and jumped towards the two.
The fruit-bat, noticing Ranma, flew off her shoulder and flew to
meet him.  Once she was near enough, she started to suck on his
eyeballs.  Not a good idea.  One well-placed punch, and the bat
flew against a nearby tree, then dropped to the ground, stunned.

    Akane chose that moment to finally hit Ranma, knocking
him into the canal.  A splash later, a very confused Ranma-chan
was trying to fight off a glomp by a black-haired version of
herself.  Akane stood on the sidewalk next to the canal, eyes
wide and red with anger.

    "You have a DAUGHTER?!?!?  Why, you two-timing PERVERT!"

    "A-Akane... I can explain... I don't know her, she
just..."

    "Whose is it? Ukyou's? Shampoo's? KODACHI'S?"

    "Yours, mother," said Miyabi, tears in her eyes.

    "Excuse me," said Childra.  [That... DOESN'T look like
Kim... But then...] Her interjection was ignored, as Akane
looked the girl over.

    "But... You're MY age... You must be mistaken..." said
Akane.  Ranma took the opportunity to vindicate herself.

    "You see? She's NOT mine!"

    "Unless," said Childra with a grin and a wink, "you're
more precocious than I gave you credit for."  Ranma-chan stared
at her.

    "Do I know you?" Ranma asked.

    "ANOTHER beautiful woman you don't know?  With a memory
like  yours, I'm surprised you can find your way any better than
Ryouga! If she's engaged to you..."  Childra's eyes widened at
the mention of the elder Hibiki.

    "Ryouga? HIBIKI Ryouga? Married to Ukyou, nee Kuonji?
He's alive?!?!?"

    Akane, Miyabi and Ranma all turned to stare at Childra,
then blinked.

    "Yes..." said Ranma.

    "Uncle Ryouga is alive..." added Miyabi.

    "But he's not married to Ukyou," concluded Akane.  Then,
hopefully to Ranma, "Is he?"  Ranma shook her head.

    "Not unless she's REALLY been hiding something from
me..." She turned to Miyabi. "And I'm SURE that I haven't had a
daughter by that TOMBOY..."

    "Who are you calling a TOMBOY, you PERVERT?!?!?"
Childra cleared her throat.

    "I think I can explain."

    "EXPLAIN!" said the three other girls, in unison.

    "First, what year is this?"

    "1996," said Ranma. "November 12th, 1996." Childra
smiled, and Miyabi suddenly looked a lot more confused.

    "That explains it, then," said Jansen.

    A collective, "Huh?" Childra extended her hand.

    "Childra Jansen, 2096.  Pleased to meet you.  Again."

    "I'm getting a headache..." complained Ranma.

    "2096? Then..." Miyabi looked at her parents. "They _do_
look a lot younger!  You mean we?  You're from the future, and
they..."   Childra nodded. "Oh, boy..."

    "You expect us to believe that?" asked Akane.

    "Look at your daughter, if you don't," answered Childra.
She did.  Standing beside Ranma-chan, as she was, the
resemblance between father and daughter was undeniable.  They
might be sisters, even twins, were it not for the hair colour.
"I assume," continued the historian, "that that red-haired girl
is Ranma, and not some other person sharing her body?"

    "H-hai..." now Akane was the confused one.

    "Don't worry. I'll explain everything... Or at least,
everything I know... Right now, though, we need to get these
guys," she gestured at the prone males, "to a doctor.  Is there
one nearby?"

    "We always go to Dr. Tofu's..." said Ranma.

    "Oh!  Aunt Kasumi's!" Miyabi was ecstatic.  Apparently,
she had  fond memories of her mother's older sister.

    "You really _are_ my daughter..." Akane finally
realised. "But that means that Ranma and I.... We... We don't,
do we?!?" Miyabi nodded, and Akane started turning red.

    "There's NO WAY I'd EVER do anything like THAT with that
kawaiikune girl!"

    "There'll be plenty of time to discuss this later,"
said Childra. "Right now, the doctor?"

    "Hai."

    With that, they picked up the bodies (not forgetting the
fruit bat) and started to walk towards Dr. Tofu's clinic.

                  * * * * *

    Ratiko slowly came to consciousness and rubbed his
throbbing head... Saotome.  He should have known.  Whatever
troubles had come into his life, whatever happened to turn his
once idyllic existence into its present hellish state, whatever
rock he stubbed his toe upon... All of his problems could be
traced back to one source: the cross-dressing hentai jock called
Ranma.  Curses, vicious nuns, becoming part of a century-old
Chinese Amazon's dinner... He was the cause.  Why should he be
surprised that he had also had a part to play in his warping into
battle, and then landing in a cold canal? But... Ratiko looked
around... This didn't look like a canal...

    He was in a simple room, with four white walls and an
equally blanched, unblanketed cot in the middle of it.  No.  It
was not a canal. How had he gotten here? Granted, his sense of
direction was lousy, but he was usually conscious when he...

    "I think sleeping beauty's awake," said a voice from
without.

    "Hello?" asked Ratiko.

    A youngish man stepped into the room. He wore a dark
purple kimono, and kept his light brown hair tied back in a
small ponytail.  He smiled at Ratiko, eyes twinkling behind his
wire-rimmed glasses.

    "I'm glad to see you're feeling better.  Ranma gave you
quite a beating..."

    "What... I... The..."

    "Be thankful it wasn't Akane..." The man noticed
Ratiko's confused expression.  "Oh, that's right!  I haven't
introduced myself yet!" He extended his hand to Rat. "Dr. Tofu
Ono.  Childra's told me all about you." Ratiko took Dr. Tofu's
hand, and shook it, not knowing what else to do.

    "I'm kind of... Lost..." Childra came in, and leaned
against the wall.

    "Not surprising for a Hibiki," she said. Dr. Tofu
nodded. "Especially considering where and when we are..."
Ratiko's eyes widened.

    "Where... and WHEN?"

    "Congratulations, Rat; seems your navigational abilities
also apply to time travel."

    "Time travel? But...  Don't you have to get all sorts of
clearance for that, and the time, and energy..."

    "You're rambling, Rat."

    "Don't worry," the doctor interjected. "Just a side
effect of some of the drugs I had to give him... He should be
light-headed for a couple of hours..." [So _that's_ what it
was], thought Ratiko.

    "So, er... Childra?"

    "Yes?"

    "What happened?"

    Childra sighed.

    "To tell the truth, darling, I don't exactly know.  All
I've been able to figure out is that the focus for the time jump
is that pig-tailed fellow."

    "RANMA?!?!?  I KNEW IT!  I'LL KILL THE..." Dr. Tofu
cleared his throat.

    "Not _that_ pig-tailed fellow," he said.

    "It's the other one.  Remember? The one you bumped into
in the Nekohanten." Ratiko remembered. Slowly... His mind was
still a haze, but details were beginning to come back...

    "Oh, yeah... Where is he?"

    "Still unconscious.  I'll try to get information out of
him when he wakes up."

    "And... Saotome? And Akane?" Childra looked at Dr. Tofu.

    "THAT will take some explaining," she said.  "I have
good news and bad news.  The good news is, we're in Nerima."
Ratiko breathed a sigh of relief.  "The bad news is, it's 1996.
November, 1996."

    "NOVEMBER 1996? But Ranma died in October!  Shouldn't he
be in that spring by now?"

    "Ranma is not dead.  Neither is Akane."

    "WHAT?!?"

    "I told you it would take some explaining."

    "But, if Ranma isn't dead, and Akane hasn't killed
herself, then great-gramps and great-grandma..."

    "Ryouga and Ukyou have no intention of marrying," said
Dr. Tofu.

    "Which means..." said Childra.

    "That I WON'T EXIST?"

    "But you clearly do.  Ergo, dearie, we must not be in
our own time-stream.  I don't know HOW the Ministry could have
botched their calculations THAT much, but they must've knocked
us into an alternate reality."  True to his ancestors, Ratiko
was becoming more lost by the minute.

    "I'm afraid I don't quite catch this..."

    "Neither do I, lad," said Childra. "Mr. Pig-tail has a
lot of questions to answer when he wakes up." She grinned. "For
example, is he married?"

    "Only you could think of something like THAT at a time
like THIS, Jansen...  You're a historian!  Aren't you the LEAST
bit worried that the past is being messed up?"

    "It's not OUR past, Rat... And, as far as I'm concerned,
it just means there's more to study.  I'm having a field day,
actually..."

    "That's only because YOU'RE not in danger of not being
born..."  Ratiko grumbled. Childra sighed and decided against
trying to explain the situation. Rat looked at the doctor. "YOU
seem to be taking this in stride.  Aren't you confused?"  Dr.
Tofu smiled.

    "Believe me, Hibiki-san, by having my practice in Nerima
I've seen a lot stranger things...  Ranma and Akane..." Ratiko
interrupted.

    "Where _IS_ everyone, anyway?"

    "Pig-tail's in the other room, recovering.  I think
he'll be fine... Lucky for him I pulled his face out of the
water... Kasumi - that's Akane's older sister - is talking to
Ishido, who's just as muddled as you are..."

    "Ishido?"

    "Think battle. The long-haired boy who's fight we jumped
into."  Ratiko shuddered. He remembered THAT.

    "Right."

    "So, Ishido's with Kasumi, and Ranma and Akane are with
Miyabi."

    "Miyabi?"

    "I think each of the places we warped into was an
alternate time-line; not just this one.  Miyabi is Ranma's
daughter by Akane."

    "So... Ranma's not dead, and Akane's not a ghost?"

    "I certainly hope not... Saotome-kun's too kawaii to be
a necrophiliac..."

    "CHILDRA!  How did you ever get your MA with that
one-track mind of yours?"

    Childra winked at him.

    "Are you sure you want to know?" she asked.

    Dr. Tofu blushed. So did Ratiko.

    "I... I think I'll go.. Um.. I'll go check on that
unconscious boy, and leave you two alone..." He quietly slipped
out the door.  Childra continued.

    "The pair are quite interested in finding out what their
daughter wioll be like, of course..."

    "Wioll?"

    "Time-travel grammar."

    "Oh."

    "Miyabi also appreciates the chance to see what her
parents were like at her age."

    "That's nice, Childra, but HOW ARE WE GOING TO GET BACK?
I don't suppose we could just take a taxi..." Childra frowned.

    "Not quite.  Truth to tell, I'm not sure how, or if, we
can get back...  For now, all I can say is, enjoy yourself!"

    "Enjoy myself? ENJOY MYSELF? Ranma's pulled me into
another fine mess, and..." Childra began to speak, but Ratiko
quieted her. "I don't CARE if he's not the Ranma I know!  He's
STILL Saotome, and he's STILL to blame for all of this!"

    "He only punched you, and you WERE trying to bite.. I
mean... You WERE trying to suck him."

    "You're not going to convince me that he's innocent,
Childra. I _know_ he's GOT to be behind this.  Who else would be
out to make my life miserable?" Another sigh from the historian.

    "Look, Rat. RELAX.  If you're going to be stuck here,
and we WILL be stuck here, you might as well have FUN.  You
always tell me how you admired your great-grandfather, ne?"

    "Hai.  But he's not my great-grandfather anymore, now,
is he?"

    "Never mind that.  It's still the same person. He is
still Hibiki Ryouga, and you are still Hibiki Ratiko. AND, he
lives in Nerima. Why don't you see if you can find him? Judging
from Akane and Ranma's response to Miyabi, I'm sure he'd love to
meet you."

    "Thanks, Childra. I suppose you're right... What are YOU
going to do?" Childra smiled.

    "Oh, I don't know WHAT I'll do with myself... Tatewaki
Kuno's not a monk, Shampoo's Mousse is alive, young and single,
and your great-grand-papa won't be marrying anytime soon..."

    "CHILDRA!"

    "I can't help myself, dearie. Don't worry... I'm also
interested in doing some research... Think of it! No one else,
as far as I know, has had this opportunity... Heck, I didna
think the department was CAPABLE of this type of time-shift.
Bothers me, though. Why'd they choose such a young lad for the
test subject? Gotta ask him about that when he comes to..."

    "Could you... Could you leave me alone? I need to rest."

    "Sure!  I'll go see how the others are getting
along...", Childra said, and left through the door into the main
clinic.

    Ratiko lay back in the cot and thought.  Ranma and Akane
were both alive, but both had to die so that Ryouga and Ukyou
would be driven to marry each other... And, unless they married,
Ratiko would not be born.  Saotome must be killed.  But how?  If
Rat tried to go against him... Even with his new-found ki-blast,
he could only handle an unprepared and peaceful Ranma. If the
jock thought his life was threatened... 1996 Nerima, ne?  Hm...
Ukyou had destroyed half of Tokyo with a spatula, so she had to
be pretty  powerful.  Maybe he could enlist the aid of
grand-mama.  Then, of course, there was Ryouga.  The man's...
Er... boy's... powers were legendary in 2096.  If he could get
his help, then it should be a breeze to annihilate Saotome.
Once that was done, Akane's suicide should follow, and history'd
be back on track.  Ratiko smiled to himself.  Destroy Ranma.
Perhaps he _would_ enjoy this trip, after all...

                  * * * * *

     Ranma and Akane sat with Miyabi in Tofu-sensei's waiting
room. Ranma and Akane kept sneaking embarrassed, shy glances at
each other as they talked to the girl.

     "I was just working at the Nekohanten when some guys
dropped out of the air on top of me! And, well... I... err... hit
one of them and suddenly I was somewhere else, in the middle of a
fight. Not sure what happened, but then I was here, and that
pervert pig-tailed guy grabbed me out of the air and he hand his
hand... and he had his hand... and...and I just couldn't help
hitting him again!" She sighed.

     Akane looked a little perplexed. [She's just like me...]

     Ranma crossed her arms over her chest, "You sound too much
like that macho chick here to be anyone's daughter but hers.
Calling a guy perverted when it was you who fell on him."

     Akane scowled at Ranma, "I only call guys perverts if they
deserve it, you pervert!"

     Ranma glared back, "Irokeganee..."

     Miyabi sighed, "Otousan, okaasan! Stop it!"

     Ranma and Akane blinked at her, suddenly both embarrassed
again at the reminder of them being parents.

     Ranma looked for a moment at his female body, "Umm, Miyabi,
do I get, well, cured?"

     Miyabi shook her head, "Not yet..."

     Ranma sighed a little, and Akane looked at him, "Well,
maybe our...err... the future will be different, and you'll find
a cure?"

     Ranma nodded, "Yeah. There's no way I'd ever marry you, you
klutz!"

     Akane glared at Ranma, starting to get angry.

     Miyabi stood up, "Well, if you two want to argue all day,
I'm going to go see the others. Some example you're setting your
child!"

     Ranma and Akane quickly stood up, too, only half glaring at
each other. "We'll come, too."

     Miyabi nodded, "Auntie Kasumi's with that Ishido guy, and
the pig-tailed hentai's with Uncle Tofu, I think. Don't know
about the other guy, but I guess he's with Childra."

     The three sixteen year olds wandered through the clinic
till they found Ishido and Kasumi.

    Miyabi, on seeing her aunt, flew to her arms and hugged her,
"Auntie!"

     Kasumi, looking just a little surprised, hugged the girl
back. "You must be Miyabi." She smiled down at the girl.

     Ishido, resting on the bed, blinked, "You're the girl from
the fight, aren't you?"

     Miyabi stopped hugging Kasumi, and nodded. "What was
happening?"

     "Well, these guys were attacking me... I have to find
Cologne!"

     Ranma scowled, "What do you want to see the old ghoul for?"

     Miyabi blinked, "Old? I know she's horrible, but old?"

     Akane and Ranma stared at Miyabi for a moment.

     Kasumi stood up, "She's about a hundred years old, Miyabi..."

     Miyabi looked confused, "She doesn't look it..."

     Ranma scratched her hair, "She does to me."

     Ishido looked between them, "You know Cologne? The old
ghoul in China told me to find her!"

     Everyone started looking more and more confused. Kasumi just
smiled sweetly.

     Dr. Tofu poked his head around the door, "I'd just like to
say that Ryo's woken up... Oh! Kasumi-san! How did you get here?
Did Betty let you in without telling me? I'll have to tell her
off for that! Leaving a guest like you waiting! And you four, did
you all come to show Kasumi where to wait for me? Or was it for
the appendicitis operation?" He pulled his skeleton, Betty, from
nowhere, and started to dance into the room with it. "Zun cha
cha! Zun cha cha!" he sang, waltzing with the pile of bones.

     Kasumi smiled at the doctor, "Maa, he's such a nice, funny
man, ne?"

     Ishido and Miyabi stared. Akane and Ranma sighed, shaking
their heads.

     Ranma whispered to Akane, "Glad he's got no more patients
for the day..."

     Akane nodded silently.

     Miyabi watched the goings on, [What a weird place... Uncle
Tofu *used* to act weird, or so I've heard... and otousan and
okaasan are always fighting!  Well, they fight a lot, but not
*this* much! Only Aunt Kasumi seems the same...] She looked over
at Ishido for a moment, [And what's he want with Cologne? Anyone
who wants anything to do with her must be up to no good!  I'd
better keep my eye on him...]

     She sat down on the edge of the bed, watching Dr. Tofu
dance.

                  * * * * *

     Childra wandered down the hallway, almost run over by a
guy who seemed to be *dancing* with a skeleton!

     She shook her head, [From what Akane told me about her
past, it seems the good doctor just saw Kasumi.]

     Entering the nearby room, she waved. The female Ranma,
Akane, Miyabi and Ishido were talking with Kasumi. Childra
sighed, wondering why they were having such an animated
discussion about watered down perfume.

     "Hi, girls! Hi, cutie!" She smiled at Ishido.

     Ishido looked faintly confused. He sat up, trying to ignore
the pain in his head, "I've got to find Cologne before *they*
catch me!"

     Kasumi tried to get him to lay back down in the bed, "Who
are they?" she wondered.

     Ishido didn't lay back, "I-- I don't know.  I need to see
Cologne!"

     Childra shrugged, "Well, I've got some perfume here for
you, sexy, but guys like you shouldn't be wearing that!"

     Ishido frowned, "Perfume's the old ghoul in China.
Something to do with that girl... that... Hairspray?"

     Ranma and Akane exchanged glances. [Sounds like he's
visited the Joketsuzoku...]

     Miyabi frowned, "Those names sound a lot like Aunt Shampoo
and Uncle Mousse's names."

     Ishido looked around the people in the room, "So you can
tell me where to find this Cologne!"

     Ranma nodded, "She's usually in the Nekohanten..."

     Miyabi still looked confused, [I guess this was back before
Cologne went insane ... Must be, that happened after mum and dad
got married...]

     "I'll show you where it is," continued Ranma. Akane stood
up, nodding.

     Kasumi sat back, letting the young man get out of the bed.

     "Let's go, then!" Ishido walked to the door, Ranma and
Akane trailing behind.

     Miyabi watched her parents and Ishido walk out. She
shrugged a little, then turned to Kasumi, "Can you show me the
dojo? I'd love to see how it looked back when otousan and okaasan
were my age!"

     Kasumi smiled, standing up, "Of course. And you can meet
your auntie Nabiki, and your grandfathers."

     Childra, interested in seeing the dojo, joined them.

     Miyabi smiled, "And grandma, too?"

     Kasumi gave a half worried frown, "She only comes around on
occasion. She doesn't know about Ranma-kun's curse yet, you
see..."

     The three girls left the clinic, talking. Miyabi, trying to
find out as much about her family as possible, Childra trying to
work out all she can about the past.

     Doctor Tofu danced by, with Betty.

                  * * * * *

     Leaving the girls at the dojo, Kasumi went back to check on
Ryo and Ratiko.  Ryo, sitting on a bed, sighed looking around.
"This is the wrong time...  How do I get myself into these
messes?" He fingered the locket...

     Kasumi smiled, checked his jaw, "Well, you'll be fine. I
believe that the knock to the head won't be a problem, but be
careful when eating. There is a nasty hand-shaped bruise on your
jaw..."

     [That girl... she slapped me!] though Ryo, "Why did she hit
me?" he wondered out aloud.

     Kasumi shook her head, and applied an ointment to the slap
mark, "She's a little high spirited, Miyabi-chan is. Very much
like her parents."

     "Who're her parents?" he asked.

     "It seems that she is the daughter of Ranma-kun and
Akane..."

     Ryo blinked in shock.

                   * * * * *

     Kasumi looked in the door, "Excuse me, Ratiko-san? How are
you doing?"

     Ratiko's face, holding an evil look, became blank. "Oh, I'm
sure things will be fine..."

     Kasumi, smiling sweetly, nodded and left him alone.

                  * * * * *

     Ishido woke up, surprised to find himself in a bed. "Wha?
Who?  Where..." he muttered groggily as he assessed his
situation.  His first thought was that he had been captured.
He heard a sweetly lilting voice behind him exclaim "Oh my,
you're awake!"   Ishido turned to see Kasumi smiling calmly at
him as she tended to his bruises.

     "Who're you?  Where am I?  Can you help me?  I've got to
find Cologne before they find me!"  Ishido's questions tumbled
out like water over a precipice. [She looks.. familiar.. this
all does... but how??] Kasumi smiled and said "I'm sure your
friends can help you.   My name is Kasumi Tendou, you're at
Doctor Tofu's, and yes, I do know Cologne--but you need medical
treatment first.  It looks like you've been through a lot."
Kasumi bent to sponge off some of the dried blood, but Ishido
unsteadily pushed her away, go up, and wandered off to find
*someone* that looked familiar.  Just as he reached the door,
though, three teenagers walked in, knocking him back far enough
so that he ended up sitting back on the bed.

     "Auntie Kasumi!" exclaimed the youngest one as she hugged
Ishido's would-be nurse.

     He recognized her, and said to her "Hey, you're the girl
from earlier, aren't you?"

     Miyabi nodded.  "Why were those guys after you, anyway?"

     Ishido sighed.  "Long story...actually, short story...about
the only thing I remember about my life is being chased around by
people just like that."  Ishido sighed again. "Anyway, that's not
important. I came to Nerima to find Cologne...do any of you know
her?"  He stared intently at Ranma, and Akane, even Kasumi.  The
first two found it unnerving, the way his intense gaze seemed to
burn right through them.  [Do.. do I *know* these two..? They
look... familiar... somehow.. ] Kasumi just smiled sweetly.

     Ranma scowled. "What do you want with that old ghoul?"

     Miyabi blinked.  "Old?  C'mon, I know she's horrible, but
she's not old!"

     Kasumi sighed.  "She's about a hundred years old,
Miyabi-chan."

     Miyabi looked terribly confused.  "She sure doesn't look
it...."

     Ranma scratched his head.  "She looks it to me..."

     Ishido tennis-watched the two confusedly.  "You know
Cologne?  The old ghoul in China told me to find her!  Can you
take me to her?" [Why can't I *remember*?!?]

     Everyone started looking more and more confused. Kasumi
just smiled sweetly again.

     Dr. Tofu poked his head around the door, "I'd just like to
say that Ryo's woken up... Oh! Kasumi-san! How did you get here?
Did Betty let you in without telling me? I'll have to tell her
off for that! Leaving a guest like you waiting! And you four, did
you all come to show Kasumi where to wait for me? Or was it for
the appendicitis operation?" He pulled his skeleton, Betty, from
nowhere, and started to dance into the room with it.  "Zun cha
cha! Zun cha cha!" he sang, waltzing with the pile of bones.

     Kasumi smiled at the doctor, "Maa, he's such a nice, funny
man, ne?"

     Ishido and Miyabi stared. Akane and Ranma sighed, shaking
their heads.

     Ishido leaned over to Miyabi.  "He wasn't....dancing...with
that skeleton, was he?  I'm just suffering from the bump to the
head, right?" Miyabi shook an affirmative to the first question
and a no to the second.

     Ranma whispered to Akane, "Glad he's got no more patients
for the day..."

     Akane nodded silently.

     Miyabi watched the goings on, [What a weird place... Uncle
Tofu *used* to act weird, or so I've heard... and otousan and
okaasan are always fighting!  Well, they fight a lot, but not
*this* much! Only Aunt Kasumi seems the same...] She looked over
at Ishido for a moment, [And what's he want with Cologne? Anyone
who wants anything to do with her must be up to no good! I'd
better keep my eye on him...]

     She sat down on the edge of the bed, watching Dr. Tofu
dance.

     Childra walked in at about this point, narrowly avoiding
the Doctor's Dance of Death(tm), while, not as graceful as
Sanzenin's technique of the same name, was certainly just as
effective.  She heard the word Cologne come up several times and
she wondered what the hell they were talking about.

     "Hey girls! Hey cutie!" That last was directed at Ishido,
who was very uncomfortable with Childra's directness.

      Ishido sighed.  He _really_ had to see Cologne.  "Hey, I
really need to find Cologne."

     Childra grinned.  "Well, I've got perfume for you here,
sexy, but it's really something more suited to girls."

     Ishido shook his head negatively, "No, Perfume's the old
ghoul in China.  She's...um....Hairspray's great-grandmother?
Yeah, that's it.  Anyway, Perfume told me to find Cologne."

     Ranma and Akane frowned.  The both had the same thought.
[Joketsuzoku....*sigh*]  Ranma's mind was working in overdrive
(for once. Occurances like Ranma thinking outside of a battle
situation were rare and to be savored.) [Better find out whether
he's defeated Hairspray or not--and find out what the ghoul
knows, too.]

     Miyabi frowned, "Those names seem awfully familiar--like
Aunt Shampoo and Uncle Mousse..."

     Ishido sighed a small sigh of relief. "Then you *do* know
her! Please, take me to her as soon as possible."

     Ranma nodded.  "She's usually at the Nekohanten.  I'll take
you to her."  Akane nodded, and they got up and, saying their
goodbyes, left for the Nekohanten.

     During the short walk to Nekohanten, Ranma couldn't help
but notice that Ishido tensed up as soon as they left Tofu's,
and that his eyes darted around like birds, like he was afraid
that someone was going to attack him.  Akane noticed too, and
was worried.  [What could possibly have happened to him to make
him this afraid of everything?]  All weirdness aside, it was a
beautiful day, and even Ishido didn't look as tense by the time
they reached the Nekohanten.

     "Hey, old ghoul!  We got someone here who needs to see
you!"  Ranma  shouted as they entered the Cat Cafe.

     "Son-in-law.  Well, bring them in, I don't have all day."

     Cologne looked Ishido over.  "So, what brings you here, to
see me?  Not many seek me out, but those that do often have
grave reasons."

     Ishido bowed.  "Cologne, I was sent here by Perfume.  She
says that I am 'airen' to Hairspray, and I am in need of your
help."

     Cologne bug-eyed for a second. [This one bested Hairspray,
the only Joketsuzoku to have defeated Shampoo in tournament?
He bears watching--and helping, for I cannot afford to invoke
Perfume's wrath.]  "Very well, I shall do what I can."

     Ishido nodded.  "May we speak in private?" [Her... I.. she
*can* help me.. or.. maybe... chikusho...]

     "Certainly.  This way, please."  Cologne led him into the
office,  and they sat and talked.

     "I need your help.  Perfume has told me that you know
something about my pursuers."

     "That will depend.  Who are your pursuers?"

     Ishido sighed. "I'm afraid I do not know their name, but I
do know  that they are lead by one who goes by the name of ...
of... *sigh* I'm afraid I cannot recall the name.."

     Cologne shook her head.  "I'm afraid that I cannot tell you
without the name. I may be able to help you in other ways,
however."

     Ishido nodded.  "So, you know nothing of my pursuers--I
cannot say that I am surprised, as this does not seem to be my
universe."

     Cologne started at that.  "*Not* your universe?  What do
you mean by that?"

     Ishido said "Only that, during a fight, some people arrived
through a glowing portal.  I was hard-pressed, and followed
them.  Where we arrived *looks* like the Nerima I have wandered,
but it is not."

     Cologne nodded.  "The Joketsuzoku have many artefacts which
facilitate this type of travel... but that is not the business
at hand."

     Ishido continued with, "The travel has cleared some of my
mind--my pursuers wiped my mind clean, once, and I have had to
try to fill it, and to find my original memories.  They also
placed compulsions on me--I was hoping you could fix them."

     Cologne slowly nodded.  She got up and went behind Ishido.
After poking a few pressure points, she grimly said "Whoever has
done this to you has used a technique I am not familiar
with--they have simply barriered your mind to your memories, and
placed the compulsions.  The barrier is far too complex for me
to break--that is something you'll have to figure out for
yourself.  The compulsions, however..."  She quickly hit a few
pressure points.  "There.  You should now be free of those
compulsions.  Now--keep in mind that this is *not* your Nerima,
but what you do here may have repercussions throughout all the
planes of existence." Cologne thought of something.  "Oh yes,
where is Hairspray right now?"

     Ishido smiled.  "She stayed in China; I convinced her that
my life would be no good for her right now."

     Ishido made a mental note of what Cologne had said, and
thanked Cologne.  Ranma and Akane grilled him on what happened
once he rejoined them, and he said "Well, I'm back where I
started--but, at least, I won't kill anyone now."  Ranma and
Akane puzzled over that statement as they walked back to the
doctor's office.

     Meanwhile...

     "It seems that she's the child of Ranma and Akane."

     The words echoed in Ryo's mind, as he thought about the
implications inherent in that one simple statement.  [She's
another half-sister--or...oh, whatever, but I need to talk to
her.]

                  * * * * *

    [Another half-sister, another world... it seems like I'm
no closer to home than when I started.]  Ryo stared down at the
battered silver  locket.  [Sometimes I wish we'd never crossed
paths; now, thanks to you,  I've got to go through that pain all
over again.] Closing his fist he looked up at Kasumi.  She was
busy putting away the jar of ointment she'd used on his bruise.

    "Um..." Ryo said.

    "Yes?"

    "How many of us are there?  I mean, how many people
don't belong to this world?"

    "There are five of you.  Miyabi-chan and Childra are at
the dojo, Akane and Ranma took Ishido to see Cologne, and Ratiko
is in the next room."  Kasumi's voice took on a not of concern.
"The two of you were hurt badly; he was bruised all over, and you
took a nasty blow to the head."

    "I feel fine now."  Ryo tapped the bandage on his jaw.
"Except  for this."

    Kasumi smiled.  "Doctor Tofu is very good at what he
does."

    [Enough chatting,] Ryo told himself.  [If I've learned
anything from this, it's that time travellers don't have time to
waste.]  "This Ratiko, is he well enough to leave the clinic?"

    "He should be."  The eldest Tendou daughter blinked.
"Why do you ask?"

    "I need to talk to all of us," Ryo told her, "and I'd
rather explain just once.  My story is confusing."

    Kasumi nodded.  "I understand."  She peeked her head
around the corner, calling, "Ratiko?  Oh, that's odd."

    "What do you mean?" Ryo asked.  There was an edge to his
voice;  he'd had enough odd things in the past day to last a
lifetime.

    "He's not here.  I don't see how he could leave.  This
is the only door to his room, and neither of us saw him go by."

    Ryo grit his teeth.  [This is not good.  Now what do I
do?] "You said the girls went to the Tendou dojo?"

    "Yes.  I took them there myself."

    "Then that's where I'm going."  Ryo took a deep breath,
trying to calm himself down.  It wasn't Kasumi's fault that
events were going from bad to worse.  "If Ratiko shows up, or if
Ranma and Akane bring Ishido back here, make sure they go to the
dojo."

    Kasumi nodded her assent, and Ryo marched out of the room.
Neither of them noticed the small open window.

                  * * * * *

    There was chaos at the Tendou dojo, but then, what else
was new.

    Genma and Soun were running around the house.  They
weren't drunk, but you would have been hard pressed to tell the
difference.  Miyabi's parentage had thrown them for quite a
loop.

    Miyabi was rather upset; she'd wanted to talk with her
grandfathers, but they were in no shape for a conversation.
Nabiki, on the other hand, was full of questions, but they were
all about the future of the stock market.  Miyabi knew next to
nothing about the world of high finance in the early
twenty-first century, but her aunt continued to pump her for
information.

    Childra was having a ball.  [Now I know why Ranma and
Akane are so squirrely.  It's genetic.]

    Akane, Ranma, and Ishido chose that moment to come home.
Soun and Genma rushed their children, offering crushing hugs,
backslaps, handshakes, and congratulations.  Ishido took a wary
step back. It was just better for everyone involved. (Or not
involved, as is the case.)

    "Hey, cut it out," Ranma shouted as he socked Genma in
the nose.  "I don't care what she says.  There's no way I'd even
marry a tomboy like her."

    Genma gave his son a hearty laugh.  "Oh, you might say
that now, Ranma my boy, but _we_ know you'll change your mind
sooner or later."  The bald martial-artist winked, but his
attempt at subtlety failed  miserably.

    "Saotome-kun, we must throw a party!" Soun declared.

    "Yes, Tendou-kun, I think you're right," Genma answered.

    "We should invite the entire neighbourhood."

    "Everyone!" Genma agreed.

    "And the press!"

    "Imagine, our children on the news."

    "And your wife!"

    Genma paled.  "No need to go that far, Tendou-kun."

    Miyabi took the return of her parents as an excuse to
escape from Nabiki's interrogation.  "Mom, Dad," she cried as
she hugged them both in turn.  "I'm glad you're back."

    Ranma turned red and looked away.  "Um, yeah."  Akane
just stared at her feet.  The notion of having a daughter still
made the two of them uncomfortable, to say the least.

    Miyabi picked up on this.  She clasped her hands
together in  front of her and smiled at her parents, turning on
all the charm she had inherited.  "I'd really like to see the
rest of the house," she said.

    Akane looked up.  She returned her daughter's smile, a
bit shyly, true, but it was a start.  "I'd be glad to show you."

    "Dad?" Miyabi asked.

    "Yeah, sure, I'll show you around.  I've got nothing
better to do."

    "Baka," Akane hissed.  "That's no way to talk to our
daughter."

    Ranma shrugged.  "What else was I supposed to say?"

    Miyabi sensed the growing argument.  It felt like the
build-up of electricity before a lightning strike.  "Mom, Dad?"
she asked.  "The house?"

    The would-be quarrel vanished like it had never been.
"Of course," Akane said.  "My room is up the stairs..."

    Ishido started wandering through the living room, but
Childra didn't let him get far.  "Hey there, handsome.  Did you
find what you were looking for?"

    "Some of it.  I won't be killing anyone by accident now."

    Childra blinked.  "That's a good thing," she said slowly.

    Ishido nodded.  "Now all I need is to get my memory back."

    "No memory huh?"  The scholar gave Ishido a speculative
look.  "Then you wouldn't know if you've got a girlfriend, now
would you?"

    Ishido blushed.  "I... I don't think so."

    "Good!"

    Ishido blushed even more.  Frantic to change the subject,
he asked the first question that popped into his head.  "Do you
know how we got here?"

    "Well," drawled Childra, taking on a professorly tone,
"some people say the birds and the bees have something to do
with i, and others blame storks.  Now, I, on the other hand,
know a little bit about biology-"

    "That's not what I meant!" Ishido cried.

    "Well, then, say what you mean."

    "What I meant to say was, 'How did we get to this
world?'"

    Childra frowned.  "I'd like to know that, too," she
said, all trace of flirting gone.  "I'm pretty sure that
pig-tailed boy knows the answers, and I wish he'd woken up before
I left."

    "Then you probably should have stayed at the clinic,"
said Ryo.  The transdimensional veteran had walked through the
open front door when no one was looking.  "Take it from me: the
last thing we should do is split up."

    Childra  pounced.  "I have questions," she said, "and I'd
be willing to bet that you have answers.  We can start with
names. What's yours?"

    "I'm Ryo Saotome, from a world where Ranma lost to the
Gambler King and married Ukyou Kuonji."  Ryo stared at Childra
and Ishido.  "You don't look like anyone I know.  How are you
related to Ranma?"

    "Never met the guy until today...... I think." Ishido
said.

    "I know his ghost, and the body he possesses."  Childra
stared  back at Ryo.  "Why do you ask that?"

    "I know I have at least one would-be half-sister here.
Everyone else who's ever... gone on one of these trips has been
tied to either the Saotome or the Tendou families."

    Childra shrugged, but her eyes never left Ryo's face.
He'd almost let something slip there, something he didn't want
to share.  "Well, I guess this time is different."  She smiled
at her own pun.  "So you've crossed dimensions before, huh?"

    "More than I would have liked."  Ryo could tell she was
probing for information.  He did his best to give her as little
as possible.

    "How'd you get picked to be a time-traveller?"

    "I didn't get, 'picked.'  It was blind luck."

    "So you're not an archaeologist or historian?"

    "No, I'm a cook and an apprentice healer."

    "When the time comes, can you get us home?"

    "I think so.  I sent... everyone else got where they
needed to go.  As for, 'when,' as soon as possible would be
best.  Time travel only causes pain."

    "I'm not so sure about that," Childra said.  "So far it
seems like fun.  And the opportunity of a lifetime."

    "You haven't seen your father in love with another
woman," Ryo countered hotly.

    "Do we have to go home?" Ishido broke in.  "I'd rather
stay here."

    "We're all going back," Ryo said flatly.  "As soon as I
find out where to go, we're gone."

    "So you _are_ in control of the chronal displacement,"
said Childra.

    [Stupid, stupid, stupid Ryo!  If I keep this up, she'll
find out  everything.]  "Yes, you could say that, but don't get
any ideas. This is no game.  Worlds are at stake."  The
pig-tailed boy tried to make his face an expressionless mask.
He'd managed to hid secrets from Tachi before, and the heir to
the House of Kuno was almost as inquisitive as his mother..

    "I think you're overreacting," Childra countered.  "The
Department of Exploratory History never makes such a big deal
out of time-jumps."

        "I know what I'm talking about," Ryo shouted, "and if
you'd seen Shutaro Saotome, you'd understand!"  Ryo paused, then
ran a hand through his hair.  "Look, I'm sorry I snapped at you,
but I'm adamant about this.  I'm not going to tell anyone the
secrets of time travel, and as soon as I can, I'm going to
destroy it."

    "That would be a waste," Childra said softly.

    Ryo shoved his hands in his pockets.  "That's my decision."

    "If you say so."  Childra smiled to herself.  The boy
had been a tough nut to crack, but in the end, he'd told her
everything she needed to know.  He crossed between dimensions by
way of an artifact, and he was carrying it in his front right
pocket...

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                  The End, Act I

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