Converging Series: A Crossover of Unexpected Dimensions.

Act 6





The story so far...

ACT I:

     In an alternate reality where Ranma married Shampoo, their
daughter had somehow obtained a magic locket that allowed her to cross
dimensions.  A few accidents later, several of Ranma's 'children' from
various realities ended up in one reality, where Ranma was still a
teen-age youth.  One among them, Ryo Saotome (son of Ranma and Ukyou)
managed to get a hold of the locket before Cologne was about to do
something devious with it.  Following his victory, Ryo sent all the
children of Ranma & company to their proper realities, and then
prepared to go home himself. Something, however, went wrong.  He ended
up in a bizarre version of Tokyo in 2096 and accidentally dragged
along Ratiko Hibiki and Childra Jansen in his attempt to fix this
mistake.  That attempt dragged him to two other realities with amazing
speed.  From them, he accidentally brought Miyabi, daughter of Ranma
and Akane, and Ishido, a mysterious amnesiac hunted by a shadowy
organization. Finally, they stopped in a reality where Ranma & co.
were still teens, but had never met them before.

ACT II:

     Childra, curious as to what caused their dimensional/reality
shift, watched Ryo Saotome closely, and discovered that the locket is
the source of their troubles.  She tried, and succeeded, in stealing
the locket from him without his noticing. Ratiko schemed to make sure
that the history of his world took place, and began a plan to kill
Ranma and frame Miyabi for the murder. He succeeded in getting a blood
sample from her and a torn piece of her clothing, but was interrupted
before he could go through with his plan. In a talk with Ishido, he
found out about a certain umbrella-wielding maniac threatening to kill
Ryouga in Ishido's reality.  In a panic, Ratiko rushed to Childra, and
accidentally triggered the locket. The three of them found themselves
on a bridge somewhere.  Before they left, they accidentally dragged
along Ryo Muhoshin, a person that looked amazingly like Hikaru
Gosunkugi, but in truth was a bit more devious. Bringing him along,
the four crossed several realities, narrowly escaping danger, capture,
and death. Then they returned to the Nerima they had left from, with
an irate Ryo Saotome waiting for them. Meanwhile, Miyabi had put up
with the antics of her grandparents (Soun and Genma) who were
overjoyed at her existence, distressed at the way her parents were
fighting, greatly annoyed at her trans-dimensional half brother Ryo
Saotome, and had decided that a talk with Grandmother Nodoka was in
order.

ACT III:

     Miyabi went to Nodoka's to talk, unaware that Ranma's life was in
danger due to the promise Genma made to Nodoka regarding manliness and
Ranma's upbringing.  The end result was that Nodoka was invited to
dinner, expecting to see her son, daughter-in-law, and granddaughter.
Miyabi's age, almost that of Ranma, was, unfortunately, not foreseen as
a major problem by Miyabi. Upon returning from her accidental trip
through time, Childra surrendered the locket to Ryo Saotome once
again.  Meanwhile, the extra passenger they picked up, Ryo Muhoshin,
passed himself off as 'Ryo Gosunkugi, son of Gosunkugi and Ukyou' and had
everyone fooled. Nabiki got a hold of the material Ratiko was planning to
frame Miyabi with and used it to blackmail him into buying her dinner,
among other things.  They end up at Ucchan's, where he washed dishes to
pay for things.  He eventually got drunk, hit on Ukyou, and was knocked
out by a blow to the head. Childra and Ishido became more... intimately
attached.  When his guard was down, Ryo Saotome was knocked out by Ryo
Muhoshin, who then accidentally triggered the locket and disappeared into
times and places unknown.  

    Ryo Saotome woke up much later to find the locket gone, an image of
it burned in his hand, and discovered what was inside the locket:

     A picture of him and Bell-chan, his fiancee.

ACT IV:

     Ryo Saotome began making plans to assemble the locket that he was
apparently destined to create (the photo from the locket being proof
of that).  Meanwhile, Ratiko spent the day with Nabiki, buying her
food and treats while also beginning to feel somewhat attracted to
her.  Ishido and Childra sorted through their fears and anxieties, but
in the end came together in a happy reunion within the local
graveyard.  Miyabi & the Tendo household held a dinner for Nodoka, who
was expecting to see her son at last.  What happened instead was that
she had an interesting experience with a time traveler (Happosai) and
realized that Miyabi was, in fact, Ranma's daughter from the future.
She also assumed that 'Ranko' was Genma's daughter from an affair.
Soun briefly assumed Akane was Genma's child from an affair with his
deceased wife.  Things got ugly, but got better again as they usually
did (although Nodoka still thinks Ranko is Genma's illegitimate
child).  Meanwhile, Under the distrustful eyes of Childra and Ishido,
Ryo Saotome used the arcane resources within Happosai's room to create
the locket.

ACT V:

    Ryo Muhoshin, having borrowed the locket from Ryo Saotome by means of
an umbrella applied to the back of the head, found himself whisked away
to a post-modern, futuristic world populated by thousands of Kasumis,
Ryougas, and other familiar faces (Ministry of Confusion). After losing
the locket in a fall, he settled in and tried to make the best of it,
striking up a friendship with a Kasumi extender named Ami. The
relationship progressed to the point of a date, at the end of which Ami
was murdered by a berserk Ryouga extender. Muhoshin killed him in
retaliation, and began a slow but methodical hunt for Ryougas across the
city.

    Ryo Saotome, having remade the locket with some help from three
goddesses of time, arrived in this world just as Muhoshin killed a Ryouga
to recover his own locket. The two fought inconclusively, with Muhoshin
escaping.

    Leaving 'Ministry of Confusion' in a hurried fashion, Muhoshin
rescued one world's Kasumi from a group of terrorists intent on beating
her to death. A veteran time-jumper already, she took the name Kaeri to
distinguish herself from the more serene person she had been. The two
stayed together for a few weeks, with Kaeri recovering and picking up
some of Muhoshin's skills.  Still obsessed with the need to protect her
family, Kaeri prevailed upon Muhoshin to take her to Nerima - and off
they went.

    And now...

=========================================================================

    Thursday was pork bun day at Furinkan, and in a town where martial
artists would start a blood feud over specialty pastries, the school
cafeteria was not a safe place to buy one's lunch. 

    Not that you could actually BUY it, of course. 

    Yes, for the first few buns it was possible to shell out a few yen
(if Nabiki's latest scheme hadn't wiped you out) and obtain a somewhat
satisfying meal, but they didn't count.  Only the last one did, and it
wasn't for sale.  It was up for _grabs_. The scramble for the final
delicacy rivaled the mob at a European soccer game, or an American rock
concert.  Sumo wrestlers, kendoists and obscenely ki-charged fighters
would defend their right to the last of the meat buns with unparalleled
tenacity. 

    Usually, Ranma won the unofficial contest, but he seemed to be busy
with other things today.  To wit, a thing of more-than-average height and
beauty dressed in a tight-fitting girls' uniform.  Such things were usual
for Nerima's Casanova, of course, but she was unique in Saotome's harem
in that Akane actively encouraged her presence in front of Ranma, who
looked somewhat resigned and discomfited at the same. 

    Both of these signs were encouraging to the male student population.
The new student, 'Miyabi', did not seem to be a serious romantic interest
of Ranma's and as such was instantly promoted to most eligible
bachelorette on campus. Pending further observation.  Too many had
already suffered broken bones and worse from leaping to preliminary
conclusions in such matters. 

    When Ranma wasn't the victor in the Battle of the Bun, Ryouga was,
but he seemed to have gotten lost again. 

    Kunou had been staring blankly into space and babbling all day about
demonic gaijin succubi, so was presumably out for the count, and Ukyou
had absented herself from class. 

    As for the only other really viable candidate for the trophy...

    Well... 

    Let's just say that Gosunkugi Hikaru was NOT having a good day. 

    And so it was that with a bit of luck and their natural talent for
fading into the background Hiroshi and Daisuke found themselves in the
unusual position of being the owners of a sweaty, crumpled package of
factory-made pork bun. 

    Before anyone could notice the miracle, they slinked away, leaving
the crowd to fumble for what they believed to be the bun, but was
actually the underwear of some unlucky fellow who'd been - *ahem* well,
you get the idea. 

    Hopefully, no one would try to eat it. A bit of stealth got them
safely to that bit of sunlit, martial-artist-free road just outside the
Furinkan gates, where they felt free to relax their tensed muscles - or
at least _one_ of them did. 

    "All right!" shouted Hiroshi, as he tore the white packaging of the
bread open and pulled out an oblong piece of cardboard. "A bonus Ryo-ohki
card! Hey, Daisuke, look at how-" 

    His straight-haired friend was too busy looking nervously around him
to hear his adulation of the prism card-and-sticker. 

    Hiro punched Daisuke lightly on the shoulder. 

    "What's wrong with you?" 

    "I... I don't know, man. Maybe we should just... Put the bun back." 

    "After we've opened it?" 

    "I mean, after what happened to Gos..." 

    Hikaru had been the original possessor of the pastry they now held,
but had been forced to give up his proprietary rights when he'd been
found unconscious, bruised, and with his limbs in a position that was
unnatural even for pretzels. 

    "What're you worried about? He probably just tried to eat Akane's
cooking, and the curry hit him back. Happens all the time." 

    "That's not what I hear." Daisuke looked Hiroshi in the eye.  "I hear
Ryouga got 'im." 

    "Ryouga?" Curly hair bobbed up and down as the face below it
chuckled.  "He's probably halfway to Madagascar by now." 

    "You know how he gets, even when Ranma's the one who wins...  If he
found out about this..." 

    "He won't find out if we eat the evidence." 

    "I kind of like my bones the way they are." 

    "Hey, look. Do you want your half of the pork bun, or no-" 

    "Excuse me." 

    A voice from behind them. 

    Normally, the phrase 'Excuse me' would not sound very threatening,
but when the words were pronounced in a sepulchral voice and the kind of
deep baritone that could only be achieved by ki-enhanced male martial
artists, it was enough to send chills down the spine of any ordinary
Nerimite. 

    Hiroshi stuffed the bread down his sleeve and slowly turned around. 

    Daisuke just stared. 

    In front of them was a young man standing about six feet tall, with
black hair, brown eyes, a red bandanna and an evil look.  He wore
Ryouga's clothes, and he was glowing gray. 

    "Can you tell me the way to Furinkan High?" 

    "Oh, man, not AGAIN..." 

    That was enough for Daisuke. ONE lost, super-powered Hibiki was clear
and present danger, but TWO... 

    He did the reasonable thing, and ran away. 

    Hiroshi tried to follow, but the newcomer grabbed him by the collar
and lifted him a foot in the air. 

    "Hey, let me GO!" 

    The pork bun dropped to the floor. 

    "Where," growled the warrior, looking straight into the schoolboy's
pupils, "is Furinkan High?!?" 

    Hiroshi pointed at the large sign on the wall behind them, which
read, appropriately enough, 'Furinkan High School'. 

    The black-haired boy blinked. 

    Then, he laughed. 

    "I made it!" he shouted.  "After bombs, and storms, and seas, jungles
and deserts...  I'm actually back! But...  but Perdita..." His ki-glow
turned a shade darker.  "Ranma! You'll pay for this! This I vow! AGAIN!
OhOhOhOhOhOhOhOHOHOHOHoHoHoHoHOhOhOHOhOh!" 

    "What are you?" Hiroshi wondered aloud. "Some kind of freak?" 

    The other seemed amused at this.  He smiled and answered-

    "I'm the bat-man." 

    With that, he dropped the boy and ran through the school gates,
emitting noises to rival Kodachi's cackling.  And why not? He seemed just
as insane. 

    Hiroshi sighed. Another day, another wacky villain. 

    With a bit of grumbling, he picked up the bun and card, brushing the
dust off of them. 

    After all he'd gone through, he might as well finish his lunch. 

                                * * * * *

    Nabiki Tendo had her life fairly well planned out. Her plan involved
corporate boardrooms, political affiliations, economic mastery, and lots
and lots of money. More recently, it had involved finding out more about
the future via a exploitable Hibiki. And very recently, it involved
taking a walk with her new 'friend'. 

    But she had underestimated the Hibiki ability to get lost, it seemed.
Because while she didn't recognize the dirt road she was walking down,
she had an unpleasant feeling it wasn't in Nerima. 

    Nabiki was discovering the Four Laws Of Traveling With Hibikis. 

    Number One: Don't. 

    Number Two: If you must ignore rule One, never let them lead. 

    Number Three: If you ignore One and Two, for God's sake keep a close
eye on the passing scenery. 

    Nabiki looked around for Ratiko, and discovered Number Four: If
you're foolish enough to ignore all of the other rules, never, ever under
any circumstances take your eyes off the Hibiki in question. Because if
you do, they'll wander off without you. 

    Right, she thought. No problem. Ratty could take care of himself;
didn't Ryouga always manage to find his way back to the Dojo? She'd just
catch a bus or a subway back home. 

   Just as soon as she found one. 

    "Now where the hell am I?" she wondered out loud. No-one answered
her, which wasn't terribly odd considering she was alone on the road. 

    Nothing to do but keep walking, she supposed. Whistling, Nabiki began
to stride purposefully down the dusty trail. 

    Half an hour later she wasn't whistling, and her stride had changed
into a trudge. That idiot had managed to strand her in the most backwards
area around Tokyo, she just knew it. 

   And then she found the sign. 

   // ADDIS ABABA - 23 KM //

   Nabiki had a mind like a spreadsheet, and this is what it returned. 

   1. That is not a Japanese name. 
   1A. Posit: This is not Japan? 

   2. I know that name. 
   2A. Ask memory where the name has been heard. 

   3. Reiraku is going to PAY for this. 

   4. Memory heard it in Geography class. 
   4A. It is the capital of Ethiopia. 
   4B. I am 23 Kilometers outside of the capital of Ethiopia. 

   5. That's ridiculous. 
   5A. Hibiki, remember? 

   6. I am 23 Kilometers outside of the capital of Ethiopia. 
   6A. You said that already. 

   7. Reiraku is going to REALLY PAY for this. 

   Scowling, Nabiki Tendo trudged on. 

                                * * * * *

    A ring of cerulean fire spun itself through the air, and Ryo Saotome
stepped into another world.  Then he fell, since he hadn't quite mastered
the art of walking on air yet.

    He opened his mouth to shout something slightly obscene and rather
self-depreciating, but the air was ripped out of his lungs before he
could say anything.  Being caught in a twister and then spat out by it
will do that to you.

    The spinning had made him dizzy, and his concentration was broken. He
wanted to think, "Locket, take me away to a nice, safe universe where I
can get my bearings," but the best he could do was "Falling: Bad."

    Since Ryo realized he was falling, Gravity had to pay attention to
him.  Fortunately, someone down below wasn't, and that someone was kind
enough to stand still and let Ryo fall on top of him.  That broke Ryo's
fall.  It also broke the stranger.

    A super-deformed version of Childra ran up to Ryo.  "Oh, you've saved
us from the Wicked Warlock," she said.

    A super-deformed version of Ishido joined her.  "He was such a wicked
Warlock, too."

    Soon a crowd of super-deformed Nerimites surrounded the pig-tailed
boy, all of them saying, "He saved us from the Wicked Warlock," or some
variation thereof.

    "All I did was fall," Ryo said.  "I don't even know who I landed on." 
He slowly picked himself up, then looked at the body. "Muhoshin!  I- I
killed him!"

    "That's what we've been saying," the Nerimites chorused.  Then they
began to sing.  Music swirled out of nowhere to match their impromptu
verses.

                       Ding, dong, Muhoshin's dead
                             A boy well-bred
                             Fell on his head
                  Ding dong, the wicked warlock's dead!

                      Ding, dong, he broke his back
                            And won't be back
                          (Who wrote this hack?)
                Ding, dong, let's give his corpse a whack!

    "I- I didn't mean to kill him," Ryo stammered.  "I mean, I know he
was a psychopath, and he deserved... but I didn't mean to..."

    Shock cleared Ryo's mind, then hit him again a second time.  He
realized that the locket hung around his neck was cold and silver, not
flickering with azure flame.  That meant that the other locket, the older
one, wasn't around.  And that meant that this Ryo Muhoshin wasn't _his_
Ryo Muhoshin.  And that meant...

    "Oh, my god."  Ryo fell to his knees.

    A glowing bubble of golden light slowly floated down out of the sky. 
The Nerimites reverently cleared a space for it to land near Ryo. He
looked up in time to see it pop, and to see the dark-haired girl who
stepped lightly onto the ground beside him.

    "Oh, Miyabi, it's you," Ryo said glumly.

    The Nerimites gasped at his familiarity with the enchantress.  "I see
you know me."  She frowned a bit, and sounded stern.  "I don't know you,
and that's why I have come."  Her voice took on a more aristocratic tone,
as if she was speaking for a hidden recorder.  "I am Miyabi, the Good
Witch, and I must know: are you a Good Warlock, or a Bad Warlock?"

    "Am I a _what?_"

    Ryo could hear the patience leave Miyabi's voice.  "I said: Are you a
Good Warlock, or a Bad Warlock?"

    "Well, I'm not a very good magician, and I just killed a man. What do
you think?"

    The Nerimites let out a collective gasp, and then began to run away. 
A super-deformed Ratiko ran right into a super-deformed Kunou, causing
more confusion and delay.

    "If you are a Bad Warlock," Miyabi declared angrily, "then I must ask
you to leave."

    Ryo threw his hands in the air.  "Fine!  I just want to go home, If I
deserve to, that is."

    "Go home?"  Miyabi sounded confused.  "All you need to do is take the
umbrella next to you and tap it against the ground three times, saying-"

    "I've got a better idea," Ryo interrupted.  He grabbed the locket
with a white-knuckled grip, and Cerulean fire carried him away.

                                * * * * *

    Reiraku ran gleefully through the endless corridors of Furinkan High. 
He was lost again, but he didn't mind.  So long as he made sure that the
walls continued to be whitewashed and the floors continued to be cheaply
tiled, he'd be just fine... 

    You see, in this case, the destination was well worth the journey. 

    Somewhere in this maze, the Obstacle awaited, sitting placidly in a
classroom, taking notes perhaps (or not, considering who he was),
completely unaware of the bandanna'd judgment that now sped his way. 

    That boy had sent him through many types of hell; thanks to him, he'd
been tortured and transmuted more times than hundred-year-old Plutonium,
almost eaten, subjected to ancient curses, plunged into the violent past
of war-torn lands, and to crown the degradation, everything he cared for,
everyone he'd YEARNED for had been lost to the jock. 

    At long last, he would be able to _destroy_ his opponent. Normally,
there'd be a few minor quibbles to prevent him.  A few millennia of
social and moral qualms here, some measly law against murder there... 

    [Turn left or right?] Rat had come to a turning point, activating the
navigational sections of his brain.  They read the sign at the end of the
hall: 

            [=== Classrooms | Principal's Office ===]
                
    *Right* answered his mental compass. 
    
    Reiraku nodded, thanked his frontal lobe for the information and
turned right.

    Somewhere in the vicinity of the hypothalamus, a playful neuron
giggled.

    [Now where was I?] The boy's brow furrowed for a moment. [Oh, yes! 
Reasons why I shouldn't kill Ranma!]

    Yes, a few trifles stopped him in his time and place, but in this
case, in this past, they were all null and void.

    There wouldn't be any guilt attached, either. 

    Oh no, no guilt.  In fact, he'd ENJOY the feel of the little roach's
burnt flesh in his arms... If he felt particularly kinky, he might even
take Shampoo's advice and eat a little of the charred meat.  It'd only be
poetic justice. 

    What harm was there in it? An innocent little killing, that was all.

    And it wasn't REALLY a killing, not in the prosecutable sense of the
word.

    After all, Ranma was _meant_ to die; if anything, Rat was only
correcting one of history's inexplicable gaffes.  One couldn't murder the
dead, or be legally killed by someone who hadn't been born yet -
especially if said person couldn't be born unless the victim was dead,
proving that the victim had been dead before he died.  It was the perfect
crime. 

    Not to mention the fact that it had to rank among the most satisfying
revenges in recent history.

    In his own time, Ranma shared what little substance he had with a
girl more pretty than plain.  He was unharmable.  But _here_...  Here he
could, and SHOULD be maimed, maltreated, burnt to a cinder with the very
ki-blast that his appearance in Reiraku's life had caused to surface... 

    [Reiraku...]

    His goal had changed, and the significance of his name. Once, he'd
wished to do to Perdita what Ranma did to HIM, to make her life a living
Hell - but now he knew her, and he wished to ELEVATE, not lower her.

    He was now SAOTOME'S downfall. 

    [A curse upon you, Ranma!  My loss of Perdita is your Perdition.]

    A tear ran down Rat's cheek as he remembered how he'd been forced to
leave poor, innocent Nabiki. 

    Saotome had toyed with his life and that of his ancestors for far too
long.  As soon as Rat found him (and he WOULD find him, if he had to
spend years searching this public-educational labyrinth) his malignant
machinations would be cut short. 

    "Aloha and greetings, my long-haired friend!" blared a voice behind
him, apparently in English. 

    Reiraku stopped in his tracks and turned around, to be confronted by
a six-foot reject for a TropiKunou Cruise Lines ad. 

    Ratiko gulped and pressed his back against the wall in a futile
attempt to pass through it. 

    Principal Kunou grinned. 

    [It's really too bad,] thought Reiraku bitterly as the silver shears
approached his neck, [that my ki attacks aren't charged by FRIGHT.]

                                * * * * *

    Nabiki hated Ethiopia with a passion. 

    It wasn't so much the flies, the hordes of impoverished children, the
filth, and the armed bands of soldiers. It was the utter lack of money
that pervaded every aspect of the city. 

    It had taken her hours to find a postal station with a long- distance
phone, almost as long to make the official on duty understand what she
wanted, and all her money to purchase time on it. Brushing a insect off
her forehead, she dialed the number that would get her home. 

    "* Good evening. Thy call has reached the House of Kunou. At present,
you address Takewaki Kunou, the Blue Thund-" 

    "Yeah, Kunou-baby, I know. Look, I need a favor." 

    "* Oh? How may I help my mistress of yen?" 

    The insect found a new perch on her neck, and she swatted at it
absently. "I'm stuck in Ethiopia, and I need a plane home." 

    "* You require directions to the airport?" 

    "I require you to charter me a plane, Kunou-baby" 

    "*Ah, I understand. No." 

    "Thanks, Kun- What? What do you mean, NO?" 

    "* I do not feel that this would be a wise course at this time." 

    "But...but...!" 

    "* Besides, I despise being called 'Kunou-baby'. As you well know.
Good day." 

    "Kunou, don't you dare hang up....Kunou? Kunou!" 

    In the post office depot, the mailmen calmly watched. 

    [Who's the Asian chick, Aman?]

    [The one smashing the phone with the mallet?]

    [That's the one.]

    [I don't know. Seems upset, though.]

    [Cute, though.]

    [Oh, very definitely so. Allah, here she comes!]

    "Any of you gentlemen have a phrasebook?" 

    [What did she say?]

    [She asked me for a date.]

   "Hello? Speak Japanese?" 

    [She says I am the most virile man she has ever seen.]

    [You lie!]

    "Speak Engrish, prease?" 

    "Sure do." 

    "You got phrasebooku?" 

    The insect settled down happily in the small of Nabiki's back, and
began to chew. 

                                * * * * *

    "So you also just transferred here, hm?" Miyabi asked a brown-haired
girl in front of her, while munching on the last orange from her lunch
bag.  It was the tail end of the meal hour, and since she couldn't do
anything about Mum and Dad while waiting for class to start, she decided
to strike up a conversation.

    "Yes," answered her companion.  "I just transferred here a few days
ago.  My name's... Miki." 

    "Miyabi."  Ranma's daughter was glad that the other had taken the
initiative in not giving her family name.  She's run into enough problems
with that today, already.

    The girls exchanged smiles. 

    "So, why'd you move, Miki?" 

    "It was a... family decision." 

    "What kind?" 

    "My parents decided that they needed a larger house, and since
property in Nerima is cheap..." 

    [And expendable,] noted Miyabi, remembering a few instances of
gratuitous property damage.

    "I see..." 

    "Why did YOU come here, Miyabi?" 

    The girl growled. 

    "It wasn't _my_ choice, I'll tell you.  If it were up to me, I'd have
stayed back home, but my pervert of a half-brother dragged me here."  

    Well... it was ALMOST true. 

    Miki's eyes widened. 

    "You also have a step-brother?" 

    "Um... yes... but I'm not exactly proud of him.  He spends most of
his time passing out in gutters and feeling up young girls."

    "Did you use to live in Tomobiki?" 

    Miyabi blinked. 

    "No. Why?" 

    "Just wondering." She giggled.  "My brother's very different. His
problem is that he pays too LITTLE attention to women.  Sometimes, I
wonder if they matter at ALL to him..."

    "You mean he..." Miyabi lowered her half-orange. 

    "NO!" The other girl flushed.  "He's not interested in BOYS, either!"

    "Sorry... I thought..." 

    "I just wish that... that..." A sigh. "He's cute, and nice when he
wants to be, but he's infuriating most of the time, and-"

    "What's that you're holding?" 

    Miyabi pointed at a small robot which Miki was toying with, more to
change the conversation than out of genuine curiosity.  She'd had her
share of passionate perversions on her little 'trip', and she didn't like
the dreamy look that her companion took on whenever she spoke about her
sibling. 

    "This? It's my diary!" 

    "Diary?" 

    Miki nodded. 

    "Want to see?" 

    She pressed a button on the robot -
    
    //Even a hot and spicy girl like you can catch cold without a shirt
on, Miki-chan.//

    -and promptly regretted doing so. 

    "Your brother?" 

    "I... It's not what it sounds like.  I don't know _how_ that got on
there.  Honest!" 

    "Mm-hm," said Miyabi, sucking a bit more juice from the orange pulp.

    "Really!"  Miki's mouth was pressed into a tight line, her eyes were
wide open and twitching slightly, and her cheeks were redder than
Ryouga's nosebleed.  "Back at the other school, I'd write into my diary,
say something into the robot, and give it to a friend of mine. She'd do
the same thing and give it back to me the next day."

    Miyabi blinked. 

    "A shared diary? And recordings?"  [Oooooooooooookay...] Not that she
should be surprised.  After all, she'd seen more than her share of
weirdos since her arrival in the past.  "Isn't that kind of... dangerous,
though?  If someone hears what they're not supposed to..." None of
Miyabi's friends would ever catch a glimpse of HER diary entries.  A few
had tried, but the hospital bills had let them know that it was a costly
(and futile) effort. Akane's daughter scowled as she realized that by
this time, in her own time, her younger brother was probably having the
time of his life reading through her most private thoughts.

    He'd pay for that, when she got back. 

    In any case, the comment seemed to have softened Miki. She giggled,
relaxed, and proceeded to tell tales of times when tape-recorded
titillations had resulted in situations of traumatic romantic tension.
Somehow, it'd never occurred to her to scrap the toy and save herself all
the grief. 

    [Then again...]

    Wheels turned in Miyabi's head.  Someone else's grief might very well
prove her parents' happiness.  All of the trouble she'd heard of from
Miki happened when people accidentally revealed how they really felt
about someone.  Now, if she could get either Mum or Dad on tape at the
appropriate moment...

    "Miyabi?" 

    "Yes?" 

    "You just swallowed a very large chunk of orange peel." 

    "What? Argh! *PTUI!*" 

    The peel sped from her mouth just in time to be swatted aside as the
door to the classroom swung open.  Twenty-some-odd students instantly
stood up as a little girl dressed in a yellow skirt and jacket ensemble
entered the room.

    "Good morning, Miss Hinako," they chorused. 

                                * * * * *


    He'd killed Ryo Muhoshin.

    A version of him, anyway.

    Well, it had been an accident, but the guy was still dead.  If he
hadn't been chasing around the multiverse like some avenging spirit of
the night, then that world's version of Ryo Muhoshin would still be
alive.

    The fact that the diminutive natives of the world seemed happy at
Muhoshin's death didn't help matters.  Ryo knew he had to play judge,
because there was no one else who could handle the responsibility, and he
was willing to be jury, because no one else wanted the job, but
executioner was another thing altogether.

    So Ryo sat and moped.  He'd been doing a lot of that lately.

    [I picked a strange enough spot for it,] he decided.

    Trees blocked out most of the sky, cloaking him in shadows that
suited his mood.  The trees were mostly bare of leaves, except at the
highest reaches of their branches, where they formed a tight canopy that
hid him from the sun.  Mushrooms grew in that darkness; tall skinny ones
that reached up like sunflowers, and short squat ones, sturdy like old
stumps.  He sat on one of those now, letting his feet dangle.
Occasionally he would halfheartedly kick at the grass, wondering again
how it could grow so tall without any light, and why it was such a
bright, vibrant shade of green.

    [I killed a man].

    The adventure in time just kept getting worse and worse.  Lying and
fighting led to more fighting and more lying, and his companions through
the worlds became less and less trustworthy.  Thefts and betrayals were
becoming more and more commonplace.

    Then there was the incident with Happosai's book...

    No, it was more than that.  An incident was something that just
happened.  Ryo had set out purposefully to use any magic he could find to
solve his problems.  And in the end he'd just made them worse.

    [What's more, I can't just promise never to do it again.  I've
promised myself 'just one more' so many times that I can't keep track.
And each time I break my word to myself.]

    The pig-tailed boy shook his head.  [I've even had this conversation
with myself before.  And I just go on to do something worse.]

    "Yes, you are certainly a loser."

    Ryo's head snapped up.  "Who said that?"

    "I did."

    "Muhoshin?"  Ryo was on his feet, hands clenched into fists. "Show
yourself."

    "No."

    Ryo spun himself in a circle, but he still saw nothing.  "I'm warning
you!  You're coming with me."

    He swore he could hear a yawn.  "Since when does a cat ever go
anywhere it doesn't want to?"

    [Cat?]

    "What sort of sick game are you playing?"

    "If you don't calm down, I'm going to get bored and go away.  And
then who will you have to talk to?"

    "I don't want to talk to you.  I want to throw you in a
straightjacket and haul you back to whatever hell you came from."

    The voice sounded offended.  "There's no need to be insulting. Hell,
indeed."

    Ryo took a deep breath.  He noticed the locket wasn't glowing, so
this wasn't _his_ Ryo Muhoshin after all.  In that case, the voice was
right, and anger wasn't going to solve anything.  "I'm sorry."

    There was no answer.

    "Hello?"

    Silence.

    "Damn you, Muhoshin, stop playing games!"

    "I said enough with the insults.  I don't know who started that
stupid rumor, but cats are _not_ demons.  If you weren't just a human, I
would have to get angry.  As it is, I'm mildly annoyed."

    "I'm sorry."

    "Are you?  You say that a lot, and then you go on to do worse
things."

    "I know."

    "Yes, you were just thinking that, weren't you."

    "You- you can read my thoughts?"

    The voice sounded exasperated.  "Of course I can.  You're just a
human.  It's not like you had any really profound insight, after all.
Here's an example.  Now, you're insulted.  You can't stand not being the
best, and being shown up by a mere cat - mere indeed! is driving you
insane."

    Ryo closed his eyes.  "I know I'm not the best at everything. I'm not
the fighter my father is, and I never will be."

    "Oh, really?"  Sarcasm dripped from the voice.  Ryo could feel it; in
this world, such things were more real.  "Didn't you once say nothing
your father had ever done equaled the scope of this adventure? And who
won the fight in the Nekohanten?  It wasn't Ranma, for all his power, and
it wasn't Cologne, for all her craftiness."

    "That's not the same thing."

    "Don't be patronizing.  I know that's not true.  You know that's not
true.  You know that I know that you know that's not true.  And you're
starting to bore me again."

    "I can't help it if you're bored.  It's my life.  I don't expect it
to entertain other people."

    "Entertaining people is the only reason you exist."

    "I'd like to think there was more to it than that."

    "When you were younger you also wanted to think that if you flapped
your arms fast enough you could fly.  That didn't make it true."

    "Not yet."  Ryo jumped up, landing on a low, bare branch of a nearby
tree.  "I'm getting closer."

    He felt the voice scramble away.  "So you've learned to be a bird." 
In a more menacing tone the voice added, "Cats eat birds."

    "Curiosity kills cats."

    "So you claim to be curiosity now?"

    "It explains how I've gotten to be where I am now."

    "So you curiously wondered yourself into a tree?"

    "I jumped to _your_ tree, because I tricked you into talking long
enough to find you by your voice."

    "And you think I didn't know that?"

    "If you did, you would have moved to another branch before I landed,
instead of after."

    "What, and ruin your sense of accomplishment?"

    Ryo shrugged.  "If you say so."

    "Cats don't like being mocked."

    "Neither do humans."

    "Oh, really?  Then why do so many humans keep cats around?"

    "Because they don't stop to listen to what the cats are saying."

    "_I_ had to get _your_ attention."  The voice was smug.

    "But I was still listening."

    "Now you're talking back.  That's not the same thing."

    "You don't have anything else to tell me."

    The voice laughed.  "Is that so?"

    "Yes."  Ryo leaned back on his branch and crossed his hands behind
his head.  "At this point, you haven't told me anything that I didn't
already know myself.  For all I know, you could be a figment of my
imagination."

    "In your mortal enemy's voice?  You imagine nightmares, then."

    "But Ryo Muhoshin isn't my mortal enemy.  I thought we'd decided
that."

    "So who is?"

    "Ryo Saotome."

    "You're learning."

    "Yes."  Ryo leaned forward, causing the branch to rock a bit. "And
now I need to fight him."

    "If that's the case, why didn't you wish yourself into another world,
where the villain wears your face?  You could have a slam-bang action
adventure, like the two-dee movies you're always watching."

    "I don't need to.  My father's most important lesson was to never
give up.  I've made myself promise after promise, and I angst over every
one I break.  This ends now.  I won't break another promise to myself."

    "Your father broke promises.  He gave up."

    "Yes."  Ryo leaned forward.  "And I've always wondered about that. 
He was happy with Mother, but he didn't seem to have much... drive.
Seeing younger versions of him has given me the answer to that riddle.
He lost, and much as it pains me to admit it, that broke him."

    "And..."

    "Playing the questioner now, are we?  Very well.  Somewhere, there is
a real Ranma Saotome, and the others are reflections of him.  My father
is a paler reflection, and I'm just starting to see that."

    "It sounds like someone has been reading too much Zelazny."

    "What?"  Ryo paused for a moment, almost falling out of the tree. 
"You gave something away there.  You're not just a figment of my
imagination."

    "I never claimed I was."

    "Now I've lost my train of thought."

    "What a pity."  The voice yawned.  "It wasn't very original."

    "Give me a break.  I'm new to the wizard business."

    "Wizard business?"  The voice edged back a bit.  "You skim through
one grimoire and you call yourself a wizard?  You flatter yourself."

    Ryo shrugged.  "You have to start somewhere.  And the last Miyabi I
saw helped put the pieces together.  She asked if I was a good warlock or
a bad warlock.  I was hung up on the warlock part, when the real question
was about my ethics."

    "For the sake of argument, lets say you are a wizard.  What makes you
think you're a good wizard?"

    Ryo smiled widely.  "I never claimed I was."

    "I told you I didn't like to be mocked."

    "Wizards are allowed to mock cats.  It helps balance out all the cats
mocking the other humans."

    "What ever gave you that idea?"

    "Two things can motivate a wizard to his study.  One is a desire for
power."

    "Pin-pon, pin-pon."

    Ryo picked the locket up off his chest.  "I didn't make this for
kicks," he said as he studied his craftsmanship.  "And needing the
ability to travel through time to set things right is not the same as a
lust for raw power."

    "If you say so."  The voice seemed unconvinced.

    "It was destiny."

    "If you say so."

    Ryo took off his jacket.  "Well, I did make the thing because I knew
I made the thing.  If a causal time loop isn't destiny, I don't know what
is.  Besides, that leads us into the other reason wizards study."

    "And that is?"

    Ryo jumped to another tree, swinging his jacket like a net.
"Curiosity."  He felt something struggle underneath the cloth, but he
held on.  "I told you it kills cats."

    "Let me GO!" the voice screamed.

    "Wizards need familiars.  You'll do."  He tied the arms of the jacket
together, making a rough sack.

    "I'm not that good," the voice whined.  "You said you didn't need me
any more."

    Ryo sat quietly for a minute.  "You're right," he decided at last. 
"I did say that.  But talking with you has been enlightening."

    "That's because you finally bothered to listen."

    "So I'd better learn to do it more often."  He untied his jacket. 
"All right, Muhoshin Cat, you can go."

    He felt the voice run.  From the distance he heard, "No one has ever
named me before,"

    "That'll teach you to borrow someone else's voice, then."

    "Do you even know what you've done?" the voice called softly.

    "I'm starting to figure it out."  Ryo tugged his jacket back on, then
reached for the locket.  "I'm not sure we'll ever meet again, but I'm
sure I'll run into someone like you soon."

    "Don't get too cocky."

    Blue fire burst from the locket.  "What do you mean?"

    "You weren't wearing that jacket when you met Spring."

    Blue fire carried Ryo away before he could ask another question.


                                * * * * *



    "Oh, you are all such _good_ students!" A chibi Miss Hinako flapped
her arms cheerfully, and her students were worried.  They'd done their
lessons well - FAR too well.  No only had 'slipped' in almost an hour,
which meant that they were now _all_ at risk of being turned into a
living sheet of paper by their teacher's ki-drain attack.  "Let's repeat
our lessons again, shall we?" 

    The class tensed.  Here was the test she'd use to cream off her
victim.  The male students, mind you, had mixed feelings. A drain meant
that the rest of the class was taught by a buxom woman with a voice that
you usually had to bay four ninety-five a minute to hear... BUT, whoever
was picked as the delinquent student always felt too ill to enjoy the
sight. 

    Normally, they'd have bribed someone beforehand to play the
sacrificial goat, but today the novelty of a beautiful (and apparently
available) transfer student made a sexy instructor redundant. 

    And so, they let the contest be legitimately decided. 
    
    [The lain in Spain faus mainly in the prain,] led Miss Hinako. 

    [The rain in Spain falls mainly on the plain,] the class chimed back. 

    [A cupu tea.... cupu tea... cup of tea.... cup of tea,] said the
teacher, after some slight trouble. 

    [A cup of tea,] answered the students. 
    
    This was Not Working, thought Miss Hinako to herself. She'd tried all
the tricks in the book, and STILL no delinquents or lazy students.  What
to do? She had people to see, outfits to fit into, wolf-whistles to
attract... 

    A sudden glint came to her eye, simultaneous with the arrival of an
idea of her mind.  She'd just have to create a situation where there
WOULD be a lazy student or a delinquent. Dozens of them.  What did the
Americans call it again?

    Oh, yes. 

    A Catch-22. 

    [Yew bloody arse hole,] said Miss Hinako, poker-faced. 

    The students blinked in unison, but said nothing. 

    [Yew bloody arse hole,] she repeated. 

    Still nothing. 

    "Uh, Hinako-sensei..." 

    "Yes, Hiroshi?" 

    "That wasn't in our textbook." 

    "Of course not, silly! These are extra advanced lessons." 

    "Oh." 

    More blank stares. 

    "Now, repeat after me," said the teacher, "or I'll have to assume
that you naughty, naughty kids don't want to study!" 

    The class paled. 

    [Shut up, ye wanker.]

    The door slammed open, causing the walls of the room to shake. 

    "Ranma, now you-" 

    [Shut up, you wanker.]

    Reiraku blinked.  WHY did everyone in this school seem to know
ENGLISH?!?!?  Rat did not like English.  In fact, ever since his recent
experiences in England, he'd grown to loathe it. 

    Good. 

    The anger he felt at hearing the language he despised only added to
his already-intensely-white ki flames, the flames that would cleanse the
world of his Rival... 

    "Ranma, prepare to die!" 
    
    There was little reaction from the students to this little outburst.
Sure, that was usually Ryouga's line, but hey, one black-haired
bandanna'd boy with a blood feud against Saotome was as good as another.
And besides, (and most students grinned as they realized this) this meant
that Miss Hinako had found-

    "A delinquent!" More arm-flapping.  "Ooooo, you baaaaaaaad boy! I'm
going to teach you a lesson!" She pulled out a coin, made a few gestures
with it and mumbled a few words. 

    "Happo five yen-satsu!" 
    
    Draining the aura of a normal person turned Miss Hinako into a buxom
beauty.  Draining the battle aura of an enraged Hibiki who had been about
to fire a self-named, anger-based 'Star Explosion' ki blast... 

    Let's just say that no one present failed physiology that year. 

                                * * * * *

    Ukyou was, as Ranma noted, absent from school.  At the moment she was
alone, in Ucchan's, with Ryouga.  Were Miyabi aware of this, she'd be
happy.

    Were she aware of what, exactly, they were talking about, she
wouldn't be happy.

    "That girl's gonna ruin everything!" yelled Ukyou.  "And worse yet,
your incompetent bungling isn't helping a bit!"

    "Hey, wait, are you saying this is MY fault?!" countered Ryouga.

    "For not being able to tell Akane how you feel?  YES I AM!"

    "I... I..." Ryouga's rage flickered out, replaced by the depression
that usually hung around him.  "You're right." His shoulders slumped and
he gave a little sigh.

    Ukyou patted him on the shoulder.  "Hey, don't be so hard on 
yourself.  Now... what we need is a little organization.  A plan.  You
with me so far?"

    Ryouga nodded.

    "Thank goodness for small miracles," she mumbled under her breath.

    "Hm?"

    "Nothing.  Okay... let's think..."

                                * * * * *

    Rat licked the blood off his upper lip. 

    Salty. 

    It'd been half an hour since that 'transformation', and he STILL
hadn't been able to stop bleeding. 

    [It should,] he thought to himself, [be illegal to sell clothes that
tear so easily under a little pressure.  Really.]

    In a way, he was grateful for the buckets which he had to hold.  They
kept him from floating away, and the pain in his upper arms directed his
attention away from the utter boredom of standing stationary in an empty
hall. 

    But apart from that one tiny silver lining, his day had just been one
huge, black storm cloud. 

    And what's worse, he forecasted rain. 
    
    //[Aloha, boys and girls!]//
    
    Rat tensed.  He KNEW that voice. 
    
    //[I have a special fun announcement for all you wacky kids.]//
    
    Oh. Only the PA system.  Reiraku breathed a sigh of relief. 

    //"All students are to attend a special seminar on pineapple carving
in the main auditorium."//

    Rat smirked.  Somehow, it _sounded_ like something that Principal
would come up with. 

    //"Now."//
    
    A few groans from the classroom behind him, and the shuffling of
chairs. 
    
    //"All those who are late will have their hair confiscated at the
entrance."//

    The door next to Reiraku swung open, making him fall over the buckets
and coating the entire hallway with cold water. 

    Well, maybe not the ENTIRE hallway.  There was one little area where,
in the middle of a pile of clothes, steam rose around a rather
cute-looking bat who seemed, for some odd reason, to be glowing black. 

    *Squeak! Squeak! Squeak!*

    *SMASH*

    *CRUNCH*

    *TRAMPLE*

    *TAP*

    Any complaints about the unfairness of the incident were effectively
quelled by the mass of students which was pouring out at high speed from
every door in the corridor. 

    Once the crowd had subsided, the bat sat up and tried to rub its head
with its wingtip.  It quickly found that sharp claws weren't the best
thing in the world for easing a headache. 

    She waddled a few steps.  If only she could find some hot-

    A grayish blur zooming in-

    "Mum, Dad?" 

    *STOMP*

    -and over. 

    "Wait, Miyabi! I still haven't told you how Yuu and I-" 

    *SPLAT*

    [So this,] thought Reiraku, [is what pain feels like.] The black
ki-flames around her grew, turning her tiny form into a living shadow. 

    At least one good thing would come out of this. The minute she found-

    "Ranma! Hurry up!" 

    "I'm comin', Akane! I'm comin'!" 

    The bat's eyes glinted evilly.  She concentrated on letting go of her
anger and instead focusing, as she'd been taught, on all the sadness, all
the grief, all the pain that Saotome had caused her... 

    [Ranma, when I am done with you I will personally see to it that your
burnt remains are fed to Akane as part of Furinkan's 'Mystery Meat'
dish!] she thought she heard herself say. 

    Unfortunately, since bats can't talk, it sounded more like

    *Squeak! Squeak! Squeakety-squeak! Squeak! Squeak!*

    "Say," said Akane, pausing for a while and pointing at Reiraku.
"Isn't that-" 

    [Shishi Ho-]

    A flurry of arms burst into the hall, followed by a quick scan of the
hallway by that which was in between them. 

    Miss Hinako's eyes alighted on the bat. 

    "Happo-five-yen-satsu!" 
    
    As she fainted, the bat idly wondered whether the pool of blood from
her nosebleed would be warm enough to change her back. 

                                * * * * *

    It was a hot day in Addis Ababa, but then it had been a hot day in
Addis Ababa for the past fifteen years. People were as used to it as they
were ever going to get, which meant that only the less healthy ones
dropped dead of dehydration. 

    The Gerald Ford Cantina, named after it's most illustrious visitor,
had a ceiling fan. This meant that while it was only a few degrees cooler
inside, the air circulated nicely, giving the impression of a mild
breeze. Just enough to refresh, but not strong enough to blow the poker
cards out of their places. 

    "Two new," said Big Eddie Majabouti. He was rather disturbed by the
turn this game was taking, and wanted to hit someone to calm his nerves.
Instead, he reached for his cards and took another gulp of whiskey. 

    The rest of the players took their requested cards. A hetman of a
minor tribe, a trio of city rats, an Irish banjo player, an Asian girl,
and a Frenchman. 

    The cards he drew lessened his natural homicidal impulses, and more
whiskey made it's way down his throat. Four of a kind. Four of a kind. As
his friend would say, Oh My. 

    "223 Francs." 

    "See ya dat, sure, an raise ya 89, I will." 

    Two of the city trash folded. The Asian and the Hetman met and
raised. The Frenchman scowled and held. 

    Big Eddie's perpetual scowl stayed in place, but inside he was
gloating. He stood to win a good sum; the Hetman was holding the wealth
of his tribe, and Frenchy there had "Arms Dealer" written all over him in
big bold letters. 

    "See that, raise 355." 

    "Bloody 'ell. I fold, an a pox on ya." 

    "----- ------ ----" 

    Big Eddie scowled at the Hetman. "What'd he say?" 

    The arms dealer gave a magnificently Gallic shrug. "Eh, how should I
know? It is your nation, oui?" 

    "He said 'Throw the small cakes at the wildebeest' in Gamadaan,"
volunteered the city dweller. 

    "Was Conomol," the Asian girl said. "He say, 'The Toda people will
fold'. Then he tell you that you have small organs, and your mothers have
large ones." 

    Big Eddie thought about this for a second, and then punched the
Hetman in the temple. 

    "He's out." 

    "He certainly is," observed the Frenchman. "Raise you 123, eh?" 

    The Asian girl silently pushed a few bills into the pot. 

    Five very long minutes later, the pot contained a great deal of
money, and the others watched as the Asian, the arms dealer, and Big
Eddie Majabouti stared grimly at each other. 

    "Call, Frenchy." 

    Another shrug. "Full House." 

    Eddie favored him with a grin. "Four of a kind." 

    "Merde!" 

    "Four nines," commented the Asian. 
 
    "Nono," Eddie sneered. "I have four fives, girlie." 

    "Name is Tendo Nabiki, not girlie. And I mean that _I_ have four
nines." 

    Eddie looked at the cards. 

    Then he looked at the money. 

    Then he looked at the very breakable looking girl who was smirking at
him. Might have a little fun with the little bitch before I get rid of
her, he thought. 

    He wasn't sure exactly when she drew the pistol, but it stopped that
train of thought rather quickly. 

    Nabiki shoveled the cash into a sack, and, still keeping the pistol
trained on Big Eddie, left the cantina. 

    Behind her, the Hetman groaned and let go of the royal flush he had
been holding. 

    Nabiki didn't speak Conomol, you see. 

                                * * * * *

    Something had to be done. 

    Miyabi was currently watching for her parents from a bird's eye view
atop Furinkan High as they lingered around school grounds after hours.
Mother was in the courtyard talking with her two friends, while Father
was using the athletic equipment on campus to keep in shape. 

    She had been observing her parents through the school day, and their
relationship so far, in her opinion, was wildly underdeveloped.  She
wasn't exactly sure, but if she remembered the stories her parents told
her about their youth, they really should have been more affectionate by
now. 

    The question of what, exactly, was to be done was not easy to answer. 

    Her earlier idea of hammering the idea of them together until they
surrendered was obviously flawed.  It was exactly the same thing that her
grandfathers were doing, and she saw how badly that was backfiring. 

    A step at a time, perhaps?  It was a little too slow for her tastes,
but at the moment she wanted any victory she could get. 

    It was a little idea, but it was an idea, and it was progress. 

                                * * * * *

    "After school?  At Ucchan's?"  Ranma thought about this for a moment,
then shrugged.  "Um... sure.  Why there, though?" 

    Miyabi failed to conceal a giddy smile.  "I just always liked that
place."  That was easy, she thought.  But then again, this was Ranma and
food, so it was bound to be easy. 

                                * * * * *

    "Ucchan's?  Why?"  Akane's demeanor clearly showed a negative
disposition towards the okonomiyaki eatery. 

    "Well... I just like the place," offered Miyabi.  She saw that this
clearly wasn't enough to pacify her mother.  "Aaand... I just wanted to
get away from Grandfather Soun and Grandfather Genma for a while." 

    This seemed to agree with Akane's mindset.  "Yes, they have been
acting ridiculous lately, haven't they?" 

    Miyabi nodded, perhaps a little too enthusiastically. 

    "Tell me, Miyabi-chan, do they get any better in the future?" 

    Miyabi grinned sheepishly.  "Um... no, mum, not really." 

                                * * * * *

    Nearby, hidden in the bushes, Ratiko Hibiki grinned.  At this point,
with the kind of day he had, he didn't care about chronological
correctness anymore, he just wanted to put Ranma through HELL. 

    The Saotome family... a nice meal at great-grandmother's... sounded
like a nice time.

    No way he could allow that.  Saotome was going down.

    And who better to bring down that idiot jock than the great Tatewaki
Kunou? 

    He began walking there, then remembered that he was in she-bat form. 
Flying, of course, was what he... she tried next.

    Being a Hibiki, he... she flew onwards to the Kunou estate.

    Being a Hibiki, that took several hours.

                                * * * * *

    Blue fire flared about her, and she moved without motion,
Muhoshin-san next to her.

    It was blessedly unlike the horrible, chaotic trip through the Nanban
Mirror. This was much better, much. Just clean, sterile, azure flame
filling the world.

    And then it stopped, flickered, and she was looking at...

    The walls - whitewashed, not blackened; standing, not ashes, of her
home.

    Of daddyakanabikasu- Kaeri's home. Home.

    "Home," she whispered, trying the word out. Behind her, Muhoshin
coughed nervously.

    "Erm.. yes, well... I'd better be getting along... you'll be all
right here? You'll watch out?"

    She nodded, then, on a sudden impulse, hugged him."You take care,
Muhoshin-san."

    "Ah, hahah, yes, take care..."

    She lightly kissed him on the cheek, stepped back, and watched at the
somewhat dazed-looking Ryo vanished in a ball of cerulean fire.

    A stirring of regret moved through her, but then she turned her gaze
back to the Dojo. The standing dojo. The front steps were there, right
there, and all she had to do was walk up them and into the house...

    She put a foot forward, then trembled and brought it back again.  Did
she dare to touch _it_?  It was so fragile...  A single brush from her
might bring it toppling upon her, might sear it, scorch it, send it
crumbling.  She was the present, and it was the past, and as the present
turned into the future...

    She would _seize_ the memories; she would not let them be forgotten
and discarded.

    Kaeri took a deep breath and let her staff rest against her shoulder
as she ran her fingers through her hair, carefully manipulating it to
hide the scar that ran diagonally across her forehead - she had to be
presentable, of course - and tightened buttons, smoothed out sleeves,
fluffed up ru-

    She had to go.

    She had to _know_, to _see_ if, if, if, if...

    One foot.

    Just one foot.

    A little foot, a little step, a little time...

    Time.

    Step.

    Time.

    Now.

    Before she could decide against it, she gripped her staff, planted it
into the ground, lifted her right knee from the ground, threw her weight
forward and let gravity slam her sole upon the first flagstone in an
irrevocable, irreparable action. 

    An arrow of mild pain shot briefly from her arch along her calf, but
when it disappeared, the stone was still there, and no worse for the
wear. 

    Kaeri's cheeks twitched in excitement, her eyes widened and her heart
sped as she noticed this. The stone was here, and it was less ephemeral
than the pain, less prone to dissolution.  She could put her weight upon
it and the first step to the dojo's entry portal would not break not give
way not leave- 

    Licking her lips nervously, she put her other foot on the flagstone.
   
    Nothing. 

    She felt like laughing, like letting her staff support her as her
body gave itself entirely to a merriment of fulfilled hope... But she
didn't. After all, it wouldn't be proper. Instead, she bounded to the
doorframe and put her arms around the rounded wood that was its outline. 

    A tear ran down her cheeks and then a stream, trickling downwards
along with the grain as she rubbed herself against the beam, caressing
it,stroking it... 

    She would never leave again, never allow thethethe... THAT to happen.

    She wrapped her hands tightly around her shaft.  She had to keep the
dojo clean; that was her task, and she would keep those dirty
beastkillmurdermustwipe men away, whatever it- 

    "Kasumi!" 
    
    That voice... A voice that she'd known eons past in a different
world called out to her by a forgotten name... 

    Not knowing what else to do, she answered. Kaeri straightened,
 smoothed her dress and turned around. 
 
    She'd barely time to say "Oh, my!" before her father fainted.

                                * * * * *

    Tomas Muhammed only came into the city once a year, to sell his cows.
He enjoyed it a great deal; the scents, the bazaar, the sounds, the city
women... The trip to the city was special, and this year he had brought
his son along. 

    "Father," asked Farka, a fine lad of 14, "Why are these people
singing? Are they happy?" 

    "No, my son. They are poor, and sing in the hopes that someone will
like their singing, and give them money." 

    Farka nodded solemnly. "I understand, father." 

    They strolled through the market, enjoying the day. Tomas had gotten
an excellent price on his bulls, and now came the agreeable process of
buying. 

    "Father?" 

    "Yes, son?" 

    "Look at that lady! Is she a spirit?" 

    The father followed his son's gaze, and blinked in surprise. 

    "No, son. She's... um... well, I'm not sure. I think she might be
some sort of outsider. She's sort of white." 

    "Look at her funny eyes! And what is she singing? Is she poor too?" 

    Tomas smiled. He didn't like not being able to answer his son's
questions about life, but he could answer this one. 

    "Ah, son, she is singing an old Bambara hunger song." 

    "Is she Bambara, Father?" 

    "No, son. But that's the language in the phrasebooks fat Aman sells
at the Postal Station." 

    They listened to the strange woman sing for a long time. 

    "Father?" 

    "Yes, son?" 

    "What do the words mean?" 

    Tomas scratched his side absently. "It is a very wise song, and it
goes thus: 

 o/~ Brothers and Sisters, I have no food 
     Brothers and Sisters, I have no money 
     Brothers and Sisters, I have no shoes 
     Brothers and Sisters, my feet are sore 
     Open your hearts, Hyi! 
     Open your pockets, Hyi! 
     Give in the sense of brotherhood and unity 
     Help your fellow man 
     Because we are all brothers and sisters 
     And because my people have many semiautomatic weapons 
     And are getting desperate o/~" 

    Father and son thought about this, and listened to the strange
looking, if rather attractive, lady. 

    "Father," Farka said firmly, "Let's give her money." 

    "All right, my son. But only a little." 


                                * * * * *

    *CHOP*CHOP*

    *CHOP*CHOP*CHOP*

    *SLICE*

    Pause.

    Concentrate.

    *POKE*

    *BOOM*

    Kaeri smiled as she gleaned the bits of newly-shredded chicken from
their various landing sites.

    That nice Mr. Muhoshin, she thought as she put away the ice pick, had
found such a _good_ way to tear chickens apart.

    A pity it had to be so messy.

    Once everything was clean and the meat was in a tidy pile, she went
on with her preparations.  After all, dinner had to be ready for Ranma,
and Akane, and Nabiki, and Mr. Saotome, and, and, and...

    And poor Daddy!

    She'd carried him to the sofa (he mustn't have been eating well - he
seemed much lighter than he used to be) and put a cold cloth on his
forehead, just like she always did during one of his spells.

    She hoped he'd wake before supper-time.

    The cook wrapped a little bit of meat carefully in its pastry
blanket, as if it were a child.  Soon, it would go into the pot, and
boilburndiedieblackfacesbonesblooddry.

    Cook.

    Go into the pot, and cook.

    Not burn.

    Just cook.

    Kaeri only noticed her hyperventilation when she forced herself to
stop it.  By then, the dumpling in question was nothing but a stack of
very neat, very fine slices.

    But it wasn't ash.

    And with the others she would _feed_ her family, make them grow, give
them strength, and Daddy would-

    *CLICK*

    "Father! I'm home!"

    No.

    Not her.

    Not here.

    Not yet.

    Frowning slightly, Kaeri wiped the unused bits of ingredients off the
counter and into her hands, then sprinkled them into the dust-bin.

    It wasn't right for both of them to be here.

    She picked up her staff from where it leaned against the refrigerator
and pressed it between her breasts.

    She'd le.. lea... leav...

    Not for long.

    She was... not abandoning the dojo.

    Oh, no, never again.

    She'd be back.

    Kaeri slid out the back door just in time to hear Kasumi's startled
gasp and trademark phrase.

    She'd be back.

    Soon.

                                * * * * *

    His amulet glowed brighter with each step.  Ryo scanned through the
crowd nervously, knowing that the other was out there. Finally, he saw
him, sitting by the bar.  He looked as if he was in a daze, his eyes
dulled and his posture slumped. 

    Muhoshin blinked, looked at his own flaring locket swinging from the
chain around his neck, then looked up.

    "Oh.  Hello," mumbled Muhoshin.  "I've been waiting." 

    "Waiting?" asked Ryo.  He was tense, waiting for Muhoshin to make his
move. 

    "Waiting, yes, waiting... you, me, we should talk.  Sit?" Muhoshin
put the flaring locket underneath his shirt, ignoring the blue tongues of
flame lashing out. 

    "Doesn't that hurt?" asked Ryo. 

    "Hurt?  What hurt?" 

    "You put the locket under your shirt when it was still..." 

    "Oh.  That.  Hurts.  But I ignore it."  Muhoshin shrugged and pressed
his hand over his chest.  Saotome winced as he saw ghostly flames
illuminate Muhoshin's shirt briefly.  "Before we talk," said Muhoshin,
"sit."

    In a rush to get things wrapped up quickly, Ryo said, "please, if
you'll just give me back the locket we ca-" 

    "SIT."  Muhoshin's dull expression was replaced suddenly by a
psychotic glare.  "We sit and talk or _else_..." 

    Muhoshin's eyes calmly looked down to the floor, where his umbrella
was aimed down and almost touching the ground.  Then he looked around at
the crowds all around them.

    Saotome frowned.  He knew what Muhoshin was hinting at.  After all,
they both knew the technique, and he could see clearly that Muhoshin's
umbrella was a centimeter away from an incredibly potent breaking point.

    "It's... somewhat crowded here, don't you think?" he asked.  "Be a
shame if... say... there was an explosion or two, if you know what I
mean?" 

    "Alright, I'll sit," said Ryo, trying to calm the other down. "Now
wha-" 

    "Order something.  The Thai Tea here is very good." 

    "But I tho-" 

    "ORDER SOMETHING." 

    Ryo waved over to the barkeep and ordered water. 

    "I've ordered my drink, okay?  Now let's talk ab-" 

    "Good place, this," interrupted Muhoshin. 

    "Huh?" 

    "Haven't seen Ryouga all day. Erah, aHAHAHAHA... ah.. aHAH... ahem." 

    The two Ryos examined each other, Saotome with alert, open eyes, and
Muhoshin with slow, narrow eyed gazes.

    "So, what are we going to do?" asked Saotome. 

    "Eh?  What?"  Muhoshin blinked.  "Hm... well... good weather, nice
cafe, beautiful people all around us.  I suppose we should talk.  I
haven't a clue as to our topic, though." 

    "I think I know," said Saotome.  "I think you do too.  This
situation, the lockets, you, me.  We need to talk." 

    "I suppose so," said Muhoshin.  He stared sadly into his drink, as if
not quite pleased with the contents.

    "I've been thinking about this, you and me," said Saotome. "About
what's going to happen to us in the end."

    "I know," said Muhoshin.  "I dream the future sometimes.  It's
different every night.  Sometimes I kill you.  Sometimes you kill me.  In
the far future, or perhaps yesterday." 

    Saotome nodded.  "I... I just wanted to know that I'd made a genuine
attempt to talk things over and avoid that fate."

    Muhoshin looked genuinely puzzled.  "Oh?" 

    "It doesn't have to be this way," said Saotome.  The bartender
brought Saotome's water him.  He took a light sip, then put it aside. 

    There was a long silence. 

    The crowd chattered.  The traffic outside flowed along slowly.
Somewhere in the restaurant, a waitress dropped a glass. 

    "It is that way," said Muhoshin quietly.  He shrugged. 

    "No it isn't!" protested Saotome. 

    Muhoshin shook his head sadly.  "Ever have just... a really bad day?" 

    "Yes, but I don't see what that has to do with anything." 

    "Never mind, never mind."  Muhoshin finished the last of his drink
and put the empty glass on the table.  "There's no turning back, even for
us." 

    "You're not giving me a chance-" 

    "Look at you," spat Muhoshin.  "Everything about you reeks of
heroism, idealism, and the belief of the inherent goodness of Ryouga." 

    "What?" asked Saotome. 

    Muhoshin blinked.  "Man.  Inherent goodness of Man."  He leaned
forward, his eyes narrowing further.  "I have blood on my hands, so much
blood, but I don't have any regrets.  Someone has to do this.  If I
won't, who?  It's far too late.  Do you understand?" 

    "No, I don't," said Saotome. 

    Muhoshin smiled, although he certainly didn't seem happy. 

    "You will," said Muhoshin.  "Before we're done, you'll have blood on
your hands.  Mine, yours, maybe both." 

    "What the hell is that supposed to mean?" hissed Saotome. 

    Muhoshin ignored him and closed his eyes. 

    "Perhaps... we can end this," said Muhoshin, eyes still closed. 

    "How?" asked Saotome. 

    "Your locket.  Give it to me." 

    "Why?" asked Saotome. 

    "I don't care what you do in your own little corner of the
realities,"  said Muhoshin.  "Just stay out of my way, and I'll leave you
alone." 

    And leave Muhoshin free to murder across time and space?  Not an
option in Saotome's mind.

    "I can't do that." 

    "Oh well," said Muhoshin, "can't say I didn't try the... aheh... nice
way." 

    "Muhoshin, listen," said Saotome. 

    "I will," said Muhoshin, eyes still closed, "to the sound of
victims." 

    Saotome's eyes widened as he realized what Muhoshin was about to do. 
He lunged forward, but wasn't fast enough. 

    Muhoshin's umbrella tapped the floor. 

    A violent blast shook the cafe to its foundations.  With a sweep of
his hand, Muhoshin touched a cement pillar that was next to him, setting
it off in another violent explosion of choking dust and deadly shrapnel. 

    In Ryo Saotome's eyes, time slowed down.  He saw it all in painful
detail.  The waitress, face cut by the flying debris, falling backwards
and screaming.  The bartender, absolutely confused, diving for cover.
The people everywhere, rising from their tables and taking that first
frantic step towards escape. 

    Ryo Muhoshin laughed at it all and disappeared as a section of
ceiling collapsed between them.

    Saotome caught the waitress as she fell and raced for the door. 

    He almost made it.

                                * * * * *

    "Hey, kid, you okay?" 

    "Mmm." 

    "Hey, wake up, c'mon." 

    Ryo Saotome opened his eyes slowly.  The sound of sirens and people
barking orders frantically assaulted his ears.  By his side, a medic was
looking his scratches over.

    "What happened?" he asked. 

    "The cafe collapsed on you," said the medic.  "How're you feeling?" 
    
    Ryo stood up slowly, despite the nagging aches he felt. 

    "Hey!  Don't move!  You might aggravate an injury!" protested the
medic. 

    Ryo ignored him and stared at the rubble instead.  "How many people?"

    "What?" 

    "How many people got hurt?" he asked again. 

    "Got about forty, including you, with moderate injuries, and five are
in critical condition." 

    Ryo clenched his fist.  "Damn." 

    He checked his jacket, then pulled out the silver locket.  It wasn't
glowing at all.  Either Muhoshin ran far off, or he left this reality.
He had to be stopped, by any means necessary. 

    Muhoshin just confirmed his worst fears.  He was beyond hope, beyond
remorse.

    A killer. 

    "'Scuse me, gotta go." 

    "Hey! Yo-"  The medic stopped protesting as Ryo hit a sleep pressure
point.  Ryo caught him and laid him down. 

    "Sorry, I don't have time for this." 

    A few blocks away in an empty alley, Ryo pulled out the silver locket
and concentrated.  A moment later, he was gone. 

                                * * * * *

    The final bell of the day rang, signaling the end of the day in
Nerima. The students were celebrating this fact in their usual manners,
be it a trip to the local hangouts, a friendly sports get-together, or
one of a hundred different other things. 

    One girl, in particular, was waiting for two other people to arrive.

    Miyabi paced around nervously, repeating the plan in her mind.  They
were going to go to Ucchan's, she'd _subtly_ get them to actually have a
good time together, and things would grow from that.  Gotta take that
first small step before taking the big ones.

    That is, if they didn't back out from fear.

    Speaking of people backing out...

    "Dad!  Hey!  Over here!"

    Ranma winced and looked around, hoping that nobody noticed a girl was
calling him 'dad'.  "Hey, not so loud!" he hissed.

    "Why?"  She pouted.  "You're ashamed of me?"

    "No!  Nothing like that," replied Ranma quickly, hoping to avoid
making a scene.  "It's just... you know... we're the same age, y'know?
And people'll look at us funny with you calling me dad, so just don't
yell it out like that, okay?"

    "Oh!"  Miyabi grinned sheepishly.  "Sorry, forgot."  Very carefully,
 she reached into her pocket.  There was a nearly inaudible 'click'.

    "I still don't see why the kawaiikunee tomboy and me gotta go to
Ucchan's." 

    "Do you like my shirt, Dad?"

    "Uh, yeah, Miyabi, your shirt looks real nice."  He sighed and looked
around, as if expecting something.  "Where the heck is that tomboy?"

    "Anxious to get out of here?" asked Miyabi.  "It's not like we're
late or anything."

    "Yeah, well, we'd better take off before Kunou gets here."

    "You aren't afraid of him, are you, Dad?"

    Ranma smirked.  "Kunou?  Hell no!  But the jerk's always trying to do
something hentai.  He just won't take a hint."

    "Oh hey, there's mum.  Mum!  Hey!  Over here!"

    Akane cringed.

                                * * * * *

    Classes in Furinkan were over for the day.

    Only two types of students weren't happy at this point.

    One was the hapless students that were stuck in detention.

    The other being the two Furinkan Students that stayed in Ucchan's all
day.

    Why?

    "We don't have a plan!" yelled Ukyou.  "Ranchan's heading home with
Akane and we still don't have a plan!"  Ryouga, who was never a great
schemer to begin with, could only sit there and mull while Ukyou paced
around anxiously. 

    She really didn't like the way he was sitting there in non-activity.
"Don't just sit there, think of a plan!"

    "I know, I know!  I'm trying to think but nothing's happening!"

    "How very surprising," remarked Ukyou dryly.

    Ryouga frowned.  "What's that supposed to mean?"

    "Nothing, nothing, forget it."

    "Hey, you're calling me slow, aren't you?"

    Ukyou sighed and rolled her eyes up.  "No, I'm not."

    This seemed to placate Ryouga enough.  "Oh, okay."

    Need a plan need a plan need a plan...

    Ryouga spoke up first, much to Ukyou's surprise.  "Okay, let's start
from the top."

    "The top?"  Ukyou's brow crinkled as she stared at Ryouga, who was
now on his feet and began to pace around.  This new, active, planning
Ryouga took Ukyou entirely off guard. 

    "One," he said, raising one finger, "You like Ranma."

    The illusion of a cunning and intelligent Ryouga was immediately
shattered.

    "Um, yeah," said Ukyou flatly.

    "Two," continued Ryouga, "I l... l... I like Akane."

    Ukyou frowned.  "You love Akane."

    "I... I love..."

    Ukyou glared at Ryouga.  "Jeez, you can't even say it."

    "Yes I can!" said a miffed Ryouga.

    "Whatever.  You don't have to try now."

    "I... I love-"

    "Sooooooo, this is where you two have been," said an all too familiar
young man's voice.  "I was wonderin' why the both of you skipped school."

    Ukyou winced.  Ryouga winced.  How, she wondered HOW could it be that
such a stupid accident happen TWICE?  It wasn't fair.

    "Um, aheh, hi guys!" said Ukyou, trying to look happy.

    "A-A-Akane!"  Ryouga fumbled a bit, nearly knocking over a nearby
table, then smiled nervously and laughed a bit.  "W-what're you doing
here?"

                                * * * * *

    From Ukyou's perspective, the gathering at Ucchan's was going well.

    It was going _too_ well.

    Ukyou was observing how things were progressing, and they were
progressing very badly.  Oh, it wasn't depressing on anyone's part. They
all talked about school, traded a few funny little personal anecdotes,
and generally had a good time.

    Ranma was smiling.

    Akane was smiling.

    Occasionally, they were smiling at each other.

    This was WRONG.

    Ukyou had this really weird feeing that they were all being watched,
but didn't have time for an additional aggravation.   There were enough
problems at the moment.

    Ryouga was no help.  He turned to jello every time Akane smiled
anywhere near his general direction.

    The worst part was, she couldn't think of a subtle way to nudge the
conversation towards pairing up Akane with Ryouga and her with Ranma.

    The non-subtle ideas were worthy of Kodachi or Shampoo and involved a
lot of glomping and attempted kisses.  Ukyou was tremendously embarrassed
to have those thoughts to begin with.  She COULD be more violent about
it, as Shampoo and Kodachi were, but that wasn't her style.

    No options.

    Damn.

    "... and so Hiroshi said, "what stick?"  Get it?"  Ranma laughed at
his own joke, along with Akane, Miyabi, and Ryouga.  It only served to
bring Ukyou out of her reverie.

    She wished that someone would break up this happy-fest before she
puked.

    "RANMA!"

    Oooh, waitasec, she knew that voice.

    "Shampoo hear you take Akane on date!" said the Amazon angrily, "You
no fool around with other women!"

    Ukyou allowed herself a crooked, tired smile.  Shampoo, the manic
Amazon. That oughta break up this happy atmosphere.

    She looked at Akane and Ranma and that thought was quickly crushed.
It seemed he had one arm almost around her, as if protectively, and she
was leaning slightly towards him.

    She briefly wondered if now would be the time to get violent.

    "Ohohoho!  Ranma darling, there you..."

    Ah.  Kodachi.  That would be violent enough.

                                * * * * *

    "Ohohoho!  Ranma darling, there you... you... oh my."

    The Black Rose was currently seeing red.  Very red.

    When last Kodachi saw Ranma, he was under the spell of that evil
harlot, the pig-tailed girl, forced to be in the form of an inferior man.
The only way to for Ranma to return to his gallant, handsome,
irresistible
form once more was to.. well...

    The thought made Kodachi blush so, and send an electric shiver
through her body as well.  It was a shame to lose her virtue before the
wedding night, but she would gladly sacrifice her body to her dear Ranma.

    Except it seemed that Ranma was once again his normal, dashing self,
which was good.

    But why was he sitting next to that harridan Akane with his arm
nearly around her unless oh no no no she DIDN'T Akane Tendo COULDN'T
POSSIBLY HAVE no no no this can't be happening SOMEONE IS GOING TO HAVE
TO DIE!

    "Akane Tendo, how DARE YOU sleep with MY RANMA!"

                                * * * * *

    There was this loud, thundering, heart-stopping sort of utter
silence.

    Ukyou stared at Ranma.  Ryouga stared at Akane.  Shampoo stared at
Ranma and nearly dropped a bonbori.  Kodachi was turning a particularly
angry shade of red.

    Miyabi's next statement didn't exactly help with the situation.

    "You two shouldn't- I mean- It's too- I'm not supposed to be born yet
and you might-!"

    "Waitaminute!   Me an'the tomboy didn't do nothing!" protested Ranma.

    "I didn't do anything with this jerk!" yelled Akane.

    Of course, nobody believed them.

    "HOW DARE YOU GET AKANE PREGNANT, YOU JERK!"  Ryouga grabbed Ranma by
the shirt and shook him violently.  "I'LL KILL YOU!"

    Ukyou's killer spatula sliced down and forced Ryouga to dodge back,
releasing Ranma.  "Don't you hurt him!" snarled Ukyou.  She turned to
Ranma with a really odd looking sort of smile that was as close to
friendly as the stars were close to the ocean.  "I'm gonna hurt him!"

    "Akane I KILL!"

    "OVER MY DEAD BODY, BIMBO!"

    "Get out of way, PIG-BOY!

    "DIE!"

    And thus, the First Destruction of Ucchan's began.

                                * * * * *

    One observer, at least, enjoyed the chaos.  Ratiko Hibiki couldn't
remember the last time he was this happy. It was all falling into place.
He had all the bases covered and soon, Ranma would be dead and the future
would be saved!

    Hibiki Reiraku's future held death, destruction, and revenge and
betrayal.  He liked what he saw.  How couldn't he?  For the first time in
his life, things were falling into place.  His plans were going from
point A to point B, without intermediate stops at C, D, aleph, omicron or
enhe, and _no one_ suspected a THING.  He'd made sure of that.  All the
bases were covered, and soon, so would Ranma - with a burial shroud.

    With the jock's demise, he reminded himself, his own birth was
guaranteed.

    If he was lucky enough, maybe this time he wouldn't come back.

    Oh, yes, Rat was happy.

    Rat was incredibly happy.

    Rat was 'who cares where I am and who's watching, let's let out a
long maniacal laugh and chortle mysteriously while we rub one hand over
another'

    So he did - or tried to.

    "BWAHAW."

    "BWAHEHEHehehehe..."

    "HOO HOO HOO HUH huh..."

    "MUHA!"

    "MUA!"

    "MUAHAHA!"

    [That's it!]

    "MUAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!"

    He'd secretly wanted to do this for a long time, and he wasn't about
to let a little thing like lack of practice stop him. If he had to
rehearse his lunacy, so be it.

    "MUAHAHAHAHAHA!" he laughed at last, pleased with the end product of
his patience.  "Soon, Saotome... Soon I will have my... my... REVENGE!
MUAHAHAHAHA! MUAHAHAHAHA! MUAHAHAHAHA! MUA-"

    "What," asked a voice from somewhere behind him, "is so funny?"
Reiraku stopped his impromptu voice lesson and looked for the source.
All he saw was a wide-brimmed hat and the hints of a dress poking from
the shadows of an alley's archway.

    "Not funny," said Rat. "Joyous." He smiled.  It didn't matter that he
didn't know who he was speaking to; this was the first minute of his
moment of triumph, and he'd be sure to mention that to anyone who'd
listen.

    "Joyous?" The hidden speaker sounded dubious.

    "I will save the world, restoring it to its proper path, so that I
may eventually be born to return and save it once more, and again, and
AGAIN, AND AGAIN, for all of ETERNITY!!! MUAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAheheh.
Sorry."

    The shadows on the hat shifted as it tilted downwards.

    "You want to save the world so that you will be born?"

    "That's right." Rat beamed.

    "You ARE born.  You're here."

    "But not conceived yet. I'm from the future."

    "The future?"

    "The future." Rat pause as he wondered what the Global Savior would
have said under similar circumstances. Considering he would eventually be
fit to bear the title himself, it was only proper that he emulate the
great Blue Thunder's style. "The proper, one and only, real and true
future. The future of Hibiki Reiraku! The future IS Hibiki Reiraku! I
will, I... uh... er..."  It seemed that a way with words was requisite
for the Kunou Rant, and if there was one thing that Rat lacked, it was
eloquence.  "That's... about it, really," he concluded weakly.

    His audience was immobile. A slight breeze now and then brought bits
of what seemed to be a dress into the light, but the rest of the figure,
no matter how hard he squinted, remained disappointingly invisible.

    "Who are you?" he asked.

    "The past," answered the voice, and then stepped backwards,
dissolving fully into the blackness.

    Rat was left alone with the breeze, his thoughts, and an echo that
seemed to say, 'the once and proper past'.
 
                                * * * * *

    No matter how many ways she looked at it, the gathering at Ucchan's
was a disaster.  Mum was yelling at dad.  Dad was yelling at mum.
Everyone was trying to kill mum or dad.  Miyabi didn't understand.

    Nobody fell in love.

    She didn't think things were going well, not at all.

    She didn't think things would be this hard.

    She didn't recall being so emotional before.

    *sniffle*

    The yelling and the fighting became just unbearable.  It hurt to see
the ones she cared about the most like that.

    What else could she do but run away? 

    She sat alone, in the park, feeling useless, helpless, angry, and
tired again.  Occasionally, she'd toss stones into the pond, but for the
most part she just sat there and stared into the waters, as if there was
an answer to be found in the ripples and tides. 

    Stupid parents.  Stupid uncles and aunts.  Why was this happening? 

    *sniffle*

    "Oh my."

    Startled, Miyabi looked up but was blinded immediately by the sun.
Someone was standing above her but she could only make out a dark outline
of a female shape, capped by a large sunhat.

    "Oh, hi," said Miyabi.  She resumed staring glumly into the pond.

    The woman sat down a small distance next to Miyabi, her hat
conveniently obscuring the view of her face, and proceeded to toss bread
crumbs at a few nearby geese. 

    Miyabi sniffled yet again.

    The mystery woman offered a tissue.  "Do you need this?" she asked.

    Miyabi nodded and took it, then wiped her eyes.  "Thanks."

    There was something... something familiar about that voice... but
Miyabi couldn't quite tell what.  It was definitely soothing.

    "Rough day?" the woman asked.

    Miyabi nodded.  "It's... family stuff."

    "Not getting along with your parents?"

    "No, it's not that.  They don't get along with each other."

    "Fight with each other all the time?" asked the lady.

    "Yeah, that's them," said Miyabi sadly.  "Maybe you know them?  Ranma
and Akane Saotome?"

    "Oh, those two," the woman replied.  "I wouldn't worry about those
two if I were you.  Deep inside, they really do love each other.  They
just don't like to show it to anyone else but each other."

    "They're sure fooling me," whined Miyabi.

    "Don't worry, everything will be all right."  Somehow, in the way she
said it, Miyabi almost believed that it would be okay.

    "Well, yeah, maybe."  Miyabi drew her knees up to her chest and laid
her head down.  "I wish I was just as sure about the others too."

    "Others?" asked the woman.

    "Yeah.  Uncle Ryouga and Auntie Ukyou, Auntie Nabiki and Uncle
Tatewaki... they don't love each other and keep on getting in the way! In
fact," she added, a look of amused disgust on her face, "Uncle Tatewaki
is in love with my dad." 

    "Well... you can either trust in fate to bring hearts together or..."

    "Or?"

    The lady's voice gained a surprisingly cold edge.  "Do whatever you
have to, whatever it takes to set things right.  And if someone gets in
your way... that's their problem.  Never give up, Miyabi-chan, never give
up."

    Miyabi's eyes widened in shock at the suddenly savage advice of this
seemingly gentle and motherly figure.  She slowly raised her head and
shifted her gaze...

    "Ah..."

    ... and found herself alone.

    "Um... hello?"

    That's odd, she thought, I never told her my name.

                                * * * * *

    Another time, another place... 

    ... and lost again for Ryouga Hibiki. 

    He wasn't sure where he was, which was what was usually the state of
things, but it was definitely on a mountain.  A very scenic, rocky, tall
mountain.  He was currently walking along a somewhat narrow rocky path,
winding endlessly along the mountains and felt a small twinge of vertigo.
The drop was very, very long, but the beauty of the view was well worth
confronting the fear. 

    One day, if the Gods were generous, one day he hoped to share these
eternally beautiful vistas with Akane at his side.

    "Oh Akane... someday I'll... I'll... huh?" 

    Whatever it was, it had a strange, supernatural beauty that blended
with the clear blue skies and the pale snow-covered slopes around him. It
was a small sphere of azure flame, flaring into existence slowly and
flickering a few feet ahead of him and in the air. 

    "What the..." 

    Suddenly, the sphere roared into a giant column of azure flame,
nearly blinding him.  Ryouga lifted his arms and squinted, backing away
carefully. 

    And then the flame 'whoosh'ed into nothing. 

    There was, however, a figure standing where the fire was a moment
ago. 

    "Ryouga Hibiki?" the figure asked. 

    His vision clearing, Ryouga looked at the figure before him.  It
seemed like... er... sort of... not exactly... but an awful lot like... a
somewhat insane... if better dressed version of... no...

    "Gosunkugi?"

    The figure winced and grumbled something about having a yen for every
time he heard something.

    And then he suddenly lashed out with a black umbrella.  Ryouga raised
his own in defense, stopping its end a few inches short of his face.

    And then the blade popped out of the tip, reducing that distance to
centimeters.

    "Hey!  What are you doing?!"

    "Trying to kill you."

    The two clashed, Ryouga's powerful and massive umbrella vs. the
other's swift and sharp one.  It became clear after several minutes that,
at least in wielding an umbrella, they were evenly matched.

    "Why are you doing this?!" shouted Ryouga.  "What have I ever done to
you?"

    His enemy remained silent and continued his relentless attack.   

                                * * * * *

    Ryo Saotome, accidental tourist of time and reality, continued across
the universes, a streak of blue across all of creation, praying that the
next reality jaunt would bring him one step closer to home.

    The next step was putting away Ryo Muhoshin.

    He didn't know how he was going to do that, though, since the locket
couldn't teleport near enough to its other self and ruined the element of
surprise at the same time.

    Once again, the blinding blue light flickered and faded around him
like dying flames, leaving him in yet another world.

    And then the vertigo hit him like a freight train.

    "Whoa!"  His yell echoed all around him, bouncing off valleys and
mountains, and really emphasized the fact that he was ridiculously high
in altitude.

    A hell of a view, a real killer, in fact.
    
    There were, however, disturbing questions that were beginning to nag
him.

    The... Muhoshin cat had a point.  He DIDN'T have his jacket when this
whole adventure started.  What did it mean?  Was the locket more
sensitive than he thought it was?  Was he controlling it in a
subconscious way?

    Truth be told, he had absolutely no idea.  Maybe, he thought, he was
worrying excessively?  So he accidentally and unconsciously summoned his
jacket.  So what?

    He hoped that was the only thing he subconsciously summoned.  The
thought of Bell-chan yanked into another reality gave him a moment's
chill.

    Right.  Enough worrying.  Time to get on with it and take the next
step.
    

    Carefully, he held the locket up and moved it about until its
supernatural glow increased. 

    "Gotcha."

                                * * * * *

    Umbrella met umbrella in a furious duel of skill that would seem
ridiculous if it weren't for the fact that one umbrella had a blade at
the end of it and the other was heavy enough to shatter a man's bones on
impact.

    Muhoshin was enjoying this, very much so.  The rush of combat, the
thrill of danger.  This Ryouga HAD to be the one.  He was too damn hard
to kill.

    "Why don't you just DIE!"  he yelled, blade whizzing by Ryouga's
neck, missing by a hair.

    "Shut up!"  Ryouga countered with several deadly swings of his own
umbrella, forcing Muhoshin back a few steps.

    And then there was an all too familiar burning in Muhoshin's chest.

    "No not now not now NOT NOW!"

    Unfortunately, this made him loose track of the fight.  More
importantly, he failed to notice Ryouga's umbrella heading straight for
him.

                                * * * * *

    As he ran towards the battle, the locket in his jacket pocket flared
brighter.  _Please let him not notice!_

    He noticed. 

    Muhoshin seemed to pause in the middle of the fight, taking a
staggered step back while clutching his chest.  Then Ryouga struck him
solidly with a slash across the shirt.  Muhoshin spun away, reeling from
the blow, clutching his chest.

                                * * * * *

    Ryouga stepped forward, umbrella in hand and ready to deal out the
final blow in this duel.  Whoever this person was, he was out to kill,
and Ryouga took that seriously.  He couldn't give him time to recover.

    His was staggering away, his back to everyone while clutching at his
chest.  Ryouga wasn't sure, but he thought there was an odd blue glow
flickering from within the stranger's shirt. 

    He also seemed to be talking to someone, although it certainly wasn't
Ryouga.  Talking to himself, perhaps? 

    "Aagh... Saotome, you bastard... NOT NOW DAMMIT!"

    Saotome?  Ryouga looked around and spotted an all too familiar
pigtailed boy appeared from the ridge above, landing between Ryouga and
his unknown assailant.

    "Ranma?  What are you doing here?"

    "Who said I'm Ranma?" the pigtailed boy answered back.

    As he came closer, Ryouga got a better look.  It wasn't quite Ranma,
 no. Almost, but not quite.

    "Who are you?  What're you doing here?" Ryouga asked.

    "You can call me Ryo, and I'm here to put him," the Ranma-esque boy
pointed at Muhoshin, "back where he belongs."

    Suddenly the Gosunkugi lookalike turned around and his wound was
revealed to them both, a mild red gash above his stomach. 

    That, however, wasn't what stopped them in their tracks.

    In his chest, seared into his flesh, was a locket burning bright
azure flames.

    "Oh Lord," whispered the person-that-wasn't-Ranma-but-really-
reminded-Ryouga-of-him, "what's happening to you?" 

    'Gosunkugi' glared at 'Ranma' with eyes blazing azure flame and
burning hatred.  "STAY THE HELL AWAY FROM ME!  BAKUSAITENKETSU!" 

    And then the entire mountainside came crashing down on them.

    Ryouga skidded down the mountain, using his umbrella as a shield as
the mountain came crashing down on top of him.  Finally, he reached the
bottom of the mountain, still relatively healthy, but buried by tons of
rock and debris.

    "Dammit, some way, somehow, I KNOW this is Ranma's fault!!!"

    Several massive shishi-houkoudans later, he managed to tunnel himself
to the surface.  Of the two other, oddly familiar yet definitely not
Ranma and Gosunkugi persons, there was no sign.

                                * * * * *

    [Look, Aman. It's the Asian babe again.]

    [So it is, so it is...]

    [Um. She's going to use the phone again.]

    [The one we just had replaced?]

    "Kunou baby, it's me againDON'TYOUDAREHANGUP!" 

    "* Ah, the distant Nabiki Tendo.  How fares thee?" 

    "I fare in AFRICA, Kunou, now PLEASE get me a ride out of here?" 

    "* Methinks I had best leave the situation as is, I do not wish to be
accused of interfering in Tendo Family Business."

    "Kunou! I am covered with bug bites and the bugs that made them, I
think the last bit of meat I had came from a dog, I don't dare walk down
the street without a pistol, even with the pistol there have been five
attempted robberies, two attempted rapes, and one attempted murder, the
children keep making me pity them and give them money I can't afford, and
to top it off I'VE GOT A SUNBURN! GET ME THE HELL OUT OF HERE!" 

    "* It sounds very cultural." 

    "CULTURAL?" 

    "* Ethnic." 

    "Kunou! GET! ME! OUT! OF! AFRICA!" 

    "* Ah, that I can do." 

    "Really? You can?!?" 

    "* Certainly. I will rent the film for you as soon as you return. If
you return. Good day." 

    "Kunou? Kunou, DON'THANGUP... OH, $&*(!^%!" 

    [Such language.]

    [I think she's awfully attractive when she smashes things to bits.]

    [All these phones are going to cost a lot to replace, Aman.]

    [Who cares? It's not coming out of my paycheck.]

                                * * * * *

    Muhoshin walked swiftly out of the swirling blue disc, brushing
strands of cerulean fire from his suit. It was getting to the point where
the flames hardly hurt at all... well... no. They still hurt, painfully
so. But it was getting to the point where the pain wasn't a bad thing.

    He was in a park, it seemed. Yeah. The one in Nerima. Muhoshin
smiled; he had fond memories of many a pleasant mugging in this little
corner of the city...

    Wait a minute. He'd only been here once or twice, and he certainly
hadn't mugged anyone in here...

    Yes he had, right after he had been knocked out after the showdown at
the bridge and lost his memory.

    Ryo frowned. He hadn't lost his memory, he had been whisked away by
the Jansen woman and her harem of idiots. What had he been remembering?

    Damn, his head hurt.

    He massaged his temples. Ryouga. His fault. Kill Ryouga, make
everything better. The REAL Ryouga. Not the cheap imitations.

    But you can't beat the real thing, tittered a little voice inside his
head.

    Muhoshin snarled. He could too! He would have won!

    Angrily, he strode through the park, taking random swipes at
squirrels and tree limbs with his umbrella. Time to get a bite to eat,
kill this universe's Ryouga just on general principles, and move on.

    It was a harvest moon, he noted. Somewhere in the distance, a violin
was being played.

    He scowled. Something about this place offended him.

    And then he emerged from a clump of trees, and saw the outline to two
figures sitting on the park bench, kissing.

    Muhoshin felt a lump build in his throat. That's right, he'd come
here with Miss Ami. His Ami.

    Or was her name Kaeri?

    Perhaps there was a Muhoshin and a Ami on the bench?

    He walked forward, and the gleam of the streetlights shone down on
the couple.

    Ryouga and some girl. Kissing. Both slightly shy, but both obviously
very enthusiastic about it.

    Muhoshin froze and watched, struck dumb by the unfairness of it all.
The gall.

    Ryouga had killed his girl, then had not stayed dead, and then he had
the nerve to steal his park and his girl and his moon and his violins.
And then parade it in front of him.

    Well. If Ryouga wanted violins, violins would take place.

    Twirling his umbrella, he walked forward with swift and feline step.
Justice. Revenge. 

    Hibiki wasn't even paying attention to his surroundings. Oh, this was
just too easy.

    Muhoshin pulled his arm back, and thrust.

    He was right. Ryouga wasn't paying the slightest bit of attention to
anything except the girl in his arms.

    The girl, however, was, and she screamed and tried to jump at Ryo.

    The bladed tip sped forward

    ..."I'm Akari Unryuu." "Er, Ryo Muhoshin. Charmed."...

    faster than he could possibly stop it

    ..."Look, I'm sorry. It was a mistake." "Taking me hostage was a
mistake?" "I said I was sorry."...

    and the girl had managed to jump right in

    ..."Do you, Unryuu Akari, take this man to be your lawfully wedded
husband?" "I do." "And do you, Muhoshin Ryo..."...

    front of the blade, and he watched as it slipped

    ..."Akari-chan, could you get me a cup of tea?" "Here you are,
Ryo-chan. Oh... Ukyou is coming for lunch tomorrow." "Just as long as
that husband of hers isn't."...

    effortlessly through her pink ruffled blouse

    ..."Push, dear, push!" "Ryo..." "Push.... oh my, is that the head?
What's that stuff on it? Doctor, if this isn't normal and you don't fix
it I'm going to cut off your..." "Ryo, hold my hand..." "'sokay,
dear..."...

    and between her ribs, like a knife through butter

    ..."Daddy, why can't I play with Souji?" "He's a Hibiki, Ryori.
They're degenerate." "Mommy, what does that mean?"...

    and her eyes bloomed and her pink dress turned 

    ..."Dear, don't be that way." "If that boy lays a hand on her, I'm
going to feed him his spleen. Right before I cut off his..." "Ryo-chan,
you're being over-protective again." But dear, he's a HIBIKI!"...

    dark crimson, and she crumpled in a heap, the light

    ..."Grandchildren. Can't abide em." "You old boar, you love bragging
to them about how you used to beat up their other grandpa." "And I wish
you wouldn't call me that." "Really?" "No. Not really."...

    leaving her eyes, staring at him.

    Muhoshin reeled back, trying to understand what had just happened to
him.

    "Akari?" he whispered, staring in horror at the body in pink. 

    Ryouga was screaming something, kneeling beside her. Muhoshin just
kept backing away. Oh, God, he killed her, he killed Akari...

    Who the hell was Akari? Why should he care? It was Ryouga's girl...

    Ryouga rose, gave an inarticulate shriek of rage, and charged.
Muhoshin, in a daze, held out his umbrella, and Hibiki ran right into it.

    MY AKARI OH GOD OH GOD

    No, he'd never met her before in his life, no....

     The locket flashed blue, and he screamed, and the park was empty of
 all save Ryouga. And his girl.

                                * * * * *

   Dinner that night was strangely quiet.

    Of the time jumpers, only Miyabi and Ratiko appeared. Kasumi kept a
place set for the others, however, just in case.

    Soun kept fidgeting in his seat, occasionally looking over his
shoulder with an air of anticipation. And Kasumi... Kasumi was hovering
over one of the empty places, which had a small vase of flowers by it.

    Akane frowned. That particular place was set with the best china, and
the good silver. Who was Kasumi planning on seating...

    Wait a second.

    A quick count confirmed it. Kasumi had set one more place setting
than there were reality travelers.

    "Er, Kasumi?" she asked hesitantly. "Who's seat is that?"

    Kasumi smiled at her, a nervous, giddy sort of thing that took Akane
aback. "Oh. That's mother's place."

    Great, Akane thought worriedly. Kasumi was cracking under the
weirdness.

    "Did you see her again?" Soun asked eagerly. Kasumi shook her head
sadly.

    "See who?" Akane asked.

    Kasumi shot her the giddy smile again. "Mother. She's come back."

    "I saw her!" Soun babbled. "And she put a cold cloth on my head!"

    Ranma turned to his father and slowly spun one finger in a circle
around his ear. Genma nodded.

   Akane just stared.

    "Oh, it's true, Akane," Kasumi hurriedly said. "I saw her leave the
kitchen as I entered, and she had been cooking one of mother's recipes.
And father says she was... scarred... like the accident would have.. oh
dear." Her smile fluttered. "I think mother's ghost has come back to
visit us."

    Across the table, Rat sank deeper into his seat and whimpered.
"Ghosts. Not another ghost. Why does it have to be ghosts?"

    Miyabi, who had been fidgeting in her seat since the conversation
began, finally decided to speak. "Um. This ghost... did she have a
motherly voice, about Kasumi's height, wore and apron? Because if she
did, then I think I've seen her too."

    "My dear sweet Kimiko's come back!" Soun bawled. Kasumi smiled
nervously. Akane just blinked a lot. Ranma and Genma adopted dubious
looks.

                                * * * * *

   And through the window, Kaeri watched.

    People were eating, and talking, and some of them were smiling. That
horrid little Reiraku person seemed uncomfortable. Except for the absence
of Nabiki and the presence of Miyabi and Ratiko, it seemed so wonderfully
normal. So much like the way things had been.

    Not that Miyabi was out of place. She's always wanted grandchildren,
and she seemed like such a nice girl. Such a dear child...

    Kasumi passed Miyabi the salt, saying something as she did. Kaeri
frowned slightly.

    Was the food good enough? She hadn't gotten to make dinner... Kasumi
had interrupted her.

   She was supposed to make dinner. Her. Not this Kasumi. 

    But wasn't Kasumi her?

    No. Kasumi was blind.

    Kasumi didn't SEE.

    There she was, happy and stupid and in HER place. That should be HER
making dinner, HER smiling at Akane, HER family, HER life. What had
Kasumi ever done to deserve it?

    Kaeri clenched her hands slightly, and crept off.  

                                * * * * *

    "So how are you enjoying school, Miyabi-chan?"

    "Oh, just fine, Auntie Kasumi..."

    "HEY!"

    Everyone stared as Ranma leaped from his seat, ran to the window, and
peered out. Finally, looking a bit sheepish, he returned to his seat.

    "What was all that about?" Akane asked irritably.

    Ranma flushed. "I saw..."

    "Yes?"

    "I saw someone who looked like Kasumi lookin' in at us."

    "Kimiko..." Soun muttered happily.

    That was the end of the conversation for the rest of the meal.

                                * * * * *

    Ryo Saotome appeared in the park in a flash of fire.

    Grimly, he surveyed the scene. No skinny silhouette under the dim
lights, no Muhoshin lurking in the shadows. Just a bench, and a
streetlight, and...

    And two bodies.

    Slowly, reluctantly, he walked closer to where the two crumpled
figures lay in pools of crimson. As Ryo drew closer, he could see than
one of them was a girl, about his age, in what had been a pink dress. Her
eyes, open and glassy, stared unseeing at the harvest moon far above.

    The other corpse was Ryouga Hibiki.

    Damn, he thought, his fists clenching in grief and rage. This was
becoming an all too familiar event. Muhoshin had to be stopped.

    Kneeling beside the motionless Hibiki, Ryo examined the wound. A
single stab to the chest, probably puncturing the aorta. Odd. It was a
rather clumsy spot to...

    Ryouga's eyes flicked open.

    Ryo managed to avoid yelping. Barely.

    The eyes closed again. "Ranma..." slurred the Lost Boy, a trickle of
blood running from the side of his mouth. "Shoulda known... all your
fault..."

    "Shh," Ryo said, quickly feeling for a pulse. "I'm going to call an
ambulance. Save your strength." He found the pulse; weak, fluttering
horribly, but still there.

    "'snot gonna get here... Akari... killed Akari..." The eyes shot open
again, and a hand reached out to take Ryo by the shoulder in a painful
grip. "Ranma... get him... he killed Aka... get 'im for me... Ranma.. all
your fault, y'know..."

    The eyes closed, the grip loosened, and the pulse surged once and
then vanished.

    Ryo stood, bowed once and then began to walk away.

    All his fault.

    Muhoshin had to be stopped, and himself alone wasn't enough. At best,
he equaled 'Gosling', and he needed more than that. He needed to best
him. Which meant getting help, like he should have done in the first
place.

    Tears tricked down his cheeks. He had been too proud to admit that
Muhoshin was more than he could handle alone, too confident, too
egotistical. After all, if his father could go it alone, why not him?

    And Ryougas were paying the price the universe over.

    All his fault

    His, and Muhoshin's.

  The tears slowly stopped. Enough self pity for one day.

    The locket awoke to the command of his will, and flared as bright as
the stars above.

                                * * * * *

    "Are weeeee there yeeeeeet?" whined the tourist, for the tenth time.
Nabiki gritted her teeth, tightened her grip on the machete, and gave the
next clump of vegetation a particularly vicious slash. 

    "It'll be while," she said in broken French. Sigh. French. Normally
at this time of day she'd be lounging on the sofa with her laptop and a
good spreadsheet program, maybe a nice iced coffee, and the Nikkei index.
Instead, she was guiding a group of overweight Frenchmen though the
Ethiopian jungle for a price that didn't even _begin_ to make up for the
sheer wretchedness of it all. 

    She was hopelessly lost, too., but that was only a minor
inconvenience. Or so she kept telling herself. 

    Hack. Slash. If nothing else, she was getting a hell of a workout.
Not to mention welts along her arm from the underbrush, and several
interesting species of insect that were taking up residence in her
clothes and hair. She had long since ceased to notice the flies. 

    The French were jabbering away in the rapid-fire dialect they used
among themselves. Not a good sign. 

    She cut away a particularly dense clump of jungle, and stopped dead. 

    It seemed to be an altar or a shrine of some sort. Lots of
plant-draped stone, and bas reliefs, and human skulls, and frescos of
people doing highly advanced, inventive, and very unpleasant things to
other people. She peered closer; what on earth were they doing to that
guy in the upper left-hand corner... oh. 

    Nabiki hastily looked away, and fought back a bit of rising bile. She
did NOT need to know that, nonono. Whoever built that thing had NO regard
for it's effects on tourism. 

    "Look, Marthe! My Nikon!" 

    "Oooo, John-Pierre, look at that!" 

    "I wonder if the tour guide has postcards of it?" 

    On the other hand... 

    Nabiki pulled out a handkerchief from her shirt and mopped the sweat
off her forehead. She had promised them native culture, and this was...
well... she supposed you could call it culture. Now all she had to do was
find her way back to the city, and... 

    "Nobody move." 

    Slowly, Nabiki looked up at the two dozen guerrillas training guns on
her and her tour group.  There went her profit margin, she mused glumly.

                                * * * * *

    Miyabi knew that her Aunt Nabiki was the most technology-oriented
member of the family, and was hoping that she had some sort of audio
editing equipment in her room.

    She was pleasantly surprised to find something that resembled a small
recording studio tucked away in a corner of the middle Tendo sister's
desk. Complete with distortion effects, clarity focus, damper-recil
focusing...

    Boy, she thought to herself, I never knew Auntie Nabiki was such a
recording buff. 

    So much the better for her purposes.

    The tiny cassette recorder she had secreted on her was filled with
conversation from Ranma and Akane. All of it, of course, was completely
innocent.

    She selected a worn, scratchy tape as her template. Despite the
unexpectedly high quality of Nabiki's equipment, she wanted something
with poor sound quality to cover up the splicing she was about to do.

    Taking out the cassette recorder, she began to skim through it.

    "*I still don't see why the kawaiikunee tomboy and me gotta go to
Ucchan's.*"

    "*Do you like my shirt, Dad?*"

    "*Uh, yeah, Miyabi, your shirt looks real nice.*"

    *tttt*

    "*...yeah, well, we'd better take off before Kunou gets here.*"

    "*You aren't afraid of him, are you, Dad?*"

    "*Kunou? Hell no! But the jerk's always trying to do something
    hentai.
He just don't take a hint.*"

    *ttttt*

    "*How's the food, Ranchan?*"

    "*Mmmmmm. Aaaah. Very good.*"

    Miyabi smiled.

    Ten minutes later, she rewound her template and hit play.

    "Akane  you kawaii  tomboy,  take off  your shirt  and let's do
something hentai  together."

    Hmm. Not bad. Now to do her mother's dialogue.

    Ten more minutes later...

    "Oh!  yes  Ranma, please  undo  my top button  for me. Come to  my
arms."

    "Let me  touch  you there  Akane.  Mmmmmm. Aaaah. Very good."

    This was almost too easy.

                                * * * * *

    "Oh, yes  Ranma, put your  hand  in my  ooooooooh...."

    "Help me  out of  my  pants,  Akane."

    Miyabi frowned. While she had managed to construct an approximate
half hour tape of her parents making out, she was missing certain key
bits of Akane's dialogue.  There were certain things she needs Akane to
say, and she didn't have the pieces to construct them on tape.

    Unless she could come up with a way to fake it, her scheme to
dissuade the other fiancees might be over before it even started.

    She sighed. Maybe that was for the best. Her parents had raised her
to be a honest, honorable person, and she didn't think that they'd be
thrilled to know that their daughter was putting together a fake tape of
them being... affectionate.

    The fact that the voices on the tape were teenagers was all that was
keeping her from blushing madly every time she listened to it. As it is,
she still felt wrong.

    Miyabi shook her head. Getting her parents together was more
important than any little moral qualms, and the first and most important
step was the get the other suitors to give up.

    "Now where am I going to find someone who sounds like Akane?" she
muttered, clenching her fists in frustration. Nabiki didn't really sound
like her sister, and neither did Kasumi...

    Wait a minute.

    She quickly rewound the tape, and held it up to her mouth. "Testing."

    She played the test.

    Then she played one of the taped bits of Akane.

    Okay, their voices weren't a _perfect_ match. But recorded from a
distance, and on a scratchy tape... Miyabi sounded enough like Akane to
fool the listener.

    She smiled. This was her chance to have Akane speak whatever dialogue
she wanted.

    Resetting the equipment, she got to work.

                                * * * * *

    Kasumi blissfully cleaned the upstairs hall, humming to herself as
she did.

    In truth, a lot of the blissfulness was feigned. The appearance of
several trans-dimensional relatives had strained even her sense of
normality, and the events of today had come close to making her lose her
composure.

    In fact, one of the reasons she was cleaning the hall at this time of
night was in the vague hope that her mother's ghost would appear again.
Kasumi had a lot of things she wanted to ask her mother, and... well...
she missed her.

    Besides, cleaning was the purpose of life. That, and cooking and
tidying.

    "Ooooooh, Ranma..."

    Kasumi blinked, and examined the door to Nabiki's room with what
someone who knew Kasumi would call a curious stare, but which anyone else
would call a absent glance.

                                * * * * *

    Miyabi winced. Forcing herself to do this was proving harder than she
thought. The things she was saying were downright... incestuous.

    Not, she firmly reminded herself, that _she_ was saying it. It was
just like reading a part in a play. A play in which her character was
coming on to her father, but a play nonetheless.

    Courage, she told herself, and turned on the tape recorder once
again.

    "Let me put the condom on you, Ranma. It'll be more fun for both of
us."

    She clicked off the tape recorder, blushing madly.

    "I can't believe..."

                                * * * * *

    "...believe I just said that to my own father. Oh well, back to
work."

    Kasumi blinked at the door. Her look had reached what would be mild
interest for a normal person, but for her was the equivalent of a
full-blown face-fault

    "*giggle* Help me out of my bra... wait, are you sure no-one's
around? You know we have to keep this a secret..."

    That was Miyabi's voice, all right.

    Oh my.

    Kasumi resolutely turned away from the door and resumed her cleaning.
If mother materialized tonight, she was going to ask her for advice on
this one.

                                * * * * *

    Stealthily, quickly, Kaeri crept up the stairs to the upper hall. It
wouldn't do to have anyone see her yet. She still had things to do before
she could settle down and bake cookies again.

    She frowned slightly. Kasumi was already doing the cooking. They
didn't really need her for that anymore... although... maybe Kasumi would
leave eventually? Go away, and never come back? Become Mrs. Ono, perhaps?

    A long time ago, before they all died, she had thought about marrying
Tofu. Now... Kaeri wasn't sure. It seemed she had lived her life in a
blind, dreamy haze, and things looked different now. Not better.
Certainly not better. But different.

    She had considered Tofu for a husband because he was such a dear,
funny man. Those no longer seemed to her to be positive things. But at
least he took good from bad. He make Akane better when she was hurt. He
could be dear and silly if he wanted.

    Kaeri sighed, a little regretfully. Better that he stay dear and
funny and silly and completely blind. Better that they all stay that way.
She would stand guard over them.

    Entering the hall, she went immediately to the closet in which she
kept her cleaning supplies.

    Kasumi's cleaning supplies.

    She frowned slightly. Hers.

    But, upon opening the door, she found that the bottle of Windex was
on the bottom shelf instead of the top. She always put it on the top.

    Kasumi's cleaning supplies.

    She stood in the closet door for a few seconds, hands balled tightly
into fists, tears streaming down her cheeks. Then she took the bottle of
Windex and carefully placed it on the top shelf where it belonged,
desperately ignoring the faded ring in to bottom shelf that made it
perfectly clear that the bottle had been sitting on it for years, if not
decades.

    Enough of that.

    Bending down, she carefully removed a section of the closet wall,
feeling a certain sense of relief as she did so. Nabiki, her Nabiki, well
they were ALL her Nabiki but.... she shook her head to clear it. Back
before they died, Nabiki had placed her journals and notebooks in a
secret cubby in the closet. Mostly secret. It was HER closet after all,
and Nabiki had failed to take any sort of precautions whatsoever to keep
her from finding it. After all, she was just happy happy stupid Kasumi.

    Kaeri smiled absently. Nabiki-chan was always so very well informed,
and information was something she could use right now. Muhoshin-san had
done his best to inform her, but he didn't really know most of these
guests very well.

    The top notebook, a spiral-ring tablet, bore a simple label: [Hibiki,
Reiraku (Ratiko)]. Tied to it by a strand of twine was a bit of cloth. 

    She opened it to the first page, and a folded sheet of paper slipped
out, floating to the floor. A quick perusal of it revealed it to be a
list of the reality jumpers, with their names and heritage given next to
a description. After scanning and committing the paper to memory, Kaeri
turned her attention back to the notebook.

    The first page of the notebook listed Ratiko's mannerisms.

    The second contained speculations and cross-references with the
    Jansen
woman.

    And the third told Nabiki's speculations regarding the scrap of cloth
and a vial of blood that had been found with it.

    Nabiki had been unsure about that they meant, but seemed pretty
certain that he intended to hurt and frame somebody. And she was positive
that he didn't want anyone to know what he was doing.

    Kaeri closed her eyes and took a few deep breaths. She was obviously
going to have to talk about this with Reiraku.

    And then she turned the page, and there was Nabiki's recital of the
history of the world of 2096.

    Happosai summoned a demon and it killed Ranma....

    And Akane took a knife and killed Happosai and jumped off a bridge
and they buried her next to Ranma...

    And Ukyou went mad and destroyed and wrecked and they took her to a
hospital AGAIN and it didn't do any good AGAIN and she never came out
AGAIN...

    And something happened to Kasumi which made Tofu a little sad and
Nabiki died AGAIN in a bomb and then it started getting really
unpleasant...

    NO NO NO NO NO NO

    After a time, she noticed the blood welling up from the cuts her
nails were digging in her palms, and unclenched her fists. She stared at
the notebook blankly.

    She had thought it was almost over, but it wasn't. No, no, not even
close to being done. Always Work to do, Work to do, must keep them happy
and safe and alive...

    She stood, tucked the notebook and vial into her apron, and exited
the closet. She would find Reiraku, and drag the truth from him. 

    "Mother?"

    Kaeri spun. In the shadows at the end of the hall was a familiar
figure in a familiar apron. Herself.

    Kasumi smiled, beamed, glowed with happiness.

    "Mother, I always knew you were watching over us. I hope I've done
well. I cook for them, like you used to, and I take care of them like you
did...."

    Yes, just exactly like me, Kaeri thought, something odd rising up
inside her.

    "...and do the floors and dishes... I know I can never really replace
you, but..."

    It was too much.

    "That's right!" she spat, fury engulfing her like a wave, "You can't!
You'll never be what I was! You are blind! Lazy! You don't take care of
them! You don't SEE! You're happy and stupid and it's ALL YOUR FAULT!"

    Kasumi stared at her in blank disbelief, the smile crumpling, one eye
beginning to twitch slightly.

    Turning, Kaeri stormed off down the stairs. Reiraku. She would find
him and pull the truth from him.

    Kasumi remained standing there for a long time after she had left.

                                * * * * *

    The day had been exhilarating for Reiraku.  Exciting, thrilling,
joyous (can't forget the joyous, not after THAT strange meeting), but
also tiring.
    The thought of a ghost running around Saotome's house made it unwise
to spend the night there, so he decided to go elsewhere for his repose.
    Yawning, he made his way to an isolated park he'd noticed on the way
to the school, ended up back in the Tendo dojo, gave up, and curled up in
one of the unoccupied beds for a nice, long sleep...

                                * * * * *
                                
    It was high noon where the two representatives met, in a hut just off
a supposedly abandoned airstrip in Chad.  Not that there were only two
people present. Each had brought an assortment of gun-toting bodyguards,
thugs, and individuals skilled in offensive chiropractory. Although
neither party was expecting any trouble, bodyguards were in this part of
the world what clothing was in Japan; unless you had them around you,
nobody took you seriously. 

    The two negotiators exchanged wary nods. 

    "Armand." 

    "Miss Tendo. Do you have the money?" 

    "You'll be paid. Do you have the merchandise?" 

    Armand rubbed his bristly chin with a air of studied indifference. "I
do. Fifty rocket-propelled grenades, Italian. Three hundred and five
AK-47 rifles, Russian. Ten ground-to-air missiles, man-portable,
American. Two hundred side arms, assorted. One hundred antitank
land mines, East German. One tactical thermonuclear weapon, Russian..." 

    "We didn't order one of those." 

    "You didn't?" 

    "No." 

    "I'll throw it in as a freebie." 

    "Fine. Let's see the merchandise." 

    The arms dealer gestured, and several large crates were brought
forward. The tops were removed, and the lethal contents revealed to the
dim light and waiting thugs. Inside was the downfall of nations, the
harbingers of riot, screams, and madness. The very worst of humanity. 

    "'Barney and Friends Meet The Care Bears'?  VIDEOCASSETTES? What the
hell are you trying to pull?" 

    Purpling, Armand turned to his guards. "Idiots! The OTHER crates!" 

    The offending boxes were removed, and new ones set in their place.
Everyone noted with relief that they contained perfectly inoffensive
grenades, automatic weapons, and a small nuclear device. 

    "Well? Good stuff, eh?" Armand asked hopefully. Nabiki shrugged. 

    "No clue. Ali, check them." 

    A burly man, seemingly put together with extra helpings of muscle and
no neck, pushed his way to the crates. He lifted guns, peered down
barrels, fiddled with clips, and calibrated the uranium fission capacitor
assembly. Finally, he grunted. 

    "Guns good. Nuke good. Grenades a bit funny." 

    Armand frowned. "Those are perfectly quality, mon ami." 

    "Something funny. And Ali, not Ami," snarled the thug. 

     Sensing the growing tension, Nabiki raised a hand for quiet.
    
    "Gentlemen. There's a simple way to settle this." 

    Taking a grenade from the crate, she pulled the pin and tossed it to
Armand, who caught it reflexively, shrieked, and threw it out the window.
Seconds later, an explosion rocked the hut. 

    Nabiki shrugged. "Well. They seem to work just fine." 

    Moving into a shadowed corner of the room where the wetness on his
crotch wouldn't be spotted, Armand began to cough politely. 

    "Gesundheit." 

    "Bless you." 

    "Got a cold?" 

    "Hot chamomile tea, that's the thing for a sore throat." 

    Armand frowned, and coughed more emphatically, holding out his hand
in the universal gesture of 'gimme'. 

    "Well, I mean, I haven't got a cup on me..." 

    "I got some of them cough drops." 

    "The Celestial Seasonings kind? Oooo, those are good." 

    "Grandpa always said to put butter on a sore throat." 

    The arms dealer sighed. Nabiki smirked. 

    "The money, eh?" 

    A briefcase was brought out. It contained money. 

    The money was counted. 

    "A pleasure doing business with you, Miss Tendo. Viva the
revolution." 

    *click*click*click*

    "These are counter-revolutionaries, baka." 

    Sweating noticeably, Armand smiled at the guerrillas.  "Of course.
Viva the counterrevolution, er, um." 

    Fake smiles from everyone. The thugs were all beginning to get tired
of the nice-nice crap, and wanted to shoot something. 

    "Nice doing business with you, Armand-baby. Be seeing you." Nabiki
turned to go, her bodyguards warily following her out. She smiled,
inwardly, as the jeep took the road towards El Amandral. The deal she had
just closed had earned her half of the cash for her trip home. 

    The radio crackled. "*Foxtrot Bravo?" 

    "Sure, Colonel. You can shoot them down now." 

    "*Delta Tango." 

    "You're welcome." 

    And that had just made her the _other_ half. Plus a little extra. 

                                * * * * *

    Rat was confused.

    That wasn't in itself unusual, except that his confusion usually had
to do with stepping into the washroom for a quick shower and ending up in
the middle of a Zanzibarian marketplace.

    This particular confusion was of an entirely different nature, and
consisted in trying to figure out exactly why he was currently being very
tightly gripped by a clothing-impaired nubile young woman upon what
appeared to be a glow-in-the-dark waterbed, while rows of chickens
watched from grandstands set up around the bioluminescent mattress. He
noticed a few roosters in the front rows were smoking cigars.

    While his anonymous partner continued stroking his sides rhythmically
and exciting muscles he didn't know he had, Reiraku thought.  This was a
difficult exercise, especially considering that whenever she touched him
there... and There, and especially THERE, it brought back memories of
those Halloween pranks in first-year Gross Anatomy, and a rather pleasant
evening with a rather frigid woman.  It'd taken him a while to figure out
that his date for the night had been late in more than one respect, but
that didn't change matters - in any case, the current physiological
situation was distracting him from logical causational reasoning, so the
best he could do was remember that some time ago... Say, a minute?  he'd
been trying to get to sleep, and some time later - NOW - he was
performing sordid acts in front of voyeuristic farm animals.

    "Where... do you come from?" he asked his partner.

    She didn't look up, but only lifted her moist lips slightly from his
inner thigh long enough to sultrily whisper, "From you, of course."

    Old Faithful spewed red from the middle of Rat's face.

    "I mean... ah... er... ah... aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah... erk. I
mean, who.. ah... are you?"  This was all very enjoyable, but he figured
he'd better get this straight.  He WAS in the past, after all, and a
little something like becoming his own grandfather could become rather
troublesome.

    The girl looked up.

    Rat gulped.

    "Nabiki?"

    A half-smirk on her part, with a mollifying twinkle in her eyes.

    "Who else, Ratty baby?"

    "You never seemed so... forward..." The chickens clucked wildly,
upset that the show had been interrupted. "Or exhibitionistic."

    "What can I say? You turn me on."  She lifted her leg, the waterbed
wobbling while she performed the necessary contortions, and shoved the
sole of her foot in front of his face.  It had a switch on it.

    "Excuse me, did you know your foot has a lever in it?"

    "Yes."

    "But..."

    "Flip the switch."

    "I'm sorry?"

    "Turn me on. Weren't you listening?"

    "Oh."

    Rat flipped the switch.

    The next few minutes could be described as dirty, obscene, perverted,
grotesque, artistic, surreal, demented, or physically impossible unless
you are a thirty-two-dimensional being equipped with six arms, three
legs, and more orifices than a strainer.

    The chickens were happy, and so was Reiraku.

    "Wow," he said at the conclusion of their act. That pretty much
summed it up, really, so he said it again. "Wow."

    A few dogs dressed like nurses walked over to the bed and started
poking needles into him in preparation for a blood transfusion.  He
barely noticed - that kind of thing had gone on for too long in his
childhood and preliminary internship for it to cause any sensation but
indifference.

    What he paid more attention to was the mischievous smile on Nabiki's
face.

    "You're a dream, lover-boy."

    "No, Nabiki. YOU are."

    She laughed.

    "Your performance was sterling, Nezumi-chan. And a sterling
performance deserves a sterling reward."

    She snapped her fingers and a faceless robot butler appeared, bearing
a small velvet-lined box.

    "What is it?" asked Reiraku.

    "A medal."

    "A medal?"

    "For you. Now close your eyes and let me put it around your neck..."
He did so.  He felt a strange weight around his neck, and the warmth of a
girl's arms across it. Rat sighed contentedly.

    "Can I open them now?"

    "Yes."

    He looked at his medal.

    It was silver, it was heart-shaped, and it was surrounded by cerulean
flames.

    The chickens began to melt, dissolving into puddles of red-
and-orange ooze.  The bed, too, was disappearing, its foxfire fading, and
the only things left in the room were himself and Nabiki.  He looked to
her for an explanation, and if possible, an encore of her previous
exertions, but she merely smiled, and winked, and waved good-bye.

    A blinding flash of blue, an electric pain sizzling through his
bones, and the youthful Nabiki was replaced by a grey-haired crone.

    "It took you long, Reiraku," she said.

    "Long?"

    "A hundred years." Her eyes glistened, ready to drop tears at any
moment.  "Or don't you remember?"

    "Remember? But I- who-"

    "You don't, do you." The old woman shook her head and sighed sadly.
"You told me you'd abandon your destiny, your life - and so you did, but
then you abandoned ME."

    "I... I don't know who you are. If you'll excuse me, I was just in
the middle of some rather intimate business, so if you don't mind-"  He
held up the locket by its chain and concentrated, hoping it would send
him back to the proper place and time.

    The locket swung, pendulum-like, but remained a dull silver.

    "Blue, by Kunou! Turn BLUE!"

    Silver.

    His companion cackled, throwing her head back as she did.

    "It won't work," she said. "You ARE in the proper place and time.
YOUR proper place and time."

    He was in his pro-

    Reiraku blinked.

    Could he be back?

    He looked around the room for the first time. Sparsely furnished, but
the little there was looked...  right, with only a hint of perversion.
Rounded plastic stools, a few minor monitors along the walls, and through
a grate-window he saw the blurs of passing hovercars.

    He WAS back, then.  And he was ALIVE.

    A satisfied smile made its way to Rat's face, and he allowed himself
a maniacal chuckle. Somehow, he'd managed to do it. Maybe... maybe he
hadn't done it yet, maybe he had YET to kill Saotome and drive his
bride-to-be to suicide, but somehow, somehow he had...

    The crone coughed, hacked, and spit a wad of golden phlegm into a
nearby bowl, half-filled with the stuff.

    "You haven't changed," she said.

    "You must have, yourself," Rat pointed out, "since I don't recognize
you."

    She smiled sadly.

    "I knew you didn't.  All we shared, all we did, all we gave each
other... and with the mere passage of a hundred years, you don't remember
poor Nabiki."

    "Nabiki?!? But... I..."

    "Don't bother apologizing.  You got lost, I lost myself... That is
the nature of things."

    "I never meant to leave you! Only a minute ago I was-"

    "A minute to you, a century to others."  Her gaze hardened. "I lost
_everything_."

    "But... but... a hundred years..." Rat squeezed the locket in his
palm. The object remained stubbornly cool.  "You could've found someone
else..."

    Another cackle, this one lasting several minutes.

    "Someone else? Oh, yes, I found someone else. A DIFFERENT someone
else every night, for decades, and THEY left, too, but at least they were
nice enough to leave PAYMENT on the DRESSER!"

    "WHAT???"

    "You LIED to me. You... you BETRAYED me."

    "I NEVER lied to you!"

    "Everything you told me about...  Kunou, Ranma, Akane..."

    "Was TRUE!"

    "Lies."

    "To... to the best of my recollection, at least... I told you what I
could!"

    "And all of it was wrong.  I lost everything I owned.  Even after the
first bankruptcy, I persevered in my trust of you, following everything
written in my notes..."

    "It should have worked! I gave you invention dates, stocks that would
go up, details on the Kunou Foundation..."
    
    "The Kunou Foundation, hm?"

    "Yes, but-"

    "The Kunou Foundation."

    "You're repeating yourself."

    "A totalitarian governmental organization, running on the precepts of
the great, almighty Kunou Tatewaki."

    "Yes!"

    "Then explain THIS."

    Nabiki pressed a button, turning the bars on her grate- window to the
open position.

    Reiraku blinked for a moment as the incoming sunlight blinded his
fluorescence-adapted eyes, then looked.

    And screamed.

    Directly outside the window was a billboard, and on the billboard was
a very familiar face. A very large and hated familiar face, with a
caption below it enough to draw his soul to the limits of emotional
endurance:

           ALL HAIL THE IMMORTAL RANMA SAOTOME, GLOBAL SAVIOUR

    "You betrayed me," continued Nabiki. "You gave me everything
backwards. Ranma didn't die; it was Kunou.  Akane survived and went
religious after Kodachi committed suicide.  And as for my other
sister..."  A long, hard laugh followed. "She has a little something to
say to you."

    "Kasumi is alive?" Rat's voice was weak, whimpering.  His head was
throbbing; his head was crushing him with pain as he tried to sort the
situation out.

    "Oh, she's alive. I keep her very well.  Come out, my pet!"

    Another button pressed, another flash of light, and when this second
barrier opened, Reiraku couldn't tell whether what it revealed was worse
than what he'd seen in the first.

    It was his great-grandmother, ancient now, horribly scarred and in an
all-too-revealing leather bondage suit, holding a huge rod in her right
hand.  She stood in the doorframe to her cell, unable to decide whether
she should leave or not, her stance military and her eyes as cold as the
locket in Rat's hand.

    "You've saved yourself," said Nabiki, "because you were not ENTIRELY
a false prophet... I made sure of that.  Oh, yes, Kasumi here DID breed
with Doctor Ono, and all the matchups leading up to your creation were
completed.  They didn't call me 'Tokyo's Mad Madam' for nothing...  I had
to make sure you came back, you see... I had to make sure you came back,
so that I could have the satisfaction of TORTURING you for what you did
to me, and for what you forced me to do to... to... to poor Kasumi..."
Here she broke down into sobs.

    "Are you all right, Mistress?" asked the not-quite-his-great-
grandmother-as-she-should-be.

    "Quite alright," said Nabiki, composing herself. "But I'm not as
young as I used to be, and I'm getting tired of this game."

    "Mistress?"

    "Kill him, Kasumi."

    Reiraku backed into a corner, trying to escape, but there was no door
out of the apartment.  Kasumi pushed a button on her rod, and a blade
popped out one end.  She walked forwards slowly, deliberately, and placed
it at Rat's throat.

    Reiraku screamed...

    ...and woke up from the nightmare...

    ...only to find a horribly scarred (although young) Kasumi smiling at
him while she held across his neck a very sharp- looking blade attached
to a very long staff.

    [Must be hallucinating.  Must still be dreaming.]

    He squeezed his eyes shut, then opened them.

    Kasumi was still smiling.

    "Good morning!" she said cheerily.

    "Er, ah, mm, good morning?" he ventured.  He took the time to look
around the room. Not 2096, his or any perversion of it - this was
definitely the past... the present... whatever.

    "Did you sleep well?"

    He continued to consider the options.  1996, scarred Kasumi, lovely
YOUNG Nabiki nearby, blade over his throat...

    "Ah, yes, yes I did. Um."  Only scarred Kasumi and blade did not
belong. Where did they fit in? "Thank you for asking."

    "You're welcome," the maimed intruder sweetly replied. "I know about
the blood and the cloth, by the way."

    Rat instinctively began to snap his fingers, then decided against it,
since the ensuing jerking of his body would probably drive his neck into
the blade.

    THAT'S where she fit in!

    He'd fallen in love with the person he'd sworn to hate in order to
avenge his great-grandmother's ignominious torture and subsequent murder,
thus betraying her, which must mean that this not-so-lovely lady was an
irate ghost come from the future to put him in his place.

    Which meant, of course, that he was hallucinating, and there was
nothing at all to worry about, since a) every science student knows time
travel is impossible, and b) ghosts exist, but he can't see them.

    Wait a minute...

    He'd traveled in time.

    No matter, that was Ranma's fault. A paltry exception.

    Ranma.

    Was... supposed to be dead.

    And a ghost, in his own time, but...

    He was... occasionally... visible.

    Objections a) and b) crumbled to dust.

    At the same time, Ratiko's fear index, which had dropped to a mere
23%, skyrocketed to 110%. Suddenly the gentle smile on the figure before
him didn't look so gentle.  It looked...

    Ghoulish.

    "You know about the blood and the cloth???"

    A nod.

    "And... About Nabiki?!?!?"

    A frown.

    "What about Nabiki?"

    "What about..." She DIDN'T know? That was a most definite plus.
"Aheheheh... Nothing at all. Who ever mentioned Nabiki?"

    "You did."

    "Well, I, uh..." He needed to do SOMETHING. In all the stories he'd
read, angry ghosts meant sudden death for someone, and it was
increasingly looking like that someone was him.  He had to APPEASE her
somehow, show her that he HADN'T betrayed her. He had, of course, but
fooling her would at least buy time.

    "I really AM doing the right thing, you know."

    "Oh, are you?"

    "Yes."

    "And what is it that you're doing?"

    Rat began to count things off on his fingers.

    "Well, first I have to kill Ranma, then frame Miyabi for it, so that
Akane will commit suicide, and that will-"

    "So you decided to kill Ranma and frame Miyabi-chan?" the scarred
Tendo asked cheerfully. Ratiko completely missed the hard, maniacal fires
that had ignited in her eyes, and nodded enthusiastically.

    "Oh dear. I'm afraid I'm going to have to kill you now."

    Rat blinked, and froze.

    "Say that again?"

    "Oh dear. I'm afraid I'm going to have to kill you now."

    "But... I thought... you... I don't..."

    "As in cut your head off, then chop what's left of your body into
tiny little bits which will fit easily into the garbage disposal."

    Rat stared at her in horror. She smiled.

    "But don't worry. After you're dealt with, I'll cleanse your
stinking, putrid reality off the face of time. So you'll never have
existed in the first place. Isn't that nice?"

    Rat's depression-meter went from normal, background levels (23%) to
nigh-suicidal (150%) in the time it took for her to utter that statement.
Ki-flames began to lap out from his skin, looking like black solar
flares.

    "Why? Who? What? Where? When?" he shrieked, desperately trying to
stall.  ONE of those questions was bound to apply, and if she answered it
would buy him time.

    No such luck.

    The Kasumi lookalike smiled, and pulled back her staff to deliver the
fatal blow. "You are scum. I am Kaeri. You will die, here and now.
Good-bye."

    The ki flames were building up around Rat's body, but they were still
weak. [[ERROR: INSUFFICIENT POWER FOR KE ACTIVATION. RECOMMEND MANUAL
D-KI BUILDUP: INITIATING PANIC/DREAD SEQUENCE]], Rat's mind screamed.

    [Out of time!] he screamed back.  [I don't have TIME to-]

    The staff began its downwards swing.

    [[EMERGENCY OVERRIDE: PRELIMINARY KE SEQUENCE ACTIVATED.]]

    "SHISHI HOUKODAN!" screamed Reiraku.  He cupped his hands in front of
him,  and a wave of jet-black ki erupted from his body, slamming into
Kaeri.

    Who merely stumbled, since building the energy for a properly
devastating ki-blast takes longer that the few seconds Rat had. But it
was a distraction, all right. Reflexively kicking Kaeri in the groin,
Ratiko ran like hell.

    After saying some very un-Kasumilike things and clutching her nether
regions, Kaeri followed.

                                * * * * *

   "I don't get it, mum. Why isn't Auntie Kasumi at breakfast?"

    Akane shrugged helplessly. "I don't know, Miyabi. I knocked on her
door this morning, and she just told me to go away and leave her alone.
She didn't sound very good."

    Frowning, Miyabi poked at her bacon moodily. "Maybe she's sick."

    Her mother nodded. "I sort of hope so. This really isn't like
oneechan. If she isn't downstairs by lunch, I'm going to go ask her
what's wrong."

    "HEEEEEEEELP!"

    The two girls watched in puzzlement as a screaming Ratiko burst
through the dining room, glowing with black energy, hands cupped in a
frighteningly familiar way. Turning, he assumed a Ryougaesque pose. "DIE,
FOUL SPIRIT! PLEASE? SHISHI HOKODAN!"

    A beam of black ki blasted out of Ratiko's cupped hands and towards
the door he had just emerged from.  Unfortunately for Rat, every action
has an equal and opposite reaction, and the recoil from the blast sent
him flying across the room.

    "Down!" Akane yelled, throwing herself beneath the table. Miyabi
blinked, and then followed her mother's lead just in time to avoid being
hit by Reiraku's shoulder as he flew overhead.

    Akane frowned, somewhat worried. She'd seen Ryouga perform a Shishi
Houkodan enough times to know that whoever the target was, was NOT going
to be in good shape.

    But then, Ryouga's blasts had never been that ominous, colorless
ebony...

    Her train of thought was stopped by a staff end emerging from the
doorway.

    *BOOM*

    When the concussion wave had passed, the two girl slowly peered out
from behind their makeshift shelter.

    Standing in the hole in the wall that used to be a doorframe was an
all-too familiar figure in a tattered apron, carrying a staff blazing
with crimson flame. A scarlet aura licked around her, tinged with the
remnants of black ki.

    She looked at the open-mouthed Akane and Miyabi.

    "Oh dear," she commented, and disappeared back through the wreckage
of the door.

                                * * * * *

    Ratiko tore along the streets of Nerima as if his life depended on
it.  Which, he believed, it did. The mad Kasumi was going to slice him to
bits if he didn't run just as fast as his feet could take him...

    But, his mind gibbered, running's not good enough, she wants to make
it so you'll never be born, never even have existed!

    Shut up and run, replied the part of his instinct that felt
psychotics with polearms were a very, very bad thing. While ceasing to
exist due to timeline destruction was a serious threat indeed, it was
rather abstract. Kaeri filleting him, on the other hand, was not.

    Gottarungottagetawaygottarungottaheythat'sIshi-

    *WHAM*

    Rat barreled square into Ishido, who had just turned the corner and
was looking decidedly oblivious. Ish managed to retain his feet.
Ratiko... didn't.

    "Watch where you're going, Hibiki."

    "Waggga... whoosh..."

    "Sorry about the elbow to the stomach. Instinct. You okay?"

    Taking the proffered hand, Ratiko scrambled desperately to his feet,
the urge to run making him ignore the pain in his gut. Time to make
tracks again...

    Wait a minute.

    "Ishido! It's... horrible! Horrible! Madwoman! Killer! Blade! Stick!"

    Not exactly the well reasoned argument he had intended on presenting.
It seemed to get Ishido's attention, though.

    "What? Slow down!"

    Ratiko took a few deep breaths, and tried to come up with a good
story. Amazingly, he found that he didn't need to. The honest truth, with
a few things left out, would do fine.

    "There's... there's another time traveler.. Ish, she's completely
insane, she wants to make it so Childra and I's world never happens!
She's going to make us cease to exist! And she just tried to kill me, and
I think she might be looking for Childra!"

    Rat's monologue had begun with him frantic and Ishido calm. It ended
with the exact opposite true. Ish's eyes were starting to take a definite
reddish tinge, and his body was trembling with an emotion Rat really
didn't want to analysis.

    "Where... is... SHE?" Ishido snarled. Rat gave the amnesiac his best
helpful expression. 

    "The Tendo Dojo! We're got to hurry! Er, if you could just lead me to
AWK!"

    Tucking a protesting Ratiko under his arm, the enraged warrior raced
off. 

    From his position beneath Ishido's armpit, Rat smiled. The berserker
martial artist was definitely in a rip-people-to-bits mood, and the
sooner Kaeri was in numerous bloody pieces the better. After all, she
wanted to kill him, she wanted to destroy his reality, and she KNEW. And
if she told anyone, the rest of Nerima would probably be after his head.
No, she needed to die, and Ishido was just the amniesiatic psychotic
killing machine for the job.

    Ratiko grinned, and began to chuckle.
    
    Then Ishido took the shortcut through the shoulder-height rosebushes.
The kind with thorns.

                                * * * * *

    Azure flame burst around Ryo Saotome, their heat drying the last of
the tears that had coursed down his cheeks. As the blue fire slowly died
away, the upper hallway of the Tendo Dojo slowly faded into being.

    Stepping out of the still burning portal, Ryo strode towards the
stairway. At least some of the others were probably downstairs, and, much
as he didn't like it, he still needed their help.

    Which of them? Ishido seemed fairly solid, and certainly didn't like
Muhoshin. Childra would probably insist on going as well. Miyabi? Ryo
shook his head. She could fight, but he really didn't want her in harm's
way. He'd worry about her too much, and she just didn't have the
temperament for what promised to be a very nasty confrontation. Ratiko?

    He snorted out loud, dismissing that thought immediately. "Ratiko
would be about as useful as a wooden nickel."

    "Far less so."

    Ryo started in surprise at the voice behind him. "Kasumi!" he began,
turning. "You startled m-..."

    He broke off in shock. Kasumi had acquired a long, jagged scar below
her left eye. As a healer, his mind automatically identified the puffy,
white quality of the skin around it as burn tissue.

    "Kasu.. Kasumi?" he stammered, aghast. Maybe he had jumped into the
wrong reality...

    She smiled absently at him, a glazed, vacant sort of smile, and he
noticed the staff she was holding for the first time. "Not exactly. Are
you Ryo?"

    The hope that this was actually another alternate timeline flickered
and died. "My God, Kasumi, what happened?"

    "Kaeri."

    "What?"

    The smile seemed to become strained a bit. "My name is Kaeri.
Kasumi's downstairs. I think."

    Damn, he thought glumly, not another one. "Are you not from this
world? You don't belong here?"

    Kasumi's - Kaeri's - smile faded altogether. "Yes. No. I... I don't
know!" The gentle, absent tone disappeared, and she leaned forward. He
unconsciously retreated a step. "I need you to take me somewhere now,
Ryo-san. With your piece of the mirror."

    Ryo nodded, feeling a mix of revulsion, pity, and relief. His senses
were screaming that there was something very wrong about this
doppelganger of his aunt, but she was the only reality jumper he had met
so far who seemed to want the right thing. "I can take you home, sure.
Where.. what reality..."

    "Not home. To Reiraku's timeline. Right before Happosai summons the
demon."

    Blinking, Ryo stared at her. "Why?"

    She smiled, the expression seeming almost gleeful. "Because I'm going
to kill Happosai. And save them all. So they'll live. And nothing bad
will ever happen to them, ever again." The smile became stretched, too
broad by half, and she nodded decisively.

    She's not well, Ryo realized. God, what had happened to her?

   "Kasu..."

   "KAERI!" she spat, her hand tightening on the staff. Ryo noticed
suddenly that three of the fingers that should have been gripping the
wood were gone, were mere stumps. "The blind little housekeeper's
downstairs! In my place! Mine!"

    Suddenly she smiled, and the absent, glazed calm reappeared with the
same unnerving swiftness it had vanished. "Oh dear. I'm sorry, Ryo-san.
But I really do need to..."

    He shook his head. "I'm sorry. We can't change things, really, no
matter how... bad they seem. We'd be ensuring the death of someone yet to
come. It's wrong."

    "No!" Taking a notebook out of her apron, Kaeri shook it at him, the
smile never leaving her face. "This is wrong. They all die. All. Burn and
die."

    He remembered what Childra had told him about his family in her
timeline, and an image of his mother in a mental institution briefly
flitted through his mind. Of his father, a charred corpse at sixteen... 

    And it would be so easy to just let her do it...

    He shook his head. He remembered that Ranma's death had caused
influences that Childra claimed had changed the world for the better. And
one hundred years of life and thought had been built since that horrible
October. Changing anything would tear those billions of lives apart, wipe
them away.

    Again, Ryo shook his head. "I can't. I'm sorry."

    The scarred double of Kasumi seemed to droop, the frightening
intensity leaking out of her like air from a punctured balloon. "But...
oh. Oh dear. Please think about it?"

    Ryo winced at the hopeless, pleading quality of her voice. What kinds
of things had been done to Kasumi to make her into this? He opened his
mouth to again ask what had happened, and then shut it again as he
remembered his reason for being here.

    Muhoshin. He was still out there, killing.

    "I've got to go. I'll talk to you when we get back, and I'll make
sure you get home safely. Okay?"

    She gave a brief nod, seemingly lost in her own world. "I'm sorry,
Ryo-san."

    He forced himself to smile at her. "It's okay." Turning, he again
began to head for the stairs. A door slammed somewhere below... was that
Ishido's voice he heard?

    And suddenly something struck him on the side of the head, sending
him sprawling to the floor. He started to struggle to his feet, and
another blow landed on his jaw.

    Dimly, through a haze, he became aware of someone wrenching the
locket from his hand. He tried to flail at his attacker, but his fist
struck only empty air.

    Footsteps and angry shouts could be heard on the steps, and suddenly
he felt the air erupt with the cold blue flame of the locket.

    Struggling to his feet, Ryo watched in horror as the Kasumi vanished
in a ball of cerulean fire, a mad look of triumph on her scarred face.
Their eyes met, for a split-second, and then she was gone.

    "Ryo! Get her!" someone yelled.

    And with that, Ratiko and Ishido charged past him, and into the
fading ring of light.

    With a sinking feeling, Ryo stumbled after them, into the rippling,
shrinking portal.

    A minute later, Kasumi walked out of her room and surveyed the empty
hallway with puzzlement. 

   "Oh my."

=========================================================================
                                End Act 6
=========================================================================
                         BONUS BLOOPER SECTION!!!
=========================================================================
Here are a few of the scenes that almost, but not quite, made it into
Converging Series, Act VI:

BONUS SCENE NUMBER ONE:
For a while, there was some discussion among the authors of having the
reality jumpers leap into Terry Pratchett's Discworld.  Here's what we
came up with...

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                 CHILDRA AND ISHIDO AT UNSEEN UNIVERSITY

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    "An orangutan."

    "Ook."

    Childra looked at her lupine lover questioningly.

    "Don't you mean 'awoooo!'?"

    "No. Ook. I think that's its name."

    "The orangutan's."

    "Yes."

    "Who also happens to be the librarian here."

    "Correct."

    "And you know this..."

    "I tried to borrow a book."

    Another arched eyebrow on Jansen's part.

    "I didn't know you were much of a reader, wolf-boy." Ishido blushed
and looked at his shoes.  "You have me interested. Go on."

    "Well... after...  I mean... Ryo... and...

    "Ryo? Do you mean Gosling or Boy Scout?"

    "Boy Scout! I mean... Saotome! Remember that book he was reading?"

    Childra's expression became a queer mixture of revulsion, longing and
envy, but her eyes were absolutely dreamy.

    "Oh, yeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeees..."

    "Um... Are we talking about the same book? The Nero.. Neemi..."
Childra nodded, still looking into space.  "The one with the devils...
and naked people.. and long pitchforks... and... and... Oh."  Having
gotten the point, Ishido decided to stop.  He hadn't brought a
handkerchief, and if she drooled, it could get messy.

    "Je me souviens," concluded the historian.

    "Well... I kind of wondered... This IS a magical university, where
you're supposed to learn things, I suppose, and that night..."

    "Which night?" teased Childra.

    "THAT night." The boy's cheeks reddened further.

    "Oh, THAT night."

    "Yes."

    "Go on."

    "I mean, THAT night was.. magical... and... well..." He scratched the
back of his head.

    "Spit it out."

    "I was looking for a magical copy of the Kama Sutra."

    Childra face-faulted, then laughed, tossed her head back and hugged
her lobishomem, smothering him with kisses.

    "My dear, dear boy! There's hope for you yet! Not..." Here she
grinned. "Not that you'd _learn_ much from it..."

    "Well... I thought... Maybe if I were more _experienced_, I..."

    "Hush." Childra put her fingers on his lips.  "Someone's coming."

    Ishido's eyes were about to bulge out of his sockets.

    "You really DO have an affinity for these things, if you can-"

    Jansen smirked benevolently.

    "Not 'coming' THAT way, my perverted darling." She chuckled. "Oh yes,
there's hope for you yet."

                                * * * * *

    An orangutan wandered down the disappointingly visible halls of
Unseen University, holding a bag of fruit in his right hand.

    His transformation, he had to admit, hadn't exactly been a boon to
the romantic side of his life.  The few girls who had clustered around
him before the accident (for his position, mostly - apart from the
addition of some facial hair, his appearance hadn't changed all THAT
much) had promptly left him.

    Why? He didn't know.  One or two cited some law against bestiality,
another complained that the fur he shed on her itched more than crabs,
and Cindy had had the audacity to tell him that he didn't say much
nowadays.  Why, he 'ook'ed her several dozen times a night!

    Thankfully, prostitutes didn't care about all that.  As long as you
paid them enough, they were happy.  Even his position was irrelevant, so
long as his position was correct, if you got his drift.

    And as for communication... Well, that's what the bag of fruit was
for.  With the amount that the Sisters of Mercy charged for their charity
cases, he had to make sure he was getting his money's worth, and he'd
found that a well-stocked grocer worked wonderfully in lieu of human
vocal chords.

    Take, for instance, your average banana.  By positioning it correctly
(and with, perhaps, the aid of a donut or two - or three) you could get
your meaning across quite explicitly.

    And if you were feeling a tad adventurous... Well... bananas come in
bunches, don't they?

    One word of caution, though.  There WERE disadvantages to using food
products as signaling devices.  The orangutan had found through a hard
and personal experience that it was a BAD, BAD thing to PULL OFF one of
the bananas from the bunch in the middle of the session.

    He later discovered that, if you were foolish enough to do the above,
you were under _no_ circumstances, no matter HOW hungry you were, to
attempt to EAT it.

    The mere memory of that night sent shivers down his nether regions.

    But tonight... Tonight was definitely an apricot night.

    He pulled one out of the bag and looked at it.

    A smooth skin against two perfect cheeks, covered with just the
slightest bit of fuzz...

    The orangutan stroked the fruit, savoring the feel of its velvet to
his hide before biting into it.

    "Is that a banana you're holding, or are you just happy to see me?"

    The librarian froze.

    "Ook?"

    "I guess he really WAS coming that way, lover-boy."

    Ishido nodded, slightly green.

^_^_^_^_^_^_^_^_^_^_^_^_^_^_^_^_^_^_^_^_^_^_^_^_^_^_^_^_^_^_^_^_^_^_^_^_^
    
BONUS SCENE NUMBER TWO:
You may have noticed that Rat isn't exactly experienced at laughing
maniacally. Truth to tell, he's rather pathetic.  We tried to fix this in
one of the early drafts of the scenes that actually made it in, by
providing him with an... instructor. =)

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                            LEARNING TO LAUGH

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    Rat was happy.
    
    Rat was incredibly happy.
    
    Rat was 'who cares where I am and who's watching, let's let out a
long maniacal laugh and chortle mysteriously while we rub one hand over
another' happy.
    
    So he did - or tried to.
    
    "BWAHAW."
    
    "BWAHEHEHehehehe..."
    
    "HOO HOO HOO HUH huh..."
    
    "MUHA!"
    
    "MUA!"
    
    "MUAHAHA!"
    
    "Nonono," said a voice from the bushes. "You're doing it all wrong."
    
    "Excuse me?"
    
    "The laugh. It's not right." A pause. "Not right at all."
    
    Rat was indignant. All right, so maybe he didn't have much practice
at being a benevolent villain, but he _was_ doing his best.
    
    "Who are you to criticize me?" he asked his unseen companion.
    
    Ryo Muhoshin stepped from the shadows into the sunlight.  The added
light didn't brighten him up by much.

    "Oh. It's _you_."
    
    'Gosling' bowed.

    "Me. At your service - but only for the sake of the reputation of
maniacal cacklers everywhere."

    "So... uh... you... laugh maniacally?"

    "Frequently." No need to mention that the incidence of his crazed
chuckles was inversely proportional to the number of live Ryougas in the
multiverse.

    "And you... can teach me?"

    "Enough chatter. Show me what you've got."

    Rat swelled up with pride. Here was his chance to show off. He puffed
up his chest, opened his eyes wide, and...

    "HOO HOO HOO HOO HU HUH HOO HOO!"

    Muhoshin covered his ears.

    "That," he said, "is NOT a laugh."

    "It IS!"

    "Not. You're hooting. And hooting BADLY."

    "Then how..."

    "First of all, don't open your lips when you laugh."

    "Then how can I-"

    "Trust me.  Keep your lips shut, and pulse air through your throat.
Pretend your chest is a jammed tommy gun."

    "Nice simile."

    "Thank ye." A pause. "Understand it so far?"

    "I think so.  Closed lips, tommy gun chest..."

    "Good.  Next you toss your neck up slightly, while you're pulsing the
air through, and gradually open your lips-"

    "I thought you told me to keep them closed!"

    "ONLY AT THE BEGINNING! Will you LISTEN?"

    Muhoshin was starting to glow a faint blue.

    Rat listened.

    "Anyway," continued Gosling, "you gradually open your lips while
you're doing all this, until you end up looking at the sky with your
mouth in a relaxed, slightly-opened state. You SMILE at the end. A
dog-smile, with your lips hanging open. Capiche?"

    "Relaxed, slightly opened. Got it."

    "Okay. Now try it."

    "But.... I'm..." Scared. He didn't like being laughed at or put down,
and considering how bad his last attempt had been...

    "DO IT. I'm not about to let a Ryouga descendant go around with a
laugh that sounds like an orangutan in heat with a poker up his bottom.
It just isn't.... Dignified."

    "Erah..."

    Muhoshin glared at Reiraku.

    Reiraku closed his lips.

    "Mmm, mhu, mhu, huh, huh, huh..."

    "Getting there.  Now MODULATE. Add SOUND."

    "Muahahahahahahaha..."

    "Now open your lips as your neck goes up! And make it LOUDER!
CRESCENDO!"

    "MuahahahahaHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!"

    "By George, he's got it!"

    And with that, Muhoshin himself began to laugh.

    "MuahahahahaHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!"  With each syllable, his fisted right
hand glowed a brighter blue, and the flame seemed to spread to his eyes.
A few seconds later, a blinding flash, and there was nothing left of
Gosling but the echo of his cackle.

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BONUS SCENE NUMBER THREE:
The destruction of Ucchan's was originally a lot less destructive, and a
lot more enlightening, than the scene that we used... Here's a peek:

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                            MISUNDERSTANDINGS

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    "Akane Tendo, how DARE YOU sleep with MY RANMA!"

    There was this loud, thundering, heart-stopping sort of utter
silence.

    Ukyou stared at Ranma.  Ryouga stared at Akane.  Shampoo stared at
Ranma and nearly dropped a bonbori.  Kodachi was turning a particularly
angry shade of red.

    Miyabi's next statement didn't exactly help with the situation.

    "You two shouldn't- I mean- It's too- I'm not supposed to be born yet
and you might-!"

    "Waitaminute!   Me an'the tomboy didn't do nothing!" protested Ranma.

    "That's right," Ukyou added. "He was with me all night."

    "And Ryouga can vouch for where I've been sleeping for the past few
weeks," Akane said with a smirk. Ryouga blushed. "In fact," she
continued, "I'm... expecting."

    "Hey, really?" Ukyou squeaked. "Congratulations, you two!"

    "Jeeze, Ryouga, took ya long enough. I put a bun in Ucchan's oven
over two months back."

    Miyabi, who had been progressively turning paler, fainted dead away.

    "Miyabi?" asked Akane worriedly. "You okay?"

    "She just tired," Shampoo said. "We up all night with two cucumbers
and copy of Kama Sutra."

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=========================================================================
                               END BLOOPERS
=========================================================================