Ranma 1/2 manga fanfiction
by Gary Kleppe

The characters of Ranma 1/2 are the creation of and rightful property of Rumiko Takahashi. They are used here without permission. This story may be freely redistributed, but it should not be altered substantially or used for profit in any way.

As always, all feedback will be greatly appreciated.


The UCF building towered high above downtown Philadelphia. Tourists stood outside in the early morning summer heat, queued up like snacks in a vending machine, waiting patiently for their chance to ride to the top of the tallest structure in the world -- surpassing even Chicago's Sears Tower. Built only four years ago, the building was the brainchild of Joseph R. Kane, the well-known country music aficionado and CEO of the UCF corporation. Kane had persuaded the city council to help finance his company's headquarters, on the grounds that it would add prestige to the city's reputation.

Tendo Nabiki walked past the line of people, paying little attention to the noisy hubbub of their conversation as she pulled open one of the doors reserved for employees only. She moved steadily across the brightly-colored tile floor, towards the special elevator at the far side of the building that allowed access to the upper floors.

The usual guard sat at the security desk in front of the elevator. "Mornin', Ms. Tendo," he said. Nabiki scrawled her signature into the daily log. UCF's money-making activities included, in addition to anything else one might care to name, the design and manufacture of military weapons systems. Consequently, the company had to constantly keep track of who entered and left.

"Morning," Nabiki replied as she touched the pad to call the elevator.

"Hope you have a good day upstairs, ma'am." The guards that worked down here actually had no idea what went on up in the executive offices, nor did they ever really seem to care. Nabiki sometimes joked to herself that she could be plotting the domination of the world upstairs, and all they would want to know would be whether they'd still get paid.

The elevator doors swooshed open, and Nabiki entered, touching the button for her floor. The doors slid closed, and the car rapidly rose to the top. Much like she herself had done. She knew that a lot of people on the in-between floors resented the fact that she -- an Asian woman in her twenties who had only a few years experience with the company -- was in a job superior to theirs.

There was no question that she had earned her position; the company had the profits to prove it. Still, many of them constantly kept their eyes on her, just waiting for her to slip up. That wasn't going to happen. She couldn't let it. There was a dream at stake, her vision of a time when things would be better.

She exited the elevator and walked down the paneled corridor toward her office, all the while going over in her mind the various projects that would be needing her attention, thinking of every different contingency that might arise. It was rare that anything could happen around UCF without Nabiki having planned for it.

"Why, hello, Nabiki!"

Nabiki's briefcase clattered to the ground as she gaped in disbelief at who was in her office. She rushed forward to hug her sister. "Kasumi? How-- how did you get here?"

"I came to visit my sister, silly!" She smiled warmly as she embraced Nabiki.

"This is great! We haven't seen each other since... how long? Ke Lun's funeral, wasn't it? Tell me what you've been doing!"

"I've been studying under Kaede-sensei. I'm sorry I haven't had much time to write."

"Oh yeah." Nabiki stepped back and looked at her older sister. Her hair was a bit longer than before, but in the same style, passing neatly through a bow and spreading out over her back like a cloak. She wore a light summer dress with a flower pattern. She still had the same radiant smile. But something seemed different. Maybe it was her eyes. They had a depth to them, as if the Kasumi that Nabiki was seeing was only the tip of a very deep iceberg.

"I suppose you've learned all sorts of arcane secrets and magical powers?" Nabiki's tone was flip, but inwardly she had to wonder. Kasumi had somehow gotten into her office, apparently without anyone noticing her. Nabiki did believe in magic, but had always thought of it as something unreliable that usually just ended up creating annoying problems for those stupid enough to meddle in it. That was what had always happened with people like Ranma and Shan Pu. It was a little frightening to think that someone might actually be able to use it effectively.

Kasumi giggled slightly. "Oh my, no." Nabiki felt strangely reassured to hear her sister use her old familiar expression; it was the same old Kasumi. "Not really."

Nabiki motioned Kasumi to a chair. "Then what do you do?" she asked curiously.

"Everything in the world around us is inhabited by spirits; this chair, your desk, this building -- all of them are, in a sense, alive. We can communicate with spirits, and channel their energies if they're willing. The spirits have power. We don't."

Nabiki stared blankly, not knowing whether to believe or not.

"Maybe someday you'll understand. It was certainly strange to me at first! Anyway, look at you. Vice President already! How wonderful!"

"Thanks! They had to promote me when another company started making me offers."

"Goodness, you must really be valuable to them! What is it that you do here, if it's all right for me to ask?"

"Basically, I'm the company's 'designated problem solver.' When any of our division heads has a situation he can't handle by himself, it gets dumped in my lap. Fortunately, I've been able to assemble some pretty good staff." She leaned back in her chair. "How long can you stay in town? There's a lot of sights to see."

"Not long, I'm afraid. Back home, Ranma and his old friends are meeting to go to China. I need to join them, but I decided to visit you first!"

"Oh yeah, Akane called yesterday and told me a little about it." A new military dictatorship controlled parts of China. The Amazons expected to be attacked. "I've got some time off saved up. I'll see what I can do about joining you over there. Nothing I like better than vacationing in a war zone!" Nabiki grinned. "Besides, Ranma and friends are going to need a cooler head to keep them out of trouble." Though she was loath to admit it, the thought of losing any of the old gang made her sad. They were a link to a time when things were, if not better, at least a lot simpler.

"I'm sure they'll benefit a lot from your strategies!"

Nabiki glanced at the appointment screen on her computer. "Um, Kasumi... I hate to do this, but if I'm going to be able to go to China, there's a lot of things I need to finish first."

"That's all right. I haven't been to the United States before. I'd like to take a look around!"

"Be careful, Kasumi. You don't speak English, and some of the neighborhoods around here are pretty rough."

"Oh, don't worry. Why don't we meet for lunch at noon. I saw a nice little park a few blocks down the street from here. I'll bring some food and we can have a picnic!"

"Kasumi, you don't have to cook here. You're a guest. I know some really great restaurants...."

"Oh, come on, it'll be fun! Remember when you were a little girl? You always wanted to do something like this!"


"Mommy, I wanna go to the park tomorrow!"

"Nabiki-chan," her father said apologetically, "You can go some other time."

"But she said we could go!" Nabiki cried in anger and frustration. It was bad enough having a younger sister; but ever since Akane had started doing martial arts, Mom and Dad had been paying attention to her, and only her. Nabiki couldn't even get Mom to take one day off to spend with her.

"Nabiki, I need the doctors at the hospital to look at me, just in case there's something wrong. Someday you and Kasumi and I will go on a picnic in the park. I promise. Okay?"

"Okay, Mommy." She wasn't sure whether she really believed it or not, but when parents promised something you had to take them at their word.

Mother never came back home. Nabiki would later muse that fate had been teaching her an important lesson: always get your promises in writing, signed and notarized. Not that it would've done any good.


"I remember that." Nabiki felt embarrassed by the memory of the whiny little kid that had been her. Of course, they'd gone on family outings after that, but it wasn't the same without Mother. "Okay, if you--"

Nabiki turned around. The chair was empty. Her sister had disappeared, as if she had never been there.

Part of her hoped that Kasumi would stay gone. The eldest Tendo sister had always been a bit inscrutable. She usually seemed blissfully oblivious, but every now and then something would slip through, some clue that maybe she paid more attention to what went on around her than anyone thought. Still, as long as she stayed in her kitchen, it hadn't mattered. Now it was a different story. She was a completely unpredictable element, and Nabiki didn't like that. It put the dream at risk.

She turned back to her computer screen. There were a lot of things to take care of before meeting Kasumi for lunch.


Nabiki arrived at the park, about five minutes early. Not much of a park, really; just a fountain and statue with some picnic tables and a few trees, extending over the space of two city blocks, surrounded by tall skyscrapers on all sides. But it would do.

She spotted Kasumi sitting at a picnic table, who eagerly waved her over. "Hello, Nabiki!" she said excitedly, as if they hadn't just seen each other that morning. Definitely the same old Kasumi.

"Hiya, sis." She sat down on the bench. The sun overhead shone a vibrant yellow in the cloudless sky, casting considerable glare on the table. Nabiki was glad for her sunglasses.

"Would you like to try some of this?" Kasumi handed her some chopsticks and a plastic container. Inside was an assortment of food, from pork buns to vegetable stir-fry to noodle casserole.

Nabiki scooped some food into her mouth. Everything was perfect. Each dish had its own unique combination of spices, just the right amount to stimulate but not overpower. The chefs in her favorite restaurants couldn't have done better. "It's delicious! But where did you cook it?"

"Why, in your apartment, of course." Kasumi's smile widened slightly. "It was so clean! You take such good care of it!"

"I have a cleaning service that comes in twice a week."


Nabiki ate more of the food, deciding there would be no point in asking how Kasumi got into her apartment. It was just something that she would have to get used to, like Ranma's sex-changing. This was Kasumi, after all, and perhaps more than anyone else, she could be trusted.

Still, Nabiki wondered what sorts of things Kasumi had been through in the past few years....


The tiny, unnamed temple stood atop a small hill at the end of a dirt road. A dense woods stretched out behind it, while farmland surrounded it on the other sides. The simple stone building lacked any of the ornateness of the temples Kasumi had seen back in Tokyo; it could have been mistaken for a farmhouse.

Kasumi walked up the gently sloped path, toward her new home. It was a pleasant place, but no one lived there other than her and Kaede-sensei, and she often missed having more people around. So, as she would sometimes do, she had just taken a walk through the countryside and talked with some of the local farmers.

She found her teacher in the living room. "Good afternoon, sensei! It's a beautiful day outside!" Kaede had been teaching her the way of the kami for the last month and a half. Now it was time once again for her daily lesson.

"Hello, Kasumi," Kaede said as Kasumi sat on the floor next to her. "Did you enjoy your walk?"

"Oh my, yes! The farmers are such nice people. I told them about my family and the people in my old neighborhood. I don't think they believed me."

Kaede chuckled. "Well, you did know some pretty unbelievable people."

"Yes, I really can't blame them. Though they did take a particular interest when I described Hibiki Ryoga. Strange."

"Strange indeed. Anyway...." Kaede brushed her long gray hair back over her shoulder. "Today I'm going to start you on the next phase of your training. You're going to project your consciousness into the spirit world."

"Goodness, do you think I'm ready for that?"

Kaede smiled. "We won't know until you try."


Kasumi sat on the floor and closed her eyes. She focused her attention on her breathing, hoping she wouldn't disappoint her teacher. Entering the spirit world was a daunting task. Still, Kaede wouldn't have asked her to try it if it were too dangerous.

She let those thoughts float free and returned to her breathing. Each breath was like a wave on the ocean, water flowing gently to and from the shore over and over in a ceaseless rhythm. Her muscles relaxed. Her mind stretched, twisting and expanding until she was looking down on herself. Her body melted away from her perceptions. Unencumbered by form and substance, she danced through the ether, being everywhere and nowhere all at once.

A warm white light shone from below. Kaede. Kasumi could feel the sensei's quiet strength underneath her, a net of absolute safety for her astral high-wire act. She noticed a small tinge of regret that colored Kaede's spirit; Kasumi wondered what she had given up to become what she was.

Another sunbeam flickered, this one from on high. It was strangely familiar; Kasumi felt as if she'd known it forever. It called to her in a silent voice, and she began to drift up toward the source.

The air thickened as Kasumi ascended. She glided through a soupy fog, fighting to overcome the invisible hand of gravity that was trying to pull her downward. The light above beckoned tantalizingly, still far out of reach.

The fog became darker, and even more dense. Memories came, unbidden; memories hidden in the fog, of a little girl who had always wanted to be a doctor when she grew up. A hungry young girl asking Is Mommy making supper tonight?

Kasumi, the truth is, your mother... Mommy is... she's... Father's words had trailed off as he sobbed uncontrollably.

The little girl had then stood and walked to the kitchen. I'd better do it, then. Something inside her had understood, or at least had known that Mother wouldn't be cooking for them anymore. That hurt, in ways that a little girl's mind couldn't comprehend. So she shut out the pain and concentrated on making something to eat, the way she had seen Mother do.

Kasumi struggled to swim through the sticky black fluid. Voices jeered at her out of the ether. You don't even know what's up there, Kasumi. What makes you think it's worth it?

Teriyaki sauce, that's what it was. She was swimming through teriyaki sauce. Except that she'd forgotten to stir it, and put in too much starch, and all the water was boiling away. You needed to keep stirring it. Mother had needed to tell her that so many times.

Being in the kitchen alone for the first time had been a little scary. Most of the things Kasumi had tried to cook before had turned out wrong. But she had to try, because if she hadn't, her family simply wouldn't have had any dinner. As she worked, somehow she figured out what to do, just as if Mother had been helping her.

She had handed a plate of food to Father, who barely seemed to notice as he scooped up a mouthful. As he had chewed, his eyes widened in surprise. Kasumi! It's— it's delicious! Just like— He started crying again. Just like your-- your mother used to....

On that day, Doctor Tendo Kasumi had died -- quietly, along with her mother. Her father and her sisters were depending on her. Mother was depending on her to take care of them while she couldn't. There was no question of doing anything else.

Stupid girl, the voices called. Have you no mind of your own? Kasumi the mindless, obedient zombie?

The inky fluid swirled around her, coalescing into the forms of Father, Nabiki, and Akane. They flitted about in the dark liquid, circling Kasumi as they were joined by Ranma and Mr. Saotome. They converged into a tight huddle, surrounding her, as the voices from nowhere continued their taunts. Kasumi the robot. Wind her up and she cooks and cleans for you.

Abruptly, the five silent figures grabbed onto Kasumi's legs. With a mighty shove, they flung her upwards. It's the least we could do, Father said, his voice receding into the distance, after all
you've done for us.

Kasumi swam, kicking with all her might, desperately propelling herself upward while her momentum still lasted. Suddenly, her head broke through the surface. She could breathe! She bobbed around the surface, filling her lungs with mouthful after mouthful of life-giving air.

She looked around as she tried to wring the sticky liquid from her hair, continuing to savor breath after breath. Below where she was, a simple, bare landscape sprawled out into the distance. Wisps of mist floated in the violet-tinged air. Was this the spirit world?

Kasumi leapt into the air. Her jump was much easier -- and propelled her much farther -- than expected; it was the way she had always imagined it would be like to walk on the moon. Landing gently and deftly on a rocky outcropping, she looked back at the place she had just come from. It was a giant woman! It smiled blankly as its huge focusless eyes stared ahead. Healthy black hair topped its head -- that had been what Kasumi had been swimming in, apparently -- tucking neatly into a bow over its shoulder. It wore a frilly dress under a kitchen apron.

It's me, she thought. But how? How could I have been swimming there? And do I really look like--

A voice from behind her interrupted. "Kasumi?" She felt the radiance that she had come here to find.

She didn't need to look; she recognized the voice. At that moment, Kasumi was a little girl again. She turned around, rushing into the arms of her mother.


"Mommy, are you really here?"

"Of course I am, Kasumi-chan. I've been with you all the time, helping you as much as I could. I'm so glad I can finally talk with you again. I'm so proud of you. So proud of the way you kept our family together after I had to go."

"I know, Mommy. But I'm tired."

"I know you are, dear. And I'm sorry. But you can't rest yet."


"Because Akane and her friends will be depending on you soon. They'll have a very hard, very dangerous job to do. They won't be able to do it without you."

"No! I don't wanna!"


"I wanna stay here with you, Mommy!"

"No. This place is not for you. Not now. Please try to understand. You know how good Akane and her friends are at fighting?"


"They're better than almost anyone in the whole world. Why do you think that is?"

"I don't know."

"It's what you might call destiny. Like a blessing by the kami. Because very soon, the kami are going to need people like them."


"But they can't do it alone. Just fighting won't be enough. It's like sewing clothes, Kasumi. No matter how good your fabric is, you need thread to keep it together. Right?"


"Someone needs to be the thread that binds Akane and her friends together. It has to be a grown-up woman. It has to be you, Kasumi."


"You could stay here with me and be a little girl. But then nobody will be able to help Akane. The things that only you can do simply won't get done. Do you understand?"

Tendo Kasumi closed her eyes. When she opened them again, they looked down on an adult woman. "Yes, Mother. I won't disappoint you."


Nabiki scooped more food onto her plate. "This is great food, Kasumi! The best I've had in a long time!"

"I'm so glad you like it!" Kasumi beamed. "It's such a gorgeous day, too!"

"Yeah, the weather's really nice today! Not too hot, not too cold."

Aaarrrgh! Nabiki screamed silently to herself. After years of having to play Tendo Nabiki, Terror of the Business World, she finally had some time to spend alone with Kasumi. Kasumi, who she didn't have to put on any act around. Kasumi, who was probably closer to her than anyone else on the planet -- though admittedly that wasn't saying much. So why the hell couldn't she think of anything to talk about besides dumb little things like the weather?

It was strange, the way she had felt when she left Nerima for the United States. She loved her family, yet she couldn't wait to get away from them.

Everyone in her home had become so predictable. You just knew when you got up in the morning that you'd see Ranma and Genma fighting over food. You knew that later, Ranma would insult Akane, and she'd wallop him over the head for it. Kasumi was no different; you knew that every time you came home, she'd smile at you and greet you as if you'd been gone for three years instead of twenty minutes. Nabiki was almost sure that if she had stayed there, the same thing would've happened to her: Doing and saying the same things over and over, every day, not even seeming to remember that she'd done them before. A person might as well be dead.

Of course, there were no shortage of people like that in the United States, either....


"So we see," droned the Econ 120 professor, "that the net profit margin computed for company C in our example calculates to a loss of sixty-nine million dollars. Clearly, this is not one that we would do well to acquire for our company."

From the fourth row of the lecture hall, Nabiki raised a hand. "Excuse me, but I don't understand why that is."

"Well, you see, Miss, our goal as company officers is to maximize the difference between gross income and..."

"Yes, yes. But if we were to purchase this company, we'd be able to claim a net operating loss deduction on its past losses, thereby reducing our own tax bills for years to come! It sounds like it would be a gold mine!"

The professor cleared his throat. "Um, yes, that's a very relevant point. Thank you." The other students spoke to each other in confused murmurs. Some of them asked whether this would be on the test.

School was an obligatory rite of passage, nothing more. It was a way of establishing credentials, a way of getting noticed and making connections. Nabiki always took the maximum allowed number of credits per semester, to get the obligation out of the way as fast as possible. It wasn't as if the University had anything to teach her. Like everything else useful in her life, she had developed her business skill on her own.

Still, the occasional bit of serendipity didn't hurt....


"Sir... Sir, I tried that... Sir...."

Nabiki sat in the lunchroom at the UCF corporation, nibbling at the sandwich she had bought, trying to ignore all the noise. She hoped she could get home soon. Her new investments would pay off, but only if she played it just right.

It had been Professor Mason's brilliant idea to take the class to UCF for a field trip. It was so that they could see how a real world business really works, he had said. He evidently hadn't realized that the company wasn't about to tell anything really important to a bunch of students. So all they got was a lot of speeches on how they were a dynamic company, with lots of opportunities for dynamic team players with positive, dynamic attitudes.

A blond-haired man in an expensive-looking suit next to Nabiki spoke into a cellular phone. "That's correct, sir. The strikers still haven't changed their demands. Yes, sir. We're doing everything we can."

She tried to shut out the noise and think. The current instability in rates meant that there was money to be made in the bond trading market, but only if she got in and out at exactly the right time. If... if....

If only the idiot with the phone would shut up so she could think. "Sir, we did bring in scabs. But we had to bus them in from New Pudsey. By the time we got them there, and got them past the strikers, half the work day was gone."

Options and futures promised bigger returns, but were they worth the extra risk? She needed to check the progress of the latest congressional budget hearings. There would be a killing to make if certain of the provisions passed....

"Sir, we're doing everything we can, but it looks like we may lose this one."

Nabiki turned to the man. "Look, it's simple!" she snapped at him. "You rent trailers and have the scabs sleep on the premises. Now would you please be a little quieter so I can think?!"

She stopped, as several other people turned their eyes toward her. Should've gotten him to pay you first, an inner voice said. She went nonchalantly back to eating her sandwich. She could faintly hear the voice on the other end of the phone, asking who that had been just now.

Later that night, memories of what she had done haunted her dreams. Thoughts of people who were desperate for a little more money, or health coverage for their children, and were now not going to get it,
thanks to her.

As a child, Mother had called Nabiki "too clever for her own good." It was meant as a compliment, of course. But she later found out that there was more truth in it than mother had known.

It was her first year of junior high school, and she had already started making a little money on the side. She sold the phone number of Seiuchi Saruko to every boy in school. Saruko was the captain of the girls' volleyball team, and had been one of the first girls in school to develop really large breasts. That she hated boys even worse than Akane did hadn't concerned her suitors much. That she was even more violent than Akane hadn't concerned Nabiki much. After all, Tendo Nabiki was a clever girl, so if she got into trouble, she'd be able to figure out how to handle it.

Saruko happened to meet her one day on the way home from school. There was no threat that Nabiki could use against her, no running away or talking her out of it. On that say, Tendo Nabiki did the only thing she could: she took a beating.

It was a lesson learned: no matter how smart you are, some situations don't have solutions. Sometimes there's no way out.

Since then, she'd always been careful about what she took from whom. She'd taken money from Kuno-chan, who had more than he knew what to do with anyway; and Ranma, who never seemed to have any use for it himself. She'd sold pictures of Akane, whom she was absolutely certain wouldn't attack a non-fighter who hadn't attacked her first, and who had Ranma to take her frustrations out on anyway. It was all penny-ante stuff, never anything that could've caused anyone any real hardship.

Until now. And as she lay on her bed, she kept one sleepy eye on the dorm room's door, half-expecting the strikers to break it down. That's her! Let's get her! And maybe she would deserve it.

She didn't sleep well that night.


"I'm Greg Jackson." He shook her hand. "I've been anxious to meet you, Ms. Tendo." Jackson was a slightly thin middle-aged man, with black hair that was balding on top.

Nabiki leaned back in the big comfortable chair. The office was bigger than her whole dorm room. She kept her expression carefully neutral, letting him make his entire piece before reacting.

Jackson sipped from a "World's Greatest Dad" coffee mug; the cartoon face molded into the side of the mug was actually a fairly good likeness for him. "The division that I'm head of functions as a sort of designated problem solving team. When someone at UCF needs a little extra help in handling a situation, whatever it is, they can call us."

Nabiki stared at Jackson quietly, not letting on that she already knew perfectly well what he did. She wasn't one to go into an important business deal without doing her homework first. Through conversations and company records, she had built a pretty good picture of who Gregory T. Jackson really was. He had a history of reprimanding his staff as if they were elementary school children, for unimportant procedural things, or for "overstepping their authority" -- acting without checking with him first. It painted him as the type of person who was insecure about his own worth, afraid deep down that people could get along perfectly well without him. Which they usually could.

"Let me come straight to the point. I think you're just the kind of person we're looking for. We can offer you a highly competitive salary and benefits package, with outstanding opportunities for advancement."

She decided to test the waters a little. Just how badly did they want her? "But I don't have my degree yet."

"We're prepared to pay your way through the rest of your education. You can attend classes in the evening. With your academic record, I wouldn't expect balancing work and school to be a problem."

"You're right." She stood and shook hands with Jackson. "No problem at all."


Jackson was not atypical of the kind of people Nabiki would later meet in her job; too wrapped up in their own personal power struggles, or just in padding their own bank accounts, to see any kind of big picture. All in all, she found the business world to be rather like a chicken with its head cut off, running around in several directions at once.

Someday it would have a head, and its name would be Tendo Nabiki. That was her dream, and someday she would make it a reality. Someday she would get into a position of real power and influence, and make sure that things were done right. No more pumping toxic waste into the air and water. No more forcing people to waste their lives working in sweatshops building junk that no one would even want if not for the persuasion of advertising.

It was staggering even to think of; but Tendo Nabiki was as good as what she did as Saotome Ranma was at fighting. If anyone could do it, she could. And someone had to.


Nabiki set the plate down on the picnic table and wiped her face with her napkin. She leaned back, her stomach humming with contentment.

"So, is there some special young man in your life?" Kasumi asked, half-teasingly.

"Nope. I know a lot of boys, but none of them could be called 'special.'" Nabiki smirked. "How about you? Y'know, there was a time when I'd have bet almost anything that you'd be married with at least four kids by now."

"I would've too." For an instant, Kasumi's smile faded into a pensive, almost melancholy stare. Then her usual cheerfulness resumed. "But life takes some strange turns sometimes."

"Yeah, that's sure true. Don't tell anyone, by the way."

"Don't tell what?"

"That I made a losing bet. It'd ruin my reputation." Both sisters grinned, and laughed as if they were back in elementary school.


Kasumi walked along the path as it meandered its way through the tall evergreens, her sandaled feet treading lightly on the carpet of pine needles. A gentle breeze blew lightly across her skin. Above, birds chirped out a delightful tune.

She had actually reached the spirit world. She never would've believed it possible. Not only that, but she had met Mother. She could go back anytime she wanted and talk with her. It was wonderful!

Kasumi came to a fork in the path. The narrow, short branch led back to the temple. She didn't know where the other one went to. Someday she would try it and find out; but for now she didn't have the time. She had to get back to the temple, as it was her turn to cook dinner today.

She had learned some things about herself the past week, not all of them pleasant. Part of her actually resented the fact that she had been forced into devoting so much of her life to her family. The feeling made her uncomfortable; she hadn't even been aware of it until her visit to the spirit world the previous week. Not that she would've done anything different if she had had the chance to relive her life. Seeing Nabiki and Akane grow into such wonderful young women was far better than anything else she could've done in those ten years. But it would've been nice to have been given a choice.

The trail led her out of the woods; it had been shorter than she had remembered it being from last time. She began to walk toward the door of the temple, then abruptly stopped. A man, dressed in a black bodysuit with face and head coverings, was crouched low by the side of the building. He appeared to be looking into one of the windows. Kasumi froze, carefully eyeing him. Why would a ninja want to spy on her and Kaede?

The front door opened. Kaede came walking out, less than a meter away from the man in black.

Panic gripped Kasumi. The sensei didn't see the ninja! She struggled to find voice to yell a warning.

Before she could react, a battle cry rang out. "Haii!" Fist slammed into bone with stunning force, knocking its target to the ground.

Kasumi walked up to Kaede, staring at the man lying unconscious at her feet. "Goodness, Sensei, I didn't know you knew how to fight!"

"Actually... I don't. I don't know the first thing about combat."

"Then how...." Kasumi gaped at her teacher, puzzled. What she had just seen certainly looked like a fighting move.

"There's an ancient technique, known only to myself and a few others. It involves summoning a powerful fighting spirit, and binding it to a physical object. In this case, the robes I wear."

"You mean...."

"I mean that I don't fight, my clothes do."

"Oh! I've seen something like that before!" Kasumi remembered how Father brought back the battle gi from the Monkey Mountain Temple, and all the terrible things that happened because of it. "But I think that it must have been cursed. It made Ranma and Akane both do the most dreadful things to each other. Are you sure that yours is safe?"

"Positive. I made it myself." Kaede smiled proudly. "Ranma and Akane must have gotten a suit that was animated for someone else. That's asking for trouble. The only way to get a reliable one is to make your own like I did, or at least have someone make it specifically for you. Someday you'll be able to make one for yourself."

"I'm not sure I'd want to." Kasumi thought back to all of those times people had sought out Ranma to attack him. Being good at fighting had its drawbacks.

The man dressed in black moaned, attracting the two women's attention as he began to move. Kaede and Kasumi bent down, kneeling on opposite sides of the man. Kaede reached over and removed his mask. Kasumi gaped in disbelief at the familiar face.

"Doctor Tofu?" Kasumi struggled for something to say. "You're a ninja now?"

"Kasumi, please let me explain!" Tofu said desperately as he struggled to his feet.

"Go ahead, young man," Kaede said. "And it had better be good."

Kasumi just stared wide-eyed at the doctor, waiting to see what he would say. Despite his odd behavior, she really couldn't believe that an old friend like him would ever mean her harm.

"Kasumi, look at me!" Tofu said. "I'm finally cured! Remember how I always used to act around you? I can finally stand right next to you now and still be normal!"

"That's wonderful, Doctor. But why did you...."

"I had to test myself. I had to see whether I was really better. If not, I would've left without you knowing that I was here. I needed to be sure before I saw you again."

"Why was that, Doctor?" Kasumi asked, her voice blase, as if it were a simple matter-of-fact question. She didn't want to either encourage or discourage him. Whether or not there was still any chance of anything coming from it, she wanted him to say whatever he had to say, and he had to decide that on his own.

"Kasumi, I have something to ask you. Something important. Will-- will you--"

Something imperceptible floated at the edge of Kasumi's senses; a feeling that she was suddenly being watched by something she couldn't quite focus on. Kaede seemed to notice it too. Her gaze slowly began to scan the darkened courtyard, fixing on something Kasumi couldn't see.

Tofu's eyes suddenly glazed over. His nervous expression changed to a dopey smile. "Kasumi? Wh-- what a surprise to meet you here!" He drifted towards Kaede. "Betty? Would you get Kasumi a cup of tea, please? It's so nice that we could run into each other like this! What time does this train arrive in Sapporo, Mr. Conductor? It looks like rainy weather today!" He bounded off in a random direction, continuing to babble unintelligibly.

Kasumi sighed disappointedly. So close. She had really thought it wouldn't happen this time. She had really believed in him. Not that it would've mattered.

The two women stood in silence for a time. Then Kaede spoke. "You do know what he was trying to say?"

"Yes. I know," Kasumi replied. "I know that I couldn't have accepted, but...." It would've been so good just to have been asked. Just to know that she was worth enough to him that he could overcome whatever personal demons of his were getting in the way. Then, if he were willing to wait for her, they could be married someday, after her training was over.

"You know that I would not keep you here against your will." She smirked. "Surely a handsome, if eccentric, young doctor would be a better companion than an old woman?"

"It doesn't matter. I'm here for a reason. Mother told me that. She's trusting me to do what needs to be done. I can't dishonor her. A mother's trust. There's nothing more important than that." She smiled at Kaede, then turned to walk into the temple.


"Yes?" Kasumi looked back at her teacher.

Kaede's mouth opened, but no words came out. Finally, she spoke. "I want you to know that what I do here, I do to preserve the art. Someday you'll carry it on after I'm gone. You have the potential to be better than I ever was."

"I'll go get started on dinner now," Kasumi said cheerily, waving as she moved toward the door. In the end, there was no choice to make. She only hoped that someday she would be good enough at the art to make it all worthwhile.


"I very much appreciate your coming to work for us, Ms. Tendo," Jackson said. "I'm enthused to have an outstanding young person such as yourself joining my staff."

"Thank you, sir." Had it been someone else, Nabiki would have told him to stop wasting her time and just tell her what he wanted her to do. But she needed to put up with Jackson, at least for now.

"I've got your first assignment right here." He took a manila folder from his desktop and handed it to Nabiki. "There's a factory about a half-hour west of town where they make candy bars. 'Sweet Rewards,' they're called. They're quite popular, as I understand. My kids are always after me to buy them some."

"Don't know it," Nabiki said.

"UCF wants to buy out their company," Jackson continued, "but it seems that Conglomco had the same idea that we did. The factory owner is negotiating with them now, and apparently won't listen to any counter-offer from us."

"So you want me to get this factory owner to change his mind, and sell out to you instead of your competitor?"

"That's exactly what I'd like you to do."

Piece of cake, she thought. She smiled as she stood up. "I hope I'll be able to come to you for help and advice on this, Mr. Jackson."

She laughed at what she had just said as she left Jackson's office; it was called diplomacy, otherwise known as a lie through the teeth. The truth was, Nabiki had never really benefited much from anyone's "help and advice." Everything good in her life, every bit of progress that she had ever made, had been made by her and her alone.

She thought of all the people she had left behind in Nerima, and laughed to herself again. They were some of the best martial artists in the world. Collectively they could probably out-fight an army. But they always wasted all of their power and skill on useless, never-ending arguments -- things that they could've settled anytime just by being honest about their feelings toward one another.

For all the magic and all the superhuman strength that her friends possessed, it would be Tendo Nabiki who would go on to greatness. Tendo Nabiki, who knew what the real power in this modern world was: money. With it, someday she would be able to set things right in this idiotic world.

But she had to get into a position of power first. And for now, that would start with a phone call to a certain factory owner.


Nabiki decided that the direct approach might not be the best in this case, considering that others had already tried it. So when she went to the factory it was not as Tendo Nabiki the representative of UCF, but as Tendo Nabiki the business school student, come to interview Mr. Gene Probright, the owner, for a class project. The elderly gentleman steered away from any discussion of whether he might be retiring or selling his company, but Nabiki managed to glean the name of the Conglomco agent who he had been dealing with from some papers on his desk.

A trip home and a little research later, she was again on the phone, this time to Mr. Charles Brandon of Conglomco, Inc. "Hi, remember me? Nabiki? From the party a couple of weeks ago?"


"The Asian? In the tight T-shirt? You said we ought to go out sometime."

"Um... oh yeah! Of course I remember you, Nakini!"

"Nabiki. I thought you might, and seeing as I'm free this weekend...."


"Nice place you picked here, Naniki."

The Gold Sovereign was one of Philadelphia's more expensive restaurants. Waiters in dinner jackets delivered silver platters onto softly lit white-clothed tables. A window occupied an entire wall, giving a splendid view of the city lights. A pianist played in the background.

"That's Nabiki, Charlie. And why not go for the best, I always say." Especially when I won't be the one paying, she added mentally. "Better than your idea of us going to a football game."

"Don't like sports? I thought everybody did." Charles Brandon was a tall, muscular man who looked to be in his upper twenties. Neatly styled jet black hair framed a youthful face with large brown eyes. His
only unattractive feature was an unusually prominent forehead.

"I grew up in a family of martial artists. I've seen enough pointless physical competition to last a lifetime. Why on Earth should I care which group of people are better at getting a ball across a field?"

"Well, a lot of us do." He paused, probably trying to think of a better response. "For someone who says she doesn't care about football, you picked a funny way to decide who's going to pay for dinner."

"The bet still stands, unless you want to back out. The envelope I gave you has my predictions for the winners of all of today's games. If I'm wrong on any of them, I pay, otherwise you do."

"Sounds good to me. I don't think even the biggest football fan could win that bet. They must not be teaching you right at that business school of yours, Nabiki."

"Says the junior executive himself. What's your big responsibility over at Conglomco, Chuck?" she asked teasingly. "Arranging desks?"

"Only my own. Actually, I'm involved in a deal that'll make the top dogs themselves take notice of me." He smiled self-approvingly. "Ever hear of 'Sweet Rewards?'"

"The candy bar?"

"Yep. I'm nearly finished negotiating the purchase of the company for Conglomco."

"What's so great about a candy company?" Nabiki asked, feeling like the angler about to land the big one.

"It's perfect. A debt-free company with hundreds of millions in saleable assets. Why, the pension fund alone...."

Nabiki interrupted him with a cold, hard stare. "You're planning to shut down the factory?" she said, with a touch of feigned indignation.

"Of course. Don't worry, you'll still be able to buy your candy bars. We're shipping the operation to Mexico. Those people down there will work for just a few dollars a day."

"Have you ever considered that the owner of the factory might not want it closed down?"

Brandon laughed. "The old college idealism. Welcome to the twenty-first century, Nabini. Like I always say, it's the bottom line that matters. That's the only thing that's important, how much we're paying. Old man Probright knows that, otherwise he never could've succeeded in business."

"If you say so, Chuck. The only thing that's important? You really believe that?"

"Yup. You better learn it too, if you want to be any good at this game."

The waiter approached the table. "Was everything all right tonight?" The two patrons nodded. "Thank you, please visit us again soon." He laid the check on the table.

Charles tore open the envelope that Nabiki had given him, and his eyes scanned over the paper inside. It read: The winners of today's games will be the team owners. They get to pocket the ticket money. After all, the bottom line is all that matters, right, Charlie?

He reached into his wallet and pulled out his credit card.


"Excellent work, Ms. Tendo," Jackson said. "I don't know how you managed to convince him, but Probright is now more than willing to listen to our offers."

Nabiki smiled. "Just a little friendly persuasion." Actually, one cassette tape through the mail is all it had taken. Good ol' Chuck never suspected that he was being recorded. He also evidently couldn't conceive of the fact that some people weren't as shallow as he was -- that there were some things that some people wouldn't do for money.

"Well, in any case, they're very happy about this upstairs. They've already got a spot in Reynosa lined up to move the operation to, and they're working on how to best liquidate the pension fund."

Oops. Nabiki mentally kicked herself. Hadn't even considered that. How could she be so smart and yet so stupid? Or had it just been a case of willful blindness? Had she deliberately overlooked the possible consequences of her actions?

"Something wrong?" Jackson asked.

"Ah... I was just wondering why Probright isn't insisting on a legal promise not to shut down his company."

"Oh, he is. But our lawyers assure us that there are enough loopholes in the agreement he's proposing that it won't inconvenience us much. It's too bad about the people who work at that factory; still, I'm sure someone else will hire them."

Nabiki hmmmd. The sale wasn't final yet. Nabiki knew that she could still go to Probright and tell him what was going on. She could write up an iron-clad contract for him, preventing UCF from liquidating the factory. But it would end her career if they found out who did it -- which they almost surely would. All of her dreams and plans of future greatness would be over. And for what? The old man would probably make another mistake, and it would have all been for nothing.

All of which she knew to be rationalization. But she had to do whatever she could to pursue the dream.

Jackson leaned forward to shake Nabiki's hand. "Congratulations on a job well done, Ms. Tendo. And once again, welcome to the UCF family. I'm sure there's a wonderful future ahead here for a clever young lady like yourself."

"Yup, that's me." Nabiki forced a smile as she stood to exit Jackson's office. "Too clever for my own good."


Nabiki returned to the picnic area to find Kasumi sitting cross-legged under a tree, quietly staring blankly ahead. She knelt down, wondering whether it would be a bad idea to disturb her sister.

Abruptly, Kasumi's gaze focused, as she smiled. "Hello, Nabiki. It's so good to see you again after all this time."

Nabiki stared at her sister through her sunglasses. "I was only in the bathroom five minutes, Kasumi."

"I can't stay for very long. I want to tell you how proud I am of all of the things you've managed to accomplish, all the success you've had in your career."

"Um... thanks." This was getting weird, even for her.

Kasumi held Nabiki's hand, moving uncomfortably close to her. "Nabiki, what about your personal life? Are you happy? It's so easy to get wrapped up in your work, to forget about everything else until it's
too late."

"Don't worry about it, Kasumi," Nabiki said irritatedly. "I can take care of myself. You aren't my mother, you know." There was a touch of sadness in Kasumi's eyes after that last remark. Okay, maybe it had been a little extreme, but her questioning had made Nabiki feel very uncomfortable.

"Your mother loves you, Nabiki. Please, always remember that. Your mother would've stayed with you while you were growing up if there had been any way to."

"Yeah, I know." Nabiki's tone softened. "But 'would've' doesn't do me a fat lot of good, does it? Anyway, it's all right. I've managed okay alone so far, and I always will."

"You don't have to be alone." Kasumi stood. "I've got to go now. But remember that you have family and friends who love you. And anytime you need someone to talk to, I'll be there to listen."

"Okay, Kasumi." Part of her wanted to smother Kasumi with a big hug, to have one of those big happy family moments. But that wasn't Tendo Nabiki's style now, was it? Besides, the way Kasumi was acting was making her more and more uneasy. "I'll see you over in China in a few days."

Nabiki packed up her dishes, wondering if her sister had completely lost it. Your mother loves you, she had said. Why not our mother? And why bring her up anyway?

Suddenly, Nabiki remembered what Kasumi had said earlier. We can communicate with spirits, and channel their energies.

She remembered a promise made to her long ago. Could it be... was it possible?

"Wait!" she cried out. She turned to face an empty picnic table.


Nabiki stood in the elevator, watching the numbers on the floor indicator rise. Up she went once again, to the top of the building. She was a princess in the magnificent castle tower that kept her safe from everyone outside -- including her family and friends.

She thought about a town about a half hour west of her, where a lot of people had lost jobs that they had spent their lives working on. Nabiki had done a lot of other things since Sweet Rewards that she wasn't proud of either. She had also done some good when she could. But the dream still wasn't anywhere in sight. And slowly but surely, she was truly becoming the cold, hard terror of the business world that she had been pretending to be.

Tendo Nabiki, master of psychological warfare. Instantly able to figure out what's going through someone's head. Unless that someone is herself.

For some reason, words that Kasumi had said to her stuck in her mind. Maybe someday you'll understand.

Not yet.

AUTHOR'S SPAM: It's been brought to my attention by people in the know that my version of Philadelphia doesn't match the real one very well. Think of it as an alternate universe. :)

An answer to the oft-asked "What does UCF stand for?" can be found on George Carlin's "An Evening With Wally Londo". You don't need to know this for the story, of course; for our purposes, UCF is just a generic multinational corporation.