The room was a bare cubicle, not much larger than an elevator, with walls of sterile white. Kodachi Kuno sat at one end of the small, wooden table and faced her opponent; an opponent who perhaps she could not defeat.

Her opponent was not more skilled than she. On the contrary, his techniques were only elementary, his strategies transparent, and his moves easily read. Under normal circumstances, he would have given her little trouble.

But they had taken her weapons. Not only the ribbon and the clubs, but they had taken the fire. Once it had raged within her with a brilliance and ferocity that rivaled the sun itself. Now their drugs had smothered it dead, leaving not even a smoldering ember. All that remained was an empty gray haze.

She could not win without the fire.

"I'd like you to take a look at this, Ms. Kuno." Doctor Chijimu set a piece of paper onto the table. "What can you tell me about it?"

She gave the page a cursory glance. She had read it before. It was supposedly written by Akane Tendo, announcing that she and Ranma had run away together to some undisclosed location. But Kodachi knew better, even if no one else did. "It is a forgery." Her words seemed distant, as if she were listening to someone else speak them from far away.

"Akane Tendo didn't write this note?" the doctor asked, his tone carefully neutral. "Tell me more."

"No, she did not," Kodachi replied, knowing full well that the doctor would believe none of what she would tell him, and not caring. "It was written by the ones who abducted Ranma, left behind to allay suspicions."

"They abducted Ranma," the doctor repeated, as if confirming his understanding.


"Tell me more about Ranma." The doctor opened a file folder and looked through it. "I understand that you and he dated."

"Once, yes. I had made a wager with my rival, Asuka Saginomiya, the White Lily, as to which of us could obtain the finest date for the evening. Ranma was merely helping me win the bet."

The doctor raised his head to look into Kodachi's eyes. "How do you feel towards Ranma, now that he's gone?"

"It is difficult to feel anything while under the effects of your drugs, Doctor." A trace of muffled laughter stirred within Kodachi. She had scored a blow against her opponent. But instead of being angered, he gazed at her with sympathy in his eyes.

"Kodachi, the police needed two special weapons teams just to take you in for questioning. At the courthouse, they had you in handcuffs and you still almost managed to get away. I'm afraid that without the drugs, you could very well end up injuring yourself, or someone else."

*And why should the Black Rose be forced to submit to capture and confinement anyway?* The thought drifted away from her before she could give voice to it. It simply wasn't worth the effort. The medication made it difficult to care -- about this, or about anything else.

Doctor Chijimu glanced at his watch. "I'm afraid that's all the time we have. Tomorrow, I'd like to discuss this conspiracy that you said kidnapped Ranma. For now, I'll take you back to your room."

The doctor stood, and Kodachi did likewise. The door opened, and the two of them exited into the corridor. To the side, men in laboratory coats conversed in hushed voices. The wheels of a medication cart squealed as a nurse pushed it along the tile floor. From a nearby lounge, a television news reader's voice droned out, assuring his viewers that he was telling them what they needed to know about world events.

Of course, Kodachi saw through the doctor's facade. He played the impartial observer, letting her speak and listening nonjudgementally. But the truth was that his mind was already made up. He believed that Ranma and Akane had eloped, and that hearing of this had driven Kodachi into madness -- or further into madness. He was right and she was wrong, and his job was to convince this poor, deluded girl to accept the reality that she currently denied.

For a moment, she wondered if he might be one of them. Then she dismissed the thought. They had simply arranged for her to be put here, where she would be out of the way and unable to disrupt whatever plans that they were putting into effect. The doctor was nothing but an unwitting pawn. He couldn't believe her story because it challenged his view of the world -- a world in which he was guaranteed safety and security as long as he performed his designated function.

Yes, she knew what the doctor wanted from her. It was tempting to give in, to tell him what he wanted to hear. It was tempting to believe that the doctor was correct, that her current difficulties were nothing more than the result of unrequited affection. But she was the Black Rose. She knew what was reality and what was fantasy. She had seen them take away Akane Tendo, and they could not make her forget that.

A pair of women in white coats and thick black-framed glasses walked up to Chijimu. "Excuse me, Doctor," one of them said, holding out a clipboard. "Would you take a look at this, please?"

The doctor took hold of the clipboard. A muted hiss sounded as a stream of gas belched out at him from somewhere on the other woman's person. He staggered back a few steps and fell into the woman's arms, unconscious.

"Hurry!" the second woman said. She looked down the corridor, then beckoned the others to follow. "This way!"

Thoughts and questions zoomed by like speeding trains, too fast to catch. Kodachi didn't know whether to stay or run, nor in which direction to run if she did. She didn't know whether these people were on her side or her enemies, whether she should help them or fight against them.

"I think she's been drugged." The first woman took off her glasses and stared into Kodachi's eyes. "Boss? You okay?"

A name came into Kodachi's mind. "Yoiko?" Of course. She knew who this person was. Though it seemed like a lifetime since they had seen one another, it had actually been only a few weeks.

"Yeah," Yoiko said. "Come on, we need to move."

Kodachi allowed herself to be led by the hand. The three of them hustled through a door and began to descend several flights of stairs. Finally, she could get away from this place, and heal herself of the damage that it had done to her. The medication would wear off, and the fire would return. Then she would be back, to deal with those who had arranged for her to be locked up. The Black Rose would return. All in good time....

"Murai Abujimo, you're under arrest. The charge is murder."

The thin man with the thick beard said nothing and offered no sign of resistance as he stepped out of his apartment, his hands cuffed behind him. To Police Officer Tanaka, he didn't look the least bit dangerous. Yet Captain Kitanai obviously thought he was. Why else would Tanaka and Tonma have been ordered to carry guns on this arrest?

The three men descended the steps toward the front entrance. Officer Tonma gave Abujima a shove, prodding him out the door. He didn't have any trouble believing that they had nabbed the guilty party. The Captain said that they had strong enough evidence to convict, and that was good enough for him.

Tanaka, on the other hand, wasn't so certain. He had worked on the case from day one, and the evidence had pointed nowhere near Abujima. But then Abujima had written an article for Oshaburi Weekly about some bizarre conspiracy theory involving alien invaders; Tanaka didn't remember the details. It had been so far out, his editor had refused to print it. And then all of the sudden, witnesses began completely changing their stories after being visited by the captain and his cronies. New physical evidence showed up that had been "forgotten" about before.

It all seemed very bizarre to Tanaka. But he had a family to feed, and a house that needed to be paid for. Without any real proof, he wasn't going to challenge the captain; that was the easiest way to lose out when it came time for promotions.

Abujima and Tonma pushed out the door. Their heads turned as some small object came down, fluttering lazily in the air before landing on the sidewalk. A flower, with black petals.

Oh shit, Tanaka thought. She's back.

The shrill, maniacal laugh resonated through the air, chilling him to the bone. "Ohohohohohohohohohoho!" Tonma reached for his gun, but was much too slow. A flurry of club blows rained down onto his head, making a sound like popcorn bursting, and he slumped to the ground, unconscious.

Tanaka moved ahead to where he could see her. The Black Rose. He'd never seen her in person before. Her hair was bunched together in a single ponytail on her left side. The green and black leotard she wore shimmered in the sunlight. And her eyes glowed with such determination and confidence that her stare almost seemed to burn him.

He drew his gun, trying desperately to regain control over the situation. "Stop! St-stop or I'll shoot!"

Before Tanaka had even noticed her arm move, the Black Rose's ribbon lashed out. Like a frog's tongue gobbling up an insect, it took hold of his weapon and pulled it from his grasp, landing it deftly into Abujima's hands.

"Huh?" Startled, Abujima dropped the weapon as if it were a hot potato.

The Black Rose smiled at him. "I understand that you and I have mutual enemies; the aliens who call themselves Fellani. Shall we go somewhere and pool our information?"