There's a lemonyish-lime scene in this one. You have been warned. Thanks to Yoiko for pre-reading.


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.

Ranma watched the piece of log as it floated downstream. It followed the narrow creek as it zigzagged between trees and soon disappeared from sight. Moments earlier, he had wedged the disposable telephone into a knothole on top of the log. If Ha Bu and his people were tracking the phone signal, then maybe this would lead them on a wild goose chase, and maybe when his group got to town tomorrow morning the Mongols wouldn't be expecting them. Maybe.

Of course, that depended on them not beating the crap out of each other before then.

"Look, Akane, no one's accusing you of anything wrong," Tofu said. "But we would appreciate anything you could tell us about this bank account in your name that Nabiki found."

Akane folded her arms, scowling. "I can't tell you anything. I have no idea how that money got there."

"Akane would never do such a thing!" Ryoga turned to face her. "Would you?"

"No! I wouldn't!" she shouted.

"Of course she wouldn't," Kasumi said. "I can't believe my sister would do such a thing. I think Ha Bu's friends put that account there so Nabiki would find it and we'd waste time arguing with ourselves."

Ranma wanted to believe Kasumi, but couldn't quite rise to that level of optimism. Nabiki had said the account was hidden well enough that her people had been extremely lucky to find it. That was assuming, of course, that Nabiki was telling the truth. Maybe she'd just made the whole thing up as some sort of bluff to ferret out the real culprit. Maybe she was the real culprit. With some of the tricks she'd pulled on him, he couldn't quite put it past her. But he didn't see what she would stand to gain by accusing Akane if that were the case.

Akane quivered like a bomb about to explode. For once, Ranma thought, he had better think before opening his mouth, and not just because he didn't want to get pounded. This was part of his job as a husband. Defending his family wasn't just about fighting. He watched as Tofu looked up to the sky as if searching for something to say. His panda-transformed father stood quietly off to the side. Ryoga cringed as if expecting Akane to pound him deservedly flat for doubting her.

Just a minute, Ranma thought. resisting the urge to slap himself in the face. Lili's leaving had obviously taken more out of him than he'd thought. It wasn't like him to miss something so bloody obvious.

"Okay, people, enough." He stood next to his wife. "Akane's telling the truth. I believe her, and anyone who wants to get to her is gonna have to go through me first. Got it?"

"Nobody wants to do anything to Akane, Ranma," Tofu said. "We just want to find out what happened."

"There's nothing to find out," Ranma said flatly. "Not from Akane, anyway. She's told us everything she knows, same as I have."

"Who do you think put that money there then?" Tofu asked. "Was it a plant, as Kasumi thinks?"

"Can't say right now. But I think we'll find out soon enough. Until then, there's no point in fighting each other." Ranma hefted his pack over his shoulder. "We've got a job to do, people, so let's get to it. Anything else can wait."

He walked, and the others fell in behind him. Akane quietly squeezed his hand in silent thanks. He returned the gesture, while glancing back to make sure a certain member of the group stayed with them.


Captain Janibek lay prone in the dirt, clutching his helmet and wishing he were back behind a desk, as a bomb blast thundered and a jet of shrapnel sprayed over his head.

"What the hell are they using, Sergeant?"

"Don't know, sir," the adjutant replied. "Some kind of home-grown explosive devices. Crude, but highly effective."

"Triangulate where they're throwing these things from, and return fire."

"Already tried that, sir. The projectiles have come from a different direction every time. Clearly they're moving using the trees as cover, launching attacks, and then moving back." He pressed his radio receiver to his ear, "Squad one reports that they've taken out two artillery units and damaged a third one."

A barely perceptible thump sounded. Janibek and the Sergeant buried their faces in the dirt as another explosion shook the area.

"Have all units prepare to move out, Sergeant," Janibek said. Zhen Biaozi would have to make do on her own. His squads weren't equipped with the kind of firepower they'd need to handle this level of opposition. A strategic withdrawal was clearly called for, and she'd already authorized him to make one at his own discretion.

"Yes, sir. Just a minute, sir." The Sergeant listened to his radio. "Forward observer three reports a vehicle approaching squad one's position."

"A vehicle?"

"Yes, sir." He listened again. "It's the tank, sir."

"The tank? Our scouts reported that it had been totalled."

"Yes they did, sir. But somehow it's moving."

"Outstanding. Whichever of our men managed that deserves a commendation."

"Er, sir, all of our men are accounted for."

"It's not one of ours? Ms. Zhen, then?" It was hard to predict what she was capable of. Certainly none of these so-called Amazons would have the know-how to get inside a disabled tank and make it move. Would they?

"Whoever's in it, it's not answering radio calls."

"I don't like the looks of this, Sergeant. Tell squad one to take evasive action immediately."

"Yes, sir," the adjutant said. "Squad one...." He winced.

Janibek could hear screams coming over the radio. He snatched it from his aide. "Squad one! Report!" he shouted, but there was no answer.

The sergeant shook his head.

"Order all units to withdraw immediately," Janibek said. The sergeant complied, and moments later they were in their jeep speeding away.

Had they been at the scene, they might have heard a voice call from within the tank.



The first thing Shan Pu noticed was that she was in a box. Her limbs were cramped against a hard surface, and the only light came from a narrow window near her face.

The second thing was that she wasn't herself. Her limbs felt soft, floppy. Her heart raced, but felt steady and strong. This wasn't great-grandmother's body, but it was familiar. She was a cat again.

A face looked at her through the hole. Her own face.

"I see you're awake," her look-alike said. "I understand you can now change back to human form without hot water. But I'd advise you not to. That case you're in is made from triple-hardened ceramic. If you change, you'll no doubt break your neck. I hope that won't happen. I've watched you. You're a fine example of an Amazon warrior. I'd hate to see you dead."

"Mrrrooowr!" was all Shan Pu could say.

"My name is Zhen Biaozi," the impostor said in response to the question that hadn't been asked. "Years ago I was also an Amazon warrior. I left the village when I was denied a place on the Council of Elders. I later learned about a secret repository set up by the Elders. It was intended to provide the Amazons a cure for Jusenkyo curses. I had a better use for it. I looked for the water seeded by the strongest young warrior of the tribe, and used it on myself."


"Yes, yours. I became you. Nothing personal, dear. Someone once said that youth is wasted on the young. I agree, and decided to do something about it. I now have the experience and knowledge of an elder, in the body of a young adult."

Zhen Biaozi stepped out of sight, and returned moments later dressed in a silk blouse and pants that Shan Pu recognized as her own.

"Yes, I'm sure you would tear my head off if you could," Biaozi said. "But you can't. And whether you believe it or not, I'm here to save the Amazons, not to destroy them. The current path your Elders are following will lead to destruction. I won't let that happen. And if I have to let a few of my sisters die to save the rest, I won't hesitate."

She walked out of sight, leaving Shan Pu fuming with anger. This woman, this terrorist invader, had stolen her very existence, and she was helpless to do anything about it. For a moment she considered changing back to human form anyway. Perhaps someone would see her dead body and realize that the copy of her wasn't the real one.

But she wasn't desperate enough to throw her life away... yet. She would have to wait for her chance to strike back. It would come, sooner or later.


At the infirmary, Hikaru Gosunkugi slid over to the far side of his bed and ducked as a stretcher rushed by him, nearly smacking his head. Amazons hefted unconscious soldiers in Mongol uniforms, four of them so far, into the infirmary and deposited them onto beds. Hikaru liked being able to erase his presence so that he could go unnoticed. But there were times when he wanted other people to be able to see him. Sometimes he was afraid that that particular ability would get stuck and he'd never be able to turn it off.

Ti Pi stepped into the room and over to Hikaru's bed. "I talk with Healer Ban," she said to him. "She keep you here for tonight, and in morning if you okay you can go."

"Thanks." Hikaru still ached all over, but he at least felt like he could move without breaking something, and it felt good that she was thinking of him.

Healer Ban entered along with Chief Elder Lan. The two conversed while pointing at the soldiers.

"They say our warriors capture these men who try to invade our village," Ti Pi said. "Most run away, some die, these only ones left."

"Oh," Hikaru said, grateful for the translation.

Elder Lan turned to go, but met Shan Pu at the doorway. They exchanged words.

"She asking to meet with Council of Elders," Ti Pi said. "Elder Lan want know what meeting be about. Shan Pu say she find out at meeting. Elder Lan agree to meet early tomorrow morning."

Ti Pi said something to Shan Pu which Hikaru figured meant what's going on? Shan Pu just smiled and waved her off dismissively, and when no one else was looking, she glanced down at one of the Mongol soldiers and smiled, as if they were co-conspirators in some secret scheme.

That was weird, Hikaru thought. For now, at least, he decided not to mention this to anyone. He'd gotten into enough trouble lately already.


The high-speed elevator shot to the top floor of the UCF building. Nabiki touched her company badge to the electronic security sensor and walked past glass doors down orange-carpeted hallways and into the office of Miss Rhonda L. Perkins, secretary and executive personal assistant to the Chief Executive Officer.

"Hiya, Perky," Nabiki said.

"Oh! Ms. Tendo! Hello!" She beamed her standard smile, displaying just a little too much incisor due to the odd curve of her upper lip. Nabiki couldn't put her finger on why she found that, and her, so deeply irritating. "I thought you were on vacation."

"I am. But something came up that I had to deal with." Nabiki pointed a thumb at Mr. Kane's door. "Is he in?"

"Yes," Perky said, looking down at a console, "but he's on the phone."

"That's okay. I'll wait." Nabiki perched down onto one of the big plush chairs that stood against the wall.

Perky nodded. "Say, I ran into a friend of yours last weekend," she said. "Your old roommate from college?"

"Barbara? What's she up to these days?"

"Back in school. I had a nice talk with her. She told me she's working on a second master's."

"No kidding. I should look her up sometime, I guess. Thanks, Perky."

The secretary bristled almost imperceptibly at the use of her unauthorized nickname, then went back to her usual vapid smile. Nabiki knew it was a bad idea, but just couldn't resist provoking her a little. She was so effusively positive most of the time, but not like Kasumi. Not really. Perky liked everything and everyone until the point where it looked like she might not get something she wanted. Nabiki had heard her talk about certain Congress members who were considering cancelling some of UCF's government contracts, sounding like she would've liked to tear them limb from limb.

And Barbara. Good ol' Barb had seemed like the perfect roommate... at first. She was obviously smart, and she and Nabiki liked to make fun of most of the same people. But for Barbara, it didn't go beyond that. Her only interest lay in showing the rest of the world how smart she was. Suggesting she actually do something about the institutions she didn't like was actually a pretty reliable way of getting her to shut up. Oh, Barb, you think that student government can't get anything done? Well, they're having elections next month and you can run for... oh, well, never mind then.

Barbara, probably more than anyone else, had made Nabiki determined to be different. And then there was the kid with the big head.

A lot of homeless persons hung out in the downtown area where the UCF building stood. Nabiki passed by some of them every day on her walk from her condo to the office. Most were middle-aged or older, and almost all were men. But once there was one who was a woman who looked to be in her thirties. A toddler who must've been her son lay sleeping next to her; his head was just a little too big for the rest of his body. Nabiki walked by them that morning without stopping, but couldn't get them out of her mind for the rest of the day. She remembered visiting her nephew Hikaru the year before, his boundless energy and curiosity. This boy, probably about the same age, should have been running around and learning, but instead slept on a street corner, probably suffering from some kind of serious malnutrition while his mom begged for change. If they'd been there the next day, Nabiki might have emptied out her wallet, or invited them to live at her place, or maybe just walked by again. But she never saw them again, and never knew what had become of them. She felt a sense of responsibility that seemed to elude everyone else at the company who could only say oh what a shame, but it's nothing to do with us.

Yes, companies like UCF were like Frankenstein monsters, lumbering around and taking what they wanted. The Perkys and Barbs of the world were their arms, legs, eyes, ears... it was an organism with everything... almost. There was an open space in its cranial cavity, and Nabiki was going to fill it.

Perky waved Nabiki forward. Nabiki nodded and stepped into the office of Joseph R. Kane, CEO of UCF.

"Hey, there." Kane swiveled around in his high-backed padded chair. "I thought you were—"

"I came back." Nabiki closed the door behind her. "Found some things I need to discuss with you."

"Let's do some discussin', then," he drawled. "How about some music while we talk?" He pointed, indicating a rack of compact discs in jewel boxes along one wall. "Take a look. Waylon, Willie, Merle... I've got all the country greats. I've even got John Denver. 'Thank God I'm a country boy!'"

"I guess you listened to all of those groups back when you were growing up in Hackensack?"

Kane's mouth drooped. Nabiki resisted the urge to smirk. Research truly was a wonderful thing.

"Anyway, I've got some friends in another country. Collectively they're known as the Nyujiezu. A bit eccentric, but mostly harmless. Lately they've been having trouble from a guy by the name of Ha Bu who recently appointed himself dictator of Mongolia. Ha sent armed invaders to take over their village. They drove off the first set, but they're expecting more any time now."

"Sorry to hear that." Kane took off his Stetson hat and set it on his desk. "I hope these Chinese Amazons of yours'll be all right."

"Thanks. My friends have a saying: 'Ni bu hui shuo Zhongwen ba?'"

"Huh? What's that mean?"

"Never mind, not important." And yet you knew what Nyujiezu means. Funny that, Nabiki thought. You're really not very good at this game, Joe Bob.

"I really am sorry about your friends," Kane said. "But this's not anything UCF can get involved with. We all got products to make and sell and can't be lookin' after everybody in the world. I'm sure these Amazons are perfectly capable of watching out for themselves. They're some very able—"

"Look, I examined some of the equipment left over after the Amazons routed the raiders. They had one of the new E-2718 Framistat cryptography units. I'm sure you know as well as I do that those are only allowed to be bought with approval from the federal government, and only directly from the manufacturer. I certainly don't need to tell you who that is."

Kane listened and said nothing.

"I also found out from certain of my sources that representatives from our company met with federal officials with the purpose of persuading them to green-light the sale of arms to the Ha regime," Nabiki continued. "So I'd say we're already involved, wouldn't you?"

Kane folded his hands, continuing to listen. Nabiki looked back at him, waiting for any sort of reaction.

"Sure you wouldn't like to listen to some music?" he said.

Nabiki glared back at him, not even slightly amused.

"Okay. Let's suppose our company decided not to participate in this sale. What do you think our competitors would've done?"

Nabiki thought. "I'm not sure."

"I think you do know. They'd've been all over this deal like dogs in heat. And either way, the company would be missing out on a big chunk of revenue. The shareholders wouldn't be happy about that. Neither would the Board of Directors." Kane shifted in his chair. "Now, the bee- oh-dee is full of buddies of mine. They let me get away with a lot. Like running around in a cowboy hat, and paying myself a hundred million a year. But what they won't put up with, and they shouldn't, is me passing up a sweetheart deal like that one because I'm worried about some Chinese Amazons. My job is to make money for the shareholders. Most of them have never heard of Amazons and there's probably not ten of 'em who could find Mongolia on a map. But they know how much our stock pays and how much it's worth and it's my job to keep those numbers up. It's yours, too."

Nabiki sighed. She couldn't deny that in doing her job she'd turned a blind eye to a lot of not-so-nice things done to a lot of people. Did it matter more this time because it was people that she knew?

"If I can cure cancer and increase profits, I'll do it, and if I can increase profits by causing cancer, I'll do it. That's why I'm here," Kane continued. "You're a very clever young lady. Cleverer'n me. But I know what my job is. I've seen people cleverer'n you in this business crash and burn because they thought they were such hot stuff that they forgot what the job's really about. They thought it was about them. You're riding the world's biggest, meanest, orneryest bucking bronco here. If you hang on tight, it might take you somewhere good, or it might throw you off and then maybe crap on you. But you're never going to tame the beast. It's never going to be your pet. Right when you think you've got it hogtied, that's when it'll toss you down and stomp all over you."

Neutering your animal may help to ease a bad temper, Nabiki remembered she'd heard once. But there was no humor whatsoever in this situation.

"Yeah, I know my job," Kane said. "And it's your job, too. I need to know that you're with us. You've got a very bright future with this company, missy. You might even get to sit behind this here desk after they put me out to pasture. But not if you let things like this get in your way."

Nabiki's eyes scanned the floor, the walls, the ceiling. Would she have to sell out her family and friends? It wasn't like she hadn't done it before — and now her own sister might have sold her out in return. She looked anywhere but at Kane, almost expecting some divine revelation to show her what she should do. But such things didn't happen in real life. Answers didn't drop out of the sky. A person always had to make her own choices and live with the consequences.

The title on one of the disc boxes in Kane's music collection caught Nabiki'e eye. Yes. It was perfect.

"I think I will have some music after all," she said, taking the disc out of its container and walking over to the player.

"Well, great," Kane said, but he looked a little puzzled to see Nabiki moving to the door. "Now you go and think about what I said, and let me know where you stand."

"You'll have my answer before you know it." Nabiki smiled as she pulled the door open. "Catch y' later, Joe Bob."

She closed the door behind here, lingering just long enough to catch the sounds of Johnny Paycheck.


Nabiki barely paid attention to her surroundings as she paced down the hall towards the elevator. That was it, then. Fortunately she'd had the foresight to leave nothing vital in the hard-copy files nor on her computer. She would still have the documents she'd downloaded and saved at home. There was nothing there that would send anyone to prison, but some of the information might make them think twice before providing any more hardware to Ha Bu and his gang if she threatened to publish it.

She'd wanted to be the brain for the living organism that was UCF, but instead was just another cell. And as she remembered from biology class, that wasn't how organisms worked, anyway. There was no one cell that gave the orders and told the others what to do. You go there and join the left foot. You others, start forming the nose. The cells, even the brain cells, knew only what they needed to know. They had just enough information to carry out whatever task was their function, and somehow the body had evolved to where it carried out its purpose even though none of the component parts really knew what that was.

She remembered what Kasumi had told her years ago. The spirits have power. We don't. Maybe someday you'll understand. Had Kasumi known even then that Nabiki would have to learn this lesson? She couldn't say. But she did understand. She'd thought that money was her power. But the money had power. She didn't.

The elevator doors closed. Nabiki watched the indicator as the numbers went rapidly downward.


Kasumi sat on the dirt with her back against a boulder. The sun hadn't yet risen and light was just beginning to peek over the horizon. Mr. Saotome stood nearby on guard duty, the others still asleep in their tents. For what she had in mind, it was as good a time as any. This was the last morning before they would arrive at the Mongol capital. If she waited any longer it would be too late.

Teacher Kaede would no doubt have advised Kasumi not to do this. Looking through time wasn't a task for a relative novice. Too many things could go wrong. A person's spirit might find itself unable to return to the present, rendering her body effectively catatonic. Or, more likely, she might bring back images of the future that were misleading or uselessly cryptic, or might learn nothing at all.

What's more, as Kaede had emphasized, once a person did learn something about the future, the possibility of that future became a certainty, and that person could do nothing to change it. But if only the one person had seen the future, could someone else change it? Kasumi had asked this, and Kaede replied with a story about a German scientist who apparently owned a cat. Kasumi didn't understand the reference.

But if there was any chance of knowing how this situation would end, she had to take it. If the worst was going to happen, even if this wouldn't let her prevent it, she might be able to at least mitigate the damage, or help her friends and family prepare for it.

Kasumi's muscles relaxed to where she could no longer feel her body. Her mind stretched, as it usually did, then twisted ninety degrees, slipping past minutes and hours like a squirrel along a tree limb.

And she saw.

And she knew. And she wished she didn't.

It had been ridiculously easy. Far too easy. Kasumi knew she hadn't miraculously ascended to a new higher level of power and skill. No, she'd seen what she did because they'd wanted her to. That's why the spirits had whispered to her to try to look into the future. They'd wanted her to look so she'd be committed with no way to back out. It hurt that they had so little faith in her, that they felt that she would only go along with what was planned for her if given no choice. Even Mother didn't trust her, and that hurt most of all.

If that was to be her fate, then so be it. Had she known from the beginning, it would have made no difference. She would do what was required. When the time came, she would play the part that had been written for her, and play it with aplomb.

But until then, just for now, she would do something for herself, and for the one who'd been waiting for her for so many years.


The tent flap rustled. Tofu looked up at the face that poked through the opening.

"May I come in, Doctor?"

"Ka— Kas—"

"Shhh." She put a finger to his lips as her legs eased into place alongside his.

"How— what—"

With an understated, mischievous laugh, she slid her body above his. Her grinning face hovered centimeters above his. Her hair brushed against his shoulder. One hand lazily carressed Tofu's chest while the other undid the tie on the front of her robes. "No questions," she whispered. "Not now."

"Oh, Kasumi...." For so many years he'd wanted this. He'd held back, at first because of her age, then because they all needed to deal with the business at hand. She was the sun, and he could bask in the brilliant light and warmth that she radiated but didn't dare get too close or even look directly into her brilliance.

Her arms wrapped around his neck, and her tongue began to explore his mouth. He reached inside her robes and his arm traced the curve of her spine. "Oh, oh, oh," she gasped. And Tofu dove directly into the center of the sun.


Zhen Biaozi looked over the healer's room. A crowd of unconscious captured Mongol soldiers lay in rows of beds. A young man, obviously the night duty nurse, sat at a desk, paging through papers and jotting down notes.

The nurse looked up. "Oh, hello, Shan Pu. Your friend, Gosunkugi, is doing well. He should be okay to leave when he wakes up."

"Er, good." She forced a smile. "What is the status of the prisoners?"

"Not all that much better than before. One of them, the one named..." He glanced down at his papers. "...Lieutennant Amar, passed away in his sleep last night. The two on the end there just have minor injuries and could be moved to regular holding. The other four will have to recuperate here for at least a few more days. None of them will be ready for their trial by combat anytime soon."

"I see." She smiled again. "Thank you."

"More people than we've had in here for quite some time, eh?" The nurse laughed. "Though after some of the battles our class had in school, we came close."

"I suppose so. But that was a long time ago." Was this boy in Shan Pu's class at school? Biaozi had no idea. She hoped this wasn't a ploy to prove that she wasn't who she looked like.

"Yeah." He turned back to his paperwork.

Relieved, Biaozi crept up behind the boy and paused. When she was sure he was no longer paying attention to her, her arm struck him forcefully in the back. His head pitched forward, then pivoted down, hitting the hard wooden desk with a loud whonk. A trickle of blood began to leak down to the floor. She rubbed her knuckles as they stung with pain. There were plenty of less brusque ways in which she could've taken the young man down, but she needed something that would look like the soldiers had escaped on their own.

Biaozi moved between the beds of the least wounded soldiers and began removing the straps that bound them. "Get up." She hoped these men would be able to understand her. The personnel for this mission were chosen because their files indicated them to be fluent in Chinese. But in dealing with the military she'd found that such records weren't always accurate.

"Ma'am?" One of the soldiers, a corporal according to his insignia, looked up. "Where—"

"We're in the Amazon village," Biaozi said. "The captain has had to withdraw back to base. But our mission can still succeed." She unfastened the restraints on the other soldier. "I need the two of you to accompany me. First we'll retrieve your clothes and weapons. Then I'll sneak the two of you into the Council chambers."

"Yes, ma'am." The other soldier looked around, then stood. "Should we do something about him?" He indicated the nurse.

"No need. The chief healer won't be here because she'll be in Council. The next shift change won't be for a few hours, and he'll have bled to death by then." And no one else had seen her, so no one else would know that "Shan Pu" had had anything to do with what had happened here. "Let's move out."

They moved out. And one person who had seen it all tried very hard to remain unnoticed.


"Ai ya!" Ti Pi entered the healer's along with Mu Si and Kuno Tatewaki to find the duty nurse sprawled out over his desk. Dried blood lay spattered across the desk. A crude bandage covered his forehead, where Hikaru was currently applying tape. "What happened?"

"Some of the prisoners have escaped," Mu Si said, noticing the empty beds. "We should tell the village guard."

"They had help," Hikaru said. "Shan Pu knocked out this guy and freed them. I tried to bandage him as best I could after they left."

Ti Pi examined the bandage. "You did good. Probably save his life. But Shan Pu? Are you sure? Why would she do such a thing?"

Hikaru shrugged. "I only know what I saw. And I know Shan Pu when I see her."

"It makes no sense," Mu Si said. Tatewaki nodded.

Ti Pi pondered. "Could she be leading them into a trap?" she said. "As things stand, they'd remain in recuperation for weeks before their trial. But with them escaping, no one would question her killing them."

"I do not believe Shan Pu would do something so duplicitous," Tatewaki said. "As long as I've known her, she's always shown the highest respect for Amazon law."

"I agree." Mu Si nodded. "I especially can't see her harming and maybe killing an innocent person just to expedite the killing of some prisoners who are slated to die anyway."

"You're right," Ti Pi said. "As you said, it make no sense. But it's not for us to handle this by ourselves. We should go report what we know. First to the village guard, then to the Elders."



Ha Bu woke from a dream to see his adjutant, Major Cogenki, standing over his bed. "What is it, Major?"

"The Japanese raiding party, sir. Mr. Wesley, the American empath, reports that he's detected their signal. They're in our area and headed directly towards us."

"Thank you, Major. I'll be in the command center directly."

The major nodded, shutting the door behind him as he left the room. Ha quickly donned his pants and shirt and stepped to the door.

The dream had been the same one that he'd had several times before. As the ruler of the Musk in China he used to dream about dragons soaring free. But in this dream a dragon lay behind the walls of a city, kept there by humans as their defense against invading armies. He had no doubt that this was a racial memory of sorts, that what he had seen in the dream had really happened many centuries ago. Humans subjugated dragons and bent them to their will, before they eventually wiped them out, and then erased them from history to be known only as the stuff of legend. It was perhaps the greatest crime in history, a great and noble species forced to fight the petty battles of lower beings, and once used up, discarded and then forgotten.

Since assuming power in Mongolia, Ha had been called many things by the humans. Dictator. Thug. Butcher. Remembering humanity's treatment of dragonkind allowed him to put such insults into their proper perspective. The humans were far greater butchers than he would ever be.

Ha stepped into the command room. "Where are the invaders currently?"

The question was relayed to Wesley through a translator aide, and he pointed to a spot on the map that filled one wall.

"Ah. Terelj National Park. And you say they're currently on the move?"

The translator repeated the question in Wesley's language, and the youth nodded. "Heading straight toward the city, at about two meters per second," he relayed.

"Should we send patrols in to capture them, General?" asked Cogenki.

"From what I've seen of these particular raiders, they might find that difficult," Ha said. "No, soften them up first with an artillery barrage. Then send the patrol in to arrest the survivors, if any."

"General, are you aware that there are likely to be tourists and other backpackers in the park?"

"That is unfortunate, Major, but it cannot deter us from acting. I know that you've read the reports on the debacle at Noyan Base. We face a small but powerful and determined band of ruffians. And they are cowards; rather than show themselves and fight against us openly, they hide using the civilians in that area as cover. No, if any innocents are harmed it is entirely the responsibility of our foes."

"Yes, sir." The Major saluted. "I'll phone the local base commander immediately."


Cogenki spoke into the phone. "Central command calling for Colonel Kici."

"Yes, sir," said the voice on the other side. "One moment, sir."

He knew it would do no good to go against orders. That would only result in him being replaced with someone else who would carry out the order, and probably summarily executed as well. General Ha was not known for tolerance towards insubordination.

He only hoped that Altantsetseg would be okay. With luck, she would be camping in a different section of the park and not be hit. Otherwise the major would have the unpleasant task of explaining to his wife why their daughter wouldn't be returning home.

"Kici here," came a new voice on the phone.

"Orders from General Ha," Cogenki said. "You are to fire an artillery barage on the following coordinates...."


Ranma hunted.

He halted momentarily, concealed in the dawn shadows. The jagged granite peaks petered out ahead, opening out into a vast field of grass and weeds in which his quarry walked forward at a brisk pace, only occasionally glancing behind or to the side. Tracking down his target had been easy for Ranma. He'd only needed to ask himself what he would've done in the same situation: head straight for the city and try to lose himself in the crowds.

The area ahead had little cover, with only a few conifer trees dotting the landscape. Ranma knew he'd be spotted here, so there was no point in delaying a confrontation any longer. With a burst of extra speed he zipped quietly forward in an arc that carried him into his quarry's field of vision.

"Yo, Pop. Goin' somewhere?"

"You shouldn't be here, boy," his father answered, not breaking his stride.

"That makes two of us." Ranma planted himself directly in Genma's path. "What the hell were you thinking?" Come on, old man, he thought, give me one of your speeches. Before he had left camp, Ranma had woke Akane, telling her to get the others and follow. Then he'd left as obvious a trail as he could manage. So any minute now they'd be here, if only he could keep his Pop talking until then.

Genma stopped. "I thought by ditching the item she gave me, it would lead them off somewhere else," he said matter-of-factly, his tone not at all apologetic. "Obviously that's what they were expecting me to do."

"Yeah, I dunno why they would've expected that. Except maybe because they have at least half a brain between them. Cripes, Pop. You've done some dumb things before, but this tops all of them. And on top of it all, you made it look like Akane and I did it by putting the money in our names."

"That's for the two of you. You'll need it to keep the school going after I'm gone."

"We don't want your blood money," Ranma said. "And you ain't goin' nowhere. "First we're finishing this mission, then back to the Amazons. And I wouldn't give five yen for your life when we tell them what you did."

"I'm already a dead man, boy. If I'm right, they've marked me so they know when I'm coming. And that means you're dead too, unless you turn back and let me go ahead without you."

Ranma shook his head. "No chance, old man. I swear, if I live to be two hundred, I'll never understand what makes you do the stuff you do."

"The Art, boy." Genma stared back with steel-hard eyes. "Everything I've done, from when you were a child until now, has been for one reason: To make sure the Art survives. I've risked your life and mine to make sure it does. That was my life's task, my life's responsibility, and now it's yours."

"Gimme a break, Pop. When I think of some of the things you did...."

"Soon you'll understand." Genma smiled thinly. "And what I did to you, you might do to little Hikaru."

"No way! You're nuts, Pop! You—"

Changing abruptly from human to panda, Genma's fist struck Ranma's gut faster than the eye could see, knocking the wind out of him. A flurry of blows followed.

Doubled over on the grass, Ranma was vaguely aware of his father slipping away. For long minutes he could only lie stunned on the ground. Damn it. Pop suckered him in, said things that pissed him off to get him to drop his guard, and he fell for it. Come on... get up... don't let him get away... he told himself, but his body refused to cooperate.

Finally, Ranma managed to roll over and hop up onto his feet. Still a little dizzy, he looked at the position of the sun, trying to regain his bearings, his gaze settling on one particular direction. That way. His pop would have gone—

A massive blast exploded from the direction in which Ranma had been looking. "Pop!" he screamed. The shockwave blew him into the air, knocking him backward, until he collided with the ground.


Ti Pi, Tatewaki, Mu Si, and Hikaru approached the building in which the Council chambers lay. A pair of guards, armed with swords at their sides, stood by the doorway, The four began to approach, then halted as they saw Shan Pu walk up to the guards. Ti Pi crouched behind a hedge, signalling her companions with a hand to do likewise. Just what was going on here?

She listened, doing her best to pick what Shan Pu was saying out from the background noise. It sounded like... how are you today? Keep up your good work. Nothing but everyday pleasantries. In her left hand she carried a case about the size of a toolbox. What was that for?

A pair of gun-toting soldiers in Mongol uniforms darted out from between the buildings and through the doorway that led to the Council chambers. The guards were staring directly at Shan Pu's eyes, not moving, apparently unaware that anything was happening. Then when the soldiers had gone through, she said something to them, and they seemed to return to normal. She smiled and nodded as she followed through the doorway.


Shan Pu watched through the cat carrier. Zhen Biaozi, who wore Shan Pu's face and body, smiled as she stepped into the Council chamber. Elder Lan sat in the center chair with various others at either flank.

"I declare this Council meeting open," Lan said, then turned to Biaozi. "Shan Pu, what business do you have to bring before us?"

Let me out of this box, Shan Pu, the real one, thought, but they paid her no attention. Why had Biaozi brought her along? As a way of gloating over her impending triumph? Or so no one would discover the unattended cat in the box and free her while her captor was elsewhere.

Biaozi casually set the cat box down. "Oh, it isn't just me." She waved an arm to signal to her retinue, who entered with rifles pointed at the elders. "I think these gentlemen would like to have a few words with you."

"This is outrageous!" Elder Bi said from the chair beside Lan's. "What is the meaning of this?"

"Isn't it obvious?" Biaozi grinned. "I've switched sides. Now please don't make any sudden moves, because my newfound allies will be forced to gun you down if you do."

Shan Pu let out a small "mew." Lan peered at her, then back at the disguised Biaozi. Her eyes narrowed as if realizing something. But it was too late anyway. Shan Pu silently prayed, to the Goddesses or anyone or anything else that might be listening, to please send help.


The group of four stepped away from the hedge and onto a parkway. "This is making less and less sense every moment," Ti Pi said to the others.

"Indeed," Tatewaki said. "Why would the guards not bar such obvious miscreants?"

"I think she hypnotized them," Ti Pi said. "The way they looked, like they were paying attention to her and oblivious to anything else. That's odd, because Amazon guards are trained to resist this sort of thing. I knew Shan Pu was good, but I didn't think she was that good."

"But why?" Hikaru said. "Why in the world would she want to do this?"

Ti Pi pondered. "I don't know. I've never seen her like this before."

"I have," Mu Si said.

All eyes turned his way. "You have?"

"Yes, back when she and I were both living in Japan. Ji Ma from the Phoenix tribe trapped Shan Pu inside a special giant egg. When she came out, she was under Ji Ma's control and would willingly do anything she asked."

"Yes!" Tatewaki shouted, then glanced around as if hoping that no one outside the group of four had noticed his outburst. "That must be what happened," he continued in a lower voice. "She would never assist an invasion of our village of her own volition."

Ti Pi nodded. "It might not have been with an egg, but they might be controlling her mind somehow." Was this the missing piece to the puzzle? "And people have been talking about nominating Shan Pu for chief elder. Maybe this was their plan all along, to get someone in who was under their domination."

"If that's true, is there anything we can do about it?" Hikaru asked.

"Yes," Ti Pi answered. "There's a potion that boosts the imbiber's resistance to mental influence and restores free thought. I can get some from the healer's. The trick, of course, will be getting past the guards into the chambers, and then getting Shan Pu to drink the potion."

"Go get it," Mu Si said. "Meanwhile, the rest of us will figure out a plan."

"Right." Ti Pi sprinted off, leaving the others behind.



Akane came out of the trees, running to where her husband's form lay on the grass. She knelt, cradling his head in her hands. Thank goodness, his breathing was steady. He was unconscious, but alive.

Abruptly, she noticed that she and he weren't alone. A group of men in military uniforms stood nearby. One of them pointed at her and shouted something. All of them aimed rifles her way. With loud ka-chunks, almost but not quite in unison, the guns clicked into firing position.

For a moment, Akane considered. There were about eight or nine of them. She might be able to take them out, but not before at least some of them got shots off. She could dodge them all, maybe, but even if she did a stray bullet might hit Ranma.

Slowly, Akane stood, raising both hands to the top of her head.

AUTHOR'S NOTES: What Nabiki said to her boss: "You don't speak Chinese, right?"

Johnny Paycheck is a singer who had one big hit which is the song Nabiki put on. It's not too hard to look up (e.g. on WikiPedia).