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Act 1, Scene 1: A Plague of Heroes

A Ranma ½/Avengers fusion
by DB Sommer

Disclaimer: Ranma ½ owned by Rumiko Takahashi, Shogakukan, Kitty, and Viz Video. The Avengers are owned by Marvel Comics. Yes, the superheroes, not the British TV Series.

As always, all C&C appreciated. You can contact me at: sommer@3rdm.net


Prologue


Time is not absolute.

To many, the exact meaning of that phrase would be impossible to understand. Time is nothing more than what happens as one second moves onward to the next. For all of the sayings that involve it, such as 'killing time' or making time', the fact is most do not know how to do anything other than watch time progress in a straight line, from one moment to the next. For them, time is absolute.

However, to the man seated upon the onyx throne, staring across the stone towers of an enormous castle, (one not built by the hands of anything human but claimed by one nonetheless) gazing at the vastness of infinity at the Center of Time, the meaning was all too clear. It was the mantra of his life. The definition of his existence.

The man took a moment to raise the blue faceplate that covered his visage and examined his purple-gauntleted hand. Within that palm lay power. Power in the form of a number of devices that could freeze molecules, stun nerves, pulverize matter, or simply kill. So much power held within his grasp, and even more throughout the rest of the green and purple armor that adorned his body. Yet even that was nothing compared to his control over one of the fundamental forces of the universe.

Time was not absolute. Time was his plaything.

However, there were limits to what even he could accomplish with his 'plaything', at least for the moment. One day he would not simply toy with time. It would be more than a tool he employed; he would be the true master of it. He would be a god in the absolute sense of the word. That was what he needed to achieve his dreams, to keep what he wanted safe forever. Nothing less than absolute control would be satisfactory.

However, claiming the mantle of ultimate power was for later. At the moment, he had other, more important plans to initiate. Plans that did not involve becoming the master of time, but rather, to save the one, single thing in the universe that truly mattered to him. It was, after all, why he had set his path of destiny on its present course. He would have been nothing if not for that thing which had been taken from him. That thing that he craved more than anything in the world. More than his own life. More than his own soul.

After so many decades he at last had enough power to fulfill the burning dream that had haunted him every moment since the incident. Were he still the lesser man he had been in the past, he would have burst out in tears. The time had come. It was the first occasion he could use his mastery over the flows to actually change time itself. Regrettably, his powers in this were still severely limited, otherwise he would simply be able to affect the base of the timeline from an earlier point and ensure that the event would not come to pass at all. But he did not have the precise control necessary to be certain he would not effect his own destiny, and create a Mobius loop that would feed back on itself and destroy the entire timeline rather than save it. No. Years of research assured him that he had only a limited opportunity to affect the event without changing everything.

It was true he could simply have remained where he was, gaining more control and embark on a less risky plan, but he could wait no longer. Even for the master of time, every second seemed an eternity. And there was no one who understood eternity better than him.

The moment had come to set forth into the past, not that there was actually a past or present at this place in the Center of Time, but he used the moment of the 'accident' as the starting point. Everything before it was the past. Everything after it, the future. Everything he did, everything he became, hinged on that single moment.

He lowered the faceplate to mask his identity from those that might recognize him in that time period. The chance was not great, but even the smallest chance was too much of a risk. Softly he spoke to no one but himself.

"I can stop them. I will find a way to kill them all. It won't be a problem. All I need is time."


Act I: A Plague of Heroes


Eleven years ago:

Nodoka's eyes inevitably found themselves coming back to the papers that sat on the table of her reading room. She had looked them over a dozen times already. Reading them again would not change the words that rested on those pages. Worse, reading them again would only anger her, or sadden her. Perhaps it would do both, and she had already raged and cried all that she cared to. Best to leave the damn things where they were, or, if honor had not said otherwise, throw them into a fire and pretend they had never arrived at all.

No. There was no point in denying it. If she tried to rip her gaze from them and somehow summoned the courage to exit the room and leave the papers behind, she would just obsess about them in her mind over and over until it was worse than if she had read them again.

She took a deep breath and promised herself it would be the last time she looked over them before tossing the whole lot in some drawer and ignore them until the next day. It was the same promise she had made on three separate occasions before, all in the last hour. This time she believed she might have even meant it.

There were actually many papers that sat in a small pile next to her cup of sake. Most of them made absolutely no sense to her. There were notes on chemistry and biology. Reports on human physiology and reactions from tests. Details on chemical equations with symbols that were nothing more than gibberish to her. To those papers, all she could do was stare at the sheets in uncomprehending wonder. The only thing she did understand was the single sheet of paper that was apart from the others. The important one. The one she was agonizing over.

She picked up the white sheet and read it again:

My dearest daughter,

If you are reading this, I am now dead. Since this is my will, that comes as no surprise to you. I do not know how I died, but in truth it does not matter. I lived and I died, just like everyone else. What difference does it make in how the end comes?

I know there were many hard feelings between us, and I cannot deny that I was the cause of most of them. I make no excuses for my behavior, other than to say that it was unfair to you and your mother. My past haunted me my entire life, though if it had not been for you and your mother I would not have lived as long as I did. For this, I thank you.

As a scientist, I worked for the government, doing all I could for my Emperor and country, and in the end you suffered for it. The long hours I spent away from you, not allowing you to see me for more than six or seven hours a week while growing up, took their toll. And the few times I did come by, I scarcely gave you the attention you deserved, obsessing about the project I had been given that would change the world.

For years this continued. It was not until you married and moved out that I realized I had all but missed my only daughter's life. Even when I tried to apologize, I knew deep in my heart it was too late. You rejected me, and justifiably so. If it is any consolation to you, know that I always loved you, even when it did not seem that way.

In a way, your rejection was the catalyst for all that happened later. It shocked me out of my soft, sealed world and forced me to look at everything around me in a new light. It was also around that time that I realized there was something wrong about my superiors. The project we were working on was supposed to be for the good of all, but that was a lie. Those that held the reigns of power sought to control what I had been about to unleash, for themselves and their own private play for control. Rather than give them what they sought, I tricked them, distorting the experiment in such a way that they believed the process itself was flawed. For years I toiled in feigned suffering at my supposed lack of progress and the stone wall I had hit. They tried employing others to assist me, but none understood the process like I did, and I saw to it they did not learn.

After a full decade, they released me from my service, little realizing that in the time I had made 'no progress', I had, in fact, perfected the process. Despite my seeming release, I suspected they still watched, and so I pretended to be nothing more than a frustrated old man, completely useless to them. In secret, I wrote down the formula and process necessary to make the object that was sought so eagerly by them and hid it from others' eyes. Now that I am dead, they will be watching no longer. You will be safe.

All the documents that exist concerning my creation are within the package you have received. The only sample of the formula that exists is there as well. The culmination of years of research is in your hands. Give this formula to the public. Let the world make of it what they will. Just be certain it goes out to all. Do not let this fall into any one person's hands. It is meant to benefit the world. The entire world, not just those that would hoard this knowledge to themselves.

This is the only thing I ask of you, my daughter.

Goodbye.

Nodoka finished reading the letter for what seemed like the hundredth time. She had read it nonstop since it had arrived in the early hours of the morning. Now it was evening, and at last she had run out of tears. This was her father's dying wish. No matter how much she had resented her father in life, she was a proper daughter. She would see to the instruction he had left, regardless of how much the discovery would change the world.

And it would change the world. That was more than a little frightening. She had in her hands the ability to turn the world upside down. What was in her hands was knowledge unknown to anyone else. Once again she silently wondered what her father was thinking in giving her this burden to bear. Perhaps she was the only one he truly trusted. A bitter irony, since she had most certainly had little enough trust for him.

She was deciding exactly how to go about distributing the information when she heard a cry come from the backyard. There was no mistaking who it was. Couldn't he do anything right? Nodoka Saotome placed her latest glass of sake next to the vial of green liquid and rose from the chair to head towards the backyard.

The scene was exactly as she suspected. Genma was standing over five-year old Ranma, berating him for being clumsy for the thousandth time. The boy was uncoordinated and small, even for his age. And his skills in the martial arts were pathetic, even taking Genma's patience to the limit, and no one was more adamant for Ranma to become a martial artist than him. She truly worried Ranma wasn't going to grow up to be a man among men and end up a disgrace to himself and to her family. Perhaps it was a good idea to engage him to one of the Tendo girls. If he continued on the course he was currently on, no woman would be interested in him and the arranged marriage would be the only way Nodoka would ever see grandchildren.

Maybe she was getting ahead of herself. The death of her father was simply causing her to unduly worry about family, she supposed. Ranma may have been something of a disappointment thus far, but he was her son. Although perhaps she and Genma should try for another, just in case.

She caught Genma's attention and told him they needed to speak without Ranma present. Genma did as he was asked and dismissed the boy inside, then heard his wife's story, listening intently to every word. Genma promised to put his mind on how to properly distribute the information she had been given and how to honor her father's request, after he fixed himself a snack, naturally.

Nodoka went to gather the papers and the sample to show her husband. When she entered the room she saw Ranma was already there, making some kind of furtive motion with the papers on the table.

"Ranma! Get away from there!" Nodoka quickly moved the boy out of the way only to discover what it was he had been doing.

"I din't do it!" Ranma quickly blurted out.

She looked down in horror at the sight before her. Ranma had knocked over the sake and tried to wipe it up with the papers. The result was a smearing of the ink to the degree that no more than a handful of symbols were legible on any of the sheets of paper. The rest was a giant blue blob. No one would be able to make anything out of it.

She gazed at the scene in horror until one thought broke through the others. The sample. She turned to get it and saw that it was empty, not even a drop remaining in the glass vial. As though it would somehow do some good, she grabbed it and held it in her hand. Her father's legacy to the world was lost for all time now.

"I din't drink it!" Ranma blurted out again.

Nodoka's suddenly-narrowed eyes slowly turned to look at her son. When Ranma said he didn't do something, that meant he always did it. She could see a small smudge of green remaining on his chin.

Ranma's look of nervousness changed to confusion. He looked downward, as though to examine himself. His small child's hands moved over his body, trying to locate the odd feeling that seemed to permeate his entire being. He even rolled up his sleeves and began poking at his arm. Within moments, Nodoka could see her son's form begin to shift, a change that seemed to cause him to grow right before her eyes. Tiny muscles formed over his emaciated frame as he began to fill out his gi. He grew a couple of inches and it appeared as though he gained almost thirty pounds in an instant.

"Mommy, what just happened?" he asked as the change abruptly stopped, demonstrating no readily apparent harmful side-effects. Nodoka remained motionless as she looked him over. The face was the same, but his body had changed dramatically. Her son appeared perfectly fine. Better than fine. He was now a specimen of perfect youth.

Ranma started jumping around, testing his new body. "Wow! I can jump really high. WHEEE!"

It was true, Ranma was jumping up and down higher than he ever had without falling over or stumbling, like he usually did. Nodoka's mind raced with possibilities as she watched her son run and tumble like an acrobat, his coordination seemingly flawless. Perhaps there was still a way to honor her father's wishes and use the so-called super-soldier serum to help the world.

"Genma!" she cried out. "Come in here, and bring a piece of paper and some ink. You and Ranma are going to go on a long trip!"


Ten years ago:

Kodachi Kunou watched in fascination as she mixed the chemicals once again. According to the book she had, the combination should fizzle for a few moments, then turn black. It was a simple chemical reaction. No surprise there; it was from a simple chemical set. She had only just found it just yesterday in the attic, one of those many places where she wasn't allowed to go, but she had risked it, wanting so desperately to explore. Father so rarely let her out of the house, and she had to do something. He was nowhere near as fun as her mother had been. Her mother would do all sorts of fun things with her, like play house, teach her how to cook, and take her shopping with the servants. But then she died last year, essentially leaving Kodachi alone. Sasuke treated her nicely enough, but the absence of her mother was a wound Kodachi had not come close to healing yet. She did try to meet everything with resolve, though. Her father hated it when she cried. Sometimes she was able to hold the tears back when she thought of her mother. Sometimes.

Things had been especially boring of late, so it had been a great delight when she stumbled across the old chemistry set with everything still intact. It had probably belonged to her big brother. Her mother would buy Tatewaki all sorts of gifts, but he never used them. He preferred playing with his sword and pretending he was a samurai. He would never play that with her though because she was a girl. Like that was some reason for not being able to swing one of those silly wooden swords. Her brother was stupid.

She was sitting cross-legged on the floor, still watching the chemical reaction, when her father came into the room and saw what she was doing. He was next to the set in a flash and kicked it over, spilling the chemicals all over the floor and staining the carpet badly.

Kodachi couldn't understand why her father did that. It wasn't fair. It had been her set and he had kicked and ruined it for no reason. Her first impulse was to speak up, but she couldn't do it. If she talked back to her father she would be punished. So instead she bowed her head and accepted her father's harsh words.

"Whad do ya tink ya doin, l'il wahine? Watchya doin' is just crazy. Pharmaceuticals ain't got no future. How many times do I got to tell ya, munitions and pineapples are da way ta go?"

Kodachi nodded at the reprimand as her father continued. "I tell ya what I'll do, since ya want ta learn so much, I'll get ya some instruction manuals on de makin' of munitions and horticulture. Den ya can sho me what you learned. How's 'dat sound?"

Kodachi looked at her father in astonishment. He was actually volunteering to get her something and wanted her to show him what she had done. She could at last receive some of the love and affection of her father that he always showered Tatchi with.

She nodded her head eagerly. She would master everything she could about munitions and pineapples, just like her father wanted.


Nine years ago:

Ukyou Kuonji looked at the fly resting twenty meters away on the tree. It was a difficult shot, even for her, but she was certain she could nail it. She was about to release her shaft when her father's voice rang out.

"What do you think you're doing with that bow?"

Ukyou let it fall to her side and gave an exasperated sigh. "I'm trying to get that fly on that tree." She pointed in the direction the fly was.

"Why aren't you using your spatulas?"

This time she rolled her eyes. He knew darn well why she didn't use the spatulas. Still, if he needed another demonstration, she could give it to him. She pulled one out of her the mini-bandoleer, which she wore to placate her father, took careful aim, and threw it at the fly. The spatula missed the entire tree by three feet.

"See?" she said in a tired tone. "Now watch this." She picked up the bow once more and notched an arrow. It only took her a moment to sight in the fly and let loose with the arrow. She nailed it dead center. Her smile of satisfaction switched to a smirk, which she directed at her father, who seemed even more displeased.

"If you put half as much time in practicing with the spatulas as you do with that bow, you could do that with the family weapons as well." There seemed to be a little uncertainty in the statement, as though he was trying to convince himself of the truth of it.

"I practice twice as much with the spatulas as I do with my bow, and I still can't hit anything." She placed her hands on her hips and pouted. Her father was such a jackass sometimes, not that she would ever say that to his face.

Tatsumi Kuonji sighed and gave up on trying to teach the wisdom of spatulas over bow and arrows for the day and the duo started back to their yatai.

Ukyou always preferred to practice archery some distance away from her father. Otherwise he would yell at her like he did now and try to get her to use her dumb spatulas, which she couldn't use worth a darn anyway. Why couldn't her father just accept the fact she was a natural with a bow and not a spatula? So what if the okonomiyaki combat arts had been in her family for generations? Things had to change with time, didn't they?

As they made their way to the cart, they both spotted a little boy in a white gi, grabbing several okonomiyaki that Ukyou's father had left on the grill when he had gone to look for his daughter. Instantly, Ukyou went for the bow that had been slung across her back. She had done this procedure several times before when thieves came by and tried running off with their wares. With her marksmanship, it was a simple matter to snare their clothing with an arrow and nail them to a tree, allowing her father to beat the offender up and send the thief on his way. Kuonji-style justice.

The little boy stuck one in his mouth as he leaped off the cart and headed for a cluster of nearby trees. It was almost too easy as Ukyou notched an arrow and drew back on the bow. She had the loose material near the shoulder of his gi dead in her sights and her tree picked out as she released the arrow, the bolt aiming true. And watched as it…

…embedded itself in the tree, the boy having darted in mid-air out of the way.

Ukyou stared at the arrow in disbelief. She had missed? Impossible. She was such a natural with a bow she had not missed any target in a year. And she had been certain everything had been lined up perfectly. There was no wind at all and the arrow was straight; the shot should have struck home. No one was fast enough to dodge an arrow in mid-air, especially a little boy.

Tatsumi Kuonji placed a hand on his daughter's shoulder. "Don't let it get you down. These things happen."

"Not to me," Ukyou mumbled under her breath. Her whole day now ruined.

It was a feeling she was about to become familiar with.

The next day Ukyou was mirroring her father's actions in his making of an okonomiyaki. She might not have been able to use the family weapons worth a damn, but she could still learn cooking skills from her father. It was as he turned from the grill to grab some ingredients behind him that the diminutive, gi-clad figure returned, dropping down from an overhead branch and landing on the cart. In a flash he made off with the okonomiyaki that Tatsumi had been in the process of making.

Ukyou grabbed her bow and a single arrow, lining the thief up once again. The day before was just a fluke. This time she would get him for sure. She released the arrow, her eye tracking the progress as it once again sailed for the thief. Unbelievably, he turned at the last second, the arrow missing him by less than a centimeter.

Ukyou stood there, dumbfounded at what she had just witnessed. It wasn't fair that he could do that. She was just about to throw her bow to the ground when she saw the boy pause for a moment to smile through the okonomiyaki in his mouth to wave at her. He then took off into the cover of the forest once again.

If the little snot showed his face again, she was aiming for his butt, Ukyou swore to herself.

The next day Ukyou remained alert, wondering if the thief would have the nerve to show his face near her cart again. Her bow was at her side, ready to be used at a moment's notice. She even had where the arrow would end up neatly planned in her mind, making certain to use a dull tip that would get little in the way of penetration. All he had to do was show up one more time.

The first clue she had to the thief's return was when he springboarded off her head, shoving her face into a batch of okonomiyaki sauce. As quickly as she could, she wiped the sauce out of her eyes and grabbed her bow, sensing its location more from instinct than by sight.

By the time she had removed the sauce, she saw that the thief had made off with yet another okonomiyaki and was escaping in the same direction he had the day before. With a cry of, "Die, Jackass!" she once again notched an arrow and targeted the boy's behind. Despite the larger target, he again dodged the arrow in mid-flight, this time taking a moment to wave at Ukyou before darting under the cover of the forest.

Her incoherent screams caused her to miss the thoughtful gleam in her father's eye.

It was two nights later, and two more days of missing shots at white gi-clad thieves, that Tatsumi Kuonji ate his dinner while watching his daughter fashion a new arrow. She had been hard at work for close to an hour before she at last broke off and looked to her father.

"Daddy, do we have any nitroglycerin?"

The food that had been in Tatsumi Kuonji's mouth a moment before ended up spat into the fire. "What would you need that for?" he managed to splutter out.

"I'm gonna make a blast arrow and blow that thief's butt up!" she said intently as she tried figuring out how to modify her arrow so that it could hold a container of explosives and still fly true.

That was it. Tatsumi Kuonji decided it was time to let Ukyou in on the fact he had secretly tracked the boy down after the second time and had struck a deal with his father to keep the boy coming around to 'train' with Ukyou. But now he was going to have to tell her the truth. There was no telling what his daughter was going to come up with next in order to stop her unknowing training partner. If there was one thing about Ukyou that reminded Tatsumi about her mother, it was that she could get pretty obsessed about something and would come up with all sorts of ideas to get what she wanted.

The days seemed to flow into one another as Tatsumi watched his daughter cheerfully prepare yet another okonomiyaki in the traditional Kuonji manner. Ukyou did not have anywhere near the skill her father had when he had been her age, the difference in skill level painfully obvious to Tatsumi, but at least her culinary skills were intact.

Ukyou herself was unaware of the warm smile he gave her as her young hands worked deft magic in preparing the food. Sometimes she reminded him so much of her mother it hurt. Her happiness was what mattered to him most in the world. It was as he was looking at that young face that he noticed the troubled look it had. "What's wrong, Hawkeye?"

"Daddy!" Ukyou protested as she stopped cooking and placed her hands on her hips. "Ranchan is the only one who can call me that."

Tatsumi apologized for his mistake. The tale of how she had picked up that nickname from her young friend had been amusing. Apparently, the two had been spending time with one another, Ranma watching Ukyou shoot at targets for archery practice. It was as she hit dead center of the target, splitting the arrow already lodged there, that Ranma had said, 'Nice shooting, Hawkeye.' When Ukyou asked what he had meant by that, Ranma had said that since she hit the 'hawkeye' on all of the targets all of the time, that should be her nickname. Even after Ukyou explained that the center of the target was a bull's eye, he said he thought the name was cute and that she should have it. Apparently she agreed, and one 'Ranchan' later, the two used their pet names for each other all of the time.

"So what's troubling you, hon?" he asked, getting back to the matter at hand.

Ukyou blushed a little bit, then seemed to take an inordinate interest in the ground. "I like Ranchan a lot."

"That's nice." This was something of a surprise. Ukyou usually blurted out what was on her mind without a second's hesitation. That she should suddenly be cautious of what she said signaled something was up.

"He said he's going to go away soon."

He saw the pout form on her features. Now it all made sense. "I'm sorry to hear that. You two were such good friends."

Ukyou paused another moment before looking up in her father's eyes and exclaiming, "I want to go with him. He promised to take care of me already." At least he had when she had made the secret sauce the other day. "Please, can I go with him."

Tatsumi Kuonji sighed as he knew the battle was already lost. His daughter had unleashed her puppy dog eye look, an attack he had no defense against. It was time to talk to Genma. The man was lazy, but he seemed the reasonable sort. Besides, what could go wrong? All he could do was say no.

As Tatsumi stared at the dirty figure of his daughter by the campfire light, he reflected again at just how wrong a man can be. He watched her carefully as her red-rimmed eyes stared intensely at the arrow she was fletching in her hands.

"What are you doing, hon?"

Ukyou Kuonji stopped fletching and gave her father the most serious look of her six-year old life. She raised the half-made arrow up, allowing the light to glow off the wooden surface. "I'm making the arrow with Ranchan's name on it."

Her father could indeed make out the characters that clearly spelled out 'Ranchan' on the shaft. Part of him hoped, for Ranma's sake, he never met Ukyou again.


Eight years and ten months ago:

Mousse looked in every direction, confirming that he and his companion's presence had still gone undetected. He turned back for a moment, seeing that Shampoo was still doing little more than staring off into space. That meant it was up to him again to take the initiative. He grabbed her hand, gently tugging it in his direction. Shampoo reacted to the force and seemed to focus on him, yet remained silent. Despite not speaking, she stood up and tensed her body. Mousse hoped that meant she was ready to follow his lead again.

The pair moved silently to the edge of the deck of the cargo ship they were on. All of the crewmen seemed too busy unloading the huge containers that had been in the hold to pay attention to two small stowaways. Quietly, they clung to the shadows, making their way to the railing and leapt over it, landing on the wooden dock below. They rushed as quickly as they could, while still maintaining their stealth, to the alleyway between two nearby warehouses. Mousse stopped first, Shampoo not saying a word and going motionless at the same time. They hid behind some empty cardboard boxes and caught their breath. Their journey from China had at last ended, and they were safe, if anywhere could truly be called safe to a pair of six-year old children with neither a past nor a future in a country that only one could marginally speak the language.

There was a great deal of light from the full moon and nearby lamps that were strung up outside the warehouses. In the shadows of the alley, Mousse could just make out Shampoo's desolate face. It was the same one she had worn since they were forced to flee. He placed an arm around Shampoo and tried to console her. "<We're safe. I told you I'd lead us to safety. I took care of you, just like I promised.>"

There was no response from Shampoo. Silence had been her only answer to all of his comments and queries since the second day they had left behind their home. If anything, she had gotten worse in the time since they had left, for now it was more than silence that caused him to fear for her. Her eyes, which had held the same sorrow that Mousse had felt, now lacked anything resembling emotion. He almost wished she would cry again, like she had when they first set off on their journey.

Had it been only ten days since they had been happy in their perfect world? It seemed more like ten years since either one of them had known peace. But it had all come crashing down, and now neither of them would ever be the same.

It had started out innocently enough. Shampoo had gone out to the countryside to practice her hunting skills and Mousse had tagged along to tell her how much he loved her. It turned out like all of the other times he had followed her. He told her he loved her, she yelled at him for messing up her concentration and to leave her alone. It was while Shampoo was reprimanding him yet again for mistaking another log for her that they heard the sounds of explosions coming from the direction of the village. From their vantage point, they witnessed a huge fireball blossoming in the area the village was located. After several moments a wave of heat rushed over them, making them shield their faces even from that great a distance. After standing there in shock for close to a full minute, Shampoo snapped out of it. She gave out a cry and ran towards the village, Mousse behind her an instant later.

They had made it about halfway to the village when a diminutive form staggered through some bushes and onto the path before them. It was a blackened figure, charred horribly and reeking of burned flesh. It took them a moment to understand that it was in fact a human being, and not some animal that had staggered before them.

Shampoo and Mousse were still recoiling at the sight when it turned its less burned side, the one with recognizable human features and its one good eye, towards them and spoke, "<You. I know you. You are…Shan Pu,>" she said to the young purple-haired Amazon. It turned part-way to stare at the other figure. "<And you are Mu Tse.>"

As the figure identified the pair, they at last were able to place a name to the voice. It was their village matriarch, Be Dea, the single most powerful person in the village.

The two stood there in mute horror as the horribly burned figure began speaking once again, this time in a distant voice. "<All gone. All gone. Should never have challenged them. We were less than gnats before their power. The government… just one plane. She was right. Should never have…>" The good eye rolled back into her head for a moment. Both of the children thought for certain she was dead and would fall over at any moment, but after several seconds her eye came back and focused on the children before her.

"<You're alive. Not everyone…dead. You're alive!>"

Neither Mousse or Shampoo missed the reference. Shampoo spoke first. "<Dead? Everyone's dead? What about my mother and father? I know they aren't dead.>"

Mousse's hope mirrored Shampoo's. "<My parents are alive too, right?>"

"<BE SILENT!>" Be Dea shouted. The two children, taught to obey their Matriarch without question, did so.

Be Dea began mumbling in a quiet voice, swaying back and forth. "<You must survive. Someone must survive. Listen to me and obey. You will travel to Japan and find a woman named Ku Lon. Tell her who you are and what family you belong to and she will protect you. She…must.>"

The eye, which had the children's complete attention, began to take on a milky cast to it as it glazed over. Be Dea's voice took on a rambling tone. "<Oh, you were right. You were so right. Why didn't I listen to you? I should never have hated you for being right. I should never have… blinded… you.>"

She shook for a moment, as though the words themselves and lashed out at her, causing her to regain her senses. Once more she focused on the children before her. "<You must leave now. Go to Japan. Run! Run and never look back!>"

The two tried to protest, but the glare from that single eye silenced them. "<Obey me!>" she growled one last time, and the two did. They turned from her slowly at first, but picking up speed with each step, their sobs and tears increasing with their gait.

Be Dea's final words followed behind them, as though the Matriarch herself was moving them onward. "<Run! Run and never look back! Your past is gone! You can never go back! Never!>"

Those were the last words they heard as they ran until they could run no more. The tears continued long after their muscles tired, but in the end they ran out of those as well. It was as they lay, exhausted from their run, that deep in their hearts the truth was accepted, as much as they wished to deny it. Everything, everyone they had ever known was gone. The explosion had clearly signaled the death knell of the tribe. Their way of life was now nothing but ashes, quite literally if the size of the fireball was any indication.

In spite of that knowledge, Mousse believed he would have gone back anyway. After all, what was there in the world for him a six-year old Chinese boy that had never been more than twenty miles from his village in his entire life? But there was one thing that kept him from being completely consumed by his grief, one force that gave him the will to continue on. Shampoo. He had to protect her. That was the last thing in his young life that mattered to him, perhaps more than anything in the world. Now he had a goal: getting Shampoo safely to Japan. After they got there he would deal with his life as best as he could. He swore he would do everything in his power to get her there, even if it cost him his life.

After that first night of being alone in the world, Shampoo changed. She had not shed a single tear since then, and her eyes took on a lonely, distant cast. It took everything Mousse had to get her to even acknowledge his presence, and even then it was only in the motions of her body rather than with any open recognition. She was obedient though, once he got her attention she did everything he said without a gesture of disagreement. She followed him when he told her to, and stayed when he said to as well. It was entirely upon his shoulders to lead both of them to Japan safely.

After breaking into a farmer's home and stealing some food and money, the two headed for the coast. They got lucky and managed to stowaway on a train that led them to a port city. Their luck continued to hold as they once again stowed away, this time on a cargo ship bound for Japan. And now they were there, crouched in an alleyway like two thieves, trying to catch their breath and without any idea of how to find the person Be Dea had told them to seek. Mousse wasn't sure what to do next.

"What have we here?"

The tone of that voice snapped Mousse out of his reminiscing. Both he and Shampoo turned towards the sound of the voice behind them. Mousse had been so relieved at not being caught on the ship that he had not paid attention to the area around them. There were now three large, burly men that had maneuvered behind them, spread out in such as way as to prevent them from running past. All of them were dressed in seedy clothing and reeked badly of alcohol. The look in their eyes told Mousse all he needed to know about them.

Mousse placed a hand on Shampoo's shoulder, pulling her back even as he began walking backward, leaving his eyes on the three men the entire time. Since Shampoo was responsive, their chances were good that if they could get to the mouth of the alleyway, they could make a break for it.

"I told you I saw a couple of kids dart back here."

Mousse stiffened at the sound of that voice. It had come from behind him. Slowly, he turned to see three more men at the mouth of the alleyway. It had been a trap. Now there was no easy way out.

All of the men began to approach the pair. One of the individuals from the mouth of the alleyway spoke. "The girl's a pretty little thing. We can get a good price for her."

"Might be able to get an even better price for the boy. I know a couple of wealthy men that prefer young boys to girls."

The men all laughed at that, relaxing noticeably since it appeared the two children were paralyzed with fright. Mousse also noticed this and allowed one of his hands to disappear up the sleeve of his dirty robe. None of the men seemed suspicious of the movement.

Another of the large men, one that had come from the mouth of the alleyway, placed a hand on Mousse's shoulder. "Why don't you little guys come with us? We got some candy back at ouAGH!" The man cried out in pain as Mousse pulled a knife from the confines of his robe and sunk it into the man's wrist.

"<Run, Shampoo!>" he shouted as he darted past the injured man, and to freedom.

Shampoo had already been in motion the instant the knife flashed from Mousse's robes. She spun, lashing out with a foot and catching the shin of the man nearest to her. As he fell to the ground, holding his leg, she let loose with a fist towards his surprised companion's groin, doubling him over in pain.

With those three down, the mouth of the alleyway was now open. Both of the young children made a break for it. Mousse was almost out of the alleyway when he caught a movement out of the corner of his eye, from Shampoo's direction. He turned just enough to see that one of the uninjured men had made a flying tackle at Shampoo, just catching her fleeing form by the ankles. She fell to the ground in his grasp.

"Shampoo!" Mousse cried out, only to discover his hesitation had cost him as one of the other men caught up and swung a small metal object at his head. There was pain, and then the world went dark for Mousse.

Mousse woke up to a world of pain he had not thought possible. Every inch of his body ached, even parts he hadn't realized existed. He opened his eyes only to be confronted by pitch blackness. Painfully, he tried to sit up, his hand falling in some kind of sticky substance. As he forced himself to roll over, he became aware of the fact he was lying in a small pool of it, some of it had even gotten in his eyes. A moment later, after he tried wiping it off, he became aware of the overwhelmingly foul odor the substance gave off as well. It was perhaps the strongest, and foulest scent, that he had ever had the displeasure of experiencing.

As he moved, new waves of pain began permeating his entire body, threatening to make him pass out. As his consciousness began to fade, one thought cut through the agony and forced him to remain awake.

Shampoo.

He still had to protect her. All of his will was focused on that one thought and made himself stay awake. Through the pain, he at last managed to make himself stand up. Once again he tried focusing his vision, in spite of the fact there was no light, and attempted to navigate his way through the dark. It was as groped his way through the pitch black room that 'it' happened. His first thought was that is eyes were now finally clear of the goo and had finally adjusted to the darkness, but no. Even when he blinked to closed his eyes 'it' was still there. He didn't know what it was, but somehow he could now sense where everything was. He could make out the edges and contours of the objects around him as clearly as though they had been lit, although there was still no light that he could see. He had once heard that bats could sense things around them, even in pitch darkness. Maybe this was something like that. Regardless, the whole sensation was quite unlike anything he had experience in his short lifetime.

The room itself was extremely large and with a high ceiling. There were a great many square and rectangular objects spread throughout the room. Mousse thought it might have been one of the warehouses that had dotted the docks they had landed on. The size and dimensions of the room seemed to lend itself to that idea, which was good enough for him.

He continued focusing his newfound sense on the world around him, until he at last sensed what he thought was a door, across the room from him. Slowly, he began to make his way to the door, pain accompanying him every step of the way. It seemed to take forever as he at last made his way to the door. Given the shape he was in, there was little chance he could fight anyone that might be in the room beyond, but doing nothing, trying to live not knowing Shampoo's fate, would be far worse than any further blows he might suffer.

The door handle turned easily enough. As it opened, his new sense seemed to stretch out now that the obstacle of the door was no longer present. Everything was still pitch black, though he knew his eyes were open. Why were there no lights? Didn't these people need to see?

He walked into the room and immediately sensed something wrong. There were a half dozen lumps strewn about the floor and the scent of blood filled his nostrils. Slowly, he approached one of the shapes. As he drew closer, he could now make out that it was the shape of a body, one far too large to be Shampoo's. He forced himself to bend down and touch the body. His hand brushed against the flesh of the face, and he could feel a faint warmth coming from it, but fading quickly. Mousse continued feeling the body, hoping to come across a weapon of some kind. It was as his hand was drifting over it that he discovered the source of the blood. A deep cut was across the man's abdomen, disemboweling him.

Mousse pulled his hand away in a flash. He did not cared if the man's body held a weapon or not; he would touch it no longer.

"Shampoo!" Mousse at last cried out, no longer concerned if anyone heard him. If there was anyone left to hear him. He knew in his heart that these were the bodies of the men that had abducted both he and Shampoo. The young girl was certainly skilled for her age, but even if she had been armed there was no way possible she could have killed all of them like this. That their bodies were there and Shampoo's wasn't, made Mousse's panic double. What had happened here? If Shampoo was dead, why wasn't she among the bodies. And if she wasn't, then where was she?

He sensed another door at the far side of the room and felt an overwhelming urge to leave the sickening stench of death behind him as much as to continue his search for Shampoo. Throwing open the door, he felt a rush of briny air, though everything was still pitch black. Nonetheless, he rushed out into the darkness, not giving himself enough time to use his newfound sense to adjust to the new area. He made it no more than three steps before he tripped on something and was sent sprawling across what felt like concrete.

As he slowly heaved himself back to his feet, his body still aching from pain, his senses seemed to come under attack. A cool wind cut across his face, carrying with it the smell of fish, brine, and a variety of airborne pollutants. The sound of water splashing against the shore and docks, and of ships blaring their horns, resounded throughout his ears. His new sense stretched outward, forming a narrow street that had multiple large buildings close together. There could be no doubt about it; he was outside. But why was everything still pitch black? Even if there had been some sort of power outage that would have doused the lights, there was a full moon out tonight. No matter how much cloud cover there was, he should have been able to see something. It was almost as if… he… was…

"NOOOO!!!" he raged to the skies above, thoughts of Shampoo momentarily purged from his mind by the anger that now overwhelmed him in his loss. No longer would anyone be able to call him only a half-blind fool now.


Two months ago:

Akane Tendo cursed her luck again. She'd rather have had none at all instead of the bad that had seemingly marked her entire life. Why didn't anything ever work out right? It seemed she was never going to get a break.

Her mind turned back to when she was a little girl. The first terrible thing had been her mother's death. Ever since that day there had been a hole in Akane's heart that still ached, even after all of that time. Then, six years later, it was the time she herself had nearly met the same fate as her mother, almost dying when she ended up run down by a drunken driver. Luckily, she had survived and had suffered only minor injuries, save for her right leg. The ligaments in it had ended up injured so badly that it had never healed right and she needed a cane to get anywhere. It was especially bad since the injury had forced her to all but give up practicing one of the few things she had a passion for: martial arts. She could still perform some of the simpler katas, but that was all. It was small wonder that she had gone from a bright, cheerful girl to one that had a dour outlook on life. At least that was true until a year ago, when Doctor Tofu had hired her on as his nurse.

That alone was cause enough to bring joy back into her life. He was the ideal man, thoughtful and caring without asking anything in return. She knew deep in her heart that he would never care if she had a bad leg or not; he would judge her on who she was. It was small wonder that she had fallen for him, and working as his assistant gave her the perfect excuse to be around him. All she had to do now was try to help him get over the silly crush he had on Kasumi. Akane was convinced her sister really wasn't interested in the doctor at all (as hard as that was for Akane to believe) and that they were completely wrong for one another. Akane, on the other hand, would be the perfect match for him. At least once she was a little older and more mature. Then he would notice her.

Then it all seemed to come together last week. The doctor had been invited to a conference in Norway, and he had thought it would be a good idea for Akane to go along, the trip being a valuable learning experience for her. She practically fainted on the spot and began to wonder if he was starting to become interested in her. After all, it was around the time Kasumi turned sixteen that his glasses began fogging up around her and he acted like a complete fool. During the entire trip she watched him intently for any sign of fogging, but they never did. Without that sign of encouragement, she lacked the nerve to try anything else.

And then came what was perhaps the absolute worst thing that had ever happened in her entire life. It was as the doctor was at the conference that Akane decided to catch some fresh air and check out the Norwegian countryside. She took a bus to a nearby town and began a little jaunt so she could check out the sights. At least that was the plan. It was as she was enjoying the foreign landscape that a feature of Norwegian countrysides made its appearance known, much to her surprise.

The statues out there speak and think that they are aliens.

At least that was what it seemed like when she ran into several giant statues that claimed they were the 'Stone Men of Saturn' and had come to conquer the Earth. Akane, having better sense that to argue with the local masonry, chose to flee as quickly as she could on her bad leg.

Midway through her flight she lost her cane and was forced to practically crawl until she found a cave that was too small to allow the statues to enter.

After cursing her luck once again, and ascertaining the statues were not following her, she examined the rest of the cave. Towards the back, she discovered a large stick that appeared to be large enough to operate as a makeshift cane. She picked it up and tapped it on the ground, intending to do nothing more than see how sturdy it was.

Once again she ended up with a whole lot more than she bargained for.

As the cane hit the ground, there was a flash of light and suddenly Akane found herself transformed. Where once there stood a short, black-haired, somewhat cute, Japanese girl with a makeshift walking stick, there now stood a ravishing, , statuesque, powerfully-built, blonde Norse goddess with an uru hammer, capable of summoning forth the power of the storms themselves. She found that even her clothing had changed into garb more fitting for both her new status and the sudden change in personality she felt as she understood she was now Thor, Goddess of Thunder.

And the first order of business was to teach deluded pieces of walking rubble that it was poor manners to terrorize young, innocent foreigners that wandered the countryside, minding their own business.


Two weeks ago:

Humidity beyond belief assailed Kodachi Kunou as she traveled through the middle of the Cambodian jungle in an open air jeep. Not that the slow speed at which they were traveling seemed to help in the slightest. She silently cursed her father for sending her on this ludicrous assignment of checking on one of their overseas munitions plants. He could have sent any of his subordinates to look it over, but he had chosen her instead. The old pineapple-deranged fool might have claimed it was because he trusted her more than the others, but the truth was he did not want the precious 'Black Rose' of Kunou Enterprises to go to the gala that the head of Shinohara Heavy Industries was throwing. A party that she had personally been invited to by that nice Asuma Shinohara. It was just another way of keeping his prime inventor, and resident genius, in the fields of munitions and pineapples on a tight leash. That she also happened to be his only daughter meant nothing to the man.

At first, she had thought it was merely coincidence that, at seemingly every time there was a social event she was invited to, something came up that would prevent her from attending. However, it was proved otherwise as it happened every single time and it became obvious the tasks were by design, not by chance. Likewise, the same thing happened to any employee (the only people she had contact with since her father kept her too busy to do anything outside of work) that showed interest in her or she in them. Almost as soon as it happened, they would be transferred to another division far away from her. There was a lot of movement in the company, but after a year and a half that pattern became all too clear as well. The most recent event was merely a continuation she had come to expect now.

Her father's Black Rose could not be allowed to bloom, for fear she might not invent the next 'revolutionary weapons design that would catapult Kunou Enterprises to the forefront of the weapon's market.' That meant Kodachi Kunou would simply remain enslaved to her weapons for the rest of her life.

Not so for her elder brother. The damnable playboy did nothing more than pretend at being a samurai and tried to woo every lady in his sight. The ridiculous popinjay could have a life because he was useless, whereas Kodachi suffered because she was effective. What bitter irony. Sometimes Kodachi wished she had not been born with the intellect and drive to be the best. If only she could have something in her life to help give her meaning. If only she could meet a man, any man…"

The rest of her thoughts ended abruptly as the front of her jeep detonated in a fireball and a tremendous pain seemed to burst from her chest.

Kodachi awakened to the smell of cigar smoke and sweat. Her eyes had barely fluttered open when a voice boomed out, "So, my little tool is awake."

She turned her head and saw that a tall, overweight man in worn army fatigues was standing over her. Perhaps leering was a better term. As she sat up, she discovered why that was. Aside from some thick bandages around her chest, she was naked. Instinctively she tried covering herself up with her hands.

"No need to be scared, girl," the fat man bellowed in laughter. "No one here will lay a hand on you, at least not so long as you can prove yourself useful to me in other ways."

Kodachi reluctantly took her eyes of the fat man to take in her surroundings. She was lying on a plain cot, inside a simple wooden building of some kind. All of the floors, walls, ceiling, and tables were composed of what she took to be rather cheap lumber. In spite of the primitive nature of the room, there was a surprising amount of tools and fairly sophisticated equipment spread out around the room.

As she turned back, she now noticed an elderly man, dressed in a plain white smock that reached his knees, standing several feet behind the fat man. His head was held low, the opposite of the arrogant demeanor the larger man possessed. The elderly man's gaze was a look of concern. An errant thought flashed through her mind. A realization that she rarely saw such concern on her own father's face. Another bitter irony that a complete stranger demonstrated more care for her than her own flesh and blood. There was also one other thing. The older man seemed vaguely familiar somehow, but she could not quite place the face on him. She found herself hoping he would speak, hoping that would enable her to recognize him.

The fat man spoke once again as he moved closer to Kodachi. "I am now your master, Wong Chu. From now on you will do as I say and obey my every whim. If you do not, I will allow you to die from your injury." He indicated the area of Kodachi's chest that was bandaged.

Her hand went from covering up her privates to the wound. "What do you mean, 'allow me to die'?"

"I mean exactly what I say," Chu snickered. "There is a piece of shrapnel embedded in your chest, next to your heart. My surgeons assured me that if the piece is not removed, you will die." Chu moved closer still to Kodachi, until she could smell the stink of the man's sweaty body. "When I first captured you, I was going to let my men use you for a while, but Professor Yinsen informed me you were a weapons inventor of some repute. Naturally, I didn't believe him, but then he showed me a picture of you in one of his journals. It's hard to believe that a pretty young thing such as yourself could make such nasty weapons."

He gave her body another appraising look, but she did not even notice. Her attention was riveted on the elderly man behind Chu. "You are Professor Yinsen?"

The elderly man bowed before almost ashamedly saying, "Yes."

"I've read some of your theories on robotics. They're incredible," Kodachi said in awe.

Chu nodded approvingly. "Good. It appears you will be getting along just fine." He leaned over Kodachi and grabbed her by the jaw, forcing her to look at him. "Here is what you will do. You and Yinsen are going to create weapons for me. New and powerful weapons that will make me the most powerful man in this part of the world. You will have to move quickly, though, for my surgeons say that you most likely have no more than a week at most. I will not treat you until you have made me a weapon I can use. Do that and I shall give you your life. Do you understand?"

With her jaw held firmly in his grasp, she could do little more than grunt an assent.

Chu smiled at that and release his hold. "Good. You will begin your work immediately. You have no time to waste." Chu gave her body one last leer before exiting the room, shutting the door behind him. A second later, Kodachi heard the sound of feet walking away, then silence.

She returned her attention to the professor. While she had watched Chu leave, Yinsen had grabbed another smock, similar to his, and offered it to her. She gratefully accepted. As she began to dress, Yinsen began to speak. "I'm sorry I told Chu who you were, but considering the alternative, I had little choice."

Kodachi nodded her head in agreement, trying hard not to think about what might have happened had Yinsen not recognized her. "Why are you working for this monster?"

Yinsen shot an evil glare towards the door Chu had departed through earlier. "Chu found out I was visiting relatives in Cambodia. He kidnapped me, then faked my death, leaving no one in the world the wiser. Since then he's threatened to kill me if I don't create some kind of weapon for him." Yinsen spat on the ground. "That fat bastard fancies himself a warlord instead of the terrorist that he is. It was one of his landmines that nearly killed you."

Yinsen's face took on a sad look. "He's lied to you. I overheard him talking with his doctors. They can't save you. The shrapnel is in too deep. They'll kill you if they try to take it out."

Kodachi's world seemed to fall around her. Was this how she was going to die? In some backwater jungle at the hands of a terrorist with delusions of grandeur? She had not even kissed a man. How could she die so unfulfilled, without ever truly having lived?

"All may not be lost." Professor Yinsen went over to one of the workbenches and picked up what appeared to be a metal chestplate of gray metal. "In order to stall for time, I've been designing a suit of powered armor for Chu. Of course I had no intention of finishing it; I was simply waiting for an opportunity to escape. But now things have changed. If you are half as brilliant as I've heard, together we might be able to not only finish this quickly, but modify it so that it can keep that piece of shrapnel from moving closer to your heart. Then you can use the armor to get us out of here. An old man like me would probably die in the attempt, but someone as young as yourself using the armor might give us a chance. What do you say?"

Kodachi could do nothing but nod her head in agreement. He was correct. It as the only chance they had. She began to look over the equipment that Chu had left in the room.


Thirteen days ago:

Dr. Robert Bruce Banner ignored the sounds of the military personnel around him as he looked out of the observation slit of the bunker he was in. After years of hard work, his greatest achievement, the Gamma Bomb, stood poised and was ready to be tested. It stood two miles away and towered above the New Mexican sands like a finger pointing to the heavens above.

As he stood there, looking through a pair of binoculars and basking in the splendor of his wonderful creation, a movement caught his eye.

General Thaddeus 'Thunderbolt' Ross was watching everyone scurry about when Banner's panicked shout nearly caused him to go for his sidearm. "What the hell's the wrong with you, Banner?!" he grumbled.

"There's a young man out…wait a minute. I could have sworn I saw a young man out there a moment ago."

"Where?" Thunderbolt Ross grabbed a pair of binoculars and stood next to Banner, staring out the observation port alongside him. All it would take was one intruder to slip past the guards and ruin everything.

"About thirty meters north of the bomb," Banner said.

Ross carefully scanned the area. "The only thing I see is a little black piglet with a stupid-looking bandanna tied around it's neck."

"Same here," Banner admitted sheepishly. "It must have been a mirage or something."

General Ross mumbled something about 'milksop scientists' and went back to preparing for the test once more.

Ryouga the piglet cursed every god he knew at his luck. Not only did he get on the wrong boat, somehow ending up in America instead of Japan, but he was now lost in some desert. And here he had thought it was just a really huge beach for a pretty long while. To make matters worse, he had managed to stumble into a puddle that was in the middle of said desert. Probably the only blasted puddle too. He cursed his luck again.

There was one person responsible for the mess he was in and the hell he had gone through, and it was time to loudly proclaim to the world who that was, even if it would only sound like the squeals of a normal pig.

"Ranma! This is all your fau-"

And then the world became green.

"Well, the test seems to have been a complete success." Banner offered his hand to Ross, praying he would accept it. He really wanted to get on the general's good side, what with him wanting to date Betty, the general's daughter. He felt a surge of relief run through him as Ross grudgingly shook his hand, though the older man seemed to squeeze it harder than he had to.

"Not bad, for a scientist," Ross admitted.

Banner's half-formed response died on his lips as a whistle made its presence known. It rose in pitch by the second and almost seemed to come from directly overhead. Just as Banner was about to ask Ross if he knew what it was, there was an explosion from overhead. He caught only a brief glance of something knocking a large hole in the ceiling, tearing through the four feet of concrete and landing in the middle of the room, buckling the metal floor beneath him. As the dust from its explosive entry settled, Banner managed to make out the intruder. It was a green piglet, nearly two feet in length and a foot wide, with huge popping veins and muscles. The piglet looked over the room once, snorted, then gave a mighty, "BWEEEEE!" and left the room via jumping through the roof once again, exiting through a different part of the ceiling.

"What in the hell was that?!" Ross said, his eyes just staring at the ruin the ceiling of the bunker had become.

"It was either an animal that was irradiated by Gamma radiation released by the bomb, made into an incredibly and strong monstrosity…or a really weird mass hallucination," Banner answered dazedly.

Ross just continued staring at the hole in the ceiling. After a moment, a look of consideration crossed his features. "Banner, I'm going to need your help."

"You are?" Banner said, bewildered.

"Yes, son." He clapped his hand on Banner's shoulder in a rare sign of approval. "I need you to find me a way to track down that creature. We can't have a little time bomb like that wandering around, destroying everything in sight. We'll alert the base and prepare to destroy that incredible, ummm?"

"Bwee, sir?" Banner offered.

Ross nodded in approval. "I suppose that's as good of a name as any. From now on the target will be known as the Bwee until we come up with a better name. Now get cracking on that device, Banner. I have an army to mobilize."


Seven days ago:

Kodachi Kunou stared through the metal slits of her helmet at the conflagration that served as a funeral pyre for Wong Chu. 'May the fat bastard burn in hell for an eternity,' Kodachi thought to herself. He
deserved it for all of the evils that he had visited on so many people, herself and Professor Yinsen among them.

The poor Professor. With the adrenaline high of the life and death struggle with Chu and his forces behind her, grief washed over her in a wave. Professor Yinsen had given his life for her, and all she could do in return was weep.

It was only a week ago that Chu had left the two of them alone in the lab, allowing them the privacy they needed to save Kodachi's life and liberate them from their prison. They had worked nonstop from that moment to modify and complete the suit of armor that would be Kodachi's salvation. Combined, their skills were nearly unstoppable, and Kodachi marveled at the Professor's genius. The modifications to the chestplate was the most difficult part. Altering it so it would keep the shrapnel from piercing Kodachi's heart took every ounce of skill they had, but after five days, they had been fairly certain it would work.

After they had completed that all-important piece, it was time to incorporate the weapon systems. After all, it would have been rude of them to enjoy Wong Chu's 'hospitality' and not do as he asked. Of course, the weapon that they were building was going to be used against him, but the fat man hadn't been specific as to what the weapon they were building was supposed to do. The only time Chu would see the suit was when it would be used to stomp his pudgy face in.

In the short amount of time they had remaining, Kodachi loaded the armor with every weapon she could make and incorporate. Most of them were far more basic then what she could have done with the proper labs of Kunou Enterprises at her fingertips, but she made an impressive array with the basic materials she had on hand.

It was as they were finishing the chest laser attachment that Kodachi felt the stabbing pain in her chest, threatening to cause her to pass out. Realizing her time was up, she quickly donned the armor, the weight of the powerless hunk of metal making it feel as though she were in a tight, gun metal gray coffin. It fell to Professor Yinsen to hook up the armor to the generators to power it up. Once the batteries of the armor were full, the duo would then make their escape.

Or that was how it was supposed to be. Instead, just as the armor was nearing its final charged state, the sound of Chu's annoying laughter announced his presence in the hallway outside. Both Kodachi and Yinsen knew there was not going to be enough time to finish the power up before Chu made it to the room, and unless there was a full charge, the armor would not be able to activate. They still needed one more minute, a minute they did not have until Yinsen took it upon himself to buy them the time she needed. He gave one last, mournful look towards the immobile Kodachi, then picked up a wrench and ran out into the hallway, shouting out obscenities about Chu and his ancestors. A moment later there was gunfire, and then silence. Kodachi cried within her armor, waiting for the power gauge to read one hundred percent.

She got it just as Chu finally made it to the door. As he opened it up, he was confronted by a giant armored warrior, rising from a worktable like a spirit of vengeance.

Kodachi came back to the present as she gazed at the dying fire once again. Chu had not made her vengeance easy, he had sent his entire troop upon her, but in the end neither he nor all of his men could keep her from avenging the death of Professor Yinsen. True, she had not planned on actually killing Chu, but it had happened all the same and she could feel no remorse for him.

Now it was time for her to deal with her life and decide what to do. Once in her laboratories, she could upgrade the armor and armaments inside. Already she had thought of close to a dozen things she could do to improve it. Certainly she was going to keep the armor. Despite the grim nature of her mission, there had been a sort of ecstasy she had felt from being in the thick of battle. A feeling of a rose blooming at last, even if it was a rose of iron rather than of flesh.

Oh yes, she might have had to figure out the exact details of how it was going to work, but the Iron Rose was going to stay around for a long time to come.


Two hours ago:

Another leap took the gamma-irradiated piglet another three miles and still there was nothing but an endless field of ice as far as the eye could see. It had been so certain it was going in the correct direction to find the one he sought. An image of a young man filled the piglet's thoughts. The boy had hurt him, and the piglet would make him pay. But first, it had to find its way out of Greenland.

The green one crouched back slightly, preparing to jump and give off a mighty 'Bwee!', when a man, encased in purple and green armor, suddenly appeared hovering directly over the animal.

As the piglet stared at him in surprise, a pitcher, filled with a steaming substance, suddenly appeared in the man's hand. He poured the contents over the piglet's head, triggering its other, Jusenkyou related
transformation. No longer was there a powerhouse of porcine might before him. Now there stood a towering, green, nine foot tall man that was a mass of muscle.

Beneath the armored figure's blue faceplate, an eyebrow raised in puzzlement. The green goliath now sported a yellow and black bandanna, even as it had as a piglet, but it also had on a pair of purple pants that had seemingly appeared out of nowhere. The armored figure had not realized that occurred during the transformation from animal to man, and a part of him wondered where the pants came from. Then again, magic had never been a field he pretended to understand in the slightest. And it did not matter, at the moment.

He took a moment to admire the impressive, and very confused, emerald giant before him. "My, you are an 'Incredible Hulk.' What an appropriate name."

The giant looked at him in surprise. "Hulk? Is that Hulk's name? Hulk could not remember name." The 'Hulk' considered his new appellation. He rather liked it.

"I'm so very glad," the armored man said as he continued hovering just outside of the Hulk's reach. He made a mental note to check the original timeline to see how the Hulk was really supposed to have gotten his name. To the armored man's knowledge, the Hulk had always called himself that, never having a period where he did not know his own name.

"How would you like me to help you?" the man asked.

The Hulk seemed surprised once again. "Why funny, floating man want to help Hulk?"

"Because of a common enemy we share," the man said in a soothing voice.

"Enemy?" The Hulk scratched his head. He had just been thinking about an enemy. What was the name again?

The armored man held out on open hand. From the palm burst out a hologram of a man, dressed in a tight fitting outfit of red and white, with a rising sun across the chest that reached all the way around to the back of his outfit. The armored man began to wonder if the Hulk was having a problem with gamma irradiated lice as he scratched his head once more.

"Enemy look different from what Hulk remember."

The man sighed. "That's because he's wearing a mask."

"Oh," the Hulk said, then asked, "Why?"

"Because he's a superhero. If he went around showing his face off, everyone would know who he is."

"How funny floating man know that Hulk's enemy?" The Hulk had thought that was rather a good point.

"Because I've seen him without his mask," the man sighed in exasperation.

"Then why Hulk's enemy still wear mask if it not work and you know who he is?"

The man refrained from opening fire on the Hulk. He needed a pawn, not a senseless battle. "Because he thinks you are stupid and won't see through his disguise."

"WHAT?!" the Hulk bellowed out in rage. "Hulk not stupid!"

"That's what your enemy said about you." The faceplate failed to hide the man's blossoming smile.

"Enemy have no right calling Hulk stupid! Hulk smash!"

"Good boy. No there won't be any need for you to jump around all over the world to find him. I'll send you right over." With a gesture the man waved a hand over the Hulk, activating the teleport system his armor was currently linked to. The Hulk vanished in an instant, leaving only a few tingling lights as an after effect of the teleportation. The armored figure wondered how one of his principle nemesises would fare meeting an enraged Hulk two weeks before he was supposed to, and with no Avengers to back him up.

The plan was now in motion. Without a leader, the Avengers would never form, and the incident they were responsible for would never happen. And all in the next two hours.

Kang the Conqueror's laugh resounded across the glacier, heard by no one but himself.

 

To be continued.


Author's Notes: Finally had enough time to sit down and finish this thing. Real Life cutting into writing time, don't you know. Right now I'm looking for prereaders. So if you're interested, just let me know.

Yes, I know Daredevil was never an Avenger (although he was offered wayyyyy back in issue number 110 or so) Mousse was too perfect for the role, as well as for some other reasons. It just fit in too nicely.

I have a list of villains and their anime identities figured out, but I'm open to suggestions (I received several brilliant ones on Newberry chat a few weeks ago) so I'm keeping an open mind. Go ahead and let me know if you have any ideas. It should be noted that I am also drawing upon anime characters outside of the Ranma ½ continuity as well, but most of them will come from the series.

Special Thanks to:

  • Bloodblade
  • Gary Kleppe
  • Jurai-Knight
  • Ryouclio
Act 1-2
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Last revision: May 21, 2007

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