A Ranma ½ / Wild Cards crossover story
Disclaimer: Ranma ½ and its characters and settings belong to Rumiko Takahashi, Shogakukan, Kitty, and Viz Video. The official Wild Cards short stories edited by George R. R. Martin.
Genma and Soun— Genma once again human— cowered under the Tendo patriarch's bed.
"Tendo, I think we messed up this time," Genma whined. Even in the nearly complete dark, Genma appeared red, the majority of his body cooked to a shiny maroon.
"My own daughter! To think that my very own little Akane could do this to me," Soun wailed quietly. His brown gi hung in tatters, and the skin beneath it showed dozens of livid welts.
"What are we going to do, old friend?" Genma asked.
Genma didn't respond, but his silence was agreement enough for Soun.
"No, Akane, I've said it once, and I'll say it again. You're too immature and unstable to work with the task force." Nabiki wore a black business suit that hugged her figure alluringly, but its cut was modest enough not to raise any eyebrows. The middle Tendo daughter lounged on the sofa, flipping through television channels with one hand and munching from a bag of potato chips with the other.
Akane stared at her sister disbelievingly. "I haven't blown up anything for over a week, and daddy's the only person I've attacked in just as long. Come on! Please… pretty please?" she begged pathetically. Illusory flowers appeared in Akane's outstretched hand and she passed them to Nabiki. Her sister blew on the flowers and they turned into wispy bands of quickly dissipating smoke.
"Akane, I just can't take the risk. I have enough trouble riding herd on Tatewaki. The first time some jerk makes a pass at you, we'll be scraping him of the sidewalk for a week. Not to mention how much the rest of the force hates you." She turned away from her younger sister and watched the nightly news report, a speculatory piece on the woman that called herself Electra. She'd brought in a foreign joker who resembled a rhinoceros earlier in the day, and the spotlight was on her fully. Too bad no one knew who she was. Nabiki had been sanctioned to bring her into the task force, but it wasn't the easiest thing to do when you couldn't fly after the departing ace.
On the other side of the room, Ranma and Kasumi were talking quietly. "You're all aces?" Ranma asked. That was even more unlikely than Ranma's own family.
Kasumi nodded. "Father doesn't use it much, but he can create a few illusions, mostly when he gets angry. Akane can form ambient energy into temporary matter and force it to detonate if she wishes, and Nabiki is a telepath. I'm surprised she hasn't tried to blackmail you with some embarrassing secret she pulled out of your mind yet. Don't worry, though; she'll get around to it eventually."
Ranma didn't mention his natural mental shield. He asked, "And what about you?"
She smiled gently and ran her finger through the air, tracing a small circle that glowed with crackling sparks. "It's not much, but it comes in handy when the pilot light goes out on the stove."
"Ranma," Nabiki called from her seat on the sofa, "come over here for a moment, please."
"Yeah?" Ranma avoided the glare Akane, Kasumi's youngest sister, directed at him. Though she was about the same age as he, Ranma couldn't help but think of her as much younger. She changed moods between heartbeats, and was always angry about something. Considering that Ranma had only known her for a few hours, that really didn't bode well for Akane.
"Just trying to prove a point to Akane. What can you do? Your ace abilities, I mean." Nabiki smiled almost maliciously at Akane and looked back to Ranma.
Ranma couldn't see any harm in it, so he told her. "I used to be able to generate and direct hot and cold energy, but an accident in China split my powers and altered them a lot. I can't really make the heat and cold like I used to because of the curse, but what I can do is concentrated in my different forms. When I'm a guy, I can absorb heat, light, or almost any other kind of energy and redirect or alter it. You know, make lasers and force shields and stuff like that. When I turn into a girl, it's all reversed. I can't absorb the energy, but I can make… 'vacuums' would probably be the best way to describe them. They're black and any energy that enters them disappears. It's more complicated than that, but I haven't really had them long enough to explain much better. I may have some purely physical powers, too, but those may just be from my training in the Art. Oh yeah, some rudimentary psi abilities too. A little precog, telepathy, and telekinesis." He grinned sheepishly, realizing that it sounded like he was bragging. When he saw the pulsing green aura that practically screamed jealousy being broadcasted by Akane, Ranma was glad that he hadn't mentioned the chi manipulation that Genma had taught him.
"Well, well, well, well. Ranma, after school tomorrow, I think you and I have some business to attend to." As Nabiki spoke to him, Ranma felt her pushing softly into his mind with her own, but grinned slightly when she ran into the shield. She probably thought he had downplayed his psychic powers a great deal.
"Sorry, Nabiki, but I'm going to try to get a job with the city tomorrow. Pop said they hired aces to handle other aces and jokers sometimes."
Nabiki positively beamed, and Akane started to twitch violently, the air around her filling with floating daggers. Contemptuously, Nabiki reached into her sister's mind and shut it off. The daggers disappeared and the aura of envy winked out. "She has a lot of potential, but something about her power throws her hormones out of balance. The doctors say it'll level off when she grows out of puberty. The business I mentioned tomorrow was to take you by city hall and offer you a position on the task force. If you don't know, that's the organization your dad was talking about with the aces in it. I have a contract with the city to recruit members and screen them for instabilities. It's pretty satisfying, overall, and I get a commission for each member who joins successfully."
Kasumi joined them a minute later and the conversation turned towards Ranma's curse and a lot of uncomfortably feminine things. Ranma drew the line when they tried to get him— now a her, thanks to Nabiki and an evil glass of water— to let them make her over.
"Don't mind Tatewaki; he's an idiot, but he means well," Nabiki cautioned Ranma the next morning as Furinkan came into view. Ranma hadn't protested the school issue too much, aware that his mother would soon arrive, and that she greatly approved of education.
Ranma opened his mouth to speak, but Akane began to chant loudly and repeatedly. "I hate boys!" The exclamation was backed up with a trio of whirring mallets that floated around her head and an aura that threatened to curdle the sidewalk beneath her feet. Apparently psyched up, Akane charged forward and through the open gates of the school.
"Wha—?" Ranma once again stopped, amazed as dozens of boys began to appear in the school's courtyard, some popping out of holes in the ground, others appearing from thin air, and even a few dropping out of trees.
"Tatewaki's doing. He made a big speech about anyone being able to defeat Akane then being able to date her. He makes a big show of actually caring about the whole thing every morning, but his original intention was to help Akane learn to control herself, so she would be able to join the task force. Like I said, Tatewaki's an idiot, though, and this has turned into a school tradition." Nabiki chuckled darkly and whispered, "The really funny thing is that Tatewaki is gay. He's got them all convinced that he's madly in love with Akane, but he really dreams about the gym teacher every night."
Ranma didn't have anything against homosexuals, as long as they didn't make any passes at him. "He's not gonna mess with me like that, is he?"
Nabiki shook her head and said, "He really likes the gym teacher. Trust me, I know these things."
He wasn't really too sure if he could fully trust Nabiki. The girl was by all accounts a strong telepath, but she showed few scruples in using her gift. Ranma had been strictly drilled by his mother in the use of his mediocre telepathic abilities, and the rules she had imposed were numerous and far-reaching.
"Why aren't they joining in?" Ranma asked, pointing to a group of boys standing on the upper steps leading into the school. There were a few obvious jokers among them, but none were greatly deformed.
"As good as Akane is, it wouldn't be very hard for an ace or two to overwhelm her, not to mention that many. I've convinced them to stay out of the fight for Akane's sake."
Another minute passed before Akane reduced her attackers to broken shells of beaten and bloody flesh.
Nabiki sighed and said, "Every day. Every single day. You'd think they would have given up by now. The way's clear now; we might as well go get you registered before classes start.
The door was still swinging behind them when Ranma heard someone speaking in some archaic dialect to Akane, and he assumed that the speaker was this 'Tatewaki' he'd heard about.
After getting his class assignments and signing an agreement not to use his abilities on school property, Ranma found his class and entered tentatively. There was a moment of silence when he entered and Ranma found himself embarrassed as he was forced to stand before the class and introduce himself. Even more embarrassing were the excited whispers exchanged by many of the girls in the class.
Lunch was slow to come, and Ranma felt like jumping for joy when the bell signaled the break. The decision of where to sit and who to sit with was made for him— by Nabiki, of all people. She took him by the arm as soon as he exited the building and led him over to an area shaded by a large oak tree.
"Some of you may have already met Ranma. He and his father are staying at my house for a while. I'm going to take him by HQ this afternoon and get him signed up."
Ranma spent the break trying to catch a bite of food between lulls in the conversation. It turned out that all of the teenage aces in the taskforce attended Furinkan. The arrangement ensured that they could all be reached in case of a citywide emergency, and being amongst gifted peers made life easier on the often-ostracized teens.
"Don't tell me you're afraid of needles," Nabiki chided teasingly.
Ranma glared at Nabiki for a moment before he rolled his sleeves up, revealing the ridged plating on his arms. "Not really. I just doubt they have any needles that can get through these things."
"Oh, that's not really a big deal. I'm sure the nurse can find a vein somewhere in your leg." Ranma was surprised that she really wasn't bothered by the appearance of his arms. He'd really not wanted to get the blood drawn, though, because he'd been almost certain that he'd have to drop his pants so they could get the blood, and he hadn't met a male nurse yet that did the procedure.
Ranma sighed. "At least this isn't a comprehensive physical…" He trailed off when he saw Nabiki's eyes light up mischievously. "It is a comprehensive physical?"
Nabiki nodded and said, "It's a requirement. We get a pretty nice benefits package— full dental, medical, the works. If you have something wrong with you, the city doesn't want to get stuck with the costs. There's Dr. Tofu now." Nabiki waved to a bespectacled man wearing a lab coat, who approached from down the hall. "He can see inside people without machines. That talent is quite useful for a physician."
"Ms. Tendo," the doctor called, "so nice to see you again." He turned his silver-eyed gaze to Ranma and asked, "So you're the newest addition to the family, eh?"
The boy flushed slightly and tried to cover it up by coughing. "It's all a misunderstanding, really. Kasumi and me are just gonna pretend to be engaged until my mom gets here and straightens my old man out."
"K-K-Ka-Kasumi… engaged… Kasumi…" The doctor's glasses fogged up and he started to tremble violently.
"Oh, shit!" Nabiki hissed. She tackled Ranma through a side door that led to an empty examination room.
Startled, Ranma didn't at first hear the sound of masonry being pulverized, or the sharp gust of wind that erupted within the outside corridor. He sat up, intentionally throwing Nabiki off of his chest.
"What'd you do that for?" Ranma snapped at the shaken girl.
Wordlessly, Nabiki pointed out the door, where even now pieces of broken furniture, wall paneling, and loose brick were whizzing past the opening. "Go on, take a look; but stay sharp. Sometimes he sets things on fire."
A peek outside the room revealed what had scared Nabiki so thoroughly. Dr. Tofu, with only his head visible, had become a tiny whirlwind of destruction, his body spinning at insane speeds. The boy ducked back into the room just as a belched stream of fire shot past, courtesy of the good doctor. "Was it something I said?"
"I should have warned you about that. The doctor has developed a weird obsession with my sister. When he hears her name, his brain loses control of itself. Most of the time it manifests as a boost in speed that sends him bouncing around like a rubber ball, but mentioning the engagement sent him into overdrive." Nabiki took her own look into the hallway, after debris stopped flying by. She saw that the doctor had moved on to other parts of the building and stood, brushing off her suit and offering a hand to Ranma.
"But he welcomed me to the family, and that must mean that he already knew." Ranma was more worried about being charged for the damages he'd inadvertently caused than the doctor's health. The man did do that on a regular basis, so he should be all right.
"Ranma, he was talking about the task force, most likely. He considers us his family ever since his mom tried to marry him off to an octopus woman. Seems she thought that it'd produce more grandchildren. Anyway, let's just drop by my office and I'll get you a temporary permit. It's only good for a week, but this place should be fixed by then."
Nabiki's office wasn't huge, but it wasn't small either. There were pictures of her family on the walls, as well as a few awards or commendations from the mayor of Tokyo and even one from the prime minister.
"No offense or anything, but isn't all this a little much for a seventeen-year-old?" Ranma asked, referring to Nabiki's relative youth.
"None taken. It's a matter of mental maturity and administrative ability that got me this job, actually. I had to let myself be scanned to ensure that I would live up to my obligations. Everything else was taken care of by the government 'officials'. You know the type, guys in black suits, mirrored sunglasses, and crew cuts? I'm going to be one of them, except without the extreme haircut." Nabiki seated herself in a large leather upholstered swivel chair and motioned for Ranma to sit in the chair opposite her.
"Cool, I guess. So, how much do I get paid?" He might as well find out sometime, right?
Nabiki regarded Ranma sharply, appraisingly. After a few moments Ranma began to grow uncomfortable and fidget in his seat. Nabiki shook herself and apologized, "Sorry, my mind ran away with itself. Payment— that's something I always like to talk about. We all get an expense account that's really just an allowance. It varies, depending on how long you've been a member, but you should start off somewhere between 20,000 and 25,000 yen a week. That figure quadruples once you get out of school. We also get a bonus whenever our services are needed. The more dangerous it is, the more we get paid."
"My old man can't get his hands on any of that, can he? Mom keeps him on a really tight leash money-wise, and he'll try to take any I get without even thinking about it." It wouldn't make him rich, but working for Nabiki didn't sound too hard, and it could even be fun, a chance to finally use his training and powers.
Nabiki looked up from retrieving something from a drawer and answered, "Seeing as how you're a minor, one of your guardians has to sign the release form for you to join. That also includes giving them access to your account, to make sure that you spend your money wisely. We'll just bypass that little detail, and no one will know that your dad didn't sign it." In her hand she held a pen and a legal document. Nabiki had read Genma's mind… an experience she didn't wish to repeat. The man had done a few things that he'd probably do anything to keep hidden; maybe he'd even sell his soul to her to keep quiet. If Genma had access to Ranma's income, Ranma would be broke.
Nabiki signed something on the bottom of the document then held it out for Ranma to see. She had signed Genma's name. The signature was perfect. He stared at Nabiki's smug face without speaking. "One has picked up a few skills over the years," she said evenly. High magnitude telepathy had more than a few uses, one of which was learning from your victim's own mind.
"That bastard!" Akane raged, lashing at the hapless training dummy with a multi-stranded whip that wielded itself. She dispelled the weapon and watched in satisfaction as the dummy fell into dozens of smoothly cut sections. "She was going to let me join, I just know it, damn it! Then he showed up, with all his powers, and good looks, and martial arts skills, and… Argh! I hate him!!!" In a quick, rushed movement, Akane flung her arm towards another training dummy. The dummy was perforated by hundreds of tiny crystal shards, each one of them exploding a moment later. When the miniature conflagration had subsided and the smoke cleared, nothing was left of the dummy but a widely dispersed pile of saw dust.
Just as she was about to leave, Kasumi popped her head in through the open dojo doors and said, "Make sure you clean this mess up, Akane. And next time you decide to play, please don't make so much noise. You just ruined a soufflé I worked on all afternoon."
Between clenched teeth, Akane spat, "I was not playing. I was practicing!" Her words and glare were wasted, though, for Kasumi had already departed for her kitchen. She turned back to the dojo and created a broom in either hand. One of them she threw into the air and it began to sweep the splintered dummy into a pile while she took the other one and went over to the area of powdered stone where she had smashed bricks earlier.
Every so often Akane would create a disembodied Ranma head, and then make it explode. It wasn't very satisfying, but it kept her happy enough not to blow anything real up.
"Why do I have to wear a costume?" Ranma asked stubbornly. The little corner shop Nabiki had dragged him to sold costumes for Halloween and other events, but it also specialized in custom-made costumes for those aces and jokers who wished to make an impression with more than just their power.
"It's a tradition, Ranma," Nabiki assured him. "The trading cards and posters also sell better if you appeal to the fantasies of your fans. I have a costume at home, even though I don't wear it very often, and all the rest of us in the task force do too. They serve a practical function too. We get them with radio transmitters built in so we can keep in touch with one another, and you can get it armored if you wish." While she spoke, Nabiki was flipping though a pattern book in search of something that would look good on Ranma.
"What's wrong with what I'm wearing now?" Ranma didn't mind getting a little attention, and he could see the practicality of wearing armor in certain situations, but a costume? "Hey, what do you mean, 'trading cards and posters'?"
"Oh, did I forget to tell you?" Ranma nodded. "If you do well and get on the evening news enough times, you can bet that someone will pay you for the rights to print your face on as much merchandise as possible. What about this color?" Ranma reached over and looked at the material Nabiki was pointing out.
"Pink?!" he cried indignantly.
"Okay, okay, pink is out of the question." Nabiki waved her arms appeasingly and went back to looking back at the book. "Hmm, you'll need something that won't clash with your hair when you're a girl. Better yet, we can get you separate costumes for each form."
Still upset about the pink suggestion, Ranma snapped, "I am not going to use my girl form, ever."
"Ranma, honestly, you're more intelligent than that. You've said it yourself that water gravitates to you ever since you got the curse. You can't expect for that rule not to apply when you're on task force business. And what happens if it begins to rain while you're in the field?" Her arguments were reasonable and made perfect sense, but Ranma didn't immediately accept them.
Almost an hour later, after listening to Ranma grumble about females, being female, and the color pink, Nabiki finally chose what Ranma would wear as his costume. "Since you seem to like red and black, we'll stick with those. I know a man who can alter the properties of matter a little. It'll cost a bit, but I can get him to make your costume shrink with you when you change. Good thing titanium is so cheap nowadays…" the explanation lasted for another half hour and Ranma had dozed off three times before she finished.
A couple of embarrassing measurement sessions later— one for each form— and they were back on their way to the Tendo dojo. The clerk promised delivery of a half-dozen identical suits made to Nabiki's specifications within the week.
"Don't pout, Ranma, it makes you look childish. Just imagine all the kids who'll go to bed every night wishing they could be like you." Nabiki chuckled and said, "I'll show you Akane's 'secret' closet in the dojo. It's full of costumes. The really funny ones are the ones she made herself, but there are a few that I don't even think prostitutes would wear."
To be continued.
Author's Notes: Look out for Tatewaki in the next chapter, and maybe I'll have more Kasumi in it too. Send C&C to me at email@example.com
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