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It's funny the things that come to mind when you think you're dying…


-A while back

The need to unburden himself had been growing for a long time, yet he'd always managed to resist the temptation.  But Ranma couldn't deny it any longer.  He needed help.

The fight at Atlantis had shown him just how careless he was getting. They would never have been able to capture him had he been paying proper attention to his surroundings.   Next time he might not be so lucky.

And of all his friends, Erin alone might be able to understand this emptiness inside of him that he could feel growing larger with each passing day.

There was also the matter of Ishtar.  What the hell was he going to do with a Rune Weapon anyway?

-End Flashback

And now…

by Shade

Disclaimer: Yo ho, yo ho, A Disclaimer's life for me! Argh maties, we be using these characters that be belonging to other people ‘cause we're too lazy to come up with our own! (Ranma ½ and affiliates are the property of Rumiko Takahashi, Rifts and Phase World are owned by Palladium.)

"We can proceed about our business."

You can go about your business.

"Move along."

Move along, move along…

3-G: The Season of Light…

"Irony is the Axis of the Universe."
—Aann proverb

-Ever Have One Of Those Days?

"This is Go Takarada of Action 5 news, coming to you live from Juuban's commercial district where the Sailor Senshi have just blown up an entire city block!!"

Upon seeing his chances for fame and fortune go up with a bang, Takarada was, naturally, more then a little upset. His dreams of an early retirement had vanished when that Sailor Senshi had blasted his story to kingdom come.

"Only moments ago a battle was being fought between the Sailor Senshi and a mysterious armored figure who had saved them earlier from a horde of evil youma. But the reason behind their sudden attack against their rescuer is a mystery, could it be that they're afraid of a little competition?!"

{Goddamnit! So much for my "Knight Hawk" exclusive! Maybe I can play up the fact that the Senshi are responsible for all of this destruction. That's sure to make at least the six o'clock news.}

Nothing could have survived that blast. And since he was a pragmatic sort…

"Or have these so called Defenders of Justice finally turned to the Dark side? We will continue to cover this alarming situation of "Magical Girls Gone Rogue" with further updates to follow!"

Scruples and Takarada were like oil and water.

And his clichés sucked.

Meanwhile his assistant continued to keep the camera rolling, not noticing that a stray bit of shrapnel had killed the transmitter beaming the signal to the station.

Perhaps it was better that way.

The Inners could only stare as the settling cloud of dust and rubble started to reveal a scene of total devastation. While ground zero was still shrouded from view, what they could see wasn't very encouraging. Pluto's attack had left nothing but rubble in its wake, every structure in the blast zone had been completely totaled.

Apparently the Senshi of Time had never heard of a little thing called "overkill".

Shock set in.

It started as a pulling emptiness in the pit of the stomach followed by a glazed over look in the eyes of those who had seen their hopes raised and then cruelly shattered. There were no tears; not yet, at any rate. It had all happened too fast, their minds just couldn't accept what they had just seen.

So for now, a blessed numbness settled over them.

It was times like this that made Urd wish she was allowed to curse. Even at her most vindictive she had only wanted to teach that impudent jerk a lesson, not kill him.

"Mara's going to pay for this."

What a waste. Come to think of it, that guy hadn't been really that bad. He probably hadn't meant to grab her like that and he had been trying to protect her (no matter how misguided that protection might have been).

"I think there's someone still alive in there!"

An excited cry from her left derailed the goddess's train of thought.


Urd stared at her younger sister and the strange device that she'd produced out of (their) Father only knew where.

"Skuld… when did you—? How—? He's still—? What?!"

"It's pretty faint, but I'm definitely getting a life force reading. There wasn't anyone else there when it blew, so it's gotta be him!"

"Before you start celebrating, sis, you might want to think about them."

Urd gestured toward a exhausted looking Pluto and the struggling Uranus and Neptune.

"Oh… right."

Her cheery expression dampened slightly upon being reminded about the precariousness of the present situation. But that was easily fixed!

"Skuld, put the bomb away."

Urd didn't even have to bother looking, she knew by now how her younger sister's line of thinking worked.


Reluctantly the petite little goddess removed her finger from the detonator switch and tucked it back into one of her many subspace pockets.

"Relax, just leave everything to your big sister."

Skuld's complexion turned blue upon hearing that dreaded statement.

"Now I'm worried."

-From the Journals of Erin Tarn

"What is the true measure of a hero?"

I have asked that question many times over the years. There have many responses, yet not one of them is ever alike. Each individual holds themselves to a different standard in their heart.

But Saotome's answer managed to surprise me.

For several minutes after I asked him that, Ranma remained quiet, staring into his cup of tea as if it was showing him something from the past that he could not forget.

I shivered when he met my gaze again. To this day I wish that I had left well enough alone. There was such pain in his eyes, more then any person should ever be forced to bear. For a moment I was nearly overwhelmed by this glimpse into his very being.

So many shadows. I could not even begin to imagine what had done this to him. It was the first time he'd ever dropped his guard so completely in front of me. I guess that this was the first time it finally sunk in that Ranma was just as human as the next person. He just hides it better then the rest of us.

Even as the realization hit I could see the barriers falling in place once more. The window into his soul vanished as if it had never existed in the first place.

But the new awareness that I had of him did not leave me; things had changed between us. We were still friends, but now there was distance between us that could never be bridged.

Then he gave me a small sad smile.

"A real hero is someone that doesn't screw up."

"What do you mean?", I asked him. His answer didn't make any sense to me at the time. Surely he didn't think that such perfection was possible, and I told him so.

"We all make mistakes, that's part of being human."

But it didn't seem to help. The somber expression on his face didn't waver. He was dead serious.

"A true hero can't afford to be wrong. Not once. Not ever."

So that was it. In a softer tone I asked him,

"What happened to you, Ranma? It's been two years since I last saw you. But it seems that more time has passed for you then me."

I didn't expect him to answer me, but he did.

"I'm tired Erin. I'm just so tired…"

He turned to look out the balcony. His friend's home was cozy but by no means small. It afforded an excellent view of the surroundings and the setting sun.

The sunsets of Lazlo are one of the most beautiful sights one can see on Rifts Earth. Part of that attraction is being able to actually relax and enjoy it, secure in the knowledge that the City of Learning is one of the safest places in North America.

But Ranma had no eyes for the glorious natural spectacle taking place outside. His thoughts were turned toward the past.

"I've seen too much evil… too much cruelty… too much hate… too much pain…"

His voice was empty, and his eyes had a haunted look in them.

"And always Death. It follows me like a shadow, never ever going away. So many friends, people I cared about, have died because of me. No matter what I do, they die… and all I can do is find the bastards responsible and make them pay. But it's never enough. It won't bring them back."

There was nothing I could say, simple words of comfort couldn't help him. It just kept spilling out of him, like a dam that had been finally breached and would not stop till it had run its course.

"I hate having to kill. But I've become damned good at it. Too damned good. And the worst part of it is that I'm beginning to not give a damn anymore."

The tears in his eyes refused to fall. But I could see his body quivering like a bow that had been drawn too tight from the pain he sought to keep in control.


I was sure that he was being too hard on himself. The Ranma I knew wasn't a killer, the only time he ever took a life was when defending himself or others. He took no pleasure in it, he simply did what had to be done.

"I've done a lot of stuff over the years that I'm not proud of, Erin. All of it was in the cause of what's supposed to be right, battling evil and injustice. But the dividing line between the two has become so blurred now that there are times when I can't help but wonder whose side I'm really on."

"Wha… what?!"

I couldn't believe my ears, but I could see that he wasn't lying. The pain was being replaced by an empty expression in his eyes, and it scared me.

Ranma had always been so strong, the person that could be counted on when things got bad. But now he was here before me, on the verge of burning out both emotionally and mentally. Never had I felt so helpless, it hurt so badly to see him like this.

"I don't know who I am anymore and I'm starting to think that I never did. There's so much darkness out there and the best we can ever hope to do is check it in a bloody stalemate. I can't go on like this, there has to be another way!!"

"You can't save everyone."

"I know. I thought I could make a difference, but nothing's really changed. Sometimes… I feel like just giving up."

When I heard that I just couldn't help myself. I'd never been so angry, and I slapped him. Hard.


I regretted my action almost immediately. Ranma's face was much harder then my hand. It felt like I had struck a steel wall.


The dark emptiness clouding his eyes vanished and was replaced by a shocked and hurt expression directed at me.

Of course, I wasn't exactly keep much track of all the details going on as I was rather upset at the time.

"Now you listen to me, Ranma Saotome! Don't you DARE take that defeatist attitude with me! Just because you're not perfect doesn't make you a failure! You say that you haven't made a difference. Well, take a good look at me Ranma! YOU saved my life! And not just once, but several times. Hell, you helped save this entire planet from total annihilation at least twice!! I'll be damned before I repay that debt by letting you snivel in fear like some coward!!"

He went from shocked and confused to just plain angry. I have admit I'm not exactly sure what I was thinking at the time. When I look back now all I can do is shake my head in disbelief. Ranma can have that effect on a person.


The glare he shot at me was hot enough to vaporize a SAMAS. For once I was glad about that little quirk Saotome had about not hitting women. I suspect that if anyone else had said that to his face they would have had trouble trying to pull their ankles out of their tonsils. I'm not saying Ranma is a violent person, for a person his age he possesses a remarkable sense of self-control. But he has very little tolerance for fools or troublemakers. Anyone stupid enough to challenge his sense of honor falls into both categories.

So what did that make me at that moment?

Hmmm… better not explore that line of thought any further.

"A coward. If you're not one, prove me wrong!! Damn it, after everything that's happened you just want to throw it all away?! I thought I knew you better then that!! You may not care about what happens to you anymore but your friends care!! I care!!"

There. I had said it. Now all I could do was brace myself for the coming explosion. He had every right to be angry. But I wouldn't back down. I believed every word I had shouted at him. The universe would be a much darker place without Saotome in it.


His mouth stayed open but nothing more came out. A mask seemed to slide over his emotions and I could no longer tell what he was thinking.

Somewhere along the line Ranma'd finally managed to pick up an effective poker face. It was a little too damn effective if you asked me.


Finally he seemed to snap out of his little trance.


Despite myself, I flinched. His voice sounded so soft, and it was filled with an emotion I had never heard in it before. I was truly afraid at that moment, convinced that I'd failed and he was going to let himself be beaten by the ghosts of his past.

"Thank you. I needed that."

All I could do was blink. I couldn't even manage a decent 'Huh?'; you could have knocked me over with a feather at that moment.

Then he smiled. A actual honest to goodness, heart stopping, "Hoo boy! I REALLY wish I was forty years younger!!" smile.

(*Ahem*. Sorry about that. But it's just not fair! Why couldn't he have been available when I was looking for a man?! —Erin)

I smiled back as the Ranma that I remembered finally returned.

"So why don't you sit down and tell me what you've been doing since we last met."

"It's a long story."

"Those are the best kind."

I started to brew up another pot of tea. If he said it was going to be long that meant it could take four or five days before he finished.

Heh, but at least his stories were never boring!

-All Present and Accounted For

{Let's see… that's 24 charged Energy-clips, one slightly used Mantle of Displacement, 53 Class IV type fusion blocks, 247 socks that don't match, duct tape, 6 modified Kittani Sentry Turrets, that old HI-80 laser rifle he insists on dragging around with him, a couple of spare parts for who knows what, one really beaten up copy of the Book of Five Rings, more duct tape, and….}

Ishtar was busy taking inventory of the other items that resided with her in the dimensional pocket. There wasn't much else to do here and Ranma was always putting stuff here and forgetting about it. So it was left to his partner to keep track of what he collected. It was not a job for the faint of heart, there was stuff scattered about as far as the human eye could see.

{Geez, where the heck does he find all of this junk?!}

A pair of white silk panties drifted past her position.

{And what the hell is THAT doing in HERE?!

It was followed by several other female undergarments, ranging from "Skimpy as Hell" to "Guaranteed Nosebleed". Ishtar could only recognize about half of them as having belonged to certain "acquaintances" of her partner.

(He is so dead when I get out.}

That was when the explosion hit.


The dimensional pocket shuddered violently as its connection to the real world was briefly thrown out of alignment by the raging maelstrom.


The startled weapon was hurled into a pile of old scrolls and assorted knickknacks. She bounced off of a very patched up suit of light body armor and went into a uncontrolled spin.


Thinking quickly, Ishtar erected a TK (telekinetic) field around herself. It brought her to an immediate halt. Fortunately whiplash wasn't something she had to worry about, so the sudden stop was annoying instead of painful. Once the sword's position was stabilized within the protection of the field, Ishtar's attention turned toward the cause of all of this. Somehow she just knew that her partner was the cause of all of this.

[HEY! What's going on out there?!]

There was no response.


Now she was beginning to get worried.


Something was wrong. She should have gotten some kind of response, even if it was only a mental brush off. The only reasons why she wouldn't be able to contact him would be if he was unconscious, inside a psionicly shielded area, or…


…if he was dying.

[Ranma!! I swear that if this turns out to be a false alarm and all my worrying is for nothing, I'm gonna KILL YOU!!!]



Darkness. Void. Pain.


Sensations that had become all too familiar to him since he'd fallen through the looking glass.


Especially the last one. Physical pain had always been a part of his life ever since he could first remember. Ten years of training had taught him the hurts that could be inflicted by fist, feet, and words. Ristmoth had introduced him to the agonies of weapons both ancient and modern as well as the horrors of magic and psionics. But it wasn't until after his Transformation within the heart of the Cosmic Forge that he learned the true meaning of Pain.


The disorientation he felt started to fade as his mind eased its way back into consciousness. It wasn't a very pleasant trip.

{… Did anyone get the registry number of that Star Destroyer?}(1)

Memories of the fight started to return. It was accompanied by a splitting headache; his brain felt like was going to explode into a billion bloody pieces any second. This was on a par with his first (and only) hangover in the "Experiences I don't think I'm gonna survive; Just let me die already!!!" department.

{Damn it, I can't believe I got my ass kicked by a girl… again.}

He cursed softly, then groaned as the effort made his head hurt even more. What kind of an attack was that anyway?! And more importantly… could he learn how to do it?

{Well, I'm not going to be doing much of anything if I don't get up soon.}

Ranma's first attempt to rise proved futile. Something heavy was pinning him down and for some reason he couldn't lift it off.


He should have been able to move whatever was lying on top of him. It wasn't that heavy.

{What's the matter with me?! I feel so weak…exhausted….}

He couldn't see a thing either, and it was then that he realized his tattoo's power had expired. But that didn't make any sense. Like all experienced martial artists, his body kept precise track of time's passing, and according to his internal clock he'd been unconscious for only a few minutes. The magical enhancement should have been good for at least another hour. Something was wrong here.

{Okay, no need to panic. First thing to do is find out exactly what I've got left to work with and then go from there.}

A quick but through internal check of his status wasn't very encouraging. His power reserves were much lower then they should have been. Even taking into account the extra energy needed to activate his tattoos, it still didn't explain why most of his available PPE was missing.

In his current condition he just might be a match for that Tux-boy jerk.

{Magga cammara (2), I haven't been this wasted since taking on that Nightlord bastard…}

Just thinking about it brought up a whole bunch of really bad memories. His stay there had nearly cost him his life, his sanity and his soul. Mind and spirit had both eventually recovered from that horrific ordeal. But without Erin Tarn and Ishtar, he would never have been able to find the will to keep on going. He owed them both a debt that he would never be able to fully repay.

But there was no magic in the Universe that could fully heal a broken heart. Ranma would carry those scars till the day he died.

Which, if things kept going the way they were, might be sooner then expected.

{Damn it all! I can accept dying for a good cause, BUT I REFUSE TO GET KILLED BECAUSE OF SOMETHING THIS STUPID!!!}

In his anger Ranma found the strength to move. A surge of raw power snapped through his muscles as he strained to shake off whatever was pinning him down.

For a moment nothing happened. Then there was a creaking groan as the pieces of roof began to shudder and give way. A loud crash sounded as the remaining debris collapsed on either side of him.

{I'm free!}

But the effort had cost him dearly. Ranma could barely find the strength to stand up. He was forced to lean heavily on the remains of what had once been a wall. Even with its support he stumbled twice.


Gut wrenching nausea struck as he finally reached a more or less upright position. The unlucky Knight had to fight the reflex to drop to his knees and puke his guts out. His sense of balance was going crazy, the world kept dipping and swaying and spinning and twirling with the occasional loop-de-loop for good measure. The low pitched drumming that some sadistic musician was beating into his eardrums wasn't helping him either. And it was getting a bit chilly for some reason…

{Wa- wa- wait a sec. Why is it so drafty?}

Ranma looked down. His body was bruised and battered, but still in one piece.

His Cosmic Armor on the other hand…


Now that was a totally different story!

All he could do was look down in disbelief at a lot of bare skin that wasn't supposed to be exposed. There also seemed to be a lot of little black bits of material scattered all around the area. In fact that debris looked awfully familiar…

{*GACK* Th-tha-that's my ARMOR!!!}

She had blown up his armor.

She had blown up his COSMIC armor.

But that was supposed to be impossible!!

A CosmoKnight's armor was one of the best protections in the Multiverse. That wasn't just an idle boast, it was a fact. Not only did it possess the innate resistance to energy that Ranma himself had, it was also capable of sustaining an incredible amount of abuse from practically any source and repairing that damage within a few minutes. Although some attacks were able to penetrate his armor, the sheer power needed to completely destroy the suit was on a scale that was simply mind-boggling!

{How in the Forge's name did that woman DO that?!}

Ranma shuddered to think of what could have happened had he not been in his Cosmic form. Those dark fragments scattered across the ground would probably have been bits and pieces of him instead. As it was, enough of the blast had still gotten through to leave him damn near helpless. Right now, all he was running on was plain old fashioned guts and stubborn determination. It wasn't enough, and Ranma knew it.

{Shit! I really underestimated her. Gotta get outta here fast, I need time to let my body pull itself back together.}

Speaking of which, why hadn't his healing factor kicked in already?


{Uh oh.}

He couldn't feel the telltale tingle that was the usual indicator of his armor putting itself back to rights like it was supposed to. Nor was his own body recovering at its normal rate. While Ranma could sense some life returning to the most damaged areas, it was taking much longer then it should have.

That was an even more horrifying and unwelcome discovery than the amount of damage the blast had caused. Getting severely injured wasn't normally that much to worry about, it happened to him all the time. But not being able to recover from those injuries in a few minutes, now THAT was a problem!

{Okay, now it's time to panic.}

-The Deadliest Emotion

Sailor Pluto slowly sank to her knees in exhaustion; without the Time Staff as a support she would have collapsed totally. Her reserves had been virtually depleted by the enormous energy requirements of the "Chrono Trigger" technique. It was easy enough to make a hole in space-time and direct the resulting flood of wild quantum level energies at the enemy. Usually no more then a few seconds of exposure were needed to assure complete and total annihilation of the target(s). The hard part was closing the tear before it got out of control and ended up wiping out all existence within several hundred kilometers. And she hadn't used this attack in almost a thousand years, because it reminded her of… Ran.

Even millennia later, her memories of him remained dark and bitter. She hated him more then anything in the Universe, there were simply no adequate words capable of describing the sheer burning rage she felt whenever she remembered the man who had gained her trust, stolen her heart, and then cruelly betrayed her. Because of his treachery a kingdom had fallen. Everything that she had fought for, all that she had sworn to protect with her life and honor, gone. Her ruler and fellow Senshi dead, along with over a billion innocent souls. But what he'd done to her personally had been far, far worse then mere death. That would have been a blessing compared to the fate he had inflicted upon her.

Ran had left her alive, the only survivor of the once proud Silver Millennium Empire. For that alone she would have seen him writhe in agony within the deepest pits of the Abyss for all eternity. Trapped within the Corridor of Time and helpless to intervene, all she had been able to do was watch the horror repeat itself again and again as the currents of the Timestream flowed endlessly before her. It was enough to drive a lesser person completely insane, but she had been denied the easy escape of madness. Instead, her shame and guilt had grown until she now loathed herself almost as much as she hated her betrayer.

Setsuna had learned her lesson well. Love was a fantasy for fools and dreamers, she was neither of those anymore. Ran had destroyed her illusions, all she had left now was this last attempt to make amends. By ensuring the security of the future Crystal Millennium Empire she sought redemption for her one fatal lapse in judgment. It was her self-imposed penance. She would not fail Serenity a second time. One way or another, this threat to the Princess and the future would end, no matter the cost.

A single lonely tear ran down a face that might as well have been cast in marble for all the emotion it showed. Only her crimson eyes did any trace of emotion escape the control that had cost her so much to learn.

"No matter the cost…"

-Be Afraid. Be VERY Afraid.


"What was that?!"

"It came from over there!"

The Inners snapped out of their trance-like states as if awakening from a bad dream. Right now, they were willing to grasp at any straw of hope no matter how slim it was.

"Can you see anything?!"

"No, there's too much dust!"

"If he's hurt I get to nurse him back to health!"

"In your dreams, Venus! He'd be in even worse shape afterwards!"

"You're one to talk, Jupiter! As I recall, you flunked First Aid training!"

"Um, guys we have to find him first. Besides, I'm studying to be a doctor anyway…"

"Hey! I have dibs!!"

"No, I do!!"

-Say It With Flowers

The Universe had an unwritten law concerning Ranma Saotome that was similar in nature to the one it had concerning a certain blonde Galaxy Police detective. Although the wording of that law was quite long and tedious, what it boiled down to was "The given odds for any event happening are no longer applicable when said individual is involved".

Case in point. Having already sustained considerable damage to his person from Sailor Pluto's attack, Ranma was now practically helpless and it looked more and more likely that he would wind up being fussed over by pretty girls yet again. This had happened quite often back in the Three Galaxies and on Rifts Earth… and Wormwood… and the Forgotten Realms… and… and… well, you get the idea. Let's just say that Saotome was no stranger to the horrors of being nursed back to health! It would be faster (not to mention safer) for him to tend to his own injuries, and if Ranma could have had his way that's just what he would have done.

Unfortunately for him, Fate loves to kick a guy when he's down. It's one of her little quirks that tends to send most sane beings running if they know what's good for them. Which is why people tend to stick with Destiny, who is kinder and much more reliable.

So it was cruel twist of Fate (pun intended) that the first person to spot him was none other then the only person there who was willing and able to deliver some serious payback.

{There he is!}

Yes, Tuxedo-Cuckoo was just determined to make an already lousy day for Ranma even worse. But then again, Mamoru Chiba could never be accused of any of those silly things like fighting fair, respecting rules of engagement, or not taking advantage of a clearly incapacitated individual. After all, the best opponents to hit were those that couldn't hit back.

Of course he just had to use the one item in his rather tiny arsenal which was capable of actually doing anything. The rose throw was cliché, annoying, and an otherwise stupid looking attack.

But it worked.

"YES!! I got him!!!"

Tuxedo Kamen would have jumped up and down in glee if he could have found a dignified way to do so.

"You did WHAT?!!"

Sailor Jupiter and Sailor Venus obviously didn't share his feeling of accomplishment. The two Senshi made that very clear when they kicked his shins with all of their strength.


Then they got really violent.

Sailor Mercury sweatdropped before running out to hopefully fix the mess the Caped Blunder had made of things. Minako and Makoto would be right behind her as soon as they finished venting a little post-battle stress and she wanted some time to attend her patient alone. There was no telling what further calamities might occur when those two tried to help.

Mercury was so caught up in trying to avoid attracting attention from the others while making the best possible speed that she completely missed Sailor Saturn's silent presence following right behind her.


Saotome normally liked roses. They were pretty, smelled good, and really useful for when he was in a pinch involving women. But he didn't enjoy it when one was hurled at his body with the intent to maim or kill. And he really didn't like it when that rose turned out to be a surprisingly effective projectile weapon against him.

{SONAVABITCH!! I should have kicked his ass when I had the chance!!}

Ranma jerked backwards in agony as the razor sharp stem sunk deeply into his already weakened flesh just past his collar bone. On a scale of one to ten, this rated a solid seven on the Saotome Pain-O-meter. It felt like he'd just been hit by a Hyper Grav-Cannon round, even though the actual injury was insignificant. It was the enchantment placed on the flower that was now draining into him which was doing the real damage. Flashes of red and white briefly obscured the badly wounded Knight's rapidly blurring vision as his sorely taxed body fought a losing battle to stay upright and conscious.

"Some… vacation… this is…"

{And to think that the Forge said this was going to be a good chance to relax and unwind. I should have seen this coming…}

Ranma teetered, then he slowly started to collapse. The last thing he saw before everything went black was a generous amount of tanned cleavage.

Okay, so even Fate can be merciful once in a great while.

-From the Frying Pan to the Breakfast Platter


Urd had to scramble to catch the young man as he fell. She hadn't been expecting him to suddenly come crashing down onto her like that. At least he was lighter then he looked.

"This is your very cunning plan?! Just run in and grab him?!!"

The sad thing was, Skuld had been expecting some kind of harebrained stunt from her older sister. Just not this crazy!

"It worked didn't it? So stop complaining and give me a hand here!"

Under other circumstances Urd would have enjoyed having a young man's head pressed firmly against her ample bosom, but right now she was too busy trying to keep her balance while holding onto the unconscious stranger. He wasn't that heavy, but it was all dead weight, which made holding onto him clumsy and uncertain.

On a more positive note, she was learning more about him now then during the entire time he had been wearing that strange armor. A pity that it wasn't all gone, part of his helmet and some scattered half-melted bits that had apparently avoided the worst of the blast were still obscuring most of the important parts. But the goddess had still gotten a good look at him before he'd passed out on her.

Urd liked what she saw.

Lean and tight in all the right places, not rippling with bulging muscles in every possible direction like most of the Asgardian Pantheon, but definitely packing some serious power. She was willing to wager that if this guy were patched up and cleaned up a bit he would be quite a treat for the eyes, among other things…

{Hmmm. Maybe I should just let him work his debt off.}

Her thoughts were interrupted by a warm stickiness soaking through the front of her garments. Puzzled by this strange (but oddly familar) sensation, she took a moment to look down. The first thing that came to mind was "What a mess".

The second one was "Belldandy's going to have her work cut out for her trying to get this stain out".

And it was one of her favorites too! She gave the offender an annoyed look.

"You're going to owe me big time for this."

Fortunately Ranma was in no condition to answer her. His shoulder continued to bleed like a leaky faucet as the embedded thorns tore deeper at even the slightest movement.

{Don't you dare die on me!}

The brief feeling of possessiveness was noted and logged for later contemplation. Right now she had bigger things to worry about. Like getting the heck out of there before something else went wrong.

It looked like it was time for "Urd's Super-Duper Clever Distraction™"!

"Uh oh."

Skuld eyed her now glowing sister nervously.

This was going to be bad.

"Hey, look over there!!"

Urd pointed at a spot that coincidentally happened to be the exact opposite direction from where she was currently standing.

-Masaki household (Where Truth Is Stranger Then Fiction)

Washu snorted in disbelief.

"Oh c'mon! What kind of two-bit idiot would fall for that old gag?!"

"Where? Where is it?! I wanna see!"

Ryoko, Minagi, and the recently recovered Ayeka all craned their heads in an attempt to get a glimpse of what everyone was making such a fuss about.


The greatest scientific genius in the universe facefaulted onto the living room floor and started twitching. Ask a stupid question…

-Ready. Set. Run away!

"Urd, that was so… STUPID!!"

"Hey, don't fix it if it's not broken."

"And what's that supposed to mean?!"

But her big sister wasn't paying attention, instead she seemed to be looking for something in the rubble.

"Oh c'mon… they can't all have been destroyed."

Then she spotted it.


Not the most ideal focus for a transport, but since this was an emergency it would do. Urd grabbed her little sister, secured her unconscious passenger, and got ready to skedaddle.

"Hang on, we're getting outta here!"

The young goddess blanched as she listened to the chant that her older sibling was using.

She wouldn't!

Anything but THAT!!

Not the "Official Heavenly Sake Hangover Instant Transport" spell!!!

"Wait! Wait!!"

Skuld shouted frantically as she struggled to escape before it was too late.

"… She who parties and gets away, lives to get drunk another day!"

Divine power surrounded them as the platinum bombshell finished her casting.


*Insert Spiffy Goddess Special Effects Here*

The trio vanished in a swirl of white light. So did several scattered bits and pieces of what appeared to be random junk.

-There's A Nice Bridge In Brooklyn Available For A Reasonable Price…

The still smoking remains of what had once been a deluxe television set tipped over with a loud crash.

Everyone that was still there turned back around.


A long silence followed. Jupiter was the first one to recover and point out the obvious.

"They… disappeared!!"

A brilliant deduction by Venus followed.

"Gah! She tricked us!!"

A red faced Mercury closed her eyes and wished that the ground would just swallow her up. She was NEVER going to live this one down.

{I- I can't believe I fell for that!!}

Could things possibly go any more wrong right now?

Emergency sirens blared as a swarm of patrol cars came rushing toward the scene.

{Of course they could…}

Since all the monsters were gone, Tokyo's finest had decided that now was a good time to show up.

"Hey guys! Did we miss anything?"

"Whoa! What happened here?!"

Sailor Mars and Sailor Moon looked at the other Senshi curiously. They looked rather surprised to see the two of them there. Okay, so they were a little late. But the situation seemed to be under control. It wasn't anything to make a big fuss over, right?


Sailor Moon might not be so hot as a fighter, but she knew how to grovel at a level that put the "Crouch of the Wild Tiger" to shame.

"AAAHH!! I'm sorry! I'm sorry! I'll never be late again!! Just stop making those scary faces!!"

Fortunately Mars managed to stop herself before she followed her first instinctive reaction of hurling spirit wards at the terrifying apparitions looming over her.

"We can assign blame later! Let's just get out of here before something else happens."

That was when it started to rain.


-Heaven on Earth (Or The Next Best Thing)

"Keiichi, you might want to back up a little bit."

"Why's that, Belldandy?"

"I'm afraid that Urd used one of the more esoteric Holy magics."

Keiichi looked properly horrified as he sprang back from the television screen. He remembered the last big spell that Urd had attempted. It had taken two weeks for the antenna to fall off of his forehead. He still broke out into cold sweats whenever he saw a flyswatter.

Still, even that couldn't prepare him for what came next.

Three small sonic booms shook the temple in quick succession. Urd, Skuld, and some half-naked guy who was bleeding like crazy from a nasty chest wound came crashing out of a large crystalline gate that appeared directly in front of him. A moment later the gate imploded back into the nothingness it had originated from. Its passengers were deposited almost exactly where Keiichi had been sitting before Belldandy's warning.

"Wh- who is this?!"

"He's the one that saved Skuld's sorry tush, not that you could tell by looking at him now."

"I said I was sorry for going out alone!

Hey! Where's Banpei?!"

A small downpour of robotic parts dropped on Keiichi.

"Ow! Ouch! Hey! That hurts!! Quit it!! Ow!!"


Crying with relief, the petite goddess grabbed all of Banpei's components and disappeared into her room in record time.

"Don't worry my precious!! You'll be as good as new in no time!!"


Morisato rubbed a sore spot on his nose where a gear had bounced off. He should have known that Skuld would be Skuld.

-Tendo Household (We Lower Your Property Values For Less)

To the casual observer everything appeared to be normal. Genma, having already disregarded his son's warning to "Get off your lazy butt and find an honest job for once in your life", was playing shogi with Soun on the porch by the koi pond. Naturally both of them were cheating like crazy, resorting to lame tricks that even their much-dreaded master would have been ashamed to use. Pathetic, but perfectly in character for those two.

Meanwhile, Kasumi was doing the chores, which the so-called "men" of the house seemed to think were beneath their dignity or simply beyond their intellectual capacity. Again, nothing out of the ordinary.

Or so it seemed…

A closer look revealed that the eldest Tendo daughter was doing something that could be considered slightly odd for her. Kasumi was singing.

"I've been looking for this emotion,
Pure feelings hidden inside of me."

A genuine glow of happiness seemed to emanate from her as she twirled through the house with broom and duster in hand.

"The harder I chase my dream…"

There was a light spring in her step, as for the first time in her life the willowy beauty let herself picture a future where the family she took care of would be her own.

"… the more I experience the time for smiles and tears."

It might be a little difficult at first for her younger sisters to take over the running the household once she was gone, but Kasumi was sure that they would be up to the challenge.

"I know that, but…"

A small feeling of doubt arose. Did she dare to leap into the unknown? Could she afford not to try? Would there be someone waiting to catch her on the other side? Or would she find herself falling forever, helpless and alone?

To risk it all, or not at all.

"… sometimes I want to be more like myself and feel the wind.
I want to find the future of no one else but me."

For a long time Kasumi had been following a safe and mundane road in life. Now the way to a new path was being offered to her, one that promised to turn her entire world topsy-turvy but at the same time tempted her with a chance to fulfill a deep, heartfelt longing which had remained buried and nameless for a very long time…

-The Cure Can Be Worse Then The Disease

"Move him over to the futon."

Belldandy was relieved to see that her older sister had already started to apply a compress in order to slow the bleeding. Even if she did look less then thrilled about having to use the small remaining part of her robe that hadn't already been splattered as a makeshift bandage.

{Darn it! I'm a Goddess of Love, not a field nurse!!}

Urd glared at the nearest conscious target for her irritation.

"Make yourself useful and hold him down. I need to pull this stupid flower out of him."

Keiichi gave her a funny look in return. Hold him down?! She had to be kidding! Just look at him! He felt like a twig compared to this guy!

"Do I have to do everything myself?"

Morisato sighed in defeat, his head bowed in shame at having to surrender so easily. It was sad but true; he was a weenie.

"I'm coming."

-Exactly 1 minute 32 seconds later (Or It Simply Sucks To Be You…)

Keiichi Morisato, perhaps the most lucky (or unlucky depending at how you look at it) guy on Earth, was currently regretting that he'd never taken the time to exercise and workout more.


He was also wishing that he had taken skydiving lessons.



It was a good thing that the wall he went through was actually nothing more then a flimsy screen divider, otherwise someone might have gotten hurt.



Well, it was only two screen dividers.


Uh oh.



Oh dear.



[How do I get into these messes?!!}

~~~~Two Seconds Earlier~~~~

"Be careful, this is probably going to hurt him a bit. Be sure to brace yourself, he's kinda strong."

Urd had an infamous talent for understatement.

~~~~Back To The Predicament At Hand~~~~



This was so unfair! The most perfect woman in the world was in love with him and he was going to die a virgin!



The realization that he wasn't dead started to slowly sink in. With that matter settled, he proceeded to try and identify the puzzling incongruity here.


That was funny, he didn't remember putting such soft cushions in this room. And warm too. How odd. For some reason they reminded him of Belldandy, but for the life of him he couldn't figure out why. They even smelled like her. A subtle perfume of fresh baked cookies and spring flowers that he never got tired of.


Uh oh.

A feeling of dread and foreboding™ started to creep in.

{Kami-sama wouldn't be that cruel…}

In retrospect, it was a really bad idea to open his eyes.

-Furinkan High (Where The Quality Of Education Is The *Least* Of Your Worries)

The lunch hour had come and gone. But she still couldn't find him anywhere. To say that Nabiki was more then a tad peeved by this was like saying Tatewaki Kuno was only slightly less intelligent then your average cucumber.

Ranma had been gone far too long for any "reasonable" explanation. And despite Kuno's loud and pompous speech about how he'd "driven off the craven coward like the sniveling peasant trash he was", any student with more than two brain cells to rub together knew better then to listen to him. Naturally the male students on campus bought every word of it.

Even despite the fact that Kendo-boy was currently unable to stand up straight without immediately going cross-eyed and clutching at the Kuno family baubles.

{Where is he?}

And while she would never admit it (even under oath), she was starting to worry about him. He didn't seem like the type to up and vanish like that without a word to anyone else. Something was up. And whatever it was, she was going to get to the bottom of it. There was her reputation to consider, after all. Nobody pulled a fast one on Nabiki Tendo.

It had been awhile since she'd faced such a difficult puzzle and Nabiki could feel her insatiable curiosity start to lick its chops in anticipation of the challenge to come.

{I must be out of my mind…}

Ranma might be attractive, but was he really worth the headaches that seemed destined to accompany him?

{Who am I kidding? Like I'll ever get another opportunity even remotely close to this one?}

Nabiki was not a fool.

"Kyyaa— *thump* —oww!!"

Her sister on the other hand…

"Give it up already, Akane! You're never going to be able to accomplish a double spin kick somersault-flip with a butterfly open hand strike after just seeing Ranma use it this morning!"

The judges were out on that one.

"If he can do it, so can I! I'm a martial artist too, you know!!"

Nabiki could feel a headache coming on.

{Sis, you only shout that out to the entire world every couple of hours. Maybe you should say it a little louder, I think a few people in Antarctica haven't heard you yet.}

Why the heck was Akane so upset anyway? Just because someone else had finally done something about the morning spectacle and given Kuno-chan a much needed lesson in humility? Or was little sister jealous about no longer having the attention of the entire school anymore?

She tried to shake off the smug sensation produced by that line of thought, but her efforts weren't very effective. There was just something deliciously ironic about Akane being upstaged by Nabiki's prospective fiancé.

{Well, as soon as I find him…}

Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

{Watch out Saotome, you've just met your match.}

And she always played to win.

What she forgot to figure into her calculations was that even fools can be dangerous under the right circumstances.

-The Stuff Dreams (And Nightmares) Are Made Of

CosmoKnights rarely dreamed. Their minds were restructured by the Cosmic Forge, during their initial transformation, into an efficient configuration that didn't require much to continue functioning. Most Knights could go for weeks or even months without rest, suffering only minimal reductions to their performance and efficiency. "Sleep" for them usually consisted of nothing more then a few minutes of simple meditation where the poisons and stresses that have been built up by activity were purged by their unique metabolism. They possessed a mind-body relationship that in some ways surpassed even that of the dreaded Phase Adepts.

It was this control which enabled them to access so many of their unique abilities. Their power of flight was governed by pure will; a Knight merely had to concentrate and his body followed. Similarly, their FTL capability was a product of mental discipline and focus. Through meditation, a CosmoKnight's absolute mastery of each and every cell of their body enabled them to temporarily transform from matter to pure Cosmic Energy, capable of surpassing even the most powerful hyperdrive.

One of the side effects of such rigid discipline was an inability to naturally achieve the REM state necessary for dreaming under normal circumstances. It was extremely difficult to relax their self control long enough for theta waves to be produced. The closest thing to real dreams that most Knights ever experienced was a kind of "Zen" state where their consciousness received orders and information from the Forge.

This particular situation was far from ordinary.

Ranma's ravaged system was busy trying to overcome the effects of Sailor Pluto's attack that had irradiated his body with dangerous and unstable quantum level energies. The effect was compounded by the raw magic leaking from Tuxedo Kamen's sloppily enchanted bit of foliage. Even the considerable protection granted by the Cosmic Forge had never been intended to defend against such an unusual combination like this. All it had been able to do, initially, was keep the damage from spreading further; but nothing could be done about the ice-cold fire that screamed down every nerve cluster as millions of living cells were torn asunder, only to regenerate in whole, only to be ripped apart once more. The cycle of death and rebirth repeated itself without any end in sight, only the unceasing pain was constant.

Even the strongest will could remain in control for only so long under these circumstances. All that was required was the smallest slip to achieve the necessary conditions. That chance came when his body, instinctively sensing that further measures were needed, slipped further into unconsciousness in order to initiate a desperately needed healing trance.

Ranma dreamed. Through a haze of pain and delirium, he dreamed.

-Governor Ryga's palace (Firefight In Progress)

<BGM: Mad Machine (Bubble Gum Crisis)>

The Imperial Forces were putting up one heck of a fight. But then again, the rebels wouldn't have it any other way. The hatred between the two sides ran too deep.

"Squads 1 and 2, take point, clean out those hallways and make sure those Imps didn't leave us any nasty parting gifts."

His sergeants nodded and signaled their teams to advance, the troops used whatever scant cover was available as energy beams and solid slugs hissed and screamed back and forth between the lines. Their efforts were only successful part of the time. Several unlucky rebels were hit on an exposed front or flank. Very few of them got back up afterwards. War hadn't gotten any prettier in the future, only more efficient.

"Squad 4, form up and protect the Resistance Leaders, we didn't come this far just to lose them to some stupid private with shit on his boots."

The squad's soldiers started to carefully pull back, each person laying down covering fire for the next as they regrouped behind the front lines. A fresh squad quickly moved to replace their positions, though not without suffering casualties in doing so.

"The rest of you, let's kick some Legionnaire ASS!!"

"YES, SIR!!!"

General Skythe possessed that rare mix of charisma and brimstone, which his troops would gladly follow into Hell itself if he asked them to. Having lost his wife and only son to the Kreeghor's brutalities, Dennis Skythe had dedicated his life to destroying the Empire. He was a hard man, but fair in his own way.

"So which position should I cover, Grandpa?"

Skythe's lower jaw smacked painfully onto the cold permacrete floor as he did a double take at the sight of his 16-year-old granddaughter standing next to him wearing worn combat fatigues and shouldering a laser rifle like she had been born for it.

"Hsi-Feng?! What the hell are you doing here?! I told you to stay back at the base!!"

Heads were going to roll when he found out who was responsible for this mix-up!!

"There's no way I'm staying behind during a major engagement like this!"

Scratch that, he should have known that the little mule of a brat would try something like this on her own. She had her mother's features, but she'd gotten her damned pigheadedness from him. Dennis rued the day he'd been forced to assume responsibility for raising her. How the heck anyone back then had expected him to know diddly-squat about taking care of a little five-year-old girl in the middle of damn intergalactic civil war was beyond even his comprehension. He'd done the best he could, of course, but as she'd gotten older Hsi-Feng had turned into a complete tomboy.

Hell, she could use that rifle she was carrying better then most of his troops.

That still didn't excuse her being here, though!!

"You little… don't you realize how dangerous this is?!"

{I swear that when this is all over, I'm going to tan her little bottom so hard, she'll be standing for a month!!}

Although even that probably wouldn't stop her from pulling another harebrained stunt like this.

{Goddamnit! I'm getting too bloody old for this!!}

"By all rights I should have you thrown in solitary with nothing but bread and water!! But—"

"But you can't afford to detail any soldiers off from securing the palace to escort me back to base, now can you?"

He glared at her.

"You knew."

Hsi-Feng stood her ground as she faced his stormy expression. They both knew it was an empty threat, but he still had to try and save face in front of his men. There really was no good reason for him to send her back. She was just as qualified, if not more so, as any of the other soldiers to be there.

"Just a logical guess."

A flicker of grudging admiration crossed his face, his granddaughter might have many faults, but a coward she was not. The girl was going to give him a stroke one of these days.

Unexpectedly Skythe felt a pang of sorrow in his heart. Where had all the time gone? He could barely see any traces of that cute little tyke who had laughed so happily at her "Gwamps Skytights" in this hardened young soldier. For fifty years he'd been fighting in this bloody war. During that time his duties had cost him many things, but none of them were more painful then seeing the only family he had left denied the chance to experience more in life then just the battlefield.

Maybe… Maybe it was time to start thinking about Hsi-Feng's future.

But first he had one last promise to keep. Only when K’tarthkl’ppe was dead would he finally be able to lay the ghosts of the past behind him. It had taken over a decade of searching, but at last the bastard who had murdered his son was going to pay.

"Stay close to me and for once, try to keep out of trouble!"

"Don't I always?"

She smiled back at him. For a moment he caught a glimpse of that little girl he remembered in those laughing gray eyes.

A renewed sense of certainty filled him. This was why he was fighting, for Hsi-Feng and all the others like her that deserved better in life than this.


Floor by floor they cleared the governor's palace of Imperial scum. It was hard and bloody work, the butcher's bill was going to be far too high when all of this was over. They were winning, slowly but steadily. It was only a matter of time. But every minute that the battle continued increased the grim toll for Rebels and Imperials alike.

{Damn this war and damn the people who forced us to fight it in the first place!!}

Skythe hoped Ryga was pissing himself right now. With all of the exits sealed off and the sky being watched by Rebel forces, there was no escape for the tyrant.

He and Hsi-Feng had split off from the main group, taking a small band with them to search for the governor while the others finished mopping up the remaining spots of Imperial resistance. It was a tricky business; they might be winning, but their hold on the palace was far from secure. The Imps were still fighting for every meter of ground that they took, but there was an increasing sense of desperation in their resistance. The Rebels had cleared most of the main halls, but there were still occasional groups lurking around that they'd missed during the initial sweep.

To add to their headaches an occasional automated defense system would still pop out in areas that the rebels had already secured, they had few options except to always watch their backs. And until their electronic-countermeasures teams went through this place there was always the danger of stumbling upon a makeshift mine or bomb.

Dennis let his reflexes take over as he led his troops through each room. There was no time for hesitation, no time to think, not if he wanted to stay alive and in one piece. Rather then suppress the fear that rose up in him, he put it to work for him. Everyone got scared; the trick was not to let it cripple you at a critical moment. All of his senses were keyed up, on the alert for even the slightest hint of danger.

It was that alertness which saved his life.

Just as he was about to head back down one of the previously checked side passages connecting to the heart of the palace Skythe caught a flash of movement in the shadows. He rolled to the side, while a quick snap shot took out the trooper lurking behind a life-size crystal statue of the governor.

The acrid smell of ozone from his plasma charge burning through the air had just reached him when a "colonial" laser rifle blasted from his near right to take out the Imperial lackey who had been drawing a bead on him from the other side of the statue. Hsi-Feng's shot burned through the other Imp's faceplate, which mercifully obscured the graphic demise of the being wearing it.

Skythe spared a moment to give his granddaughter a look of irritation. That shot of hers had been much too close for comfort.

"How about a little warning before you fire that damn thing?"

Hsi-Feng shrugged carelessly.

"Sorry, there wasn't any time."

But the impish gleam in her eyes indicated that she wasn't the least bit contrite.


Turning away, he performed a quick search but found nothing of any real importance. It seemed that they'd just caught a pair of stragglers from the main enemy body. But where had they come from? The only ways out led back to the main hall where they had come from. Skythe and his men had already searched this exact same room just a few minutes earlier…


"What the…?!"

One of the wall panels slid inward at his touch.

"So that's how they got here."

Hsi-Feng ran a finger along the rim of the entrance, then tapped the butt of her rifle lightly against the dark blue crystals that were revealed. A thoughtful frown crossed her face.

"Looks like psynetic shielding. That would explain why nobody picked this up earlier."

Skythe nodded in agreement. That was what he had figured too. Of course Ryga would have taken precautions against supernatural as well as technological forms of detection.

"It figures. Vermin will always have bolt holes handy in their nest."

Her expression said it all.

"Let's flush this rat out."

-Smoke And Mirrors

Ryga's office turned out to be actually easy enough to find. They simply looked for the biggest room, overflowing with extravagant and gaudy displays of wealth and power.

But when they burst inside, the surprise turned out to be on them. The first thing that hit them was the smell. The miasma of recent death was strong, nearly a tangible presence in the room. It was a stench of fear and suffering that could only be described as… Evil.

Then they saw it.

Or rather, what was left of it.

The ghastly sight in front of them was enough to cause even professional soldiers to recoil involuntarily.

Ryga K’tarthkl’ppe, merciless tyrant of Ristmoth, butcherer of countless millions, the most despised individual in this region of space, was dead. Murdered. And it did not look like his end had been a quick one.

The taste of bile rose in Skythe's throat. Even in his most vindictive moods he'd never imagined anything remotely close to this.

"Bloody hell! What's going on here?!"

-A Knife In The Dark

Guard duty is almost always a boring job, sorta one of those near universal constants. What most people fail to understand is that boring is a good thing. It's on those rare occasions when something exciting happens that trouble starts.

Unfortunately, the unlucky rebels who'd been assigned to sentry duty inside of the main computer control room inside the palace didn't share this sentiment.

"Damn, I'm bored."

"Would you shut up already! It's not like your complaining is helping the time pass any faster, you know."

"Okay then, let's talk about something else. How do you think the others are doing?"

"Better then we are, that's for sure."

"I can't believe we got stuck with standing watch back here. Man, we're missing all the action!"

"That suits me just fine. Getting killed ain't exactly high on my list of things to do."

"Where's your sense of adventure?"

"Where it belongs, safely buried beneath my sense of self preservation."

"Are you a man or a mouse?"

"Squeak, squeak."

"Oh, very funny. What do you do for an encore?"

That question would never be answered, because at that moment the two sentries finally sensed the presence behind them. As they turned, their plasma rifles were just starting to drop into firing positions.

But when they saw who it was, they hesitated for a fatal second.


The sounds of a blaster firing twice in quick succession drowned out any further speech. Both guards dropped like sacks of wet cement, steam rising from the gaping holes in their chests, their faces frozen in expressions of surprise and horror.

The killer regarded the corpses briefly, then dismissed them from any further concern. All too easy.

A dark gloved hand reached out and pushed the body slumped across the communications board to the floor. Sensitive fingers lightly skimmed over the decorative red runes that seemed at first glance to be nothing more then standard Imperial bureaucratic artistry. But those who had built this device always had more then one purpose in mind for everything they designed. One simply had to know where to look. The symbols for "Fate" and "Destiny" were found and pushed down into the board.


His efforts were rewarded by one of the console heads sliding back, revealing a previously hidden control panel. It didn't take long to punch in the proper access codes, sending out a prearranged set of commands out into a part of the continent that most people considered the middle of nowhere. The figure slipped back through the concealed entrance once the green light indicated a successful transfer. His job here was almost done. Ryga had been successfully disposed of. The signal he'd been instructed to deliver during the Rebel attack was even now being sent. All that was left for him was to tie up some loose ends.

The rest was up to the Empire.


Tucked securely inside a concealed bunker, obscured from long range electronic sensors by the high metallic content of the surrounding mountains, a compact and extremely powerful pulse transmitter started to power up. Within mere seconds it reached full capacity and began to beam a series of carefully modulated signals out towards deep space.

-High Orbit, Rebel Fleet

"Commander, I just picked up a short high frequency transmission burst from the planet."


"Unknown, it was too quick for me to get a lock. It wasn't using any encryption that I could recognize either."


"If it weren't for the fact that the burst itself was on such a high energy wavelength, I would have thought it was just random electromagnetic static from the mop up of the planet. But there was definitely a deliberate pattern embedded in it, so that rules out any natural cause."

"Hmmm. It's probably nothing, but we'd better inform the Admiral anyway. Tania, patch me through to the Hopebringer."

"I'm on it!"

-Phaseworld, The Seel's Whails

<BGM: The Cantina [Star Wars: A New Hope]>

It wasn't what she'd expected. Instead of being a dark and dirty vermin hole, the place was warm, well-lit and almost cozy in a weird futuristic sort of way.

"This is a Spacer bar?"

"What, you thought they'd be hanging out in some kind of sleazy dump like in the movies?"

"Well, to be honest, yes."

"Actually, that's often the case. But the owner of the Seel's Whails has a full set of house rules that she's good about enforcing. Plus, this is one of those rare places where a civilized being can get a decent drink for a reasonable price and not worry about getting a blaster bolt or a vibroblade in the back, so the patrons tend to try and keep it that way.

"I see. So who is "she"?"

"Miss Rairruk."

"Does Miss Rairruk have a first name?"

The guide shrugged.

"If she does, she ain't telling."

Katrina's eyes widened as she spied what was hanging on the wall behind the main bar. Resembling a high-tech samurai, the empty Warlock Combat Armor silently watched over the rest of the room. Suddenly those last few statements made a whole lot more sense.

"Oh, my."

If even half of what she'd heard about the Warlock Marines was true, then things were probably going to get very interesting soon.

Their entrance had not gone unnoticed. Many sets of eyes had come to rest on the newcomers. The pair didn't look like regulars. The man might be from the Center but his companion was most certainly not. It wasn't her exotic good looks, or the way she was dressed, or even the fact that there was a Millennium wand hanging from her belt along with several of the more dangerous techno-wizard devices.

She just didn't have the "feel" of a Spacer. This meant she was either a potential client or really stupid. After seeing her deliver a nasty but effective kick to the crotch of an overeager pilot with more liquor in him then common sense, those watching revised their opinions accordingly. Noting that the rather large male humanoid failed to stir from where he lay in a curled up fetal position after several minutes, the majority of the patrons wisely decided to turn back to their drinks and other forms of exotic stimulants. It was obvious that this one could look out for herself. Those remaining were mostly hoping for some work to come their way. Most of them didn't care who they worked for, as long as they were paid on time.

But there were always exceptions to the rule. A pair of hooded eyes paid very close attention to the unusual woman…

Their contact announced his presence with a low whistle of admiration accompanied by his hands clapping in respect. It wasn't often that he'd seen such a commotion dispatched with so little fuss.

"Not bad. I must admit that I was rather worried when you two showed up as you did."


Katrina assessed the man before her carefully. A mop of black hair flecked with traces of silver, enough wrinkles to give his face character, and his brown eyes had the mark of combat experience. He wasn't young, but given the level of medical science available here that meant nothing. It was interesting to note how well he seemed to blend in with his environment, her gaze tended to slide off of him if she didn't concentrate.

"You're not exactly the type of gal that blends in with the local scenery. We've been keeping tabs on you since the Central Checkpoint."

It spoke well for her credentials that she could take care of herself so easily. If she really was one of Ranma's intimate friends, that would explain a lot. The captain's taste in women was the stuff of minor legend in the Rebellion.

Lt. Nicholas Croaker even had a few credits of his own in the "Saotome" lottery that had started up a few years ago. Wagering on who would be his next conquest was common but small potatoes, the bookies had learned the hard way not to give anything but token odds on that. The real money was in the "Who he'll finally end up with" pool. The odds were long, very long. But the potential payoff for the winner was incredibly lucrative, at last check the pot consisted of enough credits to buy an entire planet!

Putting his dreams of a wealthy retirement aside for the moment, Croaker gave his full attention to the woman before him.

"My name is Katrina Sun. I… I…"

Flustered, Katrina berated herself silently as she struggled to ask what had suddenly become a most difficult question. Taking a deep breath to steady her nerves, she plunged ahead.

"I'm looking for…"

He raised a hand to interrupt her.

"You want to know about Ranma."

"How- how did you know?"

"These days everyone wants to know about him. Ever since he disappeared…"

The look on her face was absolutely priceless.

"He's gone?!"

Nicholas nodded. She must have come from somewhere really out of touch if she hadn't heard about this until now.

"Just up and vanished somewhere among the Rim systems a couple months ago. Nobody's seen a trace of him since. Not even his friends, and if they don't know then it's a pretty safe bet that Saotome doesn't want to be found."

Seeing that Sun was still stunned by the news, he tried to clarify his words.

"Not that I can blame him. That poor guy has got so many death warrants on his neck that even if they ever catch him, they'll never be able to agree on how to execute him. He's probably just taking a vacation away from it all. I know I would if I were in his shoes."

"Death warrants?!"

He was just about to answer her when all conversation inside the bar came to an abrupt halt.

The Guide had been waiting patiently behind the pair as they conversed, wanting them to finish quickly so that they could pay him and he could get out of there. He turned to see what was the trouble while praying that nothing was wrong. Then he froze as his eyes went wide at the sight of someone he had always hoped never to see in person.

"Oh shit, not him!"

-The Scales Turn

Against all the odds, White had somehow managed to rally and now stood poised on the brink of total victory. His forces had been scattered across the board, and were now left in a last ditch defense that was just waiting to be swept away.

"It seems that I underestimated you yet again."

His opponent had been very cunning in utilizing Ranma to cover a devastating counter offensive. It was amazing how much trouble even a replica of that boy could do.

Thoth contemplated Black's next move, his long fingers dangling over one of his few remaining pieces as he searched for a way to at least make his opponent pay a heavy price for victory.

{So few options left…}

"But wait, what's this?"

An opening? Yes, there was a single avenue of attack offered… There! His dark knight struck down White's defender like an angry bird of prey.


The repercussions would soon be felt throughout the Multiverse. Things were never going to be the same.

-Ristmoth System

Tania had been half-right. That transmission had been purposely sent. But there were no hidden messages contained within it, the transmission itself was the message.

In an asteroid belt similar to the one that had hidden the Rebel invasion force from detection, the signal that the Untamed Stallion's sensors had briefly picked up was finally received. Communication lasers quickly spread the word to others waiting impatiently behind the shielding asteroids. It was time.


To be continued

(1) For those of you who are wondering; Yes, he did actually collide into one before. It was an Impstar II. (Imperial class II, 1.6 km in length. Ouch!)

(2) Translates as: "By the stones". Bonus points for anyone who gets this reference

Author's notes: Oopsie, this was originally planned to be released way back in April. But the almighty Muse of writing has no respect for deadlines. I must also admit that having to focus on school and work doesn't help matters any either.

I didn't intend to break this up into two parts, but since I'm going offline for a month and the second half is only 30% finished, this was how it ended up.

My apologies to those who wrote to me and got no response, netaddress lost some of my mail and when I complained to their service dept. they told me that the data was unrecoverable. -_-'

Let's not even get into the eternal struggle between Windows and Netscape that's been haunting my CPU…

Oh well, time to start working on the other PB's for a change.


Part 3-H
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