War.

War never changes.

During the months leading up to what would be known as World War III,
the island nation of Japan took great pains to ensure their survival.
Diplomats and bribes were dispatched to every world power, espionage
agents attempted to neutralize the first-strike capabilities of
neighboring nations, and massive amounts of weapons were imported to
defend the nation from the unlikely event of a land invasion.

When the bombs fell, Japan was left unscathed. As the flakes of fallout
enveloped the world, the Japanese congratulated themselves. After the
world had been cleansed, it seemed that Amaterasu's children were
protected from the burning storm. They relaxed and prepared for a new
life, one free of interference from foreign devils.

The peace did not last.

Japan had become too developed to return to the old ideals of
isolationism. Their cars and trains sat inert, unfueled and unusable.
Rice rotted in the country while men died of starvation in the cities.
Electricity was first rationed, then restricted to government use only,
then nonexistent. With no manufacturing or importing of medicine, the
simplest of diseases became deadly. Wild animals, irradiated by the
fallout, walked the streets without fear, spreading disease and killing
the old and unfit.

And through it all, the men quivered, helpless, unable to survive
without the technology that they were so famous for. Many wished that
they, too, had been wiped out in the war. Still more prayed to wake up
from the nightmare that life had become.

Eventually, something snapped. Thousands of years of cultural
conditioning had been worn down by eighteen months of hardship. In an
orgy of violence and destruction, they turned on one another. Like wild
animals they slaughtered each other, neighbors killing neighbors,
brothers killing brothers, husbands killing wives. They tore apart
buildings, streets, and infrastructure, as if to spite the civilization
that had so damned them. The city of Tokyo burned for five days. The
streets ran red with blood.

Some, however, were able to escape the riots. Many were able to flee the
city into the surrounding wasteland. Some banded together into loose
groups, sharing food and space. They bred. They adapted. They trained.
They survived.

Sixty years later, the battered survivors emerged from their hovels and
camps to repopulate the destroyed city of Tokyo. No-one knew just what
drew them to the city they had sworn off decades ago-- perhaps one band
began the pilgrimage, and all they met had followed them. Whatever the
case may be, they came back to the city.

When the survivors arrived, hearty and toughened by the Wasteland, they
found a ghost town. The toppled buildings were exactly the same as when
the survivors had left. Nothing had been erected, nothing had been
repaired. Nobody was left. The only sounds that greeted them upon
finding the city was the sound of wind whistling through bone. They
squared their jaws and resolved to stay, and to someday return the city
to its former glory. With the help of a strong leader, they would
accomplish this goal within a generation.

But the survivors of Tokyo found themselves unable to unite under a
single ruling group. Bickering, suspicious, and greedy for the meager
resources the blasted metropolis held, the survivors toppled and
replaced every single man, woman or group that claimed to rule. During
the short span of five years, the city of Tokyo knew over 80 "rulers".

A compromise was eventually reached, after much bloodshed, thinning the
already small population. The city of Tokyo would be divided into wards,
as it had been before the Great War. Each ward would be a self-ruled
city-state, untied to any of the other wards. Soon, boundary lines were
drawn, defenses were erected, and weapons were once again pointed at
neighbors, ready to destroy at a moment's notice.

War never changes.

One such ward was the ward of Nerima. Lacking in firearms or armor, the
inhabitants of Nerima chose to train extensively in the martial arts in
preparation for invasion by another ward. Far more powerful and agile
than inhabitants of rival wards, they hope their superior technique and
discipline can overcome overwhelming firepower.

In the eighteen years Tokyo has existed in its current state, Nerima has
only known three conflicts with other Wards. The last six years have
been relatively peaceful.

Life in Nerima Ward is about to change.

***

R A N M A 1 / 2 : D E C A Y

By Paul "Unseen" Durant

***

"Ugh... It feels like I've been strained through someone's bowels."

Saotome Ranma sat up and rubbed his face, to make sure it was still
there. He had that "pins-and-needles" feeling over his whole body, he
felt like his bones had turned to water, he couldn't move his legs, and
he kept seeing little flashes of green light out of the right corner of
his eye, even when it was closed. All in all, he felt like absolute
shit.

He fell prone again, most of his energy drained. His head hit the steel
cot with a a dull "thunk", and he--

Steel cot?

Where WAS he?

Ranma's eyes snapped open and he frantically scanned the room, drinking
in every detail. It was about five meters square, with a too-high
ceiling dotted by glaring halogen lights. The walls were dingy,
unpolished steel marred by several areas where the metal had been ripped
away to reveal bundles of crusty cable. He appeared elevated at least
five feet off the ground, though he could not move his head and see for
certain. The far wall of the room, where his feet currently pointed, had
a battered and dented sliding door made of the same material as the
walls and ceiling, and stood next to a filthy window that took up
roughly one-third of the wall.

It appeared as if he was in a prewar underground facility, much like the
ones he had trained in and fought through in Manchuria and Korea. If the
rest of the facility was as dirty and unkempt as this one room, then it
was either deserted or occupied by a raider gang who didn't care much
for cleanliness. Ranma doubted he would be able to escape if this was
indeed a raider camp, for not only could he barely move, but he was in
so much pain he couldn't throw a simple unanswered punch without
doubling over, much less engage in combat.

Ranma's analysis of the situation was interrupted when he saw a dim
shape moving through the filthy observation window, followed by the
faint beeping of a keycard lock being activated. He tried to ready
himself for combat, but couldn't so much as lift an arm in his current
condition. He closed his eyes as he heard the pressure door slide open,
hoping that the unknown figure would think him asleep and give him more
time to recover before doing... whatever he or she planned to do to him.

He heard footsteps coming closer to him, smelled the rank odor of
rotting flesh, felt himself being watched. He could hear the figure
breathing, a moist, phlegmy sound. With every footstep there was a
faintly audible "splortch" that drew ever closer to Ranma's prostate
form. Soon, Ranma could feel the breath on his body, it stank of death
and rot. For a few seconds, Ranma remained there, inhaling the toxic,
cancerous odor of the figure's breath. His eyes watered under their
lids; the stench was unbearable. For a few more seconds he waited for
the figure to move, speak, or act, but the foetor soon became unbearable
-- Ranma decided that instead of feigning sleep, he would roll off the
cot away from the smell's emanator, hit the ground, and pray to every
kami that he had enough will and pain resistance to move his legs and
run before he was caught.

He was unable to carry out his hastily-fashioned plan, however, as his
attempt to roll caused agony to run up and down his left arm and nothing
else -- no movement, no escape. He gasped in pain, then heard a slight
chuckle -- the figure must have been amused at the sight. Ranma opened
his eyes to see who it was, seeing no further point in pretending to be
asleep.

He was greeted by the most hideous sight he had ever seen in his entire
life. It had the general form of a man, but was twisted into a hideous
mockery of it -- Its flesh was marred, misshapen, burnt, rotting, green,
hideous! Green lumpy skin knotted around the creature's joints and was
absent on areas of the skull and chest, exposing sickly yellow bone. The
arms were gaunt and skeletal, liquified flesh dripped from them onto the
floor below. It wore a tattered and bloodstained smock of some sort, as
well as frayed pants covered in what appeared to be years' worth of
filth and grime. The worst aspect by FAR, Ranma thought, were its eyes.
Its left eye hung from its socket, suspended by a frayed and rotting
optic nerve. The other eye was bloodshot and splotchy; it appeared to
have some sort of fungus growing in the whites of its eyes -- they were
more mauve-yellow than white. The pupil was clouded immensely, and yet
the lone functioning eye was looking directly at him as the creature
began to smile, lips cracking to reveal a row of broken teeth and a
mouth full of metal and leather.

Ranma vomited at the sight of it, and had passed out from pain and
terror before the expectoration hit his chest.
Gradually and groggily, Ranma came to. The pain had subsided to the
point where he could move without wincing, and he felt as if he had at
least SOME control over his body. He lifted his head -- noting that he
was now situated in a chair instead of a cot -- to analyze his
surroundings once more, praying that the hideous creature wasn't nearby.
He was bound to the chair by crude knots on his wrists and ankles, as he
soon discovered, and though sloppily made they were far too tight for
his comfort. The room he was in showed a great deal more maintenance
than the last; the walls were polished to a shimmering surface and there
were hardly any missing panels. He couldn't see the entrance, it must be
behind him -- he dared not entertain the possibility there WAS no
entrance -- but he could see that his clothes had been removed in favor
of a large, voluminous labcoat and a threadbare blanket. His original
clothes lay at his feet; he certainly recognized his leather jacket with
one sleeve missing from a fight with an angry Deathclaw, but he didn't
remember vomiting on it. There were no weapons in sight, if he was to
survive, he would need to escape, get armed, and find his father -- if
indeed his father was alive. He struggled with his bonds, causing the
chair to rotate slightly, but after three minutes of exertion and wrist
pain, he was no closer to escaping the ropes.

From behind him, he heard a -Whissh- noise, followed by a voice like a
prolonged bullfrog's croak.

"Well, hello, Mary Sunshine. Had enough beauty rest by now?" Ranma
screamed involuntarily at the voice of the interloper. He was vaguely
aware that he really shouldn't be this afraid, that he wasn't quite
himself, but that was mostly eclipsed by the feeling that he was going
to die here.

He felt a hand near his shoulder, warm, wet, and disgusting. The chair
he was in spun a hundred-eighty degrees, revealing the speaker. Ranma
screamed again, louder, throatier. He saw the same creature as before --
no, not the same, a different one, with its own signs and methods of
decay. It crossed its skeletal, ghastly arms in a pose that might have
been considered impatience. Its filthy maw opened and it said, in a
quite matter-of-fact tone, "Oh, for the love of... Didn't we already do
this?"

The creature made a gesture of exasperation, turned around, tapped a key
on the door behind it, and walked out as the door slid open. It was when
the door slid back closed that Ranma screamed for a third time, the
longest and loudest he'd bellowed in his entire life.

The continued action of the door-panel, over the years, had both served
to wear away on the door and polish it, resulting in a portal so
flawless and shined that it could be used as a mirror. Ranma saw within
it his reflection, as clear as if in a reflecting pool. In it he saw
himself altered -- his hair, for one, had become blood-red, his face had
gone from that of a scarred man to that of a pristine Chinese woman, and
worst of all, the lab coat had flopped open to reveal a breast erupting
from his chest, and hinted at the presence of its sister.

His eyes went wide with panic. He could barely comprehend -- it wasn't
-- How did this HAPPEN? No doubt it was the work of the ghoulish
creature he had seen before, but why would it do such a thing -- and
more importantly, HOW? If it was skilled or powerful enough to do THIS
to his body, why was it incapable of repairing itself? Why didn't Ranma
remember any of this happening? Where was this place? Why, who, what,
how, why, why, why...

The questioned drizzled through Ranma's mind like a cold stream, dulling
in intensity and urgency as his panic gave way to an icy affinity for
combat. The questions would wait. First, he must escape, find his
father, and slay his captor. All other concerns were tertiary.

***

Saotome Genma, warrior, scholar, vagabond, founder of the Saotome School
of Anything-Goes Martial Arts, and father of the trans-migrated martial
artist who at this moment was formulating a plan to escape captivity,
was not a man who jumped to conclusions. He recognized that the barren
Wastelands held far more than he could ever hope to see, and was aware
that for every inexplicable phenomena he could experience, there was
most certainly a perfectly rational and logical explanation. He was
however hard-pressed to find one to explain the fact that he possessed
black and white fur, three-inch claws instead of fingers, and a bizzare
craving for plant life. He told himself that this unknown but existant
explanation would also tell him why he was co-operating as two creatures
who resembled green, molten humans took bits of his blood, skin, and
hair and compared it with some obscure data displayed on an aging
cathode ray tube built into the wall of his perfectly rational, normal,
and explicable polished steel cell.

There had to be an explanation. Saotome Genma just wasn't sure he wanted
to hear it.

He had felt sundering pain when he had first awakened in this state, but
that had mercifully subsided. Soon after awakening, the first of these
cratures had met him, communicating in halting and unskilled Japanese.
Genma did not remember the exact words of the conversation -- he was
still groggy and in quite a lot of pain at that time -- but the jist of
it was that the decaying ghoulish creature had been watching over Genma
for more time than it had wanted to do so, and was relieved that his
custodial duties were now at an end. He made a passing reference to
another "patient" -- Genma wondered if it was perhaps his son.
Unfortunately, he had not been able to respond to the ghoul's monologue,
as he found himself incapable of vocalization, merely one of many
bizzare afflictions that he wanted an explanation for.

Without conversation, the creature had evidently become bored, and left.
This allowed Genma some time to ruminate on his condition, none of which
was productive in any way. After fruitlessly pondering what had stricken
him for the fourteenth time, Genma had resigned himself to the fact of
his new form, and had immediately elected to take a nap. He was awakened
by the two creatures now present and beginning their testing.

Genma, with inadept eyes he had not yet grown accustomed to, tried to
make out what the creatures were observing on the monitor and regarding
with such disdain. It was a fruitless effort, since Genma would not have
been able to read the language even if his eyes were working normally,
but he would rather occupy himself with futility then sit there
fretting.

After some time had passed -- Genma couldn't be sure how long -- the
creatures whispered to one another, turned in unison, and regarded him.
"You are a very lucky man", the one on the right said in much more adept
Japanese than the first creature he had seen, "to have survived an
incident such as this. To be honest, we had no idea what the effects on
you would be. Personally, I didn't think you'd even regain
consciousness."

"Don't try to speak, sir," said the other. "I know you must be confused,
but for now you just have to cooperate. You'll be able to ask all the
questions you want once we fix you up."

The first nodded assent and resumed speaking. "Your system has endured
quite a bit of shock. You might want to refrain from physical activity
for -- but I'm getting ahead of myself. First..." he tapped a button
near the monitor and spoke into it. "Miss Heng, could you please bring
in a pot of boiling water for our friend here?"

If he had anything else to say, it was cut off by the sound of the
pressure door opening to reveal a short, red-haired woman, wearing a
familiar leather jacket and toting what looked to be a shiv made of
wall-paneling. The creature began to say something in a language Genma
couldn't identify -- then the woman charged and attacked, plowing her
shoulder into its gut while plunging the shiv into its knee.

The first creatue gurgled a cry of pain as its leg buckled and it
collapsed to the floor. The second, in panic, swung a wild punch at the
female assailant. The woman efortlessly pivoted out of the way of the
attack, and while the creature's arm was extended, brought the base of
her palm up into the crature's elbow while at the same time slamming
down on it with her wrist. With a sickening *SNAP* the limb bent in ways
a limb was never meant to do, and the creature howled an indistinct cry
of pain and went down, joining its bretheren in the floor's cold steel
embrace.

Having incapacitated both her opponents in the span of seconds, the
woman whirled to face Genma, her body loose as if prepared for an
attack. She stared at Genma, obviously unsure as to whether or not he
posed a threat. Genma, to his credit, tried to remain calm and act as
inconspicuous as an ex-human panda hundreds of feet below the surface of
the Earth in a pre-war medical facility could be. This effort was
hampered somewhat by the gnawing suspicion about the woman Genma felt
growing in his gut.

After staring at the marsupial for a few moments, the woman obviously
deemed it to not be a threat, and returned to the matter of the two
ghouls whimpering in the fetal position at her feet. The one whom she
had attacked first seemed most coherent, he was actually cursing, as
opposed to the other who could only vocalize grunts and moans. She
slipped her foot under the creature's chest and snapped it upwards,
throwing the skeletal green body upwards into position for her to grab
it by the neck and hoist its face to eye level.

"Start talking," she spat, and delivered a savage punch to the
creature's stomach.

The creature wheezed, "What do you-- about what?"

"I think you know damn well about what!" the woman shouted, before
tightening her grip on its neck and flinging it into the wall.

Though still wheezing and obviously stunned, the creature managed to
respond. "I can't, I didn't do anything... if you'd just let me
explain..."

The woman stalked toward the prone ghoul, shoulders arched, head angled
toward her prey, eyes betraying an animal fury. "If you didn't do
anything, then how do you explain this?" She tugged at the jacket she
wore -- black leather with one arm torn off, Genma now noticed -- to
reveal her naked chest. "I don't care what your explanation is, or how
you did it, or even IF you did it, all I want is for you to UN-do it!"
The distance between her and it closed, she stomped on the creature's
ribs. Genma got the feeling the woman cared less about an un-doing than
she cared about hurting the creature.

The ghoul barked a cry of pain, then began to beg. "Please, please," it
gasped, "just stop and I'll be able to help you, if only you'll --"

"Freeze right there!" came the cry from across the room, causing both
Genma and the woman to turn and face the direction of the noise. There
stood the second ghoul, left arm hanging limp at an odd angle, hunched
over in pain, and leaning on a wall for support -- clutching in his good
hand a magneto-laser pistol, aimed at the woman's head. A small panel in
the wall hung open, an unnoticed emergency locker from which the ghoul
had culled the weapon. "Now I want you to put your hands in the air --
slowly -- and step away from Doctor Chi." The woman bristled. Neither
party seemed to acknowledge Genma's presence, and he pondered if this
was something to be thankful for.

The woman obliged, slowly raising her hands aloft and taking a step away
from the prone ghoul. No longer under attack, the ghoul tried to regain
its footing -- but found it too painful and just decided to lay there
and moan. For a few seconds the scene stood still, save for the shaking
of the ghoul's pistol in its clumsy hand.

Then in a flash, the woman howled and propelled herself forward.
Expecting to be charged, the ghoul panicked and fired in front of him --
missing entirely, as the woman had leapt to the right before he had even
put pressure on the trigger. Missing even the tail end of the woman's
crimson pigtail, the searing bolt of coherent light struck the wall of
the chamber, melting a patch of metal to reveal the wiring behind it.
The ghoul moaned as he heard the *frrrzzzzZZZZZZT* of the pistol drawing
power from its cell; he knew he wouldn't get a second shot.

He didn't even see where the attack came from when his legs were swept
from under him, but as he fell he saw all too clearly the woman
crouching beneath him, her fist rising to meet his chin. The ghoul's
frail body was propelled upward as they connected, his head nearly
separated from his shoulders. The instant she hit, the woman skidded
backwards upon the steel floor, rising as she did so, performing a wide
roundhouse kick. As the creature slid down the wall, green flesh peeling
off in streaks upon its shiny surface, the woman's foot met his chest.
She kept her leg extended, pinning the creature to the wall.

Genma did not need this show of combat prowess and savagery to tell him
who he saw fighting (and destroying) the two ghouls. He knew quite well,
but preferred not to believe himself. After all, there was a slim
possibility he was wrong... but he doubted it.

The woman glared at her captive prey and spat. "You wanna play hero
again, huh? You want me to kill you instead of your friend over there?"
As the creature extended his good arm to shoot, the woman snatched the
pistol from him effortlessly, without even breaking the flow of her
speech. "I can't tell either of you apart. Could be, YOU'RE the one who
did this to me. Could be, I should have been killing YOU."

The pressure door once again slid open with the now-menacing "hiss". Not
even looking toward the sound, the pinned ghoul howled, "Throw it on
her! NOW!"

From the doorway came flying a pot's worth of scalding water. The woman
dropped her leg and spun to face the assailant, but her position was too
awkward and she found she could not dodge in time. Struck by the spray,
she bellowed and collapsed, writhing as if bathed in acid, voice
ululating in a way Genma doubted normal human vocal cords could create.

***

Ranka saw the early days, as he often did when he was unconscious. The
scene had probably played behind Ranma's eyelids a thousand times or
more -- just about a decade ago, when his father had taken him on a boat
into Manchuria, and broken his arm. Genma thought it would teach Ranma a
valuable lesson best imparted early. Ranma did not echo the sentiment.

"What the flapping fuck did you do that for, Pops?' he howled, once the
animal cries of pain had passed his lips.

"You let me," came Genma's deadpan reply.

Ranma looked about to speak, but just bit his lip and held back another
cry of pain. His right arm dangled uselessly at his side. "Damn it,
Pops, how am I supposed to fight if I can't use my right arm?"

"Learn to fight with your left. I think you'd best do so quickly," Genma
replied, before effortlessly flipping forward and landing a hard kick to
Ranma's stomach. Genma could have broken both of the boy's legs as well,
but that would be counterproductive. Ranma took the hit without so much
as an attempt as a block, and fell over in a heap, landing on his arm
and provoking a new outburst of howling.

Genma broke off a stick of bamboo from the shoots around him with a
little effort, the broke another and tossed it to his son. "Are you a
man, or are you a mewling gecko pup? Get up and fight me, you
pantywaist!" He brought the stick down, hard, on the boy's broken arm.
He screamed, but not so much this time.

"What's wrong with you, Pops? You said we were going for a training
trip, not a torture session!"

"Less talking, more fighting." Genma slammed him again, this time across
his face. The boy yelped. "And if you think I'll show pity or remorse,
you're wrong. In fact, I won't even give you a splint until you've
managed to hit me. Better get to fighting, son!" Genma swung again, this
time for the chest, only to find his strike blocked by the boy's staff,
clumsily held upright to guard himself. Genma knew it would be easy to
throw the staff from his hands with another strike or to simply strike
again before the boy could block, but that would be too hard on a boy of
six.

Besides, he was already learning.

***

As Ranma faded into the past, Ryoga Hibiki was concerned only with the
present. He checked the shells in his Casull .45 revolver one last
time, as if the sheer joy emanating from him might have caused the ammo
to vanish from existence. He then looked at the tracks again, to assure
himself once more that it was not some hallucination.

Sure enough, they were there -- one set of tracks from a barefoot
heavyset man in his forties, one from a slim teenaged boy wearing two
differently-sized shoes. They led into the underground bunker, and they
did not come back out again. They were fresh in the mud, no more than a
day old. The boy and his father were probably still in there.

After three years of chasing them and seven years of being lost in the
radioactive wilderness, after countless times he had stumbled upon a
three-week old campfire or a months-forgotten Nuka-Cola bottle, Ryoga
had found them.

"You've made my life hell, Saotome," Ryoga said to himself, "and now,
finally, I will have my revenge."

He thumbed back the hammer of his revolver and dashed into the shining
steel bunker with a madman's grin painted across his face.

---

Ranma 1/2 and all related characters and indica are copyright to Rumiko
Takahashi.
Fallout, its setting, and all related indica are copyright to Interplay.