"Hello everybody!" Ataru said cheerfully, waving. "And welcome to another edition of Takahashi Theatre!"

Ranma nodded as he crossed his arms over his chest. "In today's very special omake, we'll be going over the fictional and entirely ridiculous history of the Sakumon-Go school of martial arts cooking!"

"Like everything else in our ludicrous world, the Sakumon-Go school is an ordinary, sane practice that somebody decided wasn't painful and stupid enough. So they decided to do it while fighting. This form was first practiced by Tsukamo Onoe, who discovered the technique of a hundred blades, in which one keeps a great excess of cleavers and knives, and then throws them at opponents when you're done with them rather than rinsing them off. Quite unsanitary, but it wasn't a bad technique really. Soon she expanded into other forms of cooking combat, including hot oil blasts, pressure-cooker cannons, and the dreaded powder-your-face-with-flour-and-then-scare-the-enemy-into-thinking-you're-a-ghost technique."

Ataru shook his head. "Unfortunately, it didn't really work out. Although occasionally it was handy to be able to cook a full-course dinner while punching the guy next to you, it turns out that not many people attack chefs. Or at least, not while they're cooking. And nobody liked judging martial arts cooking competitions because most of the techniques involved utterly ruining or even poisoning your opponent's food. Usually the contest went to the cook whose meal was most obviously edible. Onoe-sensei perished alone and poor after her three-hundred-and-eighty-fifth restaurant closed down. All of her cooking assistants just found it too hard to work with her constantly throwing knives and shooting ingredients at them."

Ranma picked it up again, rolling down a diagram showing a man in a chef's hat with several arrows drawn along his arms and legs. "The next experiment was done with ki manipulation. By focusing one's life force during certain 'flash points' in a meal's cooking process and infusing spices with his energies, the old master of Sakumon-Go, Junai Kyomori, found that he could create food that pulsed with the energy of his skill and passion!"

Ataru shook his head again. "That also didn't work out. Seems that people don't like it when their food glows. Kinda creeps them out. Also, whenever he put too much ki into a dish, it would explode the moment someone bit into it. Master Kyomori's legacy ended when he was sued by three dozen customers with broken jaws and driven into debt and poverty."

"Finally, we come to Geni Sakurazaka, Master of One Thousand Ladles!" Ranma said, gripping his hand into a fist. "He had the idea that instead of trying to incorporate violent practices into cooking, which isn't really a violent or even competitive activity, Sakumon-Go should instead incorporate the more discipline-based principles of martial arts. Things such as balance, improvisation, will, and spending months at a time in the middle of Goddamn nowhere. So it was that our master traveled all over Japan and Eastern Asia, searching out the best recipes of the land and finding new ways to cook them."

"Surprisingly, this worked," Ataru explained. "As it turned out, a lot of people in backwater villages and isolated towns had great recipes that could be expanded upon easily because those people didn't have access to a wide range of ingredients and cooking implements. It's said that this title, 'Master of One Thousand Ladles,' came about because a great many of these recipes were soups and stews, which are very popular in isolated places that don't have much in the way of supermarkets and whatnot."

Ranma nodded. "At last, the Sakumon-Go had been reborn! During his travels, Sakurazaka-sensei began to pick up apprentices to learn and spread his art, and also took trips to monasteries and temples, mostly in honor of the traditions of the traveling martial artist. There he learned the rites and rituals related to the spiritual side of cooking."

"But his story was not yet complete!" Ataru warned. "For although he had mastered and improved upon thousands of recipes, Sakurazaka-sensei still feared that his art, loosely tied to the dying art of hand-to-hand combat, would not survive the modern era. He had to establish something, ANYTHING within the art that would take his beloved school into the future."

"So it was that he invested the last of his savings into a trip to Russia. For it was his destiny to cook... using the power of the ATOM." Ranma pulled down another diagram showing a long list of nuclear physics equations. "Under the tutelage of some of the saner nuclear scientists this side of the continent, he formulated new, cutting-edge recipes that used levels of energy that could ONLY be delivered with the heat borne of the very sun. His work complete, he sealed his master recipes into a scroll and protected it with powerful seals, vowing that he would only hand them down to his children once they had fully mastered his art!"

Ataru shrugged. "That didn't work out. Unfortunately, all that work around nuke labs took all the powder out of his cannon, if you know what I mean. And just his luck, he was one of those ultra-serious artist types who decide not to marry or mess around until their master works are complete. Feh. So, with his family line essentially dead and his school having no true heir, Sakurazaka-sensei decided, in a fit of depression, to hand over his ultimate secrets to the next couple brats he had to train. Guess who that was!"

Ranma nodded. "Yes, the future of Sakumon-Go now rests entirely in the hands of the Saotome family. It is up to us now to write the next chapter in the saga of this ancient, esteemed, and probably doomed art." "And now you know the rest of the back-story!" Ataru cheered. "On to the show!"

Takahashi Soup
by Black Dragon

Disclaimer: All your chars are belong to us!

Chapter 9
Consequences Suck
**********************************************************************************

The Tendo family sat in uncomfortable silence as they waited at the dinner table, each one engaged in their own personal activities to stave off curious speculation as to what was happening in the kitchen.

Soun was reading the paper, just like he always did when he wasn't playing games with Genma despite not knowing or caring a damn bit about current events.

Nabiki had a calculator out and was looking over some reports of the current value of plutonium on the international market. 'Ataru had better have stolen that stuff, or Akane might be in some DEEP trouble.'

Akane was grinding her teeth as she felt the waves of heat and the occasional disturbing vibration from the huge vault-like door that had been erected over the entrance to the kitchen. She was extremely irritated that this didn't seem to be visibly bothering anyone else.

Kasumi, as usual, was calm despite all that was happening, though she seemed deep in thought, at least.

Genma was drumming his fingers impatiently against the surface of the table. Suffice to say, he was looking forward to that night's meal, and was not at all concerned that it apparently involved nuclear science.

Lum was likewise getting impatient, but it wasn't so much from anticipation as it was ordinary boredom. The tension was too strong for anybody to try striking up a conversation, and the two greatest sources of physical entertainment/violence in the household were both in the heavily-reinforced kitchen.

Cherry was praying silently at the table, his head bowed as he tried to identify the most recent bad omens.

"... Excuse me," Soun began, his eyebrow twitching, "didn't Ranma kick you out earlier?"

The monk looked up. "I landed near a bus stop. Well, actually, I landed ON the bus stop. Terrible mess, that."

Nabiki raised an eyebrow. "You're a resilient old geezer, aren't you?"

Cherry nodded and raised his palm over his forehead in what the others guessed was some obscure religious gesture. "Indeed. Decades of harsh monastic training have made my body nigh impervious." He reached past Akane and took Soun's tea without asking, promptly taking a sip. "That, plus all the constant beatings. For some reason, certain individuals seem to thrive on assaulting holy men."

"Right. Anti-religious punks. Lot of those around," Nabiki drawled as Soun glared at the little old man.

"Aren't those two done yet?" Lum groused. "Honestly, what kind of low-grade plutonium are they using that it takes this long to cook a meal?"

"That's actually kind of a good question," Nabiki mumbled, returning her thoughts to her earlier musings. "I wonder where they got it?"


"............" A Middle Eastern man with an AK-47 strapped to his back scratched his head as he looked at the bulky device sitting inside a large plastic suitcase, held in place by sytrofoam inserts. "It looks like a garbage disposal..."

A second man shrugged as he looked over the device as well. "That's just how these sorts of things are designed, is all." He grinned malevolently. "Don't worry about it! All we have to do is get within a mile of the Americans' military base, drop the package, flip the switch, and then drive out! Easy!"

"A mile? Even if it is a nuclear device, can something this small explode over that distance?" the first man asked skeptically.

"What'd I tell you? Don't worry about it!"

Despite his partner's insistence to the contrary, he did seem quite worried. "Are you SURE the guy you met was a nuclear scientist?"

"Uh? Well... sure!" The second individual trailed off in thought. "Well, no, not COMPLETELY sure. Though he was Russian. That's pretty much the same thing, right?"

"Really?"

"Well... he said he was Russian, anyway. Or maybe he was, like, half Russian. He seemed a bit on the short side."

"And THIS is the guy you gave our nuclear materials to?"

"Look, I don't know what you're worrying for. We gave him the glowy stuff and he gave us our bomb. At a HUGE discount, may I remind you! Now stop whining and let's go kill some infidels."


In the kitchen, Ranma drew an obscure symbol over his chest - still protected by the hazmat suit, of course - as the pot before him bubbled and shook violently.

In response, the shaking slowed dramatically to the point of a slight trembling, and the pigtailed boy took a calm breath before taking off the lid.

Fwaash! Thick steam with a deep, rich aroma poured up from the mouth of the pot, dampening Ranma's hair as he lifted up the mask of his suit and leaned in to take in the scent.

He frowned. "Ataru! The temperature is at least ten degrees too low! Bump up the power!"

"It's no good! She can't take any more, Ranma!"

"I said bump up the power, damn it!" the martial artist cried, slamming the lid back onto the pot.

Ataru grit his teeth as he slowly turned the dial up, and the large, cylindrical construction that had been attached to Kasumi's oven started to shake unsteadily. "I'm not sure how much longer I can keep 'er together!"

"Stop complaining and work! I want those side dishes garnished! Potatoes and asparagus on point with the corn backing them up! Go, go, go!"

Sweating inside his hazmat suit, Ataru picked up a crowbar in one hand and a monkey wrench in the other, descending on a number of sealed steel containers that were glowing ominously as they were swathed in nuclear fire. "This is the final stretch! We have to give it everything we've got! HYAAAAH!!"


The individuals waiting in the dining room sweatdropped as they heard a series of harsh clanking noises coming from the kitchen, followed by a deep rumble that reverberated throughout the entire house.

"So, seriously, NO ONE else is worried about an impending nuclear explosion?" Akane deadpanned.

Nabiki shrugged. "Well, I'd guess that it's at least as important to them not to mess up as it to us. They'd die too, after all."

"So you're fine with betting your immediate future on Ataru's competency around an atomic core?"

Nabiki frowned. "I was kind of hoping that Ranma would be in charge of not accidentally killing us all."

"Like he's any better," Akane mumbled, "he hasn't even completed algebra class yet..."

Thwoom! A muffled explosion from the kitchen had Akane covering her head in an instant, and Nabiki yawned.

"Sis, calm down. If there IS a meltdown, we'll be vaporized before we even knew what was happening."

"You're NOT helping, Nabiki!"

Clunk!

Everybody snapped to attention as the vault sealing off the kitchen from the dining room started to open.

"It's about time!" Genma snapped. "Really, what were you two doing in there? You're not cooking for a banquet, just-" Clang! The rotund man jerked back as the lid to a red-hot metal container bounced off his forehead, managing to scorch him despite the bare instant of contact and the bandanna wrapped around his head. "YOW!"

A heavy breathing sound came from the larger of the two figures wearing haz-mat suits before it spoke. "Sorry. I was actually aiming for Cherry."

"What did I do?" Asked the little old monk, who was poking his head out from behind Genma's bulk.

"Nothing yet," the larger figure said, smacking a fist into its gloved palm. "It just seemed like a good idea."

Behind him, the slightly smaller figure - presumably Ataru - was holding a geiger counter in the air as he checked its readout. "Hmmmm... okay, looks like we're clean."

Ranma nodded before pulling off the mask to the suit, and then went back into the kitchen.

When he came back out, he was carrying two large plates of hot, steaming food, and a bowl of food perched on his head. Ataru entered as he came out, and soon reappeared pushing a cart covered in more dishes.

The Tendos blinked as they stared at the heavily-charred mass of meat that Ranma set on the table.

"Is that... chicken?" Nabiki asked, dumbfounded. "Your ultimate, super-tasty uber-dish is chicken?"

"That's disgusting," Lum said, making a face. "You eat birds?" On her planet, the vile creatures were widely regarded as vermin, picking at litter to eat. She couldn't imagine that they tasted very good.

"Oh, shut it," Ranma snapped, putting down the other dishes. "Everyone ate the amphibian's stuff after they found out it was made from bugs, so no one gets to turn down this food until after they've tried it."

"Baked potatoes... asparagus... creamed corn... toasted garlic bread... rice pilaf?" Nabiki said, utterly mystified.

Ranma blinked. "What? Something you don't like?"

Kasumi smiled reassuringly. "Oh, no, it's not that. We were just expecting... more exotic food."

"Well, we would've done something like that, but this is pretty much our best menu," Ataru explained as he started setting out more food, which included a few more whole chickens. "Sometimes the best dish is the simplest, you know?"

"Why western food, though?" Soun asked as he stared critically at the knife and fork placed in front of him.

"Because you don't cook most sushi. OBVIOUSLY." Ranma said bluntly. "That'd be quite a waste of a nuclear core, now wouldn't it?"

Soun sweatdropped. "I... ah... I suppose... it would?"

"Exactly," agreed the pigtailed boy as he filled everyone's cups with tea. Or at least, it was a hot substance that was being poured from a teapot. Tea didn't usually fizzle rapidly like this liquid did.

Everybody took a moment to reflect upon the entire meal once it was set out, and then shrugged and started serving themselves. The food may not have looked like anything special, but unlike their last supper, it wasn't anything that they'd hesitate to put in their mouths.

As before, it was Genma who took the first bite, tearing off the better part of a chicken drumstick.

Gulp! "Ha! You boys have done your father proud, for once! Good job!" Genma crowed, eagerly vamping up his eating speed.

The others started more slowly, if only because they were unused to western eating utensils.

Appreciative murmurs came from the table as everyone began eating.

Nabiki, who was the taking this contest the most seriously of everyone at the table - beyond Akane and Lum, even - frowned.

The meal was good. Very good, in fact. Not great, though. The chicken, though it looked rather burnt and dry, held a hidden salty moisture within that made it much better than it looked. The rice pilaf was zesty with just the right amount of bitterness. And the tea... was all right. Good, but not great.

Akane was already looking victorious as she ate, but Nabiki was confused. This was not a world-class, five-star meal. Honestly, this wasn't even as good as some of Kasumi's best cooking.

And yet Ranma and Ataru were sitting near the vault entrance, looking utterly unconcerned as they chatted with each other and ate some soup.

'They were both there last night. They have to know this food doesn't stack up with Koppa's bugs. Maybe they messed up and didn't realize it? No... any real chef would taste-test their food and notice any problems... What am I missing here?'

As the gears turned in her head, the mercenary decided to investigate a little.

"You know boys, there's enough food here for you too," Nabiki said casually in the midst of nibbling on some asparagus, "you don't have to sit off on your own and eat soup."

The Saotome twins stopped talking and looked at her.

"The chef must not partake in the Dragon's Six Tongues," Ranma said. From his tone, it sounded like he was quoting someone else.

"Huh? So, what, you don't try the food before you serve it?" Nabiki asked. That would make sense, if their cooking had been complicated by some stupid arbitrary code they were sworn to ahead of time.

"Oh, no, we taste-test it first," Ataru corrected, "I mean, what kind of worthless, idiot cook doesn't taste their food before serving it?"

Akane and Lum both flushed slightly and started eating faster.

Ranma continued. "But actually sitting down and eating the meal with the client is strictly forbidden." Coughing into his hand briefly, he went on. "This meal was designed to be made for royalty and for wedding feasts to cement important political marriages, so tradition dictates that the cook must never join the meal."

"It's said that if the Dragon's Six Tongues is served at your wedding, the couple are guaranteed a long and exciting wedding night!" Ataru piped up cheerfully, winking.

"Thank you for that crude and utterly useless fact," Ranma deadpanned. "Now shut up."

"Well, you're not serving lords or royalty now, so why don't you have a taste?" Nabiki asked.

Ataru blinked. "That's an excellent point. I think I'll-" he started to get up, only to have his legs kicked out from under him.

Ranma glared at his twin brother. "The chef must not partake in the Dragon's Six Tongues!" He repeated firmly. "Don't dishonor our dear, departed master!"

"But he isn't dead!" Ataru protested.

Ranma's answer was to simply swat the lecher upside the head. "Silence! Shut up and eat your soup!"

'Hmph. Stupid, worthless outdated customs,' Nabiki thought to herself as she tore off some more chicken and put it in her mouth.

She had to admit, though, the chicken was very good. Great, even.

'Wow... this stuff kind of grows on you,' she considered as she finished off the thigh she had taken and washed it down with some tea.

"Well now, this is very good indeed," Soun said as he scooped up some rice, "though I'm not sure it quite measures up to that frog man's dish."

Nabiki's eyes snapped toward the Saotome brothers, and she felt her frustration rise in concert with her curiosity as she saw that Ranma and Ataru continued eating their soup as if nothing was wrong.

"Ha! This isn't anything special at all!" Akane said happily, picking up a drumstick. "Koppa's food was way better than this!"

Nabiki turned toward the Tendo homemaker, who was enjoying her meal in appreciative silence. "So sis..." she began, licking her lips gingerly, "as a cook, what do you think of it?"

Kasumi quashed the sigh that threatened to bubble up on reflex; she really didn't want to have to make a judgment that would only make Ranma and Akane's fighting worse, but she felt obliged to give her honest opinion on the meal.

"Well Nabiki, I was thinking that the flavor seems unremarkable at first, but it might be because I'm not used to the seasonings. I deal mostly with Japanese food, after all," Kasumi explained, pausing to eat a sliver of chicken. "But I find that the more I eat, the tastier the food becomes."

"You're right!" Lum agreed, speaking around a mouthful of rice. "I thought it was strange at first, but it does get better as you eat more!"

"Such is the mastery of the Sakumon-Go!" Cherry said gravely, gulping down some tea before he continued. "You must never let your guard down, for even the most humble dish contains hidden delights! Truly this is the epitome of all mortal meals!"

Boot! CRASH!

Akane winced as pieces of ceiling fell down onto her head from Cherry's painful departure. "Why'd you do that? He was complimenting you."

Ranma blinked as he sat back down. "Oh. You're right... sorry, force of habit."

"It IS a useful habit, though," Ataru admitted, putting aside his empty bowl.

Nabiki paused briefly in shoveling down more rice to take another survey of the reactions around the table.

Soun was trying to keep a very sober expression, but his pace of eating and the occasional expression of contentment that slipped through revealed his satisfaction with the meal.

Kasumi was the opposite, in that she was outwardly very pleased, but the occasional hint of dissatisfaction would appear every once in a while. Nabiki doubted that it had anything to do with the food, though.

Lum looked far too happy with the meal, considering that she was heartily enjoying her opponent's food, though Nabiki suspected that whatever determination the space oni had entered the contest with had long ago abated. Lum didn't have the greatest attention span, and wasn't really one for holding grudges.

Akane... was looking steadily more upset. Her expression was starkly opposite that of everyone else at the table; the better the food got, the more her smug, victorious smile deteriorated. Nabiki guessed that if the food got much tastier, Akane would soon snap and attack the Saotome boys in an indignant rage.

Genma's eating pace hadn't changed at all, nor had his expression. Either the elder Saotome's sense of taste had been severely damaged by decades of survivalist cooking, or the cursed man was eating too fast to properly taste the food, but either way Genma seemed unaffected by the meal's strange, unnaturally delicious qualities.

Either that, or Genma's pace of eating was permanently stuck on a "garbage disposal" speed setting. It was entirely possible that he always ate as if his meal was a gift of divine ambrosia.

Nabiki was still observing Genma critically when he reached for one of the extra roasted chickens.

"Saotome," Soun choked out, quickly downing his current mouthful to speak. "I say, restrain yourself, would you? At this rate we'll lose the entire meal to your insatiable stomach!"

Genma frowned, his hand hovering over the untouched morsel. "What's the problem, Tendo? There's plenty of food left!"

"No thanks to you!" Soun said harshly, wagging a drumstick at his houseguest. "You've already had twice as much as anyone else here! Save some for everyone else!"

"But there IS enough for everyone else!" Genma protested.

Before the argument progressed further, Nabiki snuck in and snatched up a chicken leg from under Genma's gluttonous fingers. "Well, some of us wouldn't mind leftovers, Uncle Saotome," she said smartly.

Akane frowned. "Leftovers? Nabiki, at the rate you're going, you'll be catching up to Uncle Saotome soon."

"So what?" The mercenary said dismissively. "I skipped lunch because everyone was sure this meal was going to be great, you know."

"I'm just saying," Akane continued tactlessly, "you don't get as much exercise as you used to, so you shouldn't be gorging yourself like that."

Nabiki's eyebrow twitched. "Who appointed you my personal trainer? Mind your own business!"

"It's not good for you! I'm just trying to help!" Akane protested as she reached for the serving bowl that held the rice.

Nabiki promptly snatched it away, much to her sisters' surprise. "What's good for YOU is if you shut your trap and stop trying to take all the food for yourself!"

"Try saying that when you're not shoveling food onto your plate!" Akane snapped back, gritting her teeth.

Soun frowned deeply as the two girls glared at each other, and then shook his head. "Now girls, really, calm down. If you really can't share a meal like civilized people, I'll just have to take it myself."

So saying, the Tendo elder reached for the bowl, only to have Nabiki raise it up over her head. "Fat chance! I had dibs!"

"Since when?" Akane demanded.

"Since now!" Nabiki retorted.

Her vigilant defense of the rice was thwarted when it was suddenly lifted straight up out of her hand, and the mercenary looked up to see that Lum was hovering close to the ceiling, cradling the serving bowl to her scantily-clothed chest while grinning.

"Well, since apparently you can't eat without fighting, I'll just have to eat all this to remove the temptation!" The alien princess said smugly, raising her chopsticks.

Genma immediately stood up. "That's my line!" the elder Saotome growled indignantly at seeing his false righteousness imitated by another. "Also, gimme that!" He immediately leapt to seize the food from Lum's hands, only to have the alien dart backward away from him.

Ranma and Ataru watched the rapid breakdown of the dinner into a childish chase in grim silence, each of them sporting unusually serious expressions as they glanced at each other.

No one seemed to notice. The majority of the family and guests were completely engaged in trying to secure the leftovers, and the only one that hadn't deigned to participate - Kasumi - seemed to be in a state of uncharacteristic concentration as she finished the last scraps on her plate.

Kasumi was, generally speaking, someone who stayed in the background most of the time. Though an indisputably vital part of the household, she rarely brought much attention to herself, preferring to let others take center stage and waiting close by, ready to clean up the fallout. Though some considered her role to be quite thankless, the Tendo homemaker definitely commanded a deal of unspoken gratitude and respect that she could call on whenever the whim struck her, rare as that was.

Evidentally one of those times had come, as Kasumi stood up regally and cleared her throat. Immediately, all the ruckus that had consumed the household ceased, and everyone riveted their attention onto her.

"Excuse me, but I think everyone's had plenty to eat by now, don't you think?" She asked bluntly, her expression unusually neutral, though not unpleasant.

The question wasn't directed at anyone in particular, but then, even the most alien of the present individuals recognized that it wasn't really a question. Lum immediately surrendered the leg of one of the remaining whole chickens to Soun, who quickly placed it down in its serving dish. Akane and Genma stopped grappling and put down the leftover rice, and Nabiki backed away from where she had been preparing to swipe it away from both of them.

"So, is there dessert?" Genma asked a bit uneasily.

"Rocky Road with our special chocolate sauce," Ataru piped up, suddenly all smiles. "Is everyone ready?"

"Hold on, Ataru-kun," Kasumi said gently, still facing the rest of the family. "I really think that we're ready for the judging now, aren't we?"

Akane blanched. "What? W-Wait! Dinner isn't over yet! We can't judge an incomplete meal, right?" She asked desperately.

"Why not?" Nabiki said straight-forwardly. "No point in delaying my vote. Assuming they didn't totally screw up dessert - pretty unlikely at this point, I'd say - the Saotome dinner is beyond top-notch. I vote for this meal."

Akane growled, and her gaze shifted to Soun, who immediately flinched back as he became the center of attention.

"Ah... well, I... well, no reason for me to go next, is there? Tell me, Saotome, what do you think?" Soun asked nervously.

"He's not a judge," Ranma said immediately, hand crossed over his chest. "Only the Tendos other than Akane get votes."

Genma nodded, looking regretful. "Ah, yes, it seems that even after all I've done for these children, they still don't completely trust me. It's too bad, but I'll respect their wishes, ungrateful brats that they are." Inwardly he was smiling, of course. He had no desire to have to make a choice between the two violent, short-tempered teenagers; neither of which would have any compunctions about beating him to a pulp.

Soun gulped, and decided to go the political route rather than try to impose on Kasumi to vote next. "Well, although this is a delightful meal, I have to say I was very impressed with the... exotic nature of the food Akane's chef presented. My vote goes to her, then."

Akane nodded firmly, and Ranma shook his head.

Once again, Kasumi held the room's attention.

"While Koppa's food was of excellent quality, and certainly unique..." the Tendo homemaker began, and Akane felt her heart sink. "I have to admit that I've always had a great fondness for more traditional food, and something about this classic Western meal struck a chord with me. It was not only delicious, but comforting, and as I continued to eat I felt my entire body react in a way that I could only call... transcendent. I'm sorry Akane, but I have to vote for the Saotomes."

Akane's expression was ashen as she stared down at her plate, and the delectable flavors that still clung to her tongue turned sour. A suspiciously delicious kind of sour, but still.

Everyone else was rather impressed at how soberly Ranma and Ataru took the news, their expressions utterly serious as they turned to one another.

"Victory dance?" Ranma asked, his face perfectly straight.

"Victory dance," Ataru replied, looking as grim as anyone had ever seen him.

Their favorable impression was soon lost as the fraternal twins spaced their legs out and started swaying back and forther, their arms held high.

"WEEEEE ARE THE CHAAAAMPIOOOONS!! WEEEEE ARE THE CHAAAAMPIOOOONS!!"

"So much for being good winners," Nabiki muttered, still glancing longingly at the leftover food as Kasumi took it away into the kitchen to be packed up.

"NOOOOOOO ROOM FOR LOOOSERRRRS, 'CAUSE WEEEEE ARE THE CHAAAAMPIOOOONS... OF THE WOOOOOOORLD!!"


The chirping of crickets penetrated the dark stillness of the night, their incessant symphony masking hushed footsteps as a lone figure crept down the stairs.

The figure stopped once it reached the bottom floor, its heart racing as the floorboards at the base of the stairs gave off a slight creak; it was a sound that most people wouldn't be able to hear from more than two feet away, and would easily dismiss it, but the house presently contained several people with unnaturally fine senses, and sloppiness would no doubt be rewarded with failure.

After ensuring that it hadn't attracted any attention, the figure crept further into the first floor, turning in the living room to head toward the kitchen.

Clink!

The figure's eyes widened, and then narrowed in tightly controlled rage.

"Who's there?" Akane shouted, rounding the corner and practically diving into the kitchen, her eyes wild.

Soun immediately flinched back, his hair jumping straight up and his body illuminated only by the light from the refrigerator that was open in front of him. "A-Akane! Th-This isn't, I mean, I was just-"

The youngest Tendo fumed. "Dad! You were going to eat all the leftovers, weren't you?"

Soun's mouth worked soundlessly as his brain tried to assemble a working alibi in short order. It was hard to deny, though; he had a plate of chicken out and bits of pilaf were stuck to his chin.

After a few tense seconds, Soun shook his head and regained his bearings. "Yes, I was eating the leftovers," he admitted, suddenly looking stern. "Is that a problem?"

Akane's expression grew even more heated. "So you liked their food THAT much, huh? So, what, did you vote for my meal out of sympathy or pity?"

"Fear, mostly," Soun said immediately before he shook his head, "I mean, no, that has nothing to do with any of this! I was hungry and came down for a late-night snack. I fail to see why I have to be subjected to an interrogation!" Then his eyes narrowed. "Especially since it seems you're here for the same reason."

Akane flinched, her cold, angry front cracking. "I j-just came down for some milk, that's all!"

"Then I don't see a problem here," Soun said simply, turning away from his stuttering daughter and back toward his delicious prize.

"Well I see a problem, Daddy."

Soun flinched again, this time with more dread than surprise. Against Akane he could use her pride to his advantage. Against Kasumi he could use his parental authority to get his way. Against Nabiki all he could do was give up early so that she wouldn't charge "punishment fees" for her trouble.

"Ah... Nabiki... don't you have school tomorrow?" He said gently, his voice cracking as tears dribbled down his cheeks.

"Why yes, I do," Nabiki said cheerfully, walking up to the plate of chicken Soun was trying to filch. "But if I'm going to get a good night's sleep, I have to make sure my belly is nice and full! Hunger-based insomnia is the worst kind, you know?"

"I call B.S. on that," Akane said, snorting. "You ate more than I did at dinner. This sounds more like glutton-based insomnia to me."

"Whatever. It's all the same as long as I get to sleep, right?" Nabiki said shamelessly, reaching for the plate of food.

Just before her hand made contact, the plate suddenly slipped away from her.

Nabiki blinked, stunned, before realizing that Genma was holding up the food out of reach, a victorious smile on his face. 'How the hell does someone that size move so stealthily?' She wondered, grinding her teeth together in annoyance. Sure, it was still relatively dark in the kitchen, but the man was wearing all white; he shouldn't have been that hard to spot. Stupid martial artists.

"Now, now, let's be fair about this," Genma admonished the others, frowning as the Tendos each started to protest, only to trail off into silence, waiting for Genma to elaborate.

Seeing that no-one was trying to attack him or refute his claim to the food for the moment, Genma took a deep breath.

And then he bolted for the kitchen window. "Yoink!"

"HEY!!" The Tendos yelled in tandem, all of them hesitating briefly at the surprising retreat and missing their chance as Genma cleared the window and landed on the ground outside.

Genma took a moment to secure his prize, and then looked up toward the roof. "Now where can I-"

ZAK! ZAK! ZAK! The rest of his rhetorical question remained unasked as he was suddenly pounded with lightning, and the Saotome elder cried out weakly before collapsing in a heap by the koi pond, his body spasming painfully.

In true Saotome fashion, though, he had landed so that the food he was carrying was all but undisturbed, a trick for which Lum was quite grateful as she dove down through the cool night air and scooped up the plate.

"Lum? What do you think you're doing?" Akane asked as she rounded the corner, followed soonafter by Soun and Nabiki. Of course, she and Soun could have leapt through the window after Genma if they really wanted to, but saw no reason to stoop to such uncivilized behavior over a few leftovers. Honest!

"Hm? I'm just taking the leftover food," Lum said honestly, holding up the dish as she rose a few meters into the air for safety. She was pretty sure she could fend off any of the people present if they wanted to press the issue, but after fighting Ranma, she'd decided that a little paranoia might do her good.

"You can't just take it! You're not even a houseguest!" Akane growled out. Bad enough that Genma was considered entitled to room and board, but there was no way she was going to let the annoying alien steal from her home!

"What does that have to do with anything?" Lum asked, looking annoyed. "This is Darling's home cooking! You can't tell me that I can't have any!"

"You already had plenty," Nabiki snapped. "Save the leftovers for those of us who can't afford gourmet chefs from space."

"Take it from me if you can!" Lum challenged, holding the plate over her head with one hand as her other hand crackled with electricity.

"AHEM!"

Everybody present in the backyard, including Genma who had just recovered basic muscle control, turned sharply to see Kasumi standing at the edge of the house in her purple night gown, a rather bemused expression on her face as she folded her arms under her breasts.

"May I ask what's going on?" Kasumi asked. She was calm, but her voice held none of the airheadedness or senseless cheer that normally suffused the young woman.

"Ah... this is..." Nabiki began, staring up at the alien holding a few pieces of chicken. "This is... really stupid, now that I stop and think about it." She glanced around at the others. "I mean, there's more food in the fridge and everything."

The others winced, thinking over their situation and how ridiculous they must have looked.

"I won't say I'm disappointed; frankly, I've come to expect this sort of behavior," Kasumi admonished, "but you're all making a tremendous racket! Between all the yelling and the thunder, it's a wonder we don't have the police showing up."

Nabiki couldn't help but snort at that. Any citizen that asked the police to investigate the Tendo dojo was just going to get laughed at.

"Lum, please give me that," Kasumi requested firmly, holding up her hand.

A brief mental war raged between Lum's gluttonous urges and the strange, foreign urge to obey the gentle human. The older girl gave off an aura that one could almost consider... saintly (not that she really knew what that meant, being a space ogre and all), and even her alien sensibilities were not immune.

"Oh, fine," Lum mumbled, lowering herself to the ground and handing over the plate.

Kasumi took it in her hands and then swept a firm gaze over everyone else. "I'm going to put this away. I suggest you all return to bed at once."

"But, what about-" Genma began, trailing off as Kasumi turned and blinked innocently at him.

"I'm sorry, is something wrong, Saotome-san?" She asked in a bewildered tone.

Genma grumbled under his breath as he shook his head. The others, knowing better than to oppose Kasumi's "suggestions", all trudged back into the house, with Lum flying back to her UFO dejectedly.

Kasumi followed Genma into the house, standing wordlessly at the base of the stairs until she heard the last of the doors upstairs close.

And then she hurried into the kitchen, a gleeful smile on her face.


"Ah, good morning everyone," Soun said cheerfully as he sat down at the head of the table, almost glowing as he pulled open the morning paper.

"Morning Daddy," Nabiki said, her smile somehow seeming far more natural and relaxed than the normal apathetic expression or the smug smirk she usually had.

"And how are you this morning, Darling?" Lum cooed as she cuddled Ataru and drew little circles on his chest. Her behavior wasn't very different, as the space oni usually seemed cheerful and happy, although she was being a bit more forward than usual.

Ranma and Ataru glanced about warily at the people that surrounded them, a bit unnerved at how... satisfied everyone seemed. They were used to spending mornings being tossed around in the midst of bitter arguments and verbal duels while deflecting insults, but for the moment the rest of the household seemed to be in Happy Land.

Even Akane, who was glancing around the kitchen, seemed pleasant and affable, though she obviously didn't take to it as well as the others. Being unable to summon rage and disgust at the sight of Ataru had left her uncertain how to deal with the boy; every time she tried to address him as "that pervert" she would inevitably feel the name "Ataru-kun" mysteriously slip out of her mouth. Honestly, it was rather creepy.

"Well, I don't see Kasumi anywhere," Akane said, clasping her hands behind her back. "Weird, she's usually up before anyone else."

"Well, hey, if anyone deserves a day or two off, it's big sis," Nabiki reasoned, shrugging. "Besides, it's not like we need her to cook breakfast anyway."

Ranma blinked. "We don't? Why?"

Soun chuckled. "Why, we have your leftovers, son! We'll just reheat them! No need to bother Kasumi over something like that!" Akane nodded happily and skipped into the kitchen toward the refrigerator.

The Saotome twins glanced at each other.

"Uh... like I said last night, we're not actually allowed to eat that stuff," Ranma explained.

Ataru scratched his head. "Aside from that, it's not really... you know... breakfast food."

"Oh well. More for us then," Nabiki said, her old victorious smirk momentarily breaking through the genuine happiness that had surrounded her.

"EEEEEK!!" Everyone immediately jerked their heads toward the kitchen at hearing Akane's scream, and Ranma promptly covered his head, expecting an explosion of some sort.

Nabiki stood up immediately, her happy demeanor gone instantly. "What is it? Tell me you didn't just burn the leftovers, Akane." Her voice held a dangerous edge to it, and would have surely chilled Akane to the bone were she not so busy panicking.

"The leftovers! They're gone!" Akane cried, her eyes wide and fearful as she emerged from the kitchen.

"Oh. Well, if Kasumi's not around, then I guess we can make-" Ranma started to stand up when Soun suddenly stood upright, his gaze hard and grim.

"Saotome," Soun said firmly, "you check the back yard. I'll take the front yard." Then he turned toward the girls. "Nabiki, you search the house. Akane, please go wake Kasumi so she can help. Lum, please fly a circuit around the neighborhood and search for anything suspicious."

Finally, he turned toward the bewildered Saotome boys. "You boys are most familiar with the meal, so you can search the kitchen for clues as to its disappearance."

Ranma blinked, taken completely off-guard by the suddenly assertive Tendo patriarch. "Hey, wait a minute-" even as he protested, however, he could see everyone else except Ataru was moving to obey the man.

"It's true," Ataru said nervously. "See? I told you so! We shouldn't have done it! We're toying with powers beyond the ken of mere mortal cooks!"

"Oh, shut up you drama queen," Ranma snapped. "I'm going to go check the fridge. I don't know why they're freaking out like this, but maybe Akane made a mistake or something."

A few minutes later, everybody but Lum and Akane had returned from their search, shaking their heads. Soun, Genma, and Nabiki all seemed grim and a bit fearful at the turn of events, while Ranma looked annoyed.

"Well, I don't know what the big deal is, but the food's gone for sure," Ranma said, shrugging. "Do any of you have a confession to make?"

The others besides Ataru flinched.

"Don't get uppity Saotome, you don't have a shred of evidence," Nabiki said, almost growling.

"Besides, none of us managed to get away with it," Genma mumbled.

Ranma raised an eyebrow, and Soun sighed.

"Well, let's just say that everyone here had their chance to be the culprit, and failed," Soun explained awkwardly.

"Whatever. Doesn't matter. What DOES matter is getting breakfast," Ranma said standing up.

"Boy, what do you think you're doing? You're not going anywhere until this mystery is solved!" Genma shouted.

"What's wrong with all of you?" Ranma demanded, throwing his arms up in the air. "Yeah, the food was great, I'm glad, but you're acting like someone just stole your life's savings or something!"

"This is about more than food, moron," Nabiki growled. She was about to continue, but had to stop and think about what to say. This WAS about more than food, wasn't it? She would never lose it so badly over some roast chicken.

"It's about... It's about somebody having the gall to steal from this house!" Nabiki suddenly snapped. "You think I'm just going to turn my back as some stranger rifles through our things at his leisure?"

Ranma had to consider that the middle Tendo had a point, although he found it strange that the Tendos took things like property damage and alien appearances so easily but got so worked up over theft.

Everyone's thoughts were interrupted as Akane finally emerged from upstairs, looking halfway between frightened and enraged. "K-Kasumi... she's gone!"

A dreadful hush descended over the room as everyone took the time to contemplate this and consider the ramifications.

"Are..." Soun swallowed noisily and licked his lips before continuing. "Are you... sure?"

Akane nodded. "I checked all over the house! She's not here!"

"So that means that whoever stole the leftovers also kidnapped Kasumi?" Ranma said, suddenly far more serious about the whole ordeal.

"No, you idiot! It means that Kasumi took the leftovers!" Nabiki snapped. 'How could we have been so foolish, just walking off to bed and leaving her alone like that? Stupid, stupid, stupid!'

Ranma blinked. That did make more sense, now that he thought about it; it was simply his natural inclination to assume that Kasumi was innocent that had led him to the other conclusion.

Of course, now that he knew that she was the culprit rather than the victim, that meant he no longer cared. "Oh. Well, then that's that. Should we make eggs or waffles?"

"What do you mean, boy?" Genma growled. "We have to find her!"

Ataru raised an eyebrow. "Why? If she wants the food that badly, let her have it. At least we know you weren't robbed."

"Who says we weren't robbed?" Akane growled. "I can't believe she told us off like that and then went and took everything from right under our noses!"

"Wait, maybe we're looking at this the wrong way," Nabiki said, shaking head. "Kasumi may have gotten the leftovers, but she left the real prize here."

"What real prize? The food's all gone!" Akane complained.

"Yeah, but we have the cooks right here!" Nabiki said triumphantly. "Forget about those crusty leftovers; we can just have the twins cook us a fresh meal!"

Ranma and Ataru glanced at each other uneasily.

"Yeah, not happening," Ranma said firmly, ignoring the series of manic glares he got after saying so. "That meal takes all day to cook. I'm not skipping out on school again without a good reason."

"Is keeping all your bones intact a good enough reason?" Akane asked menacingly, hefting a mallet.

"It's impossible anyway," Ataru said, shaking his head. "We're completely out of fissionable material."

"I'm sure Lum can accommodate us," Nabiki said. Really, she wasn't sure of that at all, but she was determined to beat down every obstacle standing between her and the unnaturally delicious delicacies she craved, one by one if she needed to.

"And what would we do with it? The reactor's already been used," Ranma explained, rolling his eyes as if this explanation made sense to anyone but him.

"So?" Nabiki asked, raising an eyebrow. "Can't you use it more than once?"

"Of course not. The flimsy thing barely lasted long enough for a single meal," Ataru groused, crossing his arms over his chest. "On an unrelated note, none of us have to worry about North Korea nuking anyone. I swear they must contract Playskool for their nuclear technology. Just FYI."

Nobody had much to say to that, especially as the majority of those present were desperately trying to move the conversation back onto a track that might produce another Dragon's Six Tongues meal.

Akane, being far more paranoid (some would say sensible) than the rest of her family, gave Ataru a worried glance. "That reminds me... I didn't see the reactor when I was in the kitchen... what did you do with all the used materials?"

"I disposed of them in a completely safe and totally legal manner according to the very highest environmental standards," Ataru said immediately, nodding.


Tatewaki Kuno frowned as he stared at the twisted mass of scarred and partially melted wreckage sticking out of the pond that decorated the Kuno estate's front yard. The water had turned a brackish dark color, and one section of the pond adjacent to the mass of junk was constantly bubbling and releasing some sort of foul-smelling steam into the air.

"Although I admit to being skeptical at first Sister, it seems you spoke truth. Yet you have no recollection of how this... eyesore came to decorate our impeccable abode?" Kuno asked, his arms crossed over his chest.

Next to him, Tatewaki's sister Kodachi shook her head, causing her dark ponytail to whip about in the air. "I haven't the slightest idea, Brother. I assumed this might have to do with this silly 'blood feud' you seem to have dragged our clan into."

Kuno snorted. "Ridiculous. Even waste such as this is far beyond the financial reach of the Saotomes. They live like vagrants, feeding off of the naive kindness of families much wealthier and worthier than their own."

"Well, regardless, I expect you to see to that... thing's removal," Kodachi snapped, turning on her heel and walking toward the front gate to leave for school. "That's Mister Green Turtle's favorite spot, you know, and I detest the very idea of him swimming about in such filth."

Kuno turned away from his sister as Kodachi left the premises to leave for school.

"Although I hesitate to give credence to the idea, my dear sister may yet be correct," Kuno mumbled to himself, rubbing his chin. "The foul Saotomes are just twisted and petty enough to attempt such a feat as this, and no other cause springs readily to mind. Yet if this was their doing, why do I see no attempt to claim responsibility? A trifling blow such as this is meaningless if the victim does not know who struck it."

"GEEEEOOOOUGH!" A feral roar came from within the pond, and after a moment, Mister Green Turtle broke the surface of the pond, the crocodile's massive jaws snapping restlessly in the air.

Or at least, Kuno THOUGHT it was Mister Green Turtle. Last time he had seen the creature, it had sported only two eyes, not the single giant one it boasted now. The curved, bony spikes that now adorned the reptile's back were also new, and the beast seemed even larger than usual.

After the creature thrashed about a bit, it eventually sank back beneath the water, leaving a much confused and slightly stunned Tatewaki standing before the pond.

"I think... I think I may have to see to the rental of some heavy equipment," Kuno mumbled, turning rigidly and walking back to the house.


Nabiki chewed on her lip for a moment. "Couldn't you... I don't know... cook the food without using a nuclear furnace?"

"That's crazy talk," Ataru said immediately, shaking his head.

"Much like this whole discussion, actually" Ranma growled. "Look, I'm sick of this. The leftovers are gone, and I'm leaving for school. Bye."

Genma promptly shot to his feet. "Boy, don't think you can-groof growf!"

The panda blinked at the water gun in Ranma's hand as the pigtailed boy walked past him, looking bored.

Before the Tendos could think of anything useful to say, Ranma had closed the door behind him, departing the Tendo homestead.

"Well, that's just great," Nabiki groused. "Now we've lost our food and one of our cooks. Ataru, I don't suppose you could whip up a Dragon's Six Tongues without Ranma even if you had all the materials you needed, could you?"

Ataru shook his head. "I only have knowledge of half the meal. Ranma has the other half of the recipe, to make sure that one of us cannot make it without the other."

Akane gave him an odd look. "Why? What would that matter?"

Ataru sighed, rubbing his head. "I was hoping this wouldn't come up, but the Dragon's Six Tongues is... well... it's forbidden."

"Forbidden? Why would such a delightful dish be forbidden?" Soun asked, shaking his head.

"For the same reason martial arts techniques are forbidden. It's just too good," Ataru said sadly.

"That makes NO sense," Nabiki deadpanned.

"Oh yeah? Look around you! After one meal you're driving yourselves mad trying to get more!" Ataru said, throwing up his arms. "The meal is cursed. It was usually used as a wedding meal for important people, right? That's not just 'cause it tastes great. It was said that only those deeply in love or of iron will could resist fighting with their spouse over the leftovers. Oh, how many happy couples have been torn apart by the Six Tongues?" Ataru sobbed melodramatically.

"If this dish was really so dangerous, why did you serve it?" Akane asked angrily.

Ataru gulped. "I thought that the bonds of love and companionship that you all shared would prove stronger than the curse!"

Everyone present immediately snorted, not buying that one at all.

"Okay, fine, we only did it because Ranma was intent on winning the cooking challenge," Ataru admitted. "But how were we supposed to expect you'd throw such a fuss over some stupid leftovers?"

"Akane, if you would?" Nabiki asked, handing her younger sister a wooden mallet.

"Eh?" Ataru, not having personally done anything to warrant punishment was caught completely off-guard as the hammer descended onto his skull, driving him into unconsciousness.

"Now tie him up Akane, I'll need him in a bit," Nabiki ordered, rubbing her chin. "Okay, priority one is finding Kasumi. Where does she usually go when she leaves the house?"

Silence greeted her question.

"Oh... kay... I suppose she doesn't actually get out much," Nabiki admitted. She couldn't remember the last time Kasumi spent a night away from her family. "Well, other than shopping, I guess. Oh! Do any of you know what route she usually takes to buy groceries?"

Once again no one spoke, although Genma started scratching himself under his arm.

"Does anybody know ANYTHING about Kasumi's personal life?" Nabiki asked, scowling.

Akane looked uncertain. "Kasumi has a personal life?"

Nabiki turned toward her father, her expression a bit manic. "Daddy, you're around all day, right? Kasumi HAS to occasionally do something other than cleaning. Or maybe she has some friends that you know of?"

Soun hung his head. "I'm sorry to say that, well, I really have no idea. If she does have any hobbies or friends, I certainly don't know of them."

"Are you serious? Kasumi basically keeps this place in one piece all by herself and we don't even know what she does for fun or the people she talks to? This is unbelievable! We're the worst family EVER!" Nabiki moaned, slumping down onto the table.

"Growf?" #Really?# Genma asked, raising a sign in the air.

"I meant besides yours," Nabiki mumbled half-heartedly.

"Growf..." Genma-panda lowered the sign, looking sad.


It should be said that, out of the Tendos, Akane at least knew of one relationship Kasumi had outside of the home, if only because that relationship was of personal importance to her. In fact, Nabiki was nominally aware of it too, although she had completely forgotten about it in the morning's panic and didn't know many of the details besides.

If one should wonder why Akane didn't mention that Kasumi often visited Doctor Tofu in order to provide a lead on finding the departed homemaker, the reason was simple: Akane's knowledge of the relationship was centered around Doctor Tofu, not Kasumi. While she knew, and in fact many people knew, that the Doctor was madly in love with the eldest Tendo daughter, she had hardly given a moment's thought as to how Kasumi felt about Tofu. Perhaps it was apathy or her clinging to hope, but so long as Kasumi had never acknowledged Tofu's feelings or stated her own, as far as Akane was concerned Kasumi had no particular attachment to the good doctor.

Of course, after that little drama had been sorted out in Akane's mind, she dismissed Kasumi entirely. The idea that she had a particular reason for frequently borrowing Tofu's books, either as part of a hobby or a platonic friendship, had never occurred to her. And certainly she had never considered that if the oldest sister needed a place to stay outside the home and away from her family that she'd choose Tofu's clinic.

"Man, I swear that old lady was aiming for me," Ranma groused, wringing out her shirt. At least she had been able to dash away before anybody could have noticed the change.

Ranma took a fair bit of pride in how well she had hidden her curse so far, and didn't want it to become public knowledge just yet. Not so much due to embarrassment, but rather because there were strategic advantages in people thinking that male Ranma and female Ranma were different people. While trouble seemed intent on seeking her out no matter what, keeping the trouble neatly divided between genders was very helpful to her.

"Don't feel like going through school as a girl today," she mumbled to herself. "The guys at school were getting a little too aggressive for my taste." Sure, it helped stave off her annoyingly hyper-charged libido, but she was starting to feel the effects of Kurama's brainwashing diminish to a more manageable level anyway. Besides, if the crow princess abided by her promise, she would be (more or less) rid of that problem in a few days.

Such was the train of thought that led Ranma to stroll into Tofu's clinic early in the morning to request some hot water, just as Akane had done before the Saotomes' first day at school.

"Hey, Doc? You here?" Ranma asked, noticing that the clinic was completely empty. Not totally unexpected for this time of day, but the place also seemed a bit... out of sorts. Some of the chairs had been knocked over, and there were a few cracks in the wall that she could recognize as being the sort that appeared when a man's face was smashed into drywall (Ranma had extensive experience creating such marks using Ataru's head).

"Was there a fight or something?" Ranma asked to herself as she cautiously stepped further into the clinic. Although the area looked somewhat damaged, many of the signs that indicated an all-out brawl were missing.

"Why hello there!" Tofu greeted Ranma, finally emerging from his back office. "Betty, look, we have a guest!"

Ranma frowned as she looked at the doctor. Tofu looked strangely out of sorts; his clothing was in disarray, his glasses were fogged up, and his body swung back and forth as he sauntered through the waiting room. He looked happy as can be though, which Ranma guessed would not have been the case if someone had attacked his clinic.

"Yeah, hi Doc. Can I get-"

"Wait! Wait just a moment!" Tofu said cheerfully, pulling his skeleton along next to his desk. "Let's see if we can find your appointment!" He promptly sat the skeleton down in the chair behind the front desk and then dropped an Ikea catalog in front of it.

Ranma raised an eyebrow. "Uh... I don't have an appointment, all I need is-"

"Found it!" Doctor Tofu exclaimed suddenly, despite not looking at the document that was not his appointment ledger. "You must be Minami-san! How is your rheumatism doing?"

Ranma's eyebrow started twitching. While she wasn't particularly upset at being forgotten since her last visit, she was way too young to possibly suffer from rheumatism. "My name is Ranma Saotome."

"No, I'm pretty sure you're Minami-san," Tofu disagreed.

"What? I'm Ranma!" Ranma protested.

"Minami-san," Tofu insisted.

"Ranma!"

"Minami-san."

"Ranma!"

"All right, all right," Tofu finally said, sighing as he approached the redhead. "You can call yourself whatever you want. Now let's take care of that rheumatism."

"Wait, what are you-GYAAAAH!!"


"Princess, princess! It arrived!"

The diminutive occupants of Kurama's ship parted ways as a single crow man rushed through the hallways, shouting excitedly as he held a box over his head that was slightly bigger than he was.

Kurama, who was sitting on her throne in the control room, smirked at the bearded crow man that fluttered above her shoulder. "Ahead of schedule, I see. Excellent."

"And it was on sale, too! We got free next-day shipping!" The old crow boasted. "I tell ya, the economy's in the pits everywhere!"

"Open it," Kurama demanded, steepling her fingers.

The crow aliens promptly moved to comply, tearing open the top of the package. Then two of them dove into the exposed pool of packing peanuts, throwing about a small burst of styrofoam before they emerged with what appeared to be a Super Soaker pistol and a user's manual.

"Ah ha! Excellent!" Kurama said gleefully, picking up the gun and stroking the bloated pill-shaped section on top. "With this amnesia blaster, I should be able to safely remove Ranma's memory of his experience within the mirror."

"It's a shame that didn't work out," the old crow sighed. "I don't think there's any way we'll get him to agree to be your mate without that experience in mind."

"Oh, I wouldn't be too sure of that," Kurama said, grinning. "Don't forget, much of the mirror's effects are subconscious. The amnesia blaster's effects work solely on conscious memory. It's too much to hope for that Ranma would suddenly turn around and embrace me after simply erasing his knowledge of my actions, but I do believe we've made some gains in this matter."

The bearded crow rolled his eyes. 'Gains my tail feathers. If she'd just get over herself and mate with the other brother, we could be home by now preparing the nests.'

"You!" Kurama pointed to the crow with the instruction booklet. "What is the mechanism for determining the period of time erased?"

"Let's see, let's see..." the crow man started flipping through the manual. "Stage three AKME brand amnesia blaster. Warning: This product is not intended for medical use, and does not meet intergalactic technical standards for medical and/or psychiatric devices. Avoid using on children, non-sentients, or people with a history of ordinary memory loss or psychosis. Common side effects include dizziness, nausea, and bouts of trippy transcendentalist nonsense. If target suffers memory loss beyond the extent intended by user, contact your psychiatrist immediately, and then let them examine you, since you're the idiot that decided to shoot somebody with an amnesia blaster."

Kurama tapped her foot impatiently. "The instructions, fool! Explain to me how to work this device!"

"Right, gotcha," the crow alien skipped a few pages. "There are two main controls to the amnesia blaster aside from the trigger. The dial on the left controls the extent of the memories to be erased. Select the number of days' worth of memories you wish to erase by turning the dial, and that much time before the point of getting shot will be erased from the target's memory, though it will not erase the incident of getting shot itself. In order to give the target full-blown amnesia, turn the dial all the way past the timer settings to the X at the end."

Kurama nodded and moved the dial to the number four. "What is the other dial for?" It looked exactly like the first dial, which made her wonder. Perhaps it was for erasing memories in the past without erasing everything up to the point of getting hit with the blaster? It would certainly come in handy if she could make Ranma forget the mirror but remember how she had taken responsibility and fixed her mistake.

"The dial on the right controls the length of time that the amnesia lasts. It uses day controls just like the other dial. In order to make the amnesia permanent, turn the dial all the way to the X."

Kurama frowned, disappointed. "Why would they intend to make the effects temporary?"

"Honestly, the amnesia blaster is more of a prank tool than a proper memory manipulation device," the elder crow explained. "Why, there was this one time back in crow college when we made Duke, the head squawker of the featherball team forget about his championship match right after he won it! He thought he had missed the game and that some other crow had..."

Kurama and the others tuned out the elder as the crow princess made the necessary adjustment to the amnesia blaster, turning the right-hand dial all the way to the big X to make the effect permanent. "Excellent. We leave immediately! After this incident I may have to go back to trying to seduce the boy, but better that he oppose my advances rather than me." She turned toward a crow man at a computer console. "How is the Ran-dar functioning?"

"We have a contact in sector N-19!" The alien shouted back with far too much excitement for everyone else's tastes.

"Good. We depart at once!" Kurama shouted, marching up to the exit with amnesia blaster in hand and dozens of crow aliens following her in formation.

"... of course, after the moons demolished most of the city, we could hardly go to any more games anyway," the elder crow continued rambling, stroking his beard, "although the lawsuit that resulted essentially provided the financial capital that birthed our fair empire and eventually... hello?" The bearded crow glanced around the bridge of the ship, noting with great annoyance that it was mostly empty except for a few crows working the instruments that monitored the ship's status. "Where'd everybody go?"

"Sir! The princess has entered level two and is approaching perimeter seven-seven-one-zero!" The crow that was manning the ships various sensors shouted. "We'll have a full exit breach in approximately fourteen seconds! We have no time! It's over! It's all over!"

The bearded crow winced. "Why are you yelling?"

"Sir! Helping man the bridge of a royal cruiser isn't nearly as exciting as I thought it would be, Sir! I'm being especially exuberant to compensate for the boredom!"

'Hmph. If you ask me we've had more than our fair share of excitement recently,' the elder thought grumpily, flying toward the exit. 'Oh well. At least the boy will be back to normal soon. And it's not like things can get any worse.'


"Stop that! That does NOT need to be-ow! Ow! Ow!" Ranma growled as Doctor Tofu started twisting her leg back and forth as the older man sat on her back, whistling obliviously.

This situation was quickly degrading from weird and inconvenient to bizarre and dangerous. Ranma had no idea what had gotten into the doctor, but Tofu had pinned her down and started trying to rearrange her skeleton in a manner that seemed inappropriate to ordinary human biology.

"So much for the Hippocratic oath," Ranma growled, grasping the floor with her hands as she fed strength to the rest of her body.

With one powerful, leverage-defying motion, Ranma suddenly snapped her body upwards into a hand stand, catapulting Tofu off of her and slamming the doctor into the wall.

Ranma flipped up to land on her feet, only to stumble to the floor the moment she landed, discovering that her leg was paralyzed.

Luckily for her, Doctor Tofu wasn't a very persistent adversary. After the older man shook his head briefly and adjusted his glasses, he immediately went to work adjusting a painting on the wall that had been jarred loose from the earlier impact.

"Oh no, oh no, so messy, so messy," Tofu mumbled, slowly turning the picture more and more clockwise until it was fully on one side. "There we go!" He let go, and the painting promptly dropped from the wall and onto the floor.

'What the hell is wrong with him? He get into some bad herbs or something?' Ranma let her fingers crawl up and down her leg tenderly, wincing as she noted everything that was out of place. "This is gonna hurt..."

Clenching her eyes shut, she grabbed her calf near the knee and then used her other hand to twist.

Crack! "Gurk!"

Doctor Toju immediately whirled toward the redhead, his face a mask of grim concern. "Another patient! And this one looks serious. Betty, clear my next appointment! I have work to do!" His glasses gleamed in the light as the doctor wiggled his fingers in preparation.

"You'd better take the whole rest of the day off, Doc, 'cause you're gonna need more medical help than any of your patients after I'm through with you," Ranma growled, standing up and feeling pain shooting up and down her leg. The leg worked though, and that was enough; pain Ranma could deal with.

"Now, now, stay still and cooperate," Tofu said as he advanced menacingly. "If you're good I'll give you a lollipop!"

Ranma wasn't sure if it was because Doctor Tofu was currently crazy, or because he primarily used his martial arts training for practicing exotic medicine, but whatever the reason the doctor didn't even attempt to dodge or defend as Ranma launched forward with a vicious kick that sent the man flying painfully through the door and into the next room, causing the old, flimsy hinges on the door jam to shatter instantly.

"Oh my!"

Ranma blinked in surprise at the voice, momentarily distracted from the throbbing in her leg. She hadn't expected the doctor to take the full brunt of the attack; if she'd known the doctor was such a poor fighter, she would've used less strength, or at least stuck to his uninjured leg.

"Kasumi?" Ranma hobbled through the doorway, blinking repeatedly when she stuck his head into the next room.

Kasumi was indeed in the next room, sitting in front of a large table and looking worriedly at Doctor Tofu, who was groaning on the floor in front of the entrance. Ranma couldn't help but notice that the table was covered with dishes bearing the remains of last night's dinner, fully reheated.

"Oh! Ranma! What are you doing here?" Kasumi asked, putting down her fork next to the nearly-empty plate in front of her.

"I'm here for hot water," Ranma said slowly. "Uh... I'd ask what you're doing here, but really, I don't think it's any of my business."

Doctor Tofu started to get up, and Ranma promptly stomped on the man's forehead, slamming his skull deep enough into the floor to relieve the doctor of consciousness.

Kasumi put a finger to her lip thoughtfully. She had been worried when Ranma emerged from the office, especially given the violent manner in which she'd emerged, but she seemed sincere in her wishes to avoid getting involved in any squabble over leftover food.

Ranma glanced around the room after ensuring that the doctor was down for the count, noting that she was in a kitchen that seemed to be part of the living area of Tofu's clinic. Finding the sink quickly, she walked over to it and turned on the hot water tap, sticking her hands under the flow of water and waiting patiently for it to warm to the point of changing her.

There were many questions burning within Ranma's mind that demanded answers, held at bay by his firm determination not to start caring about the ridiculous squabble the Tendos had ended up in. What was so great about his food that even Kasumi would resort to theft and flight to keep it from the others? What was her relationship with Doctor Tofu, that she could waltz in and ask for sanctuary from her own family? Why did Tofu attack him the moment he stepped into the clinic? Did Tofu's actions even qualify as an actual attack? What color lingerie was Kasumi wearing today?

Ranma promptly lurched his head to one side at the thought, striking his skull against a cabinet at the same time the change from female to male took place. 'I hope Kurama gets that stupid amnesia thing soon,' he thought irritably, turning off the water and wiping his hands on a dish towel.

"Oh, Ranma, wait a moment," Kasumi said as she stood up and walked over the martial artist. "How was everyone when they got up? I didn't want to leave without making breakfast, but it was an emergency."

"An emergency?" Ranma asked, immediately perking up. "What do you mean? Everybody was pretty upset when they saw the food gone, Kasumi."

"Oh, I was afraid of that," Kasumi said sadly, walking up next to Ranma with her hands clasped together. "It was just so unpleasant, seeing them all fighting like that over something so silly as some leftover food. I simply had to do something to make things better."

Ranma was no stranger to this argument. The old and battered "I had to take it to prevent others from fighting over it" line was a favorite of Genma's when relieving Ranma and Ataru of money and food that Ranma usually earned and Ataru usually wanted.

Yet, somehow, hearing the twisted logic come from Kasumi was making his brain tie itself in knots trying to trust her. "I... I guess I can see your point. That's very... thoughtful of you," Ranma said nervously, moving for the exit. For some reason his instincts - those that weren't busy inquiring as to the particular details of Kasumi's private regions, anyway - were telling him to vacate the area, and quickly.

Kasumi put a hand on his shoulder suddenly, causing a tingling sensation to race through his body that he could only compare to one of Lum's lightning attacks, just without the pain.

"I'm worried, though. I wouldn't want them to take it the wrong way, and start searching for me," the Tendo homemaker said, idly moving close enough that her body was touching his without actively pressing herself into him. "That would cause an awful lot of trouble, don't you think?"

"That... That... yes. Y-Yes it would," Ranma said, uncertain whether or not he should be panicking. Kasumi wasn't throwing herself at him, which was the response he was used to and the one that prompted immediate and forceful protest. She was, however, giving him just enough bodily contact to kick-start his libido something fierce. In such a confused state, he could barely think about what she was actually saying, much less disagree with it.

"I was hoping that Tofu-sensei would take care of things, but..." Kasumi cast a worried glance at the insensate doctor, and Ranma winced.

"Uh... well... he tried his best?" He guessed. It did explain why the doctor had attacked him. Well, sort of. "Anyway, I really have to get to school, so-"

"Oh my, you do have school today, don't you?" Kasumi said sadly, squeezing Ranma's shoulder ever so slightly. "I... see. I suppose I'll have to face them on my own, then."

Ranma flinched as he felt a bolt of hot, seething guilt rip into his chest, despite all logic that he had absolutely no responsibility here. 'Well, I suppose I did make the food... no, wait, that doesn't matter! ... Does it?'

"W-Well... if they do find you, what are they gonna do, anyway? Beat you up and take the leftovers?" Ranma asked, trying hard to chuckle at how absurd the idea was. "I'm sure you can set 'em straight if... uh... what's that noise?"

Kasumi blinked as a powerful humming noise originating from above the clinic got louder and louder, and looked around at the ceiling for any devices that might have suddenly been activated.

"Wait... I know that sound," Ranma said eventually, his eyebrow twitching in annoyance. "Lum."

CRACK! Kasumi barely got out an "Oh my!" before the roof of the clinic was pulled upward and torn off the rest of the building.

Kasumi promptly felt herself tucked into an embrace as Ranma did his best to shield her against falling debris, and surrendered herself fully to his expertise in matters of sudden and intense destruction.

"Damn it, Lum! What the hell are you doing?!" Ranma screamed as the roof was moved aside in mid-air and then dropped haphazardly in the street.

Ranma was about to pick up Kasumi and make a run for the exit when he suddenly felt the constant, comforting pull of gravity leave him, and his eyes widened as he floated off the ground and up through the hole in the ceiling.

'Ah, dammit. I just knew something like this was gonna happen,' he groused, holding Kasumi tightly. He had to hand it to the girl; she was handling the sudden abduction like a pro, and hadn't made a peep or struggled against him at all as he held her tightly. It was almost pleasant...

'No! Bad thoughts!'

Looking upward, Ranma could see the bottom of Lum's UFO above him, with a small opening in the middle that was slowly drawing them up. Looking around, Ranma could also see Doctor Tofu's body, much of his furniture, and of course, the contested leftover food all floating upward into the same receptacle.

After a few more seconds, they had been sucked into the main hull of the spacecraft, and Ranma watched as the opening slid shut underneath them.

At once, whatever effect that was nullifying gravity ceased, and Ranma quickly moved his arms about so that he landed with Kasumi being held bridal-style.

"Augh!" The pigtailed boy growled as his injured leg objected to the sudden pressure, though the throbbing pain quickly retreated to the back of his mind.

"Ranma-kun, are you okay?" Kasumi asked, her breath grazing his ear in a manner that made it very difficult to stay serious and angry about the most recent turn of events.

"F-Fine! I'm fine!" Ranma said quickly, scanning their surroundings. It was taking every scrap of willpower he had to keep his mind in "battle mode" and ignore the soft, shapely body in his arms. "Lum, where the hell are you? You'd better have a damn good explanation for this!"

They had landed in what Ranma could only imagine to be the UFO's cargo bay. There were a few scattered crates about, some opened and some not, but on the whole the room seemed poorly maintained and organized.

"Ranma-kun, you don't have to keep carrying me like this," Kasumi offered, seeing that, for the moment at least, there was no danger about them.

"It's safer this way," Ranma said immediately. "I have no idea what Lum will try next. I might have to get us out quickly." It wasn't because he wanted to keep holding her. Nope. Of course not. Totally legit.

Suddenly a door on the far end of the room slid open, and Ranma turned to glare angrily at Lum as the space ogre walked into the cargo bay.

Lum winced at the gaze, well aware that she had been a bit hasty in her retrieval of the delectable human foodstuffs. It was times like these that she really wished she had asked her father for the deluxe invader UFO kit upgrade. It would have been nice to be able to pick up small, individual objects with the tractor beam, even if she had no idea what she'd do with all those probing stations.

"Ah... hi there! It seems like I accidentally-GAH!" Lum shouted suddenly in distress, her face darkening.

Ranma glanced around, trying to figure out what had happened to upset her. "What? What's wrong?"

Kasumi sighed. "I think she just noticed the state of the food."

Up until that point, Ranma hadn't really concerned himself with the cause of this whole mess, and so he finally looked at the mess of furniture, debris, food, and Tofu that littered the floor.

"Littered" was a very appropriate description, as everything had been spilled out haphazardly once gravity had returned, mixing the prized leftovers on the floor with dust and rubble from the damaged roof, as well as random objects from around Tofu's kitchen. Tofu himself was slowly regaining consciousness, his hair covered in creamed corn.

"The leftovers! They're ruined!" Lum shouted in distress, slumping down to her knees.

"And whose fault is-hold on," Ranma said, hooking a foot under a chair and flipping it up into the air.

Crack! The chair fell squarely on Doctor Tofu's head just as the man started to open his eyes, swiftly returning him to unconsciousness.

"Where was I? Oh, right. Whose fault is it that MY MEAL is now decorating the floor of your stupid ship?" Ranma growled. Granted, he was rather relieved that the food that had caused so much trouble was beyond consumption now, but he was still quite upset over everything else Lum had done, and wasn't going to pull any punches as far as blame was concerned.

Lum, for her part, shot to her feet angrily and pointed to the girl nestled in Ranma's arms. "You! This is all YOUR fault!"

"How do you figure that, idiot!" Ranma shouted back.

"You tricked me out of that food, and now it's gone!" Lum snarled, stalking forward.

Kasumi didn't even get a chance to respond before Ranma shouted back first. "Don't you dare try and blame her! This is all YOUR fault!"

"Why are you taking her side?" Lum demanded, stomping her feet and causing sparks to shoot up from the floor.

"Because Kasumi's never ripped the roof off a house and abducted me before," Ranma answered through clenched teeth.

Lum's horns lengthened into points, and she started to raise a hand toward her victims when Ranma spoke again.

"If you so much as THINK about shooting Kasumi with a lightning bolt, I can't guarantee you'll live to regret it," Ranma warned. Unlike a moment before, when his voice had been loud and angry, the warning was delivered with a perfectly cold, deadly tone that seemed to preclude, in Lum's mind at least, the possibility that he was bluffing.

The space oni froze, and then her hands dropped. "I-I wasn't going to do something like that!"

Kasumi blinked in surprise, having mostly been a silent spectator during the conversation so far. Which suited her just fine, though she was shocked by how readily Ranma had put himself out to defend her. To say nothing of whether or not the pigtailed boy might actually kill someone who harmed her.

"Good," Ranma snapped, his voice heated again. "What you were GOING to do was take us back to the surface, fly away, and then tell everyone else that you screwed up and all the food is gone, RIGHT?"

Lum hesitated for a moment. "Nah. I was thinking something more like THIS!" She pushed a button on the control panel next to the door, and Ranma's pigtail stood on end as he felt some sort of energy surround him.

He started moving immediately, but felt his movement slow to a crawl, as if the air itself was suddenly turning into water, and then sand. Within moments, he felt some gentle but irresistible force squeezing around him.

"Oh my! What's happening?" Kasumi asked, feeling her body shift in Ranma's arms as some force squeezed them together.

After a few seconds, both Ranma and Kasumi were trapped inside a narrow cylinder of energy. Lum couldn't help but snicker at the way that Kasumi had been squeezed against Ranma's body in the tube, with his arms still wrapped around her. The force barrier was made to be a tight fit for one person, to limit their leverage and make escape harder. The results of squishing two people in one were... amusing. And hopefully nothing that would push Ranma into a homicidal fury later.

"Oh... Oh my... this is... uhm... well, it's not uncomfortable, actually, but quite improper," Kasumi admitted, her face flushed. "Ranma-kun, are you okay?"

Ranma, meanwhile, was staring straight at Kasumi's throat, as his chin had ended up just above her breasts. Her arms, meanwhile, were wrapped around his head and back, while one of Kasumi's legs was stuck against his groin and was sliding about every once in a while as the eldest Tendo daughter tried to find a less embarrassing position for it.

'Do not talk. Do not move. Do not think. Do not even BREATHE.' Ranma repeated the mantra over and over again in his head, willing his body to remain motionless and unresponsive.

"Don't worry, I'm just keeping you two out of trouble until we get back to the house," Lum said smugly, crossing her arms under her breasts. "We can talk about who's responsible for what in front of everyone else, right?"

"Lum, really, this is unnecessary," Kasumi protested, seeing how Ranma seemed to have gone catatonic. "I don't mind being returned home, but this is a bit..."

"It's not you I need to restrain," Lum said simply, turning on her heel. "So if you want to blame someone, blame the idiot with his face in your chest. Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go-"

A slight rumbling noise filled the air, and then Lum slipped as the entire room tilted to one side unexpectedly.

"Whoa!" Lum took to the air before she hit the floor, and then started panicking. "What's going on? What's happening?"

Vrrr... A monitor attached to a metal tentacle crept down from the ceiling, and then activated.

"Wh-What? That's Kurama's ship!" Lum said as she saw the conch-shaped vessel floating above her UFO and sucking it into a wind tunnel. "What is she doing, abducting my ship?"

"Serves you right!" Ranma said suddenly, breaking out of his mantra for the purposes of spite. "See how you like it!"

"R-Ranma-kun," Kasumi said breathlessly. "Th-That tickles..."

Ranma froze at the realization that he was more or less talking into Kasumi's cleavage, and his face started to glow red.

BLAM!

Lum turned toward the other end of the cargo bay at the sound of a door being blasted open, and her eyes narrowed as she beheld the crow princess standing across from her, giant leaf in hand and a cadre of crows all around her.

"Finally. After all the trouble that... we... went..." she slowly stopped talking as she caught sight of her target, nestled snugly in a force prison with some woman she vaguely remembered before who had been cooking for the Tendos. "WHAT'S GOING ON HERE?!"

"That's my line!" Lum snarled. "What do you think you're doing, abducting my UFO?"

"I'm here for Ranma, of course," Kurama snapped. "Would you care to explain why he's being crushed against some middle-aged Terran wench?"

Kasumi - and by proximity, Ranma - felt a twitch run through her entire body, and her worried expression came dangerously close to a frown. "Middle-aged?"

Lum, for her part, clenched her teeth irritably as she massaged her forehead. "You know what? Fine! I don't need him anyway! Take him!" She turned and hit a button on the console.

Immediately the force pressing Ranma and Kasumi together vanished, and they fell onto the floor. Ranma, naturally, moved so that he would hit the floor first, with Kasumi on top of him, and he let out a strangled cry as once again his injured leg was jarred painfully.

"Ranma-kun! Are you all right?" Kasumi asked in concern, sliding off the martial artist and sitting next to him. "Your leg! Is it... uh... your... leg?" the eldest Tendo daughter trailed off as she observed her impromtu landing pad, her face turning from a light flush to a full-on cherry red.

Kurama's face colored just as badly, although it was hard to tell if the cause was embarrassment, desire, or jealous fury.

Lum just raised an eyebrow.

"Well, whaddya know," said one of the crow aliens, snickering. "Looks like his plumbing works after all. I owe Kena sixty credits."

Another crow let out a wolf whistle and gave Kurama a thumbs-up. She promptly kicked him, although it was obvious her heart wasn't in it.

Ranma simply stared straight up as he stewed in humiliation, wishing that Lum's UFO would just open up and drop him to his death then and there.

Lum got bored of the awkward silence after a few seconds, and then cleared her throat. "Well? Did you have something to do, or were you just checking to make sure your beloved wasn't in a steamy embrace with another woman?"

Then the oni frowned. 'Actually, that reminds me. I have to check up on Darling soon...'

Kurama growled deeply as she took the amnesia blaster from the crow attendants behind her. "Silence, cretin. This will... just take a moment."

Kasumi blinked as she saw the crow princess pick up a Super Soaker and aim it at Ranma, and her heart seized up in her chest.

The Tendo homemaker had realized quite early on that she was completely out of her element here. Actually, any place outside of the Tendo household and parts of the shopping district were out of her element, but nothing about her was prepared or equipped to handle the violence, abductions, and bizarre alien technologies that practically bombarded her one after another since she left the house that morning. Heck, Ranma was fairly used to this sort of thing, and it seemed to be all he could do to keep her from being knocked around like a pinball.

Kasumi had no idea what Kurama was trying to do by shooting Ranma with a water gun, besides maybe activate his curse, but what little she had picked up about the woman, in addition to her VERY rude assumptions regarding her age, indicated that the crow princess was not one to be trusted and that Ranma was her primary target.

So, naturally, feeling that poor Ranma had suffered enough abuse for one day, Kasumi shifted over into the line of fire of the amnesia blaster just as Kurama pulled the trigger.

ZZAP! Kasumi's eyes widened as a brilliant golden ray of light suddenly enveloped her, and she experienced a somewhat pleasant light-headed feeling before falling over onto her back dizzily.

Ranma, Lum, and Kurama all stared wide-eyed at the scene, each one gaping silently as Kasumi pushed herself back up slowly.

Finally, the pigtailed boy shot to his feet, turning a wrathful gaze on Kurama. "What did you DO?!"

Kurama flinched back immediately, all of her attendants immediately retreating behind her back. "No! That was NOT my fault! She deliberately got in the way!"

Lum scratched her head. "What is that thing, anyway? Doesn't look like it did anything..."

"It's an amnesia blaster, its effects aren't visible," Kurama quickly snapped at the other alien before turning back to Ranma, who was still fuming angrily. "Wait, no! This is okay! It's set for just four days! It doesn't matter if she loses four days of memories, does it?"

Ranma simmered for a moment longer, but finally turned away and went back to Kasumi. Kurama was right; it wasn't her fault, and as far as he knew, the Tendo homemaker hadn't done anything important so recently. On the whole, a harmless accident. Having been involved with so many dangerous accidents, he could live with it.

"Kasumi, are you feeling okay?" He asked, gently taking the bewildered girl's arm to help her up.

Kasumi nodded as she rose, looking grateful. "Yes, thank you... uh... what... just happened? I was shot with an... amnesia blaster?"

"Yeah, sorry about that," Ranma mumbled, shooting Kurama a dark look. "If Kura had been THINKING, I'm sure she would have used it when there were no other people around to get in the way. But anyhow, you'll be fine."

"Oh, that's a relief," Kasumi said happily, smiling. "So, you said my name was Kasumi? What's yours?"

Ranma stared. "What?"

The Tendo homemaker flushed slightly at the martial artist. "Well, the first thing I remember is moving in the way of that beam to protect you... I can't remember exactly why, but I believe I was thinking about repaying you for protecting me... so I would at least like to know your name..."

In actuality, that was a lie, but Kasumi didn't feel that the young man in front of her needed to know that her earliest memory was of staring down at the bulge in his pants.

Kurama sweated heavily as she slowly tip-toed back toward the exit, hoping that once she got on the other side the blast doors would slow Ranma down long enough for her to get to her ship and fly off to safety.

CLANG! That plan went out of the viewport as Ranma's fist sailed over her shoulder and smashed into the wall, creating a huge dent in the thick metal surface.

Kurama gulped as she turned around, seeing Ranma looming over her while surrounded by an aura of raging crimson. "There's... uh... a perfectly logical explanation for this, I assure you."

"I'm listening..." Ranma said, his calm voice contrasting perfectly with the level of power that was pouring out of him.

Kurama quickly plucked a crow man out of the group that was huddled around her ankles. "You! You read the instructions on how to use the blaster! What went wrong?"

The crow shook in terror as she held him up in front of Ranma, who gazed down at the tiny alien like it was of as little importance and worth as its mundane Earth counterparts. "I don't know! We made sure to set it ahead of time! She should have lost just four days of memories permanently!"

Kasumi scratched her cheek doubtfully. "I don't remember anything, though. So what happened?"

"I don't know!" The crow man insisted, pointing to the gun frantically. "As you can see, the settings are... uh... the... settings are..." he trailed off weakly as he stared at the device.

Ranma raised an eyebrow. "Yes?" It was not lost on anybody that his aura hadn't lost a bit of its power or intensity.

"P-Princess Kurama?" the crow said timidly. "When you were setting the dials, did you have the gun pointing away from you, or toward you?"

The crow princess blinked. "What difference does that make?"

There was a brief moment of silence before the crows all groaned, and Kurama winced. "Oh. I... see."

"I don't," Ranma said suddenly, reminding the aliens that he was still there, and still very close to savagely beating them. "Explain it to me, please."

"Well, this situation is... not as harmless, but still temporary," Kurama said quickly. "It seems I accidentally had the device set to erase all memories for a period of four days."

"And you were gonna shoot me with that?" Ranma demanded, his fist grinding back and forth in the indentation in the wall.

"It was an honest mistake! And it still wasn't my fault that she got hit!" Kurama insisted in a panic.

Ranma was about to continue when he felt a hand on his shoulder, and his aura winked out as he saw Kasumi behind him, shaking her head.

"Please... it's okay. She made a mistake, but I forgive her. She's not really at fault, here," Kasumi said gently, smiling serenely.

Ranma was silent for a moment as he pulled his fist out of the wall. "She called you a middle-aged wench, you know."

A vein promptly popped up on Kasumi's head, and her eyebrow twitched. "I see... how old am I, exactly?"

"Nineteen. And you've already had a birthday this year."

Kasumi's eyes narrowed, and Kurama cringed in response before she started fiddling with the dials on the amnesia blaster again.

"Ah, well, if you don't mind, I'll just do what I came here for and-"

"Wait," Ranma grabbed hold of the amnesia blaster and held the barrel down. "I'm not letting you use that on me until Kasumi's memories come back," he said firmly.

"Wh-What? But that's four days from now! You said you wanted to be rid of... that as soon as possible!" Kurama protested.

"If I let you use it on me now, I'll forget all about how you used it on Kasumi, and that could put her in danger," Ranma insisted. "Her memories take priority over... that."

Lum and Kasumi shared a confused glance and a shrug, indicating that they had no idea what the others were talking about.

"I see..." Kurama said hesitantly, chewing on her lip. "Very well then, it is your choice. Although the more memories I must erase, the more complicated this procedure could become."

"Whatever it is, I'll deal with it. But Kasumi isn't going to suffer for your stupid mistakes if I can help it."

Kurama nodded sadly, feeling quite envious at the lengths her chosen mate was going to in order to help some elderly house servant. "I understand. I will return in four days. Farewell, my chosen!"

The crow princess blew Ranma a kiss as she walked out the door, her attendants scrambling around her to get as far from the scary pigtailed human as possible. After a few more seconds, a loud grinding noise could be heard, and the floor shifted as Kurama's ship finally departed.

Lum, who had been largely forgotten during the fiasco, yawned from where she was floating in the air leisurely. "Finally, she's gone. Crazy bird."

"Shaddup. I still haven't forgiven you for your part in this mess," Ranma growled. "Now hurry up and-just a sec."

Turning around, he crouched down over Doctor Tofu's twitching body and pulled back a fist.

Pow! Wham! Smack! Thud!

Satisfied that the doctor was once again comatose, Ranma stood and turned back to Lum. "Hurry up and take us back to the Tendos. I guess I'll be skipping school after all."

Lum rolled her eyes but nodded wearily. "Right, right. I'll have us on our way in a sec."

As the door closed behind the space oni, Ranma turned a regretful look toward Kasumi, who was staring at him hopefully.

"Well, I know this has been really crazy for you, but I suppose I should give an introduction, at least. I'm Ranma Saotome. Sorry about this."

Kasumi nodded happily. "It's nice to meet you, Ranma-kun." She bowed, and then her smile got even wider. "So, are you my boyfriend?"

"Urk."


"You know, I've wanted to come to your room for a long time, Nabiki-chan, but I was hoping for SLIGHTLY fewer restraints," Ataru said conversationally from where he was thoroughly wrapped in ropes and lying on the floor. "I mean, a little bit is fine, I'm a pretty open-minded guy, but this-"

Thud! Nabiki idly kicked Ataru in the side as she paced the length of her room scratching her chin the whole time.

Ataru groaned and rolled to the side, wishing that he had possessed the foresight to go ahead and leave for school along with Ranma.

Not that sitting in class was much better than being bound hand and foot and occasionally being kicked around, but at least he could've caught up on sleep in class.

"All right Ataru, I have a question," Nabiki said suddenly. "What's in the Dragon's Six Tongues? What makes it so... addictive?"

Nabiki could admit by now that what she was experiencing, and what had driven her family crazy, was too powerful to be anything less than a full-blown addiction. At least it was if one didn't accept Ataru's idiotic story about it being a cursed meal. While Nabiki could accept that curses did exist, that didn't mean she was going to call everything she didn't understand "magic" and leave it at that.

Ataru sighed. "I don't know. Like I told you, I only have half the recipe."

Nabiki grit her teeth. "Than tell me your half. I don't care how little you know, just start listing ingredients!"

The lecher snorted. "Yeah, right! Did you think a true master of Sakumon-Go would just blurt out their secrets to-"

"I'll take off my shirt if you do it," Nabiki interrupted.

"Do want that in alphabetical order or order of preparation?" Ataru said, his nostrils flaring.

"Surprise me," the mercenary Tendo said, pulling up her shirt and tossing it to the side.

Staring up at the bra-clad woman, Ataru swallowed the drool in his mouth and then recalled the recipe in his head. "Well, there's some bell pepper, cayenne, cinnamon, cumin, garlic..."

Nabiki nodded absently as Ataru continued listing ingredients, promptly deciding that the information was pretty much useless. She wasn't a cook nor a food critic, and wouldn't have known a particularly tasty or spectacular ingredient if she heard it. So unless Ataru were to name an ingredient that was obviously out of place...

"Wait a minte. Say that last one again," Nabiki demanded suddenly.

Ataru, who had been spouting them off automatically as he stared at Nabiki's breasts, took several seconds to recall where he was. "Uh... methylene?"

Nabiki blinked. "What kind of ingredient is 'methylene'?"

Ataru shrugged. "It's a less common spice, I guess. Really modern, high-tech stuff. I think the full name was... uh... methylenedioxymethamphetamine."

Nabiki's eyebrow started to twitch. "Did you say... 'methamphetamine'?"

"That's the scientific name, mind you," Ataru explained, perfectly happy to appear smart and knowledgeable in one of his few areas of expertise. "Apparently these new modern spices get special 'mainstream' names, but I don't like them. I mean, who names a spice 'Ecstasy'? It's a seasoning, not a perfume!"

Nabiki clutched the sides of her head, almost tearing her hair out. "Ataru, you... you... YOU IDIOT! You DRUGGED us!"

"Drugged on the what now?"

"That's a drug! A recreational pill for lowlifes and junkies!" Nabiki growled, glaring down at the lecher angrily. "The secret of your 'ultimate dish' is that it gives the people who eat it a chemical high! And now thanks to you, my entire family is addicted!"

Ataru blinked repeatedly, trying to push aside the image of Nabiki's angrily bouncing boobies to process what she was saying. "I... wow, that's... I had no idea..."

Then he frowned. "We still win the contest, right?"

Thwack!

"Ow!"



End Chapter 9