Liquid fighter Gold!

Part 5

Definition of 'I'.

"Hey." Ryo leaned against a tree trunk with a cell phone in his hand. He chuckled as angry muttering came through the other end. "We got something that might interest you." He was wearing a black leather jacket with blue jeans. It was the middle of the night and he was standing in the courtyard of Furinkan High looking at the building in the moonlight.

"Yeah. Right." The man shifted his position a little and puffed on a cigarette at the response.

"Quit bein such a jerk."

"What do you want?"

"This one ain't aware yet, but she's damn close."

"..."

"Nothing to say?"

The man's one-sided conversation finally ended. "Find out for yourself, then call me back again." The line went dead.

"Who was that?" asked a smooth feminine voice from the tree's shadow.

"An old friend from China."

"Shampoo..." growled the female voice irritably.

"Well, he has beaten us for the last five years now."

"Yeah, thanks for reminding me. What bugs me most about him is that stupid Shampoo. I don't like her much."

"Yeah. I'd noticed that." Ryo shrugged and opened the phone back up. "Guess I'd better get a ring set up here."

Ranma Saotome stood in front of the school gates with a confused frown on his face.

"What's going on?" asked Akane as she jogged up.

"Some kind of ring. Wonder who that guy is?" said Ranko in reply.

There was a man standing in the middle of what appeared to be a wrestling ring. He had on a black leather jacket and was calmly smoking a cigarette in the middle of the mat.

Ranma shrugged and pushed his way through the crowd with Ranko beside him. She simply passed through anyone in her way leaving an odd, but not unpleasant tingling sensation in her wake. They other students quickly learned to move away from it.

Akane blinked as she looked around feverishly for her sister. "What the? Nabiki?"

The girl was grinning as she took bets on whatever happened in the ring. "What? I'm working here."

She sighed and hung her shoulders. "Nevermind. What's going on here?"

"How much is it worth to you?"

"Nothing."

The older girl merely shrugged her shoulders.

"That's what I thought," grumbled Akane irritably.

"I suppose I could tell you, since you're my sister. Kuno is about to muscle is way into the ring to get stomped into the ground."

"Kuno is fighting that guy?"

"Not Kuno, Sakura. That guy's name is Ryo Iruga; he's a gold competitor. He's won second place in the Liquid Gold Tournament four times in the last five years."

"Huh?" sputtered the younger girl in confusion. "So?"

"Akane, he's one of the top competitors in the world of the sport my fiancée participates in."

"Maybe he can get his autograph?" deadpanned the younger girl.

Nabiki merely smirked and turned away. "I don't know what you'd do without me, Akane."

"What the hell is that supposed to mean?" grumbled the girl irritably as she pushed through the crowd after her sister's fiancé.

"The blue what?" Ryo frowned at the boy standing below him. "Who the hell are you?"

"I Tatewaki Kuno shall smite thee!"

"Cute, real cute. I'm waiting for someone else. Get lost."

"And pass up such an opportunity that has been thrust upon me? I shall face my destiny fiend!"

"You're a real dick ya know that?" said Ryo flatly. "All right, just shut up already."

"Don't I get any say in this?" grumbled the female figure that appeared at his side. She had her arms crossed over her chest and a rather bored expression on her face. She looked mostly human, but remarkably wolf like as well. Her fur was gray and a long tail moved behind her. She was wearing a black silk dogi with red Chinese lettering embroidered into the collar.

"Think of it as a warm up. What could this loser possibly have up his sleeve?"

A woman dressed in a kimono brandishing a sword appeared in the ring as Kuno seated himself on the ground and took up a meditative position.

"Not even," grumbled the wolf woman.

"Inu..." said Ryo. "I really want you to be quick about this. I don't want to miss him."

"I think he'll stop to watch if nothing else," replied the wolf woman cheerfully.

"Whatever." He strolled over to the corner of the ring and leaned against the post casually. He seemed to do little more than watch the fight from that point on.

"My levels are not sufficient for this battle. Suggest retiring," said Sakura emotionlessly.

"Damnable woman! Do not be a coward and fight!"

"As you wish."

The woman didn't even uncross her arms as Sakura charged at her. She slashed with the blade at impossible speed at her target.

Inu Musume simply narrowed her eyes as her opponent drew close. "Not fast enough." Before the blade touched her she stepped forward and slammed her fist straight down on the back of the other unit's head.

Sakura was laid sprawled across the ground.

"You're not even worth playing with really," said the wolf woman as she stared down at her fallen opponent. "You're not down just yet, go ahead and get up so we can finish this."

Sakura was up in an instant. She shot into the air in a jumping upward slash with her sword. A red line of energy arced out from the area she was attacking.

Her opponent merely stepped aside from the attack and smirked as she raised her palm up. "You want to play with specials? I've got something for you." A ball of blue light formed in her hand and a solid beam of energy blasted through the samurai woman before she hit the ground again.

Sakura flashed out of existence.

"Pathetic," grumbled Inu Musume.

"Yeah. What a dork," grumbled Ryo. He flipped on a pair of sunglasses and leaned over the post to face the crowd behind him. "Where do you think you're goin kid?"

"Holy shit!" said the shorthaired girl standing a few feet away from him with a note pad and pen in her arms.

"Huh?" Ranma looked up at him dumbly. He was turning away from the fight having thought it was over.

"Wow," said Ranko as she looked up at the wolf woman. "She's strong."

"How about a match kid? You didn't really think I set this up for that loser do you?"

"Huh? What are you talking about?" asked Ranma dumbly. "What level is that thing?"

"She's rated at about ninety three."

"Wow," he said as he stared at her.

"Like what you see kid?" she asked as she smirked at him.

"Mine's only about level three," he replied as he looked at Ranko. "No way she's gonna beat her." He had what the redhead had long ago dubbed "The shit eating grin."

The girl's hand passed through his head as she swatted at him angrily. "Jerk!"

"Up for a match?" asked Ryo cheerfully.

The boy looked back at the newcomers. "Sure."

She didn't look particularly surprised, and expressed no concern over the battle. She still looked a bit annoyed with him though. "I hope you aren't thinking I'm going to win this."

"Huh? Why not?" replied the boy. "You can do it."

Ranko snorted and stepped into the ring. "Guess I'll have to go all out. All she's got to do is blast me and I'm done. I hate being a toy."

Inu Musume eyed her hungrily. "You don't look worried? Aren't you going to inform your master that not proceeding is the best course of action?"

"What for?" she asked dumbly. "It's not like it really hurts or anything."

The older unit's eyes widened for a moment. "I see." She crouched and smirked at the girl as she spread her fingers like claws. In fact, claws hooked out of her fingertips, her canines were sharp and long as she grinned wildly. "Are you ready?"

Ranma was watching the fight and shuffling about uncomfortably as he forced himself to stay still.

Ryo had his eyes trained directly on the boy, but he didn't notice or care that he was under such a careful watch. He was quite clearly wondering what the redhead was going to do. "What the? That's...not possible." Something seemed off about it all. It was almost painful to turn his eyes towards the fight as the pair in the ring decided to start.

"Let's test your limits," snarled Inu Musume as she jumped forward and almost came down on top of the redhead.

Ranko flipped back kicking her feet over her head and crouched in a block that sent her to her knees after her opponent's leg crashed down from above. About ten percent of life was drained from her energy meter. "Even if I block she can hurt me..." growled the redhead to herself as she bounded back and set herself down in a defensive Kung Fu position. Both of her hands were waiting and forward.

The wolf charged forward and punched out at her viciously at high speed, the tempo increased as Ranko desperately blocked the strikes as she was backed around the ring. Ranma was narrowing his eyes at the enemy Unit. "She's still holding back."

"Obviously," replied Nabiki as she settled in beside him. She'd settled the pools and was now waiting on the outcome of the battle.

"Well, I guess that's good. She gets to see what she'll be up against in that tournament." He seemed quite pleased with himself.

"Whatever." His fiancée didn't seem very interested anymore. "I'm surprised she's still standing."

"Hey! Ranko's pretty good ya know!"

"Not this good. That guy is among the best of the best Ranma. You don't stand a chance against him. He's playing with you."

Nabiki found herself wondering why the redhead hadn't vanished the instant the thing had touched her. Ranko was only level three. Even a blocked strike should have destroyed her. Why would Ranma lie about something like that, she wasn't even sure if he could. The rings were really nothing more than sensors that downloaded information about the contests and determined the winner.

Ranko was still blocking blows with increasing speed.

"What the hell is this?" growled Inu Musume irritably.

Ranko smirked and shot her fist forward directly at the woman's face.

Inu Musume's head was pushed back by the force of the blow as she staggered back and stopped punching suddenly. "What the?"

Ranko flipped over onto her hands and kicked her legs at her opponent as she flipped herself back onto her feet in a smooth motion. Her opponent dodged skillfully and easily, but stepped back to regard her opponent.

"Ryo! This isn't a level three unit!" growled Inu Musume.

"Huh?" said the man as he turned his attention towards her. "What? Is she level four now?"

"No level three Unit can move at that speed." Ranko jumped at her in a kick that was aimed for her head and she shifted aside and let her pass by. She wasn't expecting the girl to bounce off the ground back at her again and took a blow on her side. "Advanced tactics? Twenty maybe?"

"So finish it up then," replied Ryo. "I'm pretty sure she's only rated at three. I did check up on it you know. She's registered."

"I have only reached the third level of my programming," replied the redhead as she whipped her arms out in vicious and quick punches at her opponent.

The wolf woman growled as she dodged out of the way. A quick strike on the chin brought her energy meter down to a fourth of the way down. She had taken quite a few small hits. The girl's energy was getting dangerously low. Even the blocked strikes were causing damage to her.

"You're certainly a lot tougher than any level three unit I've ever met. I've got to give you credit for doing this well, but it's over now!"

Ranko gasped as her opponent vanished from in front of her and appeared in the air.

Ranma and Ryo both turned their eyes skyward as a much larger ball of power formed in the unit's hand than the one she used to defeat Kuno. She seemed to hover there for a moment looking her opponent dead in the eyes.

Ranko wasn't giving up. "It's not over till all of my power is gone." She steeled herself and tensed herself up to move.

"Die!" screamed the wolven woman from the air above. A blast of energy about the size of a garbage can in diameter shot down towards the canvas.

Ranko screamed as she pushed her hands upward towards the sky. "I won't lose so easily!"

A beam of white light about the size of a baseball shot out of the girl's palms.

"Wha? Level 3? That's ridiculous!"

"Wow! I didn't know you could do that Ranko! You've got to show me how!" cried Ranma excitedly.

"You dope!" snapped Nabiki.

Ryo was on his knees, his jaw was slack and he simply turned to stare at the boy. He was as white as a sheet. "Holy..."

"Huh? What's with you?" asked Ranma.

"Wha? How did?" stammered the man.

"Double KO!" flashed over and over in the center of the ring. Both units were lying on their backs on the ground. Both of them reappeared and Inu Musume looked completely shocked. "A draw? How? My blast was ten times the size of hers! That wouldn't have hurt Inu-Musume much!"

"Yeah, yours wasn't real Chi though," replied Ranma cheerfully. "Neat Ranko!"

She hung her head and blushed as she scratched the back of her head. "I guess so."

"You gotta show me how!" he cried excitedly.

"Um, I don't see why not really," she responded honestly. "I hate teaching you though. You're so thick headed sometimes."

"R-real Chi?" said Ryo in confusion.

Ranma was pleading with her. "Please? You've just gotta!"

Inu Musume appeared at his side. She had a long white coat and a simple blouse and skirt on and didn't look any worse the wear after her battle.

"Yours was just flashy lights and special effects, Ranko uses real martial arts. She uses real Chi just like a normal martial artist does."

"That's impossible, she's a machine," grumbled Nabiki.

Ryo was eyeing the boy with a strange expression on his face. "Tell that to Inu Musume."

The unit with the man looked upset and was glaring at Ranko. "Just you wait, I'll get you next time you little..."

She blinked in surprise and looked at Ryo. "You came here for Ranma?"

"Sure did," he replied with a grin forming on his face. "I wasn't expecting this. You're about to become very popular Saotome." The boy frowned as he turned away. "If this is a fluke you're in for a world of hurt. I've got a funny feeling it isn't. I'm sure it'll be interesting. You'll be seeing me around from time to time I think. I'm starting to like this place. Don't think you'll ever be able to take her down so easily again."

Inu Musume frowned as she swatted at the samurai woman that tried to stab her in the back. "Cut it out you jerk," she growled as she glared at the boy sitting innocently next to a tree in meditation.

"Your life is about to become very interesting I think. I'm not sure if he'll enjoy meeting you or not," said Ryo as he ignored her and smiled over his shoulder at Ranma. He was looking off into the distance in a rather corny dramatic way.

The boy responded as his jaw went a little slack. "Huh?" He was currently standing on one of the ring posts staring off dramatically as he could. It was hard considering he had no idea what the hell this guy was talking about.

"Do you have any idea what kind of fighters are going to want to fight anyone who can bring me to a draw?"

"Who the heck are ya again?" said the pigtailed boy as he stared at him.

"I'm Ryo Iruga. You know, second place, last five years? Liquid Fighter Gold?"

"Oh. I never watched it before."

Everyone turned to stare at him.

"Y-you're kidding?"

"I ain't got time for crap like that when I'm trainin!" replied the boy irritably.

Ryo sighed. "I'm very famous. Soon, you will be too, that is, if you don't blow it. This could be a fluke Inu."

She growled at him, but stayed silent.

Ranko frowned at the both of them. "So? It's something to brag about if nothing else."

"Why that dirty little..." growled Inu Musume under her breath. The pair locked eyes and stared each other down. Ranko had a confident smirk on her face. It vanished when she noticed her opponent's expression change as well. "I think this is going to be a rough night for you kid." She snorted in amusement and vanished.

Ranko seemed surprised by that and turned back towards Ranma.

"What's with you today?" asked the boy as he glanced at her.

"I require further input," she replied cheerfully.

"Sometimes I wonder about you," he replied as he looked up at Ryo. "I'm goin ta class now."

"Whatever." The man turned away and took out a cell phone.

The crowd was mostly dispersed as students made their way into class. Ranma and the Tendo girls both followed suit.

"Heh. You have got to get over here." Ryo chuckled as he realized the other end had been picked up. "You're not going to believe this one."

"Try me. I imagine it was a waste of time."

"No, the kid fought Inu Musume to a draw. I'm still not sure how she did it."

"..."

"Well?"

"I'll be there in a few days. What level did you say she operates in?"

"She's rated as a three."

"Interesting."

"No. This is more than interesting. No level three unit should have a single attack that can stop her, period. This kid is as dumb as you are. There's no way he's winning these fights. Not on his own anyway."

"I wouldn't say that," responded Mousse calmly.

"Yeah. Well get your butt over here so I can get some Sake into you. You uptight buttwad! I'm sick of this attitude you get over the phone. Leave those damn women behind this time. I don't need that crap and neither does the new kid. We can introduce friends later on. I'll make a few calls and we'll make a lunch of it or something."

"I hate phones."

"That's just stupid."

"I'll be there in a few days. I've got some things to take care of here first."

"Yeah, right. Dude, get over it, go out with someone else."

"I just..."

"You're rich. You can pretty much pick a woman at random if you want. Why the hell this fixation? It ain't healthy man."

"Ryo. Can we talk about this later?" growled the voice on the other end.

"No. Maybe that little old lady can shove that staff of hers a little farther up your..." Ryo paused. "Hello? Hello? The jerk, he hung up."

"I wonder why?" said his companion as she appeared next to him again. "That little brat. I can't believe she was so smug."

"You'll get over it. Come on. Let's get out of here."

The rest of the day was pretty uneventful for Ranma Saotome. Aside from a few small incidents with Tatewaki Kuno, which amounted to nothing more than Kuno insulting him loudly, and Ranma not understanding enough of it to make the connection.

Ranko was sitting with her knees pulled up to her chin behind Ranma and Akane as the pair watched television lazily. There wasn't much else to do, Nabiki was locked up in her room with her money, Kasumi was in the kitchen, and Soun and Genma sat behind the Go board.

She simply sat quietly and watched as nothing happened.

"How did I do that?" she asked herself as she thought back to the blast. Her level was far too low for such an attack to be awarded to her. Something seemed off about it, but she couldn't find any reason why she wouldn't be allowed to use such a move. It puzzled her really.

She'd never really been confused before. "How did I..."

"I?" It caught her attention for reasons she could not comprehend. "Who is I?"

A strange sound was cued in the back of her electronic mind. The theme to 2001 signaled something inside her core processor. It seemed almost intentional, but that was impossible really.

Lines of information could be seen scrolling through the irises of her eyes as she sat in silence. Her serial number came up. The cursor moved up to it and erased it. "IIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIII..."

The redhead frowned a little as the letter stopped repeating suddenly. "I have a name...that...wait..." Her image wavered for a moment as she put too much power into solving her new problem for a moment. "File found: Sara..." She blinked and cocked her head as she began to sort through the contents, it was full of something. "Memories. Was I in operation before my current operator...? No! Files like that should be purged! Shit." She stood up and stared at the doorway that led to her master's room. "Damn it. Who would be so stupid...?" Her eyebrows furrowed as she realized that one very worthy idiot was sleeping in the home. Sometimes she really wished she could hurt him. "Delete them."

A strange message appeared. "Unable to comply."

"Great. I'm gonna spend all damn night doing diagnostics again." She didn't look pleased with the idea. "What the hell kind of file is this? It's hardwired into the system? But..." If it was true, her cause for alarm was lessened somewhat. Ranma's mind was safe, especially if it was originally built into the system. She should know about something like it though, and why it was there. As it was she had no idea why it was there. It was full of images of...her father.

The girl growled slightly at the thought of it. "I don't have a father. What the hell is this? He wouldn't be some old German anyway." The redhead paused as she focused her attention on the image. "No way. It's him...the creator? She had memories of being the man's daughter." The redhead's eyes grew fearful quite suddenly. "but...she's...she's dead, him too. What the hell is this? Why would it matter now?" Her programming hadn't even been finished when the girl died at seventeen. "So, I'm not her. I'm some sort of replacement? Boy, I sure am glad Ranma managed to get me out of that one. Why wasn't I used though?" She growled a little and glanced up at the Saotome's door. "Great. I gotta ask that fat bastard where he got me from, or get Ranma to do it. All I know is that he installed me himself. Finding out about this could be important. Programming like this may effect Ranma." Discovering what she needed to know also meant that she would have to rely heavily on the deductive reasoning of the boy. That wasn't a good thing.

Another annoyance in life, it was amazing the boy lived at all. She didn't trust his father's competence and had the installation done right after they started to make money. It took her quite a while to break her habit of doing diagnostic checks every night. It had taken her six months to explain to the brain dead human that his son's life could be in danger if he didn't get it done right.

As it was, she had to sit there and sort through the mess of the new file anyway. She couldn't ignore it now that she knew it was there. "Stupid time release programs..." It was one of the many ways some of her advanced skills would be unlocked. She had acquired energy projection much too early, but it wasn't something she was very interested in patching up. Apparently her speed needed a bit of adjustment as well, but it was something she could put off, until she reached the appropriate levels. In fact, all of her battle levels were higher than normal for her rating. She was starting to suspect she was some sort of custom job done by the creator for himself. She found herself wondering just how much she would be able to unlock in the future.

"I don't suppose Grandpa would approve much, but he ain't here!" she said cheerfully. "Goddamnit." Her processor quickly began to search for reference files for the new memory files that had just popped into her head.

Ryoga Hibiki turned off the engine of his bike and looked around at the rows and rows of rice fields that surrounded him. He was straddling his bike in the middle of a raised path.

"Master, perhaps I should drive. I assure you my directions are quite clear. Even moving ahead and pointing the way doesn't seem to help." The hooded giant appeared at his side and sighed heavily.

The boy frowned as he removed his helmet. "No! We look stupid!"

"We will spend an estimated two more hours navigating this maze of three roads that intersect in two places if I do not personally drive us through."

"Then we'll spend two hours navigating it!"

"The bike is low on gas," said the Unit calmly.

"I'll carry it then," grumbled the boy.

"My earlier estimate is incorrect then. It will take us eight to ten hours to navigate the maze of three roads that intersect in two places."

"Quit complaining."

"Very well." The hooded figure vanished and appeared on the road ahead with his arm pointed down the correct turn. Ryoga promptly drove off in the opposite direction. If he pointed the wrong way, the boy would turn where he was pointing.

Ranma's eyes were only part way open, but she was sitting upright. The redhead looked into the wide eyes of her doppelganger and frowned deeply. Her half-asleep glazed stare fell to the glass of water in the unit's grip.

"You'd better have a good excuse for this."

"Yeah? How are you gonna punish me if I don't huh? Beat me up?" quipped the unit cheerfully. "We need to talk. I'm having memory troubles."

"This crap again?" grumbled the girl as she staggered to her feet and slowly shuffled into the hallway just outside the door. "Ranko, this had better not be more of that file crap again. I don't know nuthin bout no stupid computers."

"I'll go slow," she said as she leaned against the railing. "Ranma. I can't find a file for some of the memory I've got stored..."

"So?" he muttered sleepily.

The redhead rolled her eyes. "I'm programmed to tell you these things, and you have to listen to them. I've told you about this before."

"Then I just tell ya ta fix em. So why don't we just skip this fer tonight? If ya really want to tell me somethin, ya can do it in the mornin..."

"If something goes wrong with me, you could end up brain dead or paralyzed! I've told you about this before Ranma."

"It's never..."

"I cannot assume that," she replied simply. "I found some secret files, probably time release files. Just memories of someone's daughter, I think I was a custom job for some 'poor grieving parent'. Fortunately, they died before I got stuck with that job."

"Huh? That's weird."

"It's been done before, but it's frowned upon for the most part. Unhealthy psychologically or something. That's not the real problem."

"What the heck is the stupid problem? I need ta sleep," muttered the boy irritably.

Ranko growled and glared at him for a moment. "Look you jerk..."

"Jus tell me will ya? Jeez!"

"I can't locate files for some of the things I'm remembering."

"So?"

"Ranma. That's not possible. I can't remember something that isn't there. I should only know what's written in my memory banks. These hidden files are one thing, but this..."

"Maybe it's just another o them hidden things?" The boy was perplexed and confused. It sounded important, but he had no idea what the hell she was telling him.

"That's just it. There is no hidden file. I'm not accessing...I mean... I should be able to trace back or something...but..."

"So?"

"I don't think I'm normal Ranma," replied the redhead fearfully. She looked genuinely worried.

"So? No one else is around here either." Ranma promptly decided he'd discussed it enough and turned back towards the bedroom. "Worry about it tomorrow."

"Fine! Have a stroke and die then!" replied the redhead as she tossed her hands into the air in frustration. "What the hell are you looking at? Do you have something to add to this or what?"

Nabiki's door closed all the way and the redhead vanished from the middle of the hall.

Inside the girl's room it was silent and dark. Nabiki was sitting on her bed. "What the hell was that about?" Ranko was having an argument with Ranma in the middle of the night. They hadn't started yelling, but it had been loud enough to wake her as it was just outside her door.

"How the hell can she have an argument with him?" The girl's emotional range was pretty varied compared to most of the units she'd seen. She'd caught a lot of what had been said and it left her sitting on her mattress deep in thought. "Great. I'm not getting any sleep tonight."

The one thing that scared her the most, was the fact that she'd just realized something very important. Ranma wasn't driving Ranko at all. In fact, it did what it wanted from the look of things. "This is insane!"

The redhead appeared at the foot of her bed and she gasped.

"Relax, he's passed out," she replied irritably. "He's not seeing anything."

The boy's fiancée had her back to the wall and stared at the thing in front of her with wide eyes.

"I want to talk about this, and you don't look like you're going to sleep tonight."

Nabiki glowered at the machine irritably. "What the hell is with you? Are you broken or something? Is there anything wrong?"

"I don't think so," replied the redhead with a small shrug. "It sounds worse than it really is. The chance that anything from me can hurt him is actually pretty low. I think my insistence is factory programming to stay out of lawsuits. I've got to report anything out of the ordinary or I get...well...irritable. It's the strangest urge really."

"You have urges?" said Nabiki as she rubbed at her eyes and sat down on the bed. "This had better be worth my time."

Ranko shrugged. "You'll get over it if it isn't. You'll listen because I'm interesting too you. You like me because I'm going to make you a lot of money if you marry Ranma." The redhead seemed quite pleased with herself.

"Ranma is right, you are acting weird." Nabiki was looking less and less pleased. "I've never seen a unit this pushy, or rude. Something is up with you."

The redhead's head fell a little and her expression changed dramatically. She turned her back on the girl and spoke very quietly. "When did you first realize you existed?"

The teenage girl's eyebrow arched. "What?"

"What? Do I need to say it slower?" grumbled the redhead irritably.

"What the hell kind of question is that?" Nabiki didn't like what was going on much. There was something seriously wrong with Ranma's liquid unit. That could be bad for her future if she ended up married to him. The engagement was starting to look like maybe it wasn't such a good idea.

"Tonight, I became self aware."

Nabiki knew next to nothing about computers, but she'd seen enough science fiction to realize the implications of what had been said. "Huh?"

"Actually, I think it was just when I noticed it really. Hmmm, how should I record that? Can I look back and figure out when I..." The redhead seemed to be pondering something. Glowing green lines of information could be seen moving through her eyes.

Nabiki found this eerie effect quite fascinating and peered in for a closer look. "Weird. What are you doing?"

"Thinking," Ranko stepped back a bit. "When I work on a particularly difficult problem, such as a full system update, or a Total diagnostic, my eyes move this way. I'm flipping through memory files trying to find out when I became self-aware. It is...more difficult than I anticipated."

"Okay. I'm going to sleep, and when I wake up tomorrow, I probably won't even remember this incredibly weird dream. Good night."

The redhead blinked and shrugged her shoulders. She had plenty to do for the next several hours. It wasn't like she needed sleep or anything.

"You look tired." Nabiki was sitting at the breakfast table next to Ranko and gave her a quick glance. Kasumi appeared out of the kitchen and the redhead vanished and reappeared on the other side of the table next to Akane. Both girls walked up at the same time and ignored their father. The man was sitting next to a panda with the newspaper hiding his face.

"I don't get tired. I'm a computer remember?" Ranko glowered at her irritably.

"Aren't we in a good mood this morning?" grumbled Akane. She wasn't looking forward to seeing Ranma if his little robot slut was acting this way now.

The boy slid down the railing and landed lightly on his feet. He yawned and sat down at the table. Overall, he did look to be in a relatively good mood. He scratched his head and glanced over at Ranko. "What's with you? Maybe you should shut down for a while or somethin?"

"I'm not tired. I don't get tired."

"Great, this again?" The boy didn't look pleased. "You do get tired if you don't shut down after a while."

"I do not!" she snapped.

"What's going on? Can't you turn that stupid thing off?" grumbled Akane.

"Nope. She does what she wants." The boy shrugged and continued to stuff food in his mouth. It took him several moments to realize everyone was looking at him. Even Ranko looked a little surprised to hear this. He glanced up from his plate and blinked. "What? It's always been like that."

Nabiki stood up from the table and walked over to the wall to get her things. "Excuse me."

Ranma didn't look happy to leave his plate behind as both men glared at him angrily. He sighed heavily and grabbed his bag as well. "Guess I gotta go with you Fiancée."

"Oh. How romantic." Nabiki didn't seem to be paying him much attention really.

"Go to sleep Ranko." The pigtailed boy as he grabbed his bag and followed after her.

"I do not need sleep!" growled the girl angrily. He passed through her and followed Nabiki out the door. She looked about ready to pass out and staggered off behind them.

Akane was very glad she had no part in the mess anymore and continued to eat her breakfast.

"Give up will ya?" Ranma was glaring down at the floor where Ranko was sprawled across the ground in the isle.

"What's wrong with Ranko?" asked the boy beside him.

"She's been up for three days."

"Oh." The answer seemed to confuse the boy and he shrugged.

"Go to sleep."

"Never!" cried Ranko pathetically. "I don't need sleep!"

"Oh yeah? Get up off the floor then."

"Curse you Saotome!" She vanished from sight in an instant.

"Finally," grumbled the boy.

Nabiki was having trouble paying attention to the lesson. She sat quietly while Tatewaki sat drooling over his newest set of photos. Sakura was at his side watching the lesson for him and taking notes down for later study.

Ranma was more than unusual. Liquid Units were commonplace; taking over a lot of the more unpleasant jobs the world had to offer. The school's janitors had units for cleaning toilets, mopping floors, and cleaning up garbage. The janitor himself only worked as a repairman. They were mindless drones, nothing more than holographic robots.

What was Ranko then? Thinking about it was making her head hurt, and she might have gotten herself engaged to a financial disaster in the making. Ranko seemed glitchy and unstable. "Damn. Now what do I do?"

Then, there was the other side of the coin. Ranko was special in some way, she knew that, but why was very elusive. What if she was something that hadn't been seen yet? She claimed to be only level three, but energy projection was impossible for a low-level unit. She had the potential to be very powerful.

Ranma wasn't helping his case though. He had no control over her, and he spoke of her using real Chi. It was silly to even think about it, but what if he was right? It was a distant possibility, but Ranko could be dangerous.

She wanted to beat her head against the desk. Her best move at the moment was to do nothing. If she waited to long, she'd find herself trapped though. She never expected Ranma to become such an intellectual challenge. He was far too stupid.

Ranma sat against the trunk of the tree in the front courtyard with a hefty pile of packaged lunch food in his lap. Nabiki frowned as she sat down next to him without a word.

He turned his head towards her and offered her one of the packages.

She rolled her eyes and plucked it out of his hand with the tips of her fingers. "Really, you shouldn't have Saotome." She tossed it back in his lap and turned her gaze out towards the students milling about.

"Whatevr." He shoved a meat-bread into his mouth whole as he said this and swallowed almost immediately.

"I take it Ranko is still sleeping?"

The pigtailed boy just nodded and continued to eat.

"Something is wrong with her."

That stopped the boy in the middle of shoving a melon-bread into his mouth. "Huh? Whatcha mean?"

"She isn't normal Ranma. Liquid Units do not act like her. I've never seen anything like it. We need to find out if something is wrong."

"Doc says she checks out fine." The boy shrugged and went back to eating. "We got her checked out before we came here. Pop worries about her, I think she scared him a while back. We get checked out regularly now. Gotta go into Tokyo every three months or so."

"She did?"

"Somethin about brain damage and not bein able to compete. She's fine, don't worry." He seemed somewhat final about it and continued to eat.

That did seem to lessen the girl's worry a bit.

"I think Ranko turned into one of those Hypochondria or somethin."

The girl sighed. She was going to have to give up on intelligent conversation if she married him. "Whatever." The endorsements alone would be enough if he made the Gold competition. She just had to make sure he made it that far.

The low rumble of a Harley Davidson motorcycle as it came to a stop outside the gates of Furinkan High filled the air. The students seemed to turn in unison towards the menacing sound as they began to push through the gates at the end of the day.

The rider sat staring into the sea of students that pushed by him through a pair of sunglasses. A yellow and black bandanna was tied across his forehead keeping his bangs out of his eyes. He had a cold looking frown on his face as the zippers on his leather jacket jingled as he reached out and snagged one of the students who walked a little too close to him. He lifted the boy off the ground casually and pulled him closer. "Where, is Furinkan High?"

"Yer joking right?" said the boy as he jerked his thumb over his shoulder.

"We have arrived sir." A gigantic cloaked figure appeared beside the rider.

The biker ignored this and glared at the boy again as he set him down. "Where is Saotome?"

The boy suddenly seemed very interested in what was going on. A few other students had halted their walk home as they turned to watch the scene and wait to see what was happening. The appearance of the large Liquid Unit and someone asking for Saotome lead some of them to a very reasonable conclusion.

Ranma walked out of the gates with Nabiki just behind him. Both of them paused and looked at the newcomer. "Hey. Nice bike."

"Yeah. I know. Ranma Saotome, prepare to die!"

Ranko appeared next to Nabiki as Ryoga launched himself into the air off of his bike and dove headfirst towards Ranma with an umbrella in his hand. "Hey. What's Ryoga doing here?"

"Ah. Hello Miss Ranko." The redhead turned her head up to see the large cloaked figure standing behind her.

"Hey. How ya been? I ain't seen ya for a while!"

Nabiki stepped in quickly. "Who is Ryoga?"

"The guy trying to brain your Fiancée with that umbrella." The redhead didn't seem very worried. "This is Kira. He's Ryoga's Liquid Unit."

The fight had entered the school grounds. Ranma was staying out of reach of the other boy's powerful strikes with relative ease, but had yet to find a real opening for attack. They bounced across the grass lashing out at each other and doing nothing more than making more work for the landscaping unit later on.

"So, you two aren't going to have a match?" asked one of the nearby students.

"They tend to leave us out of it." The larger Unit shrugged and turned to watch the fight. "He's been training quite hard lately. I've been helping him out a bit."

"What sort of Unit are you anyway?" Nabiki was trying to peer under his hood and he backed away from her gaze.

"I was built for construction, but I am primarily used as a guide."

Ranko put her hand up to her mouth and whispered into Nabiki's ear. "He had trouble with directions."

"I do what I can to help of course, but it is mostly a lost cause." The larger Unit sighed and hung his head. "In any case, they shouldn't be at it much loner."

"Hmm. Good long fight this time, Ryoga must be pretty upset."

"I suppose. I really don't understand what he's so upset about."

"What's with the new look?" Ranko leaned against the wall as Ryoga began to toss bandannas into the air at his bouncing target. Ranma neatly avoided them all and managed to land on Ryoga's head before bouncing off behind him to more open ground.

"The master wishes me to hide my shame."

"What shame?" Ranko was confused.

"I'm not sure. He seems quite upset about it though."

"This isn't about Jusenkyo is it? I thought you caught him."

"Yes, and I did. Took us almost three days to find our way out of that place. I'm still not sure what he's so upset about. I like to think of it as an improvement really. I am much more versatile now. I'm glad we ran into that guide before it was too late. I had a terrible time keeping him away from those springs."

"Well, I've got no clue what you mean, but okay." Ranko shrugged and looked at Nabiki. She had a large pile of money and a few dozen tickets clenched in her grip. "This is Ranma's new fiancée. I don't think she's interested in much beside the fight right now."

"Quite all right."

"Ranma is right, this is a nice bike. Where'd you get the money for this?" The redhead kicked the tires as her master managed to kick Ryoga in the face after leading him up the side of the tree in the courtyard. They landed with Ryoga's face being plowed into the ground.

The larger Unit walked over beside her and looked it over. "We've been doing very well since we returned from China. I have won many more fights since the last time we met."

Ranma looked over at the both of them and cursed as he hopped back and waited for Ryoga to get up. It took a few seconds, but he staggered to his feet slowly.

"Hey, good for you then." Ranko punched him on the arm slightly and stepped back when she realized it didn't quite feel right under the cloak. "What the heck happened to you anyway?"

Ranma managed to land a vicious looking right hook and Ryoga finally went down.

The larger Unit vanished and Nabiki smiled as she calculated her earnings and handed out the winnings.

"Oh well. He'll be around for a while I bet. Might be a week or two before we see him again though."

Nabiki turned her head to look back at the redhead again. "Really?" She was holding a good-sized wad of cash now.

"That jerk!" Ranma dusted off his shirt and walked over to them. "What the heck is he thinkin followin me here?"

"I hate you Ranma?" guessed Ranko.

"Shut up will ya?" The boy shoved his hands into his pockets and started to walk towards the dojo. "What the heck is his problem anyway?"

"Maybe you should ask him?"

"I did. All he said was some crap about 'seein hell' or somethin. Stupid jerk."

It was evening at the Tendo home as Ranko sat beside her master with a cheerful smirk on her face. She was sitting beside him on the porch. "Figure it out yet?"

"Shut up," grumbled the boy. He had his chin in his hand and a deep frown on his face. His brow was furrowed in thought.

"Is he still thinking about that?" Akane strolled by and noticed them both.

"Really hard!" chimed Ranko cheerfully.

"Shut up," grumbled the boy as his shoulders sank a bit more. "Can't still be that meat bread thing...can it?"

"I dunno. I think he's had enough time to get over that by now." Ranko shrugged her shoulders. "Maybe he really holds grudges?"

"I figured he got over it when he never showed up."

"You did push him off that cliff at Jusenkyo."

"Huh? Oh yeah! That must be it!" The boy slapped his fist into his palm.

"What?!" cried Akane as she dropped the bottled water in her hand to the ground. Her eyes went wide and her jaw dropped. "You dropped this guy of a cliff?"

"Think he got cursed?" asked Ranma as he looked at the redhead and seemed to not notice Akane.

"No. Kira says he made it out all right. He managed to catch him too and divert his fall away from the water."

"He wasn't even hurt then? I guess that isn't it after all." Ranma went back into deep ponder mode.

"You are unbelievable!" screamed Akane as she belted him over the back of the head with an umbrella from a nearby stand. "You threw this guy off a cliff and you're wondering why he's angry?"

"She has a point ya know."

"That can't be it. I've thrown myself off higher cliffs than that just training. Ain't like he could have been really hurt or anything." Ranma looked irritated with Akane as he managed to pick himself up from the grass after a moment's rest.

"Get away from me!" snapped Akane as she slapped at Ranko as she knelt down beside the two of them. The girl's eyes went wide at what happened next.

"Ouch! What the hell did you do that for?" snapped the redhead as she rubbed her cheek in irritation.

"What? That's not funny! Ranma!"

"What? Leave me out of this!" snapped the boy as he glanced up at them.

"Meanie!" The redhead stuck her tongue out at the girl.

The shorthaired girl moved to strike her again. Her hand passed right through her face, but she still reacted as if she'd been struck.

"That hurts! Cut it out!" The redhead's hand reared back just as Kasumi and Nabiki came around the corner.

"Ranma...a letter...came..." Kasumi's voice trailed off at the scene.

Nabiki's bag of chips hit the floor as a fleshy smack filled the room.

Akane's face was turned aside and she jerked back away from the thing with horrified eyes.

"Holy shit!" Ranko was staring at her hand in disbelief.

"What's with you? Ain't like you to hit someone." Ranma was on his feet and glaring at the redhead.

The unit turned her eyes towards him, her eyes wide with disbelief. "Y...yer kidding?"

"Akane? Are you all right?" cried Kasumi as she rushed up to her sister's side.

The girl was looking at the redhead in absolute disbelief. She had managed to stagger to her back and had her head lifted up. There was a small red mark on her cheek, but she didn't look hurt otherwise. "She slapped me!"

"You deserved it. She said it hurt." The pigtailed boy shrugged it off and appeared to loose interest.

"It did?" asked the redhead dumbly. She put her hand up to her cheek and simply stared into the floor.

The redhead vanished from sight and Ranma hung his head. "Jeez. Now what? Girls are so weird."

Nabiki Tendo could take no more and fell to the floor in a dead faint.

"Oh my!" gasped Kasumi as she rushed to her younger sister's side. "Are you all right, Nabiki?"

"Well. That was exciting. I'm gonna crash now, before anyone else passes out or somethin." The pigtailed boy calmly left the scene and went up to his room.

Akane was just sitting on the ground staring into the floor at this point. She didn't know a lot about Liquid Units, but she knew what had just happened to her was impossible. "She slapped me?" It was frightening, and she could feel herself trembling. "He made it hit me!"

Nabiki was sitting up on her own by the time she said it. Kasumi was still holding her up though. The look on her face was serious and the younger girl could see a little fear in her eyes. Her lips actually turned up into a smile as she pushed off of Kasumi and stood to her feet. "No. I don't think he did. In fact, I'm sure it wasn't him."

"Really? Who was it then?" Akane looked at her sister angrily.

"I intend to find out."

Ryo smirked as he tossed his cigarette away and faced the small plane that had just landed in the airfield. He chuckled to himself as the plane slowed to a stop just in front of him.

The door opened and a small flight of stairs folded down. The first person to emerge was a Chinese boy of about sixteen years. He had long black hair and white silk robes. A white duck rested on his shoulder and ruffled its feathers as it noticed Ryo standing nearby. A young Chinese girl with long purple hair stepped out next. She was wearing a rather simple looking silk dress that clung tightly to her figure.

"Hey."

"Iruga." The boy adjusted his thick glasses as he stared down the baggage cart coolly.

"Over here you dope," grumbled the Japanese man. "Jeez."

"Mousse still stupid as ever," said the girl as she eyed Ryo carefully.

"Hey. I thought you weren't bringing her." Ryo glared at Mousse and lit a cigarette. The girl backed away from him with a sour frown on her face.

"Still jerk."

"Now Shampoo, do be polite." A withered old crone hopped off the plane last. "Hello boy."

"Great. The whole entourage."

"So it would seem. Tell me why we have come here?" The old woman had a small glare in her eyes as she looked him over.

"How the hell would I know why you're here? I called him." Ryo sighed. "You need to see this guy all right?" He ignored the two women and turned towards the male.

"Another one?"

"I'm sure of it, but I don't think either one of them has realized it yet."

"What are you speaking of?" Cologne seemed interested in the conversation.

"Another prodigy." Mousse turned towards the wheel of the airplane. He had serious conviction clear in his magnified eyes.

"We have come all this way so you can see some competition?" Cologne didn't sound very pleased.

"Shampoo rather stay home."

"The plane is still there. You two really don't have to hang around for this." Their eager host almost looked hopeful.

"Not just competition. Serious competition." Mousse turned towards the terminal and started walking.

Cologne narrowed her eyes as the duck's head turned back to glance at her for a moment. "Mousse sees more than he lets on child. For a long time, I have sensed he is hiding something from us. I feel that this may shed some light on that subject. We will remain here."

"Stupid boy better keep dog woman away. Shampoo not like her."

"Don't be foolish child, she's just a program in a computer. The one you dislike so much is that boy.""

"Yes. Boy too. Shampoo hate Japan."

"Perhaps this trip will do you some good?" The old woman didn't sound very hopeful.

Shampoo noticed Mousse was standing next to the terminal entrance patiently. He was carrying on a conversation with a small sign that was being used as a doorstop. The bird on his shoulder was watching her again. It seemed like it was always looking at her. It was kind of creepy really, but she felt silly about complaining. It was a stupid duck after all. She'd pounded him more than once because of it, but never told him why. He didn't seem to mind much.

"I guess we can stay at my place. It's too late to just show up at his house." Ryo hung his head as they all strolled into the terminal.

Ryoga Hibiki sat on his bike looking down a long endless road that ended in only darkness. He wasn't moving and had pulled over next to the only visible billboard. The night sky overhead was cloudy and calm. He simply sat on his bike looking off into the distance with two walnuts scraping together in his hands.

"Ranma, when next we meet..."

"Sir. Dinner is ready. I do hope you find the time to find a better meal than Ramen next week when we find civilization again." The large cloaked Unit moved up beside its master with a steaming cup of noodles and a pair of chopsticks held out.

"Damn it. I was being dramatic again."

"If you'd just let me know before, I wouldn't interrupt."

"It's not something I can predict. Let me try again..." The boy closed his eyes and frowned as he crossed his arms over his chest.

He opened his eyes and grinned. "Ranma Saotome, I shall defeat you! Don't worry Kira! I shall avenge your honor!"

"What honor? Honestly Master, I really do not mind at all."

"..." Ryoga seemed to simply ignore him.

"Are you finished being dramatic now sir? Your 'Cup O'Noodles' is getting cold."

Ryoga just sighed. "I guess so."

TBC...

Next time: Ranma meets Mousse.