New Introductory author's notes:
This fanfic takes place some time after the end of the Ranma manga, and late into the operation of XCOM. The aliens being who they are, there will be some harsh scenes of what they plan to do with humanity. This is both part of the XCOM canon, and to drive home that these aren't Star Trek aliens.
For more XCOM info, check out the New UFOpedia hosted on my website.
Now, I'm picking up where I left off with The Road to Cydonia. Again, my apologies for the delay, but oh boy has there been a lot in the meantime. That's ok, though, because I think this take on it is going to be better than my original plans! First, I'm going to go over these first three chapters, and make all the little corrections missed by myself and pointed out by others, then on to the new stuff.
I've been tempted to write about XCOM for a while now, and I've recently jumped back on the Ranma Train. I've taken some liberties with the source material, but will endeavor to remain as true to it as possible – though by nature mixing these two stories is a contradiction in and of itself. There isn't much else to say. The chapterettes of this will be shorter than my norm (roughly eleven pages instead of twenty) so updates should be quicker, and hopefully I will get more people reading it in the first place (long chapters, it seems, tend to scare people).
Engage New Disclaimer: 3. 2. 1. Mark. This story is based upon the original characters, situations and works of Rumiko Takahashi and the people of Microprose. All other characters, unless otherwise specified, that are not a product of these two sources, are the product of the author. While many of the locations mentioned are real, do not expect them to be taken perfectly in context. Pop Culture references are property of… whomever. There'll probably be lots of 'em. The story itself is, of course, fiction.
The year is 2005. For six years, mankind has waged a Secret War against an enemy from Beyond the Stars.
The Road To Cydonia
Twenty-three miles East of Nagaoka, far from city lights, alone under the watchful eyes of the stars, a small fire glowed brightly amid the trees. Down, beneath the crowns of tall Japanese firs and cedars, a solitary shape moved. Highlighted by the nearby flames, its motions were fluid and practiced. To a detached outside observer, they would have appeared calm and serene, as would have the face of the young man practicing his Art in this place of solitude.
It was a calm that, like the ocean, belied a more forceful intent.
Ryouga Hibiki, eighteen years old, paused in his meditative kata and looked up over his shoulder. Suspended high in the sky, the blanket of stars twinkled mischievously in all their glory. Ryouga watched them, however, not with wonder but undisguised suspicion. He paused only a few seconds before returning to what passed leisure. He was still training, as he always did, but now he was allowing his mind to cool in the aftermath of a long day of physical hardship. Behind him, a small concrete reservoir the size of a bath tub released wisps of steam into the air.
He knew many would see it as unprofessional but the so called lost boy had several of his own styles of preferred katas, modified from those his father had handed down to him over a decade ago. And then there were the others, taken from a different source. They had little to do with his combat style in practice, but that was likely why he found them so relaxing. The movements were (he was rather ashamed to admit) taken directly from the Saotome School of Anything Goes Martial Arts, and the kata was a direct derivation of one of their own, with only a slight change in the opening stance.
There was something about the sweeping moves, light steps, and confident motions that gave Ryouga a measure of satisfaction and peace he normally couldn't find in his more aggressive katas. He also believed that, by running through the Saotome kata, he could better find flaws in Ranma's own techniques. Ranma had always been faster than him, and Ryouga had largely given up hope of surpassing him in that respect, instead focusing his efforts on better predicting the pigtailed one's own movements and attacks, and refining and expanding his own repertoire of special techniques.
So far, there had been mixed results.
Beside him, the fire, trapped within a ring of large stones, hissed and crackled angrily. A small furnace nearby smoked peacefully. Ryouga finished the sixty-nine motions of the borrowed Anything Goes kata, exhaled deeply, and slowly turned around to look behind him. Like most of his peers, he had a well-developed danger sense tied to his ki. He could literally feel most attacks coming. And his had been bugging him, off and on, for well over a week.
Still, nothing had come of it.
Random animals hadn't attacked him (be they giant boars, bears or man-eating plants) in two months. No: the only animals he'd scuffled with recently were domesticated. He frowned a little at that, his facial features settling into their natural state. He walked over to a nearby bucket of water, and started washing his hands. The cold stung him at first, as he moved his fingers over his knuckles, washing away bits of blood and burned broken skin.
They would be fully healed by tomorrow, so he wasn't worried.
Toweling off his hands, and then using another part of the rag on his face, he paused to look at the tiny embroidered black piglet that was stitched onto a corner of the woven material. He folded the towel in half, hiding the design from view, and draped it over his bare shoulders. Pouring the water over the fire, he made sure the last few embers died down before taking his leave. Having spent so long in forests and the like, he had no desire to start a potentially devastating fire in what was (sometimes to his annoyance) his 'home' turf.
Still holding the bucket, he looked around for a few seconds before spotting the end of a thick hemp rope attached to a nearby tree. Resting his hands on it, he followed it through the forest, for once very sure of where he would end up. Akari had been very smart in suggesting it to him, when he had told her of his desire to train away from the farm. Since his idea of training occasionally included experimentation with shishi hokodans and bakusai tenketsus, not to mention his new construction martial arts project, she was happy to have it occur in the woods a kilometer from the house.
Ryouga smiled when he thought of her, but frowned again when he thought of the farm. And the pigs. Akari may have loved them, but one of the reasons Ryouga had felt the need to train away from the farm was that he was starting to get sick of the animals. Hell, he had been sick of them the moment he'd gotten downwind of them. He hadn't been particularly fond of swine before his Jusenkyou curse, and he was even less so now. He trained them out of duty; out of affection for Akari. He tolerated them for her sake, and because he couldn't bear the thought of taking her from her beloved pets (or wards, or whatever) due to his own selfishness. But that was as far as it went.
The irony of it was that he probably wouldn't have minded so much if not for his curse, and that he would likely have never even met her if not for it. Such was life, it seemed, full of complications. So many more now, than back when all he had to worry about was revenge on one Ranma Saotome. Back then, there had been no gray area, no need for compromises, there had been good and evil. Only years after the feud began, under far from optimal conditions, did he slowly start to realize that Ranma was not what he had long imagined him to be. Again: it was something he would likely have never realized if not for Akane, the same girl who had kept the two rivals at each other's throats.
"Ranma… this is all your fault," the lost boy said, with a fanged grin. There was much he still disliked about Ranma, but there was a measure of acceptance, too. Somewhere along the line, he had gone from hating Ranma, to disliking him, to… respecting him. Ryouga shook his head. Admitting it still left a slightly bitter taste in his mouth.
It was hard letting go of the past.
"Akari," Ryouga said her name, and his smile was back. She was the light of his life, his welcoming beacon on a long dark shore. Her smile warmed him to his core and made him forget his worries, and her soft touch made him ache to hold her in his arms. She wasn't a bad cook, either.
Even at his leisurely pace, he came upon the house quickly, walking along a slightly winding dirt path. Soon, he could see lights just beyond the bushes and trees. It was bright. Very bright.
Akari Unryu hummed as she cooked, hands moving with a practiced confidence that mirrored Ryouga's, almost a mile away. In front of her, a green bell pepper split into two perfect halves, before being quickly quartered and then sliced into clean strips. Cutting away the seeds and the core, she washed them and put them aside. Small local onions and store bought chilies followed, before she checked on the marinade and the Mongolian wok.
A room away, the satellite television played an American show called 'West Wing.' Akari only caught the occasional glance while she worked, but it was taping, so she wasn't unduly worried. It was the season finale, too, even though the show was a year behind in Japan. One of Akari's favorite characters, a smart young woman named Donna, was in the hospital after her car hit a road bomb in Gaza while she was talking to a cute man who was also British and a photographer. She doubted they'd kill Donna off, but it was nice to see how everyone sent flowers and how Josh visited her. There was also something about the President having to throw a pitch at a baseball game, and not knowing how, but that was just a little side plot, really.
Akari wondered why Ryouga didn't seem to like the show.
Then again, Ryouga didn't seem to like anything on the television. He helped with the pigs, did work around the farm, and then went off to train. Sometimes, he lay down on the couch to read, but he seemed to spend more time outside of the house than in. Even when there was nothing to do. Akari sighed, wishing that just once he'd spend time with her, doing something together besides teaching giant pigs to wrestle.
Maybe they should take a trip to the city?
Cooking the noodles, adding them to the wok, Akari idly planned out how they'd spend the day. She had waited for him to get over his infatuation with Akane Tendo, she could wait for him to slowly wean off his wandering tendencies. Hopefully, by then, he'd also go a little easier on his body. Recently, his training had worried her, even after he had explained that it was mostly harmless, and would help him get a job. Still, she was sure it was only a matter of time before he became more settled, and then he would propose, and they would live happily ever after.
"Ryouga. Strong as a pig, smart as a pig…" Akari blushed. "Passionate as a pig."
She knew he didn't like the comparison, and never made it in his presence, but it was true! He was so wonderful! And the work he did with the Sumo classes – she could see the improvement in her fighters already. Last week, Katsunishiki had successfully defended his title as yokozuna, as sumo champion, easily demolishing the unworthy competition. Only the hated Banryu Farm contenders had posed a problem, and Akari knew they were pumped full of steroids and kami-knew-what. She shook her head in disgust. Oh, how she disliked those Banryu farmers! One day, she vowed, the Unryu farm would finally settle the feud and put them in their place!
Thoughts of it turned her mind towards the next generation. Katsunishiki wasn't getting any younger, and soon she would have to see to the rearing of a fifteenth generation champion sumo pig. And maybe, by then, she'd have some 'piglets' of her own to take to the tournament. She giggled at the thought, knowing Ryouga would have blushed and grumpily scoffed at the nickname.
"Grandfather!" Akari called out, as she finished cooking tonight's main dish. "Dinner in ten minutes, ok?"
She looked up at the digital clock on the microwave.
They were eating late, as usual. Just like every night Ryouga stayed out training. Still, Akari didn't mind. She knew he was coming back, at least, and that he wouldn't end up lost wandering around Japan for a month or two. Walking over to the table, in the family room, she began setting things up. She could smell the food in the kitchen as it cooled, and Akari silently hoped Ryouga made it back before it got cold. He had insisted they eat without him if he wasn't back by nine thirty, and by the ravenous way he ate whatever she cooked (hot, cold, or microwave lukewarm) she knew his tardiness wasn't due to a lack of appreciation.
His Art just came first.
A part of her was jealous, even though it was silly to be so over something that wasn't even tangible. Besides, it was his Art – his strength – that helped make him such a perfect man. Without it, he would never have been able to defeat Katsunishiki. Even in light of that, the sheer devotion he had for martial arts was somewhat… unnerving at times. She supposed it would always be that way.
Akane could understand that, too, since Ranma was the same way.
In fact, Akane would understand it better than she would. After all, the youngest Tendo was not only a member of a martial arts family, and part of a martial arts school, but she practiced it as well. Akari didn't have the luxury of first hand experience with the Art. She took care of her pigs, and she taught them, but she was not (and would never be) a martial artist herself. For her, there would always be some aspect of her chosen that was unreadable, and almost beyond fathoming.
Not for the title of yokozuna, or for prize money, or even for fame and glory: but for pride and for the pursuit of being the best. Akari returned from the kitchen with the sealed rice cooker and set it down on the table. As she did so, her eyes turned to the television. A long line of static had cut the picture in half, and the voices were interrupted by hissing. Her petite eyebrows creased, as she wondered what was wrong with the dish on the roof.
Then the lights flickered, and the static on the television became all encompassing. Even as poorly refined as her senses were (in comparison to many of her new acquaintances in Nerima) she felt an overwhelming sense of unease in the air. And what was happening was no simple blackout. In seconds, the house was plunged into darkness.
At first, the only light Akari saw came from the bright stars outside.
And then something new came, outside the house, near the pens. It was a bright light, whitish blue, and it was accompanied by a distant humming, steady and mechanical. The light disappeared for a second, before appearing again. Outside, it moved along the ground, almost like a searchlight, but it seemed be one big bright ball and not a cone from any airborne projector.
Akari Unryu backpedaled, feeling panic well up in her throat, trying to be released as a scream. She pushed it back down, not wanting to draw attention. The brightness from outside met the wall of the house, and slipped through it, engulfing the entire room. Her heart pounding, Akari felt it wash over her. At first it was warm, like the sun, but had none of the gentle caress of that star, and when it left, chills followed.
Outside, she heard the startled grunts and squeals of the pigs.
'What's happening…?' Akari gasped, as she felt a weight on her mind, numbing her thoughts. 'Ryouga!'
Between the house and the pens, a handful of thin shapes resolved themselves, highlighted by the glowing light. Akari felt tears on her cheeks. Her mouth moved, but no words came out. Screaming only made her throat convulse. Three of the five shapes moved towards the house.
Sense overrode fear, and she tried to run.
But like her voice, her body was unresponsive. Paralyzed! Behind her, she knew there were knives in the kitchen. There was a heavy basement door, too. Grandfather had always told her that if the house was broken into, she should run down there and lock the door. She willed her body to move, and her hand trembled.
Then the door creaked open, and though no sound escaped her lips…
Akari Unryu screamed.
"He's struggling! Hold him down!"
"That's what I'm… tryin' ta do Doc!"
"He's broken the restraints! If you can't hold him still, I won't be able to hit the pressure p…"
'Where am I?'
The point of the umbrella descended like a bomb, the force of gravity and muscle driving it down. His target, the pigtailed boy, moved just in time to avoid the strike. That was a fine thing – finishing him off with a surprise blow held no appeal. This was just a little demonstration of what was to come. Two pairs of eyes met, one wide and surprised the other narrow and vengeful.
Below them, the ground compacted into a crater over a meter in radius.
No. I'm wrong: I hear chattering, but too loud to be cicadas.
'Where am I?'
Akane's beautiful smile filled him with a mixture of fear and expectation. He was frozen in place, unable to move, as she held him in her hands. He wanted to move, to jump away and escape, but her touch was warm and electric. He felt safe. And then he realized what she was going to do, and torn between humiliation and expectation, he felt her lips press softly against his snout.
He twirled the ribbon, confident in having knowledge of its use that surely surpassed Ranma's. Cloth manipulation was a cornerstone of the Hibiki Family Martial Arts, and that included a thorough introduction and mastery of Rhythmic Gymnastics. It was the foundation for the Iron Cloth Technique, after all. Ranma, and even this Kodachi girl, surely could not think beyond the first two levels of that aspect of the Art. Rythmic Gymnastics was a style of weapon mastery, evolving out of ancient ninja arts, whereby anything could be used as a weapon. It was a training exercise for the third step: thinking of clothing itself as a weapon, and not just a means to obtain one.
He lashed out, smirking, nailing Ranma on the head with a weighted ball. It was something of a cheap shot, since Akane had distracted the pigtailed boy, but Ryouga knew the only thing wounded was the boy-turned-girl's pride. As he watched Akane talk to Ranma-chan, he scowled deeply, again mulling over whether to help or hinder his enemy. He wanted Akane to be avenged, but he also wanted to destroy Ranma's happiness. Choices. Choices!
He snapped the ribbon taunt, and planned out his next series of attacks.
Curse that Azusa girl! He couldn't get the damn collar off… what was it made of, titanium?
He descended with the massive block of ice; seemly intending to crushing his smaller opponent with its sheer weight. The diameter of a full-grown man, it was more than capable of killing any normal human. Of course, Ranma Saotome was far from normal. Just as Ryouga had punched the ice boulder Ranma had thrown at him, so the pigtailed girl did the same, just as Ryouga made as if to slam it down. He had expected this.
Quick as lightning, using the ice boulder as distraction, he got behind her and wrapped his arms around her midsection. For a heartbeat, the sensation of how she felt surprised him. He still thought of her as Ranma, but she felt completely different. Not just smaller and trimmer, but undeniably feminine. He ignored this, however, and set his legs on the unsteady ice. For someone of his strength, the suplex or suplay was child's play. The crown of Ranma's head hit the ice perfectly perpendicular. Again: it was a move that would likely have broken the neck of any normal person if it didn't kill them with the resulting concussion and brain hemorrhaging.
Under Ranma's head, the ice cracked, a split running for over ten meters in length, and a meter deep.
Almost like teeth grinding together, but so fast and so loud.
'Where am I?'
He silently cursed. Bad enough that the girl had kneed him in the face, and weighed him down by sitting in his lap, now her partner was falling, leg extended to deliver the final blow? He mentally noted the height, and the gleaming edge of the skater's blades. He'd been kicked by those same skates before, and while it hurt, it wasn't life threatening, even from that height. Mikado seemed to be aiming for the neck – a wise decision given Ryouga's prone position. A blow would hurt like hell, and worse… send him into the cold water just inched below and behind.
Desperation filled him, granting him one last chance to salvage his situation. His mind raced, looking for a solution. He thought about kicking Azusa into her partner, but the thought of hitting a girl who wasn't Ranma grated on him, even if she was an annoying idiot. Ranma couldn't be used as a shield, not in the position they were in. He could blow the blow and save himself from injury, but the momentum would still force him into the water. No: he had to intercept Mikado, and soon.
Ryouga's hands found purchase in the massive floating slabs of the ice rink he had destroyed. The idea was so simple! All he had to do was pray his strength was up to the task. At the optimal moment in Mikado's attack, just two meters from his target, Ryouga extended his ki into the ice, keeping it from splintering. Then, with all the raw muscle he could spare, he lifted the blocks out of the water and over his head, like the two jaws of a beartrap. Azusa still unharmed in his lap, Ranma keeping him out of the water at his feet, he crushed Mikado less than a body length before the skater's blow would have connected.
With one last colossal final heave, he threw the two blocks of ice (and the skater smashed between them) to the other side of the rink, where tons of frozen water crashed and broke against the concrete.
The wall gave way with a thunderous explosion of wood, plaster and concrete. A girl with violet colored hair stood in the hole, her left leg extended. In her small hands, she held two massive bonbori, far larger and heavier than normal. Ornate and stylized armor, obviously of Chinese design and motif, covered her torso. Her maces, too, were adorned and colorful, more like something in a festival than half-ton weapons of death. Only when Ranma uttered her name did Ryouga learn it.
She was Shampoo, from a tribe of fierce Chinese Amazons, the Joketsuzoku.
Shampoo was too good. Better than Akane. What was she thinking, fighting with her over… over… Ranma of all things? Didn't she hate him? Didn't she fight with him all the time? How could she like…
He never saw the exact technique used, after Shampoo's feet hit his face, but he had seen her movements. She had attacked Ranma on a few occasions, and he had watched the way she moved in the dojo. She was reasonably skilled, and her strength was greater than that of any girl he had ever seen. Her defense, however, was weak. Even after she left, he had the feeling that this particular incident was not the last he, or Ranma, would have involving the Joketsuzoku.
Ryouga tried to make sense of the old ghoul of a woman. How could she possibly help him train? Her proportions hardly even seemed human!
He couldn't believe it! Ranma had manhandled him, humiliated him! How had this happened?
Offering Training again, was she? Bakusai Tenketsu? There was definitely more to this old woman than he had first thought. It was a mistake he would not make again. Cologne – Khu Lon – was her name: another of these strange Chinese Amazons. This time, he would see what she had to offer.
The rock shattered like broken glass. Ryouga laughed as the shards bounced off his toughened body. The old Amazon had done as promised! The technique didn't work on people, but that hardly mattered now. He was all but invincible! Soon, he would crush Ranma and finally be able to tell Akane his true feelings!
Ukyou wasn't a bad fighter, his reflexes were pretty good but he was far too slow. Far too slow. He broke through the cloud of dist with his umbrella. A downward jab, followed by a sweeping slash, would send this upstart new ally of Saotome's flying.
Mousse unleashed a wave of chains and blades. His technique was…
Kuno's sword skills were…
Old man Saotome was…
With a gasp, Ryouga's eyes shot open. In the harsh light, he saw a face with no eyes, hollow cavities and a mind of hate and power, devouring his thoughts and memories. Stripping and searching through everything that made him … him. Strong hands, five fingered hands, held him down as he struggled and screamed. In one horrible instant, in one unrelenting nightmare tide, it all came back.
He remembered it all.
He felt pressure points being pressed, and his body railed against them. It was still in shock. Still reliving what he had been forced to see. It wanted to lash out. He heard himself shout one last flurry of obscenities and curses, and then with a sharp intake of air, he fell back against the bed.
He remembered it all.
Why? Why had they forced him to sleep? Why had they forced him to remember? The distant voices were human. He recognized them, but he didn't hear them.
'Akari… oh Akari…'
He remembered it all.
Worse: he understood, now, why they had let him live.