March 8th, 1989
"Well everybody, dig in!"
Dig in was as apt descriptive as any, Ranma Saotome mused as he eyed the plate in front of him. It could have been meatloaf. But then again, it could have been chicken. Or a small furry animal that had somehow met its untimely demise in the Tendo kitchen. It could have been any of these things, but unfortunately Akane was insisting it was yakisoba. Nor was this observation lost on the rest of the family, as it was now the second time Akane was offering the family the privilege of 'digging in' without any takers.
"Why aren't you eating, Ranma?"
It never ceased to baffle him, quite frankly, that while nobody else was eating, he was always the one singled out. Wait a minute, let me count again—One, two, three, yes! Four people sitting at the table not touching the mystery meal on their plates. But who was it that wasn't eating? Ranma Saotome, heir to the Anything Goes School of Martial Arts, of course. A quick look around the table told him that nobody would step to his defense anytime soon. Damn. Might as well get the ball rolling then.
Ranma looked up at Akane, noticing the sweet smile. Heh. Yeah. Sweet. Who ever said that a woman's place is in the kitchen obvious had never visited this particular household or met the smiling girl. But he knew what was behind that smile. And he wasn't looking forward to seeing it.
"Uh, you know… I had a lot for lunch…" Ranma produced his own weak smile, only to watch Akane's leak away.
"You were fighting with Ryoga all lunch."
Oooh, ouch. She's right. Um, time for the backup plan. We do have a backup plan, right? "I meant I had something on my way home!"
Akane's eyes narrowed dangerously, smile all but gone now. "Aren't you going to at least try it?"
Hahahaha. That's a good one. Let's see here… Try Akane's- ahem –yakisoba or face what's behind the smile. Jeez, talk about your tough choices, Ranma grumbled internally. Well I am her fiancée I guess. And the official Tendo sacrificial lamb. Sure, why not? It's been a good life. Well, not really, but… Ranma flashed a bright smile and snatched his chopsticks up. He convinced a piece of the… 'mash' to separate from the main body with a few well placed stabs and held it gingerly between the tips. The black haired pigtail boy brought it up to eye level and examined it thoughtfully. Nope, still didn't have a clue what it was. He could tell what it wasn't, however, and that was yakisoba. Chinese Amazon assassins? No sweat. Megalomaniac demi-gods? Done that. Akane Tendo's cooking? Freakin' martial arts kryptonite.
Ranma popped the morsel in his mouth and Akane's smile brightened considerably. Then he chewed. And chewed. And chewed some more. In fact with each repetition, Akane's formerly bright smile faltered further. And the taste was amazing. It was like something between a peppered cinder block and badly flavored mud …with the redeeming qualities of neither. Since the chewing having no effect, Ranma simply opted to swallow the bite whole. God only knew what it was going to do to him down there later on tonight, but there was one thing he knew for certain—
"You're getting better!"
What remained of Akane's smile evaporated. "And just what do you mean by that!"
Soun, Genma, and Nabiki began to edge away from the table. Ranma knew what they were doing. They were betting that he wouldn't be able to successfully defuse the situation where upon the family would make their quick getaways in the ensuing chaos. Well I'll show them, Ranma thought smugly. Cowards.
"I'm just saying that it's much better than last time." Ranma smiled and was dismayed to watch a flickering blue aura snap into place around the girl.
"You didn't like my last meal either!" Akane was up on her feet now and the remainder of the family was leading off from the table as if they were about to steal a base.
"Now I didn't say that…!" Was it true? Yes. Did I say that? Hell no. That had been The Night of the Living Slab. He had been pretty sure it was some sort of meat byproduct. And colorful. Specifically, multi-colorful. A veritable rainbow of flavors, even. None of them good.
"OH, and I suppose you're just SO much better of a cook than I am!" Akane took a menacing step forward, wielding a soupspoon menacingly.
First came the spoon. That was relatively easy to deflect. But the table itself was another matter. That action by itself allowed the family to make a break for it as their helpings of mash went flying. Along with the table. Into Ranma. Who was only in pain long enough to pass out. With her arch-nemesis fallen and the rest of the family fled, Akane Tendo stomped off outside to destroy some bricks as a further anger management relief.
Ranma counted to thirty and cracked an eye open. All clear. Sometimes the best tactic in situations like these was to just play dead. He looked at the mess of plates and cups surrounding him …And on him. Dammit, Akane… Ranma righted the table and started to pick up dishes, as everybody else had since deserted the scene of the crime.
Well I'm not gonna leave all this stuff for Kasumi, he thought. Especially when she's on her first official date with the ol' Doc. Last thing she needs right now it to feel tied to this place.
"Let's see," Nabiki Tendo opened a green notebook, studying it from her bed. Akane sat at her desk, watching her intently. "Looks like his morning was pretty mundane. Lunch, fight with Ryoga, won. Fight with Kuno in sixth period, both ejected from class. Hmm, here's something interesting…"
Nabiki trailed her finger down the open page and Akane leaned forward. "What is it?"
The older sister arched an eyebrow. "Four-twelve p.m., ran over by Shampoo's bike, proceeds to hang on him, struggle ensues. Four-fifteen, intercepted my Mousse. Four-sixteen, Ukyo attacks Mousse. Hmmm… Fast forward a bit here. Fighting, fighting, figh-- Ah." Nabiki found a new entry. "Four-twenty five, Mousse rendered unconscious by Ranma. Four-twenty six, Ranma breaks up Shampoo and Ukyo on promise to spend unspecified time with both."
Akane gasped, causing Nabiki to look up. "Damn two-timing pervert!"
"Now, now, A-chan." Nabiki admonished. "Nothing here to support that yet. Next, um, four-thirty five attacked by Kodachi. Four-thirty five and forty two seconds, Kodachi kicked into high ballistic arc…" She continued to scan the information. "Four-fifty two, Shampoo and Ukyo fight and finally four-fifty five Ranma leaves both fighting, contact lost at high speeds."
Nabiki folded the notebook shut. "Well, there you have it."
"I knew it!" Akane fumed angrily staring at her sister.
"Knew what?" Nabiki asked. It was actually a rhetorical question. Her sister's thought process was about as transparent as a pane of glass.
"He's a two timing pervert womanizer!" The little sister bolted up from the desk chair. "I swear I'm going to—"
"Do nothing." Nabiki ordered flatly. Akane glared at her. "Look, you're paying me to keep track of him, right? Make sure he's not dating behind your back?" The youngest Tendo supplied the barest of nods and she continued, "Well I've got one of my best contacts watching him. He's not doing anything, Akane."
"But Ukyo and Shampoo!"
"He ran from them." Nabiki shook her head, exasperated. "There's no conclusions to-"
"Oh, so you too, huh!" Now Akane was dangerously stomping across her room. "How much did Ranma buy YOU with!"
Nabiki shook her head. "It's time for you to go, sis. Go cool off."
The little sister cut her next retort short, opting for a menacing glare instead. With a snort of contempt, she whirled around on a heel and stalked out of Nabiki's room with the slam of her door.
Nabiki stared at the door behind her and shook her head. Part of her wished Saotome would just go to bed with her and get it over with. That'd probably take the edge off and save them all a ton of headaches and bills. The other part was all business. An unwed Saotome kept the profits rolling in quite nicely and she was always amazed at how the Fiancée Wheel of Destruction never quite came apart at the seams. Nabiki clearly recognized the uneasy balance between its damage and profit potential, and so long as one outpaced the other, she'd more than willing to play the all angles.
That is unless Akane's terminal case of PMS got any worse, Nabiki amended. It was starting to get too dicey playing her sister from that angle because of the emotional instability. If there was one thing she knew about The Game, it was that spying, blackmail and extortion were knives that would just as soon cut the owner as the person they were aimed at. Push too many buttons or in the wrong order and the knife turned too happily spill the blood of wielder. She had come close, Nabiki remembered, very close to bleeding herself once. She was lucky she had inherited mother's quick mind and wit, because that'd been the only way to extricated herself from what was a potentially compromising- and painful –situation. After that, she'd devoted herself to The Game just like Saotome did The Art, dancing that razor edge tightrope of public servant versus enemy of the state. And now all that experience told her one thing about Akane…
…She was on the edge.
The sounds of close quartered combat echoed across the property of the Tendo Dojo as father and son brawled with one another. Kasumi hummed a content melody while she prepared breakfast, unaware that her tune had come into an odd harmony with the two battled back and forth outside. The sun crawled lazily past the horizon and now the rest of the Dojo awakened. First Soun Tendo followed shortly by Akane. Nabiki was always the last, sometimes missing breakfast entirely in deference to beauty sleep. Today, however, she set her alarm. Sometimes gathering information required sacrifice, and she wanted to be there for this morning's conflict resolution… Or total lack thereof. Neither had spoken to the other for the rest of the night and she suspect that Ranma had taken great pains to avoid the girl entirely.
Breakfast was inevitably called and everybody found their places at the table. It would have been a normal breakfast to the average observer… But Nabiki knew there was nothing normal about this breakfast. For all the idle chitchat and witty banter between father and son, there was a cold frost floating between Ranma and Akane. Both were talking to everyone else… Except one another, which was bad, Nabiki observed quietly. Normally one would have opened up for the other by now and dialogue would have been reestablished. Not today. Today, that shield of ice willingly separated both. That would be bad for profits. Well, good for the short term if she could keep everybody guessing- and betting –on just what the problem was and how long it would take to fix it and who got hurt in the process, but long term, the fallout would be… Messy. Time for some strategic intervention.
"So, Kasumi," Nabiki began with a pleasant smile. "How was your date with the good Doctor last night?"
Idle chatter immediately stopped in favor of the new topic of conversation. Kasumi's first date was by far more interesting than the normal breakfast banter and all eyes instantly locked on to the woman in question. The mildest look of annoyance crossed the sister's face, causing Nabiki to wince mentally. I know you want to keep your private life private, but this is for the greater good. Nabiki was now hoping that her budding open romance with Tofu would give this couple the kick-start they need at best or melt the frost between them at worst.
Kasumi was just about to evade the question when she caught something in her sister's eyes. Seriousness. Hmmmm… Even as she contemplated that, she watched them flick from her to the Akane's end of the table. What…? The pieces fell into place. Ranma and Akane must be having it out so Nabiki was hoping to… Very sneaky, Sister. Kasumi let a knowing smile go in her direction and decided she would play along. Not with too many details, but enough to maybe help things out. But she was surprised. If the two had fought, especially over Akane's cooking, there would have been a mess waiting for her. There was none last night, so she had assumed there had miraculously been no problems. Oh how wrong I must be, she thought.
"Oh, the date went very well." Kasumi smiled warmly. "We walked along the river and went to the new restaurant on the east side. Then we sat out and looked at the stars…"
Nabiki bit her tongue. She had to. The merciless pumping of details could wait. "Maybe you two should go there sometime." She made the remark to Akane and Ranma, sounding sufficiently off hand as not to sound like meddling. Silence. Ooh, this is not good.
Kasumi saw it too. "Yes, they do have great seafood. The lobster is wonderful." Now she mirrored her sister's thoughts. Not good at all. Maybe a different tact was in order. "Thank you for cleaning up after dinner Akane. I appreciate not having to come home to clean up after my wonderful date."
Akane turned a bright shade of pink and squirmed nervously in her seat. If her reaction puzzled Kasumi, then Ranma's outright shocked her as he lifted himself up from the table with an unreadable mask across his face. He grabbed his book bag easily and slid out the door without so much as a word.
Not good at all.
March 9th, 1989, Present
If breakfast was the frost, then lunch was the blizzard warning. Nabiki now watched the pair from across the campus and knew that the house was going to be settling in for a cold war between the prospective couple, as neither had voluntarily come within ten foot of the other all day. Now she was taking bets on just how long the Akane-Ranma blackout would last and who would be the first to make up. The record, she knew was four days and she silently hoped it didn't go beyond a week. After that, her bets took a decidedly negative twist, normally along the lines of which fiancée would take Ranma in first and such. She could still make money off of them and pay the bills, but it was not good for long-term stability.
But for now, that could wait.
Profit-wise, the day had gone fairly well, but her next appointment was a loan. Loans were a mixed bag as far as Nabiki was concerned. On one hand, you have a large outgo of money, which was never a good thing, but you stood to make a profit on the interest collected at the end of the term. Of course, you had to ensure the person you loaned money to was reliable and that they would actually pay you back, but that's where collateral came in.
"Thank you for meeting with us, Ms. Tendo…" The Sophmore boy in front of her said. He had dark hair, a large nose and glasses. His current fashion statement consisted of a white lab coat. In other words, he was the quintessential Science Club nerd. Not that she cared. Money was money regardless of the source. "Our intermediately has already briefed you on the details, I assume?"
"Indeed he has, Club Treasurer Cho," Nabiki looked around the lab. She had been in this very room several times throughout her high school achedamia, but never this deserted. The only people who were present were Cho and his female assistant, who stood a full foot shorter, had brown hair and also wore glasses. Hers were almost as thick as Mousse's. Nabiki was sure that had to be a requirement to join the club. "Though I must say, the size of the loan you're requesting is quite… healthy."
"As healthy as out ambition to win the next city wide science expo!" The assistant piped and Nabiki frowned.
"Right. As are all of the other schools, I'm sure." The assistant's smile turned upside-down, Nabiki's point driven home. Furikan lost last year's expo. Its club hadn't even placed in the top ten. "Of course, you do realize it will take about two weeks to assemble the funds. Two hundred thousand yen doesn't just grow on trees."
The treasurer nodded soberly. "Of course. That will be more than enough time."
"And…" Nabiki's cool gaze narrowed on the two and they froze like deer caught in headlights. "…There is the question of collateral."
"Cu..Cu.. Collateral?" He stuttered, as if not believing she would broach such a topic.
"Of course collateral." She countered. "As the lender, I have to take into consideration that your science team has not placed within the top ten for five years running. Lose a sixth and your school budget is likely to shrink. Tell me who will get the short end of the proverbial stick here?"
"But we don't have…" The Treasure's voice trailed off, his face turning into a frown as well.
Nabiki folded her arms across her blue school uniform. "Then you don't have a loan."
The two club members eyes widened suddenly and began whispering furiously into one another's ear. Despite this foolproof security measure against eavesdropping, Nabiki was still snatching bits and pieces along the way.
"But we need the money!"
"Do you have collateral? I sure don't!"
"You know we can't finish the project!"
"Fine, but where's our collateral?"
The two stopped suddenly, finally realizing that their conversation was quite audible and looked at Nabiki, who simply smiled knowingly at them. Suddenly, the assistant slapped her fist into a palm. "I've got it!" She was out of the room in a flash and back in within minutes with what looked like a digital tablet PC, though much chunkier in design. Wires sprouted from it at weird angles and its chassis lines were interrupted by the occasional extrusion and various buttons.
"YOU CAN'T GIVE HER THAT!" The Treasurer raged upon seeing what the assistant had retrieved.
"I don't see why not. We both know it doesn't work. Never will." The female assistant shrugged. "Besides, we finish paying the loan and she gives it back."
"Now why would I take collateral on something that doesn't work?" Nabiki interjected. It looked interesting enough. But it didn't work and thus stood next to no chance of making her money.
"Because regardless of its functional status, some of the parts inside are worth ten times the amount of the loan." The assistant stated factual, laying the tablet on the bench next to Nabiki. "If we default, you'll easily get your money's worth just in taking it apart."
"Ok, what is it then?" The question may have been irrelevant since the item was non functional, but she was curious anyway.
"An Axial-Temporal Wavefront Transponder." She stated proudly, then seeing Nabiki's confusion, translated, "A time machine."
Now the Tendo smirked. "You do know that lying to me tends to be very bad for your financial future…?"
"Unfortunately she's absolutely serious." The Club Treasurer sighed. "Our physics team wasted a good chunk of our budget on this useless paperweight. I've been trying to convince the President to have it liquidated for parts, but…"
"Serious times call for serious measures, Cho." The assistant stated matter-of-factly.
Nabiki now seriously considered the offer. Normally she wouldn't touch the deal with a ten-foot pole, except for the fact that she was an excellent judge of character. These two weren't lying. Neither were they exactly eager to part with the device, regardless of its operational status. She was betting if she did have it checked out, the parts would make up for the loss too.
"Ok. I'll take your, er, time machine as collateral." Then she looked at them both with an amused grin. "But come on. Aren't time machines supposed to be… huge? I mean, I would rather have a Delorian as collateral."
"Delorian…? OH! Don't even get me started on that movie." The Treasurer's face turned sour. "Too many plot holes and quantum mechanics violations in it…"
The Assistant cut into his brooding. "What he's trying to say is that you really don't need something big to just time travel. Or at least that's the premise we were working on. Now if you wanted to do time and space, that's a whole other ball game." She explained. "Hmmm… I don't even know where to begin. Do you have any knowledge of particle physics?"
"Nope." Nabiki shook her head. Wasn't looking to have a quick lesson in it either, so she picked up the tablet and examined it. "I assume you can travel into the past. What about the future?" She was just imagining the profit potential to be made. It was fun to daydream on occasion.
"Well… Yes and no." Cho replied with an uncertain expression on his face. Nabiki waited for him to explain, if for not other reason than to satisfy her own curiosity on why she couldn't someday bet on the lottery with future knowledge.
"The biggest problem with traveling to the future is your own mindset." He explained, tapping on the side of his head with a finger. "It's all predicated on what you do when you come back from your trip that counts."
"Right." Nabiki nodded easily. "If I see the future and change my actions…"
"…The future is no longer valid." Cho finished. "Or at least parts of it. Big events beyond your control will likely remain the same. Likewise, if you decide to never return to the time you left, it buggers up all the equations. We assume it's just like you just disappeared for that amount of time until we catch up with you."
"Ok then, how about the past?" Nabiki poked one of the tablet buttons. Seems dead enough. "The whole 'kill my father' bit."
This time Cho winced. "That's so cliché."
"But accurate." The assistant pointed out.
"True." He shrugged and continued. "Well, three theories there. First, you create an impossible paradox that effectively tears you to primordial energy." Nabiki blanched. "Frankly, we tend to doubt this one because if time travel is even possible, most of us bet on human nature."
"In other words, we'd be too stupid not to do it at least once." Nabiki grasped the concept easily enough. Human nature was how she made money.
Cho seemed surprised she comprehended it so quickly and continued. "Exactly. Since time doesn't seem to be falling apart around us, there's the second theory that says you continue to exist but reformat a 'new' future based on your actions. Finally, there's the one where you create a new timeline totally independent of this one for your new future, splintering from the exact moment you change it.
"So I would live in the new splinter?"
"That's the theory at any rate." The Assistant confirmed, brushing a brown lock of hair from her glasses. "We all remain unaffected but you get to live in you new reality with exact duplicates of all of us."
Nabiki was getting thoroughly intrigued by this. It had nothing to do with money at this point, but she did so love mental challenges. "Ok, but what about meeting me, myself and I?"
Cho scratched his chin thoughtfully. "Well, you either destroy yourself on contact or shake hands with your identical twin."
"Or…" The assistant began and the Treasurer glared at her.
"Oh, get serious!" He snapped and she produced a wide grin. "That movie sucked too!"
The argument began in earnest over a move called "Trancers" and Nabiki took that as her cue to leave, scooping up the non functional time machine into her arms and proceeded to her next appointment.
With Kasumi back manning kitchen, Ranma had little to fear as he stepped into the house. School had gone predictably for him. The occasional splash of water, an attempted grope by Kuno, the attack by Kodachi, etc, etc. Ryoga was nice enough to drop by today too, and the two had it out until Ms Hinako zapped 'em both with that damn ki-sucking attack of hers. Of course, it was almost worth it to watch her transform, he thought to himself. Some part of his self-conscious mentally scolded him for thinking such a thought while the majority came along and crushed it. Dammit, I have needs too. He dropped his books in the guest room that was his residence within the Dojo.
Of course, the day actually had been a little more peaceful than usual. Since he and Akane were not on speaking terms at the moment, it also meant they weren't on malleting terms either. That alone was enough to make Ranma a happy man, and he didn't have to walk on eggshells the entire day around her. He almost didn't want to make up on those grounds alone, but Ranma knew better. If this relationship had any chance of moving forward, one of them was going to have to take the first step. Probably him. I'm trying, dammit, he grumbled mentally. If only because I know how many problems my presence causes the entire family. Might as well face the music.
And get some supper while I'm at it.
Akane didn't appear to be home yet, so Ranma stuck his head in the kitchen to see what Kasumi was making. She had just turned around to get another kitchen utensil and noticed the crop of dark hair looking trough the doorway. She invited him in with a smile.
"Thank you for cleaning up last night, Ranma." Kasumi said as she sliced some carrots up, summarily dumping them into a salad bowl.
Ranma savored the smell of garlic. Spaghetti? A salad? Kasumi's going all out tonight! "Well, it was nothing. Figured the last thing you needed after the date was that mess."
She watched as he automatically took over for her, stirring the pot of spaghetti as she slice vegetables. Sometimes she marveled at how this brash young man took so easily to the art of cooking. Not simply cooked, but cooked well. "Don't be so modest. That was a very thoughtful idea. I'm making you extra helpings tonight."
Ranma's smile brightened and the door clicked open to admit Nabiki's head. Ranma's presence in the kitchen amazed her more- so if only because she never saw it. Of course, she rarely ventured into the kitchen, but still.
Ranma smiled and Kasumi grabbed some Parmesan cheese from the refrigerator. "He's in here more often than you might think, Nabiki."
The middle sister blinked. "Really?" Well this was news. And even if she hadn't believed her own sister, they did have some degree of coordination in their activities, as opposed to bumbling into one another. That alone would take some amount of time to accomplish. She stepped into the kitchen to watch the two work.
"Mostly before anybody gets up in the morning." Ranma admitted, setting the burner to a lower level. "Sometimes when I get home early like today. I don't do much besides martial arts to help the place out, but I can cook."
"Learn something new everyday." Nabiki smirked. "So why keep it a secret?"
"Hmmm… Well, imagine if a certain person were to find out I helped cook her meal." He let the image of that certain person sink in. "Especially after last night's fiasco. I mean, why do I always have to… be… "
Nabiki wondered why his voice died off, then realized his eyes were no longer focused on her. They were focused behind her. The sister slowly turned around to face the bright blue aura of one extremely pissed little sister. Oh crap. And judging by the aura, she'd heard every word.
The trio watched as Akane drew a mallet from behind her back like a Samurai drawing his katana. Whether she did this on purpose to inflict fear and terror or just by instinct, nobody knew, but it was quite an intimidating sight.
"YOU… COOK… BUT… MY… COOKING…!" Whatever it was, Akane was no longer speaking in complete coherent sentences. The only thing the message did convey was rage. Complete and utter rage. Which was the only thing it needed to convey. The kitchen was now bathed in a fiery blue glow.
Nabiki stepped back behind Ranma and he sighed, handing his mixing ladle back to Kasumi. The action all by itself seem to enrage the girl further. Now he stared at Akane in resolute determination as if he were a man standing in front of a firing squad. "At least wait until I get out there to start—"
Whatever self-control the girl had evaporated in the space of that breath and she charged into the kitchen with the mallet overhead. Ranma made a quick tactical decision, one he would have never made in any other location of the house. Boiling water. Sharp utensils. Burning stove. And most of all, the kitchen itself, one of his few centers of peace outside his martial arts katas. All in all, it was no place to be swinging a mallet and he was about to remedy the error. The mallet came down from on high and for the first time in anybodies memory, Ranma took action against it. He stepped inside the arc quite easily and intercepted the youngest Tendo at the wrist, stopping the hammer fall.
There was only one person more shocked than Kasumi and Nabiki that Ranma had actually made a move against Akane, and that was the fiancée herself, whose rage instantly flashed into something close to disbelief. He bound her wrists to halt the arc and she released the hammer in shock. Newton took over from there. With Ranma out of the way, the hammer had only one other thing between it and the wall: Nabiki Tendo. Whatever brains she had inherited from her mother, she silently thanked God she had her father's reflexes and used them now, bringing her book bag high to shield herself.
The hammer rebounded off the bag and clattered to the floor. The force of the impact transferred into Nabiki, throwing her into the to the rear wall with just enough force to knock the wind out of her, but not cause any damage other than a damn good fright. The two now stood frozen and face-to-face, shock and incredulity on one and determination on the other as he held her wrists frozen in the air.
He actually stopped her! Nabiki thought, then a second realization hit her. She'd almost been malleted by her little sister! Her feeling of shock vanished quickly, replaced by a wave of ice. Nabiki considered the girl with a glare and stepped up next to Ranma, snatching Akane's wrists from his hands.
"Ranma, go back to helping Kasumi." She ordered sternly. There was no disobeying this command. "Sister and I are long overdue for a little chat." Ranma shivered as she spun the still shocked Akane by the wrists and forcefully led her from the kitchen.
The Talk went rather well, Nabiki thought as she shut her bedroom door. Akane's state of shock over Ranma's actions put the girl in a very pliable mood, pliable enough to explain the facts of life concerning the engagement and how to treat people in general and not to mallet the ones you love. Dinner was pleasant, if silent. It wasn't so much a cold war anymore, but the eye of the storm. Total silence, as key members of the family contemplated the dynamics of their relationship.
Whatever. She had done her good deed for the day. Time to study. Nabiki dumped the contents of her school bag on the bed, including one dead Axial-Temporal Wavefront thingamajig mixed in with her books. She picked it up and was about to put the tablet on the top shelf of her closet when she noticed something. A small red light on the corner.
It was blinking.
Nabiki pulled the tablet down carefully and examined the device. There was no real difference in the thing except for that blinking red light… And the massive dent on the back service plate. Apparently it had taken the full brunt of Akane's mallet for me, Nabiki thought with grim amusement. She sat with it now on the bed, tracing its lines once more. Aside from the dent, it was in the exact same condition she had received it, save the blinking light, which was a button itself. All the daydreams of picking lottery numbers and such came to her with a smile and she touched it on impulse. Like a Tablet PC, the undersized LCD on the front came to life and began to output text.
Axial-Temporal Wavefront Transponder …Online
Registering Temporal Axis …Done
/Nerima, Japan 122.000.ZZ8803 /09MAR1989 – 2017hrs 38s 12ms
Reactor Status …Nominal
Charge remaining …100
All Systems Nominal.
You've got to be kidding me, was the first thing Nabiki thought. The text was replaced by a gray graphic user interface on a blue background. No way. There's no possible way, she convinced herself. She looked at the buttons warily. An instruction manual would be really helpful right now, but by the looks of it, that button is to type in the time you want to go to, that button skips ahead like a CD player. That one goes back and the big red means 'go' evidentially. There was also a cryptic button labeled 'release anchor'. Huh. Half of Nabiki now knew this was some elaborate practical joke while the other half was dying to see if she could make her little daydreams come true. Aw, what the hell. If it's a joke, I'll just make them pay. Pay dearly. Nabiki fingered touch screen, pressing the button labeled 'coordinates'. A numeric pad popped up requesting the time and date. Nabiki smiled evilly. Lets see what life is like… Oh, one year from now.
/09MAR1988 –1200hrs 00s 00ms
She fingered in the date and the ominous red key began to pulse, as if daring her to touch it.
Nobody bluffs me, she thought, and stabbed the button.
March 9th, 1990, The Future
Air pressure instantly overwhelmed the middle Tendo and the world leapt into an impossible blur. It was as if she was in the middle of a typhoon, and her hair whipped wildly while she gripping the Tablet as if it were the anchor to life itself. There was stuff going on in that blur, but it was impossible to decipher. A scream was working its way up Nabiki Tendo's throat and suddenly the whirlwind died and her ear pressure returned to normal. Even as she registered the daylight pouring into room from what was once a night sky, Nabiki felt something was wrong and promptly fell three foot from a sitting position to the floor below with a hard thump.
"Oowwww.." I was sitting down, so why the hell did I… Fall? The pain in her butt quickly muted itself to what her own eyes were now seeing. It was indeed a sunny day, as she remembered setting the device in her hands to high noon, but her room… It was… Nabiki slowly rose to her feet looking around. It was abandoned. Not a stick of furniture. Everything was gone… And had been gone for months, apparently. Particles of fine dust floated lazily through the sunbeams that now pierced her curtain-less window. Her bed was also gone, which handily explained her drop to the floor. What in the hell happened here? She checked the Tablet clutched in her hand.
/Nerima, Japan 122.000.ZZ8803 /09MAR1990 –1202hrs 12s 58ms
She flipped out her cell phone as a comparison and found it nearly the exact time, just one year behind. She took a few steps to the door and the wood creaked under her feet. It was impossible. Utterly and completely impossible. She slid the door open and found the hallway equally barren. No pictures. No love. Akane's door. Her room was in the same barren state as hers and a quick check of Kasumi's revealed the same thing. She dreaded every step of the walk down stairs and found exactly what she was hopping not to see. Despair. The living room was a wreck, no furniture, but the wooden floor was in shambles and sunlight was pouring through part of the roof. What the hell happened here! She stepped directly under the splintered hole and stared into the blue sky above. It was charred, like some blast went through it. She continued her tour with an ever-present sense of horror accompanying every step. The guestroom where the Saotome's had stayed was in shambles, likewise Daddy's room. No part of the house remained untouched.
Nabiki's steps brought her to the front door and she was almost afraid to step outside. She ran her fingers along the doorframe on their way down to the knob when they caressed an irregularity in the wood. She examined it closely.
It had been carved there quite deliberately, but God only knew when. She twisted the knob and was greeted by a wonderful day, sunlight… And destruction. It only took a few steps into the light to realize the practice hall was gone. Not entirely gone, she amended, just half gone. Half of the structure stood on its original frame while the other half looked torn to splinters. The koi pond, that wonderful koi pond that Ranma and his father had found so many times unwillingly and much to her never-ending amusement was bone dry. It even had a fish skeleton in it. Damn. Damn, damn, damn, damn. Nabiki was a creature of information and she was starving at the moment. All she had were answers to which she couldn't fathom the questions. She stepped around the occasional crater and buckled landscape, pulling upon the gate doors to world outside, which looked normal enough. She had to duck under the yellow condemned tape to get out onto the sidewalk and noticed a sign right out in front.
"Shu-mart! Quick Grocery convenience coming to your neighborhood this summer!"
Nabiki instantly bridged the mental gap. Whatever the hell happened, the property had been destroyed and sold. Probably by myself, she thought, assuming I'm still around in this time. It would have been a last ditch, worse case scenario, but from everything I've seen, that was it. She stood outside the broken dojo that had been her home for so many years, completely numbed. So numb she couldn't even cry. Their heritage. Where they were born. Played. Grew up in. Where mom passed away. Their adventures with the Saotomes… Dead. And she didn't even have a clue where to start. Nabiki's knife-like mental process drove away the numbness and began sifting through her available options.
She could return right now, forewarned, but not prepared. She needed to find out what trashed the dojo so badly and more than likely destroyed their lives. Next option, find family. Get the information, then go back and change it. Yes, Nabiki decided. That was the correct course. But who? …And where? Akane? Should be still in school, but that wasn't a guarantee with the dojo gone. Most likely with father, who was… God only knows where. Likewise the Saotomes. Assuming I'm around in this time period, but again, I have no idea where I'd be living now. I could guess, but that strikes me as a good way to waste time. Kasumi. Same problem. No idea—Wait. Her mind quickly flashed back to the doorframe. Ono Tofu? Was that a hint? For me? Sure his clinic is still open…
It took less than ten minutes at a jog to find the clinic, a location she knew by heart and silently praised the powers that be that it was not only intact, but open for business. She stepped in hesitantly and the place had changed little. Maybe a new chart or poster here and there, but…
"Nabiki! What a pleasant surpr—" It was Tofu's voice that died as quickly as it began. Her eyes found him in the doorway to the back room and she watched as he stared at her curiously. She stayed still as he walked over slowly and silently, looking her over intently. He appeared virtually the same as the last time they had seen one another. Tofu opened his mouth to speak then closed it then opened it again. "Nabiki, I don't know how to ask you this, but… How are your legs?"
Oh, I am not liking this at all, she thought and stared at the Doctor intently. That feeling of dread was coming back again. "Just fine, Doctor?" She even took a couple steps so he could see for himself.
"Uh… Um, right…" The Doctor stumbled. He turned to the back room. "Uh, Kas-chan, I think there's somebody who needs to see you… Right away." He added with extra emphasis.
"What is it, Hon— Oh my!" Kasumi stepped from the back room and her eyes widened instantly.
Nabiki noticed the difference in Kasumi right away. She wore her hair bound in the back and it had grown out, while her personal appearance had a less refined, more durable look. Overall, it suited her, and there was no way she could miss the wedding band on her finger. "Uh, hi Sis… Good to see—Oof!" She was instantly smothered in a hug, her sister having ran over to her instantly.
"Oh my God your legs are…! It's impossible!" Kasumi was close to hyperventilation and Tofu had pulled her back into his arms for support.
They make a cute couple, she realized through the impending sense of doom she was feeling. Her legs were fine. Funny how nobody else thought so. "I think we're going to need a place to sit down, because I don't know where the hell to start…" She admitted to the couple, both continuing to stare at her as if she had sprouted wings. Or legs.
Even as they nodded, a tiny electric whirl came from behind and she watched Kasumi and Tofu's eyes get even wider, if that were at all possible. Apparently it was. Nabiki turned around slowly and found that they had a good reason for that look of utter disbelief. It was her. In an electric wheelchair. Grinning that goddamn 'I got a secret' smile that was hers and hers alone.
Doctor Tofu's clinic was now officially closed and three sisters and a husband now sat at the table in the back room sipping team. Under normal circumstances, this wouldn't have been so unusual… Until you realized that two of those sisters basically looked like identical twins.
"I still can't believe it worked out like this." The wheelchair bound Nabiki smiled a wide smile that the Nabiki from the past would have never seen on her own face. "I can't tell you how much I picked those science club nerds brains for information after the I got back."
"I don't think you'll have to tell me…" Past Nabiki whispered in disbelief. "I'll be doing it... Myself?" She had found herself skipping from the 'healthy respect of time travel' phase to the 'absolute horror of time travel' in less than a half hour.
Future Nabiki nodded with certainty. "Dang right you wi—Oh no you will not!"
"Damn strait I won't." Past Nabiki was already on the same thought process, staring at herself and the broken legs.
"Excuse me, Nabiki… Er.. Nabikis…Whatever." Kasumi shook her head as if to clear it a bit. "Can you start by telling us what is going on?" Tofu nodded quite firmly with that request as well.
Past Nabiki looked at her counterpart. "I think you had best explain this one. I'm still coming to terms as to what happened and I'm missing a lot of the puzzle pieces here."
"Starved for information, huh?" Future Nabiki quipped, clearly amused.
Since when did I get such a sense of humor? "Ain't it the truth. But I suspect you've been thinking about it for the entire year."
Her counterpart nodded slowly and the smile disappeared. "Yeah, we've all had a lot on our minds. Where to start…?"
Past Nabiki had no question as to where to start. "The Dojo."
Future Nabiki looked at her sister and husband in total seriousness. "The first thing you have to accept is that time travel is possible and that this," She tapped on the Tablet in the center of the table, "is a time traveling device." The couple shrugged with acceptance. After all, they had two Nabikis sitting in front of them drinking tea. Now she pointed to her past persona. "She is from our past exactly one year ago and she doesn't have a clue as to what's happened to… All of us." The couple and Past Nabiki sat in silence, accepting the information as best they could. "It's not a pretty tale, Nabs, I'll warn you right now."
Past Nabiki shrugged. "I can see that well enough already, no offense. You should remember the creepy sense of doom I'm feeling it right now if you're, well, never mind. Thinking about me gives me a headache."
The smile returned but faded. "Ok then. You successfully returned to your time within a few minutes of leaving, nobody the wiser. Things were decent between Akane and Ranma--" Past Nabiki noted she spoke their names with no small amount of trepidation, while Kasumi looked ill at ease. What the hell..? "—for about a month before everything just came apart. Akane went ballistic over some stupid fiancée stunt and went off again on Ranma." Was that sadness? "He couldn't take it anymore and simply left in the middle of the night, leaving us a note." Future Nabiki dug into the jacket she had been wearing and handed it over. Kasumi simply looked down at the table as past Nabiki unfolded it. "Please… Don't read it aloud. You'll understand."
She read it silently…
"I'm sorry I have to do this, but the time for honor has well past. I think it's obvious by now that nothin' I can do will ever satisfy Akane. I'm not good enough with people and I'm not about to whip everybody into a frenzy trying to stop me, so this note will have to do.
To Kasumi: Thank you for being my only true friend in the Tendo household. Your kitchen was always a place of peace for me and I cannot express my appreciation enough that you allowed me to share it with you. The honor was all mine. I wish you and Doc Tofu the best of luck. I'm just sorry I won't be there for the wedding.
To Akane: I'm sorry I was never good enough for you. I tried but it wasn't enough. It was never enough. You're free now, but do the next guy a favor and actually give a damn instead of letting every little thing kill the love you have. Between me being such a great people person and you killing any love that sprouted, I think I can safely say this was never meant to be. Have a good life.
To Nabiki: I enjoyed your wit and insight. When you weren't trying to blackmail, extort or otherwise trick me into one of you money-making scams, I could actually see the person deep down… Almost the person I saw when I first got here. But me and pops probably killed that too. Trust me when I say this… If you continue to suck the life out of everybody you meet, the only person you 'll have left is you to keep sucking from. I only know because I've done it to all of yas.
To Soun: Grow a fucking spine.
To Genma: Get your head out of you're ass for once in your life and stop turning everything you touch to shit. You'd be a great instructor if you could get your damn eyes of yourself. Better luck next time. This project called your son is officially a failure. Think I'll go spend some time as a girl just to spite you.
To Shampoo: It's almost not your fault that you're pushy, self centered, arrogant and possessive, but what part of 'no' don't you understand? Get a clue and realize the more schemes you try and push on somebody, the more they'll explode in your face. And ditch the old ghoul before she takes you down with her.
Ryoga: You so need to get over yourself. Do you think for one moment the world gives two shits about your eternal depression? Say it with me: Fuck no. They don't mine and they don't yours. Get on with your damn life already. Here, I'll help you—Akane, Ryoga is P-chan. You can thank me later.
Ukyo: You're my best friend and always will be… It just can't work out as fiancées however. Why? Not your fault. You know my life. It's too much crap. A friend I can deal with. A fiancée I can't. Not anymore, at least. Maybe in a different life. Maybe I'll see you around… Maybe not…. I wish the best… I love you too… Just not like that."
Nabiki stared at the crinkled letter for a good ten minutes, rereading it until a sniffle brought her back to the present. Kasumi had a handkerchief to her eyes as Doctor Tofu held her close. A look over to her future-self shown something equally shocking. Tears streaking down her face, but it wasn't a frown. It was a smile. Then came the slow realization… They had memorized every word on that page and were reading it as surely as she held it now.
The future Nabiki sniffled herself, and it almost came out as a laugh. "He was right on every single account about us, Nabs. Everything. We sucked the life out everybody we met. He knew he wasn't making it any easier on us, but we could only blame him so much, now can't we?" She took another few moments to collect herself before finally continuing. "Hmmf. But I stopped being that person with a vengeance. Cost me a lot, but I've regained my soul."
Past Nabiki could only stare at her… She would have never said anything so… Profound. I can't get worked up like future me has because I haven't gone through it yet, but damn…
"Well, the great fiancée wars began in earnest at that point." Future Nabiki commented. "Everybody blamed everyone and Shampoo went berserk. With nothing to hold her back, Akane got taken to an inch of her life. Only Ukyo jumping in to save her, and that was a hard battle. God bless Ukyo, she fought that bitch to a standstill!" She took a deep breath as if shaking off the memory. "Took some scars that'll be with her for the rest of her life, but even with no love for Akane- especially after the letter –she did what her Ran-chan would have done."
"Ranma was gone and with her, Mousse, Cologne and a cut up Shampoo, gone to look for him presumably. Ukyo left town. We still get the occasional postcard from her shop in Okinawa. Guess she just couldn't handle the memories. Ryoga came by, found out the news and proposed to Akane… And was himself savagely beat within an inch of his pig life after all that time spent in bed with her as a pig. Haven't seen him since." Future Nabiki paused. "But I'm getting ahead of myself. The dojo."
Her face went totally dead now, and Kasumi reflected her in much the same manner. "Happosai brought something home with him. He called it a pet but it was actually some sort of demon, something he had enslaved. Since he was losing his grip on the Dojo, he thought it necessary to bring backup."
"The backup got loose." Past Nabiki stated, pretty sure where this was going.
"Right." She nodded. "In a bad way. You've seen the dojo. It got annihilated. I was paralyzed from the hips down when it collapsed. Soun and Genma weren't much help. Once Happosai couldn't control it, the only thing the parents could do was buy time. Ranma's father… Didn't survive. But somehow Ranma himself caught wind of what the master had been scheming and arrived barely in time. You. Me. Akane and Daddy owe him our lives. He… He…" The Future Nabiki simply stared at her with the smile, tears flowing. Kasumi cried into her husband's shoulder with small sobs.
The doctor spoke up for the first time now, his voice low and reverent. "He died saving everybody. The best Happosai could do was open a door to the pit from which he grabbed it. And Ranma hammered the thing back in there with everything he had ..And made sure it couldn't get back out by holding the line just inside the gateway. The gate closed and…" He couldn't finish himself now.
Past Nabiki insides were now churning in a sickening manner. She had known it was bad, but that went so far beyond bad… Catastrophically bad. Never in her wildest nightmares…
"Oh God,I think I need some fresh air…"
Nabiki sucked in precious air as she stood outside the clinic, watching pedestrians go by blissfully unaware of the precarious threads their existence hung by. She had been one of those people mere hours ago, but whatever innocence she held in that particular area had been stripped away quite brutally and the small puddle of puke in the street was evidence of that.
The whirl of an electric wheelchair sounded behind her and she turned around to find herself with that damn ever-present smile. "I can't count the number of times I've done that over the last year." She remarked and pulled up beside her past self.
"Why are you so…"
"Damn cheerful?" The wheelchair Nabiki's smile brightened. It faltered slightly, but she forced it back into place. "It was a promise I made on Ran-chan's grave. You stopped being me six months back." Past Nabiki's mind ran the tense and self-references furiously through her mind. Damn this was getting weirder and weirder. "Oh, we're still quite the accomplished business women. Hell, it's the only reason the Tendo's as a clan are still afloat, but the difference between you and me is that I've been doing it without blackmailing, extorting or cheating another soul." Her eyes burrowed through Nabiki as if to driver the point home, but still the smile remained.
Past Nabiki squirmed uncomfortably. Being on the short end of the information stick was really, really annoying, so she decided a tactical change in subject was in order. "Do we have a boyfriend?"
Future Nabiki considered her for a moment, sending her a look that told her she knew exactly what the question was, but laughed and answered anyway. "Yes and no." She motioned with her hands to her legs, illustrating the point quite clearly, causing any further useless conversation to dry up on her tongue. "Not that it matters. You're going back and changing all of this."
Nabiki nodded in total agreement. "That's a given. But what am I going to change? I need a key event or something."
The wheelchair girl considered it carefully. "I've been thinking on that over the past year. Critical turning points and all that. The argument you left was definitely one of them. The first time Ranma ever blocked Akane's hammer should have blasted a warning siren in both of our faces." She continued soberly. "Because after that, something changed and Akane never hit him once after that, and not for lack of trying. Ranma was done letting her."
"Ok, I think I know what timeframe to go back to then." Past Nabiki nodded. "I think I'll prevent that particular cold war from spinning up in the first place. The only question now is how?"
"I think I have you covered on that one." Future Nabiki began. "You can try to talk to yourself as you're talking to me, I guess. As long as nobody sees you, things should be okay. The science club and I have talked that scenario into the ground and we all agree that you're going to have to be super careful not to precipitate events that lead you away from acquiring the Tablet."
Past Nabiki nodded in agreement. It was obvious enough—If you don't have a time machine then you can't time travel. But… She would have the one in her hands. Which would mean… "Ok, I'm lost now. Don't I keep mine?"
Future Nabiki produced a wry smile. "Well yes and… Honestly, we're not sure what will happen. But keep this in mind no matter what: The only time frame in which only one of us will exist is either in the exact moment you left or if we somehow don't exist in the one you arrive in."
"Or are dead." Past nabiki shook her head. This was all quite freaking strange.
"Or are dead." Future Nabiki confirmed. "We're speculating that if you initiate an event in which you'll never come into contact with the Tablet or cause the tablet never to be made, it might spontaneously cease to exist once you return to your own 'new' timeframe present. Likewise the next jump you make could strand you in that time." Then she winked. "Of course, we could all be full of shit too."
"Right." Nabiki replied dryly. Future Nabiki brought the tablet up from her lap, handing it carefully to her. With it was the note from Ranma, her past and future simultaneously.
"Three things before you go." She stared at the standing Nabiki. "First, do not turn the damn thing off. We were never able to get it to work again after I returned and turned it off. Second, the 'release anchor' button will automatically target the exact timeframe you left, the point where only one of us exists. I know I was wondering, so I thought I'd clue you in. Finally…" An impish smile spread across her face. "I had damn well better be able to walk by the time you're done with all this."
Past Nabiki couldn't help but to chuckle now. "Count on it." Future Nabiki offer her hand and she took it in reflex, producing an even wider smile from her. "I guess I can tell Cho-kun that we don't annihilate one another on contact."
Nabiki's eyes widened and she snatched her hand back in shock. "You're insane! You're totally insane!"
The wheel-chair bound Nabiki produced a hearty laugh. "Kodachi says a little insanity is just the spice of life. Now get out of here!"
She looked at the Tablet then her future-self, who was already wheeling back into the clinic. God, I'm hanging out with Kodachi now!
Oh yeah, things were going to have to change alright.
March 8th, 1989, The Past
Nabiki Tendo ducked behind the equipment locker in nervous anticipation. At least that had been the location prescribed on the note, and while she normally didn't take such notes seriously, she was making a special exception to this one. Of course, normally one didn't receive a note stuffed in the their locker with their own hand writing and only knowledge they could know, but having no memory or writing the note itself. She walked through the dimly lit room, looking for some clue as to what had drawn her and who had written the note. She knew some good forgeries, but this was close to an impossibility.
A small step echoed behind her and she turned around, a creeping sensation crawling up her spin. Before her stood a fairly attractive girl in a blue tee and tight jeans, her 'I've got a secret' smile framed by a sharp, stylish crop strait brown hair. In short, it was her. Nabiki opened her mouth. What the hell…! The Nabiki clone stepped forward and she noticed a rectangular device hanging from an arm for the first time.
"I think it's time you and me had a little talk."
Akane heard the front door slam and she ducked her head out of the kitchen curiously. Nobody ever slammed the front door unless they were in a hurry and she watched Nabiki rounded the corner with her book bag, still in her school uniform.
"Oh hi Nabiki! Since Kasumi is on a date…" The words faded as she watched Nabiki make eye contact. Her face… The middle sister brushed past her, sliding into the kitchen and turned off the stove and oven. "Hey! I'm cooking tonight!"
Nabiki replied by simply grabbing her hand and dragging her out of the kitchen. "Not tonight you're not." She was about to protest some more when she whipped around suddenly, that mask of intensity radiating into her. "It's a family emergency, Akane. Trust me and order some takeout. I'll grab the others."
Akane knew that face. She was in crisis mode. It had been a long time since she had seen Nabiki in crisis mode. There was absolutely no questioning the importance of whatever was going to interrupt Akane's cooking spree. Less than an hour later Nabiki had gathered up the family, save Kasumi, who had already gone over to Tofu's place. At the table sat Ranma, Soun, Genma and Akane.
"What I'm about to tell you is going to sound completely unbelievable." Nabiki told the family, and she peered intently into each one of their faces. In fact, she had heard those exact same words from herself in the equipment locker at school today. Of course, it was easier to believe since I was staring at my self, she snorted mentally. That future Nabiki outlined the highlights she needed to know and she had missed lunch and two classes listening to the tale that she now told the rest of the family, who had all but stopped eating the food on their table. Akane-free food, she thought with dead amusement.
"Of course you realize that sounds—" Genma's observation was cut short as Nabiki pulled out a small folded piece of paper that had seen its better day.
"Of course it does." Nabiki waved the objection aside. "I wouldn't have believed it myself if it weren't… Me telling… Me, but for tonight, I only need one person to believe me." She looked at Ranma and handed him the note almost sympathetically.
Ranma took it with trepidation, seeing Nabiki's face and slowly unfolded it. He began to read and the family watched as his eyes widened and blood drained from his face. His head snapped up to looked up at the family, then back down to the note, then over to Akane. He held her gaze and she watched an edge of fear creep into his eyes. Ranma carefully folded the note back up and handed back to Nabiki with the utmost care, as if he were handling a live bomb.
The pigtail boy closed his eyes and took a deep breath, considering Nabiki with more weight then he ever had since their first meeting. "Ok. I'm convinced. Every word of it." It was his handwriting. His wording. And most of all, what were beginning to be his feelings. There was no way Nabiki could have forged it. Akane made a grab at the note to snatch it out of her sister's hands, only to have her wrist intercepted by Ranma. Nobody had even seen him move. "Sorry Akane… Nobody sees that note."
"What!" Akane stood up suddenly. "If it's so important why cant I see it? I am your fiancée in case you've forgotten!"
Ranma looked at her and a sullen look took over his face. "Trust me Akane… Nobody wants to see that note. Ever. I'm almost sorry Nabiki even has it."
Nabiki looked up at the irritated sister. "He's right, Akane. We're totally serious." She looked around at the rest of the family. "That goes for the rest of you. You'll have to take my… Our word for on this."
"What, Nabiki can see the note you wrote but I can't!" Akane's rage climbed higher. "Why don't you just take her as your fiancée now too!"
"Look I didn't even write the stupid note, you tom—" Ranma cut himself off quickly. "All I'm saying is that… aw hell, I don't know what I'm saying but nobody," and he shot a withering glare into the rest of the table, "but nobody sees that note. The only reason she even has it is because Nabiki's been hopping around through time or something." Then he deadpanned, "Nosing in everybody else's business as always."
Nabiki couldn't help but to chuckle, but it was just enough to send Akane into meltdown as she bolted out of the dojo, presumably to reduce Nerima's local brick population by a substantial quantity. "Damn, this is going to be harder than it sounds."
"It sounded hard from the word 'go'." Ranma sniffed with little amusement.
"That's exactly what I mean." She shook her head. "Look, I think this is enough for one night. Meet me after supper tomorrow night at exactly… Seven fifteen p.m. I should maybe have more information at that point."
Ranma nodded. If any of them were to survive what was coming, there was some serious planning to be done. And they had exactly three months to do it.
Akane's fuming continued well into the next day, but it had been largely ignored by Ranma, Nabiki noted and she was still trying to decide if that was a good or bad thing. The information had an unexpected result on the martial artist, whose face now wore an impenetrable mask of neutrality. For Nabiki who made it her job to know everything and anything about the people around her, she knew the face for what it was and knew why Akane's little barbs were bouncing off his exterior like small arms fire plinking at a tank. He was in battle mode, one of the few times the middle sister ever saw him gain a tactical mindset that rivaled her own. It wasn't that the boy wasn't smart, it was just that his brain was aimed entirely in a different direction, and now that brain was entirely focused on their survival. He probably would never apply it to anything else in his life, but this was one of those few things. Could Akane really be that blind? Damn this wasn't going to be easy.
Nabiki managed to collect the Tablet from the Science Club as collateral and rushed home, ensuring she would beat Akane to the kitchen where Kasumi and Ranma were cooking. Her future self had informed her of this potential flashpoint, and she pulled Ranma out with some reluctance and an apology to Kasumi. The spaghetti came and went, supper proceeding relatively peacefully. Akane seemed to have bled off most her anger while Ranma kept his words to an absolute minimum as he was determined not to put his foot in his mouth like so many times in the past.
Seven fifteen rolled around and Ranma knocked on Nabiki's door, earning a withering glare from Akane. Regardless of her thoughts, the youngest kept her mouth shut and watched Ranma step into her sister's room.
"Akane's not a happy camper…" He mused, finding Nabiki at her desk, staring at an alarm clock.
"Give me a second, Saotome. It should be happening anytime now." She held up a finger, calling a halt to any further conversation. Ranma sat there with a questions waiting to escape his lips when he felt something. The martial artist concentrated and watched as Nabiki's all but invisible aura flickered and began to pulse erratically.
"What the…? Nabiki, are you..."
"Oh my God…" she whispered and began to clutch her head, grunting with strain. "My head… My memories! They're…!" She slid out of the chair and onto the carpeted floor twitching, Ranma rushing to her side.
Somebody in the past had just hit the Release Anchor key.
No Authors notes here. I put em all in chapters 4-6. Ja ne!