Urusei Yatsura - The Senior Year: "Reality Enters"
by Mike Smith
mcmsmith63@hotmail.com
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edited by E.B. Kushnir
kush1@iaw.on.ca
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A side story based on the fanfic series in turn based on "Urusei Yatsura,"
created by Rumiko Takahashi
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WRITER'S NOTE: This story is set after "Towards the Unstoppable Future," just
prior to the first UY-TIY story, "School's On." The inspiration for Ramuko's
name comes from "Forever My Lum."

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Lum dove into the pool with no reservations. *Why would I have any?* she
thought. *I'm on staff and entitled to use the school facilities...anytime I
choose...if they're available.* Wearing a dark blue, one-piece outfit which
modestly covered her generous proportions, no one could complain about her
trying to corrupt the morals of the students. In fact, there is no one in the
pool area watching...not even a lifeguard. *Even Darling doesn't know I'm
here.*

It has been a hard day at work for Lum. It began when a Zephyrite
exchange student complained that he was served a tomato in his
lunch...something which is against Zephyrite dietary law. After explaining the
mix-up to the cafeteria staff, Mr. Fujinami immediately put more tomato sauce
on the student's pasta.

The next case involved a Vosian student who objected to be forced to wear
a sweatsuit during gym class. Knowing the Vosian tolerance with public nudity,
it took an hour for her to explain that on Earth, one wears clothes in public
at all times.

Then came the worse possible scenario.

A Terran girl touched an Oni boy on the horns without knowing that on Uru
it means a proposal for marriage. Luckily, the Oni boy already had a fiance
and wasn't interested in the Terran girl. What further upset things were the
Oni boy could mould a person's outward appearance like an artist could mould
clay and as a gift, made the girl to look like an Oni. Lum managed to get him
to turn her back to normal...although what the Terran girl really wanted were
bigger breasts.

It was almost two o'clock, and Lum needed a break. She originally had
planned to close her office and go to the nearest public pool, but changed her
mind to use the local facilities instead. She knew there would be no classes
that day after checking the schedule and 'borrowing' a spare bathing suit and
towel from the school store, proceeded to dive in.

The cool, chlorinated water revives the young Oni woman's energy level
almost immediately as she floats around to look up at the sky. She immediately
wished Darling was around to join her, but he was in class teaching...and
besides he would probably take a chance to make it a skinny-dip...which was
sternly frowned upon by Sakura. As if swimming with any lifeguard on duty
wasn't bad enough.

Lum allows her mind to wander while she floats freely. It had been three
weeks since the occurrence between her and Lara Skelad. Everyone has healed
from the incident and Lara had been long buried. The Skelad Corporation had
been taken over and all their anti-Sagussa weapons testing had been halted.
But, still something was strange.

When the Skelad Corporation computers were accessed by the new owners, all
computer data on the weapon systems had unexplainably vanished. Not even the
computer wizards on Sagussa could find out what happened to the data, only that
with was not a virus or a system crash. Even the scientists themselves were
surprised when they found all of their work gone as if never there. Perhaps
Lara had a failsafe which activated when she died to send any knowledge to some
safe haven somewhere in the known Galaxy or erased it all. Nobody knew for
sure, because the trail was so clean it was wondered if someone had used
Mikovsky particles.

But at this time, Lum pushed those thoughts out of her mind to allow the
quiet sounds of the slowly rolling water around her to soothe her jangled
nerves.

"LUM!!!!" a sudden, hoarse voice yells from the poolside. It is so loud,
it sounds like whomever the voice belongs to is standing right beside her.
Needless to say, the sudden shock sends Lum to the bottom of the pool without
the luxury of gulping any air into her lungs first.

Luckily, her training with Nassur kicked in and she immediately made her
way to the surface to see Koosei Ryooki standing there. "Koosei-san," Lum
spits out some water as she treads in it. "What is it?"

"There's a phone call for you," Koosei replies. "It's Lan."

"Lan?" Lum makes her way to the nearest ladder to climb out of the pool.
"What does she want?"

"I don't know," Koosei shrugs. "She sounded sad. Maybe that tiger-cow
husband of hers finally dumped her."

"Don't scare me like that," Lum climbs out of the pool and towels herself
off.

"Kind of early to be taking a swim," Koosei notes. "And you didn't have
permission or a lifeguard! What would Sakura say?"

"It was a spur-of-the-moment thing," Lum dries herself off. "I just had
to get out of the office to relax."

"I hope Sakura will be as sympathetic as I am when she yells at you,"
Koosei shrugs.

Lum wraps the towel around herself and makes her way to the main office.
She immediately gets notices by the odd student or teacher in the hallways and
in the office including, unfortunately, Sakura. "I see you were out for a
little swim," Sakura says coolly. "May I remind you that you're supposed to
sign out the pool and have a lifeguard assigned BEFORE you dive in?"

"Sorry, Sakura-san," Lum replies as she answers the phone. "Hello, Lan?"

"Oh, Lum, it's horrible! Just horrible!" Lan's sob-choked voice comes
from the phone.

"What is?" Lum asks into the receiver.

Then Lum looks deathly pale. She allows her towel to fall to the floor in
shock. "I see," she manages to say. "When did this happen?...Did she
suffer?...When is it?...I'll be there." Lum then hangs up the phone and looks
sadly toward her superior. "Sakura, I'm going to be away for a few days," she
says. "It's an emergency."

Sakura immediately looks concerned when she sees Lum's sad face. "Bad
news?" she asks.

"The worst," Lum leaves. "I'll tell Darling when he comes home. I'm
going home as soon as I get dressed."

"I understand," Sakura nods. Even if she is a principal now, she is still
a Shinto priestess, and she knew when someone has just suffered a great loss.
"I'll send Ataru home as soon as I can. I could send Megane for some
comfort."

"Send Darling home, yes," Lum blanches. "But forget Megane! All he ever
does in mooches food and pester Darling!"

After dressing, Lum flew home where she immediately went to the bedroom.
Soon after arriving there, Lum felt the urge to put on her old Tomobiki High
School uniform, and surround herself with old photographs of her alien and
Terran school days. So, she gave into the temptation.

Surprisingly after years in college and later behind a desk, her old
sailor suit still fit in the right places. She dispensed with the socks and
the shoes, preferring to be barefoot for now as she lay on her bed looking at
each photo closely. "She's gone now," Lum sniffs as she looks at a photo from
her last class before transferring to Tomobiki High School. "Oh, I'll miss
you!"

She hears the front door open, then Ataru's voice asking for her. "Lum,
where are you?"

"Up in our room, Darling!" she replies.

She hears Ataru tromp up the stairs toward their bedroom. Then he enters
the room and notices what Lum is wearing and what she is doing. "What is this?
A school-remembering moment?" he asks.

"Sort of," Lum replies with her eyes filling with tears.

Ataru knew that look. Lum had it when both Nassur and Benten had
disappeared. Something had just happened to her. "What's wrong? Sakura told
me you went home and told me to go home without telling me why!" he asks as he
holds her.

"Someone close to me died today," Lum replies.

"I see," Ataru nods in understanding. "Who was it?"

"You've never met her," Lum says as she pulls out a photo of a cute Oni
girl in her mid-teens. "Her name was Mara Buson. She was a schoolmate of mine
on Uru. No, she was more than a schoolmate of mine! She helped keep me out
of trouble."

"I thought Nassur did that," Ataru replies.

"He did," Lum replies. "But, this is later. I had just entered high
school on Uru when the older kids began picking on me, Lan, Benten and Oyuki.
Mara drove the bullies away until we were left alone. She started looking out
for us after that, until I left Uru for Earth and she graduated. Darling, did
you know who told me to go to Earth originally?"

"No."

"She did," Lum replies. "When I returned home from the First Tag Race, I
didn't want to move to Earth originally because it was such a backward place, I
thought. She told me to follow my heart, not my head!"

"I see," Ataru nods. "She brought us together."

"Now she's gone!" Lum frowns. "We kept in touch with letters over the
years. I heard she was planning to get married soon. Then..." her tears begin
to flow freely, "...she...had an accident and died immediately. S-she had her
whole life ahead of her. She wanted a family. Now..."

"That's the way life is at times," Ataru groans as he puts his arms around
her. "We all plan to live to an old age, but sometimes we can't."

Lum says nothing but cries into Ataru's chest. Ataru allows his wife to
vent her grief. There was nothing more to be said. And not being able to vent
some of the emotion would be dangerous in the end for her in the long term.
Finally after about a half an hour, Lum's spirits lift a little. "The funeral
is in three days," she tells Ataru. "I've already booked the time off,
Darling. You can go if you want."

"I'll think about it," Ataru nods. Since the incident with the
Eliminator, Ataru has avoided going into space. He was almost phobic about it,
with good reason. "But, before you go, there's one thing I want to know," he
tries to light up the mood. "Why did you swim in the school pool WITHOUT first
inviting me?!"

"What?!" Lum playfully pretends to look shocked. "You were teaching a
class! Besides, after the day I was having, I needed the break."

"Sakura was uptight over the fact you didn't have a lifeguard," Ataru
admonishes her. "She's upset that if you drowned, our insurance would force us
to close the pool."

"I'll keep that in mind next time," Lum nods, then yawns. "All this
emotion is making me tired. I want to take a nap, Darling. When Amora comes
home, order something out. I don't feel like cooking."

"Sure," Ataru nods, then leaves the room.

Lum clears the bed of photos then lies on it to sleep. Immediately, her
thoughts fill of memories of her school days, both on Earth and on Uru. For
the most part, the memories were happy. Lum was usually a popular student
wherever she went to. Only in her first year of high school on Uru was it
different. She was persecuted a lot until Mara straightened things out with
the bullies.

Mara was a third-year student from a middle-class Oni family on Uru. She
was cute, but could be tough when she needed to be. Her fighting abilities
could probably teach the Sagussans, Dakejinzou, and Nassur a few things about
inflicting pain. She allowed NO ONE, not even Yehisrites, to push her around.
Yet despite her fighting abilities, Mara also had a caring side Lum had not
seen since she met Nassur's first wife, Cinba.

After Lum moved to Earth, Mara kept sending her letters telling her of
what was going on in her life. She became an office lady in an Oni-run
business and had just been promoted when she accepted a marriage proposal from
a salaryman whom she had worked with and dated for many years. The wedding was
to be in June, Lum had planned to attend with Oyuki and Lan, but it was not to
be.

Then Lum finally fell asleep...and wondered what kind of life she would
have had if she was not so popular...or if Mara was not there...

* * *

Morning! The alarm rang. Ramuko Redetto woke up to start the day. She
had a dream of the Lum character she was developing as part of a manga series.
She had just lost a close friend from her home planet. *How depressing,* she
thought as she lifted herself out of her futon and stretched her stiff, tired
body into action. Her "Those Obnoxious Aliens" series was supposed to be
happy, but lately it was getting a little depressing.

First, she had Lum's would-be fiance, Ataru Moroboshi, finding out he had
a psychotic ninja program in his brain and a rich grandmother who refused to
recognize their engagement. Then came the Sagussans, who wiped out almost
everything they went against, including a lot of people who wanted Lum for
themselves. Finally, the Mikado came and all hell broke loose.

Well, the series now seemed to reflect the way she felt now about her own
high school classmates. At seventeen, and since she started attending Tomobiki
High School, she had been an outsider. As if the student body was trying to
tell her she did not belong there.

Ramuko looks at herself in the mirror. Except for the long black hair and
the cute face, Ramuko did not look much like Lum at all. She was at least
twenty kilograms heavier than her main character, and most of that excess
weight settled on her hips and thighs. Her body is covered by a pink sweatsuit
which served as her pyjamas. Lum has a model's figure and almost always wore
something with a tiger-striped influence. Well, she did lightly base Lum on
herself. She looked at herself in the mirror. "I wished I really was Lum,"
she said to herself aloud. "Then everyone would treat me better."

"Ramuko! Breakfast!" she heard her mother call from below.

"Coming!" Ramuko replies.

Ramuko appears at the living room where the kotetsu has been set up for
breakfast. The living room is typical for a Japanese family. Lots of
electronics, a few paintings and photos on display, and a couple of pieces of
furniture. Not a lot, but enough to say this family is middle-class.

Ramuko's mother is an attractive middle-aged woman who looked more like
Lum than Ramuko does. She wears a pair of stretch pants and a blouse with an
apron. Reasonably slim, she is beginning to look quite matronly as time
passes. Her short black hair is already beginning to turn salt and pepper.
Ramuko's mother is a housewife, who never goes out of the house except for
errands or on the rare times the whole family did.

Ramuko's father had already left for work. A manager for a local company,
he looked exactly like Lum's dad, save for the horns. Ramuko always wondered
if her own weight problems came from him. In her stories, Lum's figure came
from her mother.

"Sleep well, Ramuko?" her mother asks as she passes her a bowl of rice.

"Yeah," Ramuko replies as she takes the rice and begins to eat it. "I had
another dream for that 'Those Obnoxious Aliens' story. Lum is going to lose
someone close to her."

"And?"

"I haven't got that far yet," Ramuko scratches her head dumbly. Ramuko's
mother indulged her daughter's ability to tell stories of an alien Oni girl who
comes to Earth to marry a lecherous, luckless Terran boy, because it kept her
mind occupied and herself out of trouble. When she began drawing those
stories, she hoped someday it would become a popular manga series, followed by
a popular anime series, but that is in the future. Ramuko is still a high
schooler who will be studying for entrance exams next year.

The only thing Ramuko's mother did not like about her stories is Ramuko
always based her characters on people she knew. After seeing her drawings of
Lum's father, she hid those from Ramuko's real father. Sure, her father has a
bad temper at times, but an Oni? It was a stretch of the imagination. And her
cousin Jariten? I thought Jariten and Ramuko didn't even like each other. In
her stories, they are close friends.

After breakfast and washing up, Ramuko put on her sailor suit school
uniform, grabbed her pack, and left for school. "Back to war zones," she says
as she walks alone. "I hope I'll come back with my head still on my
shoulders."

A block later, she sees him...Ataru Moroboshi. Coming out of a modest
two-storey house, Ataru looks exactly like Ramuko's story character. Not very
handsome or bright, Ataru wore his usual dark blue male school uniform a bit
sloppily like his character did in the early stories. He had a roving eye for
the ladies, preferably beautiful, busty ones as Ramuko has been told via the
grapevine.

But like Lum, Ramuko loved Ataru. And just seeing him made her miserable
existence bearable.

But unlike Lum's version of Ataru, he has never returned her love.

"Good morning," Ramuko smiles sweetly at Ataru.

"G'morning," Ataru yawns indifferently at the sight of her before
wandering off in the general direction of the school. Ataru and his family had
lived near Ramuko for nearly two years since the Redettos moved here. Since
that time, "Good morning" were the only words they would say to each other for
most, if not all, of the day.

Then someone else popped up...Shinobu Miyaki.

Shinobu does have a body like Lum. She is the most popular girl in
Rumiko's school and Ataru's current girlfriend. Shinobu is everything Ramuko
is not: slim, busty, and willing to do anything to please a boy. Ramuko had
heard rumours Shinobu had lost her virginity long ago and has had more than a
few ex-boyfriends of her own. And like the early versions of Shinobu's "UY"
character, she does not care too much for Ramuko.

"Good morning, Ataru-kun," Shinobu calls to Ataru before smothering him
with a kiss. She then notices Ramuko. "Oh, hello, Mountain-Butt!"

Ramuko looks upset by the nickname. Everyone called her "Mountain-Butt"
in "honour" of her being so bottom-heavy. Ramuko had always been a chubby
girl, even as a child. Her mother thought she would grow into her weight, but
she did not. Now, the chubby child has become a chubbier teenager and would
probably become an obese adult. But Ramuko says nothing, she had learned to
ignore the catcalls long ago, but they still hurt inside.

As they trudge to school, Ramuko notices Ataru and Shinobu hold on each
other so tight that they seem to be one person, not two. Deep down, Ramuko
feels jealous. *Bitch!* she thought. *I'm glad I made you the villain in most
of my early stories! Wait until you start packing on the kilos on that little
butt of yours and those big boobs of yours begin to droop. Then we'll see who
calls whom 'Mountain-Butt'.*

Ramuko had these thoughts most of the time since she heard Ataru and
Shinobu began going steady together. That is why she purposely made her
version of Shinobu less attractive than she really is in her stories. At least
if she could not get some revenge in real life, she could try to in the
literary world.

Arriving at Tomobiki High School, everything seems to be as normal as
always. She notices Coach Natsusuru working the girl's volleyball team on
another Long March. She could see the team's captain, Benten Shigaten in the
lead as always. Coach Natsusuru has always been a stern, demanding coach who
also cared about his players, who in turned did their best on the court.
Tomobiki High School has won the All-Tokyo High School Girls' Volleyball
Championship seven years in a row and the all-Japan High School Girls'
Volleyball championship twice in those seven years. He has also tried his hand
with the boys' team but has not been nearly as successful as he has been with
the girls.

Although Benten Shigaten is friendly toward Ramuko, she maintained a mean
streak within her. Nicknamed the "Cosmic Goddess" for obvious reasons, Benten
is the second most popular girl in the school after Shinobu. Rumour has it she
actually does have a crush on Coach Natsusuru.

She then sees Nurse Oyuki walking about the grounds. Ramuko liked her too
because she could confide with her. So unlike her colleague, Nurse Sakura
Sakurambo, who looks upon the counselling side of her job as a pain. Nurse
Oyuki always seemed to keep her cool, no matter what the circumstances
were...although she can get really angry if she wanted and needed to.

Ramuko then notices Ranko Seishin giggling with a couple of friends.
Ranko and Ramuko used to be good friends until they reached high school and
Ranko got a boyfriend named Rei. He is an older boy, in cram school now for
his fourth time. Ramuko had never met Rei, but rumours call him handsome but
not very bright. Since getting a boyfriend, Ranko moved away from Ramuko
almost immediately...probably not wanting be associated with one of the most
unpopular girls in the school.

Ramuko then notices Mie Seiko and Noa Sagussa entering behind her. Mie is
new to the school and very shy, as if she was hiding some really big secret
and it is up to the class to find out what it is. Noa is in the senior class.
Rumour has it Noa is a lesbian, a real butch from the sounds of it.

Shutaro Mendo appeared when Ramuko first entered the school building. A
suave, honourable boy, Mendo also is quite the snob. He comes from a family of
local well-off business owners. His younger sister, Ryooko, is nice but has a
wild sense of humour.

Ryuunosuke Fujinami appears from out of the school store. Ryuunosuke's
father runs the school store upon his retirement as a professional wrestler.
Unfortunately, bad investments caused the elder Fujinami to lose most of his
money, so he needed this small job to put food on the table. Unfortunately,
Ryuunosuke and his father have their own problems...Ryuunosuke has admitted to
being homosexual...which brought shame to his macho father. Yet, Ryuunosuke
still stays with him despite the abuse heaped upon him almost daily by his
father.

Then there are Ataru's four buddies sitting in their usual spot near the
radiators. Ramuko never really knew their names but referred them by their
nicknames: Megane, Kakugari, Chibi and Paama. They also seemed to delight in
pestering Ramuko and making rude comments about her appearance as well as
razing any other girl who came close to them. The only exception was Shinobu,
because Ataru would not let them make comments about his girlfriend.

She notices Koosei Ryooki chatting with Nurse Oyuki in the hallway.
Ryoki-sensei always seemed to be talking with Nurse Oyuki and rumour has it
they are an item. He is said to be a harsh teacher who takes no guff from any
student, but he is also fair.

She also sees Hanawa-sensei in the staff room. Hanawa-sensei is a new
teacher, just hired out of teachers' college. Unlike a lot of the older
teachers, you can joke around with Hanawa-sensei and not get punished. He
seems genuinely interested in seeing his students do well.

She hears Onsen-sensei yelling in the boys' bathroom at someone. Onsen is
a hardliner who has the misfortune to be also an English teacher. He has been
known to hit students with his bokan stick for no reason but to hear the sound
of wood striking flesh. He always yells at his students and at a few of the
younger teachers as well.

All of these people were the bases for Ramuko's "TOA" characters. Ramuko
did not know what possessed her in developing such a storyline, but she enjoyed
writing and drawing it and has done so ever since she first came to Tomobiki
High School. The school psychologists call her stories "coping therapy"
against being "the nail that stands up which is to be hammered down."

But, Ramuko is a lonely girl: having a crush on a boy who ignores her
totally; having few close friends; being rather overweight and shy; an average
student with an aptitude for storytelling and drawing. All these phrases
describe Ramuko perfectly.

The school day begins with the usual opening exercises. As the teacher
drones on, Ramuko scribbles in her notebook some character designs for "TOA."
The story began with the characters in high school, but now they've graduated
into the real world. They have intermarried, had children, and the children
are getting ready for high school themselves. Some older characters died,
others just disappeared for a while, but they all seemed to interact well with
each other. Unlike in reality.

But comparing it to the real life, "TOA" makes Ramuko's lack of happiness
bearable. Ramuko has never been on a date or even invited to a school dance by
a boy. Most of the boys refused to be seen with her because she was no "babe"
and she was the butt of their jokes. Most of the girls were catty with her,
tagging her "Mountain-Butt" after the first time she wore a bathing suit in the
school pool. It is also not unusual for students to catcall her while she
walked down the hall between periods. Once when she was shopping in Tomobiki,
a fellow classmate catcalled her as she walked down the street. She cried all
the way home when that happened.

But, Ramuko has some good qualities. She helps anyone in need. She tells
great stories and is a great artist. Even Onsen likes receiving her exam
papers because of the drawings she would doodle while thinking or killing
time.

But still, her life is drudgery.

Finally, first class ended. The second class began...only to be more
boring than the first one. Bored, Ramuko fell asleep during the class shortly
after it began...

* * *

"What a weird dream," Lum wonders as she wakes up to the slam of the front
door. That was definitely Amora coming home from school, she thought. She
could hear her asking why Ataru was home so early. When told, Lum could hear
her immediately rushing upstairs to confront her mother.

"Mom, is this true?" Amora asks, looking at her strangely. "Someone you
knew died?"

Lum gets out of bed and puts her hand on her shoulder. "Yes, Amora, it's
true," she says sadly. "A good friend of mine died today. She was from the
high school I went to before I came to Tomobiki High School."

"I'm sorry to hear that," Amora frowns, then smiles slyly. "That means
we'll be going to Uru again."

"Well..."

Amora looks very happy. "I'll be able to see a lot of cute boys there!"
she boasts as she goes into a self-delusion filled with countless cute boys.
"Oh, Seiteki will be so upset, she'll spit! I'll pack right away!"

Amora rushes out of the room and Lum does not know if she should be happy
her daughter wants to go to Uru or has been hanging around Seiteki too much
lately.

After Ataru orders some take-out, Lum and her family have dinner together
in the living room. "So, when are you leaving, Lum?" Ataru asks.

"Tomorrow morning," Lum replies coolly. "Are you coming?"

"I'll stay here," Ataru replies. "I didn't really know Mara at all."

"I understand, Darling," Lum nods.

"I want to go!" Amora pipes up.

"YOU just wanna see boys, Amora!" Lum replies.

"Hey, Amora's just living her youth," Ataru chuckles. "Unfortunately,
it's the same way I lived my youth!"

"Now that's bad!" Lum sighs. "Amora, I'm going to Uru for a funeral, not
to participate in your attempts at boy-hunting. You've never met Mara or know
what she meant to me. Besides, don't you have a test tomorrow?"

"Well..." Amora looks a little nervous. Like any girl her age, school
always came second to real life. And to Amora, real life means boys, boys, and
more boys with or without Seiteki Ozuno.

"Some of your marks are bad enough that you don't need to start skipping
classes!" Lum points at her. "You'll be starting high school in a couple of
years. You better start buckling down or you won't get into a good
university."

"I don't want a good university!" Amora retorts. "I just want a guy with
lots of money and a big dick!"

Lum is not impressed by Amora's declaration and immediately does what any
mother does when her twelve-year-old daughter says or does something foul. She
washes her mouth out with soap. "I'm nogg ag Gosian, Mag!" Amora protests
with a mouthful of suds.

"A girl your age shouldn't even be thinking of such things!" Lum
admonishes her daughter. "You're hanging around Seiteki too much! I'd wish
you'd hang around Junba a little more. At least, she doesn't act like she's in
heat all the time!"

"Gack's gecause Junga's ag tomgoy!" Amora replies.

Then the doorbell rings. Ataru answers it. It is Junba dressed in a red
and blue leotard and running shoes. "Hello, Moroboshi-san," Junba smiles. "Is
Moroboshi-sensei in?"

"Yep, she's busy disciplining Amora," Ataru replies.

"What's she done now?" Junba asks.

"It's more of what she said than what she did," Ataru sighs. "She's been
hanging around Seiteki too much again."

Junba catches a glimpse of Amora trying to get the soap bubbles out of her
mouth as she removes her running shoes at the door. "Amora's eating soap?"
she asks.

"No, more like being punished for foul language," Ataru replies.

"Wow. My mom tried that once with me," Junba sighs. "And I found I liked
the taste of soap. So I ate the whole bar right there and then."

"Er...right," Ataru nods. *Shinobu really has to tell Junba's she's
adopted.*

"Oh, Aiotoga," Lum notices Junba finally. "I forgot you were coming
today."

Junba notices Lum is wearing her old sailor suit uniform. "Why are you
wearing a sailor suit, Moroboshi-sensei?" she asks. "I thought you graduated
high school long ago."

"I did," Lum remembers her sadness. "But I just heard a friend of mine
has died suddenly on Uru. It seemed right to do this."

"Oh, I didn't know," Junba blushes in shock. "I'm sorry. I say, you
still look like a teenager wearing that. I've never seen Mom wear her old
uniforms."

"Maybe she will someday," Ataru nods.

Junba sits in front of Lum. "If you want to cancel out tonight, I
understand."

"No, I could use a little something to take my mind off what's happened,"
Lum gets up. "I'll go put my leotard on."

Lum flies up the stairs to her room, removes her old school uniform and
puts on her tiger-striped leotard. As she does, she hears a voice.

"Ramuko!"

"What?" Lum asks aloud. "Who said that?"

"Ramuko!" the voice says again.

Lum looks around and sees no one around except her own reflection.

"RAMUKO!!!" the voice says once more...

...then Lum feels something hit her.

* * *

Ramuko wakes up at her desk and notices Onsen-sensei standing beside her
holding his bokan stick. She feels the back of her head. There is a welt
where no doubt Onsen's bokan stick struck her in a final attempt to awaken
her.

"Have a nice nap, Redetto-san?!" Onsen teases Ramuko.

"O-Onsen-sensei," Ramuko gulped. She looks at the clock and notices she
had slept into the start of third period. "Ohmigod! I slept through second
period!"

Onsen gives Ramuko another whack with the bokan stick, this time on top of
her head. "Out in the hall!" is his only command.

Ramuko finds herself standing in the hall. Her face is red with the
embarrassment of being told to stand in the hall and the snickers and whispers
other students said as she made her way out the door. Ramuko rarely slept in
class, and if she did, she made sure she woke up before the next class began.
Being caught, usually meant a demerit for a first offense, but Onsen's such a
hardliner, he'll probably call my parents immediately after class!

She hears the bell ring and sees the door open. It is one of the other
students. Momoe her name is. "Onsen-sensei wants to see you now," Momoe
says.

Ramuko reluctantly enters the room. She sees Onsen at his desk as the
other students prepare themselves for lunch. Some leave immediately without
any concern for their classmate's problems, but more than a few stay to watch
the fireworks. Ramuko could feel her knees knocking as she walks up to Onsen.

"Redetto-san," Onsen begins slowly. "Sleeping through class means
failure! Don't you know that if you sleep four hours, you'll pass?"

"S-sorry, sir," Ramuko nervously replies. "I won't let it happen again."

"See that it doesn't," Onsen gathers his books and papers and prepares to
leave. "I won't call your parents THIS time, but next time I will. For now,
you have one demerit on your behavioral grade."

Onsen then leaves. Once he is gone, all the remaining students give
Ramuko a collective "OOOO!!!!" Ramuko notices one of them is Shinobu Miyaki.
"You're lucky, Mountain-Butt," Shinobu snorts. "The last time I slept during
Onsen-sensei's class, he called my parents. I got shit from them when I got
home."

"You have my sympathy, Shinobu," Ramuko replies.

"I don't need it," Shinobu lifts her nose in the air. "When we get old
enough, Ataru-kun and I are going to run away together and get married in
Okinawa! Then we won't have to worry about Onsen-sensei or demerits or YOU,
Mountain-Butt!"

Shinobu then walks out of room. Ramuko looks upset. Shinobu always seems
to enjoy putting her down. But lately in "TOA," her character and Lum have
been good friends. The real Shinobu has always been a snob and a bully. Worse
than even Mendou.

Ramuko forgets her anger and goes to her desk to eat her lunch. By now,
the whole class had left to eat lunch wherever they could around the school.
Ramuko, like she has been since she came to this school, is totally alone. The
silence bites into her severely.

"I wish my life really was like Lum's," Ramuko sadly bites into a
sandwich. "I want to be popular. I want friends who like me like they like a
member of a family, not a leper. I want a social life which would be the envy
of everyone." Tearfully, she bites into another sandwich and loses herself in
a daydream...

* * *

Lum regains herself. "Why am I having these visions?" she snorts. "I
must be letting Mara's death get me down. I'd better get a hold of myself, or
next I'll actually THINK I'm that poor girl."

Lum goes down to the main floor where Junba waits with Ataru and Amora.
"It certainly took you long enough," Ataru comments. "It usually doesn't take
you long to change."

"I...had a lot on my mind," Lum replies, then turns to Junba. "Are you
ready, Junba?"

"Yeah," Junba nods as she stands up.

They both go outside to warm up. Lum looks at Junba and admires her
developing body. She looked just like Benten when she was the same age. "So,
how's school been?" Lum asks out of the blue.

"Oh, fine," Junba replies. "Dansei and I are keeping the bully population
down as much as possible. Although I wish we were a little bigger, then I
could get after the creep that's in Grade Six."

"Oh?" Lum asks. "What's his problem?"

"He's sixteen and built like a sumo wrestler," Junba replies. "It takes
all Dansei and I've got to put him down...even with the weird mental powers
I've been developing lately. He's so relentless. Luckily, he'll be gone after
this year. When you're sixteen, you go to high school, no matter what grade
you're in."

"How lucky!" Lum comments. "What about those powers you've got?"

"Well, I'm not too sure about them," Junba replies. "I can't control them
very well. Sometimes I can fry someone's brain when I don't want to use it,
or sometimes it won't work when I do want to use it. That can be a problem
during a fight. A few days ago, I nearly fried a teacher's brain when he woke
me up after I fell asleep in class."

"Well, try to keep in control for me," Lum replies. "Speaking of sumo,
let's do some."

"Okay," Junba nods.

The two young women get into a set position for sumo before attacking each
other to try and push the other off their feet. At first, the fight is even,
but then Lum begins to use her greater weight, strength and size to her
advantage. Junba manages to stay on her feet, barely. "You do need to gain a
little weight," Lum says. "But, you're still growing, so it will come
naturally."

"T-thanks," Junba replies as she noticeably strains. "You're heavy,
Moroboshi-sensei."

"Just be glad I don't use my powers," Lum replies without showing much
strain.

"I forgot...to mention..." Junba pants as Lum nearly doubles her up
backwards, "...when I'm under...stress, I...lose control...of my powers..."

Before Lum can do anything, Junba loses it.

Even though Lum now has Sagussan mental powers and training, she is
unprepared for the sudden mental zap she gets from Junba. It is enough to send
her to the ground unconscious.

"Moroboshi-sensei!" Junba looks horrified over what she has just done to
her...

* * *

Ramuko recovers after falling off her chair. "Why did I fall off my
chair?" she asks herself then notices someone laying on her desk.

She is a beautiful young woman with long, green hair and two horns on her
head, and wearing a tiger-striped leotard. Ramuko looks at her and wonders why
she looks so familiar. "She's...Lum?" Ramuko asks. "But, she's a character
of mine...isn't she?"

Lum wakes up. "Where am I?" she asks immediately before she notices her
overweight doppelganger. "Y-you're me...sort of."

"I could say the same thing," Ramuko replies. "I'm Ramuko Redetto."

"I'm Lum Moroboshi," Lum replies as she realizes she is in some sort of
dreamworld. Or is she? Lum looks around. The classroom certainly feels and
looks real. She could hear the monotonous droning of the other classmates
outside, so that could not be faked. Then there is the overweight girl with
the Terran version of her maiden name. Lum touches her and sees she is as real
as anything else in this room. "If you're me, then who am I?" Lum asks.

"To me," Ramuko shows Lum one of her drawings. "You're a character in one
of my stories."

Lum looks at the drawing. The likeness is unmistakable. It is she. But,
how? Did the mental zap Junba had given her somehow send her to an alternate
dimension? Perhaps...but had she not actually dreamed about Ramuko twice
before that happened? Lum is totally confused...even more so when Benten and
Nassur had taken over her body during the Skelad Incident. "But, I'm real,"
Lum checks herself and finds she is real. "I just remember playing sumo with
Junba, when she accidentally zapped me with one of her developing psychic
powers."

"Junba Miyaki," Ramuko hums. "Nassur and Benten's first child who was
adopted by Shinobu Miyaki."

Lum is surprised. Only she and her friends knew the truth about Junba's
origins. This girl knew everything without even having to think about it.
"You know her?"

"I developed her," Ramuko smiles. "Did you know I first wanted her to
treat you as an enemy?"

"No."

"In my first draft, Junba would have been six years old when Nassur and
Benten disappeared," Ramuko explains. "She would have blamed you for it. But,
the current story works better."

"Well, Junba likes me," Lum replies. "But, how did I get here?"

"All I know I was just sitting here eating my lunch when you landed on my
desk," Ramuko explains. "You literally popped out of the air."

"This is weird," Lum sighs.

Then the door to the classroom bursts open and a group of classmates rush
in after eating and socializing. "I think it just got weirder," Ramuko sighs.

It does not take long for everyone coming into the room to notice Lum and
the fact she is Oni wearing a tiger-striped leotard. In fact, among the first
to notice is Ataru's friends, Megane, Chibi, Kakugari and Paama. "It's a
chick!" Chibi gulps first.

"No, it's a babe!" Perm adds.

"A babe of a babe!" Kakugari adds.

"Why does she have green hair and horns?" Megane notices Lum's obvious
genetic differences. "Doesn't she look familiar?"

Mendou notices Lum as well. "She is the most beautiful woman I've ever
seen," he says. "But, of what family is she? Will Mumsy or Daddy approve?"

Shinobu and Ataru then enter and fight through the crowd. "Hey, punks,
get outta the way!" Ataru punches someone before they notice Lum there. "WHOA!
WHATTA BABE?!!"

"Darling?" Lum notices Ataru immediately. "Are you here, too?" Then she
remembers this is not her Darling. "Oh, I forgot, you have a mustache now."

"This girl seems to know you," Shinobu looks immediately jealous at her
boyfriend.

"Hey, I've never had a mustache," Ataru looks innocent. "But, I could
grow one if the school rules let me."

Shinobu looks at Lum closely. "Who are you?" she demands.

"I'm Lum," Lum introduces herself but does not use her married name.

Shinobu notices Lum looks a little familiar then looks at Ramuko. "You
look like Mountain-Butt!" she says, causing Lum to faint. "But, you can't be!
You're not a blimp!"

*What do I do?* Ramuko thinks. *How do I explain her?!* "She's my
younger sister," she immediately intercedes. "She was just visiting me between
classes."

"Sister?" Shinobu does not look impressed. "Why does she have green hair
and horns?"

"She's just coming from a school play," Ramuko explains.

"I-I'm playing an Oni from another planet," Lum picks up on the
conversation.

"What a weird accent she has," Mendou notes. "Mumsy would not like
someone who sounds so foreign."

"She's been going to school in Osaka," Ramuko lies to everyone. "She's
picked up part of the accent." She then tries to hustle her out of the class.
"Come, Lum, I'll show you more of the school."

"S-sure," Lum allows herself to be removed from the classroom.

"Whoa," Ryuunosuke notices. "I didn't even know Ramuko had a sister."

"If I had a sister like Mountain-Butt," Shinobu snorts, "...I'd move to
Osaka, too."

Ramuko leads Lum outside to the sports field. Ignoring the catcalls she
hears, Lum notices her memories of Tomobiki High School and this Tomobiki High
School are similar but not the same. But, she makes notice of it for future
reference.

"There's gotta be a way to get you back," Ramuko says. "You can't exist
here...because you're NOT supposed to exist here."

"I know," Lum nods. "I'm a wife and a teacher...shit, Mara's funeral is
in a few days. I want to attend it..."

"Who's going to a funeral?" someone says as she walks up to them. It is
Benten Shigaten. Now wearing her school uniform, Benten looks confused when
she sees Lum. "Who's this...this...Oni-girl?" she immediately asks.

Lum has a different reaction to Benten. "B-Benten?" Lum feels a tsunami
wave of sadness welling up within her. "Is it really you?"

Before Benten can reply, Lum hugs her. "I never thought I'd see you again
in this life!" Lum sobs.

"I've never even SEEN you before in any life!" Benten tries to get free.
"Leggo, you Oni!"

"You should see your daughter," Lum ignores the comment. "She's the
splitting image of you!"

"I don't HAVE a daughter!" Benten retorts.

*I don't believe it!* Ramuko looks shocked by what Lum is doing. Lum was
good friends with her Benten, but she disappeared in her stories. *I didn't
think she would react this way.*

Then it gets worse. Coach Natsusuru arrives. "What's this?" he looks
upon the two with an odd look on his face. "Isn't Setsubun long over?!"

"Nassur-chan!" Lum looks surprised to see the Coach wearing a T-shirt and
sweat pants, not his usual hunter's uniform. "It's you, too! I've missed
you!"

"Do I know you, Miss?" Natsusuru immediately puts his foot up immediately
to stop Lum face-first. "Who's Nassur?"

"I'm sorry, Natsusuru-sensei," Ramuko intervenes on Lum's behalf. "My
younger sister is an actress and was getting too much into her role."

"Don't let her off your leash," the Coach mutters before he leaves.

"Why does Nassur not recognize me?" Lum looks heartbroken.

"Because that's not YOUR Nassur," then she points to Benten. "Just like
she's not YOUR Benten."

"She's not?" Lum looks confused.

"Will someone explain just what the fuck's going here?!" Benten yells.

"I wish I knew," Ramuko shrugs.

"Me, too," Lum adds.

"You do look like sisters," Benten looks over Lum then touches her horns.
"But, why are you wearing those fake horns for? Like Coach said, Setsubun is
long over!"

"Please don't..." Lum asks.

Benten ignores Lum's pleas and touches Lum's horns. Then she immediately
feels like they are not some cheap fakery but as real as anything else in this
world. "Those horns..." Benten looks scared. "They're real! EYYAAAAA!!!!
She really is an Oni!" Benten yells.

"She's found out the truth," Ramuko sighs.

"Your sister's an Oni?" Benten gulps, not knowing if she should start
throwing beans at her or faint or both.

"It's kind of hard to explain," Ramuko replies, trying to keep Benten from
freaking out again. "Lum isn't my sister, she's a character I created for a
manga."

"If that's true," Benten does not look convinced much. "W-why is she
here? Why doesn't she stay in the manga like she supposed to?"

"Because something happened in my world which brought me into this world,"
Lum explains.

"Oh, great," Benten does not know what to think. "Things like this happen
all the time! Manga characters pop out of their strips constantly. This
time, it's her. Next time, it'll be 'Tetsuwan Atom'."

"I don't think she believes us," Ramuko muses.

"Look, Ramuko," Benten starts to back away. "But, if this is some sort of
joke, leave me out of it! In fact, stay away from me...period!"

"But..." Ramuko tries to explain, but Benten immediately runs away to the
school.

"I could fly up to her and make her understand," Lum volunteers.

"Not even the Buddha could get Benten to understand what's happened,"
Ramuko sighs. "I'm not even sure I understand what's happened."

"Don't look at me," Lum humphs. "I don't understand what happened either.
But, let's find someone who does!"

The two versions of Lum try the nurse's station where Sakura Sakurambou is
on duty. Sakura is as beautiful as ever, but Lum senses there is a coldness
about her...as if she truly detests just about every student in the school.
"She's a character of one of your manga stories?" Sakura looks surprised when
first asked. "Are you sure she's not just a mental case?"

"I'm NOT a mental case!" Lum replies looking rather insulted. In her
world, Sakura might be a little cold but she at least shows signs of being
efficient, especially when she became the school's principal. This version of
Sakura clearly does not like her job and probably will quit when she marries
Tsubame. "Feel my horns!" Lum points to her horns.

"They feel real," Sakura says as she does so. "But, that does not mean
they are real. They could be glued on or held on with some sort of head
brace."

"What about the hair?" Lum holds out her hair. "How many people around
here have green hair?"

"You could have dyed it," Sakura counters.

"There's one more thing to prove, Lum," Ramuko replies.

"Of course," Lum says then flies in the air and hovers there with all the
ease of someone who has done it all her life.

Sakura looks open-mouthed with shock upon seeing Lum flying. "You're
flying and can hover?" the school nurse gasps. "Impossible! There must be
wires doing this! This must be some kind of joke someone's playing on me!"

"There are no wires," Lum replies. "And this is real, too!"

Lum fires a lightning blast which incinerates a chair. Sakura is even
more shock by what Lum has done. "There, convinced?" Lum says after landing.

"You can throw lightning and fly?" Sakura gasps as she tries to
rationalize all of this. "But no human being can do that!"

"That's another thing," Lum adds. "I'm not human. I'm Oni-Urusian with
Sagussan improvements."

"You are?" Sakura looks confused as to what to do next. "Thanks for
clarifying it for me!"

"Look, Sakura-sensei," Ramuko butts in. "Lum only wants to return to her
world, in a parallel dimension, I think."

"That's right," Lum nods in agreement. "In my world, you're a Shinto
priestess with lots of magical power. Are you the same here?"

"Yes," Sakura nods. "But, I'm just a priestess and a nurse. I'm not a
member of the Starship 'Enterprise!'"

"Do you know someone who can send me back?" Lum asks.

"I don't know of anyone who could," Sakura replies. "Shit, I don't even
know if you can go back!"

"I see," Ramuko nods in understanding. "I'll try someone else. Sorry for
the trouble. We're leaving."

After leaving the nurse's station, Lum and Ramuko walk together down the
hall. "I thought Sakura-sensei would be able to help us, Lum-chan," Ramuko
sighs. "But, I overestimated her."

"Well, there's also Cherry," Lum blanches.

"That old nut," Ramuko groans. "He's just an old wandering monk who can't
find anything but his next meal."

"I agree," Lum nods. "But, he maybe our only hope."

"Hey, you two!" Onsen-sensei yells from one of the other classrooms.
"You!" he points to Lum's leotard. "That's not a school uniform! Go to the
office immediately!"

"But, I'm NOT a student!"

"Oh, an unauthorized visitor, eh?" Onsen begins to walk up toward Lum with
his ever-present bokan stick in hand. "All visitors are to register at the
office before they are allowed on campus."

"Sorry, Sensei," Ramuko bows low. "She just...dropped
in....unexpectedly."

"Then go register her NOW!" Onsen responses and nearly brains Ramuko with
his bokan stick.

Lum is upset by the abuse this version of Onsen has committed. Sure,
Lum's version of Onsen-sensei was strict but he was never abusive like this
psycho. "There's no need for the bokan stick!" Lum snarls as she zaps him.

Ramuko is shocked by what happened. Onsen himself is just as surprised by
what happened but is too out of it to care. "Lum, that was a teacher!" Ramuko
admonishes Lum for using her lightning powers.

"That psycho?!" Lum snorts as she stomps away. "My Onsen-sensei might
have been a little strict with the guys, but he would make a great Mikado
Marine!"

"I know," Ramuko replies. "But, he'll be even angrier when he wakes
up...AND I'll be blamed for it."

"I don't think so," Lum replies. "If he's like any bullies I've known,
he'll keep his distance."

"I hope," Ramuko sighs, then hears the school bell ring. "Still, you
better hide now. We'll look for Cherry after school."

"I'll wait in the trees," Lum nods before flying out of the window.

Moments later, Ramuko barely makes it back before the first period after
lunch begins. Luckily, the teacher is Hanawa-sensei, someone who still gives
his students a little latitude in behaviour. Lum meanwhile hides in the trees
on school property wondering what to do next.

Lum wonders as she awaits the final bell to ring. *Can I get back to my
proper time? Or will I be stuck here for the rest of my life? Oh! Darling
must be so upset over what happened! And I'll miss Mara's funeral, too!* "All
I want to do was to say goodbye to Mara!!" Lum yells aloud.

"Why you would want to say goodbye to me for?" a girl's voice replies from
the ground.

Lum looks down and sees an older teenager, about a year or so older than
Ramuko standing there wearing a white T-shirt and blue gym shorts. She had
removed her running shoes and socks and is walking around barefoot. Her black
hair was short, cut in an almost boyish style, but in some way it made her look
more feminine and beautiful than most other girls in the school. She was slim,
probably average in development. "Who are you?" Lum asks the girl.

"Mara," the girl replies. "Mara Buson."

"Mara...Buson?" Lum gulps. *Could it be I'm meeting with Mara's
dimensional counterpart?* Lum thinks. Lum floats down from the tree to get a
better look at Mara. "I know you," Lum then says, before adding, "...sort
of."

Mara gives her a puzzled look. "What do you mean by that?" she manages to
spit out. "I've never even seen you before, you...you Oni!"

"I'm a friend of Ramuko Redetto," Lum tries to explain, but feels totally
inept in doing so.

"Ramuko...Redetto?" Mara tries to remember the name.

"You know her?" Lum asks anxiously.

"Nope," Mara shrugs.

Lum falls over in surprise. "She's a heavyset girl in the junior class,"
Lum tries to describe her. "Sort of looks like me, but without the green hair,
horns, and more blubber on the hips. She writes and draws manga."

"I've probably seen her in the yearbook," Mara explains. "But, I've never
met her. I'm in the senior class."

"My Mara was older, too," Lum replies. "But, she died earlier today."
Lum looks sad.

"I'm sorry to hear that," she replies. "But, I'm not your Mara...I
think."

They then hear the chimes of the school bell telling the students and
staff that another period has ended and a new one begins. "You probably have
to go to your next class," Lum replies. "I won't keep you."

"No," Mara does not move away from her. "My next class is only a library
period. I won't be missed. Besides, you look like you need a friend right
now."

"Maybe I do," Lum replies, then points to herself. "You're not afraid of
me?"

"No," Mara shakes her head. "There's something that I can't describe, but
somehow I trust you."

"Outside of Ramuko," Lum sighs, "You're the first person around her to say
that."

"So, who are you?"

"Lum Moroboshi."

"Pleased to meet you," Mara smiles. "Let's find somewhere to hide. We
wouldn't want to be discovered by one of the truant officers."

"Can you climb a tree?" Lum points to the tree she had just came out of.

"Of course!"

Minutes later, Mara and Lum climb to a nearby strong branch and sit there
talking. There, Lum spills out her problem. The Oni girl is unsure if Mara
believed a word of what she told her, but she never once looked like she wanted
to abandon her. In fact, she looks even more interested with each sentence
Lum spoke.

"I've always wondered what characters were like in the stories we write
about them," Mara quips. "Now, I know."

"To me, this is some sort of dream I've created in my mind through the
grief over my Mara's death," Lum counters. "Maybe you're the story world and
I'm the reality?"

"But, then what is reality?" Mara replies. "Maybe we're both right or
both wrong. Or maybe reality doesn't exist except in our own minds."

"I can't comment on," Lum replies. "This conversation is getting really
heavy."

And speaking of heavy, the school bell rings again. "That's the final
bell," Mara replies. "We can go home now."

Moments later, Ramuko shows up and discovers Lum with Mara. "Who are
you?" Ramuko asks immediately upon seeing her.

"I'm Mara Buson," Mara introduces herself to Ramuko. "I take it you're
Ramuko Redetto. Jeez, you both look like sisters, despite the differences in
hair colour and body weight."

"That's right," Ramuko replies. "You're a senior, aren't you?"

"That's right," Mara nods. "But, call me 'Mara', forget the 'sempai'. I
never understood why someone should be given so much respect just because
they're older."

"Sure," Ramuko nods.

"Lum's been telling me about your problem," Mara reports.

"Yeah," Ramuko nods and smiles weakly. "It seems I'm always having
problems around here."

"Want some help in getting Lum back to her reality?" Mara then asks.

"I don't even know where to begin," Ramuko sighs.

"Why don't we go to your home, Ramuko?" Lum intercedes. "Then see what we
can find in your stories."

"I'll come with you," Mara smiles. "Wait here until I'll get my uniform
from the change room."

"What about your parents?" Ramuko looks anxious. "Won't they be upset if
you're late?"

"Nah," Mara snorts. "My parents are dead. I've lived alone since I was
sixteen. I work part-time under an assumed name."

"Really?" Lum nods. "My Mara had a family but she was an only child."

"Well, parents are overrated," Mara snorts. "After they give birth to you
and raise you to a teenager, they're fine. But as soon as you get into the
teen years, it's like an undeclared war. My mom seemed to act like I was a
rival to my dad's affections...that's whenever my dad paid attention to me. It
wasn't often. To both of them, I seemed to be a mistake after a night of
fucking! My foster parents were just the same...I was just an inconvenience to
them."

"I'm sorry you feel that way," Lum looks interested. "My parents were
always kind to me, even when I did misbehave."

"You're lucky, Lum," Mara replies. "Probably luckier than most people I
know."

Lum and Ramuko then follow Mara into the change room. There, Mara takes
her school uniform, and stuffs the sailor suit into her pack before she moved
to her locker to pick up her books and homework assignments. Oddly, Mara never
changed into her uniform or even put on her shoes and socks...very unusual for
a Japanese girl.

"We can wait for you to change, Mara," Ramuko offers.

"Don't worry about it," Mara shrugs. "I hate wearing uniforms. Take my
advice. Don't let anyone put a uniform on you. Those who do are anal
retentives who have nothing better to do but make up rules."

"I see," Ramuko nods.

As they walk to the Redetto house, Lum thinks about this dimension's
version of Mara. She is very radical in her views and a loner. But, even as a
loner, she seems to be at peace with herself...even more so than any of the
other students and teachers who populate Tomobiki High School in this
dimension. Yet, in that peace, there seems to be something that Mara is
looking for. Maybe she is not such a rebel after all.

* * *

Entering the Redetto household was something rememberable for Lum.
Ramuko's mom could not believe that Lum, a character from one of her daughter's
manga stories actually does exist and is visiting her house. Lum, too, was
shocked over the fact that her mother looks almost the same in this dimension
as she did in her own, but without the green hair and the horns.

After some explanations were made, Ramuko brought out her manga series for
Lum to read. It was huge...hundreds of pages and all of them more accurate
than even Lum's own memories. It was like watching a very long biography with
herself as the subject.

She sees the events of the First Tag Race. Her moving to Tomobiki and
later enrollment into Tomobiki High School with Ataru. She remembers the
various incidents involving Ataru and her alien friends as they visited. Then
the Second Tag Race, followed by the coming of Nassur and Mie, then the saikoo
jinseijitsu and finally the Sagussans. There were even stories about Reiko and
even one for the Skelad Incident.

"Wow!" Lum gasps over the length and breath of the series. "I've had a
busy life."

"It took me awhile to think of a lot of the stories," Ramuko sighs. "But,
I think it'll be a hit."

"So where am I in this saga?" Mara asks.

"In here," Ramuko points to her forehead. "I was just thinking about
having Lum attend a funeral when this whole mess occurred."

"I see," Mara sighs, then she gets an idea. "Maybe that can help.
Ramuko, start drawing the story."

"But why?" Lum asks. "How will drawing manga help me get back to my
dimension?"

"I don't know yet," Mara scratches the back of her head. "It's just a
hunch."

"It'll take time," Ramuko mutters. "The fastest I've ever done a story
has been a week."

"But part of the story has already been written," Lum gets with the
program. "That should take some of the time away."

"That's true," Ramuko nods. "All I have to do I think up a way to send
you home."

"We could at least try it," Mara shrugs.

Hours pass, and Ramuko continues to draw. With help from Lum, Ramuko gets
a perfect script for the first half of the story. After having some snacks
brought by Ramuko's mom, Lum and Mara look over the rough drafts.

"It looks good so far," Mara looks impressed. "I could never imagine
myself as an Oni."

"Well, you were in my dimension," Lum quips before noticing a new blank
page. "That brings us up to the present day, what next?"

"I wish I knew," Ramuko shrugs while eating a piece of cake. "My ideas
have dried up."

"Don't look at me," Lum shrugs while finishing her cup of tea. "I'm just
a character in your story."

"Let's brainstorm," Mara then adds.

"That's not a bad idea," Ramuko replies. "I'll start. If I was in Lum's
predicament, the first thing I would do is look for someone who could help me
get back to my dimension."

"But who in this dimension can do that?" Lum asks. "We tried
Sakura-sensei and she couldn't do anything."

"What about Cherry?" Ramuko asks.

"Who's Cherry?" Mara asks.

"He's that weird, old, wandering monk that hangs around the school down
the street," Ramuko reminds her sempai.

"Oh, that kook," Mara chuckles. "Is he really a monk? All he does is
molest young women."

"Perhaps," Lum sighs. "But in my dimension, he's worse!"

"I didn't think anybody could be worse than him," Mara replies.

"A lecher or not," Ramuko adds, "...he's the only lead we've got. Let's
try to find him."

* * *

Locating Cherry is easy. He is at his tent in an abandoned field close to
school, cooking his supper. Cherry is unusually short and homely. He appears
to be in his sixties; he could even be older. The monastic robes he wears
make him look like a cartoon of a real person.

"Sakurambou," Lum uses Cherry's monastic name, upon approaching the old
monk, "I need your help."

"Do I know you, child?" Cherry says, before he looks at Lum then notices
the Oni-girl's green hair and horns. "Y-you are an Oni?" he pales.

This version of Cherry is quicker than the one she met when she first came
to Earth. "That's right," Lum hums.

Cherry pulls out his wooden staff and gets ready to swing it at Lum.
"Stay away, Demon!" he snarls viciously, "...or I shall smite thee!"

"Sir, please," Ramuko intervenes. "We mean you no harm. We need your
help!"

Cherry cautiously lowers his staff and Lum relaxes. Although Lum could
fly out of the way of the staff or zap Cherry with her lightning, that would
not help things much. "Very well," Cherry replies. "But, I sense that she is
something evil. I shall be on my guard."

"Typical response," Lum sighs.

"I guess it is," Mara replies.

An hour later, inside the old monk's tent, Ramuko and Mara finally explain
Lum's existence to Cherry. At first, the old monk is unconvinced that what he
was hearing is true; He is positive that these girls were playing a trick on
an old man. But, hearing a consistent story and seeing evidence of Lum's
powers gradually convinced Cherry that what these girls are saying is true.
"So, she is from another dimension, eh?" the old monk scratches the back of his
bald head. "And she wishes to return there. Let me see the story you have
drawn so far."

"Sure," Ramuko produces her rough sketches from her pack. "Look."

After a few minutes, he gasps, "Amazing! Somehow, Lum's desire to see a
life which was less happy than her own caused this problem."

"What does that mean?" Mara asks. "Does this mean that WE don't exist but
Lum does?"

"Who knows?" Cherry shrugs. "What IS reality? The Buddha himself had yet
to discover that fact."

Lum sighs. If this got any heavier, it would be a sumo wrestler. "So,
how can I get back?"

"Do you really want to know?" Cherry asks grimly.

"Yes," Lum nods.

"Do you really, really want to know?" Cherry prods.

"Yes," Lum nods anxiously.

"I don't know!" Cherry announces.

After everyone faints, Lum is angry. "I had enough of that in my own
reality!" she snarls, before she gets up to leave. "I knew you wouldn't be any
help!"

"Wait," Cherry calls out. "You said that the daughter of a girl named
Shinobu Miyaki sent you here, didn't you?"

"Yeah," Lum replies.

"You must find her daughter in this dimension and make contact with her,"
Cherry replies. "She holds the key to getting you home."

"Are you crackers?" Ramuko steps in. "The only Shinobu Miyaki I know
doesn't have a daughter."

"Does she?" Cherry shrugs. "Well, you must wait until she has a
daughter."

"Wait?!!" Lum bares her fangs. "How long will that take?! Years? I want
to attend my Mara's funeral in three days. I want to be with MY family as
soon as possible. How can I wait for this!"

"This is stupid," Mara snorts. "Let's get out of here and go home."

"I agree," Ramuko sighs. "Even I couldn't have thought of something that
silly!"

* * *

Meanwhile, at a free clinic somewhere on the other side of Tomobiki,
Shinobu Miyaki is in the empty waiting room waiting anxiously for some word of
a personal nature. For the last couple months, she has missed periods, gained
weight, felt sick in the morning or at a drop of a hat and had cravings for
food she had never even liked before. Deep down, she knew what this means...so
she secretly came to this place to get verification. This clinic, as well as
being free, is of the "no-tell" variety. She wanted no one to know. She had
to obtain an abortion...before her parents and her boyfriend, Ataru could stop
her.

The nurse on duty confirms her worst fears...she is pregnant.

Now, all Hell will break loose!

* * *

Night comes to Tomobiki-cho and Mara returns to her home. Ramuko and her
family have supper with Lum. Lum had a hard time explaining herself to
Ramuko's father, who resembles her own father in both looks and temperament.

After supper was cleared away and Ramuko's homework assignments done, they
went to bed. Using a spare futon, Lum sleeps in living room...or attempts to
sleep. It has been awhile since she had slept without her husband...almost
before they were formally married. She felt alone, more so than any time since
this whole mess began. *Will I get home again?* Lum asks again repeatedly in
her mind. *Can I get home again? I bet Darling is breaking down doors trying
to find me.* She has visions of Ataru screaming at Noa on Sagussa, Hazel on
Home Base, Nokoko and Nicole back in Oshika or elsewhere trying to find her.
Finally, at almost three o'clock in the morning, Lum drifts off...

* * *

The alarm rings to wake everyone up the next morning. Ramuko's dad was
very quiet when he left for work. Despite his temper, Lum found him quite
friendly. He seemed ready to adopt her as a second daughter. Much like her
real father.

Once he left, Lum hears Ramuko's mother waking Ramuko up. It is then that
Lum decided to wake up as well. "You don't need to get up, Lum-san," Ramuko's
mother admonishes the Oni. "You don't have anywhere to go."

"I can't sit around feeling sorry for myself," Lum replies. "I have to
find a way to get back to my dimension. I don't want to become a burden for
you."

"How are you going to find a way back?" Ramuko asks as she begins
breakfast.

"Is there a phonebook around here?" Lum asks.

"By the phone," Ramuko's mother replies.

"Who are you going to phone?" Ramuko asks.

"I was thinking," Lum replies, "...if Cherry said that I should get in
contact with the daughter of Shinobu Miyaki to send me home, and your classmate
Shinobu Miyaki doesn't even have any kids yet, I'm going to phone every Miyaki
in the phonebook until I find a Shinobu Miyaki with a daughter."

"It's a long shot," Ramuko comments.

"I know," Lum sighs. "It's also my only shot."

"Good Luck," Ramuko replies. "You'll need it."

"Thanks, I think," Lum replies.

After getting cleaned up and dressed, Ramuko leaves for school. Lum
likewise gets cleaned up, but getting clean clothes was a difficult chore.
Ramuko's clothes are much too large for the slimmer, bustier Lum. Even a pair
of sweat pants could fit both of Lum's legs in one of the sweat pants'.
Luckily, Ramuko's mother was close enough to Lum's size that she could borrow
something to wear without looking like a bag lady. "Ramuko's bigger than I
thought she was," Lum mentions as she puts on a pair of stretch pants and a
T-shirt. "Her clothes make me look anorexic."

"Ramuko takes after her father in build, I'm afraid," Ramuko's mother
replies. "She's always been a chunky child."

"I was a little chubby as a child," Lum replies. "But, I slimmed down
when I hit puberty."

"Ramuko's been big most of her life," Ramuko's mom replies. "She'll never
look like you, even if she starved herself for weeks on end. But she's
accepted herself as she is, so I won't push it. Still, I would have liked to
have seen her be a beauty queen someday."

"On Ipraedos, she probably would be," Lum quips.

"Where's Ipraedos?" Ramuko's mom asks with a confused look on her face.

After dressing, Lum locates the phonebook and looks up all the people
named "Miyaki" in the area code. As Lum suspected, there were not many of them
and eliminating the address of Shinobu Miyaki and all the businesses named
"MIYAKI'S," she begins dialling each of the remaining numbers.

* * *

On the way to school, Ramuko Redetto runs across Ataru Moroboshi again
coming out of his house. With his customary "Good Morning," he continues on
his way to school, until Shinobu Miyaki appears. Both of them notice Shinobu
looking a little pale.. "Hey, Shinobu," Ataru greets his girlfriend. "What's
the matter? You sick or something?"

"Just a little nausea," Shinobu replies, as she looks at Ramuko. "Looking
at Mountain-Butt's face each morning makes me sick!"

*Bitch!* Ramuko thinks to herself. *How long have I put up with this shit
from her?!* Then she notices something about Shinobu. Usually she is rather
slim, but lately she has been getting a bit of a belly. *Maybe she's finally
beginning to look like me?*

The trio walk together until they come across a ramen shop just opening up
for the day. The smell of grease burning as the ovens are warmed up is
noticeable outside its front door.

It also sends Shinobu to the nearest garbage can to vomit.

"I couldn't help it," Shinobu gags as she wipes her mouth clean with a
tissue. "The smell of that burning grease made me want to throw up."

"You've been throwing up a lot lately," Ataru quips. "Yesterday, it was
at that Korean restaurant. The day before that, it was looking at the poster
for that animated Disney film. The day before that, when we had..."

"I get the idea!" Shinobu groans. "It's just some bug I've got. I'll be
over it in no time."

While Ataru did not clue in, Ramuko did. Shinobu is gaining weight,
throwing up or getting nauseated in the morning, then it clicks in. *Shinobu
IS pregnant! I've found Lum's way home!!*

* * *

Once at school, Ramuko visits Mara's home room as soon as she could to
tell her the news. "Your classmate Shinobu Miyaki's pregnant?" Mara gasps in
surprise. "How do you know?"

"By the way she's been acting lately," Ramuko replies. "She's been puking
like a dog and complaining of nausea. She's also starting to show."

"Are you sure she's not got the flu or food poisoning?" Mara asks.

"Let me show you," Ramuko replies.

Minutes later, Ramuko and Mara watch Shinobu sitting at her desk. Nearby
is Ataru Moroboshi talking to Megane. "She looks okay," Mara quips.

"Just watch," Ramuko shushes.

"Did you hear that there's a new flavour of popcorn now?" Ataru quips
loudly to Megane. "Sour cream and onion."

Ataru and Megane laugh at the joke, but Shinobu, being in earshot,
suddenly pales and rushes out the door. She nearly knocks over Mara and Ramuko
in her desperate attempt to escape. The two girls spot her tossing her
cookies in a nearby garbage can. "See what I mean?" Ramuko points out.

"Yep, she's pregnant," Mara quips. "But, how can we be sure that it's a
girl?"

"We have a fifty percent chance of being correct," Ramuko replies. "Let's
call Lum now and tell her the good news."

"Why?"

"Before Shinobu has an abortion or something."

* * *

Meanwhile, back at the Redetto home, Lum's long shot has missed the target
completely. Of the thirty people she called, none were named Shinobu or had
daughters named Shinobu. Even ones who did have daughters, most were not old
enough to have children. Some people she called were rude and slammed down the
receiver once Lum asked them if they had any daughters. "I guess I'll have to
wait," Lum groans. Then the phone rings. "Hello, Redetto residence," Lum
answers.

"Lum, this is Ramuko," Ramuko whispers into the receiver of the school
payphone. "I've got good news..."

"You think Shinobu's WHAT?!!" Lum looks hopeful. "I'll be right over!"
Lum hangs up and turns to Ramuko's mother. "Mrs. Redetto, I'm going to
Tomobiki High School now. There's been a promising lead."

Lum can barely contain her happiness enough to open a window to fly out
of. She almost flies into a couple of buildings on the way to the school.

* * *

Once at the school grounds, Lum finds Mara and Ramuko waiting there for
her. "It is true?" Lum asks anxiously. "Is she really pregnant?"

"Shinobu's going to see Nurse Sakura as we speak," Ramuko reports.

"Let's listen in," Mara adds.

The three girls then sneak into the bushes near the main window of the
nurse's station. "This is where my training from Nassur-chan comes in handy,"
Lum whispers.

Lum peeks in the window just enough to see some details. She could see
Sakura-sensei sitting on a chair talking to someone. It is Shinobu. The
window is open just enough to allow all three to hear what they are talking
about inside. "So, you now have confirmation?" Sakura asks Shinobu.

"I got word last night from that free clinic you told to me to go to
yesterday," Shinobu looks down on the floor almost ashamed. "I'm going to have
a baby...a girl."

Ramuko and Mara nearly cheer loudly when they hear the "girl." Luckily,
they remember that a cheer will ruin their cover. "Well?" Sakura asks. "Are
you going to keep her?"

"I don't know," Shinobu replies. "I want to marry the father, but I don't
want to shame my family or force the father into becoming a husband too
soon."

"I see," Sakura nods with understanding then hands her a business card.
"Here's an address of an abortion doctor I know of who tells nothing to
parents. You can come in anytime and you'll be done as an outpatient. I can
give you a note so that you won't be charged for the unexplained absence on
your record."

"Thank you," Shinobu nods and reluctantly takes the card.

"I suggest you hurry," Sakura comments. "You're already beginning to
show. Plus, you say you're suffering from constant morning sickness. Even a
dolt like Ataru Moroboshi will soon pick up on your condition and try to make
his escape."

"I'll make my decision soon," Shinobu says, then leaves.

Lum could not believe it. In her dimension, abortion is common and she
supports it because the birth control pill is illegal in Japan, but this is
important. For Lum to get back home, this child must live long enough for her
to make contact with her. Shinobu MUST have this child. "It's true," Lum
turns to Ramuko and Mara. "Shinobu's pregnant but Sakura-sensei is pressuring
her into having an abortion. Are you sure that she's a Shinto priestess?"

"That's not unusual for our Sakura-sensei," Ramuko replies. "She's always
recommending abortions for girls who get pregnant."

"The only reason she does it is that the Japanese government won't allow
women to have the Pill," Mara adds with a snort.

"Well, I can't change that," Lum shrugs. "But, we have to get Shinobu to
put off having an abortion until after I get home."

"How do we do that?" Mara asks.

"I've got a plan," Lum motions both girls to move closer to her so she can
whisper into their ears.

* * *

The final bell ends and a rush of students burst through the open front
doors of the school. Among the last of them is Shinobu Miyaki. Unlike her
schoolmates, Shinobu walks as slowly as she can after putting on her outdoor
shoes, as if pondering some world-shaking event in her mind. She avoided Ataru
and his gang as much as possible. Luckily, Ataru had a volleyball game to
attend at a rival school. *Good,* she thinks. *I didn't need him tagging
along for what I'm about to do.*

All through the rest of the school day, Shinobu pondered the fate of her
growing baby. Her parents are Roman Catholics, not Buddhists or Shintoists, so
abortion is considered a sin by the Pope...but then again ALL birth control
and alternative birthing methods are considered sinful by Pope John Paul II.
Even giving birth out of wedlock is a sin...one of the biggest in the Church.

Shinobu looks at her ballooning waist. *Why did I have to get pregnant
now? I had sex with Ataru only a couple of times since we began going steady.
I even jumped up and down on the floor immediately after intercourse like they
say to, so I wouldn't get pregnant. But, that didn't work. I'm going to be a
mother soon, if I don't have that abortion. I could be kicked out of the
house.*

"Miyaki-san," Mara calls to Shinobu after coming out of nowhere.

"Who are you?" Shinobu looks startled by Mara's sudden appearance.

"I'm Mara Buson," Mara introduces herself to Shinobu. "I'm a senior. I
want to talk to you about something."

"What?"

"I know you're pregnant."

Shinobu looks around for anyone listening in on the conversation.
Luckily, there is no one around. Quickly, Shinobu rushes the senior to the
other side of the building. "Y-you know...?" Shinobu gulps nervously.

"Yes," Mara replies. "I was...just outside of the nurse's station when I
overheard your conversation with Sakura-sensei."

"I see," Shinobu sighs. "Don't worry. I'm going to have an abortion
tonight. And there's NOTHING you can say to make me change my mind, Sempai!"

"I don't plan to," Mara replies. "But, someone needs to talk with your
baby now."

"TALK with my baby?" Shinobu looks confused...but before she can continue
with her inquiry, she is knocked unconscious with a light tap on both sides of
her head from Lum's nimble fingers.

"Tcha!" Lum declares. "Just a little trick I learned from Noa-chan. A
tap on either side of the head, knocks out a person for a few minutes."

"Neat," Ramuko smiles. "So where do we go with her?"

"Let's take her to my house," Mara replies. "We won't have any problems
there."

* * *

It was not easy to move the unconscious Shinobu to Mara's house. Shinobu
is heavy and there were more than a few curious on-lookers watching them carry
their pregnant schoolmate down the street. Also, Lum herself drew a few stares
as well as she hovered behind them. But finally, the trio of girls got
Shinobu to Mara's apartment. The apartment house Mara lives in looks like the
Ikkoku Apartments from "Maison Ikkoku," but with fewer people living there.
"This is where you live?" Ramuko asks.

"Well, it's clean and it's cheap," Mara replies. "It's also reasonably
safe, too. Let's take Sleeping Beauty here before the Manager sees us."

Mara's apartment is #4 and on the second floor. It is a small room with a
closet, a small stove, a desk, a bureau with a television on top being the
only furnishings. "Be it ever so humble...," Mara mentions as they rush inside
and place Shinobu gently on the floor.

Soon after Shinobu is laid out on the floor, she begins to wake up. As
one can imagine, she is NOT amused being kidnapped by Mara, Lum, and Ramuko.
"What's going on here?!" she demands immediately. "Why are you here,
Mountain-Butt? What's your weird sister doing here, too?"

"We're not here to hurt you, Shinobu," Lum hovers over Shinobu. "I only
want to make contact with your baby, so I can go home."

"How do you propose to do that?" Shinobu asks. "The baby's still in my
gut!"

"I have other ways to making contact with people besides just using my
lips, you know," Lum looks serious. "This will only take a few minutes, then
you can go have your abortion afterwards, if you want to. If it works, you'll
never see me again."

"Somehow, I don't think so," Shinobu snorts. "Ramuko, is your weirdness
catching? First, you, then your sister, now this sempai. Who's next?
Ataru?"

"Please, Shinobu," Ramuko pleads. "This is important! Without making
contact with your baby, Lum can't go home to her dimension! And since you want
to kill her, we have to do it now!"

"I knew getting pregnant was going to be a pain in the butt!" Shinobu
sighs. "Mountain-Butt, you'll pay for this next time were at school. You
think I've been mean to you before, just you wait until this is over! I'll
kick your fat ass all over the place!"

"THAT'S ENOUGH!!!!" Lum looks ready to explode in anger and lightning.
"Now, listen, you bitch!" Lum grabs Shinobu by her uniform blouse. "In my
reality, Shinobu Miyaki is a decent, kind, caring person whom I would give my
life for. You're a whiny little brat who would piss on someone's back if it
meant you would look better in everyone else's eyes!! If you weren't so
important in getting me home, I'd zap you so hard, you'd never wake up in this
world again! I want to get to MY reality, where the people at least ACT with
SOME sense of common decency MOST of the time!!!"

Shinobu relents. "Okay," Shinobu replies. "Do it! Just do it and get
out of my sight! This baby's history now anyway! You're just keeping it alive
a little longer."

"Fine," Lum nods...then she remembers something.

"What is it?" Mara asks.

"Is something wrong?" Ramuko asks.

"I just remembered something," Lum gasps. "HOW do I make mental contact
with a Terran baby in a Terran womb?"

Everyone faints. "I thought you'd know how!" Mara replies.

"I know how to talk to a Vosian baby in the womb," Lum replies. "But, a
Terran baby's different."

"Don't look at me," Ramuko replies. "I'm out of ideas."

"Don't look at me, neither!" Shinobu pipes up. "I don't know anything
about what you're all yakking about!"

"Shut up!" Lum bares her fangs at Shinobu. "I've got to think!" Lum
pauses for a moment, then gets a plan. "I've got it!"

"You do?" Mara asks. "Then do it!"

"You don't have to tell me twice," Lum replies, then places her hand on
the side of Shinobu's face.

"What are you doing?" Shinobu protests. "Why are you touching MY face
for?"

"Shaddap!" Lum replies. "I need to concentrate!"

Too intimidated to refuse, Shinobu shuts up. But one look in the pregnant
teen's eyes show that she does not like what these three girls are forcing her
to do. *Mountain-Butt's sister's even weirder than she is!* Shinobu thinks to
herself. *Why does all of this stuff happen to me?!*

Then the world around Shinobu and Lum seems to wink out like an old light
bulb. It is replaced with some sort of endless limbo. In this limbo, there
is no definition of up, down or even anything approaching a horizon...just an
endless sea of yellowish white.

Where are we? Shinobu demands.

Where your baby is, Lum replies.

Shinobu looks shocked for a moment before she speaks again. We're in my
womb? she gulps as she tries to get a grasp on what is going on.

Sort of, Lum replies. Our MENTAL selves are here. Our physical
selves are still in Mara's apartment.

Shinobu notices Lum is busy looking around for something. What are you
looking for? she asks.

Your baby, Lum replies, before she notices a shining star nearby.
There she is! Lum smiles as she points to it. Let's go!

Lum grabs Shinobu by her uniform blouse and drags her towards the shining
star. Why do I have to go too? Shinobu protests.

Because I said so! Lum replies.

Flying towards the star did not seem to take as long as Lum originally
thought. As the two girls neared it, they both notices the foetus inside the
star. The fetus is perfectly formed and looked to be about the size of a car.
Lum and Shinobu "land" close enough to her to make some sort of contact with
it. That's my baby? Shinobu asks in awe.

Yep, Lum nods. In my reality, this baby is a hybrid of two alien
races and YOU adopted her.

I adopted an alien child? Shinobu blanches. Why?

Because you were in love with her father, Lum replies.

Who...are...you? a booming female voice cuts off Shinobu's reply.

My name is Lum Moroboshi, Lum replies. I came here to ask a favour
of you.

What...can...I...do? I...am...still...un-...born.

In this world, you're just being born, Lum replies. On my world,
you're almost a teenager. I must get in contact with her through you so I can
be go home.

I...see. Be-...fore...you...go...I...have...a...ques-...tion.

Which is? Lum asks.

Why...does...Ma-...ma...want...to...kill...me?

What kind of question is that?!! Shinobu snarls defensively. I may
be your mother, but you're just a fetus!!

If...you...hate...me...so...then...why...create...me?

Shinobu looks nervous as she ponders an answer. I don't hate you, she
tries to reply. But, please understand, I can't have a child now. I'm only
a teenager with my whole life in front of me. If I have a baby now, I'll be
cutting off my life.

I...want...to...live...too. I...am...not...damaged. I...am...healthy.
I...want...to...live.

S-so do I... Shinobu replies.

Having second thoughts about having an abortion? Lum asks. I
understand having abortions in the case of the fetus being deformed or too sick
to survive, but not as an alternative to birth control.

But what can I do? Shinobu looks sad. If I have this baby, I'll
shame myself and my family. Ataru will leave me for sure. They'll kick me out
of school!

Why not give the baby up for adoption? Lum asks. The baby can live
and there will be no shame to anyone. And if your version of Darling is such a
jerk as to run away from the woman whom he got pregnant, you're better off
without him.

I'll do it, Shinobu replies.

Thank...you...Ma-...ma, the unborn replies.
Lum...you...may...make...con-...tact...your...ver-...sion...of...me...now.

You don't have to tell me twice, Lum replies as she flies up to the
image's head, touching her forehead with her hands...

* * *

...and wakes up back in her backyard with a very concerned Junba Miyaki
looking over her and Ataru Moroboshi, looking equally as anxious, behind her.
"Aunt Lum," Junba looks relieved to see her tutor's eyes open and look at her.
"I'm so glad you're okay!"

"You were out for almost five minutes!" Ataru adds. "I thought you were
really hurt."

"I guess Junba has stronger psychic powers than I first thought," Lum
sighs. "She sent me into an alternate dimension with that psychic zap she gave
me."

"I'm so sorry, Moroboshi-sensei," Junba looks guilty. "I guess I
should've warned you sooner about that."

"No," Lum smiles. "I shouldn't have provoked you."

After Lum gets cleaned up, she tells her story to her family and Junba.
"A universe where you're overweight and you write a series called 'Those
Obnoxious Aliens?!'" Ataru gasps.

"Where Dad is still dating Shinobu Miyaki?" Amora asks.

"And my mom is pregnant with me?" Junba adds. "How weird."

"Well," Lum replies. "If I didn't have help from that universe's Mara
Buson, I wouldn't be here. That's why I am going to her funeral tomorrow."

"Oh, good!" Amora smiles. "Then I can go to Uru to see all the cute guys
there..."

"Not on your life, young lady!" Lum pulls on one of Amora's ears. "You're
going to stay on Earth with your father and learn to have a better goal in
your life than trying to get laid!"

"Ow! That hurts, Mom!" Amora squirms. "I'm not a Ferengi!"

"Still," Lum relaxes her grip on her adopted daughter, "...I wonder about
something."

"What, Lum?" Ataru asks.

"What will happen to Ramuko Redetto, Mara Buson and Shinobu Miyaki?" Lum
replies. "I doubt that we'll meet each other again. But still, I wonder..."

"You want me to zap you psychically again, Aunt Lum?" Junba asks. "Try to
send you back to them?"

"Not on your life!" Lum laughs. "I don't want to go through that again!"

* * *

As the Moroboshi family relaxes in their dimension, back in Ramuko
Redetto's dimension not much has changed. The next day, Ramuko finishes the
story of Lum's visit to this dimension and places it with the other stories she
had drawn. Lum was now safe where she is supposed to be and the only proof
she was ever here was the leotard she had left behind...which only fit her
mother.

Mara and Ramuko became good friends after and continued to do so after
they both graduated and went to university. She visited the Retied family
constantly, giving Ramuko an older sister. Mara later would get married and
live the normal life of a housewife.

Shinobu Miyaki had her baby but did not give her up for adoption. Ataru
thought about leaving town, but something changed his mind and he married
Shinobu as soon as they both graduated high school. Shinobu named her little
girl "Lum" and lived a normal life.

* * *

As for our Lum, she attended her Mara's funeral with Lan and Oyuki. The
funeral was nothing special, but filled with former teachers and school mates.
Lum could even feel Benten's spirit with them as well. The reception at the
end seemed to be more of a celebration of Mara's life then a sadness of her
sudden death. Amora still was angry for not being allowed to go with Lum to
Uru, but over the Internet, she heard rumours of a group of girls called the
Intergalactic Boy-Chaser's Club.

* * *

Ramuko herself sold the idea for "Those Obnoxious Aliens" to a manga
producer. The series lasted nearly nine years as manga and became a successful
television anime as well as spawning a movie series and an OVA series. It
also was popular abroad. Ramuko soon became very wealthy in her own
right...and began writing a new series about a boy marital artist who fell into
a cursed pool in China and turns into a girl whenever he is splashed with cold
water...^_-

*** The End ***