NEUTRAL GROUND 6/6:
"Cats, Dragons, & Borgs, Oh my" by Gregg Sharp

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One month. Not a terribly long time. Enough time for a certain area known as the Furin ward of a section of Tokyo called Nerima to get a certain reputation.

Holding the scrap of newspaper in her hand, she scanned the
skies. This was Nerima, where the dragongirl, the catgirls, the green and red haired beast, aliens, and all the others had come. To be specific, this was the corner of "Ya Gotta Be Nuts" Real Estate Agency, which served the two wards it bordered - Tomobiki and Furinkan.

She glanced down at the newspaper clipping again, though she had memorized it weeks ago when it had first come out. "EUGENICS TESTING IN NERIMA?" was the headline. It was a line much further in, talking about the Chinese Amazons and their companion "Ranma Saotome" that had caused this journey.

"Ranma," she murmurred, drawing her battle spatula. "I shall find you and PUNISH you."

"'Scuse me, pardon me," said a boy in Chinese clothing as he
raced through the crowd and past the girl in boy's clothing. "Coming through."

The woman stood there for a moment. That was... It couldn't have been HIM already, could it?

"AIREN!" Shampoo on her bicycle scooted past the dramatically posed, spatula wielding girl a moment later.

Ukyou staggered as she was shoved to the side by the bicyclist.

"Mrrooooowwwww!" Nabiki made another of her infamous 30ft leaps, landed on the girl's head briefly, then on to a streetlight, then bounded around the corner after the other two.

"Rannnmmaaaa, you forgot your lunch, dammit!" An attractive woman of about nineteen, carrying a quarterstaff and a wrapped obento raced past, almost keeping pace with the catgirl. She was wearing a frilly apron and a dress and blouse combination that seemed out of place on someone who was making leaps almost as impressive as the catgirl.

Ukyo blinked repeatedly, still trying to decide if that had been Ranma.

"Nabiki-chan, Heisei-chan, Shampoo-chan!" A young man with a vapid expression shot past Ukyou a few seconds behind THAT woman.

Ukyou bigsweated. This was not what she expected. nfortunately, she still had the spatula lifted up over her head in the dramatic pose.

*Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzaaaaap!*

"DARLING NO BAKA!" A green haired woman, throwing lightning
at the youth who had just passed Ukyou, found that some of her voltage struck the upraised metallic object clenched in one hand. Being Lum, she didn't really consider the possibility that person now twitching on the ground could be hurt from a few piddly little thousand volts.

Ukyou groaned and started to lift herself up, noting that her hair, which was a great source of pride to her, was currently kinky and lightly fried. Maybe that *had* been her target."R-R-Ranma?!" Why was the ground shaking? With a feeling that she was going to regret it, Ukyou started to look behind her.

*TRAMPLE* "Rokkon! Why don't your exorcisms work against that
demon?" The woman with a light sabre in one hand and a handful of spirit wards in the other asked as she stepped on Ukyo's back, flooring the chef again briefly.

*SLAM!* "I have no idea, Miss Ayaka!" The reply coming from some massive fellow in Shinto robes as he stepped in between Ukyo's shoulder blades.

*STOMP*"Who ya gonna call!"

*STEP!* "Oh shuttup, Ray."

*CRUNCH!* "Hmmph. These Japanese leave so much trash on
their sidewalks. Hurry up, I'll show that boy to trifle with ME!"

"Yes, mistress Aenslad!"

"Ooooo. Leopold! Come to Azusa!"

Ukyou managed to look up again, just in time to see some little girl on roller skates grab her battle spatula and go racing off with it. "Rrranma, I'll find you..." Everything went black for Ukyou.

This was really a pity as the nine foot tall dull metallic cyborg that picked her up and slung her over one shoulder a moment later would have been of particular interest to her.

He cocked his head, adjusted his unconcious passenger, and activated a sort of pop-out jetpack on his back. Roaring off to a more quiet area, he did a quick dodge to avoid the "Sparkling Wide Pressure" that had been aimed at him. Very carefully, he stuck one hand back and proceeded to give Sailor Jupiter the finger.

Of course, then he had to dodge several other blasts.

-------

Ukyou woke up and pondered. "Unfamiliar ceiling." The room itself appeared to be a small office, with a heavily reinforced cot. Getting up, she looked outside the large window. A construction company of some kind from the piles of brick and lumber.

A large metal statue moved.

After screaming and jumping three feet in the air, Ukyou realized that the figure was still just sitting there and regarding her.

"You really ought not to jump around like that. You may have a concussion from all that."

"Where am I?"

"I brought you home." The statue shrugged. "At least until I find out, are you here to help Ranma Saotome, or hurt him?"

"I'm here for revenge! That jackass and his father abandoned me when I was six years old!" She watched as the statue got up, moved past her, and opened the door.

"Leave." It was a simple statement, but the voice was sad.

"Sure thing. Uhm, do you know where I can find him? And, uh, WHAT are you?"

"A construction worker." A deep sigh. "A time traveler, stuck in the distant past, who came to a strange and backwards country because of the very same article that brought you here. Oh, and yes, I know where Ranma Saotome is."

"So, where is he?"

The metallic head with its almost skull-like face shook from side to side. "Not telling you. I've already had enough misunderstandings with Ranma and his friends. Oh, and yes, I'm a military grade transforming cyborg named Ralph."

Ukyou moved past the cyborg, thinking that maybe she should get
this over with quickly so she could get out of Nerima quickly. It was way too
weird for a Kansai girl like herself.

-----

Daisuke and Hiroshi sat in a booth across from Yuka and Sayuri, comparing notes for the tests when the subject came up of Akane's latest.

"Yeah, she's so depressed about all the boys just sort of avoiding her." Yuka sipped on her cola and watched as some guy wearing a bandolier of spatulas went stalking past. "She was happy about it at first, but when they started acting like they expected her to turn into something disgusting at any moment..."

"It's not much better in the girl's locker room," Sayuri said. "Heck, how can you be sure Akane isn't going to turn into that Hibiki kid?"

"Went from the most popular girl in school to avoided by everyone in one day," Daisuke nodded. "Gotta hurt."

Sayuri shrugged. "I thought she'd enjoy it. I mean she always hated to go through all that before."

"Oh yeah," Yuka rolled her eyes. "You know Akane's never fired a gun and they give her a BFG to tote around in that thing. Rambo-Akane. What was Nabiki thinking of?"

"Money," shrugged Daisuke, thinking it was obvious.

"Got you there," Sayuri sipped on her Cherry Coke.

"I hear that Bandai's doing an action figure, with 'kung fu death grip' or something." Hiroshi smiled.

"Figures." Yuka pointed. "Hey, there's Akane now."

"Or it could be Ryouga." Daisuke stopped and looked. "Hard to tell, except Ryouga doesn't wear dresses." The girl walking by was wearing a jogging outfit. "At least I don't think he does."

"Maybe we ought to tell Ranma." Yuka said thoughtfully.

"Nabiki. That way she can set up the betting pools, then let Ranma know. If Nabiki makes a profit off it, she'll remember the favor." Hiroshi got up.

"Damn, 'Roshi, I always knew you had a brain in there somewhere."

"Aw, shuttup, Dai."

-------

"Ryouga," Ranma acknowledged the presence of his rival.

"I'm not here to fight you, Ranma." Ryouga sat a few feet away on the roof of the Tendo-ke. "Just wandered in, I'll fight you some other time."

Ranma grunted. He'd had a pretty wearying day as well.

"Ranma, this girl I look like..."

"Yeah, you seem to like wearing that shape, don'cha?"

"It could be worse, I suppose." Ryouga sat back. "She means something to you, doesn't she?"

"Yeah. No. I dunno!" Ranma sighed and checked for any Amazons that might be around. He didn't SEE any, at least.

"What do you mean, you don't know?" Ryouga scowled.

Ranma had to admit that made Ryouga look even more like Akane, but Akane had been wearing a sundress earlier, and Ryouga was wearing his usual clothes, even if they didn't fit right in his cursed form. "I mean I don't know. Geez, Ryouga. What you want to know for?"

"Hey, I'm a teenage BOY too, you know. I heard you think she's cute."

"HEY! That uncute...well, yeah. I mean when she's not mad, and when she's smiling, I mean...well kinda."

"So you do like her?" Ryouga chuckled. "Don't worry, I won't tell her. My word on it."

"Uhm. Yeah. Oh what difference does it make?" Ranma got up and walked to the edge of the roof. "Thanks to YOU she's scared to death of me, I got Nabiki coming on to me when she's half- c-c-c-cat, and after Pop told Heisei that I had said her Amazon fighting arts were lame..."

"So that's how that happened." Ryouga got up and walked to the side of the building. Then something that Ranma had said penetrated. "What does he mean, 'scared to death' -honestly that boy has SUCH an ego."

"Akane?" Nabiki looked up from a ladder. "You done up here?"

"Sure am," smirked Akane as she took off the bandana. "By the way, what's up with Ranma and Kasumi?"

"Oh, Daddy's little plans. Mister Saotome told Heisei that Ranma had referred to Amazon fighting arts as a crutch for the inept. Heisei challenged Ranma, Ranma got kicked around the yard a few times, but managed to knock Heisei out."

"So Heisei would have given Ranma the 'Kiss Of Marriage', and since Kasumi and Heisei are in the same body..."

"I AM planning on discussing this with Daddy later." Nabiki's eyes narrowed. "Paybacks are a bitch."

-----

The cyborg noted the presence of the visitor but didn't turn his attention from the task at hand.

"Bridge got busted, huh?"

"Yes." Ralf welded the I-beam into place with one hand while holding it up with the other. He'd already identified his visitor and determined that the stance was non-threatening. Now, if it had been those Senshi...

"You work for the city?"

"Nerima Public Works, Emergency Repairs." Ralf let go of the newly welded beam, confident in the molecular fusing technique he'd used. The new beam was now literally of one piece with the rest of the framework. "They pay fairly well, though I'm considered 'gaijin tarento' with them."

"Can I ask you something?"

"You must have met Ranma," Ralf was turning his attention to the crumbled concrete. A quick radar pulse showed fracture lines in the remaining concrete that would also have to go. "He's not what you expected, is he?"

"No." Ukyou watched the metallic figure at work. "He's..."

"A jerk. A likable jerk, mind you. But then most sixteen year olds who've spent their life being dragged around on ten year training missions and not allowed to interact with much of anyone, tend to be jerks."

"Uh, yeah." Ukyou felt again the desire to go to back to Kobe, to leave the madness of Tokyo behind. "Where else could you find a combat cyborg from some impossible future happily repairing damage from a battle that had involved otherdimensional demons fighting sailor suited teenage girls?"

"You get used to it." Ralf shrugged. "With all the news coverage of those Chinese Amazons, the dragongirl, oh- and Nabiki getting hired as a spokesmodel for that new economy sportscar- the Whisker, lots of strangeness has been migrating locally."

"Uhm."

"Don't let it get to you. It's not that big a deal. Oh yeah, got something for you." Moving to his truck, the cyborg shifted a few items around. "Here we go."

"My spatula!" Ukyou took her combat spatula back. "Where did you find it?"

"The police periodically have to go to the residence of one 'Azusa Shiratori' and recover a number of items. Why they don't just arrest her, I'll never understand. Anyway, they recovered a bunch of stuff swiped from all over the place, including that spatula. I heard 'em mention it on my commlink, and contacted them as I knew the owner."

"Thanks." She felt a LOT better with this back in her possession.

"No prob." The cyborg actually looked at her. "I've got a question, though, why are you dressed like a boy?"

"Vengeance thing. You can tell?"

"Thermographic readings, among other things. Around here the crossdressing isn't all that strange, but if it is something to do with fighting you might want to reconsider. There are plenty of women fighters around here..."

"Look! It's that metal youma again!"

Ukyou and Ralf's eyes met. "The Sailor Senshi, AGAIN!"

"Gotta go," Ralf activated a jetpack, "they do WAY too much property damage. Later."

"In the name of the moon, hey, get back here!"

"Flame sniper!"

"Mars! You almost hit that boy!"

"I don't understand, I'm still not reading any Negaverse energy."

Ukyou watched as five sailor suited girls, plus two cats, raced off in the general direction that Ralf had just left in. It looked like Ranchan wasn't the only one around here who was clueless.

THAT determined, Ukyou decided to have a little talk with one of the others around here before the scheduled fight with Ranma.

======

A year passed. The cyborg saw Miss Kuonji's business taking off, and arranged to stop by.

The two sat and discussed the changes of the past year.

Nabiki's cursed form being used in various ads where her semi-feline exoticness was a big draw. Just the feline slinkiness in her movements was enough to be a fair draw. Though the bets were being taken even now as to whether she would give that line up for her manga artist career now that "Amazon Warrior" was taking off. Then there were the residuals she was getting from being the agent representing three Amazons (Akane, Shampoo, and Rie Ga.)

Ranma still had problems with Nabiki's cursed form, not that she could spare any time to pursue him anymore in any case. Akane was still scared of him, almost to the extent that Ranma was afraid of cats. Kasumi/Heisei had talked to the parents and the engagement between Kasumi and Ranma had been called off.

Shampoo and Rie Ga had been detained by the police, eventually released, and were working as part of a "sentai" show. Their schedule, with the various promotional appearances, kept them on the road for long periods. Rie Ga loved it. Shampoo didn't care for it, especially considering what happened to her airen while she was on the road.

Kasumi remained Kasumi. Heisei helped Nabiki out by posing for sketches. Kasumi and Heisei hadn't completely merged yet, but each had started picking up mannerisms from the other. Heisei was teaching Amazon Combat Techniques at the dojo.

"And what of you, Miss Kuonji?"

"Business is good," Ukyou nodded and flashed a smile. "Oh, and it's Mrs Saotome, now."

Ralf nodded. About time that Saotome boy settled down. Now if everyone else would, maybe he could schedule a vacation.

"Look, it's that youma!"

Ralf covered his face. He was really tired of the Senshi. Almost as much as he was tired of the Legion Of Substitute Senshi.

Amy restrained Lita. "You can't attack him there, Jupiter!"

"Why not? It's that metal youma that keeps flipping me off!"

"That's Ucchan's. Remember?"

"Oh." Jupiter paused. "Well, he's lucky then. Otherwise, I'd..."

Ukyou smirked. Having the various groups declare Ucchan's to be a neutral meeting place between all the various groups had been a stroke of genius. She'd have to thank that Belldandy again, next time she saw her. Yes, there was a certain profit to be made, in being neutral ground.

======

THAT'S ALL FOLKS!
Neutral Ground opening theme: "Twilight" by ELO
Neutral Ground ending theme: "Hearts In Motion"