Title: Betrayal's Reward
Author name: Trugeta
Disclaimer: This story is based on characters and situations created and owned by Rumiko Takahashi and Marvel Comics as well as many others. No money is being made and no copyright or trademark infringement is intended. Note further that I don't own any of the trademarks mentioned in this story. Also, the OCs used in this story are a work of fiction. Any resemblance to any person, living or dead is not intended and purely coincidental.
This story takes place after the failed wedding in Ranma Manga No. 38 and a few months prior to Venom's escape from Ryker's Island during which he spawned the Carnage symbiote. It's an AU, and reviews are welcome and appreciated.
Chapter 1: A vile plan
The Kuno Mansion
Kuno Kodachi was not having a good day. In fact, it was downright dissatisfying, and the infamous Black Rose of St. Hebereke was not even able to enjoy the wonderfully sunny and warm day. The young woman stood in her greenhouse and tended to her roses, something that was normally relaxing and fulfilling to her. But not today.
Her eyes were narrowed, her jaw constantly clenched and unclenched and her beautiful face was scrunched up as the young woman contemplated the best course of action to free her Ranma-sama from the vile clutches of the red-haired harridan. She had always hated the commoner, but the bitch had gone too far when she had hidden her Ranma-sama from her on their wedding day. And they could have gotten married at this very day so easily! But no, the little red-haired bitch had had to spoil it!
Her dream of marrying her Ranma-sama had been within her grasp, they both had even been dressed for the occasion! But the red-haired commoner had dared to claim her Ranma-sama, and she had indeed gone way too far this time. This time she would pay, and pay dearly!
"Insolent little bitch... This time I will remove you from the picture entirely. Killing such a tramp as you are is beneath a Kuno, no, I will come up with something much more fitting. Let's see... The uncouth harridan that chases my Ranma-sama loves to fight..." Kodachi mused with gleaming eyes as she trimmed her roses, "and from all I have seen she cannot reject a challenge. Oh yes, I can use that against her!"
Her mad laughter echoed through the greenhouse as a plan began to form in her insane mind. "Yes... I must lure the harridan out of the prefecture, preferably the country so that she can not endanger my progress with my Ranma-sama... Bwahahahahahha! That's perfect! I'll use one of our anonymous subsidiaries to host a martial arts competition in the USA. The vile harridan will not be able to resist when she receives an invitation."
Kodachi cackled madly and danced through the greenhouse, black rose-petals rising up in a storm, and it took her several minutes to get a grasp on herself. Once she had logic returned, and logic suggested a different course of action. "Hmm, better yet... I will use our majority shares we have in that company called Oscorp... Nobody knows we have shares, and I can set up the whole thing anonymously. Yes, that solves the problem of how to lure the bitch away. But how do I ensure that she stays away, preferably locked up forever with the key thrown away?"
The Kuno girl started pacing, her brows furrowed in concentration. "It must seem that she committed a serious crime... Grave enough so that extradition is not possible. How do the westerners call it? First degree murder? Yes, that would be ideal. But how to stage it?" she paused in her movement.
"I wonder... Sasuke!" Kodachi bellowed loudly.
"Yes, Mistress? You called?" the diminutive ninja asked, his bowed head almost touching the ground.
"Yes, you dimwit. Now go and fetch the phone, I have some calls to place." she spat, her face contorted in annoyance and rage.
Sasuke shrank back into himself. "Y-Yes, Mistress. Immediately!" the frightened little ninja exclaimed and poofed away.
Kodachi waited eagerly for her loyal servant to return, her dark eyes gleaming with madness. Not even the trimming of her roses could distract her, for she was too impatient to get the answers she sought. Answers, that only a phone call could produce.
"What is taking the little idiot so long? If he takes any longer I am going to test my newest batch of poison and find out if it is really as deadly as I think..." she muttered darkly, her eyes narrowed to slits.
"Here you are, Mistress," a sweating Sasuke exclaimed as his shaking hands held out a cell-phone.
The Kuno girl snatched it from her servant with a sneer on her face. "It took you long enough, you lowlife. My brother might be lenient with you, but I am not. Fail to live up to my expectations one more time and you will end up as Midorigame's new chew-toy. Have you understood?"
"Y-Yes, M-mistress. O-Of course," Sasuke replied timidly, shrinking away from the intense insanity Kodachi was radiating.
"Good," Kodachi whispered in a pleased tone. "Now shoo, I have business to conduct. Woe beholds anyone who disturbs me."
His task fulfilled Sasuke sped away from Kodachi as if the devil was on his heels, not daring to chance another look. He would never understand how the girl could alternate between seemingly normal if eccentric behaviour and complete insanity at the drop of a hat. And at the moment he didn't care for a scientific explanation either, he was just glad that he had escaped with his skin intact.
Kodachi was sitting on the ground in a cross-legged position, and the pleased grin on her face steadily grew bigger. She had found the phone-number she had been looking for, hopefully the person it belonged to would be able to give her satisfying answers. He better had, for his own good...
"Dr. Renarw, how good of you to answer my call," she sneered.
"Why hello to you too, Miss Kuno. What can I do for you?" the silky voice of the scientist asked.
"At least you still do possess common sense, westerner. I have to rid myself of an... obstacle. And I want to do it in a way that ensures she stays out of my hair for good. That is where you enter the picture," Kodachi explained and smiled insanely.
"I see. How may I help you?"
"Right to the point. An admirable trait for a commoner. Tell me, how far has your research pertaining to cloning progressed, doctor?"
"We have made amazing progress since you last called. we are now able to clone a human being, but we still have to fix some errors. I fear the cloned human being would not last longer than three days until accelerated cell deterioration sets in. Of course, that it just an estimation from our research conducted on animals," the doctor explained.
Kodachi's eyes gleamed. "That is just perfect," she whispered, barely holding her laughter in.
"Excuse me, what did you say?" Dr. Renarw asked from the other end of the line.
"I said that it would be perfect, Doctor. I have a plan, and you will assist me in any way I ask. Is that understood?" the Kuno girl asked with insanity tinting her voice.
"Err, yes. So what is it that you want, Miss Kuno?"
"Nothing much. You see, I want to frame the vile harridan who has thwarted my plans time and time again, and to this end it must seem that she committed homicide in your country. Extradition will not be possible in case of a first degree murder, and I will have the witnesses ready that will attest to that," Kodachi said appreciatively.
"And what do you need me for?" the doctor asked from the other end of the line.
"Simple. The scion of house Kuno cannot bedevil her person with plotting to kill a real person, and that is where your cloning technology comes in. Clones are no real persons, so killing it is of no consequence as it is nothing more than a shallow copy of the original. I will provide you with the required DNA, and you will carry out my plan."
"I want to know if it's possible to 'program' the clone so that it will kill the first boy who hits on her. I know from experience that the red-haired bitch likes to play hard to get, and I want to carry it to the extreme," Kodachi said with the calm of the insane.
"Yes. What do I care if some gaijin commoner gets killed if I get my Ranma-sama? Besides, it will not be us who will commit the barbaric act, but the clone. You will provide me with the clone and we will do the rest. Make it so that the clone obeys my commands, is that understood?"
"Good. Failure to comply will result in the destruction of your reputation and everything you hold dear. Is that understood, Doctor?" Kodachi asked threateningly.
Unbeknownst to her, her dialogue partner was smirking sadistically. "Y-Yes," he pretended to stammer, "B-But I need a time schedule so t-that I can p-plan accordingly."
"That is acceptable. You will receive all relevant data shortly, as well as the genetic material. Good bye, Doctor., Kodachi said and terminated the communication line with an evil smirk.
The red-haired bitch would go down, and she would get her Ranma-sama in the end. It was just a question of careful planning and preparations.
Three months later
Life had not meant well with Ranma Saotome in the last months. The currently red-haired boy-turned-girl sighed as she sat in one of her few favourite spots, the roof of the Tendo house. Akane and she had gotten into another pointless argument, again, and the blue-haired girl had left off in a huff right after she had malleted her into the koi-pond. Her declaration that she would spend the night at Yuka's had not really been that reassuring to Ranma.
But this incident was seemingly par for the course as of late. Her life seemed to be slipping through her fingers like sand, and it seemed she couldn't do anything right. To top it off, she was she still being virtually chased by her various fiancées, and, to cap it all, her own mother had joined the insane game of 'how-to-make-Ranma-Saotome's-life-hell' and supported the fathers in their harebrained campaign to get her married to Akane.
But she didn't want to get married any more. Not yet anyway. Sometime back in the last months after the wedding fiasco Ranma had realised that she was still way too young and immature to marry, and the problems that clung to her like chewing gum to the sole of a shoe didn't make it any better. She had learned a few bitter truths about herself in the last few months, especially after the wedding. The worst truth was that she and Akane would never survive married life. Or more correctly, she, Ranma, would not, not for long anyways. Not as they were.
One fundamental aspect every working relationship needed was missing in their relationship, she had realised: trust. Even after everything she had done for Akane, saving her countless times, lastly from Saffron, Akane still didn't trust her. That in conjunction with the other girl's jealousy and hair-trigger-temper was a recipe for disaster.
That was exactly what her daily life had slowly turned into, despite all her efforts to act more mature. An unmitigated, never ending disaster. But she couldn't really fault Akane. Not with how Ukyo and Shampoo, and not to mention that nutjob Kodachi were acting. Somehow it always seemed as if everything was her fault, and somewhere along the road her fiancée had so gotten used to suspect the worst of her that it had become a default.
Her fiancée was behaving like she always did, according to her usual behavioural patterns. Clobber first and ask questions later, if at all. But Ranma was confident that they would be able to overcome it, if... yes if they could just get away from the insanity that was Nerima. Just a few weeks off, alone, without parents, rivals, enemies and so-called friends.
She loved Akane, and deep in her heart Ranma knew that the other girl reciprocated the feeling. It had been painfully obvious at Phoenix Mountain, and at the failed wedding. Even Ryoga, the Akane-obsessed lost boy had let up, and that could only mean that their love had a chance.
But here, in Nerima with the insanity and constant pressure their love was doomed to suffocate. It had been alarming how fast things had returned to 'normal' after their return from Jusendo. It hadn't even taken more than a week! One week, and everyone had returned to treating her like the stupid martial arts jock and prize of the year. They needed a break, Akane and her, they needed to get away from here, but where to? And how?
"Ranma-kun, please come down! There's a letter for you," Kasumi called from down below.
"Comin', Kasumi!" the redhead replied and jumped from the roof. In a stunning display of martial arts skill she performed a somersault and landed safely in a low crouch, and got to her feet in what looked like one swift motion.
Ranma noticed that Kasumi had brought a steaming kettle with her and smiled at the other girl. Quickly dousing herself she returned to her birth gender and gave Kasumi a smile. "Thank you, Kasumi. You're the best." he remarked in his baritone, the smile reaching his eyes.
Kasumi smiled back and handed Ranma the letter. "You're welcome, Ranma-kun, and thank you for the compliment. Dinner will be ready in about ten minutes," the brown-haired girl said as she walked back into the house.
The raven-haired boy nodded absently as he ripped the important looking envelope open. Extracting its contents Ranma began to scan the letter, and his eyes widened. First off, the letter was addressed to his female half, and she had been invited to a martial arts competition in New York, USA. 3rd to 16th of June, 1994. Flight included.
"Wait a sec here... USA?" Ranma exclaimed and scratched the back of his head, stumped. "What the hell?"
"Do you have to yell so loud, Saotome? Hmm, what is that in your hand? Another challenge letter?" Nabiki asked levelly as she stepped out of the house.
"What d'ya want, Nabiki?" Ranma asked in a neutral tone without turning around to look at the middle Tendo daughter.
"To know if a fight is going to take place so that I can plan accordingly. Being prepared is essential in my line of work, as you very well know, Saotome."
Ranma sighed, turned around and handed her the letter. "There. See if ya can make sense of it."
Nabiki took the letter and scanned it, her eyes widening. "Hmm, to Tendo Ranko... Martial Arts competition... New York, USA... participant plus two others…." she muttered absently, and suddenly her eyes widened, "Prize money... 1,000,000 Dollar!" she gasped.
"Saotome," the brown-haired girl exclaimed and fixated Ranma with an intent stare, dollar signs virtually shining in her eyes, "You have to compete. That is my... our chance to get filthy rich!"
"Money... I dun care 'bout money. I wanta know how 'em guys in the USA got wind of me. That shoulda been impossible." Ranma muttered, his face set in a scowl.
"That might be because of the footage and film material I sold to the highest bidder." Nabiki smirked.
Ranma slapped his forehead. "Only me, I swear, only me," he muttered with a long-suffering sigh and added, "So this is authentic, huh? Good."
"I figured you would say that, Saotome. Oh, the money I'll make..." Nabiki drooled, greed making her eyes gleam.
"I so knew ya were goin' ta say that..." the pigtailed boy sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose.
Nabiki grinned a grin any shark would have been proud of. "Wait until we're there. We're going to make you a star, and I'll swim in money!"
"Whatever. This competition is next weekend, which means I got three days ta prepare. It would be in our best interest if ya wouldn't sell that info, or we'll have everyone on our heels!" Ranma remarked in a serious tone.
"Wow, you can actually make sense, Saotome. Who would have thought?" Nabiki teased with an impish grin.
"Can it. Stoppin' Akane from malleting me is gonna be hard enough, doncha think?"
Nabiki nodded against her will. "True, Saotome. We'll have to make sure you don't stick that foot of yours all the way in your big mouth, or the jet will crash when Akane mallets you." she smirked.
Ranma and his 'manager' had decided to wait until the next day to tell the others of Ranma's invitation to the Martial Arts tournament. The fathers had been too drunk anyway, Akane had had her sleepover at Yuka's and they had school holidays anyway, thus waiting for a bit had been deemed a sound course of action.
Nabiki had used her connections and all of her pull to fabricate the identity of Tendo Ranko for Ranma's alter ego, and due to the quality of Nabiki's contacts they knew the identity would stand up to each and any examination any time. It had cost Nabiki a hefty sum, but it had been a necessary investment. With Ranma's martial arts prowess it was practically a given that he would win, which meant that the middle Tendo daughter would get her investment back in spades.
The next morning carried out as usual. The morning spar between Ranma and his father was a reassuring if loud constant, just as much as the usual quick dunk in the pond for the two combatants involved. Kasumi called them in for breakfast soon thereafter, and a grinning Ranma wrung the excess water out of her hair as she walked towards the house. A look over her shoulder revealed a panda that was still floating in the pond, face-down.
"Hah, that showed pops for calling me girly!" the redhead crowed and smirked.
"Good morning, Ranma." Kasumi exclaimed as the redhead entered the living room.
Ranma returned the greeting and looked around, noticing that her mother and Mr. Tendo were already sitting at the table. Soun was reading his newspaper while he sipped his tea, nothing new there. Her mother was surveying her with a disapproving look, nothing new there too.
The redhead feigned a disinterested look, but deep inside she wished that her mother would just stop pestering her with that manliness bullshit. It was just so unfair how she showered her male side with affection and love, only to treat her female half like the worst possible trash.
"Son, it is not manly for you to be in this form. Change back immediately!" Nodoka admonished sternly.
Ranma let out a long-suffering sigh at her mother's predictable behaviour. "Can't I kill two birds with one stone and do that by getting a nice soak in the furo?"
# You heard your mother, boy. Change back now! # Flip. # Kasumi, could I please have more bamboo? That's a very delicious batch, # the panda signed.
Ranma threw him a surprised glance, but mused that he must have had enough time to recuperate. The redhead shrugged. Her father had always respawned fast.
"But of course, uncle Saotome," Kasumi replied with a serene smile.
"Why can he stay a panda and I hafta change back?" Ranma pouted and crossed her arms underneath her breasts. "No fair."
"Because he was already manly, son. And I expect the same of you with your future wife," Nodoka replied, her tone still stern.
Ranma blanched and screwed her eyes shut for a moment. "Too much information... Brain hurts..."
"How can something you don't have hurt, baka?" Akane teased as she entered the room. "Good morning auntie!" she added with a smile.
"Good morning, Akane," Nodoka replied with a fond smile, her expression turning serious. "I just explained to Ranma why he should change back into my manly son..."
"Actually, Ranma should stay a girl for now, Auntie," Nabiki spoke up nonchalantly as she walked out of the kitchen, a cup of coffee in her right hand.
Kasumi, who had followed her, placed a bundle of bamboo in front of the pandafied Mr. Saotome. # Why is that, Nabiki? # he asked in unison with Nodoka.
"Who cares," Akane muttered as she helped herself to a decent breakfast.
"I do, little sis. As does our sponsor, Tagaikatsu." Nabiki replied with a smirk.
This little piece of information caused face-vaults around the table. "T- Tagaikatsu?" asked a perplexed Genma, having quickly changed to human form courtesy of a conveniently placed cup of tea.
"What has Tagaikatsu to do with why my manly son should stay in this unmanly form?" Nodoka asked, both brows furrowed.
Nabiki inwardly rolled her eyes at Auntie Nodoka's manliness obsession. "Simple. Our Ranma-chan here, or should I say Tendo Ranko, has been invited to a martial arts tournament in New York, USA. And Tagaikatsu, the well renowned electronics company, is acting as her sponsor."
"But how?" asked a baffled Akane. "I mean, why should they be interested in the perverted baka?"
Ranma opted to resist her natural impulse to return fire with an insult of her own as it would only have distracted from their task. "I say they saw me in action while in girl form and were impressed with my awesomeness!"
"That you were invited as a girl supports this conclusion," Nabiki mused with a nod before Akane could insert a derogatory comment that would probably have sparked another argument.
"I'm not sure that's manly," Nodoka mused at the same time, her eyes narrowed.
"It isn't if the pervert's pretending to be a female martial artist," Akane opined with a sneer.
While Nabiki shot her younger sister an irritated look Genma fixated his wife with a steely gaze. "Wife, that's the chance of a lifetime! The prize money is bound to be gigantic, and if the boy has to be a girl to win it so be it!"
"And think about all the publicity the Dojo would gain, Nodoka," Soun agreed with a nod, "Ranma being in girl form is a small price to pay!"
"But it would be unmanly," Nodoka insisted, the frown never leaving her face.
Ranma just leant back in her chair and rolled her eyes, opting to say nothing. The manliness crap of her mother was really grating on her nerves. But this time it was in the fathers' best interest to go up against her mother. It was a really simple strategy Nabiki and she had chosen: appeal to the fathers greed, that would override the joining of the schools protocol and manliness be damned. A bit sad, but it worked.
"What for a sum are we talking about, Nabiki?" Soun asked curiously, laying down his newspaper on the desk.
"As I just told Akane, the prize money for the winner amounts to 1,000,000 US dollar. And that doesn't include the sponsor's money. Also, if we bring Ranma to the market really good we could all be filthy rich," Nabiki said calmly.
"1,000,000 US dollar?" Soun breathed, eyes wide in surprise, "Ranma has to compete!"
"Have you heard that, No-chan? We would be swimming in money, and our son could afford to buy a large house for Akane and himself where they could raise their kids," Genma suggested, his voice taking on a sly tone.
"WHAT!" Akane and Ranma exclaimed in stereo. "KIDS WITH HIM/HER? NEVER!"
The parents ignored their children's objections as usual, especially seeing as the strategy seemed to be working, for Nodoka's eyes gleamed. "Yes, I can see it now..." she giggled. "My manly son will win this tournament in his unmanly form, Akane and he will buy a house close to the dojo so that teaching students won't be a problem and I will get lots and lots of grandbabies. WAI!" she exclaimed happily and jumped to her feet, pulling fans out of nowhere and performing the grandchildren dance.
Soun and Genma grinned at each other and nodded with self-satisfied expressions. Their retirement was assured, and in a much better way than originally thought! The fathers continued to grin as they fetched the sake, and missed the looks Akane and Ranma were sporting completely.
"You're all outta your minds!" Ranma yelled, her face red. "Kids with the uncute tomboy? Ya gotta be kiddin'!"
Nabiki shook her head as she watched as Akane's ire was transferred from the parents to Ranma in the blink of an eye.
"What... Did... You... Say?" the red glowing Akane exclaimed.
Ranma glared right back. "That you're an uncute tomboy! Bii-daa!"
"RANMA NO BAKA!" Akane yelled enraged, and her mallet blasted Ranma right into the pond.
"Nice going, Saotome," Nabiki drawled and shook her head. "At that rate a parachute is an absolute must."
The parents had ignored the incident completely as it was nothing out of the ordinary, and were busy planning the details. Shortly after a dripping wet Ranma had staggered into the room, who had immediately been supplied with a large towel by Kasumi, the two seventeen year old teens were presented with a fait accompli.
Nabiki had used all of her authority over the parents and had demanded that Akane and she accompany Ranma, and the fathers had given in when Nabiki had pointed out that the trip could be very beneficial to the joining of the schools. After all, it would just be Akane and Ranma aside from her, no rivals, challenges or other craziness.
Nodoka had agreed right away as it offered a great opportunity for her manly son to be manly with his fiancée, and what could be more romantic than fathering a child in a foreign country?
Ranma and the two younger Tendo sisters would be going on a trip to New York, where Ranma Saotome, or rather Ranko Tendo, would win the first ever New York Martial Art Tournament.
It had to be a new record for Nerima, but the families had been able to keep the trip quiet. Their success in that stemmed not least from the fact that Nabiki had promised not to sell the info. That had been understandably hard for the highschool racketeer, but the outlook on the really big bucks had made the decision an easy one in the end. Short-term profit was satisfying, yes, but it couldn't hold a candle to her shares on 1,000,000 US dollar.
Nabiki had, unsurprisingly, handled everything regarding Ranma's participation in the Tournament. She had faxed Ranma's acceptance, had negotiated free board and lodging and had even convinced her younger sister to accompany them. That Akane could hold a grudge was well known, and she had claimed loudly that the perverted baka could very well go to the US and stay there for all she cared, but Nabiki had known that her younger sister had always wanted to visit the US, and she had exploited this 'weakness' mercilessly.
Now they were sitting in Flight 408 Tokyo to New York, and the Nerimans were completely unaware that their resident chaos magnet plus fiancée and 'manager' had left. Ranma and Akane were sitting as far away from each other as possible. The Tendo girl was still angry with the boy-turned-girl, and Nabiki had deemed the arrangement of seats safer for all parties involved.
Ranma, who had to stay a girl from now on, had made herself as comfortable as her seat allowed, and didn't even care that Akane had hogged the window-seat. The other girl had never been outside of Japan before, but Ranma had seen the world on her training trip. Should Akane have some fun while she, Ranma, caught some sleep.
The redhead counted sheep as she snuggled into her seat, and before she had reached twenty she had drifted off into the land of Nod with the thought that things could only get better now that she had left the insanity of Nerima.
Little did she know that said insanity was way ahead of her.
"Doctor, the harridan has left for New York. You will provide the clone, my subordinates will do the rest. Understood?"
"Y-Yes." came from the other end of the line. "W-We have estimated that the clone will last for about 48 hours. S-She has been programmed to g-go into hiding until s-she dissolves."
"Very good. Can I assume that its programming is to my satisfaction?"
"O-Of course! S-She will attack e-everyone outside of the o-originals family if someone h-hits on her. H-Her behavioural patterns s-stem from the video-m-material you provided us with, M-Miss Kuno."
"Most excellent. Meet my team at the preconcerted meeting place in two hours from now on. We will proceed as agreed upon. Your payment awaits in form of research funds as soon as the plan is complete."
Kodachi simply ended the call and laughed maniacally. Her plan to remove the vile harridan from the picture was short from bearing fruit. Ranma-sama would be hers.
It was an awed group that checked in at New York airport. Even Ranma, who had seen much on her trip wore an appreciative look. The single exception was Nabiki, who wore a look of cool indifference. It was unsurprisingly her who noticed the sign first.
"Look, Ranko-chan, your arrival was anticipated."
At Ranma's inquiring look Nabiki simply pointed to her immediate right. The redhead followed what Nabiki was pointing at, and her face scrunched up in disgust. There, about three-hundred metres away, stood two figures with a sign, apparently a man and a woman. That was not bad in itself, but the fact that the sign showed her grinning counterfeit, complete with sexy bathing suit, was. Ranma groaned and slapped her forehead. "Tendo Ranko... I can't believe I went along with this..."
"Nabiki," Ranma hissed, as she noticed that this was not a photo she had ever posed for.
"Yes, Ranko-chan? Is something wrong?"
"Only you, you pervert, only you," Akane muttered with a sneer as she stepped behind her fiancé.
"B-But I... She..." Ranma protested, while Nabiki winked.
"Nothing but. That," she pointed at the sign, "is perverted. A skimpy two piece bikini... What were you thinking?"
"Probably how to scam ice-cream." Nabiki inserted teasingly.
"Most likely, sis. Totally shameless, the pervert. Doesn't even think about the free show he gives other perverted boys," Akane nodded with a snort.
"What would you know, tomboy? Most bathin' suits would run away in fright as soon as they caught sight of ya. Flat as a board, built like a stick and thighs much too thick, that's ya," Ranma shot back irritably.
"Not here, sis," Nabiki said in a no-nonsense tone and stepped in before the mallet could form. "It would be downright idiotic to get arrested over some childish insults. And I believe our welcoming committee is waiting. They have noticed us. As has the rest of this airport," she concluded dryly.
Ranma and Akane glared at each other one more time, then they pretended that the other didn't exist. The redhead knew it had been stupid to react to Akane's insults, but despite all her resolution, she just couldn't stop herself. It was too deeply ingrained and had become habitual.
Nabiki on her part shook her head as her younger sister and her red-haired fiancée glared at each other, emphasising that they would never marry.
"They will never change," the middle Tendo girl muttered with a shake of her head, then she turned her head as she noticed movement out of the corner of her eyes. "Hey, Saotome, where do you think you are going?"
"Over to those guys," the redhead glared, "They can't be any worse than the tomboy."
Akane fumed, but couldn't do much more than watch as the redhead walked over to the welcoming committee. Feh, her insolent fiancée would get her just desserts later.
Ranma ignored Akane's burning glare that was trying to drill holes in the back of her head and walked over towards the waiting representatives with a confident stride. Her senses told her that the others were following, but she didn't care. This was her show.
"Hello. I believe you waiting for me?" she asked in her best English.
The westerners looked surprised. "Yes, Miss Tendo. I must admit, I am surprised that you speak our language so well. But where are my manners? I am Kyle Schaeffer. This is Elizabeth Clark," the blonde-haired man nodded over to an attractive raven-haired woman of medium height in her mid-thirties, who smiled at Ranma.
"We are representatives of NYMAT1994, and we are glad to have you here."
"NYwhat?" Ranma asked cluelessly.
"NYMAT1994. That's short for New York Martial Arts Tournament 1994, Miss Tendo," Kyle Schaeffer explained with a smile that showed off two rows of blinding white teeth.
"Ranko, may I call you Ranko?" the woman who had been introduced as Elizabeth Clark asked.
"Yes," Ranma grumbled, even though her facial expression conveyed that she didn't want to be called such.
"Excellent. Ranko, we have some red tape to take care off in our office here. Nothing major, just some forms to fill out," Elizabeth explained with a smile.
"If you would follow us, Miss Tendo? It won't take long," Kyle Schaeffer assured.
Ranma shrugged. "Kay. Can my friends come with me?"
Elizabeth Clark shook her head. "Sorry, that's not allowed. Seeing that none of the present are your parents or guardians, Ranko, that will not be possible."
"I am her manager, Tendo Nabiki. And I must insist that I accompany my client. I have to make sure she does not sign anything disadvantageous."
Kyle Schaeffer smiled at her. "I am sorry, Miss Tendo, but our regulations don't allow it as it pertains private data. You are no parent or guardian, which means that you are not privy to what we have to discuss. And no, no exceptions. Rules are rules, and the sooner we are done the sooner you will get an appointment for negotiations pertaining to your potential shares."
"Potential shares?" Nabiki asked in a barely level tone, scarcely suppressed greed making her eyes gleam.
"Of course," Elizabeth Clark replied with a smile. "Your client is well renowned, and one of our sponsors would be interested in making a contract. If that is possible."
"Our Boss, Mr. Hughes, will handle it, Miss Tendo. It might just be that he has a time slot for you tomorrow," Kyle Schaeffer added. "But he is a busy man, and we are already behind schedule regarding Miss Tendos' red tape."
Nabiki's mind was solely locked on the prospect of making profit. "Take care of the red tape, but don't try to trick my client. She will tell me anything anyway. And be sure to make that appointment."
The two NYMAT1994 representatives nodded in apparent acceptance. "If you would follow us, Miss Tendo."
Ranma shrugged again. "Kay, if there ain't no other way. Hope it doesn't take too long."
A gleam appeared in Kyle Schaeffer's eyes, but no one saw it. "I'm sure it won't."
Five minutes later Ranma was sitting in a small office. She had been led through a confusing array of corridors and had finally added up in the office of Dirk Hughes, who was apparently the boss of Mr. Schaeffer and Ms. Kyle. The redhead had hoped that things could be taken care of fast, but the fact that the office had been empty had shattered her hopes of trying out the nearest McDonalds.
Thus it was a sulking, hungry and impatient Ranma who fidgeted in her chair, a bored look on her face as she and her hosts were waiting for the boss of Elizabeth and Kyle. Ranma had just begun to go through the ways of blocking a frontal assault and her options at retaliation when the door was finally opened.
"Sorry," an unassuming man in his mid-fifties said as he sat down behind his desk, smoothing out his black business suit. "A meeting took longer than thought."
"Not a problem, sir. We didn't wait for long," Kyle Schaeffer replied, his tone level and professional.
"Good, good. So this is Miss Tendo?" the man asked, looking at Ranma.
The redhead surveyed the man before giving her answer. Mr. Hughes was a chubby man with greying hair, and so completely unassuming that one would forget him after ten seconds of meeting him. He was no threat.
"Yes, I am," Ranma replied confidently in English, her fingers steepled.
"Oh, you speak English. That's excellent. Saves us the costs for a translator, seeing that we will not be lost in translation here," he grinned and chuckled at his own joke.
Kyle and Elizabeth laughed politely, and Ranma looked at Mr. Hughes with a weird expression. "He try to make joke?" she asked in her best Xian Pu impression.
A distinctly unamused expression flitted across Mr. Hughes face, but it was gone so quickly Ranma didn't notice, and the man had a perfectly neutral expression on his face when he clapped his hands. "Before we start filling out forms, would you care for some tea and biscuits, Miss Tendo?"
Considering that the meal she had been served during the flight had been tiny Ranma barely stopped the drool from running down her chin. "That'd be perfect," she said with a smile.
"Good, good. Miss Clark, if you would?"
"Of course, sir," Miss Clark replied politely and left the office.
The next few minutes were spent with small talk as Mr. Hughes questioned Ranma on her exploits, and the redhead answered as thoroughly as possible. She didn't go in depth about her stay in Nerima, and just gave the general impression that she was a tough cookie who was a force to be reckoned with.
Miss Clark finally returned with a trayful of cookies and a pot of tea. The raven-haired woman served the tea expertly, and Ranma took the steaming cup all too gladly. She took a sip, placed the cup on the desk and reached for two cookies which she devoured with pleasure.
The redhead was so immersed in snacking that she didn't notice the grins that were exchanged between Miss Clark and Mr. Schaeffer. Only when spots began dancing in front of her vision Ranma sensed that something was very wrong, but by then it was far too late. The last she heard before darkness claimed her was the taunting voice of Miss Clark.
"There's no sense in fighting it, stupid girl. This binary poison is too strong, even for you. Soon your clone will cut loose and you'll reap what it'll sow, just like our contractee wants. Enjoy your stay in hell..."
to be continued…
Thanks for reading. Also, thanks to everyone for helping me out with suggestions, comments, ideas and c&c in general.
Special thanks go to the people at Shinjis board for their continued great help.
And last but not least, many thanks to my new beta for this story, Ordieth.
As always, comments and constructive crit are welcome and appreciated. Till next.