Eureka - Welcome to the Neighborhood.
Hello, Ladies and Gentlemen. Lathis here, still on Hiatus and still doing a terrible job of it. I have good news and bad news. I have been pretty busy with the writing during my hiatus, just not with Dark Titans. As such, I have this story (which I've actually finished writing, but am having just a terrible time actually typing into my computer) for you. Unfortunately, both of my Volunteer Betas have apparently been pretty busy lately, so I'm sending this out without any filters at all . . . yeah, good luck with that.
Anyway, this does mean two things, though. Now that I have all of these plot bunnies out of my head. One, I plan on starting to write for Dark Titans again. Two, you probably won't be seeing anything from that until I finally have all of this typed in and posted, and considering my stubborn case of typer's block, it's possible I could have the entire series finished on paper before I type another word.
P.S. - Recent Addition. Due to FF being… less than kind, and erasing all of my scene breaks, I'm taking some small measures to start fixing that mess. Hopefully this new break (not really that new, but whatever) isn't too annoying.
I suppose that's life for you. Hopefully you'll all forgive me for sucking so much.
Again, Enjoy if you will, Tolerate if you won't.
The young man continued to place one foot ahead of the other, continuing the endless cycle of motion which had come to predominate so very much of his life. Walking, the simplest action a human could do without falling back on those lazy autonomic anatomic functions that kept the body humming along. What was walking, anyway? Just repeatedly falling forward, only to catch yourself before you fell flat on your face. It seemed to be a fairly apt metaphor for his life. Every time he tried to take a step forward with his life, he inevitably seemed to fall flat on his face, only to pick himself up, dust himself off . . . and proceed to repeat the process all over again.
And yet he kept on going, kept on walking; unrelenting, unceasing, unthinking, an automaton whose sole purpose was to-
Cursing for all he was worth, Ryouga Hibiki bounced around clutching the toe which he had just stubbed something fierce on some errant piece of debris littering the road. The wandering martial artist rubbed his aching digit for another minute before glaring at the offending toe-stubber.
"Why the hell is it so dark out?" he muttered crossly to himself.
He could hardly see a thing in the near pitch black of the night. He couldn't even see the stars above, let alone a moon to guide his way. Only the telltale glow of distant civilization gave him any light at all. As such, he could just make out the glittering edges of what looked like a piece of glass sitting on the road.
"Oh, son of a-"
He took another look at his foot . . . yes, his slipper was ruined. It was a minor miracle that he hadn't cut up his foot, too. It wasn't like he had five pairs of spare slippers to replace the ones he was wearing . . . sure, he had two spare pairs, but one of those pairs were his dress slippers, and the other were about five years old and fit like a pair of tightened vices.
Well, nothing to do about it, he supposed. Taking a moment to change into his fresh, new slippers, he irately stuffed his damaged footwear into his ever-present backpack and slipped the massive carry-on onto his back. He was sure that if he kept heading to the pinkish glow on the horizon, he'd reach a city where he could buy another pair soon enough.
Still, one would think it would be the least the government could do to keep up the infrastructure. Sure, so he didn't exactly pay taxes, but if he did, he'd certainly want clean, well maintained roads to be a top priority. In all honesty, the road was the closest thing to a home that he'd ever had, so he would prefer if it weren't lashing out at him as well.
He adjusted the straps on his pack a final time, then made sure his umbrella was tightly synched in place before continuing on his way. Come to think of it, the road really had been his home for the past three years, or so. After the last failed wedding attempt - what did that bring the tally to, three, four? – Ranma had simply vanished.
Still being the hopeless romantic that he was, Ryouga had tried to take advantage of his main rival's absence; unfortunately it appeared that he was just that much more hopeless than romantic when it came to one Akane Tendo. He wasn't even really sure why he had tried to woo the youngest Tendo after Ranma had vanished. Ever since the first failed wedding attempt, he had more or less given up on the fiery young woman . . . maybe he had just been feeling a bit nostalgic for the old days, or something to that effect.
Regardless, with no Ranma to beat, no Akane to woo and not even a snowball's chance in hell of actually finding Akari's farm, Ryouga's minor tendency to become . . . misplaced . . . had bloomed magnificently into a phenomenal, meandering trek to which there was no end in sight.
Whoever said that 'life is a journey, not a destination' needed to be shot.
'Hmmmm . . .' Well, it wasn't like there was anything else on his plate for the moment. The wanderer began to consider the logistics of A) purchasing a gun, and B) finding said person, when-
The sound was faint, distant, but unmistakably the sound of someone yelling out an attack. Almost immediately, Ryouga's sour mood evaporated and he perked up noticeably. Combat, or at least the potential for combat was one of the few things that could still get him excited after all of his time on the long, dusty trail. He was many things, after all: hopeless romantic, hopeless wanderer, hopeless dreamer, but above it all, he was a hopeless martial artist – no wait, scratch that last one. He was a martial artist.
With surprising ease, he managed to keep track of the sounds of violence while he followed it to its source. Oddly, when it came to placing himself into life threatening situations his sense of direction invariably flipped from 'Drunken Tourist' to 'Homing Pigeon' in a matter of seconds. He continued to assure himself that it was his Warrior's Spirit drawing him towards conflict, and definitely not a deeply seeded death wish drawing him towards destruction. It was either that, or someone upstairs just really liked watching him take a beating.
Suicidal tendencies or Divine sadism aside, Ryouga had never been one to back down from a fight. As such, he didn't even hesitate when the cacophony of combat led him off of the beaten trail and drew him into the darkness of the woods that ran along both sides of the road for as far as the eye could see . . . which wasn't particularly far at the moment. A sudden flash of light through the trees caught his attention, giving him yet another beacon to follow. It looked very much like someone was swinging around a flashlight in the distance, even as they continued to fight. It only took a half a minute for the swiftly moving martial artist to close the remaining distance.
In a blur of motion, the fanged warrior burst past several more trees, landing dramatically in a small clearing of the forest. He immediately set his stance and prepared to lash out at whoever looked to be the aggressor . . . or whoever was less attractive, depending on the situation-
". . ."
Or, he could help the man being attacked by a pack of giant rodents . . . That, at least, seemed to be a pretty safe bet. He shook off the odd sight of a remarkably tall man with what looked to be a sizeable afro hairstyle being attacked by ten or so bright white, red eyed rodents of the four foot long variety; it wasn't like he hadn't seen stranger, even before he left Nerima for good.
His ruminations were cut short as he saw one of the rodents leap into the air behind the tall man, preparing to attack his blind spot. Moving more quickly than most people could even think, Ryouga flowed forward and launched himself into a flying kick.
The sole of his brand new and fancy dress slipper slammed home into the face of the oversized rodent. The martial artist winced at the loud crunch that resulted from the strike - 'Great, now I got blood on my good slippers!' - then the rodent vanished from sight, disappearing back into the darkness of the forest from the force of his attack.
The distant sound of a soft body colliding with something indisputably not soft, and a pained squeal, gave him the distinct impression that that rat wouldn't be back any time soon.
He landed a second later, spinning down and to the side to avoid another of the rodents leaping through the air. Simultaneously, the fanged warrior unlimbered his umbrella with practiced ease just in time to finish his spin, implement held horizontally before him to catch the unnervingly long teeth of a third rodent a mere twelve inches from his face.
With a contemptuous twist of the handle, he sent the entire bulk of the white furred creature spinning wildly in the air. Even as the monster mouse crashed to the ground and began to roll uncontrollably to the side, bowling over a fourth rodent, Ryouga looked at the rather sizeable hole in the canopy of his favorite umbrella.
"This is why I can never have nice things," he lamented sourly.
Apparently those teeth weren't anything to sneeze at. If those rats could actually chew through his umbrella, he certainly didn't want to put his delectable flesh to the test. Like he didn't get enough of that with P-Chan.
"Screw this, Bakusai Tenketsu!"
Yelling his familiar epitaph, Ryouga jammed his index finger into the ground at his feet with reckless abandon. It was followed a fraction of a second later by a rather sizeable detonation of soft forest soil and assorted tree roots-
Oh, riiiight, he'd been saving someone. The bandanna clad martial artist chuckled in embarrassment as the remaining rodents squealed in panic and fled beyond his sight into the darkened woods. Well, not exactly one of his smoother rescues, but it looked like he managed to chase off the giant rats at any rate.
Ryouga turned to regard the fortunate recipient of his timely aid; at least what he could see of the poor fellow, half buried in dirt as he was.
"Umm, you alright, Mister?"
He ventured forward to help extricate his companion, when suddenly the earthen mound burst up into a fountain of dirt, the buried man leaping heroically to his feet.
"AHAHAHAHA! Of course I'm alright, boy! In fact, if you hadn't shown up when you had, I would have performed a similar attack myself. Of course, considering how much more powerful mine would have been, it was obviously for the best that I didn't, AHAHAHAHA!"
Ryouga could only stare at the man in wonder for a moment. However, things began to click in his mind with startling speed. The dark brown gi top, the dirtied yet still white pants, the intensely muscled frame and the distinctive hair and mustache . . .
The young warrior found himself nearly vibrating with giddiness as he realized just whom he had assisted.
"Y-y-you're Mr. Satan!" he very nearly squealed.
The world renowned martial artist looked shocked for a moment, before a beaming smile lit up his face and he stood straight and proud.
"So, you've heard of me, have you? Not really a surprise, I suppose, you look like you know a little martial arts yourself."
Ryouga nodded excitedly.
"Yeah. You really tore up all of the tournament leagues around the world. In fact, I'd always kind of hoped to fight you in one, but I've never had much luck registering for tournaments . . . well, except for that Dark Tournament a few years back . . ."
Mr. Satan looked at him oddly for a moment, before shrugging.
"Still, I should thank you for helping me out there, Son. You saved me a little bit of trouble, chasing off those mutants like you did. I mean, of course I could have handled them, likely would have finished them in another minute or so, but I wouldn't have been quite so merciful."
Ryouga nodded, agreeing completely.
"I don't doubt it, Mr. Satan. By the way, my names Hibiki Ryouga, and I'm a really big fan of yours."
The Afro wearing martial artist let out another boisterous bout of laughter.
"Of course you are. And please, call me Hercule. Now, I better start tracking down those creatures before they cause any problems. Thanks again for the help, Son."
Hercule then proceeded to suit action to word, taking a step in the direction that one of the various rodents had escaped in-
Only to collapse instantly to the ground in a gurgling heap.
Instantly, Ryouga was at the world famous fighter's side, helping the bulky man back to his feet. A quick scan revealed the problem in an instant. Though it had been partially concealed by the dirt and the darkness, Ryouga's idol had sustained a nasty looking bite to the back of his leg. Frankly, it was a testament to the older man's tenacity that he could even stand with such an injury, let alone put up such a brave front.
Mr. Satan chuckled weakly as he allowed Ryouga to bear the bulk of his weight on his comparatively narrow shoulder.
"W-well, I guess taking a small break wouldn't hurt too much. I don't suppose it would be too much of an imposition to ask you to help me back to town, would it, Ryouga?"
'Ahhhh! He said my name!'
"N-no, not at all, Mr. Satan."
The massive man smiled and gave him an energetic thumbs up.
"Thanks, kid. And, really, call me Hercule."
Several tightly synched bandannas for a makeshift bandage and roughly forty minutes later, Ryouga and his world famous shoulder warmer had finally found civilization. The wanderer sighed in relief as the welcome sight of softly glowing streetlights scattered the eerie darkness which had cocooned him since the setting of the sun. It had been a long, long time since he'd seen such a dark night, and it wasn't a prospect he hoped to repeat.
The town itself seemed to be fairly mundane, looking like any of the other hundred small Japanese settlements that he'd passed through over the years. It did have a somewhat cozy feel to it, none of the buildings rose above two stories and the streets were well lit and surprisingly clean. A sparse number of automobiles were parked along the sides of the road, which appeared to turn into the main strip as it entered into the town proper.
There was even a large digital display mounted on one of the streetlights displaying the time –
Wait, it was only ten thirty? Considering the inky darkness he'd been traveling through, he assumed it was well after midnight. True, he hadn't really been paying attention to the time, but it had felt like he'd been traveling down that road forever.
'Meh, probably just my imagination,' he mused.
In fact, several storefronts were still lit up, most notably what looked like a restaurant down the road. He squinted his eyes to read the sign, the 'Yang Spring' restaurant, eh? He'd have to check it out after he got Hercule some help. He was starving.
"So, where's the Doctor around here, Mr. Satan?"
His companion, looking a little on the pale side, let out a weak groan. "There's a private practice a few blocks over. The doc is a nice enough guy, he won't mind a visit at this hour."
Ryouga nodded agreeably and began to move forward to Hercrule's prodding once more. Thankfully the world-renowned fighter hadn't taken too long to pick up on his directional problem. Oddly, though, Mr. Satan had barely even batted an eyelash when Ryouga had explained his condition. Just a minor shrug of his shoulders before he began to shepherd the Lost Boy along.
Oh, if only all people were so understanding . . .
They were just about to pass by the restaurant he'd noticed moments earlier, when suddenly the door opened. With the perky ringing of a bell, the glass edifice ejected a lovely young woman . . . a lovely young woman that almost walked headlong into the hobbling pair of martial artists. Ryouga quickly shuffle stepped to the side, taking in the odd female as he did.
There were two things that stood out right away about the young woman, besides her aesthetic looks, anyway. She had long, blonde hair, and he meant long, as in nearly brushing the ground behind her long. How long did this girl take to wash all that hair, anyway? Did she spend half the day in the shower or something?
The rather abrupt thought of this girl in the shower caused his nose to throb in warning, so he quickly latched onto the other attribute which he'd noticed on the girl. She appeared to have . . . to have large, plastic looking ears. They were down turned, reminding him of a mopey cat, or something, except for the glossy sheen to them. The oddity of her ears was enough to force him to remember his manners.
He was about to apologize for . . . um, for nearly letting her walk into him, when-
"Chi!" exclaimed the lovely young woman.
At his side, Hercule began to laugh nervously. "Um, heh, heh. Oh, hey there, Chi! Nice to see you, now why don't you run along home?"
The weird ear girl nodded happily then began to make down the street, leaving them with a final, upbeat, "Chi!"
Ryouga stared after Chi for a long moment, before turning to his companion.
"Was it just me . . . or did she have plastic ears?"
Mr. Satan let out another nervous chuckle. "Ah, those were orthopedic earmuffs . . . she's, ah . . . anemic?"
'Ah, anemia. Tragic, that.' Ryouga shook his head sadly. That really was too bad, such a pretty girl having to deal with a condition like that.
"Um, so, where was that doctor's place, again?"
An odd look on his face for some reason, likely the pain, Mr. Satan began to lead him down the street once more, nervous chuckles leaking out of him like water from a leaky sink. Ryouga was starting to wonder what was so funny . . .
They made it two blocks down the road before they reached the cross street they needed to take to reach the doctor's practice. As such, Ryouga waited patiently at the crosswalk for the crossing signal to change. Not that he was really worried about getting hit at this time of night, but the desire to adhere to the delicate social contract which bound all of society together kept him from crossing the street before it was time. Heck, there was only one car even traveling down the road this late-
"Huh," Ryouga commented, "Was it just me . . . or did that car not have any wheels?"
Mr. Satan stiffened noticeably at his innocuous question, responding with surprising speed.
"Oh . . . ah, th-they're in the shop."
Ryouga considered this for a moment.
"Hunh, go figure."
With that, the tiny flashing hand transformed into a tiny pictograph of a walking person, and Ryouga began to drag his companion across the road. For some reason, Mr. Satan let out a sigh of relief. Maybe the pain was beginning to subside? That could be a good sign, or a very, very bad sign, depending on how bad his wound was. Deciding to err on the side of caution, Ryouga picked up the pace as he made his way down the street-
He made it about five yards before he froze in terror.
No . . . wait a moment, Kodachi's laugh was more of a 'Ahahahahahahaha!', with a slightly more unhinged flavor to it. With that thought firmly in mind, Ryouga let out his own sigh of relief and turned his attention to the perpetrator of the maniacal laughter-
Oh, it was just a lavender haired girl wearing an armor plated bikini flying down the street at incredible speeds . . . that was all. Still fifty feet down the road, the scantily clad war-machine spun in mid flight and lifted an arm at a figure trailing in the distance behind her.
"Fool! You believe yourself a match for the stunningly beautiful Daitokuji Biko? Akagiyama Missiles!"
Ryouga's eyes widened slightly as a salvo of tiny little missiles exploded from the young woman's rather slim looking gauntlet to scream down the street. The figure, who also appeared to be gliding down the street at high speeds, didn't even slow, just raised a gloved hand and the explosive warheads detonated several yards ahead of him. A second later, the man (Ryouga was sure he was a man, despite the long, silver hair tied into a ponytail) held out his gloved hand and a glowing broadsword of pure green energy formed from naught but air.
Ryouga's eyes widened further at that. It wasn't everyday he got to see such an advanced display of chi control, and it had been over a year since he'd met a person actually capable of creating an energy sword . . .
"My Dear, you can not even begin to fathom the depths of the power with which you trifle."
With that, the silver haired swordsmen, sporting an intellectual looking pair of spectacles perched on his nose (a fact only made noticeable as he flew past) increased his speed and closed the distance with the bikini clad warrior, inciting a good section of the infrastructure to literally disintegrate as they began trading blows.
Ryouga could only watch, jaw agape, as the pair continued to battle their way down the street, explosions and the hissing of high energy plasma searing the air and lighting up the night, before they reached an intersection three blocks down and inexplicably took a left.
Slowly, the fanged wanderer turned to face his companion.
". . . Was it just me . . ."
"What? Those two? This is just their date night," Hercule replied to his unasked question with a blasé tone.
"Oh . . . well, that makes sense," Ryouga conceded.
"Wait, it does?"
The incredulous look which suddenly bloomed on Hercule's face made Ryouga wonder if he'd said something wrong. Eyes narrowing slightly, he regarded his Martial Arts senior with a skeptical gaze.
Mr. Satan began to laugh nervously, rubbing the back of his head in a disturbingly familiar manner.
"Ahahaha . . . of course it should! You know how those crazy kids are these days? What with their Naruto anime and Yu Gi Oh card games, everything's gotta be a big fight . . . right?"
Well, those weren't examples that he would have used, but Ryouga supposed the sentiment still rang true. Though, that guy had looked a little on the old side to be playing any card games, well, besides high stakes poker or something like that.
"Ah well, so how far to the doctor's again?"
"Ahhhh, about that . . . you know what? The Sheriff's office is actually a lot closer than that, and I know they have a first aid kit there. Just follow my lead and we'll get there in no time."
Ryouga gave a non-committal shrug. It hardly mattered to him one way or the other. At this point, finding his way back to that restaurant before it closed for the night was getting higher and higher on his priority list. The whiff he'd gotten when that anemic girl had opened the restaurant door had gotten his stomach to rumbling something fierce.
So, a mere ten minutes later (he could have sworn that Hercule had said it was closer than the doctor's office . . . but hadn't they been just a block away from there?) the pair found themselves standing outside the rather non-descript face of the Sheriff's Office. The sign hanging above the door with 'Sheriff's Office' blazoned across it helped to alleviate his worry that they might have been at the wrong place.
Without further ado, Ryouga pushed open the door, causing another bell to chime, and dragged his Martial Arts Idol through the door. The bandanna clad fighter took a moment to take in the interior of the office. It had a very 'small town' feel to it. Nice, hard wood floors, a standard looking cell taking up most of one half of the room, and several heavy wooden desks, littered with various office clutter.
The most notable accoutrement of the office had to be the young woman lounging comfortably behind one of the desks, her feet kicked up onto its wooden surface and her hands folded lazily behind her head. Much like that Chi girl, Ryouga also noticed two notable things about this female as well. The first was her spiky, cyan hair, flowing back over the chair like the untamed mane of a wild animal.
The second was her glistening amber eyes. The pupil's of said eyes were slit, very much like those of a cat, adding to already wild appearance that her hair provided. The young woman, Deputy Ryoko he would guess, judging by the nameplate sitting on the edge of her desk, looked up lazily at their entrance, only to perk up noticeably when she apparently realized just who it was that got dragged through her door.
He decided to play it especially polite, since it was just common sense to be polite to women, and one should always be polite to authority figures. "Hello, ma'am. You wouldn't happen to know if the Sheriff is in, would you? I have an injured man in need of assistance."
A smirk played across the young woman's lips that came across as positively 'catty' to the lost boy. And after knowing Shampoo so long, he had a lot of experience with that look.
"Actually, he just got in. Would you like me to get him for you?"
Before Ryouga even had the chance to nod, let alone reply, the cheerful woman suddenly leaned forward. Then, against all of the laws of physics which Ryouga knew (which wasn't very many, and even the ones that he knew were on pretty shaky ground considering some of the people he'd met over his travels) her feet passed directly through the desk, bringing her quickly to a standing . . . err, floating position, she then proceed to glide bodily throughthe desk.
For the third (or was it fourth?) time that night, Ryouga's eyes widened in surprise. The amber eyed Deputy stared at him expectantly for a moment, apparently waiting for more than a mere widening of his eyes. When no such reaction was forthcoming, she gave a weak shrug of her shoulders and proceeded to pluck Mr. Satan's bulky form from his shoulder by the back of his gi, as if the massive man weighed no more than a sack of feathers.
"Stranger, Sheriff. Sheriff, stranger."
Hercule had the good graces to shrug sheepishly as he dangled helplessly from the floating woman's grasp. He then turned to glower at the deceptively strong deputy holding him aloft.
"Why did you have to do that? You know civilians aren't authorized to know what goes on here."
Apparently getting chewed out by her superior officer didn't mean a whole heck of a lot to the lovely young woman, as she scoffed loudly in reply. "Please. You dragged the guy through town on Biko's date night. If the guy's not deaf or blind, then he's already seen, or at least heard way too much. This is all your fault, Old Man."
Sighing in defeat, Hercule nodded dejectedly.
"Well, you know what we have to do now, right?", muttered the older man forlornly
It was about this point that Ryouga began to get nervous. He was pretty sure he'd heard this conversation in movies before, and it never ended well for the subject of said conversation. Taking a slow step back towards the door, Ryouga raised his hands before him in a warding gesture.
"Ummm, y'know, I've done my good deed for the day. If I'm not supposed to be here, I can leave . . . immediately . . ."
Another step towards the doors. He began to feel blindly behind him for the doorknob.
Before him, Ryoko turned to regard Hercule once more. The bulky martial artist looked to Ryouga, then back to Ryoko, then gave a single nod of consent. An instant later, the spiky haired female dropped the Sheriff unceremoniously to the floor. A positively wicked smirk formed on her lips as she began to float forward, cracking her knuckles menacingly.
Still unable to find the doorknob behind him, Ryouga briefly considered simply leaping straight through the plate glass window . . . but he was in enough trouble already without adding property destruction to the list . . . he imagined. Besides, woman or not, what kind of man would be if he ran from a fight? That thought in mind, he took his own combat stance.
"Be warned, for now you face Hibiki Ry-"
"Oww . . . w-what the hell just happened?"
Ryouga gingerly moved to rub his head, pulling his arm free from the masonry in which it was firmly embedded. Unfortunately, this thoughtless action had the rather unfortunate effect of dislodging the rest of his body from its custom made crater in the holding cell wall, dropping him rather unceremoniously onto his head. With great reluctance, the fanged fighter untwisted his body up and into a sitting position, where he made a brief attempt at dusting the powdered masonry from his shirt. Once this endeavor proved fruitless, he simply settled on glaring at the cyan haired monster on the other side of the iron bars.
For her part, Ryoko smiled with sinful delight.
"Most fun I've had all week," she exclaimed, cracking her neck absently.
It was about this time that Hercule made his way back into the conversation. Ryouga wasn't sure how long he'd been out, but the senior martial artist had apparently had the time to replace his bandanna bandage with a nice, white band of cloth which circled his wounded leg quite expertly. The mustached warrior turned to his plucky sidekick.
"Be a dear and call this one in for me, will you, Ryoko? I'm gonna head home for the night and recuperate a bit."
Hercule then made his way for the door, completely missing the enraged expression that bloomed on Ryoko's face pretty much sometime between 'Be a dear' and 'I'm gonna head home'. In fact, Ryouga considered trying to climb back into this personally fitted wall indentation when a sphere of crackling yellow energy began to coalesce between her curled fingers.
"Oh, by the way," Hercule added, just as he stepped out the door, "This kid isn't too bad, you'd better keep an eye on him until I get back."
"What? All night?"
Unfortunately, the floating young woman's disbelieving cry went unanswered, as Hercule was already out the door. Ryouga eyed the unstable looking ball of power that Ryoko had gathered, more than just a little worried at what she was planning on doing with it . . .
When, with a beleaguered sigh, the Deputy let the potentially devastating attack dissolve away to nothing. Then, grumbling mightily to herself, Ryoko floated back over to her desk and flopped back into her chair with enough force that the fragile wood creaked ominously in protest to her unbridled annoyance.
Feeling a little safer with a little more distance between him and the girl that had just so bodily tossed him into the holding cell, Ryouga allowed himself to relax and take a seat on the nearby cot. He studied the exotic looking woman for another minute or so, taking in the upset expression on her face, the stiffness of her posture and the strange red gem that appeared to be imbedded in her right wrist.
Still, as unusual as she was, his curiosity wouldn't be ignored for long.
"You know, I don't want to come across as pushy here," he began as politely as possible, given the situation, "But what the hell is going on? What did I see too much of? Who are you supposed to call? What are you going to do with me?"
Of course, he had never really been known for his patience . . .
His sudden outburst had the positive effect of snapping the Deputy out of her irate bout of cursing to herself under her breath. Unfortunately what happened when she turned her attention back his way didn't instill him with even a shred of confidence. Rather than grace him with a supportive glance, or a reassuring smile, Ryoko chose to taunt him with a wicked smirk.
"Let me put it this way, Stud. You just stumbled across something you really shouldn't have."
"Story of my life." He fought the urge to roll his eyes.
"As for what we're gonna do . . . Personally, I'm gonna vote for blowing you out the airlock."
"B-but – but we aren't even in space!"
Her wicked smirk became positively sinful.
"That can change pretty quick around here."
Ryouga folded his arms across his chest and slumped helplessly against the wall at the back of the cot. It appeared his usual luck with females was holding true this night as well.
"Sheesh, what do you have against me?"
Ryoko seemed to consider his question for a moment, before shrugging.
"Nothing, really. Just naturally vindictive and easily bored."
"Hmph, story of my life . . . again."
Well, at least the deranged deputy appeared to be in a better mood, to his detriment. The cyan haired female smiled in victory and kicked her feet back up onto the surface of her desk and proceeded to lace her hands back behind her head once more.
"Well, since I don't really need to sleep, and I'm stuck here anyway, might as well get a little work done."
With that, Ryoko casually lifted one of her feet into the air, only to drop her delicate looking heel onto a seemingly random button on her desk-
Only to have a bright yellow light drop from the ceiling and the wall behind her slide open. The sliding wall revealed a large, blue lighted closet filled with what appeared to be biological containment suits. As if anticipating her needs, one of the bulky suits slid out of the closet, ready for use.
Ryouga's eyes bulged from his sockets as he pointed incredulously at the gaudy suit.
"What the hell are you going to do with that?"
Ryoko chuckled an evil chuckle at his abject shock. "Sorry, wrong button."
A second later, she tapped her heel to the button again, retracting the HAZMAT suit and closing the closet. She then dropped her heel to another closely placed button. This time, the only result was a tiny device popping out of the wooden surface of the desk and tilting slightly in his direction.
"So, Guy, I've got a few questions for ya. First off, what's your name? Not that I particularly care."
He briefly considered giving his name as Saotome Ranma, but he'd be damned if he was going to hide behind his rival for anything. Besides, things didn't exactly turn out well for the last guy that pretended to be Ranma, now did they?
Ryoko tilted her head an inch. "Hmm, nice name. Now, how did ya get down here?"
He looked at her oddly. "Um, I walked?"
She returned his odd look with interest. "Allllright . . . Then why don't ya tell me anything that struck you as strange when you were dragging the Sheriff through town?"
The martial artist took a moment to consider that request. Now that he thought about it, there were a few things that had stuck him as being a little . . . off. "Well, that floating car was pretty cool, and something did seem a little off about that girl with the orthopedic earmuffs-"
He completely missed the absolutely baffled look that plastered itself across her face when he mentioned that detail.
"-And that crazy couple that was tearing up the streets was pretty impressive . . ."
He paused his musing as Ryoko let out a disgusted groan
"Don't even remind me. Do you know how creepy it is seeing a guy that's practically your uncle going out with a girl twenty thousand years too young for him? It's just so wrong!"
'Riiiight, sheesh, exaggerate much?' Sure, the guy had looked a little older than the bikini clad girl, but there was no need to blow it that far out of proportion.
"Anyway," Ryoko continued after a quick shudder finished rolling down her shoulders, "Last and least important. D'you know how the Sheriff got himself hurt? I'm just asking, because if you did it, I might reconsider tossing you out into space."
He leveled a flat stare in her direction. "Not much love for the boss, eh?"
She replied with another shrug. "Let's just say that Mr. Satan does a lot of barking, but I usually end up doing all the biting. So, do you know what happened?"
A genial nod. "Actually, I do. He was getting attacked by a pack of oversized rodents. I hopped in and helped him out, but it looked like one of those rats managed to take a bite out of him before I arrived. And you already know pretty much everything that happened after that."
This time, it was Ryoko who leveled a coldly flat glare in his direction. "You are so getting launched into space . . . Still, mutant rats, eh? And that didn't strike you as odd?"
Ryouga replied with a casual shrug. "What? You've never been to Ryugenzawa?"
"Riiiight . . . Well, that sounds like enough anyway, and all I care to actually do at the moment. So . . . go to sleep or something. I don't feel like looking at your mug anymore tonight." Ryoko flicked her wrist at him in a shooing gesture, as if she expected him to scurry away like a housecat or something. As if he had anywhere to go.
Feeling a little spiteful, Ryouga folded his arms across his chest and leveled a taunting smirk her way.
"Don't you have someone you're supposed to call, or something?"
"Sheesh, I'm pretty sure this can wait till morning. Some dusty vagabond is hardly worth getting the higher ups out of bed in the middle of the night."
'Dusty vagabond? Now that was just uncalled for . . . accurate, but uncalled for.'
"Well excuse me, but considering my imminent future seems to involve getting launched into the icy depths of space, maybe you can understand my desire to find out what the hell is going on here?"
The irate deputy sat up in her desk, firing an equally irate glare back in his direction. "You're not just gonna fall asleep so I can sneak off, are you?"
It was Ryouga's turn to wear the vindictive smile. Being a pain in the ass could really be fun from time to time . . . maybe that was the reason that Ranma had seemed to do it every waking moment of his life.
The pair of warriors simply glared at each other for several long minutes, either one willing the other to spontaneously combust under the fury of their gazes alone . . . until-
With a final groan of defeat, Ryoko slumped back into her seat.
"Fine. I got some cards in the back, I'll go get them."
"-so, I guess I've loved the guy since the first moment I saw him, y'know? Not that Ayeka could possibly understand that. I mean, I knew him his entire life, then she just pops out of space one day and acts like she owns him, or some crap."
Ryouga offered a sympathetic nod to his emotionally unburdening companion. He then shifted a bit on the not-quite-comfortable cot, to better face the lovely young woman whom was floating parallel to the ground just outside his cell. He idly wondered if a leather couch would have been more at home beneath the Deputy.
"That's pretty rough, Deputy. This Tenchi sounds like a pretty nice guy. Maybe a bit of a pushover when it comes to women, but I can relate to that a bit."
A weak chuckle was his reply, before Ryoko was glaring again. "And you would not believe how bratty Ayeka can be. Sometimes it feels like her entire existence is devoted to making mine worse!"
"Heh, heh. Actually, I think I can relate to that pretty well, too. Though I have to admit that I have it a little better, since my nemesis hasn't been around lately . . ."
At that, Ryoko stretched lazily, once more reinforcing the unshakable mental image that he got of a feline when he looked at her. The amber eyed woman looked about ready to launch into another diatribe about her own personal devil, when she happened to notice the sunlight streaming in through the windows-
"Holy! It's that early already? Man, I better call the GD people to come and deal with you already."
Ryouga looked down to his own wrist, gazing at the bare patch of skin where he sincerely wished a watch resided. Trying to tell the time by the sun's position in the sky wasn't nearly as easy as the History Channel made is seem, and heaven forbid you try to catch the Five-Fifteen bus by solar time. A disappointing moment later, he let out a weary sigh.
"I have to admit that I kind of hoped you had forgotten about that."
The light chime of a bell heralded a visitor.
"Heh, I'm surprised she didn't, man."
Ryouga's head spun so fast he nearly broke his own neck.
There, against all expectations, standing as non-chalantly as if he hadn't been missing for the past three years . . . was the one and only Saotome Ranma.
"Ranma? W-what the hell are you doing here?"
The pigtailed boy . . . man, actually, with pigtail now trailing halfway down his back, actually had the audacity to chuckle.
"I'd ask you the same question, but in your case, it's painfully obvious."
Ranma then turned to Ryoko. "Don't worry about making the call, I know how much you hate talkin' to the Head of Research. I'll take Ryouga up to the facility myself."
Ryoko glared balefully at the blue eyed martial artist. "How the heck did you even know he was here?"
Ranma simply shrugged in reply. "Swung by Hercule's for our mornin' spar, cept he was all laid up. He told me what happened last night and gave me a little description of the guy that saved his sorry butt. Heh, all it took was 'ridiculous bandanna' and I just knew who it had to be. Of course, hearing that Ryouga was behind bars here, I just had to see it with my own eyes . . . Oh, and on a related note, you're on your own today, Ryoko."
Ryoko flopped back into her chair, rolling her eyes in annoyance.
"Ain't that the story of my life?"
Ryouga couldn't help but chuckle.
"Alright then. I'll bring the transport around. This guy doesn't look like much-"
"-But he's got a nice right hook."
Ranma waved off her concern without a care in the world.
"Don't bother. I'm an old hand at keeping P-Chan here on a short leash."
"Besides, considering he's locked up like that, I'm assuming he saw something he wasn't supposed to, right? This'll give me a chance to explain what's goin on to the guy."
Ryoko just shrugged, wriggling herself more deeply into her well cushioned chair. "Like I care; I'm not the Sheriff. If the guy escapes it's on his head." With that, the cyan haired demoness tossed the pigtailed fighter a set of shiny keys. "Here, take my jeep. S'not like I ever use it."
Ranma looked at the keys for a moment, possibly fascinated by the shiny objects, then casually tossed them back. "Naw, I think it's a good day for a walk. Besides . . . I got a lot to catch him up on."
The unlikely Deputy gave him a skeptical look. "You're going to walk a potentially dangerous security breach to the GD facility?"
Only to have Ranma scoff loudly and turn towards Ryouga himself. "Hey, Ryouga, if I let you outta that cell are you gonna make a run for it?"
Ryouga scoffed with even more enthusiasm. "Are you insane? I've finally found you after three years. I'm going to get my answers even if I have to wring them out of your battered corpse."
The Anything Goes martial artist sighed fondly for some reason. "Awww, that's the stuff. I gotta say I missed the casual death threats." He then turned back to Ryoko. "See? We're good. He ain't goin nowhere."
"Fine, fine." Ryoko let out a weak groan. "Just let me get the guy out."
With that, she once again lackadaisically lifted her heel, only to drop in onto another random button on her desk-
Instantly causing a three foot by three foot column to extend down from the roof with startling speed . . . almost directly where Ranma was standing. With a frantic cry, the pigtailed man rolled to the side as the pillar, covered in racks and hanging enough futuristic firepower to probably wipe out a small country, slammed heavily into the ground he'd occupied only a second earlier.
"Oops," Ryoko supplied, fingers held daintily over her lips, "Clumsy me."
"That was no accident! . . . Damnit, stop laughing, P-Chan!"
Several minutes and many bouts of boisterous laughter later, Ryouga found himself being led down one of the many bustling streets of the pleasant looking little town. All around him, feats of brilliance were displayed for all the world to see: cyborg's walking dogs, children writing advanced mathematical formulae on the sidewalk in chalk and even one man pulling out a tiny capsule, only to drop in on the ground and have it explode into a full sized car . . .
And yet the only thing Ryouga found he could do was to stare disbelievingly at the man that walked at his side. He was almost tempted to reach out and poke the crimson shirted martial artist, if only to confirm that he was actually real and not just a figment. Between his rival's ridiculously unexpected reappearance after three years, and all of the other craziness he'd experienced within just the last twelve hours, the Lost Boy honestly had no idea where to even begin.
So the duo continued to walk in silence, Ryouga staring at Ranma out of the corner of his eye, and Ranma gently redirecting him whenever he began to veer off course. Of course, the silence was doomed to end, sooner or later. After nearly ten minutes of stiff silence, Ranma finally turned to regard him, a nostalgic look in his eyes.
"Y'know, I gotta say it's good to see you again, Ryouga. It's been way too long since I've seen anyone from the old crew."
And just like that, the ghostly dweamor that had been clinging to his perceptions was brushed away. All at once, three years of bitterness and anger surged back to the front of his mind, his most familiar and trusted companions. It was all he could do to restrain himself to simply scowling at his rival's cocky, smirking face.
"Cut the small talk, Ranma, this isn't a friendly visit. You just vanish for three years, not a word to anyone, not a care for anyone, and I find you laughing it up here of all places . . . wherever the hell here is."
Again, his pigtailed rival possessed the audacity to chuckle in amusement.
"Trust me, this is the last place I expected to see you too, but, then considering it's you, I guess it makes perfect sense."
A low growl resonated in Ryouga's throat.
"Damnit, Ranma, this isn't the time for your idiotic attempts at humor! I've been attacked by mutant rats, tossed into prison and threatened with explosive decompression! What the hell is going on in this crazy town, and what the hell does it have to do with you?"
"Sheesh, P-Chan, calm down. I already promised that I'd explain. So, where do you want me to start? From my disappearance, or just jump right ahead to the steaming pile that you just stepped in?"
The Hibiki grimaced at the somewhat apt analogy, and his desire to find out just what the hell was going on was stronger than his desire to ram a curled fist into his rival's smirking face . . . if only barely. Finally, the frustrated fighter let out a weak sigh, his shoulders slumping in defeat.
"You might as well start from the start. It's not like I have anything better to do."
Ranma nodded, looking a touch sympathetic. Not to mention the guy was taking his outbursts really well. "Fair enough. Say, you remember that last wedding, right?"
Ryouga felt a shudder run up his spine before he nodded weakly.
"Mostly as a blur of explosions, pain and horrible disappointment, but yes."
"Odd, that's how I remember it too . . ."
"You know, now that I think of it, I never did get my wedding gift back."
"Talk to Nabiki 'bout that."
"Ummm . . . on second thought, I don't need it back that bad."
Ranma snickered quietly. "Smart man. Anyway, after that disaster, I decided to go on a short training trip. Y'know, clear my head?"
Yes, Ryouga could understand that quite well, it was pretty much the same thing he had done, though likely for slightly different reasons. He offered his rival an almost imperceptible nod.
"How's Akari, by the way? I remember she was your guest at that one, wasn't she?" asked Ranma out of the blue.
Ryouga nodded once more, slightly annoyed at the detour from the topic at hand . . . and the memories it stirred up.
"Not that it's any of your business, but the last time I saw her, we were discussing getting married."
A broad, genuine smile verily burst onto Ranma's face at that piece of news. The raven haired man slapped a companionable hand onto his shoulder.
"Congrats, man! That's great news. So, how long ago was that?"
The Lost Boy could only let out an agonized sigh.
"About a year and a half ago . . ."
His companion's wince did not go unnoticed. "Ooooooh . . . ouch . . ."
"Yeah . . . pretty much. But enough about how I ruined my life, I want to hear about how you ruined yours."
Despite the joyous news that Ryouga had just unloaded, Ranma was somehow smirking again already.
"Ruined? Ha! That training trip was the best decision of my life! Y'see, while I was trainin' one day, this group of guys wandered into my campsite. They were all wearing suits and shades, real men in black types, y'know? Anyway, one of 'em was a woman, and, of all things, she offers me a job."
"A job? What kind of job could super secret government looking types offer you?" Almost immediately an obvious, if somewhat clichéd scenario popped into the wanderer's head and he gasped aloud. "You aren't letting them transform you into some kind of Ultimate Cyborg Killing Machine, are you?"
He was rewarded for his imagination with a smack upside the head.
"That's the dumbest thing I've ever heard. I'm not even in the cybernetics department. No, you moron, they offered me a position as a researcher. Heh, heh, I'm an egghead now, Ryouga."
Ryouga leveled the flattest stare he could muster at his long time rival. "Yeeeaaah . . . I think my idea was more plausible than that. What kind of company would hire you? What kind of research could you possibly do, and while we're on the subject, why on earth would they even approach you in the first place?"
Apparently the Saotome Heir wasn't expecting so much utter disbelief and glowered back at him. "Those are fair questions, I suppose . . . Jerk. Let me ask you a question first, though. Have you ever heard of a company called Global Dynamics?"
'Global Dynamics?' He wracked his mind for a moment, but- "Well, I'm hardly an avid stock watcher at the best of times. Off the top of my head, nothing comes to mind."
His companion nodded quickly to himself. "Well, that's good. No one is supposed to know about Global Dynamics, so if you did, it'd probably mean you're a spy or something."
"Why? Do you do something worse than tossing people into space if they're spies?" Ryouga asked flippantly.
His wry attempt at humor garnered a chuckle from the Saotome. "They ain't gonna toss ya into space . . . at least, I haven't heard about them doing that to anyone . . . on purpose . . ."
His response was a searing glower.
Ranma held up his hands to ward off his ire. "Just kidding, just kidding, sheesh. Anyway, GD is, like, the biggest scientific research company on the planet. They cover everything, I'm talkin' Aerodynamics to Zoology and everything in between."
Ryouga was having a hard time concealing his skepticism.
"I'm serious, man. We're decades ahead of anything on the market today, and that's just in the basic stuff, you don't even wanna know the kind of stuff the higher ups are working on. 'Course, to pull that off, GD recruits the best and the brightest from around the world, the real pioneers of their fields, and puts them to work. Unfortunately for you, considering just how much scientific research goes on here, this place is so highly classified by the government that you even stumbling through here is practically treason."
Ryouga's eyes bulged at that little tidbit of joy. He'd been in trouble before, but not like this! "Treason? Well isn't that great? So instead of a space walk, I get a firing squad?"
Ranma's eyes rolled in annoyance. "Oh, for cryin' out loud, calm down, ya big baby. We'll figure out some way to get you outta this. Worse comes to worse, you can be my lab assistant or something. Heh, that actually ain't a bad idea . . ."
'Lab Assistant? What the hell?'
"Lab Assistant? What the hell? Wait a second, what the heck are you researching anyway? There's no way that you are a cyberneticist. You can't even program a VCR!"
"Ahh, shaddup, P-Chan. S'not like you can, either. And, it just so happens-" Ranma dipped into a mocking bow. "-that you are speaking with the Head Researcher of GD's brand spankin' new Ki Application Division."
That brought Ryouga up short. He turned an incredulous eye towards the preening young researcher.
"Heh, that's right! Ya remember how I told you that those Blues Brother's wannabes came out to recruit me while I was training?"
The fanged fighter could only nod dumbly.
"Well, it turns out that Dr. Tofu, of all people, sent them my way. Turns out that our absentee chiropractor had been working for GD for nearly a year. He started up the Ki Application Division himself, and suggested me to be the first addition to his department. So, now I get to spend all my time researching Martial Arts and developing new techniques! It's almost the perfect job."
His rival's latest diatribe raised so many questions in the Lost One's head that he couldn't even imagine where to begin, so he just latched on to the one that hit closest to home for him. Shaking his head in disbelief (yet again), he glared at his companion.
"Wait, wait, wait! You're telling me that you're getting paid likely a ridiculous sum of money to do nothing but train? How is that not the perfect job?"
Again he found himself staring dumbly as, out of the blue, Ranma let out a beleaguered sigh and dropped a hand onto his shoulder.
"Unfortunately, buddy, life is full of compromises. You know that as well as anybody, don't ya?"
Ryouga nodded slowly.
"Well, my job is one of those compromises." An unusually serious expression settled on the usually carefree man's face. "Y'see, Dr. Tofu used to be the Head of our Division, focusing most of his research on healing and medical techniques, which is cool. However, the higher ups decided that they needed something more valuable to justify the funding for Dr. Tofu's work."
Well, that didn't make any sense to the wanderer. "What could possibly be more valuable than medical advances?"
The look that his rival shot him was easily one of the most cynical that he'd ever seen.
"Don't be naïve, Ryouga. The government wants military applications. It's a harsh deal, man. I gotta figure out the best ways that I can to kill people, so Dr. Tofu can get the money to find ways to help them."
"Wow . . . that is harsh."
"Tell me about it . . ."
With that rather heartwarming admission, their conversation gave way to an uncomfortable silence that stretched on for several minutes, neither one of them really knowing what to say. Ryouga was certain that Ranma's moody silence was for a very different than his own, though. There were just so many questions floating around his brain that they were practically playing bumper cars.
Ranma, a researcher? Tofu, finally rediscovered? Ryouga, launched into space?
The last one wasn't getting any less worrisome the more he thought about it. And as much of a fan as he was of uncomfortable silences, his curiosity, and self preservation instincts, would not remain silent for long.
"I know I'll probably regret this," the bandanna clad warrior started slowly, "But tell me more about this company, Global Dynamics. Who do they work for? How long have they been around? How many vagabonds have they made disappear?"
His rival must not have picked up the deadly serious tone of Ryouga's voice in his last question, as Ranma chuckled quietly to himself.
"Well, I can give ya the speech they gave me at orientation. Apparently, not too long after world war two, some famous scientist guy, Albert Somethin-or-Other, told the U.S. government that science was the future. I guess the guy had some serious sway, too, cuz they totally bought it. They started gathering all the smartest guys around and stuck em together in a little town out in the middle of nowhere in the States."
Ryouga stopped dead in his tracks.
"W-wait just a second. We're in America?"
Only to have Ranma roll his eyes in exasperation. "No, moron. About five years ago, GD, the company that handles all the research over in Eureka-"
"Eureka? You're making less sense by the second, Saotome."
This time, Ranma swatted him upside the head. "Just shut up and listen, P-Chan. Eureka is the name of the town all the researchers live in America. We're in the Japanese Branch, kind of a Eureka East, if you will."
Ryouga offered the pigtailed researched a skeptical look. "Japanese Branch?"
"A little slower on the uptake than usual today, eh?" joked his rival, before continuing, "As I was saying, about five years ago, GD approached the Japanese Government about setting shop here, too. Apparently Japan has its fair share of geniuses, so it must have seemed like a good idea at the time."
The wanderer had to let out an impressed whistle. "Wow, in just five years, an American company not only struck a deal with our government, but they also set up a complete town for you . . . And there must be a central research facility that you're taking me to . . . That must have cost a fortune to get set up and running in such a short time."
Ranma's bark of laughter caught him a little off guard.
"That's the best part! GD was able to start up immediately. You see, there was a rival research company, so GD pulled off a hostile takeover. They got a fully functional facility, a set of experimental super computers, a preexisting town, and even a sweet ass GeoFront to cover it all up. Man, what was the name of that company . . . Gehern . . . Nerve . . . something like that . . ."
Yet another slew of questions assaulted the Lost One, so he just latched onto the first one that sprang to mind.
"What the heck is a GeoFront?"
In a sense of fair play, it appeared that fate decreed it was Ranma's turn to start shooting him incredulous glances.
". . . You've gotta be kidding me. Are you telling me that you didn't notice?"
"Shessh! Look up, genius."
Not sure where his rival was going with this, and more than a little suspicious of some kind of humiliating prank, he slowly glanced up-
Only to have his legs collapse out from under him and drop him painfully to his butt as his mind did its futile best to comprehend the impossibility it had just been presented. The only thing he could do was point dumbly as he stuttered in shock.
"T-t-there's a city floating in the sky!"
His finger pointed unerringly at the numerous, skeletal frames of what looked to be a city caught in the middle of actually being built. 'W-w-w-wha-'
His computational logic loop was broken by the nerve wracking sound of his rival laughing his moronic ass off. Ryouga turned to fire a death glare at the braying jerk. Seeing his ire, Ranma settled down to merely chuckling in amusement.
"No it ain't. It's hanging from the GeoFront. We're underground, man. My God, Ryouga, how did you not notice that? Hell, for that matter, how did you even get down here?"
Ranma, between chuckles, then leaned down and offered him a hand to his feet. Needless to say, Ryouga slapped the offending appendage away and pushed himself up to his feet.
"It was night time when I got here, so how was I to know? And besides! It's as bright as day down here! If we're in a giant cave, then why the hell is it so bright?"
This pigtailed scientist raised a finger to make a point . . . only to lower it, then raise it again . . . only to drop it one final time. "Ummm . . . science?"
Ryouga let out a colossal groan of disgust.
"And you are supposed to be a genius?"
"Aw, shaddup. When I receive a Nobel Prize for definitively proving that Chi is simply a variant of Psionics, then we'll see who's laughing!"
Ryouga's hackles rose instantly.
"What? Chi and psychic energy are completely different!"
"Oh, and what do you know, Mr. Lost-Ninety-Percent-Of-The-Time?"
"Chi is the power of your spirit, of your very soul! You can't just quantify and explain it away with your science!"
His devilishly annoying rival scoffed in a most bemused tone. "Just as I expected. An antique point of view from an antique martial artist."
"Antique! I oughta pound you into the ground, you – you Quack!"
"Oh, oh, it always comes back to that! I thought we were past that!"
"Never! Die, Ranma!"
Ryouga crouched down and prepared to launch himself forward. The tingling sensation of eager anticipation was already rolling up his spine, the long absent, yet intimately familiar yearning to throw everything that he was against the seemingly unassailable pedestal that his rival stood upon, hoping, more than anything, to topple the brilliant warrior, if only for a time-
Except, rather than respond in kind, Ranma simply held out a stalling hand.
"Whoa there, buddy. As much as I'd love beating you into the dirt, don't you think you're in enough trouble without attacking what amounts to a government employee?"
And, just like that, Ryouga's euphoric battle lust was crushed to dust by the harsh weight of cruel reality.
"Oh . . . right . . ." Well, that was intensely disappointing. He was really itching for a fight now, and there was only one opponent he could think of that would satisfy him now.
. . . Was it just him, or did that sound a little gay, even in his own head?
He shook off his disturbing thought quickly and turned back to Ranma.
"So, how long till we get there, anyway?"
A quick snicker from his rival quirked his interest. Ranma then took exactly five steps further down the road they had been traveling down during their long conversation. The pigtailed man then gestured grandly to the long stretch of road that sprawled out into the distance.
"We're already there."
Ryouga offered him a generously skeptical gaze, immediately prompting Ranma to smile in an even more infuriating manner.
"What, you never seen a hologram projector before?"
And, with that seemingly innocuous question, his rival took another step forward-
Only to vanish into thin air.
Ryouga could only boggle in disbelief at the miraculous disappearance of his companion. Had the Anything Goes fighter truly mastered the UmiSenKen to such an unbelievable degree . . . or . . . ?"
His musings were cut off, as Ranma suddenly reappeared, or, at least his torso and head did. The smugly smirking martial artist waved an energetic signal for Ryouga to join him. "C'mon, Ryouga, yer gonna love this one!"
Hesitant, but not willing to show even an ounce of reluctance before his hated . . . well, at the very least disliked, rival, Ryouga quickly moved forward and stepped across the intangible threshold which Ranma appeared to be straddling.
A moment later, without even a tingle to signify the transition to where he had been to where he was now, Ryouga knew that he had passed through the invisible barrier which his companion had already breached . . .
The giant black pyramid which had suddenly appeared before him was a pretty good hint of that.
Another quiet chuckle from the blue eyed man beside him drew his attention away from the monolithic structure for a moment.
"Overkill, I know, considering we're already underground, but when the Head Researcher heard that the American Branch had one . . . well . . ." Ranma explained . . . well, not at all, really.
Ryouga could only shake his head.
"Let's just get this over with. Space is actually starting to sound like a nice alternative about now."
Roughly two hours of wandering through endless, twisting, turning, monotonous and disturbingly similar looking corridors, the pair of frazzled martial artists finally found themselves (with the helpful intervention of at least a half a dozen various GD employees) wandering down the correct corridor which would lead them to their ultimate destination. By unspoken agreement, neither one dared speak of the incredibly, indelibly, unbelievably scenic route they had taken; one out of embarrassment for having worked there for so long, and the other for . . . obvious reasons.
"So, whom are you taking me to talk to, anyway? The Head Researcher?" Ryouga asked, finally breaking the latest in a series of multi-minute stretches of silence between the two.
At the mere mention of his question, a visible shudder ran up the pigtailed researcher's spine and he shook his head quickly. "Naw, not even you are that unlucky. I'm just takin' you to talk to the Government Liaison. The worst that he would do is have you shot."
Ryouga fired a heated glare in his rival's direction. "Oh, is that all?"
Ranma's only response was to smile vindictively and lead them the rest of the way down the corridor, to the large door which rested at its conclusion. The Saotome Heir raised his hand to knock, only to strike air as the door swiftly slid open of its own volition . . . either that, or it was just really skilled at evading attacks . . .
His companion simply rolled his eyes at the display before walking forward into the room beyond.
. . . And what a room it was. The massive chamber, all the more imposing for its ominous black walls and ceiling, almost felt like he was standing on the perilous edge of some unknown abyss as he stared into it. Only the massive bank of windows at the far end of the room dispelled the unsettling illusion created. The windows also had the dramatic effect of silhouetting the lone desk which rested before it, as well as the indistinct figure which sat behind the solitary piece of furniture.
The strange symbols etched into the floor, like some of the religious pictography that the wanderer had become privy to over his long sojourns across the globe, stood out starkly against the black floor, filling most of the space between the door and the desk.
It took a moment for Ryouga's eyes to readjust to the strange dichotomy of blackened room and natural light provided by the vast windows. It wasn't until Ranma had led them halfway across the room, that he could finally make out the figure sitting calmly behind the desk. It appeared to be a man maybe only a few years older than themselves, with dark hair and the start of a very fine beard making an appearance. The latter was a little harder to make out, though, as the man's gloved hands were currently folded before his mouth, covering his mouth. As the man regarded them, he tilted his head slightly, his glasses glinting in the light.
'Wait a second . . . isn't the light coming from behind him?' Ryouga pondered silently.
"Doctor Saotome." The strangely imposing figure stated the pigtailed researcher's name with absolute calm and poise.
Apparently Ranma didn't limit his annoying attitude to just Ryouga any longer, as he responded with a familiar cocky wave.
"Agent Ikari. It's a drag to meet you, as always. Anyways, I gotchyer trespasser right here. His name is-"
"Hibiki Ryouga. Age: Twenty-One. Residence: Unknown. Occupation: Unknown. Suspected of . . . innumerable counts of vandalism and property destruction world wide."
Ryouga tugged at his suddenly constricting collar, beginning to feel more than a little hot under it. His nervous anxiety wasn't helped at all when his rival turned a suspicious eye his way.
"World wide? You ain't been moonlighting on me, have ya? Getting into rivalries with some other martial artist?"
The Lost One waved his hands frantically. "What? No! No! It's just . . . y'know, it's been three years and I do have a life outside of you . . . you know?"
Ranma crossed his arms firmly across his chest and let out a loud, disapproving sniff. "Oh yeah? Like what?"
Running a hand through his hair in embarrassment, the wandering Hibiki recounted some of his more recent misadventures. "Well . . . there was this Uremeshi guy that I tagged along with for a bit. A couple of us got dragged into some weird tournament, but I got lost before the last round. Then I ran into this really strange Kendoist named Ichigo, a couple of us had to go to some strange, mystical land to rescue a friend of his . . . I think it was France . . . But no rivalries, I swear!"
Despite his assurances, his pigtailed companion continued to shoot a suspicious glare in his direction. Before the blue eyed martial artist could reply, though-
"If you gentlemen are completely finished-" Agent Ikari interrupted them-
"We are not." Only to be interrupted himself in kind.
Rather than rise to the bait, the deadly serious looking man retained his icy calm. Instead, the government liaison simply tilted his head forward a fraction, causing his glasses to glint in the light once more, hiding his eyes from view.
"Yes . . . you are."
The tone in the man's voice was so cold, that Ryouga found himself standing straight before he even realized what he was doing; to his side, he noticed Ranma do the same. Agent Ikari then turned his attention away from the researcher, instead focusing it on him.
"I am afraid, Mr. Hibiki, that you have stumbled across something which you most assuredly should not have. Considering the highly confidential nature of the work we do here, this unfortunate incident leaves me with very few options."
The sitting man's lip curled up into a cruel smirk, barely visible from beneath his folded hands. Ryouga gulped, as a tingle of anxiety ran a marathon up his spine.
"The first and easiest option, is to simply take you behind the chemical shed and have you shot."
The fanged warrior's eyes nearly bugged out at the frank and frankly chilling statement. He wasn't sure which was worse, the threat, or the casual ease with which it was delivered, as if it was second nature to this man.
"The second option-"
"Is the space walk?" He asked miserably.
And then, in an almost complete about face, Agent Ikari lowered his hands and smiled a genuine, amused smile.
"I see you've been speaking to Ryoko. A wicked imagination that one has." Then, just like that, the smile vanished as if it had never been. "No, the second option is that you sign Global Dynamic's Non-Disclosure Agreement. It is a legally binding document which, if you divulge anything of what you have seen here to anyone . . ."
A weak sigh escaped Ryouga's lips. "The space walk?"
The smile reappeared, though there was nothing amusing about it this time.
"If you are lucky."
Ryouga considered this for a moment. He then considered it for another moment, familiar anger rising within his heart once more.
"Wait a second! My two choices are to get shot or to sign a stupid contract?" With that, the bandanna clad wanderer spun and slapped his pigtailed companion upside the head. "You Jerk! Why didn't you tell me about the contract? You had me worried over nothing!"
Ranma rubbed the back of his head, disguising his attempt to assuage the pain by primping his hair. "Heh, you haven't seen the paperwork you're gonna have to fill out. I've been here for years and I still haven't finished it yet!"
"That is because," Ikari expounded helpfully, "Once you realized you would not be permitted to leave the GeoFront until you finished it, you stopped halfway through."
A helpless chuckle escaped the pigtailed researcher's lips and he offered a weak shrug. "Yeah, well, it gave me a good excuse not to head home, didn't it?"
Ikari could only shake his head. Finding himself in perfect agreement with the bespectacled Agent, Ryouga sighed in disgust at his rival's attitude.
The Liaison then turned back his way. "Mr. Hibiki, you will be required to remain within the GeoFront until you have fully completed the Non-Disclosure Agreement. Is that understood?"
He nodded quickly and agreeably. "Considering the alternative? Don't worry, I'm not the lazy wastrel that Saotome is-"
"Excellent. I shall have the documents transferred to the Sheriff's office." Ikari then slid his eyes back to Ranma. "If you would, please escort Mr. Hibiki back to his cell."
Ryouga deflated a bit at that wonderful piece of news. Of course, his depression was quickly replaced with annoyance as Ranma smirked wickedly.
"It would be my pleasure."
With a defeated sigh, Ryouga didn't wait to be dismissed. Instead he simply turned towards the door . . . no, that was the wall . . . no, that was the window again . . . ah, there it was-
Without warning, the floor beneath his feet began shaking violently. Luckily years of training kept him from falling on his face and making an ass of himself; all around him, the entire room shook, particles of dust floated down from the ceiling and even the windows vibrated dangerously behind Ikari's desk . . .
And then it was done.
Ryouga could only stare at Ranma, who stared at him, who stared at Ikari, who stared at them both, who both stared at him. At which point, Agent Ikari very calmly pushed his glasses back up to the bridge of his nose. Then, without missing a beat, the older man reached down and picked up the phone resting on his desk with all of the emotionless serenity of a mountain lake.
Almost as an afterthought, right before speaking into the receiver, Ikari gazed impassively at the two of them.
"That will be all."
Not sure what else they could possibly do, Ryouga and Ranma both shrugged in unison . . . and made their way to the door.