Well, this one was hard to get out. It's really too bad I need a fact checker to help me or I'll screw this up epicly. (Grumbles about the military.)

Anyhow, on with the show.

Chapter 6, A Quick Spar between friends.

Ranko lay back on the padded bench of one of the weight machines in the Ayanami's small athletics room, hoisting a barbell above her head and lowering it in a smooth and well practiced series of repetitions. The weight wasn't the heaviest she could usually lift, only about 150 pounds, but given that she had to be careful not to let any chi leak past her skin while the ship was in fold space, it was about the best she could do at the moment.

It'd been a few days since the Tiger had entered fold space, which meant that she and the other fighter pilots were remarkably bored, save for a few simulator training sessions. Still, it was better than being back on earth, she kept telling herself, even if she had heard rumors that they'd been developing some sort of new Veritech hovertank before she left that she likely would have been assigned as a test pilot for.

As she thought this over, the pigtailed martial artist didn't notice a shadow that cast itself over her weight bench, until Ryoga Hibiki grabbed the bar and started pushing down. Grunting, Ranko managed to keep the thing steady for a few seconds, before her lack of muscle tone compared to him and the weight pressing down caused her to let the bar drop, rolling forward from under it. "What was that for?" She snapped, irritated.

Ryoga smirked. "For making me have to repair something else you broke." He replied, though he clearly didn't show any malice. "Your flying deathtrap's ready."

Ranko smirked at the lost boy, knowing that, for some reason, he'd always hated the idea of flying in a Veritech fighter. She'd thought it had something to do with getting lost and somehow blundering into the canopy of an old growth forest the first time he ever flew one outside of a simulator, but had never pushed it. "Thanks, Commander." She said, saluting him.

Ryoga blinked at her for a few seconds, before remembering what Ranma was doing. He simply nodded, starting for the back of the room. Ranko would have let him wander off, but sighed. "Where are you trying to get to, sir?"

He turned around, thought for a moment and shook his head. "I was going to head back to the Tiger, but…" He started, cracking his neck. "I just got an idea. How about a little martial arts match?"

Ranko blinked, pretending not to comprehend while tensing her body up in a way that read to any well-trained martial artist as a signal to back off. Seeing this, Ryoga's expression turned teasing. "Well, my usual sparring partner isn't on this trip." He explained, then said the one thing that could provoke the redhead in the current situation. "Don't worry though, I'll go easy on you."

Ranko's eyebrow twitched… violently. She'd grown up quite a lot in the twenty years since she and Ryoga had been real, brutal rivals, but the guy could still find many ways to annoy her. Nodding tersely, she walked into the middle of the room, where the floor was padded and cleared of obstacles to help in martial arts sparring, and waved one arm as a signal. Ryoga nodded, walked onto the mat across from her, and the two bowed.

Seconds later, Ryoga lunged forward, Ranko's form blurred slightly in a counter, and the battle was joined.

HR.

Dan Bartlet whistled to himself as he headed down the corridor, flipping his access pass card over in his hands. He'd been quite enjoying the last few days of relaxation, especially after near constant test flights before the Tiger was launched. Today, however, he'd decided to go and get a decent workout, if for no other reason than that he was feeling slightly guilty for being so relaxed on a warship.

Stepping into the training room, he was about to walk over to the changing rooms to put on a pair of sweats, when he noticed a commotion in the middle of the floor. Turning, he saw two other officers fighting, one quite a bit larger than the other.

For a moment, he didn't recognize them, until the smaller one flipped over the larger's back, bringing her body more fully into view as she buried one knee into a quite painful looking spot. Blinking, he saw the quite distinctive looking pigtail of his flight leader.

He leaned against the wall near the change room doors, watching the match curiously. It had nothing to do, of course, with the fact that Lt. Tendo was wearing a sweat drenched tank-top and a pair of loose shorts, no matter what his detractors may say.

Still, as he watched, he had to admit that the fighting moves on either side were almost as impressive as the show. The older man sent a brutal punch at Ranko, who dodged it by grabbing his arm and using the leverage to swing around, until he brought a knee up into her back and sent her sprawling away from him. Right before she hit the floor, she sprung off with her hands, her feet impacting his face with great force.

He staggered back slightly, one hand reaching up to rub at the bridge of his nose, and Dan inwardly marveled. The guy had to be made of iron to withstand that blow, and Ranko the same to deliver it. Abruptly, the fight stopped, Ranko somersaulting back to her feet and bowing to her opponent, though Dan could have sworn that the bow was mocking. Edging up to the two, now that the fight was over, he heard something that shocked him. "…we can't go all out when the ship's in fold space." Ranko was saying.

The older man nodded. "Yeah, but I think that'll do for now." He said, cracking his neck. "Got some of the extra energy out of my system, at least." Then, noticing Dan, he smirked. "Lt, I think we broke someone."

Ranko turned around, surprised as she saw her subordinate standing there and blinking at her. "Dan, you all right?" She asked, concerned at the shocked look on his face.

"Y… yes, Ma'am." He said, nodding. "I didn't know you were so good at fighting."

She shrugged, and he forcibly kept his eyes away from her chest. Given what he'd just seen, he really didn't want to piss her off. "Family school." She said, dismissively. "Ya here to train, or just work out?"

Noting that she seemed reasonably friendly and relaxed, which he found odd since she'd been acting kind of stressed lately, Dan spoke. "Just a workout, Ma'am."

"Yeah, good luck then." Ranko said, heading for the door to the women's change room. Oddly, before she entered, she called out "Is anyone in there?" Getting no response, she easily walked in, turning out of sight.

"Damn, she's cute." Dan muttered, after his superior had exited hearing range.

The man who had been fighting Ranko walked up to him, clapping a hand on his shoulder. "Bit of advice, kid." He said, smirking at him with a fang showing. Dan looked up at him, confused, so he continued. "I wouldn't go after her if I were you."

Dan blinked. "Is she, um, your girlfriend or something, um, sir?" He asked, suddenly nervous, and feeling that this guy was vaguely familiar.

Much to his discomfort, the man started laughing. "My… girlfriend…" He chuckled, starting to walk for the door. "I won't tell her you said that, but man… My girlfriend…"

Dan didn't quite know what was so funny, but shrugged it off as he headed for a treadmill.

HR.

Captain Lisa Hayes nodded in approval as she looked over the gleaming rows of Variable Fighters that were lined up in one of the Soryu's main storage hangers. This was her first full inspection of the ship since its launch, and she hadn't actually gotten to see much of the ARMDs. Oh, she knew all of their capabilities and armaments by heart, as any commanding officer should for a ship they were commanding, but actually physically getting down here hadn't been high on her priority list.

Beside her, the Soryu's auxiliary command officer, a competent seeming young man named Anderson, stood with its CAG, Lieutenant Commander Sisko. "Looks like four wings here." Lisa observed, nodding.

"Yes, Ma'am. Red squadron, Green squadron and two auxiliaries." Sisko nodded.

Lisa nodded as well, walking down the line of aircraft. Most of them were VF-4s, though the ones with a green dragon insignia on their tails were VF-11s. As she was about to turn around, she noticed a second insignia on the inner tail planes of the craft.

Focusing in on it, she noted that the image showed a red haired girl, who was apparently very annoyed at someone off-camera, standing in front of what looked like a giant, roaring red robot. The thing that caught her attention about the image, however, was the girl's hair, which was worn down her back in a short pigtail capped off with some sort of red hairclip.

Stepping forward, she studied the design. "Hmm, I don't recall ever seeing this symbol before." She muttered, and Commander Sisko started looking sheepish.

"Well, a couple of guys from Red Squadron approached me with the change, and I didn't see much of a problem… is there something wrong with the new patch, Ma'am?" The woman asked, nervously.

Lisa looked away from the image, shaking her head. "Nothing wrong, really. It just reminds me of someone." Noting their captain narrowing her eyes, both lower ranked officers wanted to run, for some reason.

HR.

A few hours later, Lisa was paging her way through the crew roster of the Soryu, most specifically pilots. What she'd seen was probably some random coincidence, but if living with Ranma for as long as she had had taught her anything it was not to trust that sort of explanation.

Still, she couldn't see anyone resembling her husband, in either normal or cursed form, in the group she was scrolling through. Hearing the door to her ready room slide open, she looked up to see Roy stroll in. He waited for the door to slide shut, and then spoke. "You need something, Lisa?"

She shook her head. "Roy, is being paranoid part of commanding a ship that I just didn't hear about?" She asked, causing him to raise an eyebrow. Shrugging, she swiveled her monitor around to display the Soryu's new patch.

"Oh, that thing." Roy said. "They ran it past me before implementing it. Really creepy resemblance, hmm?"

"Roy, it looks like they took a picture of his face and animated it." Lisa said, deadpan.

He shrugged, noncommittally. "Sounds almost like you're hoping he stowed away aboard." He said, then smirked. "Missing him that much already?"

Lisa's eyebrow twitched, and if Roy Fokker hadn't been one of her oldest friends in the RDF, he would have found himself reprimanded for that one. Instead, she shook her head. "Of course I miss him, but this does seem strange." She answered.

"Look, if it helps, the guy who brought me the image told me he got it off a girl from the Ayanami." Roy said. "I didn't bother going over it 'cuz, honestly, if the kid really did decide to stow away, I'm not going to stop him."

"It's a violation of the rules, and…" Lisa started, though she sounded unsure.

"And we've got one more pilot who's good enough to actually help in an attack and train up some green recruits." Roy returned, easily. "You know the kid should never have been held to that stupid no fly rule." Then, he shrugged. "And y'know, it could just be some random girl who looks a lot like him."

Lisa nodded, somewhat reluctantly. "I'm still going to go through these files." She said, flatly.

"And if he's there?" Roy asked, curiously.

"I'm going to yell at him… a lot… then," Lisa shook her head. "I've got no idea."

Roy nodded. "Well, at least let's give the kid a little reprieve if he's here. After all, we're dropping out of fold space soon, and you should probably be up there for that."

Lisa nodded. "Thanks, Roy."

"It's what I'm here for." He replied, turning and heading for the exit. Lisa smirked at that, and then closed her personal terminal, getting up and following him out.

HR.

In an area nearly 10 light years from earth, space started to ripple in an odd pattern. Lightning seemed to crackle around the edges of the new distortion, and then space was ripped in two as a massive shape shoved itself into existence where no mass had existed earlier.

For a moment, the Tiger's hull crackled with the discharge of its fold engines, before it all seemed to dissipate away, and the set of massive fusion engines at its rear activated, pushing it forward into its new sector.

"Ma'am, defold into normal space complete!" Announced an excited technician from the front of the ship's main Command and Control Center.

Lisa nodded, from where she sat in the chair in the middle of the room. "Did we make it through all right?" She asked.

"Yes, Ma'am. No damage reported." The crewman said, reading over his panel.

"Can we detect the REF's communications beacon?" Lisa asked, referring to one of several comm. relays that had once been laid down behind the expeditionary fleet to help them keep in contact with earth.

"No, Ma'am. All com Channels are clear." The communications officer on duty said, frowning. "Nothing but interstellar background out there."

"Damn." The captain muttered. "Our first jump, and we already have problems." Clearing her head of such worrying thoughts, she nodded. "All right, time to get to work. I want a reconnaissance team dispatched with FAST packs. Let's see if we can find that comm beacon."

HR.

Ranko luxuriated in the lack of a buzzing feeling at the back of her head as she walked down the hall from her quarters. Even if it hadn't been announced over the ship's intercoms, she would have known when the ship left fold space, as it left her much more at peace with the world.

Entering the orange squadron briefing room, she smiled at Dana and Dan, sliding into the seat next to the man. "Hey." She said, cheerfully.

"Hello, Ma'am." The two returned, and Dana looked at her oddly. "Are you having a good day today?"

Ranko nodded, knowing that her subordinate was trying to be friendly. "Just glad we finally got outta fold space." She said, off hand. "Where's the commander?"

Dan was about to shrug and say he didn't know, when commander Einburg walked in, looking somewhat annoyed.

Walking up to the screen at the front of the room, he tapped some buttons on it, revealing a sensor readout of the immediate area, before turning around. "Good afternoon, people." He started. "Seems we've got the short straw today." Seeing that his squadron didn't react, he continued. "We've been given reconnaissance patrol."

Ranko and Dan both groaned, causing confused looks from Dana and the twins. "We getting FAST packs, sir?" The redhead asked, annoyed.

"You got it, Tendo." Einburg returned. "To be specific, you and I are, and our flight members are going to act as escorts."

Ranko winced, but then shrugged. "Understood, sir."

"Our objective is to scout the sector and look for a transmitter the REF left here. Also, we're to see if there are any hostile forces around, but retreat to the ship if engaged." Einburg explained. "All of you got that?" At the group's nods, he smiled. "Good. Flight paths will be in your computers. Let's get going."

HR.

A few minutes later, Dana knew why Ranko and Dan had winced at the thought of the mission. Her machine wasn't actually handicapped very badly, with only a couple conformal bulges on her thruster pods that she believed to be extra fuel tanks, but Ranko's had some sort of huge installation on the back, just behind the cockpit, that would likely prevent it from transforming at all. Also, she noticed that the plane was the odd modified one that she'd seen damaged a week earlier.

"You got your bird fixed, Ma'am?" She asked, surprised.

Ranko shrugged. "Commander Hibiki's around, and he's pretty good at what he does."

"Hey, and what am I, chopped liver?" Asked a rather short man with dark brown hair.

Ranko smirked. "Fishin for compliments, Toshi?"

He shrugged. "FAST pack's secure and fully fueled. Also, the airframe's passed stress tests, so you should be good to go."

"Thanks." Ranko said, and proceeded towards her plane. Dana just shrugged, heading to her own. As far as she could tell, Dan had already gone ahead of the two of them.

HR.

A few minutes later, Dana sat in her machine, realizing what was about to happen. It had been odd, but even if she'd known it academically, she hadn't started feeling, until now, that she was really on a mission to find her parents. Now, though, she was actually part of a reconnaissance team that was trying to find something left behind by the REF.

"Hey, Dana, you all right?" Ranko asked, coming over her radio. "I'm getting a life support flag on your heart rate and breathing."

Dana shook her head. "Yeah… I'm fine, I'm just excited, is all."

From over her radio, she heard Ranko laugh. "A few hours looking over sensor readouts should clear that up real quick." The redhead answered. "Still, if yer not ready, I can tell the commander ta pull ya."

"No, no… it's fine." Dana said, shaking her head. Ranko didn't respond, but the closing of the comm channel was all the answer Dana needed, as her flight leader taxied up to the launch elevator in front of her. After Ranko had disappeared up to the flight deck, she quickly followed, taxiing into position on the catapult.

when Dana was in place and linked to the cat, and the three veritechs were launched in sequence, she felt the familiar sensation that she'd left her stomach back in the hanger, but smiled anyway. Her quest had finally begun.

END.

(Ami Mizuno and Misato Katsuragi are sun baithing on a beach.)

Ami:Ah, this is so relaxing.

Misato(Sighs): Yeah. Hmm, I wonder if Weebee's woken up yet?

Ami(Snorts):Let's just forget about him for a while, all right? After all, what's the worst that could happen?

(Scene change to Weebee's room. The author is sitting at his computer, typing shakily, and a very annoyed JRA is standing next to him.)

Weebee:Almost… done.

JRA:Why did I get recruited for this, again?

Weebee:You volunteered yourself. Not to mention, Misato's got a gun, and explained to me exactly why I shouldn't interrupt her downtime.

JRA: Damnit…