Pre Story Notes:
Not too long ago, I coined a term in fiction for myself that I like to call 'Perfect Storm Law' to describe how some elements in a story function. It goes something like this:
'Any component of fiction in which a set of elements come together in such a way, at such a time, as to produce a specific result that would otherwise not occur naturally. All in the name of the plot.'
People like to have a why in stories. And when the why ends up being shredded all the way down to 'because there wouldn't be a story otherwise', you're left with little more than a shallow husk of a story.
What I like to point out here is that any particular event in fiction follows cause and effect. And sometimes, people who write fiction are looking for a very specific outcome, and thus roll several, otherwise unlikely, elements together and time them all up perfectly. Much like how a series of weather systems can come together to create The Perfect Storm. Usually this can take the form of a series of coincidences that occur at exactly the right moment. Where timing something off by even a second could logically change the whole thing to a different outcome.
Using a Perfect Storm is not a bad thing. Most of fiction pretty much requires it. However, I personally feel it should be something the writer is aware of when doing so. The execution of the Perfect Storm could kill a work as quickly as a shotgun blast to the head. So I believe it pays to recognize when you're building that perfect storm, so that you can recognize if you've got elements that just seem forced or convoluted. If you have to rely on 'because the plot fails otherwise' as your answer to all the storms, you've got a problem.
Ponder this, and read on.
"Shampoo! Delivery! Shittake Shio Ramen for building seven, number fifteen in Hikarigaoka!"
"Okay! Shampoo deliver and be back in ten minutes!"
Well, this was different. Actually, it was something I was actually quite used to… But it was different because of both where, and with whom.
What was this you might ask? Well, it's working in a restaurant. And with who? Well, Shampoo, Mousse, Cologne, and of course, Luna was there. Okay, confusing I know.
Let me recap the last few hours since I had arrived…
For the most part, it was the usual 'Oh My God, Oh My God, I'm Gonna Die' routine. But with the addition of Luna, Sailor Moon's talking animal sidekick slash mascot. Shampoo tried to do her best impression of Hulk Smash with our skulls before I managed to turn things around by exploiting her curse: Turning her into a (mostly) harmless kitten. I better not get an infection from that bite…
After her grandmother Cologne showed up, I was quickly ushered downstairs where the old crone doped me up on some kind of Joketsuzoku remedy used to stay awake for days on end. After making a request to see if I could get some more in case I needed it, she agreed. However, that came with the price of me earning it. Typical…
Of course, the stuff had some side effects.
The crone assured me the stuff wasn't speed or some tribal variant thereof. But after seeing just how bouncy I became over the next ten minutes trying to sweep, mentioned that she would adjust the strength of the doses she was going to make to compensate for my physique. The one I took was made for Shampoo after all.
Needless to say the dosage was quite powerful… Instead of eight hours, Cologne suspected this one would probably end up keeping me alert for twelve. Give or take.
I had become so hyperactive that in order to keep myself from pacing the restaurant from end to end for hours, I had rushed into the kitchen and pushed a surprised Mousse out of the way to finish off the dishes he'd fallen asleep doing. If you want to compare it to something, I felt like the description I gave of Kaola Su back at Hinata.
After I had quite efficiently wiped out the dishes and effectively given myself dishpan hands, the matriarch insisted that I get a change of clothes into something a little more fitting than torn undersized pants. So the solution was to stick me into an oversized outfit that belonged to Mousse and tighten it up with a belt.
The thing had more pockets…
This was of course, after I washed myself off a bit to be more presentable than a guy who looked like he'd just crawled out of Vietnam. You try getting into a firefight with a dark general some time and see if you come out of it without at least a little bit of mud and dirt collected. I dare you.
After this, some of the effects of the 'stuff' seemed to be wearing off just a bit, as I slowly went from Hyperactive Chipmunk Mode, down to a speed that reminded me of jittery caffeine high. By no means did this slow me down, but at least I didn't feel like I had to be running laps around the building.
While I was busy making myself useful, Luna got to have her own little piece of the action. The ancient one outfitted her with a makeshift sign advertising the restaurant. And just after sunrise, sent her running all over Nerima, shouting advertisements at the top of her feline lungs.
The gimmick seemed to work, as by the time she opened for the day, the orders for delivery were already coming in, and the dining area was getting busy.
Well, busy for the style of cafe' being run. In total the shop had something like seven tables that served maybe two people apiece. So it could never really get all that packed. I was used to lunch rushes in a fast food place.
A lot of the business seemed to depend on Shampoo delivering here and there and everywhere. And she was fast. On average, most delivery runs topped out at fifteen minutes round trip for distances as much as four miles. This didn't seem like a big deal until you realized this was western Tokyo, and she was on a bicycle.
Once it rolled up into lunch, the number of deliveries per outing had gone up, but she still managed to pull off timely runs. My bet is that she started bounding on rooftops to cut down on transit time. The entire 'fighting tier' of the Ranma cast could do that. It wouldn't surprise me. Still, that's cool stuff.
Once Cologne had seen my proficiency with the dining area in general, I found myself assigned to it. That meant keeping the area clean, wiping down tables, and running the register.
Well, trying to...
I'd almost forgotten about the language rewrite my brain was getting, and that the verbal part would be the fastest for me. The reading was still not fully developed. Something I learned upon actually looking at the register keys and promptly declaring...
It took me a minute to try and explain what was wrong, but the old crone got the idea, and quickly whipped up a sketchy looking key map that translated everything into English. Was there anything the hag didn't know or was she just a living repository of knowledge? The ancient one was multi-lingual.
It was enough to get me to run the register. While I did take several moments to stare at the map each time I did something, I completed the transactions themselves easily enough. It was enough to keep me from getting rotated back to dish duty. After doing all of Mousse's dishes this morning my hands were a little dried out and borderline raw. Mousse just grumbled in the back about arrangements.
Luna returned about midway through lunch, looking quite exhausted thirty seconds or so ahead of Shampoo returning from a run.
"Still alive?" I had asked the cat. Luna just glared at me.
"There's a bowl of milk and a canned tuna with your name on it in the back," I indicated the direction of the kitchen. "Go take a break, you've earned it."
Luna perked up just a bit, but tried to keep up the glare for a moment before relenting and tiredly ambling into the kitchen area.
"I back!" Shampoo announced. "Where next delivery?"
"I think we're clear for the moment," I responded, glancing at the order list, reminding myself that it still made no sense. "Grab some water, it's warming up."
"Cat idea triple business," the girl commented as she took her box and placed it on the counter. "I not make that many deliveries in hour in many month."
"People will buy anything with the right gimmick," I shrugged as she retrieved a water I'd placed out for her around eleven thirty. "Novelty sells."
"Talking cat is good novelty," Shampoo continued. "Where you get?"
Oh... I think I forgot to explain something fully. I might have mentioned it on the fly earlier, but I don't think it quite sunk in. Maybe I can just run the basics.
"I picked her up on accident from another world," I stated.
"You appear in bed with cat?" Shampoo asked, blinking in surprise. "You go strange places."
Okay... How the FUCK did she do that? I don't believe I've ever seen someone be both incredibly intelligent, and mind numbingly stupid at the EXACT SAME TIME. On the plus side, she seemed to have gotten what was going on with little prompting. Don't let anyone fool you into thinking Shampoo is stupid. Bull-headed and simple-minded at times sure, but not stupid...
Thankfully, I was spared from having to gauge just how smart she really was by a loud yell.
"RANMA!!!! WHERE ARE YOU?"
"And. cue Ryoga," I snapped in English as I rolled my eyes. Shampoo seemed to deflate at the sound of the voice.
"RANMA!" The boy came through the entrance a moment later. "YOU CAN'T HIDE FOREVER!"
"What you want?" Shampoo asked indignantly. Luna poked her head into the room to check. After a moment, Ryoga finally noticed her.
"How'd I get here?" he asked himself aloud.
Hibiki Ryoga, or Ryoga Hibiki, pick a name order, was a rather peculiar case. The basic concept of his character, was strong as an ox, and about as smart as one too. But not too horribly so... The real problem relied on an absurdly poor sense of direction he had. You think you get lost? Ryoga has earned the nickname 'Lost Boy' for a reason. This guy couldn't find his way out of a wet paper bag if you gave him a map, GPS coordinates, and opened the top. I mean this literally. He can't even navigate in a building he's been in a hundred times.
Ryoga carries a rucksack and an umbrella at all times. The umbrella weighing something like several hundred pounds... He can pitch camp well enough, and is used to traveling. But he never seems to realize that his poor sense of direction is the cause of said travels. To put this in perspective, it took him four days to navigate from his house...
To the empty lot behind his house...
"Ranma not here," Shampoo chided the lost boy. "You in wrong place again."
"DAMN!" Ryoga snarled and hung his head. After a minute he just sighed and looked at her again. "Could you at least point me to the bathroom?"
Oh! I wanted to try something.
"Bathroom?" Shampoo asked, then turned. "Is over-"
"It's over there," I interrupted, pointing at the kitchen.
"Thank you sir," the lost boy acknowledged me with a dejected nod. He then turned, and went directly for the bathroom.
"Bingo," I nodded in English. Well, who'd a thunk it?
"What is," Luna began, trotting over to me. "What's wrong with that young man?"
I gave Luna the short list from above. The feline rolled her eyes. Shampoo seemed amused by my knowledge.
"Your taste in fiction is as out there as Usagi's." Luna commented.
Hey, my knowledge of it got me this far.
"Still," I continued after a moment. "I'm surprised nobody tried deliberately sending him the wrong direction before."
"You know much," Shampoo commented suspiciously, glancing at Ryoga. "How you know so much?"
I would LOVE to hand this girl a DVD of this very show and see how she reacted to it. Except I don't think they invented DVDs yet in this world. I'm what, two, four years early? When were DVDs invented? I don't know. It didn't matter anyway since I didn't have a DVD on me, or at home. But whatever...
"He has his ways," Cologne commented, emerging from the kitchen. "Was that Ryoga just now?"
"Yeah," I nodded. "He's in the bathroom."
The matriarch hummed sagely and looked around. Then she bounded up onto the counter.
"The cleaning lady should be here soon," she indicated.
"Cleaning lady?" I asked.
Cleaning lady? I don't remember the cafe' having a cleaning lady. Just the hag, Shampoo, and the blind duck... Who was this?
"Yes," Cologne nodded. "She shows up from time to time without warning, cleans the place better than anyone I've ever seen, and vanishes. I've never been able to get her name, but I've gotten a handle on her intervals. I suspect she'll be here within the next few minutes."
Okay, this time I was in the dark. I knew of no super-cleaning specialist in the entire Ranma cast. Kasumi might qualify, but everyone knew Kasumi. The fact that I just discovered something I didn't know was sending up red flags. It would be bad if my knowledge of the worlds I ended up in started to break down. My ability to survive depended on an almost Sun Tsu-like ability to know my opponents... It had saved my life directly twice now.
"This I've got to see," I stated, putting on a game face. I think Cologne glanced at me for just a second, but stopped when there was a loud, clearly Ryoga-like shout from the bathroom.
"The cleaning lady is already here," she nodded. I had to keep from gaping at the hag in confusion when she said that. I checked that bathroom myself earlier while cleaning. There's no way in through there. And I didn't see anyone arrive. Was this cleaning lady a ninja? It would fit in this kind of setting.
Ryoga suddenly came through the door, doing his best to bow profusely as he apologized repeatedly.
"I'm sorry, I didn't mean to barge in on you miss," he huffed. "I can't seem to find the right place. I'm sorry! I'm sorry!"
"Oh don't worry," the lady on the other side replied. "I'm just cleaning. Happens all the time."
Let's just say, that given my experiences the last few worlds have pretty much made me immune to surprises. When you are admittedly in a place filled with strange happenings, you become desensitized to what you would normally perceive as the strange. In fact, you come to expect it. Especially in my case where I knew what strange things to expect were going to be in advance... Living in fiction had that effect.
However, the universe (multiverse?) still had a trick up its sleeve. A trick that could make me literally stop, and stare blankly as Mihoshi's mother, Mitoto Kuramitsu stepped out of the bathroom carrying a broom while Ryoga continued to try and apologize for what in his mind had to be a terrible offense. Just when you think you have it down, life throws you a curve ball.
"I'd still like to know how she does that," Cologne muttered next to me. "Slips right past me each and every time."
"No kidding," I commented in English. The statement earned me a pointed look from the matriarch.
A brief breakdown of Mitoto... Yes, she IS Mihoshi's mother. And after you've gotten a feel for her character, it becomes obvious where Mihoshi gets the family quirks. The fact that there are two of them is scary enough. But on top of this, where the daughter seems to have this ability to defy probability itself to the point it can confuse a goddess, the mother has an equally interesting natural talent.
The talent to spontaneously be anywhere she wanted to be in an instant.
Now mind you, as with Mihoshi, this talent doesn't seem to be of conscious effort. Rather, it seems to be a product of Mitoto's own personal obliviousness. When she starts cleaning, she goes where the cleaning needs to happen. And she LOVES to clean. She'll start by cleaning the bathrooms at Galaxy Police HQ, then move on unhindered to a GP ship, then another, and another, etc. All while completely unperturbed by her work, or her surroundings...
This seems simple enough until you realize that you started at HQ, and thirty minutes later you're on the bridge of a pirate ship three thousand light years from the middle of nowhere and several days travel from the nearest GP vessel.
So, no wonder she slipped under the radar here... On the plus side, there weren't very many people who messed with Mitoto. Even the pirates appreciated her cheerful nature and housekeeping skills.
Still, that left me with a question.
"How did she jump into another universe?" I asked aloud, still using English.
"You know her." The ancient one concluded. I nodded mutely.
"He know cleaning lady?" Shampoo asked in surprise.
"I've seen her before too," Luna suddenly chimed in. "I swear she was a cleaning at Usagi's school one time after class."
I turned to look at the feline. Okay, it was time to call the brains in. I was not qualified to even remotely try and figure this mess out.
Deftly, I reached into my pocket and pulled out the beacon. And quite simply, while everyone watched silently, I pulled the receiver out and looped it on my ear. Then pressed the button.
"I see you jumped again," Washu commented as the line opened.
"Do you know Mitoto?" I asked, interrupting any other pleasantries. Cologne and Luna seemed intrigued with the little piece of equipment as I spoke.
"Mihoshi's mother?" Washu replied. "Yeah, why?"
"Because I'm looking right at her," I informed the scientist.
There was a long pause on the line.
"You're serious?" Washu asked.
"Apron and all," I concluded.
I think I could barely hear the sound of rapid beeping as Washu punched away furiously at her computer. As that occurred I could only watch as Ryoga continued to try and apologize for an offense that didn't actually occur. Poor sod.
"I've checked the GP personnel records and Mitoto was last sighted by a surveillance system as cleaning a cafeteria bathroom at headquarters about an hour and a half ago," Washu continued. "She slips in and out of monitoring areas seemingly without warning."
"Yeah..." I began, nodding despite the audio-only nature of the conversation. "She does that."
"Does what?" Cologne asked me in English, attempting to join my conversation. I held up a hand. One at a time...
"This is interesting," Washu continued into my thoughts. "Her Astral Pattern has points of entry in innumerable places like always. But there are a few here that seem to have signatures consistent with upper dimensional barrier penetration. Just like you..."
"All that means to me at the moment is we're in similar boats," I commented. "Can you do anything with that information?"
"I sure can!" Washu cackled from her end. "While your destination selection and trigger methods are completely different, I can already tell your method of transit is nearly identical. I could do a little more with comparative examinations of your astral patterns."
"So," I began. There were a few ways I could interpret that little tidbit of information. "How do you go about doing that?"
"You need to get close to Mitoto," Washu quickly responded. "The beacon will pick her pattern up as environment data if you're close enough."
"Close as in, proximity right?" I asked.
"Yeah," Washu replied. "What else?"
You tell me oh goddess of perverted gags.
"Oh, you don't think I'm that bad do you?" Washu asked idly.
How many times do I have to tell you to get out of my head?
"Just get close to Mitoto and try and give me twenty minutes of readings," Washu continued. "I'm out."
And with that, she clicked off. For several more seconds I reflected on the situation. Get close to Mitoto? Well, there was one way...
The basic idea of the next fifteen minutes was explaining to those present of the strange quirks of the Kuramitsu family. Mainly Mitoto... For the most part, she seemed totally oblivious, or perhaps completely dismissive of my conversation despite helping her clean while being not more than ten feet away at any given time. Dammit, I cleaned this table four times already...
Cologne seemed to absorb the information quietly as she watched us from the counter. Luna however, seemed more suspicious of it all. I don't blame the cat. It had been a rough day for her, and I doubt the idea of suddenly getting yanked into another universe with someone who didn't even seem to realize what was going on was very appealing.
Ryoga was helping too. Seemed to be his personal delusion that he was atoning for a sin that never happened. I'm not going to try and figure that one out. Some things are better off left alone. Besides, he had that absurd super strength of his. Pushing my luck with him around would be a good way to take a dismissive slap that hits like a small truck. And while that little Chinese remedy had been a great help, I was still aware of how stiff my body was from the punishment it had taken recently. I'd have to call Washu later and ask her how much cumulative damage I could tank on her nanomachines without a week or two of rest to let natural healing run its course.
Being absurdly alert also allowed me to notice other minor issues. Despite feeling totally charged, I swear I heard my name being called every ten to fifteen minutes, as well as the sound of my family chattering as if in the other room. Creepy... I was also aware of how painfully slow my reactions were. The ancient one had warned me that her remedy was no substitute for sleep. So I'm guessing that despite not feeling tired and worn down, I was still running on thirty to almost forty hours without sleep at this point. If what she said about coming off the stuff was right, I'd probably hit the ground like a lead weight the moment the effects subsided.
But for now, I had a mission.
Keeping close to Mitoto while she cleaned wasn't as easy as it sounded. Not when you consider I had to contend with looking like I was just randomly wandering near her, not look like I was wasting time (at which point Cologne may or may not instruct me to do something else. I've been around enough bosses to know it could happen), or look like I was taking over the current task. That last one was important because the first two times I tried to 'assist' she simply rotated to a different task with a smile.
Can't you hold still for five seconds Mitoto?
In keeping up the charade, I even got Luna in on the act. The cat made a wonderful floorboard cleaner, as I was not about to try bending over that much in this state. Luna protested, but I pointed out that I was pretty much her only ticket out of here and spending the rest of her life running around town shouting.
Slowly, or rather quickly when you compare to similar tasks, the restaurant was cleaned from head to toe. And by clean I mean SPOTLESS. Mitoto was a master of her craft. Soon we worked our way back into the corner and into the bathrooms, eventually wiping down the sinks and mirrors.
"Nice and sparkly!" the guerilla housemaid chirped.
"I can't believe she enjoys this so much," Luna huffed as I turned to wash my hands at the sink.
"If you're going to do something," Mitoto smiled at the cat. "You might as well have fun while you're at it! Am I right?"
"You didn't have to scrub a bathroom floor with a towel in your mouth," the cat responded sarcastically, then glared at me. Hey don't blame me kitty! I didn't make you do that one.
"Well, at least it's cleaned, and cleaned right." I commented. Plus I got more than enough time near Mitoto for what Washu wanted. "You have no idea how many skulls I have to crack back home to get anything cleaned the right way the first time."
"Anything worth doing, is worth doing right!" the blond chirped.
"I agree with her," Ryoga responded as he reached for the door.
"Actually," I began. "So do I."
"What's with that talking cat anyway?" Ryoga indicated. "Is she related to that Mao Mao Lin guy? Or is she cursed like that frog guy?"
"It's a bit more complicated than that," I shook my head. "Trust me, this isn't a good day for asking questions."
"Is it okay if I ask one more though?" Ryoga asked as he peered out of the bathroom.
Aside from the one you just asked? "Sure, go ahead."
"Where am I NOW?"
I sighed, shaking my head. Lost Boy couldn't find his way out of the back of a C-130 with the ramp down in a vertical clim-
I paused as I looked out the door. There was no cafe' on the other side.
"What the f-" I cut myself off, swinging the door wide and stepping into the hall. Then I turned and looked into the cramped bathroom we were in, then out again.
It couldn't be... Well, actually it could. I could easily blame this on Mitoto. But there was something else.
"Where are we?" Luna asked, noticing the change in scenery for the first time.
This hall... these tiles. This disjointed bathroom. There's no way, but... I knew this layout.
Stepping back and looking at the two as Mitoto attacked some soap scum in the bathtub, I let myself be shocked for the second time in less than an hour.
"This is my house."