Guardian
A Ranma 1/2 fanfiction
by Black Dragon

To those of you who voiced complaints in the last chapter to the effect that Nuku-Nuku was being "turned evil," I submit to you that "Nuku-Nuku" is the android created by implanting a cat's brain into an inert robotic body, not the body itself. To that effect, as certain "events" that led to that "implantation" have not, strictly speaking, "happened at all," the android commonly known as "Nuku-Nuku" never existed, and thus cannot be "evil".
In summary, mostly because I haven't used enough quotation marks, the "android" you will come to know in "Guardian" is NOT "Nuku-Nuku" any more than it is "Mecha-Godzilla" or "C3-PO".
If that still doesn't help, well, shoot, I guess you can just get over it, then.

Guardian
Chapter 29
Ever Wonder Where Stimpaks Came From?

"All right, increase the primary coil charge by seven point two-two percent."

"Electron stabilizers are functioning within expected capacity. Increasing primary coil charge."

"Sir! Electrical feedback is increasing exponentially. The accelerator charge is stripping the charged ions from the outer shell of the sphere. I'm not sure we'll be able to contain another plasma burst like before."

"It's fine, the new ion dampers are still stable. Continue the systems test!"

Within the cavernous vault that housed the Freedom's Angels' most prized technological treasures, numerous scientists and engineers crawled around the massive humming carapace of one such machine, checking cables, reading charts, noting meter readings, and in some cases simply trying and failing to sit still in the presence of such an incredible machine.

There was really no other word to describe the device other than incredible. A massive dome the size of a large house hummed and jolted with power as it tried to wrap its electric fingers around reality itself, eventually hoping to peel back the fabric of space and time so that man - weak, pitiful, short-lived mortals - could drop themselves into holes punched into the depths of the universe. Attached to the dome was dozens of smaller machines: power plants, massive capacitors, sensor blocks, coolant towers, magnetic field generators, and others, every one of them stacked up atop one another and crudely connected so that they all resembled a gigantic, ramshackle engine.

All of these machines toiled constantly, every one of them being pushed to the limits of their operating power and some of them far beyond what they were ever intended to handle. All to feed the seemingly endless hunger of their master device.

The chronosphere.

"Magnificent, no?"

Igov Yutchzky stood on a steel balcony overlooking the main lab space, his hands clasped behind his back as he smiled approvingly upon the experiment below.

"Technology far beyond current human imagination lie before us, almost complete," the cyborg said in his thick, accented Japanese. "The greatest secrets of Einstein, hidden for fear of being used for war, are ours."

Igov's smile turned into a grin. "His fears were well-founded. This device is fantastic weapon."

Standing next to him, Alexandra Tokima snorted as she looked down at the metal shell with skepticism in her eyes. "At the moment, it's a fantastic drain on our budget. I'm still waiting for any confirmation that this thing can actually do anything like you claim it can."

The Russian didn't seem the least bit upset by his superior's doubts, and the sound of whirling gears emanated from his neck as Igov turned to face her. "Have no fear. Chronosphere almost operational, and when active, will give Angels mobility far beyond limits of conventional technology!"

Alex leaned over the railing of the balcony as she sighed, exposing a great deal of cleavage and incidentally causing several of the male engineers walking by to trip over power cords and crash onto the floor. "I suppose you've never failed to deliver the technology you've promised in the past."

The terrorist general's eyes narrowed as she added. "Even if those technologies have failed to produce the promised results."

"Hm hm hm," Igov chuckled deeply, his voice an iron rumble. "Come now, Miss Tokima. You cannot deny the many gains we make even among defeat? Freedom's Angels now possesses three squadron of armored mecha, new artillery division, small army of cyborg units, and has even procured new android model to add to forces. Angels are feared more than ever among cattle of this city, local crime lords turn to us for weapons, and ranks swell as scum of streets see our men emerge as super-human soldiers. Such treasure we find in ashes of failure, no?"

The Russian gripped his blocky, oversized left hand into a fist as he grinned, the snarl of grinding machinery filling the air around him.

Alex had to admit the cyborg had a point, and even found herself getting somewhat excited at his pontificating before she quashed her unwarranted confidence. Watching Igov in his workshops or in battle, it was easy to think of the General as being more a machine than a man (which was actually true, when one stopped to consider it literally), totally engrossed in either the artifice of construction or killing, respectively. It made one forget that Igov was, first and foremost, a leader of war, and he had talents for inspiring people to walk into the jaws of death that were easily the equal of his knack for engineering.

"It's true that we've had gains while consolidating our power, but the sheer SCALE of this build-up may yet devastate us without our enemies ever firing a shot," Alex complained as she crossed her arms under her breasts. "The cyborg units and the chronosphere were expensive enough, and then you come to me with the plans for MORE robots to build! It's impossible!"

Igov shrugged. "Konta spoke of scaling down android model to make production feasible on proper scale. We are in good place if greatest concern is finding resources to construct our weapons, no?"

"It could be worse, I admit it," the brunette said reluctantly, "but having all this technology does us no good if we don't have the resources to use it! How are we going to address the shortfall? Wraith is limited primarily by who we can trust within the company, and the Freedom's Angels primarily by who we can trust is competent enough to get back to a safehouse without a police convoy behind them."

The Russian nodded. "Igov understand, and has solution." He gestured to the chronosphere. "Chronosphere will make lightning raid simple matter. Securing money and materials will be top priority."

Alex grimaced. "I'd rather not pin the success of our entire military effort on this... thing. A localized time-space subverter to transport vehicles? It's like a science fiction novel threw up in here."

Igov chuckled deeply. "You have doubt. Is understandable. Perhaps it is time to unleash power of chronosphere, then."


Yamiko Nova turned sharply as the door to the observation center opened with an gentle hiss, and her back straightened as she saw Igov and Alexandra enter the room.

"General. Miss Tokima," she said, inclining her head. "Are you here for a progress report on test batch 7712?"

"Save your 'reports,' we're here to see if the damn thing works," Alex snapped, deliberately turning her irritation up a few notches just to needle the Russian woman.

Yamiko bristled, her eyes narrowing. "So then you ARE asking for a report. How else are we supposed to know if it works unless we complete the testing cycle?"

"Oh, I don't know, maybe by turning it on?" Alex said humorlessly. Of course, she knew very well that research and prototype development didn't work so simply, but her feigned ignorance succeeded in infuriating Yamiko.

"Turn it on? Oh, of course! And then what will use for a lab after ours gets crushed by a gravitational singularity?" Yamiko groused. "Your office, maybe? It's certainly big and empty enough to hold most of our prototypes..."

Igov quickly tired of the girls' catty banter and cleared his throat as he stepped forward. "Be that as it may, Miss Nova, we will be running our first operational test immediately."

Yamiko's ire quickly switched targets as she rounded on the cyborg. "What? Already? It's impossible!"

Igov wagged a finger back and forth before he smiled. "You forget, Igov already run numerous test batches based on latest output projections. By all indications, is safe to proceed."

"And YOU forget that those test batches small enough to run in your head - no matter how far augmented with micro-processors - only deal with the chronosphere itself and don't include calculations for dealing with the actual temporal breach! We have no idea how safe it is, only that there is a TREMENDOUS number of things that can go wrong at the target area! And you're going to expose us to an operational test WEEKS before we're ready?"

Igov's lips curled into a smirk as he shook his head. "No. Igov will not expose us to operational test. Would be foolhardy to open breach in lab with so many possible dangers."

Alexandra raised an eyebrow. "Then what are you going to do?"

Igov tapped a button on the metal peripheral over his ear, and one of the monitors on the wall - most of them scrolling through reams of numbers and data while others watched technicians tinkering with control panels - flickered before switching to an image of a parking lot.

Yamiko and Alex were both confused as they stared at a single vehicle parked at the edge of the lot, but Alex at least recognized the symbol branded on the side of the car after a moment.

"Ah. This should be interesting," the businesswoman said, her expression twisting into a grin.


Ranma walked across the parking lot rather stiffly behind a morose-looking Sakura, the blonde woman trying to avoid eye contact even as she led the way to the car designated for their patrol route.

Things had been awkward at best, and icy at worst whenever the blonde had been around recently, and the pigtailed man suspected that Snake's assigning them to patrol together was a thinly-veiled hint for them to talk out their issues and finally put the... incident between him and Akina to rest.

Granted, Sakura never seemed upset at HIM, and in fact was particularly careful not to antagonize him or bring up the incident in question when he was in earshot. He knew she saw him as a victim of Akina's wild urges, but didn't know why she was obsessing over it long after he and Junko had put the actual incident behind them.

He cleared his throat as he got in the passenger's seat of the patrol cruiser and buckled himself in. "So... it's been a while since we've been put on patrol together, huh?"

Sakura winced at how forced Ranma's tone sounded. "Ranma, we've never been on patrol together."

It was true. Given that Ranma was the DAPC's strongest fighter and Sakura seemed almost gifted at holding him back whenever an emergency arose, the martial artist had always been paired with the other officers that either had leadership skills of some sort or could at least extricate themselves from danger if things got hairy.

"Yeah, I guess so," Ranma mumbled, scratching the back of his head under his pigtail. "Heh. Think the guys are trying to tell us something?"

Sakura reached for the ignition key, but then hesitated and seemed to think better of it, resting her hands in her lap as she turned toward Ranma with a serious expression. "I think they are, and I think they're right. Everybody else has practically forgotten what Akina did to you already, and I'm tired of feeling like I'm the only one hung up about this!"

Ranma was about to point out that she WAS the only one still hung up about the incident, when a strange, low-pitched screeching noise came from outside the car.

He started to turn around, but Sakura grabbed his arm, apparently more concerned about the current topic of discussion than she was about the soft blue glow that she caught out of the corner of her eye.

"I can forgive Junko for what happened; it was Akina's fault, after all. But I need to put things right with you first, Ranma. And we need to talk about this NOW."

SPLOOSH! Ranma and Sakura bounced in their seats as the police cruiser broke the surface of the water, swiftly sinking up to its windows as water seeped in through the cracks in the doorway.

Sakura's head whipped around to see what was happening, and her eyes widened in shock and horror as she saw that they were suddenly, somehow, completely surrounded by water stretching out in all directions around them. Glancing about in panic, she could see a strip of land off in the distance, but it seemed hopelessly far away and the water was rising rapidly.

Ranma frowned as he too glanced about. "Well, if we need to talk now, you'd better hurry. We've only got a few minutes of air in here, I think. Also, we'll want to break out before the car sinks too deep."

Sakura continued to gape wordlessly as the surface of the water rose above the top of the windshield, and then her eyes rolled back into her head as she fainted dead away.

"Right. We'll escape first, then," Ranma said to himself as he started unbuckling Sakura from her seat. "Looks like it's gonna be one of those Mondays..."


Alexandra stared intently at the far monitor in the observation screen, tapping her foot on the floor impatiently. "Well? What happened to the vehicle?"

Yamiko was already poring over a set of readouts scrolling across several other screens simultaneously, and she spared a glance at the monitor which now displayed an empty parking lot. "I don't know. There must have been some inaccuracy or miscalculation in the translation process. They didn't end up where we intended to send them."

Alex snorted in annoyance as she turned away from the screen linked to the camera that oversaw the translation site - a small enclosed space in a junk yard that had been littered with rusty fuel barrels and high explosives that were ready to detonate with a moment's notice.

"So, what? Does that mean that they're dead?" the brunette asked, suddenly intrigued. A weapon that could simply make enemies vanish with unlimited range and complete impunity would actually be just as useful as a teleporter.

Yamiko shook her head. "The Chronosphere doesn't work that way. Matter cannot be created or destroyed, and THAT principle, at least, we haven't breached. The device actually moves the matter by linking two probability spaces and translating an object by reducing the time to get from one space to another to zero, not by actually moving or deconstructing the object itself."

Alex didn't really understand any of that, except that it was unlikely the two hapless officers had been killed in their sudden and unexpected trip. "Huh. So it successfully teleported them, but we have no idea where."

Yamiko nodded. "The chronosphere did complete a full operation cycle, so they definitely completed the chronoshift. And there was less quantum wave variance than expected, so they probably ended up somewhere relatively close to where we TRIED to send them."

Igov's only eyebrow rose slightly as he glanced at her. "How close? Some variation in destination coordinates is acceptable for strategic use."

Yamiko frowned. "Oh, I'd say they couldn't have gone more than... two hundred kilometers off target."

Igov's face fell. "That not within acceptable parameters at all."

The Russian woman flushed slightly. "Well, I said they ended up relatively close. We ARE talking about a device with a global range, you know."

"So we have a device that can teleport a vehicle SOMEWHERE within any country of our choosing, hmm?" Alex said, crossing her arms under her breasts. "Well, it might be good for vacations, at least. A trip to Europe is SUCH a long flight, you know?"

Yamiko's expression grew heated under Alexandra's sarcasm. "Look, I TOLD you that the chronosphere wasn't ready for an operational test yet! Give us some time to check the formulas and dig through the data for errors."

Igov nodded firmly. "Indeed. That chronosphere work at all is great victory for us." Then the general grinned. "Besides, if nothing else, is rather useful for getting rid of obnoxious person, no?"

"Hmm. Well, I suppose it's enough for now," the brunette allowed, her tone quite deliberately indulgent and derisive. "I'll continue to support the project, but I expect workable results within a few days."

Yamiko's eyebrow twitched, but she nodded reluctantly. "That's... fine. A few days." It was unlikely that any of the project heads would want to leave the chronosphere alone after a partially successful field test anyway, so it wasn't an unreasonable time frame.

Igov grinned as he rubbed his chin. "Igov will compile target list and ready deployment teams." He set his shoulders as his cybernetic eye glowed a bright, bloody red. "Rejoice, comrades! Once again, leap in technology has revolutionized the pace and mechanics of war, and we stand at cusp of new era in combat!"

"I'll save my rejoicing when I have my lab back to myself," Yamiko mumbled just loud enough for Alex to hear.

Alexandra, for one, WAS quite thrilled at the strategic opportunities now afforded to her, and allowed a dark chuckle to escape her lips. "Oh, yes. This should be an eventful week..."


"BWAH!" Sakura gasped mightily as she burst from the surface of the water, her thin, soaked hands grabbing desperately for one of the slimy, sea-worn ropes hanging from the side of the wooden dock.

After she got a decent enough grip, she felt herself being pushed up from the water, and she reached up to grab the edge of the dock itself before hauling herself atop the first solid surface she had touched in almost half an hour.

As she lay on the dock, heaving and spitting up water, Ranma pulled himself up behind her, falling heavily onto the rickety wood before collapsing into a sitting position.

"Phew! Didn't expect to start the day with marathon swimming," he mumbled as he picked at his soaked uniform. Turning toward Sakura, he said approvingly. "By the way, you actually have a pretty good swimming form." She had actually done half the swim herself once she had woken up from her faint, though she looked fairly exhausted from the unexpected exertion.

"High school... swim club... one hundred meter... freestyle... silver medal..." the blonde gasped out between breaths as she finally started to get her second wind.

"Not bad," Ranma said as he started wringing out his pigtail. "So anyway, you wanted to talk, right? About the thing between me and Akina?"

Sakura blinked rapidly as she recalled the earlier discussion that had been cut short by the sudden emergency. "Oh, right. It's just that, now that Akina's taken a very aggressive move on you, I feel like I've been a passive-"

Then she whirled around, her expression incredulous. "Wait, who cares about that now? What the hell happened? Where are we?"

Ranma blinked. "We're in Tokyo Bay. I'm not sure which port, though," he said unhelpfully.

"How did we get here?" Sakura shouted as she held her head, as if trying to physically keep her remaining concepts of reality from escaping her brain. "One second we were in the parking lot at HQ, and then..."

"Yeah, I don't really know anything about that," Ranma admitted as he stood up, "and on that note, what are we going to do now? We're out a patrol car, soaked, and I think there might be paperwork involved when you're suddenly zapped a dozen kilometers out into the ocean."

Sakura frowned as she stuck her hand into her pocket, giving a disgusted grunt as the water within overflowed and splashed down onto the dock.

Taking out her cell phone, she grimaced as she found it, as expected, completely unresponsive. "Do they still have pay phones in the city?" the blonde asked as she tossed the useless device over her shoulder and into the water that had disabled it.

"Dunno. But first we should find some dry clothes," Ranma mumbled. "Besides, I don't think there's any hurry. Snake's in charge right now, and he wouldn't care unless there were actual enemies to fight."

Sakura groaned. "That's true... I really hope Captain Takami gets better soon..."


Ding dong!

Asuka grimaced as her door bell rang, and she put aside the latest in a long series of TV dinners before standing up from the couch where she had been so comfortably relaxing.

"I swear, this better not be a salesperson," the bluette grumbled as she approached her front door and pulled it open.

"Captain! Hello!" Seras said happily from where he stood outside Asuka's door, a large steel case lying next to him.

Asuka stared for a few seconds, and then she hung her head. "I take it back. I wish it were a salesperson," she said miserably.

"Eh? What are you talking about? I'm here to visit you!" Seras said, fishing around in his pocket for his ever-present flask.

"That's very kind of you!" Asuka said brightly. "Thanks! Bye!" She then made to close the door.

Thunk! Her escape was foiled as the steel case was shoved between the door and the frame, blocking it open.

"Oh, don't be like that! I can help!"

Asuka grimaced. "Thanks, but the doctors - meaning those with actual DEGREES in medicine - said that I should get plenty of rest, and right now you're disturbing me."

"Psht! Those so-called 'doctors' couldn't even heal something as simple as a bullet wound! If it were left up to me, I'd have you healed and combat-ready within an hour!"

"Uh huh. How's that, exactly?" the bluette said, obviously not believing a word of it.

Seras grinned. "I'm glad you asked." Then he shouldered his way through the door and into her house.

Asuka grumbled under her breath as Seras walked into the living room, taking stock of the place.

"Boy, you're living a bachelor's lifestyle, aren't you?" the drunkard asked before taking a hit from his flask. "I haven't seen so much trash piled up since... well, since the last time I was home, actually."

"Why are you here?" Asuka demanded, massaging her shoulder.

Seras nodded. "Right, right. Sit down, please." He pointed to the sofa.

Asuka hesitantly did as asked, keeping her eyes on the DA's medical officer warily.

"So. How's the shoulder been?" Seras asked.

"It's getting better. I no longer need bandages or have to restrict my arm's motion, but it still hurts whenever I move my arm, so I try to stay immobile as possible," Asuka explained.

Seras nodded again, and then brought the steel case out and onto the coffee table in the middle of the living room. "Got it. You've actually healed further than I'd hoped, but that's fine."

Asuka raised an eyebrow. "What's that supposed to mean?"

Seras opened the case, and then took out a hypodermic syringe capped with a red disc at the end that had a small white cross painted on it and the DAPC logo on the other side.

As she stared at the needle warily, Asuka noticed that it actually had two liquid cylinders rather than the usual one, both of which apparently fed into the needle. One liquid was a bright green, while the other was a light blue.

"Soooo... what is that?" Asuka demanded, hugging her arms reflexively. She wasn't particularly scared of needles, but she was VERY scared of what Seras could do to her either through malicious intent or drunken incompetence. "Tell me you're not going to stick me with that."

"I could tell you that, but lying is wrong," Seras said unapologetically as he removed the syringe cap. "Besides, there's nothing to be afraid of! This is a new creation that I've brought to you that will lay low all your medical concerns and forever more protect our soldiers from threat of all but the most drastic bodily harm! I present to you the stimpack!"

"Fascinating. A true marvel," Asuka deadpanned. "Can you leave now?"

"Without fixing you up? Don't be ridiculous!" Seras said as he approached the police captain, the syringe reaching out ahead of him.

"Wait wait WAIT! What exactly is in that thing?" Asuka demanded.

Seras blinked. "Oh! Right! I completely forgot to tell you how I developed it!" He straightened and gestured to his new creation. "You remember how I said that Saotome's body has a special type of blood cell that can create a superior healing agent to reconstruct damaged tissue? Well, I managed to synthesize his R-virus from a blood sample! With this injection, a person will be instantly flooded with hypercells that will immediately repair any bodily damage in minutes, if not seconds! Imagine, fixing a punctured lung with the jab of a needle and jumping back into a firefight moments later! Not only can this save lives by reversing mortal wounds in the field, but it allows soldiers to return to combat-ready status in moments where before they would be out of action for weeks, maybe even months!"

Seras then leaned forward again. "So stay still and witness this medical miracle of the new age for yourself!"

Asuka apparently did not feel inclined to do so, as she grabbed Seras' wrist and halted the stimpack's approach toward her skin.

"Wait. Hold it," Asuka mumbled as she massaged her forehead with her free hand. "Correct me if I'm wrong, but didn't you say that the R-virus creates hypercells from T-virus organisms?"

"Ah! You WERE paying attention!" Seras said cheerfully. "Yes! That's right. So?"

Asuka's eyebrow twitched. "So that means that this green stuff in the stimpack, which you intend to inject into me, is-"

"T-virus, yes," Seras said. "It'll be completely neutralized by the R-virus! It was necessary to separate before injection, though, since both prerequisite organisms can hibernate safely in a neutralizing gel, but the hypercells cannot. So the hypercells are created on the spot to maximize their life cycle and any healing effects. No need to worry!"

"OF COURSE I'M WORRIED!" Asuka screamed, throwing the scientist back. "Maybe if I was dying of a punctured lung, MAYBE I would consider injecting that crap into myself, but there's no way I'm going to risk it to avoid another week of mild discomfort!"

"Stop being unreasonable! It's perfectly safe!" Seras said as he approached again.

"I don't care! Get away!" Asuka screamed, grabbing a sofa pillow and hurling it into the drunkard's face.

Seras staggered backward from the rather soft assault, and then his expression hardened as he advanced once more. "Now Captain, please understand that this isn't just for your own good! The completion of a human test is vital not only to your expedited recovery, but the advancement of the stimpack as a recognized tool of medicine!"

Asuka's expression turned ashen as the full extent of Seras' laxity became clear. "You haven't even tested it on humans yet?" she said, her voice nearly cracking in fear. "What are you thinking? You can't use that on me!"

"Oh, come on! It worked on the rats!" Seras protested as he took a wide stance to better block any attempt to flee.

"You can't go straight from rodents to humans, idiot! Especially not with an ingredient that dangerous!" the bluette shouted. "Besides! You did the rat tests with Ranma's actual blood sample, not your 'synthesized' R-virus!"

Seras blinked. "Oh. Oh, yeah. That's a good point, actually." Then his expression grew even more determined. "Then that makes this test even MORE important!"

"GAH!" Asuka bolted for the kitchen, her heart pounding as she ran for a certain drawer next to her silverware.

"Would you calm down?" Seras demanded as he followed his superior officer, his free hand rummaging in his coat, "I'm, like, NINETY percent sure that all my calculations were perfect! There's no danger at all, here!"

Asuka yanked out the drawer she had stopped at, and then slipped her hand through the many layers of dish towels to the very back, where her hand closed around hard plastic.

As she pulled the 9 millimeter pistol from its hiding place however, her right arm suddenly seized up in protest at all the sudden activity, and tears flooded her eyes as she fought to keep herself from crying out.

The moment of hesitation cost her dearly though, and she couldn't help herself from crying out as a severe electric jolt shook her body and sent her to the floor in a convulsing heap.

Seras clicked his tongue as he tossed aside the stun gun, annoyed that he had been forced to take his captain down in order to do something as simple as administer medicine. "Stop being such a baby. I even have a back-up dose of R-virus just in case the stimpack doesn't take."

Asuka merely grunted in pain, her twitching hand slowly reaching for the handgun that had fallen onto the tile floor next to her.

"Now this will only hurt for a moment," the drunken doctor said as he seized the woman's arm and then rolled back her sleeve.

"You bastard... I'm gonna... have you shot... for this!" Asuka promised through clenched teeth.

"And with any luck, I'll have a stimpack handy to heal myself!" Seras said cheerfully as he finally jabbed the needle into Asuka's hurt shoulder and injected the fluids within.

Asuka's breathing went heavy as she felt the syringe pierce her skin, and she curled up as her injury throbbed more painfully than ever before.

Seras backed away in satisfaction, tucking the empty syringe into the pocket of his lab coat. "There. Now all we have to do is wait as your remaining muscle damage vanishes like a bad dream! You might feel some slight discomfort as the hypercells properly modify your cellular structure, but the process shouldn't be painful."

Asuka gasped, her skin breaking out in a cold sweat. "Definitely... painful!"

"Oh. Huh." The part-time mad scientist frowned. "Maybe I should mix a mild anesthetic into the R-virus solution. That might subdue the viruses, though... Maybe a catalytic agent that would bond with the hypercells? Bleagh, that would take a whole other testing and production phase."

He continued mumbling to himself as Asuka laid on the floor trembling, and after nearly a full minute, he finally shrugged and turned his attention back to the police captain. "Well, nonetheless, soon you should be back... on... your... feet?"

Seras trailed off as Asuka slowly lurched upward, sweat dripping down her face and her eyes wild and unfocused.

He started to back away as the bluette got to her feet, his hands shaking. "N... No way... my calculations... should have been perfect! How-"

He was cut off as Asuka released a feral roar, and he flinched from the noise right before the police captain shoulder-charged him, knocking the drunkard painfully onto his back.

Seras started patting the floor next to him desperately for his stun gun, but was stopped when Asuka stomped painfully on his wrist.

"It failed? But... I can't believe... it actually failed..." Seras mumbled weakly as he stared up into Asuka's feral, hateful eyes.

"Actually, it worked perfectly," the police captain said through clenched teeth.

Seras blinked. "Wait. What?"

Whump! The scientist squeaked in pain and curled up as Asuka kicked him hard in the stomach.

"You heard me. The experiment was a success. I feel good as new. It even cured the paralysis from the stun gun," the bluette said as she backed away from the DA's medical officer and walked toward her discarded pistol. "Now it's time for its second live test. You can't seriously field something like this on the basis that it reduces muscle pain, can you?"

"H-Hey. Wait a minute," Seras said, bigsweating as he watched Asuka flip off the safety. "I wasn't serious about what I said before..."

"But I was," Asuka said, a dark smile crossing her face. "Don't worry, I'll make sure to remove the slugs before I administer the stimpack. Ready?"

"No, I'm not. I said I'm not ready! STOP! WAIT! HEEEEEEEELP!"


"So after I kicked out the door, the water all rushed in and I carried Sakura to the surface of the ocean," Ranma said as he leaned over a pay phone, looking annoyed. The pigtailed man was shirtless at the moment, wearing only his still-wet pants as he scrubbed the salt water out of his hair with a souvenir towel. "After that me and Sakura swam back to the docks. We're both okay, but the car and everything in it is gone."

Dude, really. I know you're not much of a driver and Tekai is a failure at everything she does, but incompetence has its limits, said Snake's voice from the receiver, If you're going to drive a patrol car into the ocean, you should at least have the gumption to do it on purpose, like Tycho does.

Ranma's eyebrow twitched. "No, Snake, you're not listening to me. We DIDN'T drive it into the ocean. We didn't even start moving before we appeared over the water outside Tokyo Bay."

Then how did you get there?

"We don't KNOW. That's the problem," Ranma groused. "I heard kind of a crackling, screeching noise, but that was it. One moment, parking lot. Next moment, splash."

That's totally ridiculous.

"No, it's totally ridiculous that YOU have control of a space laser that can destroy entire city blocks," Ranma deadpanned, "at worst this rates as 'really weird'."

Well, technically I don't control it. And it's not a laser, it's-

"It's beside the point, Snake!" the pigtailed man yelled into the receiver. "Something or someone nearly sent me and Sakura to the bottom of the ocean, and we don't even know how! We need to do something about this!"

The voice on the other end was silent for a few seconds. Like what?

"Like we need to get Captain Takami back on her feet so that someone who knows what they're doing can lead us," Ranma mumbled.

It's not that I'm unsympathetic, I mean, I'll gladly admit that I'm pretty awful at this leadership thing, but that's not really a workable solution. It's not like we can just give the captain some weird medicine and instantly heal...

Ranma frowned as Snake trailed off. "Snake? Yo, you there?"

Wait, hold on. Snake said as Ranma heard background conversation and some yelling. Huh. Can I actually get back to you on this instant healing thing?

Ranma blinked. "What?"

Right. Call me back in half an hour, okay? Bye.

Ranma stared blankly at the receiver in his hand, and then sighed as he hung up. "I knew he wouldn't take this seriously. Man..."

Ranma took issue with Snake far less than any sane individual really should, but Snake's usefulness ended the moment he was out of a battlefield.

Still, it was weird how he had seemed to reconsider the prospect of Asuka magically getting back on her feet in no time.

Ranma slipped the towel around his neck and shoved his hands in his pockets as he walked to the cafe at the other side of the street. Sakura was sitting at a table by herself, nursing a cup of tea. She had shed her old outfit entirely and was wearing a T-shirt over a white one-piece bathing suit.

"Well, Snake wasn't any help. I don't think he even cares," Ranma mumbled as he sat down opposite the blonde. "So... do you wanna go back to HQ or go home? I don't think there's much point in being out here if we don't even have a patrol car, and without the captain being back, nobody will care if we don't come back for the day."

Sakura frowned as she sipped her tea silently, and then put her cup down.

"I don't suppose there's anything we can do. We don't know much more than he does," she admitted. "But still, I feel like this is really important, somehow. I don't think that whatever happened to us happened by chance."

Ranma nodded grimly. "I know. I hope the others are gonna be okay while we're away."

"Well, while you're away, anyhow," Sakura mumbled. She seriously doubted that any kind of force with access to a teleporter would consider HER a threat to be removed.

She took another sip of her tea, and a light flush came over her face. "Well... as long as we're stuck out here for now... I think we should have that talk."

The pigtailed boy braced himself as he nodded again. "All right... so..." he scrubbed his head with his hand as he glanced about uncomfortably. "I guess I should say that I really appreciate you not blaming me for what happened between me and Junko. Or, uh, Akina, I guess."

Sakura looked taken aback. "What? Why would I blame you for that?" she asked incredulously. "Akina used her psychic powers to pin you down and then forced herself on you! It must have been awful!"

Ranma sweatdropped heavily at the pronouncement. Being jumped by Akina had been frightening and a bit emasculating, but besides that it had been decidedly pleasant. "Er... right. Well, even so, I usually end up taking responsibility for these kinds of things."

The blonde officer shook her head. "It wasn't your fault, Ranma. I know you probably could have stopped her by force, but I wouldn't expect you to..." she trailed off for a moment. "In any case, I feel like I'm the only one who's been standing in the background, waiting."

Ranma raised an eyebrow. "I don't follow."

"Kotetsu got you to take her out to dinner, even if that didn't really work out, and I don't think Akina's affection for you has been satisfied for good." Her face darkened. "Besides that, I know for a fact that Junko likes you too. She holds back mostly for my sake, but if you ever dropped your guard, she'd be all over you."

Ranma grimaced. He'd learned a long time ago to temper his reactions against overly amorous women - living around an enamored Amazon did that to a person - which helped him brush off Junko most of the time, but he was also aware that the redhead was far more of a seductress than Shampoo ever was, and had an uncanny understanding of the men of the DAPC. He wasn't sure he would be able to stand up to her if she made a real pass at him.

"But I... I like you too, Ranma," Sakura said, intertwining her fingers as her face heated up.

"Yeah. I... kinda noticed," Ranma mumbled, looking embarrassed himself. He had never been good at serious discussion, and romance was his least favorite topic.

"At first it was a simple infatuation," the blonde murmured as she ran a hand through her hair, "but there's so much more to you than your looks or your strength. When I'm around you I feel... safe. Like nothing in the world can touch me. And sometimes I feel stronger myself just from being by your side, like... like some sort of energy rolls off of you, filling me up and keeping me warm..."

Ranma fought to keep his face neutral, wondering what he was supposed to say in these situations. Drama wasn't his strong suit, damnit! "That was probably... well, I'm sure it was my aura. It's mostly confidence."

"Yes, exactly! It's like an aura!" Sakura said, bobbing her head.

"No, it IS an aura. I can show you right now if you want," Ranma offered, trailing off as he realized that Sakura wasn't really listening to him as she talked.

"I want to be with you, Ranma. Would..." she gulped nervously. "Would you want to be with someone like me?"

"Okay, yeah. We can try that," Ranma mumbled just as nervously. "I mean, why not?"

When he really thought about it, it was hard to work out how he felt about Sakura. Or how he felt about any of the girls in his life. It was simply his natural tendency not to think about a girl romantically until he had it shoved in his face...

Or when he was under the influence of mysterious retroviruses. That had been a strange evening.

Sakura breathed a sigh of relief. "Thank you. I know that I can be troublesome sometimes, and well, I want to be... more to you than just someone to be protected."

Ranma nodded hesitantly. "I... I can do that," he said seriously. "If you feel that way, then sure. Uh..."

He hesitated again, wondering what to say. He had been faced with this sort of situation many times before, but every time there had been something holding him back, some barrier between him and the girl in question.

That wasn't the case anymore. Ranma Saotome was free from the obligations of his family, free from the entanglements of his miserable past.

"I guess I should warn you, though," Ranma said suddenly, "girls that get close to me tend to get kidnapped a lot."

Sakura blinked. "Really? Do you go after them and overcome mortal danger to save them heroically?" she asked, her eyes brightening.

"Oh, all the time. You wouldn't believe some of the weirdos I've had to beat up because someone I know got kidnapped," Ranma said, sighing.

Sakura giggled as she leaned back in her chair. "Oh, I think I'd believe it. We've seen our share of weirdos too, right?"

"Yeah, but my weirdos had character," Ranma explained, an unfamiliar note of nostalgia entering his voice as he reminisced about his horrible past, "they weren't just lame-brained terrorists or disposable mutants. They had unique fighting styles and really stupid back stories and usually a half-assed reason for blaming their problems on me."

Sakura blinked. "That... almost sounds like more trouble than armies of bloodthirsty monsters."

"Oh, was it ever," he groused, "and I didn't have Snake around to gun down his share, either." Then he leaned back in his seat. "Anyway, things are a lot calmer now, even with all the terrorists and fighting and such. At least I feel like I'm actually accomplishing something when I win a battle, you know?"

"I could see that. Though I still think it's hard to top our current job as far as weird battles," Sakura said, sighing wearily, "I mean, seriously, our car got shunted out into the sea! How could things get stranger than that?"

"DEAR GOD! SOMEBODY HELP!" came a scream from behind the pair, causing Sakura to flinch.

"Fish men! There are goddamn fish men in the harbor!"

"It bit me! I need help!"

The two officers turned around and stared as a trio of men, two of them covered in blue slime and one of them obviously injured, raced down the docks in a panic, screaming wildly as other people quickly averted their eyes and started moving the other way.

"I was asking for that, wasn't I?" Sakura moaned as she collapsed onto the table.

Ranma shrugged and picked up his still-damp shirt and body armor. "Eh, it could've happened to anyone. C'mon, let's go take care of it before we head back to HQ."


"You know, I should have expected this, but I didn't," Sakura said as she and Ranma approached the dock warehouse, the former following closely behind the latter while peeking over his shoulder.

"What? You mean the salty-smelling goop everywhere?" Ranma asked as he observed the front of the dilapidated wooden building. Puddles of translucent blue ooze lay everywhere, emanating a stench that he would have identified as fresh fish, but five times stronger.

"No, I mean this. Walking into a possibly monster-infested warehouse while barely armed to investigate something," Sakura said bitterly, "somehow I thought that after we'd cleared up our feelings and became a couple that we'd immediately go on a wonderful date, or take off on a vacation with just the two of us, and all of this bloodshed and paranormal nonsense would sort of fade into the background, if it even kept happening at all."

"Well, this is kind of our job," Ranma reasoned as he tugged at the doorknob to the main warehouse, only to find that it was stuck shut, "besides, our day started with being teleported into the ocean. We can't really just brush that off and go cuddle."

"Yeah, I guess not. My fault," the blonde grumbled.

"This door's stuck. I could break it open, but every freak in and around this place is going to hear it," Ranma mumbled. "Whaddya think?"

"I think we should leave and tell Captain Takami, so she can make Snake come here and level the place," Sakura said.

"No ideas, then," Ranma deadpanned, "fine. Let's go around to the side. I saw some high windows, so I should be able to get a look inside first."

"What should I do?" Sakura asked. "Should I go back to the payphone and call for backup?"

"NO," Ranma said firmly as he led Sakura around the side of the building, "if you leave my sight now, you're sure to get hurt or captured. We're already in enemy territory, so we need to stay together."

"I think you've been hanging around Snake too much," Sakura said as she followed him, "you treat these jobs like they're part of some sort of comic adventure or-" her breath caught in her throat as her foot caught on something, and the blonde officer glanced down to see that she had stepped in one of the slime puddles, which had apparently stuck to her heel like glue.

Ranma gently climbed up a stack of old crates standing next to the side of the warehouse, and peeked inside the main warehouse.

"It's hard to see with that goop everywhere, but I think I see something sleeping on the floor," Ranma whispered down to his companion, "if they're not aware of us, then-"

"EEEEK!"

Ranma's head whipped around at the sound of Sakura's screech, and he groaned as he saw something large and green hop off the dock and into the water with Sakura grasped between its arms.

He didn't get a good look at the monster, but it seemed tall in humanoid and covered in dark green scales.

'We haven't even been together an hour. That's definitely a record,' Ranma thought as he launched himself up into the air and then dove straight into the ocean after the beast.

Ranma searched about after breaking the surface, but found the water unusually cloudy and hard to see through, probably on account of that weird slime that had infested the place.

'Damn. Okay, just concentrate for a moment,' Ranma thought to himself as he closed his eyes, trying to "see" with thoughts through a cascade of energy and emotions.

'Ah, there she is!' Ranma thought, sensing Sakura's fear moving swiftly underneath the building. He stopped to feel the aura of her captor a bit, and was surprised to sense an almost equal amount of fear. Fear and... hate? It was dull, more akin to an animal's spirit than a human's, but its emotions were still quite clear to Ranma's senses.

Quickly swimming after the captive policewoman, Ranma swam up under the warehouse, moving close enough that he could see the fiberglass bottom clearly as he followed the mysterious abductor.

Despite the visibility getting worse as Ranma swam along, before he had run out of air he found an opening that had been gouged out of the floor of the building. Figuring that it was either this or forcing his way in the front door, Ranma threw caution to the wind and rushed up through the opening, promptly breaking the surface of the water.

"Pwah!" Though he had meant to try and stay stealthy, the martial artist couldn't help but gasp as he reached fresh air again. Or rather, breathable air. The smell that had dominated the exterior was much stronger inside, so much so that it immediately dominated his senses before he could even manage a look around.

When he did manage to look around, he didn't like what he saw.

A single humanoid creature stared down at him through a single large, black eye mounted over a wide mouth full of small, sharp teeth. Fins were mounted on either side of the head, and all down the creature's back, which were mostly green like the monster but turned lighter in shade as they extended from the body. Other than that it was a simple humanoid, tall and gangly with dull green scales and long, curved claws on the end of its webbed fingers.

Ranma waited patiently as they stared at each other, each one waiting for the other to act.

The creature, either getting bore or sensing an opportunity, went first, and Ranma ducked back down into the water as it swiped at him.

Blinking its single fishbowl eye, the monster, which Ranma decided to call a sea cyclops if they had not been identified yet, slunk slowly to its knees and then braced its hands around the opening in the floor before dunking its face in a moment later.

SPLOOSH! In a horrific and mortally ironic reversal of roles, a pair of human arms promptly burst from the water and seized the monster's shoulders, and its legs flailed uselessly as it was suddenly pulled under.

The water splashed violently for a few seconds, and then went still.

"PWAH!" Ranma once again burst from the surface of the water, this time covered with his skin stained blue from the dense concentration of monster gook in the water.

'Just great. They must squirt this stuff as a defense mechanism or something. It practically exploded out of it when I snapped its neck,' Ranma thought as he pulled himself up into the warehouse, trying to ignore the almost overwhelming smell. It seemed the gunk lost its adhesive properties in salt water, so Ranma wasn't hindered any more than he would be normally from being wet, but the stench made him slightly dizzy.

Looking around the warehouse interior, Ranma frowned. There were more puddles of slime and many puddles of water, but no sign of Sakura, and no way to tell where she had gone.

He also noticed that some of the slime had actually been piled up into mounds in the corners of the warehouse, and he walked up to the mounds curiously.

Ranma grimaced once he got a good look at the slime piles; they were filled with small, round orbs about the size of baseballs.

"Sea cyclops eggs. Great. Filthy fish-men are reproducing," the pigtailed man grumbled.

Suddenly his danger sense alerted him to an incoming threat, and the martial artist whirled around just as a wad of slime splashed onto the ground in front of him, splattering over his feet and ankles.

"Aw, c'mon!" Ranma complained as he pulled one foot away, only to see long, thick strings of goo stretch from his leg to the floor. There was no way he'd be making his usual array of maneuvers so long as he was attached to the ground.

Glancing up, he saw the sea cyclops that had launched the projectile drop to the floor from where it had shot at him from the wall. Ranma wasn't sure if it had been there the whole time or if it had stealthily entered after he did, but he gave the monster credit for managing to take him by surprise.

"All right, fish-face. What're you gonna do now?" Ranma taunted, beckoning to the creature with a finger. These creatures were stronger than a human, certainly, but Ranma was completely confident he could grapple one into submission without having to move his legs.

The sea cyclops stared for a few seconds, and then its neck bulged ominously.

Splack! Ranma winced as another ball of slime impacted his knee, the excess goop running down his leg to merge with the batch around his ankle.

"Okay, so what? You trying to gross me out to death?" Ranma mumbled.

Spluck!

Ranma's eyebrow twitched as more slime slowly ran down his stomach. "Cut that out."

Spack!

"Quit it!" Ranma growled as he wiped a wad of slime off his chest, only to find it sticking to his hands.

Squick!

"Grrrrrr..." Ranma's aura started to glow a bright blue around the patches of dark blue that now half-covered him, and his eyes narrowed as he watched the sea cyclops' throat swell once again.

"SUCK HOT AURA AND DIE, FREAK!" the martial artist screamed as he thrust both hands forward. The patches of slime that covered him seemed to explode off in all directions as the portions touching Ranma directly instantly burnt away, and a coruscating ball of blue energy - containing a rather unhealthy-looking streak of red - sailed through the air toward the sea cyclops.

"HYEEEARGH!" WHOOM!

The wall buckled behind and around the strange creature as the orb of force smashed into it, but did not break completely before the energy dissipated in a burst of blue sparks. The sea cyclops slowly broke free of the indentation, is body fatally crushed and trailing smoke.

Thwud!

Ranma was about to approach the creature and make sure it was dead, when he suddenly heard a gasp come from behind him.

Whirling around yet again, he was relieved to see Sakura, unsettled to see another sea cyclops holding her, and quite perplexed to see a young human girl, maybe ten years old, standing in front of both of them, tears in her eyes. They had apparently come from the office located behind the main warehouse space, as Ranma could see an open door behind them.

"You killed Tama-chan!" the unknown girl said, tears welling up in the corners of her eyes.

Ranma blinked. "Probably, but I'll need a sec to make sure. Wait here."

The girl gaped (and even Sakura was fairly nonplussed) as Ranma walked across the length of the warehouse and crouched in front of the sea cyclops he had just blasted before prodding it with his finger.

"Hmm... yup. It's dead," Ranma declared, jabbing it harder in the chest and feeling the rib cage fold easily from where it had been crushed from the force.

"Stop! Please stop!" the little girl cried, "they won't hurt you!"

Ranma stared for a few seconds at the girl, and then glanced over to Sakura and the beast that was still holding her. It was noticeably larger than the others, with great, arching fins over its head and back.

"Are you sure about that?" Ranma asked skeptically.

Sakura finally spoke up, though her voice was weak from a combination of the awful smell and her proximity to the monster behind her. "This is Yumi. She... She says that the sea men have-"

"Sea cyclops," Ranma corrected.

"What?"

"They're called sea cyclops," Ranma repeated.

Sakura blinked. "Huh? So you've fought one of these before?"

"Yeah. About two minutes ago, when I broke the other one's neck," Ranma said, crossing his arms over his chest. "I named the species then. So they're sea cyclops now."

Yumi gasped and slapped her hands to her cheeks. "Gomu-chan!"

"So, first things first," Ranma said, clapping his hands together before the little girl could continue wailing at him, "do you need to be rescued? And then, second of all, what's this girl's problem?"

"Ugh..." Sakura sweatdropped as she timidly looked behind her. The finned sea cyclops seemed to be waiting patiently, but its claws were still wrapped tight around the hapless blonde, and every breath blew a hot stream of salty air over her back, reminding her of how close she was to being ripped in half.

"It's more of a 'want' than a 'need', I guess?" Sakura mumbled bleakly.

"Good enough," Ranma said, finally drawing one of his kodachi from the sheath on his calf, "if you just stay still, then-"

"NOOO! Stop! Please stop it, Mister!" Yumi cried, suddenly jumping between Ranma and the beast and jumping up and down. "Don't hurt Butsu-chan!"

"Good grief, did she really name every one of these scaly freaks?" Ranma grumbled as he straightened, glaring down at the girl.

"Yeah, okay, we should probably explain her before any rescuing," Sakura said with a depressed sigh, "she's been playing with the sea cyclops for several days, apparently. They've been nesting in this warehouse which hasn't been used in several months, but the new fishing season just started, and the fisherman came to clean it out. The sea cyclops attacked and drove them off, and then..."

As Sakura trailed off, Yumi nodded her head emphatically. "Yeah! It's not their fault! They were just defending their nest! You shouldn't hurt them!"

"Ah, I get it," Ranma said, rubbing his chin with his hand, "but seriously, that thing needs to let go of Sakura."

Yumi breathed a sigh of relief and smiled at the sea cyclops. "It's okay, Butsu-chan! You and your babies are safe, now!"

The repulsive creature let out a gurgling noise, and then finally released its iron grip on Sakura.

The blonde police officer stumbled away immediately, shivering at the wet patches of blue slime that clung to her torn and damp clothing.

"Say, were there just those three here?" Ranma asked as he approached the girls.

Yumi nodded. "Yuh-huh! But soon there will be lots more! Butsu-chan is gonna have a huge family!" the girl said cheerfully, smiling.

Sakura took the girl by the shoulders and then started to lead her forward toward the entrance. "Yeah... about that... Yumi, I'm afraid things aren't that simple. They can't have their babies here."

Yumi blinked as she looked up at the blonde. "What? Why not?"

"Well, for starters, they occupy our buildings, will attack humans that get too close, kidnap women for no apparent reason, are ugly as Hell, and they STINK," Ranma mumbled as he stepped past the girls, a stoic expression on his face. "Plus, there's way too many eggs here. If all of these hatched, these things could infest the entire bay."

"To be more formal about it," Sakura continued as she kept leading Yumi toward the back door, which was already open, "this warehouse belongs to the fishermen that were chased out of it, not the sea cyclops. It might seem unfair, but human economic rights are more important than the rights of non-humans to live and breed where they want."

The little girl frowned. "I... I don't understand..."

Shwunk! "REAAAARGH!"

Yumi's eyes widened as a monstrous growl came from behind, and she tried to turn around, but Sakura's grip held surprisingly firm as she guided the girl forward.

"Wait! What's happening to Butsu-chan?" Yumi asked in a panic.

"Don't worry about Butsu-chan," Sakura cooed gently, "Ranma's just going to send her back where she came from."

"Gah! Dammit, I think this one has two hearts! Ow!"

"HREAAAALGH!"

"If you spit more of that blue crap on me, I SWEAR I'll rip your gills out before I finish you!"

Sakura finally managed to push Yumi out the door, and then kicked it closed behind them. "Come on, let's find your parents. And then we'll see about getting you a puppy or something. Seriously..."


"We're back," mumbled Ranma and Sakura as they staggered through the front doors of the DAPC headquarters.

The latter was soaked and had bits of seaweed clinging to her hair, and her swimsuit was torn in several places, forcing the blonde to hug a towel around her chest to keep from exposing too much skin.

Ranma seemed worse off, bearing a few bloody gashes around his arms and shoulders while he was covered in streaks of dark blue that stained his skin like ink.

The first thing the pair noticed when they entered was that the other officers of their department were lazing about on the couch next to the lobby, but seemed to be waiting for something rather than simply goofing off.

The second thing they noticed was that there was a table set up in front of the group, which had several test tubes sitting on it filled with a bright green fluid.

The third thing they noticed, once they revisited the first thing, was that Asuka Takami was amongst those waiting, and conspicuously not wearing a cast as she gulped down a cup of coffee.

"Captain! You're all right!" Sakura said, brightening instantly.

"Well, well, looks like the kids came back from their little make-out session," Snake mumbled, casting the pair a wry glance.

"We're wet, injured, and we smell like dead fish," Ranma deadpanned, "what could possibly lead you to believe that we were fooling around while we were gone?"

"Well, that's the only plausible explanation if we're going to discount that nonsense story about you spontaneously teleporting out into the ocean," Tycho reasoned.

"That's not all that happened!" Sakura said, pouting as she tightened the towel around herself, "We also became a couple!"

SSSPSH! Asuka promptly spit out a jet of coffee into Kyle's face, pre-empting his own response.

"Wait, so... you WERE making out?" Tiro asked, looking confused.

"No!" Sakura said as Ranma winced from the suddenly intense stares, "l mean, we might have, but then sea monsters attacked. That's why Ranma's all blue."

"Because you didn't get to make out?" Junko guessed.

"Not sad! Look! I'm literally bl-"

Ranma was cut off as Seras suddenly burst into the room, immediately followed by a curiously familiar guy in a blood-stained lab coat.

"Finally! You've all gathered here!" Seras said, a wide grin on his face as he spread his arms wide. "Ladies and gentlemen! Today we embark on a new era of sci-"

"Shut up geek! We're in the middle of something, here!" Tycho growled as Kyle lightly smacked Asuka on the back to help her clear her throat.

"But this is important!" Seras whined as his arms dropped.

"But THIS is sexy," Junko noted as she pointed to Ranma and Sakura, who were still standing awkwardly in the front lobby.

"S-Saotome! Tekai!" Asuka gasped out, having finally cleared the coffee from her windpipe. "I need to debrief you two!"

"What? Now?" Seras asked, his expression souring.

"Yes! They were mysteriously teleported halfway across the city and then apparently fought some sort of sea creatures! Of course I need a detailed accounting of the entire time they were gone!" Asuka snapped.

"Ah. 'Debriefing'. Smooth," Junko mumbled.

Sakura groaned. "Can't we at least change first?"

"NO!" Seras suddenly shouted , throwing his hands up and surprising the others. "Everyone, shut the hell up! Nobody's changing, gossiping, or debriefing until I'm done with my presentation!"

"But-" Ranma started to speak, but was silenced when Seras shoved a finger at his nose.

"Quiet! You, stand near the T-virus samples on the table! Tekai, you take a seat! Captain, reign in your turbulent emotions for the extent of this lecture!"

As Ranma and Sakura meekly moved to do as they were told, Asuka's eyes narrowed.

"I could have you shot, you know," the bluette mumbled, "well, shot again, anyway."

"Yes, you could!" Seras said, his smile reappearing as he reached into his pocket and pulled out what appeared to be a hypodermic needle. "Luckily for me, I have a STIMPACK!"

At the questioning glances from most of the officers, Seras chuckled and held up his creation.

"Behold! For I have taken taken the freakish, inhuman traits of our officers and our enemies and molded them into sweet, wonderful SCIENCE! This is the single most important discovery in the field of medicine since we found out that people get WEAKER as you drain blood from them!"

"Wow! That does sound pretty important!" Kyle admitted, wiping the last traces of coffee off of his face with a paper towel.

"Wait. I thought you were a doctor of cybernetics," Snake said, looking skeptical, "I mean, diagnosing what was wrong with Saotome is one thing, but now you're actually making medicine?"

"It does seem like an awfully big leap. Do you have ANY formal training in pharmaceuticals?" Sakura asked.

Seras stared blankly at his audience. "Wait. I'm a doctor of WHAT?"

Yamma sighed as he set up a projection screen behind the table. "You're a doctor of whatever the main topic is in whatever magazine I happen to leave in the bathroom for a given week."

"So is THAT why you have so many scientific journals devoted to the probabilistic outcomes of Kim Kardashian's marriage?" Asuka demanded, frowning.

"I have no idea," Seras admitted, "but on that note, did I call it, or what?"

Then he held the stimpack up in the air again. "ANYWAY! Legitimate concerns of my qualifications aside, I have created a new miracle drug using the R-virus and the T-virus!"

Ranma blinked. "The R-virus? What's an R-virus?"

"That's the very poor descriptor given to the unique blood cells created by your body to absorb and combat the T-virus," Yamma explained while he started hooking up a projector.

"Oh. Uh... I see," Ranma mumbled, clearly having only the slightest idea what they were talking about. "By the way, who are you?"

"Don't worry about it," Yamma said with a sigh.

"If you recall, Ranma's R-virus consumes T-virus organisms to make hypercells, which repair the body at a ridiculous rate, allowing even severe wounds to be but temporary annoyances," Seras explained, "well, thanks to my brilliance, I have now brought Saotome's absurdly convenient biology to all of you!"

"How? Don't we have to have that R-virus that isn't really a virus?" Tiro asked.

"Not anymore! I've replicated the R-virus organism in the lab! By adding a select samples of DNA gene builds from stem cells and various other biochemical treatments that I can allude to with senseless technobabble rather than hard science, I've created a medical gel that can be injected into anyone, regardless of their biological compatibility or immune system! Then, when also injected by a dose of T-virus organisms, the subject gains an astounding rate of regeneration! This can heal bullet wounds in seconds, seal a cut without so much as a scar, replace burnt flesh with ease, mend broken bones, and leave your skin silky smooth and feeling great!"

"That's... That's amazing!" Sakura said, honestly impressed, "just think of all the medical procedures that can be simplified using this! People who have had their bodies destroyed by disease can make full recoveries! Patients who have undergone extensive surgery can have their body's strength restored in hours rather than weeks! Cancer treatments that cause too much damage to the healthy tissue will become viable once we can quickly and easily repair entire organs!"

"That DOES seem like a better use of it than fixing up my shoulder a few weeks early," Asuka admitted as she cracked her neck.

"Wait, wait, so this 'stimpack' can cure any disease?" Snake asked skeptically.

"No, I never said that," Seras said, "actual diseases are caused by a malignant organism, like a virus or bacterial infection. A hypercell doesn't destroy other cells, so it can't cure diseases. It WOULD, however, ameliorate some of the symptoms!"

"That's still an enormous leap forward for medical science!" Sakura exclaimed.

"Yup! And now, for a demonstration!" Seras turned toward Ranma, stimpack in his hand. "Saotome, I couldn't help but notice you entered the headquarters injured!"

"Yeah, a bit," Ranma admitted as he wiped his mouth with his sleeve.

Seras was silent for a few seconds. "I also couldn't help but notice that your wounds have suddenly healed."

"Yeah, how about that?" Ranma mumbled while very deliberately not making eye contact.

Seras looked over to the desk, where several empty beakers and test tubes lay scattered on top.

"Okay then, fine," grumbled the perpetually inebriated doctor, "I already tested it on the captain anyway, so it's fine."

"Is it really okay to move something like this out with only one trial? This medicine DOES contain a dangerous retrovirus, right?" Tiro asked, looking surprisingly serious.

"Well, we don't have to tell anyone that," Seras said, grinning, "in reality, the only limitation on the value of this medicine is the total volume of blood in Saotome's body!"

There was considerable confusion from most of the officers after this, save for Ranma himself who had slipped into a mild psychedelic trance and was enjoying the colorful patterns on the ceiling.

"Why would that be a limitation?" Asuka asked, "Didn't you say you can synthesize the R-virus?"

"I said I could replicate it," Seras corrected, "which is a lot like synthesizing, except that to make more R-virus I need a culture of white blood cells taken directly from our noble friend. After that I can grow more from the culture, buuuuut..." he sighed as he scrubbed his hair with his hand, "every successive generation of R-virus cells is somewhat weaker than the last, probably due to being removed from Saotome's stupid mystical ninja energy field thing. This is useful in that it negates many of the side effects that cause aggressive and possibly cannibalistic behavior in the subject, but does mean that after several generations the R-virus can't develop enough hypercells to make a difference. By now I've determined the threshold at which the stimpacks still work and can suspend the effective R-virus culture in the synesthesia gel, but I've already run out of blood samples and I've only made five stimpacks."

"So what you're saying is that you can only produce these miracle drugs from Saotome's blood," Snake said, planting his cheek on his fist and generally looking disinterested.

"Yes, but don't worry," Seras said happily, "the human body has around five liters of blood! With that much I can eventually make hundreds of stimpacks!"

"Wait... You're gonna take all of it?" Ranma asked, looking like he was in a daze, "Don't I get to keep some? You know, to live?"

"Bah! Don't be selfish! Do you have any idea how many orphans could hypothetically be saved by these stimpacks if I weren't going to sell them all to rich people?" Seras asked, planting his hands on his hips.

"Well..." Ranma frowned as he scratched the back of his head, "if it could hypothetically save orphans..."

Before the farce could go any further, Asuka stood up and smacked Seras in the side of the head, staggering the drunken oaf. "All right, shut up already. And stop waving that needle around before you poke someoneļ¾’s eye out with it!"

Seras blinked as he rubbed the side of his head. "But if I jabbed someone in the eye, the stimpack would just regenerate the eye afterward," he reasoned, "Oh! Actually, that would make a pretty good demonstration! Can I have a vol-"

Crack! Seras went down as Asuka pistol-whipped him in the forehead.

"All right everyone, despite his rampant stupidity, I've tried a stimpack for myself. As did Tuko himself later. They really do work," the police captain explained.

"He was wounded too? What happened to him?" Tiro asked.

Asuka considered the question for a moment. "If chimps possessed and used pistols, we probably wouldn't use them for lab tests."

"I don't get it," Kyle said immediately. Everybody else winced.

"So, wait, should I start the presentation now?" Yamma asked, looking confused.

"What presentation?" Asuka asked as she leaned down and picked up the stimpack Seras had dropped when he fell unconscious.

"The one I've been setting up this whole time!" Yamma said, gesturing to the projector and screen standing next to the table.

"Why bother? Tuko just explained all about the stimpack, right?" Snake asked. "We get it, already."

"Are you TRYING to undermine my existence?" the medical assistant growled.

"Listen, Mister... uh... Assistant, we don't have time right now. Carry your boss upstairs and then come back and clean all this up," Asuka commanded.

As Yamma grumbled incoherently to himself, Asuka turned back to her officers. "So there you have it. From now on we're going to have stimpacks on hand to deal with battlefield injuries. Due to the frequently hazardous nature of our missions and the increasingly dangerous capabilities of our enemies, it will be invaluable to be able to apply battlefield medicines that can not only save our lives, but return us to fighting shape quickly enough to finish mission objectives."

Sakura cocked her head to one side. "But what about all the extensive uses this could have in conventional medicine if introduced to the general public? The suffering that could be alleviated? The lives that could be saved?"

"Meh," Asuka shrugged.

"Captain!"

"Fine, fine," the bluette muttered in annoyance, "if you want a less ambivalent answer, if these things really need Saotome's blood to work, it's implausible to mass-produce them. Unless he wants to volunteer to be reduced to a medicine cow, being constantly milked for blood." Then Asuka glanced around. "Speaking of which, where did Saotome go? Did anyone see him leave?"

"Ha ha ha! I'm invisible!" Ranma said happily, startling most of the officers, who looked around without spotting the martial artist.

"Oh-kay... Aside from Saotome's well-being, there's also the fact that half of this miracle drug is actually a miracle zombie-making bioweapon. I'm not about to put something like that out on the open market!"

"Couldn't we put some sort of chemical inhibitor in the virus to keep it subdued? Or make it die if the tube breaks, or something?" Junko asked.

"Do you really trust THAT idiot to make an effective failsafe?" Asuka asked, jabbing a thumb toward the stairs.

Thump! Thump! Thump! Thump! The others winced as they watched the unfamiliar, grumbling fellow drag Seras up the stairs by his legs, causing the insensate man's head to slam into each step as they ascended.

"Well... He DID manage to make the stimpack work in the first place," Junko pointed out.

"Yes. And I don't intend to press our luck," Asuka said firmly, "once I issue the remaining stimpacks to you guys, make sure to only use them in emergencies! They are not to be expended carelessly!"

"Yes, Captain..." her officers all said simultaneously.

"All right, good! Now that we've dealt with our new equipment setup, it's time to-"

Asuka was cut off as a suddenly blur appeared over Tiro's head, causing the man to cry out in surprise and pain.

"STEALTH NOOGIE!" Ranma cried as Tiro collapsed onto the floor, holding his head.

"What the-?" Tycho jumped up in shock, noting that there seemed to be smoke coming from Tiro's head. "That was... I didn't see a thing! It was over before I could blink!" the driver exclaimed in awe and fear, "Saotome, why-"

"STEALTH INDIAN BURN!" Ranma cried out as a barely visible blur appeared around Tycho's left arm.

"UGYAAAAAH!"

Asuka's eyebrow twitched as Tycho collapsed onto the floor next to Tiro.

"Geez, man. Calm down, it's just a little heat rash," Snake said dismissively as he leaned back into the couch.

"Oh, shut up! We'll see how you like it when he does something to you!" Tiro shouted.

"Pft. Saotome can't do anything to me," Snake scoffed as the air above his head shimmered slightly, "I'd blow up his house."

"STEALTH RETREAT!" Ranma shouted as a large blur rapidly veered away from the American.

"Saotome, stop that! What's gotten into you?" Asuka demanded, looking around uselessly for the martial artist.

"STEALTH GROPE!" Ranma shouted in response as a blur appeared over Junko's chest.

The redhead blinked as her breasts jiggled slightly, and then she frowned. "What, was that it? I barely felt a thing! Do it properly!" she complained.

"RANMA! Cut it out!" Sakura yelled, her face heating up.

"STEALTH-"

Before Ranma could go any further, Asuka darted forward, her hand shooting out as if to grasp something.

"Ow!" Ranma shouted, his body suddenly appearing as the police captain grabbed him over his face and started squeezing his temples. "Agh agh agh agh!"

"I SAID knock it off!" Asuka growled, throwing the martial artist to the floor and then stomping a foot on his back. "Geez! Is this what happens to you when you drink T-virus?"

"Better than what happens to the rest of us," Snake mumbled.

"We DID decide that he doesn't eat people when he's like this, right?" Tiro asked, still massaging his head tenderly.

"Eh, I'd prefer pizza, to tell you the truth," Ranma said from where he was still prone.

"Human pizza?" Kyle asked.

"They make those?" asked Ranma, surprised and sounding a little too intrigued for anyone else's taste.

"All right, everybody shut up for a minute!" Asuka snapped. "Look, I know that you all have short attention spans, and from what I hear there's been a lot of personal drama around here too, but for now we have a more important problem on our hands."

"What, are there more roaches?' Kyle asked, causing the other officers save Asuka to tense up nervously.

"Roaches? I'm not talking about household pests here!"

"So that also precludes the nasty worm thing under the couch?" Snake asked.

Asuka looked confused, then alarmed. "Worm thing? What are you talking about?"

Ranma, who was pinned on the floor within arm's reach of the sofa, promptly shoved his arm under the aforementioned furniture and pulled out a large, worm-like creature with a wide mouth full of jagged, uneven teeth.

"This thing?" Ranma asked, holding the creature up by the neck as it thrashed and snapped violently.

The less jaded officers promptly flinched back at the bizarre creature, while Asuka shook her head. "I wasn't talking about that, but while we're at it, please kill it."

Crack! Ranma wordlessly twisted the creature's body near the head until a sharp snapping noise ensued, followed by a horrid squeak from the creature.

"I'm talking about the sudden teleportation of one of our vehicles - with our people INSIDE it - across several miles of land into the bay. It seems apparent that you all haven't given this much thought, but the likelihood of this being an accidental event is very small."

"Have we mentioned that we all missed you?" Tiro said, his voice uncharacteristically serious, "because we did. Really."

"Thanks," Asuka mumbled noncommittally as a crunching noise came from below her. "Tekai, can you give me any details on what happened back there?"

Sakura frowned. "Well... we just getting ready to leave the parking lot when the car was surrounded by... some kind of energy. It was like a shimmering bubble of blue streaked with white, kind of, and there was this loud crackling noise."

"How long did it last? Was there any kinetic disturbance?" Asuka prompted.

"It lasted for just a second or two, with the bubble obscuring the outside. Then it vanished, and the next thing I knew we were falling into the ocean."

"How far above sea level were you?" Asuka asked, folding her arms over her chest.

"Uh... I'm not sure, but I think we were right on the surface. As if we had just been driving over the ocean and just suddenly happened to realize gravity," Sakura said, fidgeting as she remembered the terrifying scenario.

"All right. That's enough for now, Tekai. Why don't you go get yourself changed?" Asuka finished. Sakura inclined her head gratefully and scurried away for the women's locker rooms.

"Saotome?" Asuka asked, finally looking down at the man she was stepping on, "first things first: where's that worm you just killed?"

"What worm? I didn't see any worm. You're crazy, talking about worms," Ranma said quickly, wiping his hands on his pants to get the curiously oily gray blood off his fingers.

"All right, fine, I really don't care," the bluette mumbled, "what's your take on the whole incident?"

"Sakura's a really good swimmer," Ranma said, his voice solemn, "you really wouldn't expect it because she's no good at anything else athletic, so I was surprised. So if we ever have any missions that involve long-distance swimming and nothing else, I'd recommend her."

"Noted," the police captain muttered dryly, "also noted is that you don't seem to deal well with the psycho-reactive effects of your hypercells. We're going to have to keep you away from T-virus from now on unless your life would be in danger otherwise."

Then Asuka held up her hand. "This also means that I can't issue you a stimpack, despite you being the one who gets wounded most missions."

Tycho snorted. "Not like it slows him down much anyway..."

Kyle pointed to Asuka's hand. "Hey Captain, why'd you take Ranma's gun?"

"I didn't take-" Asuka started to protest Kyle's comment until she realized that her hand, which was SUPPOSED to be holding the stimpack prototype, seemed instead to be holding something metal and rather heavy.

Quickly looking down, she was extremely alarmed to see Ranma breaking the two syringe tubes of the stimpack apart.

"Hey! Stop!" the police captain shouted as she swiped for the T-virus tube.

Ranma pouted as she grabbed his wrist and started prying the tube from his fingers. "Aw, c'mon! You can keep the other virus if you want!"

"No! Saotome, I swear to God, if you can't behave yourself I will lock you in a vault!"

"Just a little! No more after that, I swear!" Ranma begged as Asuka held the tube out of his reach.

"No! No more! Kyle! Tiro! Take him downstairs and throw him in a vault until he calms down!" Asuka demanded as she finally stepped off the martial artist. "I can't deal with him like this! It's like babysitting my little brothers when they were six!"

"Awwwwww..." Ranma whined as Kyle grabbed his arms from behind, being the only other officer who could manhandle him.

"All right, let's go you nutcase," Tiro grumbled, obviously still resentful over the super-powered noogie, "time for you to sit in the corner for a while."

Ranma's cheeks puffed up petulantly, and Asuka groaned at the sight as the martial artist was literally dragged away to the DAPC's prison level.

"Well, that was weird. Who knew Saotome would turn into a zombie junkie?" Tycho asked.

"That's more than just 'weird'. If this is a true addiction for him, and he actually has experienced cravings for human flesh, then this might change the dynamics of future missions considerably," Asuka grumbled.

"Why? As long as he destroys what we need him to destroy, does it matter whether he's hopped up on ghoul juice?" Snake asked.

"I don't expect you to appreciate this, but there ARE concerns I have for my personnel besides their efficiency at murder," the police captain deadpanned.

Snake mulled that over for a few seconds. "You're right," he finally admitted, "it IS hard for me to appreciate that."

"Shut it. This teleporting thing is a serious threat, and right now I need your personal skills at tactical demolition more than Saotome's skill at stealth and hand-to-hand combat. That's the ONLY reason why I'm going to push this operation ahead of making sure he recovers properly." Asuka said sternly. "Right now, I need leads. First we have to find out who's behind this, and then-"

"It's the Freedom's Angels," Snake deadpanned.

Asuka raised an eyebrow. "Oh? Explain."

"It's ALWAYS the Freedom's Angels. Every time anything bad happens or we meet some new, bizarre threat, they're behind it," Snake asserted, rolling his eyes, "why break the pattern now?"

"I was hoping for something a little more solid than 'business as usual'," Asuka grumbled, "but I have to admit your instincts are usually right about this sort of thing. Any idea what to do about it?"

"The answer to that is also 'business as usual'. Search and destroy," the American said blithely.

"Yeah, but WHERE?" Asuka demanded.

"Hey, figuring that out is your job. I'm just here for the violence."

The police captain gripped her hands into fists as she glared at her third-in-command. "You know, it's not like I was gone long, but somehow I'd gotten so used to NOT having to put up with you idiots that I feel way more frustrated than usual."

"Then you probably shouldn't turn around," Snake said as he slipped his hands in his pockets.

Asuka turned around.

"All done!" Kyle said as he and Ranma exited the elevator to the sub-levels. "What now, Captain?"

Asuka stared at Ranma, who was smiling happily to himself, and then glanced over at Kyle. "Where's Tiro?"

"I locked him in the vault, just like Ranma said," Kyle explained, looking proud of himself.

All was silent for a full three seconds.

"OH. Right. Oops," Kyle rubbed the back of his head in embarrassment as he took hold of Ranma's collar and dragged the grinning pigtailed man back to the elevator.

As the doors closed shut, Asuka turned back to Snake. "Why hasn't our government put us all in prison yet?"

"Probably because they expected us all to get ourselves killed by now. It's no small miracle that we're all still alive," Snake theorized.

Asuka sighed. "I need to look at our resources for dealing with supernatural energy effects... Geez, I don't even know where to start!"

"Well, following the earlier explanation of Tuko's skills, if you put some sort of theoretical science magazine in the bathroom for him, maybe he'll think of something."

"That's stupid, and would also take too much time," Asuka grumbled, "but that gives me a better idea..."

"Ooh! Do you have a mission for me?" Ranma asked brightly, jogging to his superiors as he left the elevator.

Asuka stared at Ranma, noting that he was alone. "You locked Kyle in the vault, didn't you?"

"Yuh-huh!" Ranma said happily. "Man, he is gonna be TICKED when he finishes that candy bar!"

"Really, this is your fault," Snake said, shaking his head, "thinking that one of your only competent officers could be handled by that pair of morons."

"Shut it! I'm not used to dealing with him like this!" Asuka complained, "if you think you can do better, let's see you control him!"

"Well, I think you could manage it on your own, but fine," grumbled the American, rubbing the back of his head as he turned to Ranma. "Saotome, we're going on a mission. Go get in the patrol car."

"What kind of mission?" Ranma asked, seemingly oblivious to the earlier conversation about him being controlled.

"The kind that involves the consumption of delicious human flesh," Snake lied, "now go get in the car."

"Why does everyone keep implying that I'm a cannibal?" Ranma whined as he walked toward the garage entrance, "it's not fair that everyone's so afraid of me eating them that I can't even have more T-virus!"

Snake watched Ranma enter the garage, and then waited until the door closed behind the martial artist. "He says that, and yet he goes anyway."

"Are you sure you want to be alone with him? It might not be safe," Asuka noted uncomfortably.

Snake raised an eyebrow. "Safe? What's 'safe'?"

Asuka sweatdropped.

"You mean like in baseball? We're not going to be playing baseball. Unless the mission you give us is REALLY boring."

"You know what? You'll be fine," Asuka snapped suddenly as she pulled out her cell phone and a slip of paper, "when that Dr. Deth guy called me, I saved his number. Call him up and use the satellite tracker to find his location, and then grill him on teleportation technology. He might know of some way to identify the source, or at least tell us something else useful about it."

"Hmmm..." Snake frowned as he considered his orders, "I dunno... That sounds slightly less exciting than baseball..."

"Get your ass in gear, or you won't be the one hitting things with a bat," Asuka growled as she handed over the slip of paper with Deth's number, causing the American to flinch.

"All right, all right! Yeesh! Right back to threatening us, are you?"

"Yeah, it's like we're a family again," the police captain spat, "now move it!"


"So that's our mission. Any questions?" Snake asked as he backed his patrol car out of the parking lot.

"Yeah, actually," Ranma said as he buckled his seat belt, "are we seriously trying to track down a supervillain using his cell phone number?"

Snake blinked, halting the car. "That's your question? I was expecting something about the cannibalism I promised."

"Pft. You think I'd trust you? I knew you were just spouting nonsense," the martial artist said.

"That hurts, Saotome," Snake said with false sorrow in his voice as he started moving again, "when have I ever done you wrong?"

"You mean, like, recently?"

"Very recently," Snake clarified.

"Ignoring my call for backup when I was being assaulted at that convention," Ranma said.

"That was entirely justified," the American insisted, "but I don't want to have to explain it, so enough about that. Are you a little less loopy now?"

"Yeah, I think having an immediate goal kind of gives me focus," Ranma mumbled, "so to bring this

conversation full circle, are we seriously trying to track down a supervillain using his cell phone number?" "Sure, why not?"

"Well, wouldn't anyone who was assaulted by a police unit they contacted with a cell phone change their number?" Ranma reasoned.

"Sure, if they were an ordinary, sane person. There's a reason we call guys like Deth 'mad scientists', and it's not because they have short tempers. They usually aren't keen on the little details," Snake explained while holding up the note that Asuka had written, "call him up."

Ranma shrugged and took the paper before putting the number into a bulky-looking transceiver sitting atop the dashboard and connected to a miniature receiver dish mounted on the roof of the cruiser.

The machine switched instantly to speaker phone, and Snake and Ranma waited as the sound of a ringing phone filled the car interior.

Click! Hello, this is Sigmund speaking.

"Hey, Doctor!" Snake said happily, pulling over to the side of the road before hitting a switch on the satellite tracker to begin the tracer scan. "It's Snake! How ya doin', you nutty inventor?"

Snake? Snake... Wait, are you from that team of mutants from the other day?

"No, no, I'm from the DAPC. We only have two mutants."

Ranma frowned. "Hey! I'm not a mutant!"

"Say that when you aren't high on horrific bioweapons," Snake mumbled.

Ah, yes, I remember now. The two police officers that infiltrated my lab the other week. I'd recognize this banter anywhere. What can I do for you?

"Well, we have a problem that you might be able to help us solve, as it involves incredibly unlikely experimental technologies related to spacial distortion and manipulation," Snake explained, "so we were hoping you could divulge your current location and then give us some clues on how to find the source of the problem."

Normally I'd be happy to show off my expertise by helping someone who would nominally be my enemy, but as it so happens I'm having a fine Italian lunch right now with my assistants and would rather not be bothered.

"Well, that's not really our concern. We're having our vehicles teleported into the ocean, here, and we can't do anything about it if we can't find out where this new toy is at," Snake said, "so wherever you are, we're coming to find you."

"Can you order me something to eat in advance?" Ranma suddenly asked, licking his lips. "I am REALLY hungry right now, and that worm thing leaves a nasty aftertaste."

Oh, you just sit tight. I'll send you something right away... Make sure to chew on it thoroughly! Click!

Ranma blinked as the line went dead. "Huh. You think he ordered us a delivery? I hope it comes with garlic bread!"

Snake frowned. "Well... Given that ALL of Deth's actions are more less guided by the regular habits and common failings of stereotypical villains, I would guess that his next move would be..."

The frown turned into a grimace. "Saotome, make sure you grab the satellite tracker before you bail out."

"Hah?" Ranma mumbled as the American suddenly swung the door open and bolted out of the car, running out across the street as fast as he could.

"Bail out? But if we're not in the car, how will the delivery guy find us?" the martial artist yelled to Snake's back.

BWEEEEE... A thin line of blue light appeared over the hood of the car, and as a loud whining noise pierced the air, Ranma could see other beams appearing all around the police car before they started moving across the ground, converging on the vehicle.

"Oh. I see," Ranma mumbled.


Thwoom!

Dr. Deth grinned as he watched the beam of light flare in the distance, followed by a burst of dust and fire from the impact.

"Beautiful, isn't it? A more artistic form of mass destruction I've never seen," said the mad scientist wistfully before raising a cup of tea to his lips.

Synthia nodded brightly as her sister Maria nibbled on some garlic bread. "I like how the satellite beam cuts that hole in the clouds to create a halo effect! It's so pretty!"

"And so marks the end of two esteemed men, their careers and lives cut short for the mere convenience of me getting to finish my meal without interruption," Deth continued, "it's almost poetic, isn't it? Ha ha ha!"

"What were they talking about, anyway? Some kind of teleporter?" Maria asked, dabbing her mouth with a cloth napkin.

"Probably some device being worked up by one of my rivals," Deth said, taking up his fork and spearing a ravioli, "the 26th annual Mad Scientist's convention is next week, you know."

"Wow, it's here already?" Synthia asked, "are we going to build something new for the convention?"

"No, I thought I'd actually do something rather low-key this year," Deth said as a small metal canister flew over his shoulder and landed in his pasta, splattering his lab coat with red sauce.

Before his assistants could do more than blink, Deth whipped out a small device that looked like a remote control, but with a targeting scope on one end.

BZAP! In a flash of light the cylinder vanished, leaving only the stench of ozone and an empty spot on the plate to indicate it ever existed.

"A disintegration ray! Retro, I know, but I feel it's a more marketable invention than the gravitational render I presented last year, since it can fit in your pocket," the madman explained.

The voluptuous twins frowned, still staring at his plate. "Wait, what was that you just zapped?" Maria asked.

"Don't know," Deth said honestly, using a napkin to wipe his coat down. "Looked like an explosive device, but who would be daft enough to toss around explosives in a dining area?"

When the scientist looked up again, he could see that the two interns were staring wide-eyed at something behind him, and so he turned around to look.

"Ah. I see," Deth mumbled as he stared into the barrel of a .45 magnum.

"Hello Doctor," Snake said evenly, his eyes narrowed, "me and my colleague have an appointment, I believe?"

"And I have a disintegrator," Deth said with a shrug, "I assure you, my good man, I can kill you just as fast as you can kill-"

"Yoink!" Ranma said as he turned visible, snatching the ray emitter out of the mad scientist's hand.

"... So, I believe you wanted to talk about some kind of teleporter?" Deth said calmly, turning around fully to face Snake, "but first, I must know; however did you two escape the satellite blast?"

"By leaping dramatically at the last minute," Snake said honestly, "and even then, Saotome still lost his arm."

"Yeah! That really hurt!" the pigtailed boy complained.

The three villains stared. Ranma's arms were completely intact, although his left sleeve and shoulder guard had been completely burnt away, and that side of his armor looked like it had been partially melted.

"... I got better," Ranma mumbled.

"Why are covered in blue paint?" Maria asked.

"I didn't get to shower after the first time I was almost killed today. Long story."

"Anyway, I advise you start being more cooperative before we decide to test OUR satellite weapon on YOU," Snake growled.

"Don't tempt him on this," Ranma warned, "he's REALLY been looking forward to it."

"Yes, yes, very well. You win," grumbled Deth. "May we finish our meal first?"

"Did you order anything for me like I asked?" Ranma demanded.

"No, sorry. For the purposes of villainous integrity I had to pretend that I really thought I had killed you," Deth apologized.

In response, Ranma picked up the scientist's plate in one hand and a fork in the other. Four seconds later, he put the empty plate down.

It took him eight more seconds to finish the blondes' meals, and as spoke as he wiped his mouth clean. "There. Meal finished. Time to spill."

"You two make a good team," Deth offered, "it's like both of your unique forms of belligerence combine to convince the target that anything would be less dangerous and annoying than resisting you."

"It's our competitive advantage," Snake allowed. "So. Teleporting machine. How?"

Deth shrugged. "Give me some details."

"There was a loud screeching noise, and a bubble of blue energy surrounded us," Ranma explained, "then the next thing I knew, our car was on the surface of the ocean, and we sunk."

Deth thought about the description. "If you were enveloped by an energy field perceptible while you were under its effects, that rules out particle deconstruction. The lack of a 'popping' sounds means that air was not displaced instantaneously... Temporal subduction?"

"Explain," Snake snapped, "preferably in Star Trek-style technobabble that can be summed up at the end in simpler layman's terms."

"In theory, a teleportation device using this method would create a space-time current between two points, while only opening quantum subduction zones in fixed areas at those points. As a result, the object at the entrance would move through time and space to the second point by negating the temporal drag that your constituent particles normally generate, probably via a series of low-energy meson pulses."

Synthia clapped her hands together. "It would be as if you stopped time and then dragged the target from one point to the other!"

Snake nodded as he finally put his gun down. "I see. Very well then, what kind of machine could do this sort of thing?"

"Well, Einstein was working on before he went all peacenik on us," Deth mused, "but I don't think he ever finished a working prototype."

"Well, SOMEBODY did. How can we find it?" Ranma asked.

"Well, there's no way this thing is hooked into the civilian power grid," Dr. Deth said with a snort, "to generate a temporal subduction field without actually being carried along the particulate wormhole would require an amount of power that could easily cripple an energy system that wasn't specifically prepared for it, and at the very least it would make it painfully obvious where the thing was. If they miniaturized it and sent it along with the target it'd be a different story, but since you were teleported without ever seeing the device itself..."

"So, what? We should look for evidence of a big power plant being used on its own?" Ranma asked.

"I'm not doing that," Snake growled, "that could take forever and lead to false leads, which means dealing with people I'm not allowed to shoot. At least not initially." Then he frowned at Dr. Deth. "Can't you build a device to track those messy pulses or whatever back to their source?"

Deth gave him an annoyed stare. "You want me to build a device to detect and triangulate the source of a theoretical energy wavelength independent of the space time geometry it's manipulating?"

"Is that hard?" Ranma asked.

"It'd be like asking a 19th century scientist to find the exact location of a communications satellite based on a single call between two cell phones," Maria noted. "Several hours after the phone call has taken place, yet."

Snake grimaced. "Well, give it your best shot."

Dr. Deth rolled his eyes. "Sure. Can I have my disintegration ray back?"

"Oh, sorry. Here you go," Ranma said, handing the device back.

As soon as Deth took back the device, he pulled off the casing on the back, and then removed a hand held sautering iron from his pocket before inserting it into the circuits.

"So what do we do in the meantime?" Ranma asked as he turned to his superior officer.

"Not sure. I guess we could forward the technobabble to the captain, but since it doesn't really help us so far, it kind of feels like reporting failure."

"Well, she COULD always start doing the investigation thing, since we might not have any more leads than the power plant thing," Ranma suggested.

Snake raised an eyebrow. "By the way, are you all better? You know, over that T-virus thing?"

"Completely," Ranma swore, "getting partially hit by a laser beam from space sobers you up like you wouldn't believe."

"It wasn't a laser beam, it was a high-energy plasma generated by separating atmospheric gases into a line and then supersaturating the molecular vacuum with photons," Deth mumbled as he replaced the casing and then started fiddling with the buttons on the ray emitter.

"Yeah, that was no picnic either," the martial artist mumbled. "But anyway, I'm done with T-virus! No more bioweapons for me! I'm totally clean!"

"Good. Then give me back the stimpack the captain left with me," Snake deadpanned as he held his hand out.

Ranma winced as he slowly drew the double-tube syringe out from behind his back. "When did you notice I took it?"

"I didn't know it was missing. I just expect the worst of people," the American explained as he took the needle back.

"Somehow that's really annoying coming from you," Ranma grumbled.

"All right, here," Deth said suddenly, holding up the disintegrator ray to Ranma.

Ranma blinked. "You're giving us your ray gun?"

"It's not a ray gun, it's a meson resonator," Deth explained, "just hold the central button, and the light at the head will light up if the device is pointed toward the source of any meson pulses within the last twelve hours. The buttons increase or decrease the sensitivity; turn sensitivity up to get a reading at long distance, and turn it down when you get closer so that the resonator tracks only the largest concentration nearby."

Ranma and Snake were stunned into silence.

"That was FAST," Ranma mumbled.

"Hardly. For an invention the size of a remote control, that was quite troublesome," the madman said with a shrug.

"I'm just surprised that so many parts in a disintegration ray and a silly energy tracer are interchangeable," Snake mumbled.

"Oh, it's always like that," Maria admitted, "give or take a magnet or explosive core, most of these sorts of things use a lot of the same materials."

"That's how mad scientists can build things on tight budgets!" Synthia explained, "recycling is important!"

"But will it really work?" Snake asked sceptically as he took the device out of Ranma's hands.

"Don't insult me," Dr. Deth snapped, leaning his chair back so that it rested against the table, "if I wasn't one-hundred-percent sure of its functionality, I wouldn't have given it to you. All my inventions come with that guarantee!"

"Well... thanks, I guess," Ranma said, somewhat at a loss.

"If you want to thank me, you can pay for my meal that you ate," Deth said with a raised eyebrow, "or maybe apologize for tossing a fragmentation device into my food without warning."

Ranma glanced at Snake.

Snake crossed his arms over his chest. "I'm not apologizing."

Ranma sighed and opened up his wallet.


"... so we have the detector now, and we're heading toward the facility," Snake said into his mobile phone as he and Ranma walked down the street.

Ranma had finally ditched his damaged body armor for a cheap T-shirt, although his face and arms still looked like they had been splashed with paint. Snake still had his pistol in hand, meanwhile, mostly because the loss of all his larger guns with the car had made him somewhat nervous about being too lightly armed.

So the car's a total loss, then? asked Asuka on the line.

"Yup. Nothing but a molten crater. Got Saotome's arm, too," Snake admitted ruefully.

WHAT? Saotome was wounded? His ARM is gone? the captain asked in a panic.

"It was until it grew back."

There was a long silence before Asuka sighed. Just... Give me a moment. I need a minute to forget about some things you just said to try and hold together my rapidly dissolving understanding of reality.

"Take your time," Snake mumbled as Ranma pointed around the corner.

"This way next," the martial artist said, holding the detector out in front of him as he turned left.

Okay, I think I've managed to hold my sanity together, for now, Asuka said, I want you to keep searching until you either find something suspicious or are able to narrow down your search to a few non-suspicious blocks. Then contact me again and try not draw attention to yourselves. That means NO shooting or blowing anything up!

Snake snorted. "Oh, come on, even I wouldn't start anything when I only have my sidearm, unless I really felt like it."

There was a moment of silence over the line until Snake added, "I meant to say that last part in my head. So you couldn't hear it."

Yeah, I figured, snapped Asuka's distinctly irritated voice, just shut up and follow my orders. I'll have everyone left here mobilized and ready to back you up as soon as you've located a target.

"Sure thing, Captain. Later!" Snake quickly closed his cell phone before rushing to catch up with Ranma.

"All right, so what does the wacky techno-dowsing rod have to say about our target?" Snake asked as Ranma turned around.

"Well, we must be close. I've had to turn down the sensitivity twice and now I'm only getting a reading that way," the martial artist pointed at an angle toward the wall of the building across the street, "though only when I tilt it down a bit."

"So it's underground, eh?" Snake mumbled as he continued along the street, "I guess it makes sense to keep your superweapons minimally exposed. But that's gonna make it harder to track down."

"Eh, I think you're giving the Angels too much credit," Ranma mumbled, "they're not bright enough to keep their facilities totally under wraps."

"How do you figure that?" Snake asked, holstering his pistol as Ranma walked up to some trash cans.

The martial artist suddenly kicked one of the cans over, sending it bouncing along the sidewalk as the lid slipped off.

Clank! Thud! Something metal rolled out of the can after the lid, bouncing over the concrete even as it squirmed and gyrated to keep itself upright.

Snake blinked. It was a robot, barely bigger than his hand, with four spider-like legs and a small camera mounted on its base.

"Watch this," Ranma said, a smirk on his face.

Snake raised an eyebrow as the small robot righted itself, and then scurried off across the pavement and into an alley.

"Well, that's kind of neat," the American murmured as he and Ranma jogged after the tiny mechanoid, "how did you know about it?"

"It's how I found the Angel lab the other day, after the mutant roach thing. They've got these little tin spiders scuttling all over the alleys and roofs, and when you knock one of 'em over, they dash right back to the building they came from," Ranma explained.

"Huh. Poor security programming," Snake mumbled, "but that aside, if they have robots this size that can infiltrate secure areas remotely, why don't they just attach bombs to them and send them into important buildings or cars and stuff? They could cause incredible damage with total impunity, and we probably wouldn't be able to even figure out where they were coming from unless we got lucky."

Ranma was completely silent as he watched the recon bot climb up a chain link fence that separated two halves of an alleyway. "I'm glad you're not a terrorist, Snake," the martial artist mumbled as he hopped up onto the top of the fence and reached his arm down.

"Hmph. Tell that to the New York Times. Stupid liberal hacks. I wasn't even aiming for that editor..." the American grumbled as he took hold of Ranma's arm and let the pigtailed man haul him up and over the fence.

"Seriously though, it's nice that the extremely conspicuous robots will lead us straight to the enemy base. We don't even have to use our slightly less convenient energy tracking device," Snake noted.

"Yeah," Ranma agreed, smiling, "good thing our enemies are idiots!"


Yoshi Konta hummed to himself as he typed away at a computer console, the dull glow from the overhead monitor reflecting in glasses.

Beep! Beep! Beep! A security alert attracted the professor's attention for a moment, and he hit a button at the top of his keyboard to address it.

Immediately a video feed from one of Igov's recon bots appeared in the corner of the monitor, and Yoshi raised an eyebrow as he watched two familiar DAPC officers - one of them out of uniform and stained blue, for some reason - following the camera as it bounced and scrambled over the sidewalk.

"Huh. That's near the chronosphere facility, isn't it? That was fast," Yoshi mused, rubbing his chin.

With a few brief password inputs, he opened up the feed to the robot's program center, and with a few more keystrokes he altered the automaton's destination pathing, ordering it to change its direction slightly, and it destination completely.

"Good thing those officers are idiots," the professor said with a smile, "testing time!"


"Yeah, so we found this little robot, and it's leading us to the facility," Snake said into his phone as he followed Ranma down the street, "so I don't have an ETA for you, but it's probably not far. Little bugger doesn't look like it could travel very far on its own."

Wait, you're following a robot? It could be leading you into a trap!

Snake snorted. "The Angels' record for traps isn't very impressive. We'll be fine."

Asuka groaned. Snake, you said this was a recon drone, right? Then in all likelihood they know who the robot ran into, and probably that you've been following it all this time! Even an idiot can set up an ambush!

"Well, if they did, then we're probably in the middle of it already," Snake mumbled as he stopped behind Ranma.

What? Why? Where are you?

"Abandoned construction lot. I-beams and heavy machinery everywhere," the American explained as he looked around at where they had stopped, "I can spot dozens of excellent firing points, and we're standing in open ground within twenty-three potential overlapping firing lanes." He paused. "So, frankly, if they haven't attacked yet, I'm not sure what the hell they're waiting for."

Snake, you're usually not usually this careless inside a potential combat zone. What's wrong with you?

"Well, if I had to guess, I'd say that being supplied with a medical aid that near-instantly heals all wounds and regenerates vital organs has fostered a false sense of invincibility in me, leading me to take stupid risks with my own life."

Rather than with just everyone else's life?

"Right. Anyway, my point is that this is your fault."

Shut up and find a vantage point with a good field of vision. I've logged your current location, so we'll deploy there. Don't leave the area or engage any enemies you find unless you're attacked. Takami out.

Snake sighed as he shut his cell phone. "Great, so we're stuck babysitting the tin spider until everyone else gets here. What's the holdup, anyway?"

Ranma turned from where he was standing in place, pointing to the ground. "Dunno. It just stopped and won't move anymore."

Snake walked around to the front of the robot and nudged it with his foot. It promptly jerked back a few inches, but then halted again. "Well, it's not out of juice. Wonder why it stopped."

"Maybe we're at the facility?" Ranma guessed.

"So, what, the facility is under construction? Or underground? Why does the droid just sit out in the open, then?" the American demanded, gesturing to the tiny automaton.

"Yeesh, I dunno," Ranma admitted, rubbing the back of his head, "you want me to get out the remote and check for the mesa rays or whatever?"

"Nah, forget it. The captain can figure it out when she gets here. I'm gonna go find the vantage point that she wanted."

Ranma shrugged as Snake started walking toward the structure that dominated the lot, a partially completed tower sub-structure that towered over the other buildings as a massive iron skeleton covered in wooden boards and plastic sheeting.

"Hey, should I go with you? In case this is an ambush and you run into trouble?"

Snake waved him off. "Nah. Stay here with the robot in case someone show up for it or it decides to scuttle off."

"Splitting up doesn't seem very smart," Ranma pointed out.

"False sense of invincibility!" the American shouted before he reached a ladder and started climbing up the building skeleton.

"Well, at least all his bombs were in the car. I might just be able to last this entire mission without getting blown up," Ranma muttered to himself.

A slight whirring noise attracted his attention, and Ranma raised an eyebrow as the recon droid started moving again, skittering off toward a series of massive concrete pipes.

"Now where do you think you're going?" the pigtailed man asked, following behind the robot at a decidedly sedate pace.

The robot quickly reached the edge of one of the pipes and crawled in, escaping Ranma's field of vision.

Crack! Ranma blinked as he heard a sharp snapping noise, followed by some softer scraping noises, and he moved to the mouth of the pipe to peer inside.

The pipe was about four feet in diameter, easy enough for him to move in if he crouched, and was almost totally dark inside as neither of its openings were facing the sun.

There was, however, just enough light for Ranma to make out the destroyed recon droid at the pipe's mouth.

"Huh. That's... weird," the martial artist murmured as he observed the tiny wreck. It looked like it had been cleaved in half, but whatever had done the cleaving was large and heavy enough to crush most of the robot as well. Not that it was exceptionally hard for a robot of this size, but Ranma doubted that anything less than a full-size sword could have done the job in a single strike.

There was also, of course, the fact that whatever had destroyed the drone couldn't have possibly escaped out the other end in the time it took Ranma to find the remains.

"Hello? Anything that speaks Japanese in there?" Ranma asked, peering uselessly into the darkness. "I swear to God, if this is another Ninja, I'm going to sue the local clan for harassment. We belong to the same union, you know!"

"Sssssssssrah!" A strange, alien hiss emanated from within the pipe, and Ranma's eyes narrowed. "So two monster infestations in one day, eh? Fine, I'm game for-"

His taunt was cut off as he sensed danger from behind, and he darted into the pipe just as a scythe-like limb stabbed straight toward his back.

Whipping around, the pigtailed man saw what looked like a two large, curved claws hanging over the top of the mouth of the pipe, and hanging between them was a maw full of razor-edged teeth that dripped spittle onto the tiny mashed-up robot beneath it.

"Well, looky here. Another mutant freak," Ranma said, his lips quirking into a grin, "pretty impressive of you to sneak up on me, but you just missed your only shot at actually killing me."

With a bit of concentration, Ranma's aura burst to life around him, filling the pipe interior with a soft blue light.

"All right, freak, come get... Eh?"

Glancing something out of the corner of his eye, Ranma tilted his head slightly, and was extremely perturbed to see a second mouth behind him, suddenly illuminated by the light of his aura. This one was hunched low to fit into the pipe, and the silently panting mouth was thus sticking out at the end of a long, armored, worm-like neck that seemed to disappear in a complex wedge of blade-edged limbs and grasping talons.

"Oh. You're... bigger than I thought. This is gonna suck," Ranma mumbled right before the predator mutants darted through the pipes after him.


End Chapter 29

Patrol cars destroyed: 2
Monster species discovered and named: 1
Monster species exterminated for the sake of local commerce: 1
Sea cyclops once again sleeping with the fishes: 3
Recon droids sent to the Maker in the sky: 1
Officers unjustly locked up, and then forgotten about by all parties: 2