A large bus, with tinted windows, pulled up to the gates of the Maizuru Maritime Base. The bus stopped at the guarded gate where the driver, a naval lieutenant, presented his credentials along with a list of passengers. One of the guards took the list and entered the bus. He returned several minutes later. The gate lifted and the bus entered the facility.
"Children." The guard muttered to himself. "The bus is filled with fucking children."
The bus continued through the facility until it reached a housing complex. The maritime personnel while on-duty but not at sea normally used the complex. It was more than a barracks, as there were private rooms and more like a college dorm as the kitchen, baths and toilets were communal. The large group of people who were going to be using it didn't mind as it was going to only be 'home' for a very short time.
"Okay gang." Ukyo Kuonji said sharply. "Settle down."
"Oops, better listen." Akama hissed to Tagaki. "Look at Momma U's hair."
Ukyo batted at her writhing hair. "Damn magic." She grumbled. "Okay everyone, listen carefully." She said. "This is NOT a vacation." She stated. "If we could, we'd leave the lot of you home and handle this ourselves." She said. "But we can't."
"Listen to your mother." Ranma added.
"We're going to need each and every one of you to do your best and, most of all, listen." Ukyo continued. "You're going to be split into three groups." Ukyo continued. "Haya, you and your girls are going with us." She wagged a finger. "Stop cheering." She snapped.
Ukyo waited for the group to quiet down. "Akama, your gang is with Xian Pu and Tofu." She said. "Nagano, you, Mitsi and Mew are with Honored Elder Kho Lon and Kasumi." She looked over to another couple. "Sure we can't convince you to stay?" She asked in concern.
Yuchiko Kasamura shook her head firmly. "And stay home worrying?" She shook her head again. "That is not going to happen."
"Will you at least stay with Honored Elder Kho Lon?" Ukyo asked plaintively.
Yuchiko turned to Kenichi. Kenichi nodded, though obviously reluctantly. Yuchiko turned back to Ukyo. "We…if we have to."
"Thank you." Ukyo said in relieved tones. "Okay, the plan is simple." She said after a moment. "We're going to hit him with everything and keep hitting him until he gives up."
"Or we're dead." Muttered Ranma. "Ow." He complained when Akane elbowed him.
"Shut up, jerk." Akane hissed. "Mouse is worried enough as it is." She growled in a whisper.
"Sorry." Ranma replied in contrite tones.
Tofu Ono stood and walked over to a large crate sitting in the corner of the room. "One more thing." Ono opened the crate. "A present, of sorts, from Japanese intelligence." He smiled and lifted out a plastic wrapped object. He unwrapped the object to reveal a helmet. Ono tossed the helmet to Ranma. "Put this on."
Ranma looked at the helmet. In appearance it was very similar to the helmet he wore on patrol. Ranma shrugged and placed it over his head. "And?" He asked.
"Drop the visor." Ono replied.
Ranma lowered the visor. "Cool." He said after a moment. From Ranma's viewpoint everyone and everything in the room was in sharp focus. Words and numbers appeared as he focused on Akane. "Heh." He chuckled. "Akane Saotome…age…well they got it right… weight…you're still too thin Tomboy."
"Heads up display." Ono said in explanation. "Plus communications." Ono pulled out another wrapped object. "Your suits have also been modified. Temperature control, pressurization and even more reinforced than before." Ono's smile was serious, almost grim. "I know you've been using Ki to reinforce your suits, hopefully this will reduce the need to do so." Ono started removing helmets and suits and handing them out.
"It's going to take at least a week before we leave for Malan. By that time everyone should be familiar with what the suits and helmets can do." Ono continued. "Anyone not displaying competence is not going." Ono reached into the box again and pulled out sets of the new uniforms. "Everyone get dressed and return here in one hour." Ono walked over to Xian Pu and Kasumi. "I hope I'm not going to have to fight you to wear this." He said to Xian Pu.
"You won't." Kasumi promised. "Will he, Xian?"
Xian Pu chuckled. "I wear paper bag if it help beat Saffron." She replied. She looked at the helmet. "Hope I no have cut hair." She muttered. "Oh well, hair grow back."
Over the following week the military personnel at the Maizuru Maritime Base became very familiar with the odd group of visitors that had taken up residence at their facility. At first there was a feeling of resentment among the Japanese Special Forces teams that also resided at the base. They had seen the film logs from Malan and none of them could understand why they were not going to be part of the strike force.
"They're fucking children." One veteran complained loudly one evening in the mess hall. He pointed to where the visitors were eating at a table. "Fuck, that little girl is probably still playing with dolls." He sneered. "And that freak with the ears…" He stopped at a snarling growl from behind him. The veteran turned. "Oh look, the freak is getting her panties in a wad."
"What did you say?" Snapped another voice. Nagano Sannasuke walked over to the veteran. "That's my girlfriend you're talking about." He shook a fist at the veteran. "Take it back…now."
"Or what?" Sneered the veteran. "You gonna cry?"
"Damn, did I sound that stupid when I said almost the same thing to Haya?" Nagano thought. "Probably." He answered himself. "No." Replied Nagano out loud. "I'm gonna beat the crap outta you." He said. "Haya pretty much said the same thing too." He realized.
"Go away punk." The veteran snarled. "You don't belong here and you're freak girlfriend definitely don't be….yahhhhh!" The veteran's tirade was cut off as Nagano lifted the man one handed and tossed him across the mess table.
"No one calls my girl a freak." Nagano snarled. "I don't care who or what you are." He shook his head. "Note to self, apologize to Megumi…and Haya."
The soldier scrambled to his feet. "You don't know who you're messing with, punk." He snarled. "I was fighting baddies before you were born."
"Okay, so you're fucking old." Nagano snarled back. "That don't mean you get away with calling my girl names."
"Fuck you." The veteran spat and backhanded Nagano. To the veteran's surprise the backhand was easily blocked. Still the man was a veteran and had seen conflict. He was blooded and well trained. He snapped a front kick at Nagano. That too was blocked, as was the next kick. In fact, no matter what the veteran did, he failed to connect a single time.
"My turn." Nagano smiled coldly.
The veteran raised his hands to block only to find himself reeling from a blow he didn't see coming. The soldier steadied himself. It didn't do him any good as blow after blow went through the soldier's blocks as if he was standing still.
Admiral Toshio Hirohito strode into the base mess hall to find pandemonium. It seemed as if the entire complement of the base was clustered around a tight circle. As the Admiral fought his way through the crush of bodies he found that the tight circle was composed primarily of teenaged boys and girls preventing the surrounding soldiers from interfering. Inside the circle a young man was literally spanking one of his most experienced and, in the Admiral's opinion, deadliest men.
"Atten-hut!" The Admiral yelled at the top of his lungs. The well-trained military personnel snapped to attention. "You, boy." Snapped the Admiral. "Put that soldier down." He ordered. "Now, will someone please explain what, by all that is holy, is going on?"
"Let me get this straight." Admiral Hirohito said to Major Tofu Ono. "A sixteen year old boy just trashed one of my most experienced men?" The Admiral had dismissed the men to their barracks and now was sitting in his office.
"I believe I mentioned in my briefing." Tofu Ono began.
"Spare me." Admiral Hirohito replied. "Just answer the question."
Tofu Ono shrugged. "Well…yes." He replied.
The admiral sat back in his chair and looked at Dr. Ono for a long moment. "Is he…typical of your…team?"
Dr. Ono shook his head. "Somewhere near the bottom actually." He replied. "His skills are nowhere near as developed as, say, Hayaima Saotome." Dr. and Major Tofu Ono tapped one of the folders on the admiral's desk. "And compared to Haya's father…" Tofu let his voice trail off. "But in comparison to Nagano, the best of your men is…lacking."
"I see." Admiral Hirohito replied. "And in comparison to our target?"
Dr. and Major Tofu Ono blew out an unhappy breath. "If my sources are correct, even the entire team may not be enough." He admitted. "But they still have a better chance then anyone else."
Nagano Sannasuke found himself confined to a military brig. He would have been upset except that both Mew and Mitsui somehow snuck into the brig with him and were currently sitting on either side of him. Mew had her head on Nagano's shoulder and was purring very loudly. Mitsui had a note pad in her hand and had been making notes.
Mitsui put the end of the pencil between her teeth and looked at the pad. "Let me see; five points for every time Nagano called you his girl, he did that five times."
"Six." Corrected Mew. "Nagano bestest boyfriend." She purred.
"Six…so that's thirty points." Mitsui continued. "Ten points for actually fighting for you." She said. "Another ten for winning."
"No forget ten points for defending sister." Mew said. "No one call sister names."
Mitsui nodded in firm agreement. "That makes sixty boyfriend points." She said.
"Fat lot a good they're gonna do while I'm stuck in here." Nagano grumbled. "And why am I in here anyway?" He complained. "He started it."
"Yes, he did." Mitsui said tartly. "If I were his girlfriend I'd deduct sixty points." She said.
"Hey." Complained Nagano. "Don't even joke like that."
Mitsui raised an eyebrow. "Don't tell me you're jealous." She accused.
"I'm not…" Nagano paused. "It's just…I mean…that would mean Mew and you and, oh I don't know what I mean."
Mitsui and Mew looked at each other. "Jealous." Mew said. Her purring, already loud, got even louder. "I think that worth ten more boyfriend points." She said happily. "How many boyfriend points, Nagano have now?"
Mitsui's pencil went over the numbers. "One hundred and ten." She announced finally.
"That's all?" Nagano complained. "I thought I had more."
Mitsui and Mew giggled. "You did." Mitsui replied. "But you 'redeem' them almost as quick as you earn them." She said. Mew nodded rapidly in cheerful agreement.
"Oh yeah." Nagano replied in more cheerful tones. The bantering with Mitsui and Mew along with their presence had lifted his spirits. Nagano looked first at Mitsui then Mew. "Um, I was kinda wondering." Nagano said hesitantly. "Those boyfriend points I earned for, you know, sticking up for Mitsui…?" He blushed. "Are they, you know, your points?" His blush deepened. "Cause, seeing she's Tai Tai and all, I was wondering if, if it would be okay…oh hell, I think I'm about to lose all my boyfriend points."
"You want redeem points with Mitsi?" Mew asked in an odd voice. Nagano hesitated and then nodded. Mew leaned over and kissed Nagano on the cheek. "Now you acting like Chosen." She said in approving tones.
The two teen girls rested their heads on Nagano's shoulders. "Now you acting like Husband." Mew said in a warm purr. They stayed like that for an hour when they were released from the cell and allowed to return to their quarters.
When they returned to their quarters, a large dormitory like structure usually used by elite teams, they found the entire teen contingent waiting for them. "We changed the sleeping arrangements a little." Hayaima said without preamble. "You're bunking with Mitsui and Mew." He said brusquely. "Try not to…oh never mind…just…just…" Hayaima threw his hand up into the air in resignation. "Good night."
The following morning Ranma surveyed the group standing in front of him. He was wearing the newly modified encounter suit that the Japanese military had designed for him and his 'team'. Unlike the red and white urban encounter suits the new suits were a mottled dark greenish gray.
He had spent the previous afternoon becoming familiarized with the new suit and was very pleased with what he had discovered. As promised, the suit was significantly tougher than the originals and more versatile. One of the things that Ranma truly appreciated was the advanced communications built into the suit. "Visors down." He ordered. The inside of the visor lit up as the HUD activated. He could hear the excited comments over the internal communications.
"Quiet down everyone." Ranma said. "Tomboy?"
"Loud and clear." Akane replied over the comm-link.
"Uk-chan?" Ranma said.
"Hey sugar." Ukyo's voice replied.
One by one Ranma called out names. Everyone, including Yuchiko and Kenichi Kasamura, had been outfitted and all the systems were responding normally. Everyone had the same communications systems, though Yuchiko and Kenichi Kasamura were actually wearing Ranma and Ukyo's original urban suits, while Mew and Mitsui were wearing Meg and Lo Shan's original suits.
"I feel like a power ranger." Kenichi said over the comm-link.
Ranma chuckled. "Okay, we're going to break up into our respective teams." Ranma said. "Everyone knows how to get into the team channels, right?" A series of yeses from the group answered the question. "Okay go to team channels." He ordered. "We are not going anywhere until we can use the suits in our sleep."
A week later the entire crew was on a Japanese Naval ship headed directly to China. This time it was a Destroyer, the JDF Destroyer Takashio. Like the previous time, the Takashio would rendezvous with its' Chinese counterpart, the Kaifeng. Hopefully out of sight of any prying eyes.
Doctor and Major Tofu Ono stared at the water as the Takashio drove toward the meeting point. Standing next to him was Captain Wang. Both men had put their careers, not to mention their lives, on the line to save their respective countries.
Despite the gravity of the situation in China and despite Japan's willingness to assist; the truth of the matter was that officially the two nations were still hostile toward each other. Both countries faced severe internal consequences if the joint action became public knowledge.
What was bad was that the nature of what was happening in Malan was such that it could never become public out of fear of widespread panic.
What was even worse than that was that there were many on both sides that would be against any joint action regardless of the threat, therefore they were not told. Tofu had spoken only to his superiors as had Captain Wang. Permission had been given … with the usual caveats.
"Even if we succeed…" Tofu Ono shook his head.
"I hear Argentina very nice." Captain Wang said conversationally.
Tofu Ono chuckled. "I was thinking Brazil, myself." He replied. "Of course if we lose…"
"Then it no matter." Captain Wang snorted in amusement. "Magic." He said in complaint.
"Magic." Agreed Tofu Ono.
The transfer to the Kaifeng went without incident and other than the questioning and somewhat confused looks from the sailors no one bothered them. Two days later the odd contingent of adults and teens were part of a convoy that would take them to as close to Malan as was safe.
Up until the moment the trucks finally stopped and all the equipment unloaded the teens acted as if they were on an exotic vacation. They had laughed, indulged in horseplay along with their morning training and even had sung current popular songs around the evening campfires.
But when the trucks reached their final destination all the laughter stopped. That night there were no songs sung, no jokes told. Ranma cleared his voice. "Okay gang, as of this moment, we're…well we're going to act as if there's a bad guy…" Ranma waved into the surrounding darkness. "There." Ranma grimaced. "I want everyone to get their encounter suits and keep them nearby." He said. "If it was practical I'd say wear them all the time but…" Ranma threw a branch into the fire. "From now on, everyone stays in their groups." He said. "If you get separated…we may not be able to send anyone to get you." Ranma watched as the various teens rearranged themselves. "Good." He said in approval.
Nagano sat between Mew and Mitsui. Actually the two teen girls were pressed against him and he could feel both girls shiver. He put his arms around their shoulders. "I really wish they had left you home." He muttered. "Where it's safe."
"Safe?" Kho Lon's dry rasp carried in the still night. She barked a laugh. "Young man, with Saffron at large, no place is truly safe." The old woman pogoed her staff over to the three teens. "I do not blame you for being afraid." She raised a hand as Nagano opened his mouth to protest. "Only a fool would claim they are not afraid." She said coolly. "And my young apprentices would not associate with a fool."
Kho Lon climbed down from her staff and sat down next to the teen trio. "We all fear." She said. "What a warrior does NOT do is let the fear rule them." She looked at the fire. "Go to bed, young ones." She said gruffly. "Take what comfort you may from each other." Nagano nodded and stood taking Mew and Mitsi with him. Kho Lon stared at the fire long after everyone else had gone, if not to sleep, at least to bed.
The following morning everyone assembled in front of the trucks. All the teams had on their versions of the encounter suits. Ranma walked along the rows of teens like a general reviewing his troops. In a way that's exactly what he was. Finally Ranma nodded. "Okay, Captain Wang is going to give you the latest information he has."
Captain Wang stood in front of the assembled teens and adults. "We are less than fifty kilometers from…the front." He said. "Ever since we learn nature of our opponent we have done our best to keep outsiders from straying into enemies sphere of influence." He shook his head. "Unfortunately our best not as effective as we would have liked." He paused for a moment. "Our best guess is that enemy has already assembled an army of over one thousand individuals." He said. "The plan is simple, you go in and take this Saffron down." Captain Wang grimaced. "You have three days."
Hayaima raised a hand. "What happens after three days?" He asked.
"If we do not hear from you in three days we're going to assume you failed." Captain Wang said grimly. "In which case…a nuclear blast stopped him before and there is no reason to believe it won't stop him again." Silence greeted Captain Wang's statement.
"Okay gang." Ranma ordered after the silence stretched out uncomfortably. "Let's mount up and move out."
A few minutes later a lone truck left the camp. Captain Wang and his men remained behind. Captain Wang watched the lone truck vanish into the distance before he turned away. 'Three days.' He thought moodily.
Ranma drove the truck toward the Malan base. "Three days." He said quietly.
"I'm surprised they didn't just drop a nuke on them." Akane commented.
"Think about it, sugar." Ukyo said from the window seat. "No one just sets off nuclear explosions these days." She said. "Bei Jing is going to have a lot of explaining to do." Ukyo looked out the window. "Pretty country." She said. Ukyo watched the countryside pass by. "Think we got a chance?" She asked finally.
"I think we're the only ones who do." Akane replied. "Heads up, we got company." Akane pointed. In the distance a number of forms could be made out. Ranma slowed the truck to a stop. Akane turned and looked into the rear of the truck. "Company." She said. "Everyone stay put." She ordered. "We'll check it out."
Ranma, Akane and Ukyo got out of the truck and went to stand in front of it while the figures approached. There were an even dozen of them. The first thing Ranma noticed when they were close enough was that no two of them wore the same thing. One man had dirty gray loose fitting pants and a almost matching shirt covered by a bulky pocketed vest, while another wore part of a Chinese military uniform and a third looked as if he was some kind of nomad. The one thing they all had in common were identical expressions on their faces. Not that they had no expression they did, but the expression was that of the fanatic.
"Zombies." Akane muttered.
"You will come with us." One of the men said in Cantonese. "You belong to Lord Saffron now."
Ranma raised a finger. "Hold on for a minute." He said. "So? How do you want to play it?" He asked Akane.
"You will come with us." The same man repeated. "You belong to Lord Saffron now."
"Hey we're talking here." Ranma complained.
"You will come with us." The same man repeated. "You belong…"
"Yeah, yeah, Lord Saffron…you said that." Ranma said in annoyed tones.
The men all raised their guns in unison. "You will…" Before the man could complete the phrase Ranma, Akane and Ukyo all vanished and reappeared behind the men. Several well placed kicks later and the men were all lying unconscious on the ground.
Dr. Tofu Ono walked over and began to examine the men. He removed a syringe from a case in his pocket and drew blood from several of the men. Each sample went into a separate vial. Dr Ono also took swab samples from the inside of the men's mouths and recorded several other aspects of the men's metabolism.
Kho Lon stood next to Ono as he took his samples and made his examinations. "Interesting." She murmured. "Their Ki appears…normal." She said.
"Did you expect something else?" Dr. Ono asked in curiosity.
"In a word…yes." Kho Lon replied in dry tones. "Whatever Saffron uses to control his, what was that word you used, oh yes, Zombies." She laughed. "Whatever Saffron uses to control his Zombies, it is not Ki based."
"Hmm." Dr. Ono said musingly. "They were enclosed in that egg-like structure…" He said almost to himself. "Isolated, cut-off from any stimuli." Dr. Ono nodded. "I can think of several drugs that could generate a similar effect."
Kho Lon nodded in response. "As can I." She declared. Kho Lon turned. "Young warriors, we have work to do." She hopped on her staff and pogoed toward the truck. Mew and Mitsi, who were standing outside of the truck and stretching their legs, looked at each other in excitement.
"Ranma!" Kenichi Kasamura called. "More company." He pointed. Another dozen or so 'zombies' were approaching at a run.
"Shit." Ranma exclaimed. "Kenichi…you and Mouse stay with Kho Lon." He ordered. "Boys!" Ranma barked. "Keep'em busy."
"You got it, Pops." Hayaima replied. "Come on guys, let's go to work."
"He sounds like you." Ukyo said in proud tones. "What's the plan, Ran-chan?"
"Same plan as before." Ranma replied. "The kids keep hitting them until they don't get up."
"I like that plan." Akane said in grim glee.
"Tell me if you like this one then, Tomboy." Ranma said. "While the kids keep the zombies busy we go get the zombie leader." Ranma started walking quickly over to the truck. Once there he pulled a large crate out of the back and opened it. "We get to try out the new wings."
"Alright." Akane crowed as the open crate revealed a wing shape.
"Carbon fiber." Ranma said in admiration. "Even lighter and stronger than what we were using before." He said. "Suit up guys."
With a skill that spoke of constant practice, Ranma, Akane and Ukyo quickly donned their flight suits. The wings, as Ranma had remarked, were lighter than what they had used before and easier to wear. Ranma tightened the last restraining strap on his suit just as Yuchiko and Kenichi Kasamura approached. "I thought I told you guys to stay with Kho Lon."
"We will, Ran-chan." Yuchiko said. "After." She said. "You didn't think you were going to…to just fly off without saying goodbye, did you?" She demanded. "You were." She accused. "You…you can be such a jerk sometimes."
Ranma smiled. "You're starting to sound like the Tomboy." He said. "Come'mere Mouse." He mock growled. Ranma pulled the woman close and kissed her soundly. "Now go give the Tomboy a kiss." He said. He smacked Yuchiko on the butt to make her move. Not that she needed any encouragement. Ranma looked at Kenichi. "Well?"
Kenichi chuckled. To Ranma's pleased surprise, Kenichi grabbed Ranma, bent him backwards, wings and all, and kissed him as soundly as Ranma had kissed Yuchiko. "You'll get more AFTER you kick that creep's butt." Kenichi said.
"Come on, guys." Ranma yelled. "We got some butt kicking to do."
Saffron, Lord of the Phoenix, surveyed his new army with a scowl. "Bah, I can not believe I am reduced to using such rabble." He thought in displeasure.
While Saffron usually retained some memories of his previous incarnations, he realized that, this time, he barely remembered more than his name and the recollection of…his death. He remembered a great fireball, heat and thunder. He remembered the screams of his people as the fireball consumed them. He remembered using all his magic, all his Ki to protect himself from the cataclysm. He remembered how, in desperation, he drew upon the magic of the world. He remembered pain and then…he remembered being reborn.
It had come as a great shock to Saffron to learn he had slept for over fifty years. It had not taken long before he realized why. "There is so little magic." He had concluded.
Ever since his resurrection he had searched the skies for any remnant of his once proud people. He had finally come to the reluctant conclusion that none remained. "For now." He vowed. "Once I rule this land, this new China, I will find a way to bring them back."
Saffron vaguely remembered how the Phoenix first came to be. "A spring." He remembered. "A magic spring." He thought. Saffron looked to the skies again. His gaze swept the skies for a long time before, with a sigh; he lowered his gaze to his army. "Rabble." He thought in disgust.
Saffron turned and began to walk away when a sound came to his ears. It was a faint sound but to Saffron it was the unmistakable sound of wind passing over wings. Large wings. Saffron spun around and searched the skies. His hawk-like brows rose when he saw three shapes in the air. "Can it be?" He thought excitedly. Saffron launched himself into the air.
"Heads up gang." Ranma's voice came over the headset. "We have incoming."
Saffron beat his great wings and quickly approached the three flying shapes. His excitement changed to dismay as he realized that the three fliers were not Phoenix. His dismay just as quickly changed to anger. "How dare they mock me?" He thought. His anger flared red-hot. His arms shot forward and a blast of energy erupted from his hands.
"Yeow." Exclaimed Akane as she dodged the Ki attack.
"Tomboy?" Ukyo's voice came over the headset. "I'm okay." Akane returned. Akane used her Ki to dodge a second attack. She spun in a tight spiral. "Two can play at that game." She growled and sent her own Ki attack at Saffron. Balls of plasma erupted from Akane's hands and flew toward Saffron.
"Good idea, Tomboy." Ranma shouted over their comm link. Ranma boosted his speed and shot straight toward Saffron. Just as it appeared Ranma and Saffron would collide, Ranma twisted his body so his legs pointed directly at Saffron. A sudden and powerful burst of Ki from Ranma's legs both caused Ranma to veer away while sending a powerful Ki burst into the enraged birdman's face.
Saffron tumbled end over end in mid air before he regained control. A hawk-like scream of anger erupted from Saffron. He sped after Ranma with powerful beats of his wings, only to find him tumbling again as, this time, Ukyo shot past him and slammed her staff into Saffron's side.
Akama, Tagaki, Lo Shan and Mei Lin formed a tight protective cluster as they fended off members of Saffron's Zombie army. So far they had avoided gunfire by the simple expedient of moving too fast for the Zombies to aim effectively. "Their gonna get lucky eventually." Akama shouted.
"You have idea, I willing listen." Mei Lin replied. "I getting tired."
Tagaki pulled a shiny stone from his jacket pocket and concentrated for a second. He tossed the stone toward an approaching group of zombie soldiers where it exploded and sent the soldiers flying. "And I'm running out of Ki bombs." He complained loudly. "Uh oh…here's come some more."
A group of another dozen or so zombie soldiers were approaching. They had their rifles raised. Akama grabbed Mei Lin and Tagaki grabbed Lo Shan and were about to jump to safety when the approaching soldiers suddenly started to jerk as if something was hitting them. Several even fell to the ground and didn't get back up. "What the…?"
Megumi, Hayaima and Dai Lan charged the group. Megumi had chopsticks in one hand and a bowl in the other. The chopsticks flickered sending a stream of something shiny toward the cluster of zombie troopers. The trio reached Akama's group.
"Form a shield." Hayaima barked even as a glowing, golden half dome appeared around the seven teens.
"Oh yeah, right." Akama replied. The dome thickened. Bullets bounced off the golden shield.
Even as the dome thickened Megumi's chopsticks continued to flicker and more of the zombie troopers fell. "What you doing?" Lo Shan asked in curiosity.
"I found a box of ball bearings in the truck." Megumi said. She held up the bowl to show Lo Shan. "Running out though." Her chopsticks flickered again and the Lo Shan could see the level of metal bearings drop.
"Sister-wife so smart." Dai Lan said proudly.
Nagano stood in front of the truck next to Xian Pu as the two of them beat back another group of attacking zombie soldiers. The near-sighted Muu Tse lay unconscious on the ground in front of them. Kenichi and Yuchiko Kasamura had exited the truck and were trying to pull Muu Tse to safety.
Inside the truck Kho Lon and Dr. Ono feverishly worked with test tubes and reagents. Mitsui and Mew ground herbs and mixed them together while Kasumi waved each resultant mixture under the noses of two captured zombie soldiers.
"If only we had a sample of that shell." Grumbled Tofu Ono. "We're missing something…but what?" He pounded his temples with his hands. "What…what…what?" He said angrily.
"You're hungry." Kasumi said firmly. "And it doesn't help that the air is stale." She complained. "And you could use a bath."
Tofu Ono turned to stare at Kasumi. He was about to chastise her for such an absurd comment when he stopped. "That's it!" He exclaimed. "Kasumi, you are brilliant." He said in admiration. "Pheromones." He said. "What if…what if besides the isolation and darkness the egg is filled with Saffron's pheromones?" His voice took on a musing tone. "What we need is a way to disrupt or better yet reset the victims olfactory system."
Kho Lon spun around. "Young warriors." She barked. "Formula seventeen but double the dragon's root." Kho Lon chuckled dryly. "And add one measure of dried deer musk." She said. The two girls started preparing the potion. "I think that should do it."
Nagano dodged another attack from a zombie soldier and a kick from Xian Pu put yet another zombie out of commission. The zombie soldiers had long since run out of ammunition and were now relying on purely physical attacks. On the one hand, now that the soldiers were out of bullets he no longer had to dodge as much, on the other hand, he was tired. "I dunno how much longer I can do this." He gasped.
Xian Pu nodded tiredly. "Same." She replied. "Never thought I say this." She gave Nagano a tired grin. "But for man you pretty good warrior." She said. "It honor to fight at you side." She said. "Mew and Mitsi choose well."
Ranma, Akane and Ukyo kept buzzing the birdman Adept. Time and again they were able to strike what should have been incapacitating even fatal blows and time and again Saffron would quickly recover.
"I know I broke his neck that time." Akane growled over the headset. "I know it." Akane felt her stomach rumble. "Shit, I'm getting hungry." She complained. "And I'm out of sugar tabs." Akane concentrated her Ki through her legs and rocketed toward Saffron. "At least we're faster than him." She said as her fists connected.
Akane's eyes narrowed as a flare of energy erupted as she made contact and she felt a slight increase in energy. Akane executed a tight roll and launched another attack at Saffron. She connected hard enough to send the birdman tumbling. Again she felt a tiny surge of energy. "If I wasn't so hungry I would have missed it." She said in quiet excitement.
"Tomboy?" Ukyo said over the headset.
"How hungry are you, Uk-chan?" Akane asked.
"You had to bring that up." Complained Ukyo. "If I don't eat something soon, I'm…I'll…fricassee a certain winged creep."
"Ranma?" Akane asked.
"Running low." Ranma admitted.
"I got an idea." Akane said. "A stupid idea but an idea." She said. "Throw everything, I mean everything, at the junior birdman." She ordered. "Hold nothing back."
"But if we do that…we'll…oh wait…I think I see." Ukyo's voice took on tones of excitement. "But we'll need to hold on to him."
"Then we grab him and then hit him with everything. Everything!" Akane said in urgent tones. "Just don't hold back and don't let go." She said. "On three." She took a breath. "One. Two…Three!" She shouted.
Saffron's eyes widened in disbelief as the three puny humans raced toward him. He had to admit they were giving him more trouble then he had expected but he was confident his superior strength, power and his ability to regenerate would eventually win the day. "And then I'll feast." He thought.
He snorted in contempt as the first of the flying humans reached him and grabbed his leg. A second grabbed an arm and the third, the lone male, wrapped his massive arms around his neck. "Is that the best…wait…wait…what are you doing?" Saffron's contempt changed to concern and then unaccustomed fear as he felt his strength being drained. "Impossible…impossible."
"We're doing it Tomboy." Ranma cried. "Bring him down." Ranma sent a powerful burst of Ki through his feet and shoved Saffron straight down. He could feel Akane and Ukyo do the same.
Faster and faster the four entwined bodies hurtled toward the ground. Ranma, Akane and Ukyo put everything they had left into the surge. The ground rapidly rose up to meet them and they hit like a meteor hitting the ground. The ground trembled with the impact.
Nagano and Xian Pu braced themselves to meet the next charge of the zombie soldiers. They exchanged resigned glances. They had nothing left. They were tired and despite their best efforts they knew this was it. Suddenly the back of the truck opened and Mew and Mitsui charged out. Each girl carried what appeared to be an old-fashioned pump sprayer. They ran to meet the charging soldiers.
"Mew! Mitsi!" Nagano shouted in panicked despair. He drew on the last bit of reserves he had to get to them.
Mew and Mitsui sprayed the soldiers just as they reached them. To Nagano's shock the soldiers immediately collapsed. Mew and Mitsui sprayed soldier after soldier with the same results. The soldiers collapsed like puppets with their strings cut.
"Come on, Mew." Mitsui yelled. "We have to help Meg." The young girl and her cat-girl adopted sister raced off toward where the rest of the soldiers were beating against a golden dome with their fists. Mitsui and Mew pumped their sprayers.
A groan reached Akane's ears. Only when the groan repeated did she realize she was the one groaning. She levered herself into a seated position. She could see both Ranma and Ukyo stirring and doing the same. Akane stood on shaky feet and staggered to the center of the wide crater. She looked down. Lying in a broken heap in the very center was a wizened and shriveled figure. Even as she looked she could see the figure shift and writhe as it began to repair itself. "Oh no you don't." Akane growled and grabbed the figure. "I'm still hungry." She snarled.
Akane looked up as a truck rumbled toward her. It reached the edge of the wide crater and a group of people exited the truck. For a long moment they stared at the crater before carefully climbing down the steep slope. One of the figures she recognized as being Tofu Ono. He carried a large cylinder on his back and he had a conical nozzle cradled in his arms.
"Stand back." Ono shouted. Akane, Ranma and Ukyo backed away quickly. Ono aimed the nozzle at the shriveled form of Saffron and a white spray shot out, enveloping the birdman. Ono kept the spray on Saffron for a long, long time before he stopped. When the steam cleared they could see that the Phoenix was encased in a block of ice. "That should hold him." He said.
Yuchiko and Kenichi Kasamura ran over to Ranma, Akane and Ukyo. "Stay back, Mouse." Akane shouted. "We're hungry. Really, really hungry."
"Hungry? What…?" Yuchiko's eyes widened. "Oh." She said in understanding. She ran back to the truck and came back with her arms laden with packages. "MRE's." She said. "They taste terrible…"
"Fuck taste." Akane growled. "Gimme."
"The rest of you should eat as well." Kasumi said. "Kenichi can build a fire while Yuchiko and I make something more…edible."
Several MRE's later Ranma, Akane and Ukyo felt recovered enough to not worry about draining anyone of their Ki. They sat around the fire, Kenichi sat between Ukyo and Ranma and Mouse between Ranma and Akane. They listened in appreciation as each teen and adult recounted their actions.
Ranma yawned. As if it was a signal so did Akane and Ukyo. "You need sleep." Yuchiko said in concern. "Tagaki." She said in a stern voice. "Put up the tents."
"You got it, Momma Y." Tagaki said with a grin. "Come on, guys."
In what seemed like mere minutes, the teens got the tents erected and Yuchiko and Kenichi got Ranma, Akane and Ukyo out of their clothes. Instead of getting them into their sleeping bags, Yuchiko and Kenichi just placed several of the sleeping bags on the floor of the tent and used the rest as blankets. "Sleep." Yuchiko said softly.
Ranma, Akane and Ukyo nodded and closed their eyes. In what seemed like a moment later they opened them. "Uh oh." They sat up. "The oasis." Akane said in recognition. Akane frowned and looked down. Yuchiko and Kenichi were there with them, but sound asleep.
"Don't bother trying to wake them." A familiar sibilant voice said. Out of the underbrush came the familiar and monstrous form of the great snake. "This place is not for them." The snake said as he approached. He nosed the sleeping forms of Yuchiko and Kenichi. "At least not yet."
"Hiyas." Came three cheerful and familiar voices. From another part of the underbrush came their slutty doubles, the alternate Ukyo was obviously pregnant and the other Akane was carrying a child in her arms. The child was awake and looking around curiously. "Hi snakey kins." The other Akane said. "Say hello to your Uncle Snakey kins, Akama."
"Gwa." Gurgled the child, his chubby hands reached for the snake. The snake hissed a laugh.
Out of a second part of the underbrush another trio appeared. "It's Uncle Snakey-kins, now?" An older version of Akane said in annoyed tones. "Congratulations, Uk-chan." She said to the pregnant duplicate of the older woman at her side.
"Thank you." The pregnant Ukyo replied.
The six, seven counting the child, new arrivals walked over to where Ranma, Akane and Ukyo stood guarding the sleeping Yuchiko and Kenichi. "Who's that?" The older Ranma asked. He narrowed his eyes. "The Kasamura's?" He asked doubtfully. "They sort of look like our Kasamura's but I don't remember either of them looking that…"
"Hot?" Supplied the Ranma with the dramatic reddish makeup.
"Yeah." Agreed the older Ranma. "She looks more like Tagaki in female form." He said. "And our Kenichi is a lot…softer." The older Ranma leaned closer. "Man, look at that." He murmured. "Reminds me of Happi after a panty raid." The older Ranma straightened and peered at the suburban versions. "Oh man." He said in annoyed tones.
"What?" The suburban Ranma asked in concern.
"You guys are Ki eaters." The older Ranma declared. "That can be dangerous."
"Tell me about it." The suburban Akane replied in gloomy tones. "I nearly killed Mouse when I drained her Ki." She said. "By accident." She added hurriedly in response to an accusatory glare from her older duplicate.
"Mouse?" The older Ukyo asked.
"Yuchiko." The suburban Ukyo replied. "It's her nickname."
"Ah." The older Ukyo replied.
"It's dangerous." The older Akane repeated the older Ranma's statement.
"I know that." The suburban Akane replied testily. "It was an accident, okay?" She continued. "We're learning how to control it."
"Good thing too." The suburban Ranma said. "It was the only thing that allowed us to beat Saffron."
"Saffron?" Six voices replied in near unison. The infant Akama began to cry. "Hush baby." The slutty Akane said. "There's no bad Saffron here." She placed a pinky in the infant's mouth. "I hope you trashed that asshole." She said as she soothed the infant.
"We did." The suburban Akane replied in satisfied tones. "Put his ass on ice."
"Good." The other two Akane's replied. The elder Akane shook her head. "Ki Eaters." She said. "Could be worse, though I'm not sure how." She looked down at the sleeping couple. "She really does look like Tagaki when he goes girl."
"Hey, about that." The suburban Akane said. "Our Tagaki isn't cursed…"
"Neither is ours." The older Akane replied. "He uses…call it instant girl water." She said in amused tones. "Ask Kho Lon." She grinned at the suburban Akane. "And yes there is instant boy water."
"Really?" The suburban Akane replied in very interested tones. "Sounds…like fun."
"It is." The slutty Akane replied. She turned to the Ranma from her world. "Isn't that right, Baby?" Ranma grinned and nodded. Akane looked down at the infant in her arms. "And you're up way past your bedtime." She said. "Later."
"We're going too." The elder Akane said. Moments later the oasis was empty except for a monstrous snake with an amused look on its' face.
Akane opened her eyes to see the roof of the tent above her. She turned her head to see Yuchiko Kasamura asleep. "She's so cute when she's asleep." She said quietly. "Instant boy water, huh?" She said musingly. Akane closed her eyes and fell back asleep.
Captain Wang paced the camp. It had been two days since the Saotome's had left. One day remained before Bei Jing would order the doomsday option. Captain Wang hoped that the other nuclear powers would wait long enough for Bei Jing to explain. "I'm pretty sure most of them will." He told himself. "North Korea, not so much." Captain Wang continued to pace the camp.
"Captain!" A soldier ran over. "It's…it's them."
Captain Wang raced to the tent containing the communications and surveillance gear. "Report." He barked. The soldier in charge of the communications system flicked a switch. "Come on guys, talk to me." Ranma's voice came plaintively over the speaker.
Captain Wang grabbed a mike. "That is not how you make a report." He said testily.
"Sue me." Ranma replied. "Saffron's on ice but we're still cleaning up the zombies."
"You sound tired." Captain Wang said in sympathetic tones.
"We're beat." Ranma replied. Ranma's chuckle came over the speakers. "But not so beat that we're gonna fall for the same crap you pulled last time."
Captain Wang's mouth twisted. "Not my call Ranma." He said. "It'll take us a day to break camp and get there." He continued.
"Understood, Captain." Major and Doctor Tofu Ono's voice replied over the speakers. There was a click and the line went dead.
Doctor Tofu Ono turned to Ranma. "We have twenty four to get some distance between us and Captain Wang." He said. "The only question is where to go."
"You would be more than welcome among the Joketsuzoku." Kho Lon said in dry tones. "Eventually Bei Jing will get distracted by some other issue and leave you in peace."
Doctor Ono rubbed his chin. "Hopefully I can convince Tokyo to … get distracted … as well." He shook his head. "My superiors don't get distracted easily." He said. "And then there's…Nagano." He pointed out. "It's bad enough we took Nagano to China, if his father doesn't hear from him…"
"We are not that isolated, Doctor." Kho Lon said in slightly testy tones. "We will be able to contact the boy's father and explain."
Doctor Ono looked pensive for a moment before he nodded. "Not the best solution but definitely better than the boy ending up in some facility for the rest of his life." He nodded again. "If you're sure your people won't mind…"
Kho Lon laughed. "Mind?" She replied in amusement. "My dear Doctor, for defeating Saffron my people will fall over themselves to make you welcome."
It was nearly midnight when a truck crested the final hill before a remote valley in the Bayankala. Lights from the distant village shone brightly in the night. The adults had taken turns driving cross-country. The trip had taken three days and they were starting to run low on fuel, food, water…and patience. Ranma stopped the truck and turned around in the driver's seat.
"Well gang." He said. "We're almost there." He said. "Hopefully Nabs will be able to do something but until then…"
"Until then this will be our home." Akane said firmly. She looked around. "You know, this would be a nice place to build a house."
Author's notes: Well this one is done. Hope you enjoyed it.