*** Earth 0.000, 0.000
It was nighttime in Moscow. Outside the window of the hotel room, a cold rain pattered heavily against the glass. Next to an unopened letter that rested on the nightstand, a fresh cup of tea, recently poured from the pot, gave off light swirls of steam. On the bed sat a young man, a little over sixteen years of age, a thick book opened before him. It was a text on cosmology, lit by the lamp just to his right.
His name? Ranma Saotome.
Closing the book, the young scholar sighed because he just couldn't maintain his focus. His thoughts kept jumping to the letter lying next to his tea. It represented the end of his present chapter of life, and the beginning of a new one, far from here. The long white envelope bore the distinctive seal of Japan's Ministry of Education.
He knew what was in it without even opening it. It was his official welcome to join the first-year class at the Imperial Academy of Japan, the most prestigious institution of learning in the Empire and quite possibly the world. It also represented the return to his life in Japan, a life that he had left behind over ten years earlier when his father, Genma, had begun his educational travels.
Again sighing, Ranma picked up the television remote, intent on distracting himself from his thoughts. He aimed it at the screen and pressed the power switch. The television came on with a flurry of colored snow that quickly resolved into the evening news.
"...the Kaiser's regime in Germany has continued its aggressive posture towards the Polish government," said the pretty, blonde newscaster in Russian. "Tsar Alexander has continued to express his support for the Polish people and has threatened military action if the Kaiser continues this course of action. In other news..."
Not really interested in the political games of the balkanized European aristocracies, he flipped to the next channel.
"...are seeing pictures showing the results from the latest Irish attack against Her Majesty's forces in Dublin," said a buxom redhead in English, speaking with a faint Scottish accent. "Fighting continues in the streets as evening approaches. The Prime Minister has been seen in the recent polls as a failure for this debacle. The cease-fire ended in bloodshed yesterday when..."
"Oh, great," he complained to no one in particular. "Just what I want to see, more news." Switching the station again, he settled on the next channel in rotation.
"...make a point to visit the scenic nation of Virginia, a country set in one of the most beautiful regions of the American continent," drawled an attractive brunette in English. "We offer some of the finest resorts available in the world, and our people will welcome you with open arms. No matter what your desires are, we will do our best to fulfill them. Our new addition to the Richmond Sports Complex is our own Arena, one of the few located outside the Empire of Japan..."
"I hate commercials," he mumbled as he turned the station again.
"...but I love you, Alexia," said a male actor on screen. "I don't care what my family thinks or what agreements that they have made. I refuse to be engaged against my will, especially to a woman that I don't love."
He snorted. Soap operas. Like real life could ever get that complicated.
The screen suddenly changed to a station identification and a deep male voice announced, "You are watching 'Young Nobles' here on Channel Eight. We will be back after a word from our sponsors."
"Pass," he said, flipping channels once again.
"...but it is our duty to fight against the Shadow Demons, Ki," said a desperate female voice in Japanese. On the screen an animated drawing of a girl in a skintight outfit was pleading with an animated drawing of a young man dressed similarly. "If we don't somehow manage to defeat them and their minions, then the Empire will be destroyed by their evil. Don't you remember what it means to be a Hunter? We swore a sacred oath to the Emperor when we gained our powers that we..."
"Anything but anime," he said with a sigh, clicking to the next channel.
"...and when we return, we will be having an interview with the baddest of the bad girls fighting in the Imperial Arena, that sexy package of deadly beauty, the incomparable Mina Li," said a cheerful announcer. "So stay tuned to 'Arena Today' for more." He paused on the channel for a moment, but grew bored quickly when the commercials began.
Ranma shut the television off and flopped back on the bed, arms spread wide on the thick quilt atop it. He turned his head to eye the underside of the table where the letter from Japan was sitting. One hand reached over and fumbled blindly across the table top, nearly spilling his tea on himself. He finally found the envelope and picked it up.
Sitting up, he ripped open the envelope along one end. He held it by the edges and blew down the center, splaying it open. Reaching in, he pulled out the letter within, flipping it open one-handed.
The letter read just as he expected. It started with a rather long-winded greeting, complimenting him on his decision to attend the Imperial Academy and congratulating him on his exam scores. He grinned broadly when he saw the comment in the letter that he had achieved a perfect score on the entrance exam, the single highest score ever recorded since the Academy was first founded.
The course of study would take three years, and the letter expressed hopes that he would consider enlisting for a term of service with the Empire's armed forces once his training was up. Not likely, he thought with a wry smile, continuing to read. Joining the military held absolutely no interest for him. However, he needed to get through the Academy in order to win a place in the Ministry of Science.
Studying at the Academy would also give him access to materials that would enable him to prove his father's theories on parallel worlds, and that was paramount to him. He was so close to solving the design problems that he could taste it. The equipment that he had been working with so far had proven to be insufficient for his needs. He needed to requisition some of the prototype equipment available from the Ministry of Science that would help him complete his invention.
The quantum resonator, he thought with a smile. He was rather proud of the name for his device. He looked over at his thick, black notebook, bulging with design specifications and needed parts lists. Once I get it built, my life is never going to be the same. He could hardly wait.
From a two-year-old dream, the idea came almost fully developed, like a flash of revelation from the heavens. In his vision, an enormous, clean blackboard sat in front of him, when suddenly symbols of blue fire etched themselves onto its surface. He found himself looking at a multitude of circuit diagrams and mathematical formulae crammed together haphazardly. Luckily, his eidetic memory had allowed him to bring all of it back to the waking world.
Some of it was blurred and incomplete, like junk data in a computer system, but the rest had been some of the most beautiful equations and diagrams that the pigtailed boy had ever seen. He spent many hours writing them down, even the incomplete material, fearing that they would fade from his mind like the dream that they had come from. He was able to recognize most of the basic theorems from his father's own work on quantum mechanics. The rest required almost two years of painstaking effort on his part to solve. The partial circuit diagrams had been filled in as well over time.
If he could just get the proper components together, it should work.
Assuming that his mind had been processing his father's work on its own, Ranma took the vision as his subconscious' way of proving the senior Saotome right. His father, the acknowledged pioneer in the field of quantum mechanics and parallel universe theory, never found a method of proving their existence outside of mathematical theorems.
His dream had given him the method. He only had to build it, and build it he would. It represented quite possibly the single most exciting piece of research that he had ever attempted in his young life. If, no, when he succeeded, then the potential for learning from other timelines would be enormous.
Attending the Academy was a small price to pay for achieving his dream. However, the closer the reality came, the more leery of it that he became. What if it didn't work? What if they wouldn't let him build it? What if it turned out to be dangerous? These were the questions that had plagued him late at night.
Worst of all, how would he handle being around people his own age? Ranma would never admit to being frightened, as his personal sense of self-confidence was very strong from many years of being praised for his intellectual abilities. He was the best of his generation, and he knew it. However, he could admit to feeling somewhat concerned at dealing with his peers. Having spent his entire life thus far around older men and women, studying the combined knowledge of the world, his social skills could, at best, be described as anemic.
His father had lavished enormous amounts of time and effort on training Ranma's intellectual abilities, restricting him from forming any form of social bonds outside of his teachers. They had moved around too much for that, so he had never had any friends his own age. He had never even gone out on a date, so he wasn't even sure how to relate to girls. All of the women that he had ever come in contact with during the course of his studies had all been old enough to be his mother, or even older.
All of which made him feel somewhat anxious about his future at the Academy. He suddenly shrugged and finished reading the letter. I'm sure that everything will turn out all right. It's not like a girl's going to hit me for looking at her wrong, right? He chuckled a little at that, his calm restored.
Due to his previous study commitments in Russia, he had already missed the Academy welcoming ceremonies and several weeks of the new term. A special exemption for late arrival was mentioned in the letter, and it was hoped that he would be able to make up the backlog of work with a minimum of difficulty.
The letter was signed by the Headmaster of the Academy, Professor Kozo Fuyutsuki, who included a brief personal note that he would be expecting Ranma for a one-on-one interview at his arrival. He frowned slightly. Dealing with people on a social level was not one of his strong suits.
There was a knock on the door to his room. He folded the letter up and put it back into the envelope before replacing it on the table.
"Come in!" he shouted. The door opened, and his father, Genma Saotome, came walking in. He waved a pair of plane tickets in one hand. He was wearing a dark blue suit, the latest style from Berlin, and his usual wire-rimmed glasses.
"You can congratulate your father on his ingenuity once again, my boy," said Genma with a grin. "It took a little bit of doing, but I managed to get us a couple of first-class tickets for the next supersonic transport flight back to Japan. By this time tomorrow, you'll be able to sleep in your old room." He put the tickets away in the front coat pocket of his suit.
"It will be nice to see Mother again," said Ranma in a calm tone. "It's been such a long time. I barely even remember her." That had always troubled him a little, like his life had only truly begun when he was about five years old. The events before that age were fuzzy and dreamlike in comparison, vague images and flashes of memory. His memories of his mother were comforting, but the upcoming reality of seeing her left him feeling a little bit nervous.
"She's excited that we are finally returning home." The older man's voice took on a wistful tone. "It's hard to believe that it's been over ten years already. It seems like only yesterday that I started your education and took you out to see the world." A brief silence fell across the room during his reverie.
"Do we really have to go back to Japan right now?" asked Ranma, his nervousness finally urging him to speak. "There's still so much that I wanted to study here in Moscow. The Physics Department has just started planning the new fusion reactor for the University, and they invited me to participate. I had a few ideas on improving heat exchange efficiency that they found intriguing."
Genma looked at his only son for a moment.
"Ranma. Son. It's time to go home," said Genma in a serious tone of voice. "Everything that you could study here in Russia you can learn about in Japan. The Imperial Academy has the finest facilities that a boy of your capabilities could need in the world for learning. It will also be good for you to be among people your own age. You've spent far too much time around crusty old men like your father."
"I guess that might be kind of fun," admitted the boy. "I read the letter. They are holding my spot open, pending my arrival."
"Fuyutsuki-sensei's an old friend of mine. I knew that we wouldn't be able to get back in time for welcoming ceremonies, so I asked him to help us out like that. He was glad to do it, and he's expecting you to pay him a call after your arrival."
"I will, Father. I promise."
"Good," said Genma with a nod. "You'd better get to sleep now. We have an early plane to catch in the morning."
A Ranma 1/2 Fanfic
By S. Thesken aka Jurai Knight
Ranma 1/2 and its characters are owned by Rumiko Takahashi. This story is inspired by her works and the stories from some of my fellow fanfic authors. Among these are DB Sommer's "Shampoo 1/2", Jim Bader's "A Very Scary Thought -aka- Nabiki 1/2", and John Biles' Elseworlds series. All C&C is welcome.
A brief explanation of some of the terminology and pseudo-science used in this story will appear in the Appendix, as well as the meaning behind the Earth designations. This section is inspired by the information presented in TSR's role-playing publication "Tangents."
Chapter 1 - Genesis
And so it begins.
- Ambassador Kosh: Babylon 5
Nodoka hummed a soft tune as she went through her morning mail. She pulled out a small postcard with a polar bear on the front and turned it over. Seeing a message from Genma, she started smiling.
Honestly, she thought with amusement, that husband of mine can write page after page of research papers, but he can't bring himself to do more than send a postcard once a month to let me know that he and Ranma are still alive.
She read the brief message.
"Nodoka. Bringing Ranma from Russia. Genma."
Well, he still certainly knows how to make a woman happy, she thought with a larger smile. It will be so good to see them again, especially Ranma. How he must have grown. I wonder if I'll be able to recognize him?
She went back into the house and began to prepare for the arrival of the two men in her life.
Right near the heart of Tokyo laid one of the most austerely impressive buildings in modern Japan, the Ministry of Security, more commonly known as the Security Directorate. It was responsible for dealing with all threats to the well-being of the Empire, both internal and external. Established almost three centuries ago, it provided a means for the Empire to maintain control of every inch of territory that had come into its possession.
Its ranks were composed of the cream of the Empire's citizenry, men and women who had dedicated their lives, and sometimes their deaths, to insuring its continued safety. Each had taken an oath of obedience to the Emperor. It was almost a tradition in some families to choose to serve here.
One such family was the Tendo household.
Assistant Director Soun Tendo sat behind his desk and looked through the thick stack of paperwork that had managed to accumulate there since he had gone home the night before. As was his usual policy, he arrived early, and he was planning to work late. As the man in charge of the Commercial Security Bureau, the segment of the Directorate under his direct control, he was responsible for monitoring the huge amounts of money and resources that traveled about the Empire and powered the Imperial economy, monitoring that always seemed to generate enormous amounts of paperwork.
Those under him handled the routine matters, investigating frauds, illicit trade, counterfeiting, and piracy. They also monitored data traffic and telephone communications, keeping under surveillance those who might impede the flow of trade carried on under the control of the various zaibatsus (the great industrial or financial combinations of the Empire). At his level, and that of his immediate subordinates, Soun dealt with the higher profile people, those that the Empire had tagged during their lives for much more intensive monitoring. One of the files that he had been watching for many years had finally crossed his desk once again; a dossier that was not normally one he would have concerned himself with.
He smiled slightly when he spotted the file, and the brief note that sat atop it. How I've waited for this day, he thought with a brief but unexpected moment of happiness. Ranma Saotome was finally coming home. Soon his plans for his family would finally be coming true.
Reaching out, Soun pulled the file in front of him, flipping it open as he pulled out and lit up a cigarette. He perused the information on the boy's recent activities, but they were rather sketchy. It had grown more difficult to operate in Russia for the past few years, ever since Tsar Alexander had initiated a purging and intensive cleanup of Russia's Komiter Gosudarstvennoi Bezopasnosti (Committee of State Security, or KGB as it was more commonly known) shortly after his ascension to the throne.
Before, KGB agents had been little more than a joke, and Directorate agents had been able to cross into and out of Russia with almost complete impunity. Now, that was no longer true. The sole operative that Soun had been able to keep near Ranma had to be careful to avoid being discovered, so the information on the boy's activities was less detailed than he cared for.
He leaned back in his chair and blew a puff of smoke from his lips, watching the stream dissipate in the air above his head when he heard the door to his office open.
"Those things are going to kill you someday, you know," said a pleasant female voice from the doorway. Soun glanced down, surprised that it was not his secretary. He briefly cursed in his mind before allowing a smile to rest on his face.
A rather stunning beauty of a woman stood in his doorway, smiling mildly at him. She was Assistant Director Hinako Ninomiya, who oversaw the Special Investigations Bureau. Even when wearing the standard gray, female Security uniform, she always seemed to radiate sexuality. She was rather tall, and a trifle top-heavy for Soun's personal tastes, but otherwise an impressive figure of a woman.
She was also the bane of his existence.
He had been forced to deal with her for the last two years, ever since her assignment to her present level of authority. He suspected that her meteoric rise in the Directorate had been due to her sleeping her way upwards in rank. However, he knew that she also had a sharp mind and an uncanny way of ferreting out secrets. It was also possible that she had been judiciously using that ability for blackmail purposes to obtain her present rank.
Either way, her mere presence set all of his internal alarms off, making him feel extremely cautious and nervous around her. They maintained an uneasy truce with each other, occasionally exchanging barbed comments. It was an interesting sort of intellectual exercise to keep a woman that capable off balance, and he always found himself actually relishing the challenge. He suspected that she felt the same, so they had continued the game with each other over the past couple of years.
"What can I do for you, Ninomiya-san?" he asked brusquely. The sooner he dealt with her and got her out of his office, the better. He stubbed out the final embers on his cigarette and pulled out a new one, lighting it up with a practiced move. She walked towards his desk, every move seemingly designed to entice a man to desire her.
"You can start by putting that nasty thing out while I'm trying to talk to you." She reached across his desk to pluck the cigarette out from between his lips. She ground it out next to the remains of the other one, before taking a seat in the chair in front of his desk.
"Please, have a seat," he murmured under his breath, watching her as she sat down gracefully and crossed her legs demurely. "What brings you to my office this day?" he said more loudly, trying to keep the sarcasm out of his voice.
"Do I really need a reason to visit with a colleague that I have known and respected for a couple of years now?" she asked, her usual seductive smile back on her face. Soun stared at her coolly, waiting for her to get on with it.
"Fine," she snapped, before regaining her composure. "We'll be totally business-like about it." She uncrossed her legs and quickly re-crossed them the opposite way. "I understand that you've been utilizing a fair amount of Directorate resources over the last several years towards monitoring a particular citizen, due to arrive back in Japan within the day. Is this some sort of pet project for you?"
"Who is it that you are referring to, Ninomiya-san? I have many files that cross my desk during the course of a day. I'm afraid that you'll have to be more specific." He smiled pleasantly and rested his hands on his desk, interlacing his fingers together.
"I don't know what sort of game that you think that you're playing with me, Soun Tendo," said Hinako coolly. "Don't play coy with me. I know for a fact that a young man by the name of Ranma Saotome has been receiving a fair amount of attention from your section over the last several years. I want to know why."
"It is none of your concern, Ninomiya-san," said Soun brusquely. "My concerns about individual citizens and monitoring of their activities for possible impact upon the Empire's economy are part of my bureau's responsibilities. It is not your place to question or investigate the comings and goings of other departments." He didn't like where this conversation was going, noticing her eyes lock onto Ranma's file.
"Ranma Saotome," she stated more warmly. "He has grown into such a promising young man, and one worthy of great interest, judging by the size of the dossier right in front of you. So, what is your interest in him?"
Sound sighed slightly. "What do you know of young Saotome?" he asked, retaining his calm.
"Not much," said Hinako pleasantly. "I know that Fuyutsuki-sensei, over at the Ministry of Science, was a colleague of the boy's father on some top-secret project several years ago. In addition, it was the eminent professor's respect for Genma Saotome that paved the way to allow him to take Ranma on an around the world tour of high-level academic learning, all at the Ministry of Science's expense. Well, I personally find that curious."
"It sounds like you've done your homework," acknowledged Soun. "I still don't see what interest that you could have in my supposed interest in the lad. He's part of my assigned workload, and that's all."
Hinako thought, he isn't seriously expecting me to buy that, is he? Her face retained its smile, but she sighed mentally. It was time to play her remaining card and see what sort of reaction it prompted from him. She wished that he didn't have to always be so difficult to deal with, but it always made the game much more satisfying whenever she outsmarted him.
"How do you explain the reports that I discovered on matchmakers being investigated by the Directorate then?" she asked absently. Her keen ability at reading people noticed a slight spike in Soun's anxiety level from the subtle movements that his body made. He had very good control of himself. It was one of the things that she truly did admire about him, and it always made their games more challenging. "I noticed that two of your daughters have been placed with some of the companies being investigated. Your eldest daughter was placed with a different service entirely."
Soun twitched an eye slightly. He desperately wanted a cigarette to calm his nerves. If she wasn't so highly placed, I could simply have the witch eliminated, he thought. I'll have to try finesse instead.
"Indeed?" He raised one eyebrow. "Did any of these supposed investigation requests come from my office, or those of any of my subordinates?"
"No," acknowledged Hinako with a slight frown. "They came from an unassigned workstation in another part of the building. Ranma's file has received an inordinate amount of attention over the years from your section though, so I assumed that the two were related. You wouldn't happen to be trying to play matchmaker, would you?"
"Of course not," he lied in a totally believable tone of voice. He leaned back comfortably in his chair, confident that he had regained control of the conversation. "My only concern is the future safety and well-being of the Empire. It would be a violation of my duty to allow any personal concerns to come into play."
"I see." Hinako stood back up, the cloth of her skirt falling back to its usual length on her legs. "I thank you for clearing that up for me." She walked towards the door to his office. When she reached it, she paused and said in a mildly sultry tone of voice, "Perhaps I might be allowed to make up for my suspicions about you with an offer of dinner in the near future? As a peace offering?"
He almost snapped the fountain pen that he had just picked up in half. Spending any more time than necessary with the woman was not a wise course of action in his eyes. He looked up into her eyes and his own expression of reluctance caused a hardening of the lines of her jaw. Before he could say anything, even one of his usual parting remarks to her, she swept out the door and slammed it shut behind her.
Shrugging, he went back to his paperwork, thoughts about his fellow Assistant Director already fading from his mind.
Damn that man! Who does that bastard think he is? Hinako's thoughts were boiling as she stormed by the desks leading into her own section of the building. A few of the agents under her command briefly looked up from their work but immediately dropped their eyes again at the sight of her glowering face. She was not a woman used to having men showing any sort of reluctance to be in her presence; it did not make her happy at all.
The morning sun was bright as Akane Tendo and her older sister Nabiki walked to classes at the Academy. Both of them wore the standard gray uniforms with black piping that designated them as female security cadets. They were of the new designs, a bit more feminine with the substitution of a skirt, replacing the previous design with pants. The only real difference that they showed was a double hash mark near the cuff on Nabiki's right sleeve, compared to Akane's single one, denoting her as a second-year cadet. The younger Tendo thought the skirt flattered her figure rather nicely. Her sister preferred the practical feel of pants to her current draftiness of wearing a skirt to classes.
As the pair walked along, Akane wore her usual unhappy frown, and Nabiki had her standard thoughtful look on her face as she walked with the unconscious stride of a professional. The sisters were an interesting contrast. The older one was a master at covering her emotions behind a wall of cool detachment, while the younger one wore every emotion on her surface and was as changeable as quicksilver.
Sighing softly, Nabiki remembered her father's denial of the modest increase in her allowance she needed. The refusal forced her, once again, to find other, more creative means to afford the new outfits and presents that she deserved. It just isn't fair, she thought a bit grumpily. Look what Daddy has forced me to do since he won't give me more allowance.
Lately, she had hit upon the idea of starting up betting pools on her little sister's daily fights, and they were already proving to be more profitable than she had expected. Having a little more money available, she had also soon discovered the value of loaning it out to her fellow cadets at rather exorbitant interest rates. It was even sort of fun, in a way, to hold power like that over her peers.
However, blackmail money proved to be her most valuable source of income. The middle Tendo daughter considered it to be good training for her future career in the Security Directorate to be able to discover secrets that her fellow cadets wished to remain hidden. If the targeted cadet proved difficult to deal with, or actually threatened her back, then she would turn the matter over to Akane.
Akane took a disquieting pleasure, to Nabiki's eyes, in inflicting pain upon others. She had proven very useful though, since she had started attending the Academy with Nabiki. For the last several weeks she had been her older sister's personal enforcer and received a cut of the profits for her efforts. It gave an outlet for the youngest Tendo's aggressive tendencies and benefited Nabiki's financial needs at the same time. Still, it bothered her a little bit that her sister was the way she was. It wasn't the way for a future security officer to behave.
As she walked next to her sister, Akane wrestled with her own thoughts. Another day of the same thing, she mused. I'm almost completely through with my challenges against the toughest boys going to the Academy. She recalled the last fight that she had yesterday. She was either getting better or her opponents were getting worse. She had managed to get a solid knee strike up into the boy's groin fairly early in the conflict. It had been over all too quickly after that; she had not had much of a challenge to her skills.
She was coming to the sad conclusion that all boys were weak. She now suspected that there was never going to be anyone to really challenge her. However, it was her goal to fight with each and every male student at the Academy until she found someone who did. Maybe if she bullied enough people, she would discover the fighter that she felt that she was born to meet.
The plane touched down at Tokyo Airport with a hard bump, lurching Ranma awake from his pleasant dream. He had been having a picnic lunch with a pretty girl whose face had remained hidden somewhat in shadow, so he had been unable to see her face clearly. He stretched his arms up over his head.
"Welcome back to Japan, my boy," said Genma as his son turned to look out the window at the bustling airport. He looked over at the boy and set down the pad of paper that he had been writing upon, containing many notes on one of the many research papers that he was currently working on.
"The air looks cleaner than I remember it being," commented Ranma. His father chuckled behind him.
"Most of the heavy industry has been moved off of the home islands over the last few years," said Genma as he looked out the window, trying to see around his son's head. "The majority of it is located in the Korean prefectures now. However, about half of the original factory buildings and facilities still remain here, maintained against possible need, but they are inactive. I'm sure that the air will smell as sweet as it did when I was your age."
They debarked from the plane and retrieved their luggage. They passed through Customs quickly, Genma flashing his identification from the Science Ministry to speed things up. Ranma struggled with the two large suitcases that contained everything that he owned as he managed to keep up. He had never really been in the habit of collecting much in the way of things, other than a few texts on various subjects and his clothes. He lugged his two bags out to the curb as he followed his father.
When they reached the front curb, he set his suitcases down with a sense of relief. He sat down on one and ran a hand down the back of his head. He touched his short pigtail and then paused. He had worn it for so long he had forgotten about it. He shrugged his shoulders. If it was a problem, he was sure that Fuyutsuki-sensei would mention it to him at the interview. Until then, he was going to leave his hair as he was accustomed to.
Nodoka put the finishing touches on dinner. Genma had called from the airport in Moscow to let her know when they would be arriving. She had busied herself for the day getting an already spotless house somehow even cleaner, determined to present herself as the perfect mother when Ranma walked in the door. After she had greeted her only son, then her husband would receive his own greeting.
She sniffed the aroma coming off of the pot of miso soup that she was making. Satisfied with it, she moved on through the other courses that she had prepared. She was determined to have everything be perfect for the arrival of her husband and her only child. If she had anything to say about it, this meal was going to be the best that they had ever tasted.
After walking through the gate in the wall surrounding the Saotome family property, Ranma set down his bags while he heard his father settling up with the cab driver behind him. This place was the one memory that was clear to him from his earliest days. He smiled at the large cherry tree in the yard and the small koi pond that rested below it. A sense of peace filled him.
The front door of the house opened, and a woman appeared in the doorway. Mother, he thought with a smile. He watched Nodoka walk quickly towards him, maintaining her propriety, but with a large smile on her face that matched his own. She caught him up in an embrace and all of his worries disappeared.
He was home. The word had never meant so much to him as it did in that moment.
"Welcome home, Ranma," she said, tears in her eyes. She looked at him for a long moment and then hugged him to her again, even more tightly than before. The boy quickly found that he wasn't able to do something he considered quite essential.
"C-can't... breathe," he managed to mutter out before the world went dark around him.
Nodoka let go of him, so proud that her little boy had returned to her looking so handsome and manly. The boy's face was slack and his eyes were closed. She was surprised, to say the least. He couldn't be sick, could he?
She spotted Genma carrying in his bags.
"Genma! Ranma's fainted!"
He looked up from picking up Ranma's discarded suitcases and dropped them, then trotted over to his wife and son. "What happened?"
"I-I don't know," she said through fresh tears. "I was so happy to see him that I just kept hugging him. When I let him go, he was like this. Did he catch something in one of those strange foreign places that you took him to?"
Genma chuckled softly. He had forgotten how air-headed Nodoka could be at times. However, she was his wife, and he loved her dearly. He took Ranma from her arms and carried the boy inside. Nodoka trailed along behind him, still crying slightly.
Setting down her chopsticks, Akane gave out a satisfied sigh. Dinner had been good tonight. It looked like the new housekeeper that her father had hired was going to work out just fine. She was an attractive young widow named Kyoko Otonashi, and she had been hired to cook and take care of the house a few weeks ago. Akane found her to be nice enough, but there was an air of melancholy about her.
Nabiki finished her own meal and set her bowl and chopsticks down. Not being much of a hand at cooking herself, let alone housework, she had encouraged her father to hire on a new housekeeper to replace the old one, who had moved north to be with her family. Kyoko had been a prime find, as far as she was concerned, and she hoped that the woman would remain with them for a long time.
Glancing at the clock, she noted the time as Akane went into the main room to watch television. Their father hadn't come home yet, which wasn't an uncommon occurrence, but it made the house seem that much emptier now that Kasumi was gone. Nabiki smiled at the thought of her quiet older sister finally settling down to be a housewife. She had thought that Kasumi had found her true calling studying medicine, so it was a bit of a surprise when her sister decided to marry.
It was perhaps inevitable that Kasumi would marry a doctor, and Nabiki was a little envious of the man that the matchmaker had found for her sister. Doctor Tofu Ono was a brilliant young physician, with numerous degrees and awards to show for it. Their father had agreed to the marriage quickly, and Kasumi seemed content with it. A rare smile came to Nabiki's face at her sister's good fortune.
She stretched her arms out in front of her and wandered upstairs to work on her homework. She passed Akane on her way to the stairs and saw that her sister was watching the fights at the Arena again. Shaking her head, she walked upstairs.
Behind her, the youngest Tendo cheered for one of her favorite Arena fighters as the girl unleashed a devastating combination of strikes on her hapless male opponent. Man, that Shampoo is the best, thought Akane with a smile, mimicking some of the hand strikes that her idol had just done. She chuckled as she watched the Amazon on the screen. She's so much better than any of those other bimbos that they have fighting.
The fight was soon over, to her disappointment. I could beat those wimps that they keep sending against her, she thought with a confident look. If I ever got a chance to be in the Arena... The youngest Tendo indulged herself in a brief fantasy, a smile on her face, as the scene changed to two male warriors slugging it out on screen.
Ranma woke up on an unfamiliar couch and looking up at an unfamiliar ceiling. He blinked his eyes and saw his father sitting there in a chair near him, reading a book. That familiar sight was extremely comforting. He sat up slowly. According to the clock on the wall it had only been a few minutes that he had been unconscious.
"Feeling better, son?" Genma put his book down. "I forgot to warn you that your mother can be a little emotional at times. She's downstairs in the kitchen making you a fresh pot of tea. Shall we join her?"
Ranma nodded and stood up. He felt rather foolish for passing out like that. But he hadn't been expecting his mother to be so strong. He knew that she studied Kenjutsu, the samurai art of swordsmanship, but her arm and shoulder strength had been quite impressive.
When they entered the kitchen, a plethora of wonderful smells filled his nose. He inhaled deeply and smiled. The aromas brought forth memories from his young childhood, all pleasant ones. His mother bowed to him.
"I apologize for choking you like that, dear." Nodoka kept her head bowed down. "I forgot myself. I was just so happy to see my little boy again."
"It's all right, Mother, really," he said as he put his hands on her shoulders and gently pushed her back upright. "I'm fine. However, I'm also feeling a little bit hungry. They didn't feed us very much on the plane." The words were hardly out of his mouth before he found himself seated at the dining table, a bowl of rice in one hand and chopsticks in the other.
The Saotome matriarch swiftly bustled in and out of the kitchen bringing more food than he had ever seen at one meal. His eyes goggled a bit at the sight. She doesn't expect me to eat all of that, does she? By the time she was done, the pigtailed boy imagined that he could hear the table groaning under the load.
"Ah, it does a man's heart good to see such food," said Genma with a broad smile. "I've missed your cooking while we were away, Nodoka-chan. Russian cuisine, for example, leaves much to be desired, and don't get me started on Spanish food." He began eating quickly, and Ranma fast duplicated him.
Nodoka looked on in horror. Her husband had taken their son out to acquire the knowledge of the world, but he still ate like he had when she had married him. Now their son was doing the same. She slapped her hand down on the table. "Genma! Ranma! What do you think you're doing?"
Pausing, Ranma had a mouthful of rice preventing him from speaking, except to give a muffled "Whmifit?" He looked over at his father, and saw the man suddenly look abashed.
"Sorry, Nodoka-chan. I'm afraid that the boy picked up my table manners. All that eating on the run, only so many hours in a day for learning, and all that." He smiled at her in an attempt to deal with what he feared was coming.
Her wrathful look did not lessen one iota, causing Genma to visibly wilt under her stern expression. Ranma chose that moment to try and swallow his mouthful of rice. Her gaze suddenly met his in mid-swallow, and he almost didn't get it down.
"Now that my son is home, I see that I will have to make sure that he is educated in proper manners," she said in serious tones. "You could use a refresher course as well, Dearest." She picked up her bowl of rice and began to eat. Ranma quickly mirrored her motions and it seemed to appease her. Genma quickly did the same.
After setting down his two heavy suitcases, the pigtailed boy eyed the prepared futon with a neutral look. After ten years of sleeping on Western-style beds in good hotels and apartments, it was going to take some adjusting. He began to unpack his suitcases and put everything away in the large dresser. In a few minutes, he was done.
He went over to the closet and slid open the door. Several brand-new Imperial Academy uniforms greeted his eyes, done up in dark blue with light gray piping, the sign of a science cadet. Ranma figured that his father had sent his sizes to his mother so that she could pick them up. He pulled one out and eyed it with distaste. I suppose that I could learn to like it, he decided after a while.
He slipped out of his old clothes and decided to try on one of the uniforms. It fit well enough, but it was a little large on his frame. Perhaps his mother expected it to shrink with washing or something. He buttoned up the collar and eyed his appearance in the mirror. Not bad, he finally decided.
Nodoka chose that time to come walking in through the open door. He looked over at her and saw her eyes shining with tears again. "Oh, my son, you look so handsome!" she said with a broad smile.
"Thanks." He was then nearly blinded when a small flashbulb suddenly went off, almost in his face. He blinked, seeing large red dots in his vision. He hadn't even seen a camera in her hands a moment ago. Now he wasn't seeing much of anything at all.
"Just a few more," said Nodoka eagerly. "I want to remember this moment with pictures." There were more bright flashes. He smiled, hoping that his eyesight returned quickly. She shot off the whole roll of film, quickly hugged him once more, and then departed.
I hope she calms down soon, he thought with a smile. He bumped his head into the wall, almost knocking himself unconscious, as he tried to move around before his eyes had fully recovered. He sat down on his futon and hoped his body adjusted to the six hours of jetlag quickly. Getting up six hours earlier than he was used to was not going to be fun.
Genma watched his wife enter the bedroom with a smile. The camera that she was carrying was left on the dresser. She turned to face him and returned his smile, walking over to where he was seated on his futon bed and knelt down. They turned to face each other.
"I have missed you, Dearest." She gave him a soft smile. "It is good to have you home once more."
"It was certainly a homecoming that our son will never forget, I'm sure," said Genma with a smile. "It is good to be back, Nodoka-chan. I have missed having you sleep by my side."
She smiled, briefly got up to turn off the light, and then returned to her position next to Genma. They embraced, kissed, and then explored a long-delayed reunion of their love.
The next day dawned far too early for Ranma's tastes. By his estimate, he had received something less than four hours sleep when his mother came into his room to wake him. She knelt by the side of his futon and shook him awake.
"Wake up, dear," said Nodoka pleasantly. "You have to get up and get ready for your first day at the Academy."
He murmured something unintelligible and promptly went back to sleep. She shook him awake again. Her command to wake up was less pleasant in tone the second time around.
After stumbling into the bathroom, he almost fell into the tub in his dazed condition. He removed his clothes and filled a bucket with cold water to wake himself up. Dumping it over his head produced the desired reaction, and his sleepiness vanished like morning fog. After cleaning up, he dressed in one of his new uniforms. It chafed a little at his neck, something he hadn't noticed when he had tried it on the day before.
He had memorized a detailed map of the area and made mental note of the best route that he could take to reach the Academy. After eating a surprisingly large breakfast, he headed out the door, carrying the new bookbag that his mother had purchased for him. It was filled with his lunch and necessary school supplies. He would pick up his texts at the Academy. He waved at his mother as he left.
"Have a good day at school today, Ranma." Nodoka watched him head out the front door. I hope he makes some friends, she thought with a smile.
At the Academy, Nabiki was already conducting her morning business with one of her slower-paying loan recipients, a second-year cadet wearing a blue uniform. They were over at her usual place to conduct private negotiations, around the side of the main building. Akane stood behind her, slowly and loudly popping the knuckles in each hand and smiling evilly at the boy.
"I'm not eager to have Akane here have to hurt you, Jun-kun," said Nabiki in a falsely sympathetic tone of voice. "However, you didn't make your payment yesterday. I would assume that it had simply slipped your mind, but you also tried to hide from me. That made me think you might have been trying to avoid me."
"Honestly, Tendo-san, it wasn't like that," said the boy, alternating his gaze between the sisters. "I can give you the money today. Right now, in fact!" He held up a small, folded stack of currency notes. "I didn't have the money yesterday, but I knew that I would have it today. Please, take it."
Nabiki reached out and plucked the money from the cadet's hand. She quickly counted it and then smiled coldly. "You're short," she said mildly.
"What?" asked Jun in confusion. "It's all there, all six thousand yen."
"That covers you through yesterday," she said more pleasantly. "But it doesn't cover the penalty charges for making me have to ambush you like this, as well as another day's worth of interest. You owe me another five hundred yen."
"B-but that's all the money that I have left for this week," the boy said in stuttered protest.
"That's not my problem," she replied in cooler tones. "You can either pay me the rest, or I let Akane have you." The girl smiled another wolfish smile behind her sister; she enjoyed this part of her agreement with Nabiki.
"H-here it is," said Jun weakly, as he pulled the remaining note from his pocket. Nabiki pulled it from his unresisting fingers and stepped back.
"Go on now. We're through here, unless you'd like a loan to pay for lunch this week?" She smiled as the boy bolted away, running for the front of the Academy. Nabiki didn't care; he always came back to her. He was typical of the type of weaklings that kept her supplied with nice things, aided by the substantial threat of her little sister.
"That was fun," said Akane with a smile. "He never seems to learn, does he?" She took the money that her sister held out to her and pocketed her share. "Do we have any more business this morning?"
"Well, we can see if we can catch a look at this new wonder boy that's coming today that I've been hearing about." Nabiki quickly pocketed the remaining yen notes. "He's supposed to be brilliant. He's been studying in Russia until recently."
"What's his name?" asked Akane with interest. A new student meant a possible new challenge for her skills. "Have you heard if he can fight?"
"His name's Ranma Saotome." Nabiki started walking towards the front of the Academy grounds. "Daddy's mentioned the name once or twice that I can remember, but it doesn't sound like he's the fighter that you've been looking for. From what I hear, he isn't any kind of fighter at all."
"Darn," said Akane as she kicked a loose stone from her path.
Walking along the quiet streets of the Nerima region of Greater Tokyo, Ranma enjoyed the early morning sunshine as best he could on as little sleep as he had had. A few other cadets were seen heading in the same direction as him, dressed in either science blue or security gray uniforms. He got a few curious looks from some of them.
Finally, he reached the outer wall that surrounded the grounds of the Imperial Academy. It reminded him unpleasantly of some kind of prison complex, several imposing-looking buildings filling the middle and visible over the tall wall. Built almost ninety years ago, it was a very stolid but dreary-looking structure. The Emperor of that time had wanted to construct a site for serious learning, designed along the lines of the finest schools of far-off lands such as Germany or Russia. The architecture was to mirror the seriousness of the purpose it was built for, but Ranma just found it oppressive. When he reached the gate, small groups of cadets were standing in the front courtyard region and chatting with each other.
He walked in through the gate, ignoring the whispered conversations and furtive looks cast in his direction, and paused inside the gate area. His first order of business was to locate Fuyutsuki's office. Spotting a small group of male cadets wearing blue like himself, he approached them.
"Hello there." Ranma offered a polite bow of greeting. "I was wondering if someone could tell me how to find Fuyutsuki-sensei's office?"
Akane and Nabiki stood with a small group of Nabiki's other informants and operatives. In essence, the middle Tendo daughter ran her own little fief on the Academy grounds, composed of first and second-year security cadets. Some did it for the money that she paid them for having useful information or assisting her with expanding her numerous other business interests. Others did it out of a desire to attach themselves to someone with as promising a future career as the Tendo girl already had lain out.
"That's him," said one of the second-year cadets, a tall girl named Yohko Mano. As the 109th-generation Devil Hunter of her line, she was expected to follow in her family's traditions, but her abilities had earned her a slot at the Imperial Academy, nominally as a security cadet. Yohko shared Akane's passion for the martial arts, and they sometimes sparred. Before Akane arrived, she had been Nabiki's primary enforcer, but the Mano girl far preferred gathering information to making people bleed.
The younger Tendo looked the new arrival over and wasn't very impressed. Dressed in uniform, he looked much like any other male science cadet on campus, except for his short pigtail. From the way that he moved, she could tell that he had no combat training at all. Disappointment filled her when he passed nearby, even as she felt sudden warmth on her cheeks that surprised her. She noticed Nabiki looking at her and felt angry at herself. The heat faded quickly from her face, so she hoped that none of her fellow cadets had noticed.
Nabiki was curious to see the wonder boy who had somehow surpassed her on the entrance exams. According to her source in the administration offices, he had received a perfect score, the first ever in the history of the Academy. He looked ordinary enough to her, and she glanced over at Akane to see what sort of impression that the boy in question had made on her sister.
The middle Tendo daughter was surprised to see Akane actually blushing. Her sister's face then got an angry look on it, and Nabiki filed those two events away for future reference. She could admit to herself that she felt a subtle attraction to him herself when he passed nearby, almost as if she recognized him from someplace. It was strange; she had always considered herself to be above such matters like romantic impulses.
If I know Akane, there's a simple way to ensure that she doesn't come between me and Ranma until I can determine my own level of interest in him. With that analysis out of the way, Nabiki began to plan out her strategy.
Ranma stood outside Fuyutsuki's office and knocked on the door.
"Come in," said a voice from within. The pigtailed boy opened the door and stepped inside the office, closing the door behind him. The office was rather Spartan in design, a few books on the shelves, three paintings on the wall, a Navi terminal in the corner, and a single plant in the window. The paintings were all Western works, Renaissance era, if Ranma was correct in his guess. He couldn't identify the painters, but art had always been a weak region of his scholarly studies.
"Fuyutsuki-sensei?" There was a slight nervousness in his voice. "I'm Ranma Saotome."
The older man behind the desk looked up and smiled at him, in a rather grandfatherly sort of way. How you've grown, Ranma, thought the man approvingly. Genma's done very well with his assigned part in the Project, raising you on his own out in the world, without a mother's influence to corrupt male socialization. Now that you're here, I'll have to see if we can train your physical abilities to their full potentials. From his reports, I can see that your father somewhat neglected that area of your development in not pushing you harder.
"Have a seat, Saotome-san. Let me be one of the first to welcome you to the Imperial Academy. I just know that this is the beginning of a very bright future for you."
"Thank you, Fuyutsuki-sensei." Ranma sat down as the professor behind himself and pulled a pair of teacups out, setting one in front of the pigtailed boy. The older man retrieved a small teapot and poured some in each cup.
"So tell me a little about yourself, Saotome-san," he said with a smile. "After we're done here, I'll have my secretary hand you your class itinerary, and then I'll escort you to your first class."
"That sounds fine, sir," said Ranma in respectful tones. "I was wondering if I could make a special request though, while I'm here?"
"Go right ahead, Saotome-san," replied the older man. He folded his hands and leaned forward to listen with interest.
"I've been working on a personal research project for quite some time, and I was hoping that you might have some private lab space that I could use, as well as helping me obtain some equipment. I have lists prepared of what I would need. Would that be possible?"
"Of course, Saotome-san," he said with a smile. "Your father has told me a little of this secret work that you've been up to. Something that will change the face of modern quantum physics, I believe he said. You leave the lists with my secretary, and she will see to it that you get everything on it."
"Thank you, sir," said Ranma with a smile. "You don't know how much this means to me."
The overhead fluorescent lights clicked on in the empty storeroom in one of the sub-basements of the Academy. Ranma looked at the small piles of junk that occupied the corners, as well as the thick layer of dust on the floor, with a wry look. This wasn't quite what I had in mind, he thought, slightly sullenly. Behind him stood Fuyutsuki.
"This is the only unused space that we have available right now that you could use for a lab, Saotome-san," said the older man. "However, it's yours for the asking. The door is solid steel and quite strong, and the electrical system should be adequate for your power needs. There's a sink in the corner for water, and you can tell by the dust on the floor that it's dry. Once you clean out the junk in here and sweep it out, you'll have a nice place to work."
"It looks like it will be fine, Fuyutsuki-sensei. I know that I'll be able to do big things with it. A month from now, you won't even recognize the place. I plan to turn it into a first-rate lab."
"Excellent, young man," said Fuyutsuki pleasantly. "Now I'll take you to your first class, and you can start getting to know some of your fellow cadets."
"All right, sir," said Ranma as he shut off the lights and closed the door, pocketing the key that Fuyutsuki had given him.
"Class, I'd like to introduce a new student to you; his name is Ranma Saotome," said the instructor. "He is recently joining us after completing studies in Russia and Europe."
The pigtailed boy quickly bowed a greeting to the class. He had been assigned to Room 3-A for his first-year term. Apparently, first-year cadets were on the top floor, second-year on the middle floor, and the third-year ones were on the ground floor. The administration and other offices shared space on that level with the senior cadets. With his workspace in the basement, Ranma resigned himself to climbing a lot of stairs.
He looked out at those who were going to be his classmates for the next three years. About thirty adolescent boys and girls stared back at him, in a roughly even mix of blue and gray uniforms. He realized that he should probably say something rather than stand there like a mute.
"Hello." He smiled. "I am honored to be here."
The instructor directed him to an empty seat near one of the windows and continued the interrupted class. It was on mathematics.
Ranma was bored in less than five minutes. He pretended to listen to the instructor as he made a few notes on some of his equations and schematics.
Akane was running late to her next class, the one that she enjoyed most during the day. Yuka, one of Nabiki's junior assistants had needed to get some notes from her on what had been covered in history class yesterday, so she was now late. She burst into the locker room area at a running pace, came to a fast stop at her locker, and immediately began stripping off her clothes.
She was the only occupant of the room, the rest of her class having already changed clothes and gone on ahead. She hurriedly removed her jacket and skirt and hung them up as neatly as she could, as she kicked off her shoes at the same time. She unbuttoned her blouse and removed it quickly. Her hands went to remove her bra next, her thoughts already on class.
After stuffing his new textbooks in his assigned locker on the way to his class in physical education, Ranma headed out. He felt confident that he could perform to the instructor's satisfaction. While on the plane, he had read the Academy manual on the required performance levels and did not think that they would be difficult to attain. He had been running ten kilometers a day, as well as training in gymnastics and some moderate weightlifting for the last ten years, to stay in shape and keep from getting to look like his overweight father.
This class won't be any trouble at all, he mused.
He was wrong, but not for any reason he would ever expect.
Most of the other members of his class were already outside and ready when Ranma finally arrived at the locker rooms. He stopped to take a quick glance at the symbols on the doors to determine which one was the men's side. A moment later, he opened and ran through the door on the left side.
After the door closed, Nabiki calmly walked by and switched the signs back to their proper placement, a wicked grin on her face. This was going to be one of her best gags on her little sister yet, and it would have the added benefit of souring any possible interest that Akane could have in the boy. She checked with her lookout and received a nod that nobody had seen anything. Smiling, she walked to her next class.
Akane was clad only in her panties when Ranma suddenly came to a halt right in front of her and froze. They stared at each other for several agonizingly long moments. A small trickle of blood appeared below his nose, and she felt a surge of warmth flood across her face. The calm did not last.
"Uh," Ranma started to say, and that snapped her out of her reverie.
"HOW DARE YOU?" shouted Akane in rage. She felt angry and embarrassed by the unexpected intrusion, so she reverted to her easiest reaction option, violence. "YOU PERVERT!"
Ranma barely even saw her move when the girl's fist struck him across his jaw. His head snapped around, and he saw an entire galaxy of stars explode across his vision. He impacted against the lockers, struggling to remain standing upright. She quickly followed up and slammed a knee strike up into his stomach when he didn't do the sensible thing and immediately collapse where he stood. His mind was still trying to figure out what was happening while she kept attacking him.
After punching Ranma in the face a second time, Akane's hand came away with some of his blood on it. He faltered and finally collapsed to his knees, and she finished him off with an axe kick down on his shoulder. Luckily for him, the Tendo girl didn't put her full power behind it, or his left shoulder would have been dislocated from the impact.
A comforting darkness embraced the pigtailed boy as his thoughts faded away into unconsciousness.
Akane stared down at the fallen intruder and slowly regained control of herself. The red haze that had seemed to fall across her vision faded away as she absently wiped Ranma's blood off of her knuckles. What a pathetic weakling, she thought with mild disgust. A few hits and he folds. Her sister was right after all, saying this guy wasn't any kind of a fighter.
One of the assistant instructors came in as the Tendo girl finished dressing for class. Akane had checked Ranma to make sure he wasn't going to die on her, but had otherwise left his body where it had fallen. The worst of his injuries was a bloody nose, the source of the blood that had smeared her knuckles earlier. She looked up at the instructor.
"What happened here?" asked the woman in confusion. She knelt down and examined the pigtailed boy.
"This pervert came in while I was changing, and I beat him up for it," replied Akane calmly. She really wanted to get going to class now. Thoughts of him made her feel uncomfortable, so she did her best to ignore him lying there.
The instructor told her to stay where she was while she went for help for Ranma. She sighed and did as she was told, nudging the fallen boy with a foot and blaming him in her thoughts for what had happened. I won't ever forget this, you jerk. You made the biggest mistake of your life when you tried to peep on me.
Later, while standing in front of a glowering Fuyutsuki, Akane actually felt a little worried. She had been called into his office a few times before for fighting with other cadets, but she had always gotten off with a simple reprimand.
Not this time.
She received a week's worth of detention for harming Ranma. The man hadn't bothered to listen to her excuse that the pigtailed boy had walked in on her while she was almost naked. Oh no, thought Akane sullenly, recalling her impression of Fuyutsuki's words. Ranma must have made a simple mistake and walked into the wrong side. Yeah, right.
"Damn you, Ranma," muttered the girl under her breath, as she walked to her last class of the day. "I'll make you pay for getting me into trouble like this. I swear it!"
Ranma woke up in the nurse's office, an ice pack resting against his jaw. He felt awful. An attempt to sit up made his stomach muscles protest, so he decided that lying where he was for a few more minutes wouldn't hurt. He lightly rubbed his nose and felt a dull ache instead of a sharp pain, so it was apparently unbroken. Thank heaven for that, he thought with a grateful sigh.
He looked over at the clock on the wall and saw that it was after four, his classes were over for the day. Tomorrow had to be better than this day was.
After classes were over, Nabiki walked home by herself, having learned that Akane had gotten detention for attacking Ranma. Her little sister was so easy to manipulate sometimes, she mused with a smile. Playing little mind games and pranks on Akane was good practice for Nabiki's own future career in the Security Directorate, or at least she thought so. She was a little disappointed that Ranma had been so easy to fool with her little trick. She had expected a bit more of him than to fall for something as simple as reversing signs.
Oh well, she thought. I can have some fun with those two while I make my decision about Saotome. She walked home with a happy spring in her stride, pondering the pigtailed boy's possibilities as a potential prospect for a suitor.
Later that afternoon, Nodoka stared at her battered son in mild shock. "What happened to you, Ranma?"
"I'd really rather not talk about it. It looks worse than it is." He sipped at his tea, wrinkling his nose slightly under the strip of medical tape covering it. According to the nurse, his injuries were simple bumps and bruises.
"Yes, but it looks like you were in a fight," insisted Nodoka. "Were you?"
"I can honestly say that I wasn't fighting, Mother," he replied sincerely. Yeah, I just got beat up by some nearly-naked girl named Akane Tendo. Like he could tell his mother that. "I just had an accident at the Academy. That's all. I'll be more careful next time."
"Leave the boy be, Nodoka-chan," said Genma, finally chiming in. "If he says that he's fine, then he's fine."
"Yes, but Genma-" she said in a worried tone.
"I said, leave it be," Genma said a little more strongly. She glanced at him with a mildly angry expression, and he sighed mentally. I'm going to be paying for that one for a day or two, he realized very quickly. She doesn't like to be ordered around like that. He briefly wondered if he would have been happier with a more compliant woman for a wife.
Probably not, he decided with a wry smile, as he sipped his tea.
The next morning, Ranma overslept again. Nodoka hoped that it was only the jetlag still bothering him, since her husband hadn't readjusted yet either. Like the dutiful mother she knew herself to be, she shook Ranma awake and hustled him into the bathroom to get ready.
Honestly, she thought with a smile, I hope that this isn't going to be some sort of regular occurrence. I'm his mother, not an alarm clock. At least he healed up quickly since yesterday. He doesn't even have any bruises left.
Ranma arrived at the Academy and made his way into the building. He managed to make it to class with less than a minute to spare, and he spent the time in his morning classes working on his equations. He listened every now and then to make sure that he wasn't missing anything that could be important, but so far it had all been material that he was very familiar with.
When it came time for physical education, he carefully made sure that he walked in the right door for the locker rooms. He was a bit irritated with himself for making such a stupid blunder yesterday, but 'The Thug' (a nickname that he had chosen to dub Akane with) could have waited for him to explain his presence before attacking him.
Coach Harumasa Takami made it clear what he thought of Ranma on that first day of class. The instructor was a retired military man, a twenty-year veteran, and he treated his students like recruits. Ranma, arriving late in the term for his class, apparently warranted 'special' attention from the man.
"So you expect to pass this class, Saotome?" barked Coach Takami into his face as he stood at his place in line. The pigtailed boy blinked in surprise.
"Yes, sir," answered Ranma in a clear voice. He was uncertain why the instructor would think otherwise.
"What was that?" barked Coach Takami, a little louder. "I can't hear you, Saotome!"
"YES, SIR!" the pigtailed boy blasted back. He focused his eyes on a point in the distance and didn't let his attention waver from it. It seemed to be the most sensible thing to do at the time.
Coach Takami walked around Ranma's slender form and muttered darkly to himself, apparently very disappointed with the state of its physical condition. The pigtailed boy didn't catch too many of the words, but he resented being referred to as a hopeless weakling as well as all of the alternative phrases that Coach Takami used that meant the same thing.
At her place in the girl's line, Akane felt smug. She was one of the coach's favorite students and the most skilled athlete in the class. She was going to enjoy showing Ranma up in class this term. She still felt a faint, simmering anger at his actions in the locker room the previous day, smothering any other feelings that she might have had earlier. She also felt disappointment that he had been so weak.
After an unexpectedly grueling hour for Ranma of doing very intensive calisthenics and fifteen kilometers of running at a faster pace than he was used to, the instructor had thrown up his hands and declared the boy to be a sad waste of an Imperial citizen. He was given two hours of extra training time after normal classes each day until his condition reached 'acceptable' levels, acceptable to the coach that is. Ranma still had enough strength in his body to groan at what was to come.
The pigtailed boy practically dragged himself to the locker rooms, one of the last ones in. He noticed Akane, already showered and changed, standing next to the locker room doors. She put an arm across his path when he tried to stagger past her. He sighed and waited for her to speak.
"Let's get something straight between us, Saotome," she said coldly. "I don't want you to say one word about whatever you might have seen of me yesterday, okay? If I hear you bragging about peeping on me, I'll come down on you harder than an entire division of Imperial marines."
"Believe me, Tendo-san, when I say this," said Ranma tiredly. "I just want to forget about yesterday. Nobody is going to hear anything about you from me, so can I go shower now?"
"They'd better not." Akane waved a fist under his nose. "I have a lot more of what I gave you yesterday, if I even hear a hint of you bragging about seeing me naked."
Like I would ever brag about seeing your naked form, Tendo-san, thought the pigtailed boy sullenly. Wisely, he said nothing of his thoughts, but nodded woodenly instead. "They won't hear a thing from me."
She walked off with a harrumph sound, and he tiredly went in to get a nice hot shower. If he had been thinking clearer, Ranma would have seen that she seemed disappointed that he hadn't stood up to her.
Having finally reached his last class period of the day before he had to report back to Coach Takami for his extra exercise classes, Ranma quickly unlocked the door to the basement storage room that was now going to be his lab space. He reached around the corner and flicked on the lights. They snapped on with a slight hum. He eyed the boxes of junk strewn about the room and sighed, thinking, this isn't going to get itself cleaned up, so I'd better get started.
Almost an hour later, the pigtailed boy dragged the last of the boxes out of the room and dumped them into the trash incinerator. He had checked each box to see if anything interesting was in them, but they all seemed to contain useless trash: moldy old textbooks and discarded newspapers. It had taken him less time than he had thought it would to remove them all. That left sweeping to do, and then he could start bringing in all of the equipment that he would need and beginning work.
Akane stared out the window of the detention hall, as the sun lowered in the sky. One of the junior instructors had given her a paper to write on the benefits of controlling anger, but she had finished it quickly. Now all she had left to do was watch out the window as the remainder of her hour ticked away. The only bright spot to her was where the window looked out on.
Outside, Akane could see Ranma puffing his way around the track while Coach Takami shouted at him through a bullhorn.
"COME ON, SAOTOME!" shouted Coach Takami through his bullhorn. "PICK UP THE PACE! I'M GETTING OLD AND GRAY WAITING FOR YOU TO FINISH! DON'T FORGET THAT YOU STILL HAVE TO DO MORE WEIGHT TRAINING TO BUILD UP THAT LAUGHABLE EXCUSE FOR A BODY YOU HAVE!"
Ranma thought dark thoughts and kept running, his anger keeping him going at the pace that the coach had set. He was not about to give the old man the satisfaction of seeing him break, so he kept going. His lungs were burning in his chest like fire, his legs were aching from the strain of his pace, but he was not about to quit.
The kids got guts, thought Takami with a grudging amount of respect. He could see that the boy was actually in really good shape, leanly built from his pre-Academy training in gymnastics, but he couldn't let Ranma know that. He would have instituted a somewhat lighter regimen for the pigtailed boy, but Fuyutsuki had given him his orders.
"Take Saotome to his limits, and then push him just a little harder," Fuyutsuki had told him.
That was what Takami was doing. If the Academy's headmaster wanted to give Ranma a test of his physical abilities, one that could make even a Special Forces applicant cry, then Coach Takami was determined to take the boy to the ragged limits of whatever he was capable of. He would treat the pigtailed boy to as rigorous a training regimen as he could think of. Besides, the overtime pay would be nice.
A week passed, and Ranma slowly settled into a routine.
He finished cleaning out his new lab space and even went so far as to repaint the walls and floors with a fresh coat of white paint. All of his requisition requests began arriving in small lots, and he started to assemble the bare bones of his invention. A small but well-equipped electronics workbench took shape in the center of the room through his efforts, and he found a long couch in another one of the storage rooms that was perfect for his needs.
One of the most vital, key components that he had needed was one of the prototype superconducting neural interlink headsets. It was almost beyond state of the art, a bleeding-edge piece of hardware, designed and built by 'the' name in computers and high-end electronic components in the Empire, Shinohara Heavy Industries. In recent months they had begun doing some experiments with various methods of linking man and machine electronically. The headset linked with the cerebral cortex by means of electromagnetic induction, and it would allow Ranma the much-needed interface with his device.
He sat with his notebook on the table in front of him, occasionally glancing at it as he worked on the circuit board in front of him. It was going to take many more days of careful work to test and align all of the components before he was ready to begin work on the heart of the system: the quantum flux coil. He still didn't have all of the needed materials to begin creating it.
Ranma puffed around the track as fast as he could manage while the coach kept yelling some impressive threats at him. After only a couple of weeks, he was already beginning to notice a marked difference in his physique. His mother had commented on his increase in appetite, but it was necessary to keep up with his new energy needs. He could admit to himself that he was eating twice as much as he had needed before and was still often hungry.
More weeks passed.
Ranma was now not only able to keep up with the manual's stated physical performance requirements, but he had far surpassed them. However, the coach didn't let up on him, to the pigtailed boy's great surprise. If anything, the workouts became even more grueling. The highly intensive program of weightlifting and gymnastics began to add a surprising amount of muscle definition and flexibility to his frame for so short a time. When he had thought to complain about the unnecessary added work that was still being given to him, Fuyutsuki calmly informed him that the Academy was individually designed to train its cadets to their best possible levels. If the pigtailed boy was able to do more, then he would be trained harder.
It made a certain amount of sense, even if it did feel sadistic, and the exercise had produced the very surprising effect of sharpening his mind and focus even more than he was capable of before. He continued to excel at all of his classes, he was getting near to finishing the quantum flux coil, and he was getting stronger with each passing day.
Ranma kept one arm behind his back as he did pushups with the other. His posture was rigid, his legs straight and spread apart. The muscles on his arms and shoulders had filled out from daily exercises such as this, and he still had parallel bars training after this. Sweat slowly dripped from his face onto the pavement from his efforts. Ninety-seven, ninety-eight, ninety-nine, one hundred, he mentally counted off as he finished a set. He quickly switched arms and began all over again.
Off to one side, Takami smiled. This boy is just incredible, he thought as he checked over the charts detailing Ranma's development once more, still unable to believe just how rapidly his charge was improving. The pigtailed boy's physical abilities were increasing at a rate that was at least four times what a normal human should be able to improve at, even with the extra training that he was undergoing. Every time he thought he had found the boy's limits, Ranma would exceed it, his physical prowess continuing to grow by leaps and bounds.
The only slow portion of the pigtailed boy's improvement had been in his combat skills. And Akane seemed to take great pleasure in proving that to him every chance that she could.
Ranma slammed down onto the mat and lay there, stunned for a moment. A sympathetic, muted groan came from his fellow male cadets, most of them extremely grateful that they were not out there working with Akane as their practice partner. Ranma wished once again that he knew why the coach hated him so much as to keep pairing him with 'The Thug.'
"Saotome," said Takami, shaking his head. "That was truly pathetic. Now get up and try it again."
Above him, a cheerful Akane loomed over him and waited for him to try getting up once more. They were practicing barehanded combat while wearing white dogis. She smiled down at him. "Yeah, Ranma, that was pathetic. Are you going to let me keep throwing you around like this? Not that it isn't a lot of fun."
If there is true justice in the universe, then someday I'll find a way to wipe that smug look from your face, Akane Tendo, thought Ranma darkly as he got up to his knees and stood up once more.
A few seconds later, he crashed to the mat once again. He decided to lie there for a while, at least until the room stopped spinning.
After weeks of effort, Ranma was finally ready to test the new quantum flux coil to see if he had it right yet. Several previous attempts had yielded nothing more than a slight headache and a faint sort of buzzing sensation in his skull. He kept adjusting the tolerances minutely and knew that he was getting closer. This was his third try, and he hoped that it was the charmed one.
He booted up the stripped-down software algorithm that he had written to operate the hardware for these initial tests. The full linkup package was disengaged since he was just working on establishing a signature phase lock, instead of full immersion with an alternate reality. The software finished its self-test and the pigtailed boy found himself crossing his fingers.
Seated, with the neural interlink headset on his head, Ranma let the system slowly run through its calculations as it scanned his brain's electromagnetic pattern. He already had several ideas on speeding up the scanning process that had occurred to him, but he had yet to attempt to implement any of them. He wanted to get the core of the software debugged before he began adding modifications and enhancements.
"Okay," Ranma softly muttered to himself. "Scan is complete. The quantum pulse is activated. Let's see if I can make contact." He tapped a couple of keys, and the screen cleared.
* STAGE ONE INTERLINK SOFTWARE RUNNING. STAND BY.
Ranma suddenly experienced a brief flash of... something. He hurriedly began tapping keys, watching a mathematical representation of two sine waves slowly moving into synchronization. The software slowly began adjusting itself.
"Come on," he muttered. "Synchronize!"
*** Earth +0.001,-0.004
Ranma blinked as a migraine headache suddenly hit him. He set down the book of classical Chinese poetry that he had been reading and closed his eyes. That seemed to lessen the pain in his head as he took a few deep breaths to calm his nerves. He felt a hand on his arm.
"Son?" asked Nodoka's voice. "Are you feeling all right?"
"I'm fine, Mother. I just seem to have developed a slight headache right now. Perhaps some tea might help."
"You're probably working too hard, just like your father," she said as she headed for the kitchen.
The pain suddenly disappeared as quickly as it had begun.
*** Earth 0.000, 0.000
The pigtailed boy stared at the two sine waves as they moved apart once more. He still didn't have the paraequipotential phase variance aspect in his equations quite correct, and he had been so sure. He cut the power to the device and let it cool off as he went back to work on adjusting the algorithm.
I was so close. I almost managed to achieve full synchronization.
The next day Ranma made the mistake of taking his lunch break near where the Tendo sisters conducted their daily business dealings. He had his back against a tree when he heard footsteps and faint conversation a short distance away from his position. He peeked around the edge of the tree to see Akane and Nabiki confronting a male cadet.
The younger Tendo held the blue uniformed first-year cadet up against the wall as her sister spoke with a calm voice behind her. The girl kept one fist cocked back in striking position.
"Now, Hideo-kun," said Nabiki calmly. "Despite my previous attempts to resolve the matter of your loan peaceably, you continue to avoid paying me what you owe me. Your debt has grown to a rather sizable amount, almost fifteen thousand yen according to my records."
The boy began to protest when Akane's hand squeezed down on his throat, stifling his voice to a gurgle. He thrashed a bit and tried to pull her hand away from his windpipe. She swiftly buried her fist into his stomach, ending his efforts to free himself as he sagged down weakly.
Ranma moved closer and noticed that none of the other cadets appeared to notice what was going on. The nearest ones all seemed to be wearing gray uniforms, and they were apparently acting as lookouts. Ranma finally managed to get within hearing range of what was going on.
"That was very stupid, Hideo-kun," purred Nabiki as she leaned in towards the boy. "It's hard enough for me to control Akane's temper without you trying to resist."
He started to whimper a little.
"Now that isn't going to help matters at all." She calmly reached her hand under his chin and lifted his face upwards. "This is very simple. Where's my money?"
Hideo reached a trembling hand into his pants pocket and pulled out a billfold. Nabiki's eyes took on a happy glow as she saw the object of her desires. She snatched it out of his hands and began counting off notes. She suddenly frowned as she realized something.
"There's more than enough here to pay off your loan, Hideo-kun," she said softly. "We could have avoided all of this unpleasantness if you had simply spoken up more quickly." Nabiki pulled fifteen yen notes from out of the stack and tossed the billfold back to him, as Akane released her grip on his neck.
"Sorry, Tendo-senpai," said the boy quietly as he stooped to pick up his money. "You won't have to worry about me doing anything like that ever again." He placed the billfold back in his pants pocket.
Akane noticed a gleam of steel appear in his hand suddenly and shoved her sister out of the way as Hideo made a wild slash with a long knife. She cursed under her breath as she realized that she should have taken the time to search him, a mistake that she swore to herself that she would never again make in the future. She ducked under his next swing.
Suddenly, Ranma found himself frozen where he stood for a moment as he watched the deadly duel take place. As much as he disliked the younger Tendo for her actions towards him, he wasn't really happy with the thought of her getting stabbed. He started to rise up slowly, unsure what he should do, when she took matters into her own hands.
Akane ducked under Hideo's weapon arm and shoved it aside as her other hand came up underneath the boy's jaw in a palm strike. There was a loud, crunching noise as her palm impacted with the bones of his face. She quickly followed up by capturing his outstretched arm with her blocking hand and driving his wrist towards her uprising knee.
The boy gave out a cry of pain as his wrist gave off a popping sound, possibly broken or at least sprained, and his knife sailed off a few feet away. Akane left him there, cradling his wrist and moaning softly, as blood appeared at the corners of his mouth. She backed up warily and retrieved the knife, before handing it to her sister.
Nabiki stared at the blade in her hand, surprised that such a thing had taken place. She debated having Akane hurt Hideo further, as an object lesson to anyone else seeking to harm her, but finally decided against it. It was going to be hard enough to explain how he had gotten injured to the Academy administration without causing a black mark on anyone's record. Despite the rather ruthless reputation that she had carefully cultivated, Nabiki didn't enjoy seeing anyone in pain. It struck her as wasteful effort.
"Look at me, Hideo-kun," she said Nabiki. The injured boy raised his eyes up slowly. "We were finished. You didn't have to attack me. So, why?"
"I-I was tired of being afraid, Tendo-senpai," said Hideo in a trembling tone of voice. "I'm sorry. I'm so sorry." He burst into tears and slumped down even lower than he had been, the picture of misery.
Ranma moved away as silently as he could. He retrieved his book and snuck away, grateful that he hadn't been seen.
A week later, Ranma made his breakthrough. He tapped in the last of the program changes and waited for it to compile. Now I've got it, he crowed mentally in triumph. He settled the neural interlink headset on his skull and waited for the scanning cycle to finish. He had managed to cut the time down to less than a minute.
"We have quantum pulse," he murmured with a smile. "Let's do it." He tapped a couple of keys, and the screen cleared.
* STAGE ONE INTERLINK SOFTWARE RUNNING. STAND BY.
Ranma felt that familiar brief flash of non-existence, for lack of a better term. The screen showed the two sine waves slowly moving closer together as he made the last few adjustments in the program manually, operating almost by feel alone. As he watched, the two sine waves kept moving closer into synchronization as the software finished its last adjustments and began to stabilize.
"Yes," he muttered. "Synchronize, damn you. Come on, synchronize!"
*** Earth -0.003,-0.002
Ranma paused in his playing, and the sounds of the piano stilled. He looked out at the skyline of Paris as a faint buzzing sensation seemed to appear inside his skull. It was like a handful of bees had been released inside his brain. The buzzing steadily grew louder.
*** Earth 0.000, 0.000
The pigtailed boy let out a cheer when the two sine waves coalesced into a single waveform. He waited for the final waveform to stabilize, and a line of text suddenly scrolled across the screen.
* SIGNATURE LOCK ESTABLISHED: 100% SIGNAL STABILITY
"I did it!" he whooped to the ceiling. "I DID IT!"
*** Earth -0.003,-0.002
Ranma suddenly felt the buzzing sensation cease. He shook his head, and his thoughts felt fuzzy, like he was drunk. He continued to stare out at the early morning sky over Paris.
*** Earth 0.000, 0.000
After he was certain that the signal remained stable, Ranma activated the shutdown procedure. There were still some minor bugs in the core software, but he would iron those out as he finished up his preliminary tests. He removed the headset and cheered once more.
*** Earth -0.003,-0.002
Ranma immediately felt like a veil had been lifted from his mind. He shrugged, deciding that it probably wasn't anything important, and then returned to his playing. The sounds of one of Beethoven's most famous piano concertos began to fill the room once more.
*** Earth 0.000, 0.000
The pigtailed boy leaned back and closed his eyes. After some two years of effort, his work was finally showing results. He sighed happily and settled back down before the computer screen. Pulling the keyboard close, he began typing, cross-linking other components that he had coded separately into his main software to construct the final version. He stopped right after he installed the remaining modules and ran a few more tests, studying the alignment of the paraequipotential flux. His equipment could compensate for a certain amount of phase differential, but it still had a limit to what it could deal with.
When he loaded in his new scanning module to the software, he tested it and was pleased to learn he had cut the scan time down to less than fifteen seconds. He was almost done with his final version of the software when he looked up at the clock to see that it was now nearly four in the afternoon. He had to get to his extra training class.
Ranma shut down power to his equipment, pleased that he was finally about to enter into the final stage of testing, full immersion into an alternate life. He pulled the main circuit board and made mental notes of where he needed to replace the wire-wrapping with solder before he began his first full-power test run. A broad smile was on his face throughout, and he knew that tomorrow was going to be the day that he changed the world.
The morning quiet was interrupted by a loud ringing sound. A hand emerged from beneath a light blanket, slowly reaching and fumbling around for the source of the noise. A muted grumbling was heard from beneath the blanket as the hand took several long moments to track the sound to its source on the table. A brief struggle was won, and silence reigned over the bedroom once more.
A few minutes later, the door opened with a loud bang. A pair of pink slippered feet made their way into the room and stopped next to the futon. A rather angry female voice suddenly made itself known.
"Ranma! You are not going to be late for your classes again if I have anything to say about it!" The figure waited to see what reaction occurred, slowly tapping one slippered foot.
More grumbling was heard from beneath the blanket, then a little bit of motion. The motion became more and more frantic over the next several seconds, accompanied by more grumbling. Ranma emerged from beneath the covers.
"I'm up, Mother," he said sullenly, as his pleasant dream promptly evaporated into nothing.
Satisfied that her son was now awake and would not be late for his classes, Nodoka swept out of the room to finish making breakfast.
Sitting on the edge of his futon, Ranma wished for the thousandth time that his parents weren't such traditionalists that he could have had a bed. His mother would be scandalized at the thought, and his father would simply agree with his mother.
He got up off the floor and walked over to his small closet. When he reached it, he slid open the door. He pulled his uniform out of his closet with a hint of distaste. Even though it was tailored to fit quite well, he still disliked wearing it on general principles. He put on a clean shirt and socks from the drawer. He eyed the hated uniform for a moment before struggling into it.
Now I look like a proper student for the Imperial Academy, he mused, looking at his reflection in the mirror. His mind was full of sincere hopes that he wouldn't run into any trouble today. Today was going to be his first full-power test. The last thing that he needed was trouble distracting him from that.
Breakfast was the usual quiet affair. Genma kept his nose buried in the newspaper, occasionally turning pages or grumbling at one of the new developments in the world. Nodoka busied herself with delivering the usual delicious meal to the table before she herself sat down to eat.
The family ate in relative silence. Ranma gobbled down his food as fast as he could while under his mother's watchful eye, trying to avoid her usual morning lecture on his table manners. His father occasionally gulped down some food, briefly emerging from behind the barrier of his newspaper. All in all, it was another typical morning in the Saotome household.
Upon finishing with his breakfast, the pigtailed boy picked up his bookbag and stuffed his personal notebook deep down inside. Inside it was all of his work so far on his experiments, complete with all of his revisions for his calculations. He slung his bookbag up onto his shoulder, put on his shoes, and headed out the door. His parents watched him as he headed down the street.
"I swear I don't know what is with that boy lately," grumbled Nodoka. "All he cares about is that project of his."
Genma grunted noncommittally. She turned to look at him, and her look was one that he had come to see lately all too often.
"He wants to prove your theories correct. Do you think he can?"
"Ranma will succeed. He will prove himself to be the greatest mind that the Empire has ever seen." Pride filled his voice.
"If you say so, Dearest." She smiled slightly.
Ranma walked along at a leisurely pace. Classes at the Academy were not what he really looked forward to anymore, not that he did poorly at them. On the contrary, they were too easy for him. After following his father all over the world for so many years, having learned at the feet of every scholar and scientist that the man could coerce into teaching him, attending normal classes had been a relief. Boredom had quickly set in, and his lack of social skills hadn't helped with his classmates.
He almost collided with one of the annoyances in his life when he turned the next corner. The pigtailed boy stumbled, dropping his bag, as a deft footsweep caused him to lose his balance. The day was still new, and it was already looking bad.
"Watch out, you clumsy weakling!" shouted an angry female voice. Ranma looked up and grimaced inwardly. Standing before him, in her usual gray cadet uniform, was Akane. Her older sister Nabiki stood next to her with a smirk on her face.
"Ranma-kun," purred the older Tendo girl. "You should make more of an effort to be aware of your surroundings." She flashed a cool smile that chilled him to the bone. Ranma was sure Nabiki already had a promising future mapped out for her in the Security Directorate.
This is all I need today, he thought, keeping his expression composed as he got back to his feet. 'The Thug,' as he referred to Akane in the privacy of his own thoughts, watched him stand up with a frown on her face. Nabiki watched him with her usual cool look of detached interest. He bowed his head after regaining his feet.
"My sincerest apologies, ladies." Ranma hoped the faint hint of mockery that he felt was not present in his voice. He kept his head down as Akane looked at him for a long moment, before she turned with an angry sniff and stomped away. Nabiki gave him another cool smile, and her hand reached out to caress his face. Her hand felt warm, but his skin crawled at her touch.
"Be more careful in the future, Ranma-kun," she purred. "We both know that Akane is one to bear grudges for the smallest of slights." She then turned with proper military form, and hurried only slightly to catch up with her sister.
Ranma watched them both walking off before taking a slightly different route to the Academy.
"You should learn to take it easy when it comes to him, little sister," said Nabiki pleasantly. She walked at Akane's side with an unconscious precision to her stride; her appearance was that of a proper Imperial officer. "All that anger can't be good for you."
"I still haven't forgiven him for what he did," the younger Tendo said with a slight growl to her voice. She kicked a stone through the fence and out into the drainage stream as she stomped along in a foul mood. Damn you, Ranma. I wish you weren't always such a weakling.
"As I recall it, that incident was just an accident," said Nabiki with a smile, recalling the other girl's mood that day after Ranma had walked into the girl's locker room. It had been one of her better pranks on her little sister, and it had also served Nabiki's purposes by keeping a distance between the two. The few of Nabiki's associates who knew of her involvement would never tell; she chose her allies carefully.
"I still think it was just an excuse that he made up in order to peep." Akane felt her insides begin to seethe from the memory.
"You also got detention for a week for harming the star intellect of the Academy," observed Nabiki with a smirk, as the younger Tendo blushed with very obvious annoyance. Despite their closeness, baiting her little sister had long been a favorite game for her, and it served to prove a realization that she had made about Akane a long time ago. The Tendo family had served with distinction in the Security Directorate for almost two centuries, but Nabiki just could not see her sister rising very far in rank due to her aggressive nature.
Akane grumbled softly to herself the rest of the way to the Academy, annoyed at her confused feelings for Ranma. They showed no signs of ever being resolved anytime soon.
Ranma finally arrived at the gate in the wall surrounding the Imperial Academy and walked into the courtyard. He nodded to a few of his fellow science cadets, receiving respectful nods in return as he headed into the main building. He did not really have any friends on campus, as work on his project kept him too busy for much socializing.
His morning classes were dull, as usual, even in the accelerated program that he was in. Falling asleep was a constant danger, but he had no desire to end up holding buckets for an hour if he did. To compensate for the dullness, Ranma composed mathematical proofs and wrote research papers in his head.
For example, in his Imperial History class, he listened half-heartedly as the instructor droned on about some of the lesser-known aspects of Earth's history. Who really cared about some failed revolution in Britain's old North American colonies? Most of the western region of that far-off continent had been colonized by the Empire for over a century, after a long war with Spain. Would the shape of the world really have changed that much if it had succeeded?
There had been peace in the world for the last several decades, since it was divided up among the three remaining superpowers after the Global War: Japan, Germany, and Russia. England was only recently managing to recover in the last few years from having had three nuclear weapons dropped on it during that conflict, almost two decades ago. France was still a going concern only due to its preeminence in space, but the Empire was a close second. Both Amaterasu Station and the interstellar colony ship Yamato, the latter now finishing up construction, were two of the greatest jewels in the Empire's own space efforts, heralding the start of the colonization of the solar system and beyond by Japan.
Finally, having received written permission from the instructor of his mathematics class, Ranma headed down to his small lab located in the basement levels. Today was going to be the day when he finally achieved his dream and saw another world.
Almost got it, thought the pigtailed boy, carefully adjusting the small soldering iron, as he placed the last chip back into its place on the circuit board. It snapped into place, held solidly by a few small daubs of solder. He pushed the board back into position and ran the system through final checkout. The monitor brightened into life next to him, as he sat with the keyboard in his lap. Ranma tapped a few keys when he was prompted for a user entry.
* SELF-CHECK COMPLETE
* ALL LOGIC COMPONENTS ARE FUNCTIONING WITHIN DESIGNATED PARAMETERS
* QUANTUM FLUX COIL IS FUNCTIONING WITHIN DESIGNATED PARAMETERS
* NEURAL INDUCTION SENSORS ARE FUNCTIONING WITHIN DESIGNATED PARAMETERS
* SYSTEM HAS 4 QUANTUM COORDINATES STORED IN STABLE MEMORY
* SCAN FOR NEW COORDINATES: YES
* SELECT QUANTUM REGION FOR SCAN: RANDOM
* SET CYCLE INTO ACTIVE MODE: YES
* SET TIME DURATION FOR TEST: 60.00 MINUTES
* WAITING FOR SIGNAL FROM NEURAL INTERLINK HEADSET
He sat back and contemplated the machine assembled in front of him in his private lab, hardly able to believe that it was finally finished. Two years of working with the equations and schematics from that strange dream, about a month of carefully assembling a mishmash of prototype components, and it was now done. The quantum resonator was finally finished, and now he was finally going to prove that his father was right.
Ranma picked up the neural induction headset. All of his numerous calculations told him it should work, and every piece of the device had been checked and re-checked. If he was going to do it, it might as well be now. The random search module was active but would not engage until he put the headset on. That would give the system a comparison model to use as it began searching for a likely quantum signature match.
The pigtailed boy could have used one of the four alternate timeline coordinates that he had already obtained during his earlier limited tests, but he decided that the first full-powered test should be to a new parallel scanned from scratch. That way would test the complete system, from initial scan to final recall.
He took the precaution of locking the lab door, and the recall mode for the resonator had already been set for an hour. That should give me sufficient time to look around, he mused.
He settled back onto the couch in his lab, the headset resting easily onto his head. The background hum of the resonator felt like a faint tickle along the inside of his skull. Like bees humming in my head, he thought. He tried to relax and make himself comfortable.
This is it, he thought, feeling a little nervous. This was going to be his first attempt at total immersion. I wonder what it will feel like?
In the background, the computer spoke in gentle tones, its artificial voice repeating over and over for several seconds as it scanned through the alternate timelines, "Searching. Searching. Searching."
Suddenly, it spoke the words that he had been waiting for, "Quantum signature match found. Initiating upload cycle."
*** Earth +4.614, +4.502
There was a brief and mildly disturbing moment of dislocation, of a sort of non-existence, and then Ranma found himself in another place, another life. After a few moments of adjustment, as he blinked his eyes, an unexpected rush of memories from that other life filled his awareness. It was distracting and even more disorienting, leaving him confused a moment by his surroundings, so he didn't immediately realize that someone had been addressing him.
"Saotome!" shouted an angry male voice. "Have you fallen asleep in my class again? What is the answer to the question?"
Ranma looked up in surprise at the annoyed-looking instructor who was shouting at him and blinked again, before glancing around himself quickly. A classroom full of students looked back at him, and the uniforms even looked similar to the ones that he was used to, only the colors were different. He patted at his clothes and realized that he wasn't wearing a uniform. How strange, he thought.
To add to his surprise, Akane was sitting behind him and glaring at him. She was even wearing her hair the same way that he remembered from his home timeline. He looked puzzled, and she pointed at her text with a final glare. He turned around, glanced down at a similar book in front of him, and flipped to the same page. Luckily, it was apparently a mathematics class. A rather easy mathematics class, in fact.
"The answer to the problem is the cube root of seventeen, sir," he answered absently.
The instructor looked more than somewhat surprised, to say the least. "Th-that's right," he said, in a slightly stunned tone. "You are correct, Saotome." He started to ask another student about a different problem, still looking surprised.
"So you did manage to study last night after all," a female voice stage-whispered behind him. "I thought you were too busy training nowadays for Ryoga's challenge. Did you decide that school has value after all?"
"I, uh, found the time later," he whispered back. Who the heck is Ryoga, and what is this about a challenge that my analog is so busy training for?
The answers to his questions refused to come to him, and the very randomness of the memories that were becoming available to him was almost maddening. It was like trying to read all of the books in a library by pulling stray pages from each one and reading them all mixed up. However, as moments went by, the memories were slowly beginning to sort themselves out.
Ranma sat at his desk and found himself somewhat overwhelmed by the memories of a life that he had never lived, but he found himself rather intrigued by them too. His analog had traveled for over ten years with his father to learn martial arts, a curious parallel, and his life was a rather confusing kaleidoscope of random memories. Short flashes of events seen, people met, and various fighting techniques learned filled his mind.
For a brief moment, a strong image of a valley of pools of water filled his mind, but it was quickly gone before he could clearly focus on it. Jusenkyo? Another strong image appeared in his thoughts, this time of a girl, somehow associated with the name of that place. He felt that he should know this person, this girl that he was thinking of.
A new wave of memories flooded across his mind, of all the women that this Ranma was involved with. Ties of honor bound him to most of them, often the results of actions by the Genma of this world. His analog was engaged by his father to marry Akane Tendo, but several other girls also claimed him. Many of their claims seemed equally valid.
Engaged to marry Akane Tendo? The very thought made him feel slightly ill. From this Ranma's memories, he could tell that Akane was perhaps as much of a thug here as the one that he knew from his own timeline. He found himself feeling sorry for the poor fool, but he felt even more surprised when he sensed strong feelings for Akane associated with the memories, and his analog had fought to defend the Tendo girl on several occasions. However, those feelings were somewhat deeply buried beneath thick layers of denial.
He cares for her? As he thought about that, Ranma stared out the window. My analog is in love with a brutish, angry girl who constantly beats him up? This guy needs some serious mental help, he concluded.
While continuing to look out the window, he mused on the very strange life of his quantum counterpart.
The bell rang while he was still pondering these things.
Lunchtime, Ranma realized with a start, and his stomach suddenly rumbled softly. He looked at the clock on the wall. I have about fifty minutes before recall occurs, he observed.
He sat at his other self's desk for a minute before the smell of food from his bookbag finally got the better of him. He pulled out his lunch, and set it on his desk as his mind wandered. Whatever it was, it smelled fantastic. He felt his mouth salivate.
Even though the snowstorm of memories was finally settling down, it was not too surprising to him that most of the memories of his counterpart's life were rather incomplete. Apparently immersion into another life did not immediately provide complete access to all of the memories from that life.
Perhaps I'll have to set the timer for longer next time, he thought with a faint smile. That should let me get a better feel for the life of one of my quantum doppelgangers.
Ranma felt a tap on the back of his skull.
"Are you just going to sit there and ignore me through all of lunch?" asked Akane from behind him. The sound of her annoyed voice disturbed his upcoming enjoyment of what smelled like a delicious lunch.
He sighed softly, and turned around.
"Sorry about that," said the pigtailed boy pleasantly, which seemed to catch the girl off-guard. "I was just thinking about some things and got distracted. I hope that you will accept my apology." He thought that if he managed to sound meek enough, it would act to defuse her infamous wrath.
Akane softened her gaze at his apology, which surprised him a lot. His own version of the Tendo girl had never looked at him with even the slightest amount of softness or warmth, occasionally with amusement when she was tossing him around or hitting him. She apparently just saw him as some sort of a weakling, since he hadn't spent his life learning how to break bricks with his fists like she had done. However, based on the differences that he was seeing in his own quantum duplicate's life, it should have been no surprise that the Akane Tendo of another timeline could be vastly changed as well.
She did feel different, and he had to revise his opinion of her a little and try not to think of her as being like his own Akane. In this world, she was a fairly ordinary girl, for the most part. She wasn't training to be a member of the Security Directorate, and she had been involved with a few minor adventures with the Ranma of this world.
Maybe if I don't do or say anything that my analog normally did to make her mad, she might even smile at me, he mused. A puzzled look suddenly crossed his features briefly.
Where the hell did that thought come from? He blinked a moment in sudden confusion.
"Are you okay, Ranma?" Akane looked at him in mild concern.
"I'm fine, Akane," he replied. He even risked a smile, and she smiled in return.
"Nihao, Ranma!" suddenly spoke up a perky female voice behind his head. The pleasant look on the Tendo girl's face darkened into a scowl, and she turned her head aside with a slight huffing sound.
He turned around to see a bouncy female body to match the perky voice, sitting perched in the window, holding a delivery box. Shampoo, his new memories prompted, proud Chinese Amazon warrior girl. He smiled at her, and she smiled back.
"Ranma happy to see Shampoo?" The girl lunged at him in a single bound and hugged him without dropping her delivery box. He had never been greeted by a beautiful girl like this before; it was more than a little pleasant. He started to return the hug, but a quivering at the back of his skull made him glance behind him. Akane was glaring at him again.
"Ranma," slowly said the furious girl. "What do you think that you're doing?"
"I was about to give Shampoo a hug." The words seemed to just slip out before he could think about the possible repercussions. "What do you think about that?"
"DIE, RANMA!" Akane screamed. She picked up and threw a random desk at the couple for further emphasis of her point. She sure changes her moods quickly, he thought in amazement.
The pigtailed boy reacted without thinking, grabbing the Chinese girl and jumping over the hurtling desk, which promptly sailed out the window behind him. It managed to do so, amazingly enough, without even so much as touching any of the edges of the open window. A loud crash was heard from below a few moments later.
"Ranma save Shampoo from violent girl!" exulted the Amazon in his arms, who promptly began snuggling with him happily. Many romantic visions of Ranma's heroism danced in her head, and she began to make purring sounds as she snuggled against him. He felt like he'd died and gone to heaven.
"Ranchan?" asked a new female voice, edged with anger, one that his fragmentary memories didn't recall immediately. "What the hell do you think you're doing?" A large metal object attempted to pry Shampoo out of his grip, and another girl was on the end of it.
Ukyo Kuonji, Ranma's new memories flashed up, only recently-arrived as a new transfer student. She was an okonomiyaki chef and also engaged to Ranma. He quickly let go of Shampoo, and Ukyo pried the Amazon off of him. She then immediately moved between him and the other girl.
"You stay away from Ranma, you Chinese bimbo!" Ukyo snarled out. She took up an aggressive stance, her combat spatula at the ready. He thought he saw a blue glow swirl around her body for a moment, but he decided that it had to have been a trick of the light.
"Ranma is husband of Shampoo, stupid spatula girl!" Shampoo yelled back. She took up a combat stance of her own, looking ready for anything, and Ranma saw that same blue light effect for a moment. He rubbed his eyes, and it was gone.
Perhaps it's some sort of visual illusion caused by a kind of mild phase imbalance, he thought. One that was too subtle in nature to be able to be compensated for by his equipment.
The two girls continued to glare at each other, apparently waiting to see who made the first move. I've never had women wanting to fight over me before, the pigtailed boy thought with mild envy, as he marveled at the novelty of the experience. Both girls looked pretty determined to do battle over him, and Akane just stood to one side and glowered at all three of them.
"Please don't fight," he suddenly interjected, rather louder than he had intended. All three girls looked at him in surprise, and Akane was so surprised that she forgot to glare at him for a moment. "I just wanted to eat my lunch in peace today."
"Shampoo brought you delicious lunch," declared the Amazon, as if daring anyone to question the fact. She grabbed her delivery box off a nearby desk and pulled out a bowl of something. Shampoo whipped it under his nose, a steaming serving of ramen noodles, and then smirked at Ukyo.
"I've got your lunch right here, Ranchan," the other girl said quickly. A small grill suddenly appeared as if from nowhere, and a blur of cooking took place. Faster than he would have imagined possible, Ukyo presented him with a plateful of okonomiyaki while she stuck her tongue out at Shampoo.
Ranma felt that he was rapidly reaching the limits of his ability to deal with the female of the species. The whole situation was simply bizarre to him, despite its earlier appeal. The two women nearest him alternated adoring looks in his direction with murderous gazes at each other. Akane just looked upset at all three of them equally.
"Uh, that's fine," he said mildly. "Just put it on my desk, and I'll try to eat it all." He sat down and started to eat the original lunch that he had brought out, and two more full lunches were immediately set down next to it by the two girls. Both of them promptly sat down at two of the recently-vacated desks next to him and sighed as they watched him eat. Akane just kept glaring in the trio's direction.
I think I could get used to this, he thought, as he ate with a smile. Akane moved off to eat with some of the other girls in class, still glaring at the pigtailed boy.
*** Heaven 0.000, 0.000
The systems of Yggdrasil hummed along smoothly, maintained by the many gods and goddesses assigned to that task. In a small side-chamber, there was a swirling coalescence of light that resolved itself into a figure dressed in pale robes, the hood drawn forward and covering the face from view. The figure emerged from the side-chamber into the main hallway area and paused, as the various deities passing by remained unaware of its presence.
The figure was ignored by all, save for one young goddess.
Urd looked up from her central workstation as she managed the daily file updates for the main system. She thought that she had sensed a strange presence of some sort with her in the datacore, but there was nothing there when she looked up. She saw Skuld tapping away quietly at her own terminal, but her sister gave no indication that she had been aware of anything. Sensing no danger, Urd shrugged and went back to her work.
The figure walked to an unused workstation and stretched forth a gloved hand, and a stream of data blurred across the screen, written in symbols that were ancient when the world was young. The figure seemed to nod as it read a section of the data and then withdrew its hand.
"Now the final game begins," came a whisper from within the hood. "And there will be no one to stop me this time."
Then, in a second swirl of light, the figure was gone, and no trace of its passage was recorded in Heaven.
This section is inspired by the information presented in TSR's excellent role-playing sourcebook "Tangents."
Underlying this story is the assumption that parallel universes are real, something that both quantum wave theory and the theory of relativity predict the possibility of. Endless possibilities for alternate Earths exist, all contained within a structure known as superspace. It is composed of every possible parallel universe, all coexisting side by side. Each of these individual realities will be referred to as a paraverse (contracted form for parallel universe) or a tangent. Each tangent is a timeline, an alternate version of history.
Each separate tangent is like a thread, and the entire network of threads make up superspace. Timelines branch apart from each other at various points in their history, but threads also remain braided together in rough groupings of similar tangents, forming clusters across superspace. It's generally accepted that only truly significant events result in the creation of new timelines, and truly massive events or catastrophes (such as the Second Impact from Evangelion) serve as massive bifurcations of the threads and can produce entirely new clusters.
There is also a theory (the one I am following in this story) that every action produces multiple tangents, but that almost all of those tangents merge back together into a single thread. Only a few of these tangents created cross over the minimum temporal energy threshold that will allow them to sustain themselves as separate from another tangent, but it is left to the reader to imagine how significant an event would have to be to do this. Time travel is an example of one of the ways that this might be done, but the change done in the past would still have to be large enough to split off a new tangent that would not simply fade back into one of the others.
Tangents are 'grouped' together into clusters, all of the paraverses within a cluster sharing many basic characteristics with each other, and they are all wound and braided around each other much like threads forming a rope. Each individual cluster may hold anywhere from dozens to thousands of tangents, maybe even more. Generally, the tangents within a cluster bifurcated from each other relatively recently (anywhere from a few moments to thousands of years ago), as they share many historical similarities, but it is also possible for a tangent within a given cluster to have originated within a completely different cluster and 'migrated' to its new location. For the purposes of this story, it can be assumed that different tangents tend to be attracted to others of similar attributes. An example of this is what could be called the 'Nuclear Armageddon cluster' that contains tangents where terrible wars were fought between the Empire of Japan and the United States, or even between high-tech versions of the Aztecs and the Babylonians, to name a couple of random examples.
As another example of this, consider a tangent where the biology of the Earth favored a sentient species of cats to arise to dominance over the world instead of humanity. Events and even individuals could have parallel happenings in this timeline thread that is represented by the manga or anime story of 'Ranma 1/2', complete with the entire cast being represented by catlike sentients who even bear both the same names and general attitudes as their human counterparts. Such a timeline could be pulled into the 'Ranma 1/2 cluster' of tangents, and the reader can then imagine how events would be similar and different to that other timeline thread. The dreaded Nekoken could be a tapping into the primal drives and abilities of the race in that timeline, and might not require as mind-warping a training method. Other possible, similar (yet different) events are left up to the imagination of the reader.
Moving away from the cluster of the baseline tangent used in this story, the tangents will grow more and more unusual, and I will classify them into four 'divisions' of timeline clusters: Historical, Biological, Cosmological, and Fantastic. Looking at these different divisions in cross-section, the picture would be roughly a series of concentric rings, radiating out from the center much like a bulls-eye. However, as was previously mentioned above, the divisions are not rigidly fixed, and tangents originally from the Biological division could become part of a cluster in the Historical division (such as the tangent with the catlike versions of Ranma 1/2 characters mentioned above). These divisions are also relative to each other, as an inhabitant of different tangents will define the tangents that surround them differently. For example, the 'Slayers' tangent would be in the Fantastic division as seen from our own Earth, but we would also be in the Fantastic division to theirs, since they would see us as a timeline with greatly different physical laws from their own.
The Baseline cluster is the one that immediately surrounds the tangent of Imperial Earth, the so-called Baseline tangent. It is the reference point from which all other tangents in this story will be looked at.
The Historical division generally indicates the millions of tangents where the presence of humanity is the defining characteristic. The many differences in worlds will be determined by the numerous potential divergent events and changes in human history. Different cultures may reign supreme, unusual governments may rule, and even the course of technology may be radically different, but humans are still humans. Most of the trips taken in this story will be to tangents in the Historical division.
The Biological division of clusters has seen evolution playing games. In some, humanity exists, but is subtly changed. In others, humanity shares the Earth with other sentient life forms. And in still others, the species called man never arose (or perhaps not even mammals), and nature filled the void with sentient apes, cats, or dinosaurs.
The Cosmological division represents timeline threads where the solar system itself developed differently. For example, billions of years ago, Earth itself never formed in some timelines. In others, Earth formed a little closer or a little farther from the Sun, and the whole biosphere may be radically different, if life even took hold at all.
Lastly, the Fantastic division represents tangents where the very laws of nature have taken on sometimes bizarre variations. For example, on some of these tangents, humans exist but possess strange abilities such as magic or superpowers, while in others, the Elves still rule a pristine and verdant Earth that is vibrant with magic. However, also possible are worlds where various forms of undead rule supreme over a blasted and dead Earth as the least powerful of the nightmarish servants of the elder gods of madness and darkest evil.
There might also be divisions that lie outside the Fantastic, but the incredible superspacial distances make it difficult to determine what they might be.
To make it easier on the readers to catalogue the different parallel worlds, I will be using a simple two-dimensional grid to establish a coordinate system for each tangent, using the home tangent of Imperial Earth as the Baseline tangent, and it will be designated 0.000, 0.000 for its coordinates. The further a coordinate is from the Baseline, the more radically different it will be from Imperial Earth. For the purposes of this story, the divisions previously given (Historical, Biological, etc) will each be roughly ten full spaces apart (for example, 0.000 to 10.000 along the x-axis is the radius for the Historical division). With a grid of ten thousand tangents by ten thousand tangents, that gives just the Historical division alone over three hundred and fourteen million paraverses, more than sufficient for my needs as an author.
Here are some sample worlds and also their coordinates relative to Imperial Earth:
Earth 0.000, 0.000 - The world of Scholar-Ranma (Baseline cluster)
Earth +0.001, -0.001 - The world of Scholar-Ranko (Baseline cluster)
Earth +4.612, +4.509 - The world of Shampoo 1/2 (Ranma 1/2 cluster)
Earth +4.614, +4.496 - The world of Nabiki 1/2 (Ranma 1/2 cluster)
Earth +4.614, +4.502 - The world of Ranma 1/2 (Ranma 1/2 cluster)
My heartfelt thanks goes out to all of my readers for their comments and suggestions. A special thanks goes out to DB Sommer for his welcome assistance with my clumsy writing, and also to Michael Allen for his help with the pseudo-science and several plot points.