I claim no ownership rights to any of the works of Rumiko Takahashi or DC Comics.
This story hasn't been bouncing around in my head as long as the last chapter, but does involve one of my longest running favorite comics (as in, decades back), "The Legion of Superheroes." Mind, this is seriously AU, a magick-tech alternate future history space fantasy Ranma/LoSH crossover. There may or may not be lemons, yuri & het, but whether on-stage or off- there won't be any female Ranma with guys this time.
The working story title is a play on the song, "End of the Highland Way" by Steve McDonald, another song from his album about the Highland Clearances. The chorus goes:
Gone is the Highland way
No more the pipes will play
Some say they'll rise again
From over the ocean's end
Akane had been up for at least an hour, and had spent most of that hour sitting on the railing at the Wind Dancer's bow where the sails billowing from a mystical wind that no one could feel were mostly behind her, gazing at the stars that, in etherspace, were always there. She had done the same on the voyage out to the refugee settlement on Mars, of all places, where she and Ranma had been sent to recover from wounds (mostly Ranma — the baka would constantly throw himself into the worst of the fighting), and on that trip she had found the star-spangled ever-night a soothing comfort. She still did to an extent, on the return voyage to Earth, but couldn't keep thoughts of the war they were returning to from intruding on her thoughts.
Odd how things worked out — she was supposed to be the self-centered jealous bitch with the bad temper (just ask Ukyo and Shampoo, or Nabiki for that matter) and Ranma the kindhearted soft touch. But once the war came, she was the one that had the nightmares night after night while Ranma just seemed to become harder with each fight, each mission, each battlefield littered with bodies, not all of them soldiers or fighters, sometimes not even most. Not colder, never colder, anyone that watched him (or her) carry a wounded child back to the medics knew he still cared. But while Akane was breaking under the stress, fractures running through her psyche, that same stress was compressing Ranma into an unbreakable diamond made of pure Purpose.
So when Ranma had been sent to one of the Mars refugee camps to recover from their last mission, the Powers that Be had used the moderate wounds inflicted on Akane at the same time as an excuse to order her accompany him for rehabilitation. Or accompany her, rather — since hot water didn't seek her out the same way cold water did him, Standard Operating Procedure had long since become to do the repair work on Ranma's female body so they wouldn't have to worry about a splash of cold water undoing all the medics' hard work. So the two girls had spent two months sharing a large tent with Nodoka and Kasumi while Ranma had spent her days in physical therapy (a long time for her with her healing factor, that was how close he'd come to dying) and Akane had struggled to strengthen her soul. She just hoped that two months had been enough.
She twisted where she sat to look back toward the companionway — the ladder masquerading as stairs to the lower deck — to find the redhead taking deep breaths of what passed for fresh air on etherspace trips. All the air their ethership would have until they arrived at the Earth platform was what they'd brought with them from the Mars platform, but even with the way air tended to equalize throughout the ship during the journey things could get a little ... close ... in a belowdecks bunkroom during the ship's night. But at least they had bunks, rather than the hammocks most of the sailors used, even if Ranma and Akane lacked the privacy needed for their favorite activity — Ranma actually swore it was even better than training!
But Akane doubted that their unfortunate lack of nookie over the past several months explained her spouse's faintly disgruntled air, and she smiled as Ranma walked toward her. "Still upset that I'm actually waking up before you?" she asked teasingly, twisting around and swinging her feet over the railing to stand up as Ranma reached her.
Ranma snorted, then tilted her head up slightly for a kiss — not one to curl Akane's toes like so many before, just a gentle 'good morning'. "I wouldn't care if it was 'cause you're gettin' up earlier instead a' me sleepin' in," she groused, then smothered a yawn. "I'm gettin' tired ... I mean, this crap's gettin' old."
"Give it time, Ranma," Akane urged. "The surgeons had your chest spread open like a blooming flower and one of them massaging your heart by hand to keep you alive — you don't just bounce back from something like that! Even for you, only two months is really pushing it." She shivered as she remembered her gut-wrenching fear as she'd watched the surgeons struggle to save one of Japan's elite warriors, fear that this time Ranma would finally die and leave her alone...
Ranma embraced her, ignoring the wolf whistle from one of the sailors up in the rigging. "I'm not goin' anywhere, I promise," she whispered.
Akane clutched at her for a long moment before reluctantly breaking off the embrace. She said as lightly as she could manage, "We should be reaching Earth platform in a few hours. Let's sit up here and watch."
Ranma grimaced but nodded, and the two young women took their seats on the bow railing next to each other, feet hanging out over the open void and their arms around each other's waist, staring out at the seemingly endless star-studded sea of night. Eventually Ranma's head sank down to rest on Akane's shoulder, her arm around Akane's waist relaxed and dropped to hang limp, and the redhead started to softly snore. Akane just smiled, her own hand rising to run her fingers through her spouse's hair as she watched for the first signs of the blue, green, brown and white ball that was home.
President Anderson looked up from his desk in the Oval Office as his Secret Service bodyguard opened the door to let in his Chief of United Intelligence. "Okay, Carl, what was so important that it couldn't wait until the morning briefing?" arguably the most powerful man in the world demanded.
Carl Jensen ignored the long-familiar mementos and history on walls, shelves and tables all around him to drop a file on the desk. He said, "We finally found out what the Japs are up to."
"We have?" The president grabbed the folder and flipped it open. He quickly skimmed the documents within, lingering on the pictures of steep stairs reaching up to disappear into empty air with people carrying backpacks and suitcases climbing up, ropes coming down out of nothing to hoist up heavy pallets. In one picture only the lower half of one ladder climber could be seen. He whistled. "Damn! Portals to another dimension? Population transfer? No wonder they rejected our demands that they sequester their ki adepts! There's no way we would have allowed this, and they couldn't have hidden it while our observers were all over the island enforcing the ki adept sequestration. Two years, they could have been moving people out. Two years!"
The intelligence chief hid a grimace. 'Sequestration' — a polite term for herding the ki adepts and any family and followers that insisted on joining them into ghettos. But what were we supposed to do? Their fighting skills aren't an issue, we could deal with those, but the way their connection of their life energy make them invisible to divination and clairvoyance magic — He forced his thoughts out of their well-worn rut when he realized the president was still speaking.
"The boys at the Pentagon want me to authorize the lights out ritual, don't they?"
"Yes, Mr. President, they do," Jensen replied. "And they need their answer immediately — our current window closes in a few hours, and the next one won't open for months."
President Anderson leaned back in his chair and rubbed his face. "I already know what the rest of the gang think, Carl," he said, "what do you say?"
Jensen hesitated. The lights out ritual had been a beyond top secret arrow in the United States' quiver for decades, but never hinted at — even after the end of the Cold War the ability to shut down all the magic items that were the foundation of modern civilization over an entire region was bound to scare a world already a bit antsy about the world's single superpower, and so far Research and Development hadn't been able to develop a counter. Still, they said that the math for the ritual was so bizarre that the odds of anyone else being able to develop it was practically nonexistent, even knowing it was possible...
"I don't think we have a choice, Jerry," he finally said. "By now the Japanese hate our guts, and while a couple years is the longest they could have been shifting people, the shop thinks it's unlikely — the best estimate is that they set everything up after the war started. They may not have a viable population moved wherever yet, but give them the year or more it'll take to finish the conquest and they will. And for all we know, they can open those portals from wherever they're going to any point on the planet."
"If they can, why haven't they?"
"If they can, they might be waiting until they have enough people shifted first, in case it doesn't work out." Jensen shrugged. "It's purely speculative, we have no idea what they can or can't do. Which is why we need to move now."
The president sat for a long moment, face thoughtful, then finally sat up and placed his palm over his view-mirror's sensor plate. "General Masters," he said clearly, then waited until the mirror wavered and the face of a middle-aged woman with three stars on her blouse's collar appeared. She said, "Mr. President, what can I do for you?"
"You've seen the report from Japan on the portals?"
She nodded. "Military Intelligence made the find. Scary stuff, our people in Analysis are tearing their hair out trying to plan for the unknowable."
"I agree, 'scary stuff" indeed. Operation Midnight is approved."
The general stiffened, then sighed in relief. "Thank you, sir, that will simplify things enormously. I'll get right on it."
"You're welcome." President Anderson quickly ended the call, then leaned back again. "So the war's over in a month, max, and the genie's out of the bottle," he murmured, then looked up. "Well, Carl, I assume this just dumped a lot more on your shoulders."
"Yes, Jerry, it did, it's going to be a very late night." Jenson stood up. "But that's what I'm here for, so I'd better get to it." The president nodded, and as his old friend strode from the room he turned his chair to stare out the window at the White House lawn. It was a good half hour before he turned back to his desk and the report he'd been studying before Jensen dropped his starshell.
Nabiki jerked awake just in time to keep from sliding off the pile of coiled rope she was sitting on, halfway down the pier her family's ship would be arriving at. Shifting to sit up straight, she stretched as she yawned, then twisted to look down the pier toward the main platform for something to focus on, falling back on her favorite (and in her school years, most remunerative) activity — people watching. And there was plenty to see, the Earth etherspace platform bustled with people night and ... well, night, at least up here. Stevedores loading ships with the supplies they needed for the run to Mars or Venus, refugees boarding their own ships headed for the camps on Mars, ships from Venus unloading fish kept fresh by the stasis spells on their holds, and all done by hand and horse or mule, rope and pulley. While spells were dangerous to cast in etherspace, magicked items worked fine, but with the needs of the war using up all the enchanters' time and with what etherspace did to complicated metal machinery the platform looked like something from an historical drama set in the 1800s only with really bad costuming.
Yup, everyone had a task except one exhausted intelligence analyst getting a break from the constant grind of the war while she waited for the ship with her sister and brother-in-law, and she was fine with that.
Nabiki jerked upright from her doze and whipped around at the shout and smiled at the sight of the ship turning to line up with the pier, her raven-haired sister bouncing in place and waving, a familiar redhead by her side with a hand on her shoulder. Good thing Ranma's there to keep her from falling overboard, she thought, chuckling. Even if all it would do is embarrass her. She wondered for a moment if Nodoka had realized how little chance she had of ever seeing grandchildren, plural. Akane might be willing to use artificial insemination to have one child, but Nabiki couldn't see her doing it twice. And the chance of Ranma doing the same were laughable.
She sighed. Nice way to kill the mood, kiddo. That won't be a problem for years, after we've found a new home and settled down and can think about children. And there's no guarantee that even Ranma or Akane will live to see it — especially Ranma. So enjoy the moment. I know those two will tonight, after a few months of enforced celibacy.
As the ship gilded closer, slowing as sails furled (docking was tricky in etherspace, without anything like an anchor), Nabiki strode down the pier toward where she estimated the ship would stop, her forced smile turning natural at her last thought even if it meant she might as well go bar-hopping that night because she wouldn't be getting any sleep at home.
She had just reached her picked spot when she felt a shiver run through the wood beneath her feet, and suddenly the pier was shifting, wavering, almost as if she was standing on a raft out on a lake. What the hell? She whirled around, staring back toward the center of the platform. Had a ship smashed into the other side? She didn't hear any screams or shouts, and the platform was held in place by its portals to downport, immovable!
And then she was hearing screams, from far off on the other side of the platform. She stared, uselessly shading her eyes as she tried to stare through the streetlight glare to see if she could see sails above the roofs of the warehouses and taverns ... nothing ... and staggered as her balance shifted and fell on her butt on the wavering, bouncing wooden surface. No, not wavering, tilting. But that could only happen if the platform lost its connection to all the portals. And that would mean that the entire platform was sliding out of etherspace, back into Earthspace — only without the portals, it would be falling into the Earth's lower atmosphere.
Her head whipped around desperately even as the tilt increased, looking for an escape. All around her sailors were chopping through the ropes connecting their ships to the piers, hauling as many civilians and stevedores on board as they could but they were too far away, she'd never reach any of them on time. Her only hope was ...
She scrambled desperately up the steepening incline, she wasn't going to make it, she somehow leaped, and slammed against the pier floor as it became a wall, the tips of her fingers catching the top edge. Ignoring the splinters digging into her fingers, she managed to get a better grip and hauled herself up on top of what had been the pier's edge and looked down. She was right, the platform was sliding into Earthspace, and picking up speed, she had to move fast.
She ignored the diminishing shouts and screams as she stood up, balanced on the edge of the dock, crouched, and leaped straight up with all her strength. Since she was leaping horizontally along the platform's plane of gravity it wouldn't try to pull her back, so she if overcame her own momentum she'd be good. As she soared outward into empty space, she looked down past her feet. Please, let it be enough!
It was, and she watched as the platform pulled away from her to vanish into the swirling green/brown/blue/white of an Earthspace that wasn't getting closer, or at least not so fast that she'd drift into it herself before she'd used up her own personal bubble of air in ten minutes, twenty tops — no suddenly finding herself in Earth's lower atmosphere somewhere over Japan or maybe the open sea, not that it would matter at that height. So now all she could do was keep her breathing shallow and wait, and hope someone from one of the ships was able to get to her in time somehow. She couldn't even turn around to look for possible rescuers, she'd never learned the aerobatics needed, never dreamed it would be needed, and trying to struggle around now would just use up oxygen.
So she just drifted and stared out at the star-spangled field and breathed slowly, trying to use the half-remembered meditation technique her father had once taught her to empty her mind of what had just happened, the pain in her splinter-filled hands and her likely fate, and waited.
She didn't realize how well she'd succeeded until something slammed into her from behind, arms went around her waist and across her chest, and suddenly she was gasping for fresh air as Ranma's personal air bubble mixed with what was left of hers.
"Easy, I got ya," she heard the redhead say as she felt them being pulled back. Twisting around, she looked over Ranma's shoulder to see her sister pulling in a long cord tied to Ranma's waist. Little sis is overdoing it, Nabiki had time to think, before the pair hit the ship's air bubble, flew across the intervening space even as the ship's natural gravity plane tried to pull them down, and smashed into the youngest Tendo to pile them all on the deck.
Nabiki rolled out of the pile and sat up, wincing when rubbing a skinned elbow dug splinters deeper into her palm. "Ow," she muttered, just before Akane slammed into her, sending them both back to the deck. Her sister was clutching at her, sobbing, practically hysterical, and Nabiki awkwardly hugged her where they lay. "I'm all right, I'm fine," she murmured over and over until Akane finally fought her sobs down to sniffles and let go.
Ranma offered a hand to her wife and sister-in-law and pulled them both to their feet, and now as Nabiki realized just how close she had come to dying and began to shake it was Ranma's turn to hug her normally cool and collected sister-in-law, joined a moment later by Akane. As Nabiki fought herself back under control, she murmured, "Thanks, little sis, Saotome, I owe you two big time. Consider your debts paid in full."
The other two giggled as the three broke apart and looked around to find that while they had been otherwise occupied the Wind Dancer had swept around and was heading toward the largest visible collection of ships, other ships following suit.
Nabiki looked back toward where the Japan platform had been. "What happened?" she asked quietly.
Ranma shrugged. "I dunno."
Even more quietly, Akane asked, "What do we do, now?"
"I dunno that, either."
One millennia later:
"Thanks, Top, I appreciate the help."
"You're welcome, sir, I hope you and your lady enjoy your vacation." The sergeant saluted, and Lieutenant Jo 'Nah' sloppily returned it, then offered his hand. He supposed if any of the brown-nosing sticks-up-their-asses back in Illium saw it they would have castigated him for an 'action prejudicial to maintaining proper authority', but it wasn't like the first sergeant of a company stationed on the fringe of the ever-expanding Republic (this outpost only a few decades old) would ever be in his chain of command — or any other first sergeant of any other company for that matter, seeing how all the members of Senator Brande's Legion were officially outside of the Republican military chain of command, lacking the authority to issue orders to regular legionnaires but also not required to obey orders from regular officers. Jo knew that his patron had a lot of pull, but he'd still never been able to figure out just how the old man had pulled that one off.
Besides, Jo had grown up on the streets and had what he, at least, considered a healthy disregard for all the nonsensical bowing and scraping that the senatorial families and their scions in the military often demanded. And the sergeant had been genuinely helpful, refreshingly free of the resentment regular legionnaires often exhibited for 'The Legion'. Even if it was because of the widespread 'scandal' of Jo's lack of proper parentage (he assumed, barely being able to remember his mother and not knowing who is father was) and the equally widespread 'scandals' of his lover's defiance of her mother, the matriarch of the powerful Watson senatorial family, both in joining the Legion in the first place and then taking a no-name from the streets into her bed without even trying to hide her 'shame'. The common soldiery delighted in both, and mostly respected those that made their entertainment possible.
Making his farewells to the other men of the squad currently guarding the small fort's main gate, Jo swung up onto the horse the soldiers had loaned him, adjusted the hang of his sword and the ease of reach of his two-barreled caplock pistol, and reined his horse around to join his lover and their servant. The two pushed their horses into a trot out the gate and onto the barely-there trail down the small hill the fort was perched on top of before beginning their climb up the magnificent snow-capped mountain the hill was at the base of. The two were eager to make the most of their vacation and didn't have as much time as they would have liked, though at least the portals saved them the months it would have taken them to get to Jenkin's Loan from Earth by ship through wildspace.
Three days later, Jo was gasping for breath in the thin air near the mountain's summit. Tinya, linked to him by a long rope, was taking her turn to be the one breaking the path through the snow on the ledge they were currently following. Usually Jo would have been enjoying the view that would give him of her muscular ass in the tight leather pants she normally preferred, but her magnificent figure was hidden by the thick cold-weather gear they were both wearing. He supposed they could have worn more typical clothing with permanent warming/cooling charms, but oddly enough, beyond the delights of making love out in the open air of a forest clearing on a cool mountain morning surrounded by the burst of birdsong brought on by the sun's rise, the street punk and the high society debutante had found a mutual enjoyment in really roughing it that went beyond getting away from the disapproving eyes watching them all the time.
Which was also why their Legion rings were currently in inner pockets rather than on their fingers — without the thrill of real risk, the climb would simply be an exercise in masochism. Well, except for the thrill of being the first humans to climb to the peak of this particular mountain, of course.
Tinya disappeared from sight around a bend on the ledge, and Jo sighed as the rope between them began to slacken more with each step he took. Tinya had stopped, they must have hit another dead end. He glanced up at the rock wall beside him, frowning thoughtfully as he considered the angle — it didn't seem to have the overhang of the last dead end, so perhaps they'd be able to climb it this time. Then he walked around the bend and slammed to a stop right behind his lover, his jaw dropping in shock. Tinya hadn't hit a dead end, after all.
In front of them the perpendicular wall they had been hiking beside fell back into a wide, flat space bracketed on two sides by cliffs and a gentle slope to the peak on the third. And on the flat area in a heap against the far cliff face, was the ancient ice- and snow-covered remains of a wrecked wildspaceship.