Strangers in a Strange Land
Chapter 1
By Chris Olsen

All the characters in this story are the creation of Akahori Satoru, Kotobuki Tsukasa, and Rumiko Takahashi

Strangers in a Strange Land. Chapter 1.

    Harsh light seeped painfully through Ranma's eyelids. < Ranma, is that my name?> Slowly she turned her head away from the light, and equally slowly opened her eyes. < What's wrong with my head? Of course I'm Ranma, Ranma Saotome.> Opening her eyes, Ranma winced. < I feel so fuzzy. Akane must have hit me harder than usual this time.> With that thought, Ranma sat up abruptly.  < Akane!> A vivid image came to her, of a girl with short black/blue hair, a tomboy, but so cute when she smiled.. Ranma blinked, trying to see in the harsh light, and denying her feelings to herself.  < Akane, cute? That'll be the day.> She took in her surroundings slowly as her eyes adjusted to the light. Her body felt stiff and cold, as did the strangely shaped table she lay on. One thing was obvious immediately. < I'm a girl. Oh well, no real surprise... What in the world am I wearing?>

    Ranma noted, blearily, the black one-piece suit she wore. It was cut like a swimsuit, leaving her arms and legs bare, although it had a high neckline. The material seemed strong and opaque enough to suit her definition of modesty, so she took in the rest of the room. The light was starting to die and her eyes could now make out indistinct figures looking down at her. The room was gray, and filled with harsh shadows. The people around her were hard to make out at first, but Ranma stared at them until everything came into focus. The two men standing to her left seemed familiar. Their clothing reminded Ranma of the Japanese feudal period, however. That and the expressions of intelligent curiosity on their faces seemed strange to her. Ranma's eyes widened as she finally placed the faces. "Kuno! Principal Kuno? What's going on here?" The two men, one young, one middle aged, turned to each other in surprise.

    "She recognizes us. She must think we are our own ancestors, from the Kuno line, in her time." the older one explained to his younger companion.

    The younger man nodded his eyes widening. "Then the memory transfer was a success!"

    Ranma blinked in confusion, looking from one man to the other. "What are you two going on about? My time? What's going on? Where am I?" She looked down at the table she had been lying on, and noted with growing confusion that it seemed to be molded to fit her. Ranma scanned the room around her once more. It was full of mechanical gadgets and electronic gizmos of indecipherable use and origin. "What in the world is going on?"

    The older man stepped forward to explain. "This is not your time. It has been over five hundred years since you remember it. Five hundred years ago, Tatewaki Kuno, of the house of Kuno, had made brain tapes of you, to preserve your memories intact. The technology had just been developed, and you were one of the first for it to be tried on."

    Ranma interrupted. "What? Are you telling me this is the future? You aren't Principal Kuno? How... what happened?"

    The older man shook his head. "I am not the man you knew. We are distant ancestors of that line. I am Godai, this is Yusaku. We are very close, genetically, to the Kunos you knew, thanks to our modern cloning technology.."

    Ranma interrupted again. "You said something about... tapes? Brain tapes? I remember Kuno... Tatewaki, spouting something about some crazy scientist's plan to. what did he say? Oh yeah, to preserve memories? You mean it worked? No way!"

    Godai nodded. "Exactly. Professor Iago was far ahead of his time, hundreds of years, perhaps, beyond his peers. The technology to transfer memories, successfully, that is, to a marionette, has just recently been perfected. The storage of your memories was unprecedented at that time, but it wasn't until now that we could do anything constructive with that stored information." He began to chortle happily to himself. "Think of the possibilities!"

    Ranma blinked, not really understanding. "Um. OK, so it worked, right?" She looked around at all the scientific equipment. "So you guys... brought me back to life?" Ranma looked disturbed at that thought.

    Godai and Yusaku failed to notice, grinning and nodding at each other. "We've done it, father! She seems to be fully cognizant of her past." Yusaku glanced over at her. "The experiment has been a complete success!"

    Godai nodded, smiling cheerfully. "Indeed, despite the antiquity of the original memory storage device. My techniques of data retrieval seem to be a complete success." The older man turned back to Ranma, who was still looking confused. "What is your name? The archives do not seem to record that single detail."

    The girl blinked. "I'm Ranma, Ranma Saotome."

    Godai narrowed his eyes in confusion. "I don't understand. I have recently read the journal of my ancestor, Tatewaki Kuno, of that time. The name Ranma, is mentioned, but it belonged to a man, a rival, in fact, of Tatewaki's, at that time.

    Ranma chuckled nervously. "Heh... well.... I guess five hundred years is a long time.."

    Godai frowned, then nodded. "All right, Ranma. Yusaku will show you to the changing room, and you can find something to wear. We'll talk later today."

    Ranma hopped off the table, landing slightly awkwardly. "Whoa." She teetered for a second, then found her balance. It was slightly off, and her limbs felt a bit stiff. Ranma adjusted quickly, well used to dealing with changes in her body.

    Yusaku waited for her to get her balance, and then turned to lead her out of the crowded room. Ranma followed the young man out of the room, wondering to herself at how much he resembled her old rival, Tatewaki Kuno. He was tall and slender like his ancestor, with short dark hair and the roguish good looks that were one reason the old Kuno had been as arrogant as he had been.

    < I have to hand it to old Kuno, though.> Ranma mused silently as she continued following his ancestor. < He came through on one of his crazy promises for once. If only he hadn't been such an idiot, we might have gotten along.> Ranma shook her head with a quiet snort. < Me and Kuno? I must be dreaming if I'd ever believe we could have been friends.> Ranma noted that they had passed up a long flight of stairs and through a door at its top. Suddenly Ranma found herself in completely different surroundings. The walls below had been of sturdy gray concrete, surrounding a myriad of technological wonders. Up here, the walls were rice paper and wood. The house seemed the very picture of a traditional Japanese mansion.

    Yusaku took her down to the end of the hall, and showed her a door. "Go inside and change. We'll be expecting you for dinner." He started walking off, and Ranma went to the door and opened it. Inside, a pale skinned woman with long hair knelt, dressed in an elegant blue kimono. She faced the door as if she had been waiting for someone to enter. Her face, like that of Godai, and Yusaku, was startlingly familiar. The room itself was plain, lined on either side with wall closets, and having only a screen and a three-sided mirror for furniture.

    "Kasumi?" Ranma asked softly. "Is that you? Is it possible you're here too?"

    The woman looked up at Ranma slowly, her face devoid of expression. "Yes." She replied with equal softness. "That is my name. How may I serve you?"

    Ranma looked worriedly down at her. "Kasumi? It's me, Ranma. Don't you recognize me?"

    Kasumi blinked slowly, looking at Ranma's face. "I'm sorry." She said quietly. "I do not remember seeing you before." Ranma became concerned. The Kasumi she knew had never been one for excesses of emotion, but she had almost always had a pleasant smile. This Kasumi seemed completely emotionless, her face a mask. The pale Kasumi looked inquiringly at Ranma once more. "Is there anything you require?"

    Ranma paused, slightly worried, but unable to come up with any plan. "Actually, I do kinda need some clothes.  Kuno... I mean Yusaku, told me I could get a change of clothing here."

    Kasumi nodded and got smoothly to her feet. "I will assist you." Her eyes flashed with a barely visible inner light. "Please lift your arms, and turn around." Ranma blinked, and did so. After completing a turn, Kasumi nodded. "Thank you. I have your size." She turned to the left, and went to open a long wall closet.

    Ranma watched as Kasumi went through the clothing in the closet, several details bothering her. < Kasumi is still a head taller than I am. Even if I have to be a girl, why couldn't I be a taller one?> That wasn't what was really disturbing, however, something was definitely off about her. This Kasumi acted strange. Out of a large selection, Kasumi took out a red and black Kimono, bringing it over to Ranma. The shorter girl frowned, but decided not to protest. With help from Kasumi, Ranma put on the Kimono. After dressing, she checked her appearance in the mirror.

    Once again, a familiar face peered out at Ranma, this time from the mirror. < Well, at least I'm the same.> Ranma frowned unhappily. < Not that that's a good thing.> The short, busty, athletic, red head looking back at Ranma was the person that she had expected to see there. Ranma was still disappointed at the view. < Why do I still have to have this curse after five hundred years? Can't I ever escape it?> Ranma turned back to Kasumi, who was standing silently waiting. She looked like the
Kasumi Ranma knew, but her expression, or rather, lack of any, seemed very peculiar. Even her movements were strange, slightly stiff.

    Ranma shook her head. "What in the world has happened to you, Kasumi?" When Ranma had first met Kasumi, she had been nineteen years old and taking care of her family in the place of her dead mother. Kasumi, even at nineteen, had been a perfect example of a modest Japanese housewife. Ranma remembered an essay he had read in school that seemed to fit her perfectly. It was called "The Angel in the House." The piece had actually been about killing the 'Angel' in themselves in order to be able to write, but Ranma always remembered the Angel. Kasumi was always pleasant, happy with her role in taking care of her father and younger sisters. This Kasumi however, was like a moving doll.

    Ranma sighed. "I don't understand it. I guess five hundred years is a long time. But if I can remember everything, why can't you, Kasumi?" The shogi door behind Ranma opened suddenly, and Ranma turned to see yet another familiar face.

    The girl standing in the doorway spoke. "That's because she isn't Kasumi." Ranma blinked. "Nabiki?" The dark hair in the pageboy cut framed a face Ranma knew very well indeed.

    The girl Ranma remembered as the older of Kasumi's two younger sisters nodded. "As quick a study as ever eh, Saotome? It is me." Nabiki nodded at the pale skinned woman that had her older sister's face. "That, however, isn't Kasumi. At least, she isn't our Kasumi." The pale Kasumi didn't react at all, but simply stood there waiting.

     Ranma approached Nabiki, who was dressed in a kimono similar to hers, but green and white colored.  "Nabiki, do you know what's going on? Kuno... well, he says his name is Yusaku, and this guy that looks like the principal.... They say it's been five hundred years.... I don't understand. What's going on?" Nabiki frowned. "I'll explain, Saotome. Follow me. First I think there's someone you'll want to see."

    As Nabiki led Ranma quickly down the hall, the red head spoke up. "Nabiki, what are you doing here? If what I was told was true, Kuno had... tapes made, of my memories. I kind of remember him saying something like that... back then, but.."

    Nabiki snorted to herself. "You want to know why Kuno-chan had a brain tape made of me? He was never one for half measures, you know. I can at least say that much of him. Kuno, naturally, wanted permanent copies of all his 'girlfriends'." She snorted. "I'm surprised Azuza Shiratori and that cheerleader Mariko aren't here too."

    Ranma blinked. "Oh yeah, you did go out with Kuno a couple times, eh?"

    Nabiki shrugged. "He was a lousy date. I really wish I had never agreed to go out with him." She frowned. "Regardless of getting a second chance at life. Not that I'd call this that." As Ranma tried to puzzle that last statement out, Nabiki stopped at a door. "This is it. We don't have a whole lot of time before dinner, and I've got a lot to explain to you." She slid open the door. "Here you go, Ranma."

    Ranma turned to enter room. It was an ordinary sitting room, with a few paintings and flower vases for color. She started to enter it as a voice rang out from inside. "Ranma!?!" Once again, a familiar face confronted Ranma. A girl with short, blue/black hair, and large eyes, a smile that Ranma couldn't mistake for anyone else's on her face. The girl came running toward the red head, her eyes wide in astonishment. "It is! Ranma! Ranma is it really you?" She halted a couple feet away, staring at Ranma in amazed joy.

    Ranma blinked. "Akane? Akane! You're here too?"

    The youngest of Soun Tendo's three daughters, Nabiki and Kasumi's little sister, Akane, smiled wryly at her. "Yes Ranma. I'm here too."

    Nabiki sniffed disdainfully. "You thought perhaps Kuno would go without one of his two 'goddesses'?"

    Ranma rolled her eyes and turned back to Nabiki. "I should have guessed. Kuno couldn't make up his mind between me and Akane back then, why chose just one of us now? So, is anyone else here? What's with Kasumi, anyway? She's like a robot or somethin."

    Akane frowned. "Nabiki, you haven't told him yet?"

    Nabiki glanced at Akane at her use of "him" then shrugged. "I just found Ranma-"chan" a minute ago. I was about to explain."

    Ranma narrowed her eyes. "OK, how much, Nabiki?"

    Nabiki shook her head. "I'm well aware you don't have any money, Ranma. You can owe me."

    Akane spoke up softly. "Ranma... Kasumi seems like a robot. Because she is a... robot."

    Ranma's eyes went wide. "Whoa. I couldn't tell. I guess in five hundred years there's been a whole lot of new stuff." The red head turned to Nabiki. "So, Kuno made a robot copy of Kasumi? Wild." She frowned. "I don't like it. She may just be a robot, but it's not right her being the Kuno's servant."

    Akane sighed. "You don't know the half of it, Ranma. Don't you understand? We are robots too. That's how they brought us back. Yusaku and Godai put our memories into these bodies. They built us."

    Ranma's eyes got progressively wider as Akane spoke. Her disbelief grew even as Akane's face became sad.

    Nabiki spoke up to support her younger sister. "It's true, Saotome, all of it. We're all robots. They call us marionettes here."

    Ranma shook her head. "No way. No way! I can't be a... marionette. I'm alive!" Ranma looked at her hands, rolling them over and examining her fingers carefully. She felt her wrists, prodded her face. "I'm me, nothing's changed.."

    Nabiki approached the distraught girl, shaking her head. "I know it feels right. It was hard for me to believe too, but it's true. You're a marionette, like Akane and me." She sighed, and started undoing the front of her kimono. "I'll show you."

    Akane started to protest. "Nabiki!"

    The older girl rolled her eyes. "I'm not going to show Ranma anything new, and "she" needs to see this." Nabiki pulled the kimono off her right shoulder, holding it up at the same time to keep her breasts covered. She showed Ranma her shoulder. "Here Ranma, look."

    Ranma had covered her eyes with her hands when Nabiki had started to disrobe. "Uh uh. I'm not falling for that."

    Akane sighed. "Go ahead, Ranma. It's only her shoulder."

    Ranma peeked slowly out of her fingers, then lowered her hands. "What?" She stepped forward, peering at Nabiki's shoulder closely. "Is that... a seam?"

    Nabiki nodded, staring herself at the line going around her arm a few inches beneath the shoulder. "I'm told it's a vent, for when we overheat. There is one on my other arm as well. That's about all that's obvious. We don't need recharging. We've got some kind of primitive matter conversion unit for power. We eat, like anyone. It doesn't really matter what we eat, although we can taste, and sense normally. It's really incredibly sophisticated. " Nabiki started to pull her kimono back together. "Go ahead, Ranma, see for yourself. Check your own arm."

    Ranma gulped, but did so, slowly opening her own kimono and looking intently at her upper arm. She felt the seam carefully but thoroughly, hen slowly pulled her kimono back up. Her face was ashen. "It's... it's true. I'm... I'm a robot... a marionette.."

    Akane went to the stunned girl and tentatively put her hand on the girl's shoulder. "We all are, Ranma. At least. at least we're all here together."

    Ranma looked up as Akane self-consciously withdrew her hand. "Yeah. sure."

    Akane tried to smile. "Come on, its not all that bad. Like you aid, we feel normal. I can hardly find any differences, at least, not any really important ones.." She sighed. "We're alive, and together. That's something, right?

    Ranma realized that Akane was trying to cheer her up, and nodded, forcing herself to smile slightly. "Yeah. Yeah, Akane, that's something." Ranma frowned suddenly, then her face lightened. "Hey, do you know where I can get some hot water? Maybe this Kasumi has some clothes for my male side."

    Nabiki slapped her forehead in dismay. "Ranma, you're a marionette. You don't have a curse anymore."

    Ranma blinked. "What do you mean? I'm still a girl." Suddenly it hit her. "A girl marionette." She paled. "Oh no! You're right! This isn't my old body.. I'm stuck like this! Stuck, as a girl, forever?" Ranma sunk to her knees, her eyes going blank. Akane stood by uncertainly, not certain what to say. Nabiki frowned, but was also silent.

(Ranma Fans, skip to next gap)

    Akane thought back to when she had first met Ranma, now over five hundred years in the past. For her, it was only two years ago. Her father had arranged for her to marry the son of an old friend, Ranma Saotome. When Ranma had shown up at their door, female, Akane had been relieved that she wouldn't have to go through with the marriage. Ranma, however, turned out to be male after all. He had been cursed to turn into a girl whenever he was splashed with cold water. It had been raining the day he and his father had shown up, which is why Ranma had shown up female, but as Akane had learned, hot water would change Ranma back to normal.

    Both Ranma and his father, Genma Saotome, had gotten themselves cursed at a legendary training ground in China called Jusenkyo. It was a valley full of springs. If you fell in a spring in Jusenkyo, you would be cursed to take the body of whatever, or whoever had drowned in that spring. Ranma had fallen into a spring where a girl had drowned, one thousand, five hundred years before, and had been cursed to change into that girl whenever he came into contact with cold water.

    With that matter understood, both Ranma and Akane's fathers had insisted that the Tendo and Saotome houses be joined. Genma and Soun had trained together under the same martial arts master, and had formed a lifelong friendship years before. Later, Soun had founded his own martial arts Dojo, while Genma spent the same time training Ranma to become one of the best martial artists in the world, so he could run the Dojo when he grew up. The two houses were to be joined to strengthen
their school of martial arts and to ensure their legacy continued.

    During the next two years, Ranma had looked for a cure to his curse while living at the Tendo home. He and Akane had fought the engagement not wanting to be forced into marriage, although with little success. With both their families honor on the line, they found it difficult to completely dismiss their parent's wishes. In the last months Akane could remember, she and Ranma had finally been starting to accept each other.

(Ok Ranma fans return, story time.)

    < Two years, we were only kids when we met, just sixteen years old. I still can't believe I was engaged to a guy that turned into a girl half the time!> Akane sighed. < But I was finally starting to accept it. Ranma, his curse, I was coming to terms with it. I. I love him. Ranma's curse. it didn't really matter all that much to me, but..> Akane closed her eyes. < But now Ranma's a girl permanently, and I never told him how I really felt. Our families are long gone, and the engagement was five hundred years ago. What am I supposed to do now?>

    Akane came back to herself, looking down at her distraught fiancé. < We didn't start off too well, Ranma and I. I never thought I could actually fall in love with someone like him. But now. is there anything left for us? Five hundred years in the future, does anything that we went through back then still matter? We're both... marionettes. Does our engagement even exist now?> Minutes passed as Ranma sat dejectedly, and Akane tried to think of some way to comfort the redhead. Finally, a knock came at the door, and it slid open.

    The pale Kasumi marionette looked into the room. "The masters call you to dinner. Will you come please?" She waited patiently by the door for an answer, her face blank.

    Nabiki turned to her. "We'll come in just a minute, OK?" Kasumi nodded and left quietly.

    Akane put her hand gently on Ranma's shoulder. "Ranma.."

    The petite red head nodded once. "Yeah, I heard, dinner." Ranma got to her feet heavily. "I. I'm OK. It's not like I haven't gone through this sort of thing before.. It's just this time. it's permanent." She shrugged. "I'll be alright. Come on. I suppose we should go to dinner."

    Akane sighed. "Oh Ranma.."

    Ranma shook her head. "At least I've had time to get used to being changed." She shrugged again, and headed for the door. "It's not like I'm even really a girl. We're all marionettes, right? It's not like I have to worry about guys hitting on me or nothin."

    Akane blinked, looking relieved. "You know, I hadn't thought of that. I was worried that I'd have to fight off the Kunos, but why would they want us when there have to be plenty of real girls out there?"

    Nabiki followed Akane and Ranma toward the dining room, and frowned. "I feel real enough. I'm pretty sure most people wouldn't be able to tell the difference. I hope our "Creators" don't decide they prefer us to the real thing." Akane and Ranma both shivered in real fear. They entered the dining room, which, rather than continue the house's traditional Japanese motif, was done in European style, with a long table and fancy wooden chairs, surrounding china and pewter place settings and fixtures.

    Dinner was an awkward affair. The Kasumi marionette, (who Godai explained had been created from pictures and descriptions of the original Kasumi) served, then left, leaving the Kunos alone with Ranma, Akane and Nabiki. Godai and Yusaku spent most of the time staring at the three girls, then whispering to each other earnestly.

    Nabiki, tired of trying to make out their words, finally spoke. "Godai-san, you told me earlier that all marionettes are female? Why is that? Why aren't there any male robots? I'd think that some men would want their memories preserved forever like ours were."

    Godai looked a bit surprised at the question. "Male marionettes? No, that's never been done. although the emperor and his chancellor did, upon their death, have their memories transferred into their best marionettes. That, in fact, is what gave me the idea to have you three built." He grinned. "Quite the success, don't you think?"

    Nabiki nodded politely. "I won't deny that. I can hardly tell I'm any different than before."

    Yusaku smiled at her widely. "You seem very real to me, Nabiki-chan." He laughed. "Male marionettes, what an idea! Why would anyone want to build one? There are more than enough men around already!"

    Nabiki frowned, an unpleasant suspicion coming to her. "What do you mean, "There are more than enough men"? What about women?"

    Yusaku blinked. "You mean you don't know?"

    Godai laughed. "Of course not. Naturally they would only remember their previous lives. The usual programming wasn't done with them." He looked at Nabiki. "There are no women here on this world." He shrugged. "Well, actually, there is one, Lorelei. One woman on a world filled with men. Until a few months ago, there wasn't even one."

    Akane, Nabiki and Ranma all looked shocked. Nabiki spoke first. "How did this happen? What happened to all the women?"

    Godai started to explain. "We are the survivors of a colony ship from Earth. There was an accident, and only six men managed to reach this planet alive, on a shuttle. For the last three hundred years, we've populated this planet with clones of the original six survivors. We were able to mix and match the genetics somewhat, to produce a greater variety, until today there are six full cities of different individuals. All men, unfortunately. One of those six men was an ancestor of the Kuno line, and the two of us bear those genes.

    Akane spoke up swiftly. "You said there was one woman... IS one woman, now. Where did she come from?"

    Yusaku answered. "Apparently, Lorelei was the sole survivor on the colony ship itself. She managed to put herself into suspended animation, for these three hundred years, not aging. She was rescued by a group of marionettes, just last month, after the colony ship went crazy and started attacking the planet."

    Nabiki spoke up. "So this Lorelei is the only woman on the whole planet?"

    Godai nodded. "At least for awhile. Our cloning facilities are working on creating an entire generation of women. It will be years before any of those grow up, of course, and centuries more before the number of women equals men, so marionettes still have their place."

    Nabiki sat back heavily. "Oh." Akane's eyes went wide in full understanding moments later. Ranma glanced at the two Tendo sisters, then her eyes went wide as well. Nabiki looked at the two men steadily. "So, for what purpose, exactly, were we created?"

    Godai smiled politely. "Why naturally, you three are to be our concubines."

    Akane started turning red. "Concubines?!?"

    Ranma was shaking her head. "Uh uh. No way. I ain't being no one's concubine!" She looked at Akane and whispered, "What's a concubine?"

    Nabiki winced internally as all chance of subterfuge flew out the proverbial window. Godai and Yusaku were slowly going from surprised to annoyed. She tried to salvage the situation as best as she could. "Naturally, we're grateful for you bringing us back, creating these bodies for us.."

    Yusaku broke in. "At great expense!" He turned to the older man. "Father, I think there might be a flaw in their Maiden circuits."

    Godai frowned. "My technology was perfect! If there is any flaw, it was in the collected data."

    Nabiki cleared her throat. "Actually, I'm pretty sure your technology and your data were fine. As far as I can tell, we're all pretty much the way we were, five hundred years ago." The two men regarded her with interest.

    "Indeed?" Godai began. "I was not aware that human females were so intractable, normally."

    Nabiki raised an eyebrow. "And how many human females have you met?" Godai opened his mouth to speak, then closed it.

    Yusaku answered for him. "Our records, from the house of Kuno in your time, indicated that Akane Tendo and the 'pigtailed girl'," He nodded at Ranma. "were 'paragons of virtue'. Mild and polite, well mannered and disciplined, bursting with health and beauty."

    Nabiki couldn't help but chuckle. "My sister, and. Ranma?" She broke out into laughter again. "At least he got the healthy part right."

    Godai frowned, looking disappointed. "I had hoped our ancestor's reports were more accurate." He shook his head sadly. "I suppose I'll have to make some modifications."

    Akane spoke up worriedly, not noticing Nabiki's warning shake of her head. "What do you mean by... modifications?"

    Godai answered her, speaking out loud to himself. "Hmm, some behavior modification, command protocols.." Nabiki started to look visibly nervous as Godai rambled on to himself, while Akane started getting angry again.

    Ranma protested confusedly. "What are you talking about? Nothin is wrong with my behavior."

    Godai glanced up momentarily at Ranma, then looked down, pulling a pen from an inner pocket and started jotting down notes on a napkin. "Vocabulary booster."

    Yusaku was listening to the older man, and began to add suggestions. "Perhaps we could add a Doxie training program. These prototypes don't seem to have the proper attitude or skills."

    Akane's eyes went wide. "I beg your pardon?!?" Nabiki put her hand over her younger sister's mouth to prevent further outbursts. She shook her head warningly at Akane, then signaled Ranma to stay quiet. Somehow, Nabiki managed to keep her sister and Ranma from exploding in outrage at the dinner table.

    When Godai and Yusaku finally left, still discussing changes to their new prototypes, Nabiki stood up. "Alright. Now we have to talk."

    Akane nodded vigorously. "We sure do! They're planing on. reprogramming us, making us their perfect concubines!"

    "Exactly," Nabiki replied, nodding as well. "Which is why we need to think of a plan."

    Ranma sniffed disdainfully. "Why don't we just tell those idiots we ain't gonna let them do it, and beat em up if they try anything funny? Worked on Kuno."

    "We don't know enough yet." Nabiki said, glaring at Ranma. "Can you imagine what might go wrong with your brilliant plan?"

    Ranma blinked in confusion, and Akane spoke up. "They built us. What if they can just... turn us off?" Akane shuddered at her own words.

    Ranma's eyes went wide. "Can they do that?"

    "Who knows?" Nabiki shrugged. "The point is... we don't." Before we can make any sort of move, we've got to know more."

    Akane spoke up, appearing anxious. "But how do we find out more? What can we do?"

    Nabiki looked thoughtful. "We get information, any way we can. Ranma, if Yusaku is anything like the old Kuno, it shouldn't be too hard to pump him for information. Get him alone, and use your. feminine wiles on him. Find out what you can without tipping him off what we're doing. Find out about how he'd stop us from doing whatever we want. Play on his ego."

    There was a quiet groan from Ranma. "Oh man... do I gotta?"

    Nabiki glared at Ranma, then shrugged. "Well, if you can't handle it, Akane can deal with him.."

    Ranma blinked, then rolled her eyes. "Yeah right, as if the tomboy has got any 'feminine charms' at all to use. If we're lucky, she'll just cook for him, and he'll be so sick he won't want to do anything to us.." WHAM!

    Akane brought the table down on Ranma's head. "Are you saying I can't cook?!?"

    "Well duh.." Ranma winced then pushed the table off her head slowly. "Hey, if I'm a robot, how come that hurt?"

    Nabiki shrugged. "We are supposed to be realistic. I just wonder how tough these bodies are. No sense taking chances though. Since we're robots, we're not going to be able to just heal. That means no smashing Ranma with heavy objects, Akane. If any of us get damaged, who knows what it'll take to get fixed." Akane nodded, blushing in embarrassment.

    Ranma frowned in concern. "I didn't think of that. We'd better be careful." She shrugged. "I guess I'll go handle Yusaku. I've got the 'cute little girl' thing down to an art form."

    Akane rolled her eyes. "Sure, for scamming ice cream."

    Ranma shrugged nonchalantly. "Hey, it works, don't it?"

    "Let's hope you've still got it, Saotome." Nabiki said. She looked seriously at the red headed girl. "Whatever you do, don't let them know what we're planning."

    Ranma nodded back. "No sweat."

    Nabiki turned to her sister. "Akane, you question the other marionettes. They may not be as... advanced as us, but they must know something. Find out whatever you can. Maybe they know if we have off switches, or remote controls, or whatnot. Try to learn about the outside, too. The area, proper behavior for marionettes, anything we can use." She paused. "I'll try to find a computer, or library, or something, and get the information we need that way." Nabiki jerked her thumb toward the door they had entered the dining room through. "We'll meet back at that room Akane was waiting for us in. Say, an hour from now?" Ranma and Akane nodded in confirmation, and Nabiki smiled slightly. "Alright, let's go, and be careful."

    Ranma grinned cockily and winked. "I'll dazzle him." The red head went out the door confidently.

    Akane paused before following. "You be careful too, OK sis?"

    Nabiki nodded once more, firmly. "Don't worry about me. It's Ranma that I'm worried about." Akane sighed, then turned and left as well.

    Nabiki heard Ranma's voice faintly in the corridor. "Hey, Akane, I forgot to ask, what's Doxi training anyway?" Nabiki tried not to smile as she imagined how Akane would answer that question, then turned to go as well.

    The middle Tendo sister began going from room to room, looking for a source, any source of information to start with. After several false starts, she finally stumbled upon what was unmistakably a small, but well stocked library room. Nabiki entered, closing the door behind her and crossing her fingers. "These books had better be written in Japanese.."


    Meanwhile, Akane had found the Kasumi marionette in the dressing room. "Kasumi?" She began. "Can I ask you some questions?"

    Kasumi, who had been kneeling in the center of the room, looked up at Akane obediently. "Yes Akane-san? What is it that you wish to know?"

    Akane slowly got to her own knees in front of this emotionless copy of her elder sister, and looked into her eyes. Kasumi gazed back patiently without changing expression. Akane sighed, shook her head, and looked at Kasumi again. "Kasumi-san, I am... new... at being a marionette. I don't really know anything about this body. Could you help me?"

    Kasumi shook her head slightly, her eyes still. "I do not understand, Akane-san."

    Akane tried again. "I have the memories of being a human, not a... marionette. I don't know anything about marionettes."

    Kasumi blinked, the most human mannerism she had yet shown, and quirked her head slightly. "You were programmed as a human?"

    There was a moment's hesitation. "Sort of." Akane answered finally, shrugging. "Can you tell me about being a marionette?"

    Kasumi paused, then nodded. "I... understand. What information do you require?"

    Akane hesitated again considering her first question, then spoke. "Well, for starters, could you tell me about our... bodies? How do we move... do we sleep? Do we have an off switch?"

    Kasumi spoke clearly after a short pause. "I am not well versed in our motive systems. We do not require sleep. We do have an off switch, for when we require repairs."

    "Where is it?" Akane's eyes were focused intently on Kasumi.

    Kasumi pointed to her neck. "It is inside, not accessible without tools."

    Akane looked relieved, but went right to her next question. "Alright, do we have controls inside of us, that can be used at a distance?"

    In response to Akane's question, Kasumi blinked. "We have an internal radio receiver and transmitter, for receiving orders."

    Akane raised an eyebrow. "Do you have to obey those orders?"

    In a manner that seemed to be more of an imitation than the real thing, Kasumi appeared to be slightly puzzled. "I do not understand."

    Akane sighed and tried again. "Does the radio control your actions?"

    Kasumi blinked again then shook her head. "It is a radio. Some models have a remote control device for use in combat. I am a household model."

    Akane thought about that for awhile. "OK, which am I?"

    Kasumi looked at her expressionlessly. "I do not know, Akane-san."


    Ranma walked about looking for Yusaku Kuno. < Is his family name till Kuno?> She wondered idly to herself. < Or does everyone just call him Yusaku? I wonder how many people there are on this planet.> Ranma paused, blinking. "Hey, that's right, we're on another planet, aren't we? Why does this look so much like some place on Earth?"

    A slightly familiar voice spoke up, startling her slightly. "We have done everything we could to make this world into as familiar a home as possible." Yusaku walked out from a nearby doorway, his hands inside his kimono sleeves and his slippered feet making almost no noise on the wooden floor.

    Ranma flushed in embarrassment. < How in the world did he sneak up on me? I've got to pay more attention.>

    Yusaku continued speaking, taking Ranma's reddened face for shyness. "No need to feel uncomfortable, my dear. You will be very happy here, I'm sure. There are a few glitches in your maiden circuits, but don't worry, we'll have them fixed in no time."

    Ranma caught that phrase again and jumped on it. "Maiden circuits? What are those?"

    Yusaku answered easily, as if the question had just been on his mind. "Why, the maiden circuits are what allows you to feel emotions. They are very sophisticated, giving the marionettes that have them very strong feelings of loyalty and love for their masters.."

    He droned on, but Ranma stopped listening, instead fixing on one statement. < They give us emotions? OK, I can buy that. I've felt plenty of things since I woke up here. One thing doesn't fit though, he says these maiden circuits make us feel love, and loyalty for our 'masters', but I don't feel anything like that. Why? Didn't he and Godai build us? No, wait, Godai said something about that one woman, Lorelei creating them. Maybe the Kuno's don't really know how these maiden circuits actually work.> With a slight grin, Ranma focused on what Yusaku was saying.

    "... and with a few new programs, I'm sure you'll be performing up to your best potential as the perfect concubine. How does that sound?"

    Ranma blinked, not liking the sound of that at all. "Oh my," she said, in her best imitation of the Kasumi she had known, and skillfully hiding her distaste. "Do you really think that will be necessary? I'm sure my... skills, will please you." She smiled knowingly up at him, batting her eyelashes winningly. < Heh.> Ranma thought in triumph. < He'll be putty in my hands. How can any guy resist? After all, I'm in the position to know exactly what guys like.>

    Yusaku looked interested. "Oh? I'm glad to hear your training wasn't completely neglected. Why don't we go to my room, and you can demonstrate. Who knows, you might know something not included in the current doxi skills program."

    "Your room?" Ranma blinked again, trying not to let her shock show. < Did he suggest what I think he just suggested? What kind of girl does he think I am?>

    Yusaku nodded to her. "Of course, my room. Where else? I was intending to retire with one of the Cherry blossoms tonight. They're usually just programmed for combat, but I've added some things. They have much higher capacity than the average servant marionette, and their reflexes and sensors are top of the line. Much more entertaining."

    Ranma kept blinking through the young 'masters' speech. "You have?" She stammered uncertainly. "You mean, they can? And the servants? K-Kasumi? I mean. aren't they. robots?"

    Yusaku looked surprised. "Certainly. What did you think the marionettes were built for? They were created to serve men. That is why, naturally, they were all made female."

    "Oh." Ranma looked embarrassed. "I should have realized." Inwardly she swore to herself. < Oh great! Now what am I supposed to do? How am I supposed to vamp some guy who gets. whatever girl he wants. however he wants her?>

    Yusaku took her by the arm and started leading her down the corridor. "I'll instruct you in how to properly pleasure me best. Perhaps, if your skills are up to par, we won't have to reprogram you after all."

    Ranma resisted the urge to pull free and let herself be escorted. < OK, think, damn it, think!> She She grimaced as nothing but images of what was most likely to follow flowed through her mind. Before she could shake off her mental paralysis, Yusaku had gotten her to the end of the hall and had taken her into his room.

    Ranma looked around at the palatial bedchamber with dismay. It had few details to pull the eye away from the central piece of the room, the large, curtained bed. There was a desk off in one corner with a straight-backed chair. A pair of paintings adorned two walls, an unfamiliar seascape, and an unremarkable mountainside lending some color to the room. Ranma kept coming back to the bed, however, in mounting horror, somehow certain that was where she was about to be.

    Yusaku cleared his throat to catch her attention. "Ehem. Let's get started, shall we? Remove your clothing."

    Ranma blinked, hesitating. < My god, doesn't this guy doesn't have any patience at all? What kind of a girl does he.?> Ranma's eyes cleared in sudden understanding. < That's it. He doesn't think of me as a girl at all. Marionettes are built to serve men. There haven't been any real women on this planet for three hundred years, so he's treating me like a machine.>

    Yusaku started looking annoyed. "What are you waiting for? I gave you an order."

    Ranma looked at the young man and nodded, schooling her expression. < He thinks I'm loyal to him, that I'll do anything he says, because he's never had a marionette do anything else. If I don't, he really will have me. reprogrammed.> The petite red head started to disrobe, attempting to keep her feelings to herself.

    As Ranma undressed, Yusaku shut his bedroom door behind him and nodded approvingly. "Very nice, my dear. Let's hear no more of these silly questions. Now remove the rest of your clothing and wait for me on the bed."

    Ranma finished undoing her kimono and let it fall to her feet, swearing silently to herself. < This is not going according to plan!> She hesitated, grimacing, then started removing her bra. < This is a waste of time! By now, the Kuno I knew would have done whatever I asked, but this guy just thinks I'm a. robot, some sort of toy for his amusement. He's not going to tell me anything this way.>

    Only wearing panties now, Ranma got onto the bed and beckoned the young man toward her. "Come here, Yusaku-sama." Yusaku leered at her and started forward eagerly. Ranma rolled her eyes. < Forget it, I know Nabiki said we shouldn't let on what we're planning, but there is no way I'm letting this creep touch me!>

    As Yusaku reached the bed, his arms reaching out for the petite red head in front of him, Ranma punched him squarely in the jaw. She had intended to simply stun him, and was surprised when Yusaku flew back into the far wall with a crash. The mountainscape above him tilted to the left from the impact.

    Ranma shook her head in astonishment. "How strong exactly am I? I pulled that punch." She hopped off the bed, moving over to check the fallen man. "I hope I didn't kill him. He's a sleaze, but I didn't want him dead." Ranma breathed a sigh of relief as she noted him breathing. "Hmm, before he wakes up. I think I should get ready for a little chat."


    Later, back at their meeting place, Akane entered the room at a run, and sighed in relief to find Nabiki and Ranma already there. "I'm sorry Nabiki, I know you said not to do anything to give away our plans, but.." Akane took a second look at her fiancé. "Ranma! What are you wearing?"

    Ranma shrugged. "I borrowed Yusaku's shirt. I didn't want to wear that kimono again. Too restrictive, if we got into a fight."

    Akane glanced down at the long expanse of leg Ranma was showing off, but decided not to complain. At least Ranma borrowed his shirt, and not just his pants. < I swear, that boy just has no sense of feminine modesty.> Akane's memories flashed back to all the times Ranma had forgotten to wear a shirt, much less a bra, after getting changed into a girl. < He nearly gave dad a heart attack a few times..>

    Nabiki cleared her throat. "Alright, what did you do, Akane? Ranma here decided to knock out Yusaku."

    Ranma frowned. "Hey, I was out of options! He kept on telling me I wasn't functioning right, and he'd have to reprogram me, every time I tried to ask him stuff. All he was interested in was getting me in bed!"

    Nabiki sighed. "Did you really have to knock him cold?"

    Ranma glared angrily at her. "It was that or sleep with him! Anyway, I figured I could tie him up and interrogate him." She shrugged sheepishly. "Only I kinda hit him too hard. He's still out cold for all I know, so I grabbed his shirt and got here just now."

    Akane shook her head. "There wasn't anything else you could do. Anyway, it doesn't matter. We should get out of here right away."

    Nabiki sighed, muttering under her breath. "She could have just done it...." She sighed again and spoke up. "Never mind. What did you do, Akane?"

    Akane chewed nervously on her lip. "Well I kind of... broke their master computer."

END of Chapter 1

Author's note:

Trust me, it gets better from here!