Strangers in a Strange Land
Chapter 4
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 4

    Godai Kuno reached his personal car, a “motor-palaquin” complete with all the latest features, still fuming about his abrupt dismissal from the palace hall.

    A grim but determined look came over his features as he started the engine.  “Hmph… that marionette said that my Nabiki had walked right past them.  If that’s right, then….”  He switched on the car’s automatic pilot and located Otaru Mamiya’s apartment, then plotted the shortest course to it.  He let the autopilot take over and start driving him along that route while his picked up his portable phone and dialed home.

    When the line was picked up, Godai spoke up immediately.  “Yusaku? How are the repairs on the computer coming?” Yusaku’s voice came back.  “The main’s unsalvageable, I’m afraid.  I have managed to cobble together a memory and processing upgrade for the backup.  We should be able to run at least eight of the Cherry Blossoms at once.”

    Godai grunted his acknowledgment.  “Good, send them out to my location.  I’ve gotten a possible fix on one of the rogues.”

    Yusaku answered after a slight pause.  “Are you sure that’s wise? You said before that….”

    Godai interrupted.  “Just do it.  Hopefully we’ll be able to deal with them separately.  If we don’t handle this soon, the matter may well be out of our hands.”  He gritted his teeth.  One way or another, I am getting my property back!”  Godai Kuno grinned slightly, reaching into his kimono and patting a small box he had there.  “And I just may have what I need to get it.”


    Nabiki watched from her rooftop perch as the traffic on the street died to nothing as the last bit of light from the setting sun slowly disappeared and darkness fell.  As night came, and the streetlights started to come on, Nabiki looked up at the stars. With a gasp, the girl nearly slipped from her spot beneath the overhang.

     < What in the world?>  Nabiki’s expression turned to wonder.  < Three moons?  Three moons?!?>  Nabiki got out from under the overhang to get a better look at the sky.  “We’ll, there’s no doubt about it… I’m not on Earth anymore.”

     Nabiki spotted a fourth moon on the horizon and shook her head.  < How many moons does this planet have, anyway?  I wonder… how far away are we from Earth?  Not only five hundred years, but on a planet I never knew existed before I woke up here.>  She stepped over to the roof’s edge, glancing down into the alleyway below.  < I’m starting to get worried.  When will Akane and Ranma get back?  I hope nothing has happened to them.>  Nabiki noticed a vehicle pull up at the end of the alleyway and stop, and moved back from the edge quickly.  < Why did that car stop?  Did someone spot me?>

    In his motor-palanquin below, a box on his belt started to beep and he hit the brakes, glancing at the buildings around him.  < Somewhere close….>  Quickly he called Yusaku again.  “My detector is picking up the emanations from one of the rogue Sabers’ modified maiden circuits. If it’s working, then one or more of the rogues should be within a few dozen yards.”

    Yusaku replied at once.  “The Cherry Blossoms are in the area, I’ll have them begin a standard search pattern.  I’ve inputted the specs of the escaped prototypes, so they shouldn’t have any problem identifying them.”

     Godai spoke quickly.  “Good, find them, but observe and do not attack, unless it is just one of them alone.”  He patted the device on his belt.  “If the Cherry Blossoms can drive one of them to me, I should be able to deal with it.”

     Back on the roof Nabiki heard the faint sounds of running feet across a nearby rooftop and dropped back into the small concealment beneath the roof overhang.  Seconds after she did so, a pair of tall marionettes with identical red kimonos and long bisentos ran past, then stopped for a second to look around.  Nabiki froze in near panic for a second too long, and one of them spotted her.  Its eyes glowed red and the other marionette turned toward Nabiki as well, both of them lowering their spears in her direction.

     Nabiki needed no one to tell her it was time to go.  She skittered out from under the overhang and started to run to the left, trying to get away.  Another pair of red clad marionettes appeared in her path, jumping up from the alley below, and Nabiki turned again, only to see a third pair coming from that direction as well.  Nabiki yelped and ran in the only direction left open to her, toward the street.  Nabiki just managed to dodge the Cherry Blossoms coming at her from both sides as she jumped off the roof, bracing herself for a landing in the street below.

     Nabiki landed and was about to run off when she noticed two more Cherry Blossom marionettes standing protectively in front of the vehicle she had spotted earlier.  A man was standing next to the vehicle’s open door, and she recognized him as Godai Kuno.  He pointed a small box at her that looked vaguely like a TV remote control, and Nabiki suddenly found herself dropping to the ground in agony.  She screamed as electricity shot through her system and her limbs refused to respond to her wish to run.

     Godai Kuno walked slowly up to her, giving orders to his troops. “Do not approach her until I tell you, or you will be incapacitated as well.”  He kept pointing the device at Nabiki as he stood over her, watching as Nabiki jerked from the energy randomly emitting from her systems.  “Now… where are the others?”

     Nabiki gritted her teeth, barely able to speak.  “Don’t… know….” She glanced up at him, trying to focus past the pain. “How…?”

     Godai snorted, amused by her question.  “A simple device, although quite specialized in its use.  I built you.  I know all of your weaknesses.  This is an electromagnetic pulse gun.   While your systems are shielded from most EM radiation, you are susceptible to a directed burst.”  Nabiki felt her eyes closing, and felt incredibly sleepy. Godai noticed and commented.  “Ah yes, your self preservation circuit is kicking in, shutting you down before you suffer permanent damage.  Next time we met, my dear, you’ll be much improved… I will not make the same mistake again.”

     Nabiki growled deep in her throat and fought against the encroaching blackness with every bit of her will.  Placing a hand shakily against the ground, she forced herself to her feet.

     < All I have to do is reach him… and take out that device.>  Nabiki took a staggering step towards Godai, then another, picking up speed.

     The older man stepped back, looking alarmed.  “What?  Impossible! Quickly!  Protect me!”  Nabiki’s vision was almost gone, and she missed the Cherry Blossoms coming at her in her focus on Godai.  She felt a sudden shock to her system, then another, and found herself on the ground suddenly.  Nabiki tried to get up again, and noticed that one hand seemed not to be able to find the ground to help her get up. Nabiki brought the offending hand in front of her eyes to see what was wrong.  The sight of wires and metal sticking out of the stump of her wrist… and no hand, was her last conscious sight.  As everything faded, she could hear the faint sound of Godai yelling in rage.

     Godai looked down in disgust.  Two of his Cherry Blossoms had been deactivated when they attacked Nabiki before he could shut off his EMP device.  They weren’t as well shielded as the Saber models he had constructed Nabiki and the other two from, and now were overloaded.  He moved forward, inspecting the damage to the Nabiki marionette.  He frowned, and nodded to himself, the damage wasn’t too bad, a few hours of work to do the repairs.

     “All right.”  He stood up, gesturing to two of his Cherry Blossoms.  “Put them into the back of my motor-palanquin, and we’ll head back to the estate.  Hurry!”  The combat marionettes obeyed quickly, placing all three fallen marionettes into his vehicle.  Godai got in and started the engine, then quickly gunned it, spinning the wheel and driving back in the direction of the Kuno mansion manually.


     As they jogged along back toward where they had last seen the marionette from the photos, Cherry came to a sudden stop, causing Otaru to pause as well.  “Cherry?  What is it?”  Otaru walked up to the short purple haired marionette, who was staring blankly off to the right.  At his words, Bloodberry, Lynx and Panther came to a stop as well, glancing back at them in curiosity.  Lime kept going, oblivious to the others' halt, until Bloodberry yelled at her to stop.

     Cherry looked at Otaru, then pointed off in the direction she had been looking.  “Otaru-sama… I’m getting a strong electromagnetic signal from that direction.  Should we investigate?”

     Lynx gazed in the direction Cherry had pointed, letting her own onboard combat sensors scan for the signal Cherry had detected.  She picked it up almost immediately, noticing it fade a few seconds later. “I read it too.  It may be something important.”

     Otaru nodded, and waved in the direction Cherry had pointed.  “All right, lets go!”  The group ran off again, just as the panting Hanagata managed to run into sight.

     The effeminate blond haired young man who was Otaru’s self professed “true love” (not that Otaru, or any of Otaru’s marionettes would agree with him) yelled and waved as he tried to catch up. “Otaru-san!  Wait for me!  Otaru!”

     In the Kuno mansion’s underground facility, Yusaku remotely commanded his house sentries.  Since two of the sentries that had gone out to Godai had been disabled, he had the computer activate two more, sending them out to join the group with Godai.  Before they got very far, however, he changed his mind, sending them instead to the rooftop that the Cherry Blossoms had first spotted the Nabiki marionette on. Yusaku had the picture from one of the two marionettes’ cameras fed onto his computer screen and he watched though the Cherry Blossom’s eyes as it hurried back to the site of the rogue’s capture.


     Ranma swore silently to himself as he and Akane ran, jumping from rooftop to rooftop towards the alley that they had left Nabiki to wait at.  < Damn it.  It took too long to sneak out of the palace.  If we don’t hurry, those other marionettes are going to reach Nabiki before we do!>  The red haired girl didn’t have to look back at Akane to know that her ex-fiancee was every bit as worried as she was.  The two of them ran on in silence, stopping on the roof of a building across the street from the alley they were headed for.  Ranma and Akane both dropped flat on the rooftop, looking down at the group of marionettes that stood there in the street in front of the alley.

     Ranma and Akane both instantly recognized them.  “It’s them.” Ranma muttered quietly.  “They beat us here.”

     Akane sounded worried.  “But where’s Nabiki?”  The two girls watched the group of marionettes, until Akane spotted one of them, the short one with purple hair, pick something off the street.  It was a scrap of green and white cloth, attached too…. “A hand!”  Akane whispered in horror.  “That’s someone’s hand!”  She shook her head in denial as Ranma took a closer look.  “No… it can’t be… Nabiki?”

     Ranma shivered in rage.  “That’s part of her kimono… its Nabiki’s….”  Her eyes narrowed and she stood abruptly. “That’s it.  I’m not letting them get away with this.”  The petite red head took a step forward to the edge of the roof and tensed to leap down.  “I’ve had enough!  All of you… ARE DEAD!!!”

     With an incoherent scream Akane jumped up and followed Ranma, revenge the only thing left in her mind, blocking out her grief with anger.


     In their laboratory, Yusaku and Godai sat in front of their backup computer’s monitor as Yusaku replayed the footage of the battle the two Cherry Blossoms had witnessed between Otaru Mamiya and his marionettes and Ranma and Akane.

     “A disappointing outcome.”  Godai commented soberly as the tape finished.

     “Indeed.”  Yusaku nodded sagely.  “Never-the-less, I do believe we have something to work with here.”  He tapped a few keys.  “Why don’t we watch it again, and have the computer do a full analysis of the data?”

     Godai nodded, looking interested.  “That is an excellent suggestion.  Proceed.”

     Yusaku typed a few more commands in, then started the recording again, pausing it appropriately as the computer compiled its data for him to interpret.  “Here we have Otaru Mamiya’s group of marionettes. They came to the site where you recaptured the Nabiki model just a minute or so after you had left.  The marionette called “Cherry” was first on the scene, and was first to discover the remains of your brief skirmish with the Nabiki model.”  The computer zoomed in on a close-up of Cherry holding up the severed hand of Nabiki, still trailing a piece of her green and white kimono.  “It is at this point that the Ranma and Akane models attacked Otaru’s marionettes.”  The computer sped the tape to where they could see Ranma and Akane leaping down from the rooftops towards the larger group of marionettes, then focused in on them.

     Yusaku’s voice sounded concerned as he went on.  “I was not as confident as you in the combat ability of our prototype Sabers, but it seems you were correct.  From what we’ve been able to determine on this tape, our group of Cherry Blossoms would be insufficient to contain them.  Attempting to approach them to use the EMP device would seem to also be quite risky, given what you have told me about the Nabiki model’s resistance to the device.”

     Godai nodded.  “The maiden circuit technology enabled her to override her shutdown safety… at least temporarily… and our Nabiki here is not anywhere as lethal as our other two prototypes.  But we already have a great deal of data on their capacities.  Show me what we have on the others… Ieyasu and Faust created them to be the most advanced on the planet, correct?”

     Yusaku looked back to the screen and typed in a few more commands. “As you like.  This is Lime, Otaru Mamiya’s first marionette, and Ieyasu’s prototype.”  The screen focused on a medium sized marionette with long bright blue hair.  She wore a black body suit under a white shirt with long sleeves that had a lot of extra material, hanging off her arms a bit like small wings. Her yellow hat with its cheerful red ball decoration, and her oversized yellow and red shoes gave her a cheerful, almost childlike appearance.  The scene she was in, however, stole all humor from the picture.  Lime had her arms up defensively as Ranma charged her.

     “Lime is the original model, and the simplest of Ieyasu’s creations.  She is physically slightly stronger than either Cherry or Lynx, but slightly weaker than Bloodberry or Panther.  Her personality is that of a precocious child… crossed with a puppy. She is probably the least dangerous of the group, unless someone threatens her master, Otaru.”

     Yusaku pressed a few more keys, causing another picture to come up.  “This is Cherry.”  The picture of the short, purple haired marionette was of her being attacked by Akane.  Cherry looked like a young girl in her pink and white robe, and her large red hair ornaments, and while Akane only looked a few years older in her kimono, the murderous look of rage on her face made her appear a great deal more threatening.

     “Cherry was Ieyasu’s second creation, and coincidentally the second marionette that Otaru Mamiya awakened.  She was designed with a very sophisticated combat computer and an extremely powerful group of sensors for data collection.  While she is slightly smaller and weaker than the others, her battlefield capacity is… was, only second to Bloodberry, because of her ability to anticipate battlefield possibilities and act on those predictions.  While her personality is that of a modest housewife, she is most efficient in a combat situation, regardless.” Godai nodded in understanding, and Yusaku went on.

     “Bloodberry is probably the most dangerous of Ieyasu’s three marionettes.  Her strength and speed is the highest of the three, and her combat program is excellent.”  The monitor changed to a picture of the tall red haired marionette, clad in her red and black halter top (with a large diamond shape cut out of the front to show off her impressive cleavage) and bicycle pants. Her spiked gloves and the way her hair was tied back by a headband gave her a martial appearance, not to mention the fierce look on her face as she swung a ripped up street sign at Ranma’s back.  Yusaku took a deep breath.  “As you can see, Bloodberry is quite innovative in combat.  Her personality is quite aggressive and she has shown little restraint in the past when fighting.  My advice is to avoid her if possible.”

    He tapped some more keys and brought up a new picture.  “Lynx is Faust’s second prototype, and Cherry’s counterpart.” The two men took in the picture for a few moments.  Lynx was around the same size as Lime, and had dark blue hair in a pageboy cut.  She wore a white collared shirt with a red tie, and a short blue skirt slit up the sides for ease of movement.  The computer showed her in the middle of throwing a brace of knives at an unseen opponent.  “She has a combat computer and sensor suite very comparable with Cherry’s, and is programmed with a serious, if suspicious, personality.  Her current combat ability I would place lowest of the group, although her potential should not be underestimated.  She is quite dangerous at range, and her intelligence gathering ability is not to be discounted.”

    Yusaku brought up a new picture, of a tall, short-haired blond with a star-shaped, red, glass eyepatch.  “Panther is Faust’s final model, and is very similar to Bloodberry in potential.  She is the most violent in personality, but like Lynx, has not reached her full potential.  I place her just behind Lime in combat ability, although she can be considerably dangerous, due to her violent nature.”  Panther was shown in mid leap, her right eye (the one covered by the eyepatch) glowing bright red, in preparation for her eye laser to fire.  She wore a blue halter-top, covered by an orange vest, as well as a pair of blue jeans.

    Yusaku shrugged and turned to Godai.  “Lime’s counterpart among Faust’s Sabers is Tiger, who is, to all reports, still undergoing repairs by Lorelei.  She is not likely to be operable for some time.”

    Godai nodded.  “A very concise report.  And what is your opinion of our two rogue Sabers?”

    Yusaku frowned, going over the battle again, slowing the tape down in parts to catch details.  “Frightening.  Their physical capacities should be comparable to Otaru’s Sabers at the most… but it appears that they are superior to them in almost every way.”
    He went silent as they watched the battle a third time, this time in slow motion.  Ranma and Akane had charged into battle with great speed, and their surprise attack had Otaru’s Saber marionettes on the ropes from the beginning.  Despite their greater numbers, the five marionettes could not seem to hit either Ranma or Akane… at least at first.  Ranma was an unstoppable whirlwind.  Everywhere she went she sent her opponents flying.  When they tried to retaliate, the petite red head wasn’t there to hit, dodging with incredible speed and agility.  Akane seemed to be slower, but was nearly as difficult to hit. She had crashed into Cherry at the beginning of the fight and had begun beating the smaller marionette around like a punching bag, while Ranma kept the other four busy with her hit and run tactics.

    Cherry had been driven into the pavement, while Akane repeatedly hit her with her fists, until there was a flash of electricity and Akane had apparently frozen for several seconds.  Panther had taken the opportunity to hit Akane with her eye laser. Ranma had tackled Akane out of the beam before too much damage had been done, and the two of them had retreated.  The lone human on the scene, Otaru Mamiya, had been almost ignored.  He had tried to knock Akane off of Cherry, but on the way over Ranma had knocked him to the side and into a nearby building. After Ranma and Akane had disappeared onto the rooftops, Yusaku noted with some surprise that Otaru had gotten up and ran back unto the street.

    “That’s interesting.”  Yusaku pointed to the screen.  “I’m surprised Otaru is still able to walk after Ranma hit him.  She’s certainly strong enough to have killed him.”

    Godai nodded.  “Good point.  It seems that Ranma did almost no real damage in that fight.  A psychological weakness perhaps?”  He pointed at the screen.  “The marionette “Cherry”, did suffer quite a bit of damage, I see.”  On the monitor Cherry could be seen, sparks coming from a hole in her chest, one of her arms lying at an odd angle.  Otaru ran to her side to check on her and Yusaku turned off the monitor.

    “That was the last of the footage.  I sent our Cherry Blossoms after them to see if they could find out where they went, but Ranma and Akane moved too quickly.  As for Otaru Mamiya’s group, they retreated back to the palace for repairs.”

    Godai stood and turned toward the center of the laboratory. “Speaking of repairs….”

    Yusaku followed his line of sight, fixing on the worktable in the center of the room.  “Yes… I suppose we should get started.”   They walked over to the table together and took a good look.  Nabiki lay naked on the table.  There was a hole through the lower part of her chest where a Cherry Blossom had impaled her.  Luckily none of her vital systems had been destroyed.  The worst damage was to her left hand, which had been taken off at the wrist.  It would have to be replaced from scratch, a job that would take a day at the least, probably more.

    Godai nodded to himself.  “I’ll get to work on her new programming, if you think you can handle the external repairs?”

    Yusaku grimaced.  “I suppose I can manage.  Did you want me to do anything specific, besides repairs?”

    Godai nodded slowly.  “Yes… while you’re at it, you might as well put in that new improvement we designed.”

    Yusaku smiled slightly.  “I’ll be happy to.  I can’t wait to see how well it works in the field… once you finish properly reprogramming her that is.”  He yawned.  “I hope you don’t mind if I start in the morning, Godai-san.  It has been a long night.”

    Godai shook his head.  “No, that’s fine, get some sleep.  I’ll see you in the morning.”


       *An hour earlier*

    Otaru looked over at Cherry.  “What did you find?”

    Cherry gingerly held up the severed hand of a marionette, still trailing a scrap of green and white cloth.  “This….”  Everyone went silent in dismay at the sight.  Lime looked particularly upset, while Cherry did a good impression of having an upset stomach.  “There isn’t anything else, I’m afraid, Otaru-sama….”

    Cherry was interrupted by a shout from the rooftops.  “All of you… ARE DEAD!!!”  Everyone turned to see a pair of marionettes hit the street and charge at them at high velocity.  One of the two barreled into Cherry like a freight train, while the other, a petite red head, ran interference.  Lime and Bloodberry jumped to Cherry’s defense almost immediately, only to be met by the small but angry looking girl with her hair in a pigtail.

    Ranma had sidestepped Bloodberry’s powerful forward punch, tapping the aggressive marionette’s fist to the side with her palm and accelerating Bloodberry along her path with the other hand, sending Bloodberry flying into a nearby wall.  Lime came in swinging, and Ranma was forced to block, parrying Lime’s attacks with almost effortless grace.  Otaru hadn’t really been able to follow the short red head’s defense.  It had been a bit too fast for him to see properly, but Lime’s punches were obviously going wide by a good margin, bringing Lime badly off balance after a short series of exchanges.

    Otaru barely had time to even think about shouting a warning before Lime was blow back by a powerful side kick from the shorter girl, throwing her into Lynx and Panther even as they ran up to help.

    Otaru heard Cherry’s panicked scream for help and headed for her, just before hearing a loud “Crack!” which sent him into a worried sprint.  Cherry’s right arm fell limp and Akane was poised to finish her off.  Otaru felt time slow as he rushed to Cherry’s side.  Panther, Lynx and Lime were busy getting untangled, while Bloodberry was just starting to climb free of the wall that had collapsed on her when she had hit it.  He was the only one who could act in time.

    Ranma had belted him with a casual backhand before he could take two steps, Otaru had seen it coming but couldn’t block fast enough and found himself flying through the air to slam into the front wall of a nearby restaurant.  He shook off the pain even as another horrible cracking sound was followed by a crackle of electricity and a sharp flash.  Otaru rose to his feet, seeing Ranma being attacked by Bloodberry, Panther and Lynx simultaneously and somehow dodging their every blow. Lime was standing frozen, staring at Akane who was sitting also frozen, straddled on top of Cherry.  Otaru realized that the short-haired marionette, Akane, had most of her hand stuck into Cherry’s chest while arcs of electricity jumped from the hole and raced up and down her arm.

     “CHERRY!!!”  Otaru screamed and drew his Jitte, (a parrying weapon with a round blade only good for stabbing and an extended hilt meant to catch weapons and break them) and raced towards Cherry.

     Akane started to withdraw her hand, looking like she was in shock, when Panther’s trademark laser came down, lancing into her shoulder. Ranma jumped in an instant later and knocked Akane out of the beam’s path, carrying Akane twenty feet away before setting her down, just moments later.  Ranma turned back to face off with Panther, Bloodberry and Lynx, but suddenly Akane turned and ran, jumping for the rooftops with an incoherent cry.  Ranma had turned and followed her.

    Bloodberry and Panther would have followed as well, but Lynx stopped them.  “Wait… don’t go after them alone.  We need to protect master Otaru.”  With that, she turned back to Otaru, who had reached Cherry’s side.

     Otaru dropped to his knees next to Cherry in shock.  “Cherry? Cherry?  Can you hear me?  Cherry… you’ve got to be all right!”

    Lime came up quietly behind him, her voice very small and frightened.  “Otaru… is Cherry going to be all right?  You can fix her… can’t you?”

    Otaru blinked away his tears and swallowed, not knowing how to answer her.  Lime was extremely sensitive about death. She still refused to accept the fact that things died, going into hysterics or running away when the subject was brought up.  It had been a touchy subject for her, for all of his marionettes in fact, when Otaru had informed them that living things, including himself, could not simply be repaired if they were damaged.  While most of them had at least partially accepted the reality of life, Lime was still not over it.

    Otaru forced himself to take a close look at Cherry, hoping with all his heart that he could give her a positive report.  < Oh god… let Cherry be OK.>  He inspected the damage to the chest first, letting the broken arm go as superficial damage.  < As long as her maiden circuit isn’t damaged….>  Closing his eyes, Otaru breathed a long sigh of relief.  “It’s OK, Lime.  Cherry will be fine.  Lorelei can fix her as good as new, you’ll see.”

    Bloodberry came up and knelt down on the other side of Cherry, looking concerned.  “How bad is it?”

    Otaru tried to smile reassuringly.  “Her maiden circuit is intact. Nothing that can’t be fixed.”

    The tall red head’s shoulders sagged gratefully.  “Great!  Can we move her?  I’ll take her back to the palace myself.”  She frowned angrily.  “And then I’m going to find the bitch that did this and twist her head off like a rootbeer.”

    Panther growled savagely behind her.  “I almost got her!  Damn it! If it wasn’t for that little red haired girl I’d have cut her in half!”

    Lynx was watching the rooftops carefully.  “She was good… too good. I’ve never seen anything like that before.  I’m not sure exactly how she was doing it.”  She shook her head.  “She didn’t seem all that much faster than any of us… but I couldn’t touch her… none of us could hit her at all.”  She turned towards Otaru.  “She moved a little like you do, Otaru Mamiya.  I’ve always found it amazing how you could survive time and time again back when we were trying to kill you….”  She flushed.  “I mean… as a human, you’re strength and speed is only a fraction of… um….”  She broke off, looking sheepish.

    Otaru shook his head.  “Never mind, Lynx, that’s all in the past. Bloodberry, go ahead and pick Cherry up… carefully, and take her back to the palace.  Everyone, we’re sticking together, OK?  Panther, no going off on your own looking for them.” He winced.  “We had enough trouble with them when everyone was at full strength.  Lets not start another fight while Cherry’s out of action.”  He moved over to Lime, who was looking like she was about to start crying.  “Don’t worry Lime, Cherry will be fine!  Come on, you can help Bloodberry carry her, all right?”

    Lime nodded slowly and sniffed to herself.  “OK, Otaru.”  The small group started back toward the palace at a walk.

    Hanagata ran up panting as they turned the first corner.  “Otaru! What happened?  Did I miss something?”


    Ranma chased after her ex-fiancee as Akane ran from rooftop to rooftop in a blind attempt to escape some invisible horror. Seeing the damage that Akane had done to that small marionette, Ranma had a good idea of what exactly Akane was fleeing. Namely, herself.  The petite red head poured on the speed, trying to catch up to Akane before the short-haired girl ran into any more trouble.

    By the time Ranma was within arms reach, they had almost reached the city walls.  The walls were an impressive structure nearly fifty feet in height, and they appeared to surround the entire city.  Only the sheer size of the place had kept them from having seen the walls earlier. Akane stopped in indecision on the nearest rooftop to the walls, long enough for Ranma to grab hold of her.

    Akane spun around, breaking the smaller girl’s grip on her shoulder.  “Don’t touch me!”  Akane backed away, fear and pain shrouding her face.

    Ranma hesitated, wanting nothing more than to grab hold of Akane and tell her that everything would be all right. “Akane….”

    The youngest of Soun Tendo’s three daughters turned away, facing the city wall again.  “Don’t… just… just leave me alone… I… I… how could I have….”  Akane sank to her knees, head down.  “I killed her… it… that marionette.  I… I didn’t mean too… I just kept seeing Nabiki… I don’t know… torn apart… dead… and I kept hitting her… I kept hitting her and I couldn’t stop!”

    Ranma moved up behind her ex-fiancee silently, kneeling down behind her.  “It was an accident… you just didn’t know your own strength, right?  And… and we don’t know for sure that she’s… broken… or dead or nothin… I mean, she’s a marionette… a robot like us, right?  I bet they can fix her right up… like a toaster or somethin.”  Ranma paused, looking thoughtful.  “Hey, there’s no reason for us to think that Nabiki is dead either….  I mean, we didn’t see any other pieces, right?”  The red haired girl winced.  “It looked bad, sure… but maybe she’s not hurt too bad.  I mean… they built us in the first place… so it makes sense that they can fix us too.”

    Akane turned slightly to face Ranma.  “Do you think its possible? I… what should I do, Ranma?  I… even if they can fix her… that marionette… I did a lot of damage.  Maybe… maybe I should just turn myself in.”

    Ranma hesitated for only a moment, then shook her head firmly.  “No way.  We don’t know anything about anyone here yet.  We gotta learn more before you go and do something like that.  Anyway… I’m not going to let you turn yourself in alone. I’m going with ya wherever you go, so if you want to get arrested, then you’re taken me down with ya, OK?”

    Akane looked away again.  “Maybe… maybe it’s for the best.  Don’t you always say I’m too violent?  I… I broke her arm… I knew I did… but I kept hitting her.”   Akane hung her head, bringing one arm up to her forehead.  “Ranma… I’m no good… I’m dangerous.  What if… what if I hurt you?  I’m so strong now… I could kill someone by mistake!  I… I don’t know what to think.”

    Ranma noted with concern that Akane’s left arm was still hanging limply at her side, and leaned forward to investigate more fully.  “You aren’t going to hurt me, Akane… or anyone else with this arm….”  Akane’s Kimono had a blackened hole in it near the shoulder, and was cut as if by a torch almost all the way around, leaving the sleeve hanging by only a quarter of the material.  Ranma pushed the rent open carefully, so she could examine Akane’s arm.  “Ah man… this looks pretty bad.”

    Akane glanced at her shoulder, seeing the hole in the front of it, with the edges of her skin melted outwards.  “Oh… yeah… whatever hit me… I guess it burned right through?”

    Ranma nodded.  “Yeah, there’s a hole the size of a pencil all the way through your shoulder, and a burn from the hole halfway around your arm.  Can you move your arm at all?”

    Akane gritted her teeth and her left shoulder shifted up and around, but her arm didn’t move.  “I don’t think so.”  She stared at the small hole in fascinated horror.  “I guess I’m broken too….”  She shook her head.  “It hardly seems real.  I felt whatever it was hit me… it hurt a lot.  But now my arm just seems numb.  I can’t feel it.  I guess… I guess that whatever wiring I have that passes for a nervous system must have gotten hit.”  Akane turned away.  “There’s no way I’m getting fixed, anyway.  Not unless I do turn myself in.  Maybe I should.”

    Ranma shook her head again.  “No… we’ll think of something, Akane. Maybe we can find somebody who knows how to fix marionettes… and get him to fix you up.  We gotta try, so don’t you go giving up on me.  I need your help if we’re going to find Nabiki and rescue her.  I’m sure now… she’s not dead… we would have seen more evidence.  They’ve got her… all we have to do now is find out how has her… and where.”

    Akane nodded slowly.  “OK… we find Nabiki… I can’t let my sister down.”  She nodded again more firmly.  < And then I’m turning myself in… I couldn’t live with myself if I really killed… destroyed… that marionette.  One way or another, I’ll atone for my crime.>

    Ranma stood up, looking around.  “It’s really late, Akane.  Maybe we should find some place to hole up for awhile, at least until morning.”

    Akane yawned and nodded.  “I am a little sleepy, but where can we find to rest?”

    Ranma shrugged and looked around.  “What about outside the city somewhere?  I’d bet we could find someplace out there….”  She glanced at Akane.  “Wait a sec… why are we tired?  Do robots have to sleep?”
   Akane blinked, then started to look panicked.  “Maybe it means we need to recharge?  What kind of energy do we need? Do we need a power outlet?  I don’t think I saw a plug….”

    Ranma blinked.  “No, Nabiki said we’ve got a… matter conversion unit or something… we just have to eat.  I guess we should look for some food.”

    Akane looked relieved.  “That’s right.  But why are we tired?  I’d have guessed we might get hungry, if we need to eat, but tired?”

    Ranma shrugged.  “Well, we feel pain, can taste stuff… heck, I can barely tell I’m not in my old body.  Maybe we’re programmed to feel sleepy too?  It makes sense, I think.”

    Akane nodded.  “I suppose so.  That means we have to find some place to sleep, and some food… and someone who can repair my arm.”  She frowned.  “All while we’re on the run from the law.  This couldn’t be any worse could it?”

    Ranma winced.  “Akane… don’t ask, OK?  Anyway, we’ve had tougher problems than this, right?  Pop and me had to scavenge whatever we could when we were going about on our training journey.  This isn’t all that different.  I bet I can find something to eat out there, and someplace to camp out too.”

    Akane sighed and nodded.  “Alright, lead the way, master woodsman.”

    Ranma shrugged.  “Make fun all you like… but that does look like a forest there, outside the city.”  She pointed off to the right.  “Those trees look familiar.  What do you bet they were transplanted from Earth?”

    Akane shook her head.  “No bet.  Lets get moving then?”

    Hours later, they were a mile into the woods.  Ranma had gotten a roaring fire going with her robotic strength, speed, and a couple sticks.  Neither of them felt cold, particularly, but the fire did make the darkness much more bearable.  Ranma had even been fortunate enough to find a few fruit trees in season, and had picked off a few handfuls of fruit off of each one.  The fruit didn’t really resemble anything either of them had seen before.  One was slightly like a pear, except it came in red and blue, and the other two trees had fruit even less familiar.  They were staring at the fruit Ranma had gathered while they sat by the fire.

    Ranma shrugged.  “Well… it’s not like any of these can actually poison us, right?  Nabiki said it really doesn’t matter what we eat.”

    Akane looked doubtful.  “We still get to taste it, you know.”

    Ranma chuckled.  “It can’t be any worse than your cooking.”

    Akane’s eyes flashed and she raised a hand to hit Ranma, then stopped, looking shocked.  “I…. Ranma!  I nearly hit you!

    What if I… broke you… too.”  Akane lowered her hand, looking ashamed.

    Ranma shook her head.  “But you didn’t.”  The red head looked slightly embarrassed.  “Sorry about what I said.  I always am saying something to get you mad.”

    Akane sighed.  “That isn’t any excuse for me hitting you.  Ranma… I’m sorry.  I’ve never stopped to listen to you did I?  I just got mad.”

    Ranma smiled softly.  “You never really hurt me, Akane.  You wouldn’t have hurt that marionette either if you had known your own strength.”  She lifted one of the strange looking pears.  “Anyway… might as well see what this tastes like.”  She took a bite, chewed, then blew out a breath.  “Whoa… hot!  Really hot!”  She glanced around.  “Damn… never any water when you need it.”  Ranma fanned her mouth.  “Whoa… stay away from the blue ones, Akane.”  She quickly grabbed another of the

fruit and tried it.  “Ah… that’s better.”  She took another bite and chewed.  “Try one of these, Akane.  This one isn’t half bad!” After finishing off all of the fruit, (except for the blue pears) Ranma settled back against a tree, watching the fire slowly die. Akane sat hunched over the fire, staring into it, and occasionally glancing back at her ex-fiancee furtively.

    Ranma let this go on for half an hour before building up the will to say anything.  “Akane… what is it?  Is something wrong?"

    Akane swallowed then shook her head.  Ranma chewed on her lip.  “Are you sure?  I… if you just want to talk… or something… I’m always here for you Akane.  You know that.”

    Akane nodded, but kept staring into the fire.  Hours seemed to pass, but it was probably only minutes later when Akane stood up, crossed over to Ranma, then sat down in front of her, close enough to touch.  Ranma remained silent, to frightened to make a move that would shatter the moment.  Slowly, Akane let herself fall backwards, until Ranma’s body supported her. Hesitantly, Ranma slowly put her arms around Akane, holding her from behind, and resting her chin on the top of Akane’s head.  They stayed that way for what seemed like hours, until they both fell asleep.


    The next morning, back at the imperial Palace of Japoness, Lorelei, Otaru, and Lynx were going over the data that Lynx had recorded in the fight with Ranma and Akane.  Cherry lay in a capsule behind them in Lorelei’s lab, her external damage repaired.  Her systems were undergoing a reboot to clear any minor glitches she might have picked up from the overload. They had watched it through twice already, and Lynx was playing it again, this time in slow motion.  “Something still bothers me about that fight.”  The blue haired marionette said, frowning.  Something about how that short red head moved was strange.”

    Otaru watched the screen.  “I don’t see anything odd.  She’s doing a classic Aikido style evasion right here… now she’s switched to a Tai Chi block…  See?  When she blocked you and threw you into Bloodberry here? And here… that’s kenpo… I think… when she’s doing that jump kick.” Otaru shrugged again.  “She’s a really good martial artist, that make sense.  That’s how she was able to beat all of you.”  Otaru nodded to himself.  “You know, looking at this tape, I can see you all could use a little time learning some refinements on your martial arts yourselves. I never saw you fighting in slow motion before, or I might have noticed it earlier.  You’re all really fast, but your form could use some work.”

    Lynx looked interested.  “What would you recommend?”

    Otaru scratched his chin.  “I suppose I could teach you… but my Sensei, Master Soemon is really the guy that could help. He’s the best martial artist in all Japoness.”

    Lynx frowned.  “Didn’t Lime knock him out once?”

    Otaru shrugged.  “Hey… he’s really good, but you are all six times faster than any normal human.  Form and technique only goes so far.”

    Lorelei listened politely while the two of them talked.  Something was bothering her, however, something that Otaru had said had struck a bell, but she couldn’t think of it.

    She yawned hugely.  “We’ve been at this all night.  Now that Cherry’s repairs are finished, I think we could all use some sleep.”

    Otaru nodded, yawning in response.  “Yeah… now that you mention it, I haven’t slept in almost thirty hours.  I’ll go check on the others, and hit the hay.  Goodnight Lorelei.”

    Lorelei nodded sleepily.  “Goodnight… or rather good morning, Otaru-san.  I will see you in eight hours or so… after we have both gotten a few more hours sleep.  We can puzzle this all out when we’re all a little more awake.”  She stretched. “Tamasaburo and Baiko can take you to the guest quarters.  The others are all there, and you’re welcome to stay for as long as you wish.”

    Otaru stood to go followed by Lynx.  “Thank you, Lorelei. Goodnight.”

    Lorelei watched them go, then got up herself, heading for her own bed.  < It was all so very strange.>  The only living human female on the planet mused.  < Cherry finds the severed hand of a marionette… and then those two attacked.  They sounded… furious.  Why?  Why did they attack?  Did they know Otaru and his marionettes were searching for them?  How could they?>  Lorelei continued to think as she got to her room and started to get undressed.  < That hand… it was of quite high quality manufacture.  Probably a Saber marionette.  Perhaps it belonged to the third of the Kuno’s three rogue marionettes?  But why was it there, and why did those two marionettes attack?>

    Lorelei finished undressing and pulled on a nightgown.  < Bloodberry seemed to think that they were attacking out of vengeance.  It’s possible they thought Lime and the others had destroyed one of them… but that would indicate conscious thought, a rational decision making process.  Godai Kuno said that they were malfunctioning, gone rogue. What if they’re actually functioning perfectly?  Rage is a very human emotion after all.  Their maiden circuits may be working perfectly…. What haven’t the Kuno’s told us?>

    Lorelei’s eyes closed as her head hit the pillow, and she fell asleep instantly.

            End Chapter 4