All the characters in this story are the creation of Akahori Satoru,
Kotobuki Tsukasa, and Rumiko Takahashi
Strangers in a Strange Land Chapter 6
Ranma crashed through a paper wall, Panther and Bloodberry on top of her. Using a leverage move, Ranma pinned one of Panther's arms and slipped out from under her, using the tall blond to knock Bloodberry aside as well. Bloodberry held on grimly, getting a firm hold in the flowing material of Ranma's oversized shirt.
Ranma managed to get to her feet and spotted Lime running quickly up. Improvising quickly, the petite red head shoved Panther in Lime's direction and tore free of Bloodberry's grasp. The taller red haired amazon fell back as Ranma escaped, once again running down the corridor.
Bloodberry swore, immediately taking up the chase
again, Lime and Panther right behind. "Damn, I almost had her!"
Lime giggled. "You got her shirt!"
Bloodberry glanced at the shirt still firmly held in her right hand as she ran. "That's one determined marionette." The shirt was torn open in front where the petite red head had pulled free of it in order to escape. Bloodberry dropped the rag and picked up speed, more determined than ever to catch the rogue.
Ranma ran past a pair of human guards, who boggled at her incredulously, long enough for her to slip past them unopposed. "Ha!" She taunted. "Never seen a naked girl before?" She glanced down at herself. "Well, almost naked. I've got to find some clothes...." She glanced back at Panther, Lime and Bloodberry racing up the corridor behind her. "Well, after I get away."
Ranma raced past a second pair of guards, and then
a couple spear-wielding marionettes that joined in the chase before she
recognized where she was. "I'm almost to the front door! A few more seconds and I'm home free." Just as she turned into the last corridor heading for the main entrance, a pair of arms shot out through a paper wall and grabbed her. Ranma's momentum carried her and Cherry half a dozen more yards down the corridor before they slid to a halt.
Before she could free herself from the small marionettes grasp, Lynx reached her, and then Bloodberry, Panther and Lime an instant after that.
Cherry spoke up over the din of combat. "Otaru wants her captured! We need information!" The marionettes struggled to pin their wildly struggling captive down, each of the others grabbing a limb leaving Cherry free. Hold her steady for just a few more seconds!" The purple haired marionette tapped a few points on the back of Ranma's neck and was rewarded when a small hole opened up. "I've almost got her...." Cherry pulled a long pin out of her hair and stuck it in the opening. An instant later the red head went motionless.
Bloodberry looked impressed, and poked the unresisting marionette in the middle of the forehead. "Great! What did you do to her?"
Cherry blinked. "I hit her off switch, of course!"
Bloodberry and Panther both looked a bit shocked at that, while Lynx just shrugged, having already known.
Lime just looked confused. "Cherry? What's an off switch?"
Akane paced back and forth in front of the cooling ashes of the fire. She had let the flames die unnoticed and now with only one working arm, was unable to bring the fire back to life. A long trail of smoke rose up from the dying fire unnoticed as Akane paced, trying to think of a way to relight the fire with her good arm.
"What am I going to do?" She muttered to herself. "How will Ranma find me if the fire goes out?" Akane glanced up the hill to the peak, several dozen yards away. "I know! I can keep a lookout from up there! That way if Ranma comes looking, I can spot him... her, first." Decision made, Akane headed for the hilltop, quickly taking up a post there. As the minutes passed, Akane went back to pacing. "Why did I agree to wait here? What if something happens to Ranma?" She scanned the horizon intently. "I don't know why I'm even looking. Ranma won't be back for hours...." Akane's eyes widened slightly as she spotted something moving between the trees below her and in the direction of the city.
"Ranma?" Akane hesitated, staring. "No....
too big, and moving too slowly." The injured marionette dropped to
the ground on the top of the hill, keeping an eye on the slowly moving
form. It was quickly evident that the thing approaching wasn't human,
or even alive. It was a large machine with a box supported by two
large, slightly birdlike legs, oddly reminiscent of the "Imperial Walkers"
she had seen in a popular American Science fiction movie. One major
difference was the peculiar fact that
the strange walking machine, while unmistakably mechanical, seemed to be made mostly of wood! Akane was able to determine its scale when she noticed a man walking next to it, standing with his head parallel to the machine's hip.
As they got closer, Akane could judge the man to be a burly six feet tall at least, which would put the walking machine at twice that. An older man sat inside the body of the machine, his bald head and long white beard sticking out of the cockpit. The two of them seemed to be heading on a direct line for her and Ranma's campsite, and Akane slid farther down the hill as they approached.
"Are they looking for us?" Akane glanced over
at the campsite and paled. The trail of smoke from the extinct fire
was still clearly visible, although it was just starting to fade out.
"Oh no! That's how they found me, the smoke!" Akane remembered
camping with Ranma and his father nearly a year before. <Or five
hundred years, now. Ranma told me that a hot fire, with dry wood,
doesn't smoke.... Which is what he built last night. I should
have remembered to put it out once it started to die!"
Down the hill, the tall woodsman crouched over the ashes of Akane's old fire. "Campfire." He stated quietly. "Less than a hour old."
The old man in the walker looked mildly disappointed. "Is that all? I was looking forward to testing out the fire fighting equipment on my new design." He patted the side of his walking machine. "I'm particularly proud of this one. I made it especially versatile, useful in any situation."
The woodsman glanced up at his old companion passively. "Hmmm?"
The old man snorted. "Don't believe me? I'll show you! You need to take down a few trees today, right? There were a bunch damaged by the last plasma storm over by the road, right?"
The woodsman nodded soberly and turned away, walking in Akane's general direction.
The old man maneuvered his large machine after him. "Go ahead, take me to them! I've made some new modifications. We'll have those tree's cleared in minutes!"
Akane cleared out of their way, hiding behind a nearby
tree until the two men had gone well past. "Whew." She breathed
a sigh of relief. "I guess it was just a coincidence. It doesn't
look like they were after us after all." Akane watched as the two
men started to get out of sight. "I wonder what they're out here
for, anyway? That big machine looks pretty high tech.... wood or
no. I bet they have a tool shop or something in case it gets damaged...
If I follow them, maybe I can find something to repair my arm with!"
She hesitated. "But what if Ranma comes back while I'm gone?"
Akane glanced back at the fire,
then at the disappearing men. "If I hurry, maybe...."
Akane rushed down to the fire and grabbed an unburned
stick, then wrote in the earth next to the fire pit. (Be back soon.
Wait here.) She nodded in satisfaction, "OK, that ought to do it." then
turned and ran back up the hill, then headed quickly toward where she had
seen the two men disappear into the woods. In just under a minute
Akane was able to make out the heavy footsteps of the large walking machine.
She crept toward the sound as quietly as she could and soon spotted it
walking along with the tall woodsman, keeping a nice slow pace. Akane followed them as stealthily as she could and soon they came out of the woods onto a medium sized dirt road.
The two men headed up the road for a few minutes while Akane shadowed them from the woods, finally reaching a stand of trees that looked badly burned from lightning.
"Those are the ones?" The old man asked.
"I can see the problem. They could fall and block the road at any time.
Well, not to worry. This walker has the tools for the job." He pushed
a button on his control panel and a pair of large mechanical (although
wooden) arms folded out from the body. He grabbed a joystick and
pushed another button on it and a large chainsaw blade popped out of one
of the arms. Grabbing a joystick opposite the first he pushed another button
large claw opened up from the other mechanical arm. "Here we go. I'll finish this job in no time."
The large woodsman shrugged and stepped back, watching patiently. The old man maneuvered his machine forward and grabbed hold of one of the trees with the claw arm, then started up the saw blade. Jockeying carefully, he started cutting slowly through the tree right below his claw's grip. In just under a minute, he had the claw arm pull back, taking the tree off its base in one piece.
The old man laughed. "Ha! What did I
tell you! No problem!" He walked the machine backwards and
laid the tree down.
The woodsman nodded thoughtfully. "Alright. Now what?"
The old man blinked. "Well, now we take the rest of these trees down... we can come back later with a truck to haul them back to town. It shouldn't take very long."
The woodsman nodded again. "Um hmm."
The old man grunted and grabbed the controls to his machine again. "Well, might as well get this over with." The machine went back to work, methodically taking the stand of trees down, one by one.
From the trees Akane watched, fascinated. "Wow...
that's a pretty neat machine. I guess they must be loggers or something.
I wonder how they are going to get those trees back to wherever they need
to take them?" As she watched, Akane noticed a crack start to develop
in the claw arm of the walker. When the machine picked up the fourth
arm creaked and suddenly snapped, just as the tree was being lifted over to lay with the others.
Komatsu had been logging for more than half his life, and the distinctive sound of wood snapping was far from unfamiliar to him. When the arm broke, he dived for the forest floor, covering his head without taking the time to look around. He heard the tree's top hitting the ground, and felt the trunk coming down toward him and quickly rolled to get out of its way. An instant before the tree hit, however, it stopped with a thump. Komatsu looked up in confusion and noticed a Marionette standing above him, holding the trunk of the tree up with one arm. Her arm trembled slightly from the weight, and her feet had been driven several inches into the soft ground. Komatsu blinked twice then rolled the rest of the way out from under the tree.
Akane strained to hold the trunk up. <What's happening? I shouldn't be having this much trouble with this tree! Even with one arm I was stronger than this yesterday... I know I was.> With a great effort, Akane shoved the tree off to the left and let it fall. She suddenly felt dizzy and tired, and very hot. <What's... what's wrong with... me...." Akane barely noticed the vent in her right arm opening up and sending out a jet of steam before she sank to the ground, barely conscious. <I... I can barely keep my eyes open... am I... going to turn off?>
The old man hopped down out of his walker. "Damn! How did that happen? I did the stress calculations twice!" He looked down at the strange Marionette that had come out of nowhere. "Well then, I suppose we were lucky that you were here, eh?" Akane looked up at him, her eyes slowly shutting. "Hmmm." The old man nodded to himself. "Out of power? We'll have to do something about that...." Everything went black and Akane lost consciousness.
Akane's eyes opened suddenly. She found herself in a small room and she quickly sat up. To her surprise, when she had pushed up, both of her arms had moved to lift her. Akane glanced at her left arm and noticed that it looked undamaged. The hole was gone. She was still wearing the kimono she had had on before, but the sleeve's torn edge had been cut back slightly to the seam.
"What's your name?" A gravely male voice asked her from the rear. Akane whirled around to see the old man from the woods coming into the small room she was in, carrying a small case.
"..." Akane gaped speechlessly at the man for several long seconds before finally remembering to answer him. "Akane. I'm... Akane."
The old man nodded politely. "All right, Akane. You can call me Gennai. Feeling better?"
Akane blinked, then nodded slowly. "Yes, thank you. Did you fix me?"
Gennai raised an eyebrow at the response. "I did. It was the least I could do after you saved Komatsu from that tree. I'd have never forgiven myself if my mistake had injured him." He nodded to her left arm. "The damage wasn't too bad. The control wires had been severed, and you had a pretty serious short there, but it was easy enough to repair." Gennai spoke almost to himself, not really expecting the marionette in front of him to understand.
Akane didn't really understand completely, but wanted too. "The control wires? Like for a... a plane?" She frowned. "A short? Is that why I got weaker... um... lost power?"
Gennai was staring at the marionette in front of
him in fascination. "A plane?" He looked very thoughtful.
"Yes... I suppose
a plane would have a similar system...." He looked at Akane in confusion. "But how would you know about planes? I myself have just recently been researching various methods of flight... but no one has built one on this planet in hundreds of years. The plasma storms make flight entirely too risky. How would you have heard of them?"
Akane swallowed nervously, trying to think of a good excuse. "Um... I heard someone mention them...?"
Gennai quirked his head sideways, staring at her intently. "You're no ordinary Marionette, are you? You have a maiden circuit!"
Akane froze. <Whoops! I forgot! Normal marionettes don't ask questions like that!> She looked at the old man nervously, not daring to speak.
Gennai shook his head. "I didn't know there were more of you. As far as I knew there were only six maiden circuits on the planet... although I suppose it would be a little strange if someone else didn't eventually build another one." He looked directly into Akane's face. "Where were you built? What were you doing in the woods?"
Akane looked startled. "The woods? Oh no! What time is it? No... how long has it been since I... since I shut down?"
Gennai blinked. "How long? Hmmm, about six hours I think, why?"
Akane jumped down off the table. "I've got to go!" She walked quickly toward the door and opened it. She looked around, noticing she was somewhere inside the city, in some sort of apartment complex. Akane turned back to Gennai. "Where am I?" She blushed, then covered her mouth. "I'm sorry, I'm being awfully rude, and I haven't thanked you for fixing me, but...."
Gennai put his hand on the back of his head and laughed. "Don't worry about it! I've gotten used to it with Lime and the others' antics. In comparison you're a model of politeness. You're about four or five miles from the East Side of the city, where the road you met us on begins." He pointed. "That way. You can't miss it, the first main road to the wall, and you'll see the gate right away. It's the only gate in that part of the wall."
Akane bowed. "Thank you very much, Gennai-san. I am in your debt." She turned toward the road and started off quickly.
Gennai watched her go in bemusement. "Why do I get the feeling I'll be seeing that marionette again?"
As soon as she was out of sight of the old man, Akane hopped up on the rooftops and started running full out, bounding along at high speed. "I've got to hurry! What if Ranma came back while I was gone... and is looking for me? My message said that I'd be right back!" Akane raced all the way too the wall, then went over it, avoiding the gate so as not to be spotted. She followed the road she found out to the sight of the fallen trees, then backtracked to the spot she and Ranma had slept the night at, and the dead campfire. Her message was still there, and the camp was undisturbed.
Akane sighed in relief and sank down to her knees. "I haven't missed him." Akane sat back, facing the cold fire pit. "Her. I've got to remember that Ranma's stuck as a girl now." Akane sighed. "Poor Ranma, this must be hardest of all for... her." She glanced around at the small remaining pile of firewood. "Well. now that I have two working arms again, I might as well get the fire restarted. Won't Ranma be surprised that I've already gotten fixed!"
Lorelei opened her eyes slowly and looked around,
confused at first by the unfamiliar surroundings. "Where am I?"
Even as she asked the question she remembered. "I've been kidnapped...
by Godai Kuno!" Lorelei sat up, getting a better look at her surroundings.
She was in a large bedroom, lying on an ornate looking curtained bed.
Her jeans and sweater had been replaced with a short white silk robe that
covered her arms to the elbows and her legs only halfway down her hips.
belted loosely in front and Lorelei quickly took a peek to check....
"Eek!" Lorelei turned slightly pink as she
realized that the robe was the only thing she was wearing. She tightened
the belt and got off the bed, walking quietly over to the door. Lorelei
tried the door handle to no avail, it was apparently securely locked.
There were no other exits to the room and the door looked very solid.
Lorelei looked around the room for some idea of what to do next.
Besides the bed the only other piece of furniture in the room was a large
wooden wardrobe. Hoping to find something with more coverage, Lorelei went
over and pulled it open. A number of negligees and other silken undergarments
with even less coverage than what she wore hung in the wardrobe. Lorelei picked out white lace bra and panties as the least embarrassing and opened her robe to put them on. As she was slipping the panties on, the door to her room suddenly opened.
Lorelei shut her robe quickly as Godai Kuno walked in, flanked by a marionette she recognized as Nabiki Tendo. He shut the door behind him, dashing any small hope of escape, although that hope was indeed small, as the likelihood of her getting away from a combat marionette was slim indeed.
Godai smirked as Lorelei hurriedly belted up her robe. "I hope you like the clothing I picked out for you. We couldn't leave you your original clothing, of course, too much chance of some sort of bug or trace chemical being in them."
Lorelei tried to retain some of her dignity. "Very clever of you. May I ask what you intend to do with me?"
Godai shrugged. "Nothing quite yet. Kidnapping you was only the first step. I have to consolidate my position with the council as soon as possible, but don't worry, you are still useful to me."
Lorelei looked at the older man intently. "What do you mean, useful? Why did you kidnap me?"
Godai sniffed. "I think that would be obvious to an intellect of your caliber, Dr. Lorelei. With you out of the way, there is an absence of power in the government. With the council in disarray, I will easily be able to assume control. At the same time, you are a powerful bargaining chip for certain other powerful individuals."
Lorelei swallowed slowly, trying not to show her nervousness. "You're going to... what, sell me to the highest bidder?"
Godai laughed softly. "Don't be ridiculous. Why should I let someone get a hold of such a valuable resource? No, you are useful because you are the only living female on the planet. People will give anything for access to your DNA."
Lorelei blinked. "What do you mean? There are a hundred clones growing right now with my DNA in them. I'm far from unique now."
Godai shook his head. "As I said, I'll be in
control of the council... and as you have probably guessed, I can circumvent
palaces security systems as well. In another day, you will be the only one. Taking a cloning chamber from the palace would be exceedingly difficult, but destroying them is not hard at all. Now that I have you, I have everything I need to begin."
Lorelei gaped at him in horror. "That's... monstrous! What kind of inhuman animal are you?"
Godai snorted. "I'm hardly inhuman, Dr. Lorelei, simply pragmatic. As it was you were going about the destruction of Terra Two. The introduction of the human female to this planet has to be conducted much more carefully. I am simply performing an abortion... as distasteful as that is, it is justified by the cause."
Lorelei shuddered, her hands going into claws before she could calm herself. "You... you monster! I'll do whatever it takes to stop you!"
Godai shrugged. "You can do nothing. If you do feel the need to do something heroic, I feel the need to point out the fact that I do not need you alive to carry out my plans. I can store your DNA perfectly well after you are dead. It's just a bit more inconvenient. I'm not a monster, if I was I'd simply have killed you already." He turned to go, and the door opened up for him. Godai paused in the doorway. "Stay here and guard Lorelei, Nabiki. Let no one but Yusaku or myself in or out of this room."
Nabiki nodded automatically. "Yes master."
Godai nodded and left, the door shutting behind him. Lorelei flew
to the door and pounded on it, but it was again firmly shut. She
slumped to the floor in defeat, then glanced over at the impassive Nabiki.
"So...." Lorelei sighed, sitting with her back to the door. "I guess it's just you and me, huh?"
Nabiki stood quietly several feet from the door while Lorelei got to her feet. The petite scientist walked around slowly to look the short haired marionette in the eyes.
"You're Nabiki Tendo, right?" Lorelei asked softly. "Ranma told me about you and your sister. What's happened to you? Why are you obeying the Kuno's?" Nabiki wanted to look away and it showed in her face. Lorelei's eyes narrowed. "It is you. Why are you helping them?"
Nabiki shook her head, her face breaking finally from her emotionless mask to one of sincere regret. "I have to do whatever they say." She looked away from Lorelei to the far wall. "I... I have no choice."
Lorelei moved to the side to interrupt Nabiki's line of sight. "What do you mean, you have no choice? What kind of hold do they have over you?"
Nabiki stared at the doctor in fustration. "I mean exactly that. I... I... I can't do ANYTHING they don't tell me to do. I can only talk to you now because Godai told me I can speak freely... as long as I don't swear or insult him. I literally cannot do anything they do not permit me to do."
Lorelei blinked. "A control program? Do you have any control at all?"
Nabiki closed her eyes and shook her head. "If I try to do anything I'm not ordered to do... I loose control of my body. I'm... cut off, trapped inside this shell with no feelings, only my own thoughts...." She shuddered in rememberance.
The only living human female on the planet paled in horror. "Oh my god... Nabiki... I'm so sorry." Lorelei stepped forward and put her arms around Nabiki impulsively, hugging her tightly.
Nabiki froze, then slowly hugged Lorelei back, trying not to break down and cry. <I won't cry... I won't show weakness.... Damn it... I won't give them the satisfaction!> Dispite her intentions Nabiki found herself crying silently into Lorelei's shoulder while the peite scientist held her and stroked her hair.
"It'll be all right, Nabiki. You'll see. I'll fix you, I promise. I won't let them hurt you anymore." Lorelei comforted her unwilling kidnapper without hesitation. The fact that Nabiki was in the body of a marionette powerful enough to bend steel was the furthest thing from her mind. Right now, all she could see was a young woman terribly abused.
Nabiki sniffed back her tears and tried to collect herself. <All right, Nabiki... I think thats about enough. Come on, where's that control you're so proud of?> She slowly pushed away from Lorelei and stood apart, the only evidence of her tears the wet marks down her cheeks. "I... thanks. I needed that." Nabiki took in a deep breath, closed her eyes, then opened them, outwardly calm once more. "All right. Now what? How are we going to get out of this?" She rolled her eyes. "And if you're going to say that Ranma will save us I hope you have something more concrete in mind."
Lorelei blinked, taking in the suddenly calm marionette with a bit of confusion. "Ranma? Yes, I suppose she is quite competent. Actually, I'm counting on Otaru. He's a very determined young man, and he and his marionettes have accomplished the impossible more than once."
Nabiki smirked slightly. "Do I detect affection in your voice, Lorelei-san? Might you have a bit of a crush on this Otaru?" Nabiki walked over to the bed and sat down, patting a spot next to her. "Well? Tell me all about him."
Lorelei hesitated. "Me... and Otaru?" She shook her head. "No. No, we're not like that. I just know he'll rescue us."
Nabiki's slight smile widened fractionally. "I'm glad to hear it. I think I'd like to hear more about this Otaru. He sounds like a very interesting guy."
Lorelei smiled slightly and sat down next to Nabiki. "All right. I'll tell you about Otaru, and you can tell me something about Ranma, all right?"
Nabiki nodded, her eyes twinkling. "Sounds like a deal."
end of chapter 6