Strangers in a Strange Land
Chapter 7
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 7

    Lorelei hesitated before speaking.  "Otaru... Truthfully I have not really known him for very long... but I feel I know him very well."  She blushed slightly, recalling the moments when she had been connected to Bloodberry, Cherry and especially Lime, in the time she had still been trapped on the Mesopotamia.  Their feelings for Otaru had been very strong, and somehow the fact that their maiden circuits were based off her own personality had created a strange bond between her and them,
although she had only been fully aware of it while in suspended animation.  Lime also had fully sensed the connection between her and Lorelei, but only once, while her body had been shut down after her
maiden circuit had been stolen.  The bond was real, of that Lorelei was sure, but it seemed to only be fully active in a state of complete sensory depravation.

    Nabiki noted the slight blush and the long pause that followed. "Hmmm."  She smiled to herself, thinking that she understood the reason for Lorelei's hesitation.  "I see...."

    Lorelei blinked and looked up.  "What?  Oh my...."  She shook her head.  "It's not what you think.  Otaru-san is a friend, nothing more." She shrugged.  "I know the most about him from his friends.  Otaru really doesn't talk about himself much."  Lorelei fell silent again, as her agile mind came up with a possibility.  < The link!  Lime and company were able to track me through it once before... if I could only think of a way to use it now.>  Lorelei shook her head slightly.  < But going into a state of suspended animation isn't likely, and I don't think Lime understood how she was able to reach me before....  We never talked about it... and now I wish we had.>  She sighed.

    Nabiki looked a bit concerned.  "Hey, if you don't want to talk about him, it's OK."

    Lorelei shook her head.  "No, I'm all right.  I'd like to tell you about him."  She looked thoughtful.  "Now where should I begin? Otaru-san was the one who ended up activating Lime, Cherry and
Bloodberry, the three marionettes that Ieyasu had created in order to rescue me from the Mesopotamia.  You see, in order for their maiden circuits to evolve enough so that the Mesopotamia's master computer would accept them in my place they had to be cared for by someone with the capacity to truly care for them, and let them grow.  Otaru-san was that person.  Thanks to him, Lime, Cherry and Bloodberry evolved real personalities, and were able to rescue me."

    Nabiki looked interested.  "I didn't know about any of that.  The colony ship's computer was holding you?  Why?"

    Lorelei blushed slightly.  "An error on my part, I'm afraid.  The Mesopotamia was my first attempt at true artificial intelligence... but it was a failure.  It did gain sentience, of a sort, but it had almost
nothing in the way of morality.  The computer I built ended up... falling in love with me."

    She paused, shaking her head.  "Due to my mistake, the computer rebelled against everyone on board and started the accident that would kill almost everyone aboard, except the six men who escaped, and, of course, myself.  The Mesopotamia kept me alive and held me against my will, and there was nothing I could do about it. Faust-san came up with a plan to rescue me, by creating a second sentient computer that could be exchanged for me, that the Mesopotamia would accept in my place. Using the prototype schematics of my improved design for an artificial intelligence, based off three aspects of my own personality, he began the long process of my rescue.

    Lorelei sighed.  "The process was too take the next three hundred years to perfect, due to the primitive conditions they had to start with, and I put myself into suspended animation on the Mesopotamia to wait for the day they would be ready.  Lime, Cherry and Bloodberry's maiden circuits were the final result, three aspects of my personality every bit as aware and alive as I, only machines.  Otaru wasn't aware that Ieyasu and Faust intended them to be sacrificed for me...."
Lorelei broke off, her throat tightening up.  < Why?  Why am I telling her all this?>

    Nabiki nodded slowly.  "So they were supposed to be sacrificed for you?  These three marionettes with Maiden circuits?  What happened?"

    Lorelei swallowed her guilt momentarily.  "They willingly chose to do so, joining with the Mesopotamia's master computer so that I would be freed.  Otaru would have stopped them if he could, but they took the decision out of his hands."  Lorelei smiled brightly.  "But this tale had a happy ending.  In the attempt to free me the Mesopotamia was badly damaged.  The main computer failed after a few weeks and Lime, Cherry and Bloodberry managed to return to earth."

    Nabiki nodded.  "That's good to hear.  What are they doing now?"

    Lorelei smiled wryly.  "Right now I suppose they are out looking for Ranma, Akane and yourself.  Godai convinced them that you three were dangerous and I'm afraid we agreed to help him."

    Nabiki frowned thoughtfully.  "Why them?"

    Lorelei answered quietly.  "They, along with Faust's trio, are the only marionettes known with Maiden circuits.  That makes them the most powerful marionettes on the planet.  Whenever Japoness has been threatened, it has ended up falling to Otaru and his marionettes to save the day."

    Nabiki blinked.  "Maiden circuits are that powerful?  I had no idea."

    Lorelei nodded.  "They  provide more than simply the ability to act on their own initiative.  The Maiden circuits give them the power of emotion, a force not to be discounted."

    Nabiki nodded slowly.  "I see.  That makes sense, from what I've seen.  You mean they can use their emotions to help them fight?  Ranma could do that... so could most of the people he hung out with... to a lesser degree."  She looked curious.  "They can really utilize their chi?  All of them?  I can see why they're so powerful."

    Lorelei hesitated.  "Chi... yes, that's as good a term as any I suppose."

    Nabiki rubbed her chin.  "Only marionettes with Maiden circuits have emotions?"

    Lorelei nodded.  "That's correct.  It's obvious that your maiden circuit is very advanced, Nabiki."

    Nabiki shrugged.  "Thanks, I think, although I'd bet it's just a side effect of having my memories implanted from my past.  What I was getting at was that I think I saw your Otaru, along with five
marionettes that seemed to have emotions.  Three must have been Lime, Cherry and Bloodberry, but the other two?"
    Lorelei blinked.  "Oh?  Well, they would have been Panther and Lynx, two of Faust's saber dolls.  They were also built in order to rescue me, although Faust wasn't able to get them to fully evolve.  They are staying with Otaru now, in order for their personalities to benefit from his influence.  Tiger, the third of Faust's trio, is at the palace, undergoing repairs to her Maiden Circuit."

    Nabiki nodded.  "I see.  There were two guys with them... One with brown hair, and carrying a Sai, and the other with longish blond hair...."

    Lorelei nodded.  "The first would be Otaru.  The other man is Hanagata...."

    Nabiki chuckled slightly.  "A bit of a flake, huh?"

    Lorelei reddened a tiny bit.  "Oh no... he's just... very devoted to Otaru-san...."

    Nabiki continued smiling.  "You're not jealous of him, are you?"

    Lorelei blushed brighter.  "No!  Otaru really isn't interested in him, Hanagata can be a little annoying but he's a true friend...."

    Nabiki nodded, still grinning.  "Who's in love with your Otaru, right?  But since Otaru doesn't swing that way, you're not really worried, am I right?"

    Lorelei shook her head.  "No!  I mean... yes, Otaru doesn't, but...."  She blushed again.  "He's not my Otaru."

    Nabiki shrugged.  "If you say so...."

    Lorelei frowned, trying to glare angrily at Nabiki, but not doing a very good job.  "Oh well."  She gave up.  "How can you tell?"

    Nabiki winked knowingly.  "Hey, I can tell.  I've had lots of practice, let me tell you."  She smiled gently.  "Listen, I don't want to make you uncomfortable, but I can tell you really care for the guy.
If you care so much, you should tell him."

    Lorelei blinked then shook her head quickly from side to side.  "I couldn't!"  She looked away.  "I haven't the right."

    Nabiki sighed and shook her head.  "Oh brother... another hopeless cause.  First Ranma and Akane, and now you."

    Lorelei blinked.  "Ranma and Akane?  Aren't they...?"

    Nabiki's eyes widened.  < Oops!  Damn... she'll never buy the real truth.>  "Both girls?  Yeah, it's not all that different from your Hanagata, is it?"

    Lorelei blushed and nodded.  "I suppose not.  Ranma does seem to act quite tomboyish, I suppose."

    Nabiki laughed out loud.  "Hah!  Yes, you'd almost think she was a boy!"  She sobered.  "Don't misunderstand.  They really do care for each other... they just... can't admit it very well."  < And Ranma being stuck as a girl isn't going to help any.>

    Lorelei nodded.  "I can understand that.  Still, Ranma said something interesting when I was with her.  She mentioned something about her and Akane having kids eventually?  Back in the past, I
suppose.  I wasn't aware same sex marriages were legalized back then. Were they planning to adopt?"

    Nabiki blinked.  "Err... well, they were a... special case."  In a lot of ways!

    Lorelei looked interested.  "Why was that?  How did Ranma and Akane... she's your sister? Get together?"

    Nabiki nodded.  "Akane is my younger sister.  As for how they got together... well, Ranma and hi... her father came to live at our house around two years ago... for me at least.  There were sparks between her and Akane from the start, although both of them denied it for the longest time.  It was far from an easy relationship.  Ranma kept up having fiancee's show up that had a claim on her...."

    Lorelei blinked.  "Fiancees?  As in more than one?"

    Nabiki paused.  "Well, Ranma's father kept selling Ranma off to various families, sometimes for nothing more than a good meal.  He would engage Ranma to some poor girl... er... guy, and then run off.  Happened more than once."

    Lorelei looked incredulous.  "That's hard to believe.  What did Ranma do?"

    Nabiki shrugged.  "Ranma didn't really know about it... until they started showing up at our house, demanding that Ranma honor the engagement to them.  There was even one girl from this village of
Chinese Amazons that...."

    Lorelei interrupted.  "A girl?"

    Nabiki paused again.  "Well... those Amazons had some pretty strange laws... one that if someone beat them in combat they had to marry them, or kill them.  Ranma beat her in a fight, and she had to marry... her." < Of course, the law really states that an Amazon has to kill a girl that beats her, and marry a guy... but I don't think Lorelei would understand.>

    As Nabiki went on explaining about Ranma and Akane's rocky courtship, (heavily edited of course) Lorelei was thinking furiously to herself.  < I've got to figure a way for us to get out of here and away from the Kunos.  If I was Godai, I'd have this room bugged, not to mention the fact that they might be able to monitor me through Nabiki. If I can just get to her control circuits and disable them, we might be able to escape.>  She frowned.  < But without tools... can I manage it before the Kuno's come in here to stop me?>  Her face hardened.  < Only one way to find out.>

    Nabiki was explaining jokingly one of Ranma's more interesting adventures when Lorelei looked her right in the eyes and started to speak silently.  Nabiki kept talking automatically and read her lips,
very glad to have picked up the skill to do so years before.

    "Are we bugged?"  Lorelei mouthed silently.  Nabiki shrugged her shoulders just slightly to indicate that she didn't know.  "Cameras? Can they heard us or see us?"  Lorelei continued.

    Nabiki shrugged again.  "I don't know."  She mouthed back silently, then went back to her monologue.

    Lorelei nodded then slid closer to Nabiki.  "Sit still."  She mouthed.  "I'm going to try something."

    "Nabiki-chan...." Lorelei said out loud, interrupting her.  "I've frightened that they're going to do something terrible to me."  Lorelei moved closer yet.  "Please... hold me?"

    Nabiki blinked.  "Um... all right...."  What is she up to?  Lorelei moved in and hugged Nabiki again, and Nabiki carefully hugged her back. Lorelei's hands traveled up her back to her neck, and circled it, then began to press in slightly in several spots around her neck.  There was a peculiar sensation and she lost all feeling in her neck, a second later her hands came up against her will and grabbed Lorelei's wrists, forcing them away from her neck and closing the small opening that she had created there.  When sensation returned to her neck, Nabiki's hands came back under her control.  "What in the world?"

    Lorelei rubbed her wrists ruefully, trying to restore circulation. "I take it that you didn't do that yourself."

    Nabiki shook her head.  "No.  My hands moved by themselves.  Do you know why?"

    Lorelei nodded with a sigh.  "I'm afraid so.  Apparently Godai has included a self defense mechanism in your control program.  I was trying to get at it so I could disable it... I hoped I could do so without anyone noticing... but it looks like that will be impossible."

    Nabiki's shoulders sagged.  "Damn... there's no way to get at it?"

    Lorelei shook her head.  "I can't think of any other way without disabling you... which I couldn't do even if I wanted to."

    Nabiki sighed.  "Well, it was a nice try."  She mouthed silently again.  "Think they noticed?"

    Lorelei shook her head slightly and shrugged.

    Nabiki frowned and nodded.  "Right."  She mouthed silently again. "Keep thinking."

    Lorelei nodded a fraction of an inch then spoke out loud.  "So, you were telling me about your Kunos?"


    Otaru glanced down at the petite red headed marionette in some concern.  She was attached to a diagnostic table in the palace's marionette repair shop with large improvised manacles.  "Will those
hold?"  He asked Baiko doubtfully.

    When Baiko didn't answer right away Cherry spoke up.  "They should, Otaru-sama.  Those manacles are of sufficient strength to restrain Bloodberry, so they should do for her."

    Otaru nodded.  "All right then, wake her up."  He nodded to Ranma, who had been dressed in one of the palace's Orange Blossoms' kimonos, which was quite a bit too large for her.  Cherry nodded and moved over to the side of the diagnostic table.

    Baiko spoke up.  "I doubt that will do any good, Otaru-san."  It is doubtful that this marionette will agree to help you find Lorelei."

    Otaru frowned.  "I've got to try something!  We can't just sit here and hope Lorelei turns up on her own!"  He nodded again.  "Go ahead, Cherry.  Wake her up."

    Cherry nodded and was about to do so when the door was opened from the outside.  "Stop!"  The loud commanding voice caused Cherry to pause in what she had been doing.  "Don't reactivate that marionette!"  Godai Kuno came into the room, surrounded by several of the Palace's Orange
Blossom Marionettes.  "That marionette is too dangerous to reactivate. You don't know what will happen."

    Otaru looked at Godai suspiciously.  "Why don't you?  You built them, after all."

    Godai sighed and shook his head sorrowfully.  "And I cannot say how much I regret my mistake."  He straightened.  "Still, I am now taking steps to counteract that error, as you shall see."  He nodded.  "As of now, Japoness is going under a state of martial law until the remaining two rogue marionettes are captured and Dr. Lorelei is returned safely. As I am the head of the imperial council in Lorelei's absence, I am forced to take control for the duration.

    He nodded to Otaru.  "Until further notice, you should have your marionettes combing the city and its surroundings for the rogues.  That is the way you can best serve Japoness at this time.

    Otaru's eyes narrowed.  "But Lorelei...."

    Godai interrupted.  "Will be rescued quicker if you begin your search immediately.  That's an order, do I make myself clear?"

    Otaru hesitated, then nodded.  "Clear enough."  He looked over at Cherry.  "We're going!"

    Cherry nodded immediately.  "Yes Otaru-sama!"  Otaru stalked out of the room angrily and Cherry followed along right behind.

    As they got out of earshot down the corridor, Otaru shook his head. "I don't trust him Cherry.  Let's go get the others.  Maybe we can think of something together."


    Godai nodded to Baiko and Tamasaburo.  "You two may go.  I want to examine this marionette in private."

    The two Amazonlike marionettes stayed put and Baiko spoke up.  "As the current leader of Japoness, it is now our responsibility to see too your safety.  Due to the fact that two powerful rogue marionettes are still on the loose, it would not be advisable to leave you alone.  The Orange Blossoms alone would not be able to stop an attempt on your life if you were to be attacked by them."

    Godai swore silently to himself.  < Damn!  These two are the only marionettes in the palace not controlled by the central computer. Unfortunately, aside from Otaru's Sabers and of course the three I built, these are the most advanced marionettes on the planet.  If they learn I had anything to do with Lorelei's kidnapping, there's no telling what they'll do.>  He nodded to Baiko.  "A very good suggestion, but wouldn't you be better served in looking for Lorelei?"
    Baiko shook her head.  "There are all ready hundreds of searchers. Our efforts are better served here, and our programming is very specific in this case.  In the event of a threat to the leadership of Japoness, our duty is defense." Godai frowned but kept his protests to himself.  < Damn!!!  Until I get
rid of those two, I'll have to be careful not to reveal my plans.>


    Otaru and Cherry met Lime, Bloodberry, Panther and Lynx at his apartment in the middle of town only less than half an hour later.
    "What's going on, Otaru?"  Bloodberry asked as soon as he got through the door.  "Did you and Cherry question that marionette?"

    Otaru shook his head.  "We didn't get the chance.  General Kuno came in, claiming to be in charge of Japoness now, and told us to get out and go look for Lorelei and the other rogue marionettes."  The young man frowned.  "I don't trust him." Lime growled and nodded.  "I don't trust him either!"  She blinked. "Um, who is it we don't trust?"  Otaru sighed and was about to explain when the door slid open to his apartment.

    "What's going on, Otaru-san?"  A balding, white haired older man poked his head into the room.  "What's this I heard about Martial Law? Has something happened to Lorelei-san?"

    Otaru turned to look at his friend.  "Gennai-san, I'm afraid to say that Lorelei's been kidnapped, supposedly by a group of new marionettes with Maiden circuits."

    Gennai blinked.  "Lorelei kidnapped you say?  When was this?"

    Otaru shook his head.  "Around an hour ago.  We caught one of them at the scene, but General Kuno kicked us out of the palace before we could question her.  He's taken over the council and declared Martial Law."

    Gennai looked thoughtful.  "An  hour ago you say?  How long exactly?"

    Otaru shook his head.  "At least an hour ago... maybe as much as an hour and a half.  Why?"

    Gennai frowned.  "Because I just encountered a marionette with a Maiden Circuit, only she couldn't have kidnapped Lorelei, as she left me only forty five minutes ago or so."  He frowned deeper.  "How many of these marionettes are there?"

    Otaru blinked.  "Three.  I have some photos...."  He brought out the sheaf.  "You say this marionette had a Maiden Circuit?"

    Gennai nodded, going over the pictures.  "Without a doubt.  She was every bit as emotional as your bunch."  He pointed at one of the pictures.  "That's her, she calls herself Akane."

    Everyone glanced at the photo and there were several gasps.  "That's the one that attacked Cherry!"  Bloodberry declared loudly.  "Which way did she go?"

    Gennai nodded to his left.  "Toward the city wall, I assume she was leaving the city, back to where we first found her."

    Bloodberry nodded firmly.  "OK!  Take us there quick, Gennai-san! We've got to get Lorelei back!"

    Gennai shook his head.  "As I said, I don't see how she could have taken Lorelei-san.  She was with me for at least six hours, and she just left, after you say Lorelei was kidnapped."  He glanced at Cherry.  "Did you damage her?  I didn't know you had a laser."

    Cherry shook her head.  "No, Panther shot her... I believe... I had lost function at that time."

    Panther nodded angrily.  "I would have finished her off too, if that red head hadn't helped her."

    Otaru spoke up.  "This marionette... Akane, nearly destroyed Cherry while this one," he pointed to the photo of a petite red haired marionette,  "held the rest of us off.  Later we found this one in the
palace, and Lorelei was missing."

    Gennai frowned.  "This isn't good news!  Come, I'll take you to where I first saw Akane."  He started walking.  "I'm not sure I understand what's going on, but I'll help any way I can."

    As they headed for the outskirts of the city, Cherry spoke up.  "If Akane was with you during the kidnapping, and we caught the second one, that leaves the third as the one who captured Lorelei."  She shook her head.  "Only the hand we found, and the actions of Akane and the second marionette seem to point to the fact that the third one is damaged. Unless I was badly mistaken, that hand belonged to the third rogue marionette.  If she was that badly damaged, how could she escape the
palace with Lorelei?"

    Gennai shook his head.  "I don't know.  I still find it hard to believe that that nice marionette Akane had anything to do with Lorelei's kidnapping.  She saved Komatsu from a falling tree in the forest.  Why would she do that?"

    Otaru frowned.  "We'll just have to ask her."

    It wasn't long until they were in the woods, searching for some sign of Akane. "All right everyone, we'll split up into groups."  Otaru decided.  "Cherry, Lime and me in one group, and Lynx, Bloodberry and Panther in the other.  If you find her, capture her intact.  We need information most of all.  She's damaged, so she shouldn't prove to difficult to stop."

    Gennai cleared his throat.  "Um, I'm afraid I repaired her.  It seemed to be the least I could do after she saved Komatsu...."

    Otaru shook his head.  "It doesn't matter.  Everyone keep your guard up and yell if you find her.  We'll meet back here in half an hour if we find something or not."  Everyone nodded and they split up, going their separate ways.

    A few minutes later, deeper in the woods, Cherry came to a halt, gazing off to her right.  "I detect a small wood fueled fire off in that direction.  Should we investigate?"

    Otaru nodded.  "Right.  It's probably some hikers or something, but they might have seen something."  Following Cherry's lead they soon came in sight of a small nearly smokeless campfire, over which a familiar looking marionette hunched, adding a small bunch of sticks.

    "That's her!"  Otaru whispered excitedly.  "We should get the others before we... Lime!"

    "Hello, Akane!"  Lime was walking over the top of the hill toward Akane, smiling reassuringly.  "Can we be friends?  I know we fought before, but we fought with Lynx and Panther and Tiger-san... and we're all friends now... so can we be friends too?" Akane jerked upright as she noticed Limes approach, and watched the cheerful marionette warily.  "Friends?  You... you want to be friends?"
Otaru and Cherry came out from behind the hill together slowly, coming up behind Lime cautiously.

    Upon spotting Cherry Akane's face went ashen and she dropped to her knees.  "Oh my god... I... I thought I'd...."  She looked at Cherry earnestly, her face pleading.  "I'm so sorry.  Please... I didn't mean to hurt you so badly."  She dropped her eyes, letting her hands brush the ground.  "I... I surrender."

    Lime came up to her, looking confused and concerned.  "It's OK, Otaru fixed Cherry."  She glanced back at Otaru and Cherry.  "It's OK, right?  Akane didn't mean too.  She Komatsu... he's my friend, he let me have Squirrely, my pet squirrel!  She wouldn't have saved him if she's mean!  Right?  Right?"  Lime looked around anxiously, disturbed by the profound despair of the marionette kneeling in front of her.  Cherry sighed, taking in the defenseless form of her attacker.

    Cherry glanced at her master for guidance, but Otaru simply shook his head.  "It's your decision, Cherry.  I can't make it for you."

    The pink haired marionette took one final look at Akane, who remained kneeling, awaiting her decision.  "All right."  Cherry sighed again.  "I forgive you, all right?"  She took Akane's chin and lifted
her face to look her in the eyes.  Akane's eyes were brimming with tears and Cherry felt her Maiden Circuit warm in response.  "You were angry that your friend was hurt, weren't you?  That was her hand, wasn't it?"

    Akane nodded slowly.  "My sister.  It was my sister Nabiki's hand." She brought her hands up, taking Cherry's hand.  "Please, please, tell me that she's all right!  I'll do whatever you want, just tell me she'll be OK!"

    Cherry stepped back but didn't pull her wrist free.  "Nabiki?  Is that her name?  I'm sorry, we don't have her.  All we found was that hand, right before you and the other marionette showed up."

    Otaru looked slightly confused.  "What do you mean by sister? Because you were all built at the same time?" Akane shook her head.  "No, I mean she's my sister... was my sister, ever since I was born."

    Otaru blinked.  "Born?"

    Akane nodded earnestly.  "I'm not a robot... a marionette... at least I didn't use to be.  I'm a girl, a human girl!  My name is Akane Tendo.  My memories were... put into this... marionette... by Godai
Kuno.  He made me, Ranma and my sister Nabiki.  We were all human... once."

    Lime blinked.  "Like the Shogun?"

    Akane nodded slowly.  "Godai said we were like him... only our memories were in a computer for the last five hundred years.  The Kunos meant for us to be their concubines... but we escaped."

    Otaru eyes narrowed in understanding and anger.  "Of course.  That explains everything!  He's been doing everything he could to get you back, or destroy you, any way he could, so no one would find out what he had done.  I bet he's behind Lorelei's kidnapping too.  That way he could blame you for it and take over Japoness in one fell swoop!"  He nodded firmly.

    "All right, Akane, you're coming with us.  We've got to get the others, then get back to Japoness quick, before he does something else!"

    Minutes later Otaru and company found Bloodberry and the others, and they headed back toward Japoness at a run, leaving Gennai plodding along behind.

    The old man waved them on, panting.  "Go on ahead!  I'll make sure everyone knows what's really going on, and we'll come to the palace with reinforcements!"

    As they ran, Bloodberry and Panther paced Akane, watching her suspiciously.  "How do we know she's telling the truth?"  Bloodberry asked pointedly.  "This could be some sort of trap."

    Otaru shook his head.  "No, I trust my gut, and my gut has been telling me not to trust General Kuno from the first moment I saw him.  I believe her."

    Lime joined in enthusiastically.  "Right!  I am going gusto too!" She smiled at Akane.  "And she's our friend now, right Akane?"

    Akane nodded.  "I'd like that, Lime.  I want to make up for the mistakes I've made."

    Bloodberry smiled slightly.  Leave it to Lime to turn a deadly enemy into a friend.  Panther just sniffed in disbelief.

    As they closed in on the city, Otaru looked over at Akane.  "Where would the Kunos keep Lorelei?"

    Akane shook her head.  "I'm not sure.  His mansion maybe?"

    Otaru nodded slowly.  "That's a good idea, but if we're wrong, he might do something to Lorelei.  We had better split up.  One team to go to the Kuno Mansion and look for Lorelei, and the other to go to the palace and deal with General Kuno."

    Lime nodded.  "And we can wake up Akane's other friend at the palace!  I bet she'd help us!"

    Akane blinked.  "My other friend?  You mean Ranma?"

    Otaru nodded.  "Red hair and a pigtail, right?  She was with you went you fought us before?"

    Akane nodded quickly.  "Is he... she, alright?"

    Cherry was quick to reassure her, having been the target of one of Akane's rages before.  "Yes, she's fine, just shut off.  Do you know what she would have been doing in the palace?"

    Akane frowned.  "That idiot, yes, I can guess.  He... she must have figured on trying to talk to Lorelei again.  We heard about her and thought she would help us if she could, but...."

    Otaru sighed.  "But Godai Kuno got to us first.  I'm sorry, Akane. I never should have trusted him."

    Akane shrugged sadly.  "How could you have known?  But if Ranma's there, I've got to rescue him!"

    Otaru shook his own head quickly.  "No.  Right now you're public enemy number one.  You'd just slow us down when we went in.  Anyway, you should know the Kuno mansion better than any of us.  You'll be more help there."

    Akane looked ready to protest then sighed.  "You're right, I'll go to the mansion.  Just... take care of Ranma for me, OK?  She may be an idiot... but I don't want anything bad to happen to her."

    Otaru nodded.  "I'll save her, Akane, I promise.  Now, for teams, Akane, you, Bloodberry and Cherry go into the Mansion and get Lorelei. Panther, Lynx and Lime will come with me into the Palace in order to put a stop to whatever General Kuno has there."  He paused.  "If all goes well, we'll all meet at the palace afterward.  If all doesn't go well...."  He looked thoughtful.  "In that case, go to Akane's campsite.  No one who isn't here should know where that is."

    Akane paused.  "When you wake up Ranma she might not trust you right away.  Tell her... um... tell her Akane said... Jusenkyo, and to trust you.  That way Ranma will know the message is from me.

    Otaru blinked.  "Jusenkyo?  What does that mean?"

    Akane couldn't help but smile.  "Ask Ranma.  Maybe she'll even tell you!"

    Otaru shrugged and turned to go, waving to Lime, Panther and Lynx to follow him.  "There's no time to lose!  Who knows what Kuno has got planned?"

    Akane nodded and started off in the direction of the Kuno mansion. "Good luck Otaru, to all of us."

            The end of Chapter 7