Strangers in a Strange Land
Chapter 8
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 8

    Godai had not been idle at the palace.  As soon as Otaru had left he began making modifications to the Orange Blossom marionettes, using his new authority.  Ever since his successful test with Nabiki he had had Yusaku producing large numbers of the control circuits he had created, justifying it to the palace technicians, accurately enough, by explaining the increased combat potential the chips gave, using the recorded Martial Arts techniques of the Anything Goes school.

    "Obviously," he explained patiently, "the repeated intrusions into the palace proves that security needs to be tightened."  Godai neglected to mention, of course, the fact that the control circuits had hardwired into them an overriding obedience to himself and Yusaku.  He was confident that it would not be discovered until after it was already too late to do anything about it.  Before an hour had passed, the palace's maintenance staff and technicians were busy installing his modifications to the palace guard.

    Baiko and Tamasaburo, however, already had state of the art combat computers, and Godai simply couldn't think of a justification for implanting his chip in them, at least not a reasonable one.  At the same time, Godai couldn't think of a way to explain why he would be "improving" the Ranma marionette, after already declaring her to be a rogue, and any other procedure to bring her back under his control was too time consuming to bother with at the present.

    As the work continued, however, Godai started to relax.  < Soon every marionette in the palace guard will be modified, and I will control the most powerful force in the city.  If I'm careful, I can convince the council to modify the city militia as well, and then I will be solidly in control of Japoness.>  He nodded to himself.  < Now all I have to do is arrange an "accident" in the cloning center and blame it on the "rogue" marionettes.  Otaru Mamiya will finish off the one remaining rogue, or I will, and then nothing will be able to stop me.>  Godai smiled widely.  < I'll be able to consolidate my hold carefully until I'm ready to start making the next step.>

    Back at the Kuno mansion, Yusaku watched Lorelei and Nabiki through the security room's monitors.  He rubbed his jaw absently.  The bruise that Ranma had given him was just starting to fade, but his resentment of the event was coming back to the fore as he watched the two women.

    "Hmph."  He groused.  "Human females.  I find it hard to believe they would be any improvement over marionettes."  Yusaku changed to angle of the camera so that he could get a better look at Lorelei.  "I admit that she is attractive... but so are my marionettes.  What's so much better about a human female?"  He snapped off the monitor.  "I'm thinking about this too much.  If I'm to find out the truth, it is easier to simply test my hypothesis."  He got up and waved to a pair of  Cherry Blossoms for them to follow him.  Several twists and turns through the house later, he was at the door to Lorelei's room.  He tapped a code
on the panel outside the door and it slid open silently.  Confidently he walked into the room, his Cherry Blossoms waiting outside.

    Lorelei spotted him first, her widening eyes causing Nabiki to turn around as well.  "What do you want?"  Lorelei asked politely, trying to remain calm.

    Yusaku stepped toward her.  "What do I want?"  He repeated curiously.  "I want you to do as I tell you, Lorelei, if you know what's good for you."

    Lorelei sighed.  "I see.  Oh Nabiki?"

    Nabiki glanced at her.  "Yes?"

    Lorelei pointed at one corner of the bed.  "Could you please break me off a bed post and plug your ears?"

    Nabiki didn't hesitate.  "Right!"  She grabbed a bedpost, snapped off a two-foot section and tossed it to Lorelei, then plugged her ears with her fingers and started humming before Yusaku could think to stop her.

    "Wait!"  He yelled.  "Stop!"  Lorelei hefted her improvised club once, then stood up quickly, lunging at Yusaku.  Yusaku stepped back, still yelling.  "No!  Wait!  Someone protect me!"  The Cherry Blossoms rushed into the room but before they could reach him, Nabiki had moved to intercept.  Lorelei swung wildly, with little skill, desperate to knock Yusaku out before he could escape or succeed in giving Nabiki a command.  Nabiki had crashed into the Cherry Blossoms and was fighting them while shouting incoherently at the top of her lungs.

    Yusaku fell backwards under Lorelei's swing and scrambled away from her on his hands.  "Wait!  Stop!  Nabiki, sentries, protect me!" Lorelei brought down the bedpost and Yusaku dodged poorly, right into her erratic swing.  He crumpled senseless a moment later.  Nabiki had thrown one of the two Cherry Blossoms out of the room with sufficient force to put it through the wall on the other side of the hallway, but at Yusaku's call she and the other Cherry Blossom had turned away from each other to head toward Yusaku.  Nabiki seemed to jerk to a stop with an effort of will and she grabbed the Cherry Blossom from behind, pinning its arms, then swiftly snapping its neck.

    Nabiki froze in shock as the broken marionette fell to the ground at her feet.  "Oh.... oh god...."  She shook her head in denial.  "No... no... I couldn't have... I... how could I?  I... I killed them!"

    Lorelei came up to her cautiously.  "Nabiki, are you alright?" Nabiki turned to the young woman and Lorelei tried not to flinch away, trying not to picture how Nabiki had so casually destroyed them.  "They were... machines, not like you.  They were robots, simple programming, no consciousness.  You don't have to feel ashamed.  "They would have killed you, and you defended yourself, and me...."

    Nabiki shook her head violently.  "No!  No I didn't!  I wanted to get in their way, but the damn control circuit kicked in and...." She shook her head again.  "I don't know what happened...."

    Lorelei frowned thoughtfully.  "Godai instructed you not to let anyone besides himself and Yusaku in or out of the room, correct?"

    Nabiki nodded in understanding.  "And that didn't include his marionettes of course."  Lorelei nodded confirmation and turned to head back to Yusaku's body.  Nabiki's hand caught her by the elbow before she could take two steps and stopped her.  "Don't go any closer, Lorelei."

    Lorelei blinked and stopped, turning to face the middle Tendo again.  "What?  Nabiki, why are you stopping me...."  She paled.  "Oh no... you heard, didn't you."

    Nabiki nodded sadly.  "I'm afraid so... it was only the conflicting orders that kept me from attacking you before you hit him.  I had to protect him, but I also had to keep the other marionettes out of the room."  Nabiki hesitated.  "I suppose my self preservation program won the tie at first, but when the second marionette slipped past me and I wasn't fighting it anymore, I had to really struggle to grab it rather than go for you...."  She swallowed.  "Lorelei... please don't get anywhere near him... I'm afraid I might...."  She swallowed, then stared Lorelei in the eyes.  "You saw what I just did to that marionette... I might very well kill you."

    Lorelei sighed and nodded.  "I was afraid of that."  She took a step backward, then headed for the bed.  "Don't worry, Nabiki, I'd never put you through that if I can help it... even if I thought it would do me any good to try."  She laid the bedpost down on the bed and shook her head.  "I don't suppose if I was to swear to you that I am not planning on hurting him...."

    Nabiki shook her head.  "I might believe you, but the computer in my head probably won't... and it could very well have me kill you if you try."  She shuddered.  "My god, I'm a monster!  Lorelei, if you find a way to destroy me, use it.  If they were to make me hurt anyone else, I don't know how I could stand it."  Lorelei looked about to protest and Nabiki cut her off.  "Besides, this is no life.  I'm a prisoner in my own head.  I'd rather die."

    Lorelei hesitated for what seemed like hours before answering. "Nabiki... if there is no other way... I will do as you ask.  But I do not think it will come to that."  She sighed.  "I can't hurt you at all anyway."  She nodded at Yusaku.  "Nabiki... would it break your programming to check Yusaku out yourself... see if he's alright... check his pockets for a little box, perhaps?"

    Nabiki blinked.  "That... EMP device?  That's a great idea!  She started going through Yusaku's clothing, not bothering with the pretense of checking if he was injured or not.  "Let me see...."  She turned him over carefully and finished going through his pockets.  "Damn."  Nabiki swore under her breath.  "Nothing.  That could have worked, too.  You  could have used the thing on me, and ran for it, easy."  She shook herhead.  "But he doesn't have anything useful at all."  Nabiki frowned and finally checked Yusaku's breathing and pulse.  "He'll be fine, lucky little bastard.  Next time, Lorelei, swing harder."

    Lorelei flushed.  "I didn't want to kill him!  I couldn't do that... that would make me as bad as him and Godai."  She hung her head, whispering.  "Not that I'm not guilty of worse."

    Nabiki pretended not to hear, and sat back.  "Well... if Godai gets back before Yusaku wakes up... and we can get him to come in here... you can clobber him too, and take his EMP whatchamacalit and zap me."

    Lorelei looked around at the broken marionette on the floor, Yusaku's body, and the hole in the wall just outside the doorway.  "I think he'll figure out something is wrong."

    Nabiki nodded, following Lorelei's gaze.  "True... but if we can get him to come in quick, it might still work.  He'll be counting on me to help him, right?  And if he brings in any other marionettes, I'll stop them, so...."

    Lorelei nodded slowly.  "Its possible... but there are so many things that could go wrong."

    Nabiki shrugged.  "Then we'll just have to make sure nothing goes wrong."


    Akane approached the Kuno estate cautiously, Cherry and Bloodberry just behind her.  "The entrance is right there."  She told them, pointing.  I'm not sure where they'd keep Lorelei, or if she's even here."

    Cherry frowned.  "Did they have any place where the security was any higher than any other?"

    Akane hesitated.  "Well... I found their main computer in the basement... but I kind of smashed it."

    Cherry blinked.  "I see.  Well, that should be a good place to start.  We may have to search the whole building."

    Bloodberry gestured to the mansion impatiently.  "So what are we waiting for?  Let's get going!"

    Akane nodded.  "Right, I'll show you the way."  She headed quickly for the front door and tried it.  "It's locked!"

    Bloodberry shrugged.  "Not a problem, I'll just knock it down...."

    Cherry held up a hand.  "Why don't you allow me."  She went to the door and pulled some metal devices attached to cords from out of her arm.  "This should only take a moment...."  Just over ten seconds later the door lock popped open and Cherry pulled the door wide.  "See?  No problem at all."

    Akane blinked at Chery's actions but then she moved in past her. "Let's hurry.  I want to find Lorelei quickly so we can go help rescue Ranma."  The short haired marionette led Cherry and Bloodberry toward the stairs, but on the way down the hall they were intercepted by a pair of spear wielding marionettes who charged out of a side passage. Bloodberry and Cherry didn't hesitate, but jumped forward to meet them.

    "Go on ahead, Akane!"  Cherry shouted.  "We'll cover you!"

    Akane nodded and slipped by the embattled marionettes, reaching the stairs easily, she ripped open the door, leaving it hanging crazily on its hinges, then paused, looking back.  Bloodberry had her attacker by the throat, but seemed to be having difficulty hanging on as the Cherry Blossom marionette was executing a skillful escape technique.  Cherry  was on the defensive, dodging back as the second Cherry Blossom attackedwith fists and feet, having been disarmed right at the outset.

    Bloodberry noticed her pausing, and shot her a glance.  "Akane, keep going!  We can handle these two!  Whoa...!"  With her momentary distraction, the Cherry Blossom managed to break Bloodberry's hold and  sweep her legs out from under her.  Bloodberry just barely managed toblock when the marionette followed the leg sweep up with a flying stomp.  "These ones are tough!"

    Cherry nodded.  "They've been upgraded with some new combat program...."  She barely managed to continue dodging as her attacked drove her back.  "... and I've never seen anything like it before... except...."

    Akane jumped in, knocking the marionette that was attacking Cherry to the side and away.  "They're using Ranma's moves."  She stepped in between Cherry and the sentry as it bounced off a nearby wall and vaulted back in their direction.  "How is that possible?"

    Cherry stood back and watched as Akane blocked the Kuno's sentry's attacks, analyzing their patterns of movement.  "You're right, Akane, there is an 83% correlation between Ranma's pattern of attack and theirs.  Too high to be a coincidence."

    Akane grunted and started to retreat, going on the defensive.  "If so, they might have a weak spot."

    Cherry glanced over and noted that Bloodberry was still holding her own, and kept scanning.  "What is that?"

    Akane jumped back away from the Cherry Blossom marionette and went into a defensive posture.  "Ranma almost never attacks.  When he does, he usually lets himself open... just a little.  Ranma prefers to react to his opponents and wait for them to make a mistake."

    Cherry blinked.  "It looks like you're right."  Akane's opponent had also gone into a defensive stance, and was waiting for Akane to make the next move.  "Bloodberry, did you hear that?"

    Bloodberry nodded, and jumped away from her opponent, then quickly bounded over toward Akane before it could follow.  "You're right.  Every time I attack, it counters... but when I'm on the defensive, it lets up."

    The two marionettes got together facing Akane and Bloodberry, both in identical combat stances.  Neither one had bothered to pick up its weapon after dropping it, not that it seemed to make any difference.

    Cherry continued to scan.  "Any ideas how we can beat them?"

    Akane shook her head.  "I don't know!  I've never managed to beat Ranma in a fair fight.  It's all I can do to touch him sometimes."  Her eyes narrowed slightly.  "I think we're faster than they are, though.  I nearly got through a couple times.  She actually had to block me."

    Bloodberry nodded.  "Stronger too.  These are from the last generation of combat sabers.  We're built a lot better."

    Cherry suddenly glanced to the side.  "No more time to discuss it. I'm picking up two more marionettes heading this way quickly."

    Akane grimaced.  "I don't want to hurt them.  What do we do?"

    Bloodberry glanced incredulously at her.  "After what you did to Cherry?  These things aren't alive anyway.  What's stopping you?"

    Cherry put her hand on Akane's shoulder.  "I understand, Akane, but these marionettes are not sentient like we are.  They're just machines, and they'll destroy us if we don't stop them.  Please help us save Lorelei."

    Akane nodded firmly.  "Alright.  I'll do it."

    Two more marionettes ran around the corner behind them and Akane charged forward with a yell, Bloodberry a step behind.  A bluish aura sprang up around Akane and she broke through the Cherry Blossom's defenses with a fierce uppercut, knocking it through the ceiling and out of sight.  Bloodberry feinted toward her opponent, then dodged as it  attacked, catching its fist in one hand and holding tight.  She wentinto a contest of strength with the marionette, forcing its arm back. The Cherry Blossom struck out with its free hand and Bloodberry caught that as well.  With a heave, the strongest of Otaru's marionettes snapped both of the Cherry Blossom's arms off and booted her through the wall.

    "Ha!"  She shouted.  "Just took some good old brute force!"

    Cherry jumped in the path of the two sentries that were almost upon them and put her hands up defensively.  "I could use some help here?"

    Bloodberry whipped around and took a stance next to the smaller marionette.  "I've got you covered, Cherry."

    Akane tried not to think about the fate of the marionette Bloodberry had defeated and turned to help as well.  "OK, lets try double teaming them this time."

    Cherry waved her back.  "I'm ready for them this time, Akane.  Go on ahead.  Perhaps they have a backup computer near where you destroyed their main.  If you take that out, these marionettes will all stop functioning."

    Akane nodded.  "Right.  Try to hold on for a minute or two."  She turned away and headed down the stairs at a run.

    Cherry glanced at Bloodberry, who grinned and cracked her knuckles eagerly.  "No problem.  I haven't had a good fight in months."

    Cherry blinked.  "What about against Ranma?"

    Bloodberry frowned.  "That didn't count.  She was too fast for me to get a hand on her."

    Cherry smiled back.  "Until I outsmarted her that is."

    Bloodberry glared down at Cherry.  "You just got lucky.  If Panther and I hadn't have been right there she would have gotten away for sure."  The two Cherry Blossom marionettes moved in while their opponents were seemingly distracted.  When they were about to attack, however, Bloodberry backhanded the one coming at her at the same time as Cherry went to the floor and swept the legs of its counterpart. Bloodberry turned to face her opponent as it bounced back to its feet, waggling her finger at it in disapproval.  "Uh uh uh!"  She shook her head.  "Haven't you ever heard about radar?  Looks like you two need
another upgrade."

    Akane reached the room that had held the large computer she had destroyed only a day or so earlier.  The computer was still in pieces, and Akane looked around for any clue to where there might be a backup  system for it.  A large bunch of cables snaked from it into a nearbywall, and Akane frowned to herself, then approached it, checking up and down the wall for entrances.

    "No door here... I'm not a mechanic... but I don't think that's a power cable.  Maybe it connects up to the Kuno's backup computer?" Akane raised a fist and aimed for the middle of the wall.  "Only one way to find out."  With a battle cry, Akane smashed through the wall, surprising herself with the size of the hole she had made.  "Wow... I  really am strong, aren't I."  Stepping through, Akane saw what appearedto be a computer console with a chair pulled up to it, and several television monitors above.  The cameras showed Cherry and Bloodberry in the corridor, fighting with what appeared to be four sentry marionettes, as well as several empty corridors, and one picture of a blond haired woman in a destroyed bedroom, talking with what appeared to be....

    "Nabiki?"  Akane blinked.  "She's alright?  She's here!"  Akane peered at the screen, noting the body of Yusaku Kuno laying on the floor, as well as another one of the Kuno's marionettes, which seemed to be damaged.  Akane glanced back at the monitor showing Cherry and Bloodberry fighting and frowned.  "I've got to help them first... but if I just destroy this computer, how will I find Nabiki and Lorelei?"  The short haired girl sighed and picked up the chair.  "I guess I don't have any real choice."  Closing her eyes, Akane brought the chair smashing down on the computer again and again until there was nothing but rubble, then dropped what was left of the chair and went back out through the hole she had made.

    Akane raced to the stairs and ran back up, only to find Bloodberry and Cherry already on the way down.  "Good work, Akane."  The short purple haired marionette said smiling.  "They all dropped just a moment ago."

    Akane sighed in relief.  "Oh good."  She pointed down the stairs. "I saw a monitor with a woman with blond hair on it... she was with my sister.  Is that Lorelei?"

    Cherry blinked.  "Your sister is called Nabiki, right?  She was with Lorelei?"

    Akane nodded.  "They looked like they were talking.  They're in a bedroom somewhere... it's all broken up, and Yusaku is there with them. He's laying on the floor, and so is one of those guard marionettes."

    Bloodberry spoke up quickly.  "Do you know where that is?"

    Akane shook her head.  "I'm sorry, I didn't recognize it.  There are a lot of rooms in this place, and I had to smash that computer to save you."

    Cherry nodded.  "You did the right thing.  We'll just have to search room to room until we find her."  She pointed back up the stairs. "Akane, you search the first floor, and Bloodberry, start on the second floor.  I'll look around down here.  With their backup computer down, we shouldn't have any more trouble with guards."

    Akane and Bloodberry nodded and ran off, and Cherry continued down the stairs, her sensors scanning the walls around her carefully.


    Akane had passed though most of the ground floor before finally noticing a large hole in a wall opposite a door that stood open.  She ran up to the open door and peered in, breaking into a smile as she spotted her sister and a blond woman she assumed to be Lorelei.

    "Nabiki!"  Akane started through the door, her arms out.  "You're alright!"

    Nabiki turned toward her with a start, her face turning into a terrified mask.  "Akane... stay back!  Don't come any closer!"

    Akane halted just inside the doorway.  "What?  Why?  What's wrong?"

    Nabiki put her hands out as if to ward Akane away.  "Just don't come into the room.  If you do, I'll hurt you, Akane!  Just stay where you are."

    The woman next to Nabiki nodded quickly.  "Nabiki is telling the truth.  She's programmed to stop anyone from entering the room."

    Akane hesitated.  "Programmed?  Nabiki, what happened to you?  Are you alright?  What is going on here?"

    Nabiki took a deep breath.  "It's a long story.  I was waiting for you and Ranma in the alley when Godai showed up with a bunch of these marionettes.  They herded me to Godai, and he used some sort of device to knock me out."

    Lorelei nodded in understanding.  "An EMP caster.  He used the same thing on Ranma in the palace."

    Akane looked worried.  "Ranma, is he... er, is she alright?"

    Lorelei blinked.  "I'm afraid I don't know for sure....  Is there some reason you called Ranma a he?"

    Cherry's voice came up from down the corridor.  "I was wondering the same thing, actually, Lorelei-sama."  She came up to Akane looking curious.  "You used masculine terms to refer to Ranma several times earlier.  Why?"

    Akane blinked, looking from Cherry to Lorelei.  "Er...."  She glanced at Nabiki for help, but the mercenary Tendo just shrugged helplessly.  Akane wracked her brains for a good excuse.  "Um... well Ranma tends to... um... crossdress.  Yeah, she crossdresses all the time!  She acts so much like a boy sometimes, you'd almost think she was  one!"  She laughed nervously.  < Please buy it, please buy it... pleasedon't think I'm crazy....>

    Lorelei blinked.  "Oh.  Well, Ranma did seem very tomboyish when I met her.  It's not a big deal when a girl dresses up like a boy, anyway, at least it wasn't in my time."  She smiled wryly.  "Of course, it's not quite so common here.  Given that there really aren't any other girls here on Terra Two."  Lorelei shrugged.  "I dress up in pants from time to time myself."

    Cherry started to move past Akane.  "Lorelei-sama, we should get you to a safe place as soon as possible...."

    Akane held out an arm to stop her.  "Wait!  Nabiki is programmed to...."  She looked at her sister for confirmation.

    Nabiki quickly held up her hands.  "I have to stop anyone who tries to enter this room, save Godai and Yusaku.  I also have orders to keep Lorelei prisoner here, as well as to protect Yusaku."

    Cherry blinked.  "I don't understand.  Do you want to keep Lorelei a prisoner?"

    Nabiki shook her head.  "No!  But I've been programmed to obey anything either of the Kunos tell me to do.  If I don't do as they say, I lose control of my body and end up doing it anyway."

    Cherry frowned.  "That doesn't sound good."  She turned to the blond haired scientist standing just behind Nabiki.  "Lorelei-sama, do you have any ideas?  Can we do anything about Nabiki's programming?"

    Lorelei wrinkled her nose.  "Well, if you could hold her down, I might be able to disable the program.  I tried earlier, but Nabiki's also been programmed to prevent anyone from tampering with her systems."

    Cherry nodded.  "I understand.  Well, with Bloodberry's help, we might be able to do that."

    On cue, the tall red haired marionette came around the corner.  "Did someone say my name?"

    Cherry smiled.  "Good, now we can do it.  Bloodberry, it's like  this...."  Quickly Cherry filled Bloodberry in on the situation then took Akane by the wrist.  "I think we should have a little talk out of earshot."

    Nabiki nodded, grinning.  "So I don't overhear?  Good idea.  If the computer that's controlling me knew what you were planning, it might try and do something about it."  Cherry nodded and took Akane and Bloodberry back around the corner.

    Lorelei looked worried.  "I hope they aren't planning on hurting you, Nabiki-san.  I know that this isn't your fault."

    Nabiki shook her head.  "If it means getting my body back, I don't care what they have to do...."  She looked at Lorelei in concern.  "You can... put me back together afterwards... right?"

    Lorelei nodded firmly, putting a reassuring hand on the brown haired marionette's shoulder.  "I promise, Nabiki.  I'll fix you as good as new, no matter what happens."

    Nabiki smiled wanly.  "Thanks.  For all it's worth, Lorelei-san, I'm glad I met you.  Take care of Akane for me, OK?"

    Lorelei shook her head.  "You'll be around to do that, Nabiki. Trust in Cherry.  She'll save you, and me."

    Nabiki sighed.  "I hope so."

    Cherry called out into the room.  "Lorelei-sama, please move to the far wall.  Nabiki-san, if you could, try not to watch the door."

    Lorelei patted Nabiki's shoulder once more and moved quickly to the far wall.  "I'm ready!"  She called out.

    Nabiki forced herself to face away from the door, then crossed her arms, hugging herself tightly.  "I'm facing away from the door."  She reported.  "Hey, Lorelei.  Which one is Cherry?"  She asked quietly.

    "Cherry is the shorter one in the pink."  Lorelei told her. "Bloodberry is the one with the red hair."

    Just then, a thick cloud of smoke billowed into the room, obscuring Nabiki's vision.  She tried to remain still, but her programming kicked in, making her turn around to face the threat.  A large blanket flew into her face, blinding her further.  Her body went into action, flinging the blanket away and looking for intruders, but even as she did so, three bodies slammed into her, bearing her too the floor.  Akane grabbed on to one arm and Bloodberry the other, while Cherry tried to get at the back of her neck, holding a long pin.  Nabiki cheered them on internally as her body struggled against her attackers.  Seconds later
everything went black.

    Lorelei coughed, waving her hand in front of her face to clear the air.  "Did you do it?  You didn't damage her too badly, did you?"

    Cherry stood up, brushing herself off.  "I switched her off, Lorelei-sama.  Nabiki is almost completely undamaged."

    Lorelei breathed a sigh of relief.  "Thank goodness.  Now, we need to get back to the palace as quickly as possible.  Godai Kuno plans on taking over Japoness in my absence, and destroying the baby girl clones as soon as he can get away with it.  He planned on using me as a bargaining chip, and selling off my DNA to the highest bidder, once I am the only source of female DNA again."  Cherry, Akane and Bloodberry all paled at that.

    Akane's eyes were wide.  "He's a monster!  He'd kill babies?"

    Lorelei nodded grimly.  "There's no time to lose.  Who knows what he's doing at this moment?"


    Godai Kuno shook his head angrily for the third time.  "No, I refuse.  Otaru Mamiya is not permitted back in the palace at this time. He is to continue to look for the rogues, that is all."  Tamasaburo and Baiko both seemed to hesitate slightly before nodding.

    "Very well."  Tamasaburo answered.  "We will inform Otaru-san of this."  She turned to go, Baiko following just after her.

    Godai frowned at their backs as he watched them go, then turned back to his computer monitor, switching it's screen back to the outside camera, where Otaru and two of his Marionettes had been standing while waiting to be let in.

    "There are only two sabers with him."  He muttered to himself. "Where are Otaru's other three?"  Godai started flipping from camera to camera, checking the interior corridors of the palace one by one.  "Why does Otaru wish to see me?  Does he suspect what I'm doing?"  He pressed a button that would let him see the room he had placed Ranma's body in, and blinked.  "No...."  The diagnostic bed he had placed Ranma on was empty, the straps that had been holding her down removed, and the door to the room was wide open.

    "How?"  Godai fumed.  "How did she escape?  I'm sure she was fully deactivated...."  Frowning, Godai switched the screen back to the camera on the outer gate.  No one was there.  A moment later Tamasaburo and Baiko stepped outside, looking around for Otaru, but obviously not seeing him.  Even as the palace's two head security marionettes turned to go back inside, Godai slammed his hands down on the desk in frustration.  "He did this.  Otaru Mamiya must have taken Ranma from the lab.  He suspects something.  I have to act before he learns the truth."

    The elder Kuno pressed a button that would summon the palace security to his room.  "This must be dealt with, and swiftly."


    Lynx laid Ranma down in the back of the alley where she and Otaru had decided to meet and waited.  Before long, Otaru, Lime and Panther came running up and hurried into the alleyway with her.

    Otaru beamed at Lynx.  "Good work, Lynx.  You got her out!  Did you have any luck finding out what he's been up to in there?"

    Lynx nodded.  "General Kuno has been having the maintenance people upgrade the combat computers on all the Orange Blossom marionettes. That was all I was able to discover."  She nodded to Ranma.  "Do you want me to reactivate her?  There is some risk, as we may not be able to contain her once she awakens."

    Otaru hesitated.  "I know, but... I trust Akane.  I'm not really sure why, but I think she told us the truth.  Ranma has the memories of a girl from the past in her, and Godai is definitely up to something. She may be very skilled at the martial arts, but I don't think she'll hurt anyone if they're not trying to hurt her first.  Remember the  fight?  She could have done a lot more damage than she did.  She might have killed me when she had the chance, but all she did was try to stop us."

    Panther frowned.  "But that was before I put a hole through her friend Akane's shoulder, and before we captured her."

    Otaru shook his head.  "It doesn't matter, I don't see any other way to confirm Akane's story than by waking Ranma up.  We're going to have to take that chance."

    Lynx nodded.  "I understand, Otaru."  She sat Ranma up against a wall and pressed a pair of subtle contacts on her neck, opening it up. She reached in, pressed a switch, then closed her neck up and stood back.  "There, she should wake up any...."

    Ranma awoke with a start, her hands coming up defensively and her eyes darting around wildly.  "What's going on?  Where...?"  Seeing the people around her, Ranma scrambled to her feet and got into a defensive stance.  "OK, if you want a fight, I'm ready."

    Otaru took a slow step forward.  "We don't want a fight, Ranma.  Can we talk?"

    Ranma blinked twice before answering intelligently.  "Huh?"

    Lime giggled.  "She talks just like I do!"

    Otaru glanced at Lime for a second before looking back at Ranma. "She does sound a bit like you, Lime."

    Ranma blinked again.  "OK... now I'm confused.  Weren't we fighting a minute ago?"

    Otaru shook his head.  "No, you've been turned off for several hours already.  We just turned you back on a moment ago."

    Ranma glanced at the sky and blanched.  "Oh my god... it's been that long?"  She started backing away from the other marionettes.  "Fine, we're not fighting, great... but I have to leave now."

    Otaru took another step forward.  "Wait!  If you're going to meet Akane, she's not there anymore!"

    Ranma stopped dead and turned towards Otaru slowly.  "Where is she?"  She said with deathly stillness.  "Where is Akane?"

    Otaru raised his hands defensively.  "She's fine!  We talked to her and found out what the Kuno's did... and we know you didn't kidnap Lorelei."

    Ranma frowned.  "You bet I didn't.  It was Godai!  He pointed some weird looking box at me and I couldn't move!  He had some sort of control over Nabiki, and he took Lorelei with him."

    Otaru grimaced.  "Damn it!  I knew I shouldn't trust him!  We've got to rescue her right away!"

    Ranma nodded in agreement.  "Yeah, she didn't deserve to get kidnapped.  He's got her and Nabiki... and he's making Nabiki do what he says somehow."  Her eyes narrowed.  "But you haven't answered my question.  Where is Akane?"

    Otaru put his hands out again.  "Calm down.  We figured out Godai was up to something, so Akane went with Bloodberry and Panther to check out the Kuno's mansion.  We came and got you out the palace at the same time."

    Ranma looked impressed.  "Akane got you guys to do all that?  Wow, she really came through."  She frowned again.  "But her arm's busted! She can't go and rescue anyone like that!"

    Otaru shook his head.  "No, no.  A friend of ours fixed her arm. She's as good as new.  Now tell me about Nabiki.  You say Kuno was controlling her?"

    Ranma nodded.  "Yeah, she was acting just like the other marionettes... like a robot or something.  I'm really worried about

    Otaru nodded.  "OK, then we should head over to the Kuno's mansion and see if they need any help...."

    Lynx interrupted.  "Otaru-sama, I am detecting three saber marionettes coming in this general direction.  They were headed toward the palace, but they have changed course and are heading toward us now... ETA, five seconds."

    Otaru, Panther and Ranma all turned in the direction Lynx was  facing.  Seconds later they were greeted by the sight of Cherry leadingBloodberry and Akane into the alleyway.  Bloodberry had Lorelei cradled to her chest, and Akane held Nabiki the same way.

    Cherry smiled as she came to a stop.  "I told you I sensed them over here!  Otaru-sama, we rescued Lorelei!"

    Otaru grinned broadly.  "Great work!  Lorelei, how are you feeling?"

    Lorelei let Bloodberry help her to her feet and she tried not to wobble.  "A little motion sick... but otherwise I'm fine.  Thanks to Bloodberry, Cherry, and Akane, of course."  She had on Yusaku's clothing, and looked cheerful.

    Ranma came forward to Akane quickly.  "Hey, what's wrong with Nabiki?  She's not hurt bad, is she?"

    Akane shook her head.  "No... we had to switch her off though.  Kuno programmed her to obey his every command, and she was supposed to be guarding Lorelei.  Lorelei says she can fix her as soon as we get her back to her lab."

    Lorelei nodded.  "I should be able to disconnect the control computer that's controlling her functions at this point.  The process shouldn't be too difficult."

    Ranma blinked.  "Er... yeah, sounds great.  So, now what?  Do we just go back to the palace, or what?"

    Otaru grinned.  "Yes.  I can't wait to see General Kuno's face when we bring Lorelei back, just before we arrest him for kidnapping!" Cherry and Lynx both looked up suddenly, and turned around, just in time to see Tamasaburo and Baiko drop down from the rooftops.  The two amazonian palace guards stood there impassively for a moment before speaking.

    "The actual charge would be high treason against the state."  Baiko stated calmly.  Charges that will be brought against Godai Kuno as soon as we get back to report."

    Tamasaburo looked at Lorelei carefully.  "Are you in good health, Lorelei?"

    Lorelei nodded.  "I am fine, thanks to Akane, Cherry and Bloodberry."  She gestured to Akane and Ranma.  "They are as much the Kunos victims as I was.  Ranma, Akane and Nabiki all have the memories of women of the past.  Their maiden circuits function perfectly, as far as I've been able to determine.  The Kuno's have been trying to get them back in order to hide what they had done with them."  She went over to Akane and put her hand on her shoulder.  "It isn't right for them to put such controls on you.  You're sentient beings, and you should be treated as such."

    Akane looked up gratefully.  "Thank you, Lorelei-san."

    All around them, Orange Blossom marionettes started to drop down from the rooftops.  Ranma and Akane paled, while the others just watched unconcerned.

    Baiko glanced at her reinforcements.  "Now we will escort Lorelei back to the palace, and take Godai Kuno into custody."

    Akane spoke up.  "You should get Yusaku too!  He was behind it as well."

    Lorelei nodded.  "Yes, it's true.  Bloodberry, where did you put him?"

    Bloodberry grinned widely.  "After I borrowed his clothing for you, I just tied him to that bed with all the stuff I found in that closet next to it."

    Lorelei blinked, then had to suppress a giggle, picturing the pompous young man tied to a bed with women's undergarments.  "I see. Well... I think you should go collect him as soon as we deal with the main problem... Godai.

    One of the Orange Blossom marionette's stepped forward.  "I'm afraid I can't allow that, Dr. Lorelei."  It said in an older male voice. "None of you will be allowed to reach the palace."

    Ranma recognized the voice immediately,  "Godai!  You old, fat bastard, I'm going to get you.  Count on it!"

    Godai laughed through his puppeted marionette.  "I think not. Orange Blossoms, destroy all of them except Lorelei, she is not to be harmed."

    The Orange Blossoms' eye blinked red, and a moment later they all charged.

        End Chapter 8