All the characters in this story are the creation of Akahori Satoru,
Kotobuki Tsukasa, and Rumiko Takahashi
Strangers in a Strange Land
Akane and Ranma went into defensive stances between the nearest Orange Blossom marionettes and where Nabiki lay. Lorelei, remembering the tape of their fight against Otaru's group, got quickly behind them as well, crouching protectively directly over Nabiki. Lime, Cherry and Bloodberry jumped in front of Otaru and stood side by side as the Orange Blossoms charged them. Lynx and Panther glanced at each other then at the space in the alley behind the small group and jumped into position back there, facing off with the few Orange Blossoms that had gotten behind the small group.
The Orange Blossoms had mostly landed just outside
the alleyway, and they moved in all directions as they came forward, spreading
out, each one finding its own angle to attack from. Tamasaburo and
Baiko went back to back immediately, watching the Orange Blossoms around
them with suspicion. Their caution was rewarded as they were almost
instantly beset from all sides. Both of the Amazonian marionettes
drew their weapons, a pair of energy swords and a wickedly keen bisento,
started spinning in a complicated combined defensive maneuver that held off the Orange Blossoms around them, at least at first.
Baiko spoke quietly enough so that only her partner could hear. "Do we defend Lorelei?" She calmly batted away three bisento headed for her chest, and cut one of their wielder's in half.
Tamasaburo answered equally softly. "She is adequately defended, and not currently under attack. Our priority is to make sure she stays that way." Tamasaburo tripped one of her attackers into its companion, and knocked a third's weapon out of its hands.
"Agreed." Baiko nodded very slightly while executing a perfect 360 with both of her swords fanning out in all directions. "Our attackers will most likely follow their orders as given, and attempt to destroy us first before attempting any other action."
Tamasaburo nodded back, following along with Baiko's manuver so perfectly that they seemed like one piece. "So to prevent them from taking Lorelei, we should prevent them from completing their first mission."
Baiko nodded again. "Agreed. Flight would seem in order."
Tamasaburo shouted in the direction of the alleyway. "Cherry, Lynx, jam the signal from the palace!"
In his control room in the center of Castle Japoness, Godai slammed his hands angrily into the desk as his screen showing the fight from the viewpoint of one of the Orange Blossoms faded into static. "Damn it! What do they think they're doing?" He shook his head in denial. "Whatever it is, it won't work. They're outnumbered almost five to one out there. With my new combat computers in the Cherry Blossoms, they should have no chance of victory."
He sat at his desk and frowned to himself. "Still, perhaps I should send a unit in at a distance, and have it report back without engaging." Godai nodded. "Yes, and just in case one of them does make it this far, I should prepare to receive guests."
From the very first moment of the fight, Ranma had been feeling off balance. She was unaccustomed to working as part of a team, not to mention holding a particular spot of ground against a determined attacker. Ranma was much more used to taking the fight "on the road" going wherever the fight took her. She was holding her own, however, as her attackers seemed to be having much the same problem as she did.
The Orange Blossoms had abandoned group combat techniques at the outset, and were attacking as individuals. One on one, they were considerably more formidable, but as a group, they tended to get in each other's way. That was all that saved the small band they were attacking at first. Lime, Cherry, Bloodberry and Otaru made an excellent team, as did Lynx and Panther, knowing how best to work as a unit. Ranma andAkane worked less smoothly together, but with their greater skill, they made up for it, especially Ranma.
Lorelei watched in awe and terror as an incredibly
high-speed fight was carried on just feet from her, Nabiki and Otaru.
The young man had his Jitte out and was on his guard, and after several
long moments when Lorelei was sure that the Orange Blossoms would finally
break through their guardian's line, one finally did, vaulting off a nearby
wall and into the center of the group. Otaru managed to somehow parry
the first incredibly swift blow, and the second, his knee being forced
pavement at the force of the attack.
Lorelei flinched as the marionette attacked a third
time, but instead the Orange Blossom went flying as Bloodberry grabbed
it by the back of the neck and pulled it away, then promptly started using
it like an unwieldy club. Lorelei turned to watch as, amazingly,
the marionette in Bloodberry's hands brought its legs around to attempt
to free its head from her grasp. Bloodberry once more applied her
"brute force" solution, and tore the unfortunate marionette's head clean
from its shoulders before it could complete it's escape. Tossing
her now limp club at two of her attackers, the fierce red headed marionette
on the defensive as more Orange Blossoms came in to take their place.
Lime fought with relish, smiling as she ducked a bisento, laughing as she jumped over a pair of marionette's charging her. < These ones know some neat moves!> Lime thought cheerfully as she fought to defend the people she loved most in the world.
Cherry could feel Lime's good humor and let it lift her own spirits. < Godai made a mistake, his new program doesn't work as well in a group situation, and that's where we're at our best! If he had waited until we were separated he might have had a chance, but at this rate we'll win this!> She heard Tamasaburo's request for jamming and nodded, doing her best to scramble all the outgoing frequencies. She could feel Lynx doing the same and smiled, guessing the two palace guards' plan.
Tamasaburo and Baiko leapt toward the rooftops, taking a full dozen Orange Blossom marionettes with them and leaving another two lying inert on the ground. It didn't take any of their immediate attackers away from them, but cut down their reinforcements considerably. With a few more losses, it might be possible for them to escape as well.
Cherry counted the remaining Orange Blossoms and
grinned. < Just four to one now, and none of us are damaged.
We'll win for sure unless something unforeseen occurs.> Cherry blocked
another series of attacks from the two Orange Blossoms currently attacking
her. < I think I've almost got their pattern. If I'm right,
the one on the left is about to try an Ax kick....> The marionette
in question did indeed throw her leg up high and Cherry moved in to take
advantage of her drop in guard. But
instead of completing the kick, the Orange Blossom instead dropped to her back and twirled, knocking Cherry hard in the side with one outstretched foot, then the other.
Ranma swore internally as he leapt to Cherry's defense, holding off half a dozen Orange Blossoms at once for the precious seconds Cherry needed to recover and move back. "Anything goes is about finding out your opponent's weak spots and using them against them." Ranma explained quickly, once again fighting side by side with Akane. "Don't think you've figured out what they're going to do, cause they ain't ever going to do the same thing twice, got it?"
Cherry nodded, blocking a noticeably different attack combination with difficulty. "So the whole point is to learn from your mistakes and then win?"
Ranma shrugged a fraction, dropping low to duck a punch while kicking out at an ankle at the same time. "It's always about winning. The Anything Goes school is adaptive, using different moves against each opponent, and if one thing doesn't work, you try another." The kick to the knee turned out to be a feint, and Ranma ended up doing a handstand to kick his target in the face instead, throwing it back into the marionette behind it.
Cherry kept her mind on the fight but tried to analyze what he said. "So you're saying they don't have any weaknesses?"
Ranma shook her head, bouncing back to her feet and blocking another series of attacks. "Nah, if you beat em right away it won't matter what they've learned. Bloodberry's figured that much out."
Bloodberry laughed grimly. "Well if it doesn't get back up, it's not going to be learning, now is it?"
Cherry frowned. "So we should attack all out? Not give them a chance to learn from their mistakes?"
Ranma shook her head. "No, the Saotome School especially is based off defense. If you attack full strength they'll just defend and wait for an opening."
Cherry swore quietly. "Damn it, isn't there anything that will work?"
Ranma shrugged. "We're doing it. You've already seen they aren't so hot at working together. You guys are great at it, so we just gotta hold on a bit more."
Akane growled at Ranma and threw an Orange Blossom in her direction. "Duck!" Ranma dropped and the marionette flew over her head to crash into one that had been about to attack Ranma from the side. "Less talking, more fighting, Ranma!"
Ranma grinned. "That's my tomboy." Akane growled and swung another Orange Blossom at him, which Ranma grabbed and started using as a club, imitating Bloodberry. "Thanks, Akane! I've been waiting to try this one."
Akane rolled her eyes and went back on the defensive, blocking another attack a moment later. < Idiot. He's treating this fight like it's a big game. They're trying to kill us!> She ducked and elbow-smashed her attacker, then flinched as a second Orange Blossom nearly caught her from the side. Ranma side kicked the marionette threatening Akane just before it managed to grab her, and Akane went back to her own fight. < Ranma is always looking out for me though, no matter what.>
The ranks of their attackers were thinning, but at the same time the Orange Blossoms seemed to be using more and more effective maneuvers as the fight wore on. < They're taking a lot longer to adapt than Ranma does.> Akane realized. <But they have a lot more time because there are so many of them. Are we going to win this?>
Tamasaburo and Baiko swept past the alleyway again, destroying a pair of Orange Blossoms as they swept by. A moment later ten of the Orange Blossoms that had chased them raced by as well, apparently not quite as fast as the two Amazons.
Otaru nodded in relief, speaking reasuringly to Lorelei as he kept an eye out for any more Orange Blossoms that might get by the other marionettes. "Tamasaburo and Baiko are all right, and they're taking a lot of the fight away from us. Don't worry, we're going to make it."
Lorelei nodded uncertainly then ducked over Nabiki's body as an Orange Blossom managed to get past Lynx and Panther to attack Otaru. "Otaru! Watch out!"
Otaru was too busy fending off the marionette to answer. He managed to block the first three blows, but they drove him further and further off guard until the fourth blow managed to catch him in the ribs. If the Orange Blossoms had not for the most part abandoned their bisentos to attack them hand to hand he would have died right there, but as it was he nearly lost consciousness as the blow slammed him out of the circle and into the nearby wall.
As one, Lime, Cherry and Bloodberry called their master's name and started to glow. "OTARU!!!" Four of the Orange Blossoms had turned to attack the new target, but before they could strike, Otaru's three marionettes were there, scattering them like pinballs. They formed a defensive line around his body, their backs to the wall, and any marionette that got near was knocked flying.
Ranma, Akane, Lynx and Panther suddenly found themselves hard pressed as their line collapsed and broke, suddenly degenerating into a vicious free for all as they fought to get back and protect Lorelei and Nabiki while the Orange Blossoms tried to separate and destroy them.
Lorelei realized that none of the Orange Blossoms were attacking her, but one had lined up with a Bisento aimed at Nabiki. Just before it attacked she threw herself across Nabiki's body, trying to cover her completely with her own.
"Help us!" Lorelei yelled frantically. "They're going to destroy Nabiki!"
A bright blue battle aura sprung into life around Akane, and the Orange Blossoms around her suddenly started to go flying. Lynx and Panther fought with increasing desperation; both of them minorly wounded already, their bodies sparking slightly where they had taken hits.
For Lynx, the entire fight had been one of desperation. Her combat computer's calculations had grown grimmer and grimmer as the fight wore on, and she knew precisely how much longer she had until she would be defeated.
Panther didn't think much in a fight, and this one had proven no exception. She had lashed out again and again with fists and her laser. Her attacks slowly had become less and less likely to strike, but she had fought on regardless, caught up in the moment. Fighting was what she did best, and if she had to go down fighting, then that was fine with her.
Otaru blinked and slowly tried to rise to his feet, doing his best to ignore his broken ribs. All around him his marionettes glowed brightly, moving with strength and speed he had only seen one other time, when they had finally mastered their Maiden Circuits fully for the first time. They were like guardian angels, and he felt safer than he had ever felt in his life. Then he heard Lorelei's cry and his heartnearly failed. He would live, but at what cost?
For Ranma, everything else started to slow down as something clicked in her mind. < Chi! They're using Chi! Why didn't I see it sooner! Somehow... somehow they're alive, and if they can use Chi, then I should be able to use it too!> Ranma jumped into the air to buy herself some time, and started to concentrate on the space between her outstretched hands. "Moko...."
Akane heard Ranma begin the attack and glanced up in shock. "No way!"
Ranma grinned as the reddish ball of energy formed before him. < I can do this!> "... Takabisha!!!" She shot the blast over Lorelei and Nabiki's prone forms, sweeping away the half dozen Orange Blossoms that had been standing around them, about to attack, and carrying them the length of the alleyway, where they smashed into the fall wall and through it. As she landed Ranma felt for the first time a hint of fatigue. The blast had obviously taken something out of her, but it had worked!
As half a dozen more Orange Blossoms moved in on her from every side, Ranma called out another attack. "Kachu Tenshin Amaguriken!" Up to that point, Ranma's punching speed had been incredible, a function of her excellent construction as a Saber marionette, as well as her years of training which let her do each maneuver with a minimum of time and effort. Aided by her Chi, however, Ranma's punches quickly exceeded the speed of sound, and her attackers flew back, each having been hit by dozens of supersonic punches in just under a tenth of a second.
Before much longer the battle was over. The last few Orange Blossoms, not programmed for retreat, were destroyed one by one by Otaru's raging trio, or Ranma and Akane, still powered up with Chi. Lorelei looked on in astonishment at the power of the small red headed Ranma in particular, her abilities having passed any theoretical limits Lorelei could have conceived of. That she was using her emotions as a weapon was not what was so surprising to her, it was that Ranma seemed to be able to channel that power so effectively, almost as if she had trained for that very purpose for years.
Akane had been powered up much like Otaru's Sabers, using her inner energy to heighten her strength and speed almost unconsciously, but Ranma seemed to have complete control of her power, putting it to whatever use she required. Lorelei shook her head in amazement, then glanced down at Nabiki, recalling their conversation on the subject.
"And to think I thought you were exaggerating." She muttered, smiling faintly. "I see now that you were being conservative in your descriptions, at the least!"
Otaru staggered over to her, holding his ribs. "Lorelei... are you alright?"
She nodded quickly. "I'm uninjured. You should have those ribs looked at, however." Lorelei glanced around in concern. "I have not seen Tamasaburo or Baiko for awhile now. I hope they've escaped their pursuers."
Ranma and Akane came over as well, to check on Nabiki. "The two marionettes from the palace?" Ranma asked. "They'll be alright. Those two were pretty good. Not as good as me of course, but if they keep ahead of the bunch after them they should be fine."
Akane came over to them and knelt by her sister to pick her up. "Lorelei-san, what should we do now?"
Lorelei frowned. "I'm not quite sure. It seems that General Kuno has somehow managed to take over the palace's security marionettes. I'm not quite sure of the exact numbers, but that was around one third of them. I don't know if we can get into the palace safely if he controls all of them."
Ranma nodded. "Then the only thing to do is find him and stop him so he can't order them around anymore."
Lorelei nodded slowly. "Yes... but we'll have to be very careful. He may have underestimated you and the others up to now, but he's very intelligent. I'm sure he has some sort of back-up plan."
Ranma nodded thoughtfully. "You're probably right. What we gotta do is force his hand, then pull the rug out from under him. Everybody gather round, I've got a plan...."
Godai Kuno watched the small group bunch together in discussion from the eyes of a marionette watching from a distance. "How could I have miscalculated that badly? I can hardly believe it's possible for anyone with only human experiences to have developed such power in the body of a marionette. It's those accursed Maiden Circuits.... I never should have used them. If only they had become loyal to me as they were supposed to. I just can't understand what could have gone wrong."
The older man shook his head. "I don't have time to figure it out, I must be prepared for anything they try." He went back to watching the monitor. "Ah, they've started to move... and they're coming this way, excellent. With the increased resources I have here, I should be able to deal with those pests once and for all. I just have to come up with a proper cover story to get all the human personnel off of the grounds. I don't want to have to do too much cleaning up after this is all over."
Cherry and Lynx led the way, using their scanners to avoid any patrols from the palace, while at the same time attempting to locate Tamasaburo and Baiko. Akane carried Nabiki on her back, while Lorelei ran panting alongside Otaru, trying to keep up with the others. Cherry stopped suddenly, as they were about to round a corner near the palace, and everyone behind her was forced to stop as well.
Cherry held up her hand. "There's a patrol about to pass by. We'll have to wait for about a minute before we can go on." She waved for everyone to move back a bit. "If we just get back a bit they'll miss us and go on." Everyone obediently stepped back and alongside the building they had been about to pass.
Lorelei fought to catch her breath. "Otaru." She whispered. "Perhaps you should leave Nabiki and myself here... in this building perhaps. We'll get in the way if you take us with you."
Otaru frowned. "But if we leave you behind, Godai might find you, and use you against us as hostages."
Lorelei nodded slowly. "Until I am able to disengage Nabiki's control program, she will be a threat to you if Godai manages to turn her back on."
Otaru shook his head in disapproval. "I'm more worried about him threatening to hurt you two. We can protect you better if you're with us."
Lorelei smiled faintly. "I guess I'll just have to trust your judgment."
A moment later Cherry waved at the group again. "OK, lets go. Follow me!" They slipped quickly across the street and headed for the palace again. Before too much longer they reached the outer wall. Lime scooped up Otaru and Bloodberry picked up Lorelei again, and the whole group jumped over. Cherry led them for the center building at a run. As they approached, a dozen Orange Blossom Marionettes ran out of the front doors and headed for them.
Cherry didn't stop. "Follow me!" She yelled, and jumped up the building to the second tier of the palace. The group came quickly after her and she jumped again, this time to the third tier, the Orange Blossoms were now far behind, only now making the first leap. She jumped up again and again, until they were at the top of the castle. Cherry nodded to Lynx and Panther. "Slow them down for a bit."
The two Saber Dolls nodded and turned to attack. Panther fired her laser down at the rooftop level the Orange Blossoms were about to reach, while Lynx threw a brace of knives. The knives exploded when they hit, blowing out a large section of roof, as did the laser, causing the Orange Blossoms to fall to the floor below.
Meanwhile, Cherry had picked a section of wall and punched it in a precisely calculated spot. The wall shattered, giving them a wide entrance into the top floor of the palace. Everyone ran inside. Bloodberry and Lime put down their charges and the small group ran on into the heart of the fortress.
Lorelei pointed down a hall helpfully. "The main security room is right this way. From there we should be able to override whatever Godai has managed to do to the security system." Cherry nodded and led the way down the hall quickly.
They burst into the security room in a group. The room was deserted, but Cherry pointed at a nearby steel door. "It's an elevator, and it's almost to the basement."
Lorelei frowned. "What would he want down there... unless...." She paled. "The children! We've got to stop him!"
Cherry went to the main monitor and jacked in with her arm cords, connecting herself directly into the computer system. "General Kuno has overridden the main security systems with a virus. I should be able to restore normal commands in a minute."
Lorelei frowned. "I hope we have that much time."
Akane looked at the elevator. "This goes to where the baby girls are?"
Lorelei nodded. "The cloning chamber is in the lowest level. This is one of the few ways down there."
Akane nodded laid Nabiki down, and stepped over to the elevator. "Then we have to get to him before he gets there, don't we?" She put her hands in between the elevator doors and forced them open. "So, what are we waiting for? Let's go!"
Cherry hesitated, still connected to the machine. "Once I've gotten the security system back we can end this for sure. I think I should say here and finish up."
Otaru frowned. "But you'll be in danger here if we leave you alone."
Cherry shook her head. "In just a few more seconds I should be able to activate the internal defenses. That should buy us more than enough time. Godai probably realized that they wouldn't be enough to stop us, but they should work fine against the Orange Blossoms."
Lorelei nodded. "Cherry's right. I'll stay with her and get to work on Nabiki. The rest of you must stop Kuno. Now hurry!"
Cherry blinked several times. "Got it! Level one secure.... now!" All of a sudden steel doors started to fall out in the hall. "There, should take the Orange Blossoms several minutes to blow through all of those. I'll have finished here before then."
Otaru nodded and turned to run to the elevator. "OK, let's get that guy!" Lime, Bloodberry and Akane were already ahead of him, jumping down the elevator shaft together. Otaru jumped in after them, trusting on Bloodberry to catch him before he hit bottom.
Lorelei bent over Nabiki's body and pulled her Kimono apart to get at the chest area. "Don't worry, Nabiki." She said quietly to the lifeless marionette. "I told you I'd fix you good as new, didn't I?" She manipulated several catches on the chest and it slowly opened up after unsealing. Lorelei frowned thoughtfully as she looked inside at Nabiki's workings. "Just as I thought. I'll need some tools...." She glanced around at the room then stood up and headed for a nearby closet. "Luckily, I happen to recall there is a tool chest in the storage closet up here."
Godai ran into the cloning chamber, winded from the exertion. "I've got to hurry, before they catch me...." He pointed to several points among the cloning booths. "Alright, place the explosives there... and there." The Orange Blossom's he had with him were quick to obey, placing the devices they had carried with them in the positions he had indicated.
A technician in a lab coat came out from behind a computer bank. "General Kuno? What's going on here? Why are you placing those devices on the cloning facilities?"
Godai frowned at the man. "Why didn't you evacuate the building as I ordered? I told everyone that they had to be out in ten minutes!"
The technician frowned back. "Someone is to be at hand in the cloning chamber at all times, in case of an emergency. The clones take top priority."
Godai sighed. "I'm afraid that is no longer the case." He nodded to the man. "Restrain him." Two Orange Blossoms were quick to do so, grabbing him easily and holding him almost without effort. "I'm afraid I can't have you interfering. I'm just sorry you decided not to obey my orders when you had a chance."
Suddenly a loud voice shouted out from behind him. "Let him go!" Otaru Mamiya pointed his Jitte in Godai's direction, Akane, Lime and Bloodberry flanking him on either side. "Surrender, General Kuno. It's all over."
Kuno raised an eyebrow. "I really don't think so." Six Orange Blossom marionettes jumped between Godai and the three of them, and he brought out a small box. Akane, Bloodberry and Lime charged, plowing through the Orange Blossoms like they weren't there, their battle auras flaring brightly. Godai took a step back and pressed a button on the device, pointing it at the fight going on in front of him. Akane, Bloodberry, and two of the three remaining Orange Blossoms fell in a heap. The third had been thrown clear of the fight and was the only one of the four that Lime, Bloodberry and Akane had already cleared out of their way to survive.
Otaru charged forward through the gap, however, and his Jitte shot out, impaling the EMP caster and destroying it. The two Orange Blossoms that had been holding the technician reached him a second later, knocking him away from the startled Godai. Otaru hit the wall but managed to stay on his feet, although he was obviously in pain. Godai stepped back again in sudden worry as the three Saber marionettes rose to their feet and started to advance on him again. His every remaining Orange Blossom jumped to his defense but he knew how long they would last.
"Stop!" Godai yelled commandingly, bringing a second box-like device out of his pocket. "This will detonate the bombs I planted on the cloning machinery. If any of you get any closer, I'll use it."
Akane threw the marionette she had been grappling with off to the side, causing it to hit the reinforced wall quite a bit too hard, then froze as she heard the threat. Bloodberry halted in the middle of breaking one of the Orange Blossom marionettes over her knee. Three of the Orange Blossoms remained, but they too halted at Godai's command. Lime was frozen in mid punch, her eyes wide in alarm.
Otaru raised his hand to Bloodberry and Akane. "Wait!" He turned to Godai angrily. "Not even you would do something so... so evil."
Godai raised an eyebrow. "If that's what you think, by all means continue foreword, but I warn you, I am not bluffing."
Otaru hesitated for several seconds. "Why? Why would you do such a thing?"
Kuno shook his head sadly. "You just don't understand, do you? Do you think we can just introduce the human female into Terra Two without repercussions? What your Dr. Lorelei intends to do will destroy our world and our way of life! This world has survived, even prospered without women in it for hundreds of years. Men are superior in every way, it's scientific fact, and yet you'd give females back the power to control us? We must retain our position of superiority if we're to keep our civilization intact."
Otaru blinked incredulously. "You're crazy!
What's wrong with human females? Lorelei is as intelligent... as
good for our
civilization as any other person I've met. If women are like her, I don't see why we shouldn't have more of them around."
Godai sighed. "I see that you don't understand. Nevertheless, you will do as I say, or I will press this button."
"I've heard about enough of this." Came a familiar voice from the shadows. "Press away, if you like." Godai blinked, trying to place it. "Ranma? What? Where are you?"
Akane blinked, then noticed something. "Godai! Don't press that button!" She jumped forward to stop him.
Godai's eye narrowed. "No choice then, I see you've left me with no other options."
He lifted his hand and pressed the remote's button, just as Ranma shouted. "No! Look down!" The explosives that Ranma had taken from the cloning machinery and placed at Godai's feet all went off at once.
Ranma appeared, standing between the explosion and the cloning tanks. "Umi-sen-ken final attack! Deep Sea smother!" He raised a huge cloth in the path of the blast and somehow managed to contain the force of the thankfully, localized explosion. Akane dived for the technician, pushing him clear, and Bloodberry and Lime jumped in front of Otaru, taking what remained of the blast for their love and master.
When the smoke finally cleared, Ranma emerged, her borrowed kimono badly singed, but otherwise mostly unharmed. Behind her, the cloning tanks stood intact, protected by Ranma's technique.
Ranma sighed, shaking her head. "I should have known he'd be too stupid to listen. I would have taken the controller in the first place, but I was afraid that the button would get pressed by accident if I did."
Otaru shook his head. "You did everything you could, Ranma. Godai died from his own action... and you saved our future. Those little girls all owe you their lives."
Ranma blinked, glancing back at the cloning chamber with dismay. "Oh no... Somehow I just know I ain't gonna like it when they all start growing up."
Otaru looked confused. "What? Why in the world would you say that?"
Ranma shrugged. "I just know they're all going to feel like they owe me something, and before you know it, I'll be stuck with a hundred new fiancees."
Otaru blinked. "Um... what's a fiancee?"
Akane groaned, slapping herself in the forehead. "Ranma, you idiot. You're a girl! They can't marry you!"
Ranma blinked. "Oh yeah, I forgot."
Otaru scratched his head. "What are you two talking about?"
Bloodberry shook her head and put an arm around him companionably. "I'll explain it to you, Otaru." She glanced at Ranma in mild confusion. "Although I'm not quite sure I understand it all myself."
Upstairs in the main security room, Cherry smiled brightly and turned to Lorelei. "I've managed to restore full command functions. Unless General Kuno overrides you, you should be able to shut down the Orange Blossoms from here."
Lorelei stood up from where she had been working on Nabiki and nodded. "I'll do that. It will take my voice authorization. Could you finish up here? You just have to reconnect Nabiki's main processor to her power core. I've taken care of the rest already." Cherry nodded and they switched positions. Lorelei tapped several buttons on the main computer council and spoke. "Override security protocol omega one. Shut down all Orange Blossom marionettes on my voice authorization."
The computer answered her in an artificial tone. "Command initializing. Input voice authorization."
Lorelei pressed a couple more switches and spoke again. "This is Lorelei, access code four, nine, thirteen, six, eight, one, green."
The computer responded again. "Code accepted, initializing protocol omega one. Protocol omega one completed."
Lorelei sighed in relief and started bringing up pictures on the main screen from various locations around and outside the palace. She spotted Panther and Lynx at the base of the castle, standing in the midst of a dozen fallen marionettes. Near the castle gates she was surprised to see Tamasaburo and Baiko, surrounded by several hundred men carrying various weapons. She focused in and noticed that the men were being led by a white haired man that she recognized.
"Gennai-san!" Cherry cried from where she was working on Nabiki. "He came with reinforcements, like he promised." As they watched, Tamasaburo and Baiko led the band of men into the palace grounds, apparently leading them.
"Oh good." Lorelei smiled faintly. "It looks like this might be finally over." She pushed another couple buttons and focused in on a picture of Otaru and company heading for the elevator, apparently on their way back to the control room. "Otaru is on his way up here aswell. I hope they found General Kuno before he managed to do anything... rash."
Half an hour later, Otaru, his three marionettes, Faust's two, Ranma, Akane, Nabiki, Lorelei, Tamasaburo and Baiko, and Gennai all sat in a large circle inside the palace's main hall.
Ranma was explaining. "So while everyone else went in the hard way, I kept to the shadows and waited for Godai to pull his... um... his...."
Nabiki spoke up helpfully. "His Trump card?"
Ranma blinked. "Nah, whatever it was he was holding out for last. What does a card have to do with it?"
Nabiki shook her head wryly. "Never mind, Ranma. Remind me to play cards with you sometime."
Ranma blinked again. "Er... I don't think so, Nabiki."
Akane broke in. "So when Godai pulled out that detonator, you took all the bombs and dropped them at his feet, right?"
Ranma nodded. "I didn't think he'd blow himself up! Anyway, that was about it, right?"
Lorelei spoke up. "Well, it was, once Cherry fixed the security control computer so that I could deactivate all of the Orange Blossoms. It's going to take hours to remove all of the modifications the Kunos made to them."
Bloodberry looked at Tamasaburo and Baiko curiously. "What happened to you two? How did you deal with the group that was after you?"
Tamasaburo paused for an instant before speaking, almost appearing to be slightly embarrassed. "Gennai and his reinforcements found Baiko and I outside the palace, and helped destroy the rogue marionettes."
Gennai patted Tamasaburo on the knee. "I was glad to help rescue such a vision of loveliness as yourself, my dear! I'm just glad we came in time to help you. It was a close thing, let me tell you!" He nodded seriously. "They had you cornered by the wall. Just a few more seconds, and we wouldn't have been able to save you!"
Tamasaburo glanced at the hand on her knee but said nothing, turning to Lorelei a moment later as if she hadn't noticed. "Baiko and I suffered only minor damage. We should be ready for full service once more after only a few hours maintenance. I would, however, prefer to put that off until palace security is restored to normal efficiency. The present situation has left us dangerously vulnerable to attack if anyone else decides to take advantage of it."
Lorelei nodded. "I think you're right, Tamasaburo." She turned to Gennai. "Do you think you and the men you brought might assist in securing the palace grounds until the Orange Blossoms are repaired or replaced? I'm afraid that we lost almost half of them."
Gennai nodded. "You can count on us, Lorelei! I just had to get out the word that you were in trouble and Otaru needed our help, and practically everyone from the neighborhood jumped in line to help out. They'll all be happy to help out until things are back to normal here."
Lorelei nodded, smiling. "Thank you, Gennai-san. You've been of invaluable assistance." She looked at Otaru and company. "Hopefully things will go back to normal soon enough."
Nabiki cleared her throat. "For all of you, anyway. What about us? Ranma, Akane and myself. What is going to happen to us?"
End Chapter 9