by Jared Ornstead
Just like trip to Toma's island, in what was now an alternate future before they'd gone back to alter the past, once word spread of the journey everyone wanted to come. Kimiko was on deck cooking with her daughters (Akane's curse of being deadly bad with anything she cooked seemed to have been lifted at the same time as she'd lost her inability to swim or perform martial arts adequately). The Golden Pair of martial arts figure skating, two of those extra characters Doc and his family had seen fit to train, were performing on the ice rink, while Kodachi and her brothers were giving performances of their specialties.
The whole Anything Goes Tribe seemed to be there.
Actually, it was more than the Anything Goes Tribe, as certain people had snuck on board that Doc was sure he didn't recognize. Even outfitted with as large a trailer as they could tow, the car had been inadequate. Even a BUS wouldn't work! So, they'd gone for broke and arranged for an ocean liner, even going back in time to have one built to their specifications, so that it could handle both the crowds, and the necessary speeds.
It was probably the only time traveling cruise ship imagined since somebody stopped filming Fantasy Island, but it was the only way to get all of the capacity they needed once people started inviting themselves along.
Xander, for once *not* standing out in his favored attire of Hawaiian print shirt and Bermuda shorts, sidled up with a chilled fruit drink in one hand, snagged off one of the wait staff's tray. "Doc, why do you put up with this? We coulda been gone before most of these people knew it. You, me and Willow in the car, plus your wife and oldest kids if you'd wanted. Why go out of your way to accommodate all of these crowds?"
Doc was actually beaming as he took in the large group. "That's a very good question, but I think I can give you a simple answer. Who do you see here?"
Xander glanced around. Half these folks he didn't recognize. "Everybody!"
Willow cocked her head insightfully, and corrected, "Everyone your children might marry."
"EXACTLY!" Doc pounced on the redhead's answer, proud of her. "We're going to be gone for a long time, perhaps years. In the case of this stop it was even decades. I could miss my family all that time, or I could bring them along."
Willow's eyes seized upon Ranma and Ranko teaming up against the Golden Pair of martial arts figure skating, and losing handily. The Golden Pair had always fought at a full level higher on ice. It was their specialized environment. That wasn't so bad when without that boost they'd been merely D-List annoyances. Now they were solid Cs all around, that made them fully B-List while figure skating. So they were wiping the ice with all challengers.
"But if you bring them along, those years will still pass," Willow concluded. "Children grow up, and when they do they will do their best to find spouses and have families of their own." The redhead transferred her gaze to her demented, oldest friend, having perceived his thought processes back when he'd ordered this ship built. "If they found those mates among the natives of whatever universe we visited, they'd be tempted to stay with their spouses on those worlds, just as you've gone native here. Your family could potentially break up, with members spread all across the multiverse, settled on whatever worlds they found people to marry on. So, to protect them from being lost to you forever, you brought along a selection for them to choose from, from among the natives of this world."
"Precisely," Doc nodded seriously, before folding his arms and turning back to face the action. "Of course, the *official* excuse is so they have properly skilled opponents to practice against, to keep their own skills up. We can even hold our tournament as we travel."
Willow gave a soft smile. "Yes, parental meddling in love lives is almost never taken well."
Doc shrugged. "Meddling? Or just making sure that not all the options they have to choose from are bad?"
"Wouldn't it just be easier to leave everybody behind?" Xander felt puzzled.
"Yes," Willow grinned, eyes still on Doc, reading him. "But he's never been happy before, and he's trying to prolong it by bringing his family along."
Xander scratched his head. "Hasn't he already spent huge blocks of time away from them before? I mean, I know all his kids have been on those training trips."
Doc actually chuckled. "No. Those didn't part us. Why do you think I wanted the complete set of Locking Ladle and Unlocking Kettle in the first place? Willow pioneered a good idea. When it came time for my children to get trained under Genma we dosed them with a use of Instant Jusenkyo powder from the Spring of Drowned Twins, using the Locking Ladle. One copy stayed with us to get the best scholastic education money could buy, while the other went on the training trip to learn martial arts. Then, when the trip was over, we used the Unlocking Kettle to break the curse and combine the artificial twins into one. Since Instant Jusenkyo powder only works for a single transformation, there were no lasting effects, other than Nodoka and I never missing a birthday, and having full access to raise our kids, despite their training journeys."
Xander's eyes sought out the redhaired Ranko and her brother, dancing on ice. "So..."
"In this timeline, Ranma and Ranko were born natural twins. There was no curse involved. Don't ask me how that happened," Doc scolded mildly. "I don't understand everything. But yes, for a few years there were four of them, two Ranmas and two Rankos. One of each with us, building family bonds and receiving an education, and one of each off being taught as dedicated martial artists. They don't look much different from the series, but those kids are geniuses in more than just martial arts. Ranma had his first doctorate at twelve."
"I wonder why." Willow smirked slyly at their male parent, openly speculating to those who knew her what a genius like Doc would contribute to the intelligence of his offspring.
With Genma being an idiot, replacing that part of their genes with the genius who was Doc could only do them good in the intelligence department.
For his part, Xander had gotten distracted, his eyes unfocused watching Ranko out on the ice. Just like in the series, that girl could be the most extreme tomboy one moment, then just as extremely girly the next. And, right now, all dressed up for figure skating, it was girly.
And so attractive she made Buffy look like a blonde gorilla.
Doc, noticing this attention, chided softly, "Don't forget, you and I are alternate forms of the same person. Genetically identical. So, biologically speaking, you are that girl's father."
Willow burst out in laughter, while Xander looked bummed.
Doc chuckled. "The ironic part about Ranko's upbringing was that it was the copy of her that stayed with us that grew up as the tomboy. It was the harsh living of a martial artist on a long training journey that awoke her feminine side, yearning after all the comforts and pretty things she couldn't have in that lifestyle made her appreciate them. So she dove into indulging her femininity at every opportunity she could get. Now her two backgrounds are blended, I find she switches back and forth as convenient to her circumstances."
In order to change the subject, Xander leaned close to whisper, "What about that lecture you gave us when we first got here about not spouting off that we've got a... certain type of device others might want?"
He tapped the ship pointedly with one toe.
Doc gave him a knowing grin before directing a smile towards weird-looking and entirely fake 'magic' artifacts built into the front, back, top and side of the boat. "Oh, well, so long as it is in their best interests to cooperate, I don't see why anyone should want to steal the 'Doors of Janus'."
Actually, the real time circuit and flux capacitor weren't part of the boat. Neither was the slider device. Those were built into a baby's training potty that Doc carried in Hidden Weapons space, and that he could plug into special ports on the ship at need (the main one being in his cabin). The reason it was disguised as a training potty was so that everyone would overlook it, even if they somehow managed to search inside his chi-folded space.
He didn't care that, with those fake magic artifacts in place, people thought the ship could travel to places no one else could go. They thought that was some type of magic.
He'd even named the ship 'Gulliver's Travels'.
And the trio had already resigned themselves that it would probably get destroyed. But if that was the case, they'd just resume their journey without attempting to bring all of Nerima along. Doc was a scientist. He did experiments. Sometimes experiments didn't work out. If this one didn't, they could simply revert back to the pattern for hops they'd used before.
Down in the hold, packed in shock-resistant material, was their current time traveling car, and enough knockout drugs to sedate the entire passenger list and crew so they could be given a lift home one carload at a time, should that become necessary.
Every one of the three of them was privately convinced it would be.
Doc didn't have to bring his family along. Using time travel they never had to know he was gone. He just wanted to. Like Willow said, he'd never been this happy, and wanted to keep that sensation with him, if possible.
Then it snowballed, bringing potential spouses so as they grew up his children would have a selection that would not involve leaving them behind in some distant reality. And well, things had gotten enough out of hand that this trip was probably doomed to failure. But at least they would've tried.
Doc could content himself with that.
In some ways they got lucky.
A fight broke out and the ship got sunk even before they left the harbor.
So much for that experiment.
But at least this way Doc could content himself that his family were safe, even if they weren't present (for certain values of safe, naturally, as there was still the Musk threat).
The car nosed carefully out of the dimension sliding portal, occupants on edge and nervous, expecting an attack at any moment.
Rather than hostile, this Earth seemed idyllic, an uninhabited wonderland. Not what one would have expected to see appearing off the shore of a place as populated as Japan.
"Well, this is a surprise." Xander blinked.
"Meow. Not what I expected at all. Purr."
"You know what this says to me?" Nodoka clapped her hands. "A picnic!"
"You know, I've heard of bugs at picnics, but this is ridiculous." Willow quipped, looking up at the eight foot tall, insect-like machine that had just landed at their outdoor meal.
Xander looked up from where he had been tending to the grill. "That's an Invid scout," he recognized from a favored TV show, then grew horrified at the implications.
Doc and Nodoka's heads popped up out of some distant bushes, which they immediately disappeared back down into so they could clothe themselves.
It was too late.
The scout mecha that had landed at their picnic tried to grab Willow. But, being as good a martial artist as she was, this was an exercise in futility. She and Xander counterattacked while Doc and his wife were hurriedly getting dressed, but as the thing was effectively made out of tank armor, their efforts were fruitless.
The real danger they didn't realize until Doc and his wife came bursting out of the bushes to declare, "They're after anything mechanical they can find!"
Xander and Willow turned in horror to behold two other scout mecha flying away with their time vehicle held between them. Their distraction lasted just long enough for the scout that had landed among their picnic to grab their barbecue grill and fly away with it.
Doc immediately made notes of the angle and trajectory of their course.
"Emmett Dear, are you familiar with this world?"
Nodoka's question came as they were hiking across a mountain, on their way to follow the course taken by the Invid scouts who'd stolen their time machine.
"Yes. It was a popular television program when I was growing up. Jesse and I watched every episode we could." Doc posed on a ridgetop with a walking stick. Thanks to Hidden Weapons style, at least none of them were lacking for basic camping supplies, minus one barbecue grill, of course. "The basic plot starts in the year nineteen ninety nine when a giant alien spacecraft crash lands upon the Earth. Astounded by the technology in the vessel, this event snaps the planet out of the global war they'd been having at the time to investigate and repair the wreck. Then, ten years later, an alien armada comes to reclaim the ship on the very day of its launching ceremony. A number of fights follow, until the alien fleet calls in an armada so huge that it destroys ninety-eight point seven percent of the Earth's population in a bombardment that lasts only a handful of seconds. Earth defeats the invaders, but it is at best a pyrrhic victory, with even our rebuilt space battleship all but destroyed. Then you get a major timeline split. In one version, called Macross, certain things happen that don't concern us here, because we are in the other major arm. In this history, the masters of the cloned battle fleet show up, still searching for that wrecked starship. Again we defeat them, and again it hurts badly. But in the fighting the last vestiges of our crashed battlefortress are cracked open, releasing the seeds to an alien plant that were what both armadas were really after in the first place. Unlike virtually all other planets in the universe, those plants can grow here, and when their seeds are released and take root, the mystic energy they provide calls the last of three alien invasion forces - the race the first two had stolen those seeds from in the first place. That race, called the Invid, show up in force when the humans are still very weak from the last invasion, and not particularly caring this planet already had a population, wipe out what remained of human civilization in order to take over the Earth as their new garden spot. Then they devote themselves to bringing in new crops of those plants."
"So why did they steal our car and barbecue grill?" Nodoka pressed.
Doc sighed, resuming their march. "Very simply, the Invid do not understand technology. All of their equipment is made using a pseudo-magical process, requiring the energy of those special plants. So, as something of a hobby now that they are here, the Invid study human machines. They can't really tell the difference between a main battle tank or a toaster, unless one or the other is firing on them, but they like to collect and take apart things all the same - a fact that plagues the efforts of human survivors to rebuild some measure of civilization. But in the end, it all gets more or less resolved by returning human space fleets who evict the aliens one last time, and of course devastate the Earth once more in the process."
Doc gave a tired smile, admitting, "That's not something I'm anxious to stick around for."
"Are you worried they may have taken apart our car by now?" Willow asked.
Doc shrugged. "It's possible, of course. But I can't run at eighty-eight miles per hour. So we have to get a vehicle of some kind, so we can have something for me to install the training potty unit into. And the best, maybe the only, place to find a functional vehicle would be the stockpiles of human machines these Invid have collected in their hives."
"Couldn't we just use the slider unit to get out of here?" Xander asked.
"We could," Doc agreed. "But that would leave a functioning time machine in the hands of these aliens, and I am a little worried that, despite all the odds, they might get some human collaborator or traitor to tell them enough about how a car works they could trigger a time or a dimension warp by accident. Because if anyone could figure out how to duplicate those effects just by watching them happen, it would be the Invid, who do all of their real work with direct energy manipulation. Since I don't want to let these guys loose on the multiverse, I'd rather not leave them with our time vehicle."
That was so serious a thought, nobody said anything more for over an hour.
"We couldn't beat the one at the camp. How are we going to defeat a hive full of them?" Xander asked at length.
Doc sighed, opening out his bedroll. "We can't. At least not the way we are. In the morning, we'll all start training in the Breaking Point."
"The what?" both Willow and Nodoka asked together.
"A technique taught by the Chinese Amazons by which a martial artist can make inanimate objects explode with just a touch," Doc explained, laying down. "It seems to be restricted to rigid, mineral based targets, but in the series it was one of Ryoga's signature techniques. At one point he uses it on a vending machine, and several other times he detonates walls or roof shingles or other manmade things. Because it doesn't work on living targets directly, mostly Ryoga uses it to create clouds of smoke and shrapnel during fights. But since the problem we had fighting that Invid scout was not being able to hurt the machine-like body it wore, this could even the odds considerably. If not, we'll try another secret technique. I've brought a number. This *was* supposed to a training journey, after all."
They went to sleep with the sphere of an Invid hive visible on stilts in the distance.
Next morning, stomachs growling, Willow declared, "I can't believe nobody thought to pack any food."
"It was in the car, because it doesn't respond well to Hidden Weapon techniques," Doc answered soberly, his own stomach growling. "Besides, we started out this trip on a luxury cruise liner."
"That didn't make it out of the harbor," Nodoka sighed.
"Alright," Xander declared. "That's it. When this is over, and we go back to your dimension, I'm going back in time to train alongside her and pick up some of Ukyo's cooking techniques!"
"None of the martial arts cooks are top-ranked in battle," Doc discouraged.
"No, but I bet none of them go hungry, either," Xander countered.
They all spent a moment thinking about that, deciding in unison, ~No, they probably don't.~
Everybody privately resolved to pick up a cooking style as a side-school in that instant, as all of them seemed to be able to store ridiculous quantities of ingredients in stuff-space, and even turn that into edible confections in a matter of seconds. Ukyo could also use a welder's mask and torch to weld herself a griddle to cook on in between blows during a fight!
No, that idea was sounding better all of the time.
Sooner rather than later, though, they were all gathered around a clearing where Xander hung suspended, tied up in an elaborate style so that only one arm could move freely, and on that his fist was tied so that only one finger protruded.
Everyone winced as he got smashed by a boulder, a spherical stone that was as large around as the boy was tall, suspended by ropes, that had been swung like a pendulum to crash into the also suspended boy.
"Xander!" Doc scolded, leaping to the top of the rock that had just hit the boy before quoting Cologne, "How many times do I have to tell you to look for the Breaking Point with your mind, not your eyes? Listen to me, if you can't master this, the simplest of techniques, then you will lose when we go into that hive!"
Xander got smacked by the rock again, and again, and again, each time striking it first with his finger, trying to get it to explode, but so far each time without success.
As he hung limply from his harness, Doc excused the group to go a short distance off into the forest, where he confessed, "Breaking Point is only one technique we're going to need if we go in there. While I am confident that we can use it to destroy Invid mecha, that covers only offense. We're going to need defense, too. Some of those, I might as well call them machines, even though they aren't really, shoot disks of plasma energy as an attack. In fact, they can strafe an area with them, spraying plasma disks as if from machineguns. We get hit by one of those, it's probably over."
"So what can we do?" Nodoka asked in concern.
Doc pointed to a nearby tree, one bearing multiple bee hives. "So we train to avoid them. If they can't hit you, they can't hurt you. Since we don't have any machineguns with us, and it probably wouldn't be wise to shoot them at each other anyway, we'll have to train how to dodge using a different method."
Doc put on a beekeeper's outfit and grabbed a pole. "Since the essence of how to dodge is speed, we've got to train up how fast we are!"
He knocked one of the beehives towards Willow, whose eyes grew round in horror as he declared, "If you can dodge the swarm long enough to knock out all of the bees before they sting you, you should be fast enough to evade the Invid!"
The cat burglar exploded into motion.
As the swarm departed her crumpled body moments later, Willow looked up with a stung and swollen face to level a glare at Doc.
He shrugged. "We all have to train in both techniques, so I'll give you your choice. Would you rather tie me up to be beaten by a boulder over and over, or would you like to knock the next swarm of bees onto me?"
"You could have told us in the series Ranma used the blinding speed of the Chestnut Fist in order to help knock out those bees, Dear," Nodoka warned with a sting-swollen face.
Doc sighed, rubbing at the bruises of his rock-pummeled face as he tended the cooking fire, having caught a couple of rabbits earlier on. "In the series, Ranma was under the mistaken impression that if Ryoga touched him with the Breaking Point, he would explode. So he used the advanced speed of the Chestnut Fist to block and parry as much as anything. Since we can't do that against disks of plasma, we have to focus on full-body speed and avoidance. So it would actually be bad for our training, in this instance, to learn the Chestnuts Roasting Over An Open Fire technique first."
Behind them, Xander got loose from his training harness and fell out of the tree on his head, so badly beaten he was already unconscious and didn't even notice.
"We've got a long way to go," Willow mourned, treating her bee stings.
The next day the girls got stung less, and the boys were able to drive their fingers a knuckle deep into their respective boulders before getting hit. But obviously that was not enough. It took six days working from dawn to dusk before they made their respective breakthroughs, girls dodging every bee until they could swat down entire swarms without getting stung once, and the boys shattering their boulders with a touch.
And then, of course, it was only time to start over again, this time trading places so the boys went after speed training, dodging bees, while the girls got pummeled by boulders.
Nobody was particularly happy about taking all of that punishment and only being halfway there to being ready to face the Invid hive and reclaim their vehicle, but at least by then they'd proven both techniques possible, and the end was in sight.
They were ready. All four of them had mastered both techniques, and they celebrated by blowing apart the base of one of the stilts supporting the Invid hive.
"I've just now thought of a problem with our training," Xander confessed, as they watched a swarm of hundreds of Invid depart the hive and head their way.
"What is that?" Doc looked his way in confusion, not altering his battle-ready stance.
Xander freaked out, pointing upwards. "All of the Invid FLY! How are we going to defeat them if we can't reach that high to touch them with the Breaking Point?"
General terror followed that announcement, and the four martial artists scattered as the Invid got within range to start strafing their positions. It was one thing to be receiving fire if you could strike back, and quite another to be helpless to reply to a barrage.
Against Invid shooting at them from thousands of feet up, they were helpless.
Soon Willow had found a cave, and all of them piled in, going to ground to try to hide. They put some distance between them and the entrance, since it was plenty big enough for the Invid to enter, but as they sought cover they found that their cave just kept getting deeper and deeper, until finally it disgorged them into a huge underground cavern.
"An Invid Genesis Pit." Xander and Doc breathed aloud in awe.
"A what?" Nodoka asked in concern.
Doc folded his arms. "A giant, underground, biology laboratory, spread out over a system of huge caverns spanning a radius of a dozen miles or so, and divided into sections. Each section has its own natural-seeming environment, and is devoted to its own major branch of the ongoing experiments, where the aliens play around with the stuff of life on this world and try variations in order to figure out what makes us tick. All of it will be run by its own research hive of Invid, hidden somewhere down in here."
"So, a bunch of caves filled with mutant monsters," Xander summarized.
"Something tells me our situation has not improved," Willow sighed.
"Well, Doc announced soberly. "We can't go back out the way we came in. Those Invid will be on the watch for us there for weeks, and we haven't got enough food to wait them out. So I believe we should start searching for another exit."
"Somehow having a picnic always invites BUGS!" Xander snapped the thorax of a giant mosquito larger than he was.
Nodoka slipped through the grasps of a platoon of giant army ants, slicing apart heads from bodies with each smooth motion of her body, katana gleaming in the light, "Somehow I always thought a katana too dignified for swatting ants before. I've changed my mind now. These are the size of horses!"
"Weren't ants that large in an old movie?" Willow gracefully sidestepped a diving attack from a fly, and leapt over the acid spray of a bombardier beetle as big as a VW bus.
"I believe it was titled THEM!" Doc gestured, sending out a spray of chains that tied up the fly before it could make another attack on Willow. Then he tried to shift his stance and was unable. Looking down he saw a glob of grey ooze, that following up, his gaze found was one of the anchors of a giant spider's web.
And said spider was hastily scrambling down after him.
He hit it in the face with his chained-up fly, then whipped out a sword.
"I almost preferred the giant centipedes!" Willow declared as they all ran for their lives before a stampede of giant, herbivorous dinosaurs, smashing down trees in their path so there wasn't any perch to stand on safe from their advance.
Soon the stampede ran down to a lake. This wasn't a problem for the dinosaurs, as these herbivores preferred the water to land. But people don't swim as fast as they can run, and the martial artists now had to face a choice: face the tide of scaly flesh on land, where they could dodge better, or in water, where a crazy flipper hit from the storm of swimmers might knock them unconscious and be all she wrote.
With all of these dinosaurs, it would be like trying to stay afloat in a blender.
Even exhausted from their long run, the choice was obvious. They turned about and began to run uphill, through the charging mass of dinosaurs where they still had some ground under their feet.
The next seconds were among the most perilous of their lives as they leaped off the ground to the backs of rushing dinosaurs, then to the backs of other charging sauroids, with one slip meaning falling under that tide of mashing feet.
All four landed, breathless but okay, on the far side barely a minute later.
Just in time to stare up in shock and horror at the onrushing wall of teeth and claws that was the giant swarm of carnivorous dinosaurs that had caused the stampede of the herbivores!
"I've had ENOUGH of BEES!" Xander yelled, having been stung thousands of times just a few days ago, and carrying something of a grudge.
The entire group was riding on the backs of giant bees caught returning to their hive from equally giant flowers. Doc looked down at the territory they were traversing. "If you'd like to cross over this territory on foot, it looks like they've got King Kong and a few ape villages down there!" he shouted. "Should be fun for a party!"
"Oh look!" Nodoka pointed ahead. "I think they've got Gojira in the next section!"
Willow directed a playful look to Xander, who pouted, "Bees are fine."
"Something tells me if we found the right nutjob from Nerima, and dropped him in this place, that he'd invent a new martial art," Doc gazed around him at the giant beehive they were inside, walls of honeycomb rising as far as the eye could see on every side.
Bees the size of camels were also all over the place.
"I tapped one cell and got enough honey to last us all for a year," Xander announced as he staggered up, adjusting to the new weight in his robes, and proving he, too, had elected to learn the Hidden Weapons techniques during his stay training among the amazons. "That's even accounting for the fact that one martial artist eats like a hungry sports team."
Nodoka rolled in a section of pineapple as large around as a truck tire. "Well, I found some fruit outside. It looks like bugs aren't the only thing they grow well here. We could probably feed all of Japan just from this cave."
"You might be forced to use nukes to hunt the fish," Willow smugly brought in a minnow that was larger in body than she was. She posed leaning against it, purring all the while. "I caught sight of a trout out there that was larger than our former cruise liner. I think our dinosaur friends could well just be snack food, while this section was to keep Gojira and King Kong well fed."
Doc nodded. "In that case, we should not delay in finding another ride in an outgoing direction. Hold on a minute while I try to interpret this latest bee's dance. I think it might be going in a direction we'd find interesting."
Willow's eyes gleamed, catlike, from under a bush overlooking the Invid hive at the heart of this Genesis Pit. "If we could only get inside, I'm certain the corridors are narrow enough that we'd be in leaping distance of the Invid themselves, no matter what they tried. Meow."
Nodoka leaned over her shoulder and concurred. "Up on the surface we couldn't fight them because they flew too high, even this cavern is too large. But inside their hive they don't have enough room for that tactic. The dimensions just aren't right for it."
"Sooner the better," Xander declared, panting after just having put down a rabbit larger than most three family dwellings in Japan.
"Strangely, this place reminds me of Ryugenzawa," Doc proclaimed as a giant platypus larger than a ten-wheel delivery truck wandered by. "But I think you're right. We'd be safer on the inside facing Invid than fighting giant animals out here."
Cross an anime with an apocalyptic future, and you get an anime with an apocalyptic future. Sounds fairly reasonable to me, doesn't it?
Of course, don't expect the filing system on universes to be that rational all of the time.