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Before I started writing the story that ended up as 'Desperately Seeking Ranma', quite a while ago now in mid 2011 or thereabouts, I got about 300 thousand words or so into another story that I eventually shelved, as I've mentioned before. I doubt that will ever see the light of day, as aside from anything else it would need a significant rewrite to make the style something I'd feel satisfied with. It was a good first attempt, had some interesting concepts, and sparked a lot of ideas, some of which I've used in DSR. A few of them were ones that had a number of possible variants, as is often the case. One of those, looked at differently, led to this story which I actually wrote before DSR but after 'Aftermath'. It's been sitting on my hard drive for more than five years now, as I wasn't sure where it would actually go past the point I got to in one long writing session.

I've got some notes on extending it quite a lot, but in also works fairly well as just this part, I think. DSR took over and I stopped working on it, but I've pondered posting it on and off for a long time. As a result of a friend prodding me to get back to work I decided it was finally time to set it free. So I did. Hopefully people will enjoy it, while patiently waiting for the resumption of my somewhat longer work! Think of it as a Halloween gift.

Do you give Halloween gifts?

Hmm. Need to look that up. Whatever, enjoy :)

"So BORED!" came the cry. No one heard.

"Bored, bored, BORED!" Still, no one heard.

Not surprising, as Ranma was lying on the roof of the Tendo Family home in the early morning, and everyone else was out for various reasons. School had been out for summer for only a few days and he'd been looking forward to the break. Now that it had come for some reason everything else seemed to have ground to a halt. And as a result, he found himself in that most unusual of situations, having nothing to do.

None of the Fiancées were currently chasing him. This he actually considered a gift from heaven. Akane seemed to be simply ignoring him at the moment, which was vastly preferable to the normal abusive relationship they 'enjoyed'. He had been on the verge of losing control and actually stopping her malleting him the last time, but for some reason best known to herself a fairly innocent comment he'd made had resulted in her becoming even more angry than usual, then just stomping off in a huff. Since then she'd glared at him a lot, but normally either left the room when he came in, or pretended he didn't exist at all. While he was a little upset that they couldn't get along, overall he'd take being ignored over being beaten any day.

His feelings for the girl had cooled immensely since the aborted wedding. When it became apparent that she had known all along about the existence of the water from the spring of drowned boy, not that it would have helped anyway, he had spent a week feeling the nearest thing to actual hate for another human that he'd ever felt in his life. The passage of time in the months since had reduced this to mere annoyance, his normally positive outlook on life not allowing him to keep such negative emotions around for very long, but he no longer trusted her. Even so, he would rather have her as a friend, although he no longer had any wish at all to marry her, long or short term. A relationship like that was built on trust, but she obviously had none at all for him, and never had done.

Shampoo and the other two Amazons had returned to China for some tribal business, which would keep them away for at least two to three more weeks, if not longer. She'd seemed upset to leave, although he had been quite pleased. Still, to keep her happy, he'd made all the right noises. Again, while he could see one day perhaps being a friend, he had no real attraction to the girl despite her undeniable beauty and skill. She was much too pushy and sexually aggressive which made him very uncomfortable at the best of times. He knew his attitude to sex and innuendo was somewhat unusual for a young man, or woman, his age, but that didn't mean he wasn't affected by it. He just had vastly better self-control than the majority of people and didn't like having it shoved, literally, in his face all the time.

Ukyo had gone home to visit her father and would be away for the next week. She at least he could talk to, although her blind insistence that the best thing that could happen to them both was for him to marry her and then run a chain of Okonomiyaki restaurants proved beyond doubt that she didn't really know him very well. Or at least didn't think much about his own wants and needs. It was a pity, because he did like the girl despite everything, although once again he couldn't see that they had a future together. After the wedding he'd been pretty cold towards her for her part in it. He still didn't see her as much as before.

Both Kuno siblings had been taken off to Hawaii by their insane father, which was a gift to the entire area. Ranma was by no means alone in feeling that the less Kunos around the better. They varied from insane to very insane and were dangerous with it. Kodachi was again a very good looking and quite skilled young woman, but she gave him the creeps at the best of times, and the howling horrors most of the time. The further away from her he could get the better. Sometimes he felt that Mars might be about the right distance.

He hadn't seen Taro for months, which was a massive relief, or Ryoga for a couple of weeks. The lost boy was always good for a decent sparring match at least, but his constant blaming of Ranma for everything wrong with his own life got rather wearing after the first hundred or so times. The collateral damage he caused whenever he popped up was a damn pain in the rear as well. Ranma usually got the blame as he was normally the only one around to get shouted at since Ryoga would wander off and vanish after pretty much every fight.

Happosai had pushed off for the summer, stating that he wanted to try the beaches of Europe for his collection of 'silky darlings', because he hadn't been there for years. Ranma snorted to himself, he pitied the Europeans. They were in for a bad season.

His mother and father had gone off for a while, his mother gently and politely insisting that his father should accompany her for a shopping trip. When politeness didn't work, she found waving an extremely sharp sword at him did. They'd left quite early to catch the train into the centre of Tokyo and would be away for a couple of days.

Soun was taking the unusual lack of Genma as an excuse to go and cheat at Shogi with some old friends. He probably wouldn't return for hours. Most likely being carried back by those same friends as he would be falling down drunk.

Even Nabiki seemed to be leaving him largely alone at the moment, she seemed to be involved in some complicated scam that would probably bring near-ruination to a number of her peers. He wasn't happy about how she behaved but had decided some considerable time ago that it was best if he stayed out of her business whenever possible, if only to keep his own life less complicated. Not that it actually was, but he didn't want to add anything to the normal chaos. He just quietly dealt with the occasional fallout from one of her schemes going bad, when it seemed that violence might erupt.

He wondered idly if she had ever realised how many times he'd intercepted someone bent on causing her physical harm. It seemed unlikely. For the last couple of years, every time he'd warned off a potential problem, he'd made a note of when and why, just in case it came in handy one day. Snickering, he had the sudden thought that he should give her the list, along with a suitable invoice for the protection work. That would probably make her pop a gasket if anything would.

The pair of them had been getting along fairly well for the last few weeks. He suspected a certain amount of guilt over her actions surrounding the wedding had made her back off slightly. Once she started treating him more like a human being rather than a profitable play-toy, she'd apparently started to see him as someone she could at least be civil to. He could go along with that. He'd always rather liked the middle sister, despite her mercenary ways, largely due to a considerable respect for her mental acuity. She was very attractive as well, which helped quite a lot. Several times he'd thought perhaps he should arrange some photos of her like she had taken of his girl form, just to see what she'd do...

Kasumi he got along with very well. Quietly, in the background like always, she had helped him on a large number of occasions with everything from homework to explanations of female hygiene when that had become necessary a year or so ago. Not the sort of thing he'd ever have expected to know about, but his unusual circumstances of being both male and female, albeit on a time-share basis, left him with problems that none of his peers would be likely to understand. She at least didn't judge him for it, just calmly explained the issue and the resolution of it. He was extremely grateful to her and even more grateful that she'd never mentioned any of it to another soul.

Recently she'd also been teaching him to speak more maturely, something he'd had trouble with. He was making a conscious effort to sound less like an under-educated hick and more like an intelligent person, an effort which seemed to be paying off. He still found himself dropping back into slang-filled language when he was annoyed, but overall the last two or three months had brought about a startling difference in his speech patterns. Akane teased him unmercifully about it, at least until she stopped talking to him completely. That was at least one positive effect of the silent treatment.

The three sisters had gone out together and wouldn't be back until late evening. He'd taken the opportunity to relax, but had found as the day wore on that somewhat unexpectedly he had started to become bored. Smiling up at the clouds he wondered when he'd become so much of an adrenaline junky that he couldn't go one day without a fight or argument. He certainly didn't like such things, although there was nothing like a good fight to stir the blood, but he'd never thought he would actually miss the action quite this much.

'Not like I've ever had the chance to miss it,' he thought to himself with a wry grin. 'This is probably the first time in nearly two years I haven't had a fight of some sort.' Sitting up he ran through his memories carefully, then raised his eyebrows. 'Good grief. This is the first time, in two years at least. I can't believe it. I've had a fight of some sort every single day for years! That can't be good.' Staring out over the rooftops he wondered at the course his life had taken and shook his head.

'Well, better make the most of the quiet time. It's not likely to last.' Stretching widely, he stood up and walked to the peak of the roof, looking around at the scenery. "Still bored," he muttered. After a moment he shrugged, ran towards the other end of the roof, and jumped across the road. Bounding from rooftop to rooftop in a manner that anyone from outside the environs of Nerima, which was after all a very odd place, would find highly implausible he spent the next hour working up a good sweat in exercise. He wasn't going anywhere in particular, just bouncing around with excess energy. Eventually ending up in a large park near the edge of the ward, one he seldom visited, he jumped from the roof of the last building into a large tree and sat down on a branch some ten metres up, looking out over the park.

There was a large lake in the middle of it with some row-boats slowly moving around on it and a few people wandering around or sitting having picnics. He found it a little odd how few people there were on such a nice day, but realised after a moment that in all probability most people had gone to the beach for that same reason. A figure in the middle distance caught his attention, it was a middle-aged man who was walking slowly across the grass waving what appeared to be a long stick with a loop on the end back and forth. Ranma watched for a minute or so, wondering what on earth the guy was doing, then decided to go and find out. Dropping lightly to the ground he apologised to the young couple who were kissing at the base of the tree, who he surprised quite badly.

Walking towards the man a few hundred metres away he got about half-way, then groaned as a small child chasing another equally small child with a pump-up water gun nearly as large as he was managed to catch him in the crossfire. Both children stopped and stared at the buxom young red-head who was standing on the grass dripping and mumbling to herself, then looked at each other and shrugged, before running off. Ranma grumbled, adjusted her clothes, and went on to her original destination. A few people who had seen the change rubbed their eyes and decided that they must have imagined it. This was a pretty common reaction.

When she arrived near the man she stood a few metres away and watched carefully. The stick with a loop turned out to be some sort of electronic device, which at the top had a box with a meter and several controls. There was a set of headphones plugged into the box which the man was wearing. He was carefully waving the loop back and forth a couple of inches off the ground in wide overlapping arcs, stopping every now and then to adjust one control or another. She wondered what the point of this slightly odd activity was. About to walk over and ask him, she stopped when he suddenly froze, then moved the thing back and forth over a small area of ground, adjusting the controls very gently. Her extremely acute hearing picked up a whistling noise coming from the headphones.

The man smiled, put the device down, then knelt. Pulling a small digging implement from his pocket he dug up a divot of earth about ten centimetres on a side, putting it to one side of the hole. Picking up the machine again he held it over the hole, then the lump of earth he'd removed from it. The whistle came back when it was over the removed lump. He smiled again and began to break the lump up with his fingers, apparently looking for something. Ranma walked closer and watched with interest. After a few seconds the man made a noise of triumph, picking a small glittering object from the displaced earth. She could see that it appeared to be a ring. The man took his headphones off and held the ring up to the light with a broad smile.

"How did you do that?" Ranma asked curiously and he jumped, not having realised she was there. Looking over his shoulder at the interested young woman he raised his eyebrows for a moment, then smiled.

"This is my metal detector," he explained, pointing at the device lying on the grass beside him. "It can find metal objects hidden under the ground. I come out here every now and then and walk around for a few hours, trying to find anything valuable that someone might have lost." She nodded, understanding the idea.

"Treasure hunting." He smiled.

"Well, kind of. This is the first decent find I've made in weeks. Normally it's just bits of rusty metal, small coins, garbage like that. But it gets me out of the house and gives me an excuse to get a bit of exercise. And there's always the off chance I'll find something worth money, like this." He rubbed the dirt off the ring and held it out to her. "It's reasonably good quality gold, I think. Not worth a huge amount, but there might be a reward for it. I'll see if the police have had something like this reported as lost. If no-one claims it for a few weeks I can keep it." Carefully putting the earth he'd removed back in the hole he replaced the turf and prodded it back into position, then stood.

Nodding to her he put his headphones back on and resumed sweeping the metal detector back and forth over the ground. Ranma watched for a while, then walked away, thinking. Reaching the trees near the edge of the park she sat down under one, leaning back against it and closing her eyes. 'That's pretty cool. I wonder how it works?' she thought. An idea had been sparked, which needed further examination. Ranma Saotome started doing something that many people who knew her didn't believe happened, although it did quite often. She started to think very hard. The part-time girl was actually pretty smart, in fact genuinely brilliant when it came to anything that might in any way smack of martial arts. Which in the end, due to the unique way her mind worked, almost everything did. She just didn't see a lot of point in advertising the fact, which in some ways proved how bright she was.

She knew that she could do all sort of interesting things with ki. Since the Saffron incident she'd tried, whenever possible, to practice building up and manipulating her ki, and the results had been a steady increase in her reserves of life energy. Along with that her ability to sense it had increased enormously, she could easily pick out the specific signature of people from a considerable distance now. For a target with large ki reserves such as another martial artist she didn't even have to try, they stuck out to her like a beacon. More normal people took a little deliberate work, unless they were quite close or meant harm. Animals took more concentration still.

She hadn't thought before of using this ki based sensing on non-living things before, but seeing that man with his metal detector had given her a curious idea. Was it possible to replicate the effect? Presumably the machine sent out some sort of energy and read the results. Ranma was vaguely aware of the process of sonar, from a mention at school. She decided that she needed to look up how things like that, and such things as radar and metal detectors, actually worked. It had been apparent to her for a while that she had a grievous lack of knowledge of technical subjects and should probably do something about it.

Deciding that some experimentation was in order, she closed her eyes and began some meditation exercises, quickly slipping into the half-trance where she'd discovered she could deal with ki operations most easily. Calming herself, reaching for her centre as if she was practising a new technique, she opened her mind to the ki field surrounding her. The various people in the immediate vicinity stood out brilliantly against the dim background ki emanations from the environment. Stretching her senses she targeted one person about fifty metres away, inspecting him curiously. It was obviously a man, she could feel the male ki coming from him. Looking more closely she saw he was either asleep or extremely relaxed.

With some practice she found she could feel his heartbeat and respiration from the small fluctuations in his ki emanations, and even feel his emotional state. He was relaxed, nearly asleep, and contented. And hungry. She smiled. 'Weird, but interesting.' Turning her attention away from him she felt out further, counting twenty-three people within about one hundred and fifty metres. Further out there were more, but she ignored them, she'd proven the point. The ki sensing was actually pretty easy when you knew the trick. Widening the search she deliberately blocked out all the humans in the area, finding it surprisingly easy to do. She was still aware of them but they sort of faded away as unimportant.

Once they were blanked, she noticed that there were a large number of smaller individual ki sources, which had been drowned out by the human output. After a moment it became apparent that these must be animals of various types. The ones above her were presumably birds. There were ones in the trees and the grass as well. Mice, more birds, and one that made her eyes snap open and her heart race when she realised it was one of those furry meowing demons. She looked wildly around for a moment, before coming to the conclusion that it was a safe distance away and moving off. Sweating, she breathed heavily for a while trying to calm herself enough to go on.

'I hate those things,' she thought, then slowly closed her eyes again. It took several minutes to calm down enough to re-enter the trance and get back to the same point she had been before the monster walked past. Slightly pleased that she'd managed to keep it together so well, she probed deeper, blanking out as many of the animal sources as she could. The background ki field had dimmed hugely, but as she pushed her mind, she could see it get brighter and differentiate into a vast number of tiny threads of life energy, with a few much larger ones. These must be plants, obvious as one of the large ones was immediately behind her. Turning her attention to it she inspected it curiously, distracted for a moment by the complexity and size of the thing. It was beautiful in a way, a huge but delicate tracery of light in a colour that didn't exist outside her head. After marvelling at it for a while, she turned her attention outward again.

Ranma spent nearly five hours spreading her ki sight over the park, zooming in on things that caught her interest at various points. She learned how to focus down to an individual insect at a considerable range, several hundred metres at least, or how to spread the sense over a large area and see everything at once. After some practice she managed to do it with her eyes open, the result being a weird overlay on top of normal vision, every living thing within range glowing that indescribable colour. It took a bit of concentration to maintain, but the effect got easier the longer she practised. Once more her inhumanly steep learning curve came to her aid, compressing an activity that would have taken a normal adept at ki manipulation, if there even was such a thing, weeks or months into hours.

Eventually she leaned back against her tree and sighed. The exercise, as fun and interesting as it had been, had shown one thing conclusively. It didn't show non-living things. So much for that. Even so, it had opened her metaphorical eyes to the possibilities of the technique and she could already see some very useful combat applications, aside from the near-xray vision it produced for living creatures. She could track a person from hundreds of metres away regardless of anything between them and had rapidly discovered it was becoming a reflex to keep a small amount of her attention on the human signatures within a certain range. A slightly larger amount of time was spent for scanning for demonic furry little bastards, which was a skill she thought would stand her in good stead. She could at least sense them coming and get out of the way before one arrived. There would be no surprises from them now, so that was a very useful outcome of the last few hours.

However, it hadn't resulted in a useful answer to the question she'd originally posed. Pulling a hundred-yen coin from her pocket she flipped it into the air and caught it, over and over, while thinking the whole thing over. Perhaps she was going about it wrong? At the moment she was basically listening for, or looking at, the emanations given off by life. Ki was essentially derived from life after all. It stood to reason that an inanimate substance, unless it was a very odd one, would have no emanations of its own, not being a living thing. So, logically, one couldn't sense what wasn't there to sense.

Assuming all that was true, how could one get around that. Could one get around it at all? Unwilling as always to accept that there was something she couldn't do, she decided to try another approach. Rather than passively reading the ambient ki, what would happen if she sent out her own ki and tried to read anything that came back? It was worth a try, she decided, then flipped the coin into the grass a couple of metres away. 'Right. That's the target. I know it's there, I can see it. But can I sense it?"

Closing her eyes again and slipping easily into the practice trance, she felt in front of herself for the coin. There was no trace of it in a passive scan. With a mental shrug, she sent out a small pulse of ki in the direction of the coin to see what would happen. The result was somewhat unexpected. All the life signs in the path of the pulse out to several dozen metres brightened abruptly, although very slightly, then very slowly dimmed down again. "Huh. That was weird," she mumbled to himself. The plants and insects seemed to have absorbed a very small amount of her ki, making them slightly more 'alive' for want of a better word. She'd never have noticed it if she hadn't had all the practice in the last few hours in reading ki signatures, it was an extremely subtle effect.

It was interesting, but not immediately useful. Trying again, she sent out a different pulse. Again, there was a small increase in the life energy radiated back. It felt slightly different this time, reflecting the change in her pulse. Over the next hour or so she tried dozens, if not hundreds, of minor changes to the ki she was sending, and was beginning to get disheartened. When the return pulse finally came from the coin it was completely unexpected and she nearly missed it. 'Hey. What the hell was that?' She tried the last pulse again. Once more she got a tiny return from where she knew the coin was. 'Wow. It works,' she thought triumphantly.

Refinement of the technique took another couple of hours. Small changes in the 'shape' of the ki pulse, the intensity, and various other parameters she couldn't even describe made large differences in the amount of signal she got back from the target coin. In the end she settled on two ki bursts, one which seemed to get a return from anything metal, and one which seemed to be specific to whatever the coin was made of. This led to some interesting possibilities. Presumably each material would have a specific detection pulse, so she could distinguish between them. That could be useful.

To test her idea she looked around for some different type of metal to try, then sighed. All she had to do was send out the generic metal detecting one with more power. The result was confusing, there seemed to be a huge number of metal objects all around her, out to any range she cared to try. Some were quite large, and corresponded to things she could see, like lamp-posts, benches, and so on, while others were smaller, down to very tiny sizes. The middle of a park in a city as old as Nerima was obviously not the ideal place to do this, there must be an enormous amount of metal lying around from hundreds if not thousands of years of civilisation.

Again, considerable effort led to yet another refinement, allowing a lot of the extraneous signal to be ignored. In the end she could filter out all the small stuff that was too omnipresent to be useful, leaving only the larger results, similar to her coin and up in size. Sure enough, she found that the generic pulse showed, for instance, the lamp-post twenty metres to her left, but the one specific to the coin didn't. A slight change and she had one that showed the post but not the coin. It seemed likely that this would work for any specific metal. This brought the thought that she needed to learn more about chemistry. She only had the vaguest idea about elements, knowing that everything was made up of one or more of them, but not knowing how many there were or how many were metals.

Practising some more she found she could also tune the effect to show stone, or wood, or in fact practically anything. It was actually very odd. Closing her eyes and sending out a rapid sweep of all the pulses she'd so far worked out, she found she could build up a remarkably detailed map of the immediate vicinity. Putting more power into it let her 'see' things nearly a kilometre away. When she focussed the energy into a tight beam in front of her she was getting returns from much farther than that.

She opened her eyes and looked around, a wide grin on her face. It was evening now, the park was emptying out, but she felt she'd spent the day well. An entire new technique had opened up in front of her, one she'd never even heard of before. It would take a lot of practice to do it easily, but she knew she'd get there pretty fast. Soon enough it would be second nature. The scanning for life signs was already pretty much habit. Standing she stretched hugely, picked up her coin, then walked slowly out across the park, pinging the area around her with a detection pulse restricted to about twenty metres. Heading for the exit on the far side of the park, by the time she got there she'd located and picked up nearly two thousand yen in lost coins, a watch, two unrelated earrings, a pen, and three keys.

It looked like, if nothing else, this would be an effective way of making money, if only by finding all the small coinage that people lost. She turned one of the earrings over in her fingers, it seemed to be quite high quality and made largely of gold judging by the weight. Using it to practice on she added another specific pulse to her library, this one for gold. She decided that she needed to find samples of as many different things as possible so she could tailor detection pulses for all of them. Perhaps a visit to a jewellery store was in order.

Halfway home she stopped to buy herself a 'well-done, Ranma' present at the ice-cream place, paying for it with a large number of small denomination coins. This didn't impress the young man behind the counter over-much, but she made up for it by putting on her well-practised cute girl act, which made him nearly swoon and press another bowl of ice-cream on her. Smirking, she ate it with relish, then went on her way.

A few hundred metres from the Dojo she realised she could sense the presence of the three Tendo sisters and their father from much further away than she normally did unless she was trying. All that ki sense work had really paid off in increased sensitivity. Akane stood out like a lighthouse, her ki reserves were considerably larger than anyone else in the house. The incessant strength training did have a result other than huge amounts of crushed concrete blocks. Soun was next in intensity, then oddly enough Kasumi. Nabiki trailed behind at some distance, although even her ki output was considerably larger than most people who were not martial artists.

Jumping onto the roof of the house from across the street she looked around with her newly enhanced ki vision, noticing that she could essentially see the people in the buildings around her right through the walls. Not like a normal image, it was a little like the effect she'd seen on the TV of a thermal camera in use by fire-fighters, although only a little. She could tell that Nabiki was in her room, Akane was in the living room, Kasumi in the kitchen as usual, and Soun in the bathroom. With a little effort she pinged the house and could see all the wiring in the walls, the pipework, and pretty much all the metal objects in the entire house. "Weird," she mumbled, grinning again. "But I like it."

Dropping into the garden she went into the house, greeting Kasumi in the kitchen before sitting down in the living room. Akane looked at her, scowled, then turned back to the television, ignoring her from that point on. Ranma sighed very slightly, watched a few minutes of TV then got up again.

Walking back into the kitchen she leaned against the table and watched Kasumi preparing the evening meal. "How was your day, Kasumi?" she asked. The oldest sister glanced at her with a smile, then went back to slicing vegetables.

"Very nice, thank you, Ranma. We did a little clothes shopping, Nabiki bought a really nice swimsuit, then went and saw a movie. Akane got a couple of books and I found some decent knives to replace the ones that..." She trailed off, looking slightly guilty.

"That Akane ruined last week," Ranma said with a small grin. The eldest Tendo woman nodded, flushing a little.

"Yes." She kept her voice down, not wanting Akane to hear. Ranma looked towards the door into the living room, then back at Kasumi.

"She didn't hear you."

Kasumi looked relieved, then curious. "Why are you a girl at the moment?" she asked, looking at the red-head again. Ranma shrugged, moving to the sink and beginning to wash some of the plates stacked in it. Kasumi watched with a smile, then nodded her thanks.

"Ran into a little kid with a water gun this morning in the park. I couldn't be bothered to change back at the time, I ran out of hot water for my thermos and forgot to refill it. Then I got distracted by a new technique I came up with." Finishing the dishes she drained the sink, then pulled the thermos in question out of ki space, unscrewed the lid, and refilled it from the hot tap. Putting the lid back on and stashing it away again she stuck her hand under the hot water then turned the tap off. Loosening his clothes slightly to make it more comfortable he began drying the dishes.

"It hasn't seemed to bother you as much recently," Kasumi observed. He shrugged again.

"No, it doesn't." He checked to make sure none of the other inhabitants of the house were within earshot before continuing. "I can't honestly say I like it, but I don't dislike it either. Over the last few months I've come to realise it doesn't really matter to me very much whether I'm male or female, at least most of the time. One form has advantages and disadvantages that the other one doesn't, they kind of balance out in the end. The bit that pisses me off is the randomness of it more than anything else. And the way people insult me about it." Kasumi studied him for a while with an amused expression.

"You're the only person I've ever met who can speak with authority on the way men and women are basically the same," she said with a chuckle. He grinned.

"Oh, there are lots of differences, but one isn't better than the other, despite what dear old Pop says. Just different. At least physically. Mentally, well, I still find women very strange." She laughed, very amused. "It took me a long time to overcome a lot of what the old man said about women being weak. It's obviously wrong, though. Just look at all the women in my life. I couldn't point at any one of them and honestly say they were weak, or less able than a man. Physically less strong, yes, in some cases, but even that isn't completely true. Just look at Akane. She could unscrew the head of practically any man who wasn't a martial artist. Shampoo is a lethal warrior, Nabiki can think rings around most people, and so on." Kasumi listened to him with a smile, while he finished drying the cutlery and put everything away, then went back to leaning on the table.

"So what is your new technique?" she asked, picking up the cutting board and pushing the chopped vegetables off it into a large bowl, before starting another batch.

"Like I said, I was in the park earlier. I saw this guy walking around with this weird machine..." He explained the event and what had come of it. By the end she was staring at him with amazement.

Shaking her head, she said quietly, "Only you, Ranma, would even think of something like that. Never mind actually manage to do it." He looked proud, making her giggle. "So what are you going to use it for?"

"Don't know yet. It was just an interesting idea which ended up working much better than I thought it would. Being able to sense people so easily and from such a distance could be very helpful, at least I can avoid those damn Kunos more easily. And Ca.. Ca.. those furry things." She smiled sympathetically at his inability to even get the word out.

"I did find a hell of a lot of things in the park, though." He dumped the remaining coins and all the other detritus he'd found on the table and stirred it around. She looked at the pile with interest. Picking up the pen she inspected it carefully.

"This is a nice pen. May I have it?" He smiled.

"Help yourself. If I could figure out who it belonged to I'd give it back, but that seems unlikely, there doesn't seem to be anything much very memorable about it." He picked the earrings and keys out of the pile and put them to one side. "I'll drop these in to the police and see if anyone is looking for them."

Dinner that night was quiet, Akane doing her best to pretend it was only her, her sisters, and their father, talking over him whenever he tried to say anything. In the end he gave up, just eating his meal in silence, acknowledging the sympathetic glance Kasumi gave him with a small smile. Even Nabiki looked a little worried at the way Akane was treating him. He glanced at her and shrugged slightly, making her raise an eyebrow for a moment, then nod to him. After the meal he helped clear the table, before going and sitting on the roof again, looking out into the night. His relationship, if you could call it that, with the youngest sister seemed to be steadily going downhill. There didn't seem to be much he could do about it and after careful thought he came to the conclusion that he didn't much care.

Possibly, one day in the future, they might develop the sort of trust for each other that would allow a genuine relationship to occur. While that was something he wasn't averse to, he wasn't expecting it to happen either. At the moment he had no real interest in marrying anyone. It seemed unlikely he could ever develop a relationship with anyone outside the circle of lunatics he was stuck with.

He was also rapidly losing patience with his mother. Her constant harping on about manly activities was really getting up his nose. He wasn't entirely sure what she meant by that and had come to the conclusion some months ago that neither was she. There was some sort of ideal man in her mind, one that had probably never existed, one that he was damn sure he couldn't be. Moreover it was one he didn't want to be as it seemed to hinge around being some sort of sexually aggressive playboy stud, which sounded pretty unpleasant to him. He was female often enough that he'd developed a hearty dislike for the sort of man who acted the way his mother seemed to expect to a woman. More than once he'd had to re-educate a man of that type while female, and a couple of times while male. The attitude really irritated him.

The fact that his father seemed to have spent the last ten years or so trying to mould him into that sort of person had pissed him off horribly when he'd finally realised it a year or so ago. Find out later that his mother was apparently complicit in that action, and in fact desired it, had made him furious. Even though he loved both of them as parents, a lot of the time he didn't like either one of them as people. Sooner or later it was going to come to a head and he was going to have to stand his ground. He had the feeling that that time was fast approaching.

Deciding that dwelling on this was just a depressing waste of time, he stood up and closed his eyes, feeling around himself with his new technique. He rapidly built a ki map of the area out to a hundred metres or so, walking around on the roof and watching how he could make out things even hidden behind other things. It was rather disorienting for a while, more like something from an arcade game. After a while he opened his eyes and tried mixing normal vision and this weird active ki sight, finding that the result was even stranger, but oddly easier to handle. His eyesight, which was considerable better than most people could ever manage, struggled with the dark, but the ki vision filled in the gaps. The end result was startlingly clear, not quite like normal vision but letting him see as well as if it was daylight, although with several extra effects.

Some practice allowed him to fine tune it a bit, so he stopped inadvertently looking through things. It was quite disturbing to look at the roof and essentially see right through it as if it was translucent glass. After half an hour of practice he decided to throw caution to the winds, and took a run at the end of the roof. Jumping across the street, trusting to his new sense, he found he landed on the neighbouring roof as easily as if it was normally lit. With a broad grin he started moving faster. He was soon bounding across the rooftops as fast as he did during the day.

When in a fit of enthusiasm he closed his eyes before the next leap, he found that he needed to calibrate the sense a little better, as he missed the roof by about three metres, his trajectory taking him straight into the wall below it. Slamming into the brickwork of the two-story building he slid down it into the alley below with a stream of profanity trailing behind him. Lying on the ground in a puddle of something unsavoury he stared up at the night sky and muttered for a moment, before levering himself to his feet.

It was a good thing he seemed to be practically indestructible nowadays, he thought to himself, with ki reinforcing his body, or that would have really caused some damage. Brushing off the worst of whatever he'd landed in he jumped back onto the roof from a standing start, then tried again, more cautiously this time. It took an hour or so and three more misses before he was confident enough that he was moving at full speed with his eyes closed. Giggling slightly manically to himself he bounced from roof to roof, thinking that this was a technique as good as anything he'd ever heard of. And it was all his.

The next day, after a couple of hours of doing katas, he waved goodbye to Kasumi and headed for the nearest park. It took about an hour and a half to scan the entire thing, at the speeds he could easily manage. By the end of it he had a couple of kilos of coins totalling over nine thousand yen, as well as several small items of jewellery. Grinning to himself, while privately astounded by how much people lost, he went to the nearest police box and handed in the jewellery, giving his details in case no-one claimed it. He stashed the coins away and headed for the next park.

By the time his parents came back, he'd cleaned out every park in Nerima and was casting his net further outwards. The local police were slightly overwhelmed by all the lost jewellery, watches, and so on that the odd Saotome boy, and sometimes girl, handed in. They were privately wondering what on earth was going on, although they couldn't doubt his, or her honesty. That evening, three days after he'd invented his technique, he sat in the Dojo and counted up all the coins he'd found. It came to nearly fifty-eight thousand yen. Separating the various denominations of coins out into different bags to be taken to the bank the next day and changed into notes, he smiled to himself.

The new ki vision technique was proving to be a very effective and easy way to earn money. It was practically second nature by now. He'd become used to walking around and looking at the world as if it was slightly translucent and was wondering why he'd never thought of it before. It was so easy once you knew how. What he wasn't thinking of, of course, was that you had to be a true adept of ki control to even begin to control it with the precision required to produce the effect, never mind make sense of the results. There were very few people around who could have managed it at all, never mind to the level he did.

The next morning brought an unwelcome attempt by his father to fling him out the window into the koi pond, as per normal practice. Genma was rather startled when his attempt, for the first time, completely failed. The boy, even though apparently still asleep, neatly avoided every attempt to lay hands on him, even from behind. Still scratching his head about it, Genma eventually gave up and went down for breakfast, deciding he'd try again later. Ranma woke up some time later at Kasumi's call, wondering absently why he wasn't both wet and female, as he was used to waking like that. Shrugging, he got up and got dressed. Thank heavens for small favours.

This set the pattern for the next week. By the end of it Genma was getting very annoyed and extremely puzzled. It didn't seem to matter how sneaky he was, he couldn't get to within striking range of his son without the boy noticing and taking evasive action. Ranma had worked out that he was doing something out of the ordinary after the first couple of days, and why. Deciding it was much funnier to continue on in the same vein, he pretended not to notice the increasingly elaborate attempts by his father to ambush him, just walking around them as if they didn't exist.

His ki vision was running continuously now and he was completely used to it. It made any attempt to lay a hand on him pretty much pointless as he could always sense the blow coming, even from behind. When Akane stopped her silent treatment and took a swing at him with her mallet from behind over some imagined insult, he avoided it without apparently even noticing, bending down to scratch his ankle at exactly the right moment. The errant mallet continued on its trajectory through the space his head should have occupied and made a large hole in the wall, making Nabiki sigh and start working out the cost of repairs, and Kasumi smile slightly.

She was the only one other than Ranma aware of what was going on and found it extremely funny. He quirked a slight grin at her, which none of the others noticed, then quickly left the room while Nabiki and Akane were shouting at each other over who would pay for the repairs and whose fault it was. Akane blamed Ranma, of course, while Nabiki for once took his side. After all, she had seen her sister swing the mallet apparently deliberately into the wall. It had come nowhere near the pig-tailed boy.

Ranma was wondering when his father would think to try the umisenken cloaking technique on him. He was quite curious as to what the result would be. So far the older man didn't seem to have considered it. With a smile he left the house and headed out for the next park on his list. By now he was up nearly one hundred and fifty thousand yen and had a pretty large roll of notes stashed safely away. The amount of lost valuables he'd turned in to the police dwarfed anything they'd ever seen. He'd had a number of very curious policemen and women ask him how he was doing it. His explanation, given without a trace of a smile, of Martial Arts Lost Property Location, caused all the police inside Nerima to nod sagely, and all the ones outside to look at him as if he was insane.

By the end of another week his father was going slightly strange from his continued failure to even get close to hitting his son, while Akane was almost foaming at the mouth. She'd tried to mallet him for increasingly unlikely reasons, in the end just to prove she could, missing every time. He normally didn't even notice, as far as she could see, moving out of the way just in time for some completely coincidental reason. Nabiki was getting extremely annoyed at the ongoing cost of repairs and Kasumi seemed to have to leave the room in a hurry quite often.

Ranma had followed her into the kitchen at one point to find her leaning on the table silently heaving with laughter and grinned at her. As the only one in on the joke the eldest sister felt quite privileged, in turn Ranma found he was seeing a side of the young woman he'd never encountered before. When she finally stopped laughing she stood up and wiped her eyes, grinning back in a most un-Kasumi-like manner.

"Thank you, Ranma. I haven't had so much fun in years," she whispered to him, not wanting anyone else to hear.

"You're more than welcome," he quietly replied with an amused look, before heading out on another treasure hunt, as he thought of his trips. He was up to over a quarter-million yen now, but was starting to hit a point of diminishing returns, as he was having to go so far afield from the Dojo that he could only do one or two parks a day. All the nearer ones had been swept clean. Absently thinking that perhaps he should try the beach, he was heading home when a very familiar ki signature popped up on his senses a few hundred metres away. "Aha. Ryoga. I wonder where you've been," he said out loud, for once a little pleased to see the lost boy. Heading towards him he wondered about the way that his rival had apparently simply appeared out of nowhere.

He'd always wondered about the fellow's ability to get lost in a room with no doors, but for the first time began to wonder just how he did it. He hadn't seen a trace of Ryoga approaching, but suddenly there he was. Deciding that this bore further investigation, he bounded across the rooftops until he was close to his rival although out of sight of him. Concentrating on his ki vision and ignoring normal sight, he followed Ryoga on the other side of the roofs for a few hundred metres, stopping in surprise when he disappeared as suddenly as he'd come. "What the...?" he managed, wondering if he'd made a mistake. Casting his senses further and further afield, he resorted in the end to rotating like a lighthouse, 'looking' in a very narrow range to as great a distance as he could. "Ah, got you," he said happily, then frowned. Ryoga was at least five kilometres away. How had he managed that trick?

Shrugging, he headed in the right direction as fast as he could. He arrived seconds before the part-time piglet vanished once more. "Damn it. How the hell is he doing that?" Again, he scanned the area. This time he found his rival quite fast, only a couple of kilometres away. Dashing across the rooftops he arrived in an implausibly short time. This time he followed the other young man from much closer. Concentrating on him to the near-exclusion of anything else, he watched as once more Ryoga vanished, turning a corner that wasn't there and disappearing in front of his ki vision. 'That's weird,' he thought, going over what he'd seen. 'Very weird. It was like there was a really short burst of peculiar ki, that reminds me of something for some reason. Then he just... vanished."

Scanning carefully around, he once more located Ryoga, a few kilometres away to the east. Once more he bounded off in that direction, arriving a few seconds before the lost boy was once more gone. Knowing what to look for this time, he studied the odd distortion in the ambient ki field that was slowly vanishing. Abruptly he realised why it seemed familiar. 'It's like a strange combination of the ki inversion from the umisenken and a ki fold from the hidden weapons technique. Like he used his ki to fold space, but in an odd way, all twisted out of shape.' He was aware that at the same moment that Ryoga had disappeared from in front of him, he'd reappeared on his ki sense a couple of kilometres away behind him, with no apparent delay. Dashing over he dropped to the street and followed the lost boy from a dozen or so metres back, watching intently.

Ryoga stopped to buy a snack from a street vendor, then went on his way, shadowed by the pig-tailed martial artist who was concentrating on him so hard that it made people who noticed slightly nervous. Walking into an alley the fanged youth got about half-way down it before once more apparently going around a corner that wasn't there. Ranma stopped dead and stared at the resulting distortion of ki, which was fading as he watched, trying to work out what was going on. Walking closer he moved around the point in space from which Ryoga had left, wondering what the trick to it was.

The nearest thing he'd heard of to what he'd seen was some form of teleportation, but as far as he knew that required a very large amount of magic. He'd seen portals before, which was another possibility, more than once he'd had to fight some demon or other coming through one, normally a result of Happosai doing something stupid, but that wasn't it either. There was that weird magical girl he'd bumped into once that seemed to somehow move from point to point without using all the intervening points, but that was the result of some artefact and seemed to require a remarkably long wind-up before she could do it. Ryoga seemed to be doing this without even realising he was doing it, based on his constant complaints of never knowing where he was.

Scanning the area he discovered that the other boy had moved far enough away that he couldn't sense him any more and shrugged. He'd be back sooner or later, he always turned up, normally when he was least wanted. Turning his attention back to the ki distortion, which was still present although much smaller, he pondered it for a long moment, before very carefully trying to duplicate the energy signature and feed it a little power. Nothing happened the first couple of times. He studied it closely for a moment while scratching his head. Trying again, he found it suddenly absorbed the new variant of ki and jumped back into existence. Walking around it, looking at it intently, he realised that to normal vision there was absolutely nothing there. Glancing around he spotted an empty beer bottle, picked it up, then gently tossed it towards the distortion.

He blinked a few times in shock then looked for something else to throw. Another bottle, half a brick, a few balls of newspaper, and several coins followed each other into the distortion. None of them dropped to the ground, each of them vanishing without a sound. "Holy shit," he mumbled, flipping yet another coin into the point in space that seemed to eat things with an odd expression on his face. After a long moment he managed to suppress the almost overwhelming urge to walk through it and see where it went. Knowing Ryoga it could be anywhere from a few kilometres away to the other side of the planet, at least based on some of the places he claimed to have visited. Judging from some of his wilder stories, another planet entirely wasn't completely impossible.

A sudden thought struck him and he hastily jumped back onto the roof and dashed towards where the last place Ryoga had vanished from was, dropping down into a vacant lot a couple of minutes later. Looking around he found the distortion was still present, but on the verge of fading away completely. Feeding it a little power in the correct manner he watched as it jumped back into existence, smiling triumphantly. He knew exactly where this one went. Cautiously testing it with a small pebble, he took a deep breath and walked forward, surprised despite himself when he suddenly and with no fuss found himself standing on another street two kilometres from where he'd started. "Fuck me," he muttered, looking around in amazement. Even though he'd pretty much expected it, the reality of the sudden displacement in space was a bit much to take in. Walking unsteadily to a nearby wall he sat on it and stared at the place he'd appeared. No one seemed to have noticed anything unusual, which puzzled him a little.

With a slight shock he noticed that several passers-by had walked through the point in space that the end of the conduit, or whatever it was, occupied. There was no apparent effect or reaction. Pulling a coin out of his pocket he flipped it at the distortion, which was gradually shrinking again, and watched as it bounced off the pavement a metre past it. After thinking for a moment, he tried feeding a little energy to the effect and saw it expand again. Holding the feed constant he tossed another coin and saw it vanish. 'Interesting. It only works while it's being powered. I guess that makes as much sense as anything about this does. It doesn't need much power either, I could keep this open all day and not even feel it. Even Kasumi has enough ki to power it. How on earth does Ryoga manage to do this without even realising it?'

Getting up he walked over to what he was starting to think of as a doorway and after a moment's hesitation stepped through it, finding himself back in the vacant lot he'd started from. 'So they work both ways. That's useful to know. Next question, how do you target one to a particular place? Or, more importantly, how do you make one in the first place?' He experimented with the spacial door for some time, walking back and forth through it and watching what happened to the ki around it with curiosity and interest. The really weird bit, once you got around the entire concept in the first place, was that no one seemed to notice. He decided in the end that part of the odd ki surrounding it must have some sort of cloaking effect, making people just ignore it. That would at least explain why generally nobody ever seemed to think anything odd was going on when Ryoga appeared or disappeared.

It seemed likely that if he'd never developed his new ki senses he'd never have noticed himself. He found himself wondering about the whole chain of events resulting from meeting a man with a metal detector.

After a lot of investigation, he was beginning to get some idea of what was happening, although not how. It seemed that his first guess was actually fairly accurate. The effect seemed to be a variation on the hidden weapons technique of folding space using ki, but essentially folded two points in space together into one, two points that could be a significant distance apart. When something went into one end it immediately came out the other, as for all intents and purposes they were the same place. As far as he could see the transition took no time at all. He couldn't see or feel any effect other than an extremely small and subtle twitch in the ki field.

He had no direct evidence what the distance limit was, if it actually had one. Standing in the vacant lot he went over the ki pattern of the end of the link that he was standing next to, trying to work out how to duplicate the effect. The thing seemed to require little energy but considerable delicacy as the pattern was very complex. Stepping through it and looking at the other end, he compared the two patterns. Going back and forth a few times he noticed that the majority of the pattern was the same at both ends and slowly realised that it was possible that this was the part that set the whole thing up. Which might mean that the remaining part was in some way responsible for setting where it was aimed. It seemed plausible but he needed a larger sample size.

Going back to the alley he poked around but found that the remains of the link there had faded away completely. Sighing, he realised that he was going to have to wait for Ryoga to turn up again before he could look into this any more. He returned to the link he'd been playing with and reopened it, going back and forth a few more times to get the base pattern firmly in his mind. Eventually he popped out at the end nearest home and headed slowly back to the Dojo, thinking furiously. If he could master this it was an even better technique than the ki vision, or at least on a par with it.

When he jumped over the gate and walked into the house he smiled absently at Kasumi and Nabiki, who were sitting in the living room talking, and even at Akane when she came in. All three of them looked at each other, the expression on his face was very odd. "Something on your mind, Saotome?" Nabiki asked curiously. He looked at her for a moment then nodded.

"Yep. Found something really odd today. I'm trying to figure out how it works." Akane snorted at him disparagingly and Kasumi looked at her with mild disapproval.

"Don't be rude, Akane." Her sisters both looked at her with slight surprise, but after a moment turned back to Ranma, who had his eyes closed and was waving his hands slowly around in front of himself, as if he was trying to feel something invisible in the air. Everyone watched him for a moment, puzzled, until he opened his eyes and raised an eyebrow.

"What?" he asked. Nabiki sighed.

"You are a very strange person, Ranma." She inspected him curiously for a few seconds, then asked, "So what did you find?" He stared right back, a weird expression on his face, before abruptly grinning in a remarkably predatory manner.

Holding out his hand he said, "Sixty thousand yen." She stared at him in shock, while Kasumi stifled a sudden urge to laugh wildly. Akane looked back and forth between the pair of them, wondering what was going on. Nabiki looked at him with her eyebrows raised so far they were at risk of going back down the other side, for once unable to think of any comeback. After a moment the martial artist winked at Kasumi, got up, then left the room.

All three of them watched him go with various expressions, until Nabiki turned to her sisters and asked in a stunned voice, "What the hell just happened?" Akane shrugged, while Kasumi merely looked at her with a slight smile.

At dinner that night Nabiki and Akane were both watching Ranma as if he might suddenly explode, although for different reasons. Nodoka was watching them watch him with a certain amount of curiosity, while Genma was still trying to figure out how his son avoided him so easily nowadays. He was no closer to working it out and it annoyed the hell out of him.

As the meal came to an end, he stood, stretched, and made a sudden grab for the boy who was looking away. Ranma casually ducked even before he fully committed to the manoeuvre and as a result Genma managed to poke Akane in the ear with his finger. She immediately exploded in anger and swung a mallet at Ranma, who once more wasn't where she expected to find him. The follow through on the strike spun her in a complete circle and as she staggered sideways she clouted Genma on the side of the head with the mallet. He fell over, not being prepared for the blow, and in the process kicked the underside of the table, making a glass of water leap into the air and disgorge its contents over Ranma, who grumbled in irritation. Kasumi was watching the whole thing with bright eyes, trying not to burst out into laughter, while Nabiki was snickering at the expression on the red-head's face, not to mention Genma and Akane, who both looked furious with each other and Ranma. Nodoka merely sighed and exchanged glances with Soun, who shrugged helplessly.

Getting to her feet Ranma wiped the water off her face and helped Kasumi clear the table, glaring at her when she giggled a little. After a moment she began laughing herself and in the end they were leaning against each other in the kitchen howling with laughter. Nabiki and Akane leaned in the doorway and watched for a moment, before simply shrugging and leaving again. Ranma and their older sister were both in dangerously weird moods at the moment and it was probably safest to steer clear for a while.

When the meal had been cleared up, Ranma walked back through the living room, still chortling to herself, glanced at Akane and grinned, before wandering out into the garden and jumping up onto the roof. The two youngest Tendo women looked at each other and shook their heads, before Nabiki turned on the TV, hoping that things would return to normal eventually.

"Your son is acting very strangely at the moment, old friend," Soun commented gravely. Genma nodded, exchanging glances with his wife.

"That he is. I have no idea what's going on."

"I'm not sure it's very manly," Nodoka commented, which made everyone in the room look at her for a moment wondering once more exactly what she meant by that. There seemed to be no good response so in the end no one said anything. Up on the roof Ranma lay down and looked up at the stars with a slight smile on her face. Thinking back to that day nearly three weeks ago she snickered. Total boredom had led to a remarkable new technique, completely by accident, and in turn that technique had led to the possibility of something even more interesting.

"There's something to this education idea," she said softly to the night sky, thinking about all the knowledge she'd realised she needed learn to make the best of the ki sense. Her mind was difficult to kick into action on learning anything abstract that didn't seem to have a martial arts use, but once it fired up was like a turbine-powered vacuum cleaner, sucking up everything at a frightening rate. In the last week she'd read all the chemistry textbooks she had, memorising the contents with ease now she had a use for the information. It turned out to be very helpful, allowing her to tune the ki sense very finely, working out what things were made of to a level of accuracy that would have amazed an analytical chemist.

She didn't really have any idea how incredible what she was doing really was, in fact, never having thought about it. It was just another application of ki, although a very interesting one. A mental list of other things to try was being added to on a nearly daily basis. She'd also decided that a trip to the library was in order, to begin research on more details on chemistry, and other things that might be useful. The potential tactical applications of abstract knowledge had hit late but hard.

A few days before she'd visited a jewellery store, as a female for appearances sake, and spent an interesting hour or so going over as many different precious metals and gems as possible while building a library of ki pulses specific for them. She already had gold and silver due to things she'd found during her treasure hunting expeditions, but with the unwitting help of the young salesman had added platinum, iridium, titanium, diamond, sapphire, ruby, and a host of other gemstones. She had found that several of them were very difficult to distinguish from each other. It had taken her some reading of the chemistry books to learn why, but in the end she discovered that ruby and sapphire, for example, were actually almost exactly the same chemically, the colour being due to traces of different elements. This was something she'd never even considered before.

Turning her attention back to the puzzle posed by Ryoga and his weird method of travelling, she once more went over the complex ki pattern in her head. She could visualise it clearly enough, but attempting to understand it was proving to be difficult. In the end she decided that there was nothing else she could do without seeing more of the distortions left when he jumped around, which would have to wait for the next time he turned up. That could be tomorrow or weeks away. The guy was unpredictable at best.

Sitting up she swept the area for anything interesting, noticing a couple of furry demons moving off a few hundred metres to the west, making her shiver a little. The increased sensitivity of her ki sense was a mixed blessing at time, she'd suddenly found out just how many of the little bastards there were running around the place. There was almost always one or more of them within range, although she could at least avoid them now. She'd slowly learned a certain amount of self control, finding that her tolerance for them seemed to be adequate as long as they were at least fifty metres away and out of normal sight. In that case she could stand it, although the closer they were the more tense she became.

Pulling out her cash stash she looked at it. There was a very thick stack of yen notes in her hand, one that would probably give Nabiki a small orgasm. The thought made her grin. Counting it carefully she realised with slight shock it was now up to over three hundred thousand. 'I'd never have thought that so much money gets dropped,' she thought. She'd found literally thousands of coins in the last two weeks or so, not to mention the rings, watches, and the like. There was a good chance that quite a lot of that she'd get back in time as well if the police couldn't trace the owners. She'd already collected half a dozen minor rewards for several wedding rings, and one set of keys.

Separating the cash out she bundled it up into twenty-five thousand yen rolls using some elastic bands, then stashed it away again. Noticing that Nabiki was now in her room she grinned, walked across the roof, dangled over the edge and tapped on the middle sister's window with her finger.

Inside the room Nabiki jumped a little at the sound, then turned to look out the window. The sight of an up-side-down grinning red-head peering in at her made her frown slightly, but she opened the window anyway. "What do you want, Ranma, I'm busy." She was still feeling slightly weirded out by the unexpected request for payment from the martial artist earlier. The girl looked amused.

"Can I come in? I've got something for you."

Nabiki looked at her carefully. There was something odd going on recently, but she didn't know what it was. That was making her very annoyed, she didn't like not knowing things, especially things that concerned what she considered a money-making asset. After a moment she stepped back from the window and waved at the interior of the room slightly mockingly. "Make yourself at home. For a short while." Ranma laughed and neatly flipped through the window, landing on her feet. Sitting down on the middle sister's bed, she studied her for a moment. Nabiki studied her back, wondering. There was a difference in attitude present, the red-head seemed much more confident while dealing with her in some difficult to define way. Normally she could make Ranma sweat just by looking at him, or her, and cocking an eyebrow, but this time when she tried it the tactic just got her a mildly amused look in return.

"OK, I'll bite. What do you have for me?" Nabiki said after a minute's silent competition in staring at each other. She was annoyed to realise she'd lost. Ranma looked at her silently for another few seconds, just to rub it in, then grinned.

"How much do I owe you at the moment?" This wasn't what Nabiki had been expecting at all, and it took her a few seconds to reset her mind, but in the end she blinked and pulled her notebook from her pocket. Leafing through it to the correct page she read it, then looked up.

"Ninety seven thousand, four hundred yen." She smirked at the red-headed girl, bathing in the knowledge that she had her by the short and curlies. The unsettling grin she received back made her a little wary. That wasn't the look of someone who was worried about being in debt to anyone, never mind to Nabiki Tendo. She gaped, taken completely by surprise when Ranma pulled four rolls of notes out of wherever she kept things, looked at them for a moment, then put them on the desk with a smile.

"There you go. An even hundred thousand. Consider the rest a bonus." Nabiki stared at the cash, then at Ranma, then at the cash. Then at Ranma. Eventually she closed her mouth, picked up one of the rolls, and inspected it carefully. Removing the elastic band she counted it twice, holding one of the notes up to the light to check it was real. She did the same with the rest of the rolls. Staring at Ranma again she waved the money in a slightly trembling hand.

"Where did you get this?" The girl leaned back with her leg pulled up to her chest and her hands clasped around the knee and smiled.

"Not saying."

"No, I'm serious. Where did you get this?" She watched the smirk grow, and growled a little. "Did you steal it?" The smirk turned instantly into a cold glare, making her shiver a little. This wasn't a look she was at all happy receiving from the girl and she suddenly realised she'd crossed a line.

"No." This was said with complete finality and considerable venom. She shivered again. It wasn't often that she felt intimidated by anyone, but that one word suddenly made it very clear how dangerous Ranma actually was. There was a long pause during which the red-head went back to smirking and Nabiki regrouped mentally.

"Will you tell me how you got this money, please?" she finally asked as politely as she could, not used to being polite to Ranma of all people. The girl grinned like a demon and held out her hand.

"One hundred thousand." Nabiki stared at her in shock for more than a minute, before giggling nervously. It was too much. Did she really even want to know? It was clear that Ranma was serious, but how? And why, after all this time? When another couple of minutes passed with Nabiki looking from the money in her hand to Ranma and back, the red-head stood, patted her on the shoulder, and walked towards the door. "Nice doing business with you, Nabs," she commented as she left the room, closing the door quietly behind herself. Nabiki sat looking at the bundles of notes for a long time.

Ranma went down into the kitchen to get a drink, a wide smile on her face. Kasumi looked over at her from where she was inventorying the contents of the fridge and smiled back. "You look very pleased with yourself." The girl nodded happily and quietly told her everything. By the end of the story Kasumi had to lean against the counter she was laughing so hard. "That's fantastic, Ranma. She's going to spent weeks trying to work all that out."

"I know. It was worth it just to see the expression on her face. She really couldn't work out whether it was worth giving me the money back to find out where I'd gotten it from in the first place. You could see her thinking, 'I have a hundred thousand in my hand, but I could give it to Ranma and find out where it came from, but then I wouldn't have it any more, but I can keep it, but then I don't know where it came from...' She pretty much just locked up at that point." Putting the kettle on the stove she got out some tea and a couple of cups, then sat down at the table to wait for the water to boil. Kasumi sat down as well and giggled helplessly for some time.

"She's my sister and I love her, but I'm also very pleased that you finally got one over on her. I know how much she's taken advantage of you over the years." Ranma nodded.

"Most of the time I don't mind too much. But I'll admit it did feel very good to do that." She pulled out three rolls of cash from her ki fold and handed them to the eldest Tendo sister. "Here. Something towards the household." Kasumi looked startled.

"I can't take this much from you." The red-head grinned, getting up to make the tea.

"Of course you can. I can easily get more, getting this wasn't hard, and I know how much pop and me living here costs. Take it." After a moment Kasumi smiled and put the money away.

"Thank you."

"No problem." They sat and drank the tea for a while in companionable silence, with Kasumi occasionally giggling when she thought of what Nabiki must have thought.

The next morning Ranma got up earlier than normal, heading out to do some katas while still pondering the Ryoga puzzle. She was still female, not having bothered changing back before bed the night before. Working her way through more and more advanced exercises she allowed muscle memory to control her while her mind was occupied on other things. She found this process as useful as meditation, achieving much the same result, that of decoupling mind and body, although she'd never have put it in those terms.

She felt she was on the threshold of understanding what was happening with the strange ki pattern that Ryoga seemed to be unconsciously producing, but once more was stymied by insufficient information. One interesting possibility did come to mind, though, which made her suddenly stop mid-motion. She froze in a pose that most people would have found exceptionally difficult to even get into and held it effortlessly for several seconds while she went over the thought she'd had.

There was information missing about the patterns she'd observed. If what she suspected was correct, the bulk of the pattern was creating the portal, wormhole, doorway, or whatever you wanted to call it. The missing information was how to make it go to a particular destination. But, that said, she had two complete patterns memorised, and it seemed likely that if she could duplicate them she might be able to recreate the link to either one of those points. The question was whether the missing information was needed for both the origin and destination points, or just the destination. If it was the latter she had enough for an experiment.

Slowly resuming her kata she thought it over carefully. Finishing up she wiped her brow with a towel and knelt on the floor, slipping into her meditation trance. Now, given the pattern, how would one create it from scratch?

In the end it only took about twenty minutes and a dozen attempts. She'd studied the pattern so carefully the day before she had it down perfectly, the only issue was figuring out how to apply it. Finally succeeding she opened her eyes and looked at the empty space in front of her with a smile. To the naked eye nothing was there, but to the properly attuned ki sense there was a delicate and complex energy construct hanging in front of her a metre or so away. 'I don't believe it. It works!,' she thought to herself. Standing she walked around the ki distortion, feeding it enough energy to keep it stable. Whenever she stopped the power flow it started to shrink away, and restarting it made the thing jump back into existence. It certainly seemed to be behaving in exactly the same manner as the ones that Ryoga left behind.

After a moment she looked at the towel she was still holding, then gently tossed it at the distortion. As she had hoped it vanished. Taking a deep breath she stepped forward and grinned so widely the top of her head was nearly separated from the bottom when she found herself standing in the vacant lot many kilometres from the Dojo. Looking around happily she actually giggled to herself before coming to her senses. She picked up the towel and slung it around her neck then carefully inspected the exit distortion. As she had guessed it was different to either of the ones she'd seen before, the part of the pattern that she thought indicated the destination having changed.

'That's the Dojo,' she guessed, carefully memorising it. When she was sure she had it accurately she stepped back through into the Dojo, then experimentally tried unravelling the pattern. It vanished instantly with a faint pulse of ki, making her smile again. 'So I can make one, and also take it apart as well.' Considering the empty air again for a moment, she tried the other pattern, the one for the alley. This one formed on the first try. Stepping through it confidently she looked around at the alley with a grin before inspecting the exit. It was identical to the last one which made complete sense if it was targeted to the same place. That seemed to prove the variable part of the pattern was the destination. Going back through she dispersed the link and went back into the house with a huge grin on her face. Things were coming together nicely.

Akane was coming down the stairs and noticed her with a dark look. "What are you looking so pleased about, pervert? And why are you female?" Ranma smiled at her and refused to rise to the bait.

"I'm having a really good day so far. How are you?" The youngest sister growled under her breath, her fingers twitching, but Kasumi came out of the kitchen at that moment and caught her eye. Muttering to herself Akane went and sat down, picking up a book and pretending that she was alone. Kasumi raised an eyebrow, then turned to Ranma.

"Breakfast is in about twenty minutes. You should wash up before." The red-head nodded, heading for the bathroom. Arriving at the table just as everyone else was sitting down, the now-male Ranma sat in his normal place, still looking rather pleased with himself. His unusually sunny disposition attracted a number of glances, none more intense than that from Nabiki who looked at him intently, twitching when he suddenly winked at her. Kasumi watched the interplay between them with a marginally wider than normal smile. Akane was still fuming, the happier Ranma got in general, the more annoyed she seemed to get. Recently he'd been very happy and it was pissing her off something fierce.

Nodoka ate for a while, then looked over at her son and casually commented, "You seem to be spending a lot of time female at the moment, son. It concerns me." Glancing at her he nodded slightly with a neutral expression.

"I keep getting splashed. You know that. It's still me."

"Indeed, but you should change back immediately. It's not very manly to be female." He sighed.

"Is it very manly to be a panda a lot of the time?" he asked, looking meaningfully at his father who was indeed in that condition. Genma stopped shovelling food into his face and stared back for a moment, looking as quizzical as a panda can, before resuming eating. Nodoka frowned slightly.

"No, but that's not the issue. We are talking about you." Putting his chopsticks down for a moment he returned the slight frown.

"We were, yes. And like I said, I get splashed a lot. All the time some days, often deliberately. Sometimes it's simply easier to stay in my girl form, at least that way I can stay dry for a while." He looked levelly at her, annoyance in his eyes, and she glared back at him.

"Son, I must insist that you stay male as much as possible." She reached for her sword, making Genma freeze. Surprisingly, Ranma simply watched her, while everyone else looked between them. Something seemed to have changed in their relationship in the last few days, but no one with the exception of Kasumi had any idea what or why.

"Do you intend to kill me if I don't?" he asked mildly, picking up his chopsticks again and resuming eating. She looked at him in shock.


"Do you intend to commit murder? It's a simple enough question." Everyone had frozen at his comment, staring at him as if he'd gone mad. His mother paled in both anger and shock.

"How can you ask such a thing? I'm your mother!" He nodded.

"I know you are. And you constantly threaten me, your son, with a lethal weapon whenever you feel you can. I was simply wondering if you genuinely intend to go through with it, or just think I will give in as a result of the threat." He peered at her curiously. "I'd have thought that the events of the last few months showed that I don't respond well to threats." Finishing off his miso soup he put the bowl down, then picked up the rice bowl.

She was still staring at him as if he'd suddenly burst into flames. Kasumi had leaned back and was watching with concealed interest, while Nabiki seemed fascinated. This was a side of Ranma she'd never seen before. The other three didn't seem to know what to do and were looking around at everyone helplessly, with diffuse rage in the case of Akane.

"The contract..." she started, and he looked up at her.

"The one signed by my father, and a six year old? A six year old who had no idea what it meant, or any of the concepts behind it, and in any case was legally too young to sign anything? The one I apparently thought was a finger painting exercise? That contract?" She stopped again, her mouth open. Kasumi raised a hand to her mouth to hide a smile, while Nabiki smirked. It was kind of funny when it was happening to someone else.

"It's a matter of honour!" Nodoka said hotly. He stared at her.

"I'm well aware of that. Whose, though?" Shutting her mouth with a snap she looked puzzled. He expanded on the thought. "I was far too young to have anything to do with a contract of any sort. I can't even really remember it due to events that Pop was involved in later." He glanced sideways at his father, who held up a sign which read #Don't drag me into it, Boy#. "I think you'd find that trying to enforce an invalid contract on someone would definitely be a matter of honour, but it wouldn't be mine. My personal honour is intact, despite the actions of a lot of other people, and I have done everything I could to balance all the mutually exclusive family honour commitments that Pop and others have dropped on me." She was gaping at him again, as were Soun, Genma, and Akane.

Finishing his rice he put down the bowl and carefully balanced his chopsticks across it. "Thank you, Kasumi. That was delicious as always." She bowed slightly from a sitting position in acknowledgement, inwardly highly amused.

"Thank you, Ranma."

Standing he stretched his arms widely, and smiled at the room in general. "What a fantastic day. I've got things to do, see you all later." All but two of the occupants of the room were still staring at him in shock, anger, or surprise. Nabiki was trying not to burst out laughing while Kasumi was definitely smiling now. Walking to the door he stopped for a moment, then turned back and picked up a glass of water. Splashing himself, just to rub the point in, the red-headed girl adjusted her clothes, grinned at her mother and her fiancée, then waved. "Bye." She vanished in the direction of the Dojo.

There was complete silence in the living room for a good thirty seconds after she left, finally broken by Akane. "That PERVERT!" she screamed, leaping to her feet and charging after the red-head with her largest mallet in hand. Kasumi sighed a little and shook her head.

"Oh, my. She seems to be very short-tempered recently." Looking around the room she asked innocently, "Would anyone like more tea?"

There was another long pause.

"His vocabulary has certain improved recently," Nabiki eventually commented with a grin, privately very impressed. "I would never have pegged him as someone who could use 'mutually exclusive' in a sentence at all never mind correctly." Kasumi smiled at her sister.

"I've been helping him with his speech and vocabulary for months now. I'm very pleased to see how much he's learned." Everyone looked at her. She smiled back slightly vacantly, got up, cleared away the breakfast dishes, then stood in the kitchen and suppressed the giggle-fit that tried to come on.

Ranma walked into the Dojo with a smile on her face, snickering to herself. She was getting very tired of the attitudes of various people around her, and found it interesting that as her relationship with Akane had worsened she'd become closer to Nabiki. Allowing out more of her native intelligence, not hiding behind the dumb martial artist façade, seemed to have impressed the middle sister in a positive manner while winding up the youngest one to a remarkable degree. 'Maybe I should have done it a long time ago,' she thought idly, standing in the middle of the room and looking around. 'Kasumi helping me speak better gave me a lot more confidence, though, as did making all that money. Nabiki doesn't seem nearly as worrying when I can deal with her on equal terms, financially at least.' She could feel Akane charging out of the house in her direction, radiating fury, and sighed a little.

Easily forming a link to the vacant lot she was using as a test point, she stepped through it and collapsed it behind her. 'That should give her something to think about,' she mused with a grin.

Back in the Dojo Akane roared through the entrance, shrieking with anger and waving her mallet, then slid to a halt at the sight of the empty room. "You pervert! Where are you hiding?" she yelled in fury. She had seen her quarry enter the Dojo through the only door but now there was no sign of her. "Aha! You can't fool me, you're using that stupid cloaking trick." There was no answer. After a long minute of looking around, she growled. "Right, you bastard. I might not be able to see you, but sooner or later you'll try to leave. I'm just going to stand in the doorway until you do." Hefting her mallet over her shoulder she stood with her feet apart blocking the doorway, waiting.

Several kilometres away, unaware of the determined young woman blocking the doorway to the Dojo, Ranma was sitting on a pile of rubble thinking, and idly pinging the surroundings with ki pulses. She'd already located half a dozen coins but couldn't be bothered yet to pick them up. She was trying to work out the best way to proceed with her experimentation on the transport links. And what she should call the technique. "Not portal, that's already used to describe the things demons come from. It's not really teleportation, in the normal sense of the word," she mumbled, snickering slightly at the thought that there even was a normal sense in which the concept of teleportation applied. Or portals, for that matter.

"God, my life is so strange." She shook her head.

"Gate? Doorway? No, doesn't really fit. I guess link is as good as anything. I need a dictionary, or what's that other one called, Thes-something?" She thought for a moment. "Thesaurus, that's it," she said in triumph. "I really do need to go to the library."

It had struck her that she had enough information already to use the process, as she could simple wander around opening links back to any of the three points she'd already memorised, go through them, and look at the exit points. That would allow her to build up a list of destinations, which would be very useful in itself. However, it was only a partial, specific solution, not a general one to the issue of creating a link to an arbitrary place without having been there first. This was obviously possible based on Ryoga's observed ability to do the same thing, even though he didn't realise he was doing it.

A thought struck her. She opened a link to the alley and next to it one back to the Dojo. Comparing them side by side she could easily see the minor differences setting the destination point. Concentrating on the target part of the patterns she memorised them separately, then dismissed both. A few tries later she had mastered producing the base pattern and adding in the destination part during the creation of the pattern. 'Right, so I guess I can just memorise the target part, which is quicker and easier. But I still don't know how to put one somewhere I haven't been. I can create a link from somewhere to a previous link point easily enough, but that's too limiting.' She was unwilling to accept not mastering the technique completely. 'Hmm. I'm going to have to think about this some more.'

Standing, she walked around the lot for a few minutes picking up all the coins she'd sensed, coming up with another few hundred yen. It added up surprisingly fast when you had the ability to infallibly detect lost coins. Putting them in her pocket she headed off in the direction she knew the library was, pulling her thermos out and changing back to male on the way.

Ranma spent several hours reading, first flipping through a thesaurus and deciding that a better descriptive word for the result of the travel technique was 'conduit'. He then headed off to the science and technology section, pulling out a couple of books on chemistry and reading them carefully. They were more advanced than the school textbooks he already had and introduced the difference between inorganic and organic chemistry. He had already been aware that there was a difference but hadn't realised what it implied. It was fascinating stuff. The mathematics required for the more advanced formulae was beyond him, pointing out that he needed to learn more about that as well, but he got the basic theory easily enough.

Sitting at one of the reading tables he flipped through an organic chemistry primer, reading about polymers, and experimenting with ki senses on the various synthetic materials in the room. He quickly learned to distinguish between a number of different plastics although he wasn't sure what they were called. He just knew he could tell them apart. It was becoming apparent that what he really needed was a set of pure samples of as many different elements and compounds as possible so he could add them to his detection library. Resolving to investigate the chemistry lab at school when he returned after the summer break in a couple of weeks, he closed the book and stood up. When he left the library he had checked out three books on organic and a couple on inorganic chemistry, which were safely stowed away in ki space.

Unusually for him, he walked along at street level, for once not in a hurry to get anywhere, just enjoying the warm day. Stopping every now and then to buy a snack he got half-way back to the Tendo residence before suddenly detecting a familiar ki signature. "Ah. You're back!" He swallowed the last bite of his sandwich, wadded the wrapping up and dropped it into a bin, then hopped up onto the roof of the building next to him and ran across the rooftops in the direction he'd picked up Ryoga coming from. Arriving quickly he looked down at his rival who was wandering along the street looking at a map, which from his vantage point he could see appeared to be one of Hawaii. Upside down of course. Grinning and shaking his head, he dropped to the ground and back-tracked in the direction Ryoga had come from, looking for the end of the conduit he'd arrived through.

It was a few hundred metres along the road, down another alley, still present although fading. Powering it up he memorised the exit coordinates before cautiously stepping through. The change in lighting took him by surprise, as did the sudden increase in temperature. It was extremely hot and very bright. Looking around he squinted in the light trying to figure out where he was. The scenery was completely different to Nerima, consisting as it did of reddish dusty earth and a stretch of paved road that headed off into apparent infinity in both directions. It looked like a desert.

A few scattered plants of a type he'd never seen before grew in little clumps around the place and there was a remarkably large lizard watching him from a few metres away. Casting his senses outward he could feel a number of animals but no people. While holding the conduit powered up so he could go back, he walked closer to the lizard and squatted down at a respectful distance, looking at it with interest. He'd never seen one like it before. The reptile stared back with mild curiosity. There seemed to be no ill intent coming from it, it wasn't aggressive, merely slightly hungry. After a moment he stood up and looked around again in wonder. This was pretty much proof that the conduit technique had some impressive range, as wherever he was he definitely wasn't anywhere in Japan.

Heading back to the conduit he stopped dead, staring at a larger animal that had just come into view around a pile of rocks. This one he instantly recognised, although it shocked him. "A kangaroo?" he blurted, very surprised indeed. 'Australia! I'm in Australia!' It certainly fit. Very hot, very dry, and a kangaroo staring at him from fifty metres away. No, make that two kangaroos. They looked at each other for a moment, then the animals bounded off across the desert while he watched in amazement.

After a long moment he shook his head, turning back to the conduit. Quickly logging the coordinates, he stepped back through into an alley in down-town Nerima, feeling very strange. He looked around at the familiar scene, then stepped back. Australian desert. Step. Neriman alley. Step. Australian desert.

The goanna watched placidly as the strange human appeared and disappeared laughing manically, until he finally went and didn't return. It was unconcerned.

'This is so fucking weird,' Ranma thought to himself, casting about looking for Ryoga again. Slightly surprised he located him, apparently stationary, more or less where he'd first seen him. Again approaching from the rooftops, he peered over the edge and saw the lost boy was apparently also the hungry boy, sitting at a table outside a café eating some fish stew. Momentarily wondering if he should go and join him, the pig-tailed martial artist decided in the end to wait and see where he went next. The other teenager finished his meal, paid, then got up and put his pack back on. Pulling out another map, this one of England, he studied it for a few seconds before nodding decisively and setting off down the road. Ranma dropped down behind him and trailed him from a safe distance.

Over the next two hours he followed his rival through a grand total of fifteen conduits, which took them to Osaka, back to Nerima, what looked like the middle of Moscow as far as Ranma could determine, Paris, Nerima again, Kyoto, somewhere in the middle of a jungle, then to somewhere extremely cold, snowy, and dark that Ranma suspected was Antarctica. Luckily they left again almost immediately, passing through San Francisco near the Golden Gate bridge which he recognised immediately, another jungle, in the dark this time, on top of a mountain somewhere in China by the look of it, Nerima yet again during a sudden rainstorm during which Ryoga whipped out his umbrella, a small island in the middle of the ocean near sunset, the inside of an obviously military building, which annoyed the armed guards they ran into considerably, and then very quickly after a short chase, some city in the US or Canada based on the street signs.

Ranma stopped following Ryoga at that point, rather bewildered and tired after the constant scene changes, also damp from the rain and female. The lost boy seemed take the constant jumping around in stride, although he'd looked slightly worried and run very fast when he saw the armed military guards at the last but one stop, running straight through at least two walls before disappearing again. Interestingly, they'd recognised him, as Ranma had distinctly heard one of them say to another, "He's back again!" in American-accented English. The red-headed girl had cloaked herself in the umisenken as soon as she realised they were somewhere they shouldn't have been, so the guards hadn't spotted her. Not that they could have in all likelihood done much about it anyway, but why invite trouble?

During the entire time Ryoga hadn't noticed he was being followed, just plunging on ahead in a fairly deliberate manner, occasionally referring to one or other map of which he seemed to have an inexhaustible supply. Unfortunately he was always using the wrong map for wherever he was at the time, a fact that seemed to annoy him immensely. Frequent cries of 'Where the hell am I now?" came from him, which amused Ranma quite a lot. At the same time she felt sorry for her rival, this insight into his travels showed one reason why he was always so depressed. There didn't seem to be much she could do to help though so she just kept back and memorised the coordinates of each conduit they passed through.

Looking around at where she'd stopped following Ryoga, she tried to work out where she was. It was somewhere in North America for sure, and it appeared to be early evening, still well-lit due to summer. In Japan when she'd started this odd trip around the world it had been about midday, so she had to be in a geographically relatively close time zone, which would be about right for west coast US or Canada. She walked down the street glancing about at the scenery, finally spotting a bus stop which had several timetables and route information on a sign next to it. Approaching it she puzzled out the English words, noticing with interest that the sign seemed to be written in two languages, one of which she didn't recognise. She could speak English quite fluently but wasn't nearly as good with reading and writing it.

From the timetable she discovered she was in Vancouver, Canada. The temperature seemed about the same as back home and it gave all the indications that it had been a hot and sunny day. There was a small park just across the road so she headed in that direction, thinking she might as well enjoy herself while she was here and also dry off. Sitting on a bench just inside the entrance she studied the park and the people in it. Thinking about all the places she'd been over the last couple of hours she marvelled at the experience. It was quite obvious that if the technique had any distance limitations they certainly were at least greater than the distance between any two points on the planet. The concept made her head ache. How on earth Ryoga could never have noticed this was a complete mystery.

Thinking back to the last place they'd been she idly wondered where it was and what it was for. There had been some obvious aircraft behind one of the walls she'd followed Ryoga past, ones that looked very advanced to her. She easily been able to sense that the place was underground. Undoubtedly some very secret American base of some sort, she'd heard they had a lot of them. It had been quite a weird place to her ki vision, the walls were stuffed with much more cabling than anywhere she'd been before, and it was in the floor and ceiling as well. Some military thing, presumably.

Dismissing it as something she had no real interest in she looked around at the park. There were lots of animals in the undergrowth and the trees, ones with unfamiliar ki signatures, and quite a few people enjoying the evening warmth. A clock visible on a tall building on the other side of the park read about half past seven. Noticing a number of food vendor's carts scattered around, still open after a long day, Ranma's stomach growled at her. Wondering for a moment whether any of them would accept yen, in the end she got up and began scanning the park in a practised manner looking for coins.

It took a little time to calibrate her scans to the coins used here as the metal used for them was different to that used back home, but she found a number fairly quickly using a generic metal signature. Once she'd collected several she was able to use them to get a pattern specific to them, so she could ignore all the random bits of metal in the ground. There was at least as much here as in any park in Nerima. Moving around the less-frequented parts of the park, to avoid unwanted interest from other people, she amassed a couple of pocketfuls of loose change within half an hour or so, as well as several more items of jewellery and a very rusty watch. Once more she was surprised at how much people seemed to lose.

Sitting down at a picnic table in the middle of the park near the food vendors she separated her coins out and began counting them up, wondering how much they were worth in terms she was familiar with. In the end she had to resort to asking one of the vendors what the various coins were, explaining that she was a tourist and didn't remember. A slightly ditzy cute look from her had him carefully explaining the Canadian currency system to her, and also produced a free hot-dog. Smiling brilliantly at him she thanked him, then went back to her table and counted everything up. It turned out that she had a bit over sixty dollars, which was about five thousand yen or so. No bad for such a short time, and more than enough for some more food.

In the end she ran out of stomach space before she ran out of money, as several of the vendors fell prey to her cute hungry girl routine. In fact she had a higher hit rate than in Nerima which amused her considerably. It looked like the slightly accented English was a major help in the whole act. Finishing off some remarkably good teriyaki chicken she dumped the packaging and walked off across the park, enjoying the evening and the complete lack of any possibility of running into someone she knew. With the exception of Ryoga, of course, he could pop up anywhere. There were a surprisingly large number of Japanese people around, she noticed, which might explain the several vendors selling food she was familiar with. Even so it was definitely prepared slightly differently from back home.

A few people looked at her a little oddly, but she realised that the looks seemed to be directed more at her clothing than her. Looking around she noticed that it did stand out a little, but shrugged. It wasn't like she could do much about it and she wasn't planning on staying long anyway. Stopping to watch a group of people that appeared to be learning basic Tai Chi, Ranma nodded approvingly after a moment before moving on, deciding that the teacher was doing quite a good job. A vendor of souvenirs caught her eye and she walked over to have a look at what he was selling. With a small grin she purchased a baseball cap with 'Welcome to Vancouver' printed on it along with a Canadian flag for a couple of dollars and put it on. It might be good for a laugh when she got home.

She also bought a postcard with the Vancouver skyline at night on it for Kasumi. While she hadn't told her about the new technique yet she thought the eldest Tendo might appreciate it. Sitting down on another bench she stretched her arms along the back and enjoyed the evening sun for a while with her eyes shut, while going over all the things she'd learned today about the conduit technique. How it worked was slowly gelling in her mind, she felt she was very close to mastering the technique for any destination rather than specific, predetermined ones.

The sound of a woman angrily complaining caught her attention and she opened her eyes. Thirty metres or so away a young couple were arguing, or rather the woman was arguing, the man was poking around in some bushes while wincing at what she said. His emotional state reflected anger and guilt while hers showed mostly just anger. Listening to the conversation she worked out that they had lost something valuable. The man appeared to be looking for it while the woman was berating him for losing it in the first place. Curious, she eventually got up and wandered over. Watching them for a moment she scanned the area, then smiled.

"Excuse me?"

Nigel Watson and his fiancée Janet Fox both stopped and looked at the source of the lightly-accented female voice. A very pretty young Japanese woman with startlingly bright red hair under a baseball cap was smiling at them. They exchanged glances, Janet abruptly stopping her harangue of her boyfriend, then gazed at the girl.

"Yes?" he replied. "Can I help you, Miss?" She looked at him and smiled more widely.

"I think I can help you. You lost a ring, yes? Gold, some diamonds and sapphires?" Their eyes widened.

"Yes, that's it exactly!" cried Janet. "It's my engagement ring, this idiot was going to propose to me last night and lost it. He thinks it was around here somewhere, but we've been looking all day. Have you found it?" The girl grinned.

"Not quite, but I know where it is." Puzzled, they looked at each other for a moment then back at her. She pointed up. "It's about fifteen metres up in that tree. In a bird's nest. You have birds around here that like shiny things?" Looking up, Nigel nodded absently.

"Well, crows will sometimes pick up shiny objects, I've heard." Lowering his gaze he looked at her. "How could you possibly know it was up there?" he asked doubtfully. She looked amused.

"Special martial arts technique. Do you want me to get it for you?" Once more they exchanged glances, both wondering if this was some peculiar wind-up. Janet nodded slowly.

"Um, yes, please." The girl also nodded, walked a little closer to the trunk of the tree, then to their complete shock jumped over six metres straight up, landing on one of the branches. While they stared in disbelief she bounced up through the tree as if it was the most natural thing in the world, ultimately reaching a nest that neither one of them had seen from the ground. A few seconds later she simply stepped off the branch and plummeted to the ground, making Janet gasp in horror, only to land as lightly as if she'd stepped off the kerb.

Walking over to where they were gaping at her she grinned again and held out her palm. On it was the missing ring. After a moment, when neither one of them had even blinked, she frowned slightly, waving her free hand in front of Janet's face, then Nigel's. "Hello? Anyone in there?" She snapped her fingers a couple of times. Nigel slowly came back to life, staring at the girl with a very odd expression. She seemed slightly puzzled at his reaction.

"How in the name of...?" he said in a breathless voice. Janet twitched at the sound of his voice and tore her fascinated gaze from the red-head's face, looking at the ring that was still resting on her outstretched palm. Reaching out a trembling hand she picked it up and looked at it, then at the girl again.

"Thanks," she managed, feeling faint. The Japanese girl bowed very slightly.

"You're welcome." They watched her as she looked at the position of the sun, then turned away. "Nice to have met you. I hope you have a good marriage, it's a very nice ring. I have to get home now." Nigel took a step forward.

"What's your name?" he asked curiously.

"Ranma," she replied, looking over her shoulder.

"Thank you very much, Ranma," he said sincerely to the girl. She smiled again, took a few steps forward, and vanished mid-step. They both stared at the place she'd been for a long time, before looking at each other, then the ring that Janet was holding, then up at the tree.

"Um, what the hell just happened?" Janet finally managed. Nigel shrugged helplessly.

Walking out of thin air into the empty lot she'd been using for tests, Ranma still had a smile on her face. It was nice that she could help someone like that. Abruptly she remembered that she still had several items of jewellery in her pocket and slapped her forehead. "Damn. Forgot about those." Turning around and powering up the fading conduit she went back to the Vancouver park.

The young couple were just on the verge of persuading themselves that the last few minutes had been some sort of shared hallucination, when the red-headed Japanese girl reappeared out of nowhere in front of them. They both twitched violently and stared at her. Looking slightly embarrassed, she held out a handful of rings, earrings, and a gold bracelet.

"Hi again. Look, I found these today and was going to hand them in to the police, but I'm not from around here and don't know where the nearest police station is. Could you do it for me, please? You can keep any rewards." Nigel nodded a little twitchily and held his hand out. "Thank you," she said with a smile, dropping the jewellery into his hand, before turning around and disappearing again. Once more the couple stared, before Janet gently crumpled to the ground in a faint. Nigel ignored her, busy as he was with looking at the various things he was holding, unanswerable questions whirling through his mind.

'Interesting,' thought Ranma. 'They obviously noticed me going through the conduit. The cloaking effect must break down if your attention is directed to it. Or perhaps if you're close enough.' She filed that away as something to investigate when she had time. She sat down on a pile of rubble and pondered everything she'd learned in the last few hours. The key to the whole technique was tantalisingly close, she could almost visualise it. It was like being able to think of a word but not remember how to say it, a very frustrating experience. Setting up half a dozen conduits in front of her she compared them for a while.

"Somewhere in Australia, Vancouver, Antarctica I think, Osaka, Paris, and San Francisco." She muttered, looking at each one in turn. A passer-by would have found her talking to herself while staring at empty space. Luckily, she was alone, so her already rather peculiar reputation didn't take any more hits. "All places a long way apart, but almost all of the pattern is the same. That bit there sets the destination, but how do I go from memorised patterns to working out one in any place I want to go to, without going there first?" She sat and stared at them for a considerable time, her head propped on her hands, thinking hard.

Another question stuck in her mind after a while. How was it that all these destinations were conveniently at ground level? Not one of the conduits she'd followed Ryoga through had ended up in mid air, or over water, or even worse, inside something solid. That last possibility made her eyes open wide and she shuddered at the sudden thought. 'Ack. That would be... very bad indeed. I wonder if it's just not possible to create a destination inside something solid, or he's simply been lucky all this time?' A bit more thought made her relax very slightly, it seemed unlikely that her rival could be that lucky, he was subconsciously avoiding opening a conduit to a dangerous place, or for some reason it was impossible. Or perhaps just much more difficult, and his unconscious talent was taking the easy option.

She decided that finding the answer to this was something she needed to do, but it would take experimentation somewhere a very long way away from anyone. Just in case it wasn't impossible. While not being, yet, very knowledgeable about science, she still had a feeling that putting one solid thing inside another solid thing wouldn't end well. Probably very loudly.

Unravelling the conduits, she thought some more, then sat up as another idea came. Opening a conduit to her original destination in the lot from a few metres away, she compared both the origin and the destination. They were very similar indeed. Out of curiosity she tried opening another one to the same destination from another spot a few metres further away and found it didn't work. The pattern formed normally but it wouldn't 'lock' for want of a better description, almost feeling if something was pushing back against her ki energy. Carefully feeding a little more power into it just made the push back more intense, so she stopped trying.

Dispelling the conduit she tried again, this time making two complete sets, one to the original destination, one to the new point she now knew the coordinates to. This gave her four closely related endpoints to study. Standing in the middle of the roughly square array of energy constructs she slowly turned in place looking at each one in turn, comparing them point by point.

Insight dawned very suddenly, after nearly half an hour of study. "Ahhhh" she breathed quietly. "I think I see." Dispersing all the patterns she stood deep in thought for a moment, then carefully tried opening a new one. It formed normally, but this time she very cautiously altered one of the delicate traceries of energy that she'd decided was involved in the target coordinates, and watched with delight as the destination endpoint shot sideways across the lot. "It works!" she squealed in exuberant delight, clapping her hands over her mouth when she realised with some embarrassment how girlish she'd sounded.

Trying again, even more carefully, she managed to move the destination around all over the lot. A remarkably small change to the pattern produced a considerable displacement in position, but she quickly learned how to put it anywhere she wanted. It also answered one of her previous questions, when she accidentally slid the endpoint into a fence and found it suddenly didn't seem to want to move any further. There was resistance of a form she'd have found difficult to describe in words which made it clear that the conduit really didn't want to penetrate the solid surface. That said she got the impression that if enough power was put into it the thing might well go where she wanted it to, although she also felt it would take a very large amount of energy to achieve it. Deciding once more that this was a potentially extremely dangerous experiment she abandoned it for the time being.

More experimentation served to show that she could indeed raise the endpoint above ground level, but that it tried to 'snap' to the surface. There was a sort of attraction, which made the thing much easier to form when its bottom edge was at ground level. Forming it higher up took a significant increase in power input although it would indeed form if she pumped enough energy into it. Trying to lower it into the ground met even more resistance than trying to push it through the fence. These findings suggested why Ryoga was still alive after all these years, his talent must have been taking the lowest-energy approach to forming the conduits which naturally made them form somewhere fairly safe. It didn't explain why they never seemed, from the limited number of samples Ranma had, to form over water though. There must be something else at work as well.

After a couple of hours of playing with the positional parameters the red-head had worked out what everything did and could place the destination almost anywhere within range practically instantly. It was something she found remarkably easy to do, oddly enough, once she'd practised for a while. Amusing herself by randomly pointing at places in view, then opening a conduit to them and jumping through it, she blinked in and out of existence all over the neighbourhood grinning like an idiot.

Eventually tiring of this new game, she displaced herself back to the lot from some two kilometres away, shaking her head over how easy it was once you knew the trick to it, then set up another conduit and studied it some more. She'd established the parameters that controlled position and altitude above local ground level, and was wondering whether there was anything else she could change about it. Size was the obvious one, and after a little more thought, orientation came to mind. All the conduits she'd produced were roughly human sized and in the form of a more or less doorway shaped zone, although she'd found you could enter one from any angle. Momentum appeared to be conserved, so whatever speed and angle you entered one at you came out of the matching one on the same trajectory and velocity.

The coordinate part of the pattern now seemed to be completely explained, so if there was a way to change size or orientation it must be buried in the main pattern. This occupied her for another two or three hours. Almost every part of the pattern appeared to be necessary for the stable formation of the conduit, making small change to it caused every attempt to fail. However, after so many slight tweaks Ranma completely lost count she finally hit on something she could change and still make it work.

This time, the conduit took more power to set up, and when it finally formed she discovered to her pleasure it was nearly twice the size it had been. Discovering how to change the size at will was a fairly quick process once that breakthrough was made. In the end it turned out she could vary it from only a few millimetres across to perhaps ten to twelve metres in size. The amount of energy required went up as the size increased, but not hugely. The largest size only needed about ten times the power of the smallest, which was still a surprisingly small amount. The limitations seemed to be that above that size it suddenly became very unstable and would either not form at all, or fail almost instantly, popping out of existence with a small flare of released ki. If it was made just a little smaller it was completely stable.

The conduits seemed to dissipate naturally at a constant rate regardless of size, taking roughly fifteen minutes to fade to the point they couldn't be restarted by repowering them. As soon as the power was removed, though, they stopped transporting things. She also tried putting a stick half-way through one, then first depowering, then unravelling it, just to see what would happen, having slightly gory ideas of ending up cutting bits off people if a conduit failed mid-travel. In fact, the result was that the stick was simply ejected from whichever end of the link more of it was protruding from. This came as something of a relief. Overall she was discovering that the conduits seemed pretty safe. Even trying to move the stick sideways against the edge of the open conduit showed that it wouldn't move past that edge, stopping as if it hit a wall.

At one point she had a fit of the giggles, watching one end of a half-meter long bit of twig waving around twenty metres away across the lot, the other end in her hand and nothing apparently connecting them. She'd been taking the whole experience very matter-of-factly, but the strange sight suddenly brought up how unlikely all this was. Pulling the stick back she stuck her hand through the small open conduit and watched as her fingers wiggled many metres from her body. 'This is incredible,' she thought to herself, almost dizzy with the possibilities.

Her final breakthrough took another hour's experimentation to find, when she eventually discovered the part of the pattern that controlled the orientation of the conduit. It turned out to be possible to change the orientation of either end independently although the relationship between them was very complex and difficult to understand. The best she could do easily was rotate them from upright to flat, letting her open a conduit that was more an open virtual hole in the ground than a mid-air doorway. It seemed likely that more practice would let her rotate either end into any orientation but the initial results when she tried made her head ache. Following the intricacies of the pattern was becoming more and more difficult as she got deeper into it, so in the end she decided that she'd do best to practice what she'd found out until it was second nature, then come back to more advanced conduit usage later. She had enough to make the technique much more useful already.

Getting a sudden thought she linked to the roof of the building next to the lot, then walked to the edge. Looking down at the ground she created a conduit immediately beneath her, the other end being in the middle of the lot, then dropped off the roof into the thing. The result was both a lot of fun and very disorienting, as her vertical drop was instantly changed into a vertical ascent out of the exit, feet first. Laughing like a lunatic she rose into the air, slowed, then dropped back into the conduit like a diver, popping out of the other end again.

The cycle repeated until she started feeling dizzy, each ascent lower than the last as air resistance slowed her. Eventually she dispersed the conduit when she was a few feet off the ground, landing where it had been on the return trip, then fell over.

"Wheee!" she mumbled, her head spinning and a broad smile on her face. "That would make one hell of a theme park ride."

After a few moments Ranma recovered enough to stand, then looked at the sun and decided it was time to go home. Casually opening a conduit to an alley near the Dojo, one that Ryoga had visited while she was following him earlier, she walked through it.

Pulling out her thermos she shook it, deciding that it needed a refill but had enough in it for a change, which she promptly enacted. Storing the empty thermos away and loosening his clothes the martial artist sauntered happily home.

Outside the gate of the Tendo residence he paused, puzzled. Akane was visible to his ki sight standing in the doorway to the Dojo, blocking it, and fairly radiating both boredom and massive irritation. Shrugging he jumped over the wall and entered the house. As he came into the living room after swapping shoes, Nabiki looked up from a book, stared at him for a moment, then burst out laughing. He stopped and looked at her, wondering what the reason was. Just as he was about to ask Kasumi came out of the kitchen, spotted him, and quickly hid a very weird smile. She was emitting an aura of extreme humour with overtones of slight irritation, but not directed at him.

"Oh, Ranma, you're home. Just in time. Dinner will be in about fifteen minutes." She paused and exchanged a glance with Nabiki who was still laughing. "Could you go and fetch Akane, please?" Looking at each of them he got the distinct impression that a practical joke was in play but couldn't work out who it was aimed at. After a few seconds he smiled at the eldest Tendo girl then turned around and left the room.

Nabiki looked at her sister, who held up one hand, folding each finger down in turn. "Five, four, three, two..."

"RANMA! HOW DID YOU GET OUT, YOU PERVERTED BASTARD!?" The aggrieved shriek of a furious Akane was accompanied by a squawk from a surprised Ranma, followed by the whooshing sound of a mallet being swung violently and repeatedly, missing every time. Nabiki collapsed in helpless laughter once more while Kasumi looked very amused for a moment, before going back into the kitchen wearing a wider than normal smile.

Dinner was accompanied by a strained silence from Akane who was shooting both Ranma and Nabiki evil looks. Ranma was guilty of somehow sneaking past her at some point, leading her to a suspicion that she'd wasted a large part of the day blocking the door of the Dojo. She just couldn't figure out how he'd done it or when. Nabiki was the recipient of dark looks because she kept laughing. Even Kasumi seemed more cheerful than normal and she had a feeling that her oldest sister was also laughing at her in her own way.

The three older people were watching the four younger ones with a certain amount of confusion, but didn't quite know what question to ask. Eventually the silence was broken by Nodoka, who while still annoyed at her son's remarks from that morning, decided to try a conversational opening. "That's an interesting hat you're wearing, son. It's not like you." Taking it off and looking at it, Ranma smiled oddly and dropped it onto the table.

"No, it isn't. It's kind of a souvenir."

Nabiki, who had wondered about it, inspected the thing and said in an amused voice, "Been to Vancouver recently, Ranma?" She got a really strange look back, before the pig-tailed boy laughed a little. She watched him suspiciously for a moment while he looked back innocently, before she dismissed the idea as idiotic. The question of where he'd got the hat remained but in the end she decided it wasn't worth pursuing.

The rest of the meal passed with only slight conversation. Nodoka was still annoyed at Ranma for his earlier comments but couldn't quite think of the right way to talk about it without ending up shouting, so kept quiet. Genma was still trying to figure out a way to get at Ranma that he hadn't already tried, while Soun was keeping his head down and hoping things would go back to what passed for normal soon. Nabiki was looking at Ranma occasionally, wondering why he seemed happier in some ill-defined way. Akane was just moody and irritated. The only two who seemed fairly normal were Ranma himself and Kasumi, who both looked reasonably contented.

This was pretty much par for the course for the eldest sister, but a bit unusual for the pig-tailed boy. He definitely had been more confident recently, which intrigued the middle sister considerably, and annoyed the youngest one to an amazing degree. After dinner Ranma thanked Kasumi once more, helped her clear the table, then disappeared to the Dojo once more. He practised for a couple of hours, then sat and meditated on the conduit technique for another hour, going over everything he'd learned during the day, fixing the patterns and alterations firmly in his mind. Eventually he headed to bed feeling satisfied about the day.

The next few days passed without much excitement, although Akane was getting more and more furious, growling at everyone with almost no excuse required. He was almost tempted to allow her to hit him, just to defuse her anger for a while, as he felt it was becoming a danger to the rest of the household, but couldn't quite bring himself to do it. He'd had so long acting as her stress relief and punching bag he wanted to keep his new-found freedom from it. Genma was also becoming very frustrated, but to Ranma's ongoing surprise still didn't seem to have thought of trying the umisenken, or was deliberately not using it for reasons he didn't understand. It was most likely only a matter of time though.

The pig-tailed boy kept practising the conduit technique, rapidly becoming very quick and sure at using it. After a couple of days of practising what he'd learned so far, he started experimenting again, still trying to work out the best way to set up a conduit to a remote destination. It took a lot of effort but he eventually discovered that it was possible to extend a crude version of his ki vision through a conduit without physically going through himself. The results were nowhere near as clear as normal but were sufficient to get a reasonably good idea of what was on the other side.

It also turned out to be possible to reduce the power to the conduit to the point that the far end only just formed, while still allowing the ki sense to leak through. The partially formed destination point could, as he discovered with some surprise, be pushed through a solid object fairly easily. It took some effort but not a huge amount. As soon as he put enough power into it to allow physical transport it got pushed out into empty space, or simply dissipated, depending how deep into the object it was. The threshold seemed to be about half a metre.

The upshot of this was that he could put a weak destination point pretty much anywhere and get a reasonable sense of what was on the other side, and with practice, even where it was, then power it up properly and go through. With a lot of trials he was getting an instinctive feeling for roughly where the coordinates mapped to as far as latitude and longitude went, although they didn't work at all like that. The parameters were much more complex but could be crudely reduced to a form that could be cross-referenced to a map to get a rough location, then fine tuned by sensing the other end.

One major breakthrough was when he worked out he could put the endpoint at a considerable altitude, then get a usable image of the ground from there which let him scan a large area very quickly. He could then zoom in to a particular place from an aerial picture or map to a fairly decent accuracy. Once he had been to the place in question he could go there again with complete confidence. Remembering the coordinates seemed to be very easy. In fact it wasn't really like recalling a set of numbers, more like just knowing where he'd been and knowing how to get back.

He went back to Vancouver a few times, spending a couple of hours late one night local time thoroughly scanning the park he'd first been in, and a couple of others he found in the area, amassing a couple of thousand dollars in change and quite a lot of small valuables. He dropped the latter through the letterbox of a police station he tracked down along with a crudely written note. The next night he did the same thing in San Francisco, coming up with over a thousand US dollars in change. It seemed like a good idea to have usable currency for different places. In both cases he went back during the day to change the coins to notes at a bank. No-one asked any questions.

The new technique allowed him to resume working his way through all the parks and public spaces in Tokyo, so he reserved a couple of days to do as many as he could in sequence. This netted him another couple of hundred thousand yen, also giving a number of police stations a massive run on lost valuables. More jewellery had been handed in over the last three weeks than in the last five years, which was giving the people who noticed such things a bit of a puzzle.

One evening he was struck by a sudden thought, spending a while with an encyclopedia looking up where gold actually came from. That led to another trip to the library, then a session with a book of aerial photographs of Australia while holding open a sensory conduit. Eventually he found what he was looking for with a smile.

That evening he was in an even more cheerful mood that was becoming his norm, and was wearing another baseball cap, this one emblazoned with 'Welcome to Perth'. It attracted a certain amount of stares at dinner but no-one commented on it. The answers they got back left people looking oddly at him and each other, so in the end they'd stopped asking. Akane spent the entire meal glaring fixedly at him, as she had done every time she'd laid eyes on him for the last couple of days, apparently waiting for him to say anything at all she could use as an excuse for an attempted malleting.

Nodoka was watching him with a certain amount of wariness. She wasn't at all sure he was being manly, especially as whenever he showed up in girl form she was completely unrepentant about it. She seemed to have no urgency at all about changing back, which annoyed her mother considerably. Nabiki was also watching him curiously. She found the changes she'd noticed in the way he was interacting with the family very intriguing.

He talked with Kasumi, who was about the only member of the family who seemed to be acting normally around him, as he finished his dinner, then retreated to the Dojo for practice as he usually did. After a while Nabiki followed him, wondering what he was getting up to out there. Her curiosity wouldn't leave her alone, not while there were unanswered questions. She found the martial artist in the Dojo going through a complex kata slowly and carefully, a thoughtful look on his face, as if his attention wasn't really on what he was doing.

Watching him for a while, she finally spoke. "Something's different about you recently." He smiled slightly, not looking at her but giving her the impression he'd been fully aware of her presence the whole time.

"What?" he asked quietly, moving into a different kata with smoothness and grace she could only marvel at. Nabiki watched him for a few seconds more.

"I'm not quite sure. You seem, I don't know, more confident, I guess. But not in your normal irritating way." He grinned for a moment.

"Thanks." She sighed.

"I'm not trying to be nice. I'm trying to figure out what's going on. I don't like not knowing things. Like where you got that money from the other night." She waited, but despite her heavy hint he merely smiled again.

"God, Saotome, you're a damn pain." She sighed heavily, moving to sit near the wall as she watched him work his way through his katas. He laughed quietly while he moved, and her lips twitched a little. The middle Tendo woman found the sight of him in motion oddly soothing, watching without speaking for a few minutes.

"What should I do about Akane?" he asked suddenly, switching to a different kata in a completely different style, slowly executing powerful moves with grace and elegance. She was startled by the question and took a moment to collect herself.

"How do you mean?" she queried. He sighed, turning to face her even as he practised.

"She's obviously unhappy, even for her. I can literally feel her anger, anger with me, and with herself. It's been building for months, by now there's no love at all, in fact it's getting very close to real hate. I don't really know why, but I realised some time ago that there's no chance of us ever getting together if she feels this way. I don't think it's likely that what relationship we had can be repaired." Nabiki watched him with hooded eyes for some time, eventually bowing her head.

"I know. I'm a little surprised that you do, though, although I think I've been underestimating you a lot for a long time. I'm sorry about that." He smiled slightly at her, and she looked up at him for a moment, then went back to staring at the floor. "I don't really understand what her problem is myself. She's always had a foul temper at the best of times, or at least has been extremely quick to lose it at the slightest provocation. That got a lot worse when you turned up, although to be fair to both you and her I don't think it was actually your fault. Not completely or even mostly at any rate. You just happened to come into our lives more or less at the same time as several other things went wrong, mainly that fuckwit Kuno starting all the fighting at school. I think you just sort of got caught up in that and she came to associate you with it." The young woman sighed and contemplated the polished wooden boards for a while, while Ranma waited for her to continue.

"I know she was right on the edge at the time anyway, and your curse caught her by surprise. I don't think she'd have reacted well to it under the best of circumstances, but she'd probably have come to terms with it eventually if all that other stuff hadn't been so fresh in her mind. She's very immature in matters surrounding sex and sexual behaviour, even more than you are." He looked mildly offended and she raised her head to grin wryly at him. "Don't deny it, you know full well you are, or certainly were, very inexperienced about things like that." His reluctant nod made her snicker for a moment.

"It's nothing to be ashamed about. Looking back on it I'm actually very impressed and pleased that you've had such self-control in those matters, for whatever reason. With all the females that you've had throwing themselves at you, plus Akane, it would have gotten very messy indeed if you hadn't been, well, you." He laughed.

"Messier than it did get?" She looked serious and nodded.

"Oh, believe me, yes. I can see all sorts of very awkward things that could have happened that didn't. A slightly less controlled person could have made a bad situation very very bad." He sighed a little, stopping his kata and moving to sit beside her. She glanced at him for a second then moved her gaze to look at her mother's shrine, high up on the opposite wall of the Dojo.

"I know it's not much comfort. It's been bad enough these last couple of years, and I know quite a lot of that was my fault. Or at least made worse by things I did." He looked at her and nodded.

"You didn't help, that's for sure. But I kind of understand why. Even when I didn't like you, I at least had some respect for you. You never pretended to be anything other than what you are. Like it or not, you're at least true to yourself." She winced a little but nodded, glancing at him with a certain amount of respect of her own.

"Thanks, I think. And for what it's worth, I'm sorry. It's never been personal." He put his hand on hers for a moment, then crossed his arms.

"I know."

They were silent for some time. Eventually she laughed. "God. We seem to be suddenly having a real heart to heart. What's changed?" He shrugged, smiling a little.

"I'm not sure. I've certainly been feeling different since school let out, for various reasons. I think part of it has been that all of a sudden I had time to think." He paused while she looked at him curiously. "You know, I worked out a while ago that these last few weeks are the longest time I've ever gone in my life without having some sort of fight?" Nabiki looked at him in shock. Seeing her expression he laughed a little bitterly. "It's true. Nearly two years in Nerima, at least one fight every single day since I got here. Most of them with Akane in the last year. Before that, Pop, the Amazons, dozens if not hundreds of people Pop screwed over and left me to deal with. All the way back to the earliest time I can remember." He glared at the floor for a moment, while she shook her head, unable to refute it.

"I mean, I like a good fight, don't get me wrong. I live for the Art, you know that. But so much of what's happened, especially over the last year or so, isn't the Art. It's just a brawl, started by some stupid comment, and ending up with me having head trauma. To be honest up until very recently I've never bothered thinking about my future past the next month or so, because I was kind of assuming that I wouldn't live long enough to really have one." She was staring at him in horror by this point, almost not breathing. Feeling her shock he glanced at her, smiling a little grimly.

"I mean it. I was basically thinking at some level that sooner or later one of the idiots would get lucky, or some opponent would pop up out of nowhere that for once I really couldn't beat, and that would be the end. That almost happened with Saffron, you know. Yes, I beat him, but it was as much luck as anything else. I'm good, damn good, but at the time, at least in raw power, he was stronger. I was just faster and luckier." He met her eyes for a moment. "I seem to work best under pressure. And I learn really, really fast."

There was a long pause while she tried to think of something to say, before he continued, "If it happened again, I could deal with him pretty easily now. I'm a lot more powerful than I was. I'm a lot more powerful than pretty much any of them are in fact, but they don't seem to realise that. No one but me knows how much I have to hold back when I get into a fight now, to avoid maiming or killing one of the idiots. And you, now. And, thinking about it, probably Kasumi. She picks up on a hell of a lot more than most people think she does and I have a pretty good idea she worked it out a long time ago." He chuckled. "I never thought I'd be telling you of all people this." She smiled a little uncertainly, more than a little shaken at his honesty.

"When the summer vacation started, and for various reasons practically every one of the usual suspects disappeared for a while, it gave me time to think, time I've never had before. Up to that point, there was always something dropping on me that I had to deal with, I spent all my time just reacting to some stupid situation. Usually in the end due to some idiocy of Pops, of course. Pretty much everything that's wrong with my life is his fault in one way or another." Nabiki snickered. It was unfortunately true. Genma was responsible at one level or another for almost everything bad that had happened to either Ranma or the Tendos. His mother helped a lot, as did Akane, but Genma was the root cause of the bulk of it.

"I decided that I didn't want to just let events crush me if I could help it. I just couldn't figure out how to get around it. Then, I got bored, and lucky. I can't work out even now which part was most important." She looked at him curiously.

"What do you mean?" Turning his head, Ranma studied her carefully for a while.

"Can I trust you?" She looked at him for a moment.

"I don't know," she replied honestly. "I'd like to think so, but I can't completely guarantee it." He grinned at her, amused.

"OK, let's put it like this. I think I can make it worth your while to keep my secrets. I'm prepared to forgive all the things that you've done to me in the past, as long as you promise to stop doing them from now on. In return I'm pretty sure that I can make up for any money you'll lose as a result. Could we make that deal and stick to it?"

It was her turn to study him. There was silence for a couple of minutes, before she slowly nodded. "Under those circumstances, I think we could come to an arrangement. One question; Why now?" He laughed for a few seconds.

"Because I have to tell someone, it's driving me nuts keeping it to myself!" She giggled, an unusually happy expression crossing her face.

"That's a weird reason, but I kind of understand."

"Plus, you're one of only two people I know who could really understand just how amazing what I've worked out is, and what it could lead to. Kasumi knows some of it but I haven't told her everything yet." She inspected him with extreme curiosity. He had something big he hadn't told anyone, she could feel it. There was something about the look in his eyes that was making her feel a little light-headed.

He fell quiet for a moment, trying to decide the best way to start. In the end he reached into his ki space and pulled out a roll of cash. Then another. And another, and...

In the end there were thirteen rolls of yen like the ones he'd given her, plus two of US dollars and another two of Canadian dollars. Her eyes had bugged out so far his own were watering in sympathy and she seemed to have stopped breathing. A little worried he watched her for a while, until she suddenly gasped for breath, then reached out a trembling hand and picked up one of the rolls of cash. Looking at it for a long few seconds, she carefully put it down again then turned a white face to him. "...How? Where? WHAT?" He grinned.

"It's complicated."

Nabiki watched his face, her eyebrow cocked. "I'll just bet it is. OK, give. How the hell did you get all this money?" Ranma looked back at her for a few seconds without speaking.

"A little over three weeks ago, I met this guy in a park with a metal detector..." He explained the sequence of events that had led to his breakthrough technique in using ki senses for non-living things and where that had taken him, while she listened with amazement, growing awe, and a considerable amount of respect for the intelligence his story highlighted. When he finished, she simply stared at him for a long while, then finally shook her head.

"No, you're not at all an idiot, are you?" she muttered to herself, then looked embarrassed when he smiled. "I said that out loud didn't I?" He nodded. "Damn. Sorry."

"Don't worry about it. I know what people, and particularly you, think about me. It's taken a lot of work to keep it like that." Nabiki was startled, visibly so, making him grin again. Slowly, she realised what she'd missed all this time.

"A tactical technique."

"Yep. Don't let them know everything you can do. Just in case it comes in handy. It helps that most people look at the martial arts, the fighting, and jump to conclusions. 'Dumb jock, we can put one over on him.' Most of the time, it keeps some of the pressure off if people don't know I'm actually reasonably smart." She grinned back at him, impressed.

"I'd say a lot more than reasonably smart, to be honest, if what you've just told me is an example." He looked embarrassed but accepted the praise.

"Thanks." They were silent for a while, both busy with their own thoughts. Eventually Nabiki broke the silence.

"So why do you do so badly at school?" He looked a little embarrassed again.

"Well, I'm not doing as badly as everyone thinks, it takes some effort to consistently get marks just bad enough to make people think I was near the bottom of the class, but high enough to not fail completely." The middle Tendo sister stared at him in disbelief.

"What?" He laughed. "You mean you're doing it on purpose?"

"To a degree. I'm not the best high-school student in the world, I'll admit, but I'm capable of doing a lot better than I normally do."

"So why act dumb there?"

"In a word, Akane. Again."

Nabiki was puzzled and said as much. He sighed. "Look, I'll admit a lot of the time I haven't been all that interested in academic studies, for several reasons. But I do find quite a bit of it interesting, more so than I show. One problem is that until the last couple of years I'd been in school for a total of less than eight or nine months in my entire life." She was rather shocked, not having known quite how little schooling he'd had. If it really was less than three years it was pretty stunning that he was even able to do as well as he did, yet more proof that he was a lot smarter than he let on.

"Another problem is the constant fighting. All the rivals, the fiancées, and so on, make it very difficult to even stay in school for a solid day consistently. Add in all the charging about the countryside rescuing Akane, or running away from her when she's in a homicidal mood, not to mention random super-powerful semi-supernatural beings needing a damn good smacking. It's a wonder I've managed to go to school as much as I have since I got here." He paused for a while, gathering his thoughts, while she waited politely.

"But the big problem is your sister. My so-called fiancée. She's so close to the edge most of the time that almost anything will tip her over it. My personal theory is that she's extremely jealous, of me, you, Kasumi, the other fiancées, pretty much everyone. She's made it very clear for a long time that she has no intention of marrying me, at least for love. But at the same time she goes totally ballistic if any other female comes within a kilometre of me. Even if I'm just not around her, she assumes I must be out with a woman. She's completely obsessive about it."

Nabiki nodded glumly. She was well aware of the attitude her younger sister had to Ranma and had been very worried about it for quite a while. It had become noticeably worse since the abortive wedding.

He continued after a short pause. "Like I said, I think a lot of it is jealousy. She's jealous because I'm a better martial artist than she is, a better cook than she is, hell, I'm even a more attractive woman than she is!" He laughed a trifle bitterly. "Not that that's something I ever wanted or can help. Although I'm pretty much resigned to it nowadays, I don't think Akane will ever accept it." Crossing his arms over his chest he leaned back against the Dojo wall. "Now, if I also became a better student than her, which I think I could do, what would happen? If she's like she is at the moment..." He glanced at Nabiki, who thought for a second then nodded with a wince.

"I see your point. But, even so, is it a good idea to let your scholastic future slip away just to keep her slightly less angry?" He shrugged.

"Possibly not. Probably not, in fact. But like I said, I was working for a long time on the basis that I wouldn't live all that long anyway so it didn't really matter." She sighed and slumped a little, staring at the pile of cash on the floor.

"Fuck. You've really been put in a bad position, haven't you?"

"It's certainly not ideal." She snickered a little at his deadpan tone, even more respect growing in her for him.

"So what are you going to do now? After all, you said that things are changing."

"I'm not completely sure. But I think I have some options now that I didn't have a few weeks ago." He picked up three of the rolls of yen and idly started juggling them. "You know as well as I do that having some spare cash opens up all sorts of possibilities." She nodded, watching his hands move, the rolls of cash flipping end over end in front of him. With an amused smile she picked up another one and tossed it to him, her eyebrow going up as he smoothly incorporated it into the pattern. She tossed another one, and another one, finally ending up with nine of the rolls neatly hopping from hand to hand. He was grinning, finding it surprisingly fun. "I haven't done much juggling for a long time."

"Learned it as a martial art, I suppose?" He nodded with a smirk.

"Of course." Turning to look at her he watched her face for a moment as she saw he had no problem keeping the pattern going without looking at it. The expression on her face made him smile, then close his eyes. "Try another one." After a second she picked up yet another roll of yen and flipped it into the pattern, becoming more than a little impressed when he added it without any problem.

"How the hell are you able to do that?" she asked curiously.

"I told you about the ki senses I've developed. I don't think you realise just how effective the technique is. Having my eyes open or closed doesn't make a lot of difference in some ways now. I still have trouble believing how well it works, but I can pretty much 'see' everything around me all the time. How did you think I was able to avoid Pop and Akane attacking me the last three weeks?" She stared.

"That's how you're doing it?" He nodded with a smile.

"Of course. As far as I know there's no way anyone can sneak up on me now, I can see them coming even through a wall. Like now, for instance, Akane is in her room, Pop is in the bathroom, your father and Kasumi are both in the kitchen, and my mother is just going out the front door." He flipped the rolls of cash into the air one by one, catching each one in his ki space pocket making them wink out of view, opening his eyes to look at her amazed face when the last one vanished.

"Holy shit," she finally managed to say. Ranma grinned smugly at her, an expression she for once felt he'd earned.

"It's incredible, Nabiki," he said softly. "It's like some special effect out of a movie, but better. I can see practically everything. All the wiring in the walls, the pipes in the ground, people in houses hundred of metres away. When I really work at it the entire world goes translucent, it's almost like everything is made out of glass. Sometimes it's almost too much to handle. It doesn't matter if it's dark or not any more, I can see perfectly. Normal vision adds colour and direction to it, but I don't need it for a lot of things. I can't read with it, or watch TV, but it's amazingly useful otherwise."

She was watching him with incredulity and respect. Somehow, this teenager that everyone tended to think of as nice but a bit dim had worked out from first principles a technique that made everything she'd heard of ki operations seem almost trivial. Turning her attention to the remaining small pile of money on the floor, she picked up a roll of yen notes and looked at it, turning it over in her hand. "So all of this came from coins that people have lost, that you can just walk around and see in the ground?" He nodded. "There's so much of it! Do people really lose this much money?"

"Apparently. I find it hard to believe myself, but every park and public space I've been to has had dozens to hundreds of coins lying around. I guess I'm just a damn sight better at finding them than everyone else. And it all adds up, of course. A hundred yen here, a hundred there, but repeated hundreds of times." He grinned. "Not to mention the jewellery." She looked sharply at him.


"Oh yes. I told you I can distinguish different materials. Gold and other precious metals are really easy. And people lose rings and things like that quite a lot." She was looking at him oddly now.

"You mean you've found gold rings?" He laughed.

"Rings, earrings, bracelets, watches, you name it. Dozens of them."

"What did you do with them?" she asked curiously.

"Handed them in to the police. Small value coins are one thing, but valuable rings are not something I'm just going to keep. If no-one claims them I'll get them back eventually, and there's sometimes a reward. About a third of the money I've got so far came from rewards." He pulled a thick sheaf of paper out of a ki pocket and showed it to her. Leafing through them she saw they were receipts from the police, from stations all over Tokyo, for a wide variety of lost items.

"The cops must love you," she commented. He chuckled.

"It's added to my reputation, but in a good way this time. Although outside Nerima I get a lot of funny looks. Inside, they just kind of nod knowingly and don't ask silly questions." This made her laugh.

"So how much have you made?" She was very curious, her mercenary nature coming to the fore. Ranma looked thoughtful, adding it up in his head.

"Well, including the hundred thousand I gave you, and what I gave Kasumi towards the household..." This made her look at him with interest. "Hmm. About half a million, give or take. Not including any unclaimed jewellery and the foreign money." She choked a little, staring at him.

"Half a million?"

"More or less." He watched her expression. "Why, is that a lot?" She glared at him, making him start laughing. After a moment she joined in.

"Idiot." This only made him laugh harder.

When they finally wound down, the pair of teenagers glanced at each other, a new level of understanding between them. Nabiki picked up a roll of Canadian money, then one of US dollars, examining them with interest. "Where did these come from, then? Did you change them at the bank?" He shook his head slowly, watching her.

"Um, no, that kind of leads into the other thing." Sharply looking up, she stared.

"Other thing? Is it as amazing as the first thing?" He laughed helplessly and a little hysterically for a few seconds while she watched without understanding.

"As amazing? No, more amazing. The first thing, the ki vision, that was a lot of fun. But what I found as a result is, well, it's kind of scary, in fact." Abruptly going still he looked seriously at her. "It's the most incredible thing I've ever heard of. Honestly." She waited.

"OK, so what is it?" she asked after twenty or thirty seconds had passed, while Ranma almost seemed to have fallen into a trance. Shaking himself he looked up at her.

"Sorry. Kind of got lost there, thinking about it." She looked impatiently at him, and he sighed. "OK. This is going to be hard to believe." After thinking it through for a moment, he shrugged. "It's probably best to just show you." Smoothly rising to his feet he held out his hand. She took it, allowing him to pull her up. Handing him the rolls of dollars she watched as he made them vanish, then walked a few paces away and briefly seemed to be looking at something in the middle of the Dojo. The Tendo girl followed his gaze but could see nothing there.

"Right. This is going to be a bit of a shock." Slightly worried now, she watched as he walked towards the middle of the large room, beckoning her to him, before she followed.

"What are you going to do?" she asked.

"Blow your mind," came the somewhat discomfiting reply. She stopped for a moment, before moving closer. Reaching out he took her hand. "Close your eyes." After a long moment she followed his instructions. "Right, take a step. And another, and one more." It suddenly got very hot. Opening her eyes reflexively she blinked at the extremely bright sunlight, her eyes dazzled. After a few seconds her vision cleared and she froze in total shock. When she recovered enough to move she slowly looked around at the deserted landscape surrounding her, completely sure it was nowhere in Japan at all, never mind anywhere near Nerima. Looking helplessly at him, for once feeling completely out of her depth, she asked a question with her eyes.

Ranma smiled gently at her, still holding her hand. "I know, it's a lot to take in."

"Where the hell are we, Ranma?" she asked quietly, stunned and unable to do anything else but trust he knew what he was doing. The answer made a weird kind of sense at the same time as making no sense at all.

"Western Australia, roughly in the middle of the Great Victoria desert. The nearest road is about three hundred kilometres that way, and the nearest town another two hundred kilometres from there."

She turned in place, as far as she could without letting go of his hand, which she was gripping so hard her fingers were going white, staring at the endless desert and the sun low on the horizon but still blazingly hot. Looking back at him after a while, she blinked a few times. "How?" He smiled again.

"It's complicated." She sighed.

"Why did I think otherwise?" With a laugh he waved his free hand at the desert.

"It's a bit hot here. Come on." Leading her forwards, again they took a couple of steps, before the scenery changed radically. The temperature plummeted, feeling cold for a few seconds until she recovered from the extreme heat of the desert, then it was just pleasantly warm. The light level was completely different, much lower, almost dark in fact, giving the impression of a summer dawn. She glanced about still in a state of mild shock, going along with the impossibility of what she was experiencing rather than fighting it. Ranma was still watching her face with an amused but sympathetic smile on his own.

"Now where are we?" she asked, resigned to the fact that something completely out of her experience was happening.

"Vancouver, Canada. A park in the middle of the city." Glancing at him she raised an eyebrow, making him snicker. "Yep. I have been to Vancouver recently. Quite a few times." The memory of her question over the baseball cap a week ago came to her and she giggled a little then looked annoyed.

"You bastard. That's not funny."

"Oh, it is." After a moment he pointed to a bench. "Let's sit down and I'll explain."

When they were sitting she released his hand, massaging some feeling back into her fingers and looking around. The park looked pretty similar to ones back home, but she could see signs in both English and French that made it clear that they weren't anywhere in Japan. She had no option to believe than he was telling the truth, that they were, as impossible as it was, in Vancouver.

"OK, Saotome. This better be good. How are you doing the impossible?" Ranma thought for a while glancing at her every now and then. Just as she was about to ask again, he turned to look at her.

"About ten days ago I bumped into Ryoga, and I noticed something strange. It was only because of the new ki vision technique that I saw it, I'd never have noticed anything otherwise." He paused for a moment while he tried to think of the best way to explain it. "You know how he's always getting lost?" She nodded silently. "Even when it seems there's no way he could do it, he just... vanishes. When you get to talking to him, which I find difficult since he normally wants to kill me, not talk to me, he says the most ridiculous things about where he's been." She nodded again. The lost boy had mentioned a few times places that he claimed to have visited that sounded preposterous.

"It turns out he was telling the truth."

"What do you mean?"

"He really does go to all the places he's said he does. But he doesn't know he's doing it." She stared at him.

"It's true. First I followed him around Nerima. He kept just disappearing. He'd go down some alley and simply not come out the other end. The first time he did it while I was using my ki vision, I noticed something weird left behind. It took another few disappearances before I could work out what was happening, and a lot of experimentation to figure out how to duplicate it. After I was sure I could at least get back, I went through one of the conduits, that's what I'm calling them, that he left behind. I found myself in Australia."

He laughed as he remembered. "Kangaroos and everything. I nearly had a heart attack. Then I jumped back and forth between Nerima and Australia until I got dizzy, laughing like a lunatic. I just couldn't believe it."

Nabiki watched him, wide-eyed. "I can understand that!" she mumbled. He nodded.

"I know, it's completely nuts. But it works. I went back and this time I followed him. We went all over the damn planet! Antarctica, the US, Canada, France, somewhere in a jungle, even some underground military base. He just jumps around randomly and doesn't even realise what he's doing. He doesn't seem to have any control over it at all." Leaning forward and resting his elbow on his knees he put his chin in his hands and stared at a tree across the park. "I feel sorry for the poor bastard. It explains a lot of why he's so miserable all the time. I wish I could figure out a way to stop him jumping around, it might help. Which might make him stop attacking me all the time, blaming me for his life. Or not."

Nabiki looked around at the park, and the small number of people wandering around so early in the morning. A young woman jogged past and nodded at them with a smile, the Tendo girl watching until she was out of sight. Turning to her companion she asked, "You worked out what he was doing and how to duplicate it just by watching him?" Ranma smiled and nodded.

"Yes. Don't get me wrong, it took a hell of a lot of thought and even more experimentation, I still don't quite have it completely worked out. But it's mostly there. I can make a conduit to any point in line of sight really easily, change the size, the orientation, and a few other things. Once I've been somewhere, I can go back easily as well. Figuring out how to go somewhere I've never been is still more effort than I'd like, but I'm making progress there." Bending over he picked up a fist sized rock that was near his foot.

"Watch." Creating a small conduit with both ends flat on the ground in front of them, one a few metres away from the other which was just in front of the bench, he held out the rock, then dropped it. Nabiki's eyes widened as the rock disappeared just before hitting the ground, instantly reappearing five metres or so away but now travelling upwards. When it reached the top of its trajectory it slowed then dropped back down, once more disappearing and reappearing where Ranma had let go of it. He caught it, having to reach a little lower to make up for the velocity it had lost. Grinning at her expression he held the rock out on his palm.

"Holy shit..." the brunette said faintly.


There was a very long pause while she stared at the rock, before transferring her gaze to his face. "I'm very sorry I ever thought you were just a dumb jock. Jock you may be, but dumb? No way in hell. I can barely believe what I'm seeing." He looked pleased.


Creating another conduit, this time with the far end hanging in mid-air above a trash can some distance away, he amused himself by putting his hand through it. Nabiki's eyes almost popped out of her head at the sight. She swivelled her gaze back and forth between his arm, which appeared to end just past his wrist, and at the distant receptacle where a disembodied hand dropped a rock into the container. "What in god's name..." she mumbled, staring. This was visually the most disconcerting trick yet. The pig-tailed boy grinned at her, pulling his hand back and holding it up, wiggling the fingers.

"See? It still works. Do you want to try?" Against her better judgement, she nodded slowly. He moved the near end of the conduit to in front of her and the far end to a couple of metres further away. "OK, put your hand out. Up a bit, now left. Right, go forward about twenty centimetres." Nabiki watched in disbelief as her hand vanished into the invisible hole in the air, protruding from a point some distance away. Quickly pulling it back she checked everything was normal with it, then slowly tried again.

"This is..." She trailed off, unable to verbalise the thought, then tried again. "You've outdone yourself. Seriously, this is the most unbelievable thing I've ever seen you do, and you've done some pretty insane things."

Smiling, he scratched the back of his head by sticking his hand through a conduit going from in front of him to behind him, which was a very odd sight. She boggled, then pulled her hand back from the one she was playing with. "This is getting too weird. I need a moment to think about it."

He nodded, glancing at the clock tower off to the right. It was just coming up on six AM. "I want to get a drink. Come on, I know a shop that's open near here." They stood and he led the way across the park as the brunette looked around with slightly numb interest. Showing a good deal of familiarity with the area Ranma headed down a street near the exit of the park, taking a couple of turns and ending up at a small 7-11. They browsed for a moment, Nabiki looking at the unfamiliar English writing on the products, before picking up a bottle of apple juice. Ranma chose some grapefruit juice, also grabbing a handful of chocolate bars, then took everything to the till. Paying for it with a twenty dollar bill he accepted his change, thanked the clerk, then handed his companion her juice and a bar of chocolate nougat.

"These are really good," he said, leading the way out of the store. They walked slowly along the street sipping their drinks in silence. Nabiki was still trying to wrap her mind around the fact that she was several thousand kilometres from home, having arrived here in just a few steps. It was a lot to take in. A few hundred metres from the shop a car came around the corner and went through a large puddle, evidence it had rained recently. The water, inevitably, completely missed the brunette girl and scored a direct hit on Ranma. "Damn it," the now red-headed martial artist said mildly, brushing off as much water as she could and adjusting her clothes.

Nabiki watched with a grin, feeling somewhat more at home as a result of the familiar change. "Even half-way around the planet water finds you, doesn't it?" The other girl sighed.

"Always. I'm lucky to go a couple of hours when I'm out. I've pretty much given up worrying about it. What with one thing and another, I'm going to spend a large part of my time female for the rest of my life, so I decided I'd just have to get used to it." Nabiki watched her for a moment, a slight frown on her face.

"Have you given up on finding a cure?" The red-head shook her head.

"I'm pretty sure there isn't one." Her companion looked a little shocked.

"What? What about all the things you tried before?"

"None of them would have worked. Some of them, if we'd found them, would have made it worse." She glanced at the Tendo girl. "I did a lot of research after the wedding fiasco. Let's just say it's a good thing Happosai got rid of that Jusenkyo water. It would have caused a lot of problems." She sighed. "There is no cure for these curses, as far as I can determine. There may be some way to control it, eventually, although I'm not sure. But I am sure that I'll have it for the rest of my life. Everything I've seen and read makes that certain." She appeared slightly downhearted for a moment, then visibly put on a more cheerful demeanour. "It could be a lot worse. I'm still human."

"True." Nabiki looked at the girl for a moment, then sipped her juice again. "I'm almost envious at times. Your girl form is very good looking." Ranma looked down at herself with a slight smile.

"If I have to be female, I'm glad I'm easy on the eyes." She laughed at Nabiki's expression. After a moment the brunette smiled, having nearly choked on her juice at the comment.

"Maybe you should dress the part? That shop over there has some nice outfits." Ranma glanced over where she was pointing, then grinned.

"Wouldn't that make Mom blow a gasket?" Nabiki howled with laughter.

"And Akane? You think she's in a bad mood at the moment..." They crossed the street, still laughing, to look at the display in the window. "What about that nice top?" Nabiki pointed at a red silk blouse that was designed to show off a certain amount of cleavage. "You could put that waistcoat over it." Ranma looked at the dark brown leather waistcoat and grinned.

"And those leather trousers?" Nabiki followed her finger to the indicated article. The thin leather pants would come down to about the middle calf region.

"Yes, that would work. A little, well, tight, but you have nice legs." They grinned at each other.

"God, they'd go nuts. Can you imagine?" Ranma leaned against the window and shook with laughter.

Nabiki was snickering as she tried to visualise the expressions on the three adults and her younger sister. "It would be one hell of a joke." Looking at her companion, she smiled. "If you're really more or less OK with being female some of the time, maybe you should get some clothes like that." The red-head looked uncomfortable.

"I'm not sure I could wear something like that, it's kind of feminine." The Tendo girl grinned.

"Well, it's female, but not exactly feminine. More biker girl from hell. You'd look awesome, in a kind of scary way. Anyway, I know you've worn all sorts of things that were a lot more feminine that that. I remember a playboy bunny costume, and a leotard, and that dress when you were learning martial arts dining." Ranma held her hand up.

"OK, yes, sometimes I've worn female clothes..." Nabiki kept going.

"And a girl's school uniform, and don't forget the different women's swimsuits you have. How many is it, four different ones?" Ranma stared at the ground, blushing a little.

"Five. But you know I have no choice if I want to go swimming." The brunette laughed a little.

"I know. I'm just saying, you're familiar with women's clothing. Why shouldn't you be? A lot of the time you're a woman." The red-head looked up at her.

"You don't think it's perverted? Akane certainly does." Nabiki shook her head.

"My sister is... difficult to please. And has a definite prejudice against almost anything she doesn't understand. Which includes pretty much everything to do with sex, gender roles, and particularly you. I personally don't see anything wrong with someone female dressing however she wishes, even if she is only a part time female. And don't forget, when you're female you are completely female." Ranma nodded glumly.

"Don't remind me. I know that all too well." Nabiki looked at her oddly for a moment, surprised at the tone of voice which was unlike anything she normally used. After a moment a sudden light dawned and she stared at the other girl.

"Oh. OH!" There was a pause. "Really?" Ranma nodded slowly, embarrassed.

"Hell. That must have been a shock."

"You have no idea. Thank god Kasumi is Kasumi. I don't know what I'd have done otherwise." She looked away, very red-faced. Nabiki put her hand on the shorter girl's shoulder.

"I'm sorry. I didn't mean to upset you." Ranma smiled weakly at her.

"It's not your fault. It's just not something I ever even thought about growing up. Why should I? At least Kasumi talked to me, and gave me a book about female hygiene after... It... happened the first time. It's not like my father would have helped, after all." She shook her head in disgust. "God, if he knew? He's mouthy enough about my curse at the best of times. I'd be forced to beat him to death if he started in on my other curse..." Staring at her for a moment, Nabiki suddenly howled with laughter.

"The tone in your voice when you said that! And the look on your face..." She leaned against the shop window and shook with laughter. After a moment, Ranma giggled a little.

Nabiki recovered after a few seconds, then checked the opening hours of the shop. "Pity. They don't open for another hour and a half." The martial artist looked simultaneously amused and relieved. "We can always come back." The brunette looked at her companion mischievously. Ranma nodded uncertainly.

"Maybe. Not right now. Let me think about it." As they walked back to the park Nabiki noticed with a private grin that the red-head cast a look back at the shop window.

Arriving back in the park Ranma headed for a vendor selling doughnuts, who was just opening up for the early morning trade. "Don't you ever get enough to eat?"

"These are really nice," the martial artist protested. Nabiki watched, trying not to laugh, as she approached the vendor and dropped into her hungry young girl act, embellished with deliberately broken, highly accented English. It worked wonderfully, although it was apparent the vendor had met her before. He grinned at the pretty girl, handing over twice as many doughnuts as she paid for. Walking back to her companion Ranma had a smile on her face, while Nabiki was trying not to laugh.

"You're completely shameless, aren't you?" She nodded, happily munching a sugary treat.

"Hey, if it works..." Holding out the bag of doughnuts she waved it in front of the Tendo girl. "Here. They're very good." Taking one Nabiki was forced to agree.

"So, do you come all the way to Vancouver just to scam doughnuts, or is there another reason you've visited here so often? You obviously know the area pretty well, not to mention that guy recognising you." Ranma swallowed the remains of the treat and licked her lips.

"This was where I ended up the first time I followed Ryoga. I kind of like it. The people are polite, the climate is a lot like home, plus there's some really good food around." She grinned at this last, as Nabiki sighed theatrically. "It's a good place to think, and I'm pretty damn sure that none of the annoyances in my life are just going to pop up. Except perhaps Ryoga, after all." They sat on a bench, each taking another doughnut from the bag.

"I don't have to travel to and from the park, of course, but it's a good place to practice. Not too many people early in the morning, and because of the time difference, late night at home is dawn here. I have other places I go as well. A couple of places in Australia, a few in the UK, one or two in the US." Nabiki watched her red-headed companion in wonder.

"Anywhere else?"

"Oh, I can go pretty much anywhere. The technique doesn't seem to have a distance limitation as far as I can work out. It seems to take no time at all, no matter how far I jump. Not that I have any way to work that out, or know how to." She pulled the last doughnut out of the bag, holding it up and looking inquiringly at Nabiki, who shook her head.

"But there are some places I like. And I speak English quite well, which all those places use." Finishing the treat she crumpled the bag and tossed it accurately into the nearest trash bin. "Hey, would you like to visit the North pole? Or the top of Mount Everest?" Startled, Nabiki thought about it, then shook her head.

"Not in these clothes." Ranma grinned.

"It is pretty cold there. And hard to breath." Leaning back and looking up at the sky, she pointed. "I'd like to go there but I think I'd need some special equipment." Following her finger the middle Tendo sister gaped, then stared at her companion.

"The Moon?!"

"Yes. Why not?"

Unable to think of anything for a few seconds, Nabiki finally said weakly, "Can you even make a... conduit...? to the moon?" Ranma nodded.

"I tried it a couple of days ago. Only a sensing one, I wasn't sure if whether I opened a normal one it wouldn't start sucking air through. That could have been really bad. But it worked. I could sense the surface, and get a good reading on what it's made of. Mostly light metal compounds and rock." The brunette was staring at her as if she'd grown another head.

"I know I've been saying it a lot recently, but Holy Shit!" She was finally able to speak. "You're a one-person space exploration system. JAXA or NASA would sell their collective grandmothers to have you on their teams." The pig-tailed girl sighed a little.

"I know. That's kind of the problem. This technique is amazing, the possibilities are pretty much endless. But that's the scary bit. There are so many things I can potentially do that could cause a lot of problems. It's one of those great power, great responsibility things that the comics like so much." She glanced at Nabiki, who was watching her with interest.

"Look. I can travel to pretty much anywhere. But unlike Ryoga, I can control it. I have no idea if the conduits can be blocked or not, but I know that it works underground, in the air, hell, even in space. So far I can't open a conduit inside a solid object, which is probably a good thing. I think that would be extremely dangerous. But it's bad enough." She paused and thought.

After a few seconds, she continued, "For instance, I can use it to stop any fight instantly." Nabiki looked curious. "Say Mousse attacked me again. I could simply open a conduit in front of him as he was charging towards me and send him anywhere. He wouldn't even know it was there. I could drop him a kilometre away, or back in the Amazon village, or half-way across the Pacific. Or in space, for that matter." The brunette went pale as the possibilities suddenly struck her.

"Fuck me. I see what you mean." Ranma nodded.

"It's almost too dangerous to use, and I'm really not sure whether I should let anyone else know what I can do. And there are other things that might get official attention. I could use it to become the perfect bank robber, for instance. Or just shoplift. Or smuggle things." Nabiki looked impressed.

"You've really thought it through."

"I've had to. When you learn a new powerful technique, you have to know about the downsides as well as the good uses. And there are always downsides, the more powerful the technique the worse they get. Just think of the catfist."

The brunette girl did, then winced. "I see your point. So what are you going to do?"

Sighing, Ranma stared at the ground. "I'm not sure. I think I'm going to have to be very careful about using it in battle, for a start. I can make it look more limited than it is, which should make people underestimate it." She looked up at Nabiki. "It's possible that people might want me to teach it to them once they work out what I can do. I don't even know if I could teach it to anyone else, but even if I could I'm not at all sure I should."

"I understand, I think."

"But at the same time, it's just too useful not to use. And fun! I like being able to visit all these places so easily. I can go from Nerima to Vancouver in two steps, as easily as crossing the room. You have no idea what that sort of freedom is like, after being trapped by the sort of life I have. I have all these stupid responsibilities at home, which I can only escape for a short time, and even then they find me again. But now, for the first time, I can really get away from them, even if it's only for an hour at a time." She smiled.

"If I ever see a way out of the entire fiancée mess I might come here for a while. Just to get away from the insanity of Nerima. Not permanently, but maybe a year or two."

Nabiki looked thoughtful. "You'd have to have some sort of official documentation. Countries get all upset about people just coming and going without permission. I know Canada is fairly reasonable about it compared to some places but even they want something official." Ranma nodded.

"I know. I guess I should sort out a passport. Although Pop and I have been illegal immigrants in a lot of different countries over the years." She laughed, then looked a little worried. "I don't know what I'm going to do about the curse though. I suppose I really need a passport for each part of me, but how can I do that?" Nabiki considered it.

"I know some people... Hmm, yes, that might work. You'd have to get a legal identity somehow for your female form, but I think I know who to talk to about that. Then it should be possible to get passports issued to both halves." She looked up. "I can make some enquiries. It's going to cost."

"That's not really a problem." Ranma watched her for a moment, then smiled. "There's one last thing I should tell you." Suddenly looking worried, the brunette Tendo watched her carefully. "Don't worry, you'll like this one." Reaching into a ki pocket the red-head retrieved a shiny misshapen lump about the size of a plum and handed it over. Nabiki took it cautiously, surprised at the weight, then stared in disbelief.

"Is this...?"

"Gold? Yes."

Holding the large gold nugget in a shaking hand Nabiki looked between it and the girl next to her for a good minute without being able to speak. Her eyes widened even more when three more lumps of the yellow metal appeared from ki space in the other girl's hand.

"Where? How?" Swallowing hard, she tried again. "Where did you get them?"

"Australia. That's where a lot of gold comes from." Ranma grinned at the expression on her face, then relented. "OK, I went to the library and looked up gold mining. That gave me a list of places that gold came from, and more importantly places that gold nuggets had been found. Australia, Canada, America, Russia, and South Africa were the main places. Australia was the best choice since it's so empty. I went to one of the places that had produced a lot of gold in the past and scanned it. Turns out that the miners missed quite a bit."

Nabiki was turning the nugget over and over in her hand, rubbing it with her fingers. The slightly greasy feel and the weight convinced her it was real. After a long moment she stared at her companion who was still looking pleased with herself. "How much do you have?"

"Only a couple of kilos so far."

"WHAT!" the brunette screeched. Ranma covered her ears and looked around as a few people in earshot glanced curiously in their direction.

"Keep it down. You're making people stare at us." Nabiki ignored her.

"Two kilos of gold? That's, hmm..." She went quiet as she calculated the current value. "About thirty two troy ounces to the kilo, roughly forty thousand yen to the ounce..." Looking up, her eyes wide in shock, she whispered, "That's over two and a half million yen!" The red-head nodded.

"That's about what I made it."

"Oh my god. You're rich!"

Ranma shrugged. "I suppose." She grinned at the expression on her companions face. "It's only money." She handed over the other nuggets. "Here. Keep them. I can get more." Nabiki took the heavy little chunks of metal numbly, staring at them in disbelief.

"I'm going to need your help. I need to figure out how to sell this stuff as discreetly as possible, and I suppose there will have to be some tax payments, things like that. Not something I know about. Can you work all this out?" After a long moment the brunette next to her nodded slowly, beginning to smile.

"Yes, I think I can. I'll also look into gold mining claims in Australia." Ranma looked puzzled. "Technically, this probably belongs to whoever owns the land you found it on. Whether that's the Australian government or a private individual, if you want to be honest you should find out how to keep it legally." The red-head appeared slightly embarrassed.

"I didn't think of that. It was just lying around a few inches under the surface."

Nabiki laughed. "I doubt it will cause a problem. But if you're going to go and look for a lot more of it we should probably see if we can do it legally. Sooner or later someone will notice this much money and ask questions, so we should have answers ready for them that they'll be happy with." The girl nodded thoughtfully.

"I see your point." She grinned abruptly. "I knew you'd come in handy sooner or later."

"Oh, thanks very much. I was thinking the same about you." The two females smiled at each other. Putting the gold nuggets in her pocket Nabiki stood, looking at her watch. "It's after midnight at home. We should get back. Unless you want to wait and buy those clothes?" She looked at the redhead with an amused expression.

"Um, maybe some other time." Hopping lightly to her feet Ranma created a conduit back to the Dojo, cautiously probing through it to make sure no one was watching. Holding out her hand she gestured with the other. "Shall we?" Nabiki smiled, then schooled her expression into the normal coolly competent one. Taking her friend's hand she nodded.

"After you." They stepped through the conduit and she blinked at the sudden darkness. "I still can't believe that. Vancouver to Nerima in one step. Incredible." She had a sudden thought. "Don't people notice when you disappear and appear out of nowhere?" Ranma shook her head, dimly visible to the other girl.

"Not really. I did some experiments to work that out. It seems that unless you're both very close, as in no more than a couple of metres away, and also watching carefully, there's some sort of cloaking effect that makes anyone not actually involved sort of simply not see it. It's kind of weird, actually. I can appear in the middle of a crowded street and everyone just moves out of the way."


"Yep, but really useful. I wish I could figure out how Ryoga came to be using this technique, without even knowing he was. I'm sure it's not something he learned." She shrugged. "I guess I'll probably never find out."

Walking back to the house side by side, Ranma casually asked, "Hey, I've been thinking. How much is owed on the mortgage for this place?" Nabiki stopped dead and stared for a moment, then hurried to catch up.

"I'm not sure. Why?"

"Well, I though it would be useful to pay it off. Maybe without mentioning it to the others...?" She snickered, and after a moment Nabiki laughed.

"Oh yes, that could be fun. I'll look into it."

When the pair of them entered the house Akane was sitting on the stairs waiting for them. "And just where the hell have you been with my sister?" she demanded, glaring at Ranma with anger and disgust apparent on her face. The red-head shrugged,

"Out. Talking. Why?" Her short answer seemed to infuriate the blue-haired girl who leapt to her feet and swung a fist at her. The martial artist stepped back a little, putting her hand on Nabiki's shoulder and pulling her out of range, as her sister's arm came unnervingly close. "Be more careful, Akane, you nearly hit Nabiki." She looked very annoyed. Akane frothed at the mouth a little and tried again.

Sighing, Ranma reached out and tapped a pressure point as she went past causing the youngest Tendo girl to instantly drop in her tracks. Nabiki watched with mild shock mixed with a certain amount of satisfaction. Her sister's elbow had come much too close for comfort. "What did you do?" Ranma glanced at her as she knelt down and carefully picked the other teenager up.

"Sleep point. She'll be out for hours. Hopefully when it wears off she'll just keep sleeping normally until morning. I hope she wakes up in a better mood." Heading upstairs, followed by Nabiki, she quietly said over her shoulder, "I'll put her in her room. Everyone else is asleep except for Kasumi. I think Akane woke her up."

"I'll let her know what's going on. Good night, Ranma."

"Thanks. See you in the morning." The red-headed martial artist silently opened the door to Akane's room and entered, putting the unconscious young woman on her bed and pulling the covers over her. Standing up she stepped back, studying the figure in the bed. "Oh, Akane. How did we end up here I wonder?" she murmured, before heading to her own room. Dropping onto her futon she pulled off her shirt and trousers, slipping under the covers and falling asleep within seconds.

When Akane came down to breakfast the next morning she seemed somewhat confused. Sitting in her normal place she looked around, meeting Nabiki's gaze which looked colder than she was used to seeing from her sister. Noticing Ranma was currently female, she was about to make a nasty comment until she felt both Nabiki and Kasumi staring at her forbiddingly, the former actually appearing quite angry. Not sure why, she held her tongue, shrinking into herself a little and quietly eating her miso soup. Kasumi nodded very slightly, glancing at Ranma, who met her eyes with a small shrug.

The three adults watched the interplay between their children with a certain amount of confusion. Nodoka opened her mouth to chide Ranma for the same thing Akane had noticed, then quailed under the look both elder Tendo sisters shot her. Once more, the nascent comment was still-born. The breakfast was one of the quietest the household had known in some time. When they finished, all three adults left the room, casting slightly apprehensive gazes over their shoulders, but unwilling to get involved. Ranma helped Kasumi clear the table without a word, until Nabiki and Akane were left alone in the living room on opposite sides of the table.

Eventually, Akane moved to stand up. "Stay." Nabiki said, almost making it an order. She stared at her sister, who returned the look with one of surprise and worry. "We need to talk."

"What about?" her younger sister asked. She wasn't at all sure she liked the look she was receiving from across the table, there was too much coolness and near contempt in it.

"You, and your actions. It's getting out of hand, and I want it to stop. We all do. We discussed it and decided that I should be the one to talk to you."

"I don't know what you're talking about," Akane retorted, irritated, crossing her arms and staring at the wall.

"No? You don't remember lashing out at Ranma dozens of times over the last few weeks, often for no reason at all? It was bad enough when you hit him, at least he can take it. But you keep missing, and you've caused..." Nabiki pulled out a notebook and flipped through it, "... over two hundred thousand yen worth of damage so far."

"That's his fault!" This was nearly shouted. The older girl shook her head.

"No, it's not. I've seen most of this with my own eyes. I can't remember one time in the last three weeks when he provoked you at all. For months he's been trying amazingly hard to improve himself, to grow as a person, and succeeding admirably. Yet you still try to hit him, you insult him, you say absolutely horrible things to and about him, things that I know are untrue. And all this damage is the result." Akane looked up, anger burning in her eyes, but was shocked to see her sister looking back at her in a similar state although her cool voice never wavered in tone.

"You don't remember nearly hitting me last night?" This question brought the youngest sister up short, a reply dying in her throat. Suddenly, she did remember.

"Oh, god, Nabiki. I'm sorry. I didn't mean it." The other girl shook her head.

"No, you did mean it. I saw you do it. You might not have meant to hit me, you were aiming at Ranma, but you certainly didn't worry about anyone else you'd have to go through in the process. I know how strong you are, even a glancing blow to my head from your elbow might have killed me if Ranma hadn't pulled me out of the way. And when she told you off, you tried again! WHAT THE FUCK IS WRONG WITH YOU!?" The unexpected swearing and the final shout made Akane pale. It was completely out of character for her normally reserved sister.

"Nabiki, I..." She ran down, unable to think of anything to say, shame burning her cheeks. The older sister stared at her, waiting. "I.. I'm sorry."

"For what? Potentially nearly killing me, or lashing out at Ranma like a bullying thug in the first place?" Akane saw red.

"I am not a thug or a bully! I'm a martial artist!" Her sister sighed.

"No, you're not. You're a spoiled child with far too much power. And it terrifies me. You terrify me." She looked down for a moment, then resumed staring at her sister, and Akane could see the truth in her eyes. Nabiki, the Ice Queen, was genuinely scared of, and for, her.

There was a long pause while Akane tried to think of something to say, sufficiently unnerved not to simply react angrily like she normally did. After a minute or so, Nabiki continued, "Ranma is a martial artist. He, or she, is far more powerful than you or any of the so-called rivals understand, yet I have never seen him hit someone without considerable provocation. Even then he's very careful to use just the amount of force needed to end the threat with minimal damage." She stopped and inspected her sister to see if any of this was getting through.

"Yes, he'll get in a fight, and enjoy it, but that's a fight, not a beating. And he doesn't, he really doesn't, like hitting females. You use that against him. His upbringing was horrible, yet he's managed to work through most of the worst bits and end up a decent person. You had a loving upbringing, yet you're getting more violent by the day. Where will it end? When you kill someone? You do realise I hope that Ranma is much, much tougher than practically anyone else. You hit someone other than him with the sort of force you use all the time and I'll be visiting you in prison for the next thirty years."

Akane stared at her, unable to respond for the moment. Pressing ahead, feeling that this was something that should have been said a long time again, Nabiki said, "I know that when he came into our lives you were going through a bad time. I sympathise, honestly I do. And I also know he was very unpolished, to put it mildly. He was arrogant, generally uneducated, had some weird ideas about women, and didn't know when to stop talking. But..." She raised a finger.

"He's also loyal to a stupid degree, eager to learn, more able to learn than anyone I've ever met, kind, generous, happy to help out wherever he could, doesn't hold a grudge, never backs down from a threat to himself or anyone else, even people he doesn't like... I could go on. For god's sake, how many times has he saved you, for example? He even killed for you! Killed a being with near-godlike powers, to save your life. Have you ever even for a moment tried to understand what that actually means?"

Akane stared at her silently. After a while, when it became clear she didn't have a response, Nabiki lowered her hand and just watched her. She was hoping that her sister was at least thinking about what she'd said, not just trying to refute it all out of reflex. Eventually she added, "He's managed to overcome most of his bad points, while keeping the good ones. That's pretty unusual. But the better a person he makes himself the worse you treat him. Why?"

"He's an untrustworthy womanising pervert," Akane finally muttered, staring at the table. Her sister looked at her with raised eyebrows.

"There are so many things wrong with that statement I hardly know where to begin," she replied after a moment. The blue-haired teenager appeared irritated.

"It's the truth! And I am a martial artist." She muttered the last part to herself. Nabiki shook her head.

"No, you're not, not really." She held up a hand as Akane went red. "Not yet. We'll get to that. The main thing is getting to the bottom of why you think all those things about Ranma. Why do you call him a pervert? Why do you think he's a womaniser. Why don't you trust him?" She stared curiously at the other girl. Fidgeting around where she sat, her sister tried to keep calm, although Nabiki saw with some concern for her own safety that her hand was twitching as if yearning to hold a mallet.

"Are you going to hit me?" she asked quietly, making Akane look down in shame.


"Are you going to listen?"

There was a pause. "Yes."

"Good. So, taking those points in order, why do you think he's untrustworthy?"

The younger girl kept staring at the floor. "He goes out for hours, and I don't know where he's gone. I'm sure he's playing around with one of those floozies he keeps chasing." Looking up, she glared at her sister. "He even goes out with you! What were you doing with him?" she sneered. Nabiki gave her a pitying yet annoyed look.

"Be very careful what you accuse me of, dear sister." Her eyes bored into Akane's, and the younger girl dropped her gaze first. "We were talking, if you must know. He was showing me some very interesting new techniques he's been learning, and we spent a long time talking about them. He was also asking me for advice. About you, in fact." She watched as Akane's face shot up to meet her eyes. "As for 'those floozies', I assume you're talking about Shampoo, Ukyo, and Kodachi?" The other girl nodded.

"For a start, have you thought about the fact that all of them are away at the moment? So how could he be out 'playing around' with them?" She could see from the look on her sister's face that the idea hadn't occurred to her. "Kodachi and Tatewaki are still in Hawaii with their father, they won't be back until the day after tomorrow. I know because Kuno-baby sent me a letter a few days ago wanting more photos of his 'pig-tailed girl' for when he gets back. The Amazons are in China although they'll probably be back soon enough. And Ukyo isn't due back until the start of term." Akane didn't seem convinced.

"I also know that the way they all latch onto Ranma annoys and embarrasses him a lot. Shampoo drives him nuts, he's terrified of Kodachi, like anyone with any sense should be, and Ukyo is his oldest friend. But he has no romantic feelings for her at all." Akane seemed unconvinced, still fidgeting.

"Presumably the womanising comment is about the same thing?" The girl nodded. Nabiki sighed a little. "Again, completely wrong. He's got the sex drive of a brick. Thank god. I don't know whether he really doesn't notice women that way, or if he's just got the self-control of a saint, but he has no interest in sex at all at the moment. In either form. Maybe one day he will have, perhaps not. That's his business. All you need to know is that I'm absolutely certain that he doesn't 'play around' as you put it with anyone. I've looked into it enough over the years. You wouldn't believe how much I spent on having him followed around." She seemed a bit embarrassed about this.

Her sister didn't seem at all convinced although she was still sitting and listening. Perhaps there was hope. "So, then, onto the last bit. Why do you always call him a pervert?" Akane shot to her feet, pacing back and forth on the other side of the table.

"Because he is. All boys are perverts, but he's worse than any of them. He's a sex-changing cross-dressing freak. He walks in on me in the bathroom just so he can look at me naked."

Nabiki was watching her sister rant with a sinking heart. It was pretty obvious she really believed a lot of what she was saying. The brunette girl felt she had to try, even though she was fairly sure she wouldn't have any effect. "I seem to remember that the first time he saw you naked you walked in on him. Even though the sign was out. You've done that more than once. And when it was the other way around it was because you didn't put the sign out yourself, or didn't answer when he knocked." Akane glared.

"That's no excuse."

"It's a pretty good one. I know for a fact he always knocks at least twice before coming in, even if the sign isn't up. Anyway, nothing like that has happen in over a year. The sex-changing bit, yes, that's true, but again it's not exactly his fault, is it? And if he's a girl at the time, wearing female clothing isn't cross-dressing either." She shook her head in annoyance. "You really do put the worst possible motives on anything he does that you don't like."

Furious, Akane stopped in her tracks and pointed at her sister, not noticing the way the other girl tensed a little at the sudden move. Only the knowledge that Ranma was in the kitchen ready to intervene if the youngest sister became violent kept her in her seat. "He's got you all fooled, but I know the truth. He's always waiting for me to let my guard down, then I know he'll do something perverted. You just can't see it. He peeps at me and any other girl around, I know he's thinking about doing something horrible to them." She pleaded with her sister. "Can't you see I have to be on guard, to catch him and stop him? I know one day he's going to do something horrible." Nabiki gazed at her sister as if she'd never seen her before, then slowly stood.

"I can see I'm wasting my time, If that's what you genuinely believe." Inspecting the younger girl curiously, after a moment she asked, "What about the wedding? Did you intend to go through with it?"

Suddenly looking unsure Akane thought for a moment, before replying more quietly, "I would have done. For the family." After a few seconds she added, "But I'd never have let him touch me." Nabiki nodded thoughtfully.

"And now? If Father and the Saotomes still want to have you two marry, what will you do?" Her sister still looked unsure but also angry.

"No, no way in hell. I hate him. I'm not going to give him any excuse to think he can have his way with me."

'Have his way with me?' Nabiki thought in wonder. 'Where the hell did she get that from? Does she really think like that?' Out loud she said, "So you don't want to be engaged to him any more?"

"Of course I don't," replied Akane viciously. Nabiki nodded slowly, looking at her notebook, checking a few facts, before flipping it closed and fixing her sister with a serious gaze.

"I see." She put the notebook her pocket, then went on, "As of today you owe me two hundred and five thousand yen. I expect this to be paid within three months or I will start adding interest. Any further damage to the house you cause you'll have to pay for directly. I've covered the bills up to now myself, but I'm not going to do that any more. I'd suggest that you get a job after school, which starts in a few days. I'll be at university a lot of the time, of course, but I'll be back often and I'll keep a list." Akane was listening in shock, but when she tried to say something Nabiki talked right over the top of her. "Be quiet and listen!" she said sharply. "I also expect you to apologise to Ranma for last night and stop trying to hit him. If you apologise, properly, I'll take twenty five thousand off your bill. If you keep trying to hit him I'll add five thousand each time. You don't have to like him, but at least try to be civil. Do you understand me?"

Akane nodded numbly, unable to think of a better response.

"Good. I'm also going to talk to Father about getting you some professional help. If you keep on like this you're going to kill someone, and I'd prefer not to have a murderer in the family." Akane went purple and glared, then slowly subsided again, her mouth open but no words coming out. "When we arrange something, you WILL go and you WILL do anything you have to. If not, you'll be in debt to me the rest of your life. Got it?"

"Yes," the younger girl said in a small voice. Her sister looked at her with cool detachment but slight pity.

"This is for your own good, and you've brought it on yourself. You have to change your life or something horrible will happen sooner or later. We love you and don't want that to happen." Akane nodded, tears beginning to run down her face. "I'll talk to father and try to get him to take you out of the engagement, if that's what you really want. Is it?"

Looking stricken now that the chance was offered, Akane actually stopped and thought for some time, before slowly nodding. Nabiki sighed a little, then said, "OK, I'll see what I can do." Ranma and Kasumi came back into the room from the kitchen from where they'd been listening, both shocked at Akane's attitude and impressed with Nabiki's handling of the situation. She turned to Ranma, who was male again, and stared at him for a moment, before formally bowing a little.

"I apologise for trying to hit you last night." He watched her with a cool expression for a moment then bowed back.

"I accept your apology." She nodded stiffly and left the room, tears still welling at the corners of her eyes, heading up to her room. Nabiki sighed heavily and sat down, staring off into space for a moment, while the other two watched her.

"That was unpleasant."

"But it had to be done. I'm very impressed by how well you handled it." Kasumi smiled at her sister, who looked back, one corner of her mouth going up for a moment.

"Thanks, sis." She glanced at Ranma who briefly smiled before sitting down across from her. Kasumi left then quickly returned with a pot of tea and three cups. Sitting beside her sister she poured a cup for each of them. "Do you think it will work?" Nabiki asked the older girl, picking up her cup and holding it in both hands. Kasumi looked momentarily upset, her eyes going to the door to the hallway.

"I do hope so. She's been getting worse for weeks now. You were right, sooner or later she was going to badly injure or kill someone, the way she'd been carrying on." She looked at Ranma. "I'm sorry we didn't intervene earlier. I know how often she hits you, and how seldom she had any provocation, especially recently. But last night at least gave Nabiki the moral high ground, I don't think Akane would have listened if we'd tried this before." Ranma smiled again rather tiredly.

"I know, and I think you're right. For what it's worth I'm sorry it's come to this. I haven't really loved her, or even much liked her, for quite a while now, but I've never meant her any harm." Sipping his tea he looked at Nabiki. "So, you think you can get your father to cancel the engagement?" The middle sister appeared pensive.

"Cancel it? No, I doubt that. He and your parents are completely fixated on the idea of the Tendo and Saotome clans being joined in marriage." She watched him, waiting for him to draw the obvious conclusion. It only took a couple of seconds. Kasumi had already worked it out.

Putting his cup down he closed his eyes for a moment. "Damn." Opening them again he looked between the sisters. "Which one?" They exchanged glances, much information flowing between them in the way the siblings can do, before Nabiki nodded slightly, then looked at Ranma.

"I'll do it." He grinned for a second.

"Take one for the team, hmm?" She looked amused.

"Something like that."

"Are you sure about this? There's no other way?" The martial artist gazed at the girl who was becoming a good friend, concern on his face. She smiled back at him.

"I don't think there is. Not at the moment. Anyway, it's not like either of us wants to rush into anything, is it? If we're careful we could stay engaged for years, without much in the way of danger of marriage. Something might happen that would make them call everything off." She laughed briefly. "Or we might even decide one day we liked the idea."

Ranma looked a little dubious. "Do you really think we can drag it out? Pop and your father were pretty damn quick off the mark to try and marry Akane and me whenever they thought they could. I wish I knew why they were so hellishly keen on it. I'm sure there's some plan there, one we're not going to like." Nabiki nodded.

"Oh, I'm certain of it, I just haven't worked it out yet. But it doesn't matter at the moment. Father will do anything I tell him to, or else. He knows full well who is ultimately in charge of the finances around here, council job or no council job. He can get away with pushing Akane around, but if he tries that with me..." She had a hard expression on her face which made Kasumi and Ranma exchange glances.

"Oh my. You will be kind to Father, won't you?" Kasumi sounded the perfect young woman, but there was a hint of dark amusement in her eyes, which made both Nabiki and Ranma suddenly grin at her.

"Don't worry, I won't hurt him. I may scare him a bit, though."

"You realise that you're putting yourself in a certain amount of danger, Nabiki," Ranma commented with some worry. She nodded.

"The other 'fiancées'. Yes, I know. Ukyo I can deal with, I think. She's sane, reasonable and has some clear goals. Kodachi is completely frigging nuts. That makes her dangerous but vulnerable. If necessary I can call in a few favours and probably get her committed." Ranma winced a little.

"That seems harsh, even for her."

"If it comes down to a choice between me or her, it's going to be me." After a moment he agreed. "Shampoo is the problem. She's a little crazy, at least by our terms, but she's determined, smart, and very dangerous. I might be able to get the Amazons deported, but there's no guarantee that would stick. Cologne is very, very good at manipulating people, so she might be able to talk her way out of any official trouble I can cause."

Looking depressed, Ranma was nodding along with the various points. At the end he sighed heavily. "Damn it. I guess I'll have to deal with the Amazons. I was planning to anyway, but moving the engagement makes it more important. As soon as they get back I'll go and talk to Cologne."

Kasumi asked, "Do you think talking will work?" He grinned slightly viciously.

"When I say talk, I mean threaten. I'm through playing games with them." The eldest sister smiled approvingly.

"Good. I have to admit that their attitude has been wearing on me for a while." The other two were slightly taken aback by this, the older woman was normally very accepting of pretty much anyone. For her to complain even so mildly was testament to how much the Amazons had been annoying her.

Finishing her tea, Nabiki stood with a sigh. "Well, I guess I'd better go and tell dear father the good news." She looked out the door towards the porch where Soun and Genma normally played endless games of Shogi, then smiled. "Have you two noticed that they seem to be staying out of our way more than normal recently? I haven't seen those two sitting there for days. I wonder where they are?" Ranma looked up.

"Pop and your father are in the garden hiding behind the Dojo. Mom is upstairs in her room."

"Thanks." The middle sister headed out into the garden, heading for the Dojo. Kasumi and Ranma listened with interest, both looking amused when in a minute or so the sound of a shouting Genma and a crying Soun faintly reached their ears.

"More tea, Ranma?" Kasumi asked mildly, her lips twitching.

"Thank you," he replied politely, holding out his cup.

A little while later Ranma, having had a quick shower, left the house by means of a conduit, deciding to get as far away as possible from Nerima until the parents settled down. He spent most of the day exploring several places around the world, ending up back in the Australian desert by the late afternoon. "Whoa, it's hot," he muttered, stepping out of the conduit into a furnace-like wave of heat. His tolerance for heat was enormous due to the phoenix pill he'd taken during the cat-tongue pressure point incident a couple of years previously, but he could still feel it. It just didn't affect him very much. He'd never found what the limitations for extremes of temperature actually were for him, although he know it was very high.

Looking around the desert he watched with a smile as a small lizard skittered across the dusty surface, lifting its legs high at each step in a comical manner. He found the fauna of Australia to be very amusing although he was well aware how toxic a lot of it was. Walking around for a while he idly scanned for any precious metals, not finding anything near enough to the surface to be easily retrievable. There were indications of traces of gold at a considerable depth, not enough to be interesting to him, so he discounted it. Jumping back to the place he'd found the gold nuggets he searched for half an hour, finding a few more thumb-size pieces sufficiently close to the surface that he could dig them out without much effort. Satisfied, he stashed them away, then went back to Nerima.

It was by now a couple of hours before dinner time. He found himself at a bit of a loose end, the drama with Akane that morning having thrown him off his game considerably. He didn't feel like going on a coin hunt, he'd had his fill of prospecting for gold, although to him it was more like walking around and picking it up, and it was a bit late in the day to begin concentrating on unravelling the parts of the conduit control that currently eluded him. That really required a good undisturbed thinking session and he was still working on mastering the parts he'd already worked out.

Walking down the street he wasn't paying much attention and yet again found himself drenched when a shopkeeper flung a bucket of cold soapy water, left over from washing the floor, out of his door. The man, hearing a squawk of outrage, peered guiltily at the wet red-head who was glaring at him from the road. "Sorry, miss," he said.

"Every damn time," she muttered, turning away from the shopkeeper with a huff. "Wherever I go, someone throws water at me. Or I get a personalised rainstorm. Or..." She stomped off mumbling to herself. The middle-aged merchant watched her go until she was out of sight, then shrugged and went back to cleaning his shop.

"Strange girl. Pretty, though."

Sitting on a wall in a quiet side street, the strange girl was wringing out her shirt, ignoring the two young men who were gawking at her figure outlined in her wet tank top. "This is so annoying," she muttered, pulling the shirt back on. Standing up she noticed the teenagers watching her and gave them a look so dark they blanched and quickly walked off. "Idiots." Brushing herself off, Ranma opened a conduit to her favourite vacant lot and stepped through.

Jumping up onto the roof of the building next to the lot she looked around. From three stories in the air the view was quite good. Stepping to the edge she peered over, then looked speculatively at the buildings on the other side of the lot, about forty metres away. It was a distance she could if necessary clear by jumping, but memory of her previous experiment had been pushing her to try something a little more flashy, and potentially more fun as well.

"This is going to hurt if I get it wrong!" she said out loud, grinning at the thought of what would happen if she got it right. Creating a conduit with the entrance a few metres out from the base of the building, she moved the other end to what she judged was the appropriate distance from the target building. Checking it carefully, she nodded in satisfaction, then turned and walked to the other end of the roof. Turning back she took a run at the edge of the roof, jumping several metres up as she reached it, then arched gracefully over into a neat dive. Intersecting the centre of the conduit she popped out of the exit travelling upwards, cleared the edge of the roof at the destination by some distance, landing neatly on it with a broad smile on her face.

"Wow. That was fantastic!" Sure, she could simple have put a conduit between the two roofs, but where was the fun in that? The red-head spent the next half hour making ever more elaborate dives into the conduits, incorporating back flips, forward somersaults, even moving the ends around while she was in the air. It turned out to be enormous fun and by the time she stopped she had a huge grin on her face. 'I've got to work out how to change the orientation of the ends separately,' she thought. 'That would let me do all sorts of weird things.' Making yet another mental note of something to investigate, she headed home.

Stepping out of a conduit outside the Dojo, having checked no one was very close first, she glanced around, noticing that everyone seemed to be in the living room. Heading in that direction with a certain amount of apprehension she found her parents and the entire Tendo clan mutually glaring at each other. She stopped in the doorway and looked around the room. Even Kasumi looked annoyed, which was a first in her experience.

"Where the hell have you been?" demanded Akane as soon as she noticed the red-headed girl.

"Around. I was out, practising. What's going on?" Ranma replied mildly, stepping into the room.

Nabiki looked away from where she was looking daggers at both her father and Ranma's, meeting her eyes for a moment. She looked slightly frazzled and quietly grateful that the girl had returned. "People have been being... unhelpful... about switching the engagement." With a slight smile the martial artist walked deliberately around the table to sit beside the brunette, then looked at their parents, who didn't seem happy.

"Why? I can't see the problem. It still joins the schools, which has always been the entire point. Unless there's something that we're not being told?" She stared at both fathers, her expression even more icy than Nabiki's normally was. The other girl was silently impressed. Everyone followed her gaze making Genma and Soun shift uncomfortably under the weight of all the eyes on them. "So? Is there some other motive you two have for making me marry Akane?" The two men glanced at each other, sweating a little. Nodoka had been looking askance at the fact that Ranma was currently female but seemed to now be more interested in Genma's answer, or lack of one.

"Well, husband?" she asked, appearing annoyed. "Now that it's been mentioned, you do seem more interested in our son marrying Akane specifically, rather than either of the other two. What's wrong with them? Kasumi is a lovely person, and while Nabiki has her faults..." This made the brunette appear irritated momentarily. "...she is also very smart and capable." Genma shot her a pleading look but she refused to back down. Edging towards the door while trying to appear to not move, he froze when Ranma began idly rolling a small ball of ki around in her palm. Everyone looked at her, startled at the casual display of power, then collectively put it down as one of the things she did and returned their attention to Genma. His eyes were fixed on the pretty little glowing ball of doom on the other side of the table.

"Um, you wouldn't really use that, would you, son?" he asked in a quavering voice. His son, currently his daughter, smiled nastily at him and he couldn't help but notice that the ki sphere grew slightly larger.

"If you try to get out of this, I might be tempted." Genma, sweating, edged back into his original position. The girl looked satisfied, then turned her attention to Soun, who swallowed hard. "Mr Tendo? Do you have something you want to tell us?" He shook his head rapidly. "Sure?" He was on the verge of crying but seemed too scared to actually start. There was no good answer as she looked between the two fathers. Finally she turned to Nabiki. "Well, they don't seem to be complaining now. So, I guess the engagement is switched to you." Nabiki seemed satisfied, a small smile crossing her face, while Genma looked as if he'd unexpectedly bitten into a rotten fish. Soun burst into tears.

Ranma tossed the ki ball into the air a few times, causing both Genma and Soun to pull back and stare wide-eyed as if she was juggling a hand-grenade missing its pin. Watching them both narrowly, she produced a small hard-edged smirk then reabsorbed the energy the next time it landed in her hand, the ball sinking in and vanishing almost instantly. Even Akane was watching with a certain amount of worry, there was definitely something odd going on. The indifferent show of power was unusual, nearly unprecedented in fact. The red-head looked sideways at her momentarily and she got the sudden impression that the girl was very well aware of what was going through her mind. The way the smile pointed itself in her direction for a moment before vanishing cemented that impression firmly in place. Privately she resolved to be just the smallest amount more careful and polite around her in future. There was something about that smile that reminded her quite strongly of Nabiki in one of her more vicious moods.

Nodoka was aware that something odd was going on but couldn't put her finger on exactly what, aside from the whole fiancée switching issue. In her own mind it was no bad thing, she had thought for some while that the youngest Tendo girl was more than slightly unstable, not really a good match for her son. The middle sister, although having some regrettable character flaws, was at least extremely bright and self-assured, with a proven ability to fend for herself. She'd personally have preferred the oldest Tendo sister, she felt that Kasumi was a near-perfect example of Japanese womanhood, but even there she had some inkling that getting on her bad side wouldn't be a good idea. Although in all probability to do so would take something truly spectacular, the results could well be unfortunate. On the whole, she thought, she was fine with Nabiki taking on the fiancée role.

She wasn't fine with the way that her son seemed to currently be her daughter, and not see much amiss with this. Staring at the red-headed girl she noticed that both the older Tendo sisters were looking at her in a manner that suggested they would prefer she not vocalise the thought and had a sudden rush of common sense to the head. Swallowing her first words, she instead said, "You've been away for a long time today, son. What were you doing?" trying to sound like she was only expressing motherly concern. The girl looked at her for a moment.

"Oh, just wandering around. Trying a new technique I worked out, enjoying the few days of holiday left. More or less the usual." Nodoka noticed that Nabiki gave the girl an oddly knowing glance which was returned with a flicker of a smile.

"A new technique?" Genma asked, his curiosity piqued. Ranma glanced at him in a somewhat dismissive way.

"It's not something you'd be interested in, Pop." The large man looked irritated.

"Perhaps I should be the judge of that. I am your master in the Art, after all." She sighed.

"Should have kept my mouth shut," she muttered only loud enough for Nabiki to hear her. The brunette smiled a little. "I'm still working on it. I might let you know about it when I've perfected it." With a small and evil smile, she added quietly, "But probably not."

"What was that?" Genma asked. She smiled brightly.

"Oh, nothing. Just clearing my throat." Turning to Nabiki she dismissed him, making him go slightly red until the memory of that ball of ki returned and stopped him doing anything rash. He didn't notice the very small smile Kasumi sent in his direction but her father did, making him look at her oddly. She transferred it to him for a moment before it became her normal sunny expression. Standing, she quietly left the room for the kitchen while he watched her go, wondering what was going on.

"So what next, fiancée? Do we kiss and make up?" Nabiki looked momentarily taken aback, then grinned like a shark. With a flick of her eyes towards the parents and Akane, all of whom were on the other side of the table, she suddenly leaned forward and firmly kissed the red-head on the mouth. Ranma was startled but quickly saw her amused eyes, so cooperated. Akane gasped in fascinated horror, while the adults simply stared open-mouthed. Kasumi, peering out from the kitchen, had to retreat quickly so she could silently laugh like an idiot.

"RANMA! You PERVERT!" Akane leaped to her feet pulling a mallet out of nowhere, only to freeze when Nabiki suddenly fixed her with a gimlet stare, rubbing her lips with one hand while reaching for her notebook with the other. Flipping it open to a fresh page she pulled out a pen and poised it over the paper.

"Well?" she asked politely. "Are you intending to swing that thing? Remember, five thousand yen each time." Akane stared at her, then at the red-headed girl who was obviously attempting not to burst out laughing, then more helplessly at her father. He shrugged very slightly. After a moment she sagged a little and put the mallet away again, turning and leaving the room quietly. "Hmm. There may be hope for her yet. I should have tried this years ago." Satisfied Nabiki put her pen and notebook away, turning to the three adults who were still gaping at her. "What?" she snapped. "Haven't you ever seen a girl kiss her fiancé before?" They stared silently. Getting to her feet she grabbed Ranma's hand and pulled the other girl up as well. "Come on, we need to talk." The two females left the room. After a very long silence they looked at each other.

"Genma, old friend, something very odd just happened."

"Indeed it did." There was another long pause.

"Any idea what it was?"

"Not a clue, Soun old boy, not a clue." They both looked at Nodoka, who sighed heavily before also leaving, shaking her head tiredly.

"Another game of Shogi?" Genma eventually suggested. At his friend's silent nod he started to set the board up.

Nabiki led Ranma out to the Dojo, her shoulders quaking. "Quick," she said in a strangled voice, "Get us out of here." Ranma opened a conduit to the Vancouver park and led her through it. As soon as the brunette felt the change in temperature she started roaring with laughter. "Oh, god, that was so funny. Their expressions! It was worth everything just for that!" Ranma led the helplessly laughing girl over to a bench and they both sat down. After a moment she began laughing as well.

Eventually they wound down, sitting and grinning at each other in the dark. Only a few street lights lit the park at this hour of the morning. Looking at the illuminated clock in the distance it was about two in the morning. "Don't think I'm going to kiss you a lot, by the way," Nabiki cautioned although with a smile. She raised a hand to her lips again. It had been a curiously nice kiss, she thought to herself for a moment. Ranma looked amused.

"I was surprised that you kissed me at all. I thought this was an engagement of convenience?" The brunette laughed.

"Oh, it is, trust me, but I couldn't resist. Akane looked like she was going to have a stroke." Staring at the dimly-lit face of the red-head she went silent for a moment, her face acquiring an introspective expression. "Do you have any hot water?" she asked. Ranma pulled a thermos out of ki-space and shook it.

"Yep, it's about half full." Nabiki gestured to it, and after a moment she unscrewed the top and splashed herself with a little. Male again he put the thermos away again and waited.

"I want to check something." Slightly to his surprise Nabiki leaned forward and kissed him again. Sitting back she looked thoughtful. "Interesting. Very interesting."

"What is?" he asked curiously. She glanced at him.

"Let's just say that if we do have to stay engaged, it might not be terrible." Refusing to be drawn further on it, she looked around. "It's getting a bit chilly here. Let's go somewhere warmer."

"All right," Ranma agreed, standing up again. "Have you ever been to Perth?"

"You know I haven't," Nabiki said, also getting up. He opened a conduit, then gestured to the air in front of her with a small smile.

"After you."

"You know, Ranma? I think this could be the start of something very interesting." The middle Tendo sister looked at him with shared amusement, then grabbed his hand and pulled him through the immaterial hole in space. Moments later the park was empty, only the last echoes of a laugh betraying their presence.