Ranma's Ascension - Chapter 3
By Mike Breslau

Disclaimer: Better folks than I own most of the characters that appear in this scribbling. The original characters (you'll know them when you meet them) in this work are mine, all mine! (But you can borrow them if you'll treat them kindly.)

More dealing with old problems in this chapter.


It was evening. Soun and Genma were sitting in a dimly-lit bar, each working on his third sake. The country-and-western music playing in the background fit their mood perfectly.

"Waah," wailed Soun, "My little girl is getting married and leaving me..."

"Ranma is no longer a Saotome," moaned Genma, "The schools will never be joined."

Their cups now empty, they signaled the bartender for another round.

"You know what this means, don't you, Soun?"

"Ababsoluke...obtusely...obversely... Yes." replied the drunken Tendo patriarch.

"No more cushy retirement resting on the labors of our children." They both shuddered.

"We'll have to work for a living." Tendo wailed, his tears diluting the remainder of his sake.

"How can they be so ungrateful after all we've done for them..."

Soun corrected, "After all we've done to them."

"Waah," they wailed in perfect harmony.

"I say, Genma, you seem to be getting fuzzier. Have I had too much to drunk?"

"Growf!"


Sasuke found himself standing in an odd 'room.' The floor was a polished mirror; the walls and ceiling seemed to be made of mist. There were no windows, doors, or furnishings, yet the 'room' felt comfortable and familiar. The Kuno's faithful servant said, "I must be dreaming."

"Yes, you are dreaming," said a familiar voice, "but that doesn't mean that this isn't real."

Sasuke turned and saw Ranma standing there dressed in his divine garb. Ranma cast no reflection in the shiny floor.

"Ranma?" squeaked Sasuke.

"I'm the God of Martial Arts, but for now I look like Ranma. I'm here to offer you a gift, which you are under no obligation to accept."

"What kind of gift?" asked the diminutive ninja.

"As you surely know, Tatewaki and Kodachi are fine martial artists, but they're a little lacking in the sanity department. It does not reflect well on me to have demented martial artists running around. I'd like to give you a three-part blessing: you would have all the skills of a master psychologist, and a master pharmacologist, and in addition you would always have a sense of what is the right thing to say or do. You would still have free will, and need not act on any of this knowledge if you so choose."

"You want me to be a therapist for the Kunos?"

"I'm not asking you to do the 'lie down on the couch for 50 minutes' thing, that wouldn't work. I'm hoping you would offer the occasional shrewed word of advice or astute observation when the situation called for it. You alone have access to, and the confidence of, all three Kunos. It would be in my best interests, and yours too, if they could be gently healed."

"Can't you just cast a healing spell on them if you are a god?"

"I certainly could, but I won't. My style is to never compel, but to gently urge. I prefer to be subtle and indirect in my dealings with mortals."

Sasuke could sense Ranma's sincerity. "My family has been faithful servants to the Kunos for many generations. I will do anything in my power to help them. I accept your offer, Ranma."

The god smiled benevolently and raised his hand. A sparkling ball of yellow light flew across the room and melted into Sasuke. "In the morning you will remember this, but it will be only a dream."

The room faded away and Sasuke slept soundly.


The next day at school Ranma did several things he had never done before. He wore a regulation boy's uniform. He stayed awake in class. He correctly answered every question put to him. He seemed to be polite, though you could get the impression that he was amused by a joke that nobody else knew.

Naturally, this made the teachers and the students extremely nervous. They were certain that something really bad would have to happen to balance out this unnatural burst of goodness.

Sure enough, something terrible did happen during Physical Education class. There was a large puff of sulphurous smoke near the volleyball court, and a demon appeared.

The demon was seven feet tall and roughly spherical in shape. He, or rather it, had more than 200 limbs and tentacles, tipped with claws, pincers, hooks, scissors, nozzles for spewing flame or acid, and other things too horrible to mention. Its slimy skin was covered with small iron-hard mustard-yellow scales. Kreplach had three large hairy ears, four hairy nostrils (but no nose), and five hairy eyeballs. It was ugly enough to frighten Cthulu. Did I mention that it smelled bad too?

Ranma managed to make himself heard over the screaming of the students. "Stand back, everybody, this one's for me." He approached the demon and introduced himself. "Hello, my name is Ranma."

"Kreplach," answered the demon in a guttural roar.

"As I understand the Doublet System I'm not supposed to kill you," continued Ranma in a pleasant tone of voice.

Kreplach nodded agreement, at least as well as anything with neither head nor neck could manage.

Ranma continued, "But I am allowed to hurt you so badly that you'll wish you had never heard my name."

The demon tried to sneer at him, but couldn't because it had no lips.

"Very well," said Ranma. He bowed to his opponent and called, "Begin." He blurred into Amiguriken speed. In 0.29 seconds Ranma had braided all the demon's appendages into dreadful dreadlocks. The seven longest braids were fastened to the ground with tent pegs, the remaining dreadlocks were plugged into orifices that would otherwise have spewed lava, slime, or toxic waste. With the demon properly immobilized, Ranma pried open its huge mouth. He recreated from memory several of Akane's more 'creative' attempts at cooking and stuffed them into Kreplach's maw.

Even for a demon, this was cruel and unusual punishment. Kreplach yowled in pain, turned lavender, and disappeared in another cloud of sulphurous smoke.

Ranma made a gesture of dusting off his hands. "Shows over, everybody, back to class."

Akane, who had come to see what all the screaming was about, asked, "What was that stuff that you were feeding him?"

Ranma looked innocent. "Just soba noodles, some miso soup, and a tuna casserole."

"Oh," answered Akane. "For a moment I thought it looked familiar..."

Ranma bigsweatted.


Skuld was industriously working on her latest mecha (a nuclear-fusion powered potato peeler, if you really want to know. Her previous project, an eclectic toothbrush using a tiny black hole to remove plaque, hadn't worked out too well.) Ranma teleported in, sans the usual cosmetic burst of light.

"Skuld, I've been thinking about that advice you gave me-that matter of letting the mortals know that we exist. I didn't like the 'only a dream' idea, it still left people free to deduce what really happened."

Skuld looked up. "What's the matter, can't you knock first, or at least offer a greeting?" Her smile showed that she wasn't really complaining, but was mostly teasing. "You sound as if you've thought of something better."

"You remember the spell we use to persuade mortals that our facial markings are really unimportant? I used that as a starting point. Tell me what you think of this." Ranma began writing with his forefinger on the empty air, leaving behind a series of glowing blue runes on an invisible blackboard.

When he finished writing Skuld leaned forward and began to examine his work. "Okay, this clause suggests 'I've always known that!' and this part implies 'so what?' This section evokes 'who cares?' over here it says 'dull, dull, dull.'" Skuld straightened up. "Just reading this spell makes me loose interest in finishing it." She looked up at Ranma. "This is a nice piece of work. If you hit somebody with this your divinity will become the least interesting fact in the whole world."

"And it can be applied retroactively, too," added Ranma with a grin.

"How long did it take you to develop this?" asked Skuld.

"Only a few minutes." Ranma shrugged. "I've always been quick at inventing new techniques, but they've usually been ki based, not mana based."

Skuld felt a moment of jealousy. Magic had never been her strong suit, though recently she had become petty good at it. "I approve-it is much better than the 'only a dream' approach."

Ranma teleported away and Skuld happily returned to her workbench.


After school Ranma and Akane were walking home together. It was a beautiful afternoon, with a near-cloudless sky and a gentle breeze.

Ranma turned to Akane with a smile and asked, "Would you like to take the scenic route home today?"

"If you mean roof-hopping, I'm not up to that."

"Roof-hopping is so pedestrian," replied Ranma with a dismissive gesture, "I want to do something unusual, something adventurous."

Akane sensed the eagerness in his voice. Obviously, he wanted to do something special. "Okay, if it's safe."

"Oh, it's safe enough. Put your books into hammer-space and hold your arms out like this." Ranma held his arms straight out sideways, forming a 'T'-like shape. Akane raised an eyebrow and did what he asked. Ranma's grin grew wider. Akane felt a brief tingle, a sense of buoyancy, and then the world fell away from beneath her feet. She watched in astonishment as the treetops, then the rooftops dropped beneath the two of them. "Oh my god," she shouted, "You really meant 'take the scenic route' today. Won't people see us?"

They were now moving faster and slowly gaining altitude as they moved in the direction of Tokyo center. "It's okay. Anybody who sees us will pay no attention because we're such an uninteresting sight. I've cast a 'boring' glamor over us." The two of them were now just over one thousand feet high and still climbing slowly and gradually gaining speed. "It looks so different from up here, the world is so beautiful," Akane observed happily.

"On the ground we see all the clutter, the meanness and squalor, that make up mortal life. Up here you get a 'God's eye view' and it helps to understand why Kamisama puts up with all those human shortcomings."

A minute later Akane glanced ahead and realized that they were headed toward a famous landmark. "Why are we going to the Tokyo Tower?" she asked.

"No scenic tour would be complete without a visit," Ranma answered laughing.

As they neared the Tower they slowed and descended to the level of the observation deck, flying hand-in-hand in a semi-circle around it to reverse direction.

A girl on the Tower put down her binoculars and yelled at them, "Hey you two, get out of the way! You're spoiling my view."

Ranma answered, "Sorry!" and began to speed up.

"Who were you yelling at, dear?" asked the girl's mother.

"Those two flying people-they're so inconsiderate," answered the girl.

"Some people today have no manners," sighed the mother.

Akane giggled. "That 'uninteresting' spell works like a charm." She was enjoying the wind in her hair and between her fingers. What an exhilarating sensation!

The return flight was over too soon as Akane was enjoying every minute. They touched down in the front yard of the Tendo home and Akane felt the magic spell fading away.

"How do you feel?" Ranma asked.

Akane looked radiant. "Gloriously happy, giddy, and excited. That was wonderful, Ranma. Let's do it again sometime." She threw her arms around him and kissed him enthusiastically.

"Okay, on one condition," said Ranma when he came up for air.

"What's that?"

Ranma smiled at her and answered, "I want you to remember how you feel right now and practice feeling this way even when I'm not around."

Akane realized that he was trying to wean her away from her habitual anger-and it was working! "I'll do my best," she replied. "I'm so glad I'm going to marry you." She leaned in and kissed him again.


Ranma, in civilian garb, walked into Ucchan's before the dinner rush hour.

"Hello, Ran-chan," Ukyo greeted him, "You want the usual?"

Ranma was tempted to decline the offer because he didn't want to sponge off the chef any longer, but he realized that making okonomiyaki was therapeutic for her just as doing katas was for him. "Okay, thanks."

Ukyo heated the grill and began making preparations.

"Ucchan, we need to talk."

"Yes, we certainly do," replied Ukyo resignedly.

"You've heard that I've proposed to Akane and she's accepted."

"News travels fast, Ranma." Ukyo bore down on her spatula, a sign of anger.

"I realize that I can't give you what you want the most, but I feel obliged to do whatever I can to make amends. I've thought of several things I can offer you, but I want to talk to you before I do anything."

Ukyo poured sauce on the okonomiyaki. "What sort of things?"

"I could have you adopted into the Saotome family. You'd become my sister and get out from under your father's influence. Unfortunately, you'd have Genma for a father."

She shuddered. "No thanks. My old man is no prize, but he's way better than yours. No offense, Ranma."

"None taken. I could replace your family's yatai, or upgrade your restaurant, but I doubt you'd want those things."

"All I really want is to be your wife, but you've always seen me as a buddy, not as a lover."

"We can't always get what we want," Ranma sighed, "Even I can't."

Ukyo slid the 'Japanese pizza' onto a plate and put it on the counter in front of Ranma. The okonomiyaki began to glow pink, with brown and white sparkles. "What the hell? It's never done that before..."

"It's a magic detection spell, Ucchan. The pink shows the presence of a love potion, the sparkles show Urd's influence."

"Urd!" exclaimed Ukyo angrily.

Ranma was surprised. "You know her? She doesn't hang around here much anymore."

"Last night, as I was preparing for bed, the little TV in my room turned itself on. This drop-dead-gorgeous blond came out of the screen and bowed. I pinched myself to make sure I wasn't having a 'Video Girl Ai' nightmare. She introduced herself as 'Urd, the Cupid of Love' and said she wanted to help me with my love life. She offered me a vial of liquid and told me to put a few drops of it in your food-it would make you mine. I was tempted, but I turned her down. Shampoo has been drugging you at every opportunity, and it's only made you resent her. I don't want a magically enslaved husband; I want a man who loves me because he loves me! I told her to get lost. Urd pouted and flowed back into the TV screen."

"Urd is the Goddess of the Past. She styles herself 'the Cupid of Love,' but she's really a professional yenta."

"What's a yenta?" asked Ukyo curiously.

"Matchmaker, busybody, gossip, and meddler. It's nice knowing so many languages; I can always find the right word."

Ukyo put her hands on her hips. "Ranchan, there's something you're not telling me. How do you know Urd, and when did you learn 'so many languages'? What are you doing with a magic detection spell?"

Ranma shifted into his divine attire and released his aura of power. "I was promoted to God of Martial Arts a couple of nights ago, Ucchan."

Ukyo was momentarily awed, then she laughed. "My goodness, you certainly lead an interesting life. How did that happen?"

"Apparently Kamisama was impressed that I had remained pure of heart despite all the trials life has put me through. He sent a goddess to grant a wish. I didn't ask to become a deity, I wished for the power to solve all my problems, and here I am."

"Exactly how does this affect our relationship?"

"Since you're a martial artist, you're in my sphere of influence. I have the power to give you many blessings, but I can't give you the husband you crave. Besides, you really wouldn't enjoy being married to me."

Ukyo gaped in shock. "What do you mean I wouldn't enjoy it? It's all I've dreamed of since I stopped trying to kill you."

"'Sometimes wanting is better than having', as Spock said once. You observed that I lead an interesting life." Ranma picked up a glass of water and spoke into it. "Skuld, can you come here for a minute?"

The water in the glass began to swirl, then it started to glow. Skuld emerged from the water and hung suspended in the air for a few seconds before settling gracefully down to the floor.

Ranma made introductions. "Skuld, this is Ukyo Kuonji, one of my fiancees. Ukyo, Skuld is the Goddess of the Future, and my mentor while I'm learning the god business."

Ukyo asked, "You're not betrothed to Ranchan, are you?"

Skuld answered gently, "No, we're just good friends. I am happily married to someone else." Turning to Ranma she added, "Why did you call me?"

"Ukyo has long dreamed of becoming my wife. You can see the possible futures. Can you give her a sense of what her life would be like if she were married to me?"

"With you as a mortal or as a god?" asked Skuld.

"Some of each," replied Ranma.

Skuld closed her eyes and probed the possible futures. She winced. "Are you sure you want to see this, Ukyo? It's not pretty."

Ukyo didn't hesitate. "If reality bites, it's better that I know it, otherwise I'll cling to my dreams."

"Okay," said Skuld. She gestured, and Ukyo seemed to trance out for a minute.

When Ukyo recovered she shuddered and looked depressed. "I hoped for a nice, orderly, domestic life. That's not possible if I'm married to a chaos-magnet like Ranchan. If we led a tranquil life, he'd go crazy. If we experienced Ranma's life, I'd go nuts. Is there no better way for us to be together?"

"I'm afraid not," Skuld replied. "Would you like me to erase or weaken your memory?"

"Only a little, please. Thanks, Skuld."

The goddess gestured and Ukyo looked a little better. "Will that be all?"

Ranma answered, "Yes, thanks for coming."

After Skuld had departed, Ranma said, "I even briefly considered doing something no god has ever done-offering to lend you my angel Chaos. That way you would always have a little part of my soul, even if you can't have me. I shelved that idea-it wouldn't work for the same reason that my marrying you wouldn't work."

"Chaos?" asked Ukyo.

Ranma's angel came out and bowed. "My constant companion, the angel Chaos," Ranma explained. "He's a part of me, yet he's separate too."

"He's cute," Ukyo observed.

Chaos blushed and returned to his place inside Ranma.

Ranma said, "I may be able to help you regain your proper gender, Ucchan. I can turn your father into a woman until he relents and lets you become a female again. I suspect he'll be eager to agree after his first period..."

Ukyo giggled. "Now there's a tempting offer. I'm almost willing to take you up on it, but I'm trying to be a nicer, saner person than my dad. Thanks anyway."

"I'd like to help you find a man you could happily love, but I don't want to meddle. I'm not Urd-I'm not going to mess with your emotions or exert any undue influence. Would you allow me to try, or would you rather I didn't?"

"What are you thinking of doing?"

"I can ask several love goddesses for some likely candidates and arrange chance encounters with those I approve of. How you react to each other will be entirely up to the two of you."

Ukyo considered this. "I guess that's okay, but not too soon, please. I need time to adjust to the loss of my dreams."

The first dinner patron entered the restaurant. Ranma shifted back to his mortal guise. "You'd better get rid of that glowing okonomiyaki and mix up another batch of your special sauce. Ukyo, if you need anything, just call." He kissed her gently and left.


Urd received yet another 30-day license suspension and a reprimand for her unauthorized interference.


(flashback)

Skuld lead Ranma into a huge room that resembled an exotic public bath. The ceiling was supported far above them by an intersecting network of golden arches. The floor looked like zebrawood parquet, but it felt like nonskid rubber. Pools of various sizes and shapes held water of various temperatures and degrees of salinity. Curiously, two of the pools seemed to partially overlap without their contents mixing.

"We both have the same teleportation medium, at least while you're a male, so I'm going to show you how to use it. Watch me." With that, Shuld dove head-first into the nearest pool and emerged, still dry, at the other end of the pool. Another dive and she was hovering above the surface of the water next to Ranma. "Any questions?" she asked.

"I could sense what you were doing with your mana when you entered the water, but I don't understand how you control where you go."

Skuld nodded. "Okay, we will take this step by step. Visualize the spot by other end of the pool where you want to emerge. Concentrate on the surface of the water and the areas around it."

Ranma squinted a bit, then said, "Okay, I've got it."

"This is a bit tricky. Turn your visualization upside down, so that the water surface at your destination is touching and coincides with the underside of the water surface where you plan to enter."

After a few seconds, Ranma said, "It's hard, but I think I have it."

"Now imagine that your visualization is the space itself, not just an image of it. Remove the surface of the water from your mind, so that the near and far spaces are adjacent with nothing separating them, and dive in."

Ranma hesitated for a moment and then, somewhat apprehensively, he dove into the pool. He emerged, soaking wet, at the other end of the pool. "Well, it's a start," he said philosophically. "I always had trouble avoiding getting wet."

"Don't feel bad," said Skuld, "It took me four tries to get to the other end of the pool when I was beginning to learn. You just didn't completely remove the surface of the water from your mental image. Try again."

Ranma dried himself with a burst of hot ki, then with a look of concentration on his face he dove into the pool again. This time he emerged dry and hovered in the air next to Skuld. "Yatta!" he exulted.

Skuld beamed at him. "You are a fast learner! Now transport yourself to the other pool over there."

Ranma flashed a mischievous grin and dived into the water. A moment later Ranko emerged from the other pool and did a little victory dance in midair.

Skuld grumbled, "Showoff!" It is true that Skuld was a genius - and not just in her own opinion - but Ranma was quick. She was feeling a touch of envy.


Sailor Pluto sat in front of the Time Gate with her brow furrowed in concentration. The images in the gate were very slightly fuzzy. The effect was so subtle that only her trained and experienced eyes could spot it. No amount of fiddling or adjustment had been able to sharpen the pictures.

This worried her. She thought that something was changing the time streams and she could neither identify the cause not determine what the probable effects would be. If there's anything Pluto hated, it was not knowing.

One of the things Pluto didn't know was that the Time Gate had a self-aware soul-quite different from those of humans or gods, but a soul nonetheless. The slightly out-of-focus look was the result of the Gate beginning to giggle softly to itself.


The citizens of Juuban were a well-trained lot. Whenever they saw a monster they would panic, scream, and run around aimlessly until the Senshi restored law and order. It's just the way things have always been done there.

The monster-du-jour was a burly, black-bearded man in a sailor cap who just happened to be 15 feet tall. He actually wasn't doing any damage; he was merely strolling down the street inducing pandemonium.

In a few minutes, the Senshi arrived on the scene. Sailor Moon promptly launched into an almost Kunoesque declamation: "Disrupting the tranquility of our fair city is intolerable. In the name of the moon, we will punish you." The youma stopped and waited patiently for her to finish, saying nothing.

Venus tapped Moon on the shoulder and whispered, "Maybe I shouldn't mention it, but this guy actually hasn't done anything bad yet."

Sailor Moon looked Venus in the eye and replied, "Doesn't matter. We'll punish him anyway - it's what we do!"

Sailor Mercury launched her Shabon Spray, followed soon after by Sailor Venus' Love-Me Chain. These had no effect. Sailor Mars tried her Fire Soul, and Sailor Jupiter simultaneously used her Lightning attack.

The sailor just stood there, looking bored.

Getting desperate, Sailor Moon shouted, "Moon Tiara something or other." (She was getting flustered and had forgotten her lines.) The whirling tiara bounced harmlessly off the creature.

The Senshi gathered in a huddle. "This isn't working, guys, we have to try something completely different," suggested Moon. Sailor Mercury did a quick scan, but no giant foot descended from the sky to crush the monster.

Akane Tendo had been shopping in Juuban and watched the confrontation with interest. On the one hand, the Senshi were her heroes. On the other hand, they were looking completely inept. "Oh, I wish I could join them somehow," she whispered.

"Wish granted," said Ranko's voice inside Akane's head. There was a flash of light and a whiff of sea spray. Akane disappeared, only to reappear, curiously changed, in the center of the Senshi huddle.

The Senshi blinked in surprise. "Who are you?" asked Venus.

Akane began, "I'm Ak..." and stopped when she realized that she probably shouldn't give her civilian name. She looked down at herself and blinked. She was now wearing a sea-blue Senshi fuku with spinach-green trim. Akane noticed her bulging forearms, the anchor tattoo, and the corncob pipe, and came to the obvious conclusion. "Wal blow me down," she exclaimed. Her voice rose in pitch as she came close to panicking. "I've turned into Popeye the Sailor Scout! I've become a cartoon character!"

The Senshi bigsweatted. Some instinct told them NOT to go there...

Now the identity of the monster-du-jour became glaringly obvious. Akane pointed to the youma and said, "and that's Bluto, Popeye's nemesis."

"Does anybody know what's going on here?" asked Jupiter.

"We're Senshi, not Sailor Scouts," complained Mars reflexively. She hated that mistranslation.

"Is there a planet named Popeye?" wondered Sailor Venus.

Akane ignored them all. "Have any of you tried to actually punch that thing?"

Sailor Moon waxed indignant. "We're magical girls, not street brawlers. We don't hit things."

Akane resented the implication. She was a martial artist, not a street brawler. Fortunately, she had seen enough old American cartoons so that she knew what to do next. She reached into her fuku and withdrew a can of spinach. Prying open the lid of the can with her thumbnail, she downed the entire contents in one gulp. There followed a grotesque power-up sequence in which her muscular strength increased fivefold.

Sailor Popeye ran over to the youma and punched him hard at belt level (it was as high as she could reach.) To her surprise her arm sank into Bluto up to the elbow without meeting much resistance, then rebounded elastically. Bluto tilted over backwards in an almost rigid fashion, and then rotated back to vertical without apparent effort.

"This guy is hollow!" Popeye exclaimed. She knew just what to do. Retrieving the discarded lid of the spinach can, she held it carefully so as not to cut herself and carved a long gash into Bluto's leg using the sharp ragged edge of the lid.

There was a loud whooshing sound. Bluto looked surprised as he started to shrink and become wrinkled. Soon, he was reduced to a pile of plastic lying on the ground.

"We've been fighting a balloon!" exclaimed Sailor Mercury.

"...And we weren't winning," added Jupiter mournfully.

The regular Senshi turned towards Popeye the Sailor and bombarded her with questions.

"Who are you?"
"How did you get here?"
"Are you really a Senshi?"
"Do you have any magical attacks?"

Sailor Popeye held up her hand to slow the flood of queries. "I'm still new at this, and I'm not sure I know the answers to your questions, but I have a question of my own. How do I get out of this fuku?"

Sailor Moon replied, "We usually find a spot where we won't be seen and then power down."

Popeye the Sailor could not hear Moon because Ranko was answering the question inside her head. She blushed. "That is so embarrassing. Do I have to?" she muttered.

"What's wrong?" asked Moon, looking concerned.

"My boyfriend has a weird sense of humor," Popeye responded. "I know how to power down, but it's so humiliating. Don't look," she pleaded.

The Senshi did not look away. Nautical music began to play softly in the background as Popeye began to sing and dance.

"I'm Popeye the Sailor Scout.
"I know what it's all about.
"I'm fit as a fiddle,
"And thick in the middle.
"I'm Popeye the Sailor Scout. Toot toot."

There was a flash of light and a whiff of sea salt spray. Sailor Popeye vanished and Akane Tendo reappeared in her home in Nerima.

Sailor Mercury had captured the whole performance on her computer. "That has got to be the oddest thing I've seen in either of my lives," she opined.

"Weird," agreed Sailor Venus with a nod.


Sailor Pluto was practically tearing her hair out in frustration. "I've never seen anything like that in any timeline. What's going on here?" She was even more upset than she had been when the planet Pluto was demoted by those know-nothing astronomers.

Too bad she lacked a sense of humor.


Akane glared at Ranko in mock anger. "I'm gonna get you for that."

Ranko folded her arms. "Get real. I'm a goddess. What can you do to me?"

Akane smiled evilly. "I'm gonna tickle you..."

"Good luck. I'm not ticklish anywhere," replied Ranko confidently.

"Oh yes you are. I know you're ticklish under the sheets and behind the curtains."

"Uh oh."

Akane grabbed a sheet, threw it over Ranko, and tickled her lover mercilessly. Revenge is sweet.


Dusk was fading into evening as Ryoga wandered about in the suburbs of Brisbane. The fact that he had to cross several oceans to get there didn't bother him at all, if he was even aware of it. Every part of the world looked equally familiar to Ryoga Hibiki-and equally strange. This time he noticed something stranger than usual-a window of the shop ahead of him seemed to be glowing, yet the store display behind the glass was dark. As he approached the store it seemed to him that the glass itself was emitting the glow, and it was only shining outwards, not inwards.

Curiosity got the better of Ryoga, and he approached the window to examine it. Instead of seeing his own reflection in the glass he saw an image of Ranko, in her goddess regalia. Ryoga scratched his head. "Ranma, what are you doing in wherever-this-is?"

Ranko stuck her hand out of the windowpane. "You're a hard man to find, Ryoga Hibiki. Would you hold my hand?"

Ryoga took the proffered hand in one of his own. Ranko delicately stepped out of the window and the glow behind her faded away. She smiled at him. Ryoga felt strangely moved to see a lovely lady smiling at him, even if it was his friend-and-rival.

"Hello, I'm Ranko, the Goddess of Transformations. Sorry about this." Ranko was getting a lot of milage out of that signature phrase.

"Come off it, Ranma. What are you trying to pull?" Ryoga was understandably suspicious.

"How many martial artists can step out of a window without breaking the glass, Ryoga? I am Ranko when I'm female-my male aspect is Ranma the God of Martial Arts."

"Okay," said Ryoga suspiciously, "Prove it."

Ranko unfurled her wings and rose five inches into the air. Ryoga lost his balance and started to fall, only to be caught by invisible hands and returned to an upright position.

When he regained his composure Ryoga said, "All right, I'm convinced. What do you want with me?"

Ranko concealed her wings but remained floating. "I have influence over you because you're both a martial artist and a shape-shifter. I would like to offer you some gifts, if you choose to accept them. They won't make your life perfect, but they should help a great deal."

"What kind of gifts?" Ryoga was becoming interested.

"For your Jusenkyo curse, I propose a number of modifications. When you change the clothes you wear will go into storage, to return when you resume your normal form-no more embarrassing nakedness. You won't have water as a trigger anymore, but will be able to control the changes voluntarily. Your alternate forms will be able to talk..."

Ryoga interrupted. "Alternate forms? There'll be more than one?"

"I'd like to give you another body. Since you'll have voluntary control over your shape, you won't have to use it if you don't want it."

"I'm interested. What's the downside?"

"If you unfairly blame anyone else for your problems, you'll be a piglet for the next eight hours. You will have to spend at least 24 hours of any month in a nonhuman form. The Jusenkyo curses serve a purpose, and I don't want you to miss the benefits."

"Hah! What's so educational about being a walking lunch item?"

"Make that walking, talking lunch item, Hibiki. And I'm sorry, but I can't tell you what you'll gain from your curse." Ranko's tone became serious. "One more thing. It's time you told Akane the truth about P-chan. It's the honorable thing to do."

Ryoga considered this. "You're right. I should have owned up long ago, but I was afraid to. She's going to get angryand hate me forever."

"Akane isn't as temper-prone as she used to be. I'm trying to mellow her out."

"In that case it sounds like a good deal to me. I accept."

Ranko touched his forehead. Ryoga felt a weak jolt of magical energy. "Remember what it's like to be a pig," she suggested. Ranko gestured at the store window and it began to reflect like a mirror.

"Why is there a white crescent on my face?" asked the little black pig.

"It may come in handy if you ever visit Azabu Juuban," answered Ranko with a grin.

"With my luck I'll visit everywhere sooner or later," the pig mumbled.

Ranko bent over and touched the pig on his head. "I offer you this form, to use if you want it."

Ryoga stared at the mirror in shock. He was now a human-boar hybrid, a little taller than his human body. He had prominent fangs and wore a vest and arm bracers of a black scaly material, black shorts and matching slippers.

"I designed this just for you, Ryoga. You're now stronger and faster than you could ever be as a human, and those black dragon-skin clothes will protect you from anything short of a tactical nuke."

Ryoga was having trouble taking all this in. "Why?" he croaked.

"Two reasons. First, I'm the God of Martial Arts. Where am I going to find a decent sparring partner? Secondly, Akari will swoon with joy if she catches sight of this body. Remember, you don't have to use it if you don't want to."

Ryoga considered, then nodded. "I'll take it. Thank you, Ranko." He visualized his human form without being prompted and was not surprised when the change happened. "I could get used to this..."

"Now about your hereditary Hibiki wandering curse. I can't remove it completely because doing so would change you into somebody you're not. I'm a gentle goddess, Ryoga. I don't mess around with mortal karma any more than I have to. What I can do is make your wandering much less burdensome. First, if there's somewhere you really need to be, whether you know it or not, you'll be there after two steps. Second, if there's someplace you want to be, just concentrate on that location and follow the arrow."

"What arrow?" asked Ryoga.

"Think of your family home," suggested the goddess.

After a moment a glowing arrow, visible only to Ryoga, appeared floating in front of him.

"Oh, this arrow." He reached out to touch it, but his hand passed harmlessly through it. Ryoga raised an eyebrow much like Spock would do. "Interesting."

"I hope you like it," Ranko said. "It's hereditary if you want to be."

Ryoga began to weep tears of joy. "Of course. I love it. Why are you being so good to me?"

"Ranma, because of you I've seen hell," the goddess quoted in Ryoga's own voice. "I finally have the power to properly make amends. Besides, I'm being nice to everybody whenever possible. Aren't goddesses supposed to be good people?"

Ryoga nodded mutely, overcome with emotion.

"Goodbye, old friend. I'll see you around sometime." Ranko disappeared in flash of golden light.

Ryoga took two steps and was gone.


Queen Betamax held court for her three generals in her dark, dank, and dreary throne room. She stood on the dais to avoid the inch-thick swamp water that covered the floor. This might not have been the swankest of citadels, but it was secure and affordable-qualities the unfortunate queen needed in her home base. The ugly throne behind her was a little too large for her comfort, but then it had been built for a nonhuman tyrant long ago. Like everything else here, it wasn't elegant but it served its purpose.

The three generals stood at attention before her wearing waterproof footwear, of course. They were garbed in snazzy secondhand military attire left over from a dozen long-ago wars.

The queen addressed them. "Our 'trial balloon' was a complete success - our Senshi-proof spells work. Now we must get rid of those pesky Senshi before our plan for world conquest can go forwards. You have all been making preparations for that effort. Are any of you ready?"

The three generals waved their hands excitedly and called out, "Yes, my queen," "Choose me, Choose me." "I'm ready and willing." They were behaving like school children trying to get called on by the teacher because for once they knew the answer.

Queen Betamax selected her favorite. "General VHS, what have you prepared?"

General VHS puffed out her chest with pride. "I have an army of a thousand faceless minions. We will overwhelm the senshi with our sheer numbers."

The queen gave a cruel smile. "Very well, you may begin as soon as you are ready."

General VHS teleported away in a cloud of small flakes of brown magnetic oxide. The queen laughed. Echos of evil villain laugh #16 filled the throne room as the other generals departed.


Kamisama watched the doings of his newest deity with interest. Turning to Freya, He said, "That suggestion of yours is working out surprisingly well. The kid's a fast learner, endlessly creative, and never boring. Did you see how he handled that demon?"

Freya looked pleased. "It's only beginning," she reminded Him.


Shampoo-neko was taking a leisurely stroll through the streets of Azabu Juuban. Her tail was held high and her body language said, "I'm a cat and I can go wherever I want." She remembered a remark Ranko had made in passing, and was curious to find out why a crescent mark would be significant in this neighborhood but not in her own. Her curiosity was soon to be answered.

She was passing in front of an alleyway between two shops when she heard a feline-sounding voice say, "Artemis, you had better get over here. I think there's another mao here." Shampoo had already glanced into the alley and not seen anyone. Now she looked again and noticed a black cat lurking in a dark shadow. On closer inspection she saw that the black cat had a moon-shaped symbol on her forehead.

The two cats spoke simultaneously. "Did I hear you talk?" asked Shampoo. "Are you a Moon Cat too?" Luna asked. They stopped and stared at each other in surprise.

In a moment they were joined by a white cat with (all together now) a moon crescent symbol on its face.

"Artemis, this strange cat has a lunar mark and she can talk," said the black cat excitedly, "but I don't remember seeing a purple cat in the Moon Kingdom."

Artemis turned to Shampoo and politely introduced himself. "Hello, I am Artemis and my companion is Luna. We are advisors from the court of the Moon Kingdom. Are you a Moon Cat?"

"I am Xian Pu, an amazon warrior of the Joketsuzoku, but most people here call me Shampoo. I know nothing of the Moon Kingdom."

"But you have a crescent mark like ours and you can talk," said Luna, belaboring the obvious. "What else could you be but a Moon Cat?"

"I am normally a human. I was cursed to turn into a cat as punishment for a dishonorable failure. Recently, my patron blessed me with the power of speech and the moon-shaped marking. She said a talking cat would need such a mark in Azabu Juuban."

"So you are a human with magical enchantments which make you appear to be one of us?" Luna asked.

"Perhaps I really am one of you, but just don't know it. Tell me, what does a Moon Cat do?" answered Shampoo.

Before the other cats could answer, they heard distant shouts and screams coming from the central shopping district.

"There's another battle, Artemis. We have to hurry," said Luna.

Shampoo shifted form and picked up the moon cats. "You're in a hurry to get to a big fight? Why didn't you ask?"

The citizens of Nerima and those of Azabu Juuban have seen many a strange event, and most have grown used to the unusual. Even in those jaded communities, the sight of an albino tiger running at 120 kilometers per hour on its hind legs while holding a screaming Moon Cat in each forepaw would be considered remarkable.

***


Author's apology:

For those of you too young to remember Popeye or Bluto, they first appeared in a 1932 comic strip, then named "Thimble Theater." In animated form, they survived at least until the 1960s. Google them sometime. The impulse to write them in here was too strong to resist.

Author's responses to reviews:

On Ranma being too smart :
In the cannon, Ranma often learns new martial arts techniques after seeing them performed only once. Also, he frequently invents novel techniques on the spur-of-the-moment, on-demand. I submit that a stupid person could not do those things! On the other hand, he is tragically miseducated thanks to Genma's malodorous upbringing. Because he has been taught that book learning is worthless, and because his grammar and pronunciation are primitive, everyone-including you, dear reader-overlooks how smart Ranma really is.

So why does he sleep in class all the time?
Not because he's not interested, but rather because he's bored. I think he's smart enough that he finds the pace of instruction to be too slow-there's no challenge in it. And we all know how Ranma responds to challenges.

Mike