by BKWillis

The conference began about as inauspiciously as anyone could

"Hey, look! It's Heathcliff!"

Number One allowed himself a slight smirk. Perhaps there were
a few laughs to be had from this meeting after all, judging by
the way that name made Catbert's fur stand up.

"No, Tyson. It's Garfield."

Number One's smirk promptly vanished at the sound of David's
voice. He had business to attend to with that boy, oh yes. He
gingerly touched the bandage on his head as he motioned the
WANKERs into the room.

"Boys, this is Number Five," he said, indicating the cat. "He'll
be in charge of handling your budget from now on, so I want you
to explain to him _all_ about how you went about buying that
'car'. And I use the term in its loosest sense."

Catbert gave him a questioning look. "Is there some irregularity
in the finances?" he asked.

"You be the judge of that, _boss_. You're in charge, so it's your
call." Number One seized David's arm in a painful grip and
shoved the protesting boy toward the door. "I have important
business with Daniel, here..." The two stepped outside, Number
One cracking his knuckles as they went, leaving the other three
WANKERs to make their explanations to the sadistic feline.


"Gggekkh... uggrrgghh... gggllaaahhk..."

David's eyes started to roll back in his head, and Number One
eased up the pressure on his neck just enough for him to get a
single, short breath, then resumed throttling him.

It was a fairly impressive sight, had there been any witnesses:
Number One held young David against the wall in a two-handed
grip, keeping a body half-again his own weight suspended a
good six inches off the ground.

"You utter little turd," the psychopathic Southerner spat. "What
in the name of God's grandmother were you doing? You almost
_killed_ me-- I mean, that girl!" He bounced David's skull off
the wall a couple of times.

"Hhhggkk... ukkkhh..." David was too busy asphyxiating to
form coherent sentences.

"Worthless bastard!" He shook the helpless boy like a rag doll.
"Bad enough that you nearly kill... that girl. But now you've
gone and ruined _my_ reputation by shooting the wrong person
and then runnning off like a scared rat!" Number One conven-
iently overlooked that it was his own plan that went awry to
begin with, but he wasn't much in the mood for an equitable
sharing of blame at the moment.

David's struggles subsided as everything began to fade out.

Number One let him slide down the wall and forced the pudgy
WANKER to his knees. One hand still locked around his throat,
Number One tilted the boy's face up with the other. "Give me
one single reason why I shouldn't wring your neck like a chicken's
for what you did over at the 'Round!"

Someone was watching over David Ogden that day. He was
about two seconds away from joining his ancestors in the Great
Dark Beyond, and managed to gasp out only a single croaking
word. As it happened, it was the only word that could have
conceivably saved his life.


Number One froze in mid-neck twist, his hands loosening their
death grip. David gratefully sucked in great lungfuls of air as
Number One knelt in front of him, an oddly intense look on his

"Did you say, 'crow'?" he asked. David nodded. "Tell me,"
Number One said with peculiar gentleness, "what did the crow
have to do with it?"

David told him.


"I don't think Bill the Cat was real pleased with what we told
him," Tyson muttered worriedly as he, Eric, and Darren stepped

"Really?" Darren asked in genuine puzzlement. "Why do you
say that?"

"It was kind of a clue when he coughed a hairball in your face."

"Huh. And I thought everything went rather well." Darren gave
a shrug that indicated his absolute inability to deal with reality
on any level.

"What do you think he meant when he said that about 'a fate
worse than death for the car dealer'?" Eric asked.

"Nothing to do with us, I'm sure," Darren answered. He stopped
walking abruptly, causing the others to bump into his back. "Hey.
What do you suppose _that's_ about?"

In front of them, next to the side wall of the building, David and
Number One were crouched down, deep in conversation. David
appeared to be rather shakily explaining something, while their
sometime boss listened with an increasingly wintry scowl on his

"You think David's about to get it?"

"Better him than us, Tyson," Eric replied with somewhat cowardly

The three watched, anxious to see if a good butt-kicking was in
the offing. It was therefore something of a surprise (and disap-
pointment) when Number One, instead of smacking young David
around in his usual fashion, simply nodded thoughtfully as the
boy finished his explanations. What was even more unexpected
was when he gave the boy a pat on the shoulder, a strangely
distracted look on his face.


"That's about what I figured, Desmond," Number One muttered

"That's David, sir."

"Whatever." Number One absently gave him a reassuring clap
on the shoulder, clearly deep in thought, and dark thoughts, at

David watched the other man's face out of the corner of his eye,
afraid to be caught looking at him. David Ogden may not have
been the sharpest knife in the drawer, but he was no fool when
it came to self-preservation, and the way Number One's jaw was
clenched and lips twisted denoted that violence was soon to come.

"So, umm, does that mean you aren't going to kill me, sir?" he
asked hopefully.

"What? No, no. Not today, anyway..."

Not completely reassuring, but a step in the right direction.
David allowed himself to relax a little. "So... can I go, now, sir?"

Number One was obviously focussed on something else, and
he just waved the boy off without looking at him. "Yeah. Take
off. No problem."

David gratefully got up and took a few steps, when something
brought him up short. He turned back to Number One, an uneasy
look in his eyes. "Uh, sir? Excuse me? One last thing...?"

"Yeah, what?" the other snapped, irritated at the distraction.

"I just wondered... That girl. You said I hurt her." David chewed
at his lip. "Is she... okay? I'd hate to think I, you know, hurt an
innocent person..."

Number One regarded him for a moment, almost as if seeing
him for the first time, then gave a quick nod. "She's all right,
kid," he replied softly, noting the obvious relief on the boy's
face. "Just a little banged-up and ornery, but just fine. Here."
Number One dug in his pocket and pulled out a $50 bill, which
he handed over. "Don't worry. You and Shemp, Larry, and Moe
go out and amuse yourselves. Go on. Get."

He watched as David fell in with his fellows and the foursome
piled into their hideous old car, then he scowled and stalked back
inside to deliver a little message.


Catbert was rubbing at his temples with a paw when Number
One slung the door open and stomped inside. "Where did you
manage to find such a gang of morons?" the cat asked with a
pained expression. Merely talking to them had left him with the
feline equivalent of a migraine, and how in the world Number
One could have been dumb enough to trust them with money
was a prominent question in his mind.

It did not help his mood, then, when Number One snatched him
up by the neck and brought him up to nose-to-nose contact.

"Where is Lucas?" the man growled.

"I don't really see how Number Six's whereabouts are any of your
concern, and I might remind you that I am your URK!" The cat
fell quiet as Number One clamped down hard on his neck.

"Tell me, or I'll kill you," Number One said simply.

It was the very plainness of the threat that convinced Catbert that
the man was serious. Usually, in their near-constant war of insults
and snarls, Number One would make references to tennis racquets
or violin strings or the multiplicity of methods by which a feline
might be skinned. This time, there was no mockery or one-
upmanship in the man's voice, just the plain fact of his words.

"Lucas is in the back, on the phone."


Lucas Buck held a mint julep in one hand and the telephone in
the other, sipping occasionally as he talked.

"Uh-huh. So there's nothing in your files that might clue us in
who these ADF weirdoes are?"

"Not a thing," said the man on the other end. "I've got some of
my agents asking around at the FBI and Justice Department to
see what they can turn up, but that's slow going. We aren't
exactly the most... _trusted_ government agency these days."
This last sounded a bit aggrieved, as if the reasons for this were
somehow mysterious.

"Let me know if anything turns up, Brother Twelve. Also, I'd
like to see about bringing some of your men in as backup, if you
can get away with it."

"Nobody will question my orders, Brother Six. I can send you a
couple of Tac Squads, an OV-10, whatever. The only problem
will be with making sure that they can keep their mouths shut,
but my men get better at that every day. We'll skip jurisdictional
issues by claiming it as a 'training liaison exercise', or some such
bullshit. We could even write it up as a special deputization to
the Trinity County Sheriff's Department." The voice sounded

The sound of footsteps drew Buck's attention. "Hold on a minute,
Twelve," he said into the phone. "I think there's about to be a
confrontation." He unhurriedly set aside the phone receiver and
let his free hand rest inside his coat, near his holster.

"Well howdy there, Trannie Oakley," he smarmed as Number One
strode into the room. "Always good to see my little switch-hitter.
Looks like you got a booboo on your noggin."

Number One paid the taunts no heed, but just walked up and
glared stolidly into the taller man's face for a long moment.
Lucas was expecting some sort of outburst, or possibly even
violence, but Number One just regarded him silently without
making any sort of move. This was mildly unnerving.

"Uh, something you need, Number One?"

"I just want to let you know something," the young man said at
last in a flat, toneless voice. "Someday soon, all this mess will be
over with, and everything will be back to normal. When it is, I
am going to personally drive a stake right through your fucking
heart." That said, he turned and calmly walked out.

Lucas watched him go, then picked the phone back up.

"Lucas? Lucas? Are you there? Lucas?" the man on the other
end repeated anxiously.

"Yeah, Dwight. No problem. I just had a visitor, was all. Our
little buddy. We may have to tend to him later."

"Ah. Is that why you were wanting some of my men on hand?"

"Partly, yes."

"Not a problem. I've already got a file on him. 'Dangerous militia
terrorist', and all that."

Lucas chuckled. "I see. You're setting it up to not only take him
out, but get yourself some good press for having done it."

"Bingo. ATF needs all of that we can get, these days..."


Catbert interposed himself, rather foolishly, between the quietly-
seething Number One and the office door.

"Number One," he began somberly, "I'm afraid I'm going to have
to give you a severe reprimand in your file for your--"

Without breaking stride, Number One punted the cat into the

"--behavior," Catbert weakly finished from the hole in the plaster
he was now imbedded in.

"Outta my way, furball. I've got a date to get ready for." With
that rather un-ominous declaration, he stalked out, slamming the
door hard enough to shake Catbert free. The cat, against the
generally-accepted wisdom, did not land on his feet, but on his
head, in a small pile of broken plaster.

Catbert coughed out a bit of plaster dust. "I... shall also be...
Oww... calling the ASPCA..."


"Don't be nervous, Adric. This is a nice girl you're going to
meet, not some violent loony."

"I know, Ryoko, I know." Adric sighed and ran the comb shakily
through his hair. "I just-- I've never been on a real date before."

"So, where are you taking her, Casanova?" Wesley chirped.

Adric shrugged. "I don't know. I thought I'd just see where
she wanted to go and--"

"Aaadrrrriiic," Ryoko groaned, "that is _not_ how a date works."

"It isn't?"

"No! You're the man. You're supposed to be in control of the

"I am?"

"Yes!" Ryoko fixed him with a weary stare. "You don't have
any idea where to take her?"

Before Adric could answer, Wesley pulled a small envelope out
of his pocket and handed it to him. "We expected something like
this," the Starfleet genius explained, "so we planned ahead. Your
itinerary is in there, along with expense money."

Adric eyed the envelope a little mistrustfully. "So, where am I
taking her?"



"You heard him. Now, about your clothes..."


"Why are we doing this again? We could be out having fun

David turned to fix Darren and the other two with a surprisingly
frosty stare. "This is business. And it's important to me." So
saying, he turned his attention back to watching This Time
Round's parking lot through his binoculars.

Darren drew back a little, slightly put off by such a show of real
backbone from David, who had thus far always seemed to lack
any traits that would mark him as a vertebrate animal. Still,
spine or not, this whole scene still seemed a waste of time.

"It's important to you that we hide in a drainage ditch?" Eric

"I'm watching for someone," David answered. "I'm just follow-
ing up on the assignment Number One had me carry out yester-
day." David liked being able to say that. It made him feel
important, which was something he almost never got to do. "If
you three don't want to be here, you can leave. I'll find my way
back alone."

"Suits me fine," Darren replied instantly. "Give me the money,
and we'll be on our way."

"That money was entrusted to _me_, Darren."

"Well, I'm the leader!"

"And _I_ am on special assignment from _your_ boss," David
shot back, neatly trumping his friend. He was actually starting
to like this chain-of-command business.

Darren sulked, unable to come up with a reply. Eric and Tyson
sulked as well, more or less just to have something to do.

Tyson sighed, bored with sulking after only a few seconds of it.
"What are you watching for, anyway?"

David started to explain, then bit the words back. Let 'em stew!
"That's classified information, Tyson."

"Classified?" his fellows chorussed.

David nodded, relishing the feeling of having something to hold
over their heads. "If I told you, I'd have to kill you."

Darren, Tyson, and Eric looked at one another, impressed.

"Was this what Number One was talking to you about outside?"
Eric whispered. Now that they were discussing classified opera-
tions, whispering seemed appropriate. Since they were on a
stakeout, it was anyway, but none of the four really realized that.

"You might say that." That wasn't completely untrue, David

"Did Number One say how long this 'assignment' would last?"
Darren asked. He didn't much care for David being one-up on
him like this.

"That's classified."

The four sat in silence, David never taking his eyes off the
parking lot.

"By the way," Tyson asked a few minutes later. "What happened
to Number One's head? He had a bandage on."

"That's classi--" David began automatically, then stopped and
scratched at his chins. "I don't know. I forgot to ask him."


In the branches of a nearby tree, two camouflaged figures looked
out from the concealing foliage and scrim netting, warily eyeing
the WANKERs.

"What do you think those idiots are up to?" Di asked.

Doug grimly replied, "Whatever it is, we'll put a stop to it."


A few trees over, a large crow watched the two ADF troopers,
somehow managing to look amused in spite of its immobile


Not too far away, a large, dark-haired man sat in his car, obser-
ving WANKERs, ADF, and crow alike on a laptop which was
tied in to a CIA surveillance satellite. Frowning, he sipped at his
mineral water and mumbled, "Bunch of amateurs."

He looked up to see a young woman walking toward him, a
hopeful expression on her face.

"Excuse me, sir," she stammered nervously, "but, aren't you
John Travolta?"

The man sighed. He was really coming to hate that question.


"Are you sure about this, Ryoko? I mean, _Nerima_? The
district voted 'Weirdest Place in Japan' for six years running?
The single most chaotic place this side of... well, here?" Adric
held the envelope as if it were covered in radioactive fire ants
with leprosy.

"Well, of course, Addy," the space pirate replied. "Think about
this. For one thing, you already know a bunch of people there,
people who aren't normally out for your blood. And the PLOT
hole that opens next to the Higurashi Shrine is just a short walk
from the 'Round, so you won't need a ride. From there, you can
go right to Ucchan's, and where could be a better place for you
to take her than there? The food's great, and you know Ukyou
will spatulate anybody who tries to bother you." Ryoko mimed
walloping someone with a two-handed battle spatula, managing
to swat Wes on the nose in the process.

"Ouch! Watch it, Cat-Eyes!" Wesley had, for whatever reason,
taken to calling Ryoko by the name Francois had tagged her with.

"Oops. Sorry, kid."

Resigned to his fate, Adric opened the envelope and flipped
through its contents. Hmm... "Hey! What are these places?
'Arasuji no Benri Theater'? 'Hankosha-san's Karaoke Barbecue'?
I've never heard of them."

Ryoko whapped him lightly. "Duh, Adric. What's a date without
a movie and some karaoke? We got you two tickets to the Arasuji
no Benri because it's just a couple of blocks from Ucchan's." She
traced the route on the little hand-drawn map Wesley had included.

Something about that seemed mildly worrisome to Adric. He
pointed to the map. "Isn't that a bit close to the Kuno Mansion?"

Wesley peered at the map for a moment, thinking, then shrugged.
"Kind of. What's your point?"

"My point is that a run-in with Kodachi or her idiot brother or --
God forbid -- the Principal, himself, would be just about the perfect
way to ruin a date. Unless, of course, Ember _enjoys_ being
poisoned, groped, or having her head shaved."

"Just relax, Addy. You worry too much." Ryoko poked him on
the nose. "Besides, what makes you think the Kunos or anyone
else will care about you being there? They all have other people
to obsess over."

"Because we're talking about _Nerima_, and that's just the kind
of thing that happens there..."


Number One stepped out of the taxi and paid the driver, too pre-
occupied to notice the way his eyes lingered on her legs as she
turned to walk up to This Time Round.

"Damn," she thought, "I knew I'd have to watch my back around
Five and Six, but I didn't think they'd try to knock me off. Sigh.
My life sucks. I've got the ADF out for my blood, my own people
plotting against me, a pair of panties crawling up my butt, and
Her Holiness doesn't even know I exist. One friend, that's all I
ask for. One person who gives a damn whether I live or die. Is
that so much? Oh, well. No use hoping for something that ain't
gonna happen..."



David adjusted the binoculars, bringing the image of the young
woman into better focus. That was her, all right. He hadn't really
gotten that close a look at her the day before, due to his 'distrac-
tion', but the hair and height were unmistakable.

Darren yanked the glasses out of his hand. "What are you scoping
out there, Davey? Whoa! Babeage! Who's she?"

Pawing unsuccessfully for the binoculars, David answered, "That's

"You don't know, do you?"

"Aheh heh..."

Tyson easily snagged the field glasses away from Darren and took
a look for himself. "Ooh. She's unquestionably... mammalian."

"Huh?" Eric asked, grabbing the binocs for himself.

"He means she's got big ol' hooters," Darren answered.

"Ah. So she does. Very nice."

And lo, there was much lusting.


Doug muttered to himself as he watched the activity in the ditch
below. "Just try something, idiots. It ain't gonna happen on my
watch, no sir..."

Diane just sighed, then suddenly stiffened as she felt a strange
crawly feeling between her shoulders. If she didn't know better,
she'd have sworn they were being watched. She looked around
unobtrusively, but the only thing nearby was a large crow that,
for some reason, seemed to be glaring hatefully toward the pub.


The man who wasn't John Travolta allowed himself a quick
smirk. It wasn't an attractive smirk by any stretch of the imagin-
ation. It was the sort of smirk you might see on the face of a
particularly nasty-minded nine-year-old as he contemplates an
anthill with a magnifying glass in one hand and a sack full of
firecrackers in the other.

"Scurry, little ants," he whispered as he watched on the screen.
"Hatch your little plots and fight your little battles and keep
each other occupied..."

He smirked again, and it was even nastier than before.


Number One scanned the crowded pub, looking for Adric's
familiar yellow-and-green outfit and not finding it. She quickly
quashed the mild disappointment this caused.

"Maybe idiot-boy forgot. That would be fine by me, to not have
to go through with this stupid project." All the same, she kept
looking, finally spotting the unmistakable blue-green mass of
Ryoko's hair across the room.

"Hey, Miss Ryoko," she called as she walked over, "have you
seen-- huh?" She stopped in her tracks as the young man sitting
across from Ryoko turned to her. "Adric sugar... is that you?"

"Heh. Hi, Ember," he replied, fidgetting.

"Whoa, he actually looks kind of normal," the half-girl thought.
Someone with a modicum of sense had evidently picked him out
some clothes and forced him at gunpoint to change out of his old
'banana-suit'. He now had on a simpler outfit of jeans, button-
down shirt, and a pair of shiny black engineer boots, which went
a long way toward making him look less like the Dork from Beyond
the Stars and more like an ordinary, if slightly clueless, teenager.

"You, ah, look really nice," he said after a mild poke from Ryoko.

"Thanks, sugar. So do you." Or at least better than you did...

He grinned, appearing to gain a little confidence. "Shall we?" he
asked, standing and sweeping an arm toward the door.


"Target sighted once more," David muttered. He'd heard that in
a movie somewhere, and it seemed appropriate.

"Who's that she's with?" Eric asked over his shoulder.

"Dunno. Can't tell yet. Some dark-haired kid."

The WANKERs watched from their improvised Observation Post
as the redhead in the short skirt and her escort walked toward a
small path that led away from the road to town, chatting amiably.
David focussed his glasses on the girl's face, getting his first clear
view of her. He noted with a slight twinge of conscience that she
had a small bandage on her temple, neatly obscured by the fall of
her hair. Shifting a bit, he turned to the young man, hoping he'd
turn his head a little more so he could see his face...

"Christ on a mo-ped! It's the Dweeb!"


In the tree, Doug gave a quiet but heartily satisfied laugh. "The
babe-magnet strikes again. I feel so _vindicated_!"

Diane sighed.


Wesley looked at Ryoko. "Well, he's really doing it. He's actually
on a date."

"Mm-hm," she replied, her eyes on the clock. "Don't you feel... I
don't know, kind of a sense of something, like it's the end of an
era, or something like that?"

"Paradigm shift is the concept you're looking for."

"Maybe." Ryoko shrugged. "I was trying for something less
corporate-buzzword sounding, but that'll do." She kept watching
the clock for a moment, then stretched and stood up. "Well, I
suppose that's enough of a head start. Let's get going, Trek-boy."

"Huh? Where are we going?"

"Duh. After Adric, of course. What kind of friends would we be
if we just left him to the winds of fate? Now c'mon, and let's go


"So, what do you suppose the deal is, here?"

"Hmmmmm..." Darren rubbed his chin, looking either very
thoughtful or like he was trying to wipe off a gravy stain. "Could
it be that maybe that girl is Adric's girlfriend?" he said at long

"Sacrilege!" declared Eric. "He's supposed to be trying to get
Our Lady."

"And she's too cute for him, anyway," David added.

"Not as cute as Her Holiness, though, riiight?" Tyson hissed

"I dunno..." David mumbled, not really thinking.

"Blasphemer!" shouted the other three, simultaneously walloping
the pudgy WANKER upside the head.

"Most Holy Executioner," Darren said gravely to Eric, "administer
the Punishment to this heretic, that he might rethink his error."
Wordlessly, the hulking enforcer stepped behind David and, with
a ferocious heave, hauled the waistband of the boy's underwear
up nearly to the back of his neck.

"Hggrrk!" explained David, as he promptly fell over and began
trying to _rectify_ the Atomic Wedgie to which he'd just been
subjected. The others continued their discussion.

"Anyway," resumed Eric, "what do we do about the little two-
timing creep?"

"Hang on a minute," Darren said in the tones of a man who has
just had a sudden revelation. "This is a _good_ thing. We don't
want him after Nyssa, right? So, Adric having a girlfriend, even
though it violates some Universal law, plays right into our hands,

"Hey, yeah! That's right!"

"I knew there was some reason we let you be leader! Good call!"


Catching a glimpse of movement, Darren took up the field glasses
that David was still too wedgified to use and trained them on the
pub. "Hey. It looks like somebody's following Adric. Some
geeky-looking kid and a chick with green hair." The squeaky
little wheels of Darren's brain began to twitch, eventually manag-
ing to actually turn a little. An observer with eyesight capable of
seeing into the metaphorical range would have noticed a tiny,
low-watt bulb flicker to dim life over his head as his mind made
the 'logical' connections.

"They must be evil-doers, out to ruin Adric's date! We must stop
them at all costs!"


Doug and Diane noted the increase in activity among the
WANKERs below them, and instantly became on-guard.

"What could they be up to?" Diane whispered.

"Let's wait and see," Doug replied, fingering the trigger of his
Uzi. "Aha! They're moving." Two sets of binoculars tracked
the foursome as they abruptly set off in the direction of the path
that led to the Nerima PLOT hole.

Doug's hand clenched, but fortunately the safety was on his Uzi,
otherwise a nearby crow would have been blown to pieces.
"They're after Adric," he hissed. "They must be out to ruin his
date! We must stop them at all costs!"

Unfortunately, by the time the pair had extricated themselves
from their camouflage net and climbed out of the tree, the
WANKERs were long since gone. Grimly, they set off for
Nerima in hot pursuit.


It was about the time the final group of Adric-chasers was setting
off down the path that a new group arrived at the 'Round.

"I really appreciate you giving me and the Loyal Crew a lift,

"Think nothing of it, Captain," the Fifth Doctor assured the burly
privateer. "It was the least we could do, after your timely rescue
of us on Delos."

"No problem, Doc, although in all honesty I'm not sure how
much rescuing you needed. Not with that berserk little cutey
of yours." Marlowe jerked a thumb at Nyssa, who was some-
what embarassedly listening to Sister Roxanne attempt to talk
her into joining the Church. "She managed to impress a Venjari,
and you know how hard _that_ is for a humanoid to do. And
I've never seen Roxy so taken with someone before." His beard
split in a toothy grin.

"Gods, yes, I was impressed!" Tharon the Venjari blurted. Most
of the bar patrons turned to look, not too used to the sight of
nine-foot tall, four-armed, silver-haired black giants. "Even if
the opposition was pretty sorry, for a mere child to reap the field
like that is the mark of a true warrior!" His four eyes glared into
the middle distance, and his voice became reverent. "When the
Soulblade is found and Army of Heroes assaults Heaven, I should
expect to see her right there in the first wave!"

The Ogron crewman grabbed his shoulder and shook him out of
his reverie. "Silver-hair not talk about religion," he admonished.
"Pierre not wanting to break up fight between silver-hair and
crazy nun again, yes?"

"Actually," the Doctor said sheepishly to the Captain, "she's not
a hero, she's just a homicidal maniac."

Marlowe shrugged imperturbably. "So are the Venjari. For that
matter, so are the Order of Saint Wanda-Sue, but don't tell Roxy
I said that. Birds of a feather."

Eventually, seating was obtained for the entire group of twenty,
largely due to Sister Roxanne's tossing a booth's worth of drunk
Peladonians down the cellar stairs. A moment later, Francois
came over to take their orders.

"Loony pirate people best not making trouble, or else," he growled
harshly. He had taken the precaution of tucking a meat cleaver
into his apron, and he made sure they all saw it.

Pierre the Ogron stared at him. "Francois? Is you?"

Francois blinked, thrown off his 'badass mode' for a moment.
"Yes, am Francois. Why you..." He let the question trail off,
cocking his shaggy head to one side. "Cousin Pierre?"

Grinning, the smaller Ogron walked over and punched Francois
in the stomach, hard enough to double him over. "Francois!" he
yelped happily. "Not seeing you for ages! How is?"

Francois straightened up, smiling wide enough to show all his
teeth, of which he had an impressive number. "Little Pierre!" he
exclaimed as he slugged his cousin on the jaw. "So good to see!
How Uncle Antoine and Auntie Bernadette?" The two Ogrons
wandered away, happily chattering about family and beating the
living Hell out of each other.

"I guess this means we have to order at the bar," said Kaye,
taking a moment from her non-stop mooning over Tegan.

The Doctor watched the Ogrons and shook his head. "French
names, but they act like bloody Scotsmen..."


With a soft 'pop', space closed behind the two travellers as they
stepped out of the swirling silver PLOT hole.

"So, this is the fabled Nerima?" Ember asked, looking around.

"Is it not what you expected?" asked Adric.

The redhead shrugged. "From all the stories about this place, I
expected something a little more... chaotic." Indeed, everything
seemed as placid and normal as one would expect in a well-kept
Japanese city. The sun was just beginning to sink below the
roofs of the prim little apartment blocks as children wandered
home from school, a street vendor sold noodles from his yattai
(food cart), and birds sang in the trees at the small shrine they
stood beside.

"Weelll..." Adric began with a nervous chuckle, "this is one of
the calmer parts of the district. Most of the _real_ weirdness
goes on closer to the High Schools or over near the Mishima
Heavy Industries building. Even so, this area sees its share of
strangeness. You'll notice that nobody seems particularly
alarmed at two foreigners suddenly appearing out of nowhere."

In fact, Ember had been wondering about that, and was about to
say so, when their attention was drawn by the sounds of a raging
argument just over their heads.

"Put me down, Inu-Yasha!" screamed a very pretty young girl at
the man who was carrying her. "What if someone sees me?"

"You think I like holding on to you, you ugly moron?" the man
shot back. "I'll put you down as soon as we get back through
the well!" The two whooshed past and into the shrine, still
yelling at one another.

Ember looked at Adric evenly. "That guy just now. Was it just
me, or was he flying?"

"He was."

"And did he have dog ears on top of his head?"

"He did."

"And was he carrying a schoolgirl in one hand and a rusty old
sword in the other?"

"He was."

The redhead smiled. "Just making sure. So, where to, sugar?"

"This way," Adric replied as they set off down the street. "The
place is called 'Ucchan's'. You _do_ like okonomiyaki, don't you?"

"Never had it, but if you say it's good, that's enough for me."

They walked on, quiet for a time as each was occupied with their
own thoughts.

Ember: "Expect weirdness. Have to remember that. Is that an
attack chopper up there? How close should I stand to Adric?
What if he tries to hold my hand? Sick. But I _am_ on a date
with him. Maybe he won't try. But what if he does? This place
is kind of nice, once you get used to it. I don't have any pockets
to stick my hands in, so he might try to hold one of them. Maybe
I can get some Pocky while we're here. Always wanted to try
that stuff. Who's that guy in the mask and cape, and why does
he have 'STRIKE' on the front of his shirt? It's sort of relaxing,
hanging around with somebody who doesn't want me dead. I
expected him to be twerpier-acting than this. I just hope he
doesn't try to hold my hand..."

Adric: "Must remember to expect weirdness. Is that an attack
chopper? I hope I'm not making her uncomfortable, standing
this close. Should I hold her hand, or something? I feel awk-
ward, so what else is new? She has pretty eyes. But, I think I
like green eyes better. No, I don't, either. I didn't think that.
Blue eyes are fine. And, there's nothing wrong with red hair,
either, so quit imagining it as brown! What's wrong with me?
Am I so screwed-up that I spend my first date with a gorgeous
girl thinking about somebody else? Don't answer that! Should
I try holding her hand? How do you know when to do stuff like
that, anyway...?"

At that moment, their thoughts were abruptly interrupted by a
figure in pink-and-white power armor being thrown through the
building they were next to. Most of the nearby pedestrians
merely stepped around the rubble, entirely too used to this sort
of thing.

"Excuse me!" hailed a second pink-armored person who came
trotting up to them. The two could just make out the MHI logo
beneath the dust and dents on the figure's chest. "Did you just
see a woman dressed like me go through here?"

Adric sighed, recognizing the voice. He pointed at the ruined
wall. "Arisa just got thrown through there, Kyouko."

The figure swept off its helmet, revealing the face of a harried-
looking young woman with pale brown hair. "Adric?" she asked.
"I'm sorry. I didn't recognize you at first." She gave him a weary
smile. "Sorry to rush off, but Arisa will be upset if I leave her
buried in the rubble for too long." She turned and dove into the
ruins, shouting, "Arisa! Where are you?"

"Well, that was interesting," Number One deadpanned as they

"It gets better," Adric replied with a bit of grim humor, when
they received another interruption in the form of a bicycle that
came shrieking to a stop right in front of them.

"Hi there, Adric-san!" squealed the magenta-haired teen on the
bike. She was extraordinarily cute and seemed to almost radiate
an aura of cheerfulness, dampened only slightly by the fact that
she looked as if she'd just spent the last two hours being shot at.
She patted a bit of soot out of her skirt. "How are you and your
friend doing?"

Adric grinned, the girl's good cheer being remarkably infectious.
"We're just fine, Nuku-san," he answered, returning her honorific
in kind. "This is my friend Ember Ashe. Ember, this is Atsuko

"Everyone calls me Nuku-Nuku," the girl replied as she shook
Ember's hand. "Can you help me, Adric-san?" she asked with a
cute little pout. "Nuku-Nuku was playing with Kyouko-san and
Arisa-san, and Arisa-san got flung somewhere down this street.
Nuku-Nuku needs to find them and tell them it's almost time for
my shift at work, so I can't play with them any more today."

Adric pointed down the block again. "Just around there. Look
for the smashed wall."

"Thank you, Adric-san! Nuku-Nuku hopes you two have fun
today! Byebye!" This last was yelled over her shoulder as she
took off at an utterly ridiculous speed on her bike.

"Why, Adric sugar, I had no idea you knew so many interesting

"I do spend a good bit of time here," Adric replied as they walked.
"Sometimes, it's nice to just be around people who aren't out for
my blood, you know?"

"Yeah," Number One answered, too softly for him to hear. "I'm
starting to realize that..."


Ryoko sighed happily as she and Wesley stepped out of the PLOT
hole. "Ah, it's good to be home, Wes!"

"But, you don't live in Nerima," he pointed out.

Ryoko gave him a 'quiet, you' look. "No, but it _is_ Japan and
it's not that far to the Masaki Shrine. Besides, Mihoshi and
Kiyone have an apartment here in the city, and that's like a home-

"Somehow, I can't quite think that Kiyone sees it that way..."

"Will you just lay off, already? When we go visit Federation
Space, you can color your perceptions however you like, but
for now, it's my turn, okay?"

"Whatever you say, Cat-eyes."

A little grouchily, the two set off in the direction of Ucchan's,
pausing for a moment to let two battered-looking women in pink
power-armor run past, yelling about "getting that android bimbo
if it was the last thing they did".

"Hey, Arisa!" Ryoko called out mockingly. "Nuku-Nuku kick
your butt again, or what?"

"Shut up!" screamed the taller, darker-haired woman. "No one
mocks the might of Mishima Heavy Industries and its Secretarial
Department! And no one better mock Arisa Mitamura, either!"
Unfortunately, the mighty Arisa Mitamura was too busy yelling
at Ryoko to watch where she was going, and ended up running
right into a lamp post. She keeled over, twitching slightly, as
Kyouko skidded to a stop and came trotting back to her side.
With a put-upon sigh, she leaned down and picked up her semi-
conscious cohort, heaving her across her shoulder like a sack of

"Poor Arisa gets a little over-enthused, sometimes," she said
apologetically as Wes and Ryoko came up.

Wesley drily replied, "That's one way to put it."

Kyouko smiled tiredly at them, then patted Arisa on the back.
"Come on, mighty Warrior Battle-Maiden," she told her partner,
"let's get you home and bandaged-up. We've got to be at the
office early tomorrow."

As they watched her walk away, Wes and Ryoko shook their

"You'd think," said Wes, "that after the Orbital Laser incident,
those two would have learned to get along with Nuku-Nuku, but

"Ah, I suspect it's just their way of letting off steam." Ryoko
nodded sagely. "After all, secretaries can be under a lot of stress."

"And you'd know this how, since you've never had a real job?"

"Wesley, what did we just talk about?"


"Welcome to Ucchan's Okonomiyaki! Oh, hi there Adchan!"
Ukyou Kuonji, owner and operator of the best darned okonomi-
yaki restaurant in Nerima, waved at the new arrivals from behind
the grill. "I've got the window table reserved for you, so have a
seat, and I'll be right there."

"He seems like a cool guy," Ember commented as they sat down.

"Um, Ukyou's a girl," Adric said nervously.

"You're kidding, right?" Number One stared at the chef for a
moment, mentally kicking herself for not watching more 'Ranma
1/2' as preparation for this. Ukyou was, or looked to be, a tallish
young man with his hair pulled back into a long ponytail and a
manner about his movements that just screamed 'martial artist'.
Although, come to think about it, he did have a sort of andro-
gynous look about his face.

"Not kidding. She dresses like a guy, but she's one-hundred-
percent girl, which is more than can be said for _some_ people,"
Adric said with a laugh.

Number One's heart started slam-dancing in her chest. "Ah,
meaning _what_, exactly?" she asked a little sickly.


In what was beginning to be a rather repetitive pattern, Darren,
Tyson, Eric, and David stepped out of the PLOT hole and onto
the sidewalk.

"What _is_ this place?" demanded Eric as he stared around at the
unfamiliar buildings.

"Hmmm..." Darren looked around at the shops, at the signs with
their strange lettering, at the people who were entirely too polite
and neat to be Americans, and the stripped gears of his brain
began another painful round of squeaking toward a conclusion.

Strange place + strange alphabet = foreign (not USA) country
Foreign country + polite and neat people = ?

The low-watt bulb made its metaphorical reappearance over
Darren's head.



"This place is obviously Toronto!" Darren was on a roll, now,
with all the pieces suddenly falling into place. "I bet Adric is
taking that girl to a hockey game, and those other two must be
terrorists plotting to hold the entire arena for ransom! We have
to stop them, now!"

"Where the Hell did _that_ come from?" demanded Tyson.

"Oh! I saw that movie!" David offered. "Didn't it have that Van
Damme guy in it?"

"Silence, knaves!" Darren roared. "Yours is not to reason why!
Yours is but to do the stuff I say to do! Now, to the hockey
arena!" Picking a direction at random, he led them off across the
street, in a direction that was almost completely not the one the
others had gone in.

They had just made it through the traffic and were starting down
the block, when a blood-chilling laugh rang out above and behind

"MWAHAHAHAHA! People like you must be born evil to
commit such heinous depravities upon this fair land!"

Standing right behind them was an enormous masked man, his
cape billowing dramatically behind him as he stood balanced
atop a speed-limit sign. The word 'STRIKE' was printed on his
chest, and he had a baseball bat hanging from his belt.

"'Anus depravities'?" questioned Eric. "Eeew! We aren't that

"'Heinous', not 'anus', you putz," Tyson growled.

"But, we aren't evildoers!" wailed Darren. "We're on our way to
_stop_ the evildoers."

"Um, just what evil did we do, anyway?" wondered David.

"Foul miscreants," snarled the caped loony, "did you think you
could evade the wrath of the Heavens? _I_ saw you! You dare
to sully this city with your _jaywalking_?! I, the amazing
Strikeman, will never permit this!"

"Jaywalking?" the WANKERs chorussed.

"Strikeman?" added Tyson a moment later.

Quivering with righteous fury, Strikeman thrust a musclebound
arm toward the street. "The lanes for crossing the streets are
clearly and properly marked at each intersection, where proper
signalling equipment ensures a safe and orderly passage through
traffic. This was done at great time and expense, a project that
took _years_ of hard labor by our dedicated public servants."
The arm swivelled around to point accusingly at Darren as the
vigilante's voice rose to a feverish pitch of indignation. "And
then you four make a _mockery_ of the system with your casual
disregard for the law! Well, the Heavens above may forgive you,
but I SHALL NOT! Taste the wrath of my Split-Fingered Fastball
of Justice!"

Darren screamed in fear as Strikeman sent a baseball scything
through the air toward him. The horsehide-covered weapon of
justice struck him in the chest, knocking him into the gutter.

"BWAHAHAHAHA! So shall all the spawn of evil fall before
the righteousness of Strikeman!" Three more fastballs hummed
through their deadly arcs, sending each of the WANKERs in
turn into the gutter. With a flourish, Strikeman leapt from the
sign, rope in hand to bind the four dazed and battered law-

He was just getting the rope around Eric's feet when the air was
split by the wail of police sirens. With a snarled curse, the base-
ball vigilante jumped onto his waiting motorcycle and tore off
down the street. Seconds later, a mini-patrol car braked to a halt
next to the incapacitated foursome, two angry-looking police-
women inside.

"Strikeman's work for sure, Natsumi," said the driver as the two
eyed the sprawled WANKERs.

"He can't be far, Miyuki," her partner replied. "Let's get after

"We're already out of our jurisdiction."

"When did we start caring about that?"

The driver shrugged. "Just pointing it out." With a roar, the
patrol car surged off in pursuit of Tokyo's Dork Knight of

"Urgh... terrorists..." Darren muttered weakly after the long-
gone police car. "Need to... warn cops..." Woozily, he looked
down at the baseball-shaped bruise on his chest. "Ouch..."

As he struggled to sit up, another mini-patrol car pulled up at the
curb, the two officers jumping out and running over to check on

"Oh, dear! Are you all right, sir?" Darren blinked up at the sight
of a lovely, statuesque blonde policewoman leaning over him,
her face a mask of worry. Even though she wasn't as beautiful as
the Most Holy Goddess, for a mere mortal, she was more than
enough to take Darren's breath away. "Do you need medical

Eric butted in before he could answer. "I think I need mouth-to-
mouth resuscitation," the bearded WANKER gasped, staring at
the vision of winsome loveliness above them.

"Oh, my, you do look a little breathless." The officer frowned
prettily in concern.

"I think we both are," said Darren with a nasty glare at his

Before they could push their luck any further, the other police
officer came around and slapped them on the backs as hard as
she could. The second cop was much shorter and wore glasses
that made her look sort of mischievously cute.

"There you go," she said to the two wheezing young men. "Now
you can breathe just fine."

The blonde officer smiled sunnily at her. "Thank you, Yoriko."
Turning back to the four Americans, she said with a snappy
salute, "I am Officer Futaba Aoi of the Bokuto Precinct. Can
you gentlemen tell me what happened here? This was the work
of Strikeman, wasn't it?"

Yoriko got a starry-eyed look. "Oh, Strikeman! He's so dashing
and heroic!"

Aoi coughed politely. "Ah, actually, Yoriko, he's a violent
menace to public safety, and we're supposed to arrest him,

Violent... menace... safety... The words connected with something
in Darren's brain. "The terrorists!" he blurted.

"Eh? What terrorists?" asked Yoriko.

"The ones that are going to take the ice-rink hostage and ruin
the dork's date!"

Aoi sighed and took out a notepad. "Okay, sir. Just calm down
and give us the details..."

Yoriko was already jumping into the car. "There's no time for
that!" she shouted. "This is awful! We need to call it in right

"Now, Yoriko, don't you think we should get some more informa-
tion before we go taking the word of a group of strangers on..."
Aoi wound down, since Yoriko was already shouting into the

"Mini-Pat Two to Bokuto Station! We have a report of an
imminent terrorist attack on a Nerima skating rink. Suspects are,
uh..." She called out the window to Darren, "Who are the
suspects, anyway?"

"A guy and a girl, kind of weird-looking!"

"Suspects are described as a strange-looking male and female,"
Yoriko babbled excitedly. "They are also heavily armed and
extremely dangerous!"

Aoi's head shook sadly back and forth. If there was anything
Yoriko was known for, it was her near-legendary ability to jump
to conclusions.


"I wish Ryoko or Wesley had told us where Adric was going,"
groused Diane as she and Doug exited the PLOT hole.

"Well, I think he usually hangs out at Ucchan's Okonomiyaki
when he's in Nerima, so we should have a good chance of catch-
ing up to him there. With any luck, we'll overtake and intercept
the WANKERs on the way, then we can just shadow Adric and
protect him for the rest of the evening."

Diane nodded. "Good plan, Doug. If we move quick enough, we
should have everything under control. So, which way do we go?"

"I... don't really know," Doug replied a little sheepishly. Catching
his partner's pained look, he explained, "I know that's where he
goes, but I don't know where the place actually is."

Diane considered this. "Okay, fine. Logically, this place can't
be too far from here, so we should be able to get directions from
the locals, right? All we have to do is ask."

"Right, and I think I see just who to ask." Doug pointed down
the street to their right, where a police car sat at the curb. "After
all, cops always know where to find places to eat, don't they?"


"Do you mind repeating that, Yoriko?" came a slightly exasperated
voice over the radio.

"Terrorists, I said!" the policewoman shouted back. "On their
way to attack the skating rink!"

"And this information comes from where?" the dispatcher asked.

"From these four guys that we, uh, found in the gutter."

The sound of a long sigh came through the speaker. "Yoriko, let
me speak to Aoi, please."

The blonde took up the microphone, looking a little uneasy.
"Aoi here. Go ahead, Bokuto Station."

"First, Aoi, what in the world is Yoriko babbling about? Second,
what are you doing in Nerima, anyway?"

"Well, see, we were chasing Strikeman, and we found these young
men that he'd beaten up. When we stopped to help them, they
told us about the terrorists."

"Uh-huh. Okay, Aoi. You're a cool, level-headed police officer,
a respected professional. So, I want you tell me, in your opinion,
do you think there's anything to this, or is it a load of crap?"

Aoi's lips twisted in an uncharacteristic grimace. It would hurt
Yoriko's feelings for her warning to be contradicted, but in all
honesty, these four looked like the last people on earth that you
could apply the term 'reliable sources' to. They hadn't even taken
their names yet, and for all they knew, they could be a band of
escaped mental patients. "I'd have to say..."

"Excuse us, officers, but could you direct us to a place called
Ucchan's Okonomiyaki?"

Aoi looked up, eyes widening at the approach of a man and
woman dressed in camouflage uniforms and carrying submach-

"I know that voice," Darren said, peeking up over the fender of
the patrol car. "AAH! You!" he shrieked in panic as he caught
sight of the two ADF troopers.

"Aha! It's them!" Doug shouted gleefully, reaching for his Uzi.

"No, Doug! Don't!" Diane was a little quicker on the uptake,
and had determined that whipping out guns and pointing them
in the direction of policemen was seldom a good idea.

"Huh, wha--? Oh, crap!" Doug realized what he was doing just
as the short cop dove for cover, yelling, "Everybody down! He's
got a gun!"

Aoi sank down into the relative safety of the mini-pat, clawing
for the siren switch with one hand and keying down the mike
with the other. "Bokuto! We have two armed terrorists
attacking us! Male and female, with submachineguns! Send
backup immediately, please! They have us pinned down east of
the Higurashi Shrine!"

"Well," said Diane conversationally, "I'd say this just about


As Officer Futaba Aoi's distress call went out to the Bokuto
Precinct House, calling in dozens of police cars and elite 'white
bike' motorcycle patrolmen from that area, it was also picked up
on the scanners at the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Headquarters.

Inspector Zenigata kicked away from his desk, snatching up his
revolver and trenchcoat in one movement. "It's them!" he
shouted. "This must be a plot of Lupin's, to rob the ice rink
while his gang creates a diversion!"

As policemen swarmed out the doors, one of Zenigata's subord-
inates asked, "Are you certain, Inspector?"

"Of course, you idiot!" the lantern-jawed cop yelled. "Man and
woman with automatic weapons, who could that be but Daisuke
Jigen and Fujiko Mine? Don't you youngsters know _anything_?
And wherever those two are, Lupin is always right behind!"

As Zenigata bustled into his car, his driver thrust a computer
printout under his nose. "Inspector, I had the clerks run a quick
check, and the only ice rink in Nerima that has an event today is
the one at Kolhotz High School."

"Then that's where we'll go! The local cops should be able to
handle Lupin's henchmen, while we grab the man himself at

With a roar of engines, some fifteen carloads of Tokyo Metro's
finest set off to mete out some justice.


"Um, just what do you mean by that, sugar?" Number One was
annoyed to find herself in a near-panic on the inside. Dammit,
he never panicked when he was a _guy_! Just in this stupid,
cursed, hormone-addled _girl's_ body. Unfortunately, all the
self-directed anger in the world couldn't alter the fact that her
heart was doing things in her chest that would make a cardiologist
gibber and call for his Mommy.

"Oh, just that some of the prettiest girls you meet around here are
actually guys," Adric said nonchalantly.

"Jesus on a rocket-sled!" thought Number One. "Does he _know_?
Can he tell I'm not a real girl? How? Damndamndamndamn..."
Thumpthump-THUMP-thumpittyTHUMP-thumpwhump went her
heart in the meantime.

"For instance," he went on, "there's a certain girl in this very room
who is most definitely not what she appears to be..."

Number One swallowed hard, trying to keep her smile from slip-
ping. THUMP-thumpTHUMP-thumpittyTHADUMP-THUMP-

"Hey, 'Natsu! Watch the grill while I get Adchan's order, willya?"
hollered the androgynous chef.

"At once, Ukyou-sama," a beautiful, kimono-clad waitress answer-
ed, bowing over her serving-platter.

Adric nodded slightly in the girl's direction as she took Ukyou's
place at the grill. "You'd never guess Konatsu there is really a
man, would you?"


Ukyou frowned worriedly as she came over to their table. "Hey,
Adchan, is your friend all right? She looks a little woozy."


"Oh, don't they just look too cute, Wesley?"

Ryoko and Wes stood under the awning of a small antique shop,
watching Adric and Ember through the window of Ucchan's just
across the road. The space pirate was smiling a bit wistfully at
the sight of the two might-be-sort-of-kind-of-possibly lovers
enjoying their meal, while Wes just looked irritated.

"I don't know about 'cute'," he muttered, "but they _do_ look fed,
which is a lot more than I do right now." His stomach gurgled in
surly agreement, peeved at the sight of so much delicious okono-
miyaki just out of reach.

"Eh?" Ryoko asked distractedly.

"I'm _hungry_, Ryoko." Wesley manfully kept most of the whine
out of his voice. "I'd just about murder for a shrimp okonomiyaki
right now... Mmm, yeah... shrimp..."

"Oh no you don't!" Ryoko collared him as he stepped off the curb,
caught up in visions of an Ucchan's Super Deluxe Shrimp Special.
"They aren't to know we're here, Crusher," she scolded. "Think
how embarassed Addy would be if we interrupted his romantic

"Think how embarassed he'd be if I chew my own leg off," Wesley
shot back.

"Fine, fine." Ryoko threw up her hands in defeat. "Go get some-
thing to eat, but get it from someplace else, okay? And make it
_quick_." She huffily settled back in to watch the happy couple.

Annoyed at her bossiness, Wes couldn't quite resist a parting shot.
With an elaborate bow, he intoned, "It shall be as you say, Princess
Aeka," then turned on his heel and stalked off.

"Yeah, yeah," Ryoko muttered absently, then stiffened. "Hey!"
she shouted after him. "What did you just call me?"


Meanwhile, back at the 'Round...

The pub shook to the roar of the Loyal Crew strutting their funky
stuff. After three months in space with only each other for com-
pany, they were understandably frisky, and it showed.

Pierre the Ogron had perched his massive body on one end of the
bar, from which point he could keep up a running chatter with
Francois as the two reminisced about their childhood together
and occasionally hit each other in the head. Tharon had discovered
the jukebox and was playing Iron Maiden songs over and over
and over, bellowing along in something that was almost harmony
in between taking bites out of the side of raw beef he'd ordered.
Kaye Donegan and three or four male crewmen were all pestering
Tegan to dance with them, periodically coming to blows with
each other. Crewman Johnson had already given up on her and
had shifted his attentions to Zoe, with the result that he was now
outside getting the crap pounded out of him by Jamie. Several
others had appropriated the dartboard, which had become a
target for thrown cutlery, darts being deemed 'too girly', while
still others had started a mosh pit with a group of Thal head-

Chris Cwej was sulking a little. Since Fitz was off annoying
Compassion somewhere, there was no one to talk to, and he was
getting a bit bored. He'd already tried putting the moves on the
scar-faced privateer girl, Kaye, but she'd made it clear that her
interests lay solely with her own kind. ("Sorry, bud. I'm strong
enough for a man, but made for a woman.") He briefly considered
trying to chat up that pretty-but-weird nun, but discarded the
notion as too bent even for him. Ah, well, maybe he'd just turn
in early tonight...

Chris was headed for the door when he felt a dainty hand on his

"Hey," said a slightly whiskey-fuzzed but definitely female voice.
"Where you goin'? The party's just kickin' into gear. Why don't
you stay and keep me amused, huh?"

Chris turned around, ready to turn on the charm. "Well, of course
I couldn't refuse a..." He tapered off as he found himself staring
into the reptilian face of Ellie, the Draconian engineering officer
of the Loyal Crew. She slipped her hands over his chest and
grinned lopsidedly at him.

"You're pretty cute for a Monkey-boy," she said, giving Chris a
faceful of whiskey-breath. She tugged him toward the dance
floor. "C'mon, little monkey, let's have fun. You know what
they say: Once you try Drac, you never go back!"

Chris started to protest, then just shrugged and followed. "Ah,
sure, what the Hell? Let's get funky."


Doug and Diane peeked out of the alley mouth, ducking back
into the shadows as a trio of police cars, two from Nerima and
one from Bokuto, swept past.

Doug sagged against the wall and blew out the breath he'd been
holding. "Damn. Looks like we'll have to keep our heads down
for awhile, yet." He pounded a fist. "Curse those WANKERs!
If it wasn't for them... Aaaarrrgh!"

Diane nodded in morose agreement. "And the worst part is, we
can't stop them from going after Adric, now."

Her partner clenched his jaw and stiffened, straightening to his
full height and quivering with newfound resolve. "The Hell
we can't," he spat. "Priorities are priorities, after all. We've
faced worse than this before, right? I say, enough of this timid
skulking! We're the ADF! Boldness is our middle name--"

"Actually, 'Defense' is our middle name," Di corrected.

"--and danger is our hobby! We risk all to gain all! We play
through the pain! We give 110 percent!"

Diane made a mental note to not let Doug listen to college foot-
ball coaches anymore. "Meaning what, Fearless Leader?" she

"Meaning we get off our butts and _do_ something," he declared.
"So what if we face overwhelming odds and insurmountable
obstacles? We follow the path of Adric, we're used to having our
backs to the wall. Facing utter, catastrophic ruin is nothing new
to _us_, of all people!"

"What about facing jail in a foreign country?"

"Pish-tosh." Doug waved that off. "Are we men, or are we mice?"

"Actually, I'm a girl, so I'm not either one..."

"Diane," Doug hissed out of the corner of his mouth, "you aren't
making this any easier."

"Oh, right, sorry." The blonde ADFer settled her Uzi in place and
fell in behind Doug. "Where to, then?"

"We set out boldly, seeking trouble!" So saying, Doug stepped out
into the street. Then stepped back in as another police patrol drove
by. "We set out boldly, through the alleys," he modified, "seeking

As the two slipped off down the darkened alleyway, Diane mum-
bled, "And I just bet we find it, too..."


"You were right, Adric sugar," Ember said as she fumbled another
bite of okonomiyaki up with her chopsticks. "This stuff really is
good. Kind of like a pizza, or an omelet, maybe." She growled a
little in frustration as the morsel slipped out of her grasp for the
second time. "It's just hard to hang onto..."

Adric looked up from his own plate, which was already nearly
empty. Number One smirked inwardly, thinking that _some_
things sure never changed. "Oh, no wonder," Adric said. "You
aren't holding your chopsticks quite right. Use them like this."
He held up his own, demonstrating.

"Like this?" she asked, trying it.

"Not quite. Your fingers aren't... Here, hold out your hand."
She did so, and he shifted the chopsticks a little, then moved
her fingers to the appropriate positions. "There," he smiled,
"just like that."

Number One was staring at her hand in mild shock. Adric was
touching her. He had hold of her hand, exactly what she had
feared would happen. This was a new low, sitting in a restaurant
holding hands with Swamp Thing. Would she ever be able to
live this down?

("Actually, this is the second time he's done that. Plus, it isn't
really that unpleasant at all," said the traitorous little voice in the
back of her mind. "LALALALA I CAN'T HEAR YOU! LALA-
LALALA!" replied the rest of her.)

Completely unaccountably, she felt herself blush.

"Umm, oh!" Adric had just realized that he was still touching
her fingers, and let go with a nervous laugh, blushing a little


Ryoko giggled happily at the scene inside Ucchan's. "Awww...
It's just like 'Lady and the Tramp'! I wish Wesley would hurry
back so he could see this, too."


"...with extra hot fudge, heavy on the peanuts, and hold the
strawberries, please."

"Right, sir, that'll be 400 yen."

Wes handed over a handful of coins and eagerly grabbed up
his Double-Scoop Banana-Split Sundae. He chuckled as he
carried it to the nearest table. When he was small, he'd always
wanted to have ice cream for supper, and now that he'd outgrown
the idea, he was doing it. Unfortunately, there wasn't a lot of
choice for places to eat on this block. Ryoko wouldn't let him
go in Ucchan's, and while the Cat Cafe was close by, he didn't
really feel like eating ramen or dealing with the shrivelled old
witch who ran the place. That pretty much left the Atama-Furiza
Ice Cream Parlor as the only place to go.

"Well, I haven't grown up _that_ much," he muttered, digging

"Let me have an octuple-scoop sundae, with butterscotch, choco-
late syrup, whipped cream, caramel, and a _bunch_ of cherries!"
sang out a very chipper female voice. Wes looked up to see who
would order something even more preposterously sweet than
what he had, and was startled to see one of the oddest-looking
girls he'd ever set eyes on. She was a few years younger than
he, with long dark hair tied back in twin ponytails and pale,
elegant features that looked vaguely Scandinavian. She had a
oval-shaped blue mark on her forehead, with a smaller mark on
each cheek, and for some reason was carrying a long steel mallet
strapped to her back. Even for Nerima, this was weird. However,
what really grabbed the young Starfleet Officer's attention and
held it was the book she was carrying tucked under her arm: the
_Star Trek TNG Technical Handbook_.

She caught him staring and responded with a disdainful sniff,
making a point of ignoring him. Oh, well, whatever. Wes
shrugged and went back to quietly scarfing down his ice cream.

A few minutes later, the silence of the near-empty parlor was
broken by the sound of a pained, "What?! Who designed this
stuff, a team of monkeys?" Wes looked over to see the girl
shovelling down ice cream with one hand while holding open
the book with the other, a rather disgusted look on her face.
She gave one particular page an angry swat. "This stuff is so
wrong, it's not even funny!" Curious, Wesley finished off his
sundae and went over to her.

"Excuse me, Miss. I couldn't help but notice your book, there,
and I was kind of wondering what it is that has you so angry..."

"It's this!" She held up a drawing of a typical warp-drive engine,
poking it as though the problem should be self-evident.

"Yes?" Wes prodded.

"Duh. Look at this mess. They're losing a full ten percent of
their power right here, by not using a reciprocal shunt." She
paused to gulp down a huge spoonful of ice cream. "And
then there's this stupid reactor design, here. Don't even get
me started on what all is wrong there. Of course, that all just
begs the question of why anybody'd want to use warp drives
in the first place, when you could build a wave-motion oscillation
engine with a lot less trouble and get way more power out of it."
She muttered something under her breath that sounded like
"stupid mortals".

Intriguing. "So, what would you do differently, then?"

"You really want to know?" she asked eagerly. At his nod, the
girl pulled a large piece of drafting paper and a pen from some-
where and began rapidly sketching out a design on it. "Here,
sit down and I'll show you what a _real_ starship drive should
look like."

He sat next to her, looking over her shoulder at the complex
diagram that was taking shape with almost unnatural speed. "By
the way," he said by way of introduction, "my name's Wesley

"I'm Skuld," she answered distractedly. "Goddess Second Class,
Limited Li--" She stopped herself and chuckled awkwardly. "I
mean, ah, I'm just Skuld."


Officer Aoi closed the notebook with a sigh. Taking statements
from these four Americans was about the most nerve-wracking
experience in recent memory, even for a person of Aoi's almost
glacial patience. It would almost have been easier dealing with
those two armed loonies that had run off.

"How can they think this is _Toronto_?!" Yoriko wailed from the
driver's seat. She held out a hand. "Look, Aoi. I'm shaking.
Even the Scooter Lady never got me as upset as these four. I
think I'd rather deal with the terrorists."

"I know, Yoriko. I know." Aoi leaned back in the passenger
seat, long legs stretched tiredly out the open door. "At least
we're finished getting their statements. With any luck, maybe
the Chief will let us leave them here."

"Unless they ask for protective custody," Yoriko pointed out.
The two cringed. "Well," she went on. "Might as well call in
now and find out. Cross your fingers, Aoi."


"Man, will they just hurry up and let us go?" Tyson demanded.
"We've told them everything already." He twitched impatiently,
scowling at the police car.

"Don't be like that, Tyson," Darren said placidly, not taking his
eyes off the leggy blonde cop. "We'll go when the lovely Officer
is finished with us. It's our duty as law-abiding guests in this
country, right?"

David cleared his throat. "Ah, you know, I was kind of wonder-
ing, if this is Toronto, why aren't there any Mounties around?"

"I see something worth mounting," Eric murmurred, eyes fixed
on Officer Aoi. Darren shot him a look that promised a slow and
complicated death.

"Guys," insisted Tyson, "we still have those two weirdos after
Adric to worry about. Remember?"

Darren jerked, startled. "Oh, yeah! The terrorists! We should
get after them, even if the cops are already on it. Let's go ask
the beauteous Officer if they need us anymore."

As the foursome walked over to the idling patrol car, Yoriko was
just putting up the radio mike. Seeing Aoi's legs outstretched,
they all jockeyed for a position to get the best view, elbowing and
shoving one another. Finally, Darren managed to trip Eric and
thus get himself in the best spot. Aoi's patient, professional
smile was looking pretty strained by this point.

"You four are free to go," Yoriko said before they could ask. "So
please return to... wherever it is you have to go, and have a nice
evening. Please."

"Ah, okay," replied Darren. "You have my phone number, right?
In case you need us, or something?"

"Oh, smooth," mumbled Tyson.

"Yes, yes. Thank you for your cooperation. We'll call you if we
need you."

Darren watched with some disappointment as Aoi swung those
long, luscious legs up into the car and closed the door. Eric,
meanwhile, had a much better and more interesting view from
the ground, as his eyes travelled up those smooth calves and
into the depths of the officer's skirt.

"You... _gentlemen_ have a safe evening," the blonde called as
they drove away.

"Wow, she's really something," Darren sighed, looking after

Eric stood up and brushed himself off, looking confused. "Hey,
guys," he asked, "do Canadian policewomen all wear boxer

"I wouldn't be surprised," Darren answered.

"Oh, okay." Eric looked relieved. "So, I guess that bulge in the
front of them was probably her gun, or something..."


"Hey, Ryoko! What's up?"

The space pirate cringed and slowly looked behind her. There,
leaning out of an open door, was a little girl, ten or so years old,
with long, spiky red hair and a peculiar gleam in her eyes. This
was somewhat odd, since there hadn't been a door in that spot
five seconds ago.

"Oh, not much," Ryoko replied too casually. "Just keeping an
eye out for someone."

"You're interfering in Adric's love life again, aren't you?"

Ryoko spluttered. "I am _not_... exactly. I'm just looking out for
him while he's on his date, is all."

Shaking her head, the girl stepped on out to get a better view
into the restaurant. "That's his date, huh? Cute. Reminds me of
Ranma-chan, or that Suzuki girl. Except that she doesn't have a
pigtail, of course."

"Ah... yeah. Was there something you wanted?" Ryoko eyed
the girl warily, especially now that she saw the nurse's uniform
she was wearing.

The redhead shrugged. "I just thought you might be interested
to know that Aeka and Sasami have gone off to a hot spring
resort with Mihoshi, so Tenchi's pretty much alone at the shrine
right now."

Ryoko gave the doorway a longing look. "Ooh, I hate to miss a
chance like this," she whined, "but I really need to stay here and
keep an eye on things, at least 'til Wesley gets back."

The little girl smiled dangerously. Suddenly, where she had
been standing was a much older, taller, more filled-out woman
with the same unruly red hair and piercing eyes. Where the
nurse's outfit had been baggily cute on the ten-year-old, it now
presented a much more risque appearance. "Very well, then,
Ryoko," she purred "You just do that. I think I'll go back and
see if Tenchi can help me in the lab..."

"Oh no you don't, Washu!" yelled Ryoko, zipping through the
doorway ahead of her. "You keep your hands off my Tenchi!"

Washu chuckled evilly, returning to her child-form as she
watched Ryoko's hasty exit. "Oh, my daughter," she sighed,
"you are _so_ easy to manipulate." She made her way
unhurriedly back through her doorway, pausing to give Ucchan's
one more look. "There you go, Adric," she chirped. "Enjoy
your privacy." She shut the door and a moment later, it was


With the okonomiyaki gone and bellies full, the time had arrived
for after-dinner small talk.

"Oh, I've had various professions, here and there," Ember said in
response to Adric's question. She was trying to keep her answers
fairly close to the truth, so they'd be easy to remember. "I've done
some factory work, some construction, and most recently I've
been what you might call a 'corporate troubleshooter'."

"Really? I have a hard time picturing you on a construction site."

"I'm stronger than I look."

"Oh." He let it go at that. "So, what about this 'troubleshooter'
business? What does that entail?"

She thought about how to answer that. "Well, let's say the com-
pany has a big project going on somewhere. Everything has to go
according to a set plan and schedule, so it's important that no
problems come up that might throw off the schedule or cause a
change in the plan. That's where I come in. I go in and look to
see what kinds of problems could come up, and then I make sure
that they get taken care of before they cause trouble." That had
to be the most sanitized job description any assassin had ever
come up with.

"Sounds interesting."

She laughed, thinking of the events of the past few weeks. "It's
seldom dull, I'll say that."

"Do you enjoy it?"

The question brought her up short. "_Do_ I enjoy it?" she
thought. "I used to, but here lately... Is it worth it? Is the
Cause as noble as I always thought it was? Crap, this no time
to worry about this!" But, she _was_ worried about it, and
now that Adric's question had been asked, she couldn't stop
thinking about it. She looked at him, and realized that he was
still waiting for an answer. "Well, I'm not--"

Fortunately -- or unfortunately, depending on how you looked
at it -- she was abruptly interrupted as a pair of strong arms
ensnared her from behind, scooping her into a tight embrace.

"Oh, my fiery-maned goddess! Surely the heavens smile upon
me to deliver such loveliness unto my bosom!" The voice was
rich, commanding, and coming from right next to her right ear
as her unseen captor nuzzled against her hair.

"I am going to be sick," she thought as she struggled to free
herself from the unwanted hug.

"Let her go, Kuno!" Adric yelled, leaping to his feet.

Instantly, Number One found herself swung to one side, now
pinned against her assailant's side by one arm. She was being
held by a tall, handsome young man dressed in the traditional
fighting garb of a kendoist. The young man's free hand held a
wooden practice sword -- a bokken -- which was being pointed
threateningly at the bridge of Adric's nose.

"Forsooth, young gaijin varlet," Kuno sneered, "you are being
exceedingly familiar with this maid, to whom my heart is bound
by love. Stand fast, then, and take your punishment for your
unwanted advances upon my lovely pig-tailed girl!"

Adric swallowed, clearly intimidated by the raving idiot's man-
ner, but he didn't back down. "That's _not_ the pig-tailed girl,
Kuno," he said. "Now, let her go."

"It isn't?" Kuno turned to look at Ember, who had just about
maneuvered one arm free to punch him with. "Ah, so the Fates
do have their sport with me, sending one who most resembles
my beloved to tempt my poor heart!" the idiot wailed. "And
yet, is there not yet beauty here, and the grace of Heaven upon
this lovely form?" He released her and bowed low. "I, Tatewaki
Kuno, the Blue Thunder of the Furinkan High School kendo
team, shall permit you to date with me! What say you, fair maid?"

"This," replied Ember as she landed a vicious right hook on his
jaw. To her amazement, the kendoist shook the blow off.

"She has the spirit of a tigress," he intoned, "to match her fair
form. Even as my other loves, Akane Tendou and the pig-tailed
girl, she is a woman of fiery heart! I must have you!" He lunged
for her--


--only to stop in mid-leap as an enormous spatula slammed down
on his skull.

"Kuno, you jackass!" shouted Ukyou as she brained him again.
"I told you about bothering the paying customers!" Astoundingly,
Kuno still didn't go down, although his wits, if he had any, were
clearly scrambled.

Ukyou contemptuously shoved him to the door, then drew back
her battle spatula like a baseball player getting ready to swing for
the bleachers. "Why don't you go pester the Cat Cafe for awhile?"
she grunted as she swatted the kendoist into a low trajectory
down the street.

"You okay, Adchan, Emchan?" The chef wiped her hands, a
look of pained disgust on her face. "Honestly, I think that
moron's head has gotten harder from all those beatings Ranchan
gives him." She pointed to the blade of her giant spatula, which
now sported a pair of shallow Kuno-head-shaped dents.

"I'll go along with that," Ember said, rubbing her sore knuckles.
"Cripes, I've seen some first-season 'Ranma 1/2', so I should've
been expecting that dork."

"Are you sure you're all right?" Adric asked.

"Oh, I'm fine, sugar," she reassured him. "It takes more than
being groped by a perverted dimwit to affect _me_."

At that moment, the front wall caved in.

"Like that, for instance," she said.

"What the Hell?!" blurted Adric as he and the two girls jumped
away from the falling debris.

As the dust settled around the large hole that now took up most
of the front wall of Ucchan's, a menacing figure strode through
the impromptu doorway, a large mace clenched in one hand and
a battered and unconscious Kuno in the other. Glaring icily at
the chef, she flung the kendoist's bruised body into a corner
booth, demolishing it (the booth, that is).

"Aiyaah! Why spatula girl knock stupid stick-boy into Cafe?
You trying to chase off customers?"

Number One took a moment to look over the new arrival. Hmm.
Chinese girl, built like an adolescent's fantasy, with long, thick,
purple hair and a waitress's apron with a picture of a cat on it.
Sifting throught her sketchy knowledge of the early 'Ranma 1/2'
episodes, she managed to put a name to the face. This would
have to be...

"Shampoo! What in God's name are you doing, knocking down
my restaurant?" Ukyou stomped over, spatula held up threaten-

Shampoo tossed her head disdainfully. "You have nerve to ask,
after throwing stick-boy through Cafe window? Spatula girl
cruising for bruising, you ask Shampoo."

"Bring it on, girly," Ukyou sneered back. "Anytime you feel up
to it."

"I think maybe we should get going," Adric said, turning to
Ember with a 'let's scram while we can' look on his face. The
two began to edge toward the door, having noticed that the few
other patrons had already headed for safer locales.

"Aiyaah! Nihao, dead boy," Shampoo chirped, noticing him for
the first time. "Shampoo not realize was you, 'til you talk. Who
this?" she asked, giving Ember a critical once-over. "Is dead
boy's girlfriend Shampoo hear about? She not look like violent
psycho nutjob."

Adric shuffled uneasily. "No, no. That's... someone else. This
is my friend, Ember. Ember, this is Shampoo of the Joketsuzoku

Shampoo returned Ember's smile and nod, but gave Adric a hard
look. "You is not two-timing, dead boy? In Amazon tribes, mans
what has two womans get dealt with, like this." She drew a
finger across her throat.

"Nonono! It's not like that--"

"ExCUSE me, Shampoo!" Ukyou shouted, tapping her foot

"Oh, right." Shampoo took up a combat-ready stance, then
looked back at Adric. "Dead boy and friend want to stay and
watch Shampoo demonstrate superiority of Amazon womans
when she thrash ugly spatula girl?"

"Hah!" yelled Ukyou. "In your dreams, maybe!"

"How spatula girl know that? Many nights, when Shampoo not
dreaming about husband, have dream where Shampoo defeat you
and violent pervert girl and crazy rose girl and shave all you
heads and make you sing teapot song."

"Less banter, more beating," the chef snarled as she took a vicious
swipe at the Amazon's head. Shampoo deflected the blow with
her mace and aimed a kick at her opponent's stomach, which was
barely avoided.

"Aiyaah!" Shampoo taunted as they began to trade blows in
earnest. "Shampoo can hear it -- oof -- now: 'Ukyou little teapot,
short, bald, and stout. Here is handle, here is spout.'" She sang
this last in a passable imitation of Ukyou's rustic Kansai accent.
Fuming, the chef attacked in a blizzard of spatula strikes, flour
bombs, and swear words, forcing Shampoo into a frantic defense
as spatula met mace in merciless combat.

"Die, Amazon bimbo!" CLANG!

"You die, crossdressing pervert girl!" SMACK!

"Airhead!" CLANG!

"Weakling!" WHUMP!

"We'll just show ourselves out," Adric called, backpedalling
out the door with Ember.

Konatsu the male waitress gave them a smile and wave as they
left. "Thank you, and come again," he called after them. Then,
with a sigh, he set out the 'closed' sign and began sweeping
rubble off the sidewalk as his employer and her rival continued
their discussion inside.

"Chinese slut!" KA-WHANG!

"Stupid tomboy!" SMASH!


As the party continued inside This Time Round, Tegan managed
to slip outside for a moment, unobserved.

"Rabbits!" she groaned. "I like being the center of attention as
much as anyone, but enough's enough." If it wasn't some half-
sloshed spacer trying to cop a feel, it was that girl with the scar
chatting her up, or the privateer helmsman (she never did know
his name) wanting to slow-dance.

"Isn't that the truth?" asked a tired voice from beside her.

"Eh? You're out here, too, Nyssa?"

The Trakenite nodded. "I had to get away for a bit. I mean, I'm
flattered that Sister Roxanne thinks I have so much talent, but
I've heard about how much the Church needs me until I could
just _scream_." In a much quieter voice, she muttered, "And
besides, he's not here, anyway..." The charm bracelet on her
wrist jingled as she toyed with it.

Tegan perked up slightly. Was that what it sounded like in her
young friend's voice?

"Tegan, sweetie! Are you out here?" Tegan cringed at the sound
of Kaye's voice from the doorway.

"Bloody Hell. I can't get a moment's peace, can I?"

Nyssa plucked at her sleeve. "Why don't we just get out of here
for a while?" she whispered. "Go get some supper, or something."

"Count me in. Any place in particular?"

"There's this place in Nerima I've heard a lot about..."


The man who was not in any way John Travolta scowled as the
screen of his laptop showed a pair of figures slipping off toward
the Nerima PLOT hole. If they went through, he wouldn't be
able to track them by satellite anymore. Should he try and keep
them from leaving? He considered for a moment, then discarded
the idea as unnecessary. There'd be less chance of giving any-
thing away if he just followed them on foot and conducted a
physical surveillance.


"...and these two cross-channel shunts provide power for the
shock cannons. You can have more than that, if you upsize the
firing chamber just forward of the turbine scroll, here."

Wesley looked at where Skuld was pointing among what seemed
like an acre of hand-drawn schematics and blueprints. "Wouldn't
you need to upsize the turbine, too, to avoid an excessive power

The girl brushed that aside. "Not with an oscillation engine this
size. I'm telling you, the power generation capacity is way beyond
any other kind of drive. You can tap it for shock cannons, pulse
guns, or whatever, and not get a significant drain."

"What about phasers?"

Skuld grimaced at him, her lips twisting (cutely, he noticed) to
one side. "Well, _of course_ phasers," she said, her tone that
of a person who'd just been asked if they thought the sun might
rise in the morning. "Phasers, masers, ion cannons, blasters,
T-ray guns, whatever. If you just wanted those instead of shock
cannons, the same shunts will work. The only thing that'll really
siphon off power is a wave-motion gun." From somewhere, an-
other piece of drafting paper was produced and laid on the table
amidst the twenty or so others already covering it and the two
next to it. "And that would tie in like this, to the fore-end of the
drive housing..."

Wesley watched, rapt, as the sheet began to fill up with yet
another super-complex diagram, the pen a blur in Skuld's deft
fingers. He shifted his gaze a little, and noted the way her eyes
crinkled as she worked, and the way she'd chew on her lip a
little as she drew out a particularly tough schematic. "Hey,"
he found himself saying, "you want some more ice cream? My

Was it his imagination, or did those blue marks on her face seem
to brighten just a little?

"You mean it?" she asked excitedly, bouncing childishly in her
seat. "Could I have a quadruple fudge ripple with chocolate
syrup and pecans?"

"Done." Man, this Skuld sure did know her machinery. She was
showing him things that were decades ahead of anything the
Federation had, and buying her some ice cream was the least he
could do to show his appreciation. Watching her smile at him,
he reflected that it was worth the price of an ice cream just to see
that expression. Maybe he'd just catch up to Ryoko later, at the


The WANKERs flitted silently amongst the shadows of the
gloomily-lit street, four whispering ghosts in the cloudy night.
With consummate stealth, they searched for their prey, prepared
to strike mercilessly and without warning to vanquish the forces
of Evil with the stunning ferocity of their irresistible assault.

Yeah, right.

Darren, David, Eric, and Tyson trudged down the sidewalk,
glumly scanning the unreadable signs on the surrounding build-
ings and occasionally calling out, "Yoo-hoo! Mr. Terrorist
Person! Yo!"

"Blast!" Darren swore. "They are using their diabolical clever-
ness to evade our dragnet!"

The others just looked at him.

"Well, they _are_!"

"You know," said Tyson pensively, "you'd think that a girl with
green hair would, you know, stand out in a crowd."

"Or we could just go to the ice rink," rumbled Eric.

"That's what we're _trying_ to do," Darren hissed back.

David rather timidly spoke up. "Um, we could ask somebody the
way to the rink. And if they've seen a green-haired girl and a
dorky-looking kid."

"Don't be naive, David," Darren sneered back. He scratched his
chin, pondering. "Hmmm... I know! Why don't we ask some-
body? We can get directions and find out if they've seen the

Eric and Tyson applauded their chief's brilliant perspicacity.

"Ice rink?" replied the food-cart vendor they asked a few minutes
later. "I guess the nearest is the one at Kolhotz High School,
about twenty blocks up, then go right and you can't miss it."

"Good deal. Thanks, mister." Darren gave the man a quick
salute. "Oh, by the way, you haven't by chance seen a green-
haired girl around here, have you?"

The old man nodded immediately. "Oh yes, certainly. She and
an odd-looking young man were sitting on a bench just a couple
of blocks up. I passed them a few minutes ago."

Darren grabbed the man's hand and pumped it heartily. "Sir,
you may have just helped to defeat the Forces of Evil! You
will go down in history as a true hero of WANKERdom!"
Turning to the others, he thrust an arm forward dramatically
and yelled, "For the honor of Our Lady, CHARGE!"

The food vendor just shook his head as he watched the four
go pounding up the street. "I swear, these otaku get weirder
every day..."


Doug and Di skirted the edge of the building, trying to keep out
of the glaring streetlights. The streets were still thick with upset-
looking cops, and they were spending so much time avoiding
arrest that they still hadn't been able to locate the okonomiyaki
restaurant. However, as Doug had said, facing certain, crushing
defeat on a regular basis was just part and parcel of a career in
the ADF.

"Damn," Diane hissed as she noticed a police cruiser prowling
the parking lot next to them. In a few more seconds, the car's
lights would sweep right across them.

Doug cast about for a place to hide, but there was not so much as
a shrub. But, wait. There was a door just a few feet away. To his
grateful relief, it turned out to be unlocked, and the two ADFers
were through it just as the police headlights played across the

What they didn't see, however, was a burly policeman in riot
gear watching them through night-vision goggles from beneath a
parked car. They didn't see him key up his radio, either, or hear
him quietly mutter, "Sentinel Four to Zenigata. We have two
suspicious individuals sneaking in through the skaters' entrance..."


"There they are!" shouted Darren. "Prepare to be righteously
smited, evil terrorists!" With much shaking of fists, the four
pelted up the street toward where a faintly goofy-looking teen-
ager and a girl with green hair stood looking in a store window.

Something bothered David about this, for some reason. For one
thing, although he hadn't gotten a very good look at the people
they were supposed to be after, he was pretty sure that the girl's
hair had been a different shade of green. For another, she hadn't
been wearing a tiger-striped bikini. Then again, perhaps he'd
been mistaken before.

The girl blinked at them in puzzlement, while the young man
gave a panicked yelp and would have run off but for the fact
that the girl had his arm in what looked like a death grip. "Dar-
ling," she asked, "do you know these people?"

Before he could answer, the WANKERs struck, plowing into the
couple like a halfwitted avalanche and knocking the two apart.
David and Tyson landed on the boy, who extricated himself from
under them with surprising agility. Meanwhile, Eric and Darren
landed atop the girl, pinning her to the ground.

Darren tried to shake his head to clear it, but found his movement
restricted. It was like there was something on either side of his
head, something sort of soft...

"You dare!?"

Darren shifted slightly, and found himself looking up into the
girl's infuriated face a few inches away, just visible between the
two tiger-striped mounds his head was lying between.


He found himself wondering why he hadn't noticed those two
little horns on her head before.


Darren felt the girl's hand on his head. Then he felt about 40,000
volts of electricity slam through his nervous system. Then he
passed out and didn't feel anything, which was probably for the best.

The girl's escort watched for a moment as she systematically
zapped each of the WANKERs in turn, then he turned and ran off
shouting, "Free at last!"

"Darling!" called the girl as she finished inflicting electric justice
on Tyson's huddled form. "Wait up! Don't you go chasing other
women!" Leaping lightly into the air, she soared off in pursuit.

Moments later, four grim-faced figures stepped out of the shad-
ows, gathering around the cluster of lightly charred WANKERs
in a frowning conclave. A neutral observer would have noted a
certain similarity of demeanor between the new arrivals and the
Knights-Errant Regiment.

"Scum," spat the largest of the new foursome as he kicked
Darren's unconscious form. "You dare defile the beauteous Lum
with your heathen touch?"

"What'll we do with 'em, Megane?" another asked, turning to a
solemn-looking young man with a ponytail and glasses.

"For causing Miss Lum distress, they'll have to be punished," he
replied in an ominous voice. "Let's give them 'The Treatment'..."


The crowd roared its approval as the last of the challengers sig-
nalled his surrender.

"And it's a clean sweep for the Golden Pair!" shouted the ecstatic
announcer. "Once again the team of Sanzenin and Shiratori
proves its dominance in the world of Martial-Arts Figure Skating!
Let's have a round of applause for Mikado Sanzenin and Azusa

The entire ice rink trembled to the thunder of the crowd's applause
as the local favorites took their bows. Sanzenin was a tall, suave,
vaguely feminine young man, who was sometimes referred to as
a 'pretty boy' by disparaging (and envious) male schoolmates,
while his partner was a bouncy, fair-haired girl of such sugary
cuteness that she could cause diabetes at twenty paces. Mikado
blew a kiss to his legion of female admirers, causing several to
faint on the spot, while Azusa's giggling pirouette raised a
chorus of howls from the enraptured males.

No one paid the bruised and battered challengers any mind as
they limped off the ice.

"But, wait! What is this? It looks like Sanzenin is calling for a
microphone!" The announcer, a member of the Azusa Fan Club,
was nearly delirious with fanboy euphoria. "What can this mean?"

The crowd grew silent as a microphone was brought onto the ice.
"Thank you, friends! I would just--"

Before Mikado could get any further, Azusa snatched the mike
from his hand. "It's so _cute_!" she squealed. "I'm going to take
it home and name it Jean-Louis!" As she skated off, her partner
sighed and called for another mike.

"As I was saying," he went on, "I would just like to thank all of you
here at Kolhotz High School for your support of the Golden Pair,
and I hope to repay that by bringing home the Tonya Harding Cup
when we go off to compete in Chicago next month." He paused to
let the fans cheer themselves silly. "But, before we go this evening,
we are going to make a special challenge. The Golden Pair will
take on any couple in this arena in a no-rules, no-holds-barred
match, with our title as the prize!" Again, the crowd cheered
itself hoarse at the prospect of seeing their favorites go all-out
against someone. No-rules matches were always more violent,
especially when fought by the likes of the Golden Pair.

"You heard him, Figure Skating fans!" cried the announcer.
"Mikado and Azusa will take on anyone, with their Champion-
ship Title on the line! Will there be any takers!?"

At that moment, a door opened near the back of the rink and two
people stepped nervously out onto the ice.


"Where the Hell are we?" Doug asked, blinded momentarily by
the sudden glare of the arena lights.

Diane shaded her eyes with her palm. "Looks like, I dunno, a
hockey rink, maybe?"

As their eyes began to adjust, they became aware of the huge
crowd watching them.

"And, it looks like we have a set of challengers!" wailed the ann-
ouncer. "And it certainly looks like they came prepared for a no-
rules match, all right!"

"Uh, what's going on, Di?" Doug asked nervously.

His partner shrugged. "How should I know? I got here the same
time you did." Both gulped as they felt hundreds of eyes upon

A tall, handsome teenager skated to a stop in front of Diane. He
gave Doug a casual glance, then smirked, dismissing him. "So,"
he purred in a smarmy voice, "you come to challenge the Golden
Pair of Martial-Arts Figure Skating, do you? Prepare yourselves,
then. You, sir, shall be my 815th, while you, dear lady, shall be
my 1500th. So says Mikado."

"What are you talking about?" Doug demanded.

"Simple. I have knocked out 814 opponents in competition, and
I have stolen the lips of 1,499 lovely damsels."

"Why would you want to steal lips?" Doug looked puzzled.

"I've _kissed_ them, you dolt! Sheesh! I'm going to beat you up
and kiss your partner, okay?!" With a roll of his eyes, he skated
over to a sickeningly cute girl who was petting a microphone for
some reason.

"Oh, yeah!?" Doug shouted back. "Well, I'd like to see you try

"Ooh, so would I," said Diane in an entirely different tone of

"BEGIN!" screamed the announcer.

"I'll show you, pretty boy!" Doug took a single step toward his
opponent, slipped on the ice, and fell flat. As he struggled up to
his knees, Mikado skated past him, casually kneeing him in the
side and knocking him back down.

"Why, you..." Doug snarled and yanked himself up to a sitting
position, where at least he could see what was going on.

"Oh, how cute! Azusa wants it!"

Before Doug could react, the girl zipped by him, snatching the
pin from one of the tear-gas grenades on his vest. She skated
away, cuddling the pin and cooing to it.

Cursing violently, Doug began trying to pry the hissing, sputter-
ing grenade off his chest, but it was too late. Within seconds,
he was at the center of a cloud of stinging smoke.

Some feet away, Mikado bent low over Diane's face, her body
held lightly in his left arm. "And now..." he whispered, then
brought his lips to her own.

There was a chorus of jealous moaning from the female half of
the audience.

"Mmmm... Not too bad, gorgeous," Diane husked as they parted
slightly. "Me want more."

"Alas, fair maiden, I must go now," Mikado said, releasing her.
Or trying to release her. As he let go, she flung her arms
around his neck and hung on.

"Oh, no you don't." She hooked a leg behind him, sending him
stumbling into a low tango-dancer's dip. As she brought her lips
to his, she growled, "Gimme some sugar, baby."

Doug, meanwhile, was being miserable in the tear-gas.


"Now!" shouted Inspector Zenigata as the blonde began to get
hot-and-heavy with the poofy skater. "Those two are part of
Lupin's gang! Arrest them!"

With a roar, two dozen Tokyo Metro officers poured onto the ice,
riot shields and billy clubs waving. Despite some slipping and
sliding, they managed to make their way to the crying, coughing
man in the tear-gas cloud and arrest him. Getting the blonde
woman into custody was more difficult, mainly because she had
to be pried off the figure skater with a crowbar.


Adric and Ember stood in front of the Arasuji no Benri Theater,
looking over the features.

"They're showing the new 'Doki Doki Kokoro' movie, if you
want to see that one," said Adric, hoping she wouldn't.

"'Throbbing Throbbing Heart'? Er, I'm not really much of a fan
of that one, sugar. What else have they got?"

"Whew," they both thought, each grateful the other didn't want
to see it.

Adric read down the list. He had spent enough time in the
TARDIS for its Universal-translation properties to have their
full effect, thus he, like most Companions, could not only speak
and understand most languages, but was able to read them, as
well. Number One, on the other hand, had picked up just the
carryover effects of taking up residence in the Outside, which
were just enough to translate most spoken words.

"Let's see... they've also got 'Invasion Defense Force Random
Letter: Myron's Revenge'.

"Already saw that one."

"Me, too. Martina Hopkins is one of my favorites. Hey! They've
got the new Leiji Matsumoto movie, '_Yamato_ Ragnarok'!" Ah,
what was he thinking? Girls didn't go in for guts-n-glory war

"Cool! Can we see that one? Please? I _love_ 'Yamato' movies!"

Then again...


"Pardon me, Miss."

The girl turned to face Nyssa and Tegan, a questioning look on
her face. She was maybe thirteen or fourteen, with tousled blonde
hair and a huge backpack on her shoulders. "Yes?" she asked.

"I was wondering if you might help us for a moment," Nyssa said.
"We've only just arrived here, and we're having a spot of trouble
finding the place we're looking for. Could you please tell us how
to get to Akie's Family Restaurant?"

"Why, of course," the girl replied brightly. "I was just heading
over there, myself, to meet someone. You can just follow me, if
you like."

"We'd really appreciate it, thanks." Tegan returned the girl's
friendly smile. "By the way, I'm Tegan Jovanka, and this is

"Pleased to meet you both. I'm Eimi Yoshikawa." She gave a
formal bow, the motion causing something in her pack to clatter
in an oddly familiar way.


With a degree of pushing and shoving and considerable shouting,
the police managed to get the two ADF troopers out through the
milling crowd and into the paddy wagon. They sat there, hand-
cuffed and helpless, Doug still teary-eyed and gagging, Diane
with a wistful look on her face.

"Well, well, well," gloated Inspector Zenigata as he looked them
over. "It looks like your little plan has miscarried, Lupin. Heh
heh heh."

"Umm, sir," said a uniformed officer. "This man doesn't really
look like Lupin, you know?"

"Of _course_ he doesn't!" Zenigata roared back, nearly blowing
the man's helmet off. "Lupin is a master of disguise! You don't
expect him to just wander around looking like himself, do you?"
The Inspector gave Doug a disappointed look. "Although, to
be honest, I'd have expected a better disguise than _this_. I mean,
look at that ratty ponytail. It's so obviously fake, it's pathetic.
Why, just look at how much superior Fujiko Mine's disguise is."
He cocked a thumb at Diane. "She has not only dyed her hair, but
has managed to reduce her height and bust size, as well."

This was not the Adric Defense Force's finest hour.


"Somehow, I wouldn't have figured you for a Matsumoto fan,

The pair sat in the middle of the slowly-filling theater. Since it
was still a while yet until showtime, they were carrying on a low

"Are you kidding? I grew up watching 'Star Blazers'. I knew
about Gamilons and wave-motion guns and Iscandar long before
I ever heard of Daleks or TARDISes or Gallifrey, sugar."

Adric chuckled a little at her obvious enthusiasm. "I just meant
that 'Space Battleship _Yamato_' doesn't seem like the sort of thing
most girls are interested in."

She blinked at him for a moment. "I'm not like most girls," she
said in an oddly flat tone.

"No, you aren't, are you?"

For some reason, there was a strangely tense silence.

"So," she said at last, "what makes _you_ a Matsumoto fan, sugar?
The cool machines? The weird technology?"

"Actually, no. It's--" He stopped himself. "You'll laugh if I tell

"No, I won't. Promise." She held up two fingers in something that
looked almost completely unlike the 'Scout's Honor' symbol.

"Weeeell..." He debated not telling her. It wasn't the sort of
thing he felt like he could tell to just anyone. But, she did promise
not to laugh. Maybe she just might understand, after all. "It's...
the heroes."

"The heroes?" She cocked her head, not quite getting it.

"It's... oh, this is silly." He stared straight ahead for a moment,
then went on. "It's like... all his heroes, Kodai in 'Yamato', or
Tetsuro in 'Galaxy Express 999', or Captain Harlock... They're
what I wish I was, what I always wanted to be. They're... they're
_heroes_. They're bigger than life. They always do the right
thing. They don't let things stand in their way. They don't let
their doubts get the best of them. They don't always win, but
they don't ever give up. They're _heroes_. They're... everything
I'm not, but wish I could be." This last came out as a mumble,
with Adric staring at his boots. He sighed heavily, then looked
over at her. "Stupid, isn't it?" he asked in a toneless voice.

She chewed at her lip for a moment, unable or unwilling to meet
his eyes. "No," she said. "I don't think it's stupid. Not at all.
You... aren't the only person who feels that way, I'm sure."

There was another silence, heavier than the one before.

This time, it was Adric who broke it. "So, how do you suppose
old Leiji's going to screw up 'Yamato' continuity in this one?"

Ember snorted a laugh, and the mood lightened a little. "The
way he's been going, I'd just about bet you either Harlock or
Maetel shows up in this one, just so he can snarl up 'Captain
Harlock' or 'Galaxy Express 999' continuity as well."

"Really?" Adric arched an eyebrow at her. "I'm betting he brings
Admiral Okita back from the dead. Again." He thought for a
second. "You know, I can relate to that, actually..."


"Well, here we are. Akie's Family Restaurant." Eimi shrugged
out of her backpack as Tegan and Nyssa eyed the place. It
seemed like a typical restaurant, but Nyssa's practiced eye
picked out the tell-tale signs of recently-patched bullet holes
around the front door, while several of the windows seemed
to have been very recently replaced.

"So, the food's supposed to be good here?" Tegan asked.

"Oh, it's delicious," chirped Eimi as she sorted through her pack.
"The staff leaves a bit to be desired, but it's really a good place to

Nyssa cleared her throat. "Ahem. Uh, someone hasn't been
doing a bit of shooting around the place, have they?"

"Oh, just me, the other day," Eimi replied. Straightening up
from her backpack, she held up an enormous gun which she
was just finishing putting together.

"That's why that clattering noise in your backpack sounded so
familiar," Nyssa said. "That's an Armalite XAR-18E, with atta-
ched M-203 grenade launcher, isn't it?"

"Mm-hm!" nodded Eimi happily.

"Nice. What are you shooting in it?"

"Winchester .223 armor-piercing, every third round a tracer."

Tegan eased away from both girls. "Just what are you planning
on doing with that, Eimi?" she asked nervously.

Eimi shrugged. "The same thing I always do. You two may
want to wait just a minute before you go inside." She closed her
eyes, took several deep breaths, then let out a long, witchy laugh
that made Tegan's skin crawl. When her eyes opened again,
Nyssa and Tegan could see that they were now glowing red.
Hefting the huge rifle, she stomped over to the door and kicked it

"Oh, Android NK-1124!" she yelled inside. "Come out and play!"
This was yelled around a grin that would have made Atilla the
Hun suggest therapy.

"Eimi-chan!" piped a cheerful voice. A split-second later, a
magenta-haired girl in a waitress's uniform barrelled into the little
maniac and caught her up in a flying tackle-hug, knocking her
into the parking lot.

"Good evening, Eimi-chan! You come to visit Nuku-Nuku at

Eimi was pinned beneath the older girl and was writhing and
struggling like a woman possessed, trying to bring her rifle up
to bear. "I'm here to kill you, NK-1124!" she screamed.

The waitress giggled and gave Eimi an affectionate swat on the
shoulder. "Oh, Eimi-chan, do you still want my body?"

Nyssa and Tegan shared a look.

"That's right!" Eimi shrieked. "I'm going to kill you and put my
superior brain in your body!"

Nuku-Nuku smiled and replied, "How? Nuku-Nuku's brain is
semi-organic, and yours is a purely electronic construct mated to
your SNK-98 chassis." She gave the trapped Eimi a playful poke
on the nose. "Papa-san could probably do it, but I kind of don't
think he would if you killed me. You never change, silly Eimi-
chan!" With that, she started tickling Eimi's ribs.

...tickling me! HAHAHAHAHA!" With a sudden heave, she
pitched the grinning waitress off of her and leapt up, rifle aimed
at Nuku-Nuku's midsection. "I'll worry about details later! First
things first, you obsolete model! Die!" The XAR-18E chattered
harshly as tracers streaked through the air toward Nuku-Nuku.

Who wasn't there anymore.

"Impressive," mumbled Tegan from behind a mailbox as she
watched the waitress do a high, arcing flip through the air,
coming down just behind Eimi. Before Eimi could turn, Nuku-
Nuku had the rifle by the barrel, pointing it straight up.

"Now, now, Eimi-chan," she admonished gently. "What have
we told you about playing with high-powered rifles when there's
people around?"

"I don't care! I'm a homicidal maniac, you idiot! I don't care
about anybody!" She struggled to twist the gun away, to
little avail.

"You aren't a homicidal maniac, Eimi-chan," Nuku-Nuku said,
giving her a pat on the head with her free hand. "You're just a
little high-strung sometimes. And Nuku-Nuku knows you care
about somebody else..."

"No, I don't!"

"Oh, really? What about Ryunosuke?"

Eimi's cheeks went red to match her eyes. "Never you mind
about that!" she screamed, kicking behind her.

A middle-aged man poked his head out the door, giving Eimi
a wary look. "Miss Natsume, is everything all right out here?"

"Just fine, sir!" Nuku-Nuku chirped happily. "Eimi-chan just
wants to play for a while. Is it okay if Nuku-Nuku takes a little
break to play with her?"

"You go right ahead, Miss Natsume," the man replied nervously.
"Just make sure you don't 'play' too close to the restaurant."

"Yes sir!" With that, she hefted the kicking, yelling girl and
flung her across the block, toward a small park, then went boun-
ding off after her, giggling the whole way.

"You know," Tegan mused as she and Nyssa went inside, "I keep
getting the weirdest feeling of deja-vu from that Eimi girl..."

"Oh, don't start,"said Nyssa crossly.


Across the street from Akie's, the man who really, seriously was
not John Travolta kept watch, sipping occasionally at a bottle of
mineral water.


"Actually, I'd have to say I like 'Galaxy Express 999' more than
any of his other works."

"More than 'Space Pirate Captain Harlock'?" Ember asked skept-

Adric nodded. "Believe it or not, yes. 'GE999', I think, has a
more varied storyline. I kind of like the more episodic style, with
all the parts linked by the common themes of Tetsuro's quest and
his growth into manhood."

"I can see why," Ember replied, then looked abruptly surprised at


"Well," she replied, "it's kind of like your own story, isn't it?"
She spoke slowly, as though the idea she was expressing was
so novel to her that she was having trouble accepting it. "A
young, orphaned kid sets off from home on a journey into the
Universe, accompanying a powerful, mysterious stranger who
always seems to know a lot more than she lets on."

"Hey, that does make sense. I always liked Tetsuro best of all,
because he's just a mixed-up, naive kid to begin with, like I was.
Although, I think Maetel was a better mentor for him than the
Doctor was for me. Prettier, at least." Adric grinned to show he
was mostly, but not entirely, joking.

Further conversation was cut off by the dimming of the lights as
the curtains opened and the projector began to roll. In the dark,
Adric missed the odd look his companion was giving him, almost
as though she were grappling with some inner difficulty that was
centered on him.


When they woke up, the WANKERs were in Hell.

Not that they realized this just yet, of course.

"Ugh. This place is a dump." Darren wrinkled his nose in dis-

"Can I ask a question, guys?" That was David.

"What's on your mind?" Darren replied.

"Anybody have any ideas where we are or why we're tied to these

"Perhaps I can answer that," a dangerous voice purred from behind
them. All four craned their necks to look as a young Japanese man
walked around to stand in front of them. The room's lights glared
off his glasses in an effect that would have seemed rather sinister
to anyone with an ounce of perception. These being the
WANKERs, they were naturally affected in a completely different

"Uh-oh," Eric hissed, eyes big, "I bet he's one of those weird
Canadian sex-perverts, and he's tied us up to have his way with
our innocent bodies!"

"AAH!" Tyson yelped, straining at his bindings. "I'm too young
to be ravished!"

"Silence, infidel dogs!" the man screamed. "You are here to be
punished for your sinful transgressions!"

"'Infidels'? Hah! Do you know who we _are_?" Darren puffed
out his chest as much as the ropes would allow. "We are the
Wondrous and Adorable Nyssa's Knights-Errant Regiment! The
true warriors of the one and only Lady Nyssa of Traken!"

"Is that so? Well _we_ are Lum's Stormtroopers, followers and
worshippers of the majestic Princess Lum of Oniboshi! And
_you_ have defiled her with your lecherous touch! And for that,
you shall receive The Treatment!"

"No! He _is_ going to ravish us!" Tyson started to cry.

"No, I'm not," the man said, rolling his eyes.


"I'm going to do something _much_ worse!"

"No! He's going to ravish us _twice_!"

Tyson's further thoughts on this subject were cut off by a bucket
being placed over his head. A moment later, there was a sharp
CLANG! as another young Japanese man, shorter than the one
in glasses, smacked the bucket with a piece of pipe.

"Thank you, Chibi," said the man in glasses.

"Only too happy to oblige, Megane," the short man replied, taking
his bucket and pipe and withdrawing.

"So, uh, Mr. Megane," Darren stammered, "what _are_ you going
to do with us?"

"Not _with_ you, _to_ you. And what I am going to do, is just
this..." Megane stepped aside, revealing a TV/VCR combo right
in front of his four captives. Then, with a grin of true and terrif-
ying malignance, he held up a videocassette, making sure they
could read the title...


...'Star Trek V: Director's Cut'.

"Bloody Hell, not again!" Darren wailed as he began trying to
batter himself unconscious.

David closed his eyes and began to mumble, "Our Father who
art in Heaven..."

Tyson swallowed hard and looked pitifully at their captor. "Um,
can we rethink that ravishment business?"


" then Q tells the Captain, 'It was an avocado all along!' Oh,
was Captain Picard ever mad!"

Skuld giggled. "Typical Q. He always was one for strange prac-
tical jokes."

Wesley smiled at her. For some reason, he found it hard to look
at her, even though he really, really wanted to. He liked hearing
her laugh, and her smile was absolutely stunning. But, every
time he looked at her, he got these strange light-headed feelings,
and his chest felt funny.

"You know Q?" he asked, taking quick glances at her.

"Oh, sure. He used to date my big sister. Urd, that is. Not Bell-
dandy." She scowled briefly at nothing in particular, then brigh-
tened back up. "Urd dumped him after a while, though, because
he couldn't hold down a real job. That was about the time she
started going out with that weirdo Bacchus. Q was a lot more
interesting, I thought." She started giggling again, and Wesley's
heart did a little double-skip. "Like one time, he tried to open a
cross-spatial warp tunnel into her bedroom, but it got all crossed
up with a spell she was working at the same time. Q ended up
being mis-integrated onto the Reality Template..." Here, the
giggles became too much for her, and she started gasping out

"So, what happened to him?"

"Heeheehee haha! His head and his -- heeheehee -- his bottom
were in the -- heehoohoohoo -- wrong places! Bahahahahahaha!"

"You mean...?"

"Yeah! He couldn't sit down for two weeks, until Belldandy and
Urd finally re-wove the spell! Hahahahahaha! You should've
seen him try to drink tea!" Skuld collapsed against Wes's
shoulder, laughing so hard she was almost crying.

Wesley laughed, but his mind was more occupied by the girl
pressed against his shoulder. Maybe he'd just wait a while longer
about hooking back up with Ryoko...


[The screen showed the image of a huge field of stars, peacefully
aglow against the blackness of the void. After a moment, it
became apparent that some of the stars were beginning to dim
slightly, as though a shadow were passing across the Galaxy.
A soft operatic tune began playing in the background as a
sepulchral voice spoke.

"In the fading days of the 27th Century, mankind faced its great-
est trial. A Veil of Darkness spread across the Universe, destroy-
ing the Light. One by one, the people of the Universe succumbed,
either perishing in futile battle against the Darkness or joining the
ranks of its minions. By 2698, the men of Earth had been driven
back to their homeworld, to await the final battle against the
forces of Eternal Night. Ragnarok has come..."]

Number One stared at the screen, but her mind was not on the

"What's happening to me?" she thought. "Something isn't right,
here. I find out Adric and I share a common interest in Matsumoto
movies, and the next thing I know, I'm having these deep emotion-
al 'moments' with him. A minute ago, I was actually beginning to
appreciate him as a character! What about the Eighth Command-
ment, 'Thou shalt scorn the Alzarian and his works'? Maybe...
I'm just getting too 'into' this whole undercover thing. That
might could be it..."

[An Earth Forces battlecruiser sailed into view, exchanging fire
with a group of sleek and sinister black starships. There was a
huge explosion as one of the black ships was struck dead-on by a
blast of gunfire, then another as a salvo of missiles slammed into
the Earth ship.]

"Ooh! Explosions! Movie first, weird emotional quandaries later."


"Nuku-Nuku is back! Sorry about the delay!" The ever-cheerful
waitress zipped inside, carefully smoothing down a few bullet
holes in her apron.

"Thank you, Miss Natsume," the manager replied. "Is your friend,

"Eimi-chan went home, sir! Nuku-Nuku punted her there after
she got tired out."

The man sagged, relieved. "Thank you, Miss Natsume. Now, if
you please, I went ahead and seated those two young ladies for
you, so if you could just take their order?"

"At once, sir! Nuku-Nuku is right on it!"

Tegan looked up just in time to see their waitress land next to
their table, having just leaped over the intervening customers.

"Good evening, ladies," she said with a slight bow. "My name
is Nuku-Nuku, and I'll be your waitress. Could I interest you in
our Daily Special?"

Tegan, idly bewildered, wondered why the girl's nametag said
'Atsuko' if her name was Nuku-Nuku. Instead, she merely asked,
"What's the Special, then?"

"Baked mackerel," the waitress replied with great enthusiasm.
"And it's _really_ good! Especially the heads! Meow!"

"Eh, what?"

Nuku-Nuku looked embarrassed. "Sorry. Nuku-Nuku gets
carried away about yummy fish sometimes. But, the mackerel
really _is_ good, even if you don't eat the heads. Nuku-Nuku
really recommends it."

Something about the girl's face made it almost impossible to say
'no' to her. "Okay, one baked mackerel plate for me."

"And for you, ma'am?" she asked, turning to Nyssa.

"A petite sirloin steak, please."

"And how would you like it cooked?"

"Not hardly at all. The bloodier, the better."

The waitress giggled as she wrote that down. "Miss Customer
sounds like Nuku-Nuku's friend Eimi-chan."

Nyssa just shook her head. "Don't _you_ start on me, too..."


["How can we fight them? It is foolish to even consider the
notion! Our fleet is _gone_! Destroyed! The Earth is defense-
less before the Dark Master's might! He has offered us terms of
peace, so let us take them, and live while we still can!" The
High Councillor glared around the chamber, daring any to chal-
enge his assertions.

"Terms, you say?" spoke up the youngest Councilman. "What
'terms'? To be his lackeys? To bow our necks to him and fight
our fellow-beings for the cause of tyranny?! This is not an alter-
native, it is _treason_! Treason against Life, itself!"

"And what would you have us do, Hasegawa? Throw rocks at
the Dark Master's ships? Shall we all die for pride's sake?"

"Indeed," asked a soft voice. "What value do you place upon
your lives?" The entire room grew still as the speaker stepped
out into the light.]

Adric leaned over and whispered, "You were right, Ember.
That's Maetel."

"Told you," she whispered back, eyes fixed raptly on the screen.

["Who are you, woman?" demanded the High Councillor, shaken
by her regal, distant beauty.

"I am merely a messenger, bringing word from the Sea of Stars."
Her eyes skimmed the room, seeming to weigh each man's heart.
"Some of you may know me as Maetel. Before you speak of
surrender, there are things that you must know, and things that
you must remember..."]

Ember bounced in her seat. "Tell 'em, Maetel," she whispered.
"Don't let those cowards give up!"

Adric looked over at her, amused. She really was getting into
this. It was as fun to watch her reactions as to watch the movie
itself. So different from the _last_ time he'd gone to the movies
with someone. He sighed. Why couldn't Nyssa get enthused
about things like this? The only times she ever seemed to get at
all excited were when she was doing something perfectly horrible
to him.

["...remember that the Light will not abandon you, so long as you
do not abandon it. Your dreams will not betray you, so long as
you remain true to your dreams. Earthmen knew this once, and
they survived by holding this knowledge in their hearts. In the
past, the battleship _Yamato_ was the embodiment of that faith
in the future."

"You speak foolishness, woman!" the High Councillor snapped.
"You talk of dreams and faith, while the enemy beats at our gates!
_Yamato_ is gone! Four centuries dead!"

Maetel remained impassive. "I told you, _Yamato_ was the
embodiment of your ancestors' faith. So long as that faith remains,
_Yamato_ remains."]

Faith. So long as faith remains... Adric grimaced. Was it really
foolishness to cling to the last shreds of a fading hope? Or was
it more foolish to give up while there was still a chance of suc-


The baked mackerel turned out to be every bit as yummy as their
waitress had promised. Tegan chewed thoughtfully at a bite of
it, while Nyssa delicately but methodically devoured her piece of
nearly-raw beef. Nuku-Nuku bustled around them, cleaning off
tables and quietly singing a peculiar song that seemed to have a
lot of meowing in it.

"So, I notice Adric wasn't working tonight, Nys," she said.

"No, he wasn't." Nyssa gave the steak a primly savage cut. "He
went off somewhere. Francois wouldn't tell me where."

"Oh, did you miss him?" Tegan asked innocently.

Nyssa's fork slipped a little. "Miss him? Like a gardener misses
weeds. Why in the world would I _miss_ him?"

"Well, since you were asking after him, I just thought--"

A bit of steak was daintily impaled. "I wasn't 'asking after him',

"But, you just said you asked Francois--"

"So?" The Trakenite's eyes flashed as she met Tegan's gaze. "I
just wanted to know if he was around."


"So I could, you know..." Nyssa drew a finger across her throat.

"Ah," Tegan said again, neither agreeing nor challenging. After
a moment, the two resumed eating.

"So, why?" Tegan asked a few minutes later.

"I told you, so I could kill him," Nyssa explained.

"No, I mean, why kill him?"

Nyssa stopped eating and gave her friend a puzzled look. "Because
I always do. You know that. What's with you?"

"I mean, why kill him at all, Nyssa?"

The Trakenite opened her mouth, then closed it as she groped for
a response. Finally, she stammered out, "Because, he _deserves_
it, that's why."

Tegan spoke quietly as she picked over her fish. "Really? That's
kind of funny, because I would imagine that there would be other
people who deserved it more, but you don't bother them. Like
the Master, for instance. He's your worst enemy of all time, yet
you seldom give him so much as a nasty look. So, I can't help
but wonder, just what is it about Adric that gets you so angry?"

Nyssa spluttered, "You have to _ask_? Just look at him, Tegan.
He's an immature, whining brat! A pathetic, gutless fool! A jerk!
A cowardly, unobservant, math-obsessed, unfeeling little twit!"
She began to growl a little as she ranted.

Tegan's eyebrows rose a little as she cataloged a few of those
epithets for examination. "'Gutless', you say?" she said carefully.
"I can remember quite a few times he's been in danger without
losing his head..."

"That's not the kind of guts I'm talking about," Nyssa snapped

"...and you said he was 'unobservant'. Was there something in
particular he was supposed to notice?"

Nyssa narrowed her eyes and glared at her friend. "Whatever
you're beginning to imply, Tegan, you can stop right there. Let's
be perfectly clear on this: To me, Adric is a despicable, worthless
little rat who should never have been spawned! A pathetic loser
whose only value is as a moving target!"

"Miss Customer must be in love with Adric-san!" Nuku-Nuku
chirped happily. Nyssa face-faulted onto the table.

"What?!" she demanded after she righted herself. "Didn't you
hear a thing I just said?"

"Mm-hm! Miss Customer sounds just like Mama-san talking
about Papa-san! They shout names at each other and fight and
sometimes shoot at each other with cannons, but they love each
other very much! Nuku-Nuku thinks different people maybe
have different ways to show they like people. Nuku-Nuku likes
to play with them and lick their faces and give them food.
Mama-san and Papa-san use projectile weapons. Different ways
for different people! That's why Nuku-Nuku likes being human,
now!" She smiled sunnily at the stunned girls, then resumed
cleaning off the table next to theirs.

"Th-that's preposterous!" Nyssa exclaimed to the waitress's
back. "The most ridiculous thing I've ever heard! The very
notion that- that I would... would..." She wound down as
something dawned on her. "Hold on. You said 'Adric-san'
as if you knew who he was."

"Sure. Adric-san comes by to eat sometimes. Nuku-Nuku
likes him, even if he does run away when Eimi-chan comes by.
He's nice. He helped Nuku-Nuku find Arisa-san a little while
ago, him and his friend. Is Miss Customer looking for him?"


[The humans crowded into their shelters as the ground overhead
was torn by the Dark Fleet's bombardment. Councilman Hasegawa
moved among them, calling out encouragement.

"Have faith, people! Hope yet remains! Remember who we are!
We must never lose hope! Remember the fighting spirit of the
_Yamato_, and hold that memory near your hearts!"

On the surface, a small military cemetery shook to the blasts of
the enemy fleet. As the headstones shuddered and crumbled,
one of them suddenly began to emit a soft golden glow. The
glow intensified, until it outshone even the destructive flames
of the cannon strikes. Then, with a whoosh, the glow shot up
into space.

A nearby explosion threw the name on the gravestone into
sharp relief: Susumu Kodai, 1st Officer, Earth Defense Ship

Adric leaned over and whispered, "Ooh, this is getting good,

His companion blinked for a moment and whispered back,

Adric looked at her, puzzled. "What?"

"You just called me 'Nyssa'."

That startled him. "Did I?"

She nodded slowly as he flushed with embarrassment. "Ah,
crud, I'm sorry."

"No problem," she said, giving him a strange look. After a
moment, both just shrugged and went back to the movie.

[The Commander smiled in grim satisfaction as his fleet method-
ically annihilated the humans' few surface defenses and began
pounding away at their cities. Even from orbit, the flames were
clearly visible.

A crewman ran over to him, saluting agitatedly. "Sir, scanners
are picking up a strange signal from an orbital position several
hundred miles above the island called 'Honshu'."

"Define 'strange'," the Commander hissed curtly.

"It's as if something is flickering in and out of existence, getting
more solid by the minute. It was very faint at first, but now it's
much stronger."

"Get it on visual."

The main screen flickered to life, and the entire bridge crew
craned their necks to see.

The Commander's eyes widened as he pointed a shaky finger at
the image. "What... is that?"

"Sir, it appears to be, uh, an ocean-going warship, heavily modi-
fied into a space vessel..."]

Adric, Ember, and the other 50+ people in the theater all began
to cheer. The space battleship _Yamato_ was back.


Meanwhile, at Tokyo Metropolitan Police Headquarters, some-
one was not a happy bunny.

"How can this be?! It's impossible!"

The policeman held out his hands in a placatory gesture. "I know
how you feel, Inspector," he said in his most calming voice. "But,
the fact remains that these two are not Lupin or Fujiko Mine."

"We tried to tell you," Doug said sullenly from the bench he was
handcuffed to.

"Shut up, you," Zenigata growled distractedly at him. To the
policeman, he said, "Are you certain? Are you absolutely posi-
tive, Takeda? You know what a master of disguise Lupin is!"

"Inspector," he replied with just a hint of exasperation, "we had
them both stripped, scrubbed, and put through a full body-cavity

The two ADF troopers shifted uncomfortably on the bench.

"...and they are not in any sort of disguise. He's not Lupin, she's
not Lupin, there's no sign of Lupin anywhere."

Zenigata ground his teeth, making a noise like asphalt cracking.
Furious, he rounded on Doug and shook him by the shirt collar.
"You! How dare you not be Lupin?!" Two burly cops pried him
away before anyone got hurt.

"Look, if we could just make a phone call, we can get this whole
mess cleared up." Doug smiled reassuringly at everyone, although
the effect was spoiled somewhat by his still-reddened eyes.

"Somehow, I kind of doubt that," Sergeant Takeda grunted, "but
go ahead."

A few minutes later, Doug was handcuffed to an office desk, a
phone receiver cradled against his ear.

"Come on," he mumbled. "Pick up. Please pick up. Don't be
gone already..." He sighed in relief as someone answered at the
other end.

"Hey, Starr. It's me, Doug. How's everything going at your end?
Really? Cool. That's great! Uh, listen, Starr, the reason I'm call-
ing is... well... the funniest thing has just happened to me and

The groan from the other end of the line was clearly audible to
the entire office.


Two dark figures strode purposefully down the street.

"So, we're off to find Adric, then, are we?"

"Of course not, Tegan. Don't be ridiculous. Why would I care
what he's doing?" Nyssa tried to sound casual, but only managed
to come across as insincere.

Tegan suppressed a grin. With an innocence that sounded only
slightly more real than her friend's attempt at nonchalance, she
replied, "Well, I just thought, since you asked Nuku-Nuku where
she saw him last and where he was heading..."

"So we wouldn't risk running into him while we have a look
around," Nyssa inserted smoothly.

"And that's why we're walking directly towards where she said
she saw him?"

"Coincidence," spat Nyssa. She made a point of turning right at
the next corner, heading away from Adric's likely whereabouts.
"See. We're just looking around, going someplace else entirely."

A block later, they were back on course.


["Commander! All the First Division battleships have been

"How can this be possible? How can a single ship harm us so?"

There was a series of bright flashes as the ancient Earth warship
swivelled its guns and began methodically exterminating the
Second Division. The Commander pounded a fist on the bulkhead
and swore as he watched his ships' return fire pound into the old
relic, doing no more damage than a shower of leaves.

"Commander, the Disruption Cannon is fully charged!"

The Commander stabbed a finger at the image of the enemy ship.
"Fire!" he snarled. "Destroy that vessel!"

A huge beam of black-red energy poured screaming out of the
bow of the Flagship and lanced through the space between the
two warships. Directly into the port side of _Yamato_ it struck,
tearing away armor and ravening through the inner decks. For a
single breath _Yamato_ hung there, impaled like a speared fish.
Then, with a shattering blast, the ship exploded into fragments
of half-molten steel.]

The entire audience held its breath as they watched the dissipating
fireball on-screen. Adric tore his eyes away for a second and
glanced to his side. Ember's face bore a sober, intense look, with
a sense of restrained excitement just beneath. Watching her, he
had another of those deja-vu moments, remembering times spent
in a science lab alongside a girl whose face had borne that same
look of anxious concentration. He hadn't realized how much he'd
come to miss that.

["Now we have them! The humans' last hope is gone! They are
ours to-- what the Hell!?"

There was dead silence on the bridge as the crew watched the
fragments of the old battleship begin to glow softly and then
swirl back together. Within seconds, _Yamato_ was whole

"You fight against more than mere flesh and steel," a soft voice
spoke. The Commander turned to find a woman standing at his
elbow, watching him with sad and ancient eyes from beneath a
fall of golden hair.

"M-M-Maetel," he stammered.

"What you and your Master fight against now is faith. The pure
faith that life will go on, and the belief in tomorrow. While humans
exist, and as long as they believe, you cannot defeat them. A
single spark of light can vanquish the Darkness, and the simplest
faith, so long as it remains true, can triumph over death, or time."
Her eyes took on a cold, hard gleam. "Or you."

_Yamato's_ guns began to track toward the Flagship.]

Number One frowned as her thoughts turned momentarily inward.
Faith and belief, huh? Her entire life had been built on those
things, the belief in the cause of Nyssa and the faith in the ulti-
mate rightness of the Brethren's purpose. Faith could defeat any
foe, but only if that faith was true to its foundations. Could she
honestly say that her faith had been pure of late? Was she in
danger of becoming an infidel? Or, could it be the other way
around? Perhaps things weren't necessarily the way she'd been
taught? The doubts Adric's question at dinner had raised returned
full-force, gnawing at her gut. "Everything was so clear before,"
she thought. "What's happened to me?" Her dream-self had told
her she was wrong, but just how much did that statement cover?

She gnawed at her lip, feeling momentarily lost and adrift.

"These movies really make you think, don't they?" Adric whisp-
ered, leaning in to her ear.

For some reason, the lost feeling abated ever-so-slightly. She
nodded. "You can say that again, sugar..."


"What a mess," Tegan snorted. "Looks like the aftermath of a
football riot."

She and Nyssa stood in front of what had once been a small rest-
aurant, but was now mostly debris. The front wall had been
knocked down and heaps of broken fixtures could be seen inside.
A kimono-clad waitress was valiantly trying to sweep the worst
of the spillover rubble back inside, while two battered bodies lay
face-down on the walk out front.

"Are they... dead, d'ya think?" Tegan asked.

Before Nyssa could reply, the nearer body roused itself slightly,
revealing it to be a brown-haired girl in what was left of a chef's
outfit. With a grunt of effort, she reached over to the other body
and bopped it weakly on the head with a small spatula. "Bimbo,"
the girl rasped before collapsing again.

There was a set of painful-sounding pops and crackles as the
other body peeled itself off the concrete slightly, revealing a
purple-haired Chinese girl who looked as if she'd gone through a
combine harvester. She limply swatted the chef-girl on the arm,
then slid bonelessly back down. "Pervert-girl," she groaned.

The waitress interposed herself in front of the two semi-conscious
ladies, bowing and smiling apologetically at Nyssa and Tegan.
"I'm sorry, ladies," she said in a very polite tone, "but I'm afraid
Ucchan's is closed for the evening. Ukyou-sama is indisposed
at the moment, as she is conducting important business negotia-
tions with Miss Shampoo. We will open again in the morning
at ten o'clock..." She bit her lip and glanced back at the incapa-
citated form of her employer. "...or more likely sometime after
noon, depending on what the chiropractor says."

"That's okay," Tegan answered. "Actually, we were looking for

"No we weren't!" Nyssa blurted.

"--and wanted to know if you might have seen him."

Before she could elaborate further, their conversation was drowned
out by a strange, ululating shriek that seemed to echo off the walls
and send chilly twitches spidering up the listeners' spines. The
waitress blanched and scooped up the incapacitated chef. Pausing
only to punt the Chinese girl up the street, she darted inside, the
door slamming and locking behind her.

"What the Hell...," began Tegan as a swirl of black rose petals
started falling around them.

"What a cool bitchlaugh!" Nyssa gushed as she listened to the
ear-bending wail. "It's at least a nine on the Naga Scale. Whoever
this is is a real pro."

"OHOHOHOHOHOHOHO!! Vile strumpets! You seek him, but
you shall not find him! I, Kodachi the Black Rose, shall ensure
that your peasant hands never befoul him!" With a final shower
of rose petals, a dark figure leaped out into view, a lithe, cold-eyed
young girl dressed in a taut black leotard, a black rhythmic gym-
nastics ribbon twirling in her hand.

"What are you supposed to be?" snarled Tegan, none too happy
at being called a 'strumpet'.

"Your doom, hussy!" With that, the ribbon snapped out, winding
around her legs.


Sister Roxanne slipped quietly out of the den of sin that was This
Time Round, needing to get away from the sights of iniquity for
a while. She lived by the admonition 'hate the sin, discipline the
sinner', but the noise and debauchery were beginning to lead her
more toward 'hate the sin, be ready to massacre the sinners'.
She thus felt it would be in everyone's best interest if she just
stepped out to get a little air. She would wait and remonstrate
the Loyal Crew for their sins in the morning, when she'd have a
cooler head, and they'd have better odds of survival.

She spied a huddled form in the flickering light of a beer sign.
It was Johnson, still out of it from the much-deserved beating
he'd received at the hands of that Scottish lad (a good, pious-
seeming boy, even if he was a Presbyterian). She gave her
crewmate a quick, practiced looking-over. She'd given the silly
fool enough beatings herself, that she knew by now what he
could take. He was just a little bruised and contused, nothing
serious. With a few deft tugs, she sat him upright and propped
him against a nearby Police Box.

"Heavenly Father," she prayed over his snoring form, "watch
over this heathen sinner, for he has not the wits of a gerbil.
Show your loving mercy by granting him good health, but also
let him know the pain of his wounds, that he might be thus led
to righteousness. Amen." The Order of Saint Wanda-Sue
believed in the value of negative reinforcement in combatting

Her ministrations to the pathetic complete, she decided to take
a walk around the parking lot, partly to stretch her legs and
partly because the Order's Doctrine No. 11 was, 'Any location
may become a battlefield, so conduct recon missions at every
opportunity.' So she slipped amongst the various parked
TARDISes, spaceships, cars, and less-identifiable things,
taking a moment to innocently savor the cool air on her legs
beneath the hem of her mini-habit. Cold, almost machine-like
eyes noted every angle and shadow as she walked, her boots
making surprisingly little noise on the pavement.

"Come back here, you little shithead!"

Without altering her precise stride, Roxanne turned to head
toward the voice, noting the commotion near the edge of the
lot. There was a spate of shouted profanity and a scramble of
feet, which her trained ears quickly analyzed into three men,
probably good-sized, struggling with a much smaller foe. This
certainly bore investigating.

"Dammit, don't let him get away!"

Sister Roxanne was just stepping into the circle of light
around the men when a small, lean form barrelled into her legs,
causing her to almost mis-step. She used the slight turn of
her recovery to swing down and scoop up her assailant,
bringing it up to face her.

"Yap!" barked the little dachshund as it wriggled in her grasp.

A single delicate platinum eyebrow arched in reply.

"Hey, lady! Is that your dog?" Roxanne finally deigned to
look at the speaker. He was a big, fleshy man in the coveralls
of a starship engineer, with a cluster of tattoos on his shaven
head. In his hand was a yard-long slug-wrench, which he
thumped meaningfully in his palm. Behind him were two
other men similarly-dressed: a wiry little man with a bandana
on his head and a very tall man who looked rather like a
Rastafarian with his shaggy mass of dreadlocks. All three
gave back hard stares.

"Why do you ask?" she said in her pleasant, cordial tone.

"Because we're gonna beat that little shit's head in, that's why,"
Dreadlocks snarled back.

She pulled the little dog in to her chest, cradling it with one arm
and lightly petting it with her free hand. Liking this treatment,
the animal's struggles quickly subsided and it gave her fingers a
tentative lick.

"And why do you seek to harm one of God's innocent beasts?"

"Little bastard pissed on our landing-strut," grunted Baldy. He
thrust a finger toward the ship behind them, where a small puddle
could be faintly seen around the portside landing foot.

The nun gave a tiny shrug as she scratched behind the dog's ear.
"That is the way of animals," she said lightly. "They can merely
do what God has ordained for them, having not the ability to
choose. If they cannot choose, they cannot sin. However, men
have choice, and can be sinners by that choice. And surely,
seeking to harm one of God's most innocent children, a poor,
defenseless animal, would be a terrible, terrible sin." Her voice
remained light, but her unblinking stare flicked across each
man's eyes, conveying a firmer message.

Baldy laughed. "Lady, if you think that mumbo-jumbo religious
bullshit or that nun's habit will keep me from kicking your ass
along with your dog's, you're seriously crukking stupid!"

"Do not insult the Faith, or it will go harder on you, sinner."
Roxanne's voice dropped to a lethal silken purr.

"Screw you, bitch!" The man stepped forward, swinging the
slug-wrench at her ribs.

Without letting go of the dog, she dodged aside, then broke
his arm in passing with a single open-handed blow to the elbow.
Baldy howled in pain, then in consternation as Sister Roxanne
plucked the wrench out of his grip.

"'Foolishness is bound in the heart of a sinner,'" she quoted,
"'but the rod of correction shall drive it far from him.'" As she
set about breaking their limbs with the slug-wrench, she couldn't
help but notice that their ship seemed a most suitable one for a
band of privateers to use.


Many people thought that Kodachi Kuno, the dreaded 'Black Rose'
of St. Hebereke's High School and acknowledged champion of
martial-arts rhythmic gymnastics, was completely out of her mind.
And they were quite right. The terms 'a few fries short of a Happy
Meal' and 'shooting with an unstrung bow' seemed to have been
coined with Kodachi in mind. However, as a certain old punch-
line points out, being crazy doesn't mean being stupid, too. The
fact of the matter was, that behind the outward shell of obsessive,
lunatic gymnastic psychosis, there lurked a razor-sharp intellect
and a devilishly ruthless and logical mind.

Sound familiar?

The thing about Kodachi, though, that made her such an apparent
loose cannon on deck, was that, while her mind was relentlessly
logical and decisive, all the information on which her decisions
were based was first run through the filter of her peculiar set of
obsessions, as distorted by her environment and past experience.
That's why, to her, immediately attacking the two strange girls
who were talking with that crossdressing ninja waiter was the
logical -- indeed the only possible -- course of action.

The reasoning went something like this:

Ucchan's Okonomiyaki was the common hangout of her beloved
Ranma-darling. It was also the property of her second-greatest
rival for Ranma-darling's affection, that appalling peasant chef
Ukyou Kuonji. Thus, it was also a magnet for Ranma-darling's
_other_ suitors, the disgusting commoner Akane Tendou and
that barbarian floozy Shampoo, or any others of the various
fiancees Ranma-darling's moronic father had set him up with.

Fact: Young women claiming to be engaged to Ranma Saotome
turned up in Nerima on a semi-regular basis.

Fact: People seeking Ranma Saotome generally came looking
for him at school or at Ucchan's.

Fact: Two young women were at Ucchan's now.

Fact: They were asking about a man.

Fact: Ranma Saotome was the most perfect and desirable man
on Earth (according to Kodachi).

Fact: Ranma-darling was meant for Kodachi Kuno, and no one
else (again, according to Kodachi).

Fact: The Black Rose did not put up with any bullshit.

Conclusion: Violence was in order, and plenty of it.


Tegan twisted her head to one side, letting a razor-edged gym-
nast's hoop slash through the air about two inches from her left
eye. This was more difficult than it sounds, as she was currently
hanging by her feet from a lamp post, her attacker's black ribbon
knotted firmly around her ankles.

"Hey! Watch that!" she shouted.

Not that it did much good. The hoop hadn't been aimed at her to
begin with, but at Nyssa, who was frantically dodging the (other)
crazy girl's attacks. The trouble was, much of this dodging was
right behind Tegan.

"I'll get you yet, peasant!" Kodachi shouted, then let loose another
of those nerve-shivering laughs.

"Peasant!?" Nyssa sounded indignant. "I'm more aristocratic
than you!" She ducked under a barrage of bowling-pin-shaped
clubs, wondering how her opponent could hide so much weaponry
inside such a tight, scanty leotard.

"No matter, gaijin trollop! You two shall never be with my dar-
ling Ranma!" She flung a ball that nearly took Tegan's head off,
which struck Nyssa on the shoulder, knocking her down. A
second followed, knocking her flat on her back as she tried to

"Ranma?" Nyssa wheezed, trying to get her breath. "Who's

Kodachi paused in mid-throw. "What do you mean, 'Who's that?'
Don't play the fool! He's my beloved, and the man you came

"We're not looking for any Ranma," Tegan said with admirable
reasonableness, considering her position. "We're looking for
someone called Adric."

"No, we aren't!" Nyssa protested.

The Black Rose sniffed contemptuously. "Preposterous. Ranma-
darling is the most desirable man around, so there's no way you
could be seeking someone else. Such lies! Why, Ranma-darling
is the most handsome, wonderful, charming--"

"So, what is he doing with a fruitcake like you?" Nyssa said cattily.
"Is he blind, stupid, or just loony?"

Kodachi screeched in rage, and from the depths of her leotard's
cleavage removed her only non-gymnastics weapon, a hefty oak
mallet. "You insult my beloved!?! DIE!!"

"Eep!" Tegan was knocked roughly aside as the crazed gymnast
rushed past her, mallet upraised to dash Nyssa's brains out.


In the shadows, the man who was not -- despite appearances --
John Travolta scowled. He couldn't directly intervene without
tipping his hand, but he wasn't going to just stand by, either.
With a sudden wicked smirk, he kicked a small stone in the
direction of the fight, knowing it would do the trick.


Kodachi's mallet swung back, her eyes locked on Nyssa's in a
death glare. She could feel the beginnings of a good bitchlaugh
bubbling in her guts at the sight of the helpless girl asprawl
before her, and she licked her lips in anticipation.

Sadly, she was so intent on her victim, that she failed to notice
the small rock that skittered into her path until she'd set her foot
on it. Years of training in Full-Contact Martial Arts Rhythmic
Gymnastics kept her from losing her footing, but the mallet had
her already off-balance and she stumbled awkwardly.

That was all the opening Nyssa needed. Though no martial-
artist, she was in excellent shape and had learned quite a few
combat tricks over the course of her Adric-hunts. Not nearly
so helpless as Kodachi thought, she waited for the girl to
stumble within reach, then drove both feet directly into her

The Black Rose didn't even get off a scream as Nyssa's feet
slammed the air out of her, then sent her tumbling, the mallet
flying out of her grasp. She rolled several times, finally fetching
up against a mailbox with a dull 'CLONK'.

Nyssa scooped up the mallet and walked over to the crumpled
gymnast, evil in her eyes. She thumped the mallet meaningfully
in one hand. "The tables are turned now, eh _peasant_?" she

"So it would seem," Kodachi purred as much as she could in
her condition. "I salute you, my foe." She reached into her leo-
tard again and whipped out a bouquet of black roses, handing
them to the snarling Trakenite. "Accept these as a token of my

Nyssa moved to knock the flowers away, when she became con-
scious of the smell coming from them. Her joints began to feel
stiff, and her muscles didn't want to fire properly. With a small
groan, she sagged to the pavement.

Kodachi clambered to her feet, smiling vixenishly. "Foolish
barbarian. Where tables are turned once, they may be turned
again. I honor you by using my paralysis-gas roses, a thing
I do only for truly worthy opponents. Or people who piss me
off. Or sometimes for men I want to kiss. Or sometimes... Oh,
never mind."

She picked up the mallet, and regarded her fallen foe for a long
moment. "I could smash you to bits right now," she said with a
laugh. "But, instead, I'm going to make you suffer first. You
can watch while I eliminate your partner. Isn't that just delici-
ously evil?"

Tegan had once gone to a Sea World-style amusement park,
where she had watched killer whales leap up and snatch fish that
were dangled over their tank. She felt more than a little like a
dangling fish herself at that moment, and sent a silent prayer
of sympathy to the mackerel she'd eaten earlier. She scrunched
up her eyes as the psycho gymnast approached, a predatory look
on the lunatic's sharp face.

If Tegan was reminded of Sea World, the situation struck a diff-
erent chord with Kodachi. "Heh heh heh," she chuckled evilly as
she eyed her dangling victim. "My own little pinata!" She drew
back the mallet. "Let's see if you have candy inside, hmmm?"


Mr. Not John Travolta watched indifferently as Kodachi took a
few practice swings. The Jovanka woman was none of his
concern one way or another. If the crazy woman made a move
against Nyssa, he might have to interfere, but not otherwise.

Frowning, he pulled himself deeper into the shadows as an odd
sound came to his ears.


"Can't we talk this over?" Tegan tried her best psycho-placating
smile, something her association with Nyssa had made her rather
good at.

"Oh," Kodachi said with a smile, "you mean discuss our positions
and differences and reach an amicable compromise through peace-
ful discourse like civilized people?"

"Yes, exactly."

The gymnast considered this. "Mmm... no. Afraid not. So sorry.
Now be a good girl and bleed for the Black Rose." She twirled
the mallet back for a two-handed power swing, then stopped as
a most peculiar sound made itself heard. Even Tegan perked up
as they listened.

"Is that... a ukulele?" the Australian muttered.

Kodachi paled slightly. "Blast! He would have to show up now,
of all times." She trembled for a moment, then tossed the mallet
aside and leaped gracefully onto the nearest rooftop. Turning,
she gave her victims one last sneer. "I might be denied the glut-
ting of my vengeance, but when _he_ gets here, it might be that
you will wish the Black Rose had given you a merciful death!
OHOHOHOHOHOHOHO!!" In a burst of black rose petals, she
disappeared into the night.

Tegan sighed helplessly. "Great. What now?"

She got her answer moments later as the sound of ukulele playing
stopped and a set of heavy footsteps came up behind her.

"Aloha! Little Sista, what you doin' hangin' around like dis?"

Tegan winced a little. That had to be the most awful and blatantly
fake Hawaiian accent she'd ever heard. Strong hands spun her
around to face the newcomer, a middle-aged Japanese man with
a tan to rival George Hamilton's, a floral-print Hawaiian shirt for
which 'tacky' was far too tame an adjective, and what looked like
a tiny palm tree growing out of the top of his head.

"Hey, little Sista! Look like de Big Kahuna get here jus' in time,
yah?" He pointed with his ukulele at the ribbon holding her up.
"You been playin' wit' de Big Kahuna's little girl, yah? Bad little
wahini she is, too. Very bad. Got no order or discipline, you

Tegan's eyes widened. "You're... that girl's _father_?" That
would explain a Hell of a lot.

"Dat right! De Black Rose be de Big Kahuna's little wahini.
She do dis kind of t'ing all de time, yah? Me try to bring up
little 'Dachi and big bruddah 'Tacchi on sound moral principles,
but kids today so headstrong, yah? You not see where she go,
or see bruddah in kendo outfit? Me gonna spend quality time
wit' 'em, if me find 'em." He looked around, casually plonking
out a few notes on his ukulele.

Could this get any more surreal? Tegan pointed in the general
direction Kodachi had gone. "Your, uh, daughter went that way.
Umm, you wouldn't mind getting me down from here, would

"Oh, sure t'ing little Sista." Somehow, his grin was less than re-
assuring. In fact, it was starting to border on 'maniacal'. "But
first, de Big Kahuna give you somet'in' for reward, yah? Some-
t'in' dat Big Kahuna know you like." He stashed the ukulele
somewhere and put his hands behind his back.

She tried to swallow nervously, but couldn't quite do it upside-
down. "No, really, that's okay. If you could just get me down
from here, that would--"

"Little Sista evah see Big Kahuna's mos' favorite actor? Fellow
called Yul Brynner?"

Who? Oh, wait. 'The King and I' and 'The Magnificent Seven'.
That fellow. "Uh, sure," she said uneasily.

"As we say on de Big Island, he de mos' cool! Little Sista know
why we say dat?"

"He... looks good in a cowboy hat?"

"No no no! He got de mos' stylish haircut!" He brought his
hands out, holding up two sets of barber's shears, and laughed
at her expression. "Dat's right! And de Big Kahuna give you
good haircut too, yah!? Make you look like movie star!"

"But, he's bald!" she yelped, trying to twist away from him.

"You got it!" He made a couple of swipes at her head, which
were barely evaded. "Big Kahuna say haircut of de month for
girls is shaved head! Las' month, was bowl cut. Next month,
maybe be crewcut, or maybe mohawk. Now, hold still like a
good little wahini. It be ovah before you know it begun."

He finally had to use one hand to hold her still. As he drew his
shears back, Tegan had a quick feeling of deja-vu. The last time,
her attacker had been interrupted by the sound of a ukulele at the
critical moment...

The pattern stayed fairly true to form. This time, though, it was
not sound, but substance that interrupted the assault. More
specifically, it was the substance of a large oaken mallet being
hurled directly into the Big Kahuna's face with a loud and meaty

The Big Kahuna mumbled a sad little "Not de face. No hit de
Principal in de face, little keikis," then toppled over, crushing his
ukulele in the process.

"Heh. Good thing that paralysis gas was tailored to affect the
_human_ nervous system, or you'd look like Sinead O'Connor

"Nyssa! Thank God!" Tegan craned her neck around to see her
friend come limping up to her. She looked pale and weak from
effects of the gas, but otherwise okay.

"No. Thank Trakenite biochemistry." Standing on the still form
of the Big Kahuna, she began using the barber's shears to hack
at the ribbon around Tegan's ankles. "We just happen to have
a much stronger resistance to botanical neurotoxins than you
Terrans. Of course, I'd be lying if I said I didn't feel a _little_
bit of an effect...


Wesley looked at his watch in shock. "Oh, crud. I didn't realize
it was _this_ late. Ryoko's going to incinerate me."

He didn't notice Skuld's slight stiffening at those words. "Oh,"
she said in a tense voice, "is that your... girlfriend?" She stared
at her shoes as she forced the last word out.

"Wha--? Girlfriend? No, no. We're just friends, is all. I'm sup-
posed to be helping her with a, uh, project." Wesley sheepishly
scratched at the back of his head. "I was planning on meeting
her at the theater, but it's a bit late for that, now."

Skuld had relaxed at the 'just friends' part, but now her nerves
went taut again at the mentioning of the movie theater. "So,
you two were going to the movies together?" she asked. She'd
read enough romance comic books to know how those 'just friend
dates' tended to work out.

"Not really. Actually, we were going to hang around and keep
an eye on a friend of ours who's supposed to be there, but we'd
probably do that from the lobby or something."

The metaphorical light bulb went on over Skuld's head. And, let
it be said, a considerably brighter bulb than poor Darren's. "Ah.
You must be meddling in your friend's love life, right?" she asked

Wesley nearly fell over. He stammered, "Ah, h-how did you
figure that out?"

The Nordic girl shrugged and smiled prettily. "Oh, my sister
Urd does that all the time, especially with my sister Belldandy
and her boyfriend," she said, neglecting to add that she'd done
her own share of meddling there, too. "You learn to recognize
the signs after a while."

"Oh." Wesley struggled for something to say about that, and
found himself at a loss. His heart tried to jump up into his skull
a moment later, when Skuld gave him a comradely pat on the

"Not to worry, Wes. Having watched Urd in action, I can tell
you that things like that tend to go much more smoothly if you
just get the two together and then let them be. Everything will
be fine for your friend, I'm sure."

The two stared out the window at the sparse night traffic for a
while, their hands at their sides and not quite touching, each
very alert to the other's presence.

Skuld at last broke the awkward silence. "So, since we're on the
subject of girlfriends," she began with forced nonchalance, "do
you, you know, have one?" Immediately, she began mentally
swatting herself over how that came out.

Wesley tried to play it equally cool, with no more success than
Skuld had. "Actually, I don't have one. A girlfriend, I mean.
What about you?" He smacked himself on the head. "I didn't
mean that!" he blurted. "Not a girlfriend! I meant are you a
boyfriend? Aaaargh! No, wait! I meant, ah..." He shook his
head in embarassed anger at his own tongue-tied state.

Skuld giggled at him, her lively eyes glittering. He felt a little
of his nervousness fade as some of the knots his brain had
worked itself into began to loosen.

"I just meant, a girl like you, there must be somebody... special
in your life, right?" Not exactly Rico Suave, he decided, but
at least he'd managed to ask it. His heart did a little double-
skip as she shook her head, blushing.

"Do you like Leiji Matsumoto movies?" they asked at the same


Adric and Ember stepped silently out of the theater, the crowd
dispersing around them. You could easily spot the people who'd
been to see '_Yamato_ Ragnarok', because they almost all looked
like someone had walked on their hearts. A few were even crying.

"Wow," Adric whispered. "Old Leiji really went all-out on that
ending, didn't he?"

The redhead nodded, unsure of her voice. "It shot continuity to
Hell and gone," she managed at last in a quiet, awed tone, "but
who cares? That had to be the most powerful ending I've ever
seen in a movie. That re-incarnation bit, with the crew's ghosts
looking on..."

"But, it was a _happy_ ending... kind of..." Adric seemed a bit
uncertain of that. "At least Kodai and Yuki get to live again...
sort of... They do say that love conquers all, you know."

She looked at him, her blue eyes very serious. "Does it?" she

He blinked several times, face slowly darkening. "I wouldn't
know," he answered at last.

They walked on in silence for a few more steps, each deep in

Number One watched Adric out of the corner of her eye. The
kid had a strangely down look on his face. Sad, almost, and not
the tearjerker-movie-induced kind of sad, but a sort of personal
hopelessness. By all rights, she should have taken a dark and
sadistic delight in any pain he might feel, but somehow, she just
couldn't find any Schadenfreude within herself. Instead, she was
rather shocked to discover that the sight... _bothered_ her, a

Just one more bit of weirdness to toss into the growing pile in the
'IN' box of her psyche.

One of Number One's cardinal rules when on assignment was
this: 'When in doubt, stick to what you know.' And what she
knew at the moment was that Operation Cupid's Arrow called for
her to make sure Adric had a good time with her. Therefore, the
necessary action would be to try and brighten his mood a little.
She smiled warmly at him.

"Thanks for the movie, sugar. I appreciate you taking me."
Well, so it was kind of lame-sounding, but it was the best she
could come up with on short notice. What's more, it seemed
to have worked.

"You're welcome," he said, smiling back at her. "I've had a good
time being out with you." He seemed to debate for a second, then
added, "You're a really nice person, and a good friend."

("One friend, that's all I ask for. One person who gives a damn
whether I live or die...") Her words from earlier flashed through
her mind, and she felt a confused tangle of emotions well up
inside her. She swallowed hard and shivered just a little.

Adric didn't notice, though, as he was too busy poring over a
little hand-drawn map he'd pulled from his pocket. "I think we
need to lighten our mood a little," he was saying, "and I think
this last stop may be just the place to do that..."


Sister Roxanne found the Captain, Tharon, and Kaye gathered
around a star-map spread across their table. Captain Marlowe
was pointing at an area between two star systems near the edge
of the chart.

"...should re-enter our level of Reality somewhere about here, I'm
guessing," he was saying. "That'd put us on the Frontier, right
close to either Bulawayo or the Redstone System. Bulawayo's a
bunch of mining worlds. Good place to hide, bad place for any-
thing else. There's no good supply port there, and the Feds
sometimes 'show the flag' by patrolling the inner worlds to
remind the locals who's boss. Redstone, on the other hand, has
a Fed garrison, but they're too busy trying to keep a lid on the
civil war on Redstone IV to notice us. There's a Wanda-Suvian
convent on Redstone III where we can re-arm and get new Letters
of Marque."

Kaye nodded her agreement. "I like. Redstone puts us closer
to the shipping lanes, in case the good Sisters don't have a job
for us..."

Roxanne smoothly cut in. "Turn your thoughts away from piracy,
Miss Donegan. The Holy Order shall doubtless have another
task for us, so long as the Federation worlds persist in their God-
less ways." She turned to her Captain, nodding slightly. "Sir, I
have located for us another ship, and a new recruit." Her lips
twitched upwards ever-so-slightly in the merest hint of a smile.

Marlowe eyed the nun, his curiosity piqued by what was, for her,
a veritable storm of emotion. "Good work, Roxy. Where is this
newest swashbuckler of ours? It's not that Nyssa girl, is it?"

Kaye grinned hopefully, stretching the scar on her cheek. "Ooh,
I bet it's Tegan," she said. "Her crush on me is driving her to the
spacer's life!"

By way of reply, Sister Roxanne pursed her lips and blew a single,
sharp whistle. There was a scrabbling of little claws on the floor,
and the three looked down to see a small wiener dog come zipping
over to stare eagerly up at the blonde nun. She scooped the
animal up into her arms, stroking its back with her fingers as it
settled itself in against her bosom.

"Captain, this is Samson, who came to me as a refugee from the
heathen. I trust we can find him a suitable berth with the Loyal
Crew?" Though it came out as a question, her tone somehow
managed to imply that the decision had already been made and
was quite beyond appeal. "He did find a new ship for us, after
all." Again, there was the faintest twitching at the corners of her

"I suppose it'd be a shame to let a valuable scout like that go to
waste," Marlowe replied by way of agreement, "especially if he
has a good... _nose_ for starships." Though he really didn't care
to have an animal aboard ship, there was very little he could deny
his executive officer. And not because he was afraid of her (al-
though he certainly was) or because he found her attractive (al-
though he certainly did), but because she was quite simply the
best starship officer he'd ever worked with. Hard-working, fear-
somely competent, loyal to the point of fanaticism, and utterly
dependable, Sister Roxanne was (excluding her vow of chastity)
the kind of officer ship captains had been dreaming about since
the days of paddle and sail. So, if she wanted a dog, she was
more than entitled to one. Besides, it never hurt to try and get on
her good side. After all, she might just rethink that vow of chas-
tity one of these days.


The Nerima district of Tokyo was famed throughout the East as
quite possibly the oddest place on the planet, even weirder than
Juuban or Shinjuku, which was saying a lot. And considering
that Nerima was home to a major military equipment manufacturer,
a branch of the Chinese Amazon Tribe, and at least one time-
travel portal, and that the population contained a relatively high
percentage of cyborgs, androids, demons, ghosts, aliens, ninjas,
mad scientists, super-powered martial-artists, and members of
Clan Kuno, the fame was thoroughly earned. It is rather ironic,
then, that one of Nerima's oddest locales should be owned by
someone who appeared completely and hopelessly normal.

Jiro Arisaka dressed like a typical salaryman, one of the countless
hordes that filled the offices and shops of the Kyodai Corporation,
which had once been his employer. He had worked in the accoun-
ting department there, and was a man seemingly well-suited to the
bean-counting profession. Methodical, neat, correct, and conser-
vative in all he said and did, Jiro had never been regarded as the
type to do anything strange. And yet, one memo from the Vice-
Assistant Executive Director of the Overseas Branch of the Acc-
ounting Department had changed him.

He got transferred to Mississippi.

As it turned out, the Kyodai Corporation had decided to diversify
its operations away from just the manufacture of housewares,
video games, tractor engines, ceramic rabbit figurines, software,
sledgehammers, lingerie, and soup, and was expanding into the
paper products business. Mills had been purchased in various
parts of the world, and Kyodai Corporation employees were
descending on them like swarms of polite, benevolent locusts to
get them up and operating at Kyodai Corporation standards. Of
course, this necessitated the need for much financial auditing,
which was where Jiro came into the picture. He was sent in to
keep the budget balanced through the difficult transition period,
a task that could easily make or break his career at Kyodai.

Reluctantly, he agreed to go. He wasn't a man who liked change
or risk, but he was loyal and a bit flattered at being given such
responsibility, so he soon found himself living in a little rented
house outside of Bogue Chitto, Mississippi. He had expected to
be homesick, and was. He had expected the mill to be in a finan-
cial mess, and it was. He had expected to be a scapegoat for any-
thing that went wrong, and was.

He hadn't expected to fall in love, but he did.

Tammy Jo McCord waited tables at the diner just down from the
paper mill. A vivacious, outgoing, cheerful bleach-blonde with
a smile for everyone and a habit of calling the patrons 'Sweetie',
she and Jiro Arisaka had absolutely nothing in common, at least
at first. Still, he found that the young woman was always able to
cheer him up after a day of number-crunching and budget-
wrangling, and took to spending more and more time at Lazy
Pete's Diner. For her part, Tammy Jo was at first amused by the
earnest, serious-minded foreigner, but began to find herself more
and more intrigued by his exotic manners and his stories of life
in Japan. Eventually, phone numbers were exchanged, lovely
dinners were had, and things began to proceed to the 'relation-
ship' stage.

That was when Ricky McCord, Tammy Jo's older brother, entered
the picture. A pipefitter at the mill, he was ferociously protective
of his kid sister. It didn't matter that Tammy Jo was 24 and living
on her own, she was still his baby sis, and Ricky intended to see
to it that any potential brother-in-law met up to his exacting
standards. There were already several strikes against Jiro in
Ricky's mind. For one thing, Ricky had no great love for foreign-
ers, a category that included people from anywhere outside of
Mississippi, Louisiana, and _maybe_ Alabama. For another,
Jiro was one of 'them pencil-necked office geeks'. A man who
pushed a pen for a living wasn't hardly a man at all, in Ricky's
book. Still, Tammy Jo liked him, and he at least didn't live in a
trailer and draw welfare checks, so Ricky decided to give him a
chance, and invited the young accountant to go fishing with him.
That would give Ricky a chance to find out a little more about
his sister's boyfriend, to see what sort of man he was, and to be
able to pitch him in the river if it came down to it.

That fishing trip was when Jiro Arisaka really began to change,
because that was when he discovered that, deep down, he was a

The fishing was merely the first step on the road to this realization.
Spending time in Ricky McCord's old bass boat, Jiro was naturally
exposed to the full experience of the redneck fisherman's way: the
beer; the pickup trucks; the country music; the deep philosophical
discussions about the state of the Ole Miss Rebels' coaching staff;
the sense of brotherhood that comes from helping your fellow man
wrestle a swamped, leaking bass boat onto a trailer while looking
around for water moccassins. For the first time in his life, Jiro
Arisaka felt really _fulfilled_.

The story is quite predictable from there. As everyone knows,
once a man starts dating bleach-blondes and going bass fishing,
it's only a matter of time before he ends up attending rodeos and
football games and stock-car races, and eventually he finds
himself driving a 4x4 through the woods with a .30-30 lever-
action and a case of Pabst Blue Ribbon in the floorboard, Charlie
Daniels on the radio and an Ole Miss ball cap on his head, in
search of the elusive white-tail deer.

Suffice it to say, that when it came time for him to return to
Japan, Jiro was not the same Jiro Arisaka that had left. He was
now about twenty pounds heavier thanks to Tammy Jo's cooking,
could spit tobacco juice with deadly accuracy, and had a keen
interest in any subject discussed on The Nashville Network. He
also had a bleach-blonde wife who spoke Japanese with a drawl.

Sadly, his work with the Kyodai Corporation no longer quite
fulfilled Jiro's needs. While it was good to be home and among
the familiar, he found himself sometimes wishing for the trill of
Loretta Lynn on a diner jukebox or the sloshing of creek water
against the side of a cracked fiberglass boat hull or the gentle
cursing of half-drunk fans as the Rebels take a beating from the
Auburn Tigers.

It was while nostalgically watching an American beer commer-
cial one evening that the idea struck him of combining his two
great loves, Japan and Mississippi, under a single roof. Thus
was Hankosha-san's (Mr. Rebel's) Karaoke Barbecue born.

For seven years now, Jiro and Tammy Jo had made Hankosha-
san's into a mecca for homesick American travellers and service-
men, as well as curiosity-seekers and Ameriphiles from all over
East Asia. But it was far more than just another American-
themed bar, of which the world had plenty. Hankosha-san's
was a fusion of the best that two worlds could offer, a unique
blending of East and South. It was the only place in the world
where you could sit down to a fine meal of cornbread and pork
ribs with a side of sushi, knock back some sake with a Budweiser
chaser, and watch sumo wrestling on a big-screen TV while
George Jones lulled you from the jukebox. Or, there was karaoke
for the so-inclined, featuring a thorough mix of music from both
the Nashville and J-Pop scenes, which made for some... interest-
ing nights. The thought of hearing a Japanese investment banker
singing 'Folsom Prison' will be left to the imagination, as will the
sound of a group of middle-aged American tourists belting out
'Red Shoe Sunday'.

And then there was the decor: right out of Lazy Pete's Diner,
with the occasional straw tatami mat or rice-paper wall panel.
Even the artwork reflected this cultural meld, with pictures of
Robert E. Lee and Miyamoto Musashi. General Forrest and
General Kuribayashi. Dolly Parton and Megumi Hayashibara.
Richard Petty and Saburo Sakai. And, right over the bar, two
crossed flags showing the Stars and Bars and the Rising Sun.

So it was that people tended to be a bit surprised when they
met Jiro Arisaka. He still dressed the part of a salaryman, which
his conservative and correct mind deemed appropriate for a
respectable man of his station in Japan. It had been pointed
out to him that this was, in fact, a singularly _inappropriate_
mode of dress, considering what people expected of him, but
Jiro Arisaka didn't like dwelling on such paradoxes. He just knew
that he was happy.

This, then, was the place that Adric and his date found themselves


The neurotoxin gas was affecting Nyssa a bit more than she let on.
Oh, she could move around all right, but her speech was still a bit
slurry, her reactions were a little off-speed, and she kept seeing
oddly-hued and musically-inclined life forms of various types
emerging from places in which they logically could not be.

If she ever got her hands on that gymnast, Kodachi would be for-
ever known as the Black-and-Blue-and-Red-All-Over Rose. This
she vowed.

Under ordinary circumstance, with her victim not present, Nyssa
would have vented her fury on the nearest available relative of
that person. But, while the Big Kahuna was both conveniently
handy and conveniently out cold, Nyssa was just a bit too out
of sorts to summon the necessary energy for the proper amounts
of mindless torture and brutality. Just as well, since eliminating
him would probably be doing Kodachi a favor. And, besides,
every time Nyssa looked at him, orange porcupines kept crawling
out of his nostrils and singing the 'Mentos' commercial jingle at

"Are you sure you're all right?" Tegan asked worriedly.

Nyssa gave her a reassuring look, trying to ignore the pink walrus
playing the banjo up her friend's sleeve. It sounded like it was
trying to play 'Gangsta's Paradise'. "Just kumquatty, Tegan." Her
green eyes narrowed in concentration. "Peachy, I mean. Noooo
problems here." She made unobtrusive shushing motions at the
walrus, but he kept on playing.

"You sure you don't want to go back, now?"

"Yes, let's, and with all possible speed," Nyssa didn't say. Instead,
she just shook her head. "Of course not. I'm fiiine, and the night's
still young. Let's look around a biiiit more."

"For Adric, you mean?"

"Uh-huh," the Trakenite mumbled, distracted by two silver trilob-
ites arguing the merits of Wagner's 'Ring Cycle' on her feet. She
caught herself a little. "I mean, no. I just--" She suddenly squin-
ted at a familiar-looking form just down the block, facing away
from them. "Saaaay, isn't that him?" With a fierce but groggy
grin, she set off at a shambling run at the figure, mallet hefted in
her fist.

With a sigh, Tegan ran after her.


Adric and Ember stood in front of the karaoke machine, paging
through the song list.

"This'll be fun," Adric said. "Have you ever done this before?"

She shook her head, eyeing the stage with more than a little
trepidation. "No. You?"

Adric stopped to ponder a song, considered for a moment, then
kept on looking. "Oh, sure. Quite a few times."

She kept looking at the stage and the audience. "I don't know,"
she said uneasily. "I think I'd be too embarrassed."

His face took on a sly look. "That's why you do it where nobody
knows you. If you make a hash of it, no big deal. Hah!" He tapped
the song list with a fingernail. "Found one I know. I should be
able to do that one all right."

Ember looked at the title and frowned. He was going to sing
_that_? Talk about out-of-character. Then again, it _did_ have
'swamp' in the title...

"I first heard it in the Afterworld," Adric explained. "Songs
about ghostly revenge are rather popular there, as you might well

"I'll take your word for it. So, how does this work?"

Adric pointed at a screen near the front of the stage. "Simple.
The lyrics come up there, if you need them. You just sing along
as best you can. All those people up front have judging buttons
on their tables. When you finish, they give you a percentage
score, and the average comes up on that little screen over there.
According to the rules sheet, if you score over 80, you get to sing
for free, and if you get over 90, you win a prize! Just watch me!"
He fed a bill into the machine, punched in the song number, and
stepped up to the microphone.


Nyssa focussed her bleary senses through the foggy sounds of a
chartreuse mastodon playing the Hammond Organ, intent on the
prey before her. He stood there like the idiot-boy he was, his back
to her as he leafed through a book in his hands.

"Heeey, Adriiic!" she called fuzzily. To her chagrin, he didn't
hear her, but went on about his business. Her jaw tightened a
little. Fine, then, if that's how he wanted it. If he was going to
be so rude as to ignore her after the time she'd just had, then she
could be just as rude and go straight to the business of sending
him to join the Choir Invisible. Though she was vaguely disap-
pointed for some reason, the satisfaction of a job well-done
would soon assuage that. This would feel so good, to once again
strike out and eliminate the major source of annoyance in her life
and inflict a fitting, albeit temporary, punishment for the distress
he'd caused her this evening. She drew the mallet back.

She thought she could hear Tegan yelling something at her, but
the Hammond Organ drowned her out. She'd just ask her about
it after the little creep was decently dead.

With a vicious grunt of effort, she slammed the weapon directly
into the boy's skull. There was a terrible splintering crackle...


Nyssa was only a few steps away from the young man in the yellow
shirt when Tegan realized that the man wasn't Adric. Though his
back was to her, she could see that whoever this was was much
better-built than the Alzarian. She cried out for Nyssa to stop,
that she had the wrong man, but neither she nor the young man
appeared to hear her.

She winced as Nyssa's mallet came smashing down on the poor
unfortunate's head, but her horror turned instantly to surprise as
the heavy oak hammer was shattered into a cloud of splinters.

The young man merely scratched idly at the place the mallet had
struck, then went back about his business of flipping through a
large book.

Nyssa, groggy and off-balance, spun around a couple of times
with the mallet handle still in her hand, finally stumbling and
landing on her rear next to her intended victim, right beside an
enormous backpack he'd apparently been carrying.

Startled, the young man appeared to notice her for the first time,
then Tegan as she came running up. As he turned to them, Tegan
could see that he'd been looking through a road atlas that he
seemed to be holding upside-down.

"Hunk!" was Tegan's first thought on getting a good look at him.
He was in his late teens, with broad, strong shoulders and a
ruggedly handsome face. He was wearing an odd yellow and
green outfit that bore some superficial resemblance to Adric's
despised 'banana suit', with the addition of a tiger-striped bandana
just visible under his thick shock of black hair. He reached down
and gently helped the woozy Trakenite to her feet.

"Are you okay, Miss?" he asked in a deep baritone as he steadied

"Terribly sorry about that," Tegan stammered. "My friend's been
drugged by a loony flower-girl, you see..."

The young man laughed, and Tegan was taken aback to notice
that he had rather pronounced fangs. "Kodachi and her roses?"
he asked with a little shudder. "Been there, done that." He
waved his hand in front of Nyssa's face. "You aren't having any
bizarre hallucinations, are you?"

"Oh, no," Nyssa insisted. "I would say that these hallucinations
are relllatively normal ones." Two plaid lemurs were singing 'If I
Had a Hammer' while running in and out of her nose, but that
didn't seem especially bizarre as hallucinations went.


In the parking lot out front of This Time Round, several members
of the Loyal Crew were checking out their new ship. They all
ignored the writhing forms of three maimed men in coveralls
lying in front of it, accepting Sister Roxanne's explanation that
they were 'sinners contemplating the error of their ways'.

"It looks fast," Kaye commented after a moment's examnation of
the hull. "Not pretty, and the armament's wussy, but we can deal
with that."

Captain Marlowe turned to Roxanne. "Have you negotiated with
the current owner yet?"

She shook her head. "No, Captain. I thought I should get your
approval first."

"You've got it."

She inclined her head slightly in acceptance. "Shall we offer the
usual price?"

The Captain nodded grimly. "We're nearly broke, so I'd have to
say so."

A few grumbles of displeasure came from behind them, and the
Captain held up a placating hand. "I know she looks small, Tharon,
but we'll have her modified to give you more headroom ASAP."

The huge Venjari grunted in reply. He wasn't looking forward to
spending several weeks hunched down in the low human-sized
decks, but he could endure. "Needs a new name, though," he
growled. "I mean, _Nosferatu_? What the crap is that supposed
to mean?"

"There is that," Marlowe considered. He looked around at his
cohorts. "Anybody got a better one?"

"_The Lord's Vengeance_," Roxanne said immediately.

"That's what you wanted to name our last ship," Tharon reminded.

The nun remained, as always, unperturbed. "It's a good name."

"How about _Liberator_?" offered Kaye.

"I'm partial to _Late Unpleasantness_," the helmsman chimed in.
Soon, everyone was throwing out their personal preferences.

"_Heart of Gold_!"

"_Blue Star Twice_!"


"_Lovely Angel_!"

"_Blue Star Thrice_!"

"_Sword Breaker_!"


The noise of the debate drew the attention of one of the maimed
and groaning men on the ground, a big bruiser with tattoos on his
shaven skull. He was about to beg for help when his eyes set on
a familiar mini-habitted woman with the group. He whinnied in
terror. "It's her!" he shrieked. "That cold-blooded bitch! AAH!"

"_Cold-Blooded Bitch_," Marlowe said musingly. "Hmmm... I
_like_ it! The _Cold-Blooded Bitch_ she shall be!"

A man's voice called out from behind them. "Here, now! What
are you lot doing around my ship?"

Sabalom Glitz hurried over as the group of privateers turned to
face him. He swallowed, not liking the looks he was getting from

"Excuse me, sir," Roxanne asked in her light, cordial voice, "but
are you the proprietor of this vessel?"

"And if I am?" Glitz replied uneasily.

The nun cracked her knuckles, then took him by the arm. "Then,
sir, I wish to discuss something with you," she said politely.
"Most specifically, the joys of charity, and the goodness of giving
freely to your fellow-beings." She firmly led him off into the dark-
ness. "The Order has a saying, to the effect that giving means
never having to seek an organ donor..."


"...I just had to find out for myseeeelf,
That there's some things in this world you just can't explaaaaain!
Some things in this world you just can't explain!"

Number One winced as Adric finished up 'Legend of Wooly
Swamp'. Finished _off_ was probably closer to the mark. The
boy's voice would give any song the coup de grace. She tried
not to look pained as he bowed and stepped off the stage. There
was only a stony and disbelieving silence from the audience.

"Well, let's see how I did!" Adric burbled excitedly. A moment
later, the score came up.


The boy beamed. "Wow! I'm getting better at this!"

Number One blanched, shuddering at the thought of what he
must've sounded like before. "Congratulations," she made herself

"So, have you decided what song you're going to try?" he asked,
eyes eagerly alight.

She hemmed and hawed a little. "Not yet, sugar. I, uh, that is...
I'm not sure about this..."

"Oh, come on and try! It'll be fun!"

Number One began trying to think of a graceful way out of having
to sing in front of people. Maybe she could fake an epileptic seiz-
ure? Claim bladder incontinence? Spontaneously combust? For
you see, Number One had two terrible secrets.

It may have been noticed before now that the Cigarette-Smoking
Bastard often made a habit of humming or whistling to himself as
he worked at plotting the spreading of woe. He'd always liked
music, and it had a relaxing effect on him. But, it may have also
been noticed that, while he often hummed or whistled, he never,
ever sang. And the reason was quite simply that he had one of
the most atrocious singing voices on the North American contin-
ent, with only Courtney Love being categorically worse. In fact,
during the Great Jihad, the Brethren had often extracted inform-
ation from particularly recalcitrant captives by having them
locked in a room with Number One a set of lyric sheets. Those
who survived were universally eager to talk to their interrogators.
However, the practice had been discontinued for some time, as
even Lucas Buck found that such brutality troubled his conscience.
So, while his voice was monumentally _bad_, unlike Adric, he at
least had the sense to realize it.

Number One also had another secret, a secret weakness. While
his courage in battle was legendary and he could face death with
a bravado that bordered on utter stupidity, what he couldn't face
was public ridicule. The idea of being laughed at, or mocked, or
openly derided in full public view made him want to run and hide
under the bed like an agoraphobic cocker spaniel. Strange, but

And so, Number One was considering everything up to and inc-
luding honorable suicide to get out of having to sing in front of
these people.

"Please?" Adric prodded. "There's nothing to be afraid of. Look
what I just did. You've got a beautiful voice, and even if you
mess up, it's got to sound better than me, right?"

There was _that_. And besides, the macho part of her mind added,
if _Adric_ could do something, then surely _she_ could do it, and
better, right? Then too, who knew what _this_ body's voice could
do? She scanned the playlist again.

Hmmm... There was a song, right there, that might be okay. She
knew it pretty well, and it was supposed to be funny, so that if
she screwed it up, it shouldn't really matter. Plus, if people started
laughing, she could just assume it was at the lyrics. She made up
her mind.

"Okay, sugar. I'll do this one."

Adric gave her a thumbs-up, then paid and punched in the num-
ber as she stepped onto the stage.

She took the microphone and warily examined her audience. They
looked back with interest and obvious appreciation for her looks.
It made her feel slightly ill, and she focussed instead on the music
as the lyrics came up on the prompter. On cue, she began to sing:

"Momma made us listen to Pink Floyd and Floyd Cramer.
We had three square meals of mushrooms and cornbread.
Momma's kitchen smelled a lot like incense and cat-head biscuits.
We'd watch Porter and Dolly and then throw on the Grateful Dead.

"Born and raised on
Acid Country!
Eatin' turnip greens and a handful of Placidil.
Daddy couldn't take it, he had to go.
You can't play Hendrix on a banjo!
Momma walked the floor
And laid another brick in the wall.

"Our heroes were Roy Acuff and Abbie Hoffman.
And we grew up outside of Woodstock, Tennessee.
Listenin' to Faron Young and a side of 'Inna-Gadda-Da-Vida'.
Momma made a well-rounded outcast out of me!

"Born and raised on
Acid Country!
Eatin' cold ham-hocks and handful of Nembutal.
Daddy couldn't take it, he had to go.
Playin' Alice Cooper on a dobro!
Wearin' leather hip-huggers
And workin' in the cotton mill.

"And if you don't eat your meat, you can't have any pudding.
And son, you're walkin' on the fightin' side of me.
Yeah, excuse me while I kiss the sky,
I shot a man in Reno just to watch him die,
And shut up a loser playin'
Guitar on MTV!

"Born and raised on
Acid Country!
Makin' 'Smoke on the Water' sound a lot like 'Hopeful Pen'.
Daddy couldn't take it, he had to go.
You can't mix Deep Purple and Bill Monroe-roe-roe!
And 'Sunshine of Your Love'
While yodelling.

She let the last wailing notes of 'Acid Country' trail off and turned
her attention back to the audience. She stood tense in a torment
of anticipatory embarrassment, ready to either bolt for cover or
start knocking heads, depending on which way the fight-or-flight
reflex took her. They were laughing...

...but they were also clapping. Not a whole lot, more like what
would be considered 'polite applause', but a Hell of a lot better
than the boos and catcalls she'd expected. She bowed a little
stiffly as she left the stage to rejoin Adric.

He was fidgetting with suppressed excitement as he pointed at
her score. "See! I told you you'd do well! You got a 58! Wasn't
that great?"

"It wasn't as bad as I thought," Ember admitted.

He took that as fundamental agreement. "Told you. Now, be
thinking about what song to do next while I go. I'm going to give
'Seminole Wind' a try. I'm thinking I might be able to break the
20 barrier tonight..."


Inside the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Headquarters, a path was
cleared as the entire operational strength of the Adric Defense
Force's Team Gamma marched proudly and impressively to Ins-
pector Zenigata's office.

Okay, so it was only two of them, but they were doing their level
best to _look_ proud and impressive. Besides, it wasn't their fault
that four of their members were currently under medical and/or
psychiatric supervision.

Still, people made way for Patrol Leader Landon and Trooper
Second Class Frank as they strode confidently through the buil-
ding. Per Starr's advice, they were both wearing their full dress
uniforms, dramatic, high-collared things with the ADF's blue-
star-on-red-shield emblem prominently displayed. Landon's
also included his badges of rank and the various medals and
decorations he'd accumulated. Being relatively new to field
operations, most of these were on the order of 'Boot-Camp Com-
pletion Ribbon' or 'Exceptional Performance in Trigonometry
Cross with Oak Leaf Clusters', but the people he was trying to
impress weren't to know that. And Starr had been very clear on
the need to present a dominant, authoritative appearance to
these people.

Of course, it also helped that young Landon, although a baby-
faced lad of twenty-two, was easily the largest person in the entire
HQ building at several inches over six feet tall and a fair bit over
two hundred pounds. Frank, his peculiarly silent partner, followed
along in step and at a constant two-pace distance from his com-
mander, carrying Landon's briefcase and putting on his best
'dutiful subordinate' look.

Zenigata didn't get up when the two entered his office, but merely
nodded at them and went back to slurping at his coffee.

Landon arched an eyebrow and glanced back at Frank, who just
shrugged in reply. He cleared his throat and tried to sound in-
charge. "Are you Inspector Zenigata?"

"It says so on my door, doesn't it?" the lanky cop grunted back.
"I take it you two are here to gather up those two goofballs we
picked up earlier."

"Yes sir, Inspector." Landon motioned for his briefcase, then
retrieved an official-looking document from it. He held the form
out for Zenigata to examine. "I have here a letter from the Min-
istry of Defense authorizing their release into our custody--"

The Inspector ignored the profferred document, leaning back in
his chair and blowing a smoke ring at the ceiling. "I already had
a talk with the Ministry," he said. "They requested that I release
those two foreigners, and gave me authorization to do so." He
straightened and fixed Landon with a hard, unpleasant glare.
"There's a big difference between 'requested' and 'ordered', boy."

Landon tried to conceal the sinking feeling that washed over him.
Starr had warned them that the strings he'd pulled could only do
so much. That was why the need to try and overawe the Police
into co-operating. Unfortunately, it seemed that Zenigata was
prepared to call their bluff.

Zenigata's thick brows knotted and he stabbed at the air with his
cigarette to punctuate his words. "Those two crazies caused no
end of trouble and chaos for the Nerima and Bokuto Police, as
well as distracting us in our efforts to catch that vermin Lupin
and his gang. There's so many things I could pin on those two:
assault; brandishing a firearm; resisting arrest; conspiracy; loit-
ering with intent; disturbing the peace; possession of unlicensed
weaponry; criminal trespassing; obstruction; and for the girl,
sexual molestation of a figure-skater. I could put them away for
_years_, a thought that gives me a very warm and fuzzy feeling."
His lip curled nastily and he let out a low chuckle.

Small beads of sweat stood out on Landon's brow as he fumbled
for a way to redeem the situation. "Now, Inspector, I'm sure that
there must be some way we can resolve this without creating an
international incident..."

"There's already _been_ an international incident," Zenigata shot
back, "and your two friends triggered it." He grunted again and
leaned back into a less-aggressive posture, rocking idly in his
chair. "On the other hand, I'm not completely inflexible to the
Defense Ministry's wishes, nor do I care to escalate an already
volatile and rather idiotic situation. So, I am willing to drop all
charges and release them, provided that the following conditions
are met..."


"Are you sure this will work, Ryouga?"

"Pretty sure," the young man answered, shrugging slightly. "It's
always seemed to help when I've been drugged with paralysis-gas
roses, so it should help your friend, too."

Tegan and the young fellow who'd introduced himself as Ryouga
Hibiki stood together a few feet away from Nyssa, conversing in
low tones. Nyssa lay on a convenient bench, with her head hang-
ing down off one end and her feet propped atop Ryouga's huge
backpack at the other.

"Get the feet up and the head down, so that all the blood goes to
the head, and the stuff wears off quicker," he said. "The halluci-
nations get worse, but they don't last as long."

"So, you get drugged pretty often, then?" Tegan was beginning
to add things up: the headband; the backpack; the unkempt app-
earance; the familiarity with drugs. She really hadn't thought
that the Grateful Dead had much of a following in Japan...

His reply nicked that theory. "Oh, no. Just by Kodachi every
now and then. And by the Chinese Amazons once or twice...
And that time in Juuban..." He laughed nervously and rubbed
at the back of his head, then went on. "What I can't figure out,
though, is what Kodachi Kuno would be doing here in Sapporo."

Tegan cocked her head in puzzlement. "Sapporo? I think this is

Flabbergasted, he pulled out his road atlas. "Are you sure? I
would have sworn this was Sapporo." He opened the book to a
page he'd marked and traced out a route with his finger. "This
has to be Sapporo, because I followed this road in, then turned
right here..."

"Let me see that," said Tegan, taking the atlas. With a sigh, she
turned it right-side-up, then peered intently at the map for a
moment. "Ryouga," she said in the calm, sweet, reasonable tone
of voice that is usually reserved for explaining to three-year-olds
that they shouldn't take things out of the toilet, "you _are_ aware
that this is a map of Canada, right?"

"Huh? Canada?" He tapped at the map. "But, isn't that Sapporo
right there?"

"That's Toronto."

Ryouga's eyes widened and he stared around in amazement.
"Wow, I'm more lost than I thought!" he exclaimed. "How did I
get all the way to Toronto?"

Meanwhile, as Tegan was discovering the joys of assisting the
geographically-impaired, Nyssa was having a most interesting
and educational experience of her own.

"So, you see," the glowing purple emu was saying, "the departure
of Vince Neil from Motley Crue can be said to mark the end of the
transition of the hard-rock genre from glamour-oriented imagery
to a rawer, more earthy style that was in some ways influenced
by the up-and-coming 'grunge' scene that was to figure so largely
in the early '90s."

The saffron badger that had crawled out of Nyssa's navel was
having none of that. "Balderdash! The departure of Vince Neil
actually marked the transition of two things: Vince's career into
oblivion and Motley Crue from a bunch of mediocre talents who
were able to produce vapid-but-fun songs into one of the greatest
forces of suckitude of the 20th Century!"

The emu had to grant the point. "True. John Korabi did suck..."

The badger turned to Nyssa, his brassy nose twitching. "What
do you think, lady? Is there any validity at all to the deconstruc-
tionistic view of popular music, or is it simply the overlaying of a
veneer of pompous intellectualism to an inherently shallow and
derivative field of pseudo-art?"

Nyssa, fascinated by both the discussion and the shifting patterns
in the badger's pelt, was about to ask what a 'Motley Crue' was
when the ground abruptly turned to maple syrup and swallowed
up both of the debating animals. The sky was lashed with invis-
ible lightning as the clouds turned to Buick Electras and it began
to rain fermented yak sweat.

"Oh, bother," Nyssa swore. "I was just getting into that, too."

Six hundred and sixty-five pixies in Manchester United jerseys
crawled up out of the sticky ground and began to build a tower
made of old coathangers. As the thing quickly took shape, fish
started leaping from the sky and impaling themselves on the
metal wires. This went on for several minutes, until the front of
the tower was covered in fish flesh. With a sound of ten thousand
single hands clapping, the fish flesh melted into the form of a
woman, who hung crucified on the coathangers.

"Matsuro!" the woman moaned. "Matsuro, you must go to
Tokyo! You are the chick, and the world is the egg!"

Nyssa coughed politely. "Ah, excuse me, ma'am..."

"Matsuro! You must go to Tokyo! If you meet your brother
Cain on the road, kill him!"

"Ah, ma'am? Excuse me!" Nyssa waved slightly.

Half the pixies had fallen to arguing over whether fish flesh vio-
lated the local building codes, while the other half began dancing
around a bonfire on the woman's head. "Matsuro!" the woman
continued to groan. "You must find the Sword of Duality! You
are the chick, and the world is the egg!"

"Hey, lady!" Nyssa shouted.

The woman's eyes snapped open. "Dammit, Matsuro, don't int-
errupt your mother's surreal and highly symbolic monologue!
Show some respect for--" Her eyes narrowed as she caught
sight of Nyssa. "You aren't my son," she said in a voice that
was nothing like the sepulchral moaning she'd used before.
"Where is Matsuro, young lady?"

"I don't know anyone named Matsuro," Nyssa said honestly.

"You don't? Isn't this 'Do-Gooders'?"

"No. It's 'Doctor Who'."

The woman mumbled a curse, causing the pixies to all start
chanting 'Potty-mouth!' and begin pelting her with refrigerator
magnets. "Stupid bloody Department of Mystical Destinies,"
the woman snarled. "Typical bureaucratic mess, they've sent
me to the wrong hallucination. I'm sorry about this, Miss."

"No problem," Nyssa replied easily. "So, you were supposed to
be delivering this message to your son?"

Matsuro's mother sighed. "Yes, but it's nothing I haven't told
him before. Not that he ever listens to me, mind you! I'm just
his poor, dead mother, so what do I know? These kids today,
I tell you..."

"So, he hasn't gone to Tokyo, then?"

"Well, yes, but..."

"And he hasn't found the Sword of Duality?"

"Well, he has, but..."

"And he hasn't killed his brother Cain yet?"

"He doesn't have one," the woman admitted. "I just kind of made
that part up."

"So," Nyssa went on, "he _has_ listened to you."

"No, he hasn't!" the woman shot back. "If he had, he'd have
already married that nice Keiko girl and made me a Grandma!"

The yak sweat stopped falling, causing an excited chatter among
the pixies. All at once, each one bent down and dove into his
own navel, disappearing with a sound like ten thousand single
hands not clapping. The coathanger tower began to sink into the

"Oh, poo," Matsuro's mother grumbled as she started to drop
down into the gooey earth. "Time to go now, I'm afraid. It was
lovely meeting you, dear."

"Same here, ma'am. I hope things work out for your son."

"Why, thank you. If you should ever happen to be in my part of
the Afterworld, stop in for tea. Just ask for Akemi!" This last
came out rather burbly, as Akemi's head vanished into the depths
of the syrup. Within a few seconds, the landscape was back to

"You have some weird hallucinations, lady!" the saffron badger
exclaimed as he climbed back out of Nyssa's left ear. "Thank
goodness that's over with. Now, we were discussing deconstruc-
tionism as applied to modern popular music..."


"They want what!?"

"Settle down, Doug." Landon cast a nervous glance around and
tried to gently shush his superior. "We have to be diplomatic
about this, or the Inspector might change his mind and decide to
press charges after all." He gave Doug and Di a pleading look.

Doug scowled at the pen and paper on the table as though they'd
just said something about his mother. This was demeaning. Also
degrading, humiliating, insulting, reprehensible, and lots of other
similar adjectives. On the other hand, it was still better than

Doug snatched up the pen with as much savagery as he could
(not much) and snarled out, "Fine. We'll write their damned
letters of apology. Is that all, I hope?"

Landon looked deeply bummed. "Actually, no. In addition to
formal letters of apology to the three involved police departments
and the two Bokuto officers, you are also banned from setting
foot inside Tokyo city limits for six months. After that, you can
come back only with the express written consent of the Tokyo
Metro Police. There will also be a $30,000 fine, but that'll be
paid out of the Ops budget, so don't worry about that." He
turned to Diane. "There's also a restraining order against you
personally, Di. You aren't to come within 200 yards of someone
named..." He consulted his notes. "...named Mikado Sanzenin.
Zenigata said you'd know what that was about."

The blonde pouted. "It was just one measly little kiss. Granted,
there was a _little_ bit of tongue..." She trailed off into mumbles.

"Is _that_ all, then?" snapped Doug.

Landon shuffled awkwardly for a moment and glanced back at
Frank for moral support. "Wellll," he began, "there was this _one_
other point..."

Doug threw up his hands. "They've got my dignity! What else
do they want? My first born?"

Fidgetting even more, Landon said, "Actually, it's a condition of
_mine_, not theirs."

The ADF leader's face pinched down into a suspicious glare.
"_Your_ condition?" he asked in a deadly whisper.

"Well, yes." Landon fought the urge to step back away from
Doug's frigid look. "Um, I thought, since we're coming over here
and bailing you out of trouble and all, maybe you could, you
know, stop referring to my group as 'the Cannon-Fodder Brigade'
or 'Team Redshirt'..." Frank tapped him lightly on the arm. "Or
'Team Rocket'," he added at the reminder. "I mean, it's not our
fault that we've had such a high casualty rate, and stuff..."

Doug had his face down on the table. He weakly raised a hand
in surrender. "Whatever, Landon. Let's just get this crap over

"My thoughts exactly," said Diane with a tired sigh. She took up
a pen and a sheet of paper. "So, who are we supposed to write
these letters to, again?"

Landon checked his notes again. "For starters, the two cops you
had the run-in with, a Miss Yoriko Nikaidoo and a Mr. Futaba

Diane started to write something, then stopped. "Hang on, did
you just say 'Mister'?"

"That's what my notes say. Mr. Futaba Aoi. Why?"

"Weird. I'd have sworn it was two police_women_ we met..."


" Kodachi attacked you because she thought you were after
Ranma?" Ryouga asked, a grim look on his face.

Tegan had finally given up on talking geography with the boy
after she'd found out he couldn't pick out the direction of 'north'
in three tries even if you spotted him east, south, and west, so
she'd started talking about their run-in with the Gymnast from
Hell. "As near as I could make out from her ranting, yeah. I
take it this guy's her boyfriend or something?"

Ryouga didn't hear the question, as he was involved in a most
curious ritual. His eyes were closed, his head was thrown back,
and his fists were clenched at his sides. His breathing was be-
coming more ragged by the minute, and he almost seemed to be
glowing with a dark, streaming aura. Tegan took a few steps
back, having learned caution from her earlier experiences with
Eimi and Kodachi.

"Umm, Ryouga...? Hey, are you...?"

Suddenly, the boy's eyes snapped open and his fist shot quivering
into the air. "Ranma Saotome, you two-timing bastard!" he bell-
owed. "As, usual, this is ALL YOUR FAULT! Your unfaithfulness
to Akane has once again brought suffering to an innocent woman!
I'd kill you for that, except that I already have to kill you for the
Hell you've put me through and for being mean to Akane and for
all that other stuff I've vowed to kill you over!" This last part
finished a little weakly, as his lungs were completely emptied. He
doubled over, gasping for wind.

Tegan tentatively uncovered one ear and then, realizing that the
aural bombardment had ceased, uncovered the other. "So," she
asked conversationally, "hold grudges much?"

"Hah!" Ryouga rasped, throat a bit raw from his declaration of
vengeance. "If you only knew. It's always Ranma's fault." He
said this with the assurance of a Baptist discussing salvation.

"What is?" asked Tegan.

"Everything. Whatever happens, it's always Ranma's fault."


"Well... everything bad, I mean."

"So, you being lost...?"

"Ranma's fault," he said with a nod.

"And us getting attacked?"

"Ranma's fault, naturally."

Tegan decided to try an experiment. "What about the civil war
in Somalia?"

"Hah! I was there! It had 'Ranma' all over it!"

"The failure of the Mars probe?"

"Definitely Ranma's fault."

"What about that movie 'Biodome'?"

Ryouga started to answer, but had to stop and think. "No," he
said at last. "Pauly Shore is too low for even Ranma. _That_
was probably Happosai's fault!" He looked past her, toward
the bench. "Oh, I think your friend must be better now."

"Hey, Nyssa," Tegan called, rushing over. "Are you feeling any

The Trakenite struggled up to a sitting position. "Yes, much.
That seems to have gotten rid of my hallucinations. Thank you,
Mr. Hibiki!" She waved at him over Tegan's shoulder.

He chuckled embarrassedly. "Oh, you're welcbweeeee!" Just as
he spoke, a motorcycle zipped past, spraying water from a nearby
puddle. The moment the droplets struck him, his form blurred
and he disappeared in a tumble of empty clothes, letting out a
peculiar grunting squeal as he did.

Nyssa lay back down. "Then again, I seem to be having a relapse."

Tegan turned just in time to see his clothes settle to the ground.
"Ryouga?" she asked in a shocked voice. Wide-eyed, she stepped
over to check the pile for any sign of what had happened to the
bandana-ed boy.

As she bent to lift the corner of his yellow shirt, something moved
under the cloth. Tegan leapt back, ready to fight or flee as a small
shape wiggled itself out of the heap.

With a "Bweeee!" of effort, a tiny black piglet with a tiger-striped
bandana around its neck pushed out from under Ryouga's clothes.

"Bweee-eee! Bweee-eee bwee bweeebweeeee!" the piglet declared
with adorable anger. And, somehow, Tegan was able to translate
that into words:

"Ranma! This is all your fault!"


"16. How disappointing. I just _knew_ I'd get over 20 for that

Number One tried to look reassuring, a hard task. "Well, sugar,
you did manage an 18 for 'Tied to the Whipping Post'. Maybe
you should quit while you're still near your peak? I know your
voice must be getting tired." She didn't know about his voice,
but everyone else's ears certainly were.

Adric considered. "I don't know... I think I've got at least one
more good one in me."

A half-crocked American Marine sitting up front saw him start
over to the selection list again and started wailing like an infant.
"Please, God! Not again! What have we done to deserve this?"

Across the room, a small, spare Japanese man in a rumpled suit
looked over at the bleach-blonde standing beside him. "Tammy
Jo," he said evenly, "please fetch me a knife. If that boy starts
singing again, I intend to commit seppuku immediately."

"Tell you what, darlin'," she replied. "If he sings again, I'll go
get _two_ knives. I ain't heard the like since the time Ricky's
dog tried to hump a nanny goat."

"Please, kid, have mercy!" came the shouts. "We ain't done
nothing to you!" "Be reasonable!" "Let that girl go again,

Adric coughed nervously. "Then again, maybe you're right,
Ember. Maybe I should leave off on a high note. I guess six
songs is enough for one evening, anyway, eh?"

"Praise the Gods, he's stepping away!" a Japanese man shouted
from the corner. The audience began exchanging weary high-

"So, what about you?" Adric asked her. "You won a freebie on
your last song. You going to use it?"

"I might as well," she replied. Truth be told, Number One was
kind of getting into this. As is known, she liked music, and the
discovery that this body had a fair singing voice was a revelation
that had her on Cloud Nine. As she'd gotten more confident and
more into the performance, her scores had generally gotten better
and better. Of course, part of that was undoubtedly just the audi-
ence's reaction to Adric's singing coming through, that they were
voting her better scores because she sounded so much better in
comparison. And, of course, there was the fact that she was a
cute girl in a short skirt, and thus entitled to a few points based
just on that. She'd managed an 82 for 'The Devil's Right Hand',
one of her favorite songs (it was about guns, so naturally...), and
was thus entitled to a free round.

As always, Number One's competitive spirit was at the fore. Like
all the Brethren, she was taught to regard any competition as
being for the honor of the Faith, and so was obligated to try and
perform her best at all times. She'd set her eyes on that 90 score
that would mean winning a prize and gaining conclusive proof of
her triumph, and set about planning the best way to do that. She
just needed the right song, and with the relief the audience would
feel at not having to hear Adric belt out 'Can't You See?' or 'A
Country Boy Can Survive', she should have a good shot.

She scanned through the playlist again. Hmm... She could do
'Copperhead Road', but that would sound kind of dumb sung by
a female. And besides, it should be something that would play
on the hearers' sentiments. 'Stand By Your Man'? She gave
Adric a long look. Uh-uh. Good for the Operation as that might
be, still uh-uh. She couldn't quite make herself do that. Her eyes
stopped on a title. _That_ song. She gave a shudder and looked
away. Mustn't even think the title of it, mustn't see the words.
_That_ song did... things... to her brain, and the aftermaths were
always messy. She did _not_ need to go ballistic right now, no

She scrolled down, and there she saw it. _Perfect_. Sung properly,
it was a guaranteed tear-jerker in front of the correct audience. Of
course, screwing it up would mean the very real possibility of being
sent to the Emergency Room by said audience. Oh, well. Nothing
ventured, nothing gained. She punched the selection and took to
the stage.

A scattering of applause greeted her, probably largely due to her
not being Adric. She was going to do this the right way, for the
honor of the Faith (and a prize, too!), and so she used the pause
before the music began to look out over the crowd and say the
ritual that by tradition must accompany the playing of the song
most sacred to the redneck heart.

"What song is it you wanna hear?"

They knew the tradition, too, and with raised voices and raised
fists shouted back, "Free Bird!"

She smiled, and completed the catechism. "I heard it then."

Adric watched and listened, rapt, as the sad whine of a guitar
started up and her voice reached out to him...

"If I leave here tomorrow
Would you still remember me?
For I must be travelling on, now,
'Cause there's too many places I've got to see.
But if I stayed here with you, now,
Well, things just couldn't be the same,
'Cause I'm as free as a bird, now
And this bird you'll never change..."


"Shame about him being a pig, and all."

"Eh?" Nyssa asked. "You mean Adric?"

Tegan shot her friend a sly glance and mentally chalked up ano-
ther tally on her private Nyssa/Adric board. Deny as she would,
the young Trakenite clearly had Adric on the brain. Just a few
more gentle nudges, perhaps...

"I meant Ryouga, actually," she said.

"Oh. Yes, I suppose it is. I know I should be really, really surp-
rised by his transformation and all, but very little will surprise
me after some of the things I've seen today."

The two walked in companionable silence down the dim street,
headed in a general sort of way back toward the PLOT hole.
Nyssa claimed to be able to feel the PLOT hole's presence in
her mind, so there was no danger of them getting lost trying to
find it. Thus, they were going back by a more or less indirect

After a few minutes, Tegan spoke again. "So, you aren't even
a little bit curious how he changed like that?"

Nyssa shrugged. "Somewhat, but there's little point in pursuing
the issue without evidence to work from. If he hadn't run off like
that..." She spread her hands in a 'what can you do?' gesture.
"So, what about you, Tegan? You seem so disappointed. Did
you, you know, _like_ him?"

The Australian grinned wryly. "He _was_ cute, in a clueless sort
of way. And he seemed pretty nice. On the other hand, he struck
me as being the angst-ridden type, and you know how I feel about

"I remember," Nyssa replied with a short laugh. She scowled and
pitched her voice in a close approximation of Tegan's. "Boyfriends
are for having fun with! If I want to be depressed and gloomy, I
can do that myself with a bottle of Tangueray and a Pearl Jam

Tegan started giggling. "Word for word, Nyssa! Word for bloody


Not far behind the two, the man who was in no way whatsoever
John Travolta followed along in his stealthy and extremely pro-
fessional way. He allowed himself a quick, irritated glance at his
watch. Would those two _ever_ get around to going home?


"Beautiful," thought Adric as he watched the redhead on stage.
She really seemed to be putting her heart into the sad, sad song,
so that it almost hurt to hear the words.

"Bye-bye baby, it's been a sweet love,
Though this feeling I can't change.
And please don't take it so badly
'Cause the Lord knows, I'm to blame..."

Unbidden, he imagined himself saying those words to someone,
a someone with a strangely obscured face, and whose hair was
sometimes red and sometimes chestnut-brown. It left him with a
cold and shaky feeling.


"Yes! 91! All right!" Number One whooped as she gave the
audience another dramatic bow. Just the score she needed! So
overcome with glee was she, that she didn't even bother to kick
the Marine in the front row's teeth out when he wolf-whistled
and called her 'Hot Momma'. This was a novel experience, having
people applaud her in public. She spent so much time operating
in the shadows, that few people ever even knew she was there.
And when her usual actions _were_ known to the public, they
were usually met with shock and disgust.

It was, in truth, a liberating experience for the Brethren assassin.

"Check it out, sugar! A 91!" she called as she practically danced
off the stage.

"Congratulations!" Adric replied, clapping her on the shoulder.

A bleach-blonde woman in skintight jeans stepped in front of
them, a digital camera in her hand. "We'll have your prize in a
moment, sweetheart," she said, then raised the camera. "Now,
you and your boyfriend lean in close and say 'cheese'!"


Inside Number One's poor, diseased little mind, the various frag-
ments of personality were doing a passable impersonation of the
situation in Beirut as they split into rival and mutually hostile

"BOYFRIEND?!?!" screamed the Macho Faction. "NO! WE

"Shut up, you idiots," snapped the Reasonable Faction, firing
their pistols in the air for attention. "We have to play along.
It's all part of the Plan."

MANHOOD IS AT STAKE!" There was much gnashing of teeth
and rather pointless running-about.

"But, we're a girl right now," the Emotional Faction timidly
chimed in. "How can our manhood be at stake if we're a girl?"


"And Adric ain't no friend, either," put in the Stubbornness Fac-
tion as they sided with the Machos.

"He isn't?" the Emotionals asked a little sadly. "That's too bad,
because we've had a really good time with him."

"STOW IT, WIMPS!!" the Machos, Stubborns, and Reasonables
all screamed at once.

The Reasonables turned on the Machos and Stubborns, who were
busy digging in for a siege. "Look," they said, "you can't just go
and throw out the Plan like that. What about our duty to the Faith,

"Yeah!" cried the Loyalty sub-factions of the Stubborns and
Machos, throwing down their tools. "That's right! We have a
duty to uphold. We can't just abandon that."

That was enough to swing the Stubborns and a large minority of
the Machos to the other side, and they came over to join the Rea-
sonables. They all glared at the remaining Machos. "What's it
gonna be?" they asked. "Y'all gonna cooperate, or do we have to
get medieval?"

"Fine!" grumbled the remaining Machos. "We'll go along this
time, but this issue isn't dead yet!"

"We think Adric would make a good friend..." the Emotionals
whispered, but the others weren't paying any attention.


Nyssa had her face against the store window, looking like a kid
at a candy store, her breath leaving little clouds on the glass.

"Tegan, come here! This is amazing! I never thought I'd see the

What could she be so worked up about? Tegan trotted over,
glancing at the sign over the awning: 'Hakai Toy and Hobby

In the display window, a video game was playing its demo cycle
over and over. At first, Tegan thought it was some bizarre mod-
ern art program, because of all the red streaks. Then, she realized
it was streamers of blood running down the screen. As the crim-
son drippings cleared, a very realistic image of a hallway full of
torn-apart corpses could be made out. So realistic, in fact, that
Tegan could feel the baked mackerel beginning a return trip up
her esophagus.

"Check it out!" Nyssa exclaimed delightedly. "It's the new Sega
CarnageMaster 3000 game system. It's supposed to be the most
realistic and graphically violent video game platform yet created.
It's already been banned in twelve countries based on the adver-
tising copy alone!"

On the screen, a man dressed vaguely like an Old West cowboy
popped up and was instantly cut to pieces by what looked like a
flying circular-sawblade. Tegan looked away as bits began to
spray around, while Nyssa went on chattering.

"Ooh, that's so neat! That's the new 'Badlands: the Coyote Saga'
game I've heard so much about. It's supposed to have more on-
screen deaths per minute than any two other games combined,
and all in glorious 3-D realism! And they've got 'Magical Girl
Hunters', as well! And 'Sonic the Homicidal Hedgehog'! And
the 'Tournament of Bastards' fighting game! Oooh, I want one!"


The empty mineral-water bottle thumped into the trashcan as the
man who was absolutely not to be confused with John Travolta
leaned against the wall. He lit up a smoke and made himself in-
conspicuous, a talent he was rather good at when he put his mind
to it. There were no good shadows to lurk in on this block, which
was a bummer, so the next best thing was to hide in plain sight.

Fortunately, the place he was standing in front of, Hankosha-san's
Karaoke Barbecue, seemed to have plenty of Westerners hanging
around, among whom he could loiter unnoticed as he kept an eye
on Nyssa and the Jovanka woman.


"Here we are, sweetheart," Tammy Jo Arisaka said as she came
back to where Adric and Ember were standing. The redhead
seemed a little stiff, but that was probably just belated stage-
fright or suchlike. With a mild flourish, Tammy Jo held out the
karaoke prize of the evening.

Adric and Ember just looked at the thing, mildly puzzled.

"It's a keyring," the blonde explained. "You know, for putting
your keys on."

"Oh," Ember said as she took it. "It's a bit... large for a keyring,
ain't it?"

And it was, too. The ring itself was normal-sized and made of
brightly-polished brass, hinged and clasped so that keys could
be added or removed. It was the attachment that was the cause
of confusion. Attached by a short chain to the ring was a brass
frame about the size of a wallet, with the Hankosha-san's logo of
crossed flags along the top and the words 'Singing Sensation' in
Japanese and English down each side. And in the middle, a
photo of Number One and Adric, the boy's arm lightly across her
shoulder. Both bore nervous and awkward-looking smiles.

Number One blinked at the picture, feeling another one of those
moments of weird flutteriness that she seemed to be having so
often of late.

"The prizes get better as you get closer to 100 points," Tammy Jo
was explaining. "If you'd got a 96, for instance, you'd have won
a free candlelight dinner for two at a fancy restaurant." She
winked at them, and both blushed to the clavicle.

Before things could get any more emotionally-disturbing for the
duo, though, an unfortunate thing happened. No one familiar
with their situation would be a bit surprised, of course.


Private Arvil Hodges, United States Marine Corps, was at that
stage of drunkenness known as sentimental weepiness. He was
just a farm boy from North Carolina, and this hitch with the
Marines was the first time he'd ever gone any further from home
than Richmond. He'd been drinking beer with his buddies for
most of a long day. Coming to this bar that reminded him so
much of home had seemed a good idea at first, but gradually the
not-quite-hominess of the place had come to only make his
homesickness worse.

Then that girl had gotten up there and sang. She was so pretty.
She reminded him a little of a girl he'd dated in high school,
except that Arlene had freckles and dipped snuff. Awash in
memories and in a fog of alcohol-enhanced sentimentality, he
decided against his better judgment to have a go at that Karaoke
thing. They even had his favorite tune up there, one his Daddy
always liked when he got similarly blitzed.

Private Hodges fed in his money and blearily punched the
fateful buttons...


Number One's spine went ramrod-straight as a familiar tinkle of
piano keys started up.

"No!" her mind wailed. "Not _that_! Not _now_!" Rationality
overrode her moment of panic and she thought, "I have to get out
of here. Now. Maybe, if I can get out before the lyrics start..."
Already, though, she could feel the first stirrings in her dark and
grim subconscious as _that_ song sank its claws into her.

"Sorry, sugar," she gasped out, pushing toward the door. "I have

"Ember?" Adric called after her, worry coloring his voice.

"Virgil Cane is the name
And I served on the Danville train
'Til Stoneman's cavalry came
And tore up the tracks again..."

Private Hodges was not a good singer by any stretch of the
imagination. Not as bad as Adric, or as bad as Number One in
male form, but still thoroughly off-key and slurred. That didn't
matter a bit to Number One, though, as her head began to fill
with the rattle of rifle fire and the stench of black powder smoke.

"Oh, God," she thought as her grip on her sanity began to slip
further and further. "Maybe, if I can get away from it, it'll fade..."
That was, of course, a vain hope. Once _that_ song started
working its will upon her, it wouldn't end until she did its bidding.

"In the winter of '65
We were hungry, just barely alive.
By May the 10th, Richmond had fell
It's a time I remember oh so well!"

Number One's eyes began to glaze over, and her last coherent
thought was the forlorn hope that, maybe, if no one spoke, the
seizure would pass without incident.

"The night they drove Old Dixie down!
And the bells were ringing
The night they drove Old Dixie down!
And the people were singing
They went La-lala-la-lala

She walked jerkily out the door, a puppet with invisible strings.
She could hardly hear over the roar of cannons, the sharp crackle
of muskets, and the piercing wail of fifteen thousand infantrymen
that existed solely in her head. That was no obstacle, though.
When she heard the tones of her enemy, she'd recognize them
even through the shrieks of the damned, themselves.

"Back with my wife in Tennessee
When one day she called to me:
'Virgil, quick! Come see!
There goes Robert E. Lee!'"

The doors shut behind her, cutting off the remainder of the song,
but its job was already done. Her eyes, which seemed almost
those of a dead thing, tracked through her dim surroundings, at
last settling on a likely target. A faint and Hellish light seemed
to burn in the depths of her empty pupils as she stalked toward
him, hands already clenching into claws.


The man who may have looked like John Travolta but was in
reality someone else entirely felt a strange sensation of eyes
upon him. After so many years of this sort of work, he'd deve-
loped a sixth sense about these things, and that sense was now
going off like a Californian's car-alarm. He was most definitely
being watched, and by eyes that meant him no good at all.

He turned, to all appearances just casually shifting to a more
comfortable position against the wall but in actuality taking in
his surroundings at a glance.

"Damn," he thought, his face showing nothing but idle boredom,
"it's that Number One. Am I compromised? How can she know?
Maybe it's coincidence..."

She came over to him, and from the corner of his eye he noticed
that she seemed to be moving a bit oddly. Drunk? No, more like
she was being operated by remote control. Without giving any
sign that he was doing so, the man who was in no way connected
to the Travolta family went fully on-guard.

"'Scuse me, mister," she said, and he noted that her accent, which
he'd heard many times on surveillance, had gone somehow much
thicker. Molasses-thick. He found that vaguely unsettling.

"Yes?" he replied as he turned to face her. His features were care-
fully schooled to show only the polite interest of a stranger looking
at an attractive woman. Then he saw her eyes, and the neutral
look slipped a little. They were chilly, glacial things, with a lurking
shadow of something primitive and feral inside them. "Can I help
you, Miss?" he asked, her thick drawl making his own clipped
Northeastern tones sound harsh to his ears.

Ready as he was, the blow still caught him by surprise. He doub-
led over as her fist slammed into his gut, then snapped back as
her other drove viciously into his jaw. With strength wholly out
of proportion to such a small body, she snatched him by the jacket
and slung him face-first into the wall.

He rebounded and tried to get his feet firmly under him for a
proper defense, but the girl's frenzied attack gave no time for
that. Punch after punch rained in on him, some of which he
managed to block, but most of which found their mark on his
chest and abdomen. And as her fists windmilled into him, he
could hear her growling what it took him a moment to identify
as words.

"...Shiloh, Pea Ridge, Corinth, Chickamauga, Lookout Mountain,
Antietam, Cold Harbor..." She cocked back for a knockout shot.
"And here's for Gettysburg, damnyankee!"

That was a mistake on her part. The man who might have borne
a slight resemblance to John Travolta slipped through a single,
quick blow, striking directly at the bandage on her temple. With
a gasping moan, she stumbled away, clutching at the wound.

The man whose similarity to John Travolta was purely superficial
used the respite to slip away into the night. His mission did not
yet necessitate a confrontation with any of the Brethren's operat-
ives, and maintaining secrecy was the highest priority. So, in
keeping with the spirit of his assignment, he broke contact and
faded into the gloom. Though he was going to sport a nice col-
lection of bruises and at least one of his teeth was feeling loose,
he had to put personal feelings aside and deal with things as they
happened. There was no room in this line of work for revenge.

Not until after the assignment was finished, anyway.


"Say, what's going on down there?" Tegan said, turning to look
toward the sound of the disturbance. Someone seemed to be
staggering around out front of that odd Karaoke place.

"Uh-huh," Nyssa said distractedly, eyes glued to the demo of
Sega's newest game, 'Duke Nukem vs. Mary Poppins'.


Number One reeled, clutching at the throbbing scarlet burn of
her head wound. The pain had brought her back to her senses,
but the last few moments were a hazy blur. Her last full recollec-
tion was of reaching for the door handle and hoping she could
evade the effects of _that_ song. Then, there was a blank
until the pain hit.

She fought for balance, but her muscles all felt tired and drained.
Maybe she could find a nice wall to flop against. That would be

She felt arms catch her up, but was too tired to fight about it just
now. Maybe in a minute, when she was less dizzy.

"Ember?!" an urgent voice said. "Are you okay?" Adric had
come out just too late to see what had happened. "Did you hit
your head on something?"

Yes, she supposed she had, one way or another. "Uh-huh.
Sorry, sugar." She noted how easily that term came to her, and
wondered at herself.

She tried to turn to face him, nearly tripping over her own feet
in her addled state. His arms slipped around her waist to catch
her, while her own instinctively twined around his neck for sup-

Their eyes locked, their faces a few inches apart and their arms
holding each other in a tight embrace. Naturally, the situation
called for one thing: total panic.


"Holy shit," Tegan muttered as she got a good look at just who
was doing what and with whom in front of the Karaoke bar. Her
eyes flicked to Nyssa, half-hoping she wouldn't turn and notice
and half-hoping she would.

Naturally, she did.


"AAAAAH!! WHAT AM I _DOING_!?!" thought Number One.
TO ME!?!"

She was terrified. How had things gotten to this point? Was she
so into this assignment that she was losing sight of who she was?
Or was it something else? All these weird thoughts she'd been
having of late, now culminating in this. What could it possibly

"I have an answer," the traitorous little voice from earlier whisp-
ered. It sounded a bit like the Emotionals had a few minutes ago.

"Yeah, what?" demanded the rest of her.

Very softly, the traitor whispered a single sentence.

"NO!" cried the rest of her. "That CAN NOT be!"

The traitor-voice shrugged. "We'll see."


Adric froze, panicking. Here he had in his arms a lovely, warm,
inviting girl. Her ruby lips were inches from his own, her eyes
somewhat distant and unfocussed. Did she want him to kiss her?
In all likelihood, considering how she behaved, the answer was
probably 'yes'. He felt her warm body against his, and could
feel himself responding to her physically.


Something held him back. Though he was pretty sure she wanted
him to take the next step, he wasn't at all sure _he_ wanted to.
Not where it really mattered, anyway. His body was urging him
on, but his heart held him back.

"Do I want this?" he asked himself. "Do I want _her_? Or, am I
just using her as a substitute for... someone else?" He found he
couldn't answer that question, and that made up his mind.

So long as he wasn't sure how he felt, he couldn't lead a girl on
and make her think there was something there that might not be.
For now, this was as far as things needed to go. He'd have to
tell her that, of course, which was a thing he was _not_ looking
forward to. Maybe later, after they'd gotten home, perhaps, and
cooled off a little.


The voice wasn't Ember's, though it was certainly plenty familiar.

Nyssa stood in a puddle of streetlight a few feet away, with Tegan
right behind. Her face bore a look of astonishment that might
have seemed comical at another time, and her jaw moved as if to
speak, but no sound came out.

At a loss, she just pointed weakly at Adric and the girl in his
arms, her gold charm-bracelet jingling faintly.

"Adric," she managed again, her voice brittle.

They just stood there for a long moment, a frozen tableau of
shocked disbelief in three parts. Tegan covered her eyes and
shook her head.

Adric's heart tightened.

"Adric, you..." Nyssa croaked again. At once, her astonished
look began to crumble, then twisted into something more familiar.

"You..." she hissed, her voice full of fury and something else,
something harder to define, but more ragged-edged and some-
how harder to bear.

Adric sighed, knowing what was coming. He gently but firmly
disengaged Ember and slipped protectively in front of her. What-
ever else might be between them, she was his friend and he would
not see her hurt.

"You..." Nyssa said again, and now that ragged-edged feeling
filled her voice even as it raised at him. With narrowed eyes and
mouth twisted, she reached behind her.

"Here it comes," thought Adric as he shut his eyes to await the

A moment later, he felt something impact on his chest. To his
surprise, there was no penetration or explosion. Nor was there
any hiss of escaping gases or napalm, just a weak strike followed
by the loose clatter of something hitting the ground. That wasn't
like her. She must have been so angry that her weapon struck
the wrong way and bounced off. He opened his eyes to say
something about that, only to see the Trakenite's running form
disappear down the street toward the PLOT hole, Tegan right
behind and casting baleful glances back his way. Curious, he
looked down to see what weapon she'd used, the failure of which
had frustrated her into headlong flight.

A little gold charm bracelet glimmered back from the pavement
where it lay at his feet.

He stared at the thing for a long moment, and then finally found
his voice again. "Nyssa," he whispered. Then again, louder, as
he snatched it up and began to run after her. "Nyssa. Nyssa,

Number One watched him go, then slowly sank to her knees.
She found herself having to blink back a strange wetness from
her eyes as she stared after them. "This isn't happening," she
murmurred to herself. "I don't feel that way. I don't feel that
way at all. Not me..." She turned her face to the impassive
night sky.

"I don't care about him at all..."

Part One - Part Two - Part Three - Part Five - Cut Scene - Notes

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