Subject: [FFML] [fanfic][UY/Ranma/SisPri] "Lonely Souls" Part 7 "B" Side "Empty Dreams"
From: Frederick Herriot
Date: 11/20/2002, 7:19 AM
To: Fanfiction Mailing List

Modu annyoung,

I seem to be on a roll now.  Enjoy!

Fred


=====
<P><STRONG><EM><FONT face="Courier New">Fred Herriot AKA P'yeknu OR Gorgo</FONT></EM></STRONG></P>
<P>**** **** ****</P>
<P><A href="mailto:fherriot@yahoo.com">fherriot@yahoo.com</A></P>
<P>**** **** ****</P>
<P><A href="http://www.livejournal.com/~pyeknu/">http://www.livejournal.com/~pyeknu/</A></P>

______________________________________________________________________ 
Post your free ad now! http://personals.yahoo.ca

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       "Whattaya mean they're not gonna let us go to Earth?!!"

     Benten shudders, fists clenching tightly as she glares at 
Nassur.  Beside the Fukunokami teenager, Oyuki maintains her usual
demeanor.  One look into her eyes, however, tells the Vosian bounty
hunter the Tritonian crown princess is as upset as her best friend
about this turn of affairs.  They presently stand in a hangar at 
Onishuto Revolution Spaceport, some distance from what little 
remained of Uru's capital city.  Nassur's ship, the "Renegade,"
currently occupies this particular space.  Even now, some time after
a makeshift antimatter bomb wiped out most of Onishuto, killing
more than five million of its residents, the skies over this part of
Uru are a slate grey.  People working outdoors for protracted
periods of time, to protect themselves from fallout, are forced to 
wear respirators and hazard suits.  "That's right," Nassur nods.  "As
far as the Noukiites are concerned, there's no reason for any of us 
to visit Earth."

     "Oh?!" Benten crosses her arms.  "What about what Lupica 
wanted?"

     "The Noukiite government has promised a full and detailed
explanation about all military and paramilitary missions run against
various elements of the Urusian government to the Galactic Federation
and other interested parties," Nassur holds up a cautioning hand.
"And yes, that'll include everything Ataru Moroboshi might've been
personally involved with."

     "Dammit, Nassur...!!"

     "Benten," a touch of ice enters the Vosian's voice.

     Hearing that, Benten winces, though the angry flash in her eyes
tells Nassur that explanation didn't go far enough.  Taking a deep
breath, he waves the two women towards "Renegade's" gangplank.
"I know you want to go to Earth and see how Lum-chan and Lan are 
doing," he lowers his voice in case any of the Noukiites presently
serving as hangar maintenance or security overhear them.  "There's
nothing wrong with that.  But don't forget, as far as the Noukiite
authorities are concerned, Lum-chan is dead.  Do you want me to try
to explain to the Noukiites this 'crossing over' thing Lum-chan
and Lan underwent as soon as they arrived in Tomobiki?"

     "Hell, no!!" Benten snaps, then takes a deep breath to relax
herself.  "Look, Nassur, I personally don't give a fuck about 
Moroboshi.  Never have, to be honest with you.  If he helped these
guys trace down the people who murdered his grandmother, it sure 
don't bother me!  But given how much Lum still likes the damned jerk,
what the hell's gonna stop some Ip'ihu asshole from finally puttin'
two and two together and make them decide to after her?!  After all
she's lost, Nassur, she don't deserve that at all!"

     Nassur gazes on her, then nods.  "Agreed, she doesn't."

     "If only Father hadn't promised the Zephyrites that I wouldn't
use the Warp Chamber to travel to Earth again," Oyuki laments.

     "Well, you have to admit, telling Lum-chan's Earth friends
about her 'death' ended up doing more harm than good, Oyuki-san,"
Nassur warns.

     Oyuki winces.  In conversing with the women calling themselves
these days Seiko and Sakiko Izumo, Oyuki and Benten had learned
of the terrorist attack on Tomobiki High School over a week ago.  An
attack that, while supposedly launched in answer to the 
"space-taxi/world oil theft" incident just after the first Tag Race,
was directly prompted by the news Oyuki had brought to Earth 
concerning Lum's fate.  "Yes, that is true..."

     "Nassur-chan?!"

     He jolts, then looks towards the closed doors of the hangar.
The Vosian's eyes glow as his brainwave-tracking powers automatically
lock in on the newcomer, then his bearded face breaks out into a 
delighted grin.  "Dake-chan, what in Lecasur's name are YOU doing
here?!" he demands as the newcomer slips off her breathing mask, her
other hand moving to unzip her hazard suit to reveal a Fukunokami
battle bikini decked with black chains.

     Benten and Oyuki are stunned on recognizing the elfin-eared,
red-fur tailed bounty hunter, a woman whose origins had been lost in
time for five million years.  "Dakejinzou!"/"Shogai-sama!!"
they blurt together.

     "Oh, no need to be formal, Your Highness," Dakejinzou Shogai
slips off her hazard suit, then nods thanks as a Noukiite technician
comes up to take them away before facing her old partner and his 
companions.  "Anyhow, it's come to my attention that you three want
to visit Earth."

     "How'd you find out?" Nassur wonders.

     "The Inquisition," Dakejinzou chuckles.  "When you spoke to the
local military governor yesterday about going to Earth, one of the 
liaisons from the Inquisition overheard it.  He relayed that 
information to Inquisitor-Bishop Owleye on Jiyuu.  Considering
some of the more..." her cat-slitted blue eyes twinkle amusedly,
"...*unusual* circumstances surrounding this whole matter, Firesky
decided that this will, for once, be permitted."

     "We can go?!" Benten gasps.

     "Yes.  As long as you come with me on my ship."

     "Why?" Oyuki wonders, then as Dakejinzou gazes on her, the 
princess quickly adds, "Well, not that we're not grateful, of course,
but..."

     Dakejinzou holds up a hand.  "Princess, I should warn you that
the Inquisition is well aware of what really happened to your friends
now on Earth," she lowers her voice.  "They haven't chosen to pass
it on to the Noukiites.  Nor will they do so.  And if you want to 
know why, you can thank Ataru Moroboshi for that if or when you see
him sometime soon."

     "He asked them to keep silent about it?" Nassur blinks.

     "Yes, he did.  And while there's already enough problems when
it comes to a 'first contact' with a race like these Nendo-kata,
I got the clear hint from Firesky that there's something else 
involved in this.  Something even HE doesn't know about," Dakejinzou
winks at Nassur.

     The Vosian nods understandingly.  Bishop Firesky Owleye, the 
senior Holy Inquisitor in Jiyuu's sector of Zephyrite space, was one
of the most famous lawmen in the local cluster.  A man who had hunted
all sorts of social and religious heretics and malcontents for almost
two centuries, rumour had it that soon, he would be elevated to 
Inquisitor-Archbishop and assigned the Inquisition's top job, Supreme
Defender of the Six Churches.  Only one other official 
law-enforcement officer in the local cluster was spoken of with the
same respect the Zephyrite gained from both fans and detractors:
Nassur's and Dakejinzou's own teacher, Grand Duke Varanko of Kyotos,
Lord High Executioner of the Royal Kingdoms of Yehisril.

     "Could it be perceived as a danger?" Nassur asks.

     "Hard to tell," Dakejinzou shakes her head.  "But I believe
this is considered a very important secret deep within the Moroboshi
family.  If it is and if it's seen as non-threatening,
then that's that."

     "Oh, wonderful!" Benten spits out, throwing up her hands.  "In
other words, what you're tellin' us is that Lum's and Lan's very 
lives now ride on Moroboshi's good fuckin' will!  Is that it, 
Dakejinzou?!"

     Dakejinzou's eyes close as her tail swishes snappily to and fro.
Nassur's eyes roll.  He knew that anyone who elicited THAT reaction
from the older bounty hunter found themselves treading on VERY thin
ice.  "Benten," Dakejinzou's voice loses all its emotion as she fixes
the younger girl with a very penetrating stare.  "I should advise
you to scuttle that pathetic attitude of yours right away.  Ditto
with you, Princess," she swings on Oyuki, causing the Tritonian
to wilt.  "Before you two get any stupid ideas, I should warn you 
this:  some time ago, I agreed to go on retainer for Brother 
Darklight Sunfire.  He was Lady Nagaiwakai Moroboshi's chief 
spiritual advisor.  The job is simple:  I am to help ensure, when I'm
needed, that Ataru Moroboshi AND all members of his family are kept
free of harm.  Both PHYSICAL and PSYCHOLOGICAL harm, by the way!"
she holds up a warning finger.  "In other words, if either of you two
pull any stupid stunts on Ataru or on any of his sisters, you answer
to *me.*"

     Benten and Oyuki pale, both ducking Dakejinzou's look.  "I see,"
Nassur sighs, then gazes on the younger women.  "By the way, girls,
if you think I'm going to help you out in that case, you're both 
mistaken."

     Lum's friends moan, then everyone jolts as a communications
buzzer sounds off.  Dakejinzou taps one of her earrings.  "Yes, 
Ship?"

     "*Message from Ipraedos Listening Post Seven, Dakejinzou,*"
the main computer of the hunter's starship, the "Goddess of Luck,"
replies.  "*They detected the Ellsian patrol monitor 'Rose Emperor'
having passed their area of operations some twelve hours ago.  En 
route to Earth.*"

     Everyone perks.  "Elle?!"

*    *    *

"Lonely Souls"
by Fred Herriot
fherriot@yahoo.com
**** **** ****
Based on "Urusei Yatsura" and "Ranma 1/2" created by Rumiko 
Takahashi; and "Sister Princess," created by Naoto Tenhiro and 
Sakurako Kimino.  This story is set after the end of the "UY" and 
"Ranma" manga series.
**** **** ****

NOTE:  The writer's notes are at the end of the "A" Side of the 
Prologue.

**** **** ****

THE SEVENTH PART, "B" SIDE - EMPTY DREAMS

     "Where am I...?"

     Karen looks around, surprised to find herself in a 
softly-coloured room of white, light pinks and browns in lieu of the
living room of the old shrine Onii-chan and Onee-chan currently
resided in.  The room, possessing the same feel as a hotel room -- as
the step-daughter of a government official, Karen knew what *those*
were like -- came with a bed, nightstand, work table and chair, what
seemed to be a television/entertainment centre, a small wardrobe
with vanity and what looked like a microwave oven.  Two doors lead
from this room elsewhere.  One clearly was the main entrance while
the other seemed to go into a bathroom.  The room's stylishness,
more advanced than anything Karen EVER had seen, sends chills through
her.

     Where was she?

     One of the doors then opens, revealing a matronly middle-aged
woman in a dark dress akin to what Guenevere Rochelles wore when she
tended to Aria.  "Good afternoon, Karen-sama," she smiles, lightly
bowing before coming up to guide the young woman to the bed.  "How
are you today?"

     Watching her speak, Karen is quick to notice the lack of 
lip-synch to the words she hears.  Realizing that, another chill runs
through her, though she doesn't resist the maid's guidance.  "Where
am I, miss?"

     "Why, you're aboard the Royal Ellsian Navy Ship 'Rose Emperor,'
dear," the maid replies as she proceeds to the microwave.  "Your 
sisters and yourself are currently the guests of Her Majesty Queen
Elle.  Computer, tea, Earth Japanese 'sencha,' one cup, serve 
standard."

     The microwave -- *A replicator unit?!* Karen wonders -- beeps,
then the door opens to reveal a cup of green tea.  "Arigatou,"
she nods as the maid hands it to her, then perks.  "Queen Elle?  Why
would she want to see us for...?" her voice trails off as it suddenly
hits her.  "Onii-chan...?"

     "I'm not really aware of the exact circumstances surrounding
your brother's betrothal to Her Majesty, but it seems she desires
to press through with the matter," the maid gives her a sympathetic
yet warning look.  "And I recommend that you do nothing which could
anger the Queen, Karen-sama.  Many of us know that whatever Her 
Majesty desires, she gets."

     Hearing that, Karen shudders.  "H-hai!"

     A content smile then crosses the older woman's face.  "If you 
require something else, please use the call button by the lamp,"
she points to the object in question before bowing to her charge.
"Excuse me, please."

     The maid withdraws.  Karen watches her go, then setting the cup
on the nightstand, sinks back into the bed.  "Onii-chan...!"
she shudders, tears welling in her eyes as her arms wrap around 
herself...

*    *    *

     "Rose?"

     "Your Majesty...?"

     "Why are there only NINE of Honey's sisters here?!" Elle, now 
seated in the Flag Admiral's chair on the bridge of the "Rose 
Emperor," gazes intently at Seven Bake Rose.  "You guaranteed
there'd be ten of them ready for transport to the ship, all save 
Chikage and Hinako!  Where is Marie?!"

     "I...!" the mercenary scratches her hair embarrassingly,
then she shakes her head.  "I can't understand it myself, ma'am!
I had a positive transporter lock on Susumu, right to the point when
I energized the system!  She should've been beamed right into the 
guest cabin set aside for her!!"

     "It's true, Your Majesty," the monitor's science officer comes
up.

     "What do you mean?" the Rose Queen glares at her.

     A datapadd is handed over.  "Transporter lock was confirmed
as soon as Agent Rose activated the system," the younger woman 
explains.  "But at the very instant the system was energized,
the target moved away from the exact location she was when 
transporter lock was made.  At that moment, as you'll see, something
got in the way and deflected the transporter lock trace to the young
man now occupying Miss Susumu's guest room."

     Elle gazes at the readout, then blinks.  "What caused this?"

     "Impossible to say at this time, Your Majesty," the science
officer shakes her head.  "I'm having it analysed right now."

     "I see.  Very well, then," Elle hands the padd back, then gazes
on Rose.  "Well, save for this interesting problem, you did carry
out the mission assigned to you, Rose.  Well done.  In the meantime,
Captain, I think it's time we left the system.  Take us out of here."

     "Aye, Your Majesty," the monitor's captain nods.

     "We're not staying?" Rose perks as orders are barked to break
orbit.

     "No," Elle stands.  "I'm taking her into the Slot.  We'll place
ourselves halfway between here and Toshitto to wait for Honey to 
react."

     The Rose Queen heads to the turbolift to carry her below decks,
her entourage of aides and personal bodyguards flanking her.  Rose
follows her.  "What makes you think Mr. Groom can follow you, ma'am?"

     "A test, Rose," Elle holds up a finger.  "Remember, Honey DID 
fight with the Noukiites when he decided to hunt down his 
grandmother's killers.  I want to know how well-connected
he is when it comes to the Holy Republic and the Dominion.  This 
might be turned to our advantage if we play our hand correctly.
After all, you know what might happen if the Noukiites carry out 
their threat and withdraw from the Galactic Federation, much less 
secure formal ties with Ipraedos and the Seifukusu.  If that leads
to the Federation's collapse, I want the Kingdom to be on the winning
side."

     The mercenary considers that, then nods.  "Smart thinking,
ma'am.  But what happens if Mr. Groom can't get any help to rescue
his sisters?"

     "We'll cross that bridge when we get to it, Rose."

     "Yes, ma'am," Rose nods, then perks as she remembers something
else.  "Oh, what about that guy who got snatched in lieu of Susumu?"

     "Throw him in with Miyaki and her friends.  From what I've seen
of him so far, he reminds me a little too much of Shutaro Mendou."

     "Yes, ma'am!"

*    *    *

     "Headache, Ataru?"

     Ataru blinks, then a content moan escapes him as Negako taps a 
couple points on his forehead.  "Thanks, Onee-chan.  You're a 
life-saver."

     "I try not to be," Negako notes as she sits down beside him, 
canting her eyes to the shouting crowd in the middle of the old 
shrine's living room.  "How quickly these fools so readily revert
to type, ne?"

     "Got that right," he shakes his head.

     After giving Kasumi and Shinshi an explanation about his 
"betrothal" to Elle, Ataru received a call from Marie, relaying
information from Negako concerning the Rose Queen's absconding
with all his other half-sisters save Chikage and Hinako.  Returning
to the shrine as quickly as he could, Ataru quickly heard everyone's
story about what they saw and didn't see, then he sent Miree off to 
find Ranma and get her back here as quickly as possible.

     What Ataru immediately thought of as the "Tomobiki Idiot 
Brigade" arrived two minutes after the Hollywoodite priestess
left.  Deep down, he knew it wasn't fair to call them THAT, 
especially now with over thirty students somewhere in outer space,
held hostage to make him surrender and marry that rose-loving
twit.  But given the way that many of the people in that group -- 
Sakura, Cherry, Mark Onsen, plus a half-dozen Kuromegane from the 
Mendou estate -- began shouting demands at him the instant they 
passed through the front door, it was a relief when Negako came up 
and temporarily silenced them with shiatsu strikes to the throat.
At least Kotatsuneko had kept his peace, merely setting up a low 
table (complete with space heater) in the room, then began preparing
tea for Ataru, Negako, Reiko and Kaneko.

     The local idiot brigade arrived a minute later, trailed by 
Chikage, Hinako and Marie, plus Michael.  Ataru recognized Nabiki
Tendou in that crowd, though he strongly suspected that the old ninja
in the dark green bodysuit was possibly a retainer of Tatewaki
Kunou's.  As Chikage tried to give Ataru a detailed explanation
on events at Furinkan High, the small crowd of boys in sports gear
and martial arts uniforms began loudly begging him to find the 
kendoist in question.  When Ataru asked why, one of the newcomers,
a kendoist himself, explained that on behalf of Akane Tendou's
school-wide fan-club, they were honour-bound to finish thrashing
Kunou for all the bad things he did to her.  Hearing that, the crowd
of parents from Tomobiki -- Ataru recognized only Shinobu's mother
and father -- readily laid into them, wondering what made a 
narcissist like Kunou more important than their own babies.  The 
shouting match started right then and there.

     "Hey, Ataru!"

     Ataru looks up, then breathes out as Ranma slips through an open
window before making her way to the table.  "Hi!  Heard the news?"

     "Yeah, Miree told me everything," she sits down, then blinks
as a giant mi-ke cat hands her a cup of tea.  "Oh, um...!  
Th-thanks!"

     "Ah, sorry," Ataru chuckles, then does introductions.

     "Pleased to meet you," Ranma shakes Kotatsuneko's paw, then she
gazes on the small crowd of people screaming and yelling at each 
other by the front door.  "Man, what the hairy hell's with them?!"
she points.

     "Trying to prioritize who should get rescued first, I think."

     "So what's the plan?"

     Another groan escapes him.  "Other than taking something
for this headache I've got now?  Nothing at all," he covers his eyes
with his hands, then as he pulls them away, finds himself staring
into Cherry's face.

     "Ominous," the old monk grimly intones.

     A sigh.  "Cherry."

     "Yes, lad?"

     "Get out of my face or get ready to meet the Buddha."

     Cherry jolts as the emotion on Ataru's face suddenly fades,
leaving behind a steely mask which seemed better on the face of the
inhuman monster now seated beside him.  Before he could respond,
an invisible fist grabs him, then sends him sailing toward the front
door.  "Heaven's Gate, monks weren't THAT pushy back home!" Reiko
mutters before sipping her tea.

     "You try not to get used to him too much, musume-chan,"
Ataru notes.

     By then, a teary-eyed Hinako comes up.  "Onii-tama, when are we
going to get Karen-chan and the others back?" she drops herself
beside him, then leans her head against his arm.  In an instant,
he wraps his arm around her as a light kiss brushes her forehead.
"How can that girl be so mean...?"

     "No one has taken the time to imprint on Elle that kidnapping
is a crime even a queen must be held responsible for, Hinako,"
Negako notes.

     "I'll damn hell implant SOMETHING on that creep," Ranma snarls,
her hands squeezing into fists.  "Let's see how Miss Rose Queen likes
getting a taste of the Amaguriken or the Wind-Fist at point-blank
range!"

     "We have to be careful, Ranma," Ataru warns.

     "Why?"

     "Regardless of what we might think of her, she IS a queen."

     "So?"

     They exchange a look, then Ataru sighs.  "True..."

     Nabiki comes up, then parks herself beside Reiko.  She soon 
finds a cup of tea in hand thanks to Kotatsuneko.  "Why aren't you 
living here in Nerima?" she gazes on the cat-ghost, then turns to 
Ataru as she takes a sip.  Very good tea the big guy made.  "So 
what's the plan?"

     "Hard to conceive of one with all that in the background,"
Ataru nods towards the shouting crowd behind Nabiki and his 
daughters.

     "Right," Nabiki nods, then stands, turning to face the crowd.
"Okay, OKAY, people!!  Let's settle down here!!!" she claps her 
hands.

     No response; in fact, the crowd's words seem to pick up in 
volume.  "I don't think they heard you, Nabiki-san," Hinako sniffs.

     Nabiki's eyebrow twitches.  In all the time she used her "ice
queen" image to make people listen to her, this NEVER happened.
Then again, she really couldn't blame the people from Tomobiki,
especially the parents she recognized, for acting this way.  Taking
a big breath, she moves to shout them down, then blinks as a hand 
falls on her shoulder.  Looking left, she sees Chikage standing
there, a smile on the sorceress' face.  Recognizing what the younger
woman might have in mind, Nabiki takes a step back, waving Chikage
into the batter's box.  Nodding her thanks, the sorceress then faces
the crowd, raising her right hand, her thumb, index and little 
fingers raised with the middle and ring fingers tucked in.

     "***OSCULUM PAPILIONIS!!!!***"

     Nabiki's jaw instantly hits the floor on seeing a 
floor-to-ceiling, butterfly-shaped wall of chi appear out of nowhere
to slam into the crowd, mowing them down like they were dominos
knocked over by a strong wind.  As silence fills the room, Chikage
lowers her arm, then gazes on Ataru.  "I believe they'll be willing
to listen to you now, Ani-kun," she reports.

     "Thank you," Ataru rubs his forehead, then he locks his stare
on Sakura.  "So, atop nine of my sisters being kidnapped, everyone
in Miyaki-san's old class was also taken away?  Plus Mendou?" he 
gazes on one of the Kuromegane.  Seeing them shakily nod, he breathes
out.  "Okay..."

     "So how can we rescue them?" Ranma wonders.

     "Depends on what Elle might actually have in mind," Ataru muses
as Marie steps out of one of the guest bedrooms, then sits at the 
table.  "If she knows about Karen-chan and the others, that means
she probably had an agent active in Noukiite space when I was helping
them.  It was around that time that I had been given honorary 
citizenship in the Dominion, plus was allowed to have everyone
registered on the 'Nehek' family registry."

     "We have Noukiite citizenship?!" Marie blinks.

     "Hai!  Papa needed that when he adopted Kaneko-chan and me," 
Reiko nods, then turns to Ataru.  "Ne, Papa, why would this Elle 
creep want to marry you?  You told us in Sanctuary you never did step
on her shadow!"

     "True, I didn't," Ataru sighs as the crowd by the door slowly
rise to their feet, many shuffling around to better hear him.  A 
warning glance from Chikage ensures their good behaviour.  "So it'll
be hard to determine why Elle would want me, unless it's just out of
vanity or pride."

     "'Vanity?!'" Kimiki Miyaki blinks.

     "Hai.  After all, I DID defy her when I found out about all her
other fiances and the Refrigerator of Love.  And Lum did pretty much
make sure that we never did get married.  I don't know everything
I'd want to know about Elle, but I do know she's pretty proud.  To 
lose face like that, especially in front of all those alien delegates
at the cathedral..."

     "How many fiances has this girl got?" Nabiki asks.

     "A hundred thousand."

     Silence.

     "A hundred...?" Nabiki's eyebrow twitches, "...THOUSAND?!!"

     "Yep," Ataru nods.  "Matter of fact, Shutaro Mendou would've
been, as I recall, her one hundred thousandth 'cute boy' -- that's
what she calls all those lifeless dorks frozen up in her 
refrigerator."

     "They're cryofrozen?!" Nabiki gapes.

     Ataru nods, then jolts on hearing Hinako sniff back tears.  Eyes
lock on the youngest sister.  "Hina doesn't want Onii-tama to be 
frozen!!"

     "Now, who says I'm gonna be frozen, Hinako-chan?" Ataru reaches
up to rub his sister's hair before playfully batting his nose on her
forehead.

     Hinako gazes on him, then nods, her eyes sparkling.  "So if this
chick's got all these guys all stored up like sardines, why waste
the time goin' after you, man?" Daikun Takuichi, leading the small
delegation from the Horde o'Hentai, wonders.  "I mean, pride's an 
important thing, but..."

     "Hey, Takuichi, remember Kunou with Ranma?" Daisuke, who had 
come with Hiroshi in hopes of talking to Ranma, cuts in.

     "And this chick's a QUEEN?!" Daikun gazes on him.

     "Daikun has a point," Negako muses.

     "What do you mean, Aneue-sama?" Marie wonders.

     "This all might be a test Elle desires to force on Ataru."

     "A test?!" Sakura blinks confusedly.  "But why?"

     "Unless it's got something to do with Noukiios pulling out of 
the Galactic Federation," Kaneko then speaks up.

     "What does that mean?" Toshoba Miyaki demands.

     Kaneko reaches into her shirt, then pulls out a circular device
akin to the base of a sports trophy.  Placing that on the table,
she taps a control to turn the projector on.  Her eyes then glow as 
she sends a psychic command to the projector's central computer.
A second later, a three-dimensional local galactic map appears in the
air over the table.  The domains of the different powers are shaded
in individual colours.  A pair of thick, wavy red lines rise up from
the bottom of the projection, nearly come together by one star, form
a space "bridge" towards another star, then spread off to the top and
right side of the projection.

     "Where are we?" Kimiki asks.

     "There," Reiko points at a blinking star, right where the two 
thick lines first come together.  "Everything between the red lines
are member states of the Galactic Federation."  She then points to 
the gold space beyond the "bridge."  "Oh, if you all want to know --
much that I can't understand WHY you'd want to know! -- this is 
Urusian space."

     "Who are these guys?" Nabiki indicates the dark green area to 
the lower right of the projection.  "And them?" she indicates
the large mass of light blue which takes up the upper left of the 
screen.

     "Ipraedies and Zephyrites," Reiko explains, pointing to the dark
green area.  "The Ipraedies were the Urusians' other big enemies
outside us.  The dog people managed to make the rest of the 
Federation hate them, too, but my people don't mind them so much.
They're kinda xenophobic, but once you get to understand them more,
they're pretty alright."

     "And the Zephyrites are the local galactic superpower,"
Ataru adds.  "My grandmother dealt with them pretty closely right
up to her death; they're the ones who helped the Men in Black get all
their gear."

     "And they border this link between our solar system and the 
start of Urusian space," Sakura points to the "bridge."  Light blue
and dark green flank both sides of it from one end to another.

     Kimiki nods.  "That explains the First Tag Race!!  Ataru-kun,
were the Ipraedies planning to invade us before the Urusians came?!"

     "Yes, they were," Ataru nods.  "Reiko-chan, expand the map, 
please?  Show the whole galactic cluster from us out to Vos and 
Yehisril."

     "Hai," Reiko taps the projector, her eyes glowing.

     The image soon becomes the upper left quadrant of a much bigger
map.  Gazing on it, the viewers note that the Galactic Federation
states all form a blobby, flipped-L shape around Ipraedies space.
To the "right" of the Ipraedies Empire is a massive field of 
turquoise.  Down "south" from that, touching both Ipraedies and 
Federation space, is an even more massive field of bright crimson.
"Who are these guys?" Nabiki points to those areas.

     "The other galactic superpowers," Ataru points.  "The 
Confederation of Vos..." -- the turquoise -- "...and the Royal 
Kingdoms of Yehisril," -- the red areas.  "All of them being enemies
of the Ipraedies."

     "They're hemmed in on all sides," Onsen grumbles.

     "Yeah.  And our area of space just happens to lie beside the 
only thin area of 'enemy' territory their space borders," Nabiki
indicates the point of light symbolizing Sol.  "Unless these guys 
consider the Zephyrites enemies, too?" her eyes fall back on Ataru,
an eyebrow arching.

     "Not really.  Everyone, even the Vosians and the Yehisrites,
would have to be totally out of their heads to challenge the 
Zephyrites head-on," Ataru shakes his head.  "What the Ipraedies
want most of all is to see the Federation broken up.  Once that 
happens, their hostility to their neighbours -- save for Yehisril
and a lesser extent, Vos -- could then be dialled back somewhat.
And the best break point is here..." he points to Sol.  "Fortunately
for them, Uru's defeat makes things a lot easier."

     "What about their plans to invade Earth?" Onsen demands.

     "It would now be seen as unnecessary," Ataru shrugs, then stares
at Reiko.  "Reiko-chan, change the map to show Noukiios out of the 
Federation, plus the proposed demilitarized area between us and 
Toshitto."

     The map blows up to a close-up of the Earth-Triton area.  A 
small hunk of Ipraedies space switches to jet black, merging with the
"bridge" connecting Earth with Urusian space.  The Federation's
space is severed at this area as the bridge fades from view.  "North"
of the soft gold area marking Urusian space, an area of emerald
green lying alongside Zephyrite space is no longer framed in red 
lines.  A yellow zone then appears to encompass the black zone once
part of Ipraedies space, plus the bridge and some sectors of Urusian
space, including the star that had been at the "right" end of the 
"bridge," plus three stars close to Noukiite space.

     "Noukiios is going to impose all THIS on Uru?" Sakura points
to the areas of Urusian space now marked as "demilitarized."

     "They have no choice in the matter," Ataru gazes knowingly
at her.

     "So what happens in this area?" Toshoba points to the zone in 
question.  "'Demilitarized' means what in this case?!"

     "It means that Uru can no longer send ships into this area to 
ensure free trade," Ataru smirks.  "Which in truth, actually meant
that any trade from potential 'enemy' states like Ipraedos -- and 
yes, Noukiios as well -- would be stopped and subject to inspection
and seizure by Urusian military authorities.  This is part of what
led to the famine on Noukiios and her colonies in recent years.  
Other Federation states -- the big grain and food producers such as 
Spotak, Zeiwan and Phentax Five -- have tried for years to sell their
surplus foodstuffs to Noukiios to help alleviate their crop 
shortages.  But all those states are down here," he points to the 
bottom of the map.  "Once the ships get to Triton, then went through
the Slot to Toshitto, they then had to face Urusian customs 
inspection."

     "And once they learned the food was going to Noukiios..."
Nabiki shakes her head, "...they impounded it, right?"

     "Sometimes.  Worse, some of the more sneakier of the bunch would
find ways to spoil the shipment to ensure they couldn't be put to use
when they arrived," Ataru augments.  "If Noukiios tried to get food
from Ipraedos -- and such shipments have been generously offered
in the past given how much the Ipraedies wanted to stick it to the 
Urusians -- it wouldn't have happened since Federation-wide
policy -- policy forced on the others by the Urusians, by the way!
-- frowns heavily on any trade with the Empire.  The only other 
recourse for Noukiios would've been to deal with the Zephyrites,
but the Holy Republic can only spare so much for the Dominion.
And Noukiios would never trade with Uru as long as the Union kept 
demanding the 'return' of three colony worlds they never had any 
rights to in the first place," he indicates Okusei and her two sister
worlds on the map."

     "They were being starved into submission," Sakura concludes.

     "Right," Ataru drawls.

     "You learned of this while you were working for them?" Cherry
asks.

     "Yep."

     "Ataru-kun, I hate to say this, but with the way you've 
described them, Lum's people are a bunch of two-faced HYPOCRITES!!"
Nabiki snaps.

     "Focus that criticism directly on their government, Nabiki-san,
not the people," he sighs, remembering to keep mention of his former
fiancee in past tense to maintain the illusion of her "death" to many
of the crowd now standing in his living room.  "Lum herself would've
definitely not stood for any of this, so she was never told about
it at all."

     "Her papa lied to her, Onii-tama?" Hinako gazes on her brother.

     "Yep.  About a lot of things," Ataru nods.

     "Well, that's fine and fair, but we've got a more important
problem ahead of us, Ataru.  Namely getting everyone away from Elle,"
Ranma notes.

     He spares her a glance, then nods.  "True."

     "Ne, Papa?"

     "What is it, Kaneko-chan?"

     "If you need a ship to go after that baka k'uk'e, we have one!"

     Ataru blinks, then leans close to his daughter.  "You mean...?!"

     "Hai!" Kaneko grins the smile of a child who knows she did 
something right.  "It can't do you any good sitting in orbit over 
Noukiios, can it?!"

     "Nani, nani?!" Hinako looks at Kaneko, then Ataru, then back to
Kaneko again.  "What's Kaneko-chan talking about, Onii-tama?!"

     "Bring it here!" Ataru orders, gently squeezing Hinako's hand.

     "Hai!" Kaneko nods as she reaches into her jersey, then draws
out a flat, rectangular-shaped computer keypad.  Her hands dart over
the keys as she types out a command code, then she hits the TRANSMIT
button.

     "Eh?!" Hinako leans close to gaze intently on the keyboard.
"Is this some new video game, Kaneko-chan?  Can Hina play with it?!"

     "Don't touch, Hina-chan," Ataru warns.

     "But Hina wants to play with...!!"

     Her voice is cut off as a low sonic rumble fills the air, it 
echoed by a tremor quaking the walls, ceiling and floorboards.
"What the hairy hell's THAT...?!" Ranma gets to her feet, then heads
to the window just as a shadow from outside masks the early afternoon
sun.  "What the...?!!"

     Everyone else scrambles outside the shrine, then look up to 
stare at the keel of a twin-masted Noukiite scoutship, it hovering
twenty metres off the ground!  As soon as she gets outside to look
herself, Hinako gushes.  "WAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAI!!!!
ONII-TAMA HAS HIS OWN SPACESHIP!!!!"

     "And where exactly DID you get this ship, Ataru-kun?!"
Nabiki asks, an amused twinkle in her eyes as her mind files this new
little factoid into the mental file she was building on Ranma's
new boyfriend.

     An embarrassed chuckle escapes him.  "Well, after all Onee-chan
and I did for Reiko-chan's and Kaneko-chan's people, they felt we DID
deserve a reward for all our troubles," he indicates Negako, 
shrugging.

     "Why, wasn't that nice of them?" Marie contently smiles.

     "Indeed, it would offer a very nice view of the stars," Chikage
adds.

     "Hina wants to see Onii-tama's spaceship!" Hinako quivers,
grabbing Ataru's hand as she drags him to the waiting ship.  "Hina
KNOWS there'll be lots and lots and LOTS of nice things for Hina to 
play with on Onii-tama's spaceship!  C'mon, Onii-tama, Hina wants
to see the spaceship!"

     "Hey, hey, HEY!!  Slow down, Hinako-chan!!" Ataru tries to yank
his hand away from his sister's determined grip.  "We can't go yet!!"

     "But Hina wants to see Onii-tama's spaceship!!"

     Sensing their youngest aunt about to throw a fit, Reiko and 
Kaneko exchange a look, then giggle knowingly before they dive in to
rescue their hapless father.  "It's okay, Papa!  We'll take Auntie
Hinako aboard!" the former promises as she and her sister guide 
Hinako away from Ataru.

     "Waaaaaaaai!!  Hina's gonna see Onii-tama's spaceship!!!"
Hinako gushes as the Noukiite twins telekinetically boost their aunt
into the air for the starship's quarterdeck aft of the main solar
sail mast.

     "Aniue-sama, Rinrin-chan is going to KILL you for keeping this
a secret from her," Marie covers her mouth as knowing laughter
quakes her.

     An embarrassed chuckle escapes him as he rubs the back of his 
head.  "Well, I only got the 'Windrider' the day I finished work on 
Noukiios, Marie-chan!  That was the Thursday after I went to 
Sanctuary for a whole week!" he waves his free hand in reassurance.
"'Sides, there's no spacedock available for me to dock the thing 
anywhere on Earth!  And I wasn't going to just plop it down anywhere,
for heaven's sake!!"

     Marie blinks.  "Maybe we can build a spaceship dock right beside
Welcome House.  I'm sure the people on the Island won't mind us doing
that.  After all, your ship does look like it can land on water,"
she gazes up, noting the solid metal hull lacking any sort of visible
access hatches below what could easily serve as the "Windrider's"
waterline.

     "A good point to consider in the future," Chikage notes.  "Now
all we have to do is decide who'll come with us to help rescue the 
others."

     The sisters and Ataru blink on sensing a large crowd of students
plus Sakura, Cherry and Onsen loom over them.  "***WE'LL COME 
WITH...!!!!***"

     "***MOUKO TAKAIBISHA!!!!***"

     One chi blast later, the crowd of idi-...!  Er, would-be 
rescuers! -- is smashed against the front fence of the old shrine.
"Thank you, Ranma," Ataru takes a deep breath, then gazes on Nabiki.
"Nabiki-san, please call your brother.  You'll come with us.  Ditto
with Miree and her daughters, plus Himiko-san and Mikiko-san
if they're interested in helping out."

     "ME?!!" Nabiki balks.  "Hey, wait a minute!!  I don't...!"

     "I can trust you, Nabiki-san!" Ataru stares knowingly at her,
then thumbs the crowd of people Ranma blasted with the Mouko 
Takaibisha.  "Do you really, honestly think I can trust any of 
THEM?!"

     Silence falls as the middle Tendou daughter considers his words,
then her cheeks flame.  "Ataru-kun..." she flusters, then sighs.
"Oh, okay!"

     "Relax, Nabiki-chan," Ranma laughs, winking.  "If you want to be
a full-time martial artist again, you HAVE to go on these jaunts!"

     Nabiki gazes at her, then slumps, her body quaking.  "You just
HAD to remind me of that, didn't you, Saotome...?" she mutters.

     Everyone laughs...

*    *    *

     "So what's a Noukiite ship doing hovering over Nerima, 
Sei-chan?!"

     Seiko hums as she, Sakiko, Ten and the four replica bioroids
who brought the young boy to Earth relax in Tomobiki's town park.
They had come here to relax and enjoy a take-out lunch after 
finishing business with the SCAA downtown.  From here, they had seen
the sleek Noukiite ship soar down swiftly from the general direction
of Siberia to come to a stop over the central part of Nerima.  
Despite the ship's small size -- it was about twice the length of the
average Terran jumbo jet -- it stood out clearly in the afternoon
sky due to the lack of tall buildings in the skyline between Tomobiki
and Nerima.  "I'm not too sure, Saki-chan," Seiko's eyes narrow as 
she focuses her powers on the hovering ship.  "Unless..."

     Her hearing suddenly picks up the murmurs of several boys 
walking past the park's main gates.  "...believe they cancelled
classes 'cause the idiots in Two-Four got kidnapped by that queen
who wanted to marry Ataru last year?" one of them wonders over the 
laughter of his companions.

     Seiko spins around, her eyes widening on seeing a small crowd
of students in the dark Tomobiki High boy's uniform walk past the 
gates.  "Heard Mendou got snatched, too," another boy snorts.  "Let's
hope that queen'll keep the snob with her when she lets the others
go!"

     "Amen to that, bro'!" a third whoops.

     "'Queen?!'" Seiko blinks, exchanging a look with Sakiko.  
"Elle!!!"

*    *    *

     "AH-CHOO!!!!"

     "Bless you, Your Majesty!  Are you alright?!"

     A handkerchief is immediately offered to the Rose Queen.  "Yes,
I'm quite fine, thank you," she wipes her nose, then gazes on the 
deckhead.  "Have the maintenance staff look at the air-freshener
units as soon as we return to Baran.  There must be something
in the atmosphere..."

     "Of course, Your Majesty.  It will be done," her chief servant
nods as the small party passes through the door leading to the 
balcony now overlooking the containment area holding Ataru's former
classmates.

     And one other.

     "***WHAT IS THE MEANING OF THIS?!?!***"

     Guess which of Chikage's shiatsu strikes just wore off?

     "Kunou-san, please calm down!  There is an explanation...!"

     "***WHAT FOUL MAGIC BROUGHT THE BLUE THUNDER TO THIS 
PLACE?!?!***"

     "I don't think he's listening to you, Mendou-san."

     "***I DEMAND TO BE RELEASED AT ONCE!!!!***"

     "Jerk probably doesn't get tired of listening to his voice,
ne?!"

     "Got that right, man!"

     "***MOROBOSHI, YOU EVIL MAGUS, SHOW YOURSELF!!!!***"

     "How does this guy know Ataru-kun?"

     "***FEAR NOT, OH VIOLET ONE!!!!***"

     "'Violet One?!'"

     "***THE BLUE THUNDER WILL SAVE YOU FROM MOROBOSHI'S GRASP!!!***"

     "Ne, Tomomi-chan, you think he's talking about Chikage-san?!"

     "***OH, THE TRAGEDY OF IT ALL!!!!***"

     "Hard to say..."

     "***TO BELIEVE THAT SUCH A VISION OF LOVELINESS IS ACTUALLY
KIN BY* BLOOD *TO A LECHEROUS BEAST LIKE MOROBOSHI!!!!***"

     "I guess he IS talking about Chikage-san, Kyooko-chan!"

     "***ALL THE GODS IN THE HEAVENS MUST* WEEP *AT SUCH A 
FATE!!!!***"

     "Um, Shinobu-san, is he trying to insult Ataru-kun?!"

     "I think so."

     "Right..."

     *CRUNCH!!!!*

     "V-v-violet one...!!"

     Body drops to the deck.  "Mie-san, why did you do THAT to him?!"

     "He was giving me a goddamned earache with his yelling!  'Sides,
I don't think Ataru-kun'd appreciate being insulted behind his 
back!!"

     Silence.

     "Ye gods, is it POSSIBLE...?!"

     "That someone...!"

     "Actually LIKES Ataru Moroboshi?!"

     Dramatic pause.

     "IT'S THE END OF THE WORLD!!!!"

     Running footsteps, then one man's hands grasp a woman's.

     "Mie-san, you must not think of pursuing Moroboshi...!"

     *CRUNCH!!!!*

     "MENDOU-SAN!!!!"

     Multiple *thuds!* as many women faint, overwhelmed by shock on 
seeing Mendou punched head-first THROUGH the containment area's deck.

     "Damned jerk!!  Who gave him the right to touch me *there?!*"

     "He DID kinda deserve that, didn't he?!"

     "I can agree to that!"

     "Ditto!"

     Stunned silence.

     "Did you see that...?"

     "Ye gods!  You mean there's actually a girl...?"

     "...who's IMMUNE to Mendou?!"

     Dramatic pause.

     "THERE IS A GOD!!!!"

     "Hey, wait a minute!!  She still likes Moroboshi!!"

     Another pause.

     "OH, THE TRAGEDY OF IT ALL!!!!"

     The boys from Shinobu's class collapse en masse to the deck,
wailing at the heavens for cursing them with the presence of a young
woman like Mie Seikou.  Above, Elle's eyebrow twitches as her mind
tries to take in what she just witnessed, then she gazes on one of 
her aides.  "I think I can now understand why Honey wanted to leave
these people," she chuckles.

     "Agreed," the aide nods.  "Shall I have Mr. Groom's sisters
brought here so they can see these fools for themselves?"

     "At once."

     "By your command, Your Majesty..."

*    *    *

     Some minutes later...

     "Ataru-kun, are you SURE you can rescue Shinobu-chan,
Ryuunosuke-chan and your sisters with just these people?" Kimiki
Miyaki pleads, gazing past Ataru's shoulder at the crowd gathered
under the overhang of the old shrine by the front door.  "I mean,
outside Ranma-san, they don't seem..."

     "Mrs. Miyaki, please!" Ataru holds up a cautioning hand to stop
the poor woman's burbling.  "Truthfully, for something like this,
all I'd take with me are Ranma, Chikage-chan and my daughters.
However, seeing that my other sisters were kidnapped, Marie-chan
and Hinako-chan would NEVER let me hear the end of it if I didn't
include them along for the ride!  And, given that Sakiko-chan
DOES have a vested interest in Ryuunosuke-san's safety, she has every
right to come along for the ride.  And since she, Seiko-chan
and the others who came with them have the necessary knowledge
and skills to help out in this, it's only right for them to come 
along for the ride."

     "But what about those other people?" Kimiki demands.  "Yes, I 
know that Sakiko girl is spending a lot of time with Ryuu-chan,
but Ryuu-chan hasn't explained a thing about her to either my husband
or I..."

     "It's a very long story, ma'am," he tries not to groan as 
Shinobu's mother presses on her questions about the woman who, in 
part, was Lan.

     "Onii-tama!!"

     Ataru looks up to see Hinako, Chikage, Marie and Michael gazing
at him from his ship's quarterdeck.  "C'mon, Onii-tama!!" the 
youngest sister waves her hands.  "We gotta go rescue Karen-chan
and the others!"

     "Hai, hai, just a sec', Hina-chan!!" Ataru waves back, then 
turns to Kimiki.  "I'll try to have Shinobu-san and the others back
as soon as I can!" he nods assuredly at her, then faces the Izumo
twins and the others standing with them.  "Okay, folks, all aboard
who's coming aboard!!"

     "Hai!!!" they chant, then cry out as Reiko's and Kaneko's
telekinetic powers easily boost them aboard the "Windrider."

     "Ataru!!"

     Ataru screams out as Cherry's face looms large in his vision,
then his fist smashes the monk into the dirt.  "You old fool, QUIT
DOING THAT TO ME!!!!" he snaps, then notices Sakura standing behind
her uncle.  "What?!" he demands, glaring annoyingly at him.  "I told
you you're not coming...!"

     "Fool!!!" she swipes him with her spirit-sensor, an attack he 
easily dodges, much to the priestess/nurse's annoyance.  "Don't you
know there're evil spirits aboard that ship?!" she points to indicate
the "Windrider."  "They have to be exorcised or they'll bring bad 
luck...!"

     *ZAP!!!!*

     "It's...!  Fate..."

     Ataru shakes his head, trying to not look too annoyed at the 
burned piles of flesh before him; Cherry and Sakura had been hit by 
the particle gun fitted into the maw of the dragon's head fitted
on the "Windrider's" elongated bowsprit.  "Word of advice in the 
future," he turns away, moving to board his ship.  "Don't insult
a Noukiite starship's house angels."

     "'House angels?!'" Kimiki gazes surprisedly at him.

     "Hai," he returns her look, then disdainfully glares once more
at the badly wounded monk and priestess.  "Then again, knowing these
two, all they really wanted to do was mooch food off me like they've
always done!"

     Shinobu's mother considers that, then nods understandingly.
"Yes, they've always been that way, haven't they?"

     "Glad someone realizes that," Ataru smirks, then with a 
crouching leap, bounds up to join his sisters aboard the "Windrider."

     Kimiki watches as the twin-masted solar-sail star-barque
rises away from the old shrine, turning her prow eastward for the 
Pacific as it moves to gain altitude.  "Good luck!!!" she waves as it
fades into the distance, then a forlorn sigh escapes her.  "Please
bring them back..."

*    *    *

     "My, what a beautiful spaceship," Kasumi smiles as she watches
the "Windrider" soar away, she now on the front porch of the Tendou
home...

*    *    *

     "You think they're gonna be okay, Ku-chan?!" Ukyou wonders.

     The chef, both of Ranma's mirror-twins, Shampoo and Kodachi
relax in Hikarigaoka Park as they watch Ataru's ship race off.  
"Yeah, they'll be fine," Kumiko nods, one arm wrapped around Ukyou's
shoulder.  "It's this Elle who's gonna have to watch out.  For both
Ataru-kun AND Ranma...!"

     "Agreed," Toshiko snickers knowingly...

*    *    *

     "Papa, the ship's sealed for spaceflight!"

     "Waaaaaai!!" Hinako gushes as the small crowd accompanying
Ataru and Ranma on the rescue mission step onto the "Windrider's"
command bridge.

     "What a set-up!!" Nabiki whistles admiringly, then notices
the kanji etched into the backs of every chair present, each 
underlined with the symbols representing the Noukiite common 
language.  "I take it you had this ship built with your sisters
AND your daughters in mind, ne, Ataru-kun?!"

     "Well...!" he scratches his hair, chuckling embarrassingly.

     The others laugh.  The "Windrider's" bridge is built akin to how
most university large lecture rooms are set up.  The main viewscreen
is located forward, it flanked on both sides with small control
station lecterns.  Three rows of work stations ascend a step at a 
time to the main entrance to the bridge aft.  A half-circle
sticks out forward from the second row of stations; this is where
Reiko and Kaneko now work.  A central chair sits behind the twins'
stations, it marked with the kanji for "Onii" on the back of the 
chair.  Standing monitor stations and side exits line both sides of 
the bridge.  "So where do we all sit, Darling?" Seiko asks.

     Ataru blinks, then sighs.  "Marie-chan, you're there," he points
to the far left station on the third row.  "Chikage-chan,
you're there," he indicates the near right station on the second
row.  "Hinako-chan, you're down front here," he indicates the near
left station on the first row.  "Shinshi, you take Yotsuba's spot,"
he indicates the far right station on the second row.  "Nabiki-san,
take Rinrin's spot," he indicates the near right spot on the third
row.  "Mikiko-san, you take Sakuya's seat beside her.  Himiko-san,
you go here," he indicates Haruka's spot, the far left seat on the 
second row.  "Seiko-chan, take Karen's place," he indicates the seat
between his own and Haruka's place.  "Sakiko-chan, sit beside 
Hinako-chan," he indicate's Kaho's spot, the far left seat on the 
first row.  "Girls, you go to the spots by the viewscreen,"
he waves Jonna and Orin forward, then points to Shirayuki's
space beside Marie's.  "Miree-san, go there.  And for you four..."
he faces the four replica bioroids.

     "We'll take the side stations, Darling," Lum's replica, now 
calling herself Shinobi Nomade in tribute to the one time the Oni had
disguised herself as a Terran to go on a date with Ataru, nods 
understandingly.

     "Thanks," Ataru nods as people take their places.

     "Who's piloting this thing, anyway?" Nabiki wonders.

     "I am!" Reiko waves her hand.  "Where to, Papa?!"

     "Hina wants to fly Onii-tama's spaceship!!" Hinako protests.

     "Hinako-sama, do you know HOW to pilot Ataru-sama's ship?" Jonna
wonders as she turns to gaze amusedly on the youngest sister.

     "Hina...!" Hinako stops herself, then flusters.  "N-not 
really..."

     "Oh, relax, Hinako-chan!" Ataru sits down.  "You'll all get the
chance to fly her as soon as we get everyone else back...!"

     "Ani-kun."

     Everyone states on Chikage.  The sorceress' crystal ball is now
sitting on a specially-sculpted holder, it now showing the image of 
the "Rose Emperor" in warp.  "I believe they've left the system,"
she reports.  "Heading into a very dark and remote area of local 
space..."

     "You're able to see THAT through your crystal ball?!" Nabiki
gapes.

     "Confirmed!" Kaneko gazes on her readout.  "The sensors've
picked up a faint ion trail heading in the direction of the Slot,
Papa!  The isotopes detected are consistent with the warp drive of an
Ellsian warship."

     "She's trying to drag you back towards Elle, I think," Seiko
warns.

     "Then we play along," Ataru grunts.  "Pursuit course, 
Reiko-chan."

     "Hai!" Reiko taps controls.

     "Um, Ataru...?"

     Ataru gazes on Ranma.  "Where do I sit?" the latter demands.

     She then awks as Kaneko telekinetically boosts her into Ataru's
lap.  "You sit with Papa, Mama!" the younger of the twins giggles.

     Ranma's face flushes as she sinks into Ataru's lap, the 
embarrassment of being seen so close to her boyfriend in front of 
over a dozen witnesses preventing her from making any sort of 
immediate objection.  Seeing her flustering, Nabiki breaks out in a 
peal of giggles.  She is soon joined by Shinshi, then Miree and her
daughters.  An envious look crosses Seiko's face for a moment before
she, too, starts to laugh.  Soon enough, everyone is laughing,
even Ataru.  Ranma ducks their knowing looks, then chuckles herself,
rubbing the back of her head as the "Windrider" leaps into warp...

*    *    *

     "THAT SHIP BELONGS TO THE GREAT EVIL?!?!"

     "Confirmed, Mister President," Otako gazes on Oogi.  "That craft
is registered as the Independent Solar-Sail Craft 'Windrider,'
homeported at Magairu.  Registered to Ataru Moroboshi of Earth.  
It..." she pauses, then sighs.  "It was rewarded to him by the 
Noukiite government in thanks for his assistance in their dealing
with the Urusians, Mister President!"

     Oogi remains still as he digests that information, then he 
shudders, a fist quaking as he gazes at the "Windrider's"
image; the solar-sail ship just warped out of the system in pursuit
of Elle's flagship.  "A REWARD for destroying the Goddess and Her 
Faithful, you say?!  Fine!!!  We'll destroy it when it returns and 
eliminate the Great Evil once and for all!!!"

     His maniacal laughter echoes throughout the factory...

*    *    *

     Akane's eyes open...

     Taking a deep breath, she sits up in the bed, then glances
around the darkened space.  The room appears to be about the same 
size as Hinako's room at Welcome House, but the absence of a wall of
closets and linen storage areas to her right -- not to mention the 
total absence of any of Hinako's stuffed toys -- dispels that notion.
Gently swinging her legs out onto the floor, she gingerly stands
up, then stretches herself.  Gazing down at herself, she gently 
traces a hand over her breasts and abdomen before feeling her arms,
then her face.  "Wow..." she closes her eyes as a storm of thoughts
and images form in her mind, relaying information she never possessed
before, then she sits back on the bed.  "So..."

     The lamp on the nightstand beside the bed flicks on, 
illuminating the space with a soft glow.  Akane winces as her eyes
adjust to the light, then she notices a folded note on the 
nightstand, her name in quite beautifully-scripted
hiragana there.  Opening it, she begins to read:

"Akane,
     "By the time you awaken, you'll find yourself aboard Ani-kun's
personal starship, the 'Windrider.'  Please, do not be alarmed.
Shinshi and Nabiki are aboard at this time, as are several other 
Avalonians such as Miree, her daughters, Himiko and Mikiko, not to 
mention Ranma-anekun and Ani-kun.  While you were undergoing
insertion into your new body, an old *acquaintance* of Ani-kun's
decided to abscond with most of our sisters; only Negako-anekun,
Marie, Hinako and myself were left alone.  We're now in pursuit
of them and should be ready to get them back within the hour.
     "Please rest up as much as you can; you'll still need time to 
adjust to your body.  You may be needed.  As soon as I can, I'll look
in on you.
"Chikage"

     "A starship...?" Akane whispers, then noting a curtained
window overlooking the bed, shifts over to pull the fabric back.  
"Oh, my...!"

*    *    *

     Sometime later...

     "Aniue-sama, you didn't tell us there were other people aboard
this ship," Marie gazes quizzically at Ataru.  "Who are they?!"

     The sisters, Ranma and Ataru stand in what serves as the primary
engineering control space aboard the "Windrider":  the solar sail 
control room.  Currently manning the stations which govern the 
winches, pulleys and energy feeds that give the solar-sail ship her
energy are a small team of golden-skinned men and women in unitarian
jumpsuits.  All of them had given Ataru a curt, respectful nod when
he stepped into the room, then returned back to their duties.  "Well,
Marie-chan, they're...!" he flusters.

     "Androids."

     Eyes lock on Chikage.  "Robots?!" Ranma blinks, then peers 
intently at the people in question.  "Yeah, they are machines,
aren't they...?"

     "The Noukiites purchased them second-hand from the Zeiwanites
when I told them I didn't want a volunteer crew assigned full-time
to my ship," Ataru elaborates.  "You just wouldn't BELIEVE the number
of people ready to drop everything just to serve as crew on a ship
I might not put to much use even if the Special Committee DOES permit
me to dock her on Earth!"

     "Rinrin-chan's going to be BESIDE herself when she finds out 
about them," Marie chuckles, covering her mouth politely with her 
hand.  "Could you imagine how fast she'll finish up her work on 
Mecha-Rinrin-chan when she gets a chance to examine them?" she 
indicates the androids.

     "Much less what she might do if Sakuya persuades her to create
a 'Mecha-Anikun?'" Chikage scratches her chin thoughtfully.

     "'Mecha-Anikun?!'" Ranma blinks surprisedly.

     The sisters laugh.  "That was a little idea Sakuya came up with
when Rinrin-chan first told us about Mecha-Rinrin-chan,"
Ataru flusters.

     "Hina remembers when Sakuya-chan tried to play 
Mecha-Sakuya-chan!"

     "Hinako, DON'T remind me of that!!" Ataru yelps.

     Hinako snickers.  "Bad?" Ranma stares at her boyfriend.

     "What do you think?" he returns her look...

*    *    *

     "AH-CHOO!!!!"

     "Bless you, Sakuya-chan!  Are you alright?!"

     "Ugh!!" Sakuya wipes her nose, then nods assuredly at Karen.
"Yeah, I'm fine!  Someone must be talking about me," she sniffs.

     "Hopefully, it's Nii-sama," Shirayuki frets.

     "I hope so, too," Haruka nods.

     The sisters are now being marched through the corridors of the
"Rose Emperor" towards the holding chamber by a platoon of 
heavily-armed guards.  Two of the maids assigned to them keep Aria
and Kaho company.  Seeing the fearful looks on her sisters' faces,
Sakuya tries not to scream out in rage.  DAMN that loony bitch for 
doing this!  Who the hell gave her the right to frighten them to 
their wits' end just to try to woo Onii-sama?!

     "Here," one of the guards stops by a door, then opens it.

     The sisters are led through the door, finding themselves
on the balcony overlooking Elle's other prisoners.  Quick to 
recognize some of the jerks Onii-sama had once gone to school with,
Sakuya's heart then sinks on seeing Tomomi Yoshino and Kyooko Ikusawa
in the crowd.  *When we get out of this, we DEFINITELY try to 
persuade them to come to the Island!* Sakuya muses.  *They certainly
don't deserve to be with THESE nuts!!*

     "Ah, ladies, there you are!  How nice of you to join us!!"

     The sisters gaze right as a white-caped, green-eyed redhead
with a white-and-silver headband steps towards them.  Gazing at Elle,
Sakuya tries not to whistle in admiration.  Damn, now she understood
why those idiots in the Rose Queen's refrigerator could fall for 
someone like this!  "Queen Elle, I presume," Sakuya crosses her arms,
the other sisters massing in a group behind her.  "So what's the 
idea, anyway?  You realize the instant Onii-sama finds out that 
you've taken us away, he'll come rescue us!"

     "Oh, I'm sure Honey WILL come after you girls," Elle titters,
the gleam in her eyes lacking any mirth whatsoever.  "As to his 
actually going all the way to rescuing you, that'll be a different
story, I assure you."

     "Why?" Karen demands.  "Onii-chan never stepped on your shadow
whatsoever!  He has no right to pursue a marriage with you..."

     "Not that Aniki'd want to marry a girl who loves dipping all her
boyfriends into cryotubes!!" Rinrin snarls, glaring at Elle.

     Elle jolts, then gazes confusedly at the sisters for a moment
before her eyes widen.  "Why...?" she blinks, a flash of real pain
appearing in her emerald eyes.  "Do you think I'd put Honey into my 
Refrigerator...?"

     "The evidence stands very much against you, Elle-san," Haruka
icily notes.  "Much that it is something of a tradition for any 
ruling elite to possess their own harems to see to their more 
intimate needs, the fact that you deliberately keep yours under such
inhuman restraints...!"

     "I KEEP THEM WHOLE AND PURE!!!" Elle shrieks, making the sisters
balk.  "I freeze them to ensure that their love for me is preserved,
kept pure and whole!!  What in the name of the Fates is so wrong with
that?!"

     "Do they actually AGREE to such treatment?!" Haruka presses,
then points to Mendou, still dazed from Mie's smashing him into the
deck.  "From what Anigimi-sama told us, Mendou-san there didn't agree
at ALL to being made a part of your collection of 'cute boys!'  And
you honestly believe that we'd accept your word that you won't do the
same to Anigimi-sama?!"

     Elle leans back from the martial artist's tirade, then a 
determined look crosses her face.  "It doesn't matter," she pulls
her cape close to her.  "Honey and I will be wed as soon as he makes
his way here, as I'm sure he's more than capable of doing now given
all he's done on behalf of the Noukiites!  I'm more than sure that
he holds your lives very dear to him, so keeping you under my thumb
should force him to finally see reason.  A pity that I couldn't
get hold of Negako, Chikage, Hinako and Marie; with ALL of you in my
grasp, Honey's capitulation is assured!!  Now..."

     An intercom whistles.  "Your Majesty, long-range sensors have
now detected a small Noukiite solar-sail scoutship coming towards
us from the direction of Earth," the patrol monitor's sensor officer
reports.  "Her I.D. beacon marks her as the I.S.S.C. 'Windrider.'
She's registered to Ataru Moroboshi of Earth, homeported on the 
planet Magairu..."

     "Big brother...!!" the sisters gasp.

     "...now approximately ten minutes from reaching our position
at her present speed," the officer continues.  "The captain wishes
to know..."

     "Stop the ship!!" Elle orders.  "Have weapons placed on 
stand-by.  Raise shields to prevent their beaming anyone out!  I'll
be right there!!"

     "Yes, ma'am!!"

     The intercom clicks off.  Elle faces the sisters.  "Do excuse
me, please, ladies.  I'm off to have a long chat with Honey!"

     She steps through the doorway, her guards shifting themselves
to ensure none of the sisters can try to escape.  In a minute, the 
nine young women from Earth are left alone on the balcony, the door
leading out of this place locked.  Exchanging worried looks, the 
sisters then focus on the door.  "What do we do now?" Kaho sniffs,
tears streaming down her cheeks.

     "Why don't you girls c'mon down here?" Ryuunosuke's voice echoes
from the main deck.  "If we stay close together, we'll be a lot 
safer."

     The sisters glance down, then exchange a look.  "Well, as long
as Sword-for-brains and Bokken-for-brains behave themselves,"
Sakuya points at Mendou and Kunou, then turns to Aria.  "Here, 
Aria-chan, you go first," she points to the main deck.  "Tomomi-chan
and Kyooko-chan'll catch you."

     Seeing the big drop to the main deck, the young Parisian 
shudders fearfully as the others gently press her to the balcony
rail.  "Aria...!" she burbles, then starts to cry.  "Aria doesn't
want to fall...!"

     Tomomi and Kyooko take their places.  "It's okay, Aria-chan!!"
the former gives the young girl her brightest smile.  "We'll catch
you!"

     "Kusu..."

*    *    *

     Minutes later...

     "Papa, they've raised shields and readied weapons."

     The "Windrider" is two hundred kilometres from the "Rose 
Emperor."  The solar sails have all been drawn in, clearing the field
for the ship's other weapons, including a pair of swivel accelerator
cannons amidships and concussion missile tubes under the figurehead,
to be used if needed.  On the front viewscreen, the Ellsian patrol
monitor, a ship roughly the size of Invader's "Kashin," glistens
like a multi-faceted jewel in the pitch-dark of inter-system
space.  "Are they scanning us?" Ataru asks.

     "They're trying to, Darling," Benten's Avalonian twin Kamen,
now calling herself Nobuko Fujikaze, reports from a wing station
beside Shinshi.  "Ship's ECM systems are blocking the scans easily."

     "They're blocking our scans too, Darling," Oyuki's twin Mienai,
now living as Yukiko Kanki, reports from a port-side station next to
Marie.  "I'm trying to adjust the bandwidth to get around their ECM
now."

     "Don't be too obvious, Yukiko-chan," Ataru warns.

     "Hai!"

     "We can't fight them flat-out, can we?" Ranma, having now 
shifted herself to stand behind Ataru's chair, wonders.

     "No, we can't," he thoughtfully tugs at his beard.

     "Darling?"

     "What is it, Shinobi-chan?"

     "Long-range sensors just picked up another ship heading our way
from the direction of Toshitto," Lum's transformed double reports.
"It's a Fukunokami-type starship, frigate-class.  Trying to I.D. her
now..."

     "What would one of them be doing here?!" Seiko wonders.

     "Do you think the Ellsians've picked them up?" Ataru asks.

     "Doubtful," Shinobi frowns as the readouts dance before her 
eyes.  "You've got quite a powerful sensory unit, Darling.  I...!"
she pauses.  "Wait!  The other ship just came to a halt.  She's about
ten million kilometres from us now.  If I'm not mistaken, I think
they just picked up the 'Rose Emperor.'  Hard to tell if they've
been detected in return."

     "They haven't."

     Eyes lock on Chikage.  "Is that bankable?" Nabiki wonders.

     "Very," the sorceress smiles as images swirl in her crystal
ball.  "It appears, Seiko, several of your friends were on their way
to visit you and your sister when Elle decided to change all our 
social schedules."

     "My friends?!" Seiko blinks.

     "Wait!" Shinobi cuts in.  "Got the I.D. on the second ship.  
She's the Independent Starship 'Goddess of Luck,' out of Bensaikyou."

     "Dakejinzou Shogai's ship?!" Nobuko stares at her sister 
Avalonian, her eyes going wide.  "You sure about that one, Hensou?"

     "Chikage-chan, isn't that the bounty hunter Brother Sunfire
put on retainer just in case something happened to us?" Marie 
wonders.

     "The same," Chikage nods.

     "And the Ellsians haven't detected them?" Ataru asks.

     "No, Ani-kun, not yet.  But it could happen soon."

     "Right," he scowls, bracing himself.  "Reiko-chan, ready a 
spread of concussion missiles.  Use the subspace harmonic warheads.
Bracket Elle's ship on all sides.  I don't want them to see who else
is out there."

     "Hai, Papa!"

*    *    *

     "You can't scan into that ship?!"

     "Negative, Captain," the sensory officer shakes her head.  
"She's got quite a powerful ECM system for a ship that size...!"
she stops, her eyes going wide.  "Captain, she's readying concussion
missiles!!"

     The shock at that announcement is very brief as the captain
barks out, "All power to the shields!  Ready anti-missile 
defences...!"

     "She's firing!!"

     Slender torpedoes lance out of the "Windrider's" launch bays,
darting to all sides of the "Rose Emperor."  Before the crew on the
larger ship could realize what is happening, the first of the 
concussion missiles explode, sending high-frequency subspace 
shockwaves all over the place.  Since they are presently both in 
normal space, neither the "Windrider" nor the "Rose Emperor" are 
affected by the strikes save for molecular debris from the detonated
missiles showering the larger ship's shields.  It is in the various
dimensions of subspace, where the most highly attuned of the Ellsian
warship's sensors are now locked, that the missiles have their 
effect.  "Damn!!" the sensory officer spits out.  "He's blinded
us!"

     "What?!!" the captain demands.

     "Long-range subspace, short-range subspace and weapons targeting
sensors down!  Subspace communications are temporarily off-line!!"
the younger woman reads off the damage litany.  "Warp core's 
unaffected, but I'd recommend NOT going into hyperspace at this time,
Captain!"

     The captain blinks, then stares at the image of the "Windrider,"
the viewscreen now showing the static aftereffects of the missile
strike from the Noukiite ship.  "What's he up to...?" she whispers...

*    *    *

     "What's that idiot up to?!" Benten demands.

     "Multiple subspace shockwave blasts," Nassur adjusts controls
on the "Goddess'" sensors.  Like what is fitted on the "Windrider,"
the sensory suite on Dakejinzou's starship is well above what is 
considered standard for a vessel of this side.  "No doubt, they're
pretty much blind save for normal-space scans, plus they can't risk
entering warp unless they clear the disturbed area.  Smart move,"
an approving nod tilts his head.

     "Why would Ataru do something like that, Nassur-san?"
Oyuki asks.

     "Elle has hostages aboard her ship."

     Eyes lock on Dakejinzou, the alien hunter's hand now touching
one of her earrings.  "How the hell did you know that?!" Benten 
demands.

     "Coded signal just came in from Brother Sunfire," Dakejinzou
reports.  "Nine of Ataru's sisters, plus all his former classmates
at Tomobiki High School, were kidnapped shortly after lunch, local
time.  Elle demanded that Ataru surrender himself to her in order
for the hostages to be released."

     Benten and Oyuki exchange a look.  "But Moroboshi never stepped
on that idiot's shadow when they were kids!" the former reports.
"Why the hell's Elle after him now...?" her voice trails off.  
"Unless..."

     "With Lum-chan 'dead,' the Queen must have come to believe
that no one else would desire Ataru," Oyuki notes.  "After all, we 
did make quite a mess of things when we helped her rescue him from
the altar..."

     "Everyone knows how vain that woman is," Nassur grimaces,
then gazes on Dakejinzou.  "So what's Brother Sunfire going to do 
now?"

     "He said he would contact a crusade fleet on Magairu to 
intercept the 'Rose Emperor' and help force Elle to release her 
hostages," the alien hunter reports.  "A message would also be passed
to the Noukiites based around Toshitto to send their own force out.
Hopefully, this can be done with as..." she pauses, then taps 
controls on her flight board.

     Everyone gazes on the viewscreen.  "Why's he approaching
her?!" Oyuki demands as they see the "Windrider" come in close to the
"Rose Emperor."

     Nassur turns to his board.  "Shields are still up; he's keeping
some distance from the 'Emperor.'"  A hum escapes him.  "This is 
interesting..."

     "What's he tryin' ta do, anyway?" Benten wonders.

     "Hard to tell since I've no real idea what he's capable of 
doing," the expat Vosian shakes his head.  "If he's got some hidden
surprises up his sleeve and he's prepared to use them, Benten, I'd 
say his chances of rescuing his sisters and the others are actually
very good."

     "Why say that?!  He ain't ever done this before...!"

     "True, which could potentially give him an advantage, especially
dealing with Elle," Nassur holds up an objecting finger.  "An 
experienced warrior would know what sort of manoeuvres to avoid in a 
situation of this nature, Benten.  I'm willing to strongly bet that
he wouldn't know what mistakes to make.  Atop that, Elle's probably
still thinking of Ataru Moroboshi as the sex-crazed idiot she met a 
year ago.  I think after what you both saw happen on Phentax Two, 
that doesn't apply anymore.  Ne?"

     Benten moves to venomously disagree, then a thoughtful look 
crosses her face.  "Yeah, ya got a point," she gazes out the front
viewports of the "Goddess'" small pilotage, then waters her response
down with, "Still, it IS pretty hard to believe, ya know!" she 
smirks, shaking her head.

     "Agreed," Oyuki nods understandingly.

     "Wait...!"

     Eyes lock on Dakejinzou.  "What is it?" Nassur asks.

     "He's hailing her," the alien bounty hunter reports...

*    *    *

     "Hello, Elle.  It's been some time."

     "And hello to you, too, Honey.  My, it HAS been quite some time
since I last saw you.  The beard and moustache are very nice 
touches," the Rose Queen seems to quiver with typical teenage delight
on seeing her "fiance," then a condemning glare crosses her face.
"What you just did to us was very rude, Honey," she wags her finger
at him.  "It's not nice to launch subspace-harmonic concussion
missiles at your fiancee, you know!"

     "Kidnapping my sisters is equally rude, Elle," all emotion
drains from Ataru's face.  "Especially on the false pretext that 
we're engaged.  You WILL recall what we discovered when we took that
small jaunt into the past after you and I nearly got married.  So 
what's the idea, anyway?  If you wanted to talk to me, all you had to
do was call me direct."

     Elle seems to freeze for a moment as she takes in who and what
now sits alone on the bridge of the "Windrider;" before hailing
the Rose Queen, Ataru had the bridge cleared out of everyone else,
especially his sisters.  "Well, in spite of what did happen when we 
were children, the fact remains that I still do care for you.  And 
yes, I still wish to marry you.  And NO, you're not destined for the
Refrigerator of Love.  Why in the name of the Fates would I place
my husband inside the Refrigerator?"

     Ataru's eyebrow arches.  "And the Cute Boys?  What about them?"

     "Oh, all of them were just fleeting liaisons, Honey," she makes
a dismissive wave with her hand.  "Nothing more, nothing less.  
Besides, you yourself tried to gather your own harem.  Before, of 
course, you learned of that delightful family your late father 
parented on the side."

     "True, I was that way," he verbally admits the hit, then sits
back in his chair.  "However, I'd like to think I've outgrown that
stage of my life.  I hope that one day soon, you'll be able to do the
same, Elle."  A pause, then, "Besides, why is it you targeted boys
who were, almost to the end, suffering from a host of incurable
illnesses like Hifuto Syndrome?"  He ignores the shocked look on her
face.  "Elle, if you were really trying to preserve their lives for
a time when medical technology might cure them, it might've done you
a lot of good to come out and admit the truth.  Your people might
actually respect you a lot more that way, you know."

     "H-how...?!" she sputters.

     "There's little the Inquisition doesn't know," Ataru thinly
smiles...

*    *    *

     "Is he tellin' the truth?" Benten asks.

     "By the looks of it, yes," Nassur nods, his eyes scouring
the image of the Rose Queen on his board.  "Hard to believe, ne?"

     "Agreed," Dakejinzou quirkily smiles...

*    *    *

     "Well, that doesn't really matter in the end, Honey," Elle 
quickly gathers control of herself, making another dismissive
wave of her hand.  "What does matter to me is you," she winks at him.
"I will marry you, Honey.  I just can't imagine living another day 
without you at my side."

     Ataru blinks, then sighs.  "Elle, I AM quite flattered..."

     "You deserve it," the Rose Queen blows him a sibilant kiss.  
"Even better, the Devil's Daughter is now radioactive dust over 
what's left of Onishuto thanks to your Noukiite friends, so we don't
have to worry about any interruptions from that quarter.  And with
her gone, all her friends from space won't interfere since, as you 
and I are quite aware of, they never cared one bit for you, much less
Lum's interest in you."

     "Yes, that is true, isn't it?" he slowly nods.  "Hell, there
are times these days that I kick myself for actually taking interest
in the likes of Benten and Oyuki in the first place.  I mean, would
you believe that the day Lum dragged me to their Setsubun festival,
Benten tried to entice a kiss out of me just to help her side win 
that stupid ball-toss?  And Oyuki!" he rolls his eyes.  "Other than
dumping enough snow to sink the 'Titanic' into my bedroom every time
she came to visit, there's that so-called 'bodyguard' of hers, B-Boy.
Sheesh!" he throws up his hands, then wags a warning finger at Elle.
"I swear, Elle-chan, the NEXT time I see that pathetic imitation
of a yeti, I'm gonna take my qu'f-piaqu'r and use him for BAYONET
practice before using my eunuch's swords on him...!"

*    *    *

     "He WOULDN'T!!!" Oyuki shrieks.

     "Bets?" Dakejinzou gazes amusedly at the princess.

     The Tritonian shudders, then looks anywhere but the viewscreen
re-playing images transmitted between the "Rose Emperor" and the 
"Windrider."  Nearby, Benten is muttering a litany of dockyard-grown
curses about Ataru.  Watching their reactions, Nassur tries not to 
fall over laughing as he exchanges a knowing look with his former
partner.  She winks back...

*    *    *

     "Oh, Elle-chan?"

     "Yes, Honey?"

     "Do you still wear that very nice perfume I smelled on you when
we were dancing in the garden at your palace?" his eyebrow arches.

     Elle's cheeks redden.  "You still remember...?"

     "Hai, Elle-chan.  I haven't changed THAT much, you know."

     "Oh, Honey!" one of the Rose Queen's hands touches her cheek.

     "I guess I'll just have to reacquaint myself with that lovely
scent," Ataru reaches forward to tap controls at Reiko's station.
"See you in a couple of minutes..." he fixes her with a wink.  
"Intended."

     The screen blanks out on the "Rose Emperor," leaving behind
a bridge full of stunned, wide-eyed young women, their queen now 
quivering like a schoolgirl who just landed a date with the most 
popular sports star for the prom.  "He's lowered his shields, 
Captain," the sensory officer reports, causing the others to blink,
save for a very twitter-patted Elle.  "All weapons now deactivated.
ECM jamming is down, also."

     "I...!" the captain jolts, then nods.  "Um, r-right!  Lower 
shields to allow him to come alongside, pilot," she then stares at 
the officer of the deck.  "Tractor him into the portside quarterdeck
airlock."

     "Yes, ma'am!"

     "Oh, Honey..."

     Eyes lock on Elle, cheeks still aflame like a pair of spring
mountain roses in bloom.  "Are you alright, Your Majesty?" the 
captain asks.

     The Rose Queen jolts, then notices everyone staring concernedly
at her.  "I...!  Ah!  Oh, y-yes!" she quickly recovers before 
clearing her throat with a discrete cough.  "Have a proper reception
committee ready at the place Honey is to come aboard, Captain.
Let's be cautious."

     The captain salutes.  "By your command, Your Majesty!"

*    *    *

     "To quote the great cartoon..."

     "'What a maroon!!'" everyone in the corridor aft of the bridge
chimes as one after Ataru closed the door behind him.

     "Will they be able to sense how many people're aboard this ship
now?" Nabiki wonders.  "Especially since we're going to get..."

     The deck lurches slightly.  "Tractor beam," Kaneko warns.

     "Perfect," Ataru glances at the deckhead, then turns to Sakiko.
"You can use your powers to lock in on Ryuunosuke, right?"

     "Easy as pie, Darling," the flame-haired Nendo-kata winks.

     "Okay, then," he nods.  "As soon as we're aboard, Ranma'll
use the Umisen-ken to snatch Elle.  I'll leave the actual moment
to strike to you, okay," he stares at Ranma.  "Sei-chan, you stay 
with Ranma, help her as you see fit," he then looks on Seiko.  
"Reiko-chan, Kaneko-chan, you'll come with Chikage and I aboard 
Elle's ship," he looks to his daughters, then the others.  "Rest of 
you, stay here.  Hinako-chan, you keep the Staff locked on me," he 
taps the Staff of Gihan.  "After I find the other girls, I'll give
a signal and you use the Staff to bring us all aboard, okay?"

     "Hina wants to come with Onii-tama!" Hinako sniffs.

     "No," Ataru firmly shakes his head.  "I don't want any knowledge
of Bou-san to be plastered from one end of the galaxy to the other,
Hina-chan.  You'll never know a moment's rest if that happens.
Okay?"

     The youngest sister blinks, then nods.  "What of us?" Marie 
wonders.

     "The rest of you'll stay here," Ataru gazes on the others.
"Miree, you're in charge of a possible rescue party.  If I get caught
-- which I'll try to avoid, of course -- I'm counting on you to bail
us out, alright?"

     "Of course," the Hollywoodite chief priestess nods.

     A grinding noise echoes through the hull.  "We're locking 
alongside, probably at one of their quarterdeck gangways," Reiko 
warns.

     "How many people might be on hand?" Ranma wonders.

     Seiko's eyes glow as she directs her telepathic powers towards
the patrol monitor.  "There's about forty people within ten metres
of us right now, Ranma.  I..." she pauses, then grins.  "Good.  
Elle's waiting."

     "Perfect," Ataru smirks, then stares at Seiko.  "Keep the use of
your powers to a minimum, okay?  They might expect it from Reiko and
Kaneko, but not you guys.  Same deal as with the Staff," he nods 
towards Hinako.

     "Be careful, Aniue-sama," Marie shudders.

     "Everyone, let's get to the bridge," Miree orders, waving those
remaining behind through the doorway into the sloop's command centre.

     "Watch your back, Ranma-chan," Shinshi warns.

     "I'll be cool," Ranma winks, then slips under the Umisen-ken
cloak.

     The grinding comes to a halt, then a clanging noise echoes 
through the hull.  Ataru waves the others with him to the 
starboard-side gangway.  Sakiko slips up to the airlock controls,
then nods on seeing the readout.  "Soft seal, Darling.  We can go 
in," she taps controls to open the lock.

     Ataru blinks as the darker light of the Noukiite ship is 
instantly chased away by a tidal wave of bright light flooding
in from the Ellsian monitor.  His eyes quickly adjust to the light
as he steps aboard the "Rose Emperor," finding himself in a breezeway
leading to a circular reception area.  Placing Reiko and Kaneko 
before him, he motions his daughters forward.  Seiko, Sakiko and 
Chikage fall in behind him, the invisible Ranma behind them.  "Okay,
let's go," he waves the others with him.

     Behind them, the "Windrider's" airlock automatically
closes.  The small crowd boarding the "Rose Emperor" ignore it as 
they step out of the breezeway onto the monitor's quarterdeck.
Around them stand nearly three platoons worth of security troops,
stun rifles at port arms.  By the main doors leading into the 
remainder of the ship, there stands a familiar figure in a lime green
battlesuit.  "Oh, hello again, Captain!" Ataru smiles on remembering
the first Ellsian he met a lifetime ago at Tomobiki High's clock 
tower.  "It's been a while.  Oh!" he catches himself, then places
his hands on his daughters' shoulders.  "Permission to come aboard."

     The woman blinks, then blushes.  "Um...!  Ah, granted, Mr. 
Groom!  Granted..." her voice is cut off as the door behind her 
opens.

     "Honey!!"

     Reiko and Kaneko duck clear as a white-and-red blur slams into
Ataru.  Fortunately, since he is the only man standing on the 
quarterdeck at the time, Elle doesn't repeat the faux pas she did 
when she first encountered Ataru at the Royal Palace.  "Hey!!" Ataru
grunts surprisedly as the Rose Queen squeezes him tight.  "Take it 
easy, Elle-chan!!  I need to breathe!"

     Elle pulls back to give him a close look, then a finger reaches
up to gently stroke his beard.  "Oh, this IS a great improvement,"
she coos with delight, then leans in to rub her nose on his.  "It's
been so long, Honey!  I'm so delighted that you've decided to come
join me at last!"

     "Well, much that I hate to remind you, you didn't give me much
of a choice, I'm afraid," he wriggles his eyebrows, his voice light.

     "Oh, don't worry about that!" Elle makes a dismissive wave with
her hand.  "They're all safe and sound, Honey.  You needn't fear..."
her voice then trails off as she sees the young girls flanking
Ataru.  "Who...?"

     "Ah, sorry!" he laughs, then makes introductions.

     Elle's eyes widen.  "Your daughters?!" she gasps, then kneels
before the twins.  "Oh, they're so precious!  And Yekhu, too!!" she
reaches over to tap their caste tattoos.  "Well, only the best for 
Honey's babies, eh?"

     "She's really pretty, Papa," Reiko stares up at Ataru.

     "Yes, that she's always been," he nods as Elle straightens
herself, then he leans forward, his nose flaring slightly.  "You 
remembered."

     Elle's cheeks redden.  "You remembered for me, Honey..."

     "I was happy to.  Oh, good grief, I forgot!" he catches himself,
then turns around to indicate Chikage.  "Since you've already met 
some of my sisters, here's another.  Elle-chan, this is Chikage.
Chikage, Elle."

     "Elle," Chikage curtly nods.

     "A pleasure, Ch-chikage-chan," the Rose Queen nods, a wary 
shiver running through her as the sorceress' eyes seem to bore into
her very soul, then she turns back to Ataru.  "But Honey, where are
Marie-chan and Hinako-chan?  And who are...?" she indicates the Izumo
sisters with a hand.

     Seiko and Sakiko quickly introduce themselves.  "One of the 
people you kidnapped from Tomobiki High is my girlfriend, Ryuunosuke
Fujinami," the latter announces, keeping her voice level.  "A lot of
people are very upset with you right now because of what you did, 
Your Majesty."

     "Well, it was necessary.  Besides, all the incidents provoked
by the Devil's Daughter living there were worse," Elle makes another
dismissive wave with her hand.  "And from what I've heard from them,
you yourself don't seem to care too much about what happens to them,
Honey."

     "What do you expect, Elle-chan?" Ataru shrugs, sensing Seiko
start to quiver at Elle's barb towards her past-self.  "If it wasn't
Lum they were fawning over, it was Mendou.  Speaking of which, what
will you do with him?  Going to send him into the Refrigerator
with the rest of your collection?"

     "No, of course not," Elle chuckles, then gives Ataru a 
thoughtful look.  "Unless you want me to dispose of him myself,
Honey..."

     "Nah, don't bother," Ataru shakes his head.  "Living well's
the best revenge, after all.  And he DOES have to get married this
Saturday or else he'll get tossed out of his family.  I don't want
him to miss that."

     The Rose Queen blinks, then titters.  "An odd revenge, indeed!"
she takes a deep breath, then snaps her fingers.  "Ladies!"

     The guards around them instantly level their rifles on Ataru
and his party.  "I guessed you'd try that," he smirks, then barks,
"NOW!!!!"

     Two telekinetically-propelled waves of compressed air slam into
the guards and the captain, sending them smashing into the nearest
bulkheads.  At that instant, the air behind Elle fizzles, revealing
Ranma.  "***KACHUU TENSHIN AMAGURIKEN!!!!***" the flame-haired
martial artist barks as she rains a storm of punches into Elle's
back, sending her flying against the hard glass bulkhead right beside
the breezeway leading to the "Windrider."

*    *    *

     "PIG-TAILED GIRL!!!!"

     Everyone shrieks as Kunou leaps to his feet, then lunges for the
balcony.  Yanking out a spare bokken, the kendoist roars as he 
unleashes his storm of righteous vengeance on the balcony door.  
"***THE BLUE THUNDER WILL SAVE YOU, MY PIG-TAILED ONE!!!!  
STRIKE-STRIKE-STRIKE-STRIKE-STRIKE-STRIKE-STRIKE-STRIKE-
STRIKE-STRIKE-STRIKE-STRIKE-STRIKE-STRIKE-STRIKE-STRIKE-
STRIKE-STRIKE-STRIKE-STRIKE-STRIKE-STRIKE-STRIKE-STRIKE...!!!***"

     The door explodes into the hallway from the increased air 
pressure, then Kunou lunges through, racing off with a determined
scream.  The crowd left on the main deck of the containment
room gape wide-eyed at the sight, then Yotsuba turns to her sisters.
"Um...!  Do we follow him out?!"

     People exchange looks...

*    *    *

     "GO!!!!" Ataru barks, racing for the main door leading off the
quarterdeck to the rest of the ship, his finger lashing out.  
"***SHINZOU BAKUHATSU SHOKU!!!!***" he barks as it hits the door's
breaking point.

     It explodes inward in a shower of shattered, twisted metal as 
Ataru and Sakiko leap through, racing off towards the centre of the
ship.  Reiko, Kaneko and Chikage leap through next, then the twins
snap up a telekinetic defence field to block off a storm of stun 
bolts fired at them from a team of security officers charging at the
three women from aft.  "***OSCULUM PAPILIONIS!!!!***"
Chikage snaps as she unleashes the Butterfly Kiss.

     Reiko and Kaneko duck as the wall of chi mows down the Ellsians
like a giant bowling ball knocking down a set of ten-pins.  "Where's
the engine room here?!" Chikage demands.  "We need a distraction
to give Ani-kun and Sakiko the chance to locate the others for Hinako
to retrieve them!"

     Reiko's eyes glow, then she points to her left and up.  "There!"

     Chikage's eyes narrow as she focuses her own senses on the 
distant room in question, then she grabs the twins' hands.  "Come
on!!"

     They vanish in the flutter of the sorceress' cape...

*    *    *

     "Open the damned door!!!"

     Marie grunts, pressing the panel to open the airlock.  Elle's
body is the first thing tossed in, followed by Ranma and Seiko.  The
latter hits the controls to seal the lock, then the intercom button.
"Miree, this is Seiko!  The ship's sealed!  Break us free of them 
right away!!"

     "Hang on!" Miree's voice echoes throughout the "Windrider"
as the low-pitched howl of metal being twisted echoes throughout
the ship...

*    *    *

     Chikage and the twins appear in a carnivorous, tubular space
divided down the middle by a slender shaft blazing with energy.
Taking note that the "Rose Emperor's" main engine room could easily
swallow the whole of the rotunda at Welcome House, the sorceress
draws one of her crucifix-shaped magical charms from under her cape,
then with a flick of her hand, sends it flying into the monitor's
warp core.  The cross easily phases through the hardened glass 
keeping the blazing plasma within from escaping, then once it makes
contact with the energy in question, Chikage's charm flares.

     By the time the outer containment shell of the warp core 
shatters, showering the surprised engineering crew with ultra-hot
plasma, Chikage has already snared Reiko's and Kaneko's hands, then
vanished...

*    *    *

     "Commander, the 'Windrider' is breaking free of the airlock!!"

     The ship's first officer jolts, then looks to the viewscreen
to see the sloop pulling clear of the "Rose Emperor."  "Tractor
it in...!"

     The whole ship lurches suddenly as a ringing explosion echoes
through the ship, the shockwave from that blast sending everyone
flying out of their chairs to smash into consoles and the deck.  A 
female computerized voice instantly warns, "*Alert!  Alert!  Warp 
core breech in progress!  Estimate time to critical overload,
three minutes.  All personnel, abandon ship!  Repeat, all personnel,
abandon ship!!  Alert!  Alert...!*"

     "The warp core...?" the first officer pales...

*    *    *

     "Uh-oh!!" Hinako blinks, watching a plume of exploding gas erupt
from the upper hull of the "Rose Emperor."  "Someone broke their 
ship!"

     "It's a warp-core breach, Mother," Jonna reports from her 
station.  "I estimate three minutes before her singularity core goes
critical."

     "We best be clear when that happens," Miree, now in Ataru's
seat, grimaces.  "Any chance of scanning into that ship to find the
others?"

     "Trying now, ma'am," Nobuko reports from her station...

*    *    *

     "Aria-san, are you alright?!"

     "It...!" the young Parisian sniffs back tears as Sakuya lays a 
broken part of Mendou's katana sheath against her lower left arm.  
"Hurts..." she moans as Sakuya takes the ripped sleeves of Mamoru's
sweat top to tie the makeshift splint down on Aria's arm.  "Kusu..."
she winces.

     Footsteps turn everyone's attention to the balcony.  
"Sakiko-chan!!" Ryuunosuke gasps on recognizing the woman standing
there.

     "In here, Darling!!" Sakiko yells behind her.

     "BIG BROTHER!!!!" the sisters squeal on seeing Ataru charge
in.

     Leaping off the balcony, he makes a perfect landing, then seeing
Aria being tended to by Sakuya, races over.  "What happened to her?!"

     "She hurt her arm when the ship rocked after that big blast went
off and the computer warned about the warp breech, Aniki!" Rinrin
reports.

     "Ataru-kun, we have to get out of here!!" Shinobu frets.

     "I know, I know!!" Ataru waves her down.  "***NOW, 
HINAKO!!!!***"

*    *    *

     "Hai, hai!!" Hinako raises the Staff as the crystal flares...

*    *    *

     "MOROBOSHI!!!!  Where are you, you slime...?!  Urk...!!"

     "Help...!"

     Kunou stops, then turns before gasping in shock on seeing a 
woman about Hinako Ninomiya's age, dressed in a lovely green 
strapless bodysuit similar to what the other women on this ship wore,
now hanging on for dear life from being sucked out a shattered
doorway into deep space.  Air is steadily rushing out that breech
in the doomed ship's hull; despite there being an atmospheric
containment field fitted in this part of the "Rose Emperor," it 
wasn't forging a perfect seal.  Lunging over, he grabs her arm with
his hand, then bracing himself, pulls her into the main hallway.

     The captain throws her arms around the helpful young man's waist
as he pulls them towards the nearest airtight door down the hallway.
Strewn on the deck around them are a pile of unconscious security
officers.  As they move, the ship's computer dutifully notes, 
"*...breech in progress!  Estimate time to critical overload,
two minutes twenty seconds.  All personnel, abandon ship!  Repeat,
all personnel, abandon ship...!*"

     "We must leave this ship!!" Kunou grunts.

     "Escape pods..." the captain gasps.

     "Where?!!"

     "Past the door..." she reaches over to open the airlock.

     A strong wind flows through the opening door, causing the crew
now moving to escape their doomed ship to cry out with surprise.
"Captain!!" one of them recognizes the woman hugging Kunou, then 
races over to help her back to her feet.  "Here, sir!  This way!!"
she points to a waiting pod.

     "The others!!" the kendoist points to the downed security
officers.

     He lunges back to pick up three of the unconscious women, then
passes them back to a small chain of crewmembers to load onto the 
pods.  By the time the computer announces that the "Rose Emperor"
has only ninety seconds to live, the last of that group are safely
in their escape vehicles.  "This way, sir!!" the crewmember grabs
Kunou by the hand, then forces him into an escape pod now holding
the doomed patrol monitor's gasping captain.  "Thank you for saving
our commander, sir!" she bows, then closes the hatch.

     Kunou grunts as the ejection bolts are blown, then gazes out the
small viewport in the middle of the hatch as the escape pod flies
clear of the "Rose Emperor."  "Will they be safe...?" he whispers,
then blinks on feeling a slender hand grasp his.  Turning to look,
he nearly passes out as a teary-eyed young captain swamps him with
a warm hug and kiss.

     They remain still for a moment, then she pulls back from him,
a smile crossing her face.  "They should be fine," she whispers,
her voice still quite hoarse from about a minute's exposure to 
near-vacuum.  "There are only about three hundred people aboard my 
ship.  Escape pods are readily accessible all over."  Taking another
deep breath, she then blushes.  "I'm sorry.  We haven't been properly
introduced.  My name is Anna du Kohln.  May I know the name of the 
gallant rescuer who just saved my life?"

     He stiffens proudly.  "My dear, I am..." he launches into his 
usual introductory spiel, then his voice trails off for a moment
before he relaxes.  "My name is Tatewaki Kunou, Anna-san.  I was 
pleased to be of assistance.  And I pray..." his eyes look through
the viewport, "...that your crew also escapes what is about to happen
to your ship.  Do you...?"

     "No," Anna leans against him.  "Please don't make me look."

     Kunou gazes on her, then nods, gently placing a hand on her 
hair...

*    *    *

     "Onii-chan, are they going to make it out...?" Karen frets.

     "Hinako-chan?"

     Hinako listens to the Staff's response, then turns to Ataru.
"Bou-san says that when the ship goes *boom,* a lot of those little
ships are going to go *boom,* too..." she sniffs.  "This isn't any 
fun..."

     "Hinako-chan, can the Staff contain the explosion?!" Rinrin
asks.

     Hinako jolts, then listens to the Staff's response.  "Hai!"
a smile crosses her face, then she frowns, gazing fretfully at the 
bridge deck.  "But Bou-san says she'll have to go to sleep for a 
while afterward..."

     "Never mind, Hina-chan!!  Do it!!" Ataru barks.

     "Hai!!!"

     The Staff flares...

*    *    *

     "Thirty seconds," Nassur intones.

     "Not all of 'em are gonna make it," Benten tenses.

     "Maybe," Dakejinzou sighs, then her eyes go wide.  "Gods...!"

     A bolt of *something* suddenly leaps out of the "Windrider,"
it moulding into a giant spheroid of energy, totally encompassing
the "Rose Emperor."  "What in the Fates is that...?" Oyuki gasps.

     "Are any of the escape pods inside that field?!" Dakejinzou
asks.

     "Negative," Nassur shakes his head.  "Fifteen seconds..."

     Everyone on the "Goddess of Luck" brace themselves as the Vosian
makes the countdown.  On reaching "zero," people avert their eyes as
the main hull of the patrol monitor explodes.  Fragments of the ship
slam into the surrounding energy field, then shatter into nothingness
as the main force of the detonating warp core is forced straight
up through the metal "petals" forming the monitor's rose 
flower-shaped superstructure.  Within two seconds, the only thing
of the "Rose Emperor" larger than microscopic-sized fragments
are the several dozen escape pods spared being caught in their 
mothership's death-throes by the energy presently emitting from the
"Windrider."  Another second later, the near-vacuum snuffs out the 
last of the fires from the "Rose Emperor" as the shield protecting
her escape pods fades.  Silence falls on the bridge as people 
exchange looks, then a buzzer sounds off.  "Ah..." Oyuki blinks,
then stares at the readout before her.  "Um...!  I...!  The 
'Windrider' is hailing us, Shogai-sama..."

     "Right..." Dakejinzou taps a control.

     On the viewscreen before them, Seiko Izumo appears, she now 
seated in the "Windrider's" central chair.  "Hi, Shogai-san...!"
her eyes then go wide.  "Nassur-chan!  Benten!  Oyuki-chan!!
What are you doing here?!"

     Shocked silence responds, then Nassur quickly recovers.  "Well,
we were coming by to look in on you, your sister and Ten-chan,
Lu-...!" he catches himself, then flusters.  "Er, Seiko-chan!
Sorry about that!"

     "It's okay," Seiko waves him down...

     ...then someone leaps into view, a giant brown eye now staring
at the people on the "Goddess" via a HUGE spy glass.  "CUTE ALIEN
CHECKY!!!!"

     "YOTSUBA, GET AWAY FROM THERE!!!!" someone yells from 
off-screen.

     A handsome young man steps into view, then drags Yotsuba away.
"Yo-chan, don't butt into the conversation!  You can check them out
later!!"

     "Yotsuba wants to check them NOW!!!" the would-be detective
whines.

     His voice then turns sultry as he leans close to her ear.  
"Yo-chan, I have something very nice for you to check," he sensuously
purrs.

     Yotsuba jolts, then quickly shoves Shinshi out of camera range.
"Yotsuba has to do her checky of Shi-chama somewhere private, then!"

     Sweat drops appear.  "Seiko, who the FUCK was THAT?!" Benten
demands.

     "HEY!!!" an older girl with absurdly long ponytails juts into
the camera range, glaring Benten down.  "Who's the trash-mouth
over there?!"

     "That's gotta be Benten," another, younger woman calls from 
off-screen.  "Anii said she could out-swear a pack of drunk bikers!"

     "HEY!!!" Benten explodes.  "I RESENT THAT!!!!"

     "Actually, Benten, I believe Ataru was giving you a compliment."

     The Fukunokami stops, then glares at the Tritonian.  "Et tu, 
Oyuki?"

     "This is YOUR friend, Seiko-san?" another girl asks from 
off-screen.

     Nassur and Dakejinzou are quick to notice the slight flush 
crossing the Oni-turned-Nendo-kata/Terran's
face as she faces her questioner.  "W-well, B-benten takes a lot to 
get used to, K-karen-san..."

     *What's with her?* Dakejinzou gazes on her own partner, glad 
they possessed a Vosian pe'cha bond so they could communicate
in private.

     *Search me!  Must be a Nendo-kata thing,* Nassur shrugs.

     "Sakuya-sama, long-distance sensors are picking up a crusader
fleet now de-warping from Magairu," another woman reports from 
off-screen.  "The force commander just signalled us.  They're 
commencing rescue operations."

     "Any problems?" the girl with the long ponytails demands.

     "Negative, Sakuya-sama, but the force commander would like to 
know what has happened to Elle," the other girl replies.

     "Ya mean Anee can't beat her up ta make her leave Anii alone?!"
the girl who spoke of Benten's loquaciousness when it came to 
profanity asks.

     Sakuya hums.  "I think we'll need to get a message across to 
these dorks about Elle and her so-called 'interest' in Onii-sama."

     "What do you intend to do, Sakuya-chan?" Karen asks.

     "Orin-chan, can we beam a signal into those lifepods?"

     "Easily enough," the woman who reported on the arriving 
Zephyrites replies.  "Would you like to make it a live broadcast,
Sakuya-sama?"

     "Hai.  Haruka-chan, you're here, but where's Chikage...?"

     "Here."

     Screams echo from the "Windrider."  "***CHIKAGE, WILL YOU STOP
DOING THAT?!?!***" over a half-dozen women's voices bellow.

     "Stop doing what?" another woman asks.

     Moans respond.  "Sounds a lot like Cherry, eh?" Benten muses.

     "That could be said," Oyuki shakes her head...

*    *    *

     "Are you able now to communicate with your shipmates, Anna-san?"

     "I think so," Anna twists a wire sticking out of the lifepod's
emergency communications unit, then she adjusts the tuning.  "Let's
see..."

     A garbled squawking noise belches from the speakers, then a 
woman's voice calls out, "...-llo, minna-san!  I hope you can hear
me!!"

     "Who's that?!" Kunou demands.  "She sounds familiar..."

     The last captain of the late "Rose Emperor" blinks, then 
grimaces as she recalls where she first heard that voice.  "That's
Sakuya Sukeyama," a fearful shudder runs through her.  "She's one of
Ataru Moroboshi's sisters.  Let's see, now..." she gazes at the 
controls.  "Okay, it's a visual..."

     "More sisters...?" Kunou blinks surprisedly.

     Anna taps a control.  A tiny viewscreen at one end of the 
lifepod flicks on, revealing the image of three young women.  "Violet
One!!" Kunou yelps on recognizing the dark-dressed one to the right
of the screen.

     "This message will be repeated as long as you're stuck inside
those lifeboats," the girl standing in the middle announces,
her fists now on her hips.  "For those of you formerly of the 'Rose
Emperor' who didn't get the news by the time we were rudely kidnapped
from Onii-sama's home by your queen, I'm one of Ataru Moroboshi's
sisters, Sakuya Sukeyama.  These ladies beside me," she indicates
her companions, "...are also Onii-sama's sisters, Chikage 
Hirosaki..." -- Kunou perks as Sakuya waves to his violet-haired
temptress -- "...and Haruka Tenhiro," she indicates the other woman,
a very beautiful black-haired girl dressed in a pink-and-black
hakama.

     "Now, I'm sure right now that a lot of you are pissed off at the
fact that Onii-sama, in rescuing us and those people from Tomobiki
your queen also kidnapped earlier today, wound up seeing your 
starship blown up," Sakuya faces the camera.  "I'm sure if it 
happened to me, I'd be pretty angry, too.  But before you get any 
funny ideas, you better know now that a Zephyrite crusader squadron
is now arriving in the area.  A Noukiite task force is about another
hour away, so you won't have to stay in those little lifepods for 
much longer."  She winks.  "So if you gotta go, hang on for a bit and
you'll get plucked out of there as soon as it can be arranged.

     "As for your so-called 'queen,' she is currently our prisoner
aboard Onii-sama's ship," the smile slips from Sakuya's face.  "As we
speak, Onii-sama's REAL fiancee is having a *discussion* with Elle
about her coveting our brother for no reason whatsoever.  Despite
what you might have heard, Onii-sama does NOT, nor will he EVER, want
anything to do with Elle!  So, after Onii-sama's fiancee gets done
with Elle, we'll transfer her over to the Zephyrite Inquisition.
You can probably guess what'll happen next."

     "No...!" Anna pales.

     "What is she talking about?" Kunou demands.

     "...if you people are hoping the Inquisition'll let your queen
off the hook that easily, think again," Sakuya continues, her voice
ice-cold.  "During the rescue, one of our younger sisters nearly
broke her arm and a few of Onii-sama's old classmates got bruised
up pretty badly when your ship's warp core went on the fritz.  And 
all of us who got kidnapped, not to mention our parents and friends
back on Earth, are VERY peeved at Elle for pulling this garbage
in the first place!  So if any of you get any ideas about revenge,
I suggest you keep in mind that the United Nations are going to be 
inviting the Zephyrites and the Noukiites to take up PERMANENT
residence in our solar system until such time as we've caught up with
our neighbours technologically.  Besides," a smile crosses her face,
"...from what Onii-sama told me, your planet's monarchy is elected.
Maybe when you get back home, you might force your Senate to IMPEACH
Elle and get a more COMPETENT person on that throne.  Think about
it!" she winks, pointing at the camera, then the image fades for a 
moment before it begins to replay.

     Anna stares at the screen, then reaches over to switch off the
video and audio feed.  Gazing at the patrol monitor captain, Kunou
is quick to see the lost look on her face.  "Anna-san...?"
he grips her shoulders.

     She quakes, tears brimming in her eyes.  "I can't believe 
this..." she whispers.  "This isn't the Mr. Groom we met a year 
ago..."

     "Moroboshi?!" the kendoist probes.

     "Y-yes..." she stammers, then allows her companion to draw her
into a comforting embrace.  "A year ago, Mr. Groom was so...!  So 
carefree!  He seemed so RIGHT for the Queen to marry, Tatewaki!
And now..." she waves to the blank video screen.  "Look how easily
he...!  He..."

     A sob escapes her as she swings around to embrace him.  Kunou
remains in place, a hand threading through her hair as he gazes out
the viewport...

*    *    *

     Minutes later...

     "Ooooh..."

     "About time you got up, Elle."

     The Rose Queen gasps as lances of sheer PAIN rip through her 
spine and ribs, then her eyes flutter open.  Blinking confusedly
on finding herself in a dimly-lit room no bigger than a storage
closet on the "Rose Emperor," she grunts as she tries to get back to
her feet, then collapses on the floor mat protecting her from the 
chilly deck.  "Wh-where...?" she blinks, then spots a pair of feet
to her left.  Turning to look, she then glances up to find herself
staring into Seiko Izumo's impassive face.  "Y-you...?" Elle 
sputters, then tries again to sit up.  "Wh-what...?"

     "You're aboard Darling's ship right now," Seiko crosses her arms
as she leans against a bulkhead.  "Your own ship's warp core was 
destroyed when you were captured and brought aboard.  Most of your
crew made it to the lifepods, but your ship's gone now.  Fortunately
for you..." her eyes narrow, "...Darling's sisters and his old 
classmates all made it out alive and intact, though Aria-chan
nearly broke her arm along the way."

     Elle blinks, then a chill warps through her as the word 
"darling" sets off a warning bell deep in her mind.  "Why are 
you...?" she peers at Seiko, then her eyes go wide.  "No...!" she 
gulps.  "L-lum...?"

     "In part," the Oni-turned-Nendo-kata/Terran
smirks.

     They stare at each other, then the Rose Queen grunts as she 
moves to get back to her feet.  Seiko remains in place, not moving
to either assist or hinder her former rival as Elle nearly drops back
onto her face when the scalding pain in her spine overwhelms
her.  Finally, Elle gets back to her feet, then slumps against a 
bulkhead opposite Seiko, panting heavily as she fights back the tears
now streaming down her cheeks.  "This...!" she spits out, glaring
at Seiko.  "This is...!  An outrage...!"

     "An outrage, huh?!" a growling woman's voice echoes from every
point in the room.  "Then what do you call kidnappin' Ataru's 
sisters, bitch?!"

     Elle gasps, then pales as the air between her and Seiko fizzles,
revealing the presence of a busty redhead with eyes as blue as a 
clear sky.  Before the Rose Queen can stammer out a question,
Ranma walks over, then slams her hand around the Ellsian's neck.  
Elle croaks as her air is cut off, then she is effortlessly
boosted off her shaking legs.  "So this is the little bitch who loves
ta store guys inside some big refrigerator to 'preserve' their love
for her, huh?!" the martial artist sneers, yanking Elle over so they
can gaze eye-to-eye.  "I sure as hell ain't impressed, Seiko.  Why 
didn't you off this bitch when you had the chance?!"

     "Much that the temptation was there, she IS an 
intergalactically-recognized head-of-state, Ranma," Seiko sighs,
shaking her head.  "Atop that, when we accidentally got shot back in
time after I rescued Darling from the Baran Cathedral, we learned
that Darling never did touch Elle's shadow when they had their 
shadow-tag game.  So we assumed that..."

     "The whole thing wasn't legal, so there should've been no 
worries about this bitch ever coming back to hurt Ataru again, 
right?"

     "Hai."

     "You...!  Can't..."

     Ranma sneers as she leans close to Elle.  "Can't what?"

     "Judge me..." the Rose Queen's hands shakily reach up to try to
pull Ranma's arm away from her, then she gasps as Ataru's girlfriend
suddenly increases the pressure.  "You won't...!" she wordlessly
rasps.

     "What?  Get away with this?  Boy, are YOU livin' in a 
dreamworld, girl!" Ranma grins as she cups her free hand.  
"*Kontou*...!!"

     A buzzing noise fills the room as the soulsword appears in her
hand.  Elle's eyes widen in shock as Ranma brings that blazing 
chi-weapon up to hover right beside her head.  The hairs on the Rose
Queen's head start to stand on end as her skin tingles from VERY 
close proximity to that killing energy.  "Now, you got a simple 
choice to make, Elle," Ranma's voice lowers to a threatening
growl.  "You can probably guess what that choice is," she swings
the soulsword away from the Rose Queen as she leans up to glare into
the other woman's emerald eyes.  "And the only choice for you if you
want to survive to see your home planet again is to accept this..."
her eyes morph from their normal pretty blue to the burning red 
cat-slitted eyes of the most savage, dark part of Ranma's very soul.
"**If you value your life, THOU -- SHALL -- *NOT* -- COVET -- *MY*
-- MATE -- AGAIN!!!!**"

     Elle's eyes go wide as she finds herself glaring into those 
demonic orbs, then a spasm of desperation-fuelled strength floods
her arms enough to make her shove Ranma's hand away from her throat.
"NO!!!!"

     Ranma staggers back as the Rose Queen collapses against the 
wall.  "RANMA, WAIT...!!!!" Seiko screams, moving to constrain
her.

     "**Suit yourself, bitch!**"

     Before Seiko could constrain Ranma's arms, the martial artist's
hand flicks the soulsword around.  The tip of the burning katana
blade rips into Elle's skull just above her left ear, cleaving
across her brain in the blink of the proverbial eye.  The Rose 
Queen's body locks up for a moment as a surprised look is 
flash-frozen on her face, then she drops like a discarded marionette
to the deck, not a sound escaping her.  By then, Seiko grabs Ranma's
arms, throwing in her telekinetic powers to keep the martial artist
from doing anything more to the unconscious alien queen.

     Not that anything more needed doing.

     "No...!"

     Seiko stares at Ranma as the soulsword in the latter's hand 
fades into nothingness.  The wild rage that had twisted the redhead's
features not seconds ago just melted into wide-eyed confusion
before her skin starts to sallow as she remembers what her other-self
-- what SHE -- just did.  "Oh, no...!" Ranma nearly sinks to her 
knees as her eyes lock on the frozen mask of horror Elle's face is 
now twisted into.  "No, please..."

     Sobs steal her voice as Seiko immediately moves to comfort...

*    *    *

     "Ataru-kun, how is she...?"

     Shinobu and Minako fall silent as they listen to Ataru sing a 
slow-paced child's song, his hand holding Aria's.  They are now in 
the small cabin Ataru had set aside for his French-born sister,
in the after part of the "Windrider's" main hull.  The young 
Parisian's wounded arm is now in a proper stasis cast, it having
been treated by a Zephyrite field medic who beamed over from the 
first ship to arrive from Magairu.  Other medics are now looking
over everyone else whom Elle had captured in the cafeteria.  Once the
all-clear was given, they would finally head back to Earth.

     The song ends, then Ataru leans over to kiss Aria's forehead.
"Sweet dreams, Aria-chan," he whispers, then rises, ushering Shinobu
and Minako out of the room.  Carefully closing the door behind him,
he leans against it, then senses the looks coming his way from his 
former girlfriend and her new friend.  "She didn't break any bones,
but her outer arm bone was badly chipped in a couple places.  The 
medic regenerated it before putting the cast on it.  It'll come off
in a couple days once the bone's healed."

     "Thank God!" Shinobu claps her hands delightedly.

     "How's she up here, Ataru-kun?" Minako points to her heart.

     Ataru breathes out.  "Hard to say, Minako-san.  Aria-chan
lived a very sheltered life before she joined the others.  I hoped
to shield her from all this madness when I first met her, but..."
he shrugs.

     "I'm sure she realizes how much you love her, Ataru-kun,"
Shinobu places a hand on his shoulder.  He winces slightly at her 
touch, making her quickly withdraw her hand.  Minako gazes worriedly
at Shinobu, then turns to Ataru.  A distant look is etched into his
face.  Minako turns back to Shinobu.  Her eyes are hooded, she 
glancing at the deck.  "Ataru-kun..."

     "I don't hate you, Shinobu."

     She looks at him.  He returns her look with a tired smile.  "I 
do admit that there were times when I did find myself hating you,"
he adds.  "Especially after Lum turned our lives upside-down..."

     "Lum came, then sanity left," Shinobu whispers.  "That's the way
I've always looked at it."  She sniffs back the tears brimming
in her eyes, then gazes on Ataru.  "I've always cared for you, Ataru.
Even now, I remember the day when Hitomi-chan and her family moved
to Nerima.  When you came and told me that it wasn't the end of the
world, that I'd see Hitomi-chan again even if she was in Nerima.
Even after all that's happened between and around us, that's always
been the core image I've held about you..."

     "I'm not that person anymore, Shinobu."

     "I know," she nods.  "A selfish, immature and sex-crazed
-- yet also caring, forgiving and selfless -- boy left Tomobiki
seven weeks ago.  He never told us where he planned to go.  For good
reasons, of course, given that Lum was sent home that very day.  
Then, over a week ago, he came back.  But he wasn't the boy we 
remembered.  He had become a man.  Even worse, he had become a 
warrior the likes of which haven't been seen in Japan since before
the Greater East Asia War, I think.  And that scared us so much, 
especially given the words you said to the Principal before you 
left..."

     "I had my reasons," he looks away for a moment.

     "I can understand that," she nods.  "Part of me wants you to 
come back to Tomobiki.  To not be the girl-chasing loon you were 
before you left, of course.  But..." she closes her eyes.  "To be 
what I always saw you as truly being, Ataru.  And what Lum probably
always saw you as.  To show everyone what you're truly capable of 
doing, of being.  But now..." her eyes turn to the door leading
into Aria's room.  "I realize, though it hurts me none the less, that
right now, your family needs you more than I or anyone else in 
Tomobiki could ever need you.  And to try to take you away from 
them..." she shakes her head again, lightly smiling.

     "Thank you," he closes his eyes, then stares at her.  "I am 
truly sorry about all those times I went overboard concerning
you, Shinobu..."

     A hand touches his lips.  "Don't."

     Ataru blinks, then gently pushes Shinobu's fingers away.  "If 
you won't let me apologize, Shinobu, how can we...?"

     "I forgive you!!" she grasps his hand in both of hers, then 
holds it close to her heart as fresh tears well in her eyes.  "It's
hard now to think of you as 'only' just a friend, Ataru.  You're
much more than that to me.  You'll always be much more than that to 
me.  Please..."

     He gazes on her, then sighs.  "If you accept my apology, 
Miyaki-san, then I give thanks for your acceptance," he draws his 
hand away from her, turning to look away from her.  "But if you 
expect anything more from me than friendship, your expectations
will never be fulfilled.  That is all I can ever give you, 
Miyaki-san.  And I will not apologize for that."

     Shinobu's eyes widen.  "Ataru..."

     "I expect we'll be here for another couple of hours before the
Zephyrites allow us to head to Earth, Miyaki-san," Ataru checks his
watch.  "You can expect to return to Tomobiki around eighty-thirty
in the evening.  More than enough time for supper and a good night's
rest.  Please tell the others from your class this.  I have to look
in on our prisoner.  Excuse me, please," he lowers his hand, then 
walks through a hatchway aft.

     Shinobu watches him go, then squeezes her eyes shut as a sob 
escapes her.  Minako's arms instantly wrap around her as the strength
in her body goes, she dropping to her knees.  Before the rose-haired
Avalonian could help keep her up, someone demands, "How could you do
that to Onii-chan?!"

     Shinobu looks up to see an angrily quivering Karen glaring
at her from the doorway leading to the main cafeteria.  
"K-karen-chan...!"

     Karen lunges forward, her hand lashing out to slam into 
Shinobu's cheek.  The older girl yelps in shock as the pain from the
slap rips through her, then she gazes wide-eyed at Ataru's sister.
"Is that all he is to you?!" Karen hoarsely demands.  "Just someone
you keep demanding and demanding things from, not ONCE thinking
about what he might be feeling?!"  She squeezes her eyes shut.  "Not
even giving him thanks for helping you when you needed help and he 
could give it to you?  Treating him like a TOOL?!  Is THAT what you
think of him?!  Some idiot savant?!  WELL?!!"

     "Karen-chan!!"

     Karen turns back to see a small crowd of Tomobikians gazing
wide-eyed at her from the cafeteria doorway.  Spotting Mendou, 
Ryuunosuke and Sakiko in the crowd, a scowl crosses Karen's face as 
she mutters, "I'm GLAD Onii-chan doesn't live with you people 
anymore!!  YOU DON'T DESERVE HIM!!!"

     With that, she races aft.  "Karen-san!!" Mendou calls out.

     There is no response save for the door slamming shut behind
Karen.  Silence falls over the scene, then Shinobu turns around to 
tightly cling to Minako, pained sobs escaping her.  "What happened?"
Ryuunosuke asks.

     "I think Shinobu just learned how much Darling's proofed all his
sisters against all of you, Ryuu-chan," Sakiko quietly whispers...

*    *    *

     "Are you people alright?!"

     "Yes!" a panting Tatewaki Kunou nods as the escape pod's hatch
is opened, revealing what appears to be two flight deck technicians
dressed in blank work jumpsuits.  Both of them, as standard for most
Zephyrites, resembled Europeans from Germany and the Scandanavian
nations.  "Where are we...?" he looks outside, shifting himself
to give Anna a chance to look.

     "You're aboard the Holy Republic starship 'Windrider Dreams,'"
one of the technicians reports, the lack of lip-synch between his 
mouth and the words Kunou hears even more distracting than the black
stencil-like phoenix tattoo on his and his companion's cheeks.  
"You're not Ellsian, are you?"

     "No!" the kendoist nods as the other tech helps him out of the
pod.  "I'm from Earth.  Japan to be exact.  I was absconded from my 
high school by Anna-san's friends at the direct order of her 
queen..."

     "Ah!!" the technician laughs as he helps the late "Rose 
Emperor's" captain out of the pod.  "Your queen didn't fancy the idea
of challenging the grandson of a Righteous Gentile without some 
insurance, eh?"

     Kunou perks.  "'Righteous Gentile'...?!"

     Reverent looks then appear on the Zephyrites' faces.  "The Most
Righteous Lady Nagaiwakai Moroboshi, may Eternity bless her.  She was
from Japan herself," one of them notes, then sniffs back a tear as 
both gaze on the hangar's deckhead.  "I'll wager that all the Spirits
in the Heavens Themselves wept after those heretic Urusians 
assassinated her!"

     "Don't worry about it," his companion pats his shoulder.
"The Inquisition and the Noukiites dealt with those heretics."

     "Aye, true..."

     "Captain du Kohln?"

     Anna perks as a beautiful woman about Elle's age walks up to 
them.  Dressed in a dark blue jumpsuit with a red version of the 
Zephyrite broken phoenix insignia on her chest, she has long, wavy
blonde hair and deep blue eyes.  The rank insignia on her collars
quickly identifies her to the "Rose Emperor's" captain as a captain
herself, no doubt this ship's commander.  "Yes, I am she," she 
straightens herself to attention, nodding.

     "Captain Sunhair Windrider, PRCZ, commander of the 'Windrider
Dreams,'" the new arrival respectfully bows to the older woman.

     Anna takes a deep breath.  Even if, in a way, she could be seen
as a prisoner aboard the Zephyrite battlecruiser, she still had her
duty to her own crew to perform.  "What of my crew, Captain 
Windrider?"

     "We're just pulling the last of the escape pods aboard now,"
the Zephyrite commander reports as the two hangar deck technicians
head off to carry on with their duties.  "The count might change
as soon as stations report in, but according to my science chief,
about two hundred and thirty got clear of your ship before her warp
core detonated."  Her eyes bow respectfully.  "The chances are very
good that the majority of your casualties might all came from your
engineering crew, Captain..."

     "Not to mention those of the security detail Mr. Groom's friends
aboard his ship allowed to be sucked into space when that ship pulled
away from mine just as the warp core started to overload," Anna adds.

     The Zephyrite commander blinks, then nods understandingly.
"Well, that's the price you had to pay when you kidnapped 
Ataru-chan's sisters just so your so-called 'queen' could marry her
precious 'Honey'..."

     "'Ataru-CHAN?!!'"

     Eyes lock on Kunou.  The shock on the kendoist's face takes the
two starship commanders by surprise.  Anna then spins on their host.
"Excuse me, Captain, I don't mean to sound shocked, but you KNOW 
him?!"

     A beautiful smile crosses the younger woman's face, her eyes 
glistening for a moment.  "Of course I do, Captain.  As you might
know, my father is Magistrate-Bishop Fireye Windrider, the chief 
administrator of Magairu.  He was very good friends with Ataru-chan's
grandmother.  I met Ataru-chan myself when we both young adolescents.
In fact..." her smile slips, "...if things hadn't gone wrong five 
years ago, I might have been engaged to him."  A knowing look crosses
her face.  "I guess you can suspect what our government's reaction
might have been if your queen tried to press her own claims on 
Ataru-chan had THAT happened.  Ne?"

     Anna blinks, then fearfully nods before the man beside her 
lunges over to grab both of Sunhair's hands.  "Miss, how could you 
even THINK of holding any feelings for that lecher-...?!"
Kunou demands...

     ...before the echoed *clicks!* of dozens of firearm safety 
switches being turned freezes the kendoist in place.  Anna quickly
looks around, her eyes picking out the members of the ship's security
team glaring her way, Lawgiver pistols and even the odd Peacemaker
rifle now aimed at Kunou.  Glad to see that her ship's crew were 
still on the ball for a team of home guardsmen -- naval reservists
-- just recently brought up to crusader -- active naval -- status,
Sunhair slips her hand away from Kunou's grasp.

     "I thought you were from Earth," she speaks in accented but 
clear Japanese, without need of translator.  "No doubt, you're that
ultra-rich heretic, Shutaro Mendou.  I've heard from some friends
of Ataru-chan's grandmother about all the times you've tried to kill
Ataru-chan..."

     "Um, excuse me, Captain..."

     "What?" Sunhair stares at Anna.

     "This isn't Shutaro Mendou."

     "Oh?" the younger captain stares at Kunou, hands clasped behind
her back.  "So who are you anyway and what's your problem with 
Ataru-chan?"

     Shuddering at the total lack of appreciation this lovely woman
shows concerning the vile beast Moroboshi, Kunou straightens
himself.  "I, dear Captain, am the Blue Thunder of Furinkan High 
School, the rising star of the kendo world, Tatewaki Kunou..."
he draws his bokken...

     ...then yelps as several bolts of energy disintegrate
the wooden sword, they coming from all directions!  Quickly drawing
his hand down, he looks wildly around the hangar, he spotting all 
those who'd fired on him.  "I see, then," Sunhair crosses her arms,
making a finger gesture to her crew to make them stand down.  
"Furinkan, eh?  Is that in Tomobiki, by any chance?  I've never been
to that warren of heretics myself..."

     "Um, no, ma'am," Anna cuts in again.  "We obtained Tatewaki
from the Nerima district of Tokyo.  I assume the school he was at 
when we beamed him aboard my ship is the one he currently states
he's attending..."

     "Foul traitors!" Kunou growls, causing both women to gaze on 
him.  "Were I not distracted by the lovely violet-haired one who's
forced to claim that beast as blood-kin, I would've put them all into
line..."

     "'Violet-haired one?'" Sunhair asks.

     "One of Mr. Groom's sisters," Anna says.  "Chikage, to be 
exact."

     "Right," the Zephyrite drawls, then glares anew at Kunou, who is
still muttering about what his classmates had done to him after 
lunch.  "So what exactly did Chikage-chan do that 'distracted'
you so much, Kunou-san?"

     The kendoist stops, then haughtily sniffs.  "The beauteous
Chikage was testing her martial arts skills against me.  I was about
to defeat her, of course..." his voice trails off as a surprised
grin crosses Sunhair's face before peals of laughter escape the 
Zephyrite.  "What's so funny?!"

     "YOU?!!" Sunhair shrieks, pointing at him.  "Defeat CHIKAGE?!!"

     "But of course!!" Kunou snorts, trying not to twitch too much
from what Sunhair's laughter implied.  "Only the late, beloved Akane
Tendou and the fiery pig-tailed girl can defeat the Blue Thunder
in combat...!"

     "Oh, REALLY?!!" the Zephyrite wonders.  "Kunou-san, a strong
word of advice before I have you escorted to the brig while we 
process Captain du Kohln's crew for repatriation!  From what I've 
heard, Chikage-chan only ranks below Ataru-chan's adopted sister
Negako in martial arts skill!  And Negako-chan is one of the best 
martial artists on your planet, PERIOD!!  I suggest that when you 
finally get back to Tokyo, you take a crash course in something
called 'reality' before you think of challenging any of Ataru-chan's
relatives!" she turns away, then stops.  "Also..."

     She snaps her fingers.  Kunou blinks, then yelps as a stun bolt
from one of the Lawgivers slams into his back, sending him face-first
into the deck.  Anna screams out, then moves to help him as Sunhair
glances over her shoulder at the downed kendoist.  "...I don't 
tolerate ANY insults directed at Ataru-chan OR members of his family,
Kunou-san.  Especially aboard my ship!" her voice turns to ice, then
she gazes on her crew.  "The brig!!"

     "YES, MA'AM!!!" a dozen voices chant in turn...

*    *    *

     "Where am I...?"

     Ranma's and Seiko's eyes go wide as that weak voice escapes
the still form lying on the other side of the room.  They hesitantly
turn to watch in dumbfounded fascination as the woman known to her 
people as Queen Elle the Sixty-fourth shifts to her knees, then sits
up.  Wide, innocent evergreen eyes look around the empty space, then
she stares at the other women in the room.  "Um...?  Where am I?" she
blinks confusedly, then her eyes lock on the tears streaming down 
from Ranma's face.  "Miss, are you alright...?"

     She moves to offer comfort, then cries out as her back issues
a VERY loud protest.  Before she could collapse to the deck, Seiko
is at her side, helping her back into a sitting position.  "Take it 
easy," the Oni-turned-Nendo-kata/Terran gives the other woman a 
reassuring smile.  "You had a bad accident that bruised your ribs and
spine, Elle..."

     "'Elle?!'"

     Seiko and Ranma blink as a shocked look crosses the other 
woman's face, then her cheeks flame as she claps them with her hands.
"Wh-why are y-you calling me with the Qu-queen's name, m-miss...?!"
she sputters.

     Silence falls as Seiko gazes intently at the other woman, then
her eyes glow as she telepathically probes the Ellsian's mind.  "Oh,
Blessed Mother, no..." the Nendo-kata breathes in suddenly.

     "What's wrong?!" Ranma demands.

     "Er..." the woman once known as Elle blinks, a wary look then
crossing her face.  "Are you a telepath, miss...?"

     Seiko jolts, then her eyes return to their normal brown shade.
"I'm sorry," she gently grasps the Ellsian's hands, immediately
projecting a calming empathic aura to prevent the other from 
panicking.  "I believed you were the victim of some sort of psionic
attack and moved to scan you right away.  I should've asked your 
permission first, er...!"

     "Oh!" the other woman blushes.  "My name's Amora de Rosenbach."

     Ranma blinks.  "Seiko, isn't she supposed to go by 'Elle?!'"

     "No!!!" Amora gazes annoyingly at the other redhead, then she 
turns back to Seiko.  "Doesn't she know anything about...?!"

     "She's from Earth," the Nendo-kata quickly explains.

     Amora perks, then covers her mouth.  "Ooops!" she impishly
grins.  "Sorry about that...!" she pauses as realization dawns, then
she turns to Ranma.  "You're from Earth?!"  On seeing the other 
redhead nod, Amora yips delightedly as she reaches over to grab 
Ranma's hand.  "That's wonderful!  I met a very CUTE boy on Earth
sometime ago!  I hope to marry him one day soon..." her voice trails
off as she senses a flash of anger in Ranma's sapphire eyes.  "Er...?
Is there something wrong, miss...?"

     Ranma blinks, then takes a deep breath.  "El-...!" she quickly
catches herself, then sighs.  "Amora-chan.  Is this boy you met...?"
she takes a deep breath, then breathes out.  "Is his name Ataru 
Moroboshi?"

     Amora's face lights up like the sun.  "Yes!" she gushes, then
stops on seeing the frustrated look on Ranma's face.  "Is there 
something wrong, miss?  I..." she pauses, then asks, "Do you know 
him?"

     Silence falls as the martial artist tries to conceive of what
to say, then she nods.  "Hai, I do.  In fact, I've known him for a 
long time, since we were very little.  Someone -- from where, we just
don't know -- forged some sort of psi-bond between us when we were
just four.  I..."

     Amora's eyes widen as Ranma's words sink in, then they water
as she sniffs.  "B-but..." she stutters, then wipes her eyes.  "He 
st-stepped on my shadow when we played shadow tag...!  Th-that 
means...!"

     "He didn't, Amora-chan," Seiko places a calming hand on the 
Ellsian's shoulder, then as Amora gazes her way, adds, "Remember,
you were both very young when this happened.  Dar-..." she catches
herself, then gives Amora a kind smile.  "Ataru-kun later remembered
what happened between you.  He said that in chasing you, he got very
frustrated because you kept evading him, then pretended that he 
tagged your shadow to...!  Well..."

     "Oh..." Amora nods as she absorbs Seiko's words, then forlornly
sighs.  "Well, if he didn't tag my shadow, I guess we're not 
engaged..."

     "Not really," Ranma shakes her head.

     Amora stares at the other redhead.  "Are you his lover?"

     The martial artist acks, her eyes going wide, then she moves
to deny it immediately before she catches herself.  A slow nod shakes
her head.  "Very recently, we've become intimate," she admits.  
"Ataru and I came from pretty awful home lives.  Our parents treated
us like we were brainless things instead of their children.  We had
very little if any real friends, not to mention a deluge of fiancees
coming down on our heads.  We..."

     "You came together because of your psi-bond?" Amora asks.

     "Yeah, you could say that," Ranma nods as the door opens.

     "How are things...?" Ataru calls out, then stops on noting Elle
sitting together in what seems like a friendly girl's circle with 
Ranma and Seiko.  "...going?" he finishes, then gives his girlfriend
a curious look.

     Amora stares wide-eyed at the handsome, bearded young man in the
Noukiite traveller's clothing, then her memory quickly calls up an 
image of a smiling young boy she had met so long ago in a children's
playground under an alien sun.  "Ataru...?" she whispers, slowly
getting to her feet.

     A jolt of hot pain rips through her body, causing her to curl
in on herself.  Before she can collapse, Ataru's hands quickly catch
her, then lower her to the futon.  "Take it easy, Elle," he warns.
"You got..."

     "Darling," Seiko cuts in as Ranma joins in to help Amora be more
comfortable.  "There's something VERY wrong with Amora-chan."

     Ataru turns to her.  "'Amora'...?" he blinks, then his eyes 
widen as his mind digests the true meat of Seiko's unspoken warning.

     The Ellsian monarchy was the only one known which was an ELECTED
post, its incumbents chosen from a small group of worthy candidates
by the planet's Royal Senate.  This, a system that combined the 
social stability of a monarchy such as Great Britain's with the 
democratic controls of a presidential system akin to the United 
States', was designed to avert the foundation of fractious would-be
"ruling" cliques like political parties and rival family dynasties.
Further, Ataru knew that to better symbolize the link between the 
Kingdom and its ruling monarch, upon the ascension of the next Rose
Queen, her legal name was automatically changed to "Elle."

     And Ataru knew the current Rose Queen's birth-name was "Amora."

     "Right," he nods, then gazes concernedly at Amora.  "Hey, 
Amora-chan, you okay?  It looks like you took a pretty bad fall."

     Amora blinks, then gazes on the young boy she had met so long
ago.  A boy that was now clearly a MAN.  And a pretty dashing one at
that.  While Ellsian men could grow beards and moustaches, it wasn't
seen as socially acceptable to allow one's facial hair to grow at all
when there were means to keep them clean-shaven.  Glancing at Ataru's
clothes, Amora then sighs, remembering that on Noukiios, beards and
moustaches were MANDATORY for all males.  "I guess I did..." she 
flusters, her cheeks reddening, then her smile slips.  "You didn't
step on my shadow, did you...?" she looks down.

     He considers her question, then nods.  "Hai, I didn't.  I'm 
sorry, Amora-chan.  I didn't realize at the time how important
that sort of thing was to your people.  Of course..." he holds up a 
finger, winking, "...it was quite impossible for me to accept at the
time that you weren't from Earth, even if I DID see you fly away in 
your spaceship!"

     Amora stares at him, then lightly smiles.  "You accept it now."

     "A lot of things've happened to me since," he reports.  "Anyhow,
you're just in luck.  There's a Zephyrite crusader fleet close by 
carrying out a rescue mission.  Some of their medics are aboard now.
I'll get one of them down here right away and have him look at you,
okay?"

     Amora jolts, then pales.  "Z-z-Zephyrites...?!"

     "Oh, relax!  They're not so bad!" he playfully bats her nose 
with his finger, then straightens.  "Being the grandson of a 
Righteous Gentile DOES have some advantages, of course.  I'll bring
him here right now, okay?"

     Her eyes widen as that information sinks in, then she nods.  
"Uhn!"

     Ataru glances at Seiko and Ranma, making a motion with his hand.
The two other women quickly clear out of the compartment, then after
the Nendo-kata closes the door behind her, he squeezes her shoulder.
"Sei-chan, put a call into the 'Windrider Dreams.'  Inspector
Owleye's aboard.  Ask him to come here as soon as he can -- and tell
him to bring a psi-probe specialist with him so they can talk to 
her."  His eyes then fall on Ranma's.  "I take it you -- or rather,
your delightful other-self -- nailed her with the..."

     Ranma jolts, then nods.  "H-hai..." she sputters as Seiko races
off to the bridge, then she leans against him, fresh tears in her 
eyes.  "B-but Negako said th-that when you c-cut someone with the 
s-soulsword, you k-kill them..." she tries not to break down and 
weep.  "Wh-what the h-hell did I d-do to her, Ataru?!  All I wanted
w-was for her to l-leave you alone, for heaven's s-sake..." she wraps
her arms around him, her voice breaking.

     Ataru returns her embrace, then gazes at the deckhead.  "If 
we're lucky, Babara'll come soon.  You can bet that the destruction
of the Ellsian fleet flagship'll be top news today all over the local
cluster," he whispers.  "I'll get someone to haul her over here so we
can finally get some things straight.  Believe me, Ranma, I've got 
loads of questions to ask about El-..." he stops himself, then sighs,
"...Amora-chan, too."

     Ranma shudders, nodding...

*    *    *

To be continued...


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