Generation Lost

A Ranma Sailor Moon fic thingy.

By Josh Temple

 

Naturally, I own neither Sailor Moon nor Ranma. So here's the disclaimer

Ranma 1/2 and its characters and settings belong to Rumiko Takahashi, Shogakukan, Kitty, and Viz Video. Bishoujo Senshi Sailor Moon belongs to Naoko Takeuchi, Koudansha, TV Asahi, and Toei Douga, and DIC.

 

Previous chapters and other works can be found at my fanfiction website.

http://jtemple.florestica.com/

 

Temporary Backup Site.

http://www.fukufics.com/fic/

 

 

Other website Temple of Ranma's Senshi Seifuku

http://fukufics.com

 

C&C as always is wanted.

 

 

Chapter 10 Old Friends Made Anew Part 1

"Weapons supplies."

Babylon 5, Season 5 Intro.

 

 


            Princess Ranma Rose studied her reflection. Her ankle-length green gown was appropriate for the situation. It was dignified yet subdued and nicely complimented her hair. She briefly went over the designs for a more formal gown but filed them away.


            It was still an issue of practicality to her. Her clothing, hair, and makeup were all calculated to what she considered was appropriate for the situation a young lady like herself was in. Her precisely colored lips frowned.


            She did not know what troubled her more, that she had gotten used to such thoughts in her mind and had come to rely on them or that they were largely automatic and iterative in nature. She quickly blinked, causing her long eyelashes to flutter.


            She was being silly. She had accepted what she was now. She had to. Rose narrowed her eyes and adjusted her makeup. Her eyeshadow changed its boundaries and lightened slightly, her lipstick darkened, and her blush thinned. She huffed.


            She had to accept this, but sometimes she felt like she was too shaped and sculpted. A little too perfect as if she were some pampered pet, some show horse, some precious orchid that couldn't survive out of the greenhouse, some bit of demo fluff that only exists at technology conventions. Part of her wanted to go back to her garden. Though since she was linked up with her fairies, in a way, she was already there.


            "Are you ready yet?" Sailor Willow asked as she knocked on the door. "You've been in there a while.


            "I haven't been in here more than a minute," Ranma replied as she made one final adjustment to her makeup.


            Erika paused to adjust her seifuku. "Sis... you only need a few seconds to get ready."


            "I was trying out a new algorithm," Ranma pouted as she opened the door.


            "Why can't you just call it a new shade of blush like a normal girl, Princess?" Allison asked.


            "Do you want to be a Floral Senshi or not?" Ranma glared.


            "As long as I get to pick the flower, sure."


            "You're just in it for magic whips aren't you?"


            "Don't give her ideas." Dan shouted from his room.


            "So... is Erika here for the ceremony? We need all the Senshi here?" Allison asked as she followed Sailor Willow and Princess Rose to the garden.


            "She's here to help me," Ranma explained as she summoned her wand.


            "Help?"


            "You are the first -well- reasonably normal human brain that I've done this on."


            Allison smiled. "I've never been called that before."


            "What reasonable?"


            "No, normal."


            "Physically, you still have a human brain." Ranma replied as she conducted a brief status check with her fairies.


            "This isn't going to screw with my brain is it?" Allison asked as she sat at a bench that faced the main rosebush.


            Ranma tilted her head slightly. "Pardon?"


            "I mean is it going to make me... well..."


            "Into a princess?" Ranma smiled. "Look at Erika. How much did she change?"


            "I've been planting saplings and watching over that willow tree just down the hill," Erika confessed.


            "I also have a 'normal brain.' You told me last night that this could push me to a minor Vingean singularity. You know I was never into that transhumanist nonsense."


            "Nonsense?" Ranma raised an eyebrow.


            "A Vingean Singularity is what happens when the rate of change due to cybernetic intelligence, self improvement, replication, and the like becomes widely unpredictable. A primary one is one that we know is going to escape any bounds of known development," Erika explained, gesturing to the Rose Princess.


            Ranma gave a somewhat embarrassed smile.


            "And a minor one is what? Just the fuku not the gown?"


            Ranma sighed. "It's a Sailor Seifuku. Fuku just means... never mind."


            "That's great and all," Allison dismissed. "But what about my madness? The quicksilver kind," the blonde clarified.


            "Oh, that. Don't worry," Ranma dismissed.


            "No, Princess! I don't like going insane. I'm being your experiment to cure to this defective gland in my head."


            Ranma frowned. "I'm sorry, but I fixed it. I really did. It was part of the Senshi upgrade I gave you. I won't let anyone of my family lose their minds. I know what that's like," she looked down at her long green gown with its spiral of white roses. The price of sanity could be quite high, but losing control was unacceptable. "Believe me, I know. Dan was a huge help with it."


            Allison nodded. Dan had felt responsible for his role in the original gland's design. She had explained to him that the flaw was not his fault, but....


            The blonde shook her head. "It's okay, Princess. Just as long as I don't start feeling the need to wear frumpy, long dresses."


            Ranma's eyebrow almost twitched. "This is hardly, frumpy."


            "It is a bit much.  You wear it even when you go out to the mailbox."


            Ranma sighed. "At least I do some of the errands around here."


            "Talking to the deliveryman is hardly an errand," Sarah said, but frowned. Normally Ranma was shy enough to not want to bother with such things.


            "It is in a dress like that." Allison teased.


            The princess gave a patient smile. "My dress is plenty flattering."


            "Yes," Erika agreed. "That dress is giving my boyfriend a very clear view of your bottom." She was standing behind her sister, and of course, Gos could see everything Erika did.


            "Nice to see you're blaming your boyfriend." Allison smirked. "Your internal boyfriend wouldn't be able to see anything unless you're the one looking at her ass."


            "Uhh..." Erika blushed.


            "May we proceed?" Ranma interjected. She knew how she looked in that dress, but she was still getting used to other people seeing how she looked.


            "Awww... is Princess getting embarrassed? Look, she's actually blushing," the blonde teased.

 

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

 


            Sarah and Dan were sitting at the kitchen table. The redhead had been eating an apple but had stopped in mid slice. Dan had paused his crushing of walnuts with a pair of pliers. The two cousins looked at each other in mute horror.


            "What's wrong?" Ichi asked. The fairy was sitting on the counter and had been watching Dan.


            "She did it. I can't believe she did it," Sarah muttered.


            "It might not be that bad," Dan said, nervously looking at the door.


            "Are you sure of that?" Sarah asked after the back door was thrown open and a blonde figure stepped in.


            "Well? What do you think?" the blonde said as she posed at the doorway. She was wearing the expected uniform. It had black skirting and bows with trim in dark green. She wore a pair of knee-high green wedge-heeled boots. Expectedly, her tiara's gem was a piece of polished obsidian.


            "You kind of look like Sailor Pluto or maybe Jupiter," Sarah remarked.


            "Did they ever carry guns?" Dan asked as he eyed the two gunbelts that were slung across her waist in a crisscross pattern. At least those looked good, though he could appreciate how much it exposed her legs.


            "I'd worry more about the whip," Sarah, noticing the item tied to the blonde's belt.


            Dan blinked. "So... what flower are you?"


            The blonde smirked and fingered her whip.


            Sarah leaned in and looked at the floral detailing on the uniform. "Oh, God. You had to pick that plant."


            "Yeah, isn't it great?" The Sailor Senshi of Deadly Nightshade asked.


            "I think it suits her," Princess Rose said after she and Sailor Willow entered after the other senshi.


            "It was the best flower I could think of," Nightshade added. "By the way, thanks for not messing with my mind, Princess. I still think your dress is way too long."


            "You said princess with less sarcasm," Sarah pointed out


            Nightshade glared. "Well... she really is a princess," she admitted with a dismissive shrug. "But she's just the princess of a nice garden and a flock of fairies."


            "And now you two are her little Senshi."


            "I think she looks good dressed that way," Dan said.


            "You would." Allison paused and formed a slight smirk. "And you'd look good that way too."


            "I suppose that upgrade we've been working on would allow me to change clothing...." Dan trailed off realizing how thoughtless his thinking was.


            "Smooth. I hope you enjoy that silly getup," Sarah sighed.


            "It's not so bad once you get used to it," Ranma offered.


            "That doesn't reassure me Ran-man."


            "Don't worry, we've gone over your upgrades. You definitely won't be a floral Senshi." Ranma said.


            "Okay then," Dan agreed in an apathetic way that still unnerved Ranma.


            "Though I won't say no if you want some training. At the very least you can watch Allison," Ranma offered.


            Dan rubbed his chin. "Tempting, she would be wearing that skirt, and it is funny to see you beat people."


            "Wait, what?" Allison demanded.


            "You will be taught Wild Rose style," Ranma stated.


            "You made that up!"


            "I also made Sailor Nightshade."


            "And it makes sense, both magic and martial arts require debugging," Erika said.


            "Glad you agree Sailor Willow. I'll be looking forward to teaching you."


            Erika sighed. "I walked into that."


            Ranma nodded.


            "What about Allison's gland? Was that fixed?"


            "Yup!" Allison said as she slid onto Dan's lap. "They went into my brain and fiddled with it. Yes, I think I'll show you just how much fun this uniform can be."


            Princess Rose sighed. "You're going to use the uniform of a Floral Senshi as a prop in your bedroom antics?"


            "Come on, Princess! The flower is the reproductive part of the plant. Sex should be a part of it!" Allison declared.


            Sarah tilted her head slightly. "That was a surprisingly tactful and clean response. I expected you to say something like. 'Sorry Princess, it's too late for that, but thanks for the new uniform. I wore the crotch out of my old one.' " Sarah looked at the blank faces among her friends and the horrified look on her sister. "Too much?"


            "A little," Ranma then paused and after running through possible responses simply nodded to Nightshade. "You're right, Allison."


            "Damn straight I am, Miss 'I spawn my own fairy minions out of the very sex organs I picked for my name and symbol."


            "It really was a good idea to move in here. Think of all the stuff we missed," a holographic projection of Gos said after appearing. Erika, the source of the projection, stepped aside. She and Gos shared the same body, which was originally his, but had been cursed with a modified Jusenkyo curse to allow for the two to have a "timeshare".


            "I'm sorry. I was being a bit nice to the girl that fixed that little insanity bomb in my head." Allison glared, from her seat in Dan's lap.


            "I figured you would take the sexual connotations to flowers." Ranma said to Allison.


            "At least her flower isn't synonymous with romance, Rose." Erika teased.


            "Yes, yes. Roses have many meanings, all of which seem to be applicable to me. That they've been cultivated from a plain, hardy wild flower into an amazingly wide variety of colors, shapes, petal patterns, root structure, lifespan, leaf-size and bush versus vine body-type is especially interesting."


            "Why did you have to get her talking about roses again?" Allison sighed.


            "Like I'm sure you don't want to research about deadly nightshade," Erika replied.


            "True, but I'm not obsessive like Princess is."


            Ranma frowned. "I really like roses. That's all."


            "She is unable to do anything halfway," Sarah added.
           


            "That's not it," Allison powered out of her senshi form. "So, Princess.... why do you dress like this? You told us you were making up your own kind of princess."


            "When I'm in public I would have to dress to a certain standard. That is just part of being a princess," Rose explained.


            "This is America... we don't really do princesses," Dan muttered.


            Sarah rolled her eyes. "Alright then, but you're not in public now. In fact you dress like a slightly formal young lady who likes roses at school, not a princess."


            "That's still me dressing up." The redhead gave an effeminate wave of hand in dismissal.


            "So why do you dress more formally here than in public?"


            "I did not want to hate having to dress-up every day," Ranma sighed daintily. "You are right. I am thorough with things, and I got carried away with how much I like this."


            "So you brainwashed yourself so you'd like being a pretty princess?"


            "No. I programmed myself," Rose corrected.


            "Programmed. Right.. You just altered some parameters in your head with Calash. That's completely different." Allison theatrically nodded.


            "Also we've only been to school, shopping, and a diner in public. If we were to go to a more fancy place. I would naturally dress better."


            "That's very.... pragmatic of you sis," Sarah allowed.


            "It made sense. Besides, what kind of princess doesn't like to look good?" Ranma honestly asked.


            "Oh, you're not vain; you're just following your program?" Dan asked suspiciously. He was fairly certain Ranma was vain before all this.


            "Exactly. I wear shorts and a blouse when I'm gardening," the redhead said as she clasped her hands in front of her waist.


            "Nah, I mean you were vain before you became a princess," Dan clarified.


            Gos' projection smirked. "Yeah, truly vain would be dressing up for no reason and all the time. Like when she's just going to lounge about at home," he smirked.


            Rose, who was still in the same gown that she often relaxed while reading rose books, blushed, but also frowned slightly.


            "I'm sure Sis has just gotten carried away. You're still getting used to it, Ranma." Sarah smiled. "Maybe you'll dress more casually now that it's been pointed out to you?"


            "Or maybe she's just super-vain but realizes it isn't practical to wear a dress while gardening," Allison countered.


            "I am your princess now," Ranma said.


            "I may tease you, but vanity is something I can understand and respect."


            "This is my default setting. Unless I want to wear something else, this is how I dress. We've been over this." Ranma looked down at herself; she then gave a slight sigh and started to walk out of the room. "Dan, I'll be working out some kinks in your design. I'll call you when I get done with them." The princess left up the room and went upstairs, her heels clacking on the wood floor.


            "I think we upset her," Sarah said.


            "What makes you say that? She didn't sound angry." Dan adjusted his position so Allison's hips did not dig into his lap as much.


            "This is Ranma we're talking about. She tries to keep her tone even. Did you notice how she stayed in her gown the whole time?"


            "Yeah, she was forcing herself to be calm," Gos agreed. "Normally, she's a natural with this princess stuff. But did you see her walk out of here? She was mincing."


            "To walk with very short steps or with exaggerated primness," Erika quoted from her dictionary. "Yes, that was her to a T."


            "Someone should go talk to her," Sarah sighed as she got up. Even living here she never expected to have family problems like this. Sarah eyed the others. No one else offered.


            "Do I have to?" Sarah asked.


            "You're supposed to be the responsible one, right?" Gos inquired.


            "You're the one that stood up," Dan said.


            Sarah sighed. "So how do I cheer up a sad computer girl?" She turned to Erika.


            "What do you want from me?" Erika thought for a second. "Well, she doesn't have a boyfriend, so no help there."


            Sarah shook her head, and stood up. As she walked up the stairs she grumbled about useless house-mates. Without knocking, she opened the door.


            Ranma looked up from her chair.


            "Were you crying?" Sarah did not hear anything before opening the door.


            Ranma leaned back and did not respond.


            Sarah paused. Talking seemed pointless. It would do more harm. She did not know what Ranma was going though. Even Erika had no real idea. Sarah walked up to the chair and put her arms around her sister.


            After a few silent seconds Ranma rotated the swivel chair and faced Sarah. Her painted lips twitched and she put her arms out to hug her sister back.


            Sarah eased the pressure and was surprised when Ranma held onto her tighter. Sarah looked into her sister's eyes. They still looked human, but there was a piercing, calculating nature to them.


            "We care about you," Sarah reassured.


            Ranma nodded and closed her eyes.


            Sarah almost smirked. The closed lids really showed the extent of her eyeshadow, eyeliner, and eyelashes, but the abundance, and a preference, for makeup was part of the problem.


            As Sarah hugged Ranma, she wondered how hard it was for her. In one day Ranma had become the most feminine person in the house. She was the only one of them that regularly wore dresses, heels, and jewelry.


            Sarah reminded herself to try to get Ranma to tone it down, later. Even at the best of times, her sister was very stubborn and prideful. She was also quite attached to her ideas on what a princess had to do.


            "Thank you." Ranma said as she avoided eye contact.


            "Still worried about-" Sarah paused to find the right phrase. "Balancing your core self with the requirements of your magical princess nature?"

            "Part of me is," Ranma said brushing some hair out of her face. "The rest is wondering about Nerima."


            "What Gos did won't stop them forever," Sarah agreed.


            "I need more information."


            "I'm sure you could send fairies or something like that over there to watch them," Sarah suggested.


            "Yeah, something like that," Ranma agreed.


            Sarah looked into her sister's eyes. "Oh no, what are you planning?"


            "I'll just mail some things to some people," Ranma smirked.


            "As long as it doesn't get back to this location."


            Ranma gave a sideways glance. "I'm not that dumb. I know how to conceal a package's origins."


            Sarah raised an eyebrow.


            "Well, I do now!" Ranma grumped.


            "Is pretty handy being you isn't it?" Sarah remarked.


            "It's one of the benefits." Ranma admitted. She sighed. "I'm still not sure what I am, or what I want."


            "Can't you do a diagnostic?"


            Ranma raised an eyebrow. "Yes, I know all the schematics of my systems. I'm the one that rebuilt them, as for diagnostics..." She shook her head. "Yes, I know all the components and even what happens when they're working together. I am constantly updating and expanding."


            Sarah looked at Ranma and snickered.


            "Yes, a breast joke," Ranma dryly remarked.


            "Oh come on, that body-hugging green gown of your makes them painfully obvious."


            "Yes, painful. I understand why bras are so great now," Ranma frowned


            Sarah grew more serious. "So... you're really afraid of what you're becoming?"


            "Something like that."


            "What about projections or plans for yourself?"


            "Oh in the small scale they're accurate enough, but once I get more than a couple weeks out..." Ranma waved her hand and a graph appeared. It showed a curve that got higher and higher the further out it went until it split into dozens of various lines all shooting off at different slopes. "This is what I mean by 'Singularity'. I just don't know how I'll grow... what I'll become." The redhead looked down. "Sometimes... I wish I still had some... framework. Some direction. Freedom's scary."


            Sarah sighed and hugged her again. "Yes, yes, you're growing at unexpected rates, are you at least getting better at predicting your growth curve?"


            Ranma gave a smile.


            "So you don't know what you're growing into? Does it matter? Fundamentally you're the same entity that's approaching a singularity. The whole thing with singularities is that changing the time base only offsets the singularity by a small amount of time, right?"


            "Yes, I'll always be Rose, but it's still disquieting." Ranma shrugged and dismissed the image.


            "None of us know what's in store for our future."


            "Maybe I should invent a chronoscope then," Rose grumbled.


            "That's not a good idea," Sarah cautioned.


            "Why not? It's an interesting application of principles, and the execution would bring fascinating challenges, and then there's the applications, think of the computational ability," the redhead's eyes sparkled.


            "This doesn't sound like a good idea," Sarah sighed. "How about that portal idea?"


            Ranma narrowed my eyes. "You said I could cause a resonance cascade."


            "Resonance cascade is better than causality collapse."


            "Really? That's almost as insane as Allison's suggestion that I make Cenarian Dryads."


            Sarah stared. "Right... stick with fairies."


            Rose nodded.


            She shook her head. "No... no causality violating transport or information transmission." Sarah glared. "I won't have you collapse reality just because you wanted to process faster."


            Rose pouted.


            Allison poked her head into the room. "How's things going? So did lesbian twincest make everything better?"


            "No!" Sarah shouted.


            "Everything's fine, thanks for asking, Sailor Nightshade," Rose smiled.


            "So what's not a good idea?"


            "Chronoscope," Sarah sighed.


            "Well you are the Princess, why not build some Time Gates?" Allison asked.


            "Don't encourage her," Sarah hissed.


            "You were the one telling me that I should build a portal device instead."


            Sarah glared.


            "It's okay," Ranma assured. "I have no idea how to make a time viewer or a teleporter."


            "I give her a month," Allison smirked.


            Sarah recalled the graph; a month into the future was well into the unknown zone. "Oh dear."

 

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

 


            Yawning, Dan collected his tools and, after pausing to make sure everything was clear, closed the hood to his truck. He turned to a tiny green figure hovering nearby. "Well, what do you think?"


            Ichi paused. "How many hours have the first stage turbine blades seen since they were replaced?" the floral fairy asked as she landed on one of the tool chests.


            "Under a hundred hours," Dan shrugged as he washed his hands.


            Her hand was at her chin. "That's within the recommended lifespan."


            "What, did you look that up?"


            "Yup!" the fairy happily replied. "I looked up the manual to the engine, and to the truck itself. Though I don't think the second one is very useful."


            "I modified the chassis too much." He stopped. "So you hacked some jet engine company to get the manual?"


            Ichi giggled. "No, I just had Hachi read your copy."


            "Clever girl," Dan allowed. "Hachi? Ranma made another one of you?"


            Ichi shrugged. "The Princess' garden is getting bigger."


            "And she needs more of you," Dan noted.


            "What concerns you?" Ichi frowned.


            "Ran-man practically started off with you guys. Do you know what that means?" Dan asked as he did a final tool count to make sure he had not left anything in the engine.


            Ichi's frown remained. "But our creation is a trivial task. The Princess merely had to make a derivative of her own design, modify a rosebud to grow a golem, and then download the template into it."


            "If a sentient servitor creature is trivial. What is hard for her?"


            "She did modify Allison's template and fix her invisibility gland  three days ago."


            Dan paused on his inspection. "And was that hard?"


            Ichi looked down. "No."


            "Right, in, what, a coupla hours she fixed something that'd been stumping me 'n Sarah." Dan resumed his work


            "It was a bit more complicated than that."

            "Right, she can work on all sorts of problems in the background.  Heck I've seen her do high energy calculations while she sits down in the dirt weeding."


            Ichi tried to smile. "Is that what bothers you?"


            "I wonder where it's going to go. After she catches the Hacker, what's left? I guess there's Nerima, but I still wonder... what if she gets bored?"


            "Interesting. Well, there's always her garden." Ichi inhaled. "Since when were you so worried about the future? I mean what about your future?"


            "There's Allison," Dan shrugged. "Now that she's... well... now that we're sure she has a future..."


            "Ahh... I see," Ichi grinned broadly.


            "Do you? I mean you're a plant."


            "Of course I know about stamens and stigmas."


            Dan frowned. "That's for a flower, humans work a bit differently."


            Ichi blinked. "Really? But you've got both, too."


            "No! Well... yes, but at least not at the same time." Dan sighed. Something about that reminded him about someone else.


            "Ahh, that seems better."


            Dan started at the little fairy. There were several questions he did not want to ask. They involved her own, for lack of a better word, genitalia and what she thought his gender swapping was "better" than. Instead he went with a safer question, an important question. "So what's Ran-man up to?"


            "Why don't we find out?" Ichi happily said as her wings fluttered and she flew towards the door back to the house.


            "You're on her network. Couldn't you just ask her?" Dan wearily asked as they passed through den  and around the conversation pit and the bank of computers.


            "Sure, but that's not fun," Ichi flew around and landed on Dan's shoulder.


            "Fun? Keeping something secret from yourself?" Dan asked when they went to the porch. Sarah was sitting in one of the chairs reading.


            "Well, yes, it's how suspense works."


            "That seems silly."


            Sarah looked up from her book. "Don't bother Ichi. Dan's the type of guy that reads the last chapter of a book first."


            "Then what's the point of even reading the book? Surely, a plot summary will do the job and save even more time."


            "Yeah, I do that first." Dan looked between the green-haired fairy and the red-haired cousin. "How else would you figure out of a book was worth reading in the first place?"


            "No, don't nod in agreement Ichi." Sarah sighed, and closed her book.


            "What?" Dan asked. "I already know how the book ends. That way when I read it from the start I can see all the foreshadowing and hints. That way I can appreciate all the work the author put into it. I know where he's going and I can see all the steps used to get there."


            "How very mechanical of you. Literature isn't engineering."


            Dan laughed. "See, Ichi. She's just grumpy that I care about the painter's methods as much as the painting."


            "Method of construction does affect end result of the construct. However, this precept does not correlate to the desire for exposure to the work in a way that was not the creator's intent," Ichi evaluated. "Perhaps that is your desire. To see it in the way the creator did not want it."


            "He likes picking at things." Sarah said, resuming her reading.


            "There's nothing wrong with figuring out how stuff works," Dan turned to look out into the back yard. "Ah, she's in the garden."


            "Of course she is," Sarah said. "And remember, she can scan a whole book at once, but she chooses to actually read the ones she cares about."


            "I'm not like her," Dan said stepping off the porch.


            "Yes, she's got some feminine modesty," Sarah sighed to herself.


            "So, what are you doing?" Dan asked stepping up to a part of the garden just off the central and oldest rosebush. Many of the pathways were simply marked out portions of ground and even many of the ones paved with cut and polished stones meandered through plain grass or freshly tilled ground. It looked like the fairies had miniature granite mine somewhere up the hill. As he walked to his cousin, he and Ichi had passed many fairies, busy with maintaining and expanding the garden. The variety of rose plants was impressive, even with only a handful blooming. There were various vines, leaves, and bushes of various sizes.


            Ranma looked up from the wooden table she was sitting at. "Oh, I'm just making some gifts," she said slipping a couple polished white objects into two boxes. "And the deliveryman was so helpful," she said, reflecting that the help was likely due to her purchasing at the overnight air rate.  She peel off a couple pre-printed labels and sticking them on the boxes.


            Dan caught a glimpse of the devices. "Nothing too... drastic?" he asked. She had yet to address the two packages but he could guess where they were going.


            Ranma's eyes went to Ichi before returning to Dan's. "You're right. I have been too passive. I'll make sure the next batch I send out has more... punch."


            Dan smiled. "Good. It's about time you start kicking ass."


            Purely for effect, the princess coughed. "So, what can I do for you?"


            Dan closed his eyes and... shifted. She then opened them. "I know Sarah talked to you, but... she doesn't understand." She sat down across the table from Ranma.


            "And you do?" Ranma raised an eyebrow. "I suppose, you can understand what I was, but even that is a stretch."


            "Erika and Gos cover the transhuman parts. I'm talking about the gender thing, and that I know you don't have a handle on."


            Ranma's eyebrow went down with the same precision it had risen with. She started writing addresses on the two packages. "You do have much more experience in sex than I do. So, you understand the confused desires that come with being a different gender?"


            Dianna closed her eyes again. "Yes." She was not sure if Ranma had paused to be polite or was investing a, relatively, long time to think over her statement.


            "Obviously Allison knows," Ranma then warmly smiled. "You're right. I think you can help me adjust."


           

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

 


            "Well this is lovely," Kasumi said to herself as she looked into the open box. An unfolded paper with an official-looking letterhead was in her other hand.


            "What've you got there?" Nabiki asked, eyeing the small package.


            "I won a contest," Kasumi smiled. "From that cooking and housekeeping magazine I subscribe to," she added wistfully.


            "A contest? What is it?"


            "A game or competition between rivals, for a prize, but that's not important right now," Kasumi idly stated.


            "What? No that's not... " Nabiki looked at her sister's innocent expression and sighed. "No, what did you win?"


            "Oh! A phone," Kasumi pulled the plastic object out.


            Nabiki paused to absorb the design. It was white plastic with organic-looking curves that made it look almost alive and had rose tracery on the edges. The only way it could get more feminine was if it was pink, sequined, or glittery. "That's nice, but they'll just get you on the cost for the plan."


            "Oh no, the prize includes a very nice calling package," Kasumi added after reading some more of the letter.


            "Really?" Nabiki reconsidered that phone. She wondered if Kasumi would bear to part with it. It looked nicer than her own phone, and while it was girly it was not garish. On the other hand, it had a smaller screen.


            "Yes, now to activate it." Kasumi flipped the phone open and smiled as the number pad and screen lit up. The activation sequence was dutifully and reverently entered. The camera (and a variety of other inputs) had already verified the user's identify.


            "Hello?" Kasumi blinked at the strange dial tone.


            "Hi Kasumi, what do you think of your gift?" the voice on the other end of the phone said with amusement.


            "Oh, it's lovely." Kasumi paused. The voice was familiar, but she could not place it.


            "I'm glad, but I must confess that it is not a gift from the magazine," the voice demurely admitted.


            "Really?" Kasumi wondered where she would have met such a refined-sounding woman.


            "I notice you're not alone. If it's not too much trouble could we keep this private?"


            "Oh? I'll have to think about that." Kasumi closed the phone ear and looked at it. She frowned at the camera lens.


            "Sounds like they tried to sell you another plan," Nabiki smirked.


            "Yes," Kasumi absently said. That voice was familiar, hauntingly so. "I'll be in my room." Once the door to her room was closed she sat on her bed with the phone in her hands.


            Eventually she opened it. The image of a blooming rose on the screen made her smile. Kasumi put the phone to her ear.


            There was no dial tone only the voice. "Thank you, I was a bit worried that I might put you off."


            "Who is this?" Kasumi asked


            "Please don't repeat my name," the voice pleaded.


            Kasumi could sense the fear and worry in the feminine voice. "Well of course," she assured.


            "I'm still amazed you haven't figured it out. Have I changed that much?" The voice then chuckled, though at times it was almost a giggle.


            "Oh my, Ra-" Kasumi then caught herself. "It's been so long, why are you calling after so many months? It's nearly been a year," she softly added.


            "It has been a while,  and thanks for not using my name," the voice said with a tiny wince.  Mentioning how long she'd been gone was almost as bad.


            "Of course."


            "Are you enjoying your phone? I got it special for you."


            Kasumi pulled the phone off her ear in shock  She looked at the blooming rose image. The view pulled back to reveal a small garden and panned over to a young woman in a nice blouse and knee-length skirt sitting primly on a bench. Her red hair was shiny and flowed back from a thin golden tiara that arched through her bangs. That it was bright and sunny in the garden indicated the call was coming from a very different time-zone.


            The garden girl waved and a button on the bottom of the phone blinked. There was a slight click and a plastic piece slid out.


            Kasumi paused for a moment before realizing that it was a small headset.


            "There we go," the voice said once Kasumi had the headset on her ear.


            "So what do you think?" the girl... Ranma smiled as she posed shyly.


            "It's an impressive gadget." Kasumi said as recognition truly sunk in.


            Ranma blushed demurely.


            Kasumi smiled at the image quality; it was crystal clear. "So what happened? You look like a princess."


            "Thank you!" the redhead gushed, almost starry-eyed. "I was worried the tiara would be a bit much."


            Kasumi resisted the urge to say the first two words that popped into her mind, but she was afraid about how this "princess" would react to that. This was like something out of one of Kasumi's stories. "So is this a... new you? This why you left? What should I call you?"


            "Princess Ranma Rose O'Neil, but you can call me Rose, that'll protect my identity."


            "How about Rose-hime?" Kasumi smiled.


            "That's fine," Rose laughed.


            "Is that why you left? You found out you were a princess?"


            "Oh? You expected me to be like this?" Ranma asked.


            "You do make a very lovely princess, Rose-hime. You seem so prim and proper."


            Rose blushed. The attention from Kasumi was nice, but somehow a bit disconcerting. "But no, I left because I wanted to find my real family. Becoming a princess was my only option," Rose sighed.


            "Really?" Kasumi suspected that. She felt becoming a girl, let alone becoming a princess was something that Ranma would only do under the most dire of circumstances.


            Rose nodded. "It was either become this or turn into someone's slave."


            "Did you get another curse? Some spell with a loophole that you needed to exploit to escape it?"


            "Very sharp, Kasumi," Rose smiled.


            "Oh my, whatever do you mean?" Kasumi innocently asked.


            "I'm sorry," Rose blushed.


            "Whatever for?"


            Rose fidgeted with the bow in her hair. "I just realized that I copied my new hairstyle from you."


            Kasumi giggled. "Oh don't be silly. You look lovely with it that way."


            "I know why you like it, manageable but feminine with nice body." Rose blushed.


            "It's not identical. Yours is longer and better kept, though as a princess I'm sure you spend more time on your looks."


            Rose smiled coquettishly.


            "It's lovely hair, Rose. Do you have anyone to help you brush it?"


            Thinking of her fairies Rose answered. "I may have a hand or two."


            "Well, a lot of princesses have their hair to the floor or longer, but that's not practical for everyday. You're being very casual, not even braiding it with ornaments or silk."


            Kasumi smiled at Rose's subtle vain preening, though a part of the redhead did look calculating as if she were making mental notes. "Well, you have a bow larger than mine, not that it doesn't look familiar." Kasumi teased.


            Rose frowned. Ukyou knew where she was, but did not even try to contact her. At least Ukyou kept her location a secret. She would know more once Ukyou's phone was delivered. Kasumi simply got hers first.


            "Something wrong?" Kasumi asked


            Rose paused. She hated indecision, especially when it lasted for the eternity of several seconds.


            "I suppose you could put your hair up. If you want to look more regal."


            Rose's eyebrows lifted. "That could look nice."


            "And it'd show more of your neckline and face. You always had just gentle, youthful features." While Kasumi's words prattled on, her eyes carefully studied the redhead.


            "Good points, I will have to try that style." Rose looked down.


            "It was very brave of you to call me," Kasumi reassured. "I can see why you're afraid. Is that why you want me to keep it a secret?"


            "I am very feminine now, and my life has enough distractions." Rose's tone was depressed. It was more than talking to Kasumi and Ukyou, she wanted to tell -well- Akane at least, but whenever she imagined how talking with Akane would go the results were...


            Rose stopped, for a brief instant and reminded herself that simulations had poor correlation with people's actual behavior, at least currently.


            "Are you happy?" Kasumi hoped that question was safe. She knew about princes and princesses. She wondered what kind of princess Rose was and if she still did martial arts.


            "Oh yes, I can be who I really am now, and I'm finally in control of my life. Not some puppet or some witch's guinea pig." Rose wondered why Kasumi had not asked the obvious guy questions.


            "Really, you actually like being a princess, then?" Kasumi asked with obvious surprise. "Are you a prince as well?"


            "Well, no not really," Rose blushed.


            "I see. Well, you seem happy with this."


            "Yup, I even designed my own gown." Rose then stood and with a wave of her hand shifted into her green gown and tiara. She twirled briefly before curtseying and sitting back down.


            Kasumi giggled. Rose's ankle-length skirt was too tight for a proper curtsy, though it did accentuate her figure in an exceedingly complimentary way.


             Rose folded her hands in her lap. "Not surprised at my magic powers?"


            "You've transformed into a perfect young lady, magic powers seem mundane in comparison, and that dress is very lovely. It fits you wonderfully, even if it's a bit... tight up top." Kasumi felt the tightness below the waist was just fine. She had missed Ranma's company, among other things.


            "Oh, I don't know about mundane." Rose gave a secretive smile. "And you're right about the top. I really regret all those times I refused to wear bras."


            "You're wearing one now, though."


            Rose blushed. "Oh dear, you can see it?"


            Kasumi giggled. "No, it would be incomprehensible for a princess to not wear such a basic garment, but surely having proper support helps things?"


            "Yes, but there are the expected sleeping, back, and attention problems."


            "Back problems, you? And since when have you had trouble sleeping?"


            Rose looked away from Kasumi's inquisitive look.


            "Ah, I see. Well, princesses are supposed to attract attention. You have experience in this," Kasumi said somewhat reproachfully.


            "Maybe I don't like where people look. I'd prefer a bit more eye contact." Rose shrugged.


            Kasumi raised an eyebrow. "That is new, no longer vain? That's a princess trait you had before."


            Rose chuckled. "Oh no, I'm still vain, just annoyed that one part overshadows the rest."


            Kasumi tapped her chin. "I have read about corrective surgery, but that is a very drastic step."


            "You're joking?" Rose asked.


            "Of course, it's too far of a risk, it's not like you can magically shift your body," Kasumi's smile seemed to dare the redhead.


            Rose tapped her chin.


            "Oh can you?" Kasumi nodded. "What kind of magic? Does it involve roses? Have you always had a secret love for them? Or is it new?" If the former were true then Kodachi would have been quite a trial for Rose-hime, Kasumi thought to herself.


            "It's not just roses," Rose smiled. "That phone is more than just a little gadget."


            "Did you make it?"


            "Of course," Rose laughed. She waved her hand and made a laptop appear. "I'm not just the Rose Princess."


            "You're into computers ?"


            Rose frowned. "Not only that but I am one. That was part of the curse put on me. I was being turned into something like a robot."


            "Are you still human?" Kasumi delicately asked.
           


            "I'm a blend." Rose held the laptop. It seemed to melt and morphed onto her arm. The rest of her body gained a slight sheen and noticeable seams at her joints. Antennae-like blades sprouted from behind her ears. "I can be whatever I want to. I'm the perfect synthesis of woman and machine, magic and technology."


            "You're part rose too?" Kasumi wondered if Ranma was just another "part" in the varied list of machine, plant, and princess.


            "That too." Rose smiled and her form shifted again, returning to its human state. Her skin started to turn green and white roses began to bloom in her hair and form into bracelets and other jewelry.


            "You really are a magical girl!" Kasumi gushed, pondering the possibilities.


            "Magical girl, huh?" Rose smirked. She got up and after a brief flash and twirl had transformed into something that a very diligent Sailor Moon cosplayer would have made.


            "Oh, I love the wings," Kasumi gushed.


            "Thank you." Rose sat down and crossed her legs after giving a futile attempt to smooth her skirt in an attempt at modesty. "The hemline is far to high, but I suppose that's part of the deal."


            "Yes, it seems you like longer skirts now."


            Rose blushed. "You contributed to that. When I was programming my mind I used your style as a basis." She smiled at Kasumi's gasp. "You're the most poised and ladylike person I know." The princess then transformed back into her gown.


            "That's very sweet," Kasumi blushed. It was easier to think of this girl as... well... Rose-hime. The whole thing was so fantastical it was like a visual novel game off of one of her books. "I'm honored that you chose me to base your new... personality off of," Kasumi said, hoping that was the right thing to say.


            "I'm still Ranma. Just a Ranma that's all princess."


            "Like when you hit your head and got all girly?" Kasumi asked.


            Rose's face soured. "She was too indecisive, too weak willed. A princess has to be stronger than that."

            "It sounds like you're putting a lot of thought into this. I never would have guessed you would realize that feminine women can be strong too."


            "I do have more time to think," Rose remarked.


            "Being part computer and all." Kasumi was not sure what that entailed but she had seen Rose-hime transform, and there was something more to it.


            Rose nodded. "
Kasumi, do you know about any books on princesses or any hints? There's a lot of information out there and my family..." She lowered her voice. "My sister Sarah's a tomboy, Allison's a bit risque, Erika's too plain, and Diana is worse off than me."


            "Are those all your sisters?"


            Rose laughed. "Sarah is. Erika is a spiritual sister. Diana's my cousin. And Allison's seeing Diana."


            Kasumi smiled. "How nice."


            "They are cute together.  Though they're not exactly ladylike. If you know what I mean. Now on that subject, I was wondering if you knew of any books that could be a help."


            "I may Rose... but I don't really think the characters in the books I read are your type of princess. None of them beat up the dragon and save the prince themselves."


            Rose blushed. "I get enough of that in my day to day life. Perhaps some fantasy would be nice."


            "That sounds like you. So you have a sister and she's a tomboy?"


            "I'm aware of the irony," Rose said with a smirk.


            "Um, Rose. I believe those are missiles," Kasumi said eyeing some things darting past in the background. She wondered if she triggered the "game's" bad end.


             Rose turned to look behind herself. "Guys! I'm on the phone" she shouted just after an explosion came from off screen. The camera panned to show a girl in a uniform similar to Rose's firing on another wearing some type of metallic armor.

 
            "Rose! What's going on? Are you okay?


            "
Oh, that's just some family bonding back there. My sister gets a bit trigger happy when teased," Rose explained.


            "So she's a very spirited girl?"


            "Yes, she's a nice girl really; she's just a violent maniac. Though you could say that for Allison too."


            "Sounds like you have fun with them."


            Rose nodded as the explosions faded to be replaced by simple screaming and yelling. "Good they're calming down. So what's about these books?"


            "Well, 'The Princess and the Saucy Pirate' is a good start. It's quite tame."


            Rose accessed an online entry on the book. "Saucy?" she asked in shock, according to the reviews that book was anything but tame.


            "Well the hook is that he's a chef, and wants to get this one last treasure and retire to make his own restaurant," Kasumi happily explained.


            Rose blinked. "That sounds silly."


            "Oh no, the princess is quite assertive in that one."


            "Well, that sounds a bit too familiar."


            "True," Kasumi noted looking at Rose's bow. "How about 'The Secret Lady'? It's not exactly a princess book, but it's about this seeming low-class woman at finishing school and being wooed by a nobleman."


            "Maybe," Rose forced a smile. She had just looked at the cover art for that book and it was nightmarish.


            "With all those times Akane's been kidnapped you could write your own," Kasumi joked.


            "But, I'm looking for new stuff to guide me," Rose pouted. She resisted the urge to comment on Akane's lack of resemblance to a princess. Sure, Akane was taken by princes and has been pursued by the majority of a school's population, but Rose felt that Akane did not have the personality of a princess. The Rose Princess had to smirk at the irony of someone with her own past judging Akane's qualifications.


            Kasumi put a finger to her lips. "Are you going to send a phone to Akane?"


            "I don't know," Rose stated.


            "You sent one to me."


            Rose straightened the way her dress draped over her knee.


            "Is it because I'm safe?"


            The redhead nodded.


            "Also, I could reject you and it wouldn't hurt so much?"

            "It'd hurt." Rose looked up. "I'm sorry, I don't mean to come off so calculating."


            "You are part computer." Kasumi tapped her lip again. "But what about Akane? What about Ukyou? What about Shampoo?"


            "I'm not worried about Shampoo," Rose said a bit curtly. "And I've sent a phone to Ukyou."

            Kasumi raised an eyebrow. Part of her felt a bit jealous, Akane always was the special one. She pushed that aside. "You need time to think it over?"


            "Yes, and if you don't mind, could you keep this in confidence?"


            "Of course." Kasumi noted that Ranma's voice became more formal the more... nervous she became. "If you ever need any help making a... decision..."


            Rose brightened. "Thank you."


            "My pleasure."


            "Funny you should mention Ukyou..."


            "I'm aware she moved away from Nerima." Rose stated.


            "Were you aware about her new admirer?"


            The redhead blinked. She had been keeping tabs on Nerima, including the staffing changes "Would this be her new waitress?"


            "Oh yes. A charming little Kunoichi. Ukyou and Akane and, oh Ryoga I believe, helped rescue the poor dear from a wicked stepmother and stepsisters." Kasumi smiled. "Isn't it funny how life can seem like a fairy tale?"


            "What's the twist?"


            Kasumi's smile grew. "Ironically, Ukyou made the opposite assumption about Konatsu that you did with her."


            Rose nodded as part of her began searching. Like many of the events in Nerima there was little digital record for her to search, but it kept part of her occupied. Having a name helped too.


            For the longest time she had assumed Ukyou was a male, and indeed Ukyou could still pass quite convincingly, so the opposite of that was... A smile appeared on the redhead's face. "I see. That must have shocked Ucchan."


            "A bit," Kasumi allowed. "But they seem quite happy working together. Have you thought about calling Ukyou yourself? You did send her a phone. Or one of your other friends back here? Someone you haven't sent a phone-" Kasumi hesitated briefly. "Yet."


            Rose's expression faltered for a moment. "Right now, I'm playing it safe. Things are complicated."


            Pushing down the specter of jealousy Kasumi nodded to herself. She and Ukyou were "safe". If they rejected this new princess, what would it mean to Ranma?


            "You're testing the waters then?"


            Rose nodded.


            "If you ever need an advocate... having someone ask in your place."


            "I will ask you for help." Rose gave a smile. "Just not right now."


            Kasumi held her tongue. Oh Ranma, all this power and poise and you're still an inexperienced, and scared young... woman, the elder Tendo thought to herself. It made sense why this Rose would seek out her, seek out "big sister" Kasumi. "Are you still looking for some book suggestions?"


            "If you have some."


            "How about 'The Many Suitors of Princess Windsor?' It's about a princess who has to choose between many handsome princes. She comes up with a very... imaginative series of tests. " Kasumi winked.


            "A bit to close to home," Rose blushed.


            "How about something a bit more risqué then?" Kasumi asked with a secret-little smile.


            "Well, is this something that you think of as a bodice ripper?" Rose asked, teasing Kasumi a little.


            "It's 'Akiko's Awakening.' Akiko is in denial of her true... feelings and then an old school friend of hers comes and he makes her realize the truth," Kasumi delicately said.


            "Euphemism for forced intercourse until she is made pliable?" Rose guessed, showing clear distaste on her face.


            Kasumi coughed. "Maybe 'Love Times Four' by that nice Jeanne McCann woman in Seattle, then?"


            Rose accessed the reviews and synopses for that book and blinked. She did it again after doing a cross reference and a bit more research on the author's other works.


            "That's a lesbian book," Rose blinked a third time.


            Kasumi laughed, but an embarrassed blush had crept onto her face. "I sometimes like the translations when I'm looking for something sweet and palate cleansing."


            "Intriguing," Rose allowed. She found this new side to Kasumi very humanizing.


            "Do you not like girl and girl?" Kasumi asked with a ghost of a smile.


            "I thought of things like that before, given my curse, but at the time I didn't think anyone wrote about such things." Now Rose was doing the research, and found herself a bit surprised at the scale, even with this one specific subset of erotic content.


            "Well, it is more common than you'd believe," Kasumi pointed out.


            "Really? I might have to look into that book and see if I can get any ideas."


            "What about your curse? Are you now a princess that turns into a guy?" Kasumi was curious as to the situation. Was it truly inverted?


            Rose coughed. "I've controlled it, but I don't feel comfortable like that anymore," she delivered her lines smoothly.


            "I admire your ability to be who you really are. How is your... family over there taking it?"


            Rose giggled. "Even given the transformation from an uncouth guy into a prim princess, I'm still the second most normal person in the house."


            "You always get such interesting friends," Kasumi laughed.


            Rose shook her head. She gave Kasumi a sideways glance. "You don't seem surprised that I'm female full time now."


            "Truthfully? I expected sooner or later there would be a cute redheaded marital... er- martial arts master living in my home full time," Kasumi said simply.


            "Instead of a dumb jock?"


            Kasumi nodded. She had expected some changes, but these seemed almost excessive.


            "May I ask why?"


            "You seemed more alive in your girl body. Any time you had alone to relax I would normally find you as a girl."


            Rose paused at Kasumi's explanation to go through her memories. It seemed reasonable enough.


            "All though, you being a princess is a bit of a surprise to me." Kasumi giggled.


            "You're surprised? How do you think I felt?"


            "And if I'm too accepting, you are a natural." Unnaturally natural in Kasumi's estimation, but Ranma always did put a full effort into things. "Look at how well you've carried yourself and that well-tailored gown." Kasumi smirked. "A very cute redheaded martial arts master."


            Rose smiled and adjusted her posture. "Cute martial arts master? You're assuming that I'm still into that?"


            Kasumi laughed. "Oh please. Even becoming a flower themed magical princess would not keep you from martial arts. I'm sure you adapted."


            Rose blinked. "Yeah, it's called Wild Rose School."


            "How fitting. I heard wild rose bushes are very hardy."


            "Oh really?" Rose asked with pride.


            "Quite, a woman at the market I go to wanted to get rid of some that had gotten overgrown. Her husband tried to trim it down, burn it, poison it, and rip it out. In the end they had to soak the ground to loosen the dirt. Only then could they pull the roots out with a chain attached to a car." Kasumi pretended to ignore Rose's increasing horror. "The woman was amazed at the roots. They were deep and thick."


            Rose whimpered to herself. Those poor, abused roses.


            "I guess the moral is that if it's a big old rose bush, you're better off leaving it alone. Trim it and make it look nice because it was there first and you're not moving it." Kasumi's tone had become reassuring. "Yes, I can see why you picked such a plant." Kasumi said, considering the romantic symbolism surrounding the flower too. "You'll have got big roots too I'm sure," Kasumi said, looking to Rose's waistline.


            "I didn't pick roses. They picked me." Rose flexed her hands. "You are right about the big rose plants. My mother had some rose bushes, and amazingly one of hers grew wild and survived. It's now the centerpiece to my garden," Rose said as she got up. The camera followed to where Rose was showing off an immense rosebush. It was trimmed but not so much to cover-up the gnarled, natural branches.


            "Does your mother like gardening with you?"


            Rose's smile evaporated and she sat down on a nearby bench. "You couldn't know," she said folding her hands in her lap. Deep down, Rose liked to think that her mother would have enjoyed gardening with her


            "I'm sorry. I..." Kasumi watched as the young princess regained her composure.


            "It was Genma's fault. He robbed me of my mother. Both are dead, there's nothing I can do. At least I have family over here; a real family."


            "Family is very important," Kasumi said a touch of sadness entering her voice before brightening. "But it's wonderful that you called and gave much such a great phone. Though I must get to making dinner."


            Rose smiled. "We have been talking a while, but you've been a great help on my princess quest."


            "Don't worry, we'll talk again soon," Kasumi's eyes twinkled. "And next time I expect to see some changes. Do you need me to repeat my ideas?" she coquettishly asked.


            Mentally replaying the conversation and excerpting anything resembling a suggestion, literature, style, or otherwise, Ranma shook her head.


            "Good, I look forward to talking again my little Rose-hime," Kasumi closed the phone shut and sighed happily. Putting the phone in one of her apron's pockets, she got up and quietly left her room. A hope sparkled in her, one that had been pushed aside ever since that disastrous crush in elementary school when she had been too... forward.

 

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

 


            In a room bare, save for a large mirror, Rebecca held up a clear plum-sized orb "In return for the power to assure your revenge, do you swear to help me obtain materials for my research?"


            Ryoga eyed the shimmering sphere and the swirling galaxy of light within it. "Is this the last operation?" he asked, his English rough but fluent and passable. His eyes flashed green for a second and his arms tingled. He could feel the orb's power  resonating with his own augments.


            Rebecca eyed the shaggy-haired man.  He was wearing the same stout traveling pants. Though he wore a dark green vest over his shirt.   Bits of silver thread flashed through the vest in detailed, almost fractal swirls.  Green and salmon light flashed down the silver threads.


            "Yes, this is the last stage. With this-" she looked to the orb. "You're powers will be complete."


            "If I need it."  Ryoga crossed his arms. "I'm feeling pretty good right now."


            Rebecca laughed. "No... you want more power.  I've seen you in the field." The orb pulsed in her hands. "If you can take it... you will." 


            Ryoga opened his mouth. A flicker of salmon light went across his fangs.


            "Yes,  you're complaints about those field tests have been less...  heated."


            "Ranma cheats.  I need every advantage."


            "Which I'll give you."


            "Only after jumping through hoops.  You've got me running around like some delivery boy."


            Rebecca's face clouded. "It's not all courier work."


            "No, some of it's breaking and entering.  I didn't  agree to be your guinea pig for the fun of raiding research labs."


            "I needed the equipment."


            "Right, for all those robots you're building," Ryoga scoffed. "What about my upgrades?"


            "I needed things for that too," Rebecca lifted the orb. "And this is it. I promise."

            "And then I'll get my revenge?"  Ryoga impatiently demanded.


            "Soon,  after a couple more field tests to be sure."


            Ryoga glared.


            "Allow me this indulgence."


            He snorted.


            "Your enemy's friends have some very... dangerous equipment."


            "You want the gadgets her friends have?"


            "Among other things," Rebecca nodded, a bit impressed. He was more on the ball than he let on. Not that it would matter for much longer. "That's why I need you to beat her; she's got some interesting... gadgets too."


            "Oh? Interested in the little princess yourself, too?" Ryoga laughed. "Aren't you afraid of being recognized?"  He asked, suspicion entering his voice.  For a moment a green aura flickered around his form.


            Rebecca lowered her hand, palm down, in a calming gesture. "Not if this works. You of all people should want to put Ranma in... her place." Rebecca gave a waxy smile. "I've put a lot of work into this,"  she ran a finger over the surface of the orb.


            Ryoga had watched her spend hours and hours, day after day working on various computers and bits of equipment.  It was all gibberish to him,  save when she recorded him doing martial arts and other physical feats.  He looked at her intense expression. "As much as you did on him... er... on Ranma?"


            "Yes, Ranma,"  Rebecca tilted her head. "Interesting that she kept that part of her name. She could have gone for something new."


            "So he gave up being a Saotome." Ryoga shrugged. "Genma was scum.  Even a cheater like Ranma'd know that."


            "Still, that name has such an appropriate meaning. Chaotic stallion."  Rebecca laughed. "And yes, you could say that about the work I've done for you."


            "Maybe more wild horse."


            "Even so, running about, trampling everything. Not a care for the messes caused, the stampedes. Ruining things, leaving a wreckage long after she's left."


            "Akane still..." Ryoga balled his hands into fists.


            Lady of Shadows gave a thin smile. "Do you swear?" Moving the orb to one hand, she stepped closer. "Will you give me access?"  A holographic keyboard appeared in the other.


            Ryoga paused, for a moment the swirling inside the orb sped up; it seemed almost hungry.  Rebecca met his eye then turned her head, putting the keyboard out of  her sight.  He wondered how much that mattered; he was entering the code into her system after all.


            He shrugged and slowly entered the password by poking a finger through the projected keys one by one.  Hitting enter, the keyboard flashed and the image vanished. Rebecca turned back and nodded


            Ryoga's chest tingled and buzzed.  He steeled himself; he had been through worse training before. "There you go.  I've authorized you to upgrade my Template."


            "Good." Rebecca's eyes flicked to the orb and she nodded and began to move her fingers in a tight little arcane motions. Runes began to appear on the surface of the mirror and as she moved her hands they shifted color and configuration.


            Silently, the orb continued to pulse.


            After a couple minutes, Ryoga coughed "So... is it starting yet? Will this finish my super-powered Template?"


            Rebecca tore her gaze away from the mirror. "Sorry," she said utterly unapologetic. "I had to make sure the initial conditions were right."


            "How so?"


            "Well, if this works on you I'll be that much closer to knowing how to tame our mutual enemy. Though, really, I must thank my former... companion. Who knew that her... tastes would be so... inspiring" Rebecca chuckled and released her grip and the sphere shot straight towards Ryoga. Feeling it smack his neck, he instinctively reached up and tried to pull it away, but before he could a pair of cords shot out of the sphere and encircled his neck.


            Pulling at the cords, Ryoga felt his arms grow numb. He kept up the pressure until he caught sight of himself in the mirror and saw his arms becoming progressively thinner and thinner. The shock caused his grip to loosen and allowed the cord to tighten around his neck.


            Gasping, he fell to his knees. Ignoring the fresh strain on his weakened legs he screamed and tried to leap at Rebecca.  He tried to channel power into his wards, into the vest.  He even tried to summon an aura but the orb responded and became even more restrictive. Unable to even gasp, Ryoga seethed with rage as he found himself stumbling back to his knees.


            The orb loosened its grip, and panting Ryoga felt his anger melt away. Returning to the mirror, his eyes widened, not at the rapid wasting his body was undergoing but at the orb. The slight pinkish spiral within was spinning faster. To Ryoga it looked like some kind of a whirlpool or drain.


            Feeling his anger almost totally replaced with fatalistic depression, he turned to the smirking woman. "What, what are you doing to me?" Ryoga's voice cracked as he rasped out the question.


            "I'm giving you what you asked for. You'll like it; I promise." Rebecca purred.


            Ryoga doubled over in pain as the orb pulled in its cord and spread the constricting, suffocating tightness across his body. Already swimming in his clothes, his thin limbs contracted and shrank. Over several crushing, burning seconds Ryoga felt his body twist and retreat, as he lost half of his height.


            Mute, Ryoga stared into the mirror and saw a fairly effeminate eight year old. The figure in the mirror began to shift; its face became rounder, eyes widened, nose shrank, and other organs completed their rearrangement. The power continued to surge, and the martial artist felt overwhelmed.


            Clothes that were far too big for this body transformed.  The shirt, pants, and underwear shrunk down becoming undergarments.  While the vest exploded out as it lengthened and spilled down arms and legs.


            Lightening to a snowy white, it split into layers and ruffles and fluffed around the hips, shoulders and chest like a shimmering confection.  The silver thread brightened and grew into an even more intricate design. Tiered skirting puffed out. Consisting of staggered petticoats, the shortest were on the top with progressively longer and more lacy underneath, the whole garment resembled a cake in the language of silk.


            As that happened, her hair grew out and then pulled up forming a pulsing bud atop the child's head. The bandana shifted, its black spots vanishing while the yellow brightened and gained a shiny luster.


            The now golden band leveled itself on the child's brow, encircling the swelling bud of steadily lightening hair. The band split apart into a series of delicate spars and simplistic whorls. The child winced as some of the spars felt like they were stabbing her temple. She gasped and saw her height increase, at first she thought her shoes had transformed to high heels, but her tiny feet were still swimming in her old boots.


            She then watched as her body grew and aged. It was only a couple of years, but the shaping of her dress revealed the bare hints of a curving hip and a chest that almost needed a training bra.


            Then her hair-bud exploded and she gasped again. A rain of pastel pink ringlets floated down and around her head and then spilled down her back like knee-length cape.


            A newly pink eyebrow was raised as her height rose by a couple inches, this time due to high heels. The pressure and support on her feet were a clear enough sign, but after a brief pain in her temples she somehow knew she now wore a pair of glossy high heeled, platform Mary-Janes with big pink bows on the toes.


            Her despondency crumbled as she felt something coat her face. Her skin tingled, and her temples still stung. Foundation smoothed on giving her perfectly even, glowing completion. The sensations built as pink blush was blended onto her cheeks forming a permanent demure blush. Her eyes shifted to a dark emerald shade of green. Completing the almost doll-like artifice, her eyebrows slimmed into tiny arcs, her eyelashes fluttered and curled out and she acquired pink eye shadow and dark pink eyeliner.


            The crescendo of color and sensation hit when her lips were hit with a sparkling lip-gloss. A final gasp escaped her new lips when a perfect little beauty-mark appeared on her right cheek a bit above the corner of her mouth. Depression mixed with... something else as she stared at her face, now as decorated as the rest of her.


            The cords connecting the orb thickened and spread out encircling her neck in a golden band that held the swirling galaxy. Lace and frills formed, edging the shiny choker.


            As the girl stared, she felt her depression dissipate, sucked into the softly glowing ruby-red orb tied to the front of her silk choker. As the last sad thoughts were drained away the galaxy within the choker orb stopped its spinning.


            Mute, she raised a gloved hand and touched the orb. She frowned, even encased in ruffled lace her hand was delicate, dainty. The choker awakened and she found her frustration melt off, returning her to a... confused state. She felt... nice.


            Her choker flashed and the galaxy within began to rotate in the opposite direction. Warmth flooded the girl and she felt a sparkling smile curl into place. A giggle escaped her lacquered lips, and the seeds of pride bloomed into full blown vanity. The sound of light giggling and the pressure from the choker eroded her resistance and pushed her vanity deeper and deeper.


            Rapt at her reflection, she spun around a little bit. Then she paused and stared at her reflection again. There was a tingle from her tiara. Obediently, she gave Rebecca a curtsy and then returned to slowly rotating in front of the mirror. She giggled each time her skirts, ribbons, and especially her waves and waves of pink ringlets flounced.


            Staring at her tiara and choker, she hardly noticed the older girl step up to her side. Instead the younger girl paused, and tried to think. Words tumbled into focus and suddenly, almost like in a storybook, she knew what she had to say.


            "I look like a princess!" the girl gushed in a voice nearly as sugary as her dress. She blinked and frowned at her exclamation, but the choker shimmered, the tiara stung and puzzlement was exchanged for eagerness.


            She exhaled and closed her eyes. They opened; the reflection stayed the same. "I look like a princess," she repeated this time in an angry growl. She spun around and looked up at Rebecca. "You said I'd get my revenge!" she screamed just before a stabbing pain came from her tiara and it became hard to concentrate.


            "I did, and you will." Rebecca gently pushed the smaller girl back to facing the mirror.

 
            The pink-haired girl put her hands to her forehead and gasped. The pain, and anger, had subsided.


            "Don't give up. You're stronger. You're cuter." Rebecca whispered as she put an arm around the smaller girl.


            The choker flashed and the girl smirked at her reflection. She was cuter than some dirt-caked pretend princess.


            "You're a better martial artist, a better princess," Rebecca assured, hugging tighter.


            "I am?" The pink-haired girl... the pink-haired princess reached out and touched the cool glass. "I am," she confidently, smugly repeated.


            "You can beat her. With my help you will beat her. Of course...." Rebecca continued to whisper. "I can take it all back."


            Suddenly turning hot, the mirror flashed over the girl pulled her hand back with a cry. The stabbing from her tiara flared up and her image in the mirror twisted. Standing before her was a stumpy, brutish being. Hunched and hulking, it had beady eyes over a cavernous jaw full of crooked fangs. All hard lines and slab-like muscle, its body was concealed by a sack-like shirt and worn, stained trousers.


            Whimpering, she clutched onto Rebecca and closed her eyes. "Make it go away!"


            "As you wish." Rebecca waved her hand and the mirror shimmered.


            The imaged changed, and the pink haired girl sighed in relief at the reflection, her reflection.


            "I promised you that you'd like it," Rebecca smirked. She now understood her redheaded test subject, and the trap the wild-mare laid for Rebecca. Subjecting people to this kind of makeover was immensely satisfying. Though Rebecca preferred shimmering gloss to glitter and knew her latest experiment would not require a corset. And she would be sure that when it came time for payback, the mare would certainly enjoy the results of Rebecca's work.


            She chuckled at the irony. Rebecca even shared much the same fashion preferences to this "Rose Princess" overly-feminine gowns and hairdos were lovely, lovely for other people. For personal use something easy to manage, yet indicative of their station was a must. Gaudy frills were for others.


            The self-declared princess frowned. "But... how can I keep up my end of the bargain? I can't fight? Can I?"


            Rebecca patted the girl on the head. "Don't worry, your strength, your rage, your energy, it's not gone. That would be a waste. Honestly, you were wasting so much of it before. Do know what a capacitor is?"


            The girl shook her head causing sparkling pink springs to dance about. She remembered, but she did not remember that word.


            "Well, I guess your lessons will have to start somewhere. How do you feel?"


            "Great! I love it!" the girl automatically stated. She then paused and flushed, it seemed too easy, but... she looked up at her reflection again. She was a natural.


            "You're such a good girl."


            The new girl felt her pride grow and embraced the pink image before her.


            "And good girls deserve to be rewarded." Rebecca pulled a jewelry box out of her pocket and handed it over.


            The girl's hands shook with excitement, almost causing the box to slip out of her silken fingers. Opening it, she gave another one of her cooing gasps. Nestled in the box's bed was a bracelet of woven gold. Three die-sized intricately cut diamonds were held by just enough woven gold to secure them, and not obscure the symbols suspended within.

 
            "Here, let me put it on," Rebecca said as she took the bracelet and then using a hidden clasp locked it around the girl's right wrist.


            "It goes perfectly!" Admiring the bracelet, the girl read out the kanji within each diamond: Beautiful princess child.


            Rebecca wrapped an arm around the girl. "Yes, my little Mikiko."


            An easily ignored pain brushed over Mikiko's temples as she lovingly looked up at Rebecca. "Thank you... Oneesama." She smiled broadly and, once again, looked at her reflection. She could not get enough of looking at herself.


            A frown flickered into existence before dissipating, leaving her looking at her teeth. Mikiko blinked, fluttering her eyelashes in the process, but the surprisingly long fangs remained.


            "They're the same as before," Rebecca chuckled. "The only thing, but don't worry, this time you'll have a use for them."


            Mikiko's eyes widened "Will I use them against Rose?"


            "Perhaps. We'll have to see what works best."


            "Oh," Mikiko played with her bracelet, idly feeling each stone.


            "Something wrong?


            "I want to help you." Mikiko balled her tiny fists. "Please..."


            Rebecca smiled and reached out and touched the center of Mikiko's tiara. The headgear shifted and gained sleek inward curving points along its circumference, each tipped in a tiny pearl. The shimmering pearlescence peeked out amid a shifting sea of pink hair. In the center of the newly formed cornet a single oval emerald grew into place just under Rebecca's finger


            Ignoring how the new crown felt even tighter and more... prickly, Mikiko giggled. "So pretty!"


            "I was going to wait, but you've been such a good girl." Rebecca tapped the emerald.


            Barely having time to recover from the praise, Mikiko cooed as her hair twisted and spiraled out, growing in length and body, adding another inch to her "height". Gleeful, she turned and looked into the mirror. Now extending well past the floor, her hair spilled behind her like a train.


            Rebecca chuckled. "That is your weapon."


            Mikiko looked back and swung her head causing the cascade of hair to swish back and forth. "So, pretty," she said watching as her hair continued to undulate, long after something with that much weight should have stopped.


            "Come on," Rebecca said, tearing the girl away from her reflection.


            Mikiko tried to follow, but she stepped heel first and with a shriek fell down. Whimpering she held her arm up.


            Rebecca reached out and pulled the girl back up. "Oh yes, that will work," she said, looking at her hand closed over Mikiko's


            "What?"


            "The movies I've got," Rebecca smoothly said. "I just know you'll love them."


            "Really?"


            "Oh yes." Rebecca lead the smaller girl to the living room. "They'll all about princesses, like you. Yes? You have a question."


            Mikiko gave a tiny frown. She tried to remember... before. Oneesama had been talking about horses so... "Are there ponies?"


            Rebecca's smile grew. "Oh yes, plenty of ponies. Some of which think they're princesses."


            Mikiko squealed in delight.

 

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

 


            Sitting on the deck, enjoying the evening air Ranma was reading the new romance book Kasumi had recommended. It was interesting. Not that for any real erotic content on Ranma's part, but because Kasumi recommended it and apparently enjoyed it. The parts talking about court intrigue were informative, if overwrought and a bit silly.


            The redhead's attention turned to the transmission being sent to her. The second package had finally been opened and the data feed revealed that the phone was being handled, and by whom.


            Closing the book, Ranma activated the phone. "Hi Ukyou, this a good time?" she asked calling up an electronic copy of the book to resume reading on.


            Nearly dropping the phone, Ukyou gasped. The opened box was still on the counter. She stared out the window of her small shop, absently watching the morning traffic pass by. "Uh, yeah it is."


            "That's good. Oh, you do not need to worry about learning this new phone number. This phone has it built in," the redhead added with just a tinge of frost.


            "You got me a phone?" Ukyou put a hand to her shoulder and adjusted her bra-strap. It was a more comfortable undergarment, but still felt a bit odd. Especially during work hours when she could not adjust it.


            "I was worried about yah, Ucchan. Thought you might not have a phone. Well, maybe you just lost my number. I did give it to you right before I left," Ranma smirked. "It's okay, these things happen. I do wonder why it took you so long to open the box."


            "I was busy yesterday, and how did you-"


            Ranma cut her off. "Ah yes, you were running a special. I heard you had a line out the door during the lunch rush."


            "Yeah I did," Ukyou said slowly and deliberately. She paused to choose her words. "How are you? Find your sister?"


            Ranma's eyebrow went up. At least Ukyou remembered that much. "Yes. Overall it's been good. Weirdness and magical stuff again, you know how it goes. But I did find some family."


            The brunette exhaled, that much sounded right. Still, the way Ranma was talking did sound a bit too... refined. "Yeah, work's been a bit quieter, but still pretty weird. Last week there was this skinny guy that was part of this all-you-can-eat tournament," Ukyou absently said.


             "I got a caught in a magical avalanche, the only way to win was to become one with it, and I'm now watching fairies tend to my rose garden while reading a romance book."


            A bubble of pain momentarily popped in Ukyou's brain. "I'm sorry?"


            "Oh, nothing. Just a princess thing. I'm happy that you kept my secret. Did a real good job about that." Ranma poured on the congratulatory sweetness.


            Ukyou blinked. She felt a familiar sensation, but could not place it. "It was nothing."


            "You're too modest," Ranma said in an agreeing tone. "It's like no one had any idea where I was. I trusted you and you alone with where I was going and I did not hear a peep, from anyone."


            Ukyou paused to focus. "Did you say something about princesses or fairies?"


            "Yes, I did." Ranma's teasing tone rapidly shifted to a more neutral one. "So, how's your new shop? Did leaving Nerima help calm your life down too?"


            "Yeah... as I said things are still odd, but it's a lot more... manageable." Ukyou nodded. She looked back out the window and wondered why she had bothered to use this phone, why she had even called. The familiar sensation returned. She was reminded of a subtle feint. "Wait...."


            Ranma obliged Ukyou by remaining silent as she continued to read.


            "You sent this phone right to my new place. You knew where I moved, too."


            "Well, of course I had to figure that out, Ucchan. You did not tell me when you moved."


            Ukyou froze. She had been outmaneuvered. She could place the familiar sensations now. Ranma was sparing with her.


            "I wonder. What did you tell your father? Did you tell him you avenged your family's honor? Like you wanted to when you first caught up to me back in Nerima? Death gets rid of many problems. Are you still going around as a boy?" Ranma asked.


            "I... didn't."


            Ranma laughed. "Oh, I do not mind. There's no reason you should pay for Genma's stupidity, and if you can get some benefit out of his death, then go ahead. It's not like you can marry a dead person, or kill one."


            "Uh, thank you?" Ukyou leaned against the wall. She could tell there was a fight going on, but had no idea what the rules were or what Ranma's goal was. "Have you been thinking about this a lot?"


            "A lot? No not really." The redhead gave a light little laugh. "This is just me thinking aloud," Ranma stated, amused. "I should apologize for taking so long to call you. I should have realized that I needed to take the initiative."


            "It's no big deal," Ukyou said a slight pain forming in her head.


            "You're right. I should have been careful. You might have changed your mind and started trying to kill me again. You do change driving goals at the drop of a compliment, Ukyou."


            "Hey! That's an insult!" Ukyou yelled.


            "Yes, as was most everything else I said to you," Ranma dryly remarked.


            "You jerk!" Ukyou should have known this was all some elaborate ploy... she did not know what for, but it had to be for something.


            "Now, now. I took the time to craft elegant left-handed insults. At the very least you could give an effort to play along too. I am quite arrogant and insensitive."


            "Yeah, you can be a real jerk." Ukyou breathed; she felt better with some momentum.


            "I was a real jerk, but I'm trying. I'd like to think I'm a better person now. That I've learned from my experiences. I'd like to think you have too."


            "You what?" Ukyou put her free hand down on the counter. "What do you mean? Did you just call to tease me?"

            Ranma gave a little sigh. "No, no. Well, just a little."


            Ukyou laughed. "You jerk."


            "You moved on with your life." Ranma closed her book. "I'm hurt that you did not call, but maybe it was for the best. Maybe we both needed to just get out of Nerima.


            "What happened over there?"


            Ranma's mood lifted. "It's hard to explain."


            "You said a magical avalanche. Oh Ranma, you didn't do something stupid and get cursed again?"


            Looking at her silver braces, the redhead laughed. "No to the first, yes to the second."


            Ukyou blinked.


            Ranma waited for the brunette to puzzle it out.


            "You got cursed but it wasn't your fault?"


            "Yes."


            Ukyou frowned. Ranma's voice still sounded refined, almost artificially so, but now it was distant and flat. "The magical avalanche?"


            "Yes."


            "That you became?"


            "Yes."


            Ukyou clenched her jaw. "Fine, be that way. You haven't even said what kind of curse this is?" Ukyou demanded though part of her recalled that Ranma had mentioned something, something about princesses. "You think this is all a game don't you?"


            "Should I?" Ranma laughed. "Sorry. Yes I got a new curse. One that was taking over my life, one that I could not beat. Not without embracing it."


            Ukyou's eyes widened and her right arm went down to the counter, falling atop her left. She looked at the rounded white phone. It had little green vine-style accents and a big red rose on the back. The only logo was as little stylized rose on the side and a larger one on the back.


            It looked like something a little girl would have... Maybe one who was playing princess. Ukyou licked her lips and raised the phone back up to her ear. "You got... you got a princess curse. You were cursed to turn into... what? Some kind of girly girl dragon-fodder swooning for a prince. And if the only way to beat the curse was to become it... you're now a better princess? One using roses?"

            Ranma whistled. "Wow."

            "I'm right aren't I?"


            "Not on the details, it was not exactly a princess curse, but that's basically it."


            "Something to do with roses?"


            "You do not get any bonus points for guessing that." Ranma laughed.
           


            "Man you better hope Kodachi doesn't find out about this."


            "She does grow her own roses," Ranma noted.


            "And she'd rant about a low born harridan like you stealing her thunder."


            "But I'm not low born," Ranma noted with a smirk. "I'm a princess."


            "Princess eh?" Ukyou shook her head. She was curious. It was easy to dismiss as some sort of scheme on Ranma's part. Ukyou knew Ranma was not above using her female form as part of some plan. However, she could not see what the advantage was for Ranma to mail her a phone, wait for her to call and then pretend to be a princess. She went back to the idea of this being some sort of ploy but was at a loss.


            "Yes."


            Ukyou sat down on the stool. It was nearly ten, she should be opening up soon. "Okay, what's this about? Why contact me? Why now?"


            Ranma looked out over her garden. "Because. I had not tried to contact you either. I'm out of your life. You're out of my life. We're both happier and more feminine for it. We could leave it at that."


            "Leave it like that?"


            "Sure. Unless you still care about me." Ranma was careful to keep her last sentence neutral.


            "Did you call in girl form for a reason or...?"


            Ranma waited.


            "You're locked aren't you?" Ukyou guessed.


            "Yeah," the redhead softly admitted. "Does that make a difference?"


            "What are you asking?"


            "We can go our separate ways, but we don't have too."


            Ukyou squeezed her eyes shut. This whole thing was inside out. She could see why Ranma used the phrase avalanche. Ukyou felt like if she did not keep dancing she would be buried and lost too. "Ranma... I'm your friend but... after you left..."

            The redhead's laughed. "Oh no, no. That's not what I meant. Well, actually friendship is exactly what I was asking about."


            "Wait..." Ukyou's hand gripped the phone so tight she was surprised it didn't crack. "All this cloak and dagger, all this princess stuff, is so you can call and give me the 'I hope we can be friends' line?"


            "Is that what I saw before I ran away from Nerima?" Ranma lightly asked.


            Ukyou huffed.


            "You don't have to make a choice now, Ukyou," Ranma's voice dripped with disappointment. "So far, you've been making pretty good ones, actually. You abandoned this fanatical, stupid, and self-destructive quest to get me. You're making your own life, your own business."


            The brunette frowned at the last bit. Ranma sounded almost... jealous. "And now you're trying to compliment me?" Ukyou sighed. Ranma never did make sense. "You really can be so clueless."


            "Don't you know it." For a split second Ranma paused. "Still, we could try to start over again. As those two friends we were, before those two old men came in and messed everything up."


            "Should I trust you?"


            "That's what I was worried about, myself." Ranma sighed. "It's not like you trusted your best friend. You decided that I fit your needs better dead."


            "That's not what I did! Not exactly."


            "Least you could have done was called me. Let me in on the scam." Ranma's laugh returned. "Man, could I have helped you sell that."


            Ukyou blinked. "You said you trusted me to keep it a secret! If I called you someone could have heard me, and then what? They'd have brainwashed everything I knew out of me. Did you want that?"


            Ukyou grabbed the cardboard box the phone had come in and threw it across the restaurant. "Oh wait, you sent me a phone. So you must have wanted exactly that."


            "It's a secure phone," Ranma stated.


            "Really? And do you know my restaurant is secure?"


            "Yes."


            Ukyou stopped. Ranma's tone had once again become cold and flat. "Really?"


            "That's a valid line of reasoning." Ranma's tone softened. "I'm sorry."


            "How do you know I'm safe?"


            "I don't," Ranma stated embarrassed. "Someone could come right in and they'd hear you. The odds are slim but it is a possibility"


            Looking out the window, Ukyou blinked. "What?"


            "I'm sorry. I thought this was all about me. That you did not call because it was me, but you had your own life. I had my own life too. I could have been the one that called you."


            "You did you stupid princess!" Ukyou yelled. "And now you're babbling about how you put me at risk. Make up your mind."


            Despite herself Ranma laughed. "Oh, it's been a while since someone called me indecisive."


            "Are you over your little paranoia spell?"


            Ranma chuckled. "No, but we can table that issue for now. If you're worried and want to end this you can throw the phone out. Everything will be taken care of."


            Ukyou pulled the phone from her ear and eyed it suspiciously. "What, does it have a self destruct?" she asked after reluctantly putting it back up against her head.


            Ranma blinked. "No... it's biodegradable."


            "Oh." Ukyou looked at the phone again. She ran a nail across the surface. It felt like plastic. "What now?"


            "That is up to you. You can pitch out the phone. Or you can keep it. You can call me, or you can leave the phone in a junk drawer."


            "I am curious about the mess you've got yourself into." Ukyou admitted.


            "That is a start," Ranma coyly said.


            "Yeah, it is. Wait. Hell yeah! It's barely a start. You haven't said anything about your family, your friends or even what really happened to you?"


            "You do want to know?"


            Ukyou looked at the clock on the phone and sighed. "It's a long story isn't it?"


            "Very much."


            Ukyou swore. "I've got the store to open soon." She still had time, Konatsu was not back from shopping, and he was never late. "Can we call later?"


            Rose smiled. "My pleasure. Call me back?"


            "Well... we've still got a bit of time."


            "Oh, alright." Ranma settled back into her chair. " Konatsu get a promotion? How is he doing anyway?"


            "Yes and we're... he's doing great," Ukyou flushed.


            "How lovely," Ranma sincerely said.


            "Wait..."Ukyou's flush vanished. "How do you know about him? I –we- rescued him after you ran off?"


            Ranma laughed lightly. "Kasumi told me. She thought it was very sweet what you guys did to help him." Her voice became wistful. "I can sympathize."


            Ukyou looked out the window. Both Ranma and Konatsu had lost their parents and had found new lives. "Yeah... I can see that."


            "How is business? It looks like your new location should get more foot traffic.


            Blinking, Ukyou briefly wondered how Ranma knew that but... she did know her address and even Ranma could type that into a map program and get a bird's eye, ground level, and even interior view of her restaurant.


            "Yeah, things are going good. And how's your business doing?"


            "Mine?" Ranma asked, sounding startled for the first time in the conversation.


            Recalling the one time Ranma had sounded jealous during the phone call, Ukyou smirked. "You seem to be very interested in my business. So... I'm just wondering if you've got one?" Ukyou asked tapping the phone. Her eyebrows went up. "Where did you get this phone anyway?"


            Ranma blinked. "Huh, now there's an idea. I could sell roses."


            "The brand of the phone?" Ukyou asked.


            The redhead laughed. "No silly, actual roses."


            "I think the smart phones are the better idea."

 

End chapter 10

 

Author's Notes:

 

 I'd like to thank the prereaders for their help in this project: J St C Patrick, DCG, Pale Wolf and Kevin Hammel. They were great on working on this chapter.

 

And like with Strained Harmony. I'd also like to apologize for the long wait in getting this chapter out. To all of you who waited the seven years for this chapter, thanks for your patience. Man... that's a long time. I hope it wasn't a letdown.