Zelgadiss was starting to become concerned. Not only did the dragon chasing him and Fox show no signs of tiring, but it was actually gaining on them. They had already tried their lasers to no effect, and when Fox left a Nova Bomb in its path as a deterrent, the huge beast just swatted it away and flew through the resulting explosion like it was a cloud of dust. Hence, his concern.
But the Great Fox was ahead. Fox had said it could provide help. And Washu had promised help from the others after explaining what she had done. He just wished that there was something he could do, especially when faced with the alternative of being a dragon's chew-toy. As he was so used to doing, he resigned to wait for his teammates to make further developments.
Fox was starting to get anxious. Normally he lived for space combat, but fleeing at top speed from a dragon that made Andross's forces look like tinker toys was not his idea of fun. He was after all a fox, and foxes are known for cunning, surprise, and action. And panicking when faced with a large predator. Hence, his anxiousness.
But the Great Fox was ahead. Its one remaining laser cannon could pack a bigger punch than ten Arwings. Hopefully it would be enough. He just wished that his new 'team' would get moving and do what they came here for, especially since the lives of his real team were at stake. As he was so used to doing, he resigned to plan ahead for contingencies, preparing to take the majority of the responsibility himself.
The intervening ten minutes had seemed to drag on for everyone, but eventually the Arwings and dragon had reached the Great Fox. The time had come.
Since Washu had connected the ship's communications and the senshi communication system, everyone could hear each other. The airwaves crackled with activity as the battle commenced.
Fox's voice broke into a discussion the three girls were having about how to fly. "Rob64! Target the large enemy in proximity to the Great Fox and open fire!"
"Roger," the robot's voice alerted everyone. "Great Fox will cover you."
Zelgadiss's voice was the next to greet everyone's ears. "Preparing to execute a turn and re-engage the dragon," he said, his voice not betraying the anxiousness he felt.
Ryoko followed this with her own orders. "All right girls, let's show this monster who's in charge around here!"
"For our friends and because of your meanness," Ameria yelled at the dragon, "In the name of Justice, we will punish you!"
"Ranma!" Washu's voice alerted her, "Be careful -- try to stay close to the others, and don't get too close to the dragon!"
Ranma, for her part, had to concentrate to just stay on course and not fly off in another direction. She preferred roof-running to flying.
Everyone was tense as the Great Fox, three makeshift sailor senshi, two Arwings, and a powerful dragon all converged on the same spot in space.
As far as the dragon was concerned, this was getting very interesting. The two shiny flying things had been running away for a long time. She would have let them go, but the voice in her mind had forced her to follow. Now the flying things seemed to have found their mother. The small ones were nimble, but the mother seemed large, slow, and angry. There were also three small little creatures buzzing around. Like little flies. How odd.
She would have been content to just watch them, but as she hovered in space watching the mother approach and the children wheel around and follow, the voice came into her head again.
"What are you waiting for, you dumb dragon? Destroy them!" The command was punctuated with a stab of pain in her mind. Reluctantly, she maneuvered into an attack position, wings, legs, and jaws ready for anything.
Suddenly, a bright beam burst from the mother. It lanced across space and hit her square in the chest. Ow! That hurt! The little ones' light beams hadn't hurt. Maybe this newcomer would be more of a challenge. She roared her most fearsome roar at the opponent, realizing that she was actually a little bigger than it was. She stretched to her full size, and impressively swatted at the mother's head with her front claws. She expected it to dodge but it took the blow, and started slowly reeling to one side. How odd.
Now the little ones were back, buzzing around her head. They were using the smaller light beams, and the light balls. They didn't hurt at all, although the light balls tickled a little. She tested the small ones' strength by pawing at them. They were fast and nimble, but she finally hit one. Strangely, it just spiraled out of control into the distance.
Then the three tiny ones had reached her. They were shouting all kinds of things, about 'light swords' and 'lances' and 'punches.' It almost seemed that they were trying to attack her. How foolish! They flew all over, and with their many words created all kinds of light shows and interesting effects, but none of them actually did anything. Two of them actually landed on her side and tried hitting her with punches and some glowing stick. She hung still in space and let them play, curious as to what they were doing. Then she swatted them away and saw them drift, seemingly helpless, into the distance. How odd.
Now all the little ones seemed to be regrouping further away, where the mother had drifted and was slowly rolling to one side. Since the voice was no longer yelling at her, she waited to see what would happen.
"Washu! I thought you said our attacks would be stronger, not weaker!" Ryoko's voice blared through the cargo bay loudspeaker.
"Hang on Ryoko -- I'm trying to find Fox. His Arwing was hit pretty badly by the dragon."
"Fox here. I'm okay, but this Arwing has seen the end to its dragon-hunting days. I'll be able to drift back to you guys. I guess you'll have to deal with this yourselves." Everyone could hear the frustration in his voice.
Ameria's voice cut him off. "What else can we do, Miss Washu? Do you have any other ideas?"
"All of you, listen up!" she replied. "You're not trying to use your new attacks, you're just using your old ones. To access the powers of your planets, use new attacks, based off your old ones but merged with your new powers. Look at your costumes -- they reflect your identity as a senshi. They'll be able to provide inspiration. That's all I can say."
With that, she watched the ragtag group again head towards the dragon. As she began working on damage control on the Great Fox, she hoped things would work out.
As she flew back towards the foe, Ameria wondered about what Washu had said. "Look at your costumes," she had said. What did this mean? She knew her costume symbolized Justice, but did it mean anything else? As she looked down at her chest, wondering, she noticed that the joint of the scales on her emblem was a heart. A heart... meaning love? Of course, she thought! What was Justice without Love? Justice itself was like the white of her outfit -- pure, absolute, but also needing compassion. That white was fulfilled by the fiery red of True Love.
She remembered the love of her father, and of her mother. Thinking back about her family, she remembered that though she and her father had sworn to establish Justice, it was because of the love they had had for her mother. While still rapidly closing on the dragon, she prepared to channel all her Love and Justice into a new attack. She called on the power of her home world instead of just the power of shamanistic elements, as she was used to.
"Loving Justice Flare!!!" she shouted with all her power, throwing her arms wide to release the attack. A blaze of red-white energy burst into being in front of her and immediately streaked towards the dragon.
As the beam of solid light flew towards the dragon, the voice returned. "Get out of the way, you stupid serpent!" it blared. But the pain accompanying the shout momentarily paralyzed the dragon in space. The beam struck her square in the chest and neck. A bright glow appeared and rapidly surrounded all of her huge reptilian body.
"Well, snap out of it!" the ranting voice continued. "If you would just get to work and fin..." The voice was drowned out, as was the mental anguish it caused. For the first time in a week, she felt at peace. She momentarily paused, just enjoying the solitude.
Ranma was surprised as she was passed on her way back by what at first appeared to be a blazing pink bullet train. She looked back and saw that the energy beam had come from Ameria. She must have discovered a new attack, she thought. As she watched, the beam hit the dragon head on. It seemed momentarily stunned, and then frozen in space.
She had paralyzed it! Now's my chance, thought Ranma. She launched herself into a dive at the dragon's rib cage. She wondered about the advice Washu had given as she closed the distance between her and the great white beast. Her costume symbolized the co-existence of two halves, male and female. Maybe she needed to develop an attack that reflected her co-existence as male and female? It seemed odd, but was worth a shot.
At times when fighting others back home as a female, she was distracted by her different feminine form. Perhaps she could gain power from a feminine fighting style.
As she reached the still-immobile dragon's chest, she prepared to attack. She focused all her chi, trying to be aware of its more feminine nuances, and channeled it into a punch like none she had thrown before. With great power she screamed "Fury of a Woman Scorned Knockout PUNCH!!" at the top of her lungs. The punch, encased in chi enhanced from the power of his home dimension, hit the dragon's belly with the force of a meteorite crashing to earth. Visible ripples in the dragon's scales fanned out from where the blow had landed, and the beast was knocked backwards in recoil, arms and wings flailing.
Now a new voice was screeching through the dragon's mind, and it was saying "OWWWWWW!!!" The puny one on his chest had thrown quite a punch! If the dragon had been in an atmosphere and breathing, she would have been winded. It would certainly take a moment to recover. She would have to be more careful with these tiny bugs -- perhaps they were not like flies but wasps, with stingers. At least the annoying voice was gone... Now she could deal with these pests on her own terms. She recovered from the punch and resumed a fighting stance, a little further away from his adversaries.
Ryoko saw Ranma land the punch. Wow, she thought, as she saw the dragon reeling for a moment. She wondered what her new powers could do. But she couldn't figure out what her costume meant. A pink heart? What was that supposed to mean?! She had been a space pirate, an outlaw, a wild card, and a mischief-maker, but never a heart-wearing do-gooder! Stupid costume. Stupid dragon she couldn't fight. Stupid dimension she was stuck in. She would have to wait until she figured out what foolish idea Washu had made her play along with.
Zelgadiss was getting restless. He was impressed with the new attacks he was seeing, but he didn't feel like he was even a part of this battle. He was used to waiting on the sidelines for an opening from his days with Lina. But being stuck in a cramped cockpit made things worse. He could only circle the dragon at a distance, knowing that his ship had little power to help.
There was something Washu had said, though, that pushed him. He knew her pep talk had been directed at the girls, but he felt that it was time for him to take on a new role in this dimension as well. He wanted to try a new attack. Besides, this dragon was from his home world. He decided to give it a greeting it wouldn't forget.
He circled his Arwing for another pass at the dragon, sneaking by unseen from the side. He ignored the cries of Fox and Ameria, asking him to keep his distance from the dragon. He prepared to launch another volley with his laser blasters, but decided to add some punch -- he had seen Lina channel spells through physical objects before, and thought this was as good a time as any to try.
"Flare Bit!!" he yelled as he squeezed the trigger. The spell, normally cast as any other sorcery, instead was channeled through the starfighter's weapons system, gathered in the laser batteries, and exploded out into space. Fierce red streaks of energy blazed from the blasters and shot towards their target.
The dragon had seen flare spells before, but obviously did not expect them in this situation. He brought his large front paw in front of his face, but not before the bits had exploded across his snout and side of his head. Zelgadiss had finally got its attention.
As the dragon reached out to swat at his Arwing, Zelgadiss prepared to cast another spell. Thinking quickly, he selected a sorcery that might return the beast to where it came from. He pulled up on the control stick after launching a Nova Bomb filled with the spell's energy. As he turboed out of the dragon's reach, he shouted "Astral Break!" and the bomb exploded behind him in a globe of piercing blue-white light. The bomb caught the dragon unaware, and the huge white beast felt the full power of the spell.
Zelgadiss was too busy flying to see the rest, but everyone else saw the dragon apparently writhing in shock and pain as the light of the blast spread. Its twisting body was gradually obscured by the light entirely, and when it finally faded, the dragon was gone. Those who knew of the Astral Plane realized that the attack's effect must have shocked the dragon back to its home dimension.
An in-control dragon is a happy dragon. A dragon just blasted across a dimensional barrier by a bunch of pipsqueak humans is not a happy dragon.
As she regained awareness of her surroundings, the white dragon realized that she was back home, and free of the voice. However, she was also in a lot of pain, in her ribs and on her nose, and she was not happy. Stupid little flying things, she thought bitterly. At least they're gone...
Wait -- what was this? As she looked around, she saw two tiny red and blue-clad humans at her feet. One of them, the red one, seemed to be shouting at her. Oh good, she thought. More flies.
The first thing Zelgadiss heard after the hiss of his cockpit opening in the shuttle bay was the familiar voice of Ameria, and the first thing he saw was her smiling face.
"Great job, Mr. Zelgadiss! You really showed that dragon what dimension he belonged in!"
Zelgadiss felt as excited as Ameria sounded. "That was an impressive attack you used too, Ameria," he replied.
"Great job, everyone!" exclaimed Washu. She and Ranma were standing near the airlock. Ryoko stood in the corner, and Fox's Arwing was just landing and cooling down across the bay. Ameria was next to the other Arwing, and was helping Zelgadiss out of the narrow cockpit. She was obviously glad to see him again.
Fox's voice added to the cascade of congratulations. "I've never seen such teamwork before -- and such effective attacks! I'm really impressed!" He dismounted his ship with practiced grace and walked over to the rest. "I had my doubts about this whole idea, but I'm convinced. Can you guys teach my team some of those tricks when we find them?"
"Yes, let's hurry and find all the missing people!" Ameria chimed in. Zelgadiss looked at her curiously. He was used to seeing her excited, but her present energy level seemed even higher than normal. She was definately excited about something.
Ameria looked back, still smiling. She knew that it was true love. Not only was she in love with Justice, and with her family, but also with-
"Excuse me..." Ryoko interrupted. Everyone looked at her. "The more time you spend here cheering, the less time we have to find the villains who kidnapped Tenchi and Ryo'ohki. Let's go already." She punctuated her sentence by disappearing, evidently teleporting to somewhere else on the ship.
The others, startled by this note of seriousness in the wake of their victory, looked to Fox and Washu for guidance. Fox realized that Ryoko might be bitter because she hadn't been able to contribute much to the battle. He had felt the same way from his drifting Arwing, but was too excited at their progress to be upset.
Washu broke the awkward silence that developed. "Ryoko's right. You all did excellent jobs with your powers, but now we have to find whoever has been kidnapping our friends. Let's go." She turned, and walked to the shuttle bay door.
As everyone followed Washu out the door, Ryoko watched from a hidden place, invisible in the shadows at the rear of the shuttle bay. She was glad that at least no one had mocked her openly. Secretly, she did want to help out, and especially to rescue Tenchi. Maybe if she saved him, he would see how much she loved him, more than any other. But now she was stuck, not even able to use any effective attacks.
She sat there, wondering wistfully, until she felt the Great Fox move, presumably heading towards whatever enemies had caused all this.
"Now you did it! You let them win!" the female villain yelled.
"It wasn't me, it was the dragon!" her male counterpart replied. "I told it what to do, but it didn't do what I ordered! Hmph. It deserved whatever it got."
A small white feline at their feet spoke up. "Tell that to the Boss," it said sarcastically.
As if on cue, a viewscreen in front of the trio turned on. It showed the back of a tall chair behind an expensive wooden desk. A deep voice immediately ordered, "Jesse! James! Meowth! What do you have to report?"
"Ummm, funny you should ask, sir," James hesitantly replied. "You know how you told us to get rid of those intruders from another dimension?"
Jesse continued. "We sent one of them back already!"
Rolling his eyes, Meowth muttered, "...too bad it was the dragon..."
At this, the man on the screen almost fell out of his chair.
"What!?" he exclaimed. "It took all of our legendary bird pokémon to subdue that dragon for transport, and half of them are still recuperating from the fight! And you SENT IT BACK!?!"
"What Meowth means is..." James tried to cover.
"I DON'T CARE WHAT MEOWTH MEANS! I want those intruders stopped! Do you hear me? STOPPED!!" came the Boss's response.
"Well, sir," Jesse began, "we'll have a chance to do just that, since they're coming this way." She tried to make it sound enthusiastic.
The Boss was not impressed. But he was not surprised either -- he was used to this group. "So you led them to our secret base too, hmmm? Well, you better make sure they don't find out about our operation, or you're all Charizard food!"
"You heard the Boss! Everyone -- battle stations!" James shouted. Everyone got up and ran in different directions, trying to get ready for the coming attack. The Boss sighed, and closed the communication.
"Ryoko? Are you okay?" Washu's query was phrased very gently, but still startled Ryoko, who had been sitting alone in the shuttle bay, lost in thought and emotion. Ryoko hadn't heard her mother enter the room, but now she sat in front of her.
"I can tell you're very worried about Tenchi, and this whole situation." Mothers in every dimension had a way of knowing these things, and of getting right to the point.
Ryoko's response was mildly sarcastic. She looked up and softly said, "Is that what your scientific calculations estimate?"
"I don't need a computer to tell me how sad you look." Washu replied, smiling gently. "You are part of me, after all. I know what you must be going through."
"Do you?" Ryoko replied. It was not a question but a rhetorical challenge.
"Ryoko, I've lost a loved one before. I know how it feels. Wounds like that don't heal." She paused a moment, lost in thought. When she continued, it was with determination. "But that's just another reason why we're going to save Tenchi."
Ryoko looked up at Washu. "Do you really think so?" she asked. "I can't even seem to use my powers here." Her frustration was obvious.
Washu pretended to be put off. "Hey, have a little faith in the world's greatest scientific mind -- we'll rescue Tenchi!" Her sudden light-heartedness helped cheer Ryoko.
In a rare moment of sincerity, Ryoko smiled and said, "Thanks, mom."
Knowing that everything would be all right now, Washu decided she could safely throw out a cryptic comment. "And you will figure out how to use your new powers. The answer is closer than you realize." As Ryoko looked up at her in perplexity, she beamed a smile back and said "Bye!" before disappearing, teleporting back to the cargo bay.
Ranma purposely coughed to announce her presence as she saw Fox behind some large crates in the cargo bay. Fox was practicing quick-drawing his laser when she approached, and so hadn't noticed her. Since she hadn't yet been able to find a hot water dispenser, she didn't want to startle anyone. Fox looked up at her in response.
"Hi Fox. I was just wondering what you were up to," she queried.
"Not much. Just practicing, and thinking," Fox replied, as he holstered his blaster and leaned against a crate.
"About that battle?" Ranma asked.
"Yep!" Fox said. "I've been in space battles before, but this was something else. Plus it's amazing just to be on a team where everyone actually helps out," he said, remembering his well-meaning but less-than-capable team back home.
Ranma had to ask. "So you don't think it's weird, the way we've... changed?" she said, indicating her own form.
"Not really," replied Fox. "I've seen weirder. And anyway, you humans all look alike to me. Besides, you look better with red hair. Red is the color of valor."
Ranma couldn't tell if Fox was serious, but she noted that his fur was red-orange as well. She took the compliment anyway. Maybe she could be okay with being a female here, or at least tolerate it a little longer. After a pause, she asked, "So what's the next step in our plans?"
Fox jumped at the chance to look knowledgeable. "Glad you asked. We're heading to the moon where the dragon appeared. Washu said there was a 98.27% chance that the enemy would be there too. In fact, I should go check on our course progress -- we'll be there within the hour."
"All right. I'll tell the others," came Ranma's reply. As Fox dashed out of the room, she suddenly remembered the other reason she had been looking for him. "Oh, and do you have any hot water..." she yelled after him, but he didn't hear. She sighed.
Continued in Chapter 6: Confrontation
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