Future Perfect
			Book One: Past Tense
			Part Seven


	Beneath an angry crimson sky, a shattered wasteland stretched as
far as Ranma could see in all directions.  Twisted crystalline clumps of
blue-green that might have been either mineral deposits or some bizarre
version of plant life dotted the jagged grey stone; otherwise, aside from
his companions, there was no sign of life.  Even the air, hot, dry, and
oppressively heavy, was still; no currents stirred it.
	"So, this is what the demon world looks like, huh?" he mused,
noting the positions of the three suns in the sky.  That would play havoc
with shadows; he'd have to remember that, in case they needed to fight.

	"No," Madoka Mano replied matter-of-factly.  "This is what this
part of the demon world looks like at this time.  The landscape has been
known to change.  Don't trust it."

	"Uh... right.  I'll keep that in mind."

	The old woman nodded, taking a single step forward before
pausing and turning back toward the group.  "Oh, and one more thing... if
you see anything with tentacles, run."


	"Erm..." Mousse shuffled his feet.  "You mean--"

	Beside him, Yohko made a face.  "Try not to think about it."

	"How come I get dragged into this kinda stuff, anyway?"

	The Chinese boy, like everyone else, ignored Ranma's
complaints.  Pushing his glasses back onto the bridge of his nose, he
hesitantly asked, "Er...  What might they look like...?"

	The younger Devil Hunter took it upon herself to answer.
"There are a lot of those demons, but basically, they all--"

	Mousse cut her off, pointing behind her.  "Do any of them look
like that?"


	Even a small change, a simple substitution, can have profound
effects over time.  Take, for example, the Sailor Senshi and their last
battle with what they knew as the Dark Kingdom.  Of the five, four would
die before the final confrontation.

	Rei Hino wasn't meant to have been the survivor.  But the
universe typically runs itself in laissez-faire fashion.  This time was no
exception; it surged relentlessly forward along the path of least
resistance.  Against all odds, Sailor Mars triumphed, at the cost of her
own life.  So it was that there was none to use the Silver Crystal to
revive the departed Senshi.  Their bodies were gone, destroyed in Rei's
final blast, but their magic remained.


	In the middle of the arctic.

	But not out of reach.  One day not too long after the pyrrhic
victory, a small group broke through the wall of the cavern.  One of the
figures, swathed in heavy arctic clothing and holding a device that
resembled a geiger counter, stepped forward from a small crowd of
similarly-dressed individuals.  He took a deliberate ten paces toward the
center of the cavern, keeping an eye on his gadget the whole time, before
he stopped.  "Pattern yellow," he announced.  The others slowly
filtered forward to join him.

	"It's confirmed, then," a tall, gruff-voiced man remarked.

	The first nodded.  "Probably a couple of feet down, encased in

	"Good work.  How soon can we excavate?"

	"We can set up within four hours, sir.  The cavern appears to be

	"Don't skimp on the safety checks.  If anything were to happen..."

	"Of course, sir."  The first man paused.  "If I may ask, sir..."

	"You want to know what he wants with this?"

	"Er... yes.  Sir."

	The older man shrugged.  "You'll have to ask him yourself,
then.  He wouldn't even tell me."  He shook his head.  "Damned if I can
see how it fits into anything else..."

	"Thanks all the same, sir."  The younger man turned and
gestured to two of the others.  "You, there.  Let's get started..."


	"Aieee!  Stop--!  No!  Please!"

	Heart-rending cries of terror echoed across the reaches of the
demon world.

	"Are you sure this thing is a demon?" Ranma asked, looking
skeptically at the quivering mass of monster.

	"Well, I've never seen one react this way before," Yohko admitted.

	"These are indeed strange times."  The elder Mano shrugged
dismissively and turned to address the demon.  "Hey!  You!"

	"Leave me alone," it whined in response, covering a portion of its
bulk with a pseudopod.

	"Why," Mousse wondered aloud, "Is it scared of us?"

	The creature overheard.  "I don't go around invading your home and
terrorizing its residents, do I?"

	"Actually..." Yohko began.

	"That wasn't me!  You can't blame me for what other demons
do!  It's not fair!"

	Ranma glanced about, puzzled.  "Someone's gotta be putting us
on...  There's no way this is real," he muttered.

	"You've never, um... tried to kill and eat people?" Yohko asked.

	The demon shrank back in revulsion.  "Good heavens, no!  You can
never tell where the things have been!  I ask you, if you knew you could
live for a few thousand of your years, would you risk that by putting that
sort of trash into your body?  Er... no offense," it added as an

	"None taken.  I think."

	"A cowardly, health-nut demon.  This ain't what I was expecting."

	"Don't complain, Ranma," Madoka chided.  Addressing the demon once
again, she declared, "We have a few questions--"

	"I don't know anything.  Go away."

	"--That we have to ask you.  I can bind you, if you insist on
doing this the hard way..."

	The bloated amorphous mass shrunk in upon itself.  "All right, all

	"First, what is your Name?"

	"Hey, you don't need to know that!"


	The younger Devil Hunter nodded and held out her hand.  A
silver-white light flared momentarily as she called forth her
Soulsword, the physical manifestation of her spirit.

	"K-Keep her away from me!"

	"Your Name?"

	The demon slumped further.  "Bob," it mumbled resentfully.

	"Bob?" Ranma repeated incredulously.  "I thought demons were
supposed to have unpronounceable names with lots of consonants.  Whoever
heard of a demon named Bob?"

	"Oh, so it's my fault all the good names were taken a couple of
millennia ago...  Stupid unique Name rule."

	"Um... all right... Bob."  Madoka Mano was finding this a very
surreal experience, to say the least.

	"Not so loud!"  The creature swivelled an eyestalk in alarm.  "If
one of the guys heard you, I'd never live it down..."

	"Er... quite.  Now, to the point..."


	Madoka was still sitting outside, gazing up at the
cloud-shrouded stars, when Aeka found her.  The Juraian princess
delicately coughed.  "If you would be so kind as to forgive my

	The raven-haired girl nodded absently, not so much as glancing in
Aeka's direction as the alien sat beside her.  She said simply, "It's so
clear...  You can't see this much from Tokyo."

	"Yes," Aeka agreed, "The evenings are very pleasant here."  The
view didn't compare to what could be seen in space, of course, but there
was no reason to mention that, especially when it might be misconstrued.

	The two sat in silence for some time before Madoka chose to
continue the conversation.  "Have you been here long?"

	"I suppose that depends on your perspective.  I believe... yes,
it's been almost two Earth years."

	"The same as Ryouko," Madoka remarked.

	Aeka shifted uncomfortably.  "Yes," she admitted.  "We are not
entirely unconnected.  In a way, I suppose, I have her to thank for
meeting Tenchi-sama."  Her mouth quirked in irritation.  "I shudder to
think what might have become of him otherwise, with that woman--"  She
broke off, shaking her head.  "Forgive me...  That is an old story, and I
should not bore you with it."

	"Not at all," Madoka answered, faintly intrigued.

	But before she could frame a question, Aeka asked one of her
own.  "You've known Tenchi-sama since he was a child, correct,

	Experiencing a definite sensation of deja vu, Madoka
nodded.  "Yes...  He really hasn't changed all that
much.  Except..."  Except he had, somehow; his personality was almost
identical, true enough, but there was something beneath that hadn't been
there as a child.  Or perhaps something that she hadn't seen.  She
couldn't articulate precisely what that something was, but, despite his
awkwardness and indecision, he seemed to possess a certain strange sort of
"Well, he's grown," she finished inadequately.

	"I see."

	Madoka blinked at that response, trying in vain to read
emotion in the princess's carefully neutral tone.  "Is... something
wrong?" she ventured, leaning backwards on her hands and turning her head
toward Aeka.  The princess was watching her expressionlessly; looking into
those dark eyes, Madoka suppressed a shiver.  So similar to her own, on
the surface... and yet, so alien.

	"No," Aeka replied at last.  "Not at all.  I think,
Madoka-san, that you are very fortunate to have known him for so long."

	Her answering chuckle sounded weak to her ears, and she
hurried to cover with words.  "You're probably right.  He's a good man."

	"Yes.  He is that."  An awkward silence reigned for a few
moments, until Aeka turned her gaze away.  Half to herself, she
murmured, "I cannot begin to guess what life as a child must have been
like, for him... you..."

	"I suppose a princess doesn't have a very normal childhood, hmm?"

	"A princess has a childhood that is normal for a princess," Aeka
stated matter-of-factly.  Her eyes fixed on one section of sky, as though
she might see Jurai across the unfathomable distance of space which
separated them.

	"I'm sorry."

	"I will not say I had no regrets."  Aeka shook her head
slowly.  "Yet I would not wish to leave my position, if I could."  Not
permanently, at least, she added to herself.  "If I accept that position,
then I must accept the duties which attend
it."  Eventually.  "Although--"  Here, her voice broke slightly.  "I am
pleased that Sasami is here, rather than at court.  I-- She would find
that more difficult than I."

	Madoka frowned in sympathy.  "She does seem happy," she

	"She can have, as you say, a normal childhood, here."  Aeka paused
to consider.  "Well, reasonably normal," she amended.  "It suits her more
than the life of a princess, I fear."

	Suddenly, Madoka smiled.  "That's funny.  Usually, it's the
regular girls who dream about being princesses, not the other way around."

	Aeka chuckled politely.  "Have you dreamt of being a princess?  I
do not mean to offend, but I find that difficult to imagine..."

	"No."  Madoka blushed, adding, "Well... once, I thought I'd met my
'prince.'"  She shook her head ruefully.  "I don't know...  But when I was
young, nobody would have accused me of being princess material."

	That seemed an odd sentiment.  "Whyever not?"

	"I was a bit of a tomboy, I guess," Madoka acknowledged.  She
giggled, adding to herself, "In fact, he thought I was a boy, at
first...  Come to think of it, so did Ten-chan."

	"Tenchi-sama?" Aeka asked, eyeing Madoka with a measuring
gaze.  "Thought -you-...?"

	"Well, I was... younger... and he hadn't met many girls, at that
point.  So I guess..."  She shrugged, and smirked at a fleeting
memory.  "Besides, he wasn't the last to make that mistake."

	"I believe I would find that most distressing."

	"I didn't really care what people thought of me, at the
time.  Most people," she clarified.

	Aeka considered this.  "Perhaps that was the best attitude... at
the time."

	"Maybe."  She cocked her head to one side.  "Maybe not.  I wonder,
sometimes, how my life might have been different."

	"Do you wish that it had been more... ordinary?"

	Madoka thought about Hikaru.  Yusaku.  The Master.  Kyousuke and
his family.  "No," she admitted, smiling again.  "No, but I still wonder."

	"Not even after your experience tonight?"

	Madoka hesitated, shook her head solemnly.

	"Really."  Aeka paused.  "Well.  You seemed rather
discomfitted at the time, though that's only to be expected, naturally."

	Sidestepping that line of inquiry, Madoka changed the
topic.  "What is it like on your world?"

	"Jurai?  It is very similar to the forest in this area," the
princess answered, her eyes turning inward toward memories of lands far
away.  "It is... very beautiful.  I fear I cannot adequately describe it."

	"Similar, hmm?  Maybe some things really are universal."


	"What do you mean, you can't tell us anything?"  Madoka Mano's
voice was cold enough to freeze nitrogen.  Yohko took a meaningful step
toward the amorphous monstrosity.

	"No, no, it's not like that!" the demon hastily
protested.  "Believe me, I'd tell you if I could, but I can't.  I can't do
it, because I don't know!"

	The elder Devil Hunter seemed somewhat mollified by the
explanation.  Ranma, after checking for jagged edges, perched on an
outcropping of vermillion rock, chin in hand.  "Well, this's a waste of

	Curiously, the demon seemed offended.  "Hey, I try, you
know?  Really, I do.  But it's not like any of the big guys ever tell me
anything.  Oh, no; not Bob.  Invasion next week?  Conquering a new
dimension, devouring souls, plundering natural resources?  Bob doesn't
need to know.  We can tell -Bob- just before we leave.  I mean, do you
realize how hard it is to be a terrifying force of evil when you have to
ad-lib everything?"

	"Yeah," said Yohko.  "My heart bleeds."

	"Really?"  Bob perked up.  "Thanks."

	Yohko sighed.  "I was being sarcastic."

	"Oh."  Bob slouched again.  As much as a creature with no
definite arms, legs, or spine could slouch, that is.

	"'Terrifyin' force of evil?'" Ranma asked in disbelief.  "I don't
think this thing could terrify a flea.  So now what?"

	The others ignored him.  "So there are no plans that you know
of?" the old woman asked.

	"No.  Not that that means much."

	"Great, it's whining again.  Let's go," Ranma urged.

	Madoka continued to ignore him.  "Very well.  Away with you,
then," she commanded ritualistically.

	"Don't have to tell me twice," the demon muttered, beginning to
back off.  Then, it hesitated.  "Uh, I don't suppose you'd let me devour
just a little bitty piece of your soul?  It'd really help with the

	"I think not.  Away, if you wish to live!"

	It held up a tentacle in what was probably meant to be a
placating gesture.  "All right, all right... sheesh, humans," Ranma heard
it mutter as it slithered away.

	"That was kinda harsh, wasn't it?" the martial artist asked.

	"It was a demon."  Madoka frowned thoughtfully.  "Despite

	"Anyway, what now?"

	The old woman slowly stretched while Ranma fidgeted.  "Now," she
finally said, "We look for a better source of information.  It seems
that... Bob... is not the best informed."  She turned, took a step
forward, then called back, "Oh, and Ranma?"


	"Impatience is a weakness."

	Ranma muttered something about "damned old ghouls" as the
group forged onward into the Demon World.


	Bob the demon paused in the shade of a bizarre cliff-face, a
towering cylinder of asymmetrical black stone which sprung improbably from
the green sands of this desert region, a safe distance from the red
wastelands where he had encountered the humans.  Here, he finally felt
safe; even extending his senses to their fullest, he felt no sign of the
Devil Hunters or their group.

	Could they hide their traces?  Perhaps.  But they knew he was no
threat to them -- either of the Hunters alone could put an end to him with
ease, and against the entire group, he wouldn't even have time to
scream.  There was no need for them to hide from him.

	Nevertheless, he settled his gelatinous bulk in the sliver of
shadow, and waited a slow count of a thousand, still straining his
senses.  Nothing moved around him save biting particles of sand carried by
the brief, powerful bursts of wind.

	Bob burbled happily as he moved out of the shadow, heading in a
different direction from his original course.  Bob the demon was no threat
to the humans, but he knew an opportunity when he saw one.  Something was
seriously wrong with the human world, wrong enough to distract its
defenders.  Particularly those bothersome Devil Hunters.  Which meant that
the immediate future would be a very good time for a
powerful demon's schemes to become action.  Bob could think of one or two
who might reward him well for that information.

	The best part was, there was no risk.  He wouldn't have to go to
earth at all.  If some other demon failed, then he was no worse off and
probably better, and if that demon succeeded, then he would have a
powerful... well, not ally; hardly that.  But a powerful one who would owe
him a favor.

	Then Bob would show them who got the last laugh...


	"I can't believe how irresponsible my parents are."  Miki
carefully set her tray down, then gratefully collapsed onto the
booth's cushioned bench opposite her friend and confidant.

	"What is it this time?" asked Meiko, dubiously eying the mound of
greasy fast food piled on said try.

	"They all went off on a second honeymoon."

	Meiko hesitantly nibbled a french fry.  Too much salt, as
usual.  "I don't see why that's a problem.  I thought you'd gotten over
the divorce and remarriage months ago."

	"I did.  But, Meiko, they didn't even tell us!  We woke up, went
downstairs, and nobody was there!"

	"Welcome to my life," Meiko muttered.

	"Can you imagine just running off to America overnight and not
even telling anybody?"  Miki heaved a sigh, tossing her hair indignantly
with a flip of her head.  Then her brain caught up to her mouth, leaving
her perplexed.  "Uh?  What?"  She blushed lightly, confessing, "I wasn't

	"Nothing," her friend replied serenely.  With a sly smile, she
added, "So that means you and Yuu are alone...?"

	"M-Meiko," she protested, stuttering and blushing bright red.

	Meiko couldn't help laughing -- which only added to Miki's
discomfort until she added, "The two of you make a wonderful couple.  It's
so... fascinating to watch."

	Miki glared halfheartedly for a moment, but she could never manage
to stay angry for long.  With a mental shrug, she gave in.  "Maybe we
could go on a double date with you and a certain sempai..."

	"Oh, not him!" Meiko protested in mock horror, covering her eyes
with one hand.

	"No?  Maybe Arimi-san would let you borrow Rokutanda-kun,then."

	"That blowhard?  You're supposed to be my -friend-, Miki."  Both
girls laughed.

	"Still," mused Miki when the fit had passed, "I guess we
should take advantage of the chance..."

	Meiko giggled, leaning forward conspiratorially.  "See?  It's not
so bad after all, is it?"

	Miki blinked.  "Is what?"

	Meiko laughed harder, shaking her head.  Trust Miki to have
forgotten what she'd been complaining about.  "Have fun, Miki."  She
winked.  "Enjoy your parents' vacation."

	"Oh, that," she replied, embarrassed yet again.  "Um... I
will... try."  She offered a wan smile, but it quickly grew into a
genuinely happy grin.  "Yeah... I'm sure the next week or two will be a
lot of fun."

	One thing about Miki Koishikawa... when she was wrong, she was
really wrong.