'And the level of water in the air is higher than accepted for this air pressure.'
'Was there a point to this, Cammy?'
'Just making a few observations, that's all.'
Kon jerked a finger at the redhead. 'She an android or something? Because she definitely /talks/ like one...'
Doc sighed. 'Close enough. She's a living mathematical construct.'
Kon blinked. 'Say /what/?'
Adric didn't look up. 'She's built out of mathematics.'
'In a sense, we all are.' Cammy said. 'I make the relationship a little more... direct.'
'And 'cause she's the way she is, she can do all sorts of fun Hourbaby-type things.' Doc added.
Snappy winced. 'Oh, goody. Another Hourbaby.'
'Oh, don't worry. I've got a /lot/ more practice at being human.' Cammy said. 'And no, before you ask, I'm /not/ going to alter history so we don't end up here - time paradoxes are nasty enough as it is.'
Cass /blinked/. 'You can /do/ that?'
Cammy raised an eyebrow. 'Didn't I say I /wasn't/ going to do that?'
'Will you bastiches /shut up/?' Slo-bo snarled. 'I'm tryin' ta see what those Adults're doin', an' I can't with all your yakkin'!'
~What /are/ they doing?~ Suzie asked curiously.
'Lookin' over the ship.' Slo-bo smirked. 'Must be really messin' with their heads...'
'Well, it /is/ sized for us,' Ryoko said.
'Like I was sayin'... Oh, an' they're lookin' at that box of Doc's.'
Doc shrugged. 'The old girl's getting used to it by now.'
'So... assuming these Adults still think we're pirates-'
'We /are/!' Ryoko huffed.
'-they'll probably hang around and try to find us. Meanwhile, we've gotta find the treasure, the camera, /and/ that idiot Ryouga, get the Adults off our ship, and get out of here.' Ukyou finished.
Kon smirked. 'No problem.'
'If we knew where to start.' Ciss pointed out.
Pieces of rock came raining down on them.
'I've got a pebble in my nappy!'
'Ryouga, you IDIOT!' Ukyou yelled.
The Lost Baby blinked, and looked around from the hole in the cave wall he'd made. 'Oh, there you are. Um... do any of you know where the potty is?'
Ukyou facefaulted. 'Give me /strength/...'
'Here you go,' Doc said, handing the potty over from a grinning Nita.
' 'Kay, so we've found /him/. Now what?'
'Now,' Doc said. 'we go treasure hunting.'
The Prince took in the scene.
A deserted ship. The rigging and steering had been designed for people no taller than three feet.
Situated on the deck was a blue box of unknown material - stronger than paper, but more flexible than wood. Almost like card...
Written on it were the words 'Police Box - Don't Keep Out'.
The ship was empty. The box was empty. Anything that had been here had been removed, in admirably quick fashion.
On the beach...
...at least eleven different footprints, no fewer than that. All of them child-sized, if not smaller. A cannonball resting near the top of the beach.
The stench from the cannon's firing made it difficult, if not impossible, to distinguish any other smells.
Further along both ways, the beach became steadily more rocky before it reached the cliffs. From here, it was just possible to make out the cave openings.
Beyond the beach, the landscape became rolling grasslands. Beyond /that/...
...lay the capital.
The guard captain watched him nervously.
'I believe,' the Prince finally said. 'that we did indeed find the Dread Pirate Ryoko, smuggling miracles from Jusenkyo to their agents here. Upon seeing our ships, she panicked, and made for the nearest cliffs, throwing a few miracles in our path to divert us.'
The captain shuddered. The way the Prince said it made it sound so /bloodless/.
But when that lightning storm had blown up out of a clear sky...
'Then, she released a miracle that reduced her and her cohorts to the size of children - giving themselves more places to hide, but at the cost of manoeverability - and went to ground.
'I believe that either she will try to complete her mission... or that she will attempt to cache the miracles for later retrieval.'
The captain inclined his head. 'My Lord.'
'Ready your men to set out.'
The Prince looked out over the beach once more.
'Another hunt,' he murmured. 'At last, another hunt.'
'Ready your men.'
The captain bowed his head, and retreated.
Doc pulled the map out of his nappy, and frowned. 'Hmm... if we come out of the caves /here/, that should place us /here/, and then the treasure is...' He ran his finger over the map. 'right /here/.'
Slo-bo rubbed his hands together. 'Great. Let's get on it.'
'Um, not to be a party pooper or anything,' Ciss said, 'but is this the sorta treasure Adults would want? Y'know, with all those shiny metal discs an' stuff?'
'No,' Doc said, his attention still focused on the map. ' 'Sides, what would we do with it?'
'I can think of a few things...' Slo-bo murmured.
'So, um, they won't be after it too?' Ciss pressed.
'Only if they think it /is/ that type of treasure,' Doc said. 'But I don't think that's what they're hunting for.'
'They're hunting us.' Nita completed.
'Precisely,' Doc said.
Ciss half-smiled. 'If we'd had Bart here, he could've been there an' back in double quick time...'
'I know,' Cass said, patting her on the shoulder. 'I know.'
Doc finally looked up. 'Bart? BartBartBart... Ah, /Impulse/. No, that's still got to be played out.'
'/What's/ still got to be played out?' Kon asked.
'Whether or not he'll come back.' Doc pulled a fob watch out of his nappy and examined it. 'By /now/, he's returned to being a speedcrawler. Whether he'll rejoin you is another matter.'
'How do you know this?' Nita asked. 'All this stuff about us, and what we're doing?'
'The whole Hourbaby type thing.' Snappy guessed. 'You got a look into what's gonna happen to us.'
'Close enough.' Doc said. 'Not a full glimpse - it never is. But enough to give me some inkling of what's going to happen. But then there's the Observer Effect.'
'The what?' Ryoko asked.
'Knowledge of your future affects your actions now - one way or another.' Doc half-smiled. 'Of course, every rule's made to be broken. Especially by us.'
'So what /is/ gonna happen?'
'Ah.' Doc said. 'This /is/ a case when knowing would change things. Not necessarily Bad Things, either - there are some good things coming up, too.'
The Justice Toddlers all turned to look at him.
'Maybe not what you want...' Doc said. 'Or what you're expecting. But yes, some good things.' The half-smile returned to his face. 'And might I say that it's been long overdue.'
'So-' Cass began.
Doc shook his head. 'As I said... it wasn't a full glimpse. There's some important stuff coming up, and I don't know how it's going to be affected.' This time, he broke into a full smile. 'I don't know /my/ own future - I'd either be second-guessing myself, or incredibly, incredibly bored. Either way... it's no fun.'
'But you'd be secure.'
'But the future can be changed.' Doc said. 'All of you know that. /Anything/ could change it. What I saw might no longer even apply. In the end, you're the ones who'll decide what to do.'
Kon considered this. 'Cool.'
~So Robin could come back?~ Suzie asked.
'Could.' Doc said. 'Could. But if he does, he'll be the one to choose.'
~Thank you.~ Suzie said.
Doc inclined his head.
Ryoko blinked a bit. 'Looks like we're nearly there.'
Doc examined the map. 'Hmm... this looks like our stop. Come on!'
They'd come out at the bottom of a hill. A rough trail led up to the hilltop.
'Whoo. Nice view.' Ciss said.
'So, if we get the treasure, how are we gonna get the Adults off Ship?'
Doc shrugged. 'We'll cross that bridge when we get to it.' He frowned. 'What /is/ a bridge, anyway?'
Slo-bo had an anticipatory look on his face.
'Waiting.' Slo-bo said. 'If these guys are /any/ good at tracking, we should be so fraggin' scared, they're ready to come pick us off. 'Course, they don't know who they're comin' after...'
'No...' Nita said slowly. 'They think we're pirates. They /don't/ know who - or what - we are...'
'Expect nothing, anticipate everything.' Doc said absently. '/If/ they're any good at this, they'll be working by that. Let's see... down /this/ side of the hill, then left at the beacon, past the quicksand trap, then look for the small pile of rocks that really doesn't look like anything /but/ a pile of rocks...'
'Quicksand.' Adric said. 'What else should I have expected?'
'Bad Things,' Cammy said, her voice hollow.
Doc's voice was soft and urgent. 'What Bad Things?'
'He - the Bad Man - he /wants/ to invade the other side's country. He always has. If he can capture one of this world's most notorious pirates, and come up with something that places her in the other side's pay...'
'...then he's one step closer to doing it.' Doc completed.
'If he wants it, he'll get it.' Nita whispered.
'Exactly.' Cammy said.
'But that's only /if/ he captures us.' Doc surmised. 'If he /doesn't/-'
'Then there's a chance of stopping it.' Cammy said.
'Great. Even more reason to stay outta sight, right?' Ciss said.
'Unfortunately, no.' Doc said. 'We're here for the treasure, and we can't leave without it.'
'What kind of end would that be to a TV show? Leaving without the treasure, or without defeating the Bad Man? It would /tank/ in the ratings... well, at least as a treasure hunt.'
Ciss looked thoughtful. 'Hm. Gotta point...'
'And given this /is/ advertised as a treasure hunt...' Doc added, 'it's in our interests to give the audience what they want...'
Adric caught the look on Doc's face. 'Oh no. Oh no oh no...'
'Ryouga? If you'd do the honours?'
The small pile of stones exploded in a rain of pebbles.
Fortunately, this time, the toddlers were safely hidden behind an even /bigger/ rock.
Where the pile of stones had been was a small, slightly smoking crater.
And in that crater...
...something poked out, barely breaking the surface.
Kon grinned. 'Great. All I need to do-'
'-is use your TTK...' Cass sighed. 'Let's just get this done, shall we?'
Kon's mouth twitched in a little smile as he toddled over to the crater. 'Aww...
'You might wanna stay behind the rock, though. This could get-'
Once the dust had cleared, the toddlers poked their heads round the rock.
Kon was standing in the middle of a *huge* crater.
And next to him stood...
Cass facefaulted. 'Another cardboard box. /Another/ cardboard box.'
'How on /Jurai/ did it survive /that/?' Ryoko demanded.
'Kon's tactile telekinesis. Gives him - and whatever he touches - invulnerability to physical attacks.' Cass explained. 'We should know - he's gone on about it enough...'
'Not lately, though...' Kon said.
Cass blinked. 'Um, well... there is that...'
'The treasure's in a cardboard box?' Slo-bo demanded.
'As somebody once said - you can find anything in a box.' Doc said.
'Um, could we find somewhere to hide?' Ciss said. ' 'Cause the Bad Man's coming this way.'
'Uh-huh. And where'd we put the box?' Slo-bo asked.
'Leave the box! We found the box...' Ciss paused. 'Hey, this isn't like "Raiders of the Lost Ark", is it? Will it melt the Bad Man's face off if he opens it?'
'Stay behind the rock. I /think/ I have a way we can get out of this...'
Standing at the centre of the crater was another of those boxes... and a child in a green frock coat, with long brown wavy hair, and a beard and moustache that appeared to have been painted on.
The child was resting a cutlass tip first against the ground.
The Prince waved the troop off, and walked forward.
'May I take it that I am addressing an agent of the Dread Pirate Ryoko?'
Shocked murmurs from his men.
The child's eyebrows visibly raised. 'In a /way/...'
The murmuring grew more agitated.
'So...' the Prince murmured. 'And might I take it that she is not willing to come out herself?'
'She is,' the boy answered. 'The choice was made that I would face you.'
No loss of intelligence, the Prince noted. Their bodies had been reduced... but had their capabilities? Either way, there was still an advantage for him.
'It would be foolish of me to expect you to surrender, would it not?'
'But we're still not going to.'
'Wordplay.' the Prince said. 'Wordplay. Swordplay. You have a /reason/ for meeting me, otherwise why are you here?'
'We have a winner...' the boy said. 'Very well. A challenge.'
'I do hope it's not for your freedom...'
The boy shook his head. 'No. If we /lose/, we'll hand over our treasure to you. If we /win/, the treasure will remain hidden... beyond anyone's hope of telling. And the treasure /is/ valuable, isn't it? Better to have us give it up freely, without so much struggle, then to have to wait for it...'
'True enough. But is it valuable enough for us to want it?'
The boy shrugged. 'It can give you anything you ever dreamed of.'
'Your word on that?'
'Then let's begin. To the hurt.'
'To the hurt.'
The guards were never quite clear on what happened next.
The Prince was the best swordsman in the kingdom.
But the boy, for all his age...
...they could swear that he blocked the Prince on a number of occasions. Sometimes even close to pressing an attack.
But each time...
...he let the opportunity slide.
Almost as if he were playing.
Almost as if he didn't /want/ to win.
But that was stupid, right?
Why would he give up the treasure?
They started to eye the box nervously.
...there was an opening.
The boy dropped the sword, rubbing his arm frantically.
Then he looked up at the Prince, and bowed his head.
He led the Prince over to the box.
He opened up the box...
...and looked inside.
And then he turned round.
And on his face was an expression of... of incredible wonder. Of almost inhuman /joy/.
'There,' he said.
The Prince frowned, and beckoned one of the soldiers forward.
The soldier, visibly nervous, came up to the box.
He looked at the Prince's face, swallowed, and looked inside.
Then he pulled out a velvet bag which clinked and chimed.
The Prince nodded.
The fear gone from his face, the soldier pulled the bag open, and spilled out its contents.
Rubies, sapphires, diamond and jade. A ransom in jewels lay in his palm.
'Very well,' the Prince said.
At last. At /last/...
No. No /effort/. This is too easy. There is no surprise in this.
'There /is/ surprise.' the boy said. 'You don't know /which/ dream of yours will be fulfilled. One dream, and one time only.'
'One dream?' the Prince asked.
'One. And /only/ one.'
The Prince walked over to the box.
And looked inside.
The colour drained from his features.
His mouth opened, tried to shape words, but nothing came out, /would/ come out, words too big for a mouth to speak.
-came the blackness-
The guards were never clear on exactly what happened next.
One moment, they'd been ready to leap to the Prince's defence-
-then someone had yelled 'FRAG THE BASTICHES!!'-
-and then, a few moments later, they'd found themselves trussed like chickens.
They weren't clear on what had happened.
They were very, /very/ clear on that point.
Although it was noticed that they twitched whenever someone mentioned the word 'dribble'.
'Well, that went well...' Doc commented.
'Depends where you're standing!' Kon huffed, from under the box's weight.
'What /happened/ to him?' Cass asked. 'What happened to /you/?!'
'It went like I told him. The box would fulfill one of his dreams. But not all dreams are /nice/...' Doc said.
~What about your dream?~ Suzie wondered.
Doc's smile was sad. 'The things I dream of, it can only show me in my mind. So were the things /he/ dreamed of.'
'Will he ... y'know, wake up?' Ciss wondered.
'Oh, he will. A mind like his /will/ recover. Very much in touch with his inner child.'
'Huh?' Cass said.
'Who said inner children were nice?' Cammy said rhetorically. 'We of /all/ people should know that... although he may have one or two memory lapses.'
Doc shot a look at her. 'You went poking around in his memory, didn't you?'
'You might think that. I couldn't possibly comment.'
The toddlers skidded to a halt at the top of the beach.
Ryoko craned to see. 'Adults. Still on the boat.'
Doc tapped his chin. 'Hmm...'
A few minutes later...
The guards left on watch turned around.
Standing behind them was a little girl with sandy brown hair and wide blue eyes.
She was also made entirely out of smoke.
The guards started backing away.
The little girl blinked, and disappeared.
The guards breathed a sigh of relief.
The little girl was now standing behind them.
They span round, and started backing away again.
The girl sighed, and disappeared.
Carefully - very, /very/ carefully - the guards looked over their shoulders.
She wasn't there.
They turned back-
-and looked into the face of a demon.
Ryoko raised an eyebrow. 'Now /that's/ efficiency.'
With a little push from Kon and Ryoko, they managed to push the ship off the beach.
Minutes later, they were at sea.
'Five minutes.' Ryouga said.
'Two.' Ukyou said.
'Four.' Ryoko said.
Doc sat back and watched them at the rail.
~What are they waiting for?~
'They're guessing how long it'll take before they finally catch up with us. Winner gets an extra bowl of ice cream.'
~Oh.~ Suzie said. ~Um, Doc?~
~Why didn't we take your box back?~
'We will.' Doc said. 'However, for all the old girl can do, she can't take an entire ship with her... and I wanted to bring the ship along with us.'
'Because Ryoko would wedgie us if we didn't. The TV station's her pride and joy.'
~/Ohhhh..../~ Suzie said in understanding.
'And because the Adults are freaked enough as it is. Learning we lost the ship...' Doc trailed off. 'Anyway, once we reach the nexus point, Washu - Ryoko's mother, but /don't/ talk about it to Ryoko - will be able to pull us back to the original nexus point. Trouble is, she can only do that /at/ a nexus point... she's still working out all the bugs in the system at the moment...'
'YEEEEEESSSS!!!!' Ukyou yelled.
~We're being followed.~ Suzie said.
'That, and Ukyou just won the ice cream.' Doc peered into the distance. 'Yes... /definitely/ got the ships coming after us...'
~How long until we reach the nexus point?~
'That's the trouble. All these waves look alike to me...'
'Oh, we'll know when we've reached it.'
'It'll be about the time the first cannonball misses.'
/All/ of the toddlers turned to look at him, eyes wide.
Doc pulled out his fob watch. 'Which should be in 10... 9... 8... 7... 6... 5... 4... 3... 2... 1...'
The others continued to stare at Doc.
Doc tapped the watch. 'Hm, maybe I miscalculated-'
The ships - and the cannonball - disappeared.
And the sky overhead changed from clear sky-
'There we go,' Doc said. 'Simple narrative physics.'
'/SIMPLE?/' Ryouga echoed.
'I think I need the potty...' Adric groaned.
Doc snapped his watch shut. 'Now, let's see about getting everybody back...'
With a wheezing, groaning sound, a blue cardboard box materialised in the nursery.
A smoky head poked itself out of a flap. ~We're back.~
The flap opened, and a small horde of toddlers poured out.
Once everyone was out, Doc sat for a moment, thinking.
Then he turned the box upside down, reached inside, and pulled the treasure box out.
The others managed to control their boggles.
'I swear, this gets harder every year...' Doc murmured.
'EVERY YEAR?!' the others squawked.
Doc nodded. 'Oh yes. You see, every year, the Supervisor hides our New Year's presents somewhere in space-time-'
'Wait...' Kon said. 'New /Year's/ presents?'
'Santa refuses to come round any more after that... incident... some years back.' Ryoko explained. 'Something involving a psychotic, homicidal rabbit.'
'Oh,' the others said blankly.
'So the Supervisor went out and got us presents for the next major holiday - which was New Year's Day.'
'That makes sense... sort of.' Cass said doubtfully.
'Yeah, yeah. What about the treasure?'
'Take a look.' Doc said.
Slo-bo reached inside-
-and pulled out a plastic hook, attached to a very, *very* long chain.
Slo-bo grinned. 'Oh yeah. I've been /missing/ this. Welcome back.'
Nita shuddered, and reached inside.
Her eyes widened when she saw what she'd pulled out.
'A Wendy the Werewolf Stalker poster. Signed by the cast. You /lucky/ thing.' Cass said.
'Why don't you see what you get?' Doc suggested.
One by one, they reached into the treasure box.
Cass got "My First Book of Greek Myth". As told by the participants.
Snappy got a T-shirt with an everchanging superhero logo.
Ukyou got a book on Japanese battle cookery.
Off their looks, she said 'What? It /can't/ be worse than what /Akane/ calls food...'
Kon raised his eyebrows, and pulled out a mini multi-format Walkman.
He boggled *just* a bit at that one.
Ciss winced as she reached in, and pulled out...
...'A /chemistry/ set?' Cass said.
Ciss looked abashed. 'Actually, I was hoping for anything that /wasn't/ archery related...'
As she read the back cover, her eyes widened.
Ryoko rummaged around, and pulled out a Tenchi plushie and a bag of chocolate coins.
'At least I can hang on to /this/...' she said, as an aside.
Adric pulled out an electric calculator, which he started playing with happily.
Ryouga got a compass.
Which started spinning wildly when he picked it up.
'Oh yeah. Not even /compasses/ can help...'
Cammy looked inside, smiled-
'She'll be okay.' Doc said, off the others' looks. 'There's just somewhere she really, really wants to go.'
Cass tried to imagine where a living mathematical construct would want to go, and failed miserably.
Until, finally, only Suzie was left.
~I know. But it can't give me what I dream about.~
'No...?' Doc said. 'Are you so sure about that, Secret?'
Suzie turned at his use of her codename.
'It can't give you him. Even if it /did/, you wouldn't accept it... right?'
'But he isn't the sum and total of your dream. He never has been.'
Suzie looked at Doc for a long while.
'There were other dreams. Older dreams. Dreams you never hoped to believe would happen.
'But they came true.
'Suzie... I promise.
'You will have this dream.'
Suzie finally looked up.
Looked around at the others.
They watched her, not daring to speak, not even to breathe.
Then Suxie looked back at Doc.
His expression was unreadable.
Then she nodded.
She turned back to the box.
And looked inside.
The Prince sighed.
They'd lost the pirates twice - first on the island, when they'd managed to slip past his guards, and then at sea, where they'd slipped away faster than the Prince's ships could follow.
He should have realised they'd have illusion miracles.
Still, there would be another day, another hunt.
There would always be another hunt.
But for some reason, the idea no longer seemed to excite him as it had. It seemed... somehow empty. Hunting the pirates, hunting his runaway bride... empty. Hollow. Emotionless.
He briefly wondered why, when it was that he'd stopped thinking like this.
He hadn't pinned it down, not yet.
Still, it would come back to him.
The Prince shook his head, and looked back out to sea.
But for some reason, the knowledge that Jusenkyo was out there... it no longer thrilled him, excited him with the thought of conquest. Of war, of final victory.
Which was foolish.
He'd always won, hadn't he? Why would he stop wanting to win?
He was Ranma Saotome, and he had always wanted to win.
Would always be /able/ to win.
He shivered, then.
For once in his life, there was no answer.
Nothing but the emptiness inside.
And he didn't know why.
Author notes: Thanks to Mags L Halliday (on alt.drwho.creative), and PallaPlease (on the YJFF mailing list) for inspiring parts of this fic. Heads-up to Damien Kellis's 'Ghost Ship' (on the SCML).
Disclaimer: Doctor Who belongs to the BBC. The characters belong to: The BBC (Doctor Who - Doc, Adric, and Cammy.) DC Comics (Young Justice - Cass, Ciss, Kon, Slo-bo, Nita, Snappy, and Suzie, aka Wonder Girl, Arrowette, Superboy, Slo-bo, Empress, Snapper Carr, and Secret.) Rumiko Takahashi (Ranma 1/2 - Ukyou, Ryouga and Ranma.) AIC/Pioneer (Tenchi Muyo! - Ryoko.)
Copyright 2001 Imran Inayat