Here's the third installment of 'Halftime'. I still wouldn't advise starting to read the thing here, but it will, admittedly, make a little more sense than starting at, say Chapter 17.

Halftime

By Aaron Ziegler
spanner@visi.com

Chapter 3: Time Change

"Excuse me, sir, but do you speak my language?"

Ryoga turned his head in surprise. Ryoga was a youth used to travel. Such was indicated by his clothes: sturdy boots, rugged yellow shirt, and a well-stocked backpack. Strapped to the top of his backpack was a bamboo umbrella, indicating Ryoga's readiness for any kind of weather (though few realized at first that the umbrella was also Ryoga's primary weapon in combat). Completing the wanderer's attire was a yellow and black striped bandana (which few realized was Ryoga's secondary weapon in combat), tied around his black-haired head. A youth used to travel, and also (to his anguish) to solitude. This was the first voice he had heard for two days. After he, in the shape of Akane's little pet P-Chan, had leapt from Akane's arms, his only thought had been to find hot water, and to get back in time to protect her from whatever evil had been represented by that silver object in the sky. He had found the water, and one of his many caches of clothes, but he had been totally unable to find his way back to Akane. After once again cursing his poor sense of direction, he had begun his journey to find his way back. Ranma had better be able to protect Akane, Ryoga thought fiercely, or else he'll rue the day he was born!

Ryoga's mind returned to the present. The person addressing him was a tall, pretty, young woman, perhaps slightly younger than himself. She had short, blue hair, large, steady, green eyes, and was dressed in ill-fitting Chinese clothes. She looked rather desperate, in spite of her calm tone. "Er, yes?" Ryoga replied.

"Oh, wonderful!" the woman exclaimed, her voice wavering slightly from it's calmness, "I was hoping that there would be someone else who did! Can you help me? I seem to be lost."

The irony of this statement caught Ryoga totally off guard, and he was unable to suppress a short laugh, exposing for a moment his slightly elongated canines. The woman looked slightly miffed. "There is no need to laugh, sir."

"I'm sorry," Ryoga apologized. "It's just that I'm the last person to be asking directions from."

"Oh, so you are lost as well?" she asked, a sympathetic look on her face. "Perhaps we should travel together, until we can discover where we are."

Ryoga shrugged, and warned, "I travel fast..."

"I believe that I can keep up," answered the woman, confidently.

Ryoga held out his hand, and said, "My name's Ryoga Hibiki."

The woman shook the proffered hand, and answered, "My name is Robo."

The two of them began walking together, Robo's long legs easily keeping pace with Ryoga's rapid steps. "Robo, huh?" said Ryoga, "That's an interesting name. What's your last name?"

Robo shook her head, "Just Robo. I have no last name. However, I have also been called Prometheus, as well as R66-Y."

Ryoga raised an eyebrow at the odd array of names. Robo changed the subject, "By the way, could you tell me what year it is?"

The young woman was full of surprises. Ryoga replied "1995."

"Ah, excellent," beamed Robo. "Are you familiar with Geno Dome? That is my place of origin."

Ryoga thought a moment. He had traveled extensively, but could not remember anyplace by that name. He shook his head.

"Well, then, have you heard of Proto Dome?" Again, the answer was no. "Arris Dome?" Nope. "Well, someone should know. All of those cities were in place by 1995."

A strange comment. Ryoga decided to see if she knew of his destination. "Are any of those places near Nerima?" he asked.

Robo concentrated a moment. "I don't recall having heard of a dome called 'Nerima'. But then, my memory isn't what it used to be."

"What do you mean?" asked Ryoga. "Do you have amnesia?"

Robo sighed, "Perhaps I should explain. You see, I am not what I appear to be."

A chill rolled up and down Ryoga's spine. "Jusenkyo?" he whispered.

Robo looked at him, surprised. "You have heard of it?"

"I've...been there," admitted Ryoga. Then, excitedly, he asked, "Where is it? I need to get back there."

Robo shook her head, sorrowfully. "I'm sorry, I wasn't paying any attention when I was running. That's why I'm lost."

Disappointed, Ryoga asked her to tell him her story. "Well, it will be rather hard to believe..." she said. Ryoga shrugged, and urged her to continue. "Well, I am a time-traveler. I come from the year 2300. I was walking with my companion Atropos, when a time Gate suddenly appeared in front of me. I started to fall in, and Atropos grabbed me, but she could not keep her grip. The other end of the Gate opened, and I found myself in mid air above a pool with bamboo poles sticking out of it. I splashed into it, and crawled out in the shape that you now see. I looked up, but the gate had closed already, giving Atropos no chance to follow me. In retrospect, I suppose that that was for the best. I would not want to doom her to my fate. At any rate, after I had noticed that the gate was gone, I heard a voice talking to me. I looked up to see a man, dressed much like I am now. He mumbled something about the Jusenkyo curse, and a tragic drowned girl. He offered me some clothes, and I took them without thinking. Only then did I look at myself and fully realize what had happened to me." She looked embarrassed. "I am afraid that I must have panicked, because I just started running. When I finally stopped, I was nowhere near Jusenkyo, and I had no idea how to get back. Finally, I had calmed down enough to realize that I was in a strange land, and in a strange body, and that I did not have any clothes on."

Ryoga was confused. "Huh? Didn't you have any clothes on before you fell in?"

Robo threw him an odd glance. "Of course not! Why would I?"

This answer baffled Ryoga even more. "Don't people wear clothes in 2300?"

"Of course! But I, naturally, did not."

This exchange, plus the fact that Robo produced all of her statements in the same calm tone of voice, led Ryoga to wonder if he was walking with some kind of pervert. Robo continued with her story, "As I was saying, I was lost in a strange land, so I put on the clothes that the man at Jusenkyo had given me, and started walking. The fact that I could not remember where I had been was really bothering me. In my old body, I had a perfect memory, and I rarely became lost. I did discover that I was still nearly as strong as before." She demonstrated by walking up to a nearby boulder and punching it hard with her fist. There was a dull thud and the rock shuddered. A lattice of hairline cracks appeared around the point of impact.

Ryoga was impressed. He walked up to the same boulder, chose a side that was still unmarked, and gave it a punch of his own. Again the rock shuddered, and another lattice of cracks appeared, perhaps slightly larger than the ones produced by Robo. "I see that you are strong as well," she noted. "Anyway, I kept walking until I came to a town. I tried to communicate, but everyone there was speaking a strange language. So, I kept traveling until I met you."

Ryoga nodded. "That is a strange story, but not unbelievable."

"So, why are you lost?" asked Robo.

"Well, I was in Nerima when I saw this silver streak in the sky-"

"What?!" interrupted Robo, definitely losing her calm tone. She grabbed Ryoga's shoulders. "Did you say silver streak? Did it appear out of nowhere, and fly away at great speed? With the sound of a thunderclap?"

Ryoga nodded, shaken, and more than a little uncomfortable in Robo's iron grip, "Please let go of me." Somewhat sheepishly, Robo did so. "Why? What do you know of this streak?"

"It is my friends!" exclaimed Robo happily. "You have just described their time machine. I am definitely coming with you now! I have to get to Nerima."

Rubbing his shoulders, Ryoga continued, "Well, when I saw the streak, I tried to run to Akane, the woman that I love. I thought that she might be in danger." He looked at Robo imploringly.

Robo caught his meaning. "Do not worry. My friends would not hurt your friends. At least, as long as your friends did not attack them first." Robo suddenly got a wistful look. "I understand your desire to aid the one that you love. I have only recently had much experience with the emotion called love. I think that I love Atropos. I do wish that I could see her again. What force prevented you from reaching your loved one?"

Ryoga looked uncomfortable. "I got lost." Robo looked at him, questioningly. Defensively, Ryoga added, "I get lost very easily. I continued walking, and eventually I found myself here. I think that we're in China."

Robo nodded. Then she looked frustrated. "If only we had a map, or something!"

"Wait, I have a map," said Ryoga, pulling off his backpack.

"Why have you not been using it?" asked Robo, incredulously.

"They don't usually help me much," answered Ryoga, pulling out the map. He opened it and started to study it intently.

"I think that I can see why," said Robo, gently turning the map right-side up. She looked over Ryoga's shoulder. "So that is China? It is a big place, and I do not recognize this part of the world. Jusenkyo is not on the map? Too bad."

"Here's Nerima," said Ryoga, jabbing at a part of Japan. "That's funny. I don't remember crossing a large body of water. Oh, well, not the first time that's happened."

"You really do get lost easily," noted Robo with an awed expression. Then she took on a serious cast. "Like I said, China is a big place, so we need to figure out where we are, and which way is north. So we will keep following this road until we find a town, and hopefully, someone there will speak our language."

"Actually," said Ryoga, "I do know a little bit of Chinese. It's not much, but it might be enough to get us oriented. One tends to learn a little of a lot of languages when one travels as much as I."

The two traveled onward in silence for a while. Suddenly a thought occurred to Ryoga. "Do you know how to change back to your normal form?"

Robo stopped dead in her tracks. "You know a cure for this curse?" she asked with a hopeful look.

"Only a temporary one," replied Ryoga. "The way that the curses work is that you change into your cursed form when splashed with cold water, and your regular form when splashed with hot water."

"Really?" said Robo, looking somewhat disappointed. Then she brightened, "Still, it is better than staying stuck in this body. How hot and how cold does the water have to be, exactly?"

"I don't really think that anyone knows for sure. It has to be fairly warm, though, to be considered hot water."

"How do you know so much about the Jusenkyo curse, Ryoga?" asked Robo suddenly.

"Er, I know a lot of people with curses," Ryoga answered.

Robo gave Ryoga a long glance. Then she asked, "Do you have any hot water with you?"

"Actually, I do," said Ryoga, once more removing his backpack. He lifted out a thermos, being careful to cover the tiny pig tooth marks on the cap with his hand. He unscrewed the cap and handed the thermos to Robo.

"Wonderful!" she said. Then she walked behind some bushes.

"What are you doing?" asked Ryoga.

"I am removing these clothes, Ryoga" Robo answered.

Ryoga's eyes widened. "Er, are you sure that that's necessary?"

Robo gave no response. Moments later, a new voice was heard, "That is much better." The voice was male, but it had an odd, tinny sound to it. Then Robo stepped out from behind the bushes. Instead of a naked man, Ryoga was surprised to see a bulky mechanical man. Robo's body had a barrel shape and seemed to be made of some brass-coloured metal. He had short, stocky legs, and thin arms, one of which was holding the clothes Robo had been wearing. His head was a neckless hemisphere, with two glowing eyes of the same green shade Robo had possessed as a girl, and a large mouth. There was some sort of cylinder mounted horizontally on his back.

The robot stretched. The metal skin of his torso split into two sections, and slid apart with a pneumatic hiss, revealing a small, glowing green sphere surrounded by circuitry, gears, and other bits of Robo's internal workings. Having vented the excess steam, Robo closed his shell again and observed the shocked look on Ryoga's face. "What is the matter?" he asked.

"Y-you're a machine!" Ryoga accused.

The robot seemed puzzled. "Well, yes, of course. Did you not know?" Robo thought for a moment. "It seems not. Memory banks, though erratic for the period of time spent as a human, indicate that the actual nature of my true form never came up. I apologize, friend Ryoga, for any discomfort I have caused you."

Ryoga, recovering from the initial shock, realized that many of the things Robo had said now made sense. His other names, his claim not to wear clothes, his perfect memory... He looked at Robo in wonder. "I didn't know that Jusenkyo changed machines," he admitted.

"Doubtless, it does not change most machines. But unlike most machines, I am alive. The magic of Jusenkyo probably affects all living things, rather than just organic life forms."

"Alive?" Ryoga asked, doubtfully.

"I am an artificial intelligence, and I am no less and no more alive than you, or anyone else." Robo seemed somewhat miffed at Ryoga's doubtful expression.

"I suppose," conceded Ryoga.

Robo thought carefully for a moment. "My internal compass indicates that north is...that way!" Robo pointed north. "That means that we should go east, in order to reach the coast." Robo triumphantly pointed east.

"Great!" exclaimed Ryoga, and promptly started off in a southwesterly direction.

"Er, where are you going, Ryoga?" asked Robo.

"East," Ryoga responded.

"But east is that way," corrected Robo, pointing again.

"Er, of course," said Ryoga, and headed north.

Robo sighed, "Ryoga, perhaps you should follow me."

Ryoga once again cursed his poor sense of direction, and followed Robo.

Robo, in both forms

Afterword:

What kind of a crossover would it be without cursing one of the guests, hmmm? And if you say 'a decent one', I'll give you a virtual slap.

Regarding Cologne's age, I really have no idea exactly how old she is. For the purposes of this story, I've set her age at about 400 years.

Chrono Trigger Tip #3:

What's the best way to distribute Magic, Power, and Speed Tabs?

It depends on several factors, the main of which is, of course, how Mindlessly Obsessive you are. If you intend to play through the game just once, then the answer is simple. Distribute all of the Magic Tabs to Lucca, Marle, and Magus, and all of the Power Tabs to the rest. You'll be augmenting the abilities that they already excel at, making them able to kick butt and take names. Give the Speed Tabs to the slow characters, like Robo and Magus.

Now, as you may have discovered, once you win, you are given the option to play through a second time--except with all of the characters possessing the strength, experience, items, and weapons from the previous game. This is your opportunity to see all of the various endings that you can get by beating Lavos at various stages of the game. If you intend to play through just a second time and then quit, then you probably still want to distribute Tabs as I've suggested above.

However, for the truly obsessive, for those who are willing to play through the game half a dozen times or more, just to get all of the characters up to level 99, and equip them all with Prism Helms, Prism Dresses, and such, Tab distribution is almost totally reversed. Give all the Power Tabs to Lucca and Marle. Those two are really poor physical fighters, great as they are with Magic, and can use the boost. Give the Magic Tabs to Robo and Ayla, despite the fact that neither uses magic. Hey, it doesn't have to make sense, so long as it maxes out their stats! If that's just too much for you, give 'em to Frog and Crono, you wimp. As for Speed Tabs, give them to whoever is slowest--except for Robo. Under no circumstances give Speed Tabs to Robo. Each time through the game, Robo will get a Ribbon from Atropos after beating her, and the Ribbon gives him three Speed points all by itself. Robo'll be up to the max speed of sixteen in no time at all. Only if you heed this advice will you follow the One True Path to Mindless Obsession.

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