Well, no point in having an introduction if I don't actually have anything to say. I mean, after all, I already put warnings in the second and third chapters regarding the foolishness of starting this story anywhere but at the beginning, and the one-line introduction to the fourth chapter was just dumb. After all, why say anything at all if there's nothing to say? If there's nothing to put here at the beginning, then there's no reason to put anything at all, so I might as well just leave it blank, and get started with the chapter already.

I'll shut up, now.

Halftime

By Aaron Ziegler
spanner@visi.com

Chapter 5: Time Flies

"Hooray! It's fixed!" exclaimed Lucca, shutting a panel on the Epoch with a flourish.

"Really?" asked Nabiki. "Your jet works now?"

"Yep!" the young inventor grinned. "All I gotta do now is test it! I'm gonna go get the others!" Lucca began to run toward the house. Then she stopped and turned to Nabiki again. "Oh, and thank-you Nabiki! I never could have finished this fast without your help! And you didn't even charge me for it!"

"No problem at all, Lucca," Nabiki answered cheerfully. Lucca smiled and ran into the house. 'No problem indeed,' thought Nabiki. 'Now's my chance. After all the work I put into helping Lucca fix this thing, I'm pretty sure I can get it to work. Fame and fortune, here I come!'

Nabiki climbed into the Epoch and glanced at the controls in front of her. 'Hmm, there are more dials and gauges than I thought there were. This one's altitude...this one's the date...aha! The destination dial. Lessee, five years into the future should give me a good idea where to invest.' She turned the dial to the appropriate setting, and reached for the ignition switch.

Suddenly, Lucca, Marle, Crono, and Frog emerged from the house, followed by Ranma and Akane. Not wanting to be caught, Nabiki scrambled into the back, where she hid herself behind the two rear seats.

"So that's our plan," said Lucca. "We'll leave Frog here with you for now, and Marle, Crono, and I will try to return to our own time. Maybe whatever brought us here will take us back, too. If it works, we'll return for Frog. Besides, I'll want to see Mousse again. He's so dreamy..." Lucca stared dreamily off into space. Ranma began to pantomime gagging, so Akane kicked him, none too gently. Lucca's mind returned to earth, and she said, "Let's go. The sooner we leave, the sooner we can get back."

The three of them loaded into the Epoch. 'Uh, oh,' thought Nabiki, still not making a sound. Lucca turned the ignition. The Epoch spread its wings, and rose rapidly into the air.

"Alright, next stop, 1000 A.D." said Lucca, turning the dial. She apparently didn't notice that the dial had already been tampered with. "Let's go!" She punched the time travel button, and the Epoch began accelerating rapidly. The surface of the planet scrolled by beneath them faster and faster, until there was a bright flash.

When the bright light faded, the Epoch automatically slowed to a halt. Outside, the scene had changed dramatically. Where there had recently been blue sky and clouds, there was now a bizarre swirl of colors. Streaks of varying shades of blue and black wove into and out of each other in a meaningless but mesmerizing procession.

"Hey, this looks like the End of Time," exclaimed Marle.

Lucca frowned. "It certainly does. But Gaspar and his little way station aren't here, so it can't be our End of Time. What happened?"

"I dunno. You sure you got the Epoch fixed?"

"Of course. Maybe we should try it again." Lucca made sure that the destination dial was set for 1000 A.D., and started the Epoch again. Again the acceleration, flash, and deceleration. When their vision cleared, the scene had not changed.

"This is most odd," said Lucca. "Let's see if we can get back." She adjusted the dial to 1995 A.D., and tried again. Still, they were at the End of Time.

Worried, Crono asked her what the problem might be. "I'm not sure. For some reason, we keep getting drawn to the End of Time. As far as I know, there are really only two reasons that that could be happening. It could be that there's something stuck in the destination circuits of the Epoch, but I find that unlikely. I think I would have noticed while I was making my repairs."

"What's the other reason?" asked Marle.

"Well, you remember when we first picked up Robo and walked through the Gate in Proto Dome?" The two nodded. "Gaspar explained that trying to travel through time in groups of more than three strains the space-time continuum, forcing the travelers to the End of Time. My guess...is that we have a stowaway."

As one, the three of them turned around and stared into the back. Nabiki sat up and looked sheepishly back at them. "Hi," she said cheerfully.

"Nabiki!" Lucca exclaimed. "What are you doing here?"

Marle's eyes narrowed. "You knew, didn't you? How did you find out? What were you going to do with the Epoch?"

Nabiki feigned innocence. "What? That this is a time machine? Of course not! And I wasn't going to do anything with it. I was just...er," the wheels in her mind raced to think of an excuse, "I was just...looking for one of my earrings, and then I...fell asleep," she finished lamely. Inwardly, she cringed. 'That was the worst excuse I've ever heard,' she thought, 'what's wrong with me today?'

"You fell asleep," repeated Marle slowly.

Nabiki belated turned to honesty to try to escape this predicament in one piece. "Okay, I admit it. I found out you had a time machine a long time ago. I was just gonna use it to check up on the stock market a few years down the line! I mean, that couldn't possibly hurt! I would have had your machine back in no time."

Lucca looked heartbroken. "You mean all this time you were helping me just so you could learn to fly the Epoch?" Lucca lowered her head. "And I thought it was because you liked my company."

Nabiki felt like a real heel. "Look, Lucca, I'm sorry! I didn't want to hurt anyone, honest! You're a great person. I had fun helping you, even if I was doing it for an ulterior motive. You taught me more about electronics and engineering than I would have learned in a year of classes!" With a small jolt of surprise, Nabiki realized that she was telling the truth. She had enjoyed working with Lucca, even if underlying that enjoyment was a strong current of greed. But then, nearly everything in her life had that underlying current.

Lucca brightened. "Really?"

"Really."

Crono cleared his throat, and mentioned that, touching as this scene was, they still needed to work out some way to get back. "Well, that's simple," said Lucca. "We just need to leave someone here for now."

Everyone jerked with surprise. "What?" said Nabiki. "Leave someone out there?" She looked at the swirling, and not particularly hospitable-looking, colors that composed the world around them.

"I elect Nabiki," said Marle, less easy to forgive and forget than Lucca.

"Hey!" Nabiki answered angrily. Then her face softened, "Well, this is all my fault. But how will I survive out there?"

"Hang on!" said Lucca. "First of all, survival will be no problem. In the time that I spent with Gaspar, I learned a lot about the nature of the End of Time. That stuff out there is raw possibility. It is extremely sensitive to coherent thought processes. So basically, when you're standing outside, you can still breathe, as the stuff responds to your body's basic desire to live, and by the same token, you never get hungry. Time here is totally dependent on the occupant, so even though time will pass for you, you won't really age. At least, I think that's how it works. Gaspar was truly brilliant, and much of what he said was beyond me. With practice, he was able to make the End of Time respond to his will, and that's how he was able to construct his way station. But since no one here has had any practice with that, the greatest threat will be boredom. Which brings me to my next point. Who should remain?"

"Really, I will," insisted Nabiki. "I owe you for what I did to you, and if there's one thing that I hate it's an unpaid debt."

"I appreciate your sincerity, Nabiki," smiled Lucca, "but it just doesn't make sense for you to stay. We should get you back to your own time first, so that we can come back without you and finish what we originally intended to try. I can't stay, because I need to stay with the Epoch, just in case anything goes wrong." She turned to Marle and Crono. "So it has to be one of you."

Crono immediately volunteered. "No, I'll stay," argued Marle. Crono smugly responded that he had volunteered first. Marle sighed, "Oh, all right. But be careful, Crono! I don't want to lose you again." Crono laughed, and asked Marle what could possibly happen to him out there.

Lucca opened the cockpit, and Crono climbed out. With surprise, he noted that it felt like he was standing on a surface. Lucca shrugged and answered, "Why not?" Crono shrugged as well, and walked a good distance away so that they could take off.

Nabiki settled into Crono's vacated seat, and tried to ignore the cold stare Marle was giving her. Lucca adjusted the destination dial, and soon the Epoch was underway. Nabiki looked out the window to see Crono waving a farewell. She tried to ignore the cold lump of guilt she felt in her stomach. Why was this bothering her so? She had tricked people before. But this time, she had deliberately deceived...a friend? It dawned on her. She considered Lucca a friend. She had cultivated her friendship, and then betrayed it for money. And now, one of her friend's best friends was paying the price for her treachery. Nabiki sighed. People with her tendencies generally had few good friends, and tended to lose the ones that they had. And for good reason. 'Well, not this time,' Nabiki resolved. 'I will not betray Lucca again, and I will try to make amends for what I have done. Sheesh, how corny,' she thought. 'But I mean it.' The lump of guilt slowly faded, and was replaced by determination.

The familiar flash of light appeared, and the Epoch slowed to a halt. Nabiki and the others stared out of the cockpit. They could see a blackened, charred landscape. There were huge crater marks as far as the eye could see. What buildings they could see were mere shells, devoid of life. "This isn't Nerima," stated Nabiki tonelessly.

"No," whispered Lucca hoarsely. "Not again. Not here."

"It's Lavos, isn't it," asked a wide-eyed Marle. "But how? We killed it!"

"No, no, no," said Lucca absently, eyes still fixed on the landscape before them. "We killed ONE Lavos. But that Lavos came from somewhere else. It would seem obvious that there would have to be others of its kind."

Their panic was beginning to spread to Nabiki. "What are you saying? What's a Lavos? And WHERE IS NERIMA?"

Lucca turned a haunted look on her. "Nabiki, a Lavos is a member of a race of interstellar parasites who burrow into a planet and lay dormant until an intelligent race evolves. While it waits, it studies the other evolving life-forms of the planet, selecting samples of DNA from the most vigorous and viable life-forms, and modifying its own DNA accordingly. Once it feels that it has evolved itself enough, it emerges from its resting place, wipes out most of the life on the planet, and begins to spawn. These spawn are launched into space, where each finds a new planet to inhabit. Basically, this IS Nerima. Your planet has been destroyed by Lavos."

Nabiki paled. "Now? All this happened while we were gone?"

"She's right, Lucca," said Marle. "There's no way Lavos could have done all this already. We've only been gone a half hour or so. What does the clock say?"

Lucca glanced at the chronometer. It was off. She tapped it a few times, and it flickered but remained off. "That's odd. It seems to be busted." She looked at the destination dial. "But according to the dial, we should be in 1995 A.D."

Abruptly, the Epoch lurched. Smoke began to rise from the control panel. "Er, I think something's wrong," said Lucca. "I'm gonna set down for repairs." Marle and Nabiki put up no argument. There was another lurch, and the engines cut off. "Uh, oh," said Lucca. The Epoch began to fall. Lucca, sweating profusely, began to poke at various controls. There was no response. "Brace yourselves people," said a pale Lucca. "I think this is going to hurt. A lot." Marle and Nabiki began to scream. Lucca pounded the controls in frustration. Then, blue electricity crackled across the control panel, and the engines turned on again.

But it was too little, too late. The Epoch slammed into the ground, its fall softened only slightly by the engines. A few minutes later, Lucca came to. She was conscious of a sharp pain in her shoulder. Probably broken, she thought. She felt moisture on her chin, and wiped it with her hand. Blood, she noted. She had bitten her tongue badly, and was bleeding from her mouth. She spat out some of the blood, and carefully turned in her seat, hissing with pain as her shoulder protested. Marle and Nabiki were both alive, but unconscious. On Nabiki's side, the Epoch's hull had collapsed inward, and in doing so had bent Nabiki's left leg to a very uncomfortable looking angle. She also was bleeding from a cut on her head. Marle had suffered the least. Her only apparent injury was a huge developing bruise on her right arm, where she must have smashed it into the side of the Epoch.

"Marle!" Lucca rasped, spitting out more blood. "Wake up!" Reaching gingerly with her good arm, she shook Marle slightly.

Marle groaned and started to sit up. Then she gasped with pain, and clutched her bruised arm. She opened her eyes, and whispered, "We're alive?"

"Yeah," answered Lucca. "Barely."

"And Nabiki?" she looked at the unconscious girl beside her, and her eyes widened at the twisted leg. "Ouch. That's gotta hurt."

"We could use a little Cure action, Marle," said Lucca. "I don't think Aura is gonna cut it this time."

Marle nodded. Suddenly, Nabiki came to. "Oh, my head," she said. "Did we make it?"

"Just relax, Beeky," said Lucca soothingly.

"Huh?" Nabiki opened her eyes and looked at her leg. "You know," she said in a conversational tone bordering on hysteria, "I am really, really glad that my leg fell asleep. I'd hate to know what that feels like."

"Cure," said Marle. The air sparkled around her, and the bruise on her arm disappeared, no doubt along with any other injuries not immediately apparent.

"Her next," said Lucca.

"We'd better straighten out that leg first, or it'll heal badly," responded Marle.

"I am really, really, really glad I can't feel my leg," Nabiki babbled. She gritted her teeth, as Lucca and Marle jerked the leg straight. There was an audible snap as the bones slid back into place. "I think I felt that," she said faintly.

"Cure," said Marle. The air shimmered around Nabiki, and the cut on her head sealed. She flexed her leg experimentally, and sighed with relief.

"Thanks, Marle," she said. "Now, help Lucca. She looks pretty rough, too."

Lucca diagnosed herself. "My shoulder's broken, but none of the bones are out of place. So go ahead." Marle repeated her technique, and Lucca was whole. "I'd better see how bad the damage is," she said. She popped the cockpit, and the three of them piled out.

The air was stale, but not bad considering that there didn't seem to be any plants left alive to keep the oxygen level up. The air smelt of ashes, and ozone, and slightly of decay. The Epoch had landed on one of the charred buildings, scattering burnt splinters of wood all around. The Epoch itself looked worse than when Shampoo had rammed it. It was severely bent where it had struck a stone chimney in the dead building, and there were pieces of the hull hanging off of it in places. "What could have gone wrong?" asked Lucca weakly. "Did I really do so bad a repair job?"

"No," said Nabiki, near tears, "your work was flawless. Obviously, the strain of traveling with four people broke something inside. It's all my fault."

"And we didn't bother to check at the End of Time," continued Marle, realizing with horror that Nabiki was correct.

Lucca shook her head sadly. "This is gonna take at least as long to fix as before."

"A week and a half?" demanded Marle. "Poor Crono!"

"Poor us!" snapped Lucca. "Crono, at least, isn't going to starve. But we don't have anything to eat. We can't last for more than a few days without food."

"You can eat me," said Nabiki meekly.

Marle rolled her eyes. "Please, Nabiki, it's a little early to be thinking about cannibalism."

Nabiki looked irritated. "Look, I'm not usually very generous, and it takes some getting used to. I would appreciate it if you'd cut me some slack here."

"Look," said Lucca, "I'm gonna get to work. Why don't you two scout around and see if you can find some food. Anything that might have survived, like canned food."

Marle and Nabiki nodded and started off. They came to another burnt-out wreck, and gingerly prodded it to see if it was stable. It didn't collapse, so the two of them walked in. Almost immediately, Nabiki tripped over something. She looked at it and screamed. It was a human skeleton. She scrambled away, only to collide with a dog skeleton. She jerked back, colliding with a wall. The wall crumbled slightly, revealing a family of mouse skeletons. "Can this place get any more depressing?" Nabiki demanded.

Marle giggled. "You'll get used to it," she said. "Now, let's find the kitchen."

Nabiki nodded, and picked her way gingerly past cat skeletons, parakeet skeletons, and a bowl full of fish skeletons. She suppressed a shudder. She continued to hunt, passing an antelope skeleton, a dolphin skeleton, and a rhinoceros skeleton. "Now look, this is just getting silly," she muttered. "Where're all these weird skeletons coming from? This doesn't look like a zoo."

Then she heard Marle's voice, "Hey, Nabiki, c'mere! I think I've found the kitchen!" Eagerly, Nabiki followed the sound of Marle's voice, vaulting a giraffe skeleton on the way.

She found Marle hunting through some ruined cabinets. Her eye, trained from years of picking up loose change, caught a glint of metal, half-buried in ash on the floor. She picked it up. It was a can, but it looked as if it had been ripped open and licked clean. "Look, Marle! It looks as though someone, or something, has already been here."

The two of them sifted through the ashes for a moment and found several more ripped cans. "So, there might be something still alive around here?" Marle wondered aloud. "I don't like this. We'd better get back to Lucca." Thinking for a moment, Nabiki grabbed a leg bone from a bear's skeleton to use as a bludgeon, if necessary. The two of them began to run.

Halfway back to the Epoch, Nabiki and Marle heard Lucca scream. They doubled their haste, and soon came upon a fearsome sight. A bizarre patchwork monster was attacking Lucca, who had climbed on top of the Epoch to avoid it. The thing had a bear's arms, with vicious claws. Its body was spider-like, with eight thin legs supporting it. It had a jackal-like head, complete with a full complement of fangs, but its eyes were on stalks, like a snail's.

"Get away from her!" shouted Nabiki, and then immediately wished she hadn't. The beast turned toward Nabiki and Marle, and roared. Nabiki suddenly realized that the bone she was carrying wasn't going to be of much use against this creature.

"Oh, great," said Marle, and loaded her crossbow. She fired a quarrel, which thunked into the monster's side. The monster roared again, evidently only angered by Marle's attack. "We could use some help here, Lucca!" urged Marle.

"Right!" said the flustered inventor. She groped around in her satchel, and pulled out a gun. She took careful aim. "Take this, monster!" she yelled and pulled the trigger. A stream of hot water squirted out from the gun and washed over the creature. "Oops," said Lucca. "Wrong gun."

But then, something unexpected happened. As the water made contact with the beast, it screamed and began to shrink and change. A few moments later, where the creature had been there was a tiny squirrel. The crossbow quarrel, which had been a mere nuisance to the beast, was obviously fatal in the furry little creature. It twitched a few times and expired.

Nabiki's eyes widened. "It was cursed! Just like Ranma."

"Poor thing," said Marle, nudging the dead animal with her toe.

"But how could it have gotten all the way here from China?" Nabiki asked. "It didn't look like it would have been able to swim that far."

"Maybe someone brought it here," suggested Lucca. "Do you think that there are any more creatures like it around?"

"I sure hope not," shuddered Marle. Then she noticed how dark it had become. "We're gonna have to find shelter for the night."

Lucca agreed. "We'll use the Epoch. With the cockpit sealed, it'd take real muscle to break in, and we'd be sure to notice." So, the three of them crawled back into the battered time machine, and fell into a fitful sleep.

Afterword:

Who are you, and what have you done with Nabiki Tendo!?!

Okay, Nabiki may have been a bit out of character in this chapter, though I prefer to think that her actions and thoughts were not totally out of the question. For those Nabiki enthusiasts out there who are screaming bloody murder, relax. Nabiki will be back to her old, scheming self eventually, but she will retain a soft spot for Lucca.

On a technical note, some may be curious exactly what the layout of the Epoch cockpit is. When Belthasar constructed it, he was quite aware of the three-person limit regarding time-travel. So, the Epoch has only three seats, one pilot's seat in front, and two passenger seats in back. While it's not immediately apparent from the pictures of the Epoch, I chose to imagine that there is also a modicum of luggage space behind the two rear seats, giving Nabiki a place to hide. (Though really, RPG characters don't seem to need luggage space of any kind, preferring to store their items in some hypothetical aether--perhaps in this 'Hammerspace' which so many Ranma fanfic writers seem to tout, where Akane stores her mallet when she's not pounding Ranma with it.)

Chrono Trigger Tip #5:

Can Spekkio, the 'Master of War' be beaten?

Yes. But early in the game, not easily.

Is it worth it?

Yes. For the Mindlessly Obsessive, it is vital, though even for regular players it's worth doing. Spekkio appears in many incarnations, depending on what level your characters are at. The more powerful your characters are, the tougher Spekkio looks (as Spekkio himself tells you). The first time you beat him in each incarnation, you will get a prize. This prize includes stuff for restoring hit points and magic, but more importantly, it includes Magic, Power, and Speed Tabs, at least at higher levels. The Spekkio the Mindlessly Obsessive will most often face looks like a big, blue version of the Spirit of the Masamune, and is a reasonably tough opponent to beat. It's worth it, though, as you receive an Elixir, a Speed Tab, a Magic Tab, and a Power Tab for beating him. You won't face the ultimate incarnation of Spekkio (he looks like a pink Nu), until your characters reach level 99. At this point, when you beat him, he'll give you a Megalixir, 10 Speed Tabs, 10 Power Tabs, and 10 Magic Tabs--quite a prize. Remember, though, that any incarnation of Spekkio will only reward you once for beating him each time through the game.

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