Comes the Cold Dragon

Don Granberry

Chapter 5b


Most of the characters in this piece and the setting for it, were conceived of by Rumiko Takahashi for her Ranma1/2 series of Manga. All such characters and the setting are the property of Takahashi-san and her licensees. All other characters in the piece are purely fictional and any resemblances to actual persons living or dead, are purely coincidental.

Nabiki somehow found the bath. It really helped, because the bath woke her up enough to find the dining table. Before taking a bite of a meal she wanted, but did not think she could stomach, she decided to check with her cellular telephone. There had been four calls that morning. With a sigh she called her voice-mail number. The only big surprise of the day was that Xian Pu took an early delivery on her bicycle. She had one other call that confirmed the machine's suspected performance. Apparently, Xian Pu had instantaneously become a speed-demon this morning. That could be good and it could be bad. Nabiki had to weigh the odds carefully. Increased speed meant that Xian Pu would have less trouble covering more ground. With increased speed on the other hand, came the increased likelihood of an accident and thereby a missed delivery. The real problem was that unless they increased the number of orders Xian Pu was required to deliver, she might return home less than exhausted. Nabiki suddenly found herself weighing her ducats against her sister. Her sister won. Push come to shove, she would find a way to make Happosai cover her losses. Nabiki dialed a number.

"Hello, Nabiki?" A voice answered.

"Up the odds on Xian Pu. Make them four to one and take all comers," Nabiki said.

"Are you sure, Oyabun?"

"Yes," Nabiki said, mildly irritated by her assistant's cheek. "Oyabun" is the title normally given to underworld bosses. "I _am_ sure. She took early delivery on the new bicycle. The word I get is that it's everything the Frenchman promised and then some."

"I hear she's turned into a speed demon. What about accidents?"

"She's one of the few women on earth that can take on Ranma Saotome and hold her own for more than five minutes. I'm betting she'll use her head and slow down before she has an accident."

"I hope you're right, Boss. We have a lot of exposure on her."

"What odds have we posted on a fatality if Ranma or my sister are bothered?"

"Still taking even bets."

"Make 'em two to one that there will be a fatality."

"We have got too many bargains on odds for the day, Boss."

"Have we ever had a deliberate fatality around here? You let me worry about the odds. I'll cover the losses if necessary, but I'm almost certain we won't lose. Who is going to be idiot enough to bother Ranma and Akane right now?"

"You're the boss, Boss."

"And don't you forget it!" Nabiki said, with a smile. She never finished a call sounding hard-nosed unless the conversation was with someone refusing to pay a debt on time.

"Feeling better, Nabiki-chan?"

"Yes, thank you, Oba-san," Nabiki said to Nodoka as she sat down at the table. Nodoka poured tea into Nabiki's cup. Nabiki remembered to fill Nodoka's cup, just in time to avoid a sharp look.

"How are things going?"

"Other than being terribly busy, very good," Nabiki said, hoping to avoid any untoward revelations.

"I don't mean to pry, Nabiki-chan," Nodoka said, looking both worried and embarrassed, "but I am very concerned about what my family must owe yours."

"Oh, there's no need to be worried about that, Aunt Nodoka," Nabiki said quickly. "Happosai is paying for the damages to Miyagi's."

"But what about the clinic?"

"Oh, that's being paid for courtesy of the Nekohanten. Xian Pu hasn't missed a delivery all week and the sucker bets against her just keep rolling in."

"You make money by running a betting pool?" Nodoka sounded alarmed.

"Yes, ma'am," Nabiki said. "I make sure to lose just enough to keep the habitual gamblers coming back for another skinning at least once a week."

"Isn't gambling like that illegal?"

"Technically, yes," Nabiki said with a smile. "Practically, no. My little operation is too small to get anyone's attention and if I weren't running a small, clean operation, someone bad would be running large and dirty one. The local cops accept a contribution to their survivors fund once a month and leave us alone."

Nodoka opened her mouth to same something else, but seemed to think better of it and let the matter drop. Nabiki was greatly relieved. She hurried through breakfast and managed to leave about five minutes early for school, happy to be getting away from Nodoka's reasonable, if problematical queries.

She had not gone very far when a car pulled up next to her. The man on the passenger side rolled down his window and called out to her.

"Excuse me, Miss! Are you Nabiki Tendo?"

"Yes, I am," Nabiki answered nervously. Neither of the two men in the car was wearing a uniform and the car was unmarked, but something about these two guys screamed cop to Nabiki Tendo. That really made her nervous. She knew every cop in Nerima. She knew their names, what shift they worked and what their regular beat was. She knew the names of the wives and children of about half the local force. More than half the local force had taken some kind of instruction from her father at one time or another. She had never seen either of these two guys before.

"Could I speak with you for just a few minutes, please?"

Nabiki sighed and stopped. The man handed her a picture.

"Do you know this girl?"

Nabiki instantly recognized the young woman in the picture. It was not that great a picture, but purple hair flying almost straight back behind a girl on a bicycle could only be one person.

"I may. Is something wrong?"

"No, not at all--at least I hope not."

This caused Nabiki to raise both eyebrows. "So?"

"Yeah, well...I'm sorry! I didn't mean that the way it sounded," the man said quickly, looking rather sheepish. "I was hoping to get a bet in against her today."

"Oh! We're taking bets on Nekohanten deliveries for the entire day, not on any single delivery. We're giving them five minutes leeway on each delivery and today's odds are paying four to one."

"Four to one!" The man said with a gasp. "Sounds generous to me!"

"Well, you could always take the other side of the bet, but that doesn't pay so well."

"No, no! I'll take the four-to-one odds," the man said with a nervous wave of his hand. "How much can you handle?"

"We're taking all comers," Nabiki said proudly.

"Oh, really?" the man asked with a wicked grin. "Then I don't suppose a two-hundred thousand yen bet would be too much?"

"Cash only!" Nabiki said, without so much as a blink.

The man handed her a package of bills. Nabiki counted it.

"You want a name or a number?

"Number," the man answered quickly enough to confirm her suspicions about him.

She finished filling out his ticket and handed it to him.

"When can I expect to collect?" the man asked.

Nabiki gave him a credulous stare. "You're betting into four-to-one odds and want to know when you can collect?" she asked.

"Let's just say I'm feeling very lucky today," the man said sarcastically.

"If you win, you can meet me here at five, or at the west gate of Furinkan High School around 4:30. Just be sure you have that ticket. You won't get paid without it." Nabiki had learned the hard way that gamblers would sometimes sell a marker to someone, then try to collect winnings before the person they sold the marke to could find her. Fortunately, Ranma had been within earshot the one time that had happened to her.

"Fair enough!" The man said, then rolled up his window. They pulled smoothly away from the curb and disappeared around the corner. Nabiki shook her head. This thing was getting much larger than she ever expected it to. Sure, a couple of the local flatfeet bet with her all the time, but these two guys were from another division or something. She checked her watch and realized she would need to hurry if she did not want to be late for her first class.

Kasumi and Nodoka dawdled over breakfast until Soun finally put in a groaning appearance. Nodoka gave him an indulgent smile, then went to the kitchen so Kasumi could give her full attention to her father. After receiving copious amounts of undue mollycoddling for an hour, he limped out to the dojo, groaning about having to "work out a few kinks."

"Saotome, old friend! Where are you when I need you most? You big, furry oaf!"

Kasumi and Nodoka exchanged glances, then giggled.

"Why don't you go get a quick nap, Kasumi-chan," Nodoka said. "I'll take the first shift."

"You're sure you don't mind, Aunt Nodoka?"

"Not at all, dear," Nodoka said with a pleasant smile, "I've been caring for martial artists since before I was your age."

"If you're sure, then..."

"I'm quite sure, dear," Nodoka said with a genuine smile. "Everything will be fine."

Nodoka made short work of the dishes after Kasumi disappeared into her room. Dusting and tidying up the first floor of the Tendo house took distressingly little time. Kasumi had long been in the habit of staying on top of things and there had been so little excitement around the place that there was really too little to do. Nodoka decided to catch up on what little laundry there was to do. She stirred around the house, looking for items that needed washing. Ranma's room amazed her. It looked nothing like the sort of place a teenaged boy lived in. Everything obviously had a place, and each item had been stowed where it belonged. She found Genma's spare gi, which amounted to about one third of her husband's clothing, and dropped it into the basket she had under her arm. Akane's room had a few things, but not many. Nabiki's room appeared similarly neat, until Nodoka opened the closet. There she found almost a full washer load of clothes lying on the floor. Most of them looked as though they had not been worn. Nodoka shook her head and tisked at the sight, then added the clothing to the load in her basket.

On the way out, Nabiki's open ledger caught Nodoka's eye. She resisted the temptation to look at it for almost a full thirty seconds before deciding to examine it. Then she sat fascinated for nearly an hour before she remembered that she really should do a few more things around the house before Kasumi woke up. She decided that she would get Soun past lunch, then wake Kasumi. The poor girl had not had a decent rest in months if Nodoka was any judge of such matters. Nodoka left the room feeling very proud of her son, and rather disappointed in her husband. Tendo-ke had seen some awfully difficult times since her husband and Ranma had arrived, and it seemed that Ranma was somehow carrying the load for both himself and his father. The thing she could not understand, was how Ranma had managed to come up with such large sums of money so many different times on what appeared to be very short notice.

"Genma Saotome," Nodoka whispered to the empty living room, "If you have been involving our son in that sort of work at his tender age, you will find yourself going on another long trip!"

Ranma is much, much too young to be involved in anything so terribly dangerous to body and soul, she thought to herself. Besides, he is the only heir to the Saotome line. Ranma must avoid that kind of work until he has a son of his own. Nodoka fought down the temptation to go retrieve Genma from the zoo, just so she could make him miserable. There was no rush to get to the bottom of this issue. The evidence could not be carted away or even hidden now that she knew it existed.

"You are going to PAY, for this, Genma!" Nodoka said in a growling voice as she trooped off towards the laundry room.

The food at the Gakki's Wok was not all that good, but it was plentiful. The truth be known, Taro could cook a better meal for himself and had it not been for Mei Ling, the best looking waitress working in the joint, he would never have eaten at the place more than once. Thanks to Mei Ling though, he found himself taking one of their huge meals of greasy slop once or twice a week. His flirting campaign had gone exceptionally well. Mei Ling had fallen into the habit of doting on him more than she did her other customers. She teased him mercilessly until he told her his full name. Thankfully, she took it as just another of his silly jokes and did not press the matter further, but there could be little doubt as to where matters were headed. Taro was running short of time. He had to go back to Japan and find the old man. This time, he swore silently to the heavens, this time I will return home with a real name. The name of a real man, not that of some sick pervert! Anything! Anything would have been better than Pansuto Tarou! Why didn't he just name me Suu?

Akane did not immediately come back downstairs after packing hers and Ranma's gear up to the second floor. Tofu urgently needed to speak with her, but decided to make a telephone call while she was out of earshot. The telephone on the other end of his call only rang once.

"Nekohanten. How may I help you today?" Ko Lon's voice asked.

"Honored Elder? This is Tofu Ono. How are you this morning?"

"Quite well, but very busy, Doctor," Ko Lon said in a voice that suggested the ancient woman was pleased to be speaking with him. "How are things with you?"

"Both busy and interesting."

"I suspected they might be," Ko Lon said with a chuckle. "How is Ranma doing?"

"Physically, he is in magnificent shape," Tofu said cheerfully.

"But there are, ah, other complications?"

"Yes, you could say that, Honored Elder."

"We need to talk, do we not?"

"I would be most grateful for that, Honored Elder," Tofu said sincerely. "I do hope you are not too busy."

"For Ranma, I will make the time, Doctor," Ko Lon answered seriously. "What would you like for luncheon?"

"Whatever you're having would be pure ambrosia, I'm sure," Tofu answered with a smile in his voice.

"Hmmph! At my age, ambrosia is a much overrated meal."

They laughed together for a moment. Then Tofu asked the question he was burning to ask well before making this call.

"Tell me, Ko Lon. Did you speak to Ranma last night?"

There was a prolonged silence before Ko Lon answered.

"After a fashion, yes," Ko Lon said, "but were it not the fact that you are his doctor, I would never have admitted to it."

"I see," Tofu said gently, "Rest assured that I consider this a privileged matter. It will never be discussed with anyone, not even my colleagues."

A master like Ko Lon could easily find herself inundated with unwanted students if word that she could use some of the legendary techniques got around. Worse, would be the nosy writers and reporters from yellow press. Following the yellow press would be the "debunkers." Her reluctance to admit to such a feat as using a ki voice was more than understandable.

"Thank you, young man," Ko Lon said with a dry chuckle. "I did not think you would disappoint me. Would a late luncheon be inconvenient for you? We are terribly busy here between eleven and one."

"No, that would not be a problem at all," Tofu answered.

"Then I'll expect you to be here at two o'clock."

"I'll be there," Tofu said, as he frantically scanned his appointment book, then thanked the kami upon discovering he had nothing scheduled between two and three.

"See you then, Doctor."

"Until then, Honored Elder."

Akane knocked at his door just as he put down the receiver.

"Yes, Akane?"

"Have you got a minute, Doctor Tofu?"

"Certainly, Akane. What's on your mind?"

"How is Ranma doing?"

"Well, he appears to be fully recovered from the concussion Happosai gave him," Tofu said with a note of caution in his voice. One could never be entirely certain about concussions. They had a nasty habit of causing problems several years down the road. Such ill effects was one of the many hazards of being a martial artist. "He is still having trouble controlling his ki, and I would list his emotional condition as fragile."

"That's what I wanted to talk to you about for a moment, if you have the time."

"Good!" Tofu said cheerfully. "You saved me from asking. Tell me what happened last night."

Akane did not tell Tofu everything of course, but she did tell him a good deal more than Ranma had. Tofu guessed at what Akane might be holding back and silently cheered. They were at an age where a little petting would hurt nothing and they very badly needed one another. Akane needed Ranma almost as much as Ranma needed her. Now if the fates would just show them a little kindness, they might actually grow old together. Some of the other news was not so good and was personal in nature.

"I didn't really stuff Shimazu-sensei into the closet with Betty, did I?"

Akane did not quite stifle her giggle before nodding her head.

"Oh, dear!"

"She took it pretty well, all things considered, Tofu- sensei."

Tofu shook his head to clear it. He had more pressing concerns. His patients came before his personal troubles. He made a mental note to call Shimazu later and apologize to her, not that she was likely to understand.

"I think the manifestations Ranma experienced last night were normal, all things considered."

"NORMAL?" Akane's eyes went wide with shock.

"Akane, we _are_ talking about Ranma Saotome here," Tofu said doing his best to put a bit of gentle humor into his voice.

"Sure! I know Ranma is...well...unique, but...but I never heard of _anything_ like this!" Akane said, finishing her sentence with a note of heartfelt alarm.

"And I have never heard about, nor have I ever seen a seventeen-year-old master of more than one Martial Art," Tofu said with genuine respect in his voice. "This morning, I watched him derive a number of difficult Tai Chi Chuan techniques simply by experimenting with a kata, Akane. That is the work of a forty, or fifty-year old man who has studied his art for a lifetime. Ranma is nothing if not a prodigy. He is going to be full of surprises for a long time to come."

"But what is happening to him now is dangerous!"

"Yes," Tofu said, taking care to make his voice gentle but firm. "Power is always dangerous. The greater the power, the more dangerous it is. Not even Ranma can defy universal law."

"Whatever you do, don't tell _him_ that!" Akane said, with a somewhat vague smile, "The baka will take it as a challenge and you know how he is."

They laughed together, but their humor subsided quickly. It was followed by a pregnant silence.

"He...he made lightning, Doctor Tofu!" Akane said, sounding overawed.

"Quite by accident, I'm sure, Akane."

"Yeah, this time. What about the next time he runs into Kuno?"

"Hmm, that might give a whole new meaning to Kuno's favorite moniker!"

"I'll say!" Akane exclaimed. "I knew Ranma was powerful in the Art, but now he seems to be mastering magic."

"I don't think there is any magic involved here, Akane."


"Ranma soaked up an enormous amount of energy the night he froze the lobby," Tofu said, with a thoughtful rub at his chin. "There was no way he could contain it forever. He had to release it sooner or later. Last night was the night."

"Oh, I see!" Akane said with an odd sort of flinch. It made Tofu wonder what else she was thinking about. "So he made the lightning on accident trying to dissipate excess energy?"

"Hmm, sort of, I think. I'll have to check on my theories here. It has been a long time since I studied physics and I took as little of it as the university would allow, but I think what Ranma must have done was to have made ball of plasma."

"Plasma?" Akane asked, as her eyes grew wide with shock. "Isn't that extremely hot, ionized gas?"

"Ah, well it can be hot, but it could also just be highly ionized. The temperature of a gas can be a slippery notion. Ki interacts strongly with the atmosphere in preference to anything else. I think, I _think_ mind you, I am not certain yet, that Ranma must have generated a large quantity of very hot ki in a very small volume of air. This produced a ball of plasma, which, if I recall correctly, conducts electricity quite nicely."

"But why did he have a cold flash right after all that?"

"I can't be sure," Tofu said, "but I would wager that he gave up too much energy at one time and had to bring his energy levels back into balance."

"Does that mean Ranma must carry around a lot more pure energy than other people?"

"That's an excellent question, Akane," Tofu said with a sigh. "Unfortunately, I don't know the answer to it, yet. We are dealing with a great many unknowns here. The high level of energy he carries around as a normal load, almost certainly has something to do with his curse."

"I probably should have gotten away from him during his cold fit last night, huh?"

"No!" Tofu said quickly, "No, oddly enough, I think you did exactly the right thing, Akane. Now Ranma knows he has some measure of control over this. Whereas before, he was afraid it had complete control of him. Now that he has controlled it once, he knows for a fact that he can control it and he will."

"But his control may not be all that good for a while, ne?"

"Especially when he becomes angry, Akane," Tofu said. "That is one of the terrible things about stress. Too much of it will give a person of even the sweetest nature a bad temper."

"I guess it wouldn't hurt if I kinda kept an eye on my own temper as well, would it?" Akane asked, half to herself.

Tofu merely smiled and cocked an eyebrow at her.

"Gomenasai!" A voice called from the lobby.

"Okaerii!" Tofu called back, "Please have a seat! I'll be with you in a moment!"

"I guess I'd best go get some studying done," Akane said with a sigh. "Thanks, Doctor Tofu. You're the greatest!"

"Not at all, Akane!" Tofu said with a warm smile. "We can talk some more later."

"So where is Kuno?" Nabiki asked her assistants as they trooped outside for lunch. "I haven't seen him all morning."

"Word is that he called in sick, Boss."

"Do we have independent verification?" Nabiki asked. Such verification was necessary. Kuno would be unlikely to attend school should his father succeeded in cutting his hair. One of their standing bets was over whether or not Principle Kuno would ever succeed in cutting his son's hair, the bet being off if the Elder Kuno realized his dream while Tatewaki were sick or injured.

"I've been trying to get in touch with our usual source, but no luck so far."

"Stay on it!" Nabiki said. "That one could run into some real money."

"Xian Pu has been early on every deliver so far today, Nabiki-san," one of her male assistants reported. "She hasn't even had a close call with traffic on her new bicycle."

"Okay," Nabiki said, "Where is she n..."

She stopped trying to speak as a sudden gust of wind ruffled her clothing and hair.

"Here!" The male assistant answered Nabiki's incomplete question with a grin.

Nabiki looked around and spotted Xian Pu on her new bicycle. She was being mobbed by hormone ridden boys. Xian Pu was playing it up for all it was worth. While this did not result in tips per se, as tipping just isn't done in Japan, a good many of the boys told her not to bother with making change. Their generosity invariably resulted in a smile and joyous wiggle from Xian Pu.

I gotta give her credit, Nabiki thought silently to herself. Xian Pu really knows how to hang it all out.



"We just got the word, Kuno is sick and injured. Seems he got himself into trouble with Kodachi."

Nabiki laughed even as she shuddered. Kodachi was no bargain as a sister, but the poor girl did have Kuno for a brother.

"Where does Xian Pu go after this?" Nabiki asked.

"Her next one's a long delivery. She got an order early this morning for two lunches in Kasuga."

For some reason, this caused a faint alarm to trip in the back of Nabiki's mind, but she did not understand why.

"Kasuga, huh?"

The boy nodded his head.

"We got anybody over that way?"

"Already covered it."

"Good." Nabiki said, then asked suspiciously, "Do we know who placed that order?"

"Yes, but I never heard of 'em before, Boss. She had one over in that area earlier this week, but it was by someone else."

"It was a single order, right?" Nabiki asked. Something about the Nekohanten receiving an order from that far away truly bothered Nabiki, but she could not quite place a reason for her concern.

The boy again nodded his head.

"Just be sure she's watched!"

"Like I said, Boss, we got it covered."

They stopped to watch Xian Pu rocket away on her new bicycle.

"Where did you say this bicycle shop is?"

"The north end of Forges, just before you get to Sales on the west side."

"I think I may visit our French artisan," Nabiki said with a speculative note in her voice. "He might be onto something big."

"Can I get in for a cut?" The boy asked.

"Can you put up some cash?" Nabiki asked.

"You betcha!" The boy answered. "This guy has come up with a real winner in this design, but I think he hates paperwork and bookkeeping."

"Oh-ho!" Nabiki said with a wolfish grin. "Just for that, you are in, but I got a question."

"Ask away, Boss."

"It could be both expensive and risky. Are you in for the long haul?"

"Oh, yeah!" The boy answered with a knowing grin. "He's a great engineer, but doesn't know beans from beads about money."

"Then he's going to need help, right?"

They both laughed. Life comes up roses, once in a while, Nabiki thought to herself. Now I've got a way to keep Kodachi busy while making a ton of money. Hell, I might even cut her in for part of the pie if she does a good job.

"Excuse me, Nabiki?"

"Huh?" Nabiki said, slightly annoyed at the interruption of her ruminations. "Hi, Ukyo! What's up?"

"I need a little help with something."

Nabiki forced herself to take a deep breath and remain calm. This could only be about one thing and only the kami could know where it was headed.

"What with?"

"Well, I'd like to have a Cha No Yu, for Ranma and Akane, but the tea garden I want to use won't return my calls."

Nabiki caught herself before she grunted. The fact that Ukyo wanted to make peace with Ranma and Akane was no shock. She had been expecting it. That Ukyo wanted to do so by holding a formal tea ceremony was no surprise either. Making peace by holding the Cha No Yu had been a tradition since before the Tokugawa Shogunate and martial artists like Ukyo were, despite all outward appearances, frequently sticklers for form. No, the surprise was that she had chosen a tea garden so exclusive that it would not return her calls.

"When do you want to do this, Ukyo?"

"As soon as they have an opening."

Nabiki's ran a large number of options through her mind, then thought of Kodachi.

"I might be able to handle that with a phone call, Ukyo," Nabiki said. "Which tea garden is it?"

"The one just outside of North Park," Ukyo said, sounding frustrated.

Nabiki knew the place. It was not really all that expensive and did not cater to the upper crust that often. Also, getting a time slot for a ceremony at a tea garden early on a Friday afternoon was, surprisingly enough, easy to do. A formally held Cha No Yu, intended to affect a reconciliation, was almost never held at a convenient time. The idea of such a ceremony was that both sides would be giving up something to make peace. An important part of a Cha No Yu so purposed, was making a show of meeting each other half-way. Friday afternoons were almost always too convenient to serve that purpose. This of course is why Ukyo chose Friday afternoon. Fridays were her busiest, most profitable days. Of course, Geisha liked to have their days off as well, but Nabiki did not think that this lay at the bottom of their problem.

"Were you planning on hiring a Geisha to help?"

"No," Ukyo said with a huge smile. "I'm pretty good at the Cha No Yu. I want it to be just me, Akane and Ranma."

"I'll call them and see what they say, Ukyo," Nabiki said, sounding tentative. "I don't think this has anything to do with their schedule."

"I don't either," Ukyo said, looking a little shame- faced. " know how things can go around here sometimes."

"I'll do what I can. Is there a specific time you want?"

"I'll take any opening they have after noon tomorrow."

"Have you already written the invitations?"

Ukyo answered by handing them to Nabiki. Ukyo had gone all out on them. The paper was exquisite and the calligraphy must have taken her hours.

"I'll call you as soon as I know something, okay?"

"Thanks," Ukyo said. "Oh, how much?"

"Nothing!" Nabiki said with a grin. "I'll just put it on Ranma's tab."

"I think it's my place to pay for this, Nabiki."

"Hey! I'm already being paid to help out with these little problems, remember?"


Off in the distance, a bell rang.

"We'd better head for class."

A few minutes later, Nabiki called the owner of the garden and found her surprisingly cooperative once she discovered that only three people would be attending the ceremony and that none of her staff would be required to assist. Much to Nabiki's annoyance, however, the harridan still insisted upon a sizeable deposit against damages. This annoyed Nabiki because the kids would be using the smallest of the establishment's tea houses. It was in a remote, little-used corner of the garden that was ill kept. Ukyo would have her hands full getting the place ready for a Cha No Yu, it being traditional for the teamaster to make all such preparations. The proprietor was obviously overreacting. Nabiki agreed to take care of anything that got broken, plus she agreed to pay an estimated amount of lost revenue if other customers were disturbed by Ukyo's party and left without paying. Nabiki made a mental note to insist that Ukyo leave her spatula at home. After all, one was not supposed to bear arms at a Cha No Yu.

"I'll still be lucky if I don't have to stand good for at least one roof," Nabiki grumbled aloud to herself. "And I am doing all of this just so Akane can have Ranma. Ooh! I can't believe I am doing this!"

During the next break between classes, she found Ukyou and returned the invitations.

"One o'clock tomorrow afternoon, Ukyou," Nabiki said. "And the place is all yours for the rest of the day.

"Thanks Nabiki!"

"Think nothing of it," Nabiki said. "Just remember what we talked about."

"I will!"

Ko Lon watched as Xian Pu shot away from the Nekohanten, headed out for Kasuga and shook her head in wonder. How the child managed to fly that low and not hit anything was a complete mystery. Ko Lon hastened back inside to finish making lunch for herself and Tofu Ono. He would be on time unless a major emergency came up or he ran into the eldest of the Tendo daughters. Ko Lon smiled to herself at that last thought. Kids could be so much fun. They could also be irritating when they approached a subject with pre- conceived notions. The better educated ones like Tofu Ono tended to suffer rather badly from that defect. She took some comfort from the fact that Tofu practiced both modern and traditional medicine. Perhaps his mind would not be entirely closed to what she needed to tell him.

Ko Lon, unlike the majority of her Joketsu sisters, was well traveled. She had spent nearly two decades working as a maidservant to a wealthy Briton's wife. She had sought out such a job at the request of Revered Grandmother, who had been worried, correctly as it turned out, that the Joketsuzoku was too isolated from the rest of the world. Accepting the assignment had not been much of a burden for her. Ko Lon's first husband had recently died from a brief but devastating illness, and her children had just reached their adulthood. Grandchildren had not been in the immediate offing because she had taught her children to be both patient and picky about choosing a mate. By the time she had returned home, Ko Lon had learned to speak French, English, Japanese and Italian fluently. She also had learned to read, though not speak, most of the other Romance languages.

Ko Lon had made important discoveries as well. She remembered what a startling revelation germ theory had been to her. She had begged the Council time after time to send her the money necessary to purchase a microscope, only to be rebuffed. It had taken her quite some time, but she scraped together enough money of her own to purchase one of the instruments and had it, along with a box of carefully prepared slides, shipped to Revered Grandmother. The impact of what it revealed to her people was hard to describe, but to say that her leaders had been impressed would be something of an understatement. They had reimbursed her for the microscope two months later. That had been as fast as the money could be sent to Europe from Qing Hai in those days. Actually, it had not been money that they had sent. They had sent her a small box of sapphires. Selling the jewels had proven troublesome, most of the English jewelers had been both suspicious of her and horribly avaricious, but twice the trouble would have still been a bargain. The money the sapphires had brought, allowed her to purchase many other instruments and books to send home.

The Joketsu had always considered cleanliness to be a virtue, but seeing Pasteur's work come alive before their very eyes, changed many habits. The microscope had, in all probability, saved any number of Joketsu lives.

It had created more than a little friction as well. A great many of her people remained dubious of the discoveries made by other peoples. A few became scornful of all the traditional beliefs the Joketsuzoku held dear. Ko Lon herself became that rare sort of person who constantly strove to sort out the wheat from the chaff in everything she encountered. If Tofu Ono was a person of like mind, there might well be a chance that something could be done for Ranma, beyond sending the poor, benighted lad to a remote and secluded island in the far reaches of the northern Pacific, that is. Without help, Ranma was sure to become a grave hazard.

Yoshinao Nakada got a call from dispatch just as he finished cleaning and steaming out the tank on his truck. He wasn't through for the day. One of the other trucks had broken down and they needed him to deliver a load of milk to a small town west of Tokyo. With a shrug, he flipped open his cellular telephone and called his wife. He was going to be late getting home, probably as late as ten in the evening. Given that he and his spotlessly clean truck had to be at the first dairy on his route by four in the morning, would mean that tomorrow would be a very long day. It almost was not worth the money. Still, it would be three and a half days worth of pay for two days work so he took the run. After he explained things to his wife, he drove the big truck around to the loading station and waited while men in spotless white uniforms came out to inspect his tank, then fill it with fresh, cold milk. He was back on the road and headed westwards out of Tokyo by one-thirty.

Tofu finished with a patient at a quarter of two, then began worrying about how to broach the subject of Ranma's condition with Ko Lon. It was unlikely in the extreme that Ko Lon would completely ignorant of Ranma's case, but on the other hand, he had no way of knowing what Ko Lon would believe the best course of action to take. Hopefully, he could learn something of how to help Ranma cope with the enormous surges in his ki. The Joketsu were sure to have had some experience with battle-fatigued warriors, he just hoped that the things she would have to suggest would be truly workable and useful.

While he did use a great deal of the so-called "traditional medicine" in his practice, he would be the first to tell you that the overwhelming majority of "traditional medicine" was worse than useless. Knowing what parts of it to use and what to ignore had been and still was one of the greatest challenges he faced. Many of the old medicinal remedies were just plain dangerous, if not poisonous or illegal. Some, by no means all of them, worked from time to time, but only on certain patients. This had puzzled doctors like himself, just as it had the traditional healers whose education went no further than the instructions they had received from their village shaman.

After several years of research, it became clear that the problem was most often a matter of the wrong dosage for correctly diagnosed cases. Often however, the traditional healers had simply misdiagnosed the case they were attempting to treat. Sorting out the problems and winnowing out the truth from fable had been no simple task. Even today, this subject was only pursued by a handful of medical researchers. Out of that handful of relatively open-minded people, Tofu wondered what would any one of them make of Ranma's case? None of the ones he knew dismissed ki out of hand, but how many would believe that a young stripling of a boy like Ranma Saotome could create a small tornado with his ki? Or create a ball of hot plasma that caused lightning to strike? Tofu was on his own when it came to treating Ranma Saotome, and that was all there was to it. Ko Lon might not make the best counsellor in the world from the standpoint of a conventional physician, but she was the only person with whom he could reasonably consult.

There was also the fact that she may have used her ki to communicate with Ranma. If that were the case, she no doubt knew a great deal, or at least had experience with what Ranma was going through. It also meant that one or two more of the other old legends he had read possessed something larger than a grain of truth. The thing he had to do was to pick out the useful from the fallacious without offending the Amazon Elder. Such a thing was never easily done. Older people tended to be dismissive of the young, and the young, far too often, were equally skeptical of their elders. He would have to be very careful of Ko Lon's sensibilities, while keeping anything which might harm his patient from happening. He left the office with a worried frown.

Nakada saw the girl speeding along the left shoulder as he approached and wished that there had not been a car on his right so that he could have moved over a lane. He had seen what the powerful wake of his truck could do to cyclists, and disliked the idea of hurting one of them. Unable to move over a lane, he backed out of the throttle and let the rig's engine slow it down several kilometers per hour. He watched his rear-view mirror as he passed the girl by, wanting to make sure his wake did not blow her off the road or worse, pull her into the fast moving traffic of the freeway. Much to his horror she disappeared behind the truck, but then he saw her hand waving at him. He grinned. She was going to try to draft along behind him.

"Well hell, kid!" Nakada said to his mirror, "I gotta give ya credit for courage!" He stepped down on the pedal and felt his big, Caterpillar V-8 answer the call for power.

A glance at his right rear-view mirror told him the girl was keeping up easily. He wondered how long she would last as he shifted from eighth to ninth gear and hammered the pedal again. The girl lost no ground, keeping pace with the accelerating tanker. Nakada felt the smooth running diesel reach peak RPM and shifted from ninth to tenth. He glanced at his speedometer, they were up to a hundred and climbing fast. He tried to keep one eye on his right rear-view mirror and the girl as shifted gears at a hundred and ten. Her hair was flying almost straight out behind, like a flag in gale force wind. He could see her right hand pointing down the road. He could not hear what she was shouting, but could tell from the shape of her mouth that she was saying, "Go! Go! Go!"

"Okay, pretty baby!" Nakada said to himself as the speedometer climbed up to the hundred and twenty mark. "We'll help you find out what you're made of!"

He skipped the next slot and threw the transmission into its highest road gear, then floored the throttle. It was an amazing experience. The speedometer climbed all the way up to the truck's top speed of a hundred and fifty kilometers per hour, but the girl showed no sign of flagging. Nakada became so fascinated by all this that he failed to notice the police cruiser parked along the shoulder of the long, sweeping, right hand curve of the freeway just a few kilometers east of Kasuga.

Norio Ohga sat at the wheel of the his cruiser fuming at his partner. He liked money as much as the next man. Sure, he went along with the shakedown system. It kept the truckers in line and supplemented the pay of struggling cops. The end result was safer traffic. He didn't invent the system! He just went along with it, but this mess his partner had gotten them into made him nervous. Sure, the money would be more than either of them could make in two months, and all they were doing was ripping off a kid who ran an illegal gambling ring. But somehow, deep inside, he just knew that the ends never justified the means. What kind of example was it to pull a dirty trick on a kid they were trying to influence? What sort of example were they setting? The wiser thing to do would be to bust her for violating the law, scare the bejeebers out of her, then let her go and see if she didn't straighten up. They had pulled that stunt many times and it almost always worked. Instead, here they were, acting like a couple of Yakuza rigging a fight. He didn't like it. He didn't like it one bit. This wasn't law enforcement.

He looked over at his partner on the passenger side of the cruiser. Shirikawa was not the least bit nervous. Excited would be the better term. He was twisted around in the seat so that he could see the oncoming traffic through the back window. He looked like a hungry wolf waiting for a rabbit to pop out of the brush.

"She should be along any minute now, Norio!"

"We ought to blow this off, Tetsuro!"

"Are you nuts? We've already placed our bets."

"So? I think I'd rather lose the money than do this. It's dirty!"

"Hey, man! The whole world is dirty anymore. 'Sides, this Tendo kid will have to think twice about her little gambling operation after this."

"That's another thing, Shirikawa. How many times have we been told not to mess with Nerima, huh? How many times? You know the department has to handle things in a special way over there."

"Special, smecial! Why should the flat-feet get all the gravy?"

"How do you know there is any gravy? Huh, Tetsuro? What I hear about the place is that it's dangerous 'cause all kinds of weird shit happens around there all the time."

"Aw, come on, man! Don't tell me you believe all that crap! Witchcraft? Martial artists that turn into animals? Kids that can leap from the street to a rooftop in the blink of an eye? Give me a break!"

"Why shouldn't I?"

"Because it's a load of crap, that's why! It's just a gimmick somebody's usin' to set up their very own, sweet little empire and cut the rest of us out of the pickings, that's all!"

"I think you're the one that's full of it, Tetsuro. I been hearin' about Nerima since I was a kid. The place has always been strange. It was strange back before the war."

"Oh, yeah! Here we go again. More of your granpa's stories! Dontcha get it, Norio? He just tells tall tales to entertain you so you'll visit him regularly."

Ohga snorted in disgust. He should have known better than try to reason with Shirikawa while he had the scent of money in his nose. He had been that way since they had been buddies in high school. Ohga's shoulder's slumped as he realized there would be no talking his partner out of their folly. The radar set beeped, causing Ohga to look at it. A speeder! A fast one. Ohga glanced up at the rear-view mirror. Much to his horror and outrage, the speeder was nothing less than a monstrous great milk truck roaring through the traffic at a hundred and fifty. He tensed as he flipped on his turn signal and began rolling down the shoulder, waiting for a break in the traffic.

"What are you doing?" Shirikawa shrieked at him, "We're waitin' for the kid, remember?"

"That guy is doin' a hunnert an fifty in a milk truck on a crowded freeway!" Ohga bellowed back, "I'm gonna bust his ass!"

"You idiot! We got two-hunnert thousand riding on tha...Wait! There she is! Go! Go! Go!"

The cruiser shot out into the traffic, tires smoking.

The cruiser pulled up along side Xian Pu without the trucker noticing it. Xian Pu almost immediately recognized it as the same police car she had encountered before. Not because she recognized the men in the car. What she recognized was the aura emanating from them. They were the same petty no-goods that had tried to pull her over before. Petty crooks wearing badges and uniforms did not surprise her at all. The Chinese constabulary was rife with such men, all of whom knew that the Joketsuzoku neither wanted nor needed their unhelpful "help."

The fact that this was Japan and that its police force was very different from the village level constabularies in China never crossed her mind. The only thing on Xian Pu's mind was what to do about these two, unwanted obstacles. Killing them was not a good idea. Even in the Joketsuzoku, one did no serious harm to a cop without first obtaining permission from the Council of Elders. Such a thing could entangle the entire tribe and had to be properly handled. Causing a cop major trouble, or even roughing him up a bit to teach him some manners however, was a perfectly acceptable practice. The now was how to deal with these two. They were in a car while she was on a bicycle. They had a pronounced advantage over her, even though she could easily take both of them on at the same time in a stand-up fight.

She glanced over at the cruiser. One of the cops was holding his badge pressed against the glass on his side of the car, motioning for her to pull over. The grim-faced driver of the cruiser was not looking at her at all. He was staring intently at the back end of the milk truck as though he hated it. Xian Pu then noticed that all of the car's windows were rolled up. It was in effect, an enclosed space, perfect for the Damae-dou, Oku no Fukasa Yure-satsu, or Take- out Way, Inner Depths Shake-up Strike. She reached out and touched the passenger door of the cruiser with the tip of her index finger, not really knowing if the technique would work on an automobile. The results of her effort however, were immediately gratifying. Xian Pu hugely enjoyed the sight of unmitigated terror spreading across the face of the cop holding his badge against the window as white smoke began pouring out of the back of the cruiser. It immediately lost speed and dropped behind her. Xian Pu and the milk truck merrily continued their race towards Kasuga. Being the very mission oriented Joketsu that she was, Xian Pu never looked back to see what became of the cruiser.

Ahead of Xian Pu, in the cab of his speeding milk truck, Yoshinao Nakada laughed so hard at the sight in his left, rear-view mirror that he had to wipe tears from his eyes as he kept the accelerator firmly pinned to the floorboards. Blue flames streamed from the twin stacks of the snarling V-8 Cat as he continued roaring westwards with the young Amazon in tow. Behind them, traffic came to a screeching halt, creating a logjam of cars and irate motorists some eight kilometers long.

Testsuro Shirikawa's patience had been evaporating at a very rapid rate. Between the surliness of his partner driving the car, and the stubbornness of the young Chinese woman, he was just about ready to begin pulling at his hair when the young woman turned her lovely head and gave him what can only be described as a wicked smile. He managed to gulp just as her finger poked at the metal panel of the passenger side door, just below his window. The air inside the cruiser immediately thickened until it felt as though he was embedded in a clear, heavy oil, or perhaps, cold glycerine. Much to his horror, he could feel his face being pressed against the glass of the passenger side window as he felt his head begin to change shape. He knew that his skull was getting thinner and thinner until at last, his ears were pressed flat against the cold, smooth surface of the tempered glass, both with their inner sides looking out. The sound was the strangest thing he had ever heard. Every little noise was sharper and more pronounced than any sound he had ever heard before. Even the faintest of vibrations seem to be finding their way through his body and assaulting his sense of hearing.

"I'll bet we look like somethin' dreamed up by Salvador Dali," Shirikawa tried to say, but couldn't as the horrors he was experiencing began to worsen. Now he was sliding upwards, knowing that he must be slithering along the glass as though he had been poured out of a jar. Soon the outside world disappeared from sight as his eyes were now pressed firmly against the cloth covered ceiling of the cruiser. He could feel his chest as it worked its way over the ridge of the upper door frame, one rubbery rib at a time. After a few moments of slithering along the inner roof of the car, Shirikawa's horror began anew, as though he had never seen anything horrific before. His face peeled away from the cloth of the ceiling as he felt his skull take a more three- dimensional shape. The great problem with this apparent improvement was that he was bent backwards at a ninety degree angle, something the human back should not be able to do. Even worse was the knowledge that one of his eyes was looking out the front windshield, even as the other eye stared out the back windshield. He became violently seasick and wanted to regurgitate, but could eruct nothing. Sour, stinging bile scalded the back of his throat as what had been his left eye watched the heavy, white smoke billowing from the cruiser's tail-pipe suddenly turn into an oily, blue-black, while what had been his right eye watched the Chinese girl on her bicycle and the milk truck rapidly recede to the west.

But even more horror came into view in the form of a terrified and thoroughly jellified Norio Ohga, floating about in the car in a shape approximating that of a short fat sausage. Ohga was still somehow clutching the steering wheel, that had, for some mysterious reason, become detached from the rest of the car steering column and all. It was as though both he and Ohga were taking a direct, personal part in the proceedings only witnessed within the confines of a lava lamp.

"But who's driving?" Shirikawa tried to scream. Again, no sound came from his lips.

The icy fingers of terror already gripping his heart tightened even more as Shirikawa watched the seats of the car begin doing the same thing he and Ohga were already doing. He realized that he might suddenly be forever melded with one of them. He collided with the front seat, and to his great relief, he and the seat oozed around one another in a slimy dance. For the first time he felt something like pain, an overpowering, burning itch seared his skin everywhere he and the car seat touched. He could do nothing about it. His limbs would not respond to his commands. They simply oozed around in the thick atmosphere of the car, as though drifting in currents of oil. Just as he thought the burning and itching would be more than he could bear, the cruiser went into a hard spin causing him to lose consciousness.

Much to Tofu's surprise, the Nekohanten had a sign out front stating that the establishment was still accepting take-out orders, but the restaurant itself would be closed until three in the afternoon. Mu Suu met him at the door.

"Please come in, Doctor," Mu Suu said with a very Japanese bow. "The Honored Elder awaits you."

"Thank you, Mu Suu," Tofu said, unable to keep the curiosity out of his voice.

"Good afternoon, Doctor Tofu," Ko Lon called in English. She was seated at a table in the far corner. It was laden with several courses of a large meal. The main dish appeared to be a pair of baked pheasant, stuffed with rice and rosemary if his nose was telling him the truth. The side dishes included yams roasted over an open fire and several other vegetables he could not identify, but all of it smelled delicious.

"Good afternoon, Honored Elder," Tofu answered in English, hoping his American accent would not cause her trouble. Ko Lon's accent was that of a very proper, upper class Briton.

"How is your English, Doctor?"

"Quite good," Tofu answered with a smile, "If you can tolerate the accent."

"You do have a noticeable trace of Japanese influence, but I can tell you learned your English from an American."

"Is it that obvious?"

"To me it is," Ko Lon said with a smile, "My former employer was a stickler about eliminating any "Americanisms" that I happen to pick up during my travels with his family. How are you today?"

"Quite well, thank you," Tofu said. I must look dumfounded he thought to himself. I never expected her to speak English. No doubt she wants to speak English to maintain our privacy. I wonder how many other surprises she has hidden up those voluminous sleeves?

"How are you today, Honored Elder?" Tofu asked.

"Please, Doctor," Ko Lon said sounding a little impatient, "do have a seat. I'm tired and hungry and I am quite sure that you could do with a bite to eat by now as well."

"Thank you," Tofu said as he sat down.

"So tell me, Doctor. How is young Saotome doing?"

Tofu explained in English, everything he could about Ranma's condition, up to and including the events of the evening before.

"You say that this "combat fatigue" is a well documented phenomenon among soldiers?"

"Yes, quite well documented as a matter of fact," Tofu said. "It is now being referred to as "post-traumatic stress syndrome," which I believe to be something of a misnomer in Ranma's case. Ranma has not yet been fully removed from the source of stress. It can hardly be said to be "post" anything."

Ko Lon sighed, then made a wry face.

"I should think that the Joketsuzoku have had more than their fair share of such trouble."

"Hah!" Ko Lon, cried. "So we have, but we never really had a name for it. "Combat fatigue" seems to fit the problem as well as any other name you could choose for it."

"But then those cases must be exceptionally problematical for you when so many of your warriors are powerful, ki adepts."

"Strangely enough, no," Ko Lon said emphatically.

"Really?" Tofu asked. He was unable to conceal his surprise at this.

"The number of people that suffer from this malady and maintain the ability to use their ki is quite small. As with your warriors, the overwhelming majority of them lose nearly all their interest in living, and with that interest, goes their ability to use their ki. Most of the others, the berserks or amoks, die in battle."

"I see."

"There has however, been a tiny number who survived. They have indeed presented us with some serious problems. Those cases, while rare, are also widely scattered throughout our history. The last one occurred well before I was born. He was quite old and died before I had done a perfect job of shedding my diapers."

"What year was that, if you don't mind my asking?"

"Let me see," Ko Lon said as she looked up towards the ceiling, "I'll have to convert the dates...Ah! I have it! It was 1791, Anno Domini."

"Seventeen-ninety-one? That was the year he became ill?

"No, silly boy! That was the year he died! You don't think I got this good looking overnight, do you?"

All Tofu could do for a moment was blink.

"How ah, how old was he?"

"Something over six hundred years."

"Did he die of natural causes?"

"I am not sure," Ko Lon said, sounding somewhat irritated. "I sent for information on the matter earlier this week, but have yet to receive a reply. Communications between here and Qing Hai can be...problematical at times. Now is such a time."

"What was his name?"

"All I ever heard him called was The Cold Dragon."

"So he was displaying the same symptoms as Ranma!"

Ko Lon nodded her head.

Tofu did what came natural under the circumstances. He simply waited for Ko Lon to continue the story between bites of food.

"When The Cold Dragon became very old, he left the settled areas to live by himself in a cavern in the mountains, high above our valley. He only rarely accepted visitors, turning away almost everyone who came to see him. After a year and several months of no one seeing or hearing from him, the council sent a warrior to check on him."

Ko Lon paused and looked thoughtful for a long moment.

"What did the warrior find?" Tofu asked.

"Nothing," Ko Lon said. "She was unable to enter the cave. It was blocked by a solid wall of ice. It is still blocked by a wall of ice to this very day."

"So almost everyone thinks he lost control of his ki during his sleep."

"You are quite astute for a youngster, Doctor Ono," Ko Lon said with an indulgent smile. "That is the conclusion that has been most commonly mentioned since I was a little girl. However, I am not certain of its veracity. That is why I have made inquiries."

"Do you think anyone will know?"

"Oh, certainly! There are a number of Elders senior to me and we are scrupulous about keeping records. I have every reason to expect as accurate an answer as can be had. May I ask you a question, Doctor?"

"Please do!"

"What do you think of Ranma's curse?"

"It is almost certainly a ki related condition. Nothing else makes sense. It is the only way to account for his energy levels and his change in mass."

"Oh, really? You think Ranma's curse accounts for his high level of ki?"

"It goes beyond ki, actually. Onna-teki Ranma weighs about half as much as Otoko-teki Ranma. Where does all that mass go when he gets splashed with cold water?"

"I have no idea," Ko Lon said quietly. "The secrets of Jusenkyo were carefully hidden long ago. The difference in mass, as you put it, is greater with Mu Suu and Xian Pu, but much greater yet with the Hibiki boy and some of the others."

"Hibiki? Ryoga Hibiki?"

"Yes, didn't you know?"

"No, I didn't. What form does he take?"

"A small, black pig."

"This wouldn't be the same pig Akane calls P-Chan, would it?"

"The one and the same."

"Oh, my."

Ko Lone cocked an eyebrow at Tofu, then smiled.

"But back to this theory of yours, Doctor. You believe that those with a Jusenkyo curse convert their mass to ki, then back again?"

"No, not exactly," Tofu said, realizing that this was a subject he would have to address very carefully. "I believe they convert their mass to energy, then store that energy by using their ki."

"I do not understand, Doctor. Ki and energy are one and the same thing."

"No, I don't think that they are," Tofu said being very careful to curb the excitement in his voice. "You see, modern science has found considerable proof demonstrating that mass and energy are essentially the same and that both are always conserved. Ki however, cannot be conserved because it is generated by living things."

Ko Lon stared at Tofu for a long time before speaking.

"What sort of proof?"

"Hiroshima and Nagasaki, for starters."

There was another, prolonged silence.

"Have your scientists done any research into the use of ki?"

Tofu laughed.

"No," he told her, "most of them scoff at the very idea of it."

"These weapons that destroyed your cities, how did they work?"

"In the simplest terms, which is all I am able to relate to you because I am not a physicist, they were bombs which converted tiny, almost immeasurable quantities of mass into energy. You see, mass and energy are the same in their very essence, but it takes tremendous amounts of energy to form mass."

"And the difference in mass between Ranma in his male body versus his female body is?"

"A little over forty kilograms."

"And that difference is much greater among those with differing, Jusenkyo curses."


"So what makes you think that ki is not just another form of energy?"

"Two things. Have you ever worked in an emergency ward?"

"No, thank the kami!" Ko Lon said.

"I have seen patients linger for years without any visible trace of active ki. They were kept alive by machines. Their bodies continued to use energy and release waste heat, but they had no other signs of life about them. They were, non-dead if you will, manifesting only the same, residual ki you see in all inanimate objects. If my observations are correct, and I have every reason to believe that they are, ki is only produced by organisms actively going about the business of living in accordance with its nature. If ki is only generated by living things that are truly alive, then it cannot be conserved as mass and energy are."

"And your other reason?"

"Ki very often reacts with nothing but the organism producing it. It is only rarely manifested outside the body in a way detectable by anyone not trained to see its manifestations. Energy, all known forms of it anyway, always interacts with its surrounding mass in a detectable way. Ki does not always do this."

"Well, Doctor Tofu, if ki is not a form of energy, what is it?"

"The only objective definition I can give you is that it is that which living things use to manipulate mass and energy," Tofu said, then paused for a moment. "I do realize that this is a rather terse, and unsatisfying answer, but I would suggest that ki may well be the spark of life itself."

"You do realize, my good Doctor, that ki is in everything around us?"

"The moon is a dead rock, Ko Lon. Does it have an aura?"

The silence in the room became palpable.

"It did not always show an aura," Ko Lon said, shattering the brittle quiet.

"You mean it does show one?" Tofu asked, as chills ran up his back. "I have never seen it."

"You live in Tokyo, Doctor! It never gets dark enough here. We first noticed it in latter half of 1969--during the eighth month I think it was. Sometime in 1972, we finally got the news about the Americans. We only believed the reports of their having landed on the moon because we had seen the moon's new aura first. It had never shown one prior to 1969," Ko Lon said in a subdued voice. "It is fading now, though."

"It would seem then, that my theory about ki is reasonably sound."

"Tell me, Doctor Ono. What do you think would happen if your government, or the government of any other country for that matter, accepted this theory of yours and decided to test it further?"

"I find that idea rather disquieting, Honored Elder," Tofu answered with more than a little solemnity. "For what it is worth, I am primarily concerned with caring for my patient. Taking these matters up with others would almost certainly be detrimental to his health."

"Then I think you can appreciate why I must ask you not to reveal anything of what I am about to tell you," Ko Lon said, then took a long, deep breath. "In truth, I have been worried all day that you would scoff at what I have to say. I must admit that there are parts of it that even I find hard to believe, despite my having grown up in an era when the fantastic events depicted by myth and legend were still accepted as unadulterated truth."

"I have no problems with discretion in these matters, Honored Elder," Tofu said. "It shall remain under the rose."

"You do realize that a significant part of our problem lies with the way Ranma has been trained, do you not?"

"Yes, I do. That has worried me more than a little," Tofu answered.

Ko Lon nodded her head to show approval, then spoke at length while Tofu carefully listened to every detail and nuance. There was much to be worried about, but room for more than a little hope. Nearly all of that hope came from what Ko Lon believed to be the true nature and purpose of Jusenkyo.

End of Chapter 5 Part b
Copyright © Don Granberry