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.
In the process of writing this piece, I discovered that I would have to make rather peculiar use of the Japanese word "ryuu" which means "dragon" in English. Fortunately, Japanese has a handy synonym for "ryuu." It is "tatsu." Unlike the English terms sometimes used in lieu of the word "dragon," such as "worm" or occasionally, "leviathan," tatsu means dragon and nothing else. You will understand all of this as soon as you run across my usage of it in the story.
Also, prior to Japan's adoption of the metric system they used a number of units surprisingly similar to the English units. I will be using two of them in this part of the story. One unit is the "shaku," equal to 11.9" or 30.513 cm. Each shaku is divided up into ten units called "sun" (pronounced "soon.") These units of measure are still used for certain things, particularly when dealing with one's own "kamae" or "distancing" and when talking about the sizes of traditional weapons.
One of Ukyou's favorite epithets is "aho." Other characters use this as well, including Ranma, but Ukyou uses it more often than the rest. "Aho" is generally translated as stupid, but it carries some connotations that are rather stronger than "stupid." It falls more into the category of the English, "dumbass."
Pantyhose Tarou uses the word "okama" as an epithet for Ranma. I have seen this translated as "cross-dresser" and "fem-boy." Neither translation does this epithet justice. Rather than use a false translation, or commit the sin of political error, I have opted to simply use the Japanese word without explication, thus allowing readers to infer for themselves what the term means.
One final note. Unless you really can do the Kachuu Amaguri-ken, don't try any of this stuff at your local tavern. Such an experiment could have a singularly adverse effect on your health.]
Pansuto Taro reached the western shore of Japan during the wee hours of the morning. He dropped down onto a desolate stretch of starlit sand. It was his favorite landing spot. The tiny beach was walled in on three sides by intimidating cliffs and the surf here was almost always too violent for the average swimmer, so it was seldom visited. The privacy this place afforded him was a necessity. Pansuto Taro never bothered with buying an airline ticket. His cursed form could fly so there was no reason to spend money nor trouble himself passports and other such officious trivia. The drawback to his stratagem was that it invariably meant that he arrived in Japan exhausted and in a form that would panic just about anyone who caught sight of him. He found his favorite rock, then stretched out for a much needed nap. After a three or four hours of rest, his last little hop to Nerima would be a snap.
(I don't know about you, but I'm gettin' kinda snacky.)
(Geez, what time is it, Saotome?)
(Gettin' pretty close to dawn, I think.)
(We left all that food out!)
Ranma ran up the stairs only to find that someone had put everything away. There was a note on the table in Kasumi's handwriting.
Ranma, Please remember to put the food up before you become too absorbed in your studies. Thanks, Kasumi.
(She must have come in with Tofu last night, Red.)
(I sure hope they are the only ones that can sneak past us like that, Saotome.)
(You and me both!)
Ranma began to shake. It took him several minutes to get himself back under control. He rushed over to Akane. Much to his relief, she was sleeping peacefully.
(We may as well eat, Saotome. We blew it, but Akane's okay.)
(We gotta find that hole in our defenses and fix it, Red.)
(Yeah, I know. Try not to make so much noise!)
(I'm tryin'! I'm tryin'! Whaddaya say we take this stuff downstairs?)
(Good idea. We have to make our tea in the lab anyway.)
Kasumi and Nodoka began work on breakfast and chatted with one another as the pre-dawn gray of early morning turned shell pink, then fiery red. They decided to let Soun and Nabiki sleep for as long as possible, then sat down for a cup of tea.
"I think one of us should take breakfast over to the clinic this morning," Kasumi said. "Nabiki needs to visit Miyagi's first this morning and only the kami know how many other things she has going."
"Why don't you take breakfast over to the clinic," Nodoka said. "While you are doing that, I will take a thermos of hot water over to the zoo."
"Sounds good to me," Kasumi said, "but I thought you wanted to wait until mid-morning on Uncle Genma."
"We may as well get him out early, Kasumi-chan," Nodoka said. "Your father began to look rather depressed yesterday afternoon. I don't think I could take much more of it."
Kasumi smiled. "It was much worse before Ranma and Uncle Saotome got here."
"I can't imagine what it must have been like for you," Nodoka said. "It boggles the mind."
"Do you think you could handle the two of them by yourself this Sunday, Aunt Nodoka?"
"I am certain I can, Kasumi-chan," Nodoka said with a smile, "even though I lack your extensive experience. Why do you ask?"
"Doctor Tofu asked me to go on a picnic with him, Ranma and Akane on Sunday."
"Oh, that's wonderful!" Nodoka said.
"The place we want to visit is way out in the country, so we are planning to leave very early."
"Oh, I am so happy for you, Kasumi!"
Nabiki sat at the breakfast table, picking at her food while Kasumi and Nodoka fussed over her like two mother hens with a single chick. It made her feel a little better even as it tormented her. She very badly wanted to throw herself into their arms and let them take care of her, but there was too great a risk that she would end up divulging things. Things which were best left safely obscure. She suddenly realized, much to her horror, that her efforts to control her desire for Ranma had also cut off her access to nearly all affection, not just the feelings she had for Ranma. She wanted very badly to break down into tears, but became quite stern with herself. After all, this was just a temporary situation.
Nabiki sighed and opened the offending, cellular telephone.
"Tendo," she said tiredly.
"Takeda here, Tendo-san," the voice on the other end said. Nabiki perked up a bit. Jiro Takeda was one of the most useful of her minions. At age twenty, he was a good deal more mobile and could do things which were often difficult for herself and the rest of her group. She did not get to use him as much as she would have liked because he held down a full- time job keeping books for a machine shop on Forges Street.
"Good morning, Takeda-san," Nabiki said. "How are things?"
"Very interesting at the moment," Takeda said. "Our French bicycle maker is inundated with would-be customers this morning."
"Yes," Takeda said with a chuckle. "It seems that word of who built the Chinese girl's bicycle has gotten around. There are so many bicycle freaks hanging around here that the cops are trying to shoo them away."
"Hmmm, that is interesting," Nabiki said, trying not to let any excitement creep into her voice.
"I don't know what you have in mind, Tendo-san," Takeda said in a way that told Nabiki that he was grinning from ear to ear, "but whatever it is, I want in."
"Cash?" Nabiki asked.
"Sure," Takeda said with a chuckle. "I'll even borrow from the bank for this one. I smell real money in the wind."
"I'll let you know," Nabiki said, keeping her voice cool, but not overtly cold.
"Better make a move soon, Tendo-san," Takeda said. "We are not going to be the only ones that are aware of this little opportunity."
"Agreed," Nabiki said, silently cursing the nuisance of having to attend school. "We will move as fast as we can. Expect to hear from me by Monday evening."
"Awright!" Takeda chortled. "Oh, by the way, Nekohanten delivered everything along Forges on time this morning. No hitches."
"Thank you, Takeda-san," Nabiki said.
"Thank you, Tendo-san," Takeda said, then the phone clicked as he terminated the call.
Nabiki wolfed down the rest of her breakfast and charged out the gates of Tendo-ke as quickly as she could. There was a whole great big world out there and she was determined to whip it.
Akane stood in the rear entrance of the clinic, while holding a pitcher of ice water as she watched as Ranma perform the basic kata of the Anything Goes School. The school had three sets of twelve kata. Each kata being paired with another and always done in pairs, with brief rests between. Ranma had decided to perform the first three pairs, or the Beginner's Sextet, this morning. Akane knew all of these forms quite well, having begun to learn them shortly after she learned to walk. Ranma however, was performing the kata in a way that very nearly took her breath away. It was almost as though lightning had struck a pool of mercury, leaving a dancing Ranma Saotome behind in the aftermath. Watching his flashing limbs and rippling muscles did things to her she could not describe. Even a few of Uchigawa's men stopped what they were doing to watch him ripple and whip through the complex forms of finely tuned violence which made up the foundations of the Anything Goes School.
"Magnificent, isn't he, Akane?" Tofu said as he stepped up behind the youngest Tendo.
"Yes," Akane said, unaware that a note of reverence had crept into her voice, "he is."
Ranma finished the last kata in the sextet, then walked towards Akane.
"That was some show there, son!" one of Uchigawa's men exclaimed.
"It sure was," chimed in another.
"How long have you been doin' this stuff?" asked a third.
"Aw, gee, I don't know," Ranma said over his shoulder. "I think I must have started learning kata right after I learned how to walk."
"I believe it!" the first man said.
Akane handed Ranma a towel. He used it to pat his face to dry while she poured him a glass of cold water. Ranma looked around and spotted his tank top hanging on a nail. He put it on before accepting the water from his fiancee. He downed the glass in single, long gulp.
"More?" Akane asked.
"Please," Ranma said.
Ranma did not drink but half of the second glass of water. Instead of finishing it, he upended the glass over his head, changing himself into his female form. This elicited several gasps from the construction crew.
"Didja see that!?"
"I've seen his girl form before, but this is the first time I ever saw him actually change."
"Kinda strange, huh?"
"In a beautiful way, yeah," one of the men said in an awestruck voice.
Onna-Ranma looked at Akane and grinned.
"You are an incorrigible ham, Ranma Saotome!"
Tofu and the construction crew snickered in unison.
"Hey! Save the ham cracks for Ryoga," Onna-Ranma said in way of protest, "I'm doin' this for you, okay?"
"Oh, you're doing it for me, huh?"
"Yes!" Onna-Ranma said, sounding slightly exasperated. "I can't teach ya until I settle things with the old freak, right? But there ain't nothin' that says you can't watch me work out and learn somethin' from it, understand?"
"Oh," Akane said sounding more than a little dubious, "so you want me to learn by watching you do something I've been doing since I was four years old?"
"It ain't gonna be quite the same, Akane."
Before Akane could respond, she felt Tofu's hand on her shoulder. Akane looked up to find Tofu smiling at her with a cocked eyebrow.
"Just watch me, okay, Akane?" Ranma said in pleading tones.
"All right, Ranma," Akane said, struggling to keep the accusatory tone out of her voice, "but you should already be in bed!"
The construction men looked at one another for a second, then broke out into guffaws.
Onna-Ranma rolled his eyes.
"I toldja, Akane, I ain't sleepy."
"Okay, okay! So do your stuff already!"
And so Onna-Ranma did. The laughter died away into reverent silence as Onna-Ranma's hands and feet crackled in the morning air. Akane recognized the kata at once. It was the first of the Beginner's Sextet, but just as Ranma had promised, it was not the same. The blocks were all different, either higher or lower than the ones she had been taught, and the angle of the blocking limb was slightly different as well. The follow up punches Onna-Ranma threw were different in angle and alignment. He had revised the footwork so much that she barely recognized it. Only the basic pattern remained. Before Onna-Ranma had gotten halfway through the first form, Akane realized that the changes would make everything easier for her. Some of the changes Onna-Ranma had made, were things Akane had wanted to change for a long time, but her father had insisted she learn the traditional forms. Now she realized that both she and her father had been right. The forms she had been taught would perfectly against another woman, but were not as efficient against a male opponent.
"See what I mean about him being a true master, Akane?" Tofu asked.
"Yes," Akane said as she nodded her head, "but you know what irks me?"
"What's that, Akane?"
"If I had just worked up the nerve to break with tradition, I could have discovered some of these moves on my own."
"That is no doubt true, Akane," Tofu said "but knowing when to make a break with tradition can be tricky."
"I know," Akane said with a sigh. "I doubt if I could have put them into such powerful combinations as Ranma has."
"Genius is where you find it, Akane," Tofu said with a smile.
The changes Onna-Ranma had made to the traditional forms went beyond mere technique. It was that same subtle difference one sees in two musicians. One who can play the notes very well, and the one who makes music out of the notes. In his male form, Ranma tore through the basic kata like a bear dealing with a pack of wolves. His moves were overwhelmingly powerful and rounded. In is female form, Onna- Ranma became a tigress seeking out prey. His moves became lithe, fluid, and lightning quick. Where Otoko-Ranma ripped through the forms, Onna-Teki Ranma rippled across them, like the wind ruffling the surface of a mountain lake. Akane found it necessary to concentrate with great intensity in order to follow this old, yet entirely new form.
Onna-Ranma finished off the first pair of the Beginner's Sextet by coming to a halt so suddenly that it was mind freezing, just as the traditional kata called for him to do, but then he treated everyone to a cute little shimmy of the derriere. This made Tofu chuckle out loud and Akane giggle, as one of the construction hands fainted dead away with a major nosebleed. The whole crew had gathered to watch by the time Onna-Ranma had finished his exercise. The clatter of the fallen man's hard hat suddenly made Akane aware of their circumstances.
"Come here, Ranma," Akane said in an insistent voice as she put her hands on her hips.
"U-u-h, okay, Akane," Onna-Ranma said, suddenly sounding very small and apprehensive as he walked over to Akane.
"Wait here," Akane commanded, as Ranma came within a foot or so of the doorway. She turned and ran up the hall. Relieved that he was not going to get walloped, Onna-Ranma turned his back on the door, then threw his arms up into the air and stretched so hard that he came up onto his tiptoes. This caused two more of the construction hands to become weak at the knees, forcing a third member of the crew to grab himself by the nose. Before Onna-Ranma could finish his stretch, Akane poured hot water on his head.
There was more than one change in the scene, of course. The air had been filled with hot ki boiling off the construction hands. Enough of it that had Onna-Ranma wished, he could have whipped up a pretty strong Hiryuu-shoten-haa without ever leading the men into a spiral, but with the sudden appearance of Ranma's male form, the atmosphere changed instantaneously. Several of the men turned green. Two others helped their fallen comrade to his feet, then needled him unmercifully as they all returned to work. Akane and Tofu laughed.
"Hey, what's so funny?" Ranma asked.
"You mean you don't know, Ranma?" Akane asked. She was well and truly shocked.
"What's to know?" Ranma demanded.
"It's your lack of feminine modesty at work, Ranma."
"What?" Ranma asked, sounding shocked. "Whaddaya mean? They all know I'm a guy!"
All Akane could do was shake her head. It was impossible for her to tell how much of Ranma's naivete was honest and how much of it was purely an act. She made a mental note to herself to ask "Ranko" about it the next time she put in an appearance. Akane had no doubts that Ranma hated being ogled by guys, but she was not all that sure of Ranko's sentiments.
"Don't you think you should go shower and get some sleep, Ranma?" Akane asked.
"Naw!" Ranma said. "All I'd do is toss and turn. I'm still wide awake."
"You mean to tell me you aren't the least bit tired after all that?"
"Not really, no."
"Doc?" Ranma asked.
"You said I'm healed up. Will it hurt if I go for a long run?"
"No, it shouldn't hurt a thing, Ranma," Tofu said, "especially if you think it will help you sleep."
"I don't know if it will help me sleep or not, Doc," Ranma said, "but I am goin' crazy sittin' around here all day and night. Will you keep an eye on Akane for me?"
"Sure, Ranma," Tofu said, grinning as he realized that Akane was gritting her teeth. "That was the deal all along, right?"
"Thanks, Doc!" Ranma said, the turned to his fuming fiancee. "Look, Akane. I know you hate this, okay?"
"You have no idea, Ranma!" Akane said as she stared down at the ground.
"Oh, I think I do, Akane," Ranma said as he tipped her head up so he could look her in the eyes. "I wouldn't like it much either, but this won't last forever. I promise."
Akane calmed down rapidly. Ranma had never broken a promise to her. More importantly, he had already admitted that he loved her and was now showing a willingness to resolve some of the trouble in their lives.
"Okay, but you be back in an hour, Ranma!" Akane said in a fierce whisper. "And try to stay out of trouble!"
"Two hours," Ranma said.
"Take three, if you must, Ranma," Akane said. "Just stay away from...just stay out trouble! Okay?"
"I will, Akane," Ranma said in serious tones. "I'm just going to go run for a while! I'll stick to places where I never run into any, ah, trouble, okay?"
Ranma surprised her then by giving her a quick kiss on the cheek.
"See ya in a little while," he said, then hopped up on top of a nearby wall and shot out of sight.
Akane heaved a deep sigh, then went back inside the clinic.
"Xian Pu!" Ko Lon called out as she heard the new bicycle pull up outside the Nekohanten.
"Come here and sit down, child," Ko Lon said in Chinese, "I would speak with thee."
Xian Pu immediately understood that she was in trouble, but could not think of a thing that she might have done wrong recently. Nevertheless, she sat down in a chair opposite Ko Lon, deep concern showing in her face.
"Child, tell me what happened on your trip to Kasuga, yesterday."
Xian Pu looked surprised, then told Ko Lon everything that happened.
"You must promise me that you will not do that again while we are in the Land of the Wa, Xian Pu" Ko Lon said. "That technique was never intended to be used on living things, much less humans. You must also promise to speak with me before doing anything to a policeman here."
"But they were bad men, Great-Grandmother!" Xian Pu said. "I was never told anything about not using the Inner depths shake-up strike on people."
"I know, child," Ko Lon said gently with a wan smile. "That is because no one ever anticipated your being able to use it on people. There was no such thing as an automobile when the technique was developed, and I suppose no one before yesterday ever dreamed of using it on one."
"Oh," Xian Pu said "but what is wrong with using it on bad men, Great-Grandmother?"
"First, things are very different here, Xian Pu," Ko Lon said. "The Wa do not have a perfect government, no country does, but it is nothing like the rotten mess we have in China. Most of the policeman here are honest. People here respect their police and they would become very angry with us if they learned that one of us was beating up their policeman."
"Oh," Xian Pu said in a small voice.
"Second, the technique does terrible things to living beings," Ko Lon told her great-granddaughter. "It is an unimaginably cruel thing to use on a person."
"What happens, Great-Grandmother?"
"For a few seconds, everything inside the container, even the air, becomes a thick, syrupy liquid, Xian Pu. Your victim becomes completely boneless and might find herself entangled with any number of other things inside the vehicle once the effect wears off."
Xian Pu made a face.
"It probably makes a person very seasick as well, not to mention the horror of suddenly finding oneself in a liquefied state."
"I promise, Great-Grandmother."
"Good!" Ko Lon said, then smiled. "Now get something to eat. You will have many deliveries to make during the noon rush."
Officers Shirikawa and Ohga found themselves reporting for duty in front of Lieutenant Hashigawa's desk by 0900 hours. Neither man felt like doing anything, but neither of them was so badly hurt that they could not function, and both knew better than to try and skip work. That would only make matters worse once they did finally report in.
"Now then," Hashigawa said between gritted teeth, "which of you Einsteins came up with the bright idea of running a scam down in Nerima?"
"With all due respect, Lieutenant," Shirikawa said, "we were conducting an investigation, not running a scam."
"Oh save it for your momma, Shirikawa!" Hashigawa bellowed loudly enough to rattle the windows of the office. "What kind of empty-headed boob do you take me for, anyway? Insult me like that again and you'll be doin' time for corruption! Do you understand me?"
All Shirikawa and Ohga could manage was a disbelieving stare.
"I asked you two dipsticks a question! DO YOU UNDERSTAND?"
"Yessir!" both men said in unison as they bowed their heads.
"This brilliant little stunt of yours has wormed its way around until it has reached all the way up to the Governor's office. HE is PISSED! The Chief has my nuts laid out on an anvil, and he's standin' there with a five-kilo hammer in his hand. DO YOU UNDERSTAND?"
"Yes, Sir!" the two officers chorused.
"Good! Because if you think I am going to take a nut crunching for the likes of you two lifelong fuckups, you are goofier than either one of you looks!"
Shirikawa and Ohga both gulped and nodded their heads. Things were much worse than either of them had imagined.
"Now then! Within the next hour, I want a complete report on my desk from each of you. In full! The truth! The whole truth and nothing but the fucking truth so help you Kami-sama! If I get anything less, I am going have a tire full of gasoline hung around your stupid necks and I am PERSONALLY going to throw the fucking match!"
"Yessir," the two men squeaked out in unison.
"Now get the hell out of my office before I lose my temper!"
The mid-morning sun warmed Pansuto Taro's body just enough to wake him. He stood up and stretched. It took him a moment to remember where he was. Then he remembered that there was a well kept pasture nearby. The owner had worked hard at improving it by planting it with a mix of alfalfa and coastal Bermuda grass. He would stop and eat before going on to his destination. Nerima was only four hours flying time away. Just enough time and effort to give his cursed form time to digest a meal and be warmed up for battle. He laughed to himself as he leapt into the air and took wing.
Genma Saotome found the thermos full of hot water and eagerly poured it over his head, despite his worries that Nodoka had dropped it off just so that she could deal him some genuine misery once he got home. He easily slipped into the Umi-sen ken upon changing. He had been practicing the technique a great deal over the week. It was the only way he could avoid his amorous cellmate. The zookeeper opened the personnel gate and Genma slipped out as the man walked inside the panda's pit. While the zookeeper wandered about the pit looking for his missing panda, Genma ran towards Tendo-ke. Even if Nodoka was still angry with him, enduring her wrath would be well worth a hot bath and a game of shogi with Soun.
Ranma had not known exactly what he was looking for when he left the clinic, only that he was looking for something. Well, he did have an idea of what he was looking for. It was the same urge he had felt during the night. He was looking for a place to sit. A place to sit and meditate this time rather than a place to sit and study. He still did not understand why. He understood even less when his instincts screamed for him to stop as he passed by a large, fenced-in area on the far, northwestern outskirts of Nerima.
(I don't believe this, Saotome!)
The fence was at least twelve meters tall and topped by concertina wire. The interior of the place had been carefully obscured by thin, wooden slats which had been woven into the mesh of the hurricane fencing. Signs were posted all over the fence, warning of danger and "high voltage." Several of them simply screamed "Keep Out!" He could hear the hum of electricity coursing through metal and the whir of large fans behind the fence. What he had found was the main, electrical switchyard for Nerima. Here the main powerlines carried extremely high-voltage electricity from the power plant to a large bank of step-down transformers so that the power would be at a lower, much safer voltage for re- transmission into residential areas.
Ranma understood none of this. He understood that the place was dangerous, but the desire to find just the right spot was overwhelming. Unable to resist, he leapt over the fence and lightly touched down inside the yard. Coarse, white gravel crunched beneath the rubber soles of his shoes as he roamed around the place looking for his "spot." He hated it. His hair felt like it was standing on end and he was shaking with fear, but he did at last find what he had come to find. The spot. He had no way of knowing it, but The Spot was right between two of the four, first stage step-down transformers on their primary side. He found a place in the shade of one of the transformers and sat down in lotus position.
(This is just too weird, Saotome!)
(Tell me! What do we do now?)
(We meditate, I guess.)
(I hate meditation.)
(That's not true, Saotome.)
(Yeah, okay. I hate getting started. It's hard to do, and it's boring.)
(We could try growing a rock. Look around see if there ain't an interestin' one, Saotome.)
(How's this one?)
The rock was nearly the size of Onna-Ranma's fist, but fit nicely in Otoko-Ranma's hand. Rather than being pure, snow white as most of the gravel in the yard was, this stone had reddish streaks and was encrusted with crystals of calcite.
(Yeah, that ought to do, Saotome. Bed it up in the gravel so that it looks like an island.)
The term "growing a rock," does not mean to literally grow a rock. Rocks are not living things. It instead refers to forcing a change in one's perception, so that the object of one's concentration, usually an interesting stone, appears to grow larger. This is not as impossible as it may seem to some, nor as simple as it may sound to the imaginative. Usually, the first time a person succeeds at it, they accomplish the feat quite by accident, having given up any hope of making the rock appear to grow. It is usually a fleeting experience. The rock being concentrated upon will appear to increase in size by a half-diameter or so, then the practitioner becomes excited and loses his concentration and the rock's appearance becomes normal again. Increasing the apparent size of a stone, and holding on to that change in perception, requires one to reach a mental state referred to in Zen practice as the "mind of no-mind." No one really understands what this means and a devout practitioner of Zen Meditation will tell you that there is no point in understanding. Once you have achieved it, they will insist, you will know what it means without needing to understand. Ranma had found this to be true only so long as he was in that strangely peaceful, psychosomatic state. Once out of it, his curiosity about what he had done would begin to burn all over again.
After a few moments of quieting the internal chatter of his mind, the rock grew a little. He became excited and slipped out of the "mind of no-mind" state, and the appearance of the stone returned to normal. After several more tries, he sustained it in a way he never had before. The stone seemed to grow until it appeared to be as large as himself. Ranma began exploring its surface the way one might explore a mountain from afar with a pair of binoculars. Unbeknownst to him, he began to cast a huge black aura which reached up towards the main power lines feeding the first stage step-down transformers.
One-hundred kilometers to the northwest of Nerima, Tsutomu Hata, the A-Shift Supervisor of the Chubu Falls power plant was on his early morning inspection tour. It was a habit he had developed when he began working in the plant as an oiler thirty-years ago. Producing power was a passion for him and he did not look forward to his mandatory retirement. For him, money had stopped being an issue long ago. He and his wife had more than enough money to retire on. For him, power was his life. He did not know what he would do with himself when the dreaded day came.
Hata had been one of the very few old-time operators to stay on after the company added the new, gas-fired turbines and waste heat recovery units to augment the little hydroelectric plant. He had gleefully thrown himself into operating school when most men his age shuddered at all the new complexities and opted for early retirement. In the end, Hata came to know more about his plant than the engineers who originally designed it.
At the moment, he was standing near AGT-100, ("A" train, gas turbine number 100) the number one, gas-fired turbine. The plant had four "trains," A through "D," of generating equipment. Each train had two gas-fired turbines and two waste heat recovery boilers, which supplied steam for two steam-driven turbines. Thus each 'train' had four generators, two powered by natural gas and two powered by steam. The older part of the plant had two large generators driven by water pouring through tunnels built into the dam. In all, the plant had eighteen generators. The hydroelectric part of the plant never stopped running, except for maintenance shutdowns every two years. The rest of the plant was operated in accordance with demand. Today, only "A" and "B" trains were being operated in addition to the hydroelectric plant. The weather was cool, almost cold enough to tempt one into wearing a light jacket, so the demand for power was low. Had it been a bit colder, or a bit warmer, they would have found it necessary to run at least the "C" train. On very cold days and all through the summer, they ran everything in the plant for all it was worth.
Hata felt an odd parallel between the power plant and the garden he had nurtured for the past thirty-years at his huge, country home. Each change of season brought changes to both. Some of the changes were subtle. Others were as difficult to ignore as the fiery red leaves of the maples in his garden. Hata knew all of the changes well, in both his garden and in his plant. Nothing, not even the subtlest change, escaped his notice. When the stem of FCV-AGT100 (flow control valve AGT100) began to spin, thus feeding much more fuel to the number one, gas-fired turbine of "A" train, Hata heard it. He heard it despite the high level of background noise because he knew every noise the plant made. Curious, he walked the twenty meters or so needed to reach FCV-AGT101, which fed fuel to the second of the "A" train's gas-fired turbines. It too was now wide open. He was not surprised when the smaller relief valves on the two waste heat recovery boilers lifted briefly, noisily releasing steam. This was followed by the same relief valves on the "B" train waste heat recovery boilers lifting briefly.
Something down in Nerima was demanding power, but Hata could not imagine what it might be, unless one of Nerima's tiny shipyards was extra busy. He walked over to the sound- proofed shed that served as rest area and smoke pen. Once inside, he removed his earmuffs, worn to protect his hearing from the noise of the plant, not to protect his ears from the cold, and got on his radio.
"Ochiai-san! What's going on?"
"Hey, Boss!" Ochiai's ever cheerful voice came back on the radio. "I've been trying to raise you on the radio. Demand just went up and is still climbin'. You want us to prep "C" train?"
"Yeah, go ahead and do pre-heat. Be sure to check the oil levels on all the turbines and feedwater pumps. I'll be back in the control room in about five minutes."
"We're on it, Boss."
Hata clipped the radio's microphone back onto his shirt and sat down for a smoke.
"What on earth could be needing that much power on a day like today?" he asked himself aloud, then shook his head. "I'll bet it's those crazy kids again."
Hata took his time smoking his cigarette. His doctor had told him to quit, and he was trying, but it was anything but easy. He had reduced his intake to five smokes a day and he'd be damned if he would rush through one. He smoked the cigarette down until the filter paper changed color, then threw what little was left of it into the butt can.
"Guess I'd better go see how my children are doin'," he said to the empty smoke pen as he donned his earmuffs. He trooped back up to the control room. A tour around the boards convinced him that there was no acute emergency brewing, just an unusual demand for power.
"Whadda ya think, Boss? Ochiai asked.
"Go ahead and fire up "C-Train" once they finish pre- heat," Hata told his assistant, "but keep a close eye on the dump condenser effluent. We shouldn't need the number two cooling tower as cool as it is today, but if we do, I want to start it up early rather than late."
Steam turbines work best if there is high pressure steam on one end and low pressure steam on the other. The dump condensers assured this by dropping the temperature of the steam on the outlet side of the turbines.
"I'll be in my office," Hata told Ochia, "I gotta ton of paperwork to catch up on."
"If I'm not back down here in half an hour, give me a ring, will ya?"
"You got it, Tsutomu!"
The one thing Hata hated about being shift supervisor was the amount of paperwork the position burdened him with. He could sort of use a computer, and had a terminal in his office, but had never really gotten comfortable with it. He had fallen into the habit of using paper forms and giving them to one of the girls in the typing pool to enter the data into the machinery. Things were less error prone for him that way. After twenty minutes of tedium, his telephone rang.
"C-Train is up and running boss, but I don't think it's going to be enough. Demand is climbing even faster now."
Hata said nothing for several seconds while he contemplated this news.
"You want I should have 'em prep D-Train?"
"Start number two cooling tower first," Hata ordered, "then pre-heat D-Train. I'll be down there right after I make a phone call or two."
"Okay, Boss!" Ochiai said. "Start Number Two Cooling Tower, then warm up The Dog. We're on it."
Hata hung up the phone, stared at it for a moment, then picked it up and punched up an outside line.
"Chubu Falls Power and Light, Horiuchi, here."
"Yo, Horiuchi-kun! How's it going?" Hata asked.
"Been an easy day, so far, Hata-kun. What's wrong?"
"I just started C-Train and am getting ready to fire up the D-Train."
"Better start checking for unauthorized taps."
"Well it can't be that bunch of geeks over at Furinkan, again!" Horiuchi exclaimed, "The Governor promised 'em he'd put 'em jail if they did it again."
Hata laughed out loud. The last time they had seen a sudden, inexplicable demand for power like this one, it had turned out to be the Furinkan Physics Club testing out their newly completed cyclotron. They had some how managed to pull a pair of 13.8KV feeders from the temporary power setup at a construction site, over to the Furinkan High School's basement. Local authorities had not known whether to give the students scholarships to Tokyo University or to prosecute them for criminal mischief. The Governor's office had ended up doing both. The kids were on probation.
"Well, we are pushing lots and lots of watts, Horiuchi-kun," Hata said. "Enough for a linear accelerator or something this time. Better try to find 'em before they kill themselves and blow something up."
"Why does this kind of shit always happen on a Friday?"
"You got me, man!" Hata said. "If nothing turns up at Furinkan, better check over at Saint Hebereke's."
"That's an all-girls school!"
"Times change, Horiuchi," Hata said dryly, "My youngest granddaughter knows more about electronics and computers than I'll ever learn."
"All right, I'll get on it," Horiuchi said. "Lemme know if demand starts to drop."
"No problem, but if you find the tap, be sure to let me know before you pull the plug on 'em."
Hata hated pumping what was, in all probability, un- metered power into the grid, but he had no choice. If he did not meet the demand being placed upon the system, Nerima would suffer a brown-out or perhaps even a black-out. The only good solution was to keep feeding power to the system and hope the linemen found the source of demand quickly.
Hata returned to the control room and consulted a number of instruments. The demand was not going away, it was still increasing at a rapid pace.
"Temp on dump condenser effluents?" Hata asked loudly enough to be heard throughout the control room.
"Ninety-five degrees and falling, sir," one of the board operators answered, "Number Two Cooling Tower is now fully on-line."
"All right," Hata said, "wake up the Dog."
"The Dog" was their slang for the plant's least used, "D-Train." They had picked up the notion from one of General Electric's engineers.
"Boss?" Ochiai asked.
"You want me to stir out the stumpjumpers?"
Hata smiled. Ochiai was going to make a good shift supervisor after Hata retired. The younger man had learned his lessons well. "Stumpjumpers" was the slang term they used to describe their fellow employees generally known as linemen. It was a somewhat obscure reference to the lineman's habit of climbing poles.
"Thanks for the reminder, Ochiai-kun, but I called them just before coming back."
"Just checkin', Boss."
"I'll be in my office," Hata said with a smile of approval for his protege. "Call me if anything changes."
Hata spent the next hour delving into the complexities of his fuel consumption reports. Just as he was about to have it all untangled, the telephone rang.
"Boss," Ochiai paused and gulped loud enough for Hata to hear it, "demand is starting to drop."
"Yessir, it's dropping pretty fast, too," Ochiai said, sounding rattled, "I'm pretty sure we'll get an overspeed trip on the wet side of the Dog."
The problem with waste heat recovery boilers is that it takes a while to shut them down. Sometimes, a sudden drop in demand would leave the plant with more steam than it could use. This would cause the steam turbines to run too fast, causing an "overspeed trip," when the safety systems would choke off the steam being fed to the turbines. This still left the system with the problem of too much steam and the only option left at that point would be for it to dump the steam via the relief valves. This was very noisy. It virtually guaranteed complaints from the plant's neighbors. It also caused the loss of specially treated and expensive water for the boilers.
"Bring A and B trains up to a hundred and ten percent, then start kickin' the Dog. I'm on my way."
Before Hata could reach the control room, the floor began to shake, followed by the rumbling, rocket engine roar of twelve-fifty steam, basically just water heated until it held the fury of all the demons in hell, as it erupted from the D-Train's largest relief valves.
"Son-of-a-bitch!" Hata bellowed back futile fury. "Why did this have to happen on my shift?"
An hour later and a hundred kilometers or so away, Ranma Saotome cleared the switchyard fence, then sprinted towards Tofu Ono's clinic. He was already late. He was in such a great hurry that he failed to notice the power company truck, even though he had skipped across its hood as it pulled up to the yard's gate.
"Didja see that shit?" the driver screamed at his partner.
The other man was too shocked to speak. He merely nodded his head.
The driver keyed his radio.
"Base? Unit fifty-four!"
"Fifty-four, base. Go ahead."
"Base, we just pulled up to the switchyard when one of those martial arts kids came bouncing over the fence."
"Did he go into the yard, fifty-four?"
"No! He was comin' out of it!"
"What was he doing in the yard?"
"How the hell should I know?!" the driver shouted into his microphone as he turned red in the face. "Sharpening his cute little claws on a transformer, maybe?"
"Fifty-four, check for damage to the switchyard and report."
"No way, base! Not before you send us some more help! We ain't goin' in there by ourselves! Fifty-four, clear."
"Okay, fifty-four. Stay put. Sixty-two and seven-one? Report to the switchyard, please."
"I hope they hurry," the second man in the truck said.
"Why?" the driver asked.
"'Cause it's gonna rain this afternoon and I hate workin' in a switchyard while it rains!"
"I'm just hopin' we don't hafta call the cops out here to pick up the body of a flash fried kid!" the driver grumbled.
They found no body nor any damage to the switchyard. Nor were there any unauthorized taps. They did find Ranma's tracks in the gravel and the place where he had sat while meditating. One of the men picked up the rock that Ranma had used for an object of meditation.
"Didn't one of you guys say the kid you saw was wearing a red shirt and had his hair tied up in a braided pigtail?"
"He was just lookin' for a quiet place to meditate," the man said as turned the rock between his thumb and forefinger. "I know where he lives. I'll have a talk with him later."
They locked up the yard, then drove away continuing their search for an unauthorized tap on the grid.
Ranma arrived at the clinic thinking that he had needed to meditate for a long time. Some subtle, undefinable craving which had been bothering him for months was suddenly gone. It was for him a curious experience. He had not realized that he had such a need before today. Now that the craving was gone, he was aware that he had been suffering from it.
In the centuries passed, whenever a westerner felt the urge for solitude, he obtained it easily by simply throwing a pack on his back and marching off into some unsettled place. Perhaps more importantly, western societies have long valued individualism and such behavior was easily understood by all. In the Japans however, such was never the case throughout its written history. The topography of those rugged islands and the close-knit nature of the societies which prospered there, have always conspired together to frustrate the individual's occasional need for solitude and simplicity.
Sometime in the middle of the sixteenth century, a retainer of the great warlord, Oda Nobunaga, developed the means of acquiring solitude and simplicity in a crowded, boisterous land long torn by constant warfare. His name was Sen No Rikyu and the way he found to solitude and simplicity was through the ceremony of serving and drinking tea, the Cha No Yu. To be sure, Rikyu had not invented the ceremonial serving and drinking of tea. That had been done in China well before his time. Rikyu's accomplishment was to pare down the practice of serving and relishing tea to its barest essentials. This was in great contrast to the general practice of the time. The tea ceremonies of his youth were occasions of great ostentation and showmanship, held in large banquet halls. Foppery and one-upmanship ruled the day.
Rikyu's tea ceremony was guided by two watchwords; wabi, which means poverty, and sabi, which means loneliness or solitude. To him, too much beauty was a bad thing. With a collection of beautiful things, it is difficult to fully appreciate any one of them. Place a single, beautiful thing in homely surroundings however, and it becomes the center of one's focus. Rikyu's ideal was to clear the air of clutter, fuss and bother, to reduce all of one's focus down until all that was left within it, was that which truly mattered.
The first thing Rikyu rejected were the large, elegant halls used for Cha No Yu. His first teahouse was modeled on the hut of a poor farmer, barely large enough to shelter four people quietly sitting and lacking a proper door. To enter his teahouse, one found it necessary to crawl. He also rejected the beautifully made tea services or "chadogu," of the day. He adopted the practice of using bamboo utensils in lieu of silver, and simply glazed earthenware instead of fine porcelain. His idea of a fine object for the tokonoma, was single scroll with one or two words written in carefully brushed kanji, or better yet, a plum branch stripped bare of all but a single blossom, ensconced in a simple bamboo tube. The objective was to achieve richness in the midst of poverty, and solitude in the presence of others, as each person contemplated the essentials for himself.
Later, the ceremonies came to be held outdoors beneath nothing more than an umbrella and though often a large one, it was never large enough to shelter the entire party. The intended role of the umbrella was to serve as a mere symbol of shelter. Rikyu was interested in the bare essence of beauty and nothing more. For reasons which are not entirely clear, a large umbrella, made of bamboo and heavily oiled, red paper, came to symbolize the Cha No Yu itself. Other colors are no longer considered acceptable for the Cha No Yu. Such an umbrella lashed to a gate post has come to mean that a Cha No Yu is in progress on the grounds, and the participants are not to be disturbed for anything less than the most serious of reasons.
There were and are, other schools of Cha No Yu of course, but the way Rikyu established became the way favored by the bushi, or warrior class, and so it was that when Ukyou Kuonji studied the Cha No Yu, she had studied the way of Rikyu. Cha No Yu became her hidden, or secret skill. She, like many Japanese, prided herself on mastering, or at least studying, two major skills. One to be practiced openly for the public as a means of making a living. The other only ever witnessed by close friends. To Ukyou, having chosen a form of budou (Warrior's Way) for her public art, it seemed only fitting to her that she choose cha-dou (The Way of Tea) as her private one. Such a choice was, after all, in full keeping with traditions of Japan.
By the time this fateful day had arrived, Ukyou had performed the Cha No Yu many times, but this was the first time she had performed it when the performance truly mattered. She had found herself surprisingly calm throughout the entire day. She spent much of it searching the lower limbs of the garden's maples until she found a forked twig of just the right sort. She carefully cut the it from the branch, then stripped all the other leaves away so that the only thing remaining was a single, forlorn leaf, resplendent in gold and crimson. She placed it in the tokonoma without a stand, and used a spray bottle to keep it moist.
The time she had been allotted for the ceremony was not the ideal. Preferably, Cha No Yu is performed just after dawn, or just as the sun begins to approach the western horizon. Another favorite time is at night when the moon is near full. The mid-afternoon, while acceptable, is not a preferred time, but the kami had chosen to smile upon the struggling chef on this, her most fateful day. The air had become chill in that afternoon as the high, thin overcast lowered into an even blanket of charcoal grey. Ranma and Akane entered the teahouse and viewed Ukyou's carefully arranged twig and leaf in the tokonoma, as custom required. She could tell by their faces that it spoke volumes to her guests.
Shortly after Ukyou began the ceremony, a soft, sibilant rain began to fall, making the atmosphere perfect for such a serious event in the lives of her and her friends. It became a bit too dark while Ukyou performed the tea making part of the ceremony, so Ranma lit a small candle, then placed it beside the twig in the tokonoma. They completed the ceremony and sipped their tea in the light of that single candle. It was at this moment, the very end of the ceremony that the value of Rikyu's long legacy became fully apparent to Ukyou. The three of them together, and each in their own way, had focused upon nothing but the essentials, just as Sen No Rikyu had intended. Ranma and Akane sat very near one another. Close, so very close, but not quite touching. Making it obvious that the desire to touch was present, but not indulged. Their concern together for her, was quite obvious to Ukyou as well. Their concern was genuine, but it was a concern they shared together for her. There was no room for Ukyou between Ranma and Akane. This had become as clear as the waters of Towada Ko and probably deeper.
As she sat and studied Ranma's face, Ukyou realized that she had been trying to harness him to her yatai. Such a fate was impossible for the young warrior sitting before her. Hers was not a life he could happily share, nor was his one that she could long endure. They were each masters of their respective arts, but their lifestyles could never be the same. She would have to let him go, dammit all! Love him as she might, it was the only thing she could do to save both their lives. Deciding this, made it easy for her not to be jealous of Akane. Akane would never be the subservient wife that most Japanese women were expected to become, but she was the perfect match for Ranma. He needed a woman of fiery will to support him and guide him in the times ahead. Ukyou knew down to her bones that neither of her old and newly-found friends would have a quiet future. Such a life was impossible for them.
Now all that remained, since so much was clear and the ceremony was at an end, was for Ukyou to say something. It did not have to end in such a way, of course. Many times people relied on "haragei," or "a gut feeling," in circumstances such as these. Often things were concluded in this manner, and became lifelong obligations with nothing spoken or written to confirm the agreement. Ukyou knew however that she dare not leave things the way they were. If she did, Ranma would leave feeling as though he were still tied to her yatai, and she had decided that he must be made free. Ukyou felt a great weight fall away from her soul as she realized that by freeing Ranma, she would also be freeing herself. Now, if she could just find the exactly right words to say, everything would be properly complete.
"Ran-chan? Akane-chan? I just want both of you to know that I...I..."
The atmosphere was suddenly ripped to shreds by the shrill alarm of a cellular telephone crying for attention.
Akane's eyes widened with shock and embarrassment as she desperately searched her person for the offending little instrument of torment. Ranma rolled his eyes towards the rafters in heartfelt disgust.
"I'm sorry, Ukyo!" Akane said, embarrassed to the point of tears. She was still feeling around her kimono, unable to remember which pocket it was in. "I forgot I even had this thing on me."
Ranma heaved an exasperated sigh.
Ukyo was at first outraged, then was struck by how even this unfortunate lapse of Akane's, fit into the whole of their Cha No Yu. How else was one to expect something to end if it involved her Ran-chan? Nothing involving Ranma ever got finished the way he, or anyone else, wanted. A Cha No Yu with a perfect ending would have been a glaring break with tradition, and it made her even more aware of why she would never be able to run a business and be married to Ranma. She began to laugh. Silently at first, but then she was unable to contain it.
"Are you all right, Ucchan?" Ranma asked, sounding concerned.
All Ukyou could manage was a nod as she gasped for another, much needed breath.
"Moshi, moshi!" Akane said into the telephone, sounding more than a little irritated.
"Nabiki!" Akane was now thoroughly peeved. "You do realize that we are in the middle of a Cha No Yu!"
"Go easy on her, Akane-chan!" Ukyou said in a squeaking voice, then gasped for breath. "I couldn't have planned a better way for this to end if I had wanted to."
"Okay, Nabiki!" Akane said, becoming very red in the face. "But you had better have a good explanation for this!"
Akane sat bolt upright, put the phone down in her lap while holding it with both hands, then took a deep breath and held it until Ukyou thought her former rival and friend would turn blue.
"It's Nabiki, Ranma. She wants to talk to you!" Akane said, handing the infernal device to her fiance.
Ukyou gave Akane a puzzled glance. Akane answered her with an angry shrug of the shoulders and shake of the head as Ranma listened on the telephone.
"Do what?!!" Ranma exclaimed. It was a tone of voice that Ukyou had never heard Ranma use in all the time she had known him. The air in the teahouse seemed to suddenly get much colder, which in fact, it actually had. It was not merely a psychological affect of Ranma's anger.
"He is, huh?" Ranma said. His voice was suddenly much deeper and had a grinding quality to it that Ukyou thought she recognized, but could not place. Akane was now staring at him with a look of genuine alarm on her face.
"Put the silly bastard on the phone!"
Neither of the two girls could hear what Nabiki was saying, but could tell it only angered Ranma further.
"I'm a good ways away, but I'll be there as fast as I can," Ranma said.
The air in the room was now becoming misty and the light from the candle had grown quite dim for reasons that Ukyou could not understand. It was almost as though something in the air was filtering out the light.
"Yeah, yeah! Whatever!" Ranma said, sounding most unimpressed. "I'm givin' you my word that I am on the way, all right? Just stay cool."
"Yeah, okay! I get the picture! I'm leaving now!" Ranma said, then folded the telephone up into its storage configuration.
"Konatsu!" Ranma shouted.
"Yes, Saotome-dono!" Konatsu's voice was nearby, but Ukyou could not place its direction. She was suddenly very annoyed with the ninja. Why was he hanging around? And how did Ran-chan know that he was here?
"Gather up the chadogu and the other stuff! I'm takin' the girls back to the clinic."
"Meet us there, Konatsu!"
"Okay!" the ninja answered back.
"Ranma-a-a!" Akane said in her menacing way, "What is going on?"
"No time for talk, Akane! We gotta move fast!"
Ranma enlarged the entrance of the tea house with a slashing knife hand as he gathered Akane to him. Before Ukyou could come to complete grips with what was happening, she found herself being borne over the rooftops of Nerima via "Air Saotome." A thrilling, but not a particularly dignified way to travel, given that she was draped over his left shoulder. A quick glance told her that a highly annoyed Akane Tendo was riding Ranma's right shoulder in the exact same fashion.
"Ranma Saotome you tell me what is going on right this very instant!" Akane shouted at the top of her voice. It made Ukyou's ears hurt.
"In a minute, Akane!" Ranma shouted back. "Right now I gotta save my breath!"
The trip to the clinic was mercifully short. Ranma was wearing a man's formal kimono, a much less restrictive garment than what Ukyou and Akane were wearing. He set the two girls down gently upon their feet, then without a word, he ran up the stairs in a blur. Ukyou had gotten a brief glimpse of his face and did not like what she saw. The squint lines around his eyes and the deep furrows in his brow were one thing, but the pure murder in Ranma's stormy blue eyes was something Ukyou never expected to see in her Ran-chan.
"What could this be, Akane?" she asked in a hoarse whisper. "I've never seen Ran-chan like this!"
Akane's face had gone quite pale. She seemed to be unsteady on her feet.
"I have," she said, "but only once."
Ukyou gasped. "You mean when he fought Safuron?"
Akane nodded, then said, "Come on! We gotta try and talk to him."
The two girls bounded up the stairs followed by Tofu. Close on the doctor's heels was Konatsu, carrying Ukyou's chadogu and three pairs of geta. By the time they reached the top of the stairs, Ranma had already removed his formal clothes and had put on a pair of rough trousers. He was still pulling a black tanktop over his head just they arrived.
"Ranma! TALK TO ME!" Akane bellowed loud enough to make the windows rattle.
"It's Tarou, Akane," Ranma said as he stepped into the tiny bath, then came back out with a clean furoshike. ["Furoshike" often translates as "bath towel or beach towel, but usually means a large piece of cloth intended to carry things in.]
"TAROU!" the girls chorused, "HERE?"
"He's holding Nabiki hostage over at the school," Ranma said in a voice that hung icicles in the air as he shook out the furoshike. "He says he ain't gonna let her go until I bring the old freak around for him to talk to."
"AHO!" the girls chorused.
"Ranma, didn't you tell him that Happosai is still in jail?" Akane asked.
Ranma carefully folded the furoshike up in what seemed to be a very odd way to Ukyou.
"Nabiki has already told him that, Akane. He said if I didn't bring the old freak in a hurry, he'd start breaking her fingers."
"So what are you going to do?" Akane asked.
"First, I'm gonna humiliate him, then I'm gonna make him hurt."
"I'll go get my kit," Tofu said, then disappeared down the stairwell.
"THAT BASTARD!" Akane shouted, "I'll kill him!"
"Then you had better change clothes, dontcha think?" Ranma asked with a smirk. "You're only wearing thirty or forty thousand yen worth of kimono."
"OOOOIIIIYAAAH!" Akane howled as she began to struggle with her obi.
"Here! Wait! Lemme give you hand with that, Akane!" Ukyou said as she ran over to her formal rival and began helping her with the kimono.
Ranma started down the stairs, but Akane noticed him and stopped him with a shout.
"Where are YOU going?"
"Where do ya think, Akane? The clock's tickin'! I'm pretty sure he meant that business about breaking Nabiki's fingers. You know how aggravatin' Nabiki can be."
"Promise me you won't let my sister get hurt!"
"I promise, Akane," Ranma said, then gave her a wink. "He won't even know I'm there until Nabiki is safely out of reach."
"Now promise me YOU won't get hurt!"
"I promise I won't get hurt bad."
Akane gave Ranma a hard stare. Ranma answered it with a lopsided grin.
"Hey! It's a fight! Whaddaya expect?"
"Okay, Ranma!" Akane said, sounding grim. "Hurry!"
"Ranchan!" Ukyo shouted.
"Now what?" Ranma asked from halfway down the stairwell. "I ain't got all day, ya know!"
"Promise me something, Ran-chan!"
Ranma gave out an exasperated sigh.
"Promise me you won't kill him!"
"I promise I won't kill 'im on purpose, Ucchan!" Ranma said over his shoulder as he turned. "That's the best I can do! And both of you guys stay close to Doc Tofu!"
"I'll take it!" Ukyou shouted after him.
"We will, Ranma!" Akane called out.
"Help me out of this thing, Ukyou!" Akane shouted as she again began struggling with her obi.
"Sure thing, Hon!" Ukyou said as she moved in to help with the recalcitrant garment. "You got somethin' I could maybe borrow for the fight?"
"We'll just wear some of Ranma's clothes!" Akane said as she finally struggled free of her obi, "They're used to it."
Ukyou cackled. "I'll bet they are!"
"Konatsu!" Akane shouted at Ukyou's ninja companion. He had been standing, frozen in place with his eyes covered, but Akane's shout made him quiver from head to toe. "Give Ukyou a hand with her kimono. We haven't got time to be fooling around!"
Ukyou opened her mouth to protest, but the sound died in her throat. Akane was right. The important thing for them to worry about now was to get to the high school. Once they changed and flew down the stairs, they collided with Doctor Tofu, who was struggling with a couple of stretchers and two different medical bags.
"I'll take one of those, Doc!" Ukyou shouted as she grabbed one of the stretchers and blasted out the back door. Akane silently took the other stretcher and followed her. Konatsu picked up the second bag just as Tofu bent over to pick it back up, then disappeared. Tofu looked around, shrugged his shoulders, then he too sprinted out the back door and down the street towards Furinkan High School.
Nabiki's minions had not been idle. They went to work like the well oiled machine Nabiki had trained them to be. Bets were taken and placed. Archers posted in strategic spots to cover Nabiki's escape should they be needed. They used archers because the ownership of firearms being expressly prohibited by law. Observers and cameramen were deployed in a way that was sure to catch all of the action as it unfolded. Oh, and one of them called the Nerima Police station and explained about the possible need for the presence of Happosai, just on the off chance things went badly wrong. The local police prided themselves on fast, friendly service and took immediate steps. Nabiki would not learn of all this until later, but would be enormously pleased with the way her little ad hoc team had performed and would give them all a nice bonus for their efforts.
Lieutenant Hashigawa hung up his telephone, then opened his door with such a hard jerk that it slammed into the wall of his office with a loud bang.
"Sir?" the two men chorused.
"Getcher asses up here!"
The two men sprinted across the long room, eager to comply.
"There's a paddy wagon waiting for you downstairs," Hashigawa said, his face grim. "Go get in it."
"Sir?" the two men again chorused, their eyes growing wide with horror.
"You two boobs are going to take a little trip to Nerima," Hashigawa told them. "Just so you will understand why we have certain rules about the place, okay?"
"Just getcher asses downstairs and onto that truck before I have you both clapped into irons and thrown onto it!"
Shirikawa and Ohga did not bother with the elevators. As with all government buildings, the elevators took something like a day and half to reach the third floor and also make a stop. Much to their shock and surprise, the paddy wagon was full of uniformed police. All of them, ten in all, were armed with shotguns and had their weapons trained unwavering upon a little old man who was wrapped up in chains that must have weighed at least fifteen kilograms per meter. The old man looked to be at least a hundred.
"What the hell is goin' on here?" Shirikawa asked.
"Shutup will ya?" the sergeant in charge snapped. "Ya might make one of my men lose his concentration and that'd be all she wrote!"
"O-o-o-kay, sorry," Shirikawa said.
"Just shutup, close the door and have a seat, okay?"
"Well all right, Sergeant, if you insist!" Shirikawa said as he reached for the paddy wagon's door.
"I do! Now siddown and be quiet!"
Ohga and Shirikawa found a couple of places to sit down on the floor of the truck, then found themselves hanging on for dear life as it weaved and swayed through Tokyo's traffic.
"I don't understand this, Shirikawa."
"Me either, Ohga. The old geezer doesn't look the least bit like Anthony Hopkins."
End of Chapter 6 Part a
Copyright © Don Granberry