Comes the Cold Dragon

Don Granberry.

Chapter 7b

Copyright

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, except those noted below, are purely fictional and any resemblance to actual persons living or dead, are purely coincidental.

Jack Burton is the creation and property of W.D. Richter, Gary Goldman, and David Z. Weinstein, screenwriters for the movie _Big Trouble in Little China_. The role of Jack Burton played by Kurt Russel. The movie directed by John Carpenter.

Notes

Brief mention is made of Sensei Nobuhara Yagyu. Yagyu-Sensei is the current and twenty-first headmaster of the Shinkage-ryu hyoho. He is a direct descendent of Yagyu Sekihusai Munetoshi, the founder of the Shinkage-ryu. The Shinkage-ryu hyoho was the school of swordsmanship adopted by the Tokugawa Shogunate. The Yagyu and their allied clans were instrumental in assuring a Tokugawa victory at Sekigahara.

No insult of Yagyu-sensei or his renowned school is intended by mentioning him and the Shinkage-ryu in this story. Quite the opposite obtains. In this writer's opinion, it would be a gross violation of verisimilitude to write of a great, Japanese Martial Artist and not mention the Sensei and his school, at least in passing.


(I cannot believe we see through people's clothes, Red!)

(I don't think we were seeing through their clothes so much as they were shining through them.)

(It ain't decent!)

(Man, you are such a prude!)

{{Pornography is a matter of geography, Oh Scarlet One.}}

(More like a matter of topography if you ask me, Scales)

(It ain't fair and it ain't decent for us to do that, Red!)

(I don't think we can help it, Saotome. I think we see down into the infrared in this form.)

(Infrared? Oh, yeah! I remember us readin' about that. Infrared passes through people's clothing.)

(We read?)

(Okay, okay! I remember what you read it about it. That better?)

(Yes.)

(I wonder if there is some way we can turn it off? I don't wanna look at my mom that way.)

{{Can see differently, if needed.}}

Tatsu-Ranma's view of his surroundings became dark and blurry.

(Yech! Now we can't see at all, Scales!)

(Oh, great! Just great. We either see through people's clothes or we're as blind as a Mousse.)

{{If you would allow me to finish?}}

(Wow! Look at this, Red.)

(I know, Saotome. It's almost as though we are using binoculars. Let's look at something up close.)

Tatsu-Ranma focused his vision upon a part of the nearby wall surrounding the clinic. It was brightly lit by light shining through one of the clinic's windows.

(Well, we can't quite see as much as we would with a good microscope, Saotome.)

(No, but we'll never need a magnifying glass in this form, Red.)

(I wish we could have done this when we were trying to read some of those old scrolls.)

(No joke. Hey! We still can! We'll just borrow 'em from Pop and see if we can't read 'em while we're in this form.)

(It's most likely a cookbook or something, Saotome.)

{{_To Serve Man_, perhaps?}}

(So, what if it is a cookbook, Red?)

(I see your point. If we can crack those, there are a dozen other sets we'll be able to read.)

(You know I never noticed how noisy this town is at night.)

(It's our hearing I think, Saotome.)

(Yeah, I think you're right.)

(What's that noise way up the street to our left?)

(There's only one person in Nerima who carries that much chain around on 'em, Red.)

(Only if you don't count the worst of the hentai around here, Saotome. He's headed this way.)

(Our sense of smell is a lot better, too.)

(Something of a mixed blessing, if you ask me, Saotome.)

(What'll we do about Mu Suu?)

(Go easy on him, Saotome. Hear his heart? It sounds like he's been runnin' for two days straight.)

(You know why he's here, dontcha?)

(Yeah. The old ghoul sent him to check us out.)

(Anybody else around we need to worry about?)

(No one we know to be a problem, Saotome.)

(Let's go out and meet him.)

(Umisen-ken?)

(Yeah.)

Some sixty meters away, Mu Suu stopped and listened. He could not see anything to be alarmed about, but then he could seldom see well enough to count on his vision. His ears were warning him of a presence. Then his nose picked up the faint odor of ozone. He closed his eyes and concentrated upon what his skin could tell him. Something large was nearby. He could feel faint traces of heat coming from a large body and could hear muffled grinding noises, almost as though someone were jiggling a sack full of fist-sized stones.

"Is that you, Saotome?"

"You have good ears, Mu Suu," Tatsu-Ranma said softly in his Onna-Ranma voice. "Or maybe I need a little more practice at bein' a dragon."

Mu Suu whirled around to face the voice. It had come from behind. He was greeted with the sight of a grinning Tatsu-Ranma. The dragon's beard was beaded with captured drops of drizzle and his iridescent, blue-green scales sparkled in the streetlights.

"You look almost like a machine of some kind, Saotome."

"Tarou thought I was a statue or something when he first saw me," Tatsu-Ranma said, then grinned a bit more. "He was upset when he discovered that this was me."

"So that's who you were fighting."

"Yeah, but he's gone back to China where he belongs."

"I wondered who it was."

"The old ghoul didn't tell you?"

"All she told me was that you had become a dragon during the fight. I don't think she knows who you were fighting, yet. Why are you talking like your girl half?"

"My regular voice would wake up the whole town."

"Ah, that makes sense," Mu Suu said, then began to shiver uncontrollably.

"Calm down," Tatsu-Ranma said, showing real concern in his feminine voice. "I'm not going to hurt you unless you give me reason to."

"How did you get behind me?"

"I can't tell you that," Tatsu-Ranma said. "What did Ko Lon send you to find out? There's no reason to stay out in this weather any longer than you must."

"You know, I think I like you better as a dragon, Saotome," Mu Suu said, managing a grin through his fright. "You're actually nicer."

"Really? Maybe its because I've been around my mom some lately."

Mu Suu bit back on what ran through his mind at that moment. He had not yet tired of living.

"Ko Lon worries about you, you know."

"Yeah, I know," Tatsu-Ranma said sounding glum. "I just wish she'd take the same attitude towards Akane."

The incongruity of the situation was almost too much for Mu Suu, not to mention the truly bitter irony of it all.

"You like the old bat, don't you?"

"I didn't say that."

"No, you didn't," Mu Suu said evenly, "but it shows."

"So what does Ko Lon want to know, Mu Suu?"

"For one thing, she's curious about how big you are."

Tatsu-Ranma seemed to be briefly amused by that question.

"Fifteen-shaku, six-sun from nose to tail."

"That's what? Right at five meters, isn't it?"

"Yeah," Tatsu-Ranma said, "but she wouldn't have sent you out on a night like this just to find that out."

"I think she's worried about how hostile you might be towards us and the rest of the Joketsuzoku, Saotome."

"I ain't hostile towards ya," Tatsu-Ranma. "Just leave Akane and the rest of my family alone and everything will be fine."

"So you are going to marry Akane?"

"I don't know that she will still have me, Mu Suu," Tatsu-Ranma said, again sounding glum. "I don't know that even my own mother will have anything to do with me after today, but it makes no difference. They are all under my protection. You got that?"

Mu Suu nodded his head in understanding, and suddenly found that he felt sorry for his long-time rival. The irony was truly bitter. Among the Joketsu, a man like Ranma Saotome would be universally revered almost without question. Here among his own people though, too many would be unable to understand. Most of them would despise him as a freak at best, or even more likely fear him as a great monster.

"You must have been a rip-snorter in your last life, Saotome."

"Most likely I did somethin' so bad I'm in the history books," Tatsu-Ranma said in agreement. "Tell Ko Lon I don't want any trouble. I especially don't want any trouble from Xian Pu."

"I will help keep an eye on Xian Pu, Saotome," Mu Suu said, realizing that a countervailing threat would do far more harm than good. "Will you promise me not to hurt her unless you must?"

"I never hurt anyone I don't have to, Mu Suu. I actually kinda like Xian Pu," Tatsu-Ranma said, then in much colder voice added, "But I will kill her outright if she so much as touches a hair on Akane's head."

"Surely you don't mean that, Saotome."

Tatsu-Ranma's girlish voice was again sad when he spoke.

"Yes I do, Mu Suu. It's the only way I can say no and make Xian Pu understand that I mean it."

Mu Suu worked hard at not letting his face change, even as tears ran down his cheeks from behind his glasses.

"You cannot blame her for what she is, Saotome."

"I don't blame her, Mu Suu. I blame all of the Joketsuzoku and their stupid laws. If she does something stupid, I'll teach 'em how stupid it all is. Do you understand?"

"I think I get your drift, Saotome. Perhaps I should be going."

"One more thing, Mu Suu."

"Yes?"

"I had whole lot rather be your friend than your enemy. The choice is yours."

"And what of Xian Pu's honor?"

"I'll do anything I can short of marryin' her or pillowin' with her, Mu Suu."

"You mean you wouldn't at least honor her with a child? Even if it meant you would have no obligations?"

"I could never abandon my own kid, Mu Suu. Even if I knew the child would be well cared for."

Mu Suu stared blankly at Tatsu-Ranma for a moment in silence. He had never heard anyone express such a sentiment before. He was not sure of what to make of it.

"You are more of a man than I thought, Saotome," Mu Suu said at last. "A strange man, but a real man nonetheless."

"Good night, Mu Suu."

"Good night, Saotome-dono."

Tatsu-Ranma watched Mu Suu's departing back until he rounded a corner, then hopped back over the clinic fence and settled once again into its tiny green-space. Sleeping in dragon form proved very different from sleeping in human form. Parts of him did not go to sleep. His sense of smell and hearing remained on a kind of "alert mode." He found it eerie to remain semi-aware of what was going on around him while the rest of his being slept. His dreams were different as well-- very different.

After several minutes of inner quiet, Ranma found himself standing upon a high cliff, overlooking a long, green valley. A river ran the length of the grassy valley below, with tall trees on either bank. The trees were of a kind he had never seen before. Even from this distance he could tell that they bore some kind of large blossom. The truly odd thing was that the blossoms varied in color, even on a single tree. He looked up, the sky was as bright and blue as any he had ever seen, with cottony clouds dancing along the wind high overhead. The sun felt warm on his shoulders. With a start, he suddenly realized that he did not seem to be dreaming at all. It was too realistic for a dream, almost as though he was actually standing in such a spot.

"Am I dreaming? Or have I traveled to this place somehow? I don't remember ever seeing anything like it," Ranma said aloud to himself as he realized he was back in his human form.

"Weird, huh?" a familiar, female voice said from behind him.

Ranma whipped around, automatically falling into his most deceptive of ready stances. Much to his shock, he found himself being confronted by his girl type. Worse, he found himself ogling his girl type. The bright, golden light of the sun shone through her comfortable looking sundress, nicely silhouetting the supple body beneath it. For the first time since he had acquired his curse, Ranma fully realized the impact his female form had on other men. It was unnerving. It was very unnerving.

"Cute, ain't we, Saotome?" Ranko asked, then giggled. "See now why most girls wear a bra?"

"I ... who ... "

"It's just me, Saotome! Don't you recognize yourself?"

"How?"

Ranko shrugged.

"Does it matter?" she asked. "This is a beautiful place, wherever it is."

"I thought you could only dream up stuff based on things you had seen before."

"So what do you see here that you haven't seen before, Saotome?"

"I ain't never seen grass like this for starters," Ranma said scuffing his bare foot through the luxuriant growth they were standing upon.

"How do you know you've never seen it before, Saotome?"

"'Cause I don't remember seein' it, that's why!"

"Your subconscious files away a lot of stuff you never notice, you know."

"Yeah? Like that dress you're wearin'?"

"What's wrong with it?" Ranko asked as she twirled around, letting the dress fly out into a broad disk of color around her deliciously attractive legs.

"I don't remember seein' IT either, much less ever wearin' it!"

"Well I remember it! It was at the department store when Mom took me shopping for a brassiere." Ranko said, sounding a wee bit miffed. "You don't remember it because you try so hard to forget this sort of thing."

The best Ranma could do was respond with a confused stare.

Onna-Ranma stepped in close to her male self and stared him in the eye, nose to nose.

"I know! It's a guy thing! And yes! I DO TOO understand."

Ranma again found himself struggling to find words. His female half gave him a grin and spoke while he continued to flounder.

"Do you have any idea how cute you are when you're flustered?"

"How come you never help me out when they do this to me?"

His girl self understood what he meant. He was angry because she never helped him out when Akane or some other girl got him over a barrel.

"Because they love to look at me when you're like this."

"Huh?"

"Confusin', ain't it?"

Ranma closed his eyes and groaned.

"Come on, Saotome! It's too pretty a day to have a headache."

"It ain't daytime and this ain't real!" Ranma cried out as he opened his eyes and gave his female self a hard stare.

"Oh, yeah?" Ranko said as she stepped back and placed her hands on her hips. The pose reminded Ranma of the way Akane did when she wanted to give him a hard time about something. He found himself grinning despite his discomfort.

"Do I really know how to do that?" Ranma asked, waving his hands to indicate Ranko's stance and demeanor. She understood what he was asking about, of course.

"Yes!" Ranko said with a snort. "Not that the oh-so- manly Ranma Saotome ever does anything like this!"

Ranma winced.

"I have an idea, Saotome!"

"What?"

"Let's take a walk down by the river."

"D'ya think we can get down there? This place ain't real, ya know."

"It's more real than you letting us believe, Saotome. I can come here whenever I like."

"Yeah, okay," Ranma said with a grin. "It might be fun."

Tiny points of light twinkled before Ranma's eyes, forcing him to blink. He suddenly found himself standing in deep shade and could hear water gurgling over rocks just off to his right. Large blossoms of differing colors were floating gently along upon the surface of the river's crystalline waters. The white ones amazed Ranma. They looked as though they had been carved from large opals.

"Nice, huh?" His girl half asked.

"Yeah, it is," Ranma answered as he craned his neck to look at the trees overhead. The leaves were large and palmate with a deep, almost coniferous green color. Unlike most of the leaves he had seen of this shape, these leaves were glossy, almost as though they had a waxy coating. The bark of the trees was a deep, reddish brown and quite rough. The woods were permeated with the smell of an ordinary forest with a faint undertone of eucalyptus. Clearly these really were trees, but not of a kind he had ever seen. The experience was a very odd mixture of the real and unreal.

"I don't remember ever seeing trees like this, Red."

"So? They're probably just composites of trees I've seen before."

"Did you dream this place up, or did I?"

"You did, silly! We're the same person, remember?"

"Not all the time we're not!"

"Yes, we are, Saotome," Ranma's girl half said, sounding a little sad as she took his hands in her own, "that's one of the things we need to talk over."

Ranma let her lead him over to a large rock jutting up out of the soft soil. It had a smooth flat surface like a tabletop and was several meters across. It had been split right down the middle, as though a giant had cleaved it into with a sword. He recognized the stone. It was Tengu Rock. He and his father had sparred upon its slanted surface every day for the ten months they had lived in Yagyu village. Genma had arranged for him to study kenjutsu under Nobuhara Yagyu, the twenty-first headmaster of Yagyu Shinkage-ryu hyoho. Yagyu- sensei had demanded much of Ranma. In the end, Yagyu had seemed pleased with his efforts and even invited him to return after he was grown.

The sun broke through the dense canopy of limbs and leaves here, making it a perfect spot to picnic. Bright little points of lights danced in front of Ranma's eyes, forcing him to blink. He found himself sitting on a blanket opposite Ranko; some of Kasumi's best cooking was scattered out in various dishes between them. He sampled some of the food. No doubt about it, this was Kasumi's cooking. Ranko handed him a piece of okonomiyaki, surprisingly, it was not Ukyo's. It was her father's.

"Damn!" Ranma exclaimed. "I had forgotten how good that old man could cook."

His female half grinned at him.

"No you didn't."

"Maybe not," Ranma said, grinning back, then suddenly became serious. "What are we doing here, anyway?"

"What anyone does in a dream, Saotome. Relax and try to deal with stuff we can't deal with while we're awake."

"So what are we tryin' to deal with?"

"Sex."

Ranma's mouth hung open. His girl half giggled at him.

"You're flustered again, Saotome."

Ranma's discomfiture worsened precipitously.

"Now you are positively blushing."

Ranma's face darkened.

"Come on, Saotome! There's no need to be embarrassed here. There's just me," she said pointing at herself, then at Ranma, "and me here. I can be honest with myself, can't I?"

"I ... I don't know," Ranma said in a low voice. "I don't know if I can handle it."

"So why don't you ask me a question?" Ranko said, sounding sly. "I know you're dying to."

"Why are my girl type urges so much stronger than my guy type urges?"

"Because girls mature earlier than guys, you big dope!"

"Huh?"

"You didn't pay attention during health class, did you?"

"I paid attention!"

"But you didn't really think it applied to you, didja?"

"I ... I guess not," Ranma said sounding as though he had just opened a door that he had not known existed in a previously familiar room.

"I think we're just now starting to find out what Akane has been going through since before we got here."

"What do you mean by that, Red?" Ranma shouted at his girl half. "You got no right to talk about Akane like that!"

"Oh, come on, Ranma! You've seen the fire in her eyes when she looks at us, and I ain't talkin' about when she's been mad at us!"

Suddenly, bright little points of light again twinkled before his eyes forcing him to blink. They were still in the same place, but things had changed. The leaves were no longer green. Now the trees were wearing riotous coats of copper, red and gold. Their limbs were so heavy with large, nut-like fruits that many of them were drooping from the strain. Onna- Ranma was sitting on the same blanket, but the dishes were different this time. His eyes widened as he watched his girl half, now in male form, chop up pieces of one of the large nuts, tossing them into a wok for stir frying along with some fish and other vegetables. His girl type had set the wok over an open fire. The smoke from the fire smelt sweet, but the aroma from the sizzling pan was even better.

"Hey!" Ranma called out in his girlish voice. "You want some help?"

His girl half looked up at him and gave him his most manly grin in return. "I can handle it. You just sit there and relax."

Ranma tried to get up, but began having trouble. It took him a moment to realize that the reason he was having trouble was his very large stomach. He felt of it with both hands. Something inside kicked. Life! There was life in there!

"Red, you jerk!"

"What's the matter?"

"I'm pregnant!"

"Yeah, so? It's what I wanted deep down, right?"

"I wanna have kids awright! But I wanna have Akane's kids!"

"So? Whose kid do you think that is?"

"It can't be Akane's, you dipstick!"

"Oh? What makes you think that?"

"Akane's a woman! She can't get me pregnant!"

"Yeah, well it did take some pretty special help. Modern science can work wonders nowadays. If I really want to have Akane's baby, I can, Saotome."

"Gahh!"

"What's wrong?"

"This was supposed to be a pleasant dream and friendly discussion!" Ranma screamed in Onna-Ranma's voice, then swallowed painfully at a catch in his throat. "Not a goddamned nightmare!"

"What's so nightmarish about having a baby?" his girl half asked in a gentle, but masculine voice. "It's what I really want deep down."

Ranma became suddenly aware of how precious the life growing inside his female body was to him, then began to cry.

"Are you all right?" his girl half asked Ranma's own, masculine voice.

"I'm pregnant!"

"Yeah, so?" she said, sounding puzzled. "It's what I really want, isn't it?"

"I'm a guy, dammit! I can't have a baby!"

"Sure you can have a baby! You know you can have a baby and it's one of things you want to do!" his girl half bellowed in his male voice. "Why do you think I'm havin' this dream!"

"I do NOT want to have a baby! You pervert!"

His girl half-grinned at him.

"Think so, huh?" She asked, then her grin on her masculine face got even bigger. "Watch this!"

Bright sparkles again filled the air before Ranma's face, forcing him to blink. This time the rock was gone. They were on a vast beach. Nearby was a fire-pit dug into the sand and freshly caught abalone and clams were steaming inside a mound of seaweed just laid upon the coals. The surf crashed upon a reef the better part of a kilometer from shore. Clear water shading from a vibrant, sun-dappled green to deep blue near the reef, lapped at the golden sands with peaceful, crystalline wavelets. Ranma felt the wind play with his bangs while the warm, languorous sun kissed the bare skin of his shoulders. Wave after wave of peaceful bliss was washing over him. He could not remember when he had felt so relaxed. It was then that he noticed a slight weight on his arm and something pulling at his left nipple. He looked down to find that he was in his girl type body and an infant was sucking at his breast. The child stared up at him with trusting blue eyes as the wind ruffled her fine, red hair. Ranma had never felt so complete in all his life. Nor had he ever felt quite so strong for, or quite so defensive of anything or anyone. Not even Akane had been able to make him feel this way.

He lay back against the canvas of the beach chair and struggled to stay awake. The sun would swing around soon and he did not want the newborn in it.

"You look sleepy, Ranma."

Ranma smiled back at his girl half. She handled his male type body quite well and was very handsome.

"At peace is more like it."

"See? I told you I wanted to have a baby."

"I know, Red. It's just ... well ... "

"You're worried about Mom."

"And Akane. Do you really think she'd willingly give this up?"

"She wouldn't have to, dummy."

"Do you think she'd willingly share it?"

"Hey! We're talkin' Ranma and Akane, here."

"Well, you can bet she ain't gonna take to it all that kindly at first. She pro'lly figures that she supposed to be the lady of the house. I mean it's bad enough that we're gonna have to ban her from the kitchen for the first few months."

"Aw come on, Ranma. You know she'll be able to cook by the time we marry."

"Yeah, I suppose so, assuming she wants to stick with us after that trip."

"She will, Saotome. She's got twice as much steel in her soul as I do. She might even have more than Mom."

"Yeah, but it still ain't gonna be no picnic, Red. There's gonna be times when she truly hates me, and it might take her a long time to get over it."

"We'll just have to be careful and handle Akane like she's Akane and not like Shit-daddy handled me when I was little, Saotome."

"How long before the abalone's done?"

"Oh, a couple of hours, I guess."

"Watch the sun and move the umbrella for us, would ya? The baby and I both need a nap."

"For a man among men, you sure seem to be a natural at motherhood, Saotome."

"Can't help it, Red. It comes with the curse."

"You sure you wanna do this, Saotome?"

Ranma gave forth with a frustrated sigh as once again, sparkling motes of light forced him to blink. Now they were back on top of the cliff. Ranma was back in his male form while is girl half stood beside him in her female form, holding his arm.

"You could end it forever, you know."

"End what forever?"

"The curse, silly."

"How?"

"Build up enough ki, then use it at the right time to change and I would never be a girl again."

"Why would I wanna do that?"

"No more girl type urges for starters, Saotome."

"No more worryin' about Mom."

"Uh-huh. And no more of those icky times of the month."

"And no more lookin' at a dress and wishin' I could wear it."

"And no more wanting to have Akane's baby."

"Hey! I'll always want to have Akane's baby. It's too late to turn back now."

"Yeah, but you wouldn't want to HAVE her baby, Saotome. There's a difference here."

"I will always want to HAVE Akane's baby, Red. It's too late to change that now."

"That's just your hormones talking, Saotome."

"Nope. It's what's in my heart, Red. You know it is. I ... "

"You wouldn't daydream about her being some big, tall handsome guy anymore either."

Chills ran up the back of Ranma's male half.

"The last time I did that, Kuno glomped me while I was in the middle of it. It was ... it was ... "

Onna-Ranma placed a finger on his lips to silence him.

"You think I don't know that, Saotome? I'm in love with Akane. I could never run around on her, even with a man. I'm stuck with this for as long as I decide to hang onto the curse. The thing is, I'm willing to pay the price."

Ranma embraced his female half and gave her a peck on the forehead. The sky began to darken as Onna-Ranma cuddled up to her male half.

"You scare me sometimes, Saotome."

"Whaddaya mean by that, Red?"

"I know all too well how much you hate being a girl. I figured once you knew how to be male all the time you'd ... "

"Nah, no way. There's too many things you can do that I can't. Besides, I'd hate missin' out on all that ice-cream."

"And Akane's baby?"

"Red ... I don't know about this pregnant business ... I don't think I'll ever be able to handle it."

"Being pregnant isn't what bothers you, Saotome," his girl half said. "I know it and you know it. It's doing what it takes to become pregnant that bothers you."

Ranma's male half suddenly became very tense.

"I can't help that!"

"I know, Ranma," his girl half said as she buried her face in his shoulder to hide her tears. "I'm sorry. I can't help making you feel that kind of desire sometimes. It's ... it's just nature at work."

Ranma's male half relaxed, then sighed with resignation as his girl half began sobbing.

"But look at the bright side of things, Red. You will have a baby to cuddle," Ranma said patting his female self on the back, "and it WILL be Akane's baby."

"I was so afraid she'd never accept me," Onna-Ranma said into the shoulder of her male form.

"We lucked out on that, Red," Ranma's male half said in a soft voice. "We lucked out on it big time."

Ranma cuddled his female self and rocked her gently until she could regain control.

"Saotome?"

"Mmm?"

"She may turn out to be better than me."

"What makes you think that?"

"Remember the dougi?"

"Yeah, so?"

"It couldn't really do anything more than use her full potential, Saotome."

"Yeah, but it will take her a long time to get there."

"So you're not worried?"

"Hey! She's gonna marry ME, remember?"

"You are such a rock-head, sometimes, Saotome!" Ranma's girl half said with a grin.

"Me? A rock-head?"

"I'm sleepy," his girl half said. "How about you?"

"Yeah, I'm pretty tired," Ranma said with a great yawn as he held his female form a little closer. "It's been a long day."

As the stars came out, Tatsu-Ranma gently curled itself around the sleeping pair, as though guarding a nest. Shortly thereafter the whole of Ranma fell into a deep, dreamless sleep.


Shintarou Ishikawa was an odd man by any standard, but especially odd by Japanese standards. He graduated in the top of his class from Tokyo University, majoring in economics. This would have guaranteed him a lifetime career in government service had he wanted it, but he spurned all such offers. He decided to become a novelist instead. His first two books did not do all that well. The next three became national best sellers. Thus at age thirty-five he had become a quiet man of average height, suffering from the swivel-chair spread in his middle, a pale complexion, and that sloppy slump of the shoulders common to all career desk-jockeys. His face was soft and ovoid with a weak chin and eyebrows that pointed upwards above his nose, giving him the look of a man perpetually and comically surprised. This last aspect of his appearance was considerably enhanced by his hairline, which had decided to recede early.

Finding himself possessed of more money than he could reasonably spend, and knowing that his chances of becoming a hit with the ladies were practically nil, Ishikawa began casting about for something to do other than writing. Cranking out five novel-length works back to back had required him to lead a quiet, almost monastic existence. While his writing had brought him quite a bit of fame and more than a little money, it seemed unlikely that his writing alone would ever cause his ideals to be realized. He and the rest of the world it seemed were in dire need of a change. The problem Ishikawa found himself addressing, was how to make that change.

Politics seemed the most likely solution, but he had been careful to check on the careers of the other writers and artists that had taken than route. Most of them failed to accomplish anything but grief for themselves, their parties and their country. In his estimation, they went into politics with insufficient experience and too little knowledge of how their government really worked. Having reached the this conclusion, and realizing that inexperience and lack of knowledge about the inner workings of government were two glaring shortcomings of his own, he decided he had best acquire some of each before dabbling in politics.

His old classmates did their very best to discourage him when he called upon them for help. He had been out of the loop too long they told him. The only job he was likely to get would be very menial. Ishikawa had not cared about that then, and he did not care about it now. He pressed on until he finally got what he wanted, a job with the government. He had been a bit worried when he reported in for his first day of work. He had never so much as owned a cat in his entire life, now he was about to go to work as a field officer of the Animal Control Division of the Tokyo Public Works Department.

As it turned out, Ishikawa brought to his job a set of skills, which proved to be both a boon and a bane. In order to become a professional writer, one must write. This sounds like an entirely reasonable, straightforward premise, but there are complications. In order to write enough to make a living writing, it is necessary to narrow one's mental focus until nothing but the task at hand is in view. This is challenging. A friend calls with an invitation to a romantic dinner for four and one says, "No thanks." Family calls hoping the writer will join them for a picnic and the writer pretends to be ill. The writer disconnects the television and wishes there was no such thing as the Internet, but the writer keeps the modem because it speeds research. Writing is a very quiet, very private, soul searing hell. The only surcease from it is reaching a point where one may, in good conscience, type two little words: "The End."

Ishikawa knew nothing about animals when he came to work. He was by no means in the physical shape he needed to be in to do the job. His uniform did not fit him at all and actually made him look more comical than he ordinarily did, but the one asset he brought to his job was focus so ruthless that even the most cunning of feral tomcats seldom eluded him for long. The largest, most ill tempered breeds of dogs troubled him not at all. Nothing stopped him from doing his job. Crying children begging for their pets back meant nothing more to Ishikawa than the sighing of the wind in the pines. Little old ladies begging him to drop their poodles failed to even make him pause. Big brutish owners of pit bulldogs, foolish enough to try intimidation would simply find themselves wearing a net and riding along in the back of his truck with their pets. Ishikawa's supervisors suddenly found themselves wishing he had gone to work for the post office instead of them. Ishikawa lacked perspective. He did not care whose pet he captured. If the animal was not legal or did not have the appropriate tags and paperwork, he brought it in. Shintarou Ishikawa was no respecter of persons, only the law.

This single-mindedness caused more than a little discomfort for Tokyo Public Works in general and the Animal Control Division in particular. All of his supervisors shook their heads in dismay. Why could he not understand that being a dogcatcher was one of the most political of all jobs? Hoping that he would learn the ropes, and some much needed flexibility, they transferred him from one district to the next in quick succession. The rich learned to despise him within two days arrival. The poor hated him with a passion so black that hell had no hope of matching it. The yakuza and the politicians they owned learned to fear him. The nation's supply of exotic animals dried up in just a few days. Finally, it was decided to transfer him to a middle-class district. Only the kami know why Nerima was chosen, but transfer him to Nerima they did.


The sun did not come up on Saturday morning. It settled for turning the sky into a dripping, gray blanket of cloud instead of a black, dripping blanket of cloud. The alert part of Tatsu-Ranma's mind woke the rest of his body and mind.

(What's that smell, Red?)

{{A pig--no, a long pig.}}

(So what exactly is a long pig, Scales?)

(It's Ryoga, Saotome! Long pig is what the Polynesians used to call a human they roasted at a luau.)

(You mean they eat people at those wing-dings? Kuno's daddy is sicker than I thought!)

(They don't eat people anymore, Saotome. That was in the old days, you baka!)

(Oh, ho! THIS is gonna be fun.)

{{Mmm! Good snack.}}

(It's Ryoga, you scaly oaf!)

(We can't eat him, Scales! Well, I could, but I'd never live it down.)

{{Not for eating?}}

(No! He ain't for eatin', Scales. I can't believe you said that, Red!)

{{Will he mate?}}

(NO!)

(He would if I let him. He's as big a pervert as Kuno is.)

(He's comin' closer, Red! Let's get ready.)

(He's gonna shit when he sees us in this form, Saotome.)

{{He has a great spirit and a big heart, but he is not strong enough to be a true enemy.}}

(Yeah, but we're gonna scare the pig poop out of him anyway, Scales.)

{{Duty?}}

(Yeah, something like that.)

(More like ritual combat you mean, Saotome.)

(Whatever!)

(Be vewie vewie quiet! He's about to come through the gate.)

{{Something else approaches.}}

Tatsu-Ranma sniffed the air.

{{It is a hunter.}}

(A hunter? In Tokyo?)

{{He is a good hunter. He must be nearby, but I smell no fear from our toy.}}

(Must be one of Tofu's buddies.)

{{Look over the wall?}}

(No, let's worry about Ryoga first, Scales.)

{{We have time. Our toy is at the gate.}}

Ryoga Hibiki, thinking that he was still in Miyazaki City and hoping to get directions to a train station, walked unsuspecting through the clinic gate.

"Yo, Ryoga! How's it hangin'?" Tatsu-Ranma asked cheerfully in Onna-Ranma's voice.

"Ranma?" Ryoga asked in puzzled tones as he looked about for his archrival, friend and favorite enemy. "What are you doing in Miyazaki?"

"This is Nerima, Pork-butt!"

"Boy, what a realistic looking statue," Ryoga exclaimed upon finally taking full notice of Tatsu-Ranma.

"I am NOT a statue, Ryoga!" Tatsu-Ranma said in Onna- Ranma's voice.

"Ya-a-a-a-ah!" Ryoga screamed in terror as he jumped up onto the wall. "It's alive!"

Tatsu-Ranma reared up onto his hind legs so that he could look Ryoga in the eye.

"Of course I'm alive, Bacon-breath!" Tatsu-Ranma rumbled in his natural voice. "Dontcha recognize me?"

Ryoga's eyes grew to the size of dinner plates as his jaw went slack.

(Oh, wow, Saotome! He's turnin' green!)

(Now he's turnin' a kind of coppery color, Red.)

(I wonder if we do that when we're scared, Saotome?)

(I dunno. OH, look! Now he's turnin' white!)

(Hah! He looks like he just saw a ghost!)

"Who you gonna call, P-Chan?" Tatsu-Ranma asked in Onna-Ranma's voice.

This last was too much for Ryoga. He became faint and fell off the wall. Unfortunately, this caused him to lose his umbrella, thus exposing his water-sensitive body to the rain.

(Oh, man! That was worth at least a million yen, Saotome!)

(Too bad we didn't have time to get Nabiki to tape this one, ne, Red?)

{{He makes a good toy! Is he always so easily frightened?}}

(Just the first time, Scales. Ryoga's one of the bravest guys I know.)

(That he is, Saotome. He's gonna be mad enough to chew nails once he figures this out.)

(Hey! That'd be great! We haven't had a good match since Tarou left.)

(Geez, Saotome! That was just yesterday!)

(So? Ryoga's a great artist. It's always fun to fight him.)

(And he's only slightly less stable than nitroglycerine, Saotome.)

(And twice as dangerous, Red. That's why I love him.)

Tatsu-Ranma watched as P-Chan squirmed his way out of Ryoga's clothes.

{{I think he would make an excellent snack.}}

P-Chan's eyes widened with horror as he looked and saw Tatsu-Ranma towering above the clinic wall.

"Bwee!"

"Calm down, Ryoga! It's just me. I ain't gonna hurtcha!"

P-Chan believed his eyes a good deal more than his ears. He shot off down the street, then rounded a corner out of sight.

(Aw, geez! Now we gotta go get him, Saotome.)

(Yeah, I know. Akane would never forgive me if anything happened to him.)

Tatsu-Ranma flowed over the clinic wall, then galloped down the street after the fleeing P-Chan.

(Man! We can really move along in this form, Red!)

(You got that right! We must be covering ten meters a jump.)

{{Thirty-five shaku per jump. Could do better on dirt.}}

(Right! Turn right! He went that way.)


End of Chapter 7 Part b
Copyright © Don Granberry.