Comes the Cold Dragon

Don Granberry.

Chapter 7c

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.


Akane woke up in the muted light of a drizzly Saturday, taking joy in the comforting warmth cuddled up to her back. She smiled. Then the smile vanished as she remembered what had happened the day before and realized that the soft body cuddled up to her back could not be Onna-Ranma. Then she breathed a sigh of relief when she realized it was Nabiki. She scooted away from her older sister, hoping that her movements would not disturb the older girl. Nabiki mumbled something and rolled onto her back. Akane sat up and looked down at her, then again smiled. Seeing Nabiki asleep and looking nearly angelic brought back memories of their early childhood. It had been a time when the three of them played together and enjoyed it.

Still smiling, Akane rose, then went to the bathroom. As she came back out, the early morning quiet was disturbed by the rumbling grind of Tatsu-Ranma's voice. Even at a low volume it could be heard through the closed windows of the clinic.

"Of course I'm alive, Bacon-breath! Dontcha recognize me?"

Akane ran over towards the window at the front of the flat, not quite noticing how cute Ukyo and Konatsu looked when cuddled together on Tofu's old couch. Looking out the window, Akane saw Ryoga teetering on the clinic wall and in an obvious state of panic. He face was as white as a sheet. Tatsu-Ranma said something in his girl type voice, then Ryoga lost his balance.

Akane gasped as Ryoga disappeared and his clothes fluttered to the ground. Her dismay turned to shock when a small black pig emerged from the collar of Ryoga's heavy shirt. The little animal stared up at Tatsu-Ranma, its eyes wide with fear, then it seemed to look right at Akane and its eyes widened with true, heartfelt terror.

"Calm down, Ryoga! It's just me. I ain't gonna hurt'cha!" Tatsu- Ranma said, just loud enough for Akane to make out what he said.

P-Chan sprinted away and out of Akane's sight, even though she pressed her nose against the cold glass in an effort to follow his motion. Tatsu-Ranma bowed his head, then slapped the palm of scaly forepaw onto his face. The sight of a frustrated dragon might have struck Akane as comical in other circumstances, but at this particular moment, her mind was too numb from shock. She continued to watch in slack-jawed amazement as Tatsu-Ranma somehow hiked his five-meter length over the clinic wall without touching it, then tore off down the street in pursuit of the fleeing pig.

Akane backed away from the window with a violent jerk, her lower jaw quivering with sudden pain and rage.

"That ... " Akane choked out in a hoarse whisper.

"Mmm, what's the matter, Akane?" Ukyo asked sleepily.

"THAT!" Akane shouted, in a loud, hard voice.

"What?" Ukyo said, the first faint traces of alarm in her voice. Now Konatsu was sitting up and looking worried.

"SON OF A BITCH!" Akane shouted.

"Oh, puh-lease, Akane!" Nabiki called out from the other end of the flat. "It's early and it's Saturday. Just for once I'd like to sleep in."

Ukyo and Konatsu both were now squinting at the brightness of Akane's aura. The heat from it was positively frightening. Akane stamped angrily across the flat then began pulling some of Ranma's clothes on over her pajamas.

"Akane, what's wrong?" Ukyo asked in a timid voice.

"We're having fresh ham with breakfast this morning!"

"Okay! I'll make ham and egg okonomiyaki!"

"Good!" Akane said with a frighteningly hard edge in her voice, "Just wait a few minutes, and I'll be back with the fresh ham."

"Akane, this is beginning to sound like something we need to talk about," Nabiki said in a tired and puzzled voice as she sat up and stared at her younger sister. "Maybe you should calm down first."

"IT'S TOO LATE FOR TALK, NABIKI! THERE'S BEEN TOO MUCH TALK ALREADY!" Akane shouted as she angrily thumped her way down the stairs.

"I'LL BE BACK IN A FEW MINUTES!"

The three remaining occupants of the flat winced as one of the doors downstairs slammed with a loud bang. They exchanged looks.

"Uh, Konatsu?" Ukyo asked in an uneasy voice.

"Yes, Ukyo-sama?"

"Maybe you had better tag along with her, just in case."

"Yes, Ukyo-sama!" Konatsu said as blurred into his high-speed mode and disappeared.

Nabiki fell back onto her futon and covered her eyes with one hand.

Ukyo rolled off the couch, gracefully rising onto her feet. She walked over and looked out the window Akane had been staring out of when she had her sudden fit.

"Ran-chan is gone!"

Nabiki gave out a loud sigh.

"And I can see what looks like Ryoga's clothes and backpack lying on the sidewalk out front.

Nabiki sat bolt upright, her eyes wide with horror, as though she had just realized something terrible.

"Oh, no it can't be!" Nabiki exclaimed.

"Huh? What are you talkin' about, Sugar?"

"Are you sure that's Ryoga's stuff?"

"Well, it looks like it from up here. You wanna go down and check it out?"

Nabiki gave out another sigh, as she got up and joined Ukyo at the window. A mere glance was all she needed to confirm her fears.

"Nope, there's no point in us getting out in the wet and cold. I can guarantee you that it's Ryoga's stuff."

Ukyo gave Nabiki a puzzled look.

"What's goin' on here, Nabiki?"

"He's dead meat, you know," Nabiki said in a grim voice.

Ukyo thought of what Akane said about bringing back fresh ham, then became horror stricken.

"You mean Ryoga's cursed?"

Nabiki tiredly nodded her head.

"With ... with ... that kind of a curse?" Ukyo asked, putting her hand to her mouth. A many strange occurrences were suddenly beginning to make sense.

Nabiki nodded her head again, her face grim.

"He's ... he's ... P-CHAN!" Ukyo shrieked as it all came together in her head. "Oh, shit!"

"Oh, my!" Nabiki said, nodding her head in agreement. "Akane may kill him. I wouldn't. Dying is too good for him, but Akane is probably going to kill him."

"What are we going to do?" Ukyo asked in growing alarm.

"Wait here and hope Ranma stops her," Nabiki said. "I doubt if even you could do anything to stop her while she is in this state."

"Why do I get the feeling you want to get your claws on Ryoga, Nabiki?"

"Because I really do want to get my claws on him," Nabiki said in a voice that seemed to hang icicles in the air. "Akane is too nice a person to have any talent for making someone like Ryoga pay properly."

"Boy! They don't call the you the Ice-Queen for nothin', do they, Honey?"

Nabiki looked at Ukyo and smiled. Ukyo shivered as she realized that Ranma was not the only person in the world that could make the air temperature drop.


Tatsu-Ranma watched as a frail looking little man flung a cast net and neatly caught P-Chan. The little pig squealed in protest as he began trying to fight his way out of the net. It was hopeless. The net had obviously been designed with small animals in mind, not fish. The harder P-Chan fought, the more entangled he became. The funny-looking little man pulled on a cord attached to the net and it tightened up around the struggling pig.

{{The net is a cunning device. Part of it is made with silk string. Perfect for entangling small animals.}}

(He's going to haul Ryoga off to the pound, Scales! We've gotta stop him.)

{{Pound? Ah, I see. That would be unfortunate for our toy. He might get broken.}}

"Let him go, you jerk!" Tatsu-Ranma said in his draconian voice, rattling one or two nearby windows. "He's no ordinary pig."

The little man stared in the direction of Tatsu-Ranma's voice, looking surprised, but gave no sign that he had actually seen Tatsu- Ranma. He looked around, as though searching for whoever had spoken, then returned his attention to Ryoga who was still squealing like a trapped pig.

"Ordinary or extraordinary, it makes no difference," the dogcatcher called out loudly enough to be heard by the unseen person who had shouted at him, "livestock is not permitted in Nerima-chou."

(Higher! Raise our head higher so he can see us!)

Tatsu-Ranma reared up on his hind legs and spoke again.

"I said, let him go!"

This time the little man gave Tatsu-Ranma a surprised stare. After a moment of simply staring, he shook his head and picked up the now thoroughly panicked P-Chan. Much to Tatsu-Ranma's consternation, the little man slung the net containing P-Chan over his shoulder, then strolled nonchalantly down the street towards his waiting truck.

(He's taking Ryoga back to his truck! Quick, we gotta stop him before he gets away!)

{{I smell no fear in him. That is very odd.}}

(He probably made the same mistake Tarou did.)

{{Ah, he mistakes me for a statue or something.}}

(That's my guess. Now hurry!)

Tatsu-Ranma did not take the trouble to move silently as he scrabbled to catch up with the impervious dogcatcher. There was nothing wrong with the odd-looking little man's hearing. He turned around and stared at Tatsu-Ranma as he approached. Tatsu-Ranma noticed that they were now alongside the man's truck. The dogcatcher's face changed very little, but his knees were knocking together.

"Look," Tatsu-Ranma rumbled as he came within a meter or so of the dogcatcher, "that's no ordinary pig. He's really a human being."

The man looked down at P-Chan who had since given up struggling against the net, then looked back up at Tatsu-Ranma.

"I didn't realize there were any species of crocodilian capable of mimicking speech," Ishikawa said, sounding puzzled and looking surprised. "I wonder where you came from."

"I came from right here in Nerima!" Tatsu-Ranma bellowed, blasting the dogcatcher's thinning hair back. "And I ain't no crocodile!"

"I wonder if you could lead me back to your owner. I really should speak with him before taking you to the pound."

"Ah, geez!" Tatsu-Ranma said with a rumbling groan. "Just my luck! You're new around here, aintcha?"

"Yes, my name is Ishikawa. Shintarou Ishikawa," the little man said, still looking very surprised but seeming to be unperturbed, "but it makes no difference. It is against the law to keep crocodilians as pets. I'll have to take you to the pound and give your owner a citation."

"I ain't no freakin' crocodile!"

Windows rattled for several blocks around. Ishikawa snapped his fingers as though he had just remembered something. He reached over to the door of his truck and opened it, then grabbed a thermos bottle sitting on the front seat. He smiled at Tatsu-Ranma as he opened the thermos and poured some of its contents on Tatsu-Ranma's nose. Steam rose from the hot liquid.

"Hmm, well, you are not one those I was warned about, and it may well be true that you are not a crocodilian, but it still makes no difference. It is against the law to keep large reptiles as pets. I still must take you to the pound and give your owner a citation."

Tatsu-Ranma shook with fury and his eyes began to glitter.

"I am NOT a freakin' reptile! How can you not see that?"

The tinkling of broken glass could be heard nearby as Tatsu- Ranma finished speaking. His voice had rattled windows for kilometers around. Nerima was waking up to yet another unusual day as usual, even if it was entirely too early on a cold and soggy Saturday morning. People began to peep out from behind their gates and curtains. More than a few of them grinning in anticipation of yet another free show. Several scurried about trying to secure their more fragile valuables.

"You have scales and you are four-footed. That is close enough to a reptile for me as well as the law," Ishikawa said primly. "I don't suppose you could take me to your owner?"

"I don't have an owner, Baka!" Tatsu-Ranma thundered as his eyes quite literally flashed with anger. "I'm a goddamned dragon for cryin' out loud!"

"Well in that case," the unflappable dogcatcher said, "all I need do is to take you to the pound. They can transfer you to the zoo or something on Monday."

"I ain't gonna stay in no zoo!"

Ishikawa shrugged his shoulders.

"That is up to the district supervisor, not me. You will have to take it up with him."

(Let's just spank him, grab the pig, and split, Red.)

(Are you kidding, Saotome? Spank him with what? If we hit him with anything in this form we'll squish him like a bug.)

{{He is very brave, but fragile. I smell great fear on him.}}

(Well, what are we gonna do?)

(I dunno, Saotome, but you know what Pops always says about dealing with the law.)

{{We could just eat him, then there would be no evidence.}}

(Without a horse, Scales? Besides, Nabiki would be very upset if we ate a dogcatcher. The city would probably charge her an arm and a leg for him once they figured it out. We'd end up growing old in front of her camera trying to pay for it all.)

{{Good point, my Scarlet One.}}

(Besides, this guy ain't no fighter and he's just tryin' to do his job. We'd be violatin' the law and The Code if we hurt 'im. Mom would disown us and because we're in this form, the government would probably send the JSDF after us. Hurtin' him ain't a good idea. Too many other people would get mixed up in it.)

(Then I guess we'll just have to go to the pound, Saotome.)

(I don't believe this!)

(Quit whining, Saotome.)

{{Yes, do stop whining. It is unbecoming of me.}}

"Now, be a good boy and get into this truck," Ishikawa said as he opened the back of the modified, long-wheelbase Nissan.

"I don't think I can fit into that thing," Tatsu-Ranma said, suddenly sounding subdued.

"Oh, you shouldn't have too much trouble," the dogcatcher said with a smile. "I hauled a ten-meter python in this thing once. You aren't nearly that long."

"I can't coil up as tight as a python," Tatsu-Ranma grumbled as he began struggling into the enclosed bed of the truck. The suspension groaned ominously beneath him as he crawled in.

"You sure this thing is gonna be able to handle my weight?"

"Don't worry," Ishikawa said with a smile, "it's a very short trip."

"Hmmph!"

"You won't hurt this cute little pig will you?"

"I haven't had breakfast, yet." Tatsu-Ranma said ominously in his draconian voice, causing P-Chan to quiver. By now, Tatsu-Ranma was becoming annoyed with Ryoga.

"You would eat raw pork?"

"I guess you got a point there," Tatsu-Ranma said in Onna- Ranma's voice, then suddenly looked pensive as he asked, "You ain't got no cats in this thing have ya?"

"Surely YOU are not afraid of cats?"

"I ain't afraid o' nothin'!"

"Good! We have no problem then," the dogcatcher said with a smile as he dropped P-Chan inside the truck, still entangled in the net. "You two can ride together."

Without further ado, Ishikawa slammed the rear hatch shut, then got into the cab of his truck. Tatsu-Ranma knew there was going to be more trouble as soon as the door shut.

"Hey!" Tatsu-Ranma bellowed. This caused P-Chan to try covering his ears with his forefeet.

The truck stopped and the little man looked into the rear enclosure through his rear windshield.

"We got some kinda fumes in here!" Tatsu-Ranma shouted, causing the truck to vibrate.

"That's just the antiseptics!" Ishikawa shouted. "We can't have diseases spreading, you know."

"It's makin' my eyes water and it burns my nose!" Tatsu-Ranma said in a tin-shaking rumble.

"I'm sure you'll be fine!" Ishikawa said as he put the truck in gear. "It's a very short trip to the pound!"

P-Chan glared at Tatsu-Ranma and squealed.

(What's wrong with him, Red?)

(Beats me, Saotome, maybe he's tired of the net.)

(We don't dare try to help him out of it. We might hurt 'im.)

{{Perhaps he would like some tea?}}

(Oh, shit! Why didn't I think of that, Saotome?)

('Cause we're new to the dragon business?)

(I guess. Hey! We can talk the dogcatcher into pouring it on him once we reach the pound.)

(These fumes are gonna make us sick, Red!)

(Think we could open that roof vent, Scales?)

{{This shell seems very fragile.}}

(So what's one more repair bill? Get us some air in here, Scales!)

Tatsu-Ranma used his horns to tear open a flap in the thin sheet metal of the enclosure roof. The truck stopped with a bouncing lurch and sickening rocking motion. Ishikawa got out, looking both very surprised and very angry.

"What did you do that for?" Ishikawa demanded to know.

"We had to have some fresh air in here, man," Tatsu-Ranma rumbled, "I toldja the fumes were makin' me sick!"

The dogcatcher took a deep breath before answering.

"Very well then! Do what you must, but sit very still and watch out for low-hanging signs! The merchants have a nasty habit of not following the rules around here."

"Yeah, whatever!" Tatsu-Ranma said, sounding bored, "Let's just get this show on the road, okay?"

Ishikawa harrumphed as he got back into the truck. Tatsu-Ranma soon discovered that Ishikawa had not been joking about the low-hanging signs. He got so busy dodging signs that he did not see the panicked driver who, being so mesmerized by the sight of a dragon that she failed to notice the stop light. Her car struck the overloaded truck just behind the passenger door, causing it to teeter precariously as it began to spin. The sedan slewed to the left. The two vehicles slammed their sides together, then the heavily laden truck did its best to climb the guy wire of a power pole before overturning.

Tatsu-Ranma had just barely enough time to jerk his head back down below the top of the enclosure as the truck began to spin. There were sounds of rending metal and breaking glass accompanied by the crunching noise of crumbling of concrete, then the truck stopped moving. A brief silence ensued, followed by the sounds of a transformer arcing itself out of existence as a light pole fell across the truck. Tatsu-Ranma found himself nose to nose with an irate P-chan.

"Bweee! Bwee, grunt, oink, oink!"

"You know I can't understand you when you're like this, Ryoga!"

Further conversation, or perhaps the lack of same, was interrupted by the sound of approaching sirens.

(Yo, Scales!)

{{Yes, O Scarlet One?}}

(Have we got enough ki to change back now?)

{{It would be better to wait until this evening. We will be very weak if we change now.}}

(Perfect!)

{{Perfect? How so? We will be nearly defenseless!

(Yeah, perfect! When the fire department opens this thing, all they'll find in here is a very cute, very helpless, and very naked girl and her widdle P-Chan.)

{{I understand. It would be revenge served as cold as it was meant to be.}}

"Close your eyes, Ryoga!" Tatsu-Ranma said. "There's gonna be a really bright flash."

Ryoga complied. The flash of light was so bright that it hurt his eyes anyway. Once he could finally see, he found a very weak Onna- Ranma lying at his feet. About that time the rear hatch of the enclosure creaked open. A fireman stuck his head in through the opening, then whistled as a very badly weakened Onna-Ranma vainly struggled to recover her modesty with a squirming and uncooperative P- Chan.

"Well!" the fireman exclaimed. "That's the prettiest dragon and cutest little pig I ever did see!"

The pig's nose began to bleed profusely.

Much to Ishikawa's further embarrassment, a news truck pulled up to the scene of the wreck. A reporter and cameraman came leapt out and began running towards his ruined vehicle. Ishikawa wondered for a moment how much worse things could get, then decided that he had already had about as bad a day as he was going to have. He was wrong, of course. The lady driving the car that had tee-boned his truck was still screaming at the top of her lungs about a dragon and the reporter had a huge grin on his face.

"I just love Nerima!" the reporter told his cameraman who limped along beside him as they approached the hysterical woman. The UFO call had proven priceless. Too bad about that little green guy shooting Jiro in the knee with a laser or whatever it was. Still it was worth it. Now they had yet another prizewinner in the weird and wonderful category.


Tracking Ryoga down in Nerima would have been problematical had it not been for Tatsu-Ranma pursuing him. While P-Chan's tiny hooves left no traces on the hard pavements and concrete of Nerima's streets, Tatsu-Ranma's draconian claws left deep scoring marks with every step he took. Akane had little trouble following the trail Tatsu-Ranma was leaving. The skills of a Kit Carson or a Buffalo Bill were not required.

Some remote part of Akane's mind noted that she would have to talk to Ranma about how his dragon form left such prominent tracks as she sprinted along down the street, but for the most part she was thinking of how she and Ranma had been betrayed. Ryoga had betrayed them repeatedly by pretending to be a friend. It was not just the fact that Ryoga had pretended to be her pet so he could sleep in her bed, as bad as that was, it was the other stuff. The stuff he had learned as she babbled away about to P-chan, not realizing that she was talking to her fiance's most powerful rival. She thought about all the trouble that had arisen between her and Ranma as a result of her gullibility and ground her teeth. She and Ranma had faced some fearsome enemies, but none had been as loathsome as Ryoga.

Akane whipped through the streets of Nerima like a fast-moving typhoon, her state of mind rapidly worsening. She lost Tatsu-Ranma's tracks briefly until she realized that he had jumped over a fence that Ryoga had crawled under. Not really wanting to find the end of fence, and not being able to jump over its three-meter height, she simply ripped an Akane-sized hole in it with her bare hands. Nothing was stopping her! NOTHING! Not today! Today was an excellent day for Ryoga to die, and she was going to see to it that he did not miss the opportunity. She had not, however, counted on interference by the mission-driven Shintarou Ishikawa. How could she? How could anyone, even if they were native to Nerima? Ishikawa did, in his own curious way, fit right into the district.


The Kunoichi, Konatsu Kenzan, was the sort of martial arts talent that only came along once in a hundred generations. He was fast. Only Ranma Saotome was faster than Konatsu and then only because Ranma trained almost constantly. In terms of raw talent, Konatsu was Ranma Saotome's equal, and perhaps in one or two aspects of their nature, a bit better. On this cold, soggy Saturday morning however, Akane Tendo was humiliating him. She was outrunning him easily and worse, she had not shown the faintest sign of tiring after running three kilometers in a full out sprint.

Several people were going to pay dearly for all this, Konatsu thought to himself. One of them will doubtless be Akane Tendo. She is going feel as though she had been run over by a herd of elephants come sundown. Konatsu decided that it would not be a good idea to join her in such a self-inflicted incapacitation. If anything got Ranma down, and Akane herself was down, there would be no one left to protect Akane. Ukyo would be left with the entire burden. He did not like that idea at all. The fractious pair tended to attract troubles the way honey drew flies. It was time to use his mind rather than his muscles. He watched as Akane skirted a cab parked at the curb. A cab! Aha! What luck! Konatsu jerked open the door and dove into the back seat.

"Follow that girl!"

"Looks like Ranma Saotome, to me," the cabbie said in a thick, American accent as he cranked his engine. "Isn't he a guy?"

"That isn't Saotome-san! It's his fiancee, Akane Tendo," Konatsu got out between gasps for air.

"She's started dressing like him now?"

"Ah, well, just for today I think. She didn't have anything else handy to wear."

"Oh," the cabbie said as put the car in gear and stomped down on the gas in an effort to catch up with the rapidly receding Akane. "She sure is fast! Are you sure that isn't the Saotome kid?"

"I'm sure," Konatsu said. "You must have been working around here for a while. You seem to know the locals."

"Yeah, about nine months now, I guess," the cabbie said with a rueful grin, "I used to drive a truck, but my tractor got impounded the day I got here. My name's Jack Burton. Aren't you the waitress at Ucchan's Okonomiyaki?"

"That's me. My name is Konatsu."

"Pleased to meetcha, Konatsu!" Burton said, then grunted as he cranked hard on the wheel and caused the cab to fishtail around a corner as they followed Akane.

"Oof!" Konatsu cried out as he slammed into the door on the far side of the car.

"Hang on!" Burton shouted as he flung the cab though a pair of tight turns. He could not actually keep up with Akane by staying directly behind her. She was moving fast and though traffic was not terribly heavy, there was just enough of it to make staying with her in an automobile a struggle.

"Man, she can run! Are you really sure that's Akane Tendo?" Burton asked as he dodged an oncoming truck, ran up on the sidewalk on the right-hand side of the road for half a block, then darted through the traffic to get back into left lane, where drivers in Japan are supposed to drive.

"I'm sure!" Konatsu said, through teeth clinched in fear. "She's ... It's just that she is very angry at the moment, that's all."

"Oh, I see! She's chasin' the Saotome kid again, right? What did he do this time?" Burton asked as he took a shortcut by driving through a fence, then running along the steeply inclined embankment of a drainage canal for several hundred meters before hopping the cab back up into the street. It would have been much easier on Konatsu's nerves had they re-entered on the left-hand side of the road, but Burton was an American and still had a tendency to forget which side of the road was his. They avoided three different head-on collisions by no more than the thickness of a layer of paint before Konatsu could answer his question.

"I think it's something to do with her pet pig!"

"Oh, I see. By the way, kid, have you got any money on ya? I don't do this stuff just for my health, you know!"

"Don't worry, Baato-san," Konatsu said, "I'm sure I can make arrangements to pay through Tendo-san's sister."

"Yeah?" Burton asked, as they took yet another shortcut through a park. Burton made the cab fishtail beautifully as he flung it side- to-side, dodging a monkeybars and a swing set. "Which one? Kasumi or the other one?"

"Ah, Nabiki."

Burton shuddered visibly as he again wrung the wheel of the cab hard to the right and they went barreling down through a narrow alleyway, piling garbage cans up in front of the cab as they went.

"Take 'ol Jack's word for it, 'Natsu-chan," Burton said with a heartfelt grimace. "Never borrow money from her and always bet the same way she does. You'll miss out on a lot of misery that way!" Burton stamped down hard on his brakes, allowing the garbage cans to tumble away from the car before wrenching the wheel over into a hard left turn.

"Eep!" Konatsu responded as Burton somehow managed to get the cab up onto a railroad track and then accelerating rapidly to about ninety kilometers per hour. Being on a railroad in an automobile, while disconcerting in its own right, was made even more distressing by the oncoming train they were now about meet head-on.

"Well, nuts!" Burton cried out in disgust. "Now I'm gonna hafta go a little faster or I won't reach our turn-off before he does. I hate trying to stay up on the rails at that speed."

"Mommy!" Konatsu said, as he noticed a large bead of sweat running down the back of Burton's neck. The engine of the cab roared as Burton tramped down upon the accelerator.

Whoop! Whoo-oo-OO-oop! Whoo-OO-oo-OO-oo-OO-oop!

The engineer of the train was rightly insisting that he really did own the right of way, and the laws of physics were backing his claim. Konatsu did his best to ignore the oncoming train by focusing his attention upon the inexplicably fleet-footed Akane Tendo as she sprinted along the street running parallel to the tracks.

"It's a shame," Konatsu mumbled to himself, "I had much rather have been watching Ukyo like this just before I died."


Akane rounded a corner only to see Tatsu-Ranma's head pop up through the rear enclosure of the dogcatcher's truck. This unexpected sight caused her to stop running and realize for the first time just how hard she had been running. The truck stopped and the dogcatcher got out and said something to Tatsu-Ranma that she could not make out over her own heavy breathing.

"We had to have some fresh air in here, man," Akane heard Ranma rumble in his draconian voice, "I toldja the fumes were makin' me sick!"

The dogcatcher said something else she could not hear.

"Yeah, whatever!" Akane heard Ranma say. "Let's just get this show on the road, okay?"

The little dogcatcher looked disgusted, then got back into his truck. Akane tried to run after them, but her legs refused to cooperate. Realizing that now both she and Ranma were in need of help, she began looking for a pay telephone. At that very moment, Jack Burton's cab rounded the corner on two wheels, tires squealing in protest. Akane ignored her the pain coming from her protesting legs and willed them to carry her to the relative safety of the sidewalk. The cab slid to a screeching a halt at the curb, and then Konatsu stuck his head out of its window.

"Are you all right, Tendo-san?" Konatsu asked. "You look as though you might have overexerted yourself."

Akane was too out of breath to answer. She just staggered over to the door of the cab, yanked the door open, then fell inside.

"Take me to the pound," Akane said between gasps for breath.

Burton gave Konatsu a questioning look. The pasty-faced Konatsu closed his eyes, looking as though he was about to wade across the Acheron in his bare feet and no jockstrap, then nodded his head. Burton tramped down on the accelerator. Konatsu whimpered as the cab shot away from the curb and down roared down the street. Konatsu squeezed his eyes shut and kept them that way.

"Hurry!" Akane shouted.

The cab's tires squealed in response.

"I am!" Burton shouted back. "Why are you in such a rush to get to the pound? Homesick or something?"

Konatsu winced, expecting Burton to immediately lose control of the careening cab. Burton did brake suddenly and swerve the cab to the right and back to the left again.

"Just run over it, Baka!" Akane shouted.

"They make ya pay for them little pedestrian markers when you run over 'em, lady!"

"So?"

The cab lurched hard to the right, going into a prolonged slide, then whipped left and right a couple of times.

"Dodge more gracefully!" Akane shouted at Burton. "You're going to get us all killed."

"Hey! I am dodgin' graceful!" Burton shouted back, "The streets are narrow and you guys drive on the wrong side of the damned road!"

"Watch out for that ... "

Before Akane could finish, the cab leapt up onto its two left wheels. Akane slid across the seat and slammed into Konatsu. Konatsu wondered if a life-sized bronze had tackled him. He ignored the pain and kept his eyes squeezed tightly shut, hoping against hope that the door would not suddenly pop open.

"How's that fer grace, yore Grace?" Burton inquired sarcastically at the top of his lungs.

"Stop showing off!" Akane shouted back. "We haven't got time for this!"

"Man, you're hard to please!" Burton shouted at Akane. "That Saotome kid must be one hell of a man!"

He does have the occasional problem with humility, Konatsu thought silently to himself.

The cab abruptly dropped back down on all four wheels. Konatsu used all the focus he had to stop himself from crying as Akane's iron- hard elbow inadvertently dug into his thigh.

"Ya-a-a-a-a-h!" Akane and Burton chorused as the cab launched itself into the air. Konatsu whimpered quietly to himself. Sometime around four days after forever, the cab slammed back onto the street, bobbed several times, then went into a hard left turn, which caused Konatsu to slide across the seat until he collided with Akane. That experience, Konatsu decided, was like rather like tackling a steel goalpost.

"Be careful, Konatsu!" Akane shouted as she unthinkingly brushed him away, causing him to slam into the door on his side of the cab. "You could hurt somebody like that!"

The cab again took to the air and slammed into the street again. Konatsu banged the top of his head on the ceiling of the car, then banged his forehead into the back of Burton's head. Konatsu terminated his gyrations by landing with a crunch in the rear floorboard.

"Hey!" Burton bellowed as he jerked the wheel hard to the right, "Take it easy, will ya?"

The sudden turn took Akane by surprise. She lost her balance then fell on top of Konatsu. Konatsu's rib cage, not Konatsu, groaned audibly. Konatsu himself, ever the stoic remained silent.

"Sorry, Konatsu," Akane said in an abashed whisper.

"That's okay, Tendo-san," Konatsu squeaked. "I understand."

"Will you drive a little more carefully?" Akane shouted at Burton as she sat up and tried to straighten out her disheveled hair.

"I'm beein' as careful as I can under the circumstances, lady!"

"So quit wasting time and get us to the pound!" Akane bellowed.

Shortly after this exchange, Konatsu could have sworn that the cab had done a complete barrel roll. He could not be sure about it, of course. He had kept his eyes tightly closed throughout the entire maneuver. He was also pretty sure that automobiles were not supposed to be capable of barrel rolls, but what did he know? This was his very first ride in an automobile and would be his last ride in an automobile, provided he survived this little jaunt. At the moment, he fully expected to die, then shuddered at the thought of being carried to his grave in a motorized hearse. It seemed unfair somehow.

His morose reverie was broken as the cab fishtailed violently several times. This caused him to slam into the door on his side of the car, then slide across the seat until he met up painfully with Akane in the middle of the seat, then slide into the door again. He worried that his ribs would never been the same. Then it all came to a sudden stop as Burton tramped down upon his brake pedal with both feet. Konatsu sat very still, paying very careful attention to what his ears told him. His middle ear told him that he was no longer moving. His hearing told him that both Akane and Burton were holding their breath, but the cab's engine was still panting like an angry beast gathering itself for yet another charge.

Konatsu slowly opened his eyes. A short distance away in front of the cab was a milling crowd of onlookers, a fire truck as well as several other emergency vehicles. In the middle of it all, Konatsu could see an overturned truck, which clearly belonged to the Animal Control Department.

"Gee, the fire department sure got here fast," Konatsu said. "I didn't even hear the sirens!"

Akane and Burton stared at Konatsu quizzically.

"What? Did I get knocked out when we hit the truck?" Konatsu asked.

Akane shook her head no, then tried to get out of the cab. Her badly overworked legs failed her and she collapsed. Concern had replaced the rage that had inhabited Akane's face just a few moments before. Konatsu watched with growing admiration as Akane forced her badly overworked legs to hold her upright by sheer force of will. He doubted that he or even Ranma Saotome could have done such a thing.

"Wait here!" Akane said to Burton, her tone of voice suggesting that leaving would be tantamount to suicide.

"Yes, ma'am!" Burton answered with a grin. "I'll stay right here until you come back, just remember that the meter's still running."

Akane grimaced at the pain in her tortured legs and began plowing through the crowd. Burton watched her for a moment, then looked back at Konatsu.

"Whatever on earth makes you guys think she needs protection?" Burton asked.

"Ah, well ... "

"Never mind!" Burton said, with a shudder. "I found out a long time ago that there's some things in this world a man is better off not knowin'!"

Konatsu gave Burton a puzzled stare.

"Say, shouldn't you be goin' with her?" Burton asked.

With a gasp of alarm, Konatsu leapt from the cab and disappeared into the crowd. Burton shrugged his shoulders at this, then rummaged around in his floorboard until he found his cellular telephone. He began dialing numbers as a huge grin lit up his face.


Ukyo and Nabiki did end up taking a walk in the cold drizzle, mostly because of Nabiki's curiosity. She had been puzzled over how Akane had been able to follow Ranma and Ryoga. She and Ukyo alike were awestruck by Tatsu-Ranma's tracks.

"Wow!" Ukyo exclaimed, "Ranma-honey's got some serious toenails."

Bee-boop! Bee-boop!

Nabiki popped open her cellular telephone with a practiced flick of the wrist.

"Tendo," Nabiki said into the infernal device.

"Top o' the mornin' to ya there, Nabsy-doll," Jack Burton said. "How much cash you got on ya this mornin'?"

Nabiki rolled her eyes towards the heavens, then grinned in spite of herself. Jack Burton was a clod and a gaijin, but a likeable one for all of that. She just thanked the kami that she did not have to put up with him for long periods of time.

"What's going on, Jack?" Nabiki asked, being careful to sound skeptical.

"Oh, I'm sittin' here lettin' my meter run while I wait for your baby sister to come back."

Nabiki took in a deep, quiet breath of alarm. Hiring a cab in Tokyo, anywhere in Tokyo, cost about the same as a first-class berth on a cruise ship headed for the Mediterranean if you figured it by the hour. Cabbies were one of the few life forms on planet earth that were actually more predatory than Nabiki herself. She held a kind of grudging respect for them.

"So where are you and what happened?" Nabiki asked.

"Aw, now, Nabsy-doll! You know information is always sold separately!"

"Okay," Nabiki said, sounding grimly determined, "One thousand."

"Five," Burton said, putting a hard edge in his voice.

"Two," Nabiki said.

"Twenty-five hundred," Burton said, "I'm feeling generous this morning."

"Done," Nabiki said, sounding disgusted, but actually thankful she had gotten off so cheaply, "the only reason you're feeling generous is your meter is still running, you pirate!"

Burton laughed, then brought her up to date. Nabiki closed her eyes and shook her head.

"Do you know where Doctor Tofu Ono lives?"

"Yeah, sure! I know were he lives," Burton said cheerfully.

"You may as well go by and pick him up on your way back to the clinic," Nabiki said, then added in a tired voice, "I'm sure he'll be needed."

"Not a problem!" Burton said, again sounding disgustingly chipper. "Are you gonna call him, or do you want me to?"

"I'll call him, Jack!" Nabiki said emphatically. "You greedy gut!"

"Hey! It takes one to know one, Nabsy-doll."

"Later, Jack."

"Say, what're you doin' for dinner tonight?"

"Playing poker over at Kuno's," Nabiki lied, sounding flattered in spite of her best efforts not to. She had been through this kind of thing with Burton before and knew full well that he was not serious about taking her out. If she accepted his offer he would say something insulting to change her mind. She had concluded early on that obnoxiousness was Burton's art and that he never passed up an opportunity to practice it. What she did not realize was that Jack Burton's obnoxiousness was very like Ryoga Hibiki's sense of direction and did an even better job of keeping Burton isolated from the rest of humanity.

"Aw, nuts!" Burton said, feigning disappointment. He would not have known what to do had Nabiki accepted his invitation, after all. "I was thinkin' of takin' on a really big steak tonight and wanted help whippin' it down to its knees, but I don't suppose you can pass up a chance to rob the babies of their lollipops, can you?"

"You got it, Jack!" Nabiki said with a grin as she broke the connection. She immediately speed-dialed Tofu's home telephone number.

"Hello?" a familiar voice on the other end answered. The voice was very familiar. It belonged to Kasumi.

"Sorry, Sis," Nabiki said, "I must've dialed your number by mistake. I was trying to call Doctor Tofu."

"Oh, you dialed the right number, Nabiki," Kasumi said, sounding happier and more smugly self-satisfied than Nabiki had ever heard her sister speak. "Hang on while I go get him."

"Thanks, Kasumi."

Ukyo looked at Nabiki and raised both eyebrows.

"Kasumi answered Tofu's telephone?"

Nabiki nodded her head yes. Both girls looked woozy for a moment, as though the ground had suddenly shifted beneath their feet.

"Nabiki?" Tofu asked on the other end of the call.

"Good morning, Sensei," Nabiki said into the telephone.

"Is something wrong?"

"Yes, but I don't know if you will be treating a pig, a dragon, my baby sister, or all of the above."

Tofu chuckled. "I gather the excitement is still in progress?"

"You could say that," Nabiki said, then sighed. "I have already arranged for a cab to pick you up."

"All right then, when can we expect it?"

"Sometime in the next thirty minutes or so, I'd imagine," Nabiki said. "It's hard to say for certain at this point. Right now the cabbie is waiting on Akane. I expect she and the other potential patients will be arriving at your doorstep shortly."

"I suppose we had best get dressed then," Tofu said. "Thanks for the warning, Nabiki."

"Not a problem, Sensei," Nabiki said, then broke the connection. Her mind replayed Tofu's last sentence as she put away her telephone.

"We had best get dressed?" Nabiki asked no one in particular. "They weren't wearing any clothes?"

"Oh, my!" Ukyo said.

"Gotta give Sis credit," Nabiki muttered. "When she decides to make the move she doesn't take half-steps."


Jack Burton hummed to himself and drummed his fingers on the steering wheel of his cab as he stared out the windshield, waiting for it to happen. He had no idea what "it" would be, but knew with absolute certainty that "it" would happen soon. He did not get to try his patience for very long. A large television camera of the sort used by professionals sailed over the heads of the crowd and slammed down onto the top of the news-van. It was quickly followed by what Burton assumed, judging from the poor sod's clothing, to be a cameraman. Shortly before the noise of the cameraman's rather clumsy landing had completely diminished, another man fell screaming out of the sky, crashing into the top of the van alongside the cameraman. This second fellow was definitely a local reporter. Burton recognized the guy, having seen him on television.

Burton grinned upon hearing several screams from somewhere near the center of the crowd. Several firemen sailed into the sky. To Burton they seemed to be in control of themselves and were grinning, leading him to believe that they had simply leapt away from some newly arisen threat. The crowd surged outwards in radial pattern at about the same time, then they suddenly began laughing. This last surprised Burton. The crowd parted between his cab and the wreck, revealing the approach of an irate Akane Tendo bearing what looked to be a body wrapped in a blanket. Striding alongside her was Konatsu, carrying at arm's length what appeared to be an unconscious pig, bleeding profusely from its nose. Behind this rather striking pair was a prim and proper looking little man, waving his arms in protest of the morning's proceedings. He seemed quite surprised by it all. Burton felt sorry for the poor guy. His face and neck were covered in lipstick smudges. Burton knew all to well how badly lipstick could ruin a guy's scene. The fact that this guy was obviously some kind of official, only made matters worse. Burton shook his head in sympathy as he reached down and flipped a lever beneath the dash, causing the cab's trunk lid to pop open.

"I got some plastic in the back, 'Natsy-chan," Burton said as the ninja came alongside. "Spread it out first. The last thing I need is your pet staining the carpet back there. Bloodstains tend to upset my normal passengers."

Akane gave Konatsu, or perhaps it was the pig, Burton could not be sure, a fierce glare followed by a sharp sniff. Then she carefully placed her burden upon the back seat of the cab. It was a lovely, redheaded young woman about Akane's age. Burton could not see much, but suspected that the girl must be nude beneath the fire department's blanket. He wondered if this was not the famous Ranma Saotome that he had heard so much about. He had seen the Saotome kid in his male form, but never as a female. Burton's mind suddenly froze in stark raving terror.

"Please tell me she doesn't have green eyes," Burton said in a begging voice to Akane. His face was covered with that peculiar, greasy sheen of sweat, which is only born of fear.

Akane gave him a puzzled stare.

"He's a guy and his eyes are blue! Why do you want to know?"

Burton's face reflected his sudden, heartfelt relief.

"Just checkin', that's all," Burton said in a small voice. He looked up sharply when Konatsu slammed the trunk lid.

"Didja spread out the plastic first?" Burton asked Konatsu as the ninja reluctantly sat back down in the cab.

"Yes, Baato-san," Konatsu said as he squeezed his eyes tightly shut.

"Good girl!" Burton said happily as he operated the lever that shut the passenger door of the cab and tramped down on the accelerator. "We're off!"

"Where are you going?" Akane bellowed. "The clinic is that way!"

"What good's the clinic without the doctor?" Burton asked.

Konatsu shuddered, as the cab seemed to do yet another pair of barrel rolls.

"We have to go to our clinic!" Akane shouted. "Doctor Tofu is the only doctor that knows how to treat Ranma properly!"

"I know that!" Burton shouted back as he tramped down on the brakes and wrenched the wheel hard to the left. The cab fishtailed its way between a pair of parked cars and an oncoming delivery truck. "I talked to your sister while you were rescuing your girlfriend. She told me to pick him up at his condo."

"Well where is she?"

Konatsu whimpered as he realized that the cab was again completely airborne.

"Who?"

"My sister, you baka!"

"Hey! No need to get personal! She's at the clinic."

"How did you talk to her if she's at the clinic?"

Burton waved his cellular telephone by way of answer.

"Well why didn't you say so in the first place?" Akane demanded in a loud voice. "And be more careful!"

"Hey! You're in a hurry, right?"

Akane nodded her head. Konatsu shuddered violently but no one noticed.

"Well this town is one great maze of twisty little passages all alike!" Burton said as he dodged between a couple of trains at the crossing of a double track. "There ain't no other way to hurry around here!"


End of Chapter 7 Part c
Copyright © Don Granberry.