|Divided I Stand|
|Based on the characters, settings and situations created by Rumiko Takahashi for her Ranma1/2 series of manga. They are here used without permission.|
Ranma had been walking around in a trance-like haze, studying the ki of the sick and injured, when the shouting started. He broke his concentration and made his way back into the clinic to find out what had been going on. Tofu was being accosted by more thugs. They were more determined this time. Something about how they were going to take over the clinic and that if Tofu was smart enough to cooperate, he'd get a reasonable cut of the take, now where was the morphine?
Ranma did not bother with a verbal warning. This was anything goes martial arts with an edge--the edge of surprise, and it belonged to him. Four of the bastards went down quickly. The remaining three ran outside. Ranma followed them. Much to his surprise, Soun Tendo was standing just outside the door with a bo. The three thugs Ranma had been chasing were now lying on the pavement unconscious.
"Trying to hog all the fun I see," Soun said with a nonchalant air.
Ranma started to offer a wisecrack, but his voice died in his throat. He and Soun suddenly found themselves surrounded by tattooed men bearing swords. He felt a chill run up his spine. Ordinary street thugs were one thing, but yakuza were a completely different kettle of fish. Whipping one of them, or even a group of them, was not a problem. The problem with the yakuza was that they were organized, and they took the defeat of one of their own as an insult to their tribe. They would keep coming until they were all dead, or until they had exacted their revenge. Ranma had just blundered into a war, and he knew it.
"Check with your boss," Soun said to no one swordsman in particular. Such an action would have taken his focus off the group. "We have a very old agreement."
"Had an agreement," one of the men said. He was not, Ranma noted, carrying a sword. "You just interfered with his business, Tendo-san."
"This was never Hikaru Kobayahsi's kind of business," Soun answered grimly, while not failing to keep track of the swordsmen surrounding him.
The man shrugged his shoulders, then said, "Times change."
Soun Tendo's bo flashed, making a wicked noise as it whipped through the air. One of the swordsmen went down vomiting blood. His naked sword rang against the pavement as it slipped from his grasp. The other swordsmen shifted their stances. Ranma could see by the looks on their faces that they were frightened. Ranma was more than a little surprised himself. He had never seen the Tendo patriarch in a mood quite like this, nor could he believe that Tendo could kill a man without even blinking.
"Change isn't always progress," Soun said in a cold voice. "It would be best for all concerned if this course of action were reconsidered."
Ranma felt a tingle on the back of his neck and ducked. Something whistled as it passed nearby, nicking the end of his braided queue. That guy just tried to cut my head off and I ain't done nothin'! Ranma thought to himself as he stepped forward with his right foot and pivoted. The swordsman was following up with another cut. He was grinning at Ranma with eyes greedy to see blood. Ranma waited until the last possible fraction of a second to dodge the exceedingly keen edge of the man's katana. He felt the tip of it whistle through the front of his shirt. As the blade went by, Ranma surged forward and hammered the man's chest with the chestnut fist. The man dropped his sword and fell to the ground. The icy hand of guilt squeezed Ranma's heart as he realized that he had just killed his assailant.
This distraction nearly cost Ranma his life. Another swordsman attacked and Ranma did not realize it until almost too late. The man's katana sliced through Ranma's shirt, making a shallow but painful cut down his chest. But a miss by a fraction of an inch was as good as a mile in this game. The thug recovered quickly from his miss and was now preparing to cut Ranma down with an overhand strike. Ranma's training took full control. The hours and hours of kata had honed his nerves and muscles into a finely made and horribly efficient killing machine, quite without Ranma fully realizing it. He suddenly found himself in possession of a sword while a headless opponent lay twitching at his feet. It had all happened as if by magic.
Ranma's conscience screamed at him for killing people, but there was no time to respect it. He parried off another swordsman's attack then struck the man's hands off at his wrists. The man fell to the ground screaming, trying to staunch the flow of blood by desperately clamping his stumps beneath his armpits.
Ranma Saotome was no phony samurai. He had spent ten years of his young life learning from the best Japan had to offer. The yakuza were not a match for him, even though they trained almost exclusively with weapons. They were not, for all their pretensions to the contrary, men of The Way. They were inu-zamurai, or "dog-warriors". Ranma was a man of The Way, and that difference proved fatal for the inu-zamurai.
Ranma was now faced with an opponent who was a better swordsman than the first two had been. This one had not allowed his emotions to seize control, and did not, therefore, attack blindly. He also seemed to understand what to look for in an opening. Ranma moved carefully, testing the man's knowledge.
Fighting unarmored with the katana had always been something of a hit or miss proposition, even for the men who had done a great deal of it. Over half the duels fought without armor had resulted in the deaths of both combatants. At least half of fighting for real with a katana is the art of tempting one's opponent into committing to an attack, and hoping your countermove will work. The other half is accepting an opponent's offer of an opening, confident that you can deliver a death-dealing blow before he can successfully counter. Confidence is a must. The slightest falter in action is fatal in such a contest.
Just as Ranma got full measure of his opponent, his danger sense tingled. He took a quick flickering glance to his right. One of the yakuza, the one who had not been carrying a sword, was pointing a pistol at him. I'm gonna die, Ranma thought silently to himself. I hope it doesn't kill Ranko too.
The inu-zamurai thought he saw an opening and tried to cut Ranma down. Ranma parried the blow off with the flat of his blade. The swords rang loudly in his ears as he felt his borrowed blade tremble like a living thing in his hands.
"Gun down!" a distant voice bellowed.
The inu-zamurai was too close for Ranma to strike with a swinging cut. Instead, he lowered the tip of the katana and turned its edge to his left as he lunged forward, planting his left foot just in front of his opponent's leading foot. This was not the sort of trick that would have been familiar to a kendoka, but this was not about points and trophies.
"Kiiiiyaa!" Ranko shouted, her voice shattering the heated air as though it were glass.
A gun barked and Ranma could hear the terrible whistle- splat of slugs destroying human flesh. He wondered briefly why he was not falling down, or suffering any pain. He heard swords ringing as they fell to the pavement. The tip of the katana he was wielding had slipped between the legs of his opponent, its razor sharp edge sliced deep into the inner thigh of the inu-zamurai's right leg. By now, Ranma and his opponent were standing almost nose-to-nose. The inu-zamurai's eyes were wide with surprise. Ranma could smell the man, and see the beads of sweat dancing on his face. Most of Ranma's weight was now on the ball of his left foot. He pivoted his torso and stepped forward with his right foot, slamming his right shoulder into the man's chest, as he pulled back on the katana at the same time. The man sailed away, a fountain of blood spewing from the deep laceration in his thigh.
Ranma cast a quick glance around. He had no other opponents. The yakuza were running. He turned back to face his most recent opponent. The man was screaming while desperately trying to staunch the flow of blood from his leg.
"Halt!" someone shouted. "You are under arrest! Halt!"
The sound of gunfire erupted in three closely spaced bursts, making Ranma wince in time with each. The air was suddenly alive with the throbbing of rotor blades overhead. Uniformed men poured down out of the sky. Ranma blinked in surprise. The uniformed men quickly disappeared at a dead run, checking their weapons as they went. He looked over at his first opponent. Death had frozen the man's face into a mask of agony, reflecting the pain he had felt as he died. Pain that Ranma had inflicted on him. The second man was not entirely headless. Ranma's form had been perfect. He had left the man's head partially attached to the body. The yakuza had died with that greedy grin on his face. Ranma's third opponent had died seated against the clinic wall, staring at the handless stumps in his lap. Death had frozen the look of hopeless dismay on the man's face. He was solid red, as though someone had dumped a bucket of paint on him. Ranma stared about in horror at what he had done.
The sound of a dry hacking cough followed by a sob attracted Ranma's attention. His last opponent was lying flat of his back, staring sightlessly at the sky. The tarmac around the man was shiny wet with blood. It oozed outward in a gently spreading puddle, like motor oil. Ranma's ears began to ring as the smell hit him like the blow of a heavy fist. The smell of human blood, urine and feces was bad enough, but the smell of his own sweat made him ill. He remembered that he had smelled something like this after his fight with Safuron, but this was much, much worse. The smell of a skunk would have been more pleasant. He was suddenly aware of a sickening brassy taste in his mouth. It was then that he realized that he was terrified, and that he had been from the very start.
Ranma dropped the katana as he began to shake uncontrollably. He felt as though someone had pushed him off into an ice-covered cesspool. He retched and a thick fluid fell from his lips. Then he wretched again, this time doubling over with pain as his empty stomach convulsed. I'll never be clean again, he thought. Never!
"No," Ranma said in a hoarse whisper. He staggered around in a circle. There was no escaping what he had done. The evidence lay all around him. He fell to his knees and covered his face with his hands. He did not hear the murmurs of sympathy that came from those around him. He began to weep.
"Corpsman!" a hard voice called out. "See to this young man first. That guy can wait."
Ranma felt strong but gentle hands close around his left arm. The hands on his arm encouraged him to stand up again. He was staring all around himself now, but not really seeing anything. Fear made him look. Horror clouded his vision.
"Come on over here and sit down, kid," the voice of a man not much older than Ranma said. "You're gonna be okay."
"Yeah, Ranma," Ranko said as she brushed at Ranma's bangs. "You did what you had to do. You shouldn't feel bad about it."
Ranma allowed Ranko and the corpsman to sit him down. He felt the prick of a needle on his left arm. A sense of calm rapidly spread through his body. His vision faded quickly as the drug put him to sleep.
"If you'll excuse me miss," the corpsman said to Ranko. "I'd like to clean these cuts while the painkiller is working."
"Oh! Yeah, sure!" Ranko said as stepped out of the young man's way. "Sorry 'bout that."
"No problem," the corpsman said as he sat about tearing Ranma's shirt open. "He your boyfriend?"
"Ah, well, more like a brother, I think," Ranko said, not sounding very certain.
"Just my luck," the corpsman said with a wry grin. "The pretty ones are always taken by the time I get there."
Ranko blushed, suddenly aware that her shirt was considerably worse for wear and that she was not wearing a bra. Wait a minute! She thought to herself. Since when did I ever care about stuff like that?
"Things aren't ever quite what they seem around here," Ranko told the corpsman with a friendly note of warning in her voice.
"Oh, really?" the corpsman asked as he worked at swabbing out the cuts across Ranma's chest. Ranko winced as she watched. The cuts were deeper than Ranma had let on during the fighting. She was suddenly very happy that she had not been the one engaged in swordplay. She had to fight off the urge to clutch at her chest in sympathy.
"Yeah, you'll find out," Ranko said. "Nerima's about the weirdest place in Tokyo, maybe even in all of Japan."
"Well," the corpsman said as he taped Ranma's cuts so that they would remain closed, amazing Ranko with his skill and dexterity. "It'd have to go some to do that, so it must be a pretty strange place. Your boyfriend, er, brother here needs stitches, but I think I'll let 'em do that at the hospital when it gets here. Looks like this head wound is almost healed. He get that before the storm?"
"When the hospital gets here?" Ranko asked, sounding puzzled.
"Yeah, we're gonna airdrop a mobile unit over at the high school," the corpsman said. "Ever seen it done before? It's impressive."
"You're gonna drop a hospital out of an airplane?" Ranko asked. "I wanna see that shit!"
The corpsman was a little surprised by the roughness of Ranko's speech, but he grinned at her anyway and said, "Well, we won't be dropping a building in the soccer field, if that's what you're thinking, just all the stuff we need to make a temporary hospital."
"Oh," Ranko said. "Lots of small pieces on parachutes then?"
The corpsman's grin grew a bit larger as he said, "Lots of big pieces out of really big planes."
A large helicopter with two monstrous rotors on each end roared overhead, traveling eastward toward Furinkan. It had some kind of machine dangling from a cable beneath it.
"That'll be the sappers," the corpsman said. "The planes will be along in a few minutes."
"That thing was huge!" Ranko said.
"Wait'll you see the planes," the corpsman said. "Stay here with your buddy and try to keep him calm when he wakes up. I have other folks I need to see about, okay?"
"Yeah, sure!" Ranko said. "Thanks for the help."
"Don't mention it," the corpsman said giving Ranko a short bow. "Gotta go now, bye."
Ranko sat down cross-legged facing the somnolent Ranma, then took his left hand in both of her own.
"You know, Ranma," Ranko said in a quiet voice as tears began trickling down her face, "if we go on for very long in separate bodies, we're gonna be two completely different people. That is if we ain't already. I hate to think about what you must've gone through today, but I wish I could've been in there with you. You needed me today and I wasn't there."
Colonel Abe joined his men on the ground. It was the only prudent thing to do under the circumstances. JGSDF had only minimum support in the Diet and very few friends in the press. He needed to know what had happened first hand, not by reading written reports. He reminded himself to walk carefully after detaching from his descent line. The pavement was slick with running blood.
"Corpsman!" Abe ordered as he pointed at a teenaged boy doubled over in pain. "See to this young man first. That guy can wait."
"Yes, sir!" the corpsman answered as he left the raggedly breathing yakuza and ran toward the boy.
Abe looked around and grimaced at what lay on the ground. Combat was always nasty, but combat with ancient weapons was especially so. A tall, lanky man with long hair and moustache stood clutching a pole and weeping profusely. He did not appear to be injured, and stood in the center of a circle formed by inert bodies. Abe wondered at this for a moment, then suddenly realized who the man was.
"Good afternoon, Tendo-sensei," Abe said performing a formal bow. "Please excuse me for not arriving sooner."
Tendo took a deep breath and got control of himself, just as Abe had expected. "Abe-san?" Tendo asked, "Is that really you?"
"Hai, Sensei," Abe answered. "It's been a long time."
"That it has," Tendo replied. "Why haven't they made a general out of you yet?"
"Problem with my peripheral vision," Abe replied with a sardonic smile.
"Oh, really?" Tendo asked.
"Yes, it seems I never notice certain toes until after I have already stepped on them," Abe replied. "What were these rats after?"
"It seems they wanted to kidnap the doctor and take over the clinic so that they could charge people exorbitant fees," Tendo said grimly. "I really didn't want to let them get away with that."
"Hmph! They got away with a lot of that in Kobe," Abe said, his lip curling in disgust. "Until the politicians finally woke up and turned us loose."
"Hence your reputation for not noticing certain toes, eh, Abe?" Tendo asked.
"Something like that," Abe answered then he raised his voice and asked, "How many of these rats are still alive, Lieutenant?"
"We have found eight so far, sir," the younger man answered. "One is in very bad shape, but we've taken all of them into custody."
"I want to know where they are nesting within the next two hours, Lieutenant!" Abe ordered. "As of right now, Nerima-ku is under martial law."
"Yes, sir," the Lieutenant answered, then scurried off to give orders.
"Where's that correspondent?" Abe asked.
"Right here, Colonel!" said a man wearing olive drab without rank or insignia. "You really gonna declare martial law?"
"For the next three days," Abe answered. "At the end of that period, I will decide if military control needs to be extended. I don't expect it will be necessary. Get the word out to your colleagues."
"Any comment on what went on here today, Colonel?"
"Sergeant Tanaka happened upon a criminal act while reconnoitering the area. I have since ascertained that there are certain elements of organized crime exploiting the people of Nerima-ku and I intend to put an end to such activities for the duration of this emergency."
"May I quote you on that, Colonel?" the reporter asked.
"I just said it, did I not?" Abe asked. "Now go take horror pics or something! I've got business to take care of."
"Of course, Colonel!" the reporter said with a grin as he ran off.
"By the way, Sensei, who is that young tiger?" Abe asked, pointing at the young man with a braided queue.
"Oh, that's Ranma Saotome. He is betrothed to my youngest daughter, Akane," Soun said with pride evident in his voice.
"Saotome?" Abe asked. "Genma Saotome's boy?"
Tendo nodded his head.
"Not much like his dad, is he?" Abe asked.
"In some ways, he is very much like his father," Tendo replied. "In other important ways, they are night and day."
"I can see that! Who's the girl?" Abe asked.
"That would be Ranko Saotome," Tendo said, with some hesitation. "She's ... well, I guess you might say she's Ranma's sister in a way."
"Well, she's a fierce little thing," Abe said, grinning. "I'll need an affidavit from you later, Sensei."
"Of course," Tendo said with a nod of his head. "Happy to oblige."
"I'll send my adjutant around later," Abe said. "I may well come with him if I have the time. I'd like to have a word with that young man and his sister."
"We will look forward to your visit, Abe-san," Soun said.
Abe began walking east as he shouted, "Sergeant Tanaka!"
"Sir!" Tanaka cried out, snapping to attention.
"Come with me," Abe ordered. "Raise Major Nishimura and find out if the market district has been secured."
"Archangel One, Big Mercy," Tanaka said into his microphone as he fell into step with his Colonel. It was going to be a long, busy night.