|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.|
The trouble with being a panda, Genma Saotome thought, is that I have to eat nearly all day just to stay alive. If I am not eating, I'm drinking water--lots and lots of water. Eating bamboo is thirsty work for some reason. Even worse, I have to move slowly and I heal even more slowly. The trade-off is that I get to lie still a lot. I like lying still. Why, I'm better at that than martial artists ten times my age. That pika is about to become dessert without me having to chase it, just because I'm so good at lying still.
Genma's plot quickly bore fruit. The poor little pika blundered to within easy striking distance of the motionless Saotome. With a movement of his right fore leg that he knew would have been little more than a black blur to the casual observer, he slammed his heavy paw down onto the head of the unsuspecting pika. It never so much as squeaked before it died.
"Whoa! It's really fast!" the reporter exclaimed. She was sitting with the scientist observing Genma. Her cameraman stood behind them, running his camera right next to the camera that belonged to the zoo. "Are all of them that quick?"
"No, this one seems to be a genetic throwback," the scientist replied, pausing to brush a strand of hair out of her face. "We suspect that he is more like the pandas that were extant a few thousand years ago. That's why we are so eager to get him into the breeding program."
"Hoping to bolster a declining gene pool, huh?"
Sorry, girls, Genma thought as he sat up and began to munch on the cute and cuddly pika like a fat kid eating a candy bar. Nodoka would never allow it. Well, I mean she knows about my occasional lapses. She's takes a kind perverse pride in those, but she'd never go for me having an affair with a panda. You folks still don't have clue about a panda's hearing ability, do you? Of course, none of us can see worth a shit during the day. I like these pika. They taste a lot like rabbit. Gotta remember not to mess with the yellow ones, though. They shock the daylights out of ya when you hit 'em.
"Yes," the scientist answered with a nod of her head. "This fellow is a bit larger than most pandas and several of his anatomical features are significantly different. For instance, the vestigial heel pads on his hind feet are quite a bit larger than normal."
"Vestigial heel pads?" the reporter asked.
"Unlike most ursines, pandas lack normal heel pads on their hind feet. This characteristic makes their tracks unique and easily spotted in the wild."
"Oh," the reporter answered, sounding considerably less than excited by this information.
Typical reporter, Genma thought. She didn't get it about the heel pad business. These scientific types are gonna want to hang on to my ass for the next hundred years if they can. I wonder where they are going to want to ship me first this time? Paris maybe? I wouldn't mind that too much. I could slip out of the zoo there at night and...too bad I have to go hunt down the Master.
"Aren't ursines bears?" the reporter asked. "I thought pandas were in the raccoon family."
The scientist grinned before answering. "There's an ongoing debate about all that. Geneticists might be able to clear it all up for us later in this decade. At least, we are hoping they might."
"I see," the reporter said, still not very enthused. She picked up the scientists clipboard, then got excited. "Do all of them eat this much? Seventy kilograms of bamboo, five kilograms of daikon, two kilograms of yams, three kilograms of carrots, six pika and two dozen goose eggs? Goose eggs? All of this for just today?"
Hey! You forget, dummy, I haven't been able to get in a full day of eating for two days now. I'm behind! Genma thought with a mental snort. I wish I knew which station she works for. I'd send her a bottle of peroxide.
"The goose eggs are part of a population control program. We have quite a few waterfowl running loose in the zoo. If we don't pick up the eggs, we soon have far more birds than we can feed."
"But he eats so much!" the reporter exclaimed, "And besides, I thought pandas were strictly vegetarian."
Genma grinned in the direction of his observers as he licked his chops and made his way over to the fake stream running through his pen. At least this zoo is good about making sure the water is cold and fresh. The last one gave me warm water in a pan and it was never enough. I got constipated. Genma sniffed the phony stream. Hah! It's real mountain water, too. No chlorine! I love it.
The scientist shook her head. "Pandas, as other ursines are, are actually omnivores. They adapted to eating bamboo because of their habitat."
"Huh?" the reporter noised, sounding surprised.
"Old growth cloud forest with dense bamboo understory does not have much in the way of prey animals, or fruiting vegetation at the ground level. Pandas adapted to eating bamboo because there was plenty of it available."
Actually, Genma thought, an old growth forest is a nice place to visit, but not the sort of place you really want to live. Living in 'em is tough, even for a panda.
"Oh, really?" the reporter asked, sounding surprised now. "I thought forests were where most animals lived."
The scientist nodded her head and replied, "Forests that are what we call secondary or tertiary growth actually harbor many animals. Those kinds of forests only occur in nature as a result of fires. Cloud forests, tropical rain forests, and temperate rain forests achieve old growth status more often in nature because they seldom burn."
Baka! Genma thought at the reporter as she gave the scientist a puzzled stare.
"Well, they stay too wet to burn, you see," the scientist said in the careful way one might explain to a four year old.
Genma watched with amusement as the reporter struggled to assimilate these mind-boggling facts.
"The trees in those kinds of forests grow so tall, and shade the ground so effectively, that only a limited number of plant species can survive beneath them," the scientist continued once the reporter showed signs of recovering. "This means that such forest can only support very limited number of animals. So, while both the giant panda and the red panda are opportunistic consumers, they've been known to eat fish, insects, berries, vines, irises, crocus, mushrooms, even rice grass, ninety percent or more of what they consume on any given day is bamboo, because bamboo is the single most abundant food source available to them."
Like all good Saotome, Genma thought. We'll eat anything, even some of the stuff that bites us first. Snakes are pretty good eating too, provided you remember which end to grab 'em by.
"Why is he drinking so much water?" the reporter asked, sounding slightly alarmed. "He's swelling up like a balloon."
"Don't worry," the scientists said in an amused voice. "He won't pop. One of the truly strange and wonderful things about pandas is that their digestive tract has not adapted as well as their teeth to their diet. He needs a lot of water to deal with the bamboo. It helps him push all that fiber through his system. Pandas need several gallons of fresh cold water each and every day."
You got that right, sister! You don't know what true misery is until you have a logjam in your gut! Genma thought as he ambled back over to the bed of soft grass the zoo had provided for him. Now, if you ladies will excuse me, I've had a hard day's eating and I need my rest.
The reporter stared at Genma, her eyes wide with wonder. The scientist wet her index finger and checked the wind. It was blowing across Genma's pen and into her and the reporter's faces.
"He'll nap for the next hour or so, now," the scientist said.
And fart! Genma silently added, wishing he could give the scientist a real smile. Big bubbly juicy farts! And, just think of all those eggs I ate today!
"Why don't we go down to the coffee shop," the scientist added. "My treat."
The reporter nodded her head enthusiastically in answer.
Reporters are a lot like us Saotome, Genma thought. We never turn down a freebie either. Maybe tomorrow they'll bring me some sweet corn. It tastes even better when I'm in panda form and I eat the whole thing, husk, kernels and cob. I just wish the silk wouldn't hang up in my teeth.
Genma once again lay very still, but he did not go to sleep. His injuries, for all the concern shown about them, had been superficial, the worst one being a cut on his back. It had required a few stitches.
They'll be pulling these stitches tomorrow, judging from the way this cut itches, he thought. Then they'll get serious about shipping me off to another zoo to be part of their breeding program. I can't let them do that. I have to find the Master before he finds the Eye of Mefusutafuriisu. Soun and I were fools for doing what we did. We should have cut the old man's throat and watched him bleed out before stuffing him into that cave. Instead, we relied on the dynamite to kill him. It was even more foolish of us to let him run loose once he got out of the cave and came back. He's been out long enough now to find out the damned Eye hasn't been destroyed.
Well, actually, it's worse. I should have personally made sure that it was destroyed. I knew all too well how the thing worked its will on people. I should have known that Soun's wife would have sold it instead of throwing it into the sea as she promised. She was the tightest fisted woman I ever met, except for Nabiki, maybe. I don't think she ever wasted so much as ten yen, let alone threw that much away. She said she would ride out with her father on his fishing boat and throw it into deep water! Now look where we are. She's dead, the Master is back, and for all I know, he's already killed all the others belonging to the Eye. If he is the last of its slaves, we are in deep, deep trouble. I should have taken a hammer to the damned thing!
Who am I kidding? I wouldn't have been able to do it. The Eye would have taken me over just as it took over everyone else that ever touched it. I've got to remember to tell the boy about that. He must destroy it without ever touching it with any part of his body. I think he'll have the strength to do it. His mother, Buddha bless her, gave him her willpower. Losing her will was probably what happened to Soun's wife. She touched it somehow, and it convinced her to sell it to that museum instead of throwing it into the sea. Besides tempting her with the money, it probably told her that Soun would drown if she threw it into the water. She had already lost so many kin to the sea, I'm sure the Eye would have used that kind of lie on her. Soun is one of the few men on this earth that can swim better than I can.
Genma curled up in the manner a panda typically will curl up for sleep, but sleep eluded him.
Soun hasn't been able to think this thing through. The Eye was almost certainly responsible for his wife's death. Accident, my ass! That had to have been a slave of the Eye driving that car that day. The Eye didn't want to take the chance she might tell Soun or me about what she had really done with it. I should have realized that something had gone wrong with our plan the day I heard about her getting hit by a car. Now another generation of our family is at risk of being plagued by that cursed thing. I won't have that. I WON'T! We have a chance to be rid of it and we shall, even if I have to die in the process.
Soun Tendo sighed as his daughter ran for the doujou in tears with Ranko close behind her. Well, I wonder how this is going to play out? he thought. The boy is faced with a bewildering set of problems and it doesn't help that my Akane is such a hothead.
He looked back over toward Ranma where he sat in a folding chair. The boy was covering his eyes with one hand, looking rather forlorn.
Come on, Ranma, Soun thought. I don't know what you are going to do either, but I know you'll find a way. You always do. You're better at that than even your father is.
Soun watched as Ranma slowly got to his feet and tramped toward the doujou. He's got that Saotome scowl on his face, Soun thought, feeling more than a twinge of alarm in his chest. That's not good. This is a time when he needs to be able to talk, but he's no more talkative than Genma is when he's like this.
Ranma walked on by, as Soun looked on in silence. Ryuu Kumon and Ryouga Hibiki came and stood on either side of Soun and the three of them watched as Ranma slid the shoji of the doujou open and stepped inside. Soun's heart began to sink once he saw the distinct signs of Ranma's battle aura begin to flare.
They are either going to have one hell of a kiss and make up party after this is over, or they are going to finish what the typhoon started, Soun thought. I wonder if I should try to warn the neighbors?
The shoji suddenly slammed shut and they could hear Ranma shout, "Just what in the hell do ya think you're doin', huh?"
"What do you think, Saotome?" Ranko's voice replied. "I'm doin' what I gotta do to keep the three of us together for as long as I can."
Soun felt his eyebrows creep upwards in surprise at this. For as long as I can? he wondered. What's going on?
"What do you mean by that, Ranko?" Ranma bellowed.
"Exactly what I said, Ranma!" Ranko shouted back. "I'm running out of time and you know it, baka!"
"Yeah, okay, but that don't mean you should...should be doin' this kind of stuff!"
Soun's demeanor changed considerably. Stuff? What sort of "stuff"? he wondered.
"And why not?"
"Because you're a girl, dammit!"
"Am I, now? And was I a girl whenever I got splashed three days ago, or was I a guy stuck in girl's body?"
"You know what I mean!"
"Yeah! I do know what you mean and as it turns out, I was wrong!"
This was followed by a prolonged silence, until Akane said in a surprisingly soft voice, "Sit down, Ranma. The three of us have to talk."
"Yeah, Saotome! Sit down before I hafta make ya!" Ranko said with real steel in her voice.
"Oh, yeah, right! Like you could!" Ranma answered.
Ranma's tone put Soun in mind of a sword leaving its scabbard.
Shortly thereafter, a meaty thud shook the entire doujou from its foundation posts to the ridge of its roof. Several of the shingles rattled.
"Ow! I forgot about thinkin' up that move!" Ranma's voice said, sounding chagrined.
"I thought you might have, Saotome," Ranko replied with a giggle. "After all, you don't have the girl problem anymore. I do."
"That hurt, ya know," Ranma said.
"Well, if you're gonna be a baby about it, be a little less noisy, will ya? Mom might hear all this boo-hoo shit of yours," Ranko replied, then came nothing but silence.
Soun shuddered at the thought of Nodoka getting involved and could feel both Kumon and Hibiki shudder on either side of him. Nodoka had that kind of effect on men and neither their age nor their race seemed to matter.
I guess I had better talk to Nabiki about having adoption papers drawn up for Ranko just in case. Nodoka can be hard to second guess. She may not like having a female version of her son running around, but then again, she might be delighted to have a daughter. There is just no way to read the woman. They've gotten awfully quiet in there. Perhaps I had better get a little closer and listen in. It wouldn't do to let circumstances take me by surprise.
Just as Soun took a step forward, the shoji slammed open and a terrible apparition floated out into the yard. It had huge burning eyes beneath beetling brows, and its jaws sported fangs nearly a meter long. Its skin was a sickly glowing green color, while tentacles of bluish-black hair floated around its head in oily coils. The wind blowing off the thing was tainted with the taste of ozone, brimstone, and dirty brass. A snake-like tongue lashed the air as it spoke.
"Anyone coming near this doujou dies!" the apparition howled, then it simply winked out of existence and the shoji slammed shut again.
Soun Tendo, who had frozen himself into solid immobility at mid-step when the apparition ballooned into existence, looked around and found himself standing alone in the yard on one foot. Kumon and Hibiki had simply vanished. Thirty seconds or so later, Soun's mind slipped back into gear.
"Did you see that?" Soun cried out in a joyful voice as he began dancing in a circle. "That was Akane! Oh, I am so proud of my baby girl! She finally got that technique right!"
He froze himself solid again at the sound of the shoji sliding open behind him.
"Ahem! Perhaps a cup of tea to celebrate this happy event is in order," he said as he ambled toward the house as casually as he could. Behind him, the shoji once again slid shut.
On the side of the house opposite the doujou, Ryuu Kumon and Ryouga Hibiki sat on the ground, leaning back against the siding. Both of them were as white as sheets and both were having a hard time catching their breath.
"Wha...What the hell was that?" Ryuu croaked out.
"I...I can't believe it!" Ryouga exclaimed.
"What's not to believe, Hibiki?" Ryuu asked. "That thing nearly bit our heads off!"
Ryouga shook his head no as he waved one hand to indicate the negative. "That was Akane. She used her dad's demon's head attack."
"Her dad does something like that?"
Ryouga nodded his head as he answered, "Yeah, but his isn't anywhere near that scary."
"You know, with as much as we got done around here today, I think if I stay, I'll just be another mouth for Tendo-san to feed," Ryuu said.
Ryouga nodded assent and the two sat in silence for a moment, then Ryouga spoke up, "Why don't you come back to the farm with me? We've got plenty of work to do."
"Yeah? What does the job pay?"
"Next to nothing over room and board, but you'll have me and a dozen other good sparring partners to practice with."
"That's the best offer I've had in months," Ryuu said with a grin as he clapped Ryouga on the shoulder. "Stay right here, Hibiki. I'll go get our gear."
"Don't take too long," Ryouga said.
"Don't worry! I won't!"
Pansuto Tarou sat by a fire where he had camped on the bank of a mountain river, roasting fish and waiting for his rice to finish cooking. He wished he hadn't bothered with the rice.
"Dammit!" he muttered aloud. "I know better. It takes two times forever for rice to cook at this altitude."
He turned his fish and leaned back against the vertical face of the boulder he had chosen for a reflector, savoring the warmth of the fire as it bounced off the rock and washed around him. His eyes widened with amazement as a little brown bird glided to a landing on the ground between himself and the fire. It had a small envelope in its beak. It dropped the envelope, then flitted away.
Tarou stared suspiciously at the envelope for a long time before touching it. Finally, his curiosity won out and he picked it up. It proved to be a letter from Happosai. It read:
"Hello, Tarou, my dear boy. I thought you might be interested to know that Ranma and Genma Saotome are doing their absolute best to kill me. They are hot on my trail right now. Of course, if they succeed, you'll never get your name changed.
All the best,
The truth was, Pansuto Tarou would have been more than happy to kill the diminutive Master of Martial Arts and Evil himself, but only after he had forced the old monster to change his name. He would love to watch as the Saotome roasted the old man alive, if there were anyone other than Happosai that could change his name. As matters stood, he didn't dare let the Saotome send the old man onward.
Tarou sighed in disgust.
"Well, it looks like I'm headed for Japan again," he said aloud to the empty countryside. "As much as I hate that old fart, I've got to go save his sorry ass."
Happosai sat down by the fire he had built on a cliff overlooking a mountain river. He had a dozen sweet fish skewered onto sticks and had them roasting over the flames, while a yam roasted over coals. He glanced over at his partner-cum-prisoner, formerly the curator of the Tokyo Museum of Gemology, and grinned evilly at the man as he took one of the sweet fish and bit into it. The man was famished and cold. He all but drooled as he watched Happosai eat. The frail curator tested his bonds again in an effort to get nearer to the fire. Happosai laughed at him in the red light of a rapidly dying day.
(He is a danger to us!) the voice in Happosai's head observed.
"I know, Master," Happosai answered aloud, "but not for much longer."
(He causes you to leave a trail that might be followed by a skilled tracker.)
"Hah! Genma Saotome was never worth a damn at tracking anything, try as I did to teach him!" Happosai answered. "By the time he catches up, it will be too late."
(There are others...)
"I know, Master," Happosai said. "I'm counting on that."
(You should be more circumspect, Happosai. The course you have chosen is most dangerous.)
"And promises the greatest rewards as well," Happosai answered. "Nothing ventured, nothing gained."
(As you will, my apprentice, but remember the rules. There will be no mercy granted if you fail.)
"I understand, Master," Happosai said, as he finished consuming the last of the sweet fish. The former curator sagged in despair upon seeing this. Happosai enjoyed watching him droop.
I guess I'll wait until its dark and he's gone to sleep, Happosai thought. That would be the kindest thing to do, but what for? I'd be depriving the fool of one last thrill. Isn't that equally cruel?
Happosai smiled benignly at the curator as he walked over to him and said, "I guess you're pretty hungry, aren't you, smart boy?"
The man gulped and nodded his head.
"I was going to let you have that yam," Happosai said as he cut the rope tethering the curator to a tree, "but I think you need a little protein, don't you?"
The curator stared at Happosai, obviously baffled. Happosai suddenly found himself despising the skinny little man with his balding head, his bulging eyes and thick glasses.
"Wouldn't you like some roasted fish to go with that yam?" Happosai asked in a kindly voice.
The curator eagerly nodded his head.
"Then go catch your own!" Happosai exclaimed as he pitched the unsuspecting curator over the side of the cliff. He laughed at the glimpse he got of the terror-stricken man's face in the instant before he plummeted toward the river, far, far below. Happosai looked over the edge as the man fell and shouted after him, "Remember to get your hands in close to 'em before you try to make any sudden moves!"
The man never even so much as screamed. Happosai laughed anyway, delighting in the gruesomely terminal joke he had just played on his erstwhile rival and one time collaborator.
"The others will be working their way up this cliff tomorrow, and I'll be waiting for them," Happosai said to the gathering night. "They'll never know what hit 'em!"
He walked over to the fire and tested the yam. It was nice and tender.
"Ah, this one is perfect!" Happosai said around a mouthful of the roasted tuber. "Too bad I didn't bring any butter."
Ranma Saotome lay very still with his head in his female alter-ego's lap, watching in stark terror as Akane used a perfectly executed Demon's Head attack on her father and the shocked Ryuu Kumon and Ryouga Hibiki. She winked her aura out, then slammed the shoji shut. Ranma took a deep breath, wondering what would happen next, but Akane placed her fists on her hips and remained near the shoji, impatiently tapping the floor with her right foot. After a moment, she slid the shoji halfway open again and looked outside.
Apparently satisfied with the results of her survey, Akane slid the outer door shut, then turned and stared down at Ranma. The fire in her eyes made him gulp. She walked, no, stalked toward him in a way that took his breath. He had often tried to put that much sex into his gait when in his girl form, but never came close. He began to lick his lips without even thinking about it.
Akane smiled, then knelt down beside Ranma.
"You're gonna hold him, right, Ranko?" Akane asked.
Ranko giggled again as she seized Ranma's arms.
"Hold me? What for...mmph!"
Akane cut him off by kissing him full on the mouth, and it was not a little girl kiss, either. She meant it. After a couple of years, she let him come up for some air. Ranma really did not want any air. He wanted her to kiss him some more.
Ranma started to sit up, but Akane placed a gentle right hand on his chest. It may as well have weighed a hundred tons. He stayed right where he was.
"Now it's your turn," Akane said as she slid her left hand behind Ranko's head and pulled his alter ego close.
As far as he could tell, this kiss was no less passionate than the one she had just given him. He felt his face begin to redden.
"What the hell is goin' on here?" Ranma asked in an unhappy voice. "This ain't like you, Akane!"
Akane released Ranko and stared down into Ranma's eyes.
"I love you, Ranma Saotome," Akane said in a husky voice, "all two of you, and I'll never let either of you go."
Ranma opened his mouth to respond, but the words just would not crawl up out of his throat.
"Well, don't sit there like a bump on a log, Saotome," Ranko said. "You're gonna hafta tell her the truth now. She already knows how I feel about her."
"You what?" Ranma asked sounding alarmed and annoyed. "What'd ya do that for?"
"Because I don't have that much time, as you well know!" Ranko answered.
"What do you mean by that, Ranko?" Akane asked.
"I'm turning into..." Ranko started saying.
"...a girl," Ranma and Ranko finished in chorus.
"You're a girl now. So what?" Akane asked.
"I mean a girl, girl, Akane!" Ranma and Ranko chorused.
"So? That just means we can do some shopping together without you getting bored. What's your point?"
Ranma and Ranko's jaws sagged in unison.
Akane grabbed Ranko kissed her again, this time fondling her left breast as she did so. Ranma's face rapidly ran through several shades of red, then slowly turned purple as he watched.
"Okay, I think I can quit worryin' about that for now," Ranko said in a tiny voice.
Ranma tried to speak, but all he got in was a couple of noiseless jaw flaps before Akane began kissing him again. She rubbed his stomach with her right hand. Ranma felt as though someone had just wired him into a thousand volt circuit, but that was only just the beginning. Ranko gently lowered his head to the floor, then worked her way around to his other side so that she could kiss him on the cheek and blow in his ear.
I'm gonna die now, he thought. Who would've ever believed that I'd go this way?
Much to Ranma's amazement, he was still alive when Akane let him up for air. He again tried to say something, but got cut off by another incoming kiss--Ranko's this time. Akane kissed him on the neck and blew in his ear. He wanted to howl. He wanted to take his clothes off! Not only that, he wanted to take Akane's clothes off of her. Then he wanted to take Ranko's clothes off of her. Ranko broke their kiss.
"This is gettin' outta hand!" Ranma gasped out.
"He's right you know, Akane."
Akane nodded her head in response, then said, "Yeah, we had better stop. Besides, I want us all to have a good bath and be somewhere where we won't be watched or interrupted for our first time."
"It's gettin' late," Ranko observed. "Colonel Abe will be here pretty soon."
"Oh, no!" Akane exclaimed, clapping both hands to her cheeks. "I forgot all about that!"
"Don't panic, Akane," Ranko said. "We still have time enough to get ready. You go wake up Nabiki and the others. I'll make tea. Ranma, you round up Oji-san and the two of you wash your faces and hands."
"Who died and made you boss?" Ranma asked sounding annoyed.
"No one," Ranko answered him with his own lopsided grin, "but I'm your practical side, remember?"
Both Akane and Ranko stared at him expectantly.
"Okay, okay!" Ranma said resignedly as he rose to his feet. "I'm on it. Oji-san! Scrub-a-dub-dub! Geez!"
"That's a good boy, Ranma," Akane said, unable to suppress a giggle.
"Oh, yeah!" Ranma said, snapping his fingers. "I nearly forgot. Don't bother with Mom or Kasumi. That tea they drank will keep 'em sleepin' until tomorrow evening, maybe longer."
"That's okay," Akane said in a cheerful voice, "I'm sure Nabiki will be able to handle whatever comes up."
"And so will we, ne, Akane?" Ranko asked with a wink and a saucy grin.
"Oh, I'm sure we'll think of something when the time comes," Akane said as she began to blush.
Ranma felt his own cheeks begin to burn at this.
"I'm outta here," Ranma said in the voice he used when readying himself for action. "Let's just hope this Colonel Abe guy is bringin' us some good news."
"Better hope for good news from Doc Tofu, too," Ranko muttered, but neither of her departing companions heard her. "Let's just hope the university doesn't fool around too long with that genetics test or whatever they call it."