Subject: [FFML2] Comes the Cold Dragon: PartVIIbR4
From: Don Granberry
Date: 2/1/2001, 6:20 AM
To: FFML2
Reply-to:
lunohoco@lunohoco.com

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Attached is PartVIIb Revision 4 of Comes the Cold Dragon. Changes made
to improve the story and romanization of Japanese terms. Have also
finally correct all the punctuation and grammar errors I could, but make
no promises.

Thanks,

Don Granberry.



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       Extra special thanks to my pre-readers for helping me 
improve this one!

       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.

      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.


                      ------------------
          
          Comes the Cold Dragon: Part VIIb Revision 4
  
                      ------------------
 
       (I cannot believe we see through people's clothes, 
Red!)
 
       (I don't think we were seeing through their clothes so 
much as they were shining through them.)
 
       (It ain't decent!)
 
       (Man, you are such a prude!)
 
       {{Pornography is a matter of geography, Oh Scarlet 
One.}}
 
       (More like a matter of topography if you ask me, 
Scales)
 
       (It ain't fair and it ain't decent for us to do that, 
Red!)
 
       (I don't think we can help it, Saotome. I think we see 
down into the infrared in this form.)
 
       (Infrared? Oh, yeah! I remember us readin' about that. 
Infrared passes through people's clothing.)
 
       (We read?)
 
       (Okay, okay! I remember what you read it about it. 
That better?)
 
       (Yes.)
 
       (I wonder if there is some way we can turn it off? I 
don't wanna look at my mom that way.)
 
       {{Can see differently, if needed.}}
 
       Tatsu-Ranma's view of his surroundings became dark and 
blurry.
 
       (Yech! Now we can't see at all, Scales!)
 
       (Oh, great! Just great. We either see through people's 
clothes or we're as blind as a Mousse.)
 
       {{If you would allow me to finish?}}
 
       (Wow! Look at this, Red.)
 
       (I know, Saotome. It's almost as though we are using 
binoculars. Let's look at something up close.)
 
       Tatsu-Ranma focused his vision upon a part of the 
nearby wall surrounding the clinic. It was brightly lit by 
light shining through one of the clinic's windows.
 
       (Well, we can't quite see as much as we would with a 
good microscope, Saotome.)
 
       (No, but we'll never need a magnifying glass in this 
form, Red.)
 
       (I wish we could have done this when we were trying to 
read some of those old scrolls.)
 
       (No joke. Hey! We still can! We'll just borrow 'em 
from Pop and see if we can't read 'em while we're in this 
form.)
 
       (It's most likely a cookbook or something, Saotome.)
 
       {{_To Serve Man_, perhaps?}}
 
       (So, what if it is a cookbook, Red?)
 
       (I see your point. If we can crack those, there are a 
dozen other sets we'll be able to read.)
 
       (You know I never noticed how noisy this town is at 
night.)
 
       (It's our hearing I think, Saotome.)
 
       (Yeah, I think you're right.)
 
       (What's that noise way up the street to our left?)
 
       (There's only one person in Nerima who carries that 
much chain around on 'em, Red.)
 
       (Only if you don't count the worst of the hentai 
around here, Saotome. He's headed this way.)
 
       (Our sense of smell is a lot better, too.)
 
       (Something of a mixed blessing, if you ask me, 
Saotome.)
 
       (What'll we do about Mu Suu?)
 
       (Go easy on him, Saotome. Hear his heart? It sounds 
like he's been runnin' for two days straight.)
 
       (You know why he's here, dontcha?)
 
       (Yeah. The old ghoul sent him to check us out.)
 
       (Anybody else around we need to worry about?)
 
       (No one we know to be a problem, Saotome.)
 
       (Let's go out and meet him.)
 
       (Umisen-ken?)
 
       (Yeah.)
 
       Some sixty meters away, Mu Suu stopped and listened. 
He could not see anything to be alarmed about, but then he 
could seldom see well enough to count on his vision. His ears 
were warning him of a presence. Then his nose picked up the 
faint odor of ozone. He closed his eyes and concentrated upon 
what his skin could tell him. Something large was nearby. He 
could feel faint traces of heat coming from a large body and 
could hear muffled grinding noises, almost as though someone 
were jiggling a sack full of fist-sized stones.
 
       "Is that you, Saotome?"
 
       "You have good ears, Mu Suu," Tatsu-Ranma said softly 
in his Onna-Ranma voice. "Or maybe I need a little more 
practice at bein' a dragon."
 
       Mu Suu whirled around to face the voice. It had come 
from behind. He was greeted with the sight of a grinning 
Tatsu-Ranma. The dragon's beard was beaded with captured 
drops of drizzle and his iridescent, blue-green scales 
sparkled in the streetlights.
 
       "You look almost like a machine of some kind, 
Saotome."
 
       "Tarou thought I was a statue or something when he 
first saw me," Tatsu-Ranma said, then grinned a bit more. "He 
was upset when he discovered that this was me."
 
       "So that's who you were fighting."
 
       "Yeah, but he's gone back to China where he belongs."
 
       "I wondered who it was."
 
       "The old ghoul didn't tell you?"
 
       "All she told me was that you had become a dragon 
during the fight. I don't think she knows who you were 
fighting, yet. Why are you talking like your girl half?"
 
       "My regular voice would wake up the whole town."
 
       "Ah, that makes sense," Mu Suu said, then began to 
shiver uncontrollably.
 
       "Calm down," Tatsu-Ranma said, showing real concern in 
his feminine voice. "I'm not going to hurt you unless you 
give me reason to."
 
       "How did you get behind me?"
 
       "I can't tell you that," Tatsu-Ranma said. "What did 
Ko Lon send you to find out? There's no reason to stay out in 
this weather any longer than you must."
 
       "You know, I think I like you better as a dragon, 
Saotome," Mu Suu said, managing a grin through his fright. 
"You're actually nicer."
 
       "Really? Maybe its because I've been around my mom 
some lately."
 
       Mu Suu bit back on what ran through his mind at that 
moment. He had not yet tired of living.
 
       "Ko Lon worries about you, you know."
 
       "Yeah, I know," Tatsu-Ranma said sounding glum. "I 
just wish she'd take the same attitude towards Akane."
 
       The incongruity of the situation was almost too much 
for Mu Suu, not to mention the truly bitter irony of it all.
 
       "You like the old bat, don't you?"
 
       "I didn't say that."
 
       "No, you didn't," Mu Suu said evenly, "but it shows."
 
       "So what does Ko Lon want to know, Mu Suu?"
 
       "For one thing, she's curious about how big you are."
 
       Tatsu-Ranma seemed to be briefly amused by that 
question.
 
       "Fifteen-shaku, six-sun from nose to tail."
 
       "That's what? Right at five meters, isn't it?"
 
       "Yeah," Tatsu-Ranma said, "but she wouldn't have sent 
you out on a night like this just to find that out."
 
       "I think she's worried about how hostile you might be 
towards us and the rest of the Joketsuzoku, Saotome."
 
       "I ain't hostile towards ya," Tatsu-Ranma. "Just leave 
Akane and the rest of my family alone and everything will be 
fine."
 
       "So you are going to marry Akane?"
 
       "I don't know that she will still have me, Mu Suu," 
Tatsu-Ranma said, again sounding glum. "I don't know that 
even my own mother will have anything to do with me after 
today, but it makes no difference. They are all under my 
protection. You got that?"
 
       Mu Suu nodded his head in understanding, and suddenly 
found that he felt sorry for his long-time rival. The irony 
was truly bitter. Among the Joketsu, a man like Ranma Saotome 
would be universally revered almost without question. Here 
among his own people though, too many would be unable to 
understand. Most of them would despise him as a freak at 
best, or even more likely fear him as a great monster.
 
       "You must have been a rip-snorter in your last life, 
Saotome."
 
       "Most likely I did somethin' so bad I'm in the history 
books," Tatsu-Ranma said in agreement. "Tell Ko Lon I don't 
want any trouble. I especially don't want any trouble from 
Xian Pu."
 
       "I will help keep an eye on Xian Pu, Saotome," Mu Suu 
said, realizing that a countervailing threat would do far 
more harm than good. "Will you promise me not to hurt her 
unless you must?"
 
       "I never hurt anyone I don't have to, Mu Suu. I 
actually kinda like Xian Pu," Tatsu-Ranma said, then in much 
colder voice added, "But I will kill her outright if she so 
much as touches a hair on Akane's head."
 
       "Surely you don't mean that, Saotome."
 
       Tatsu-Ranma's girlish voice was again sad when he 
spoke.
 
       "Yes I do, Mu Suu. It's the only way I can say no and 
make Xian Pu understand that I mean it."
 
       Mu Suu worked hard at not letting his face change, 
even as tears ran down his cheeks from behind his glasses.
 
       "You cannot blame her for what she is, Saotome."
 
       "I don't blame her, Mu Suu. I blame all of the 
Joketsuzoku and their stupid laws. If she does something 
stupid, I'll teach 'em how stupid it all is. Do you 
understand?"
 
       "I think I get your drift, Saotome. Perhaps I should 
be going."
 
       "One more thing, Mu Suu."
 
       "Yes?"
 
       "I had whole lot rather be your friend than your 
enemy. The choice is yours." 
 
       "And what of Xian Pu's honor?"
 
       "I'll do anything I can short of marryin' her or 
pillowin' with her, Mu Suu."
 
       "You mean you wouldn't at least honor her with a 
child? Even if it meant you would have no obligations?"
 
       "I could never abandon my own kid, Mu Suu. Even if I 
knew the child would be well cared for."
 
       Mu Suu stared blankly at Tatsu-Ranma for a moment in 
silence. He had never heard anyone express such a sentiment 
before. He was not sure of what to make of it.
 
       "You are more of a man than I thought, Saotome," Mu 
Suu said at last. "A strange man, but a real man 
nonetheless."
 
       "Good night, Mu Suu."
 
       "Good night, Saotome-dono."
 
       Tatsu-Ranma watched Mu Suu's departing back until he 
rounded a corner, then hopped back over the clinic fence and 
settled once again into its tiny green-space. Sleeping in 
dragon form proved very different from sleeping in human 
form. Parts of him did not go to sleep. His sense of smell 
and hearing remained on a kind of "alert mode." He found it 
eerie to remain semi-aware of what was going on around him 
while the rest of his being slept. His dreams were different 
as well--very different.
 
       After several minutes of inner quiet, Ranma found 
himself standing upon a high cliff, overlooking a long, green 
valley. A river ran the length of the grassy valley below, 
with tall trees on either bank. The trees were of a kind he 
had never seen before. Even from this distance he could tell 
that they bore some kind of large blossom. The truly odd 
thing was that the blossoms varied in color, even on a single 
tree. He looked up, the sky was as bright and blue as any he 
had ever seen, with cottony clouds dancing along the wind 
high overhead. The sun felt warm on his shoulders. With a 
start, he suddenly realized that he did not seem to be 
dreaming at all. It was too realistic for a dream, almost as 
though he was actually standing in such a spot. 
 
       "Am I dreaming? Or have I traveled to this place 
somehow? I don't remember ever seeing anything like it," 
Ranma said aloud to himself as he realized he was back in his 
human form.
 
       "Weird, huh?" a familiar, female voice said from 
behind him.
 
       Ranma whipped around, automatically falling into his 
most deceptive of ready stances. Much to his shock, he found 
himself being confronted by his girl type. Worse, he found 
himself ogling his girl type. The bright, golden light of the 
sun shone through her comfortable looking sundress, nicely 
silhouetting the supple body beneath it. For the first time 
since he had acquired his curse, Ranma fully realized the 
impact his female form had on other men. It was unnerving. It 
was very unnerving.
 
       "Cute, ain't we, Saotome?" Ranko asked, then giggled. 
"See now why most girls wear a bra?"
 
       "I ... who ... "
 
       "It's just me, Saotome! Don't you recognize yourself?"
 
       "How?"
 
       Ranko shrugged.
 
       "Does it matter?" she asked. "This is a beautiful 
place, wherever it is."
 
       "I thought you could only dream up stuff based on 
things you had seen before."
 
       "So what do you see here that you haven't seen before, 
Saotome?"
 
       "I ain't never seen grass like this for starters," 
Ranma said scuffing his bare foot through the luxuriant 
growth they were standing upon.
 
       "How do you know you've never seen it before, 
Saotome?"
 
       "'Cause I don't remember seein' it, that's why!"
 
       "Your subconscious files away a lot of stuff you never 
notice, you know."
 
       "Yeah? Like that dress you're wearin'?"
 
       "What's wrong with it?" Ranko asked as she twirled 
around, letting the dress fly out into a broad disk of color 
around her deliciously attractive legs.
 
       "I don't remember seein' IT either, much less ever 
wearin' it!"
 
       "Well I remember it! It was at the department store 
when Mom took me shopping for a brassiere." Ranko said, 
sounding a wee bit miffed. "You don't remember it because you 
try so hard to forget this sort of thing." 
 
       The best Ranma could do was respond with a confused 
stare.
 
       Onna-Ranma stepped in close to her male self and 
stared him in the eye, nose to nose. 
 
       "I know! It's a guy thing! And yes! I DO TOO 
understand."
 
       Ranma again found himself struggling to find words. 
His female half gave him a grin and spoke while he continued 
to flounder.
 
       "Do you have any idea how cute you are when you're 
flustered?"
 
       "How come you never help me out when they do this to 
me?"
 
       His girl self understood what he meant. He was angry 
because she never helped him out when Akane or some other 
girl got him over a barrel.
 
       "Because they love to look at me when you're like 
this."
 
       "Huh?"
 
       "Confusin', ain't it?"
 
       Ranma closed his eyes and groaned.
 
       "Come on, Saotome! It's too pretty a day to have a 
headache."
 
       "It ain't daytime and this ain't real!" Ranma cried 
out as he opened his eyes and gave his female self a hard 
stare.
 
       "Oh, yeah?" Ranko said as she stepped back and placed 
her hands on her hips. The pose reminded Ranma of the way 
Akane did when she wanted to give him a hard time about 
something. He found himself grinning despite his discomfort.
 
       "Do I really know how to do that?" Ranma asked, waving 
his hands to indicate Ranko's stance and demeanor. She 
understood what he was asking about, of course.
 
       "Yes!" Ranko said with a snort. "Not that the oh-so-
manly Ranma Saotome ever does anything like this!"
 
       Ranma winced.
 
       "I have an idea, Saotome!"
 
       "What?"
 
       "Let's take a walk down by the river."
 
       "D'ya think we can get down there? This place ain't 
real, ya know."
 
       "It's more real than you're letting us believe, 
Saotome. I can come here whenever I like."
 
       "Yeah, okay," Ranma said with a grin. "It might be 
fun."
 
       Tiny points of light twinkled before Ranma's eyes, 
forcing him to blink. He suddenly found himself standing in 
deep shade and could hear water gurgling over rocks just off 
to his right. Large blossoms of differing colors were 
floating gently along upon the surface of the river's 
crystalline waters. The white ones amazed Ranma. They looked 
as though they had been carved from large opals.
 
       "Nice, huh?" His girl half asked.
 
       "Yeah, it is," Ranma answered as he craned his neck to 
look at the trees overhead. The leaves were large and palmate 
with a deep, almost coniferous green color. Unlike most of 
the leaves he had seen of this shape, these leaves were 
glossy, almost as though they had a waxy coating. The bark of 
the trees was a deep, reddish brown and quite rough. The 
woods were permeated with the smell of an ordinary forest 
with a faint undertone of eucalyptus. Clearly these really 
were trees, but not of a kind he had ever seen. The 
experience was a very odd mixture of the real and unreal.
 
       "I don't remember ever seeing trees like this, Red."
 
       "So? They're probably just composites of trees I've 
seen before."
 
       "Did you dream this place up, or did I?"
 
       "You did, silly! We're the same person, remember?"
 
       "Not all the time we're not!"
 
       "Yes, we are, Saotome," Ranma's girl half said, 
sounding a little sad as she took his hands in her own, 
"that's one of the things we need to talk over."
 
       Ranma let her lead him over to a large rock jutting up 
out of the soft soil. It had a smooth flat surface like a 
tabletop and was several meters across. It had been split 
right down the middle, as though a giant had cleaved it into 
with a sword. He recognized the stone. It was Tengu Rock. He 
and his father had sparred upon its slanted surface every day 
for the ten months they had lived in Yagyu village. Genma had 
arranged for him to study kenjutsu under Nobuhara Yagyu, the 
twenty-first headmaster of Yagyu Shinkage-ryu hyoho. Yagyu-
sensei had demanded much of Ranma. In the end, Yagyu had 
seemed pleased with his efforts and even invited him to 
return after he was grown.
 
       The sun broke through the dense canopy of limbs and 
leaves here, making it a perfect spot to picnic. Bright 
little points of lights danced in front of Ranma's eyes, 
forcing him to blink. He found himself sitting on a blanket 
opposite Ranko; some of Kasumi's best cooking was scattered 
out in various dishes between them. He sampled some of the 
food. No doubt about it, this was Kasumi's cooking. Ranko 
handed him a piece of okonomiyaki, surprisingly, it was not 
Ukyo's. It was her father's.
 
       "Damn!" Ranma exclaimed. "I had forgotten how good 
that old man could cook."
 
       His female half grinned at him.
 
       "No you didn't."
 
       "Maybe not," Ranma said, grinning back, then suddenly 
became serious. "What are we doing here, anyway?"
 
       "What anyone does in a dream, Saotome. Relax and try 
to deal with stuff we can't deal with while we're awake."
 
       "So what are we tryin' to deal with?"
 
       "Sex."
 
       Ranma's mouth hung open. His girl half giggled at him.
 
       "You're flustered again, Saotome."
 
       Ranma's discomfiture worsened precipitously.
 
       "Now you are positively blushing."
 
       Ranma's face darkened.
 
       "Come on, Saotome! There's no need to be embarrassed 
here. There's just me," she said pointing at herself, then at 
Ranma, "and me here. I can be honest with myself, can't I?"
 
       "I ... I don't know," Ranma said in a low voice. "I 
don't know if I can handle it."
 
       "So why don't you ask me a question?" Ranko said, 
sounding sly. "I know you're dying to."
 
       "Why are my girl type urges so much stronger than my 
guy type urges?"
 
       "Because girls mature earlier than guys, you big 
dope!"
 
       "Huh?"
 
       "You didn't pay attention during health class, did 
you?"
 
       "I paid attention!"
 
       "But you didn't really think it applied to you, 
didja?"
 
       "I ... I guess not," Ranma said sounding as though he 
had just opened a door that he had not known existed in a 
previously familiar room.
 
       "I think we're just now starting to find out what 
Akane has been going through since before we got here."
 
       "What do you mean by that, Red?" Ranma shouted at his 
girl half. "You got no right to talk about Akane like that!" 
 
       "Oh, come on, Ranma! You've seen the fire in her eyes 
when she looks at us, and I ain't talkin' about when she's 
been mad at us!"
 
       Suddenly, bright little points of light again twinkled 
before his eyes forcing him to blink. They were still in the 
same place, but things had changed. The leaves were no longer 
green. Now the trees were wearing riotous coats of copper, 
red and gold. Their limbs were so heavy with large, nut-like 
fruits that many of them were drooping from the strain. Onna-
Ranma was sitting on the same blanket, but the dishes were 
different this time. His eyes widened as he watched his girl 
half, now in male form, chop up pieces of one of the large 
nuts, tossing them into a wok for stir frying along with some 
fish and other vegetables. His girl type had set the wok over 
an open fire. The smoke from the fire smelt sweet, but the 
aroma from the sizzling pan was even better.
 
       "Hey!" Ranma called out in his girlish voice. "You 
want some help?"
 
       His girl half looked up at him and gave him his most 
manly grin in return. "I can handle it. You just sit there 
and relax."
 
       Ranma tried to get up, but began having trouble. It 
took him a moment to realize that the reason he was having 
trouble was his very large stomach. He felt of it with both 
hands. Something inside kicked. Life! There was life in 
there!
 
       "Red, you jerk!"
 
       "What's the matter?"
 
       "I'm pregnant!"
 
       "Yeah, so? It's what I wanted deep down, right?"
 
       "I wanna have kids awright! But I wanna have Akane's 
kids!"
 
       "So? Whose kid do you think that is?"
 
       "It can't be Akane's, you dipstick!"
 
       "Oh? What makes you think that?"
 
       "Akane's a woman! She can't get me pregnant!"
 
       "Yeah, well it did take some pretty special help. 
Modern science can work wonders nowadays. If I really want to 
have Akane's baby, I can, Saotome."
 
       "Gahh!"
 
       "What's wrong?"
 
       "This was supposed to be a pleasant dream and friendly 
discussion!" Ranma screamed in Onna-Ranma's voice, then 
swallowed painfully at a catch in his throat. "Not a 
goddamned nightmare!"
 
       "What's so nightmarish about having a baby?" his girl 
half asked in a gentle, but masculine voice. "It's what I 
really want deep down."
 
       Ranma became suddenly aware of how precious the life 
growing inside his female body was to him, then began to cry. 
 
       "Are you all right?" his girl half asked Ranma's own, 
masculine voice.
 
       "I'm pregnant!"
 
       "Yeah, so?" she said, sounding puzzled. "It's what I 
really want, isn't it?"
 
       "I'm a guy, dammit! I can't have a baby!"
 
       "Sure you can have a baby! You know you can have a 
baby and it's one of things you want to do!" his girl half 
bellowed in his male voice. "Why do you think I'm havin' this 
dream!"
 
       "I do NOT want to have a baby! You pervert!"
 
       His girl half-grinned at him. 
 
       "Think so, huh?" She asked, then her grin on her 
masculine face got even bigger. "Watch this!"
 
       Bright sparkles again filled the air before Ranma's 
face, forcing him to blink. This time the rock was gone. They 
were on a vast beach. Nearby was a fire-pit dug into the sand 
and freshly caught abalone and clams were steaming inside a 
mound of seaweed just laid upon the coals. The surf crashed 
upon a reef the better part of a kilometer from shore. Clear 
water shading from a vibrant, sun-dappled green to deep blue 
near the reef, lapped at the golden sands with peaceful, 
crystalline wavelets. Ranma felt the wind play with his bangs 
while the warm, languorous sun kissed the bare skin of his 
shoulders. Wave after wave of peaceful bliss was washing over 
him. He could not remember when he had felt so relaxed. It 
was then that he noticed a slight weight on his arm and 
something pulling at his left nipple. He looked down to find 
that he was in his girl type body and an infant was sucking 
at his breast. The child stared up at him with trusting blue 
eyes as the wind ruffled her fine, red hair. Ranma had never 
felt so complete in all his life. Nor had he ever felt quite 
so strong for, or quite so defensive of anything or anyone. 
Not even Akane had been able to make him feel this way.
 
       He lay back against the canvas of the beach chair and 
struggled to stay awake. The sun would swing around soon and 
he did not want the newborn in it.
 
       "You look sleepy, Ranma."
 
       Ranma smiled back at his girl half. She handled his 
male type body quite well and was very handsome.
 
       "At peace is more like it."
 
       "See? I told you I wanted to have a baby."
 
       "I know, Red. It's just ... well ... "
 
       "You're worried about Mom."
 
       "And Akane. Do you really think she'd willingly give 
this up?"
 
       "She wouldn't have to, dummy."
 
       "Do you think she'd willingly share it?"
 
       "Hey! We're talkin' Ranma and Akane, here."
 
       "Well, you can bet she ain't gonna take to it all that 
kindly at first. She pro'lly figures that she supposed to be 
the lady of the house. I mean it's bad enough that we're 
gonna have to ban her from the kitchen for the first few 
months."
 
       "Aw come on, Ranma. You know she'll be able to cook by 
the time we marry."
 
       "Yeah, I suppose so, assuming she wants to stick with 
us after that trip."
 
       "She will, Saotome. She's got twice as much steel in 
her soul as I do. She might even have more than Mom."
 
       "Yeah, but it still ain't gonna be no picnic, Red. 
There's gonna be times when she truly hates me, and it might 
take her a long time to get over it."
 
       "We'll just have to be careful and handle Akane like 
she's Akane and not like Shit-daddy handled me when I was 
little, Saotome."
 
       "How long before the abalone's done?"
 
       "Oh, a couple of hours, I guess."
 
       "Watch the sun and move the umbrella for us, would ya? 
The baby and I both need a nap."
 
       "For a man among men, you sure seem to be a natural at 
motherhood, Saotome."
 
       "Can't help it, Red. It comes with the curse."
 
       "You sure you wanna do this, Saotome?"
 
       Ranma gave forth with a frustrated sigh as once again, 
sparkling motes of light forced him to blink. Now they were 
back on top of the cliff. Ranma was back in his male form 
while is girl half stood beside him in her female form, 
holding his arm.
 
       "You could end it forever, you know."
 
       "End what forever?"
 
       "The curse, silly."
 
       "How?"
 
       "Build up enough ki, then use it at the right time to 
change and I would never be a girl again."
 
       "Why would I wanna do that?"
 
       "No more girl type urges for starters, Saotome."
 
       "No more worryin' about Mom."
 
       "Uh-huh. And no more of those icky times of the 
month."
 
       "And no more lookin' at a dress and wishin' I could 
wear it."
 
       "And no more wanting to have Akane's baby."
 
       "Hey! I'll always want to have Akane's baby. It's too 
late to turn back now."
 
       "Yeah, but you wouldn't want to HAVE her baby, 
Saotome. There's a difference here."
 
       "I will always want to HAVE Akane's baby, Red. It's 
too late to change that now."
 
       "That's just your hormones talking, Saotome."
 
       "Nope. It's what's in my heart, Red. You know it is. I 
... "
 
       "You wouldn't daydream about her being some big, tall 
handsome guy anymore either."
 
       Chills ran up the back of Ranma's male half.
 
       "The last time I did that, Kuno glomped me while I was 
in the middle of it. It was ... it was ... "
 
       Onna-Ranma placed a finger on his lips to silence him.
 
       "You think I don't know that, Saotome? I'm in love 
with Akane. I could never run around on her, even with a man. 
I'm stuck with this for as long as I decide to hang onto the 
curse. The thing is, I'm willing to pay the price."
 
       Ranma embraced his female half and gave her a peck on 
the forehead. The sky began to darken as Onna-Ranma cuddled 
up to her male half.
 
       "You scare me sometimes, Saotome."
 
       "Whaddaya mean by that, Red?"
 
       "I know all too well how much you hate being a girl. I 
figured once you knew how to be male all the time you'd ... "
 
       "Nah, no way. There's too many things you can do that 
I can't. Besides, I'd hate missin' out on all that ice-
cream."
 
       "And Akane's baby?"
 
       "Red ... I don't know about this pregnant business ... 
I don't think I'll ever be able to handle it."
 
       "Being pregnant isn't what bothers you, Saotome," his 
girl half said. "I know it and you know it. It's doing what 
it takes to become pregnant that bothers you."
 
       Ranma's male half suddenly became very tense.
 
       "I can't help that!"
 
       "I know, Ranma," his girl half said as she buried her 
face in his shoulder to hide her tears. "I'm sorry. I can't 
help making you feel that kind of desire sometimes. It's ... 
it's just nature at work."
 
       Ranma's male half relaxed, then sighed with 
resignation as his girl half began sobbing.
 
       "But look at the bright side of things, Red. You will 
have a baby to cuddle," Ranma said patting his female self on 
the back, "and it WILL be Akane's baby."
 
       "I was so afraid she'd never accept me," Onna-Ranma 
said into the shoulder of her male form.
 
       "We lucked out on that, Red," Ranma's male half said 
in a soft voice. "We lucked out on it big time."
 
       Ranma cuddled his female self and rocked her gently 
until she could regain control.
 
       "Saotome?"
 
       "Mmm?"
 
       "She may turn out to be better than me."
 
       "What makes you think that?"
 
       "Remember the dougi?"
 
       "Yeah, so?"
 
       "It couldn't really do anything more than use her full 
potential, Saotome."
 
       "Yeah, but it will take her a long time to get there."
 
       "So you're not worried?"
 
       "Hey! She's gonna marry ME, remember?"
 
       "You are such a rock-head, sometimes, Saotome!" 
Ranma's girl half said with a grin.
 
       "Me? A rock-head?"
 
       "I'm sleepy," his girl half said. "How about you?"
 
       "Yeah, I'm pretty tired," Ranma said with a great yawn 
as he held his female form a little closer. "It's been a long 
day."
 
       As the stars came out, Tatsu-Ranma gently curled 
itself around the sleeping pair, as though guarding a nest. 
Shortly thereafter the whole of Ranma fell into a deep, 
dreamless sleep.
       
 
 
                    -------------------
  
 
 
       Shintarou Ishikawa was an odd man by any standard, but 
especially odd by Japanese standards. He graduated in the top 
of his class from Tokyo University, majoring in economics. 
This would have guaranteed him a lifetime career in 
government service had he wanted it, but he spurned all such 
offers. He decided to become a novelist instead. His first 
two books did not do all that well. The next three became 
national best sellers. Thus at age thirty-five he had become 
a quiet man of average height, suffering from the swivel-
chair spread in his middle, a pale complexion, and that 
sloppy slump of the shoulders common to all career desk-
jockeys. His face was soft and ovoid with a weak chin and 
eyebrows that pointed upwards above his nose, giving him the 
look of a man perpetually and comically surprised. This last 
aspect of his appearance was considerably enhanced by his 
hairline, which had decided to recede early.
 
       Finding himself possessed of more money than he could 
reasonably spend, and knowing that his chances of becoming a 
hit with the ladies were practically nil, Ishikawa began 
casting about for something to do other than writing. 
Cranking out five novel-length works back to back had 
required him to lead a quiet, almost monastic existence. 
While his writing had brought him quite a bit of fame and 
more than a little money, it seemed unlikely that his writing 
alone would ever cause his ideals to be realized. He and the 
rest of the world it seemed were in dire need of a change. 
The problem Ishikawa found himself addressing, was how to 
make that change.
 
       Politics seemed the most likely solution, but he had 
been careful to check on the careers of the other writers and 
artists that had taken than route. Most of them failed to 
accomplish anything but grief for themselves, their parties 
and their country. In his estimation, they went into politics 
with insufficient experience and too little knowledge of how 
their government really worked. Having reached the this 
conclusion, and realizing that inexperience and lack of 
knowledge about the inner workings of government were two 
glaring shortcomings of his own, he decided he had best 
acquire some of each before dabbling in politics.
 
       His old classmates did their very best to discourage 
him when he called upon them for help. He had been out of the 
loop too long they told him. The only job he was likely to 
get would be very menial. Ishikawa had not cared about that 
then, and he did not care about it now. He pressed on until 
he finally got what he wanted, a job with the government. He 
had been a bit worried when he reported in for his first day 
of work. He had never so much as owned a cat in his entire 
life, now he was about to go to work as a field officer of 
the Animal Control Division of the Tokyo Public Works 
Department. 
 
       As it turned out, Ishikawa brought to his job a set of 
skills, which proved to be both a boon and a bane. In order 
to become a professional writer, one must write. This sounds 
like an entirely reasonable, straightforward premise, but 
there are complications. In order to write enough to make a 
living writing, it is necessary to narrow one's mental focus 
until nothing but the task at hand is in view. This is 
challenging. A friend calls with an invitation to a romantic 
dinner for four and one says, "No thanks." Family calls 
hoping the writer will join them for a picnic and the writer 
pretends to be ill. The writer disconnects the television and 
wishes there was no such thing as the Internet, but the 
writer keeps the modem because it speeds research. Writing is 
a very quiet, very private, soul searing hell. The only 
surcease from it is reaching a point where one may, in good 
conscience, type two little words: "The End."
 
       Ishikawa knew nothing about animals when he came to 
work. He was by no means in the physical shape he needed to 
be in to do the job. His uniform did not fit him at all and 
actually made him look more comical than he ordinarily did, 
but the one asset he brought to his job was focus so ruthless 
that even the most cunning of feral tomcats seldom eluded him 
for long. The largest, most ill tempered breeds of dogs 
troubled him not at all. Nothing stopped him from doing his 
job. Crying children begging for their pets back meant 
nothing more to Ishikawa than the sighing of the wind in the 
pines. Little old ladies begging him to drop their poodles 
failed to even make him pause. Big brutish owners of pit 
bulldogs, foolish enough to try intimidation would simply 
find themselves wearing a net and riding along in the back of 
his truck with their pets. Ishikawa's supervisors suddenly 
found themselves wishing he had gone to work for the post 
office instead of them. Ishikawa lacked perspective. He did 
not care whose pet he captured. If the animal was not legal 
or did not have the appropriate tags and paperwork, he 
brought it in. Shintarou Ishikawa was no respecter of 
persons, only the law.
 
       This single-mindedness caused more than a little 
discomfort for Tokyo Public Works in general and the Animal 
Control Division in particular. All of his supervisors shook 
their heads in dismay. Why could he not understand that being 
a dogcatcher was one of the most political of all jobs? 
Hoping that he would learn the ropes, and some much needed 
flexibility, they transferred him from one district to the 
next in quick succession. The rich learned to despise him 
within two days arrival. The poor hated him with a passion so 
black that hell had no hope of matching it. The yakuza and 
the politicians they owned learned to fear him. The nation's 
supply of exotic animals dried up in just a few days. 
Finally, it was decided to transfer him to a middle-class 
district. Only the kami know why Nerima was chosen, but 
transfer him to Nerima they did.
     
 
 
                 -------------------
  
 
        The sun did not come up on Saturday morning. It 
settled for turning the sky into a dripping, gray blanket of 
cloud instead of a black, dripping blanket of cloud. The 
alert part of Tatsu-Ranma's mind woke the rest of his body 
and mind.
       
       (What's that smell, Red?)
 
       {{A pig--no, a long pig.}}
 
       (So what exactly is a long pig, Scales?)
 
       (It's Ryoga, Saotome! Long pig is what the Polynesians 
used to call a human they roasted at a luau.)
 
       (You mean they eat people at those wing-dings? Kuno's 
daddy is sicker than I thought!)
 
       (They don't eat people anymore, Saotome. That was in 
the old days, you baka!)
 
       (Oh, ho! THIS is gonna be fun.)
 
       {{Mmm! Good snack.}}
 
       (It's Ryoga, you scaly oaf!)
 
       (We can't eat him, Scales! Well, I could, but I'd 
never live it down.)
 
       {{Not for eating?}}
 
       (No! He ain't for eatin', Scales. I can't believe you 
said that, Red!)
 
       {{Will he mate?}}
 
       (NO!)
 
       (He would if I let him. He's as big a pervert as Kuno 
is.)
 
       (He's comin' closer, Red! Let's get ready.)
 
       (He's gonna shit when he sees us in this form, 
Saotome.)
 
       {{He has a great spirit and a big heart, but he is not 
strong enough to be a true enemy.}}
 
       (Yeah, but we're gonna scare the pig poop out of him 
anyway, Scales.)
 
       {{Duty?}}
 
       (Yeah, something like that.)
 
       (More like ritual combat you mean, Saotome.)
 
       (Whatever!)
 
       (Be vewie vewie quiet! He's about to come through the 
gate.)
 
       {{Something else approaches.}}
 
       Tatsu-Ranma sniffed the air.
 
       {{It is a hunter.}}
 
       (A hunter? In Tokyo?)
 
       {{He is a good hunter. He must be nearby, but I smell 
no fear from our toy.}}
 
       (Must be one of Tofu's buddies.)
 
       {{Look over the wall?}}
 
       (No, let's worry about Ryoga first, Scales.)
 
       {{We have time. Our toy is at the gate.}}
 
       Ryoga Hibiki, thinking that he was still in Miyazaki 
City and hoping to get directions to a train station, walked 
unsuspecting through the clinic gate.
 
       "Yo, Ryoga! How's it hangin'?" Tatsu-Ranma asked 
cheerfully in Onna-Ranma's voice.
 
       "Ranma?" Ryoga asked in puzzled tones as he looked 
about for his archrival, friend and favorite enemy. "What are 
you doing in Miyazaki?"
 
       "This is Nerima, Pork-butt!"
 
       "Boy, what a realistic looking statue," Ryoga 
exclaimed upon finally taking full notice of Tatsu-Ranma.
 
       "I am NOT a statue, Ryoga!" Tatsu-Ranma said in Onna-
Ranma's voice.
 
       "Ya-a-a-a-ah!" Ryoga screamed in terror as he jumped 
up onto the wall. "It's alive!"
 
       Tatsu-Ranma reared up onto his hind legs so that he 
could look Ryoga in the eye.
 
       "Of course I'm alive, Bacon-breath!" Tatsu-Ranma 
rumbled in his natural voice. "Dontcha recognize me?"
 
       Ryoga's eyes grew to the size of dinner plates as his 
jaw went slack.
 
       (Oh, wow, Saotome! He's turnin' green!)
 
       (Now he's turnin' a kind of coppery color, Red.)
 
       (I wonder if we do that when we're scared, Saotome?)
 
       (I dunno. OH, look! Now he's turnin' white!)
 
       (Hah! He looks like he just saw a ghost!)
 
       "Who you gonna call, P-Chan?" Tatsu-Ranma asked in 
Onna-Ranma's voice.
 
       This last was too much for Ryoga. He became faint and 
fell off the wall. Unfortunately, this caused him to lose his 
umbrella, thus exposing his water-sensitive body to the rain. 
 
       (Oh, man! That was worth at least a million yen, 
Saotome!)
 
       (Too bad we didn't have time to get Nabiki to tape 
this one, ne, Red?)
 
       {{He makes a good toy! Is he always so easily 
frightened?}}
 
       (Just the first time, Scales. Ryoga's one of the 
bravest guys I know.)
 
       (That he is, Saotome. He's gonna be mad enough to chew 
nails once he figures this out.)
 
       (Hey! That'd be great! We haven't had a good match 
since Tarou left.)
 
       (Geez, Saotome! That was just yesterday!)
 
       (So? Ryoga's a great artist. It's always fun to fight 
him.)
 
       (And he's only slightly less stable than 
nitroglycerine, Saotome.)
 
       (And twice as dangerous, Red. That's why I love him.)
 
       Tatsu-Ranma watched as P-Chan squirmed his way out of 
Ryoga's clothes.
 
       {{I think he would make an excellent snack.}}
 
       P-Chan's eyes widened with horror as he looked and saw 
Tatsu-Ranma towering above the clinic wall.
 
       "Bwee!"
 
       "Calm down, Ryoga! It's just me. I ain't gonna 
hurtcha!"
 
       P-Chan believed his eyes a good deal more than his 
ears. He shot off down the street, then rounded a corner out 
of sight.
 
       (Aw, geez! Now we gotta go get him, Saotome.)
 
       (Yeah, I know. Akane would never forgive me if 
anything happened to him.)
 
       Tatsu-Ranma flowed over the clinic wall, then galloped 
down the street after the fleeing P-Chan.
 
       (Man! We can really move along in this form, Red!)
 
       (You got that right! We must be covering ten meters a 
jump.)
 
       {{Thirty-five shaku per jump. Could do better on 
dirt.}}
 
       (Right! Turn right! He went that way.)
        
 
 
                     -------------------