In The Black
Ranma was helping Kasumi prepare breakfast. The night before, after she'd gotten back from mailing her letters, they'd pulled Kasumi into Nabiki's room and filled her in on the wedding plans and the absolute necessity of keeping them secret from the fathers. Then they'd all gone to bed. Ranma couldn't speak for the others, but she'd had the best sleep in years, even amidst a generally-improved sleep schedule.
They rubbed shoulders as they passed, and Ranma gave her shoulder a friendly little twitch. Kasumi giggled, and they smiled at each other. Ranma finished setting the table, and brought in the newspaper.
Nabiki drank her cup of coffee, and Akane came in from her run. More smiles all around. The year was turning towards fall, and the sun was just rising; the air was crisp and clean. New beginnings are supposed to happen in spring, but they were making do very happily.
Soun came down, and sat with his paper and a cup of tea. Finally, as Kasumi was bringing the food to the table, Genma came grumbling down the stairs and sat. His mood darkened when he noticed his son was not only his daughter this morning, but was wearing one of Kasumi's old Furinkan uniforms with an apron over it, and helping serve the meal. He was used to a morning spar and a refreshing dip in the koi pond; this was adding insult to the break in his routine. He started to protest, but was silenced by a contralto growl from Ranma-chan and a flare of light from her eyes.
They were halfway through breakfast when Soun commented, "Looks like somebody finally won the lottery."
"Can I see that?" Genma asked. Soun folded the paper and passed it over. Genma looked the article over; fumbled around in his patched gi and came out with a ticket. He compared it carefully to the numbers in the paper. His eyes widened, and he fell over backwards.
"Eh?" "Hey oyaji, what's going on?" "He tried to read something, got wedged, and now he has to reboot." "Get your foot out of my soup!"
Slowly Genma sat up, eyes sparkling behind his glasses. "Soun, my friend, I've just won fifty million yen in the lottery!"
Everybody but Nabiki edged back. Genma could be enough trouble without money. How much trouble could he be with it? Nabiki, of course, knew Genma didn't hang onto money very well. She was wondering how to net some of it as it flew away.
Soun and Genma huddled together, comparing the story with the ticket. Then they leaped to their feet and began dancing in joyous circles. "New clothes! Fine food! Sake! A wonderful wedding!"
Ranma looked at the two and placed her barbed shaft with exquisite precision. "Hey oyaji! I'm gunna have to stay a girl for the next couple months. Can I have some yen to buy clothes?" Genma stopped stock-still, while Soun continued dancing; the two went down in a tangled heap, with sputtered curses from Genma and a few victory flags still flying.
Akane looked at Ranma, winked, and sniffled. "Wah! I'm engaged to a girl!"
"I'm safer as a girl. As a fiancée, you smell."
Akane blushed, hauled out her mallet, and began chasing Ranma around the room. Nabiki began calling out odds on the fight. Kasumi clasped her hands with a beaming smile and said "They're such a perfect couple! They're both violent maniacs!" Soun and Genma clutched each other and collapsed into wails, despairing that the schools would ever be joined. The pursuit went out the door and over the wall, with the noise gradually receding into the distance.
Kasumi said "Oh, my, they didn't finish their breakfasts. I'll have to make extra-large bentos for them. Can you take them to school, Nabiki?" Nabiki grumbled, but nodded her assent.
They'd left so early, and run so fast, that they were the first students in the classroom. Ranma-chan went up to Ninomiya-sensei's desk. The diminutive teacher was looking skeptical. "Saotome-kun," she asked, "why are you in my classroom as a girl? You're wearing the uniform, so it's obviously not an accident."
Ranma put her hand behind her head, and sighed bashfully. "Sorry 'bout that, sensei. Over summer vacation, I was studyin' to use my ki different. An' right now, that means I c'n get pretty uncomfortable as a guy. I thought I c'd pay more attention in class as a gal."
The teacher looked at Akane. "Tendo-kun, you live with Saotome-kun. Is this true?"
Hinako-chan cocked her head to one side and chirped, "Well, that's fine, then. Do you have any candy?"
Ranma and Akane wore blank expressions for a second, then looked at each other. "Do we have any candy?" And when the answer was 'no', "Oi! And we didn't finish breakfast!"
Yuka and Hiroshi came in, and promptly started interrogating their friends. Then Sayuri, and Daisuke, and Kaede, and all the rest. Everybody wanted to know what was up. Ranma kept silent. Akane folded her arms and grumped. At the far side of the room some perceptive soul noted that Ranma and Akane had been lunching with Kuno in recent days. A whisper of "Pigtailed goddess?" went around before the bell rang and class got down to business. Ranma's ki senses were jangling with all the attention being paid her, but it was nowhere as distracting and unnerving as the assorted teenage scents had been the day before. And so the morning wore on at its usual slow pace, until the lunch bell rang.
Ranma and Akane didn't have bentos, so they headed for the school cafeteria. But Nabiki caught them before they'd gotten there, and they all went out to their favorite tree to enjoy an autumnal day. The ginkgoes were beginning to show yellow streaks on their leaves, and the maples a tinge of red. The trees rustled in a light breeze. The sky was blue, with small clouds, and the sun warm enough to offset the breeze perfectly. The schoolyard was more full than usual – everybody wanted to catch such excellent weather.
Kuno soon joined them. "Ranma-kun! Akane! And is this my mercenary goddess?"
"Hello to you, too, Kuno-chan," Nabiki said dryly.
"I talked with Kasumi," Akane said. "She'd like to see you doing teppanyaki too. She'll be with us tomorrow evening."
"Teppanyaki?" Nabiki asked. "Have I fallen down a rabbit hole? I didn't know you were studying to be a chef, Kuno-chan. I must be slacking off!"
"We were talkin' 'bout what to do when you can't fight for real," Ranma said. "Tacchi-kun said there were times he simply needed a sharp piece of steel and somethin' to cut up. This is what he does, just like I'm learnin' to carve wood an' stone."
"That's interesting. Can I come along?" Nabiki asked. "I'm sure the fathers aren't going to be home tomorrow evening, and I'd rather not eat by myself."
"What are your fathers doing?" Kuno asked.
"The kami help us, Genma won fifty million yen in the lottery. They'll probably be out drinking."
"That's not good," Kuno said. "That's enough money to get in trouble with, but not enough to shield you from the consequences."
"That's what we're afraid of."
"I'll have Sasuke look after your fathers. For all your sakes, I'd hate to see something happen to them while they're in their cups. And Sasuke is a surprisingly versatile man."
"Ano …" Ranma said. "I'm gunna be a girl for a while. I hope that won't cause any trouble with yer sister?"
"A girl?" Kuno asked. "I mean, I noticed; but you seem to prefer being male."
"Bjorn-sensei had me doin' some things with my ki. Y'know, my folks want me to be a 'man among men' real bad. I can go along with that, but bein' a man among women is pretty rough these days. Until I get my ki senses tamed down, it's less unsettlin' bein' a woman. I'd rather not go inta detail."
Nabiki cocked her left eyebrow, and Akane giggled. Kuno shrugged and said, "She may be disappointed, but it will probably cause both of you less stress. So: four ladies for dinner, tomorrow evening? I look forward to it." Reminded of food, Kuno dug into his bento.
Nabiki looked at Ranma, whose legs were perhaps a bit too far apart, and skirt too high. She leaned forward and whispered, "You're giving me a fine show, Saotome. Are you advertising?"
Ranma blushed, and brought her legs together. Nabiki handed out the bentos, and the three girls began to eat.
When Ranma and the sisters got home they found the fathers dressed elegantly, and very merry. Genma's ratty, patched gi was gone (the smell of burnt cloth drifted in from the yard) and he was wearing a tailored white gi that was halfway to a suit. Soun's hair and moustache were neatly trimmed, and he was wearing a brown suit. There was a restrained odor of expensive sake drifting from the two, but they were mostly sober.
"We went down to the lottery commission and I had the prize deposited in the Bank of Tokyo," Genma said. "We drew out some pocket change, and visited a tailor. Then we had a good meal, and stopped by a market to get Kobe beef. Kasumi's in the kitchen with it now."
Ranma and the Cat both liked the idea of Kobe beef. They also appreciated the smells coming from the kitchen. "I hope you bought lotsss of beefff," Ranma said. "Becaussse nobody isss gettin' between mmmmeee and mmmy ssshare."
Genma was taken aback by such a threat from his girly-son, but he'd heard the Cat's contribution to the statement. So he smiled, and said "There's plenty for both of us, boy, and everybody else as well." And Soun nodded his head with a broad grin. Kasumi appeared at the kitchen door and gave Ranma the thumbs-up. Ranma went to put her books away, change, and wash up.
When they gathered at the table, everybody had apparently decided such magnificent food deserved respect. They were all dressed well and kneeling formally. Ranma helped Kasumi bring the food out. There were steaks on platters, little red potatos, green beans, and sautéed mushrooms with bamboo shoots. "Kobe beef is too fine to cover with sauce. I thought a western meal made sense tonight," Kasumi said. Everybody cried "itadakimasu" and dug in, some not bothering to accumulate vegetables before starting on the steak. When his first set of chopsticks came back short, even Genma was satisfied with what was on his plate.
After dinner everybody was leaning back in sated bliss, aided by the ceremonial sake Genma and Soun had served around. Nabiki raised her small cup in a toast. "That's one of the finest meals I've ever had, Kasumi. You're a miracle-worker with ordinary food, but you outdid yourself with the food Genma brought home today." She smiled at Genma, who smiled smugly back and tossed down another cup of sake.
Kasumi could tell two things: that Nabiki was sincere, and that she was slanting her words at Genma. So she closed her eyes, clasped her hands against one cheek, and said, "Oh my, yes! That was wonderful beef he brought home, and very good mushrooms. Uncle Saotome, we'll have to make you do the shopping from now on, if we want to keep eating like this!"
Genma smiled a self-satisfied smile. "Kasumi's a better shopper – I just had the money to do it right."
Nabiki circled in for the kill. "Well, then, you'll just have to give her an allowance. She shops, she cooks, we all eat, and everybody is happy."
Genma was feeling expansive after the meal and the sake. He whipped out his shiny new checkbook. "My old friend Soun and his family should benefit from my good fortune!" he said as he wrote out a check for five million yen. He gave it to Kasumi, because after all, the lady of the house is in charge of the finances. Genma was big on people obeying traditional gender roles. Then he took the bottle of sake and his cup, and he and Soun went happily over to the shogi board.
Kasumi started clearing the table. Ranma and Nabiki helped. Once they were in the kitchen they gave each other silent high-fives, and huddled. "We have to get this into our bank before something happens, or Genma changes his mind," Nabiki said. Ranma and Kasumi nodded in agreement. So Kasumi endorsed the check and Nabiki took off for the night depository, with Ranma along for safety's sake.
An hour later, Ranma and Akane were in Nabiki's room plotting a stealth honeymoon when they heard a knock at the door below. "That must have been loud," Nabiki said. "I have good soundproofing in this room." There were crashes and shouts. Ranma was out the door like a shot, heading for the action.
Downstairs, Genma was on the floor, hand raised in a warding gesture. A large man with a larger spatula was standing angrily over him. Soun was by the kitchen door, shielding Kasumi from any spillover violence. Akane and Nabiki came rushing down the stairs behind Ranma; upon seeing the situation, Akane took a stance to protect Nabiki.
"Now, Saotome! For stealing her dowry and ruining my daughter's life, you DIE!"
Ranma leaped between the two of them, and grabbed the spatula near its head to hold it back. "No, Kuonji-san!" she yelled. "You don't want a murder on your hands! I won't let you!"
"You shouldn't talk, Ranma – you are Ranma? From what Ukyo tells me, he's ruined your life too!"
"You don't know the half of it! But if anybody kills 'im, it'll be me! And I don't want Ucchan to have a murderer for a father!"
Nabiki murmured in Akane's ear, "This is a job for the Ice Queen." She stepped into the room. "Kuonji-san, you want justice, not death. Genma stole your yatai, ten years ago? What if he gave it back, with interest? Now that Ukyo is married, the dowry is the important thing – the dowry, and honor. Ten years of heavy interest should add up to something like respect, if not honor."
Kuonji-san quivered in rage. "Oh sure. How do you compound interest on a yatai? From everything I've heard, Genma doesn't have any money – whenever he gets some, he drinks it up. And honor? Don't make me laugh."
"Well, it seems to me, ten years interest on a yatai ought to add up to a restaurant – Ucchan's restaurant." Nabiki smiled a cold smile at Genma.
Genma whimpered. He could tell where this was heading. But that spatula was awfully sharp, and he wasn't anything like sober. I wish I were a drunken master… he thought as he cringed protectively over the pocket with the checkbook. "Boy, protect your poor father!" he cried to Ranma.
"I ain't no boy right now, and you ain't that poor," Ranma said. "Nabiki's makin' sense. You got a chance to patch up the family honor some, by doin' the right thing for Kuonji-san. Yer always tellin' me how important honor is, oyaji."
Soun surprised everyone by agreeing. "Your marriage promise to my family came first," he said, "but that promise to the Kuonjis always bothered me. You took their livelihood. I'll respect you a lot more if you do this."
"I'm only a poor old man!" Genma wailed.
"You're a poor old man who won the lottery today," Soun said. "We both studied under the same Master, but this is just one of the places where his teachings were wrong."
Genma crouched on the floor, surrounded by cold eyes. This was the biggest, meanest chicken that had ever come home to roost. I expected this from Ranma, the way the boy has been lately, he thought. But if Soun thinks the same way, I'm in real trouble.
Kuonji-san glared down at the snivelling Genma. "I was talking with my Ukyo just last week," he said. "She still owes thirty-eight million on that restaurant. I seriously doubt this useless sack of flab and lies could come up with that kind of money." He struggled to get his spatula free from Ranma's grip.
"Don't kill me!" Genma shrieked. "I'll write you a check!" And, hand shaking, he did.
Kuonji-san inspected the check, and the checkbook, carefully. He knew Genma had a tendency to vanish, leaving behind broken promises. But when Soun added in the letter from the lottery, he was finally satisfied. "It's a fine wedding present you've given my child," Kuonji said as he left. "And with the dowry redeemed, I can have a peaceful life watching grandchildren. Be sure you stay away from them." He left, sliding the door closed with a bang.
Soun came over, and with Ranma's help they hoisted Genma to his feet. "You've done a good thing," Soun said. "Your honor is the better for it. And you still have millions of yen left to play with. So let's go have a drink, and forget all this unpleasantness." Soun and Ranma deposited Genma on the sofa; then Soun got the bottle of sake and a pair of glasses, and the two sat side-by-side in silent contemplation.
The girls went upstairs, and into Nabiki's room. And they all agreed that Genma behaved much better when he was faced with a credible threat of death. "But," Ranma said, tapping her nose, "he came awful close to wetting himself. We'd better check the sofa in the morning."
"That's okay," Nabiki replied. "Let him. We can buy new cushions – we have five million in the bank." And they all laughed, then pretty much went limp in reaction after the confrontation. Nothing useful was done for the rest of the evening.
The next morning, Soun's paper had a picture of Genma, and the headline 'Nerima man, musabetsu kakuto Saotome-ryu master at the Tendo dojo, wins lottery'. Genma himself did not come down for breakfast – he was still sleeping off the stress and the alcohol of the previous day.
Towards the end of breakfast, Ranma and Akane began arguing at the table. Nabiki huffed out the door, while Kasumi took them both by the ears and hauled them into the kitchen, saying "Father had a busy day yesterday, he doesn't deserve a fight at breakfast." Then she let them go, and asked, "What is it?"
"With that headline, all the folk oyaji owes are gunna know he got money," Ranma said. "Sometime today er tomorrow, this house is gunna get interestin'. I think after lunch you should go shoppin' an' stay away, then meet us at Kuno's at six."
"Oh my, I think you're right! Ranma, you should dress well tonight. Here's some of the household budget money – you and Akane go shopping this afternoon yourselves, and get some better clothes. Then we'll see each other at six."
Ranma and Akane went upstairs and put a change of clothes for Akane in her pack just-in-case, shifting some of her books over to Ranma's to make room. Then they went back downstairs, got their bentos from Kasumi, and headed for Furinkan. Ranma was about to leap up on the fence when Akane pointed out it wasn't very modest in a girl's uniform. "And if you're going to be a girl for a month or two, you should do it right."
That evening the four girls met at the gates to the Kuno mansion's grounds, just before six. Kasumi looked Ranma up and down approvingly. Ranma still wore red-and-black silk, but not at all the usual: she had a collared black-silk blouse with the top two silver buttons undone, and a red below-the-knee skirt, pleated so she had lots of freedom to move. A wild-orchid pin of silver and coral accented the blouse, with matching silver-and-coral earcuffs. Her silver watch had a red bezel and band. There were black silk Chinese slippers on her feet. Her hair had been taken out of its pigtail, and was in a loose ponytail tied with black ribbon. Her perfume carried a faint scent of orchid. "That's elegant, and simple," Kasumi said. "Did Nabiki help you shop?"
"She sure did," Ranma said. "Do you think Akane and me could pick this out? We're tomboys!"
Akane snickered. She was dressed much the same as Ranma, though in her case the colors were blue blouse, black skirt, and blue slippers. Her perfume was rose, her jewelry silver and hematite.
"Since we have five million yen," Nabiki said regally, "we chose to enjoy it. We can't do it often, so we should do it well." She wore a soft and simple sleeveless dress of a rich brown color that complemented her hair, and a red-gold shawl clipped at the neck with a goldtone pin.
Kasumi was wearing one of her nicest house-dresses. "I feel so plain," she said.
"You're never plain, oneechan," Akane said gently. Ranma and Nabiki nodded in agreement. And so did Kuno Tatewaki, who had come quietly up during this exchange. He opened the gates for them, then led them into the mansion and to a small parlor with a single bonsai as the focus of the room.
Kuno Kodachi was there. She did not look as if she had been sleeping well, but she greeted them graciously and poured tea. "I still have a few preparations to make," Tatewaki said as he withdrew. The five women sat quietly, and sipped an excellent green tea.
"I hope you are doing well, Kodachi-san," Ranma said. "It pains me to think I have upset you."
Kodachi smiled bleakly. "We're upset because we made fools of ourselves. You were but the messenger."
Ranma was silent for several heartbeats. "All of us are fools, sooner or later. Lets hope we all recover from it." Several more heartbeats, then "Speakin' of fools, don't do anythin' too terrible to my father for a while. Yesterday was real bad for him."
"My brother says he won the lottery. I don't see how that's bad."
"He won fifty million. Then his past started showing up. He's down to about seven million right now. With his face in the papers, we expect the rest of his creditors to start showing up tomorrow."
"OHOHOHOHOHOHOhoho…" Kodachi caught herself, and stopped laughing. She covered her mouth. "I am sorry, Ranma-sama, but your curse has ruined one of my most cherished dreams. And the curse was your father's fault. I cannot bring myself to feel sorrow at his woes."
"Oh, he doesn't like my bein' a girl any better than you do. That's one o' the reasons I'm dressed this girly – I want to rub it in his face. Besides, I'm stuck with bein' a girl for a few months, and I wanna do it well."
"Living well is the best revenge?"
"It's great even if you aren't thinkin' revenge," Ranma said. "The revenge is just the cherry on the sundae."
About then, Tatewaki came to the door and said all was ready for dinner. They stood and filed out to the dining room. The table had a thick tablecloth, and on that, a large chopping-block and an electric hibachi. Ranged on either side were dishes of meat, seafood, vegetables, and condiments. The ladies took their places around three sides of the table, while Tatewaki stood by the chopping-block. He picked up a knife, and began tapping it in rhythm, then flicked shrimp onto the block and peeled them with a quick flurry of motion.
The sound was almost as hypnotic as the lights flashing from the polished steel blades. Slowly, Ranma began to notice music rising up in the background, with the knives moving in time. Kuno diced onions, then carrots, and transferred them to the grill with a quick flip. He juggled a sauce-bottle, then poured sesame oil. Good smells began to happen.
Kasumi was seated at the center of the table, near the chopping block, and Ranma noticed her fingers beginning to mark time with the music. Her hand darted out, took a paring knife, and began to move it in time as well. Tatewaki's eyebrows rose, but with the back of his knife he slid an eggplant and a small pile of mushrooms in her direction. Kasumi began chopping mushrooms, starting one cut to Tatewaki's two then picking up to full speed. She trimmed the eggplant and began cutting it into thin slices.
Tatewaki began flipping shrimp into the air with his knife, landing neatly around the vegetables on the grill. Kasumi dealt out the slices of eggplant as if she were playing poker. Then they both carved the beef, alternating cuts until it was a neat pile of delicate strips. Tatewaki scooped them up, spread them out around the grill, while Kasumi sprinkled mushroom bits among them and added spices. They were both grinning like maniacs by this point. It was like they were doing a kata together. The others at the table sat, stunned, eyes growing wider by the moment.
All shows have a curtain. Tatewaki and Kasumi laid their knives down with a 'clack', and began shifting food from the grill to the plates. Everybody else applauded. The two chefs bowed, then sat; and everybody began to eat. The food wasn't totally consistent – this was the first time the two had cooked together – but it was all good.
Kasumi picks up cooking techniques like I pick up martial arts, Ranma thought. Her respect for the quiet sister rose yet another notch. So did her respect for Kuno Tatewaki. "You two were dancin'," she said. They blushed. Ranma caught Akane's eye and raised one eyebrow at her. Akane spent a moment in thought, then nodded. Ranma nodded back. The evening was turning out far more interesting than they had expected.
After dinner, Kodachi took them all to see her greenhouse. There were roses of many colors, though she was proudest of the black roses. Ranma noticed several books on fleas on the workbench. She caught Kodachi's attention and nodded to the books, then put on a Yakuza face and dialect. "You got some nice roses here, lady. Be a shame if anything happened to them. Like aphids. Nasty things, aphids – they move around all by themselves. Get into all kinds of trouble."
"I take your meaning," Kodachi said. "Very well, then, we shall not practice biological warfare." Ranma smiled at her. She smiled tentatively back.
The four got home quite late, chatting happily, and found the fathers snoring drunkenly at their front door, collapsed into a black wheelbarrow. They got them up, and into their rooms. When they went back to close the door, the wheelbarrow was gone.
In the morning, Ranma was awakened by murmurs and mutters. She peered out the window. In the dim light, a crowd was starting to gather. She recognized people from the training travels: priests, and martial artists. The breeze carried the scents of anger and anticipation. Ranma stopped Akane as she started to head out for her run. "Stay indoors. The yard is filling up with bill-collectors. I think they smell a checkbook in heat. And I saw some people oyaji robbed or swindled."
Kasumi was already in the kitchen, and well aware of what was happening. She put on coffee, while Akane went upstairs to rouse Nabiki. They were having a quiet council around the kitchen table when the knocking started. Then the phone began to ring. And the crowd outside was getting restless. Nabiki went to talk with the crowd, while Kasumi answered the phone. "Moshi moshi, Tendo residence."
It was Sasuke. "Get up to the roof," he said. "I'm flying in evacuation."
There was a stir in the side yard. Several merchants were being buffeted about by an invisible force. The martial artists and the priests closed in. It wasn't long before Genma was revealed, dressed in his fresh white gi. His eyes were bloodshot, he wasn't very coordinated, and since he was covered in wards and had at least two martial artists on each arm and leg, he wasn't getting away.
A remarkably silent black helicopter swooped down over the house. Kasumi, Nabiki, and Akane scrambled up the rope ladder it lowered. Ranma waved the helicopter off – "I'm staying here," she shouted up. "He's miserable, but he's my father." In the yard below, most of the crowd was surging towards the dojo, with Genma's captors leading the pack. The rest waved their fists and shouted imprecations at the copter, which flew into the distance in the direction of Furinkan High. Soun was wading into the crowd, trying to reach his friend. Ranma leaped down to join him.
By the time Ranma and Soun reached the dojo, things were beginning to sort out. There were priests at the entrance, holding the people back, and muffled grunts and curses came from inside where Genma was being tied down. Pretty soon his arms and hands were free to write checks, but the rest of him was covered with rope. Somebody had even added duct tape to the cocoon to make sure it stayed wrapped. The priests rounded up several accountants from the crowd, and they began going over the checkbook that had been found in Genma's pocket.
"Line up," the oldest and most dignified of the priests shouted, with a voice trained by years of conducting services. "Claimants with documentation at the head of the line." And so the relentless process of chartered accountancy began to devour the remnants of Genma's fortune. By early afternoon everybody with paperwork had been paid, and the rest of the money was divided equally among the remaining merchants. Most of the people left, taking the accountants with them. Only the priests and the martial artists remained, though there was a fair overlap of warrior monks.
The priests clustered around Genma, ringing bells, waving chains of paper, and stating his offenses. They called upon a great many Kami to bear witness to Genma's sins, and to take appropriate retribution. Then they, too, left.
Ranma and Soun stood forth. "So far, things have been reasonable," Soun said. He looked at Genma with sorrow in his eyes. "I didn't realize how many people you'd wronged." Both men began to weep.
It was Ranma's turn to talk. "I recognize a lot of you," she said. "I think I know why you're here. I don't blame you. But I'm gunna insist, you only get to beat on him one at a time. And he gotta be untied first, so he has a fair chance."
From nowhere, Happosai appeared at Ranma's side. "What she said." Most of the people hadn't met Ranma as a girl, so she didn't impress them. They knew Happosai. Very few wanted to fight against him.
One large and angry man with a bo-stick didn't feel like going with that program. He stepped forward. "You gonna stop me, shrimps?" Ranma shredded the bo-stick, while Happosai whipped the man's trousers down around his ankles.
"I think we are," Ranma and Happosai said together over the sound of laughter from the crowd. And while Happosai kept the crowd back, Ranma went over to her father and sliced the ropes off of him with three sweeps of her claws.
"The life of a martial artist is fraught with peril," she said. "But now you can face it like a man." Genma glared at her through his tears.
Before things could get worse, they got worse in an entirely unexpected direction. Several policemen, drawn by the hubbub, appeared at the door with a clipboard covered in warrants. "Saotome Genma," the commander said, "you are under arrest." Genma shrieked like a child, and vanished into the umisenken. When the police and the martial artists poured into the yard, they saw only a moist panda sitting in a stand of bamboo, chewing on the tender tips.
These were Nerima police. They knew the score. Before Genma even thought of dropping his 'cute little panda' act, he was festooned with half a dozen tranquilizer darts. He reared up, roared, and fell flat on his back. He began to snore.
The police commander walked up to Soun. "This is your dojo, Tendo-san," he said. "Do you have papers allowing you to keep a panda on the premises? They're an endangered species, so there's a lot of red tape."
Soun couldn't even demonstrate ownership of the panda, let alone the right to harbor him in the middle of a populous area. The animal control wardens came with a large truck, and loaded the panda in. "We'll be keeping him in quarantine for a week," they said. "Then we'll get in touch with China, and see if they have any records. He'll probably end up in a zoo in Beijing. They have quite a breeding program." The chief warden gave Soun a receipt, and headed out with the truck. The martial artists followed after them, muttering.
Happosai clapped Ranma on the shoulder. "I think most of them are pretty satisfied," he said. "They wanted to get in their own licks. But they had hours and hours of watching Genma squirm for his sins, so they'll be less agitated from now on."
Ranma looked down at the shrivelled master. "Why did you help me, jiji?" she asked.
"I wouldn't let them destroy one of my favorite students," Happosai said. "And if they'd pushed, you might have gone into the full neko-ken. That could have ruined my happy home here with you all."
"Besides," Happosai dug his toe into the dirt and twisted it back-and-forth, "You would have fought to save your father. I didn't want to see my sweet Ranma-chan get beaten on by all those men."
Ranma looked at Happosai incredulously.
"What?" the gnome asked. "I can't appreciate you from afar any more, either?"
Ranma put her arm around Happosai's shoulders and squeezed. "Keep your hands to yourself," she said. "But thanks. It's good to have backup now and then." She headed into the house. "I don't know when Kasumi will be back, so I guess I'm the cook tonight. Let's have dinner."
In Okayama, a sacred tree was laughing its Juraian ass off. Tsunami had heard a storm of prayers rising up from the direction of Tokyo, and had gone to see. That was the most powerful 'interesting times' curse she'd ever met, and it seemed to be making itself at home. Ranma had dealt with the curse for ten years. Maybe in ten more years, she'd think about getting it removed from Genma. I wonder who else could use it, she mused. Then she dissolved back into laughter.