Ranma lunged out of bed, clawing at the air with
frantic savage movements, groaning and panting as if fighting
for his life. He was halfway out of the window before he came
all the way awake. Heart thundering in his ears he looked
down at the ground below and slowly backed back into the
room. Unclenching his hand from the lintel he grimaced as
chunks of mashed bread-and-butter from dinner fell to the
floor. It was just a nightmare. Just a stupid dream. Nothing to
be afraid of he ordered himself and forced his thundering heart
With a shuddering sigh he cleaned up the mess with a
handkerchief pulled from the pack then carefully stored the
small bundle in a side pocket. A glance at the sky told him it
was still a couple of hours until dawn.
Pulling on his shorts he opened the door and padded
softly down stairs to the bathroom. It always took him a few
days to get used to sleeping without his pop. He missed the
old-fart, even if he did sound like a rusty gearbox when he
snored. Even if he did steal all the covers when it got cold,
even if he did rummage through Ranma's pack for spare
change while he slept . . .even if . . .he still missed him when
he wasn't there. Slipping into the bathroom, after making
sure the "Taking a Bath" sign was hung (and dropping a stick
into the runner, just in case) he pulled off his shorts and turned
the cold water on himself with a sigh, half of pleasure, as the
cold water sluiced away the sticky night-sweat that came from
his sudden fright and half of almost-pain, as "the change"
twisted and shivered his bones and flesh. He spent another
minute shuddering under the cold spray, then made a dash for
the furo for a quick soak.
If he couldn't sleep, he'd work out a while, before the
rest of the house woke up. Drying quickly he pulled on his
boxers and padded softly through the family room, wondering
what it would be like to wake up to the same four walls every
day. Eat at the same table, off the same plates . . .he even had
his own cup . . .Kasumi had given it to him. He made a quick
detour into the kitchen and grabbed some bread and sugar,
folding it into a paper towel, before heading for the doujou.
As soon as he set foot into the yard he sensed
something . . .and it only took a moment before he located that
something. Noise. From the doujou. He moved stealthily as a
matter of course, unless it was out of character for a particular
con. A stout stick across the shoulders, or the bottoms of his
feet, made an excellent teacher. After ten years on the road
with Genma, he made a shadow seem noisy.
Moving to the rear of the doujou , where cover from
the trees would make him even harder to spot, he made his
way quickly and softy to the roof. Sliding forward on his belly
he hung over the roof and peeped in through the window.
Akane! As he watched, she threw herself onto her
hands, sweeping her legs around to smash into a post, padded
with rice-straw. The doujou shuddered slightly from the
impact, but the post remained upright. The stupid girl had the
thing rooted in the foundations! She was never going to----
then he noticed the thick yellow callous that covered her shins
*Damn. Thai-Boxing* She wasn't learning to sweep
the legs . . . she was going to use the maneuver to smash them
to splinters. Lacking the speed and flexibility for true
Capoeira, she was adapting the move for what she _did_ have
. . .brute strength.
A harsh buzz and a flashing red screen from the
computer indicated her move didn't match the ideal form
Ranma had inputted earlier. Ranma grimaced-----he didn't
need a stupid machine to tell him when he made a mistake. He
had a stupid pop. He didn't need to look at the screen to tell
how long she'd been practicing either (though he could read
upside-down and reversed in six languages----a requirement
for the "Dead Son Speaks from the Grave" Con), the smears
of blood on the floor and post showed where even her thick
calluses had been broken by at least eight hours of constant
and unfamiliar impacts. The idiot girl must have started
almost as soon as everyone else had left the doujou. Which
meant she'd had, at most, three hours of sleep.
Ranma flipped down from the roof, lightly as a falling
cherry blossom. Rule two of The Road, "Sleep is the most
valuable treasure there is. NEVER give it up for anything".
*Unless pop is beatin' a lesson into you, or you're runnin'
from the Triad, or you've got a con in the works or . . .*
Stupid girl . . .stayin' up all night when she didn't
hafta. She really _was_ a psycho.
Trotting along the fence-top, on his way to school a
few hours later, Ranma reviewed his plans for the day. He
didn't like leavin' pop on his own, especially with that Ukyo
chasin' him. The whole point to this scam was to stay quiet in
one place. (Well, that and the money of course)A moving
target attracted the eye and there were a _lot_ of eyes looking
for them. Pop was pretty slick, and it would take someone
pretty smart and pretty fast to get him . . .unless the "thirst"
grabbed him. Ranma got a cold lump in his belly at the
thought of Genma alone with a bottle. He shook it off,
berating himself for worrying needlessly.
Ukyo _should_ be in Hokkaido, following the false
trail he'd set up . . .Genma _should_ be digging a hole and
pulling it in after him, someplace well south of here . . . With
pop safe, he'd have a couple of days to think of a way to-----
His body was moving on instinct, leaving his
wandering thoughts to catch up, as a steel blade sliced through
the space his body had just occupied.
*Ukyo! Not good.*
He hit the ground rolling and came to his feet in a
Snow-Leopard crouch, hips inches from the ground, balanced
to move quickly in any direction.
"You bastard," Ukyo spat on the ground, "did you
think you could fool me!" He slid forward, a shovel bladed
pole arm of some kind weaving a complicated pattern, like the
head of a hunting snake.
"Uhhhh . . .do I know you?" Never admit _anything_,
Rule six of The Road.
"You thought I would be fooled that easily?" Cold
hard eyes fixed him with unnerving intensity as Ukyo stalked
him, looking for an opening. Ranma, for his part, kept moving
back, taking no chances with twenty inches of surgical steel on
the end of a five foot pole. He figured he could take
Ukyo . . .but he didn't know his style or what other weapons
(or allies) he might have. And it would take only one
mistake . . . Ukyo didn't have to be good---- just lucky.
Rule Twenty-three, only gamble if it's someone else's
money and your dice.
"Hey, I don't know you, or what your problem is----"
"You know me," Ukyo grated, "just like I know you.
And Genma," his mouth worked as if he wanted to spit. "You
almost fooled me," he made a sudden lunge and Ranma
sprang, not back, but to Ukyo's right, making it harder for
him to make a follow through, "I had a ticket in my hand----,"
he made a curious flickering motion with his left hand and
light flashed across the distance between them.
Ranma lunged out of the way of the spinning steel
blades, then cursed as he realized he'd moved into range of the
pole arm and threw himself desperately to the ground.
" . . .when I realized how _convenient_ it was that
Genma would leave me a clue. I figured Hokkaido wasn't
going anyplace----" the steel blade hummed as it cut through
the air and blasted a chunk out of the sidewalk, missing
Ranma's head by a fraction. "And doubled back to the
Tendo's. I waited outside all night----" the heavy blade
followed Ranma as he rolled frantically, the blade chewing up
the concrete behind him like some manic mutant woodpecker.
"Until you came out this morning, with your little schoolbag
on your back."
Ranma lunged to his feet, curling to one side as the
blade sliced through the air. With a twist of his wrist Ukyo
turned the flat of the blade ninety-degrees. The sudden
increase in sail-area slammed the blade to a halt and, twisting
the blade parallel to the ground, Ukyo sent it sizzling _back_
toward Ranma. The sudden change in direction, faster than
should have been possible for a normal pole-arm, caught him
Fire shot up his arm as the steel bit into his flesh and
training over-road his conscious mind. Unarmed against a
blade . . .*fast, dirty and low to the ground* he heard Genma's
voice. *Stay inside him, boy. Keep below the blade. Hit him
hard and move . . .never stop moving, boy*
Ranma dove to the ground and lashed out with a
savage side kick to Ukyo's knee, instantly spinning out of
range. Even if he broke the leg, Ukyo could still chop him
into sushi as long as he was alive and Ranma was in reach of
that damned big blade. He came to his feet to see Ukyo,
white with pain, but still on his feet.
He was sure now that he could take Ukyo He was
faster and he knew how Ukyo fought and the limitations of
his weapon. It was possible the other boy could fool him, but
not likely. If Ranma ever fought with someone, he knew them
within the first half minute. Knew what they would do before
_they_ did. He'd never met but two people he couldn't read,
and they weren't in Japan. At least he hoped they weren't.
Ranma was diving for the culvert before Ukyo's
shout died out. He'd fought a lot of people who used
"warnings" to unnerve their opponent. He didn't see why they
The tiny white-phosphorus trigger ignited the fuel-air
mixture of highly combustible, finely ground powder with a
detonation that would have surprised anyone who had never
seen a grain-silo explode. Heat flashed over Ranma as he hit
the bottom of the ditch, the overpressure leaving him dazed
and the storm of broken masonry bleeding him from hundreds
of slashing wounds. Not wasting an instant he scrambled
through the culvert, cursing as the cold water triggered his
This was getting serious. He tumbled out of the ditch
and lunged for a side street while he was still obscured by
smoke from the blast. If he couldn't find a way to lose this
maniac he was going to have to hurt him . . .maybe more than
hurt. Because if he took any more chances, this guy was going
to hand him his head. He'd try going high, a lot of people who
fought well on the ground were off balance if they left the
flats. His book bag banged him in the side as he leapt for a
hand hold on the wall of a grocery store. He'd forgotten he'd
been wearing it, and that meant he still had his books and----
Five minutes later Saotome Ranko was twitching her
dress into line. He . . .she . . . had intended to return the
borrowed clothes and make an end of Ranko. Now, it looked
like Ranko was going to be around for a while. Stuffing her
ruined shirt and trousers into an ashcan she peeped around a
corner to make sure Ukyo wasn't in sight. Tucking her
distinctive hair under a scarf improvised from a scrap torn
from her discarded trousers she trotted towards Fuurinkan.
"Where's Ranma?" Ukyo had ditched his combat
spatula and other weapons somewhere on his way to school, so
that he appeared to be a perfectly normal schoolboy. All
through class, he'd sat quietly, apparently paying no attention
to Ranko. That changed at lunch.
"I'm not going to ask you again." The tall boy leaned
threateningly over the dainty redhead.
"I . . .I don't know _where_ cousin Ranma is," Ranko
squeaked, almost in tears.
"Hello Ukyo How's everything going Ranko?"
Nabiki asked, finishing her tea and tossing the can into the
"U . . Ukyo is being mean to me," Ranko sniffed,
proud of her thespian efforts. "I've told him and _told_ him
that I don't know where-----"
"I don't believe you," Ukyo snapped, turning to
Nabiki. "But I'll get back to _you_ later." He took a heavy
step toward the middle Tendo sister. "At least I don't have to
go looking for you." He grabbed Nabiki by her blouse and
jerked her close. "You lied about Genma. Ranma was at your
house last night." Her lips drew back in a snarl. "You've got
about three seconds to tell me where they are, before I start to
break off little pieces."
Nabiki stared unblinking at the angry boy, tilting her
head to one side as if examining a new species of bug.
"What are _you_ lookin' at!"
"I think you should let go of me, now."
"Or what? Your sister will beat me up?" Ukyo
sneered. "She took me by surprise last time, but there's no way
a one-legged cripple can keep up with me."
"Ummmm . . .I wouldn't let Akane hear you say that."
Nabiki smiled, gently. Much as a wolf might smile at a rabbit
she's decided to invite home for lunch. "But I really don't
think you want to hit me."
Nabiki tilted her head right, and Ukyo looked that
way to see a chubby girl with a video camera waving at her,
Nabiki made a tiny motion to her left and Ukyo turned to see
a cheerful looking girl standing beside a tree, with another
"You can hit me," Nabiki seemed unmoved by the
prospect. "You're bigger and stronger than I am----I can't stop
you." She pulled gently at Ukyo's grip which loosened
slightly. "But five seconds after the first blow, a live feed will
go onto the Internet. Ten minutes later, and the police will
have a copy," Ukyo's grip slackened and Nabiki backed
away, smoothing wrinkles out of her blouse. "In an hour it
will be on local TV, by tomorrow it will be national . . .with a
full page spread in all the papers." She looked blandly at
Ukyo, who's face was twisted with rage.
"You can hit me with your fists . . .and I'll hit you
with charges for assault, kidnaping, robbery, rape . . . hell,
spitting on the sidewalk and high treason. I'll go down the
criminal code alphabetically----and you'll spend the next forty
years in court just filing appeals. That doesn't count the civil
"You bitch!" Ukyo's fists clenched, and he trembled
with repressed anger.
"Flatterer," Nabiki said coyly. "By the time I get
through with you, you won't have a pot to piss in, and the
Emperor will be speaking Swedish before you get out of jail."
She took a step forward and poked Ukyo in the chest. "And if
you call my sister a cripple again . . . I'll make you wish your
mother had died a virgin."
"This isn't over," Ukyo snarled, turning to stalk
away. He shot a venomous look at Ranko, "I'll get you. I'll
get all you Saotomes."
"I don't suppose you know _why_ Kuonji-san dislikes
Ranma and Genma so much?" Nabiki asked with deceptive
casualness. "Not that I disagree with disliking 'Uncle' Genma
you understand. It's just that I'd like to know if there is
something _specific_ he's done that I should know about?"
She smiled winningly at Ranko, and the smaller girl shivered
as if someone had walked over her grave.
"N . . .no, I really don't k . . .know anything." Onna-
Ranma said, quite honestly. Nabiki reminded him of a cobra
he'd found coiled in his bedroll one night in Karachi. It had
struck at him, not out of anger, but because that was it's
"If you think of anything, you'll let me know" She
patted Ranko on the head, "won't you?"