Chapter: 6



"Boss! Boss, big trouble!"

Ranma jerked at this urgent cry and slid protectively in
front of Nabiki before the words registered.

"Hi Kimiko, what's up?" Nabiki greeted her friend
calmly as the doll-like girl sprinted up to her, braids flying.

"It's the end of the world!" She wailed, as Ranma
watched in amazement. He'd never actually seen anyone
wring their hands.

"Oh no," Nabiki said sympathetically, putting an arm
around her. "Kappa in the swimming pool again? Or is there
another poltergeist in the computer lab?". Kimiko was
convinced that the world was _swarming_ with supernatural
creatures, and only her constant vigilance kept them all from
being swept to hell. Or worse. (Thought Nabiki wasn't sure
what was worse than hell. Except maybe Kyoutou in the
summer.) Nabiki put up with her idiosyncrasies because she'd
known her since grade school and had a genuine fondness for
the little ditz. And it didn't hurt that she had a mind that could
crunch numbers like a Cray super-computer.

"Worse," Kimiko moaned. "Kunou-senpai is back."

"Oh dear."

Ranma never would have believed that two words
could be infused with such feeling. He watched, concerned as
all the color drained from Nabiki's face.

"Kunou?" Ranma muttered. "Hey . . .isn't that the
crazy girl with the really big car?"

"This is her brother," Nabiki answered absently.
"Where is he?" she directed the question to her friend who
pointed toward the athletic fields.

"C'mon," Nabiki threw over her shoulder, not
bothering to see if Ranma was following as she started in the
direction Kimiko had indicated. A few moments later they
rounded the corner of the main building and skidded to a stop
to keep from running into a wall of people.

"Ahhh . . ." Nabiki cursed under her breath. "Comein'
through----get out of the way---"she grunted, trying to shove
her way through the densely packed bodies.

"Hang on," Nabiki squeaked as Ranma scooped her
into his arms and, with a short running jump, soared over the
crowd. Her stomach flip-flopped as they spun twice, landing
lightly on the ground at the fore of the wall of students.

"How was that?" Ranma grinned as he set Nabiki on
her feet.

"My tummy is going swhoosh-swoosh." The middle
Tendo wobbled a bit before steadying on her feet.

"What's goin' on, anyway?" Ranma asked, looking
around.

"That," Nabiki said grimly, pointing at a small group
about thirty meters away. "Seiki-Juka no Fuurinkan in all
their glory."

Ranma looked closely at the cluster of male students.
Instead of the normal Fuurinkan military style tunic and pants
of dark blue, they were all uniformly clad in black Armani
suits with thin white pinstripes, broad shoulder pads and
extremely narrow lapels. Each wore an armband with the
kanji Seiki-Juka, "Common-Sense".

"What're they supposed to be? Yakuza?" Ranma
recognized the greasy arrogance covered in a thin layer of
culture and expensive clothes. Chinese Triad, Thai sex-slavers
or Indian Thugee, they were all the same.

"Worse," Nabiki's mouth thinned, "Fuurinkan's very
own junior version of Sokiaya." She explained, comparing the
high-school boys to the all-pervasive and exquisitely organized
professional extortionists.

"What do they do? Beat up kids for their lunch
money?" A good con depended on skill, timing and the greed
of the mark. As far as Ranma was concerned, anyone stupid
and greedy enough to fall for a con, deserved what they
got . . .or, rather what they lost and _he_ got. But beatin' up
on helpless people . . .that was really sick.

"They're part of the 'Association for Creating new
Textbooks'," explained, not noticing Ranma's inner turmoil.
"They're here to make sure Fuurinkan buys the 'right' school
books. And make sure we fly the hinomaru from the flagpole
and sing kimigayo at all school functions."

"Huh?" Ranma glanced at Nabiki, keeping most of his
attention on the gathering Sokiaya and what appeared to be a
tiny force of teachers who stood opposite them. Even at this
distance Ranma could almost smell the flop-sweat on the
seven adults. Four-to-one (almost five, now)odds were a little
stiff for untrained and out-of-shape teachers. "Why'd a bunch
of operators like that care about salutin' th' flag or singin' th'
anthem?"

"There's a _lot_ of money in textbooks," Nabiki was
watching the tough's gather, grim-faced. She'd been hoping
the police would show up, but after all the time that had
passed it looked like someone higher-up had gotten to them.
Again. "And the 'Association' has a brand new history text,
full of brand new history and they want to make sure that all
good little boys and girls learn properly." Her voice was so
bitter that Ranma turned in surprise.

"I don't get it," Ranma flexed, unconsciously
preparing for flight or fight. He'd like to pound them, just
because they gave him the creeps. But there's wasn't any
percentage in it.

"You don't get----oh, you were probably still in China
when it all happened." Nabiki worried her lip. A few more
teachers had shown up, but even if they'd _all_ been present,
they'd have been no match for the young thugs who crowded
up against them. "Our old principle refused to follow the
Ministry of Education order to fly the flag and play the
anthem. So they fired him and brought in a new principle, a
real nationalistic asshole. So then the teachers union dumped
all over him, the teachers went on strike and the students held
their _own_ opening ceremony at the start of the year.
Principle Kunou----yeah, _same_ family," she said in answer
to Ranma's unspoken question, "was left singing the anthem
by himself, except for about four of his staff, because everyone
else went to the _student_ run opening ceremony. Someone
stole the flagpole too. And his flag." Nabiki grinned, a nasty,
feral sort of grin, at the memory. "So principle Kunou
organized an 'All Japan Youth Club' to help students and
teachers, get into the correct frame of mind."

A groan went up from the crowd behind them and
Nabiki jerked her attention to the two groups at the bottom of
the slight rise. One of the teachers was down and two others
were trying to help her up. The Sokiaya formed a semicircle
around the teachers and were pushing them back, taunting
them . . .and the teachers were giving ground. Another went
down, a man this time, and a foot shod in thirty-thousand Yen
Armani shoes drew back to kick him in the side.

"DO something!" Nabiki hissed as the pointy Italian
footwear thudded home with an audible groan from the
teacher.

*Do what?* There were twelve teachers, but the odds
were at about five to one now as more nattily suited thugs
arrived. Looking at the Sokiaya's clumsy, untrained
movements, he figured he could take all of them---- but not
without calling attention to himself that neither he nor Genma
could afford.

"I'm pretty good, but not that good," he lied. "And if I
start somethin', somebody----maybe one of those teachers----
could get hurt real bad."

Nabiki looked like she wanted to argue, but Ranma
_was_ the martial artist, so she trusted his judgment.

"The TV," she exclaimed suddenly.

"What?" Ranma looked at her as if she'd gone crazy.

"The Television Station, and the newspapers. The
police might not want to get involved. But these guys don't
want bad publicity. If I call the TV and get them to send----"

A low murmur ran through the crowd of students and
Ranma looked away from Nabiki to see a commotion at the
opposite end of the athletic field, just in front of the
gymnasium.

"It's Akane," Nabiki said with equal measures of
relief and anxiety as she watched her sister limp slowly across
the field. "C'mon----let's get down there." Without waiting to
see if he were following Nabiki scrambled down the hill. Her
sister wasn't moving very fast, but she didn't have as far to go
as Nabiki did.

*Great. Just great* Ranma followed, much more
easily, wondering what else could go wrong. Rule three of The
Road, "don't stick your nose into other peoples
business----because you'll get it cut off". And there was
absolutely _no_ profit in getting in the middle of somebody's
protection racket on _their_ turf. Moving so that he was
between Nabiki and the action, the two of them rapidly closed
the distance. *Women! They're nothing but poison* he could
hear Genma's voice in his head.

The gang-members themselves didn't worry him. He
figured he _might_ break a sweat pounding them into the
ground, but no real challenge. It'd actually be kind of fun and
maybe he'd learn something new. But gangs like this
_always_ had connections with the local cops . . .sometimes
even higher up. And you couldn't win against cops. They were
the _biggest_ street gang in the world. They all had guns and
clubs and they all looked out for each other. And it wouldn't
take long for word to get around about a really good martial
artist with a pigtail, wearing a red Chinese-style shirt. Maybe
it was time to think about a haircut. There _was_ a fool-proof
disguise, but he'd almost _rather_ die than----

"Matsushita-sensei," Akane stopped in front of an
elderly, stoop-shoulder man wearing a baggy tweed coat, and
bowed, "I am sorry to interrupt you, but you are all wanted
inside. Class is starting."

"What?" He blinked owlishly behind his thick glasses,
then his face brightened. "Inside . . .yes . . .yes." He turned to
his colleagues. "We mustn't be late for class." There were
murmurs of agreement from his companions, grateful for an
opportunity to leave, without losing face.

A sallow, ferret faced youth stepped in front of
Matsushita, blocking his path. "Yeah? Well, _we_ want you
all out _here_." He reached for the teacher, intending to rough
him up a bit, but his hand stopped so suddenly it jarred his
whole body.

"I'd like to see you after class if I could, Saito-sensei,"
Akane turned her head to speak to a passing teacher. "I'm
having some problems with quadratic equations."

Oh . . .yes, of course," the young woman said
breathlessly, edging past 'ferret face', who was tugging
frantically, trying to loose his hand from Akane's grip.

"Thank you, sensei," Akane bowed politely, ignoring
'ferret face' who had dug in his heels in an attempt to pull free.
Most of his friends were ignoring the teachers, streaming away
toward the school, and were instead watching him and
snickering.

Ranma thought it was pretty funny too, until the boy's
free hand dipped into his pocket. If he'd been closer, or had a
better angle he might have picked up on it sooner . . .

*Ah crap*

. . .but 'ferret face' had already shoved the small silver
cylinder in Akane's face and pressed the button. His mouth
opened in a shout of triumph as she took a face-full of
Capsicum----and snapped shut when she didn't go down.
Instead she blinked rapidly to clear her tearing eyes and
plucked the pepper spray from his slack hand. Examining the
label Akane glanced back at the suddenly pale-faced 'ferret'.
Opening her mouth she squirted a stream into her mouth, as if
it were breath-spray. Shuddering at the endorphin kick she
smacked her lips and grinned, something dark flickering deep
inside her eyes.

"Tasty."

Ferret Face's eyes rolled up in his head and he folded
like an empty rice bag.

Ranma swallowed a small lump as he watched the
Sokiaya closest to Akane backed away, resisting an urge to do
the same. He'd seen similar feats, performed by Zen masters
and madmen. And Akane didn't look much like a Buddha. He
couldn't figure out why Tendo-SAn thought his "baby"
needed a man to look after her, except maybe to hose out her
cage and throw her a chunk of raw meat every now and then.

"You don't mind if I keep this, do you?" Akane asked
the unconscious boy, "It's really good with beef-bowl."
Taking silence as assent, she pocketed the small cylinder of
pepper spray.

"So, Tendo Akane," a boy, taller than the others and
handsome almost to the point of prettiness, stepped to the fore.
"Once again you interfere in matters which are none of your
concern."

"Konou-senpai," Akane smiled warmly at the
newcomer, her face softening as the sight of her childhood
playmate brought back pleasant memories. "I haven't seen
you at club meetings lately."

"I don't have time for childish things," Kunou stood
negligently in front of Akane, one hand thrust in his coat
pocket. Looking at his stance and build with an expert eye
Ranma figured he was trained in kendo or kenjutsu, possibly
Ittou-ryuu or more probably Maniwa nen-ryuu----and Akane's
next words confirmed this.

"The Kendou club needs you, senpai. They could go
all the way to the finals, with you as captain."

"Why don't you do it?" Konou looked bored, but
Ranma sensed that he was very interested in what Akane had
to say. He shifted his stance slightly, keeping one hand out of
sight in his coat pocket. Ranma figured him for the kind of
guy who would use a furidashiken, a wooden sword with a
live blade concealed inside.

"I'm pretty good," Akane admitted, "but I don't have
the love for it that you do. It's just another weapon to me, but
the sword is a _part_ of you." Ranma felt Konou preen under
Akane's praise and he wondered if they had something going.
He was surprised by a sudden surge of emotion and repressed
it ruthlessly. Anger or . . .or . . .any emotion was death to a
con.

"I have no time," despite his cold tone, there was a hint
of wistfulness in his eyes, that vanished almost as soon as it
came. "The unity and purity of this school, and the nation are
more important than a game."

"If you change your mind, just let us know." Akane
turned to go, all the teachers having long since reached the
safety of the main building. Most of the watching student had
also trickled back inside.

"Are you captain of the kendou club, now?"

"No, still captain of the swimming club," Akane
answered over her shoulder. "I fill in when they need help, but
no one could replace you . . ." She grinned impishly. "For one
thing, I don't have a cool nickname like Blue Thunder."

Konou's mouth opened for a retort, then snapped shut.
Looking around at the nearly deserted field he decided to cut
his losses. Turning on his heel he made a quick motion and the
rest followed, a few stopping to retrieve 'ferret face' as they
left.

"Old boyfriend?" Ranma asked casually, watching
Akane walk away. He didn't like the way Nabiki grinned at
him.

"Who . . .him?" She nodded in Konou's direction. "He
might have thought so, but Akane was only interested in him
for his . . .sword." She was delighted to see Ranma's cheeks
flush slightly at her double entendre. "He could easily out-
point her in straight kendou and European Fencing," Nabiki
decided to let him off the hook, "but she was almost as good at
iai-jutsu," referring to the art of sword quick-draw, "and
kenjutsu. That bothered him, I think, that and the fact that she
just wasn't interested in him as a boy. Just as a sparring
partner."

"He doesn't know how lucky he is," Ranma muttered,
"did'ja see the way she _ate_ that pepper spray?"

"Wait until it's her turn to cook," Nabiki murmured,
making a mental note to get a new tape for her video camera
for the event.

Ranma didn't seem to hear her. "You'd have to be
crazy to be interested in a psycho chick like that." He
muttered in disgust, his eyes unconsciously following Akane
until she was out of sight.

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