Halftime

By Aaron Ziegler
spanner@visi.com

Chapter 8: Cooking Time

Akane stuck her head outside of the front door and carefully looked around. Not seeing anyone, she opened the door the rest of the way and hurried out. She had a brown paper bag stuffed under her arm. Just as she reached the front gate, she heard the very voice she had been hoping to avoid. "Hey, Akane! Where're you going?" said Ranma from the rooftop, where he was balanced in a one-handed hand-stand.

Akane gritted her teeth and clenched her fists. "Out," she answered.

"But where? This is the third day you've been gone!"

"None of your business," Akane answered, and slammed the front gate behind her.

'Akane's been acting really weird lately,' thought Ranma. 'As soon as she gets home from school, she's out the door again. She doesn't even train anymore! I'd better see what she's up to. Not that I care or nothing,' Ranma hastily assured himself. Some part of his sub-conscious rolled its metaphorical eyes in response.

Ranma flipped onto his feet and vaulted down to the ground. He dashed out of the gate in time to see Akane running around a corner. He followed her, being careful to remain just out of sight. In time, Akane arrived at the gates of the Kunou mansion. 'What does that tomboy want here?' wondered Ranma. 'It couldn't be...'

Ranma watched Akane ring the bell on the front gate. Ranma crept closer, hiding behind a tree close to the Kunou gate. Sasuke, Kunou's faithful ninja servant opened the gate. "I need to see Tatewaki," Akane told him sweetly. Sasuke nodded once and vanished in a puff of smoke.

Ranma's mind was reeling. It was true! Akane was seeing... Kunou, of all people!

'But you don't care, right?' the same bit of sub-conscious asked him innocently, 'She's just an uncute, violent, tomboy...'

'Shut up,' Ranma answered the errant bit of psyche. He ran around the tree and shouted, "Akane! What are you doing?"

"Perfect!" smiled Akane. She grabbed a rock from the ground, and threw it into the tree above Ranma's head.

"Huh?" said Ranma, and looked up just in time to receive a bucketful of water in the face. "What'ja do that for, you tomboy?" Ranma demanded in her new, higher voice.

"You'll pay for that tomboy crack," grinned Akane. "In about...three seconds." Akane dashed around the corner.

"Huh?" said Ranma again, and prepared to follow.

"Aha!" said Tatewaki Kunou, sweeping Ranma into his arms. "'Tis not Akane who graces my humble home, but my lovely pigtailed goddess! Yet, I cannot truly blame Sasuke for his error. Your beauty is more than sufficient to dazzle the eyes of one such as he."

"Gaak," answered Ranma, unable to breathe.

"She speaks!" Kunou said in ecstasy. His arms loosened enough for Ranma to wriggle free. "How my heart soars to hear your lovely voice! Please, grace my ears with more of your perfect speech!"

"DIE, KUNOU!!!" Ranma screamed, punching him back through the front gates (which Kunou had closed behind himself).

As Ranma stomped off, Kunou slowly sat up among the splintered remains of the front gate and mumbled, "That didn't hurt." He then collapsed back into unconsciousness.

'That tomboy set me up!' seethed Ranma as she turned the corner. As she had expected, Akane was nowhere to be seen. Irritated, Ranma turned for home. 'I gotta find out what Akane's up to! I'll follow her again tomorrow, and try to do a better job of staying out of sight. And don't you say a word!' she said, feeling a smug chunk of his mind beginning to ask a snide question. 'I just want to make sure she's not getting into trouble. It's my duty as her fiancee. That's all.'

* * * * * *

Meanwhile, Akane had started to jog. 'That idiot!' Akane grumbled to herself. 'Now I'm probably gonna be late. Why'd he have to follow me? It's none of his business what I do with my spare time.'

'You could tell him the truth,' part of her mind suggested.

'No way!' she answered it. 'If I told Ranma I was taking cooking lessons, he'd just laugh, and tell me not to poison my teacher. Besides, I want it to be a surprise. I'm gonna cook the best dinner ever served in our house, and Ranma won't get any of it!' Akane smiled at the thought of Ranma on his knees, begging her to cook for him.

'Must you always fight with him?' part of her mind sighed.

'It's his fault,' Akane answered defensively. 'He always starts it. He's always insulting my food, or hurting P-Chan, or calling me a tomboy-'

'You are a tomboy,' her mind reminded her dryly.

'Well, he says it like an insult!' insisted Akane.

'You seem to want everything he says to be an insult. You always blame him whenever Ukyou, or Shampoo, or Kodachi is close to him, though you know very well it's not his fault.'

'But-'

'You smash him whenever you catch him in...awkward situations, even though you know it was accidental, and he wasn't trying to be a pervert.'

'He is a pervert!'

'And you call him a pervert, even though you know how much it hurts him. It's not his fault that he fell into that pool in Jusenkyo. It's not his fault that he's your fiancee. And it's not his fault that so many women are after him.'

'Well, everything else is his fault!' Akane retorted. Her mind merely sighed in response.

Akane's destination, one of several apartments, came into view. Akane pondered her good fortune. The day after Robo had suggested she find someone to teach her how to cook, she had begun searching the local newspapers, in the hopes of finding someone with a cooking class. To her surprise, she found Dakochi's advertisement. Dakochi had been looking for a student, and offered extremely reasonable rates. Akane was glad that she had answered the advertisement before anyone else.

Still, her sessions with Dakochi were not quite what she had expected. For the first couple of days, Dakochi made Akane cook in her usual manner. So, Akane would heap together the usual ingredients and produce meals of varying toxicity, while Dakochi watched her intently, scribbling in the notepad she always carried with her. But yesterday, Dakochi had promised to actually teach Akane how to cook something at their next session. That was today! Akane could hardly wait.

Akane bounded up the front steps and rang the doorbell. After a few moments, the door opened. Dakochi, wearing her usual white lab coat, stood there frowning. She looked crossly at Akane through her thick, wire-rimmed specticals. "I was beginning to think that you weren't coming," she scolded.

"I'm sorry!" Akane answered. "I was...delayed."

"Hmph. Well, don't let it happen again." Dakochi's demeanor shifted, and she smiled. "Are you ready to try your hand at some real cooking?"

"Oh, yes!" Akane followed Dakochi into the apartment. Dakochi's dwelling was not large. It consisted of a kitchen, a bedroom, a living room, and a bathroom. The living room was filled with Bunsen burners, beakers, glass tubing, and other chemistry stuff. Evidently, Dakochi was a chemist as well as a cook. There was also a cage full of white mice.

The two of them reached the kitchen. Akane set down her brown paper bag, in which she carried her cooking utensils. "I thought that it might be a good idea to start simple," said Dokachi. "Today, I'm going to teach you how to boil rice." Dokachi reached into a cupboard and pulled out a bag of rice. "But first, I want to try an experiment." She pulled a pair of tweezers out of a pocket of her lab coat, and gently pinched a grain of rice from the bag. She carried the rice to the living room, while Akane followed with interest. Dakochi knelt beside the mouse cage, and poked the tweezers into the cage. Before long, one of the mice sniffed its way over, and took the grain in its tiny paws. It stuffed the grain into its mouth contentedly. Dakochi watched intently for a few seconds and then muttered, "No reaction. Just as I expected." She scribbled in her notepad for a few seconds, and walked back into the kitchen.

Akane followed, bemused. "What was that all about?" she asked.

"Oh, nothing, nothing," Dakochi answered. "Now, here's what you need to do. Fill that pot halfway with water, and pour some rice in..."

After a few minutes, Akane was well underway boiling some rice. "Great!" smiled Dakochi, "Now, call me when the water begins to bubble. I'm going to be in the living room running some tests." Dakochi left.

Akane stood there, stirring the rice occasionally. Soon, she became bored. 'Rice is so boring,' Akane thought. 'It doesn't even taste exciting. I know! I'll add some spices! That ought to make it better.'

Akane walked over to the nearby spice rack and looked at the labels intently. 'Now, what sounds exciting,' she thought. 'Ginger? No. Cinnamon? No. Ah, saffron sounds interesting. So does thyme. But which should I use? Well, if one is interesting, then both should be even more interesting!'

Akane took the two containers, along with a few other spices that caught her eye, and carefully mixed a portion of each into the rice. Then, with another thought, she emptied the containers into the pot. 'That should do the trick,' she thought. She continued stirring, and found that it was much harder to do so. The pot was now filled with a viscous brown goo. 'But it does smell more interesting,' thought Akane. Then she noticed a single bubble rise laboriously to the surface of the gunk and slowly pop. 'Ahh, it's started to bubble.' "Dakochi!" she called. "It's bubbling!"

Dakochi rushed in. Her eyes widened at the nauseating brew in front of her, but she made no comment. "Er, right. Well, now turn off the heat, and drain the water. Be careful not to pour any of the rice down the drain."

Akane followed her instructions, and carefully tilted the pot over the sink, allowing most of the brown goo to ooze out. The pot now contained a mound of brownish rice grains. The smell was strong, but it was hard to say whether it was a good smell, or a bad smell. Akane triumphantly held up her creation. "I did it!"

Dakochi said nothing, but grabbed a grain of rice with her tweezers. Once again, she walked to the living room and fed the grain to one of her lab mice. This time, however, The rodent turned a distinct shade of green and began spasming violently. It rushed to the cage's water bottle, and began to suck on it, swelling like a balloon. After doing this for a while, the mouse, now a furry ball with little dangling legs, breathed a sigh of relief and lost its green pallor. The water bottle was empty.

Dakochi looked at Akane questioningly. Akane sighed and said, "Well, I guess I'd better try again."

Several hours later, the grueling session was over. Dakochi, through some miracle, had managed to help Akane boil an edible pot of rice, and Akane was eager to put her newfound skills to the test at home. "Goodbye!" she called, running out the door.

Dakochi sighed with relief. She hoped that she wouldn't have to put up with Akane much longer. Carefully, she copied down the name and quantity used of each of the spices that Akane had used for each toxic pot of rice. 'Soon,' she thought, 'soon I will be ready.' She threw back her head and laughed a piercing, evil laugh.

Halfway down the street already, Akane shuddered at the sound. 'What was that?' she wondered. Her mind then returned to her previous train of thought. She knew Ranma too well to expect him to give up following her already. But he wasn't likely to fall for the same trick twice. Slowly, Akane came up with a plan. Her eyes lit up mischievously. 'Yeah, that should do the trick.' Akane giggled quietly to herself in anticipation.

* * * * * *

The next day, Ranma carefully hid himself in the branches of a tree, and waited for Akane to exit the house. 'There's no way she's gonna see me now,' he thought. His patience was rewarded, as Akane cheerfully skipped out of the house and down the street. Ranma quietly followed, constantly keeping some object between himself and Akane. Once again, Akane made her way to the Kunou residence. She stopped, and looked around carefully. She waited a few moments expectantly, and then looked at her watch. Seemingly satisfied, Akane continued on her way.

Ranma chortled to himself. 'Ha! She didn't see me.' Ranma carefully left his hiding spot and started to move across the road to get to another, being very careful to stay well away from the tree Akane had boobytrapped the day before.

Then, a bicycle bell chimed. The color drained from Ranma's face. Seconds later, the inevitable impact. "Sh-Shampoo!" Ranma gasped, straining to get the bicycle and rider off of his chest.

"Ranma!" shouted Shampoo, deliriously happy. "Shampoo not expect see you here!" She hopped off of her bicycle and grabbed Ranma up in an amorous embrace.

"Please, Shampoo, I'm busy," protested Ranma, attempting to pry Shampoo off of him.

Shampoo looked crushed. "Too busy talk Shampoo?" she asked, looking ready to cry.

"Er," said Ranma, sheepishly.

Shampoo decided to take that as a 'no'. "Good!" she exclaimed cheerfully, and glomped onto Ranma again.

"Erk," said Ranma, and struggled free again. Ranma sighed, realizing that he would never catch up to Akane now. "What are you doing here, anyway?" he asked Shampoo.

"Shampoo make ramen delivery, of course. Have six boxes ramen noodles for Kunou mansion. Help Shampoo for to carry?"

Ranma sighed, knowing Shampoo was fully capable of carrying six times that amount. But why not? Ranma hefted a few boxes and followed Shampoo to the front gate.

Shampoo rang the bell, and the door was soon answered by Sasuke. "Have large order ramen for Kunou," said Shampoo.

Sasuke looked confused. "Er, we didn't order any ramen."

"Is gift. You take ramen, and I find card."

Sasuke took the boxes of ramen while Shampoo rummaged in her pockets. Eventually, she found the card and handed it over. Sasuke, carefully balancing the ramen, read the card, and looked at Ranma oddly. He then read it aloud, "'To my dearest Tatewaki, from your loving Pigtailed Goddess.' Well, if you say so."

Ranma and Shampoo's jaws dropped. "What?" they exclaimed.

"Wait! I didn't write that!" exclaimed Ranma. But it was too late. Sasuke had vanished with the ramen and the card.

A few moments later, Ranma and Shampoo could hear Kunou's happy voice yelling, "Yes! The Pigtailed One has finally found the courage to return my boundless love! My heart soars with joy!"

Ranma and Shampoo, a bit sickened, turned to leave. 'Akane!' thought Ranma. 'She set me up. Again! Well, I'm still not giving up. Not if she sets everyone in town in my path. I will find out what she's up to.'

At the same time, Akane was thinking, 'This is actually kind of fun. Hmm, how should I nail him next? I know!'

* * * * * *

The following afternoon, Ranma was following Akane again. This time, Akane had tried to throw Ranma off the track by going straight to her destination from school rather than stopping off at home first. 'Clever,' thought Ranma, 'but not clever enough.' He stepped out from behind a telephone pole, and immediately tripped over something.

"Ranma Saotome, you will pay for what you've done!" cried a familiar voice.

"Mousse," Ranma groaned. "Not now!" Mousse's glasses were down now, a sign that he meant business.

"Silence! I will hear no more of your lies!"

Ranma was becoming irritated. "Look, you know that you can't beat me, so just shove off!"

"No one can defeat a Master of Hidden Weapons forever! Defend yourself!" With a flick of the wrist, Mousse retracted the heavy ball and chain he had flung across Ranma's path. The massive object disappeared into Mousse's voluminous sleeves without a trace. Then, with another flick, a small silver cylinder appeared in his hand. Mousse twisted it, and a yard-long beam of green light extended from the end. The device produced sort of a humming sound.

Ranma was astounded. "When did you get a light-saber?" he asked, barely dodging Mousse's strike. The weapon sliced easily though the wood of the telephone pole behind him, which collapsed to the ground amid a shower of sparks.

"That's light-SWORD," snarled Mousse. "You want us to get sued for copyright infringement!?!"

"Sheesh, sorry," muttered Ranma. "But whatever it is-" Ranma dodged another wild swing, which carved a deep scar into the sidewalk, "-you obviously aren't very good at using it."

Mousse seemed to agree, as the light and cylinder vanished into his robes. Just as suddenly, an ugly box was in his hands. "See how you fare against my Hypno Wave!" he laughed, flipping a switch on the box. Abruptly, Ranma felt dizzy. He collapsed to his knees, feeling a severe wave of fatigue wash over him.

'So...tired,' he thought, his eyes beginning to close. He glanced over to Mousse, and almost laughed. Mousse, too, was on his knees, eyelids drooping. Suddenly, Mousse recovered, and slammed a switch on the box. The dizziness stopped, and Ranma stood up.

"Stupid box," muttered Mousse. "I didn't know it was going to affect me too. No matter." Mousse stashed the box away.

Ranma wasn't about to see what other new toys Mousse had up his sleeves, he leapt at the bespectacled warrior, intending to pound him into submission. His forward motion abruptly ceased, and he felt an iron grip around his body, pinning his arms to his sides. Looking down, he saw that he was tightly held in the grasp of some kind of robotic claw. The claw was attached to a long, thin, multijointed arm, which, in turn, disappeared into Mousse's sleeve. Mousse laughed, and raised his arm above his head. The robotic arm mimicked his movements precisely. Mousse swung his arm down, and the claw pounded Ranma into the pavement with jarring force. Mousse flung his arm outward and opened his palm. The claw pitched Ranma into a wall, where he slid to the ground, stunned. Before he could take advantage of his freedom, however, the claw had grabbed him again. This was not turning out to be a good day.

Mousse swung Ranma around again, and this time accidently knocked over a water hydrant. This was exactly what Ranma needed. The jolt of cold water shocked Ranma out of the daze of pain she was suffering. But more importantly, Ranma's female form was a little bit smaller than her male form...

Using the water as an additional lubricant, Ranma popped herself free of Mousse's metal claw before it could adjust to her new size. She ran along its length and jumped onto Mousse's arm. "Nyaah!" she nyaahed, sticking her tongue out at her antagonist.

Furious, Mousse bent his arm, trying to get the metal claw to grab Ranma. Ranma jumped out of the way, and the claw slugged Mousse neatly across the jaw. He staggered back. Seeing that Ranma was too fast to be caught by the arm now that she knew of it, Mousse retracted the arm into his sleeve. "Well, when all else fails," he muttered, "go with what you know." Mousse leapt into the sky, and whipped his arms around. Fifty or sixty heavy chains erupted from his sleeves, each tipped with a hook, weight, or blade. Ranma, standing on the sidewalk, saw them coming a mile away. She ducked to the ground, and the arsenal of chains passed easily over her head, crunching into the sidewalk behind her. Mousse landed on top of an intact section of fence, the chains dangling limply from his sleeves.

"That was pathetic!" jeered Ranma, "You're so blind you couldn't hit me if I was standing right in front of you!"

Oddly, Mousse smiled. "Who says I was trying to hit you?" he chuckled. He suddenly pulled the chains taut.

Ranma heard a grating sound behind her, and turned around. The chains had snagged a huge square of cement from the sidewalk, and had pulled it free. Ranma barely had time to gasp before the block was on top of her, pinning her to the ground.

Ranma heard Mousse's confident footsteps approaching, and with the strength of desperation, managed to shove the cement off of herself. Ranma felt drained. How could Mousse be defeating her? Where did he get all of those gadgets? Gadgets? 'Uh oh'. Lucca's voice sprang unbidden to his mind, "I bet I can make new weapons ten times as painful as the ones he has now!" 'I guess it's time to pull the old Saotome Family Secret Technique.' Ranma turned tail and began to run for his life.

"Oh, no you don't, you coward!" screamed Mousse behind her. Ranma heard a buzzing sound rapidly getting louder, and dodged to the side to avoid whatever new threat Mousse had pitched at her. Unexpectedly, the buzzing sound also shifted to the side. Ranma felt something touch her leg, and abruptly she sprawled to the ground, twisting in midair to land hard on her back. Her breath was knocked out of her. Before she could draw another, Mousse's metal claw slammed down, each pincer burying itself several inches into the concrete on either side of Ranma's neck, squeezing her throat painfully against the ground.

Ranma wheezed and grabbed the pincers, trying to force them apart. She might as well have been trying to push the moon out of orbit. She devoted all of her effort towards filling her lungs, and managed to draw a painful breath. She couldn't move her legs at all. They were being held together by something, but the claw prevented her from seeing what. Then, Mousse was standing above her, a scowl on his face. "Finally, Ranma, you shall pay for taking Shampoo from me, and pay dearly!" With a flick of the wrist, Mousse was holding a sword in his free hand. "And to think. If it was not for Lucca, I might have had to wait much longer for my revenge. As it is, it took me a week to decipher her accursed user's manuals, but it is all worth it now."

"What did I do?" choked Ranma, eyeing Mousse's sword fearfully.

"Don't play stupid with me!" Mousse snarled, "You're not qualified!" Then he blinked a few times. Ranma looked at him, confused. "Wait, that didn't come out right," Mousse muttered. Then he straightened, "At any rate, Shampoo told me about your little kiss yesterday!"

Now Ranma was really confused. "Kiss? What kiss?"

This seemed to startle Mousse. "You know, when you vilely accosted her at Kunou's? The one that lasted for hours? That kiss?"

"There wasn't any kiss," Ranma insisted.

"Are you suggesting that sweet Shampoo would lie to me?" Mousse roared. Ranma looked at him, and Mousse's angry look turned to one of sheepishness, "Well, actually, I suppose she would." Then to despair, "Why must she torment me so? Why must she reject my love?"

'For the same reason I reject hers,' Ranma thought ironically. 'Or that you reject Lucca's.' Ranma tactfully refrained from mentioning this to Mousse. If she was going to stand any chance of getting out of this alive, she was going to have to handle things extremely delicately.

Too bad Mousse wasn't willing to help. "YOU, SAOTOME! You are the reason!" Mousse had a hysterical look in his eyes, "Once you're gone, nothing will stand between us!" He lifted the sword again. Ranma clenched her eyes shut, expecting the end. "Now DIE, foul--quack! quack! quack?"

Ranma heard a crash, like a bag of tools hitting the ground, and felt droplets of moisture pattering on her face. Warily, she opened an eye a crack. She saw an extremely ruffled glasses-wearing duck standing on top of a pile of clothes. Ranma turned her head, and saw a most welcome sight. The powerful jet of water from the overturned fire hydrant was being redirected towards the spot Mousse had been standing. It was being redirected by the flat blade of an enormous spatula, and holding that spatula was-

"Ucchan!" Ranma coughed.

"Ranchan!" she answered, hurrying over. She casually batted Mousse out of the way, causing him to land in a dazed heap.

"Quaaack!" he quaaacked weakly.

With a smooth motion, Ukyou slung her spatula across her back. "Let me get this thing off you, sugar." She grabbed the robotic arm, and pulled. Her leverage was much better than Ranma's, and she yanked the arm free with ease. She dropped it onto Mousse's pile of clothes.

Ukyou helped Ranma into a sitting position. Ranma looked awful, covered with long, shallow cuts and nasty bruises. "You look awful," Ukyou said.

"Ucchan?" Ranma said faintly.

"Yes, Ranchan, I'm here."

"I'm glad I'm a girl."

"Huh? Why?"

"Because, I'm going to faint." Ranma fainted.

Ukyou frowned with irritation. Ranma could be such a chauvinist pig at times. But the frown quickly turned to one of concern. Carefully, Ukyou unwound the strange contraption that had entangled Ranma's legs. It seemed to be some sort of bolo-like device, but the bolo balls looked like little remote controlled jets. She tossed it onto the pile, and gathered Ranma up into her arms, intending to get her to Dr. Tofu as quickly as possible.

Afterword:

The ASPCA's gonna have my head for this. Imagine, feeding Akane's cooking to poor, defenseless lab mice! *Shudder*

Some may argue that Akane would never deliberately set Shampoo up to intercept Ranma, no matter how much she wants Ranma off her back. I disagree. It's my personal theory that Akane isn't really afraid that Ranma is going to run off with Shampoo behind her back. Akane's worked way too hard to instill a Pavlovian fear response in Ranma regarding Shampoo. Ranma has come to subconsciously associate Shampoo with either intense head trauma (mallet), or primal fear (wet cat). All this, plus the fact that Akane most likely knew the response Kunou would have to the card from his 'Pigtailed Goddess' (hardly a turn-on, for either Ranma or Shampoo). So, she felt confident that her trap wouldn't backfire.

Chrono Trigger Tip #8:

There's this weird guy in 600 A.D. who keeps asking for something called 'Naga-ette Bromide'. Where am I supposed to find that?

You can find the Secret Naga-ette Bromide in the Cathedral to the west of Guardia Castle in 600 A.D., the building where you met Frog for the first time. After you enter the main part of the Cathedral dungeon, you will eventually come across a long hallway with two rooms on elevated walkways on either side. The lower lefthand room appears to be a kitchen inside, and the Naga-ette Bromide is in the leftmost cabinet of this kitchen.

So what do I get for going to all this trouble?

Three things: 1. The weight of wondering what heck this Bromide is supposed to be is lifted from your mind. 2. A sense of satisfaction that the game is a little bit more thoroughly completed. 3. A Magic Tab.

For the Mindlessly Obsessive, number 2 is all that matters.

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