Ragnarock 3

Akane's Act

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She'd watched the world around her die. She'd survived the earthquake that had crushed one of her friends beneath a fallen ceiling. That friend had died, pinned by parts of the ceiling too heavy for the others to lift. Even if they had, it would have been too late.

The High School had turned out not to be a wise choice for shelter.

She'd survived the wave. Her other friend had helped her briefly. Then when they were seperated, she'd flailed around - trying desperately to stay afloat. Then HE had come and rescued her.

A week had gone by in his leaky little boat. Death all around them. She'd desperately clung to him. Said and done things in the desperation and heat of the moment, bodies pressed together within the tiny world of the boat. She'd operated on instinct and had been overwhelmingly in need of confirmation that she had been alive.

She was Akane Tendo, and she was in Hell.

Relatively.

Kuno regarded his "fragile flower" as a possession. He still regarded himself as the heroic samurai, and Akane at times wondered what exactly he was seeing. He'd always been at least partially off in his own little world, and now this was even more evident.

There wasn't much to do on a rowboat that had been washed out to sea. Especially when you couldn't swim. Talking to Kuno was bizarre and disjointed as he faded in and out of his world of epic samurai.

She was completely dependent on the madman, however. She had tried several times to teach herself how to swim. She awoke on the boat shortly thereafter. And had to endure lectures from Kuno on her safety. Kuno was able to get food and water, manuevering the boat to where debris often concealed supplies.

She'd eaten wet cat food. It was amazing how hungry you could get. That wasn't the worst thing, however. The thirst. The constant overpowering thirst.

Akane sat back in the boat, briefly envying Yuka. It had taken only a minute or so for Yuka to die, her blood pooling in the remains of the gym before the wave had hit. Sayuri might still be alive. Sayuri was a good swimmer. Even though Akane had seen her go under and not come back up again, Akane thought that Sayuri might still be alive out there. One half of the Dynamic Duo - the two friends that had been closer than twins. Maybe.

Akane blinked and weakly croaked. Land. She could see land! They were saved!

Tatewaki Kuno grinned like a madman and began rowing. He could finally make it official, and Akane would be his forever!

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The village was one of several hundred exactly like it that had formed in the wake of the Disaster.

Survivors had gathered and banded together. Either you contributed or you were driven off. It didn't matter if your ancestry was noble, you had a bokken, or you were the most sought after girl of Furinkan High School.

The attempts to get Akane working on typically feminine chores had been such disasters that she'd found herself being shunned.

Kuno had quickly found himself in construction, and Akane had ended up in the same field. Even now, she felt, she was being forced to confront her mistakes. Especially as she was often correcting Kuno's mistakes.

She had wept when the moon had died. She had wept when one of the nurses of the community had pronounced the diagnosis. One that she felt had doomed her as much as if she had been the one to catch that support beam in the gym.

Pregnant.

And there was only one possible candidate for "Daddy". If Kuno learned of it, he would continue trying to get her to marry him, even more insufferable than he was now.

If he survived. He wasn't pulling his weight, still wrapped up in some samurai fantasy and proclaiming his family's great wealth. Except that he didn't have that wealth anymore.

If this had somehow happened before the sky had fallen, Akane would have known where to go and what to do. She wouldn't have had the baby. She knew where to go for the rituals so the baby's soul didn't wander the Earth. She could have convinced herself that it was just a parasitic blob of tissue, like a cancer, just as the European women always said.

After the sky had fallen, it was more difficult.

Now a baby was a precious resource. So many had died, after all. Medical supplies and personnel were strained. The rituals were not available. The comfortable womb of modern Japanese life had been ripped away, supplanted with this clinging to survival in a thrown-together shack.

Akane didn't weep any more. Water was a precious resource too.

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A ship arriving stirred the village up.

Akane set aside the load she was carrying to find out why people were scurrying about with so much excitement.

Some village in Japan was making a "Survivor List" that contained lists of names. Akane was the one elected to build a set of message boards for posting the list. She did so, unenthusiastically, but she did a lot of her best work when she wasn't trying to get creative or trying to impress someone. She'd rather read the list than build the wooden displays, with the plastic outer sheet to protect the precious papers from the weather.

Akane had considered herself a martial artist, but after some disastrous beginnings had become a decent carpenter. As long as she kept it simple and wasn't trying to show off.

After the building of the stands, Akane had to repair one of the dock buildings from where yet another fight had broken out between Tatewaki Kuno and someone who wouldn't put up with him.

Upon seeing Kuno knocked flat and being carried off, Akane smiled for the first time in longer than she cared to think.

"Did you see that?" One of the dockworkers exclaimed with a grin.

Her companion nodded. "One punch, and *wham!*"

"Kuno may be a loudmouthed idiot, but he's a good fighter." The first dockworker continued. "Damn it was good to see him on the receiving end for once."

Akane listened to the two while getting to work. The process was almost automatic by now, the only thing different was where a wall had been burst open in a different pattern than Kuno's usual fights.

"Not bad, especially as they were both girls." The first dockworker said, grabbing a handtruck and shifting barrels. "Any idea who they were?"

"Nah, some travelers taking the ship back to Okayama. They got here just in time."

Akane listened. Measure, mark, measure again, cut, fit, nail. She could do this in her sleep after the past two months. Sometimes, when she awakened, she could swear that she *had*.

"The group in Okayama looks to be three times our size. Looks like it'll be a major hub for information."

Akane briefly wondered if maybe her sisters or one of her friends had made it to Okayama. Or maybe she herself ought to go. A fresh start, just leave in the middle of the night without a word to Tatewaki Kuno. Akane finished her work, then wiped sweat off her brow.

She caught a glimpse of herself in the reflection of one of the windows and spent a moment staring, though she saw herself in similar reflections daily. Would her sisters even recognize her? Long days in the sun had darkened her skin until she almost looked as if she had hailed from Okinawa. Her long hair had been too much trouble to maintain, and so one night had hacked most of it off. Then the months of steady work in carpentry, after she'd finally gotten the hang of "measure twice THEN cut", and lean meals had removed much of her remaining baby fat and tightened up her musculature.

Some, back in her Furinkan days, had described her as cute. Nobody had recently, and Akane doubted anyone ever would. With the possible exception of Tatewaki. No, even he had stopped using such terms.

The decision firmed a little in her mind. No, she had nothing to keep her here. No friends. No family. Certainly not Tatewaki Kuno, lord samurai and legend in his own mind. If she were to go, she had to go SOON. In another month her pregnancy would be obvious and Kuno would be a constant problem instead of alternating which girl he was pursuing at the moment. Though, of course, he actually wanted ALL the girls who'd caught his fancy.

"Hey, Akane, here's the list," one of the dockworkers handed Akane several sheets of green and white computer paper. "Tack it up, will ya? Then take it easy, girl, ya been pushin' yourself hard lately."

Akane bit back yelling at the woman. Like any of them could take it easy. She simply slammed tacks home in the corners of the notice, putting the thing up where...

Akane started as her eye first caught a detail on the paper. Then merely stared. It was printed in romaji, which wasn't uncommon for print outs of this kind. Particularly the ones that would be circulated among different countries.

Takanori, Junichi
Takeuchi, Naoko
Teizoku, Shinji
Tendo, Kasumi
Tendo, Nabiki
Tetsubara, Nakao

Akane continued to stare, her mouth shaping the two names of import to her. Then shot to the top of the paper. Okayama refugee center.

Wild horses couldn't keep her away now.

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Tatewaki Kuno was furious. For all of fifteen minutes. Then one thing had led to another and now Tatewaki Kuno was merely unconscious.

He was one of the best fighters in the village, tougher than he looked, certainly had an excellent recovery time. He was tolerated for this.

Upon finding that not only was his future wife, the beauteous Akane Tendo, missing - but that she had been concealing her pregnancy from him? He'd practically been frothing at the mouth. Then he'd made a mistake.

Tatewaki Kuno WAS one of the best fighters around. However, those who had survived the earthquakes, plagues, and rough living conditions since The Fall were used to tackling big problems with ingenuity and teamwork. They were not easily cowed.

So the great Tatewaki Kuno found that when he overstepped his bounds and struck down an unarmed man for trying to silence him, he had been roped and tied and then beaten into unconsciousness. Then chained and put in a prison cell.

Food was still scarce. There was a debate as to his fate but keeping him in prison and feeding him was not an option that anyone was considering. Hanging him until dead, exiling him, or simply putting him in a box and setting him adrift all were being discussed. So was just bricking up the entry to the cell.

Tatewaki Kuno had not made many friends. In fact, he had consistantly insisted that his being Japanese and nobility made him much more than those around him, who were largely not Japanese.

Kuno had, however, made one friend. One who had mainly felt sympathetic for the clearly delusional fellow.

Which is how, when the jury came down to inform Tatewaki Kuno that he was to be exiled, that someone had already snuck away with the samurai.

By the time they had finished searching the village, the single sail fishing boat had drifted far out to sea.

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The trip hadn't taken very long. Akane had gotten her sea legs what seemed like a lifetime ago. She still couldn't swim, but many sailors refused to learn anyway. She had suffered, but she had also risen above that suffering. She'd relied on no one but herself, and felt the stronger for it.

No, it was not the same Akane Tendo who had fought her way past perverted boys every morning in school. That had been four months ago, it had been a lifetime ago.

Tomorrow would be landfall at Okayama. Tomorrow she'd be united with her family. Or at least part of it. Had her father survived?

Voices on the boat caught her ear soon enough, disturbing her solitude.

"...can't believe some of the conditions at these places..."

"...they're doing the best they can, Saotome-san. Most of these people have never even been camping before, much less had to grow crops or irrigate fields. There's no electricity, no gasoline, and darn little in the way of supplies or know how."

Akane nodded in quiet agreement. Things were rough all over. Though something struck her as familiar about that name. Where had she heard the name "Saotome" before? She peered closer, trying to discern whether it was one of her classmates from Furinkan.

The girl with bright red hair was talking to a large tough-looking older fellow. She thought she recognized the older one as one of the sailors aboard this old tub.

"I know that. Yeesh, I've dug enough latrines to qualify it as endurance training. Both Shampoo and me are hoping this lead pans out."

"Well, if any group will have the leads on your parents, it'll be in Okayama. They've got the best working computer system there. Don't know what they get the power from."

Akane tried to place the girl. She couldn't recall seeing someone like that at Furinken. Certainly that hair color made her stand out.

"There ain't much else. Figure we might check it out, and if they ain't there we'll just leave our names and head back to that Unryuu farm. Akari said we're welcome and she could certainly use some help there." The girl shrugged. "Got any hot water?"

"If you can stand to be a girl, I'd suggest staying that way for now, Ranma. Heating up the water uses fuel we can best use elsewhere. You can turn back into a boy in Okayama."

"Suppose you're right. Don't have ta like it, though."

Akane blinked, not sure *what* to make of that odd exchange. Still, she had the girl's name now. "Ranma Saotome. Saotome Ranma." Akane finally drifted to sleep wondering where she'd heard the name before.

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end 3?