Well it's gonna be the future soon
And I won't always be this way
When the things that make me weak and strange get engineered away
It's gonna be the future soon
I've never seen it quite so clear
And when my heart is breaking I can close my eyes and it's already here
The Future Soon
Dr. Hinako Martin cut through the bamboo forest, weaving through the steep inclines and passages to make it, finally, to a clearing at the base of the large mountain.
This was the culmination of a decade of biological, historical, ethnographic, genealogical, even mythological research. Learning Classical Chinese and 21st century Japanese took three years, but it had been worth it to open up to a larger archive of material than she had access to in the University libraries in San Fransisco, Tokyo, and Beijing.
Of course, the hunt for that material had brought her thorough Western China, past the Gobi and Sichuan deserts, the former having been there for millennia, the latter, a byproduct of the old People's Republic strip-mining for resources.
Here in 2373, energy was, if not exactly free, almost totally so. Most scientists were happy to go off and explore the nearby solar systems and, while the pesky universal speed limit prevailed, there was the tantalizing prospect of multi-dimensional travel bypassing it, the universal equivalent to cutting the Gordian Knot.
For Dr. Martin, her journey lay at the heart of humanity, or rather what humanity had become in the last 400 years. Dr. Martin herself was a testament to those earlier days. Granted she was only 47, which was a veritable youth when most people lived close to 200 years, but the big difference between her and, seemingly, the majority of humans these days was something that seemed commonplace not so long ago.
Her body didn't change sex.
In fact, according to most histories, prior to the old United Nations Declaration of Gender Solidarity in 2127, there had been almost no mention of such a phenomenon. People just didn't spontaneous change their bodies like that. Of course, Dr. Martin pressed further than most. She had a PhD in History as well as in Bio-informatics, and had seriously studied Anthropology as well.
Her interdisciplinary nature became unfurled when she had been at a baseball game (an exhibition match between the Los Angeles Dodgers and Los Mambis de Havana) and, during a sudden rainstorm in the tropical country, she noted that, at best, 10 percent of the players had stayed in the same body. Reading the program later, she found that, of those, only half were actually born male. The stands seemed to favor something more of an equilibrium between shape-shifting humans than not. However, something about the spectacle nagged at her.
That fact of life that she had taken for granted growing up (her first two boyfriends and her ex-wife had been shifters) had started asserting itself, making her uncomfortable. She thought back to her Anthropological training, which urged her to make the comfortable uncomfortable, and decided she would try and, definitively, place how the world of the present came to be.
She had wondered why no one else had written such a history. The fact was, after some digging, there had been a few attempts, the last one being sometime around the mid-23rd century, but were seemingly stifled by the sheer scope of the problem.
Dr. Martin soon realized that the digital records went far, but before the mid 21st century, she would have to handle physical media. With some preparation, Dr. Martin asked for a leave of absence from her post at Rotterdam University and began searching for any information.
The archival papers in Modern English and Chinese soon gave way to earlier forms of both languages as well as Japanese monographs.
The search led her to Tokyo. Waseda University's own 20th/21st century historical archives proved invaluable and seemed to locate Tokyo as an epicenter for several events which, while predating the emergence of the shifter phenomenon, seemed to be connected. This was when Dr. Martin hit the first roadblock. These events seemed to have to do with the Martial Arts of all things.
Answering that question led her down a path she never expected and, for a whole year, she had trained her body and mind in several styles of the martial arts as well as read as much information as she could on the styles origins and practices. Training in such a way did have the side effect of weaning her from the coffee and custard bun addiction she developed during her second PhD.
At a small temple in the Western suburbs of Tokyo, she found an old diary by a priest named Mukyou or, in his earlier life, Hidetoshi Hibiki or who lived in the 21st century from about 2020 to 2117. The diary was practically crumbling, given the lack of humidity and temperature control the temple had, but, with expert care and delicate tweezing hands, Dr. Martin extracted the text. He spoke of a man or, sometimes, a woman, who had known his father and would come twice a year, on New Year's Day and Obon, to pay his or her respects. Hibiki said that the person was somehow always energetic no matter how old he had gotten and, especially as a woman, had the face of someone decades younger. Hibiki wrote, in his last entry, at age 97, that he would miss the constant presence of "his godmother". Finally he wrote a name that would come to haunt Dr. Hinako Martin's dreams:
Now, climbing the base of Phoenix Mountain, Dr. Martin kept repeating the name to herself over and over again.
Casual searches for the name brought up nothing. Even the family name stopped producing creditable hits after the 22nd century. It was a surname just common enough that it stymied any chance of finding evidence of descendants, let alone the man or woman in question.
One she moved back to non-genealogical sources, she had hit some luck. A prominent businesswoman named Nabiki Kunou nee Tendo had written a tell-all book about her life which included a passage about Ranma Saotome, though no mention of any shifting occurred. Even without such accounts, the stories she told seemed fantastic. The reviews from the period seemed to think so as well, with the New York Times Book Review deriding it as pure fantasy "derived from a formerly powerful, now addled rich woman with idle time".
However, Dr. Martin was rapt by the description. Ranma Saotome was a martial artist who had been able to perform feats of superhuman strength, agility, and could harness powers indistinguishable from magic. He had had multiple fiancées, including a woman from remote China, but had married Kunou's younger sister, Akane Tendo. Kunou had seen them off to a good honeymoon and she counted four nieces and nephews before Akane had passed away, leaving Ranma alone to raise them.
At the end of the book, she noted that her nieces and nephews had emigrated to various countries in Europe and the Americas as their father moved to China himself to further study "The Art".
Researching the Tendos brought some more concrete evidence to bear. The least of which was that the original property spoken about by Nabiki Kunou still stood in the Western suburbs of old Tokyo, near the temple where she had found Mukyou's diaries. It was held by what seemed to be descendants of the eldest sister of the Tendos listed in the Kuno memoir, a Kasumi Ono.
The elderly family living there were friendly, but hadn't had much info on such a distant family relations. They did know much about the history of the property and of the original layout, however. It seemed to be a ancient Japanese style house, probably built in the 20th century, though it sported an outdoor building, the dojo, and a small garden with a pond. Dr. Martin started wondering what life back then would have been like.
The house itself had been renovated a dozen times, though the basic structure had remained. After being allowed to search around, Dr. Martin found herself in the attic of the home, looking at old, but not ancient, junk. It was an accidental kick against the crawlspace and the resultant ringing noise that tipped her off. Some fiddling revealed a secret compartment and a metallic strongbox was revealed, Opening the strongbox had revealed about 1 dozen scrolls and an ancient data storage device.
The scrolls, written in Japanese, read: The Living Testament of Ranma Saotome, Grandmaster of Indiscriminate Grappling and Anything Goes Martial Arts.
After six months with material archaeologists, they were able to extract the data on the tablet computer. It seemed to be mostly photos, videos, and audio recordings. The audio was mostly of circa mid-21st century pop music and would have been a sublime treat for Dr. Martin, had she been an ethnomusicologist as well as a historian.
However, for Dr. Martin, it was the photos and video she had been obsessed by.
She had finally found an image to the name she had run across in her disparate sources.
Seemingly from the late 20th Century until about 2050, she had hundreds, if not thousands of photos of the black-haired martial artist from boy to young man, to father. Interspersed with them were photos of a red-haired girl, then young woman, then fully grown woman. They looked like twin siblings, though it seemed they had, in turn been intimate with the same woman. If the photos weren't so old, the solution would be obvious, but Dr. Martin was trying to rule out alternative explanations. The Kunou memoir never mentioned a sister, but never mentioned Ranma's gender at all. Mukyou's diaries mention the same person as male and female, but his writings were lyrical enough that she couldn't trust it outright.
She had no choice but to subject herself to the scrolls. With the help of a Graduate Student in History, she parsed and translated the text to Modern English. What it told seemed to verify the claims by Kunou, but added the element of gender shifting. However the explanation wasn't genetic, as she expected, but magical. A set of springs in the old Qinghai provice of what was once part of the People's Republic held the key to transformation. Ranma himself had been born male, but received the gender shifting as a "curse" at the age of sixteen. In the scrolls, which seem to be from the mid-21st century, he noted that he became at peace with it in his 20s and that he began to prefer the form after his best friend from childhood and wife, Akane, passed.
He also mentioned marrying another childhood friend, a man named Ryouga Hibiki, and bearing children as well before he too passed. Dr. Martin counted about ten children between the two spouses.
The scrolls ended with an admonition that now, in the year 2068, he would return to China, seek out friends in the Amazon tribes near the Byankala Mountain range and withdraw from the world to better hone the Art.
Halfway up the treacherous peak, Dr. Martin found a small ridge and made camp. She had been grateful for the physical conditioning her research in Martial Arts had given her as well as the workouts she received in the Amazon villages below.
She had lived with the Amazon for the past three years now. It took a full year to build rapport with the community as well as avoid the attacks that would have opened her to kiss of death or marriage (the rules had seemingly merged since the 21st century, in a nod to shifts in mores and in Saotome, who had been hailed as a demi-goddess known simply as the "Phoenix Slayer".
She had become particularly friendly with Jielu, an Amazon elder and granddaughter of Shanpu. This was the closest she had come to firsthand accounts of Ranma Saotome's existence and, even with the photographs, video, and writings, having a living breathing person describe him/her was nothing short of breathtaking.
Ranma had come to the village at the when Shanpu had ascended to Elder status, allowing Kelun to step down from her position and retire. Ranma had taken it upon herself to care for Kelun in her final years and, while not an elder, was recognized as both an Amazon and a strong leader.
Ranma had also become an unofficial consort to both Shanpu and her husband Musu, and many Amazons bore the distinctive red hair of that parentage. Of course, some of the children displayed the still aberrant shifting trait, but had it controlled via the magic springs which, ever unchanging, still lay only a few kilometers away.
A month before she departed for the tall mountain in the range, she had been informed by Jielu that not only was Saotome still alive, but that she wished to see her, at the top of Fenghuang Shan or Phoenix Mountain.
Arriving at the summit, Dr. Martin was met by two guards, large bird-like men. They were wielding ancient staffs in their arms and, curiously, electromagnetic rifles strapped to their back. It was one of the rare concessions to the present she had seen in years, besides the Solar and Tritium power generators in Joketsuzoku.
The two guards stood back and nodded. Entering the elaborate gates, Dr. Martin began to tremble. She had long ago accepted that the world, even the world of the 24th century had magic in it. Jielu had told her of the Phoenix People and it's ever resurrecting leader, Saffron. For the first time in her life, she had truly wondered if this would be her last day alive.
Dr. Martin was led into the large throne room, the black obsidian walls and floors were illuminated by both torch and electrical light. The room was decorated in bright, vivid reds, including the throne at the rear of the room, upon which a young man with red, orange, and white hair and wide red and orange wings that seemed to suggest fire, was seated. He held a gilded staff, decorated in jewels and, upon which, was affixed a crescent moon-shaped blade.
"What business do you have among my people, human!?" The Phoenix Leader bellowed, his voice ringing throughout the chamber.
Dr Martin held her breath, unable to speak, making peace with her life when suddenly a voice, emanating from a side room, similarly echoed across the chamber.
"Saffron! What did I say about treating guests!?"
The Phoenix Leader recoiled and, even from her distance, Dr. Martin noticed the man noticeably swallow in fear. He regained his bearings and replied, shakily, "M-my apologies, grandmother."
Saffron looked at Dr. Martin and bowed, extending an arm, "Welcome. We have been expecting you, Dr. Martin. Please sit."
Dr. Martin was led to a seating area, to the side of the throne, a large red Turkish-style rug adorned with large red and gold pillows. Dr. Martin sat down on one of the Pillow and Saffron did the same. the Phoenix Leader clapped his hands and a servant brought tea. Dr. Martin had taken a small sip of the jasmine scented drink when she heard a light tapping sound.
Looking up to the source she almost dropped her mug. She was expecting to see this and yet, no matter the years she spent, nothing prepared her for what she found in front of her.
The woman was beyond elderly, the wrinkles were so deep. Yet, the woman's eyes were a vivid blue which contrasted with her hair, which was totally white save for one strand which was still shockingly red. She wore a green robe, similar to that of the Joketsuzoku elders and used a wooden walking stick.
She was short, shorter than the photos she had seen. Whereas she was perhaps 150 cm before, the woman in front of her seemed to be no more than 100 now. She walked slightly bent, though Dr. Martin noted a certain energy that lay underneath the display of frailty. She had received some training in chi manipulation and sensing from Jielu herself, and now she could feel the real power emanating from the old woman, which dwarfed the Amazon elder Dr. Martin had come to know.
The woman finally stopped at the seated area and bent down to face Dr. Martin at eye level.
"It is good to finally meet you Hina-chan."
She turned to sit on a pillow, Saffron began to stand to assist her, but the old woman merely bopped him on the head with the cane and easily sat down.
"Oh child, let me be! I beat you five lifetimes ago and I can still manage it. I'm just old."
Dr. Martin shook her head, trying to disentangle her jaw which remained fixed open. She finally spoke as the old woman in front of her took a large swig of tea.
"Y-y-y-you're... Ranma Saotome."
"Oh! Yes I am, though it has been at least 80 years at this point since anyone has called me that. I'm just 'Grandmother' or 'Elder' or simply 'Old Ghoul', to some," she said, turning to face Saffron, who gulped again.
Ranma cackled, "I don't blame him. I'm still just as deadly as I was when I was just 200 years old. And, to be honest, I was just as disrespectful of my elders at his age."
"Oh dear, after all you've been through, Hina-chan, Ranma is fine."
"Ranma... How do you know my name?"
"One doesn't get to be my age without being careful. I've monitored anyone who tries to look at the right places for me. They always fail to find the pieces I left behind. I'm glad you were different. I've been waiting a long time to meet someone both smart enough and tenacious enough to see me."
"How are you alive so long? Even with 23rd century technology, the oldest people live to be only 220 years of age."
"I admit some of it has to do with modern medicine, but a lot of it has to do with keeping my chi pathways open. Back when normal humans didn't even reach a hundred years of age, my teacher Cologne was over three hundred herself."
"Are you stuck in that form? Like the times in your younger life you wrote about?"
"Oh, heavens no, Hina-chan. I've had plenty of years kicking around as a dirty old man, " she replied, cackling to herself again, "However, I've found being an old woman has its perks. Of course, I had good role models."
"The Amazon elders?"
Ranma nodded, "Cologne was my best teacher and Shampoo was my best and oldest friend. Aside from Akane and Ryouga and a few others I knew in my childhood, I don't think I loved anyone else more than those two. They were like sisters to me."
"Akane and Ryouga? Your first two spouses?"
"Indeed. They were my first two loves, you know. Oh, that was so long ago... it taught me about one the hidden benefits of the curse was that I could put my knowledge of being a husband into being a wife."
"I saw. I'm amazed. Ten children."
Ranma laughed once more, though it was a warm chuckle rather than a loud peal of laughter earlier, "Oh child, those were my first ten children, but... after Ryouga died, I was still young at heart. I've had many lovers since. Children as well."
"I-I'm sorry?" Dr. Martin blinked.
Ranma nodded, "Oh my, yes. I bore children until I was nearly 100 myself. As a man, I fathered children well into my 200s. I've personally raised four generations of children. After I left Tokyo, I was responsible for even more generations of Amazon warriors. Shampoo trusted me more than anyone else to train the warriors of the tribe."
"Yes, Jielu mentioned your role back then."
"Oh, I hope Gel is doing well taking over her grandmother's post. She was always Mousse's favorite."
"She mentioned something about you being a consort to them both."
Ranma laughed again, this time reverting to a cackle fit for a witch, "Oh yes. That man, 'Hidden Weapons', indeed! Well, we were friends from childhood, still in the prime of our long-lived bodies. Just as I had with my other lovers, I held onto them deeply, both as a man and as a woman. When Shampoo finally passed oh so many years ago, I knew my time with the Joketsuzoku was over. It was around my 350th year I came up to Houhou-San."
"Why did you retreat to the mountain?"
"Hina-chan. At my age, it is a miracle I'm alive, let along have any friends who remember me all this time. The Joketsuzoku were the only ones I had ties to after Ryouga died. Once my ties there had finished, I knew I only had one friend remaining."
Ranma faced Saffron and nodded.
"When you are almost 400 years old, the only friends you have are either immortals or those who perpetuate themselves into eternity. A Phoenix is ideal company for an old woman. Saffron's last incarnation and I were quite close."
"Grandmother!" Saffron said, nervous.
"I'm sorry Saffy, but it's true," the white-haired woman sneaked in a smirk, "Your past self really could give it to me! I'm sure it was somehow revenge when I killed him four life cycles beforehand," Ranma laughed as though she was recounting a having pulled the hair of a girl she liked in middle school.
Saffron for his part seemed to blush, covering his face with a wing.
"So... how many children did you um... bring about?
"Well, I gave Genghis Khan a run for his money, heh, heh, heh. As far as children go, I stopped keeping count after the 200th."
Dr. Martin gasped.
"Do you understand the implications? You fundamentally changed society single-handedly!"
"Well, not single-handedly, I had many lovers to thank for that. Though Akane and Ryouga are still my most beloved."
"But but, 200 direct descendants and their descendants and their descendants and..."
Ranma nodded sagely, "I never learned the math, but a bright young Amazon boy once estimated that, by the end of the 2300s, I would be related to about 90% of all humans from Europe, Asia, or the Americas."
Dr Martin thought for a second, "Yes... that what I was... Ranma! Why do you hide yourself from the world. Even just your stories about the 21st century would be an incredible historical record! Your knowledge of humanity and, most importantly, the shifter genes would benefit the world tremendously. You should reintroduce yourself to the world who has forgotten you!"
Ranma smiled, shaking her head slowly, "I'm an old woman now. I cloistered myself from the world at large two centuries ago and the secluded world of the Amazons a generation ago. What would I know about the world of today?"
Ranma stood up, grabbing her cane. She waved Dr. Martin up and she stood. Walking towards a side room, the taps of her staff echoing along the obsidian hallways, she continued.
"I meditate now and speak mainly with my grandchild Saffron. I write down everything I know about the art. I never found a worthy student I could teach everything to, so I am writing what I know. I've also been able to acquire some recording equipment and have been filming myself perform these maneuvers whenever my health allows it."
She opened the door to a small office. Unlike the other rooms which had an air of timeless primitivism and magic, this room was set up like a regular office. Old fashioned, perhaps, but reminiscent of this millennium.
"I've been recording all of my knowledge down in several formats, though the ones I'm most proud of are the scrolls," she pointed to a shelf where no less than a hundred scrolls had been arranged.
"Writing is older than dirt, but I know that 1000 years from now, when even these fancy haptic-feedback enabled neural UI systems are obsolete, someone worthy of my knowledge will find them and learn from them."
Dr. Martin was awed, but also felt her body slump. Was this what she had meant to find? Was this what she spent a decade of her life in search for. An eccentric hermit who had spent the last four centuries rutting so often that he (and she) had forced humanity to come to terms with its collective hang-ups about gender. On top of that, she had secrets and a connection to the eternal and spiritual that rivaled not just a martial arts grandmaster, but any guru, saint, or lama.
Dr. Martin sighed longingly.
"What is it child. Are you questioning why you came here?"
"N-n-no that's not," she felt the small hand touch her back and Dr. Martin began noticing the tears fall by her feet.
Ranma quietly spoke, "It's all right. Just getting here should be reward enough. You have spent many years training mind and body just to find me. I will not let you leave here empty handed."
"I don't understand..."
"Hina-chan. For you, finding me was the culmination of years of work. This was a research project for you. You expected finding some dusty tomes, reading a language you barely understand, and then writing a few academic essays about me or about the shifting phenomenon."
Dr. Martin nodded. It had seemed so innocent then. All she wanted to do was dig at the comfortable. Make it uncomfortable again and see what lay beneath. She didn't really believe that it really would be turtles all the way down.
Ranma continued, "For me, however, it was a test. I've been looking for a successor for centuries now. It is one thing to be physically skilled and powerful. I was quite formidable even as a stupid boy. However, over the years, what I wanted in a successor was not just physical ability. Indeed physical ability can be earned through hard work. I needed someone with intelligence, adaptability, and drive. Hina-chan, I dare say, you are the first human in a hundred years who possesses those qualities in spades."
"I-I don't know what to say."
"I want to train you in everything I know. All aspects to Anything Goes Martial Arts and whatever knowledge of the mystical world I have. I have recorded my knowledge in every other medium. I need only give it to another human and my life will be complete."
"But, I'm not a martial artist."
"You have studied the basics, have you not? I trust Gel and her girls have put you through the ringer as well? You're ready for this."
"B-but I might take years, Another decade!"
"Child, when you get to be my age, a decade is but a instant. You will learn that as well, in time."
Dr. Martin was conflicted. She had hoped she could return to her old life as a tenured professor. During her time away, she had rationalized her journey as "research" and "fieldwork". Now though, she was faced with a crossroads. Return and finish out her time in a stable discipline, writing a few books and ekeing out some modicum of fame as a historian and anthropologist? Or stake out on a discipline that had not seen the light of day for centuries?
Dr. Martin looked at the old woman. She was leaning on the cane, though now, it appeared to Dr. Martin as though she was playfully balancing herself on it, like a dance routine rather than actual support. The smile seemed to return and re-emerge anew as not the grandmotherly warmth, but as a friendly, even sisterly openness.
Dr Martin slowly nodded and answered the old woman, "Okay Ranma. I don't know what I'm getting myself into, but, at the very least, this will make for one hell of a book."
"There won't be enough pages or enough bits of data to write the book you're thinking of when we finish here, Hina-chan." Ranma replied in a voice that, to Dr. Martin, seemed impossibly young, almost ethereal.
She looked as Ranma the old woman and master of the martial arts closed her eyes and concentrated. Dr. Martin could feel the energy in the room shift as all the warmth and light seemed to converge on Ranma. Before Dr. Martin could fully process the information her eyes were sending her brain, she heard a youthful voice ring out from a petite red-haired woman no older than 40 who now stood in front of her.
"Okay Hina-chan! Let's get to work!"
AN: So I had something of an idea on the train ride home and about 6 hours later, this is the result. There is really no point to this other than to try and work in the Ranma universe to a dramatically different genre of story.
Apologies for playing fast and loose with the rough timeline I've sketched. If this was more than an idle thought I'd actually sketch it out in more detail. I trust you all can fill in the gaps though.
This energy should have been channeled into something else, but it was a good little story regardless.