Neon Genesis Evangelion Fan Fiction / Ranma 1/2 Fan Fiction / Ah My Goddess Fan Fiction ❯ Sic Semper Morituri ❯ Chapter 4 - 5 ( Chapter 2 )

[ T - Teen: Not suitable for readers under 13 ]

Sic Semper Morituri

Chapter 4: Le Chatelier's Principle
      Meanwhile back at the Ranch
      San Francisco
      Fencing and the Coral Sea
      Secret Briefings

Chapter 5: Truth begins as Blasphemy
      First Clues
      Synchronization Testing
      Poker Games
      Rei's performance
      Sea Stories
      Train Dreams
      Vacation Day
      Meeting Kaji


I do not own any of the characters from Ranma 1 / 2, Neon Genesis Evangelion, Ah My Goddess, or the Lovecraft Cycle involved in these stories.

C&C, MSTs are welcome


Stories are available in Plain ASCII at:

ftp :// -Semper-Morituri

(these are the original versions)

Chapter 4: Le Chatelier's Principle

The silliest woman can manage a clever man; but it needs a very clever woman to manage a fool!

Rudyard Kipling, Three and an Extra

What has gone before:

     About Book 11, Akane and Soun Tendo throw Ranma out of the house, Nabiki, in the guise of a wish, follows him.  They meet pilots Shinji Ikari and Rei Ayanami.  Ranma battles the god Nyogtha alongside Rei.

     The Spawn of Nyogtha attempt to kill the pilots, succeed killing Ranma's new mentor, Capt.  Everett.  The pilots, Dr. Akagi and Misato Katsuragi flee to the United States to collect pilots Asuka Soryu Langley, who has now seen Ranma's transformation, and Jeffrey Kevin Davis, who despite a St.  Louis rain, has not.  And doesn't believe Dr. Akagi when she tells him about it.

     Asuka's Dreamself was rescued by the Dragon and her friend Anna.  Their army is massing in Zais.  In the Waking World, the pilots and Dr. Akagi are waiting in St.  Louis for the storm to blow over.

Chapter 4: Le Chatelier's Principle

     Nabiki was dealing cards, while they waited for the storm parked over St.  Louis to blow over, so they could fly to Denver.  And none of the `veterans` wanted to sleep, in dreams they all still relived the nightmare of Everett's death and what followed.  They sat around the table, with a light directly overhead casting harsh shadows: Nabiki, Davis, Shinji, Rei, Asuka, Ritsuko, Ranma.  From the grim looks, an outsider would assume the game was being played in deadly earnest, instead of for matchsticks.  Nabiki wanted to know about the personalities of the people she worked with, how they'd act in a contest.  She and Davis seemed to be splitting the hands between them, which did not make her happy.

     "How'd you get the camera?" Nabiki asked while she dealt two cards down.

     "I cheated," Davis told them, Nabiki frowned slightly.  "The guy was cheating, using shiners: a lighter, his watch, or a few other things to see the cards he was dealing; he was also dealing from the bottom of the deck and a few other things.  In for 10."

     "I'm out."  Shinji threw his hole cards in.  Rei silently called.

     "Up five."  Asuka put in 15.

     "Call."  Ritsuko.

     "Up fifteen."  Ranma decided to be aggressive.

     "Dealer calls.  Next card."

     "Call."  Davis got his card, "Well, my friend Sergeant Malkowitz knew the guy was cheating, but since the guy used so many different ways, the good sergeant couldn't catch him.  I was really depending on the cane, so I had my friends give me some stubble and a moustache, and an introduction."

     "That's illegal," Ritsuko said.

     "So were the incursions into Manchuria and the Rhineland," he replied.

     Rei called, no change of expression from her first up card.  Asuka and Ritsuko called Ranma.  He folded.  Nabiki called and dealt the next cards.

     "Up five.  Well the last big hand.  Our cheater had dealt, seven card stud.  He had Jack, 10, 9, 7 of spades and five of clubs showing.  I had 8's of hearts and diamonds, 6's of spades and diamonds, and five of diamonds."

     Rei raised 10.  Asuka raised another 10.  Ritsuko called, Nabiki folded.

     "He knew I had a deuce and a Queen as my hole cards, so all I had was two pair.  He had eight and six of clubs as hole cards, he'd dealt them himself, so he had a straight, but not a straight flush, enough to win against two pair, but not against a full house.  Call."

     Rei raised again with a quiet, "Five."

     Asuka folded.  Ritsuko called.  Davis called Rei.

     "I turned over my hole cards, seven and nine of diamonds, straight flush.  He accused me of cheating, I replied that his shiner and dealing from the bottom of the deck had screwed him up.  His other victims weren't happy with that revelation.  Two pair, 4's and Kings."

     Rei turned over her cards.

     "Ah, Ayanami-san, that's junk, a straight flush of four cards is worthless," Davis explained.

     "It is less likely than your hand," Rei replied.

     "Yes, but there are limits.  Five card straights and flushes are the usual rule.  When you get the deal you can specify they're allowed, or other modifications."

     Rei nodded, filing the information away for later hands and deals.

     "I folded with a better hand," Asuka lamented.

     "Watch out Langley," Davis said, "If she can do those statistical calculations in her head, you aren't the only math master."

     "She isn't, two pair, queens and 7's," Ritsuko tossed her cards in.

     "Well, part of the pot was the camera and the whole set up."  Davis raked in the matchsticks.  "He had to give back the money he made that night.  The camera was his `toll` to get out of there alive.  He made the mistake of trying the same stunt, a week later, nearer the campus.  Well, our good sergeant told the patrons of the house, Family men all.  I think the gent went for a swim with concrete overshoes."

     "He would sink," Rei commented.

     Rei's awfully talkative, Nabiki considered, It could help that we're all actually talking to her.

     "That was the point, it's a way of killing someone and disposing of the body," Davis accepted the deck, "I apologize, Ayanami-san, but you did ask.  Three math whizzes huh?  Okay, clubs and hearts are interchangeable for flushes and straight flushes."  He smiled as Asuka and Dr. Akagi frowned, recalculating the odds.

     "So, besides poker games, how many people have you killed?" Ranma asked mischievously.

     "Define 'people'."  Davis dealt five cards down to each of them.

     Nabiki watched Ranma's and Shinji's mouths drop open, Asuka merely glared.

     "Gotcha," as he finished the deal.

     Asuka howled, let off a string of German curses.  Nabiki noted they had more to do with the card odds and trying to worry people, than anything else.  Shinji bet five.

     "You eat with that mouth?" Davis asked, Asuka glared at him.  Rei took no cards and raised five.

     "There have been two Angel attacks.  You and Ayanami-san took the first one, no training?"

     "I'd arrived that day, and I'd just started my first training.  They just sent me in, just me, Ayanami-san was wounded," Shinji admitted.

     "The newsreels said there were two EVAs in Japan.  So it was just you?" Davis asked.

     Shinji nodded.

     The Sixth, Davis, was impressed.

     "I trained for years," Asuka told them, asking for two cards and calling Rei.

     Ritsuko grimaced, asked for three and called.

     "So evidently did Ayanami-san," Shinji said.

     Ranma raised ten.

     "Great," Davis turned to Nabiki as she asked for two and raised five, "How much training did you get, before they threw you into battle?" He called.

     "About two weeks and counting, I haven't been in combat yet."  Nabiki admitted.

     "So the girls get trained, and NERV just throws the guys into the first fight they happen to be available for."  Davis folded and dealt cards.

     "It isn't exactly like that," Ritsuko defended.

     "Sounds exactly like that, Doctor," Davis replied, "It may not be what you want or intend, but it seems to be the pattern.  Saotome-san, Ikari-san and Ayanami-san got their first in-combat kills?"

     "Yes," Ranma said, "Piloting an EVA is so incredible, too bad there are only two."

     Nabiki thought his voice sounded forced, Shinji and Rei didn't support his assertion.  Who's fooling who?

     "Four," Ritsuko corrected, "Asuka's Unit 02 is being shipped from Germany, and the American Unit 04 is being shipped from the Serpent Mound in Ohio, to California, to load aboard our destination.  There will be four primary pilots, and two alternates."

     "Nobody's piloting MY EVA," Asuka stared daggers at the others, daring them to disagree.

     "What happens if you can't pilot anymore?" Davis asked.

     "What?" Asuka was unnerved, "What do you mean?"

     "Ikari-san, Saotome-san, and Ayanami-san all had to be hospitalized after their first fights, it was all in the papers.  There's no guarantee, of anything," Davis commented.

     "Ha!  You don't know me!" Asuka told him, Davis shrugged.


     It was amazing.  Airports all look vaguely alike, function dictating form.  Low buildings, concrete runways and the ever-present fuel trucks.  The pilots stood together and from a short distance outside the safety area, watched the planes being refueled.  Despite the altitude, it was warm, if you stayed out of the bitter wind blowing down off the Rocky Mountains that chilled you right to the bone.  The pilots and Dr. Akagi were bundled up in whatever warm clothes they had, and whatever they had borrowed from Asuka and Jeff.

     "How long?" Ranma asked.

     "Daddy, are we there yet?" Davis whined.

     Ranma shot him a dirty look, and marched off.

     "Not long now," Dr. Akagi said, shaking her head.

     Davis headed over to Rei.

     "Are you all right?" he asked.

     Rei looked at the mountains and plains surrounding them.  "It is different."

     "This is the terrain I grew up around," Davis told her.  "The Rocky Mountains and the high plains.  There's nothing like this in Japan?"

     "Not near Tokyo."

     "You've never been outside of the capital?" he asked.

     She shook her head. 

     "When all you can see of the horizon is mountains, well, it makes you feel kind of small.  All alone under the sky."

     Rei considered, nodded.

     Nabiki had drifted over to watch the interaction, examining if she finally had an ally, or another `patient`.  Even both would be acceptable.

     "You know," Davis continued, "All your efforts to ignore me indicates you're interested, otherwise you'd tell me to go away."  He paused, then frowned, "The proper joke in this circumstances, is to look me straight in the eye, and tell me 'Go away'."

     Nabiki saw Rei seemed caught on the horns of a dilemma, she wanted privacy, but she didn't want to go back to being ignored.  She also acted as if she would make the comment, and it would be binding for all time, which she did not want.  Nabiki was learning how to read the girl better.

     "Relax, Ayanami-san, saying it now does not bar me for all eternity.  If you want to be alone, it is assumed to be temporary."

     "I wish to be alone," she said.

     Again, I've never seen Rei's `deer in the headlights,` look.  As if she's trapped, even monsters attacking her home didn't get that reaction.  I know how she talks, is she afraid of being made fun of?  Asuka derides anything that moves, and almost everything that doesn't.  Our American seems to strike back rather than starting anything.  Of our two irritating know-it-alls, one attacks, the other counter-punches.  And Ranma says 'They don't move right.' What's up with that? Nabiki considered the new information about the foreigners, and leaves Rei to herself.

     I relax slightly as the Sixth, Davis, tips his hat and walks away, and the Fifth, Nabiki-kun, drifts away, yes I wanted to be left alone for a time, I could feel myself spinning out of control, but there is a huge difference between being let alone, and being left alone.  I have discovered the attentions of Tendo Nabiki, Ikari Shinji and Davis Jeffrey are pleasant, in small doses.  I am always afraid the Fifth and Sixth will involve me in one of their constant battles, although they might not see them as that, but even Dr. Akagi and Asuka, the Second Children, will not approach them when they are locked in one of their word duels.

     They do it so effortlessly, and with such obvious enjoyment.  Do they believe all of us can, or do they do it specifically to exclude all others?  To gain a few moments alone together.  The Second Children . . . irritates me.  She claims she is the best of us, but she is untried, as is the Sixth, but neither act that way.  The Fourth, Saotome, has whispered to Nabiki that they 'move wrong', even he has perceived they are different.  Do I 'move wrong' to him as well?  Is that why he treats me as he does?  I do not know.  He fought alongside me, then says such things to me.

     Nabiki walks along the hangers, towards the angry sound of Asuka's voice.  Ranma!  Couldn't you have waited until we got back to Japan to start World War III? She sees Ranma standing nose-to-nose with Asuka.

     "And I'm built better to boot!" he tells her.

     Well, where do you think she'll send him?  Wyoming, Kansas, California, back to Boston, all the way to Tokyo?

     Asuka looks hurt and furious, Nabiki almost feels sorry for her.  That insult seems to be written in his genetic code.

     Nabiki watches Asuka force down her hurt and anger, "I guess you have to be a better woman than me, because you can't be a real man."

     Oh boy, she slows her approach, Well, Ranma, you started it.

     "I've got some dresses that would be so cute on you, and you'll have all the boys just lining up to date you."  Asuka says, smiling to a shocked Ranma.

     Nabiki wonders if Ranma will keep up his, 'I don't hit girls,' pledge.

     "I can get you some great cosmetics to accent your beautiful blue-eyes, and a shampoo to make your red hair so soft and touchable, and give it a luscious, flowery scent.  You'll be so pretty.  Prettier than me, just like you said."  She sniffs sadly.

     Ranma turns in horror, and runs away.

     She turns to face Nabiki, with a much harder expression now, "Do you want something, Tendo?"

     "I was just wondering how you were going to hit him, below the belt and a lot harder than I expected."

     "I'm used to little boys being stupid, he's no different," Asuka tells her as she walks by, "He needs to learn to keep his mouth shut until he thinks about what he says."

     She's a better actor than I thought.  I can see how hurt she is by whatever Ranma said to her.  Well, Ranma, you're going to find these people don't hit back physically, and you aren't anywhere near skilled enough to take on these two college people.

     And three days more of it, Nabiki thinks as she looks around the hotel room.  It hadn't changed much in the last five minutes, And they managed to teach Ranma to knock off the insults, amazing.  Why do I want to kill both of them?  Slowly?  Painfully?

     "If I'd know we were going to be waiting for a few days, I would have called my aunt," Davis tells them, "We could have stayed at the ranch in Wyoming.  Horseback riding, big country dinners, that's enough food even for you, Saotome-san."

     "We aren't on vacation," Ritsuko says.

     "We're just sitting here, in a Denver hotel room, ordering room service," Asuka complains while she paces.

     "Shinji and Rei aren't complaining," Nabiki tosses in, Big mistake.

     "They wouldn't complain about sitting around doing nothing!" Asuka complains.

     Ritsuko massages her temples.  She'd never expected to be cooped up in a suite of rooms, with all the pilots.

     Despite this huge area they're, we're, all suffering from cabin fever, Nabiki thinks.

     Nabiki considers offering another class on martial arts, except Rei and Shinji had already practiced three hours today.  Davis and Asuka sparred briefly, Davis warned Rei and Nabiki before the start, that aunt June was a tomboy and adventuress, so when he `insults` Langley about `fighting` like my Aunt June, they were in on the joke.  Asuka had the edge in speed and skill, but Davis seems to soak up punishment like Ryoga used to, and the taunts disrupted her concentration.  But it ended quickly, when neither could gain a clear advantage, and even Ranma was sick of martial arts.

     Davis is back to reading a book, paging through it rapidly.

     Asuka's on a rampage out of pure boredom.

     "We could always play spin the bottle," Nabiki points out.

     Asuka falls silent as she stares at her in horror, "Kiss HIM!" she points at Ranma, "Before or after a cold water splash?" she laughs.

     Ranma reddens with embarrassment and anger.

     "No, I wouldn't want to cheat, just to avoid the consequences," Davis says.

     Asuka launches into a series of curses in at least four languages.  Davis smiles, nods, and offers corrections.

     Nabiki isn't sure if it's her grammar or advice on delivering the insults.

     She wound down and stared daggers at him, "I hate you," she said with feeling.

     "All the better reason not to kiss you," he says.  Asuka's mouth opens and closes a few times.

     Nabiki wonders if the redhead would slap him, punch him or . . . Asuka drops down in a chair and glares at him.

     That was disappointing, "Why don't we just go out and walk around?" Nabiki suggests.

     "Yeah, this is the Wild West after all, not Tokyo, we'll be perfectly safe."

     "What's that supposed to mean?" Nabiki demands.  Great, now they're getting to me!

     "Simple, everyone is armed.  One gun might not have stopped those things, but 50 pounds of lead would slow them down."

     "Then let's go to a firing range, see how good you are!" Asuka suggests.

     "Sounds good to me," Nabiki agrees, Anything to do something.

     "Guns are dumb," Ranma says.  First insult of the day.

     "Pot calling the kettle black," Davis replies, "Shinji, Rei, with your permission Doctor."

     "Denied, I'm sorry.  We shouldn't go out," Ritsuko says, regretting it.

     He shrugs and sits back, finishing the book in minutes.

     She's probably afraid we'll shoot each other.  I bet Misato isn't bored.

     Misato ducked under the flamethrower blast and continued to the command railcar.

     "We can't exactly napalm the tracks ahead of us!!" One of the officers was yelling over the noise of the anti-aircraft guns and the heavy flamethrowers on the flat cars.

     "They really want what we're carrying, Captain.  We've got another squadron of fighter-bombers inbound, to help drive these things off.  Army Rangers and Mountain troops are checking the rail lines and switches for sabotage."

     Misato nodded, the enemy certainly wasn't making it easy.  "I think we can forget about heading south," she shouted over the din, "We should head straight for San Francisco, concentrate the entire defense on keeping the path clear."

     The man nodded, "Tell me again why we couldn't have put this thing in a ship, and sailed it down the Saint Lawrence Seaway or the Mississippi.  Surrounded by the Atlantic Fleet?"

     Misato left without answering.

     The attackers looked like the rocs of myth, huge birds, but they were too intelligent to be ordinary birds, and no birds she knew smelled like that, foul urine and pristine snow fields, both at the same time.  But the combination of 40 mm anti-aircraft and heavy flameguns seemed to be holding them off for the moment.  She'd always thought adventures like this were `fun`, next time she'd stay sober while contemplating it, and maybe she'd learn not to do it again.  She headed for the boxcar, set in the middle of the train.

     She entered and looked around, getting her equilibrium as the smoke in here made her dizzy.  Seated on a platform suspended from the roof of the car, swaying to isolate them from the shocks the rest of the crew was subject to, four elderly Amerind shamans chanted their spells over burning herbs, while a handful of other mages of other disciplines contributed what they could to the defense.  Misato understood the wisdom of using the enemies' techniques against them, but this still filled her with fear.

     Are you sure it isn't that after all the round-eyes did to these people, when your people attacked, they volunteered in droves to fight you?  she asked herself, that frightened her even more.

     She kept hoping someone would developed a method to fight these things that wasn't half mystical mumbo-jumbo and half science.  Something you could hand to the ordinary soldier and let them fight.  So far, no one had anything.

Meanwhile back at the Ranch

     Gendo Ikari slumped at his desk.  The Committee was horrified he'd sent all the EVAs and pilots off to America.  'Have you no concern what they might do in their absence?' It had taken considerable restraint not to remind them, that their delay in sending the Second Children and Unit 02, had created the problem.  He did point out that a major increase in security coverage for the Children was required.

     The Committee had screamed about the additional outlays.  Considering where they'd gotten their recent huge influx of wealth, and all those who died in concentration camps, so they could scoop it up, he wasn't too concerned.  He had reminded them that the project hadn't been conceived to let them live in the lap of luxury.  'Some of us aren't bloodless ascetics, Ikari.'

     Ikari knew about the tastes of the `Great` men of the Committee, and had a good idea how much of the budget was diverted to their private accounts.

     "Another battle with the old men?" Fuyutsuki entered and sat down, feeling his age.

     "I would gladly have traded with you.  At least I could have killed some of them."

     "Stedman, returned as well."

     Gendo sat back, adjusted his glasses and said nothing, he knew he was not the only one with surveillance systems in the base.  But he'd hoped operations would have rid him of the redoubtable Colonel, a replacement would be both less knowledgeable and more pliable.

     "Our plans go ahead."

     Gendo nodded, they'd done what they could for the moment.

     The police officer and the intelligence officer followed the nurse through the ward at Tokyo Hospital.  Stopping at the small window into the padded cell.  Inside the quivering, muttering figure with white hair.

     "His name on the street is Tedo Miruku," the police officer said.

     "`Ted Milk`, huh.  So the white hair isn't from dangling off the building?" the Intelligence officer asked.

     "No.  Born with it.  Yakuza hit man.  War experience as a sniper and antitank work," the policeman replied.

     "What could have reduced a man like that, to this?" the Intelligence officer shrugged, turned to the nurse, "Why isn't he in a straitjacket?"

     "No need.  The symptoms are more like catatonia, except for his verbalizing, or if we try to take him out of that room, then he becomes violent."

     "Thank you," the police officer led his intelligence counterpart away, "We've already confirmed he was breaking into NERV Captain Katsuragi's apartment."

     "She's still in the U.S., what had he been planning?"


     "What was he muttering?  I'm afraid my Japanese isn't up to deciphering it."

     "'Worms, the worm gnaws and spins.  Death is averred.'" The policemen consulted his notes, "We don't know what it means.  He just repeats it over and over."

     "So he wasn't successful in breaking in?"

     "No.  We know he fell, we don't know why and he didn't hit the ground, the ropes caught, how we don't know, and he was swinging for a few hours until he could be rescued."  The policemen glanced through his notes.  "We haven't discovered who hired him, and why he was doing, whatever he was doing."

     "I hate mysteries," the Intelligence officer said, "What was he doing, what stopped him?  Who hired him, how do we stop them?"

     "Well, I'll keep in touch.  I don't like the idea of one of those monsters rampaging through my town, without those machines to stop them.  My mother died in Nagasaki before you dropped the first one."

     "It's worse than that.  Worse than wiping out a city, it didn't work."  The intelligence officer walked away considering.

From the Journal Of Nabiki Tendo

     We're finally on our way to San Diego, in a Navy B-24, which they insist is called a PB4Y.  Good grief, one name per plane!  I'm wondering if the planes we fly in are getting smaller and smaller on purpose.  Yeah, , we'll fly into Tokyo in a Piper Cub, what would the Navy call that?  I'd laugh if I didn't think it would actually happen.  We'd taken off from Denver in the Constellation, then landed outside of town and traded planes.  If it wasn't to save my life, I'd call these preparations paranoid.

     Ranma is sitting in the back alone, glaring at Asuka and Davis.  He'd mouthed off again and the two of them had piled on in a coordinated attack more skilled than I'd ever heard before.  If Ryoga and Kuno had ever integrated their attacks so well, they could have beaten Ranma long ago.

     "You okay, Saotome?" I ask as I sit next to him.  He says nothing.  "You miss him, don't you?"

     More silence.

     "It's okay to feel bad, he was a friend, you were his.  Nobody will think less of you if you mourn."

     "I should have known," he says quietly, "I knew what they were the minute he shot one.  I should have known before that."

     "I don't see how.  None of us knew about those things.  Nobody knew they were attacking or even planning an attack."

     "Nyogtha knew, knew about his spawn."

     The way he says it sets my teeth on edge, especially the name.  Too many consonants, and saying it in English or German wouldn't sound like he said it.  So he spoke the creatures real name, in its native language.

     "When I killed it, I learned things, things I didn't do, but I know them, remember them."  He looked at his hands, clenched them.  He glanced at our newcomers, "They don't know what they're getting into.  Shinji was right, if I had any place to go, I'd run away too.  But I can't."

     "You told Davis piloting was exciting, even enjoyable.  Why say those things if they weren't true?" I ask.  I hadn't heard of this either, and it frightens me, What else did they not tell us?  Did they even know?  Or were they keeping it from us? I'm hoping it's the former, the implications of the later are too frightening.

     "I don't want to pilot again," he sighs, "Just like Shinji, but I can, and I have to, don't I?  I don't have any choice.  Honor demands . . . "

     This is as bad as `home`, only this isn't Genma affiancing him, this is him putting his life, and his sanity, on the line.  "With six of us, maybe you won't have to as often.  Maybe they'll just keep the best.  Your sync rate is lower than Shinji's, or Rei's.  Asuka says hers is higher than Shinji's, if Davis's is better, maybe you'll be responsible for training them in martial arts, give them a fighting edge instead of having to pilot."  Please, for kamis' sake don't be competitive this time, if you win you lose!  I'll lose, you.  Please, Ranma!

     "I have to do my best," Ranma says sadly.  "I understand what you were trying to say, but I can't do that."  He smiles, "But I won't fight that hard to beat him."

     I smile too, he sees an honorable way out, and he's willing to take it if it turns his way.

     "I keep thinking of my family."

     Now I'm terrified.

     I notice Ritsuko coming towards us.

     "Do they miss me, what does my father think of me, my mother?  Do I have brothers and sisters, a sweetheart?" Ranma asks.

     "Oh that's easy.  Your dad is a thief, a coward and a liar, who took you on endless training trips.  His stupidity got you and himself cursed to change forms.  Your mother hasn't seen you in years, but agreed to abandon you to enhance your training.  Your school's ultimate master is a panty-snatching pervert.  You have at least five fiancees.  The first is an arranged marriage between your father and the other master of your Art.  She's violent, thinks you're a pervert because you'd have to have checked yourself out as a girl, although she peeps on you as a girl herself, and she beats you unconscious repeatedly."

     Ranma is staring at me now, shocked more by what he's hearing than what he remembers.

     "The second is a cross-dresser who was also promised to you when you were young, your father stole the dowry and ran off with you.  When she finally caught up with you, she tried to kill you until you called her 'cute', then she became your fiance.  The third is a crazy, rich girl who poisons you with roses so you can't run away from her, the fourth is her haiku-spouting brother, imagine Davis with a sword, who wants to marry your female side.  Both of them want to kill the other side, and have tried on several occasions.  The fifth is a Chinese Amazon who also wants to kill your female side even while she wants to drag your male half back to China."  I grabbed him in a typical Shampoo glomp, "Airen make babies with fiance, lots of babies?  Right now?" I look into his eyes and bat my eyelashes at him, "Would you really leave me because you miss all that?" When I release him, he jumps half the length of the plane, landing between Davis and Asuka, who grab the petrified marital artist and buckle him into a seat, then resume glaring at each other.

     "Buckle yourself in for landing," Ritsuko tells me, glances at our terrified Ranma, "You have a vivid imagination."

     "He was visualizing this perfect situation and loving family, I just wanted to point out it might have been so horrible he was repressing it."

     Ritsuko nods as she makes sure I'm secure for landing.

     Ritsuko waited with us pilots, in the San Diego Naval base.  The Coral Sea had sailed two hours earlier, and the Doctor requested either: a plane to take us to it, or transport to San Francisco.  At the moment, security was stretched thin, and resources were not available, other than a number of float planes to take us to one of the escorting cruisers, to transfer by breeches buoy to the carrier.  That was not an acceptable solution.  Not to me either, it sounded too much like my prediction of flying into Tokyo in a Piper Cub.

     Asuka and Ranma were arguing, again.  Ranma had commented that math wasn't good for anything, and only a girl would care about it.  I wonder if we'll need the Marines to separate them.

     "And you think you're so good?" Asuka told him, "You've only been in combat once, from what I heard, Wondergirl had to save you.  All your fighting skills may be impressive, but Angels aren't like that.  You try to take one on in the real world, they'll eat you alive.  It takes planning and advanced tactics, overwatch, fire disciple, unit maneuver, training, training you don't have."

     That sounds uncomfortably close to what Ranma confessed to me on the flight here.  I wonder if I am going to have to intervene.  Then I notice something, I'd been automatically thinking in terms of Ranma/Akane and their arguments.  Asuka's boasts aren't just defending her superiority/capability, but that she is better prepared.  Which may or may not be true, but she's thrown out weird facts that Ranma didn't argue, and if he has the memories of that thing he fought, he'd know, and tear her apart if she was wrong.  Then I think of Rei's comments.  Does Asuka actually care?  Like Rei, is she trying scare off the others before they get hurt or destroyed? It concerns me, Asuka loved Ra.  .  .  .

     Where did THAT come from!? AKANE `loved` Ranma because she did nice things, occasionally.  Is the redhead more than she appears, And where did she learn that stuff? I wonder.  I also wonder if my Freudian slip is telling me I have a rival for Ranma.

     I hope not, Ranma never made a clear choice which of his fiances he preferred.  He spent time with Ukyo, because she listened and talked to him, he avoided Shampoo, except when she fed him.  Yet he always came back to Akane.  He completely avoided the Kunos.  I'm overthinking this again, just relax and let it happen, I know him, I have the advantage.

     An Asian man passed through the discreet cordon of Marines and approached the group, "Jeffrey Davis, I'm glad I caught you here."  His accent is pure upper-class England.

     "Excuse me."  Davis stood up, "An old friend."

     "No need to stand on formality.  A mutual friend of ours wished Jeffrey to visit him when he was in San Francisco.  I flew down to pick him up.  I have room for all of you on the plane."

     I notice the man glanced over at Asuka, and hid a smile when he mentioned the 'mutual friend'.  Does she know this man too?

     "I thank you for the offer, but I'm afraid - " Dr. Akagi began.

     "Delta Zulu X-ray seven niner, Alpha stroke three," the man whispered to her.

     Her amazement was evident.

     "I have arranged for an escort, and to have your baggage transferred."

     "We'd be - "

     "Excuse me, Doctor," Davis inserted.

     I noticed Ritsuko was getting tired of being interrupted.  Davis led the man away.  I watched the two of them engage in a heated, but polite argument.  I wasn't sure, since they positioned themselves to prevent lip reading, but I thought they were speaking Chinese.

     Davis returned, completely crushed, "You'll be getting a tour of the San Francisco China Town, not my friend's ranch."

     "And he made me promise no aerobatics.  You are a cowardly child."

     The others got up, Davis walked some distance behind the Chinese pilot.

     I nudged him, spoke quietly for privacy, "What happened.  You went over to argue and you come back beaten."

     "A couple of friends died.  Funeral arrangements, inheritance.  Go enjoy yourself, I'm afraid I won't be much fun this trip."

     "Do you trust me with your camera?  I want to take some pictures while I'm there."

     "Sure, since replacement is around $1500, I can garnish your NERV allowance, for the next two-and-a-half years, or an entire month's pay."

     I suspected he wasn't joking, I didn't turn down his offer, but considered it.  Frankly, I wanted to see what had gotten him so agitated.  Other people might not have seen past the depression, underneath it was a cold, almost murderous, fury.  I almost missed his inference that we made $1500+ a month, even in my time that wasn't small change for 14-year-olds, here it had to be a fortune!

     After he showed me the proper way to stow his camera, Davis had sealed himself in the front cabin with the Chinese pilot, for most of the trip.  The DC-3 stayed below 12,000 feet, to avoid the need for cabin pressurization, Ritsuko explained.

     I was concerned, somebody had sent a plane and arranged a fighter escort, despite the claim that they hadn't been available to Dr. Akagi.  And what was the Chinese connection?  Who was the pilot, he had an English accent and he never gave his name?

     "Ritsuko-sensei?" Shinji asked, "What shocked you about what he said?"

     "Nothing Shinji-kun, it wasn't important."

     "It sounded like a security code to me," I commented.

     "All right," Ritsuko gave up, "It was a one-use recognition code.  I checked with NERV HQ, and he's cleared through the British government."

     "And he's an old friend of Davis'," I said innocently, This is getting very interesting, I thought.  Ritsuko was also considering.

     Davis came back out of the cabin, passing out rice balls, cold tea and apples.

     "British Intelligence?" Ritsuko asked, "He works for British Intelligence."

     "I did some translation work for them," Davis explained, "Comparing a couple of obscure documents.  Both of my parents had security clearances, so they swore me to secrecy about what actually was involved, but I am allowed to say I did translation work."

     "We can find out," Dr. Akagi said.

     "Then I advise you to do so, because I haven't heard I can talk about it.  I'm assuming NERV is the same, I'm cleared to know some things, but not talk about them with anyone not specifically cleared, and until I hear through an authorized representative of the appropriate chain of command, I'm assuming it's still secret."

     I chuckled to myself at that, Dr. Akagi clearly wasn't used to being told she couldn't know something, it was definite she planned to find out from other sources and confront him with it.

     "Are you giving the Doctor a hard time?" I teased him.

     "I don't think she's ever heard the word 'no' before," Davis joked lamely back, "She's going to hear it a lot more, she'd better get used to it.  I didn't sign my soul over to this place."

     I laughed.  Ritsuko frowned.

San Francisco

     We landed at the San Francisco airport.  A car, an old Rolls-Royce, waited to take Davis and the Chinese pilot 'to the ranch', while a number of polite men and women, from the British Consulate, waited with several cars to take us on a tour of San Francisco.

     I was intrigued enough by this mystery, that I schemed how to I could follow Davis' little group.  The Rolls' `trunk`, was an actual trunk strapped to the back of the car.  I separated myself and managed to slip inside during the transfer of cargo, I'd told Ritsuko I'd wait at the airport for Davis to return.  I told her I'd seen San Francisco when I was younger.  She'd been so harassed when she returned from her phone call, that she let my statement pass without comment.  The ride to, wherever they were going, didn't last long.  The car got about 100 yards before stopping.  The trunk opened, Davis and the Chinese pilot pushed the luggage concealing me aside, each grabbed an arm, and dragged me out.

     "Miss Tendo, there are laws against trespassing in this country," Davis told me tightly, "I also requested, and expect, privacy in this matter.  I wish you hadn't trivialized my request, but, what's past is past."

     "You were going to fight something," I said quietly, "I can help."

     "In Tokyo, I'm going to fight Angels.  This is the U.S.  of A., no Angels here yet," Davis replied.

     It didn't answer my question, or even address it, I fumed.

     Davis turned to the driver, "Miss Tendo will be accompanying the tour group.  Handcuff her to someone, if necessary."

     The driver nodded, and led a very shocked Nabiki back to the group, and put me in the charge of a pair of women, who appeared to be ordinary secretaries.  My instincts told me, if these two were just secretaries, they were Miss Moneypenny's predecessors.

     I watched Davis and his friend talk, reading their lips as they walked away.

     'She's determined,' the Chinese pilot told Davis.

     'This has nothing to do with NERV or her,' Davis replied, 'Have you heard who are the overall commanders of NERV, and the Operations department?  Ikari Gendo and Katsuragi Misato, somebody really hates me!'

     The Chinese pilot laughed uproariously.

     Something else to look into, I considered.

     The tour went on, and I actually learned something I hadn't known about San Francisco.  But it tired us all out, I think that was their intention.

     I was nodding over my meal, the others had insisted on Chinese food, there probably wouldn't be a Japanese restaurant in San Francisco for another five to 10 years.  My mind kept going back to the mission our new pilot was on, I'd seen the look often enough on the Nerima crew, when they had to race off to save Akane from someone or something.  I wanted to see how this boy handled it, was he a martial artist like Ranma, or a trick shot, or a burglar, or . . . I abandoned my speculation.  The two `minders` were polite about it, but I wasn't going to get out of their sight.  I also wondered what Davis' last comment had been about.  I'd had some trouble reading his lips, but I clearly recognized Misato's and Gendo's names, what was the connection?  Was there a connection?  I'd ask Misato, And I'll be told it's all a deep, dark secret.

     Well, I like secrets, nothing like a little detective work to give me a better appetite, I thought.  I dug into my food with a will.  I also noticed Shinji and Asuka glancing at their plates, another reason I sat some distance away from Ranma, he was stealing food again, despite the dishes on the lazy susan in front of all of us.  I'd wisely positioned myself out of range.

     "Sensei, did you and Katsuragi-san hash out the new living arrangements?" I asked.

     "Not really."

     "What's wrong with his suggestion about pooling our resources, and living in a bigger place?"

     "Do you want Misato as a roommate, and occasional cook?" Ritsuko's tone told it all.

     I blanched, I'd tried Misato's cooking, a morsel stolen from Shinji's bento, never again.  Asuka seemed confused by this.

     "How have the tests on using her food to kill the Angels going?" I asked, and was rewarded by Asuka's eyes bugging out.

     "Not well."  Ritsuko took up the game, "They keep eating through the shell casings, and the clean ups after the test firings haven't been easy."

     "Where would they put the new pilots?" Ranma asked, pausing in his meal.  "You and Nabiki already double up."

     "Probably Jeff will live with us, and Asuka will live with Misato."

     "What!  I get stuck with the homicidal cook?!" Asuka complained.

     "At least you'll get your own room," Ritsuko tried to placate her, "Or would you rather move all your boxes into storage and bunk with Ranma or on the living room floor?"

     Asuka, caught between two equally unpleasant alternatives, fell silent.

     "Sensei?" I asked, "Do you know if Captain Katsuragi and Pilot Davis have any history?"

     "None that I know of, why?"

     "I overheard him talking about Captain Katsuragi and Commander Gendo, as if he'd met them before."

     "Was that why you locked yourself in the trunk?" Asuka teased, "You've got such a crush on him."

     I blushed with embarrassment and anger, Keep it up loud-mouth, and I'll have a crush on you.  I was glad the obnoxious girl wasn't going to be rooming with us.  I would probably flatten her in a week.

     Captain Katsuragi strolled in, "Hi, everybody," she had a guide from the Consulate too.  I wondered if they were running out of Japanese speakers over there.  "Where's Demisu-san?" Misato asked.

     "Attending a funeral," Rei spoke, pushing aside her empty plate.

     Fighting a war, I amended mentally.  A distant explosion could be heard, even inside the restaurant, I was only joking.  I followed the others outside.

     We stood outside the restaurant with the minders, who kept the rest of the dinner crowd away from us, their charges.  Everyone, except the minders, was staring at the glow on the horizon.

     "It isn't the naval yards," Misato reported, "Good."  She turned to Ritsuko, "They had some trouble in the passes, but Unit 04 arrived safely."

     "Let's go see!" I said excitedly, Ranma agreed.

     The adults demurred, "You are supposed to stay safe."

     "Oh," I teased, "We can only die when you tell us.  I don't need to go close, I just want to see what's burning."

     The fire in the distance was brightening the darkening sky.  Asuka and Ranma also wanted to go see, Shinji wanted nothing to do with it, wanted to stay where it was safe.  Rei voiced no opinion either way.  The minders also had no opinions, officially, they were only guides and translators.  Misato's natural exuberance and impulsiveness took over.

     "Okay, Shinji, you and Rei can stay here with Ritsuko, I'll take the adventurers with me."

     "I will accompany you," Rei said.

     "Well," Shinji admitted, "If everybody's going."

     Misato ruffled his hair, "That's the spirit."

     He didn't look happy.

     "Irresponsible," Ritsuko grumbled as they headed towards the cars.

From the Journal of Nabiki Tendo

     Police lines stopped us about 10 blocks from the fire.  Ranma spotted a tall building with a fire escape, and a good vantage point.  I remembered Davis' camera, and the telescopic lenses.  We scrambled up the fire escape, and reached the roof top.  The others crowded around the parapet, while I unpacked the camera, and fitted the strongest telescopic lens in the kit.

     "Big fire, what caused it you think?" Asuka stared in amazement.  An entire block of tenements was ablaze, some of the walls knocked out.  The place looked like it had been shelled.  I opened the back of the camera and looked at the blasted holes, using the camera like a telescope, and saw many of them weren't the ragged holes you'd normally get from shattered bricks, but perfectly round or oblong, as if something had neatly burned away the material.  I loaded the camera with film.

     "Are those guns?" Rei asked, listening intently.  We all listened, it did sound like gunfire.  Not the even sound of full automatic, but the more ragged sound of many men with rifles or pistols firing desperately fast.  I scanned the burning building, and saw a small knot of men with guns, concentrating a disciplined fire at something I couldn't see.  It must have been instinct, I snapped the picture.

     "You saw something?" Ritsuko said.

     "Maybe," I answered, looking for another target.  Davis and the Chinese man stepped out of an adjoining corridor, a huge man with a demonic face mask turned towards them, guarding the back of, whatever the riflemen were engaging.  I snapped the picture.  A moment later a ball of light detached from Davis', and the other man's hands, I hit the button, No!  I didn't rewind the camera.

     "What are you photographing, Nabiki?" Misato asked.

     "Fire fighters," I said in English, Yeah, people fighting in a fire.  The force with the Chinese man withdrew.  I scanned the area where the action was taking place.  I half-expected them to take a position above or below that point, and blow up that part of the building.  They didn't appear.  A group of different men appeared, talking with the unseen figure.  I snapped their picture.  Suddenly the huge demon-faced man charged, he lifted off the ground, floated helplessly for a moment, and flew the length of the floor, then through the wall.  He nearly squashed the riflemen, Davis and the Chinese man, who had fled the building.  The two argued about loading the huge man into a vehicle.  Davis waved something in the Chinese man's face, who then relented.  I nearly fainted, but still snapped the picture, The top of the man's head was open!  Like a hinged lid.  There was nothing in there, I tried to deny the reality.  I watched them drive away.

     "Nab-chan, look out!" Ranma yelled, pulling me down.

     "What was that?" Asuka shouted, lying flat on the roof, like the others.  We saw what looked like a human/dragon mix cross the moon.

     Well, that's proof Ranma cares about me, I thought, glancing to see if Asuka noticed.  She didn't seem to care.

     "Uh, I think we'd better go," Misato said warily, kneeling, pistol in hand, scanning the skies.  She stood, and started trying to lead the pilots away.

     "Was that an Angel?" Shinji asked.

     "If it was, we're in trouble," Ritsuko said, "All the EVAs are on the carrier."

     "Is there anywhere I can get this film developed?" I asked, wondering if I got the shot of the creature clearly.  I wasn't used to the strange sighting system.  I couldn't wait until someone invented the Single Lens Reflex.

     "At this hour?" Asuka sneered, "After what just happened?"

     "The consulate has darkroom facilities."  One of the minders said.  They seemed more shaken up than we were.

     I wanted to verify what I'd seen through the lens of the camera.  I thought something wasn't right, A powerful lens like this one, should have required a tremendous light source, especially with the poor film available, here in the past.  A lot more than the few fires several blocks away.  I detached the lens, and aimed it at a dark alley I could barely see into.  Through the lens, it was impossible to see details, but it was brighter than it should have been.  A light intensifying lens, I thought that required electronics, something that doesn't exist here, and wouldn't for a while.

     I carefully packed the camera and lenses away, dropping the used film in my pocket, Something is not real about this.  Okay Davis, I know who I'm working for, I thought, What about you?

     The pictures were clear, the final one showed only the spiked tail of a large flying reptile.  I brought that out as a print, to show Misato and Ritsuko, "I didn't get much."  I wasn't about to show them the negatives, and hadn't printed the other pictures.

     "Doesn't show much, Nabiki-san," Ritsuko said and handed the print to Misato, "A good shot though."

     Misato looked, "I don't think it's our problem, it would be a very small Angel in any case."

     Davis walked in, in a thoroughly foul mood, "I apologize for my lateness.  Stupid fire, kept me trapped on the road."

     I held my tongue, then decided I did need to talk, privately, "Davis-san, uh, Jeff?  I took some pictures.  Can you check to make sure the camera is all right, and properly packed for travel?" I ignored the sly smiles of the two older women.  I'd been told that the means to protect the pilots would be provided to me, I suspected it was standing in front of me.  Or another threat like the things that killed Capt.  Everett.  Either way I had to know for certain.

     "Okay," Davis followed.

     I removed the film strip, "I recognize the subject."

     He looked at the film, pulled a pocket knife, and unfolded a small magnifier from it, "Interesting.  You printed these I take it."

     "No.  I'm not trying to blackmail you or anything.  Is that - thing - taken care of?" I wondered how big a risk I was taking, this was America before the Cold War, an undisputed superpower.  Could he `disappear` me?

     "Very dead, I guess, no, I'm justifiably certain of it."

     I wasn't sure I was happy about that.  "The man with ah, flip top head, is he, okay?"

     "Quite all right, although he did decide to change sides," he said neutrally.

     It was obvious to me that he objected to my questioning, but answering would put me off, "Those balls of light?"

     Davis scanned the film again before answering, "I haven't the faintest idea to what you are referring."

     I ignored the jibe, "Ranma can do something like that, it's called a Ki blast, I've seen others do it, but all are expert martial artists, you aren't."

     "Indeed?  You know me that well already?  Remarkable."

     "I know magic when I see it," I accused, I caught his arm, "That's what I want to learn.  You haven't . . . well maybe you have, seen these things, fought them."

     He stared at my hand until I removed it, "You don't know what you're talking about, you really don't.  I don't know what you're talking about.  It's easier if it's all a trick of the light, just ignore it.  You'll soon have enough to worry about with EVAs and Angels.  Good night, Miss Tendo.  I am dreadfully fatigued."  He tipped his hat and walked away.

     "I will find out," I said quietly as much for the potential, as to defend my friends.  I had time, he had something I wanted.  I'd get it eventually.  I'd seen what the Angels and their smaller cousins could do, and any edge was welcome.

     In the room the staff had provided, Jeff closed the door, leaning against it.  He slid wearily to the floor.  He sighed, letting the depth of his fatigue finally show, Miss Tendo is going to be a problem.

     I'll have to watch myself around her, he shook his head.  Can't let her interfere, I just can't.  He sighed again and tossed his hat on the table, stood up, and headed for the bathroom to wash up before he went to bed.  "Foes to the left, enemies to the right, betrayers before, and now behind.  It's never easy."  Maybe time for a few strategic `accidents`.

Fencing and the Coral Sea

     The walnut paneling and shelves of geegaws and trinkets made the room reminiscent of the parlor where they'd met the Sixth, Davis, and his guardians.  A large steam table at one end kept the food warm, the NERV people came up and helped themselves.  But most quickly clustered around Nabiki and the photograph she'd taken the night before.  Rei sat in the far corner, away from the food and the other pilots.

     "Great picture Tendo," Asuka said as she looked at the picture.  "How many pictures of your thumb do you have?"

     Nabiki took the picture away from her.  "Let see you take a picture of a moving target.  As I remember you took cover before I did."

     "That's just being smart," Asuka retorted.

     "Tendo-san," Shinji said, "Did any of your other pictures come out?"

     "I only printed this one.  I may print the others later," Nabiki told him.  Nabiki looked over at Rei who sat in the corner, "Is she all right?"

     "Maybe she doesn't want breakfast."  Ranma sat down with a plate piled high with scrambled eggs, sausages, biscuits slathered with butter.

     "I think I can hear my arteries hardening," Ritsuko said as she sat a good distance from Ranma, and ate her toast and orange slices.

     Nabiki noticed that no one was sitting within arms-length of Ranma.  While they might not have figured out how, they had figured out who.

     "So have they investigated what the thing was?" Nabiki asked Misato, who was disgusted that she couldn't get any beer for breakfast.

     "No, it's not our problem."  Misato stared at the eggs and toast.  "Well, what do you think it was?"

     "Well, look what the cat dragged in!" Asuka missed Ranma's reaction to the reference.  "Did you see this?" Asuka pointed to the picture.

     "Yes, Miss Langley, Miss Tendo showed it to me last night.  Very curious."

     "My name's Asuka, everybody calls me that."

     "Evidently not, Miss Langley."  Davis selected several sausages and eggs from the large buffet.  He spotted Rei sitting alone in the corner.  He put his plate on the table across from Ranma and headed towards her.  He glanced back at Nabiki who'd been staring at him since he entered.

     "Ayanami-san," he asked in Japanese, "Are you ill or out of sorts?"

     "I dislike meat," she said quietly.

     "Ah, would you like me to bring you something without meat?"

     No response.

     "Do you like eggs?"

     No response.

     "I'll take that as a 'yes', so, I'll be back."  He walked back past the table.  Ranma having emptied his plate, was sitting across from Davis' now empty plate.

     He picked up the plate, "At least you left the glaze intact."

     "Huh?" Ranma asked.

     "Never mind, would you like a refill?" he held up the plate.

     "No."  Ranma seemed confused.

     Davis shrugged, looked at Nabiki, who was laughing into her hand.

     The chefs were glad to get Miss Ayanami a couple of boiled eggs, dry toast, an orange, and a side of jelly.  Davis returned to the dinning room, and everyone except Ranma watched him fill his plate again, "You don't want anything more?" he asked Ranma as he put down his plate.

     "No, of course not," the other boy said, Nabiki was laughing again.

     They watched him give Rei her plate, then returned to his, again empty, plate.  Nabiki saw his calm expression and could barely contain herself.  Ritsuko and Misato were watching intently, as if it was a theater performance, waiting for the next sketch.  Davis returned to the nearly depleted buffet, and filled two plates.  He set one down on the table, and ate off the other while he was standing.  Nabiki had her head on the table and was shaking with silent laughter.  Dr. Akagi seemed to approve of the current act of the drama.

     "Aren't you going to sit down?" Ranma asked.

     "I sat a lot when I was smaller, thank you," Davis told him politely.

     Ranma couldn't figure out how the two statements were related.

     "Trying to be a hero?" Asuka teased him, as Rei enjoyed her meal.

     "I am a hero, Miss Langley," Davis retorted.  He set his empty plate on the table, atop the empty plate that waited there.  Ritsuko and Misato stared at him, so did Nabiki, she looked on with expectation, a single tear of laughter rolled down her cheek.

     "I suspect there's an explanation for this.  Fast mice, short half-life, holes in reality, magic."  He paused, "I'm glad it isn't my problem."  He took the empty plates to the side table.

     Once he'd left the room Misato, Nabiki and Asuka burst out laughing, Ritsuko and Shinji chuckled.  Ranma couldn't figure out what was so funny.

     "Girls," he muttered.

     The pilots stood on the pier, watching the truck loads of supplies loading onto the carriers.

     "Miss Tendo," Davis asked her, "That necklace of Captain Katsuragi, it's an Elder Sign, has she discussed how she got it?"

     "Sorry, she hasn't talked about it," Nabiki admitted, "You could always -"

     "What da mean ya witch?!" Ranma shouted at Asuka.

     "I just think you're cute.  So delicate and charming," Asuka replied.

     "Do you have a tranquilizer spell on you?" Nabiki walked towards the pair.

     "You'd need a tranquilizer howitzer," Davis replied as he followed to support her.

     "Davis," Asuka shouted, "Isn't Ranko just so cute you just can't believe it?"

     "I've never met her," Davis admitted, "So I can't judge."

     "So you haven't experienced the truth horror of the hydromorph?" Asuka asked innocently.

     "Asuka!" Ritsuko arrived, "Go speak with Misato, find out where you'll be sleeping."

     Asuka grumbled, then smiled at Ranma.

     "What is this `hydromorph` thing that Langley keeps mentioning?" Davis asked.

     "It's classified," Ritsuko told him before she left with Ranma.

     "Oh I get it now," Davis said.

     "What's that?" Nabiki asked.

     "You two decided to continue that joke, but now Saotome and Langley are in on it."  Davis marched off.

     "Great, now he thinks it's a joke," Nabiki sighed.  He'll know it isn't when Ranma transforms, then she paused, Ranma hasn't transformed since Boston.  It couldn't just be the weather, could it? She jogged to catch up with the other pilots.

     The pilots, along with Misato, watched in awe as the sections of the huge snake statue were offloaded from railcars onto the aircraft carrier, Nabiki read the name painted on the side: Coral Sea.

     "Midway class," Davis told them, "They used the hulls of the Montana-class battleships."

     "Kensuke."  Ranma pointed to Davis while talking to Shinji, Shinji laughed.

     "That EVA is a big sucker!" Davis said.

     "It looks bigger than Units 00 and 01," Nabiki commented, "Imagine reassembling it."

     "Why didn't they use one of these to get my Unit 02?" Asuka complained.

     "Probably because they rushed completion.  Technically, she's still fitting out," Davis answered, "I can't imagine anything so big that a Lady like that can only carry four of them."

     "Lady?" Misato asked.

     "All warships are `shes`," Davis told her, "The romantic explanation is, that she's the crew's and captain's true mistress, their wives and girlfriends are a second love.  A more cynical comment is, it takes so much money to keep them in paint and powder, they have to be women."

     "And which do you subscribe to?" A male voice asked.

     "Kaji!" Asuka chirped happily.  Misato looked stricken.

     "I forgive you for abandoning me in Boston," Asuka hugged the man tightly, "And I kept it secret, just like you asked."

     Kaji seemed uncomfortable with the attention.  "So, is Rit-chan around here?  Or is it just you Misa-chan?"

     "Misa-chan?" Ranma asked.

     "We were in college together," Kaji ignored Misato's desperate signals, "With Rit-chan, we were inseparable.  So," he turned to Davis, "The question still stands."

     "I just follow the tradition, and learn its origins.  I do not take sides.  I wonder if they'll make us Subjects of the Golden Dragon."

     "What?" Misato asked, floundering for anything to escape from her nightmare.

     "When a sailor crosses the International Dateline for the first time, he becomes a Subject of the Golden Dragon.  Since the war they don't do that one as often."

     "Is there anything you aren't an expert on?" Asuka stuck out her tongue as she hung on to Kaji.

     "That's a good sneer, one of your best so far.  I could never match that in an epoch, even you'll have to go a long way to beat that one.  But since we're going to Japan, you'll have a long way."

     Asuka frowned and shook her head.

     "You keep doing that?" Misato asked.

     "Aye, Captain."  Davis saluted and walked away.  Misato frowned while the others snickered, even Asuka.

     "Let's get on board," Misato ordered.  The kids trooped onboard with many of the crew.

     "They have a few hours to settle in," Kaji told Misato, "We could get better acquainted."

     "Why would you want an old lady like her, when you could have a real woman?" Nabiki asked, then moved off.

     The liaison officers passed out simple maps to the NERV personnel, of the areas in the carrier they could go into, and what was off-limits.

     Maya had been waiting in the hanger deck, for Akagi-sensei, so she could report the progress of the work she'd done with Unit 00 and 01.  She noted the gaijin boy who walked in as bold as brass.  She moved to confront him.

     Maya approached and she recognized him from the biography, "You're the new pilot?"

     "Jeffrey Kevin Davis, the Sixth Children," he said in Japanese and saluted.

     His odd stare and uncanny Japanese disconcerted her.  "You should be settling in."

     "My gear, I can square away later.  I just wanted to behold these - machines - with my own eyes.  Newsreels and newspaper photos, fail to reveal the whole being of them."

     "Yes, they are magnificent, aren't they."

     "Terrible, in the original meaning, incarnating terror," Jeffrey said, "I wonder what else we've brought into the world by creating and having these.  Like atomic energy, your nation knows it's destructive effects better than any other, the positive uses haven't been investigated.  Here we have a huge, new, technological field, and our first use, is as a weapon, I wonder if that will always be that way, if everything must first be the sword, or we don't respect it as a plowshare."

     "A philosopher," she joked.

     He looked around theatrically, "I'm actually a wizard, but don't tell anyone."

     Maya laughed, Another clown.

     "Yes," Jeffrey admitted, "I studied philosophy.  I was at Harvard to be polished and educated, not just to get a degree.  Unlike Langley-anjin."

     Maya nodded, she'd already heard about Asuka and her temper.

     "Can I touch it?"

     "Go ahead."  None of the other pilots wanted to get this close, this soon.

     Maya watched as Jeffrey ran his hand over the armored skin of Unit 01, then Unit 00.  She watched his face.  Shinji and Ranma had been frightened of the EVA, this boy seemed like he was touching a restive horse, gathering information through his finger tips.

     "Very interesting."  He put his walking stick under his arm, "Well, I suspect I'll be involved with these, machines, a great deal in the future.  Thank you for your time, Ibuki-san."

     "You're welcome."

     He left, it struck Maya that she'd never introduced herself, yet he knew who she was, on sight, "Akagi-sensei probably told him."  She chided herself.

     Shinji was lying on the lower bunk in his quarters, staring at the bunk above him.  He wondered what the new pilots were really like.  Asuka was loud, brash and arrogant, then so was Davis.  Shinji frowned at that, Davis wasn't as serious as Asuka about it, as if he was encouraging people to laugh at him.

     He smiled at the breakfast incident, then he turned on his side, he was worried about Davis's attention to Ayanami-san.  Wondering, I'm not jealous, or am I? She was the only person he'd ever met who was willing to just be quiet, with others around.  Everyone else tried to fill up the silence, with loud boasts, idle chatter, or endless questions.  He was getting sick of it, he didn't want to do what he had to do.  They wanted him to enjoy it, be happy and proud of it, Misato, his father, even Kensuke and Toji.  They didn't understand, why couldn't they just leave him alone.  He heard a firm tread coming down the corridor, coming closer.

     His roommate Davis arrived, "That answers that question."  He started unpacking.

     Shinji was worried "Did you want the bottom bunk?  I can . . . "

     "Sit!  Stay!" Davis commanded, smiled at the joke, "I don't care.  I'm glad you decided, it saves arguments later.  Are you interested in going out to tour the ship?  This is a yes or no question."

     Shinji was uncertain, he wanted to stay here, but he wasn't used to people asking if he wanted to do something.  "Not really -"

     "No problem," Davis cut off his automatic apology, "Despite this appalling hardship, I'm sure I can survive."

     "Okay."  Shinji watched the other boy leave.  He felt like a storm had swept into the room, and swept out.  But unlike typhoon Asuka or Misato, this one swept out without involving him, after finding out he didn't want to participate, Or was it play?  Maybe I should have gone, he considered that, and the bunk above him, he wasn't used to people approving of him.  He wasn't used to people adapting to fit themselves into what he was doing, or not doing.  He couldn't decide if he was glad of the new boy's attitude, or if he should be concerned by it.

     Nabiki was glad she was short, every few meters, another heavy door jamb she had to step over, if she was as tall as Davis, she'd have to duck as well.

     Why does anyplace need so many doors? she wondered, Especially a corridor?  And what color were they trying for? She couldn't decide if it was a failed attempt at white, yellow, or green.  Because it didn't seem to be clearly any of those colors.  Nabiki caught up with, Davis, the Sixth, her new project, "Whatcha doing?" she asked in singsong English.

     "Oh fine lady, wouldst thou accompany this unworthy one on my humble sojourn among and within this mighty engine of war," he said in Japanese, giving Nabiki giggles.

     "You're terrible."

     "Of course."  He bowed, a sweeping courtly thing from a stage, "I am justly famed for it."

     "I wouldst accompany thee, gentle sir," Nabiki said in English, did her best curtsy.

     "The engine room first, I think.  I'm curious why a heavy carrier, and not some smaller vessel.  And why one of the new Midway class, instead of refitting an Essex class, or the old Saratoga, there must be logic to it."

     Nabiki learned more about naval architecture, and steam turbine systems than she wanted to know, and a few other things.  Like she had a rival practical joker.

     "Oh, Miss Tendo needs to know about relative bearing grease and its advantages over the lubricants used during the recent unpleasantness by the Japanese Navy and Merchant Marine."

     There were chuckles from many of the senior crew.  Some of the new sailors were as confused as Nabiki was.

     "Don't do that to the nice lady," one of the senior chiefs reprimanded him, "Miss Tendo, a relative bearing refers to where something is, relative to the ship you're on, instead of some absolute, outside standard."

     Nabiki frowned at Davis, started plotting some suitable payback.

     He shrugged, "I didn't want you pulling that old chestnut on me.  I saw them getting a grease can ready."

     The chief turned to the offending parties who were trying to hide the can as quickly as they could.

     Okay, my vengeance will have to be subtle, Nabiki realized, And one for everyone to see.  She began delving into her knowledge of 45 years the boy had never encountered, Nabiki Tendo does not back down from a challenge.

     The hanger deck housed Unit 00 and 01.  Only a small security detail was present.

     "I already got a look at them, but I still need to do something this afternoon."

     Nabiki followed him in, from his coat pocket he pulled a book.

     "That's why the coat, pockets," he told her, opened the book and walking between the EVAs' heads, read from it, "'I went into a public 'ouse to get a pint 'o beer.'"

     Nabiki watched him walking back and forth near the EVA's, declaiming in a loud, clear voice.  The reading was heartfelt, as if imparting a lesson.  Nabiki was vaguely confused, Reading poetry to the EVAs?  I can't quit worrying about this one's sanity.  This boy is already crazy.

     Davis closed the book, thanked them for their attention, and rejoined her, "I don't know if they understood the words, but the rhythm and the tone should get to them."

     "Excuse me?" Nabiki was genuinely intrigued.

     "They're alive, you can't hide that."

     They hid it from me, she thought, Even Belldandy did.  "But poetry?"

     "I think they'd object to me playing my bagpipes."

     Nabiki didn't consider that much of an answer, and which 'they' did he mean?  How would the EVAs object? Quit thinking that way, she chided herself, and added to the tally she `owed` him.  He's just trying to divert your attention, she told herself.

     They toured the gun decks along the sides of the huge ship.  Nabiki noticed that Davis knew just enough about a subject to draw out the people he was questioning.

     "We should return to the conference room."  Davis looked at his watch, "The Major scheduled an all-hands briefing."


     "Major Katsuragi."


     "There's only one captain on a ship, Miss Tendo.  Other Captains receive a 'courtesy' promotion."

     Nabiki shook her head, Definitely crazy.

     The pair headed to the briefing room set aside for NERV.

     "You've been remarkably quiet," he told her, "Are you ailing or ruminating?"

     "I'm trying to figure you out."  Weaknesses, how I can get you.

     "Oh, you are questing eagerly for migraines aren't you.  I'm just me.  I can provide a copy of my official biography if you wish to read it."

     "That doesn't explain what motivates you."

     "Is that important?  You joked about blackmail.  I lack the deep dark secret that would provide leverage to plunder any money I had."

     "You aren't like Ranma and Shinji."

     "Thank God.  I'm an American, I'm descended from people who looked around the 'old country' and said, 'I can't fix this, I'm leaving.' The whole country is populated by that kind of bedeviled malcontent.  They came here to found the New Jerusalem, in all of its possible incarnations.  You won't find people who'll argue so fiercely over the most frivolous minutia of the most trivial things, anywhere else on Earth, but we don't participate in blood feuds, and if someone from outside goes after us, they end up engaging all of us."

     "I lived in Tokyo, believe me, I know," Nabiki said.

     "My apologies, and my sympathies, I've been tutoring so long, I never pass up the opportunity to teach, or lecture some would say."

     "At least you're honest."

     "And you are elusive.  So tell me, what am I doing to make myself so utterly fascinating?"

     "Well, you're so humble."  And that magic stuff, you act as if we never talked about it.

     Davis clutched his heart, "Ah, Well struck!  I go to die."

     "And so serious about things," she considered, "Grim seems to be the way things are done at NERV.  Grim and secretive."

     "The good Doctor Akagi seems to have a sense of humor, putrid delivery, but a sense of humor."


     "That story about Saotome's `curse`, transforming from a girl to a boy and back again.  That's an inconvenience, not a real curse."

     Nabiki stared at him, unbelieving, Davis continued, "Now if the transformation was to a duck or a pig or a . . . what's so humorous?"

     Nabiki waved her hand, "Oh, nothing."

     He shook his head, "You, among my colleagues, are easily winning the race to give me an ulcer, you are aware of that, aren't you?  Half the things I say, you burst out laughing, and you wonder if I am the insane one.  So what does this alter-ego look like?  Like Saotome-san with a wig, and something to bulge his shirt?"

     "No, shorter, red hair, blue eyes.  She, he, is called Ranko in that form."

     "So Langley is in on it.  That confirms the cause of her 'Hydromorph' comments.  It's all a set up."

     "No," Nabiki said, slightly frustrated, "Look, he got the curse in China, and he's really sensitive about it."  Why did I tell him that?  He could tear Ranma apart with that information!

     Davis shrugged, "Again, why?  He retains his humanity, or do the two have very different personalities?"

     "Same personality," Or do they? she wondered, she'd seen girl-Ranma do things Ranma wouldn't do in a million years, she put herself back on track, "Look it will happen soon enough, you'll be able see it for yourself."

     "Very well, I shall await with baited breath."

     The two entered the briefing room, it was originally the briefing room for the air crews.  Comfortable chairs in regimented rows faced several chalkboards and a portable movie screen.  Near the back, a slide projector had been set up.  Maya and Dr. Akagi were there.

     "Oh, Pilot Davis, my assistant."

     "Ibuki Maya, we have met.  I am pleased to see you again, Analyst Ibuki."

     "You've met her before?" Nabiki asked.

     "When I was getting settled in," he replied.  Maya looked at him curiously.

     The other pilots filed in, then Misato arrived with a collection of papers and slides.  Doors were sealed, guards posted.

     "I want to remind you, that all of what you are going to hear and see at this briefing, is Top Secret, you will discuss it with absolutely no one, not even each other, after this briefing, ever."  The pilots nodded.

     Misato began briefing them on the mission of NERV.

     "In 1933, four expeditions were dispatched to Antarctica.  From Germany the Zeiss and Thoronson teams; from England the Heidl-Thomson-Edwards expedition, and from the U.S., the Stratton effort.  All four met with disaster.  The Heidl-Thomson-Edwards and Stratton teams were annihilated, there was only one survivor from the recently combined Zeiss and Thoronson teams.  Me."  Misato let that sink in as the pilots exchanged glances and whispers.

     "She was taken aboard the cruiser Dorsetshire."  Davis explained her survival to Shinji.

     "Very good, but how did you know?" Misato was amazed, and a little suspicious.

     "I read about it."

     "Before you were born, I don't believe that," Misato replied.

     "Major," Davis admonished, "I didn't read about it at the time."

     Misato decided enough discussion had taken place, "There are ancient writings in every language that foretold the coming of the `Angels`, and the unsuccessful attempts by the Elder Gods to contain them."

     "The term `Angels` comes from a mistranslation of the Japanese term: Messengers," Ritsuko commented.

     "And gallows humor being what it is," Davis shrugged.

     "The name stuck," Ritsuko agreed, smiling at what it implied about people.

     "Lights!" Misato ordered.  The lights dimmed and a slide projector filled the movie screen with a blurry image of a huge creature.  If the original image was blurred, or later obscured to protect the viewers, was unknown.

     "The First `Angel` appeared in Japan in July of '45, an urgent message was sent to the Americans.  The Emperor contacted Curtis Le May directly, to assist."

     Another slide, showing Japanese Naval units and American carrier planes shelling and bombing the target.  "Air strikes and gunnery from land-based and carrier-based planes, naval cruisers and battleships, had no more effect than the Kamikaze attacks by Imperial Japanese units."

     Another slide, the creature was tearing buildings apart, intent on getting at something in the city.  Misato left the image on the screen for several moments.  "The Americans dropped the first atom bomb on it."  A slide of the familiar mushroom cloud.  Misato continued, "In the city of Hiroshima, they used an air burst, that stunned it."  Another slide of ruined buildings and burning roads, the creature was clearly visible in the center.

     "It woke up later in the day."  A slide of the creature entering the ocean under attack by naval and air forces of Japan, while a low-flying thousand plane B-29 raid churned the water white with their bombloads.

     "It made for the port city of Nagasaki, where they hit it again."  The slide showed the creature again in the center of the city, surrounded by tanks, several kamikazes had just struck it.  "This time the B-29, escorted by Japan's 'Squadron of Experts', dropped the bomb directly within the creature."  A slide of a B-29 in a steep dive, surrounded by Mustangs and Japanese fighter planes.  The slide of the bomb impacting the creature, the city was still intact.

     The next slide showed the familiar ruins, shadows burned into the buildings, anything remotely flammable blazing, stricken people running in all directions.  And in the middle, a huge creature stood, this time clearly visible.  "Also, to no great effect."  A close-up showed the terrible wounds that obscured its original outline, but it was clear it was still alive.

     The pilots leaned forward.  For Asuka and Davis, it was the first time they'd seen an uncensored photo of an Angel hit by weaponry.  The others wanted to see how badly injured the creature was, and why the military might they saw every day, as part of the Allied occupation, was never turned on these monsters.

     "It walked back into the sea, six hours later."

     The pilots gasped and murmured with dread. 

     Dr. Akagi spoke, "The contagion the creature released, was prevented from spreading by the heat of the blast and the intense radiation."  She looked at the pilots, "That's why the intense decontamination procedures have to be taken.  Especially if the EVA's armor is breached in any way."

     The pilots nodded their agreement and understanding.

     "The Emperor," Misato continued, "On learning of these creatures, and the dire consequences of their return to the whole world, used the excuse of the twin atomic bombs to bring the war to an end, and concentrate American and Japanese efforts to surviving the coming onslaught."

     Another slide showed the U.S.  capture of the building that would become NERV headquarters.  And the Seabee's construction in the area to increase the size of the compound.

     "NERV was formed of the OSS units involved in fighting the Angels, and the Japanese and German Mythos operations," Misato concluded.  "Lights!" The lights came up.

     The pilots blinked at the sudden brightness, and the implications of what they'd just seen and heard.

     "The German and Japanese organizations had pioneered the EVA system, and took many of the casualties to determine how to operate them."  Ritsuko took up the lecture, "In Occupied Japan, the extreme security measures and military efforts could be made to build the fortress, and make use of recovered technologies from Antarctica.  The Emperor and General MacArthur could sway the people to do what was necessary."

     "In fact, the Emperor's zeal in 'battling these dark kamis' sometimes embarrasses the General, including his exhortation to 'Work as a thousand, to seek purity through work, to fight the dark kamis.'" Kaji added, made it sound mocking.

     "The haiku is much better," Shinji told Davis, "I heard it on the radio."  Shinji clearly thought it should be taken more seriously, and given more respect than Kaji did.

     "The EVAs are ancient statues, dug up in various places around the world," Misato glared at Kaji and continued.  "The `Angels` are immune to everything except the attacks of the EVAs."

     This shocked Davis, he stood and shouted at Misato, "Am I on Candid Microphone?" He paused, regained control, "You're telling me, you cut up a 2000-year-old terra-cotta statue, to ship it by rail to a brand-new aircraft carrier, then sail it to Japan.  All to fight monsters from the Orson Welles broadcast?  And I'm supposed to pilot these statues with Batman and Silent, der Lone RRRangerrr, the Phantom?  Have I got that about right?" he paused, shook his head, "Fine, then who am I?"

     "You are number 6," Nabiki intoned, "But you're free."

     Davis sat down and put his head in his hands, "Great, I am not a man, I'm a free number."

     Nabiki giggled again.

     Davis grimaced at her, then turned back to Misato, "Okay, don't have a heart attack.  I accept on two conditions: first, promise not to shoot me; and second, can you tell me if any of our merry band aren't completely mental?"

     "Relax Roku-kun, you'll fit in perfectly," Nabiki told him.  [Friend Six]

     "That's what I'm afraid of.  Does it even occur to any of you, how nuts this all sounds?" Davis asked Misato.

     "We've seen them," she replied coldly, "The danger is very real.  If you don't want to be part of this - "

     "I just said I'd help, Major," Davis shot back, matching Misato's anger, "I've seen the newsreels, and read the reports.  I'm well aware of my responsibilities, sir.  I'm just saying, there has to be a better way than having a fourteen-year-old kid ride an ancient statue to get into a knife-fight with an ancient god.  Has anyone seriously investigated this possibility?"

     "It isn't practical," Dr. Akagi told them.

     "I'll take that as a 'no'," Davis muttered.

     Jeff was wandering the bowels of the carrier, feeling more than a little disoriented.  Nothing had prepared him for this.

     The smells of oil, hot metal and steam produced a dissonant tone that didn't quite cover the sound of the ship's engines themselves.  He saw the color blocks indicating the tones and stress of the overheard conversations in the cross passages.  Well, he thought, If you really want out, you can just describe what you senses normally report.  These people are so poorly read, they won't know what it is and probably just toss you in a loony bin.  "Another secret," he lamented.  Wondered if it would ever end, as he returned his mind to the real problem.

     A contact, no not contact, interior detonation of an atomic bomb couldn't kill those things, he thought and was horrified, he'd thought the EVAs were a cleaner alternative, not a sole solution.  "No chemical or physical structure could possibly absorb that kind of energy."

     How could the EVAs, armed with a giant knife and an AT field do a better job than atomics?  How could an AT field stand up to an atom bomb?  Maybe when we get fusion weapons, they'll make the difference.  Well, I can always ask the EVAs, they probably know more about it than the `experts`, he concluded, If you can handle their sarcasm.

     "Ah, da-da-da-da-da," a short redheaded girl wearing Ranma's clothes ran towards him.

     Fear, he saw the too familiar yellow-green color caused by the stress in her voice.  "I really need this."  Jeff cursed, he took a position in the hatchway to block the corridor, stopping her.  "What is going on?"

     "They're after me!" she tried to dodge around him.

     "Unless they're invisible, nobody's there," Jeff told her, "You're Saotome Ranko-san, correct."

     "Yeah."  The little redhead hopped nervously from bare foot to bare foot, looking around desperately.

     She is pretty, just like Langley said . . . Get your mind out of the gutter!  She needs your help.  The fear remained, but lessened, for that Jeff was grateful.  "Come on," Jeff said tiredly, he knew Nabiki hadn't appreciated the 'relative bearing' joke, this was her revenge.  His nose led him towards a wardroom or mess, it had hot coffee brewing, he could smell it.  Jeff selected an empty pot, he mixed coffee and water so the mix would be hot, but not scalding.  Ranko looked warily into the empty room.

     "Here you go."  He handed her the pot as he left, pushed her inside and closed the door.  One, two, three, four, he counted while walking down the corridor.

     Ranma exited the room, and caught up with Jeff, damp and smelling of coffee.  "Thanks, you're a life saver."

     "Saotome-san!  Where did you come from?!  I'm so surprised!  There.  You can tell Tendo-san it worked.  What was she running away from?" He wondered how far Miss Tendo and Mister Saotome were willing to go with this gag, and who and what else they were going to add.

     "I was trying to get some hot water from one of the big pipes."

     Jeff looked around, he realized he'd wandered down near the engine rooms, realized he should have gathered that earlier.  I must really have been out of it, he thought.

     "Those are dry steam lines, if you'd opened one, it would have cut you in half," he told Ranma.  "They were trying to save your life."

     How stupid do they think I am? Jeff wondered.  "So, no harm, no foul, look for a wardroom, coffee is practically a Navy sacrament, and they'll let you borrow the cup.  So just ask someone, and Saotome-san, by the way."

     "Yeah?" the martial artist said.

     "Please tell Tendo-san, now we're even for the relative bearing grease."  He mimed tipping the hat he wasn't wearing, and walked away.

     "That guy is just plain weird."  Jeff heard Ranma say as they headed back to their different cabins.

Secret Briefings

     Admiral Simson looked over the assembled group.  Thirty men, and two women, officers and chiefs, except for one machinist mate who liked to fight a little too much.  They should have had nothing in common, except they did.  They had gone places and seen things that most people, thankfully, never would.  In China-Burma, in the South Seas, before, during or after the war.  Some, like the admiral himself, had their careers accelerated, others, like Dr. Clayton Samuels (Psy.D.) had theirs permanently stalled.

     "I think the ritual is needless," Dr. Samuels told the group.

     "I don't agree Doctor," A chief spoke up, "It's traditional.  Besides, how can we let an opportunity like this pass us by?  All the pilots, all here, at once.  No, to throw away this opportunity would be, criminal."

     "While I don't share his enthusiasm," the Wave Lt.  Commander was an even more grizzled specimen than the chief, "He makes a good point, and consider the benefit to the pilots as well."

     "Some of them might not consider it a benefit."  Another man pointed out.

     "It beats the alternative," the Wave replied.

     The Admiral sat back, watched the officers and chiefs argue the merits and the means.  He knew it was his responsibility, and in the end, his decision.  But only a fool did things without consulting others.  That was the trouble with Gendo Ikari, he only talked to his mentor Kozo Fuyutsuki.  If either one of them bothered contacting others, they might understand the folly of their plans, and that their impenetrable plans weren't as secret as they seemed to think.

     Simson had heard enough discussion to get an idea of what he could propose and get all these people's full support.

     "We'll ambush them with this tomorrow afternoon," he said, "Right after lunch, it seems as good a time as any.  That will give them several days to prepare themselves.  Remember, our target is a little over 100 hours steaming time from here."

     "What about Dr. Akagi, Captain Katsuragi, Miss Ibuki and the NERV staff?" Dr. Samuels asked, "There's bound to be resistance."

     "We'll make no exceptions, except the obvious ones.  Mr.  Ryoji, of course, a few others.  Taking the pilots and not the adults would hardly be, fair, now would it?" Simson was glad of the chuckles from the group.

     "I still suggest that being a slave to needless rituals doesn't advance our cause.  This goes back to Poseidon and tossing sacrifices overboard."

     "Doc," a mud marine piped up, "You're missing the deeper meaning of these proceedings.  Our ancestors weren't stupid when they did this."

     The Doctor nodded, agreed.

     "Very well," Simson said, "We can work out the details from tradition and our previous experience.  As this is a new ship, our first offering should be a memorable one.  `Father Neptune`, would expect no less."

     There were chuckles around the room, and from memories of when this had happened before.  And yes, every organization had traditions, it was what lent continuity to said organization.

     Ranma stared at the ceiling from his bunk.  He'd enjoyed Kaji's stories, although he didn't understand some of the references.  He did understand that Kaji `dating` Misa-chan and Rit-chan went waaayyy beyond walks in the park and holding hands.  Kaji was a real man, but he wasn't a fighter, like Everett, he was a talker.

     He also acted like Ranma needed to see women differently.  Hey, if they could fight, they were a rival, if they couldn't, well that was no concern of his.  Rit-chan was a nice lady, but once these monsters were done, Ranma wasn't hanging around.  Nabiki was no great shakes as a fighter, and way to clingy for him.  She'd probably cry if she broke a nail.  And Asuka needed to learn to shut up.

     No, there was nobody here who was worth his respect, and they were all so weepy, he'd point out what they were doing wrong, and they'd get mad and insult him.  It was all stupid.  He only had to deal with it until the monsters were gone.

     Rei walked among the crowds of Zais, she'd heard of a great army gathering here, an army she thought she'd seen in action a few times before.  She liked the city of alabaster and diamond, it made the entire place look as if it was formed of ice and snow.  Delicately carved bridges crossed the many canals that served instead of streets.  Huge barges of supplies plied the canals, taking the necessities of war: weapons, food, clothing, blankets, tents, animal fodder, to the outskirts of the city.  Normally, she stayed out of the large cities of the Dreamlands.  The River Cities were closed to her, and the Commander had been angry when she'd wandered into Leng, the only time he'd been angry with her.

     The people looked at her and got out of her way, animals stayed away from her as well.  Which suited her fine, she hated to be jostled and battered like the rest of the crowd.  The army had set up its banners and pavilions outside the city proper.

     "Come to see the show?"

     Rei looked around, the old man couldn't have been talking to her, could he?

     "I said, 'Have you come to see the show?' The great Red Dragons mass here for their next campaign.  Do you seek adventure, plan to join up?"

     "No," she told him, she had just come to look.

     "Your loss, I could get you a tour.  You see, I know the Dragon himself."

     Rei looked up and noticed that she was standing in front of a guildhall, the Dragons' Council.  The building looked like spun glass, she had seen it before, with the Commander.  It was one of the few things she disagreed with him about.  He'd said it looked like the glassblower had the hiccups, to her it was one of the most beautiful buildings she had ever seen.  Balancing strength, function and loveliness perfectly, they had never spoken about it again, accepting that they found different things beautiful.

     Other than the tiny, fairydragons, dragons weren't much seen in the `civilized` parts of the Dreamlands, but when someone put 'There be Dragons' in the Western Blank lands, they weren't joking.  "No, thank you."  It was wise to be courteous to a dragon, even she couldn't challenge one with impunity.  Perhaps with an EVA, but the EVAs weren't here.

     The girl who stepped up to the old man was the dictionary definition of mousy, until you looked in her eyes.  "Why does the Dragon want her watched?" she chuckled, "She needs to be looked after."

     "Don't be so certain, Anna.  Things are changing in the Waking World.  Terrible things walk the Earth, not all of them have frightful forms."


     The man nodded.

     "Asuka, what have you gotten yourself into?"

     "She has not returned?"

     "No, not since San Francisco.  I'm worried.  So should you be."

     "A dragon fears nothing."

     "That's how a human with a horse and a sharp stick can kill one," Anna retorted, "I worry about what I can't see.  It's my job, Asuka and the Dragon trust me to do it.  But now, when it really matters, I'm blind, deaf and paralyzed."

     "You worry too much."

     "Like I said, it's my job.  What about the others?" Anna asked.

     "Two could scarcely be weaker Dreamers, Young master Ikari, is a very different story.  The Dragon is keeping an eye on him, personally.  With training he could match or exceed the Meliorist herself."

     "Don't tell Asuka that, she's nervous enough as it is.  She hides it well, but I know."

     Asuka sat awake in her bunk and contemplated earplugs, or failing that, homicide.  Nothing remotely human could make THAT MUCH NOISE while asleep.

     It wasn't that Misato snored.  Asuka had gotten used to sleeping through the din of the anti-aircraft guns defending Berlin while she was at the University and the Institute.  It's that she'd stop, sometimes for 20-30 minutes, so just as you were drifting off, someone poured a bucket of ball bearings into a printing press.

     "Augh!" Asuka threw off the blankets and marched out, she wondered if Akagi-sensei would mind doubling up.  Or if she could sleep in the wardroom, or in the engineering spaces, it would be quieter!

Be extremely subtle, even to the point of formlessness.  Be extremely mysterious, even to the point of soundlessness.  Thereby you can be the director of the opponent's fate.

     Sun Tzu, The Art of War: Emptiness and Fullness

Chapter 5: Truth begins as Blasphemy

     The long tables had many seamen at them, metal utensils clinked on the plates as they ate.  They griped about the chow, but the strange people, equipment and mission dominated discussions.  At breakfast, the pilots filed in.  It was immediately apparent, most of the female pilots and staff, except Rei, weren't morning people, Rei and all the boys were.  Asuka, Nabiki and Misato practically crawled in.

     As a peace offering from the blow up yesterday, Jeff offered Misato a cup of coffee that she drank, two seconds later he was wearing most of it.

     "That's coffee!" she yelled at him, spraying the rest of it on him as she shook the cup.

     "That's what most people drink to wake up."  As he tried to clean the coffee off his glasses with his sodden handkerchief, Shinji was laughing with Ranma and Nabiki.  Okay, I'm the class clown, he conceded.

     "Hey, Rak-kukun," Asuka slurred as she laughed at his impromptu shower.

     "Raccoon!" Nabiki shouted and laughed, "A tanuki, trickster/shapechanger!  Perfect Asuka, that's perfect."

     Asuka looked around in frustration as her fellow pilots and even Misato had joined the laughter.  She'd told a joke that she didn't intend to, she started laughing when she realized they weren't laughing at, her.

     Jeff ruefully shook his head.

     "Raccoon, don't go away mad," Misato yelled.

     "Yeah.  Just go away," Ranma added.  Jeff marched off, Nabiki headed after him.

     "Jeff, they, we, were only teasing."  She caught up with him in the corridor.

     "I am aware of that, Miss Tendo."  He kept walking.

     She had to run a few steps to keep up, "Nabiki."

     "Tendo Nabiki-san, then.  I have coffee all over my jacket, which will be stained, and in my eyes, which stings quite a lot.  I intend to clean myself off, and change to clean clothes.  If teasing constituted an endurance problem, I would not have survived as long, nor as well, as I have.  And no, thank you, I need no help."

     I hadn't been considering offering.  What were you considering, Nabiki?  Belldandy's warning, his camera kit, or something else?

     Nabiki headed back to the mess hall.  Asuka was confronting Shinji.  Can't he just hit her once? she wondered, Maybe he knows that won't shut her up.

     "So you think piloting is so easy?" Asuka asked Shinji, "Just because you managed it once without training, could you be any more stupid?"


     "Sorry doesn't get you trained.  Sorry, wouldn't have replaced the EVA if it had been destroyed!" she shouted at him, then turned on Ranma, "And you, with all your fancy martial arts tricks, you still had to have a trained pilot save you.  You needed Wondergirl to polish the thing off, because you didn't know how."

     Ranma didn't know what to do.

     "And Wondergirl, and you Ice Princess, until you get some real combat training, just stay out of my way.  Let a trained professional show you how it's done.  Then you can go out without me having to hold your hand."

     "I have trained longer than you," Rei said.

     Correcting a factual error, Nabiki realized.

     "So, you think that makes you better?"

     "No," was Rei's only response, and nothing Asuka tried for the rest of breakfast would get Rei to rise to the bait.

     Davis didn't return for the rest of breakfast, Nabiki didn't blame him.  It was rapidly becoming a war zone around here.

     Nabiki caught up with him getting measured for a plugsuit, he asked for the measurements, so he could order some new suits.  Dr. Akagi thought that was funny.

     He and Dr. Akagi were going to try a linkage with the reassembled, but not regenerated Unit 04.  She was taking this one step at a time.  Considering what could have happened to the rest of us, and what did happen to the other two American pilots Nabiki understood and supported her caution.

First Clues

     The scaffold holds the entry plug over Unit 04.  Even the wind over the bow can't eliminate the smell emanating from the open rear hatch.  I stand on the ladder near the hatch, facing Major Katsuragi who seems to regard me with impatience.

     "Your skunk juice has gone bad," I tell her.  I think my nose hairs are on fire.

     "Deimesu," Major Katsuragi mangles my name in a no-nonsense tone, "Just get in."

     It's clear she's never experienced the stuff.  I wish she'd pick one mispronunciation and stick with it.  "Next time I smuggle in some bay leaves," I mutter as the hatch closes over me.

     Darkness, filth, cold, slime cover me.  Eyes open and eyes closed is the same.  There is no sound, no variation in the smell or the taste, or the sensation.  Total sensory deprivation.


     I start, "Hello!" I shout, checking the throat mike.  "Major, Doctor, is that you?" I increase the volume on the headphones I wear over the nerve clip, as a backup.  Only static greets me.  Okay, it isn't coming in from outside, I think as I dial back the volume and consider.  I put my hand on the connection to the mike, I do not want them hearing this, then I think, Or do I? The connection comes out easily.  I guess I don't.


     Those are conversation blocks, I realize, If not for the darkness and the isolation, I would have missed them.  "Change languages."  I call out a Navajo greeting.


     Colored flashes across the top of my field of vision.  Another greeting in Cheyenne.


     And the impression that something is out there, and I may have just made it unhappy.  Stay with Asian and European languages and one other, I tell myself.  Latin, German, Japanese don't change the reaction, although the reaction gets stronger, and there is now the impression of curiosity.

     "Daimisu!" the headphones blare, "Sorry about the delay.  We're having trouble with the communication system."

     Since the volume was almost all the way down, I move the headphones off my ears, and plug the mike back in.  "Gordon sink," I whisper.

     "Say again, we can't hear clearly."  Now that the voice is something other than modulated pain, I can tell it is Major Katsuragi.

     "Volume," I whisper.

     "Try again."



     "I don't find this the least bit funny."

     There are a few shouted orders I hear through the headphones, as I slip them over my ears again.  Then the voice comes back at a reasonable level, "You could have just told us."  Katsuragi complains.

     "Have you ever been in this stuff?"

     "Yes I have," Katsuragi says, "It isn't as bad as you boys complain."

     "Well, that explains why you can't cook," I reply.  Anyone who thinks this isn't unpleasant doesn't have working nose, or taste buds, I think, as I ignore the sputtering from the Major and the laughter from the rest of the crew.

     "Just let your mind be calm," Dr. Akagi cuts in, probably because the Major would have screamed the instructions.

     I force my mind to calm, and let my senses float.


     I pull the throat mike connector, this will hurt my sync rate, but I need to know.  Again I call out, listening with half an ear for the instructions from Dr. Akagi to relax, and other instructions about sync rate.  Just like at NERV Massachusetts, I remember, Just before the disasters, I try not to remember.

     The cylindrical entry plug sat upright in the middle of a veritable web of electrical cables, hydraulic lines and monitoring wires.  The cylindrical room containing the plug let everyone watch the test through the armored windows.  No camera was inside the plug, it would have been useless in any case.  Jeff stood near one of the heavy doors that led into the testing room.  The scientists and technicians bent to their tasks.

     "Okay, Sharon, just try to relax."  Dr. Chambers told her.

     "This stuff is awful, do we have to do the test with this in the tube?" she asked.

     "I'm afraid we do."  He turned to me, "Davis, you don't have to be here."

     "After what happened to Jason, I think I do," I answered.

     "Sharon, you're doing fine, we'll be approaching the final threshold soon.  None of the harmonics we saw before.  This test is going to be successful."

     I saw the red tinge to his words, he knew he was lying.  Either he knew something was wrong or he was so uncertain any encouragement was a lie.

     "Finally threshold approaching, 30 steps, 23, 14, 7, threshold," one of the techs reported, "We're past.  All systems look normal."

     There was a general sigh of relief.  Jason had simply vanished, sync rate skyrocketing before anyone could do anything.  The body was removed later, and given an honorable burial.  I attended, they tried to keep it from me, but I've always been good at ferreting out secrets.  Maybe that's why I noticed something amiss before the specialists did.

     "Is she all right in there?" I asked as I entered the testing room proper.

     "Everything appears -"

     The roar from the plug didn't sound like anything I'd ever heard before.  The 600 lbs.  main hatch flying off a moment later, dumping gallons of black sludge across the floor, was a clue something had gone terribly wrong.


     She'd been pretty, long black hair.  What came out was a foul caricature of the human form.  The hair writhed like a nest of smoky snakes, scabrous skin, her clothes torn where abnormal growth had distorted the human form to the breaking point.  The hands were what I focused on, since on seeing me, she attacked.  Fingers thin as pencils, long as my forearms, six joints on each.  They wrapped around my throat, and dragged my face close to the fanged maw.  As blackness enclosed me, I remember hitting her repeatedly with my cane, as others rushed forward.

     I shake off the recollection.  It's all going to end for me here, now, just like the other two.  I've never been as certain of anything as I am of this.  If I die bravely, with my face to the `foe`, at least NERV and their mission will continue.  'I regret I only have one life to give for my country.' My planet, my species.  All of sentient Creation.

     Accepting my destruction gives me the courage and equanimity to continue without comment.  I won't fail that way.  Maybe I can find out anything and everything I can, transmit it back before the end.

     Almost an hour later, Dr. Akagi is on the line, "We need to try something new.  Our cementing the parts together was just the first part.  The systems have to be reintegrated."  This time her image appears in my mind's eye, I can also see the yellow-green tinge I associate with fear.  Fear I've long since abandoned.

     I've survived, no one is more surprised or pleased than I am, Time to break the tension, I think.  "Doctor, there is something that is bothering me, bothering me a lot."

     "That would explain your reduced sync rate."

     I'm not going to tell her the truth, "Akagi, Katsuragi, Ibuki, Soryu, even Langley," I say, "But not Tendo, does that mean she's an enemy spy?"

     "What?" Dr. Akagi is nonplused, "What do you mean?"

     "They named the rest of you after sunken aircraft carriers, but not Tendo or Nabiki, she has to be a spy for the Angels, doesn't she?" I ask with all the seriousness I can muster.

     She shakes her head, looking disgusted, but when she speaks, I don't see/hear fear.  "There are such things as coincidences.  If you named aircraft carriers Smith, Jones and Brown, it is possible that you'd work with a group of people named after ships."

     I can hear the laughter behind her, she and the others have relaxed a bit.  "Well, it was on my mind.  Okay, what do I do about integrating the systems?" I already have some ideas, but I wanted to hear her ideas.

     "The units are artificial lifeforms."

     I would never have guessed that, I keep to myself, I've only been trying to establish and improve communications for an hour.

     "But they don't heal as we do," she explains, "It's a mix of tissue generation and gluing together."

     Nothing new here, I consider, Let's see if I can understand.  I concentrate.  Feeling the pieces extending into similar systems across the cement divide.  Once the initial connections are made, I move to other systems.  The links are tenuous, but if the entire unit can be unified, more power can go to expanding the links.

     Asuka wandered through the huge hanger deck.  Misato was overseeing Ranko testing out in Unit 01.  Dr. Akagi and Maya were on the flight deck working on Unit 04.

     They'd shoved the pieces together, she didn't understand why Dr. Akagi was coddling the Sixth.  They had other pilots, a French girl and another German.

     Asuka smiled about Anna, she wasn't as good as Asuka herself, but she had to be a lot better than these idiots.

     "You're doing fine Ranko," Misato told the Hydromorph, "Just keep concentrating."

     "Do you have to test both halves of that weirdo separately?" Asuka asked.  "Hey, Hydromorph, is your sync rate water-soluble too?"

     "Asuka," Misato said harshly, "Don't interfere with the tests."

     "Stupid Hydromorph," Asuka complained as she stomped off.

     "And don't call her that!" Misato ordered, "Hey, are you interfering with the tests to make sure you stay the best?"

     Asuka hunched her shoulders at that and stomped off, I am the best.  A bunch of half-trained beginners can't hope to match me.

     The corrugated metal shed sat incongruously on the flight deck, it was filled with all manner of recording and sensing gear.  It was brutally hot because of all the equipment.  It struck Ritsuko as amusing, Maya had complained about how cold it had been.  Now the opposite was true as both of them sweated.  She'd have a hatch placed in the roof to vent the heat.

     "Doctor Akagi?"

     "Yes, Jeff?" Ritsuko looked up from the readings.  "The systems are still undergoing repair.  You have to stay in there."

     "That's not what I was going to ask.  I think I discovered what the odd marking patterns on the side of the Unit are.  My sensors show a clear area around the Unit, is that correct."

     Ritsuko checked the carrier deck around the huge EVA, "Other than the hold down cables, there's nothing within 6 meters, ah, 20 feet of the Unit.  Why?"

     "What's Raccoon doing?" Asuka walked in, clearly bored.

     "I don't know," Ritsuko told her, "You shouldn't tease him that way."

     "I think he prefers Raccoon or Roku-kun to Jefuri Deimitsu, or any other garble," she retorted.

     "Stand by," Jeff's warning cut off the Doctor's reply.

     Ritsuko jumped back as dozens of legs unfolded from the sides of the Unit, "What did you do?!"

     "I was investigating some subsystems, I just wondered what it could do."

     "Great, Raccoon, you go from a snake to centipede," Asuka laughed, "And you kept it goofy looking!".

     "Asuka!" Ritsuko chided.

     "Relax, Doctor.  I think this will deal with her."

     Ritsuko watched the snakelike head lift up off the deck and stick out a huge forked tongue in the direction of the test stand.  Well they duplicated that part of a snake exactly, she thought.

     Asuka pulled down her eyelid and stuck out her tongue at Unit 04.

     Ritsuko merely shook her head.  'They are literally changing from adults to children and back, sometimes on an hourly basis,' Abigail Davis had warned her, she hadn't realized she'd get such a clear example so quickly.  The pilot and the EVA sticking their tongues out at each other: BEEAH! We used to be a dignified organization.

     Three hours later, I crawl out of the plug of Unit 04.  For all my previous fears, the death of my other two colleagues, I'm still alive, I almost wish this wasn't the case.  I have learned a lot, I have learned what a drown rat feels like, and it is possible for something to smell so bad, the smell never goes away, even if your nose quits working.  I wonder if I look as bad as I feel and smell.

     Ritsuko, Dr. Akagi, is waiting for me.  My sense of smell and taste are nearly gone, everything is too bright, and I'm nearly deaf.  I notice her wrinkle her nose.  That confirms it, I stink.

     "Let me guess, I'm not done and I'll have to do this again, over the rest of the week."

     She shakes her head.

     "I screwed up so badly, that when you can work up the nerve to actually touch me, you're going to throw me overboard."

     "No."  She seems to be considering very carefully, "We were expecting to have to spend two hours a day for a week doing this."

     "Sensei."  I drop off the EVA to the deck, then to my knees as they collapse under me, "I'm, very tired.  I'm not pleased with the way I feel or smell.  Everything hurts.  Can we come to the point?"

     "We're done.  Except for a few minor maintenance points, which the EVAs can handle by themselves.  How did you figure out what needs to be done?"

     I look around theatrically, "The EVA told me, I just followed its instructions."

     Her frown is worth it.

     Before she gets angry.  "I'm an engineer, Doctor.  I finished and passed all those classes.  It was a straight crystal infiltration problem, have the systems grow together.  Engineers are supposed to be able to take scientists' pipe-dreams and make them reality."  I pat the EVA, "I'm a good engineer.  I also dance and play the piano, if I thought that would have helped, I would have done that too."

     "Like reading to EVA Units 00 and 01?" she smirks, "They're alive, but not that way."

     "Doctor, animals recognize voice and tone.  If they ever get loose, I want them to know me, and be favorably disposed.  A rolled up newspaper isn't going to do the trick.  Even a Thanksgiving New York Times."

     "Okay, go get cleaned up, then write up what you did.  We'll do some experiments later.  If your procedure works, it will cut repair times to a third."

     "Great, I'm not a warrior, I'm a mechanic, figures."  I stand, and my knees collapse under me, only Dr. Akagi grabbing my arm keeps me from crashing onto the deck.  With her help I managed to stand and walk away.  There is much greater depth to the EVAs than NERV Massachusetts knew, and that Dr. Akagi is letting on.  Or does she even know? I wonder.

     I need a shower, or a steam hose.

     Captain Ramsey was approaching.  "Mister Davis - Woah!" he waved his hand in front of his face.

     "How do you think it smells from my side?"

     "I'd rather not."

     "You might want to think about having shower/decontamination facilities closer to the flight deck."

     "I'll discuss it with the Admiral and Captain Storrs."

     "I thank you, and everyone's nose thanks you."

     "You know what's coming, don't you?" Ramsey asked.

     "I suspected."

     "No objections, comments, complaints?"

     "Well, I assume you're not going to do the usual.  The other pilots would give you too much of a fight, and so would I."

     "No," Ramsey admitted, "We thought of that."

     "I have contingency plans in the offing.  Myself and Miss Ayanami, the others . . . will require a firm but deft touch.  I doubt you'll have too much trouble with the others.  But remember, get Katsuragi, she'll try to wriggle out of your net, like she always does."

     "You know her that well already?"

     "You can learn a lot by paying attention, Commodore," he saluted, "Be seeing you."

     Nabiki entered the cabin she shared with Rei, "Ayanami-san, do you want to take a walk around the ship, see what goes on?"

     Rei stared at her, blinked, "No."

     "You don't want to see how the ship operates?  See how all the parts and sections work together?" Actually Nabiki was bored out of her mind, and with Roku-kun testing and Ranma asleep in his cabin, she only had one other alternative.

     Rei considered, "No, thank you."

     "Well, how `bout we hunt down Asuka, Miss `I am the Perfect Pilot`, drag her into a secluded place, kill her and eat her brain."

     Rei considered, "I dislike meat," she stood up, "Lead on."

     As they left, Nabiki wasn't sure if the girl was joking, or if she understood Nabiki was joking.  Okay, let's hope we don't run into Asuka.  Rei will expect me to eat Asuka's brain after she kills her.  Ewww!

     Roku-kun is waiting for me outside the locker room? Shinji wonders, His test with Unit 00 must be done, and mine with Unit 04.

     "Ikari-san, I have a question for you," he pauses.

     Shinji braces for the joke or teasing Roku-kun will launch into.

     "I've gotten warnings from Major Katsuragi and Analyst Ibuki about linking with Unit 01.  Since you are the primary pilot, I wonder if you have any tips or insights."

     Shinji is shocked, "I don't know.  I never had any trouble linking with it, not like Unit 04."  I can't think how anyone would have trouble with Unit 01, neither did Saotome-san, but Ayanami had, and so might others.

     "It was like sliding into a comfortable shoe," Shinji tells him, trying to think why he hadn't had a problem.

     "Do you know if anyone besides you and Saotome-san have successfully piloted it?" Roku-kun asks, he seems concerned, "I'd ask Ayanami-san about the problems, but she's scheduled to test right after me.  Everyone is going to be watching, I don't want to make her nervous, since everybody else is making me nervous."  He smiles.  "And I haven't heard anything from Ranko's testing, so I assume it isn't gender that's the problem."

     Ranma is Ranko, Shinji thinks, Doesn't he know that? "Sorry, I -"

     "Don't apologize, if you don't know, you don't know.  You can't help that.  Nevertheless, you should go over the external rescue systems."

     "Why?" Shinji asks, Now I'm confused.

     "That's easy, if it gives Ayanami-san a problem, you might be the only one who can get her out."

     "What?!" Shinji can't believe what Roku-kun is saying.  "I can't do anything!"

     "That's why I'm going to train you.  That's the difference between ignorance and stupidity, you're ignorant, and that's curable.  Stupidity is forever."

     He's practically dragging me into the hanger bay, they go over the external eject procedures for Unit 01.  Over and over and over again, Until I can do it in my sleep.  Roku-kun quizzes Shinji on it as they walk back to their cabin, I want to get another shower before dinner, and a nap.  Somehow failing to link with an EVA tires me out.

Synchronization Testing

From the Journal of Jeffrey Davis: Synchronization Testing

     Sync Testing: Meditation, in contact with the EVA units.  Current molecular theory states: that matter is more like an empty room.  With dust motes hanging in the air.  The entry plugs fit into special points in these huge, machines?  I'll use the word.  The material of the port compresses, or phases out of the way, and then somehow infiltrates the material of the plug to make the connection.  It sounds like quantum mechanics to me, I hope Asuka Langley studied that when she got her Math/Physics degree.  Which she won't let me forget, ahem.  Fine she got it, let her put it to use.  Trust the adults here?  Yeah, right, great idea.

     'Clear your mind of all thoughts,' Dr. Akagi said.  That's a fine idea, but does she really know the raging turmoil that accompanies such contact?

     Unit 00 is a sea of hatred, hating itself, hating those around it, desiring only the oblivion of complete destruction.  I spoke with it, as I had horses and cattle in Wyoming, trying to soothe its fears, trying to comfort its hurts.  Dr. Akagi informed me that speaking to the EVAs was useless, they weren't really alive or sentient.  'Everything is alive.' I replied.  I didn't bother with an explanation, she wouldn't understand, wouldn't, not couldn't.  I tried to let the EVA feel my thoughts instead.  It still rebelled, but calmly, pensive, defiant, like a dog that had been whipped, but still had some spirit left, and a new master.  It expected to be forced into acting.  I wouldn't do that, I served, as it does.  I think we reached an understanding.  It hates Ayanami-san most of all, strange, since she's the primary pilot of Unit 00, and she seems as broken-spirited as Unit 00, maybe she takes her rage out on the EVA.  More and greater mysteries, at least I won't be bored.

     Unit 01, why did the idea of me linking with it, cause Captain Katsuragi and Maya Ibuki so much concern?  I hope they don't remember me.  They had to be concerned, they each went over the emergency ejection procedure three times.  I had heard that Shinji Ikari was the primary pilot, so I talked to him, he's my roommate.  They treated this as a radically innovative action.  He seemed to be untroubled by the rumors about it, he'd never had any problem, except he thought it was somehow 'still occupied'.  Talk about your understatements!

     "Just relax, Davis, breathe," Dr. Akagi tells me as they wheel me into the infirmary.  I can see the tinge of fear, so despite her bright tone, she's terrified.

     I'm not too happy about this situation myself.  The oxygen mask burns where it touches my skin, but my throat hurts too much to speak.  The gurney I'm on enters the medical bay and they stop next to a medical table, I try to climb over.

     "Don't," Ritsuko orders, "Just lie back."  Instead six corpsman pick me up and transfer me.  "You'll be fine.  It will give us a chance to finish all our medical tests."

     I can't speak, so I shake my fist at her, to tell her I'm all right enough to still have my sense of humor.  She smiles and leaves.  Analyst Ibuki enters with a large number of medical instruments.

     "Pilot Davis, just relax, I need to take some samples."  She too is fearful, the yellow-green of fear.  It makes me think of a bilious hangover.

     I adjust the oxygen mask, and wonder how bad it can be.  I remember the incidents that only started less than half an hour ago.  I hope Shinji does a better job with Ayanami's test than I was able to do.

     The terrible thing nearly killed me on first contact, the L.C.L., 'the stench' as I call it, stopped being breathable, and communication failed.  I am glad I talked to Shinji, so I negotiated a deal, since it was so fond of Shinji, somebody else might have to go rescue him aboard it.  Since I knew what it would be after, I was the reasonable choice.  I didn't think `logical`, I don't think whatever is controlling Unit 01 is the least bit logical, when it comes to Shinji Ikari.  The L.C.L.  became nontoxic, and the test continued, so they got me out.  Good for me, because no order to eject was accepted, and the attack was so sudden, I was incapacitated before I could use the internal eject system.

     The `building` in the hanger looked out over the EVAs, it looked very strange, considering the massive metal `roof` of the flight deck overhead.  Inside it was a near duplicate of the test stand on the flight deck, except for the fan in the ceiling to suck the heat out of the room.  The data and control lines lead to the two EVAs.  Shinji saw Misato-san and the technicians working inside.  Beyond the EVAs was the huge metal curtain that divided the large area into two sections.

     Shinji waited nervously in the hanger.  He saw Ayanami-san walk across the hanger and enter the plug.  Davis was so worried, I could hardly stay away.  Misato-san goes over the eject procedures again before they loaded the plug.

     "How is Roku-kun?" he heard Rei ask, the radio is coming over the speakers in the hanger.

     No one answers her, Shinji hadn't heard anything.  I would think if he could, he'd be here.  Now I'm getting worried.

     The plug slides in, and Shinji hears the list he's heard several times before, as the EVA starts up.  What can I do?  What good am I?  I don't know how to do anything.

     Alarms sound throughout hanger.  Shinji looks into the control shed, Akagi-sensei and Misato-san are running around checking readings and yelling orders.  Now, the EVA rises up and slams head-first into the flight deck above.  Then it falls back to the deck with a crash.

     "Ayanami!" Shinji runs towards Unit 01.  I have the wrench Roku-kun insisted I have, in case Ayanami ran into trouble.

     The Unit is shaking, as if it couldn't breathe.  I can't do this! His eyes fall on the panel that covers the controls.  He climbs onto the Unit and yanks the hatch open, then pulls down on the lever inside.  Other rescue workers are rushing forward, but they are afraid of the EVA, Why aren't I afraid of it? he wonders, I was when I saw it the first time.

     The carapace retracts, and the plug ejects.  It was almost a reflex, he slams the wrench in and turns the hatch release.

     L.C.L.  pours out all over his feet.  "AYANAMI!!"

     She turns slightly, looking at him.

     "You're all right?"

     She shakes her head, coughs, "I will live.  Thank you."

     The other rescue workers arrive, loading her into a wire basket stretcher and carrying her to the sickbay, Shinji walks alongside, she stares at him the whole time.

     Neither of us say anything, neither of us seems to think it's necessary, he thinks.

     They won't let me enter the sickbay, he glances down, she brushes my hand, Telling me it's okay, he smiles at her, I think she smiled back.

     Maybe I can do something, he remembers the ease of the rescue, It was automatic.  He walks back to the hanger, I'll ask Akagi-sensei if Ayanami-san's all right.

From the Journal of Jeffrey Davis

     I've spent most of the day in the infirmary, Maya Ibuki running all kinds of tests and her taking all these samples of absolutely everything.  I don't think I'll ever be embarrassed in front of any woman, ever again, who'd have thought she'd need ALL those samples, and use so many LONG needles to get some.  I think I lost five pounds, if I want it back, I'll have to get it out of jars in the lab.

     I didn't do as badly as I thought, while `Doctor` Ibuki was taking bone marrow samples from my legs, Rei was brought in.

     "Rei-san, are you hurt?" Maya asked as she checked the girl over.


     "Just lie still."  Maya put the oxygen mask on Rei.  "What happened?!" Maya demanded of the rescue team.

From the Journal of Jeffrey Davis

     Evidently Unit 01 did the same thing to Rei, that it did to me.  Dr. Akagi arrived and the two of them worked on the girl.  Questioning her about what happened.  She talked quite a bit about Shinji pulling her out, I think Rei appreciated the save.

     From Dr. Akagi's expression, I doubt I'll be able to share my observations with her, I will warn my fellow pilots, I hope they listen.

     Unit 04, actually my first sync, looking back, it was by far the easiest.  Eagerness is the only way I can describe it, eagerness for battle, not bloodlust, but the contest of strategies, of skills, and courage.  Athena, not Ares.  It seemed a little disappointed in me, I wasn't the bold warrior it had been hoping for.  As I reassembled it from the pieces, it grew mildly despondent, I was just a repairer.  'I'm learning.' I explained, I get the impression it would teach me, if I proved worthy.  Terrific, `non-sentient` machines are going to teach me the ins-and-outs of EVA combat.  I did learn one thing that shocked everybody.  The `odd markings` in Unit 04's surface aren't just odd-markings, they are the seams for the legs to fold up.  I went from snake to 'Centipede' Asuka Langley laughed, does that girl scoff at EVERYTHING?  If she does, I'd better be standing by with a wrench, cheater and a first aid kit when she tests out in Unit 01.  Dr. Akagi and the rest of the `experts`, (God help me, I sound like Langley!) didn't know about this, they also didn't know about the repair methods?  Simply distend/extend the components into each other, and infiltrate the extensions into the appropriate systems.  It works like gas diffusion, only on a larger scale, seemed logical to me, cut repair time down to a third.  When I got out, they asked me.  I looked around theatrically and told them in a stage whisper 'The EVA told me.' Then nodded and walked away.  I am beginning to wonder if these `adults` know as much as they want us `kids` to think they know.

Tomorrow, Pilots:

     Right now, I think I'm going to see what, if anything, can get this smell out of my hair, the clothes can be burned.  I think I could wear a dead skunk on my head and no one would notice.  PHEW!

     Rei has been watching me write this entry as we both lay in the beds of the sickbay.  She watched me writing in my journal, for some reason this fascinated her, if my voice could be more than a whispering croak, I'd ask her why.  As I put the pen down and snapped the book closed, I mimed going to sleep.  She nodded and laid down.  I shut off the lights.  For an instant I saw her eyes glow red, then she closed them.

     What is that from, a side effect of piloting? I wondered as I settle into the sickbay bed.  I can expect more tests tomorrow.  For the rest of the night I was sure Ayanami-san was staring at me, watching me, but she's quick and quiet enough I could never catch her.

     The long tables of the mess hall were again filled, this time the seamen looked at the pilots with smiles and smirks, they knew what was coming.  They also knew the pilots didn't.  Jeff and Rei walk into the mess.  Rei is pleased to see Shinji, then Ranma hails them. 

     "Hey, Rei, Raccoon!  Did you hear what they're going to make us do?" the Fourth, Saotome asks.

     I am content, Roku-kun and I have a plan.  The others are reacting negatively to the news Rei thinks.

     "It's sad when you don't have any skills," the Second, Langley, comments.

     The Fourth grimaces and asks, "What are you going to do?"

     Now the Second is speechless.

     "Shinji-kun," Rei asks, "What will you do?"

     "I don't know, yet," he replies.

     "Think about strengths and weaknesses," Roku-kun suggests.

     Rei hides her smile.  It is rare that I am prepared for something and the others are not, they are afraid, I am not.  It is an odd feeling.

     "Relax, people," Nabiki-kun says, "We can work together, come up with something."

     "I'll help, but I've already got my and Ayanami-san's act together.  The rest of you are on your own," Roku-kun tells them.

     The others react to this pronouncement.  Again they are disordered, I find the reflection of my usual distress a new experience.  They argue and discuss, and achieve very little.  It seems without leadership, they fail to act.  With leadership, even if they oppose, they act, Rei observes.



     Nabiki heard Rei's voice, and woke quickly, Rei sounded afraid, she was never afraid.  Nabiki rolled over, looked over the bedroom she shared with Rei.  She stared at the figure seated at the cabin's desk, Belldandy, Nabiki glanced down at Rei who seemed ready to crawl into a hole and die.  Nabiki was shocked at Rei's reaction, the Angel or goddess seemed too nice to be real, and the girl who tossed monsters around with her bare hands was afraid of her.

     "Relax, Rei-san.  I think she's here to chew me out."

     Rei looked at her with an expression of utter terror.

     She started again, more gently, "Rei, just go back to sleep, I'll take care of things."

     Rei looked at the goddess, who nodded firmly once.  Rei relaxed enough to lie back and close her eyes, Nabiki would have bet money she wasn't asleep.

     "Okay I screwed up, tell me what I did and we'll figure out how to fix it."

     "Don't you know?" Belldandy asked, faintly disappointed.

     Nabiki felt terrible at having let her down, although a cynical part of her mind asked if Belldandy was manipulating her emotions, however unconsciously.  "Should I start chronologically, or go from most to least likely?"

     "Whatever you wish."

     I wish I didn't have to do this!  I almost wish I'd never made the first wish.  "Well, there was the coffee incident and -"

     "Why do you believe you acted wrongly then?"

     Terrific, a line by line critique, Nabiki lamented as she considered where and how she could have done better.

     Tendrils leapt out of the water, caught on the metal hull of the warship.  Some slipped off, others lost their grip as they climbed to reach the bowels of the ship, and their target.  They could never have hoped to catch the speeding carrier group, so they had strewn themselves like sea mines in its path.  A few managed to board other warships to accomplish secondary missions.  A pair reached the Coral Sea's hanger deck and found the ventilation system.  They oozed their bulk through the grate, into the tube of metal, pulled themselves along to different destinations.
     "The discussion after Kaji dropped his comments about Misato?" Nabiki was feeling desperate, she'd thrown out all the `bad` things she'd done since their last meeting, and been asked to dissect them, and none of them was the 'incident' that caused the visit.  Nabiki considered she was up against a master interrogator, who had Nabiki telling all she knew and second-guessing herself.  But like Kasumi, the corrections were internal, 'Why do you think that's wrong?', 'Will you do that in the future?' Okay, what did I do wrong? she wondered.

     Startlingly, Rei let out a frightened chirrup, it sounded like a tiny piece of a beautiful song.  Belldandy whirled around and stared.  Coming out of the ventilator was something Nabiki had never seen.  A column of foam and bubbles, and eyes, hundreds of them, scanning the entire room.  It was as black as pitch and shinier than anything natural could ever be.

     A close up of soap suds, Nabiki could feel the malevolence that rolled off the thing as it focused on the three women, If soap suds were black and alive.  She knew it was here to kill them.

     "Pride, Tendo Nabiki, too proud to ask for help," Belldandy's voice caught as she stared at the creature.

     Too proud, huh? "HELP!!  Somebody get in here!  There's a monster in the vents!" Nabiki pounded on the wall while she shouted, tried to make as much noise as possible.  She watched the yellow flashes within the creature as it probed around seeking its prey.

     Nabiki looked at Belldandy, who apologetically shook her head.

     Can't interfere, not her job.  I can't keep you from getting eaten, but I can avenge your death.  "I love my job."

     Shinji ran through the corridors carrying a CO2 extinguisher, he followed Roku-kun who carried one in each hand.

     "I'll kick the door open, you help blast our way in and out with the girls," the other boy told him.

     Acrid smoke filled the corridors.  Like burning rubber and feces, worse than even L.C.L..  The random poundings should have wakened everyone on the ship before the fire alarms sounded.

     He watched the other boy drop the extinguishers, then hit the door and burst into the room.  The thick, burning tentacle missed him by inches.  Shinji watched in horror as the huge thing convulsed around the open doorway.

     "Now!" Davis yelled.

     Shinji sprayed the thing with the extinguisher.  It withdrew from the blast of cold and Davis dragged both girls through the doorway.

     More sailors were arriving, Shinji closed in, spraying the thing that had threatened the girls until a hand grabbed his shirt collar and dragged him back from the battle.

     Davis put his hands up, "Easy Tiger, I'm on your side."  He cowered, "Please don't hurt me."

     Shinji relaxed, set the extinguisher down.

     "Who let Major Katsuragi in the kitchens?" Davis shouted at the sailors.  Shinji smiled, noted the tension in the two girls eased.

     "Let's get out of here," Nabiki suggested.

     The others agreed as Davis led the way back to their cabin.

     Shinji glanced back, he'd known, he'd known that thing was the enemy, knew it was hostile the moment he laid eyes on it.  Even without the EVA he'd wanted to destroy it.  What's happening to me?  Did piloting the EVA do this to me? He was worried.  Maybe he could talk to someone about it.  Maybe someone could explain it to him.

     "So what did you two do to it anyway?" he heard Roku-kun asking the girls.

     Yeah, how'd they set it on fire?

     Nabiki crawled into the upper bunk and was surprised when Rei climbed in also.

     "Two above, two below," she explained as she pulled the covers over them and immediately fell asleep.

     Nabiki looked down.  Shinji lay on his bunk, stared at nothing.  Roku-kun sat in a chair and stared at the door, the vents, and back.  She'd seen the intensity in Ranma and some of the Nerima Crew: Cologne, Ukyo, sometimes Ryoga.  The readiness to confront.

     Well maybe she couldn't interfere, but she could send help.  'The means will be readily available, if you only look for them.' Something killed that thing, even Belldandy was frightened of it.  She stared at the boy in the three-piece suit, who turned, smiled, and waved.

     I'll have to ask Dr. Akagi how to kill that thing, what it would take.  I have a feeling I won't like the answer or what it implies.  She settled in and fell into an exhausted sleep.

     The surgery wasn't large enough so they had dragged the corpse into a kitchen.  The lights and cutting tools were more appropriate, considering the size of what Dr. Akagi was examining, after they'd dragged what was left of it out of the ventilation shaft.  The entire ship was being searched for others.

     What are they going to do when they find the others, if any? the Doctor wondered, "Shoggoth," she told Admiral Simson, Misato, Kaji, and some of the Admiral's senior staff.  "They can be sea dwelling, but . . . " she paused, considered, "This one headed straight for the pilots.  The idea that this was random can be safely discounted."

     "What killed it?  It was dying even as our troops arrived," Admiral Simson demanded.

     "I don't know.  This tissue is burned, by extreme temperatures, which Shoggoth tissue is highly resistant to, when did you start issuing nuclear hand grenades?"

     "We haven't that I know of," the Admiral said, "So if we find another, how do we kill it, and please remember it may be in the fuel storage or the engineering spaces, or near the hull."

     Dr. Akagi sighed, she knew of one way, but wondered how much she could safely reveal.  She wondered what could have possibly killed the one on the table, and if it could be counted on to kill any others in the fleet.

     Waking up as a cuddle toy is unexpected, Nabiki thought as she looked around, trying not to wake her 'Rei-backpack' who had one arm around her waist and the other around her shoulders.  Unemotional, yeah right, just doesn't show it.

     Davis hadn't moved from his seat at the desk, and seemed to be trying to burn a hole in the door with his glare.  A steward opened the door and carefully set a small breakfast buffet on the desk and withdrew.  From Davis's attention to the man, a mistake or sudden move would have been a serious to fatal error.

     Rei had tightened her grip slightly, and was stirring.

     He walked up to the bunks, "Breakfast: cereal, boiled eggs, flapjacks and fresh fruit.  Do you desire a tray or would you first care to freshen up and dress?"

     "Food."  Nabiki wasn't ready for `Kuno-the friendly waiter`, first thing in the morning.

     He nodded, stooped and repeated the question to Shinji, who headed into the bathroom.


     The other girl was logy and skittish, embarrassed by her behavior.  Nabiki could understand.  Two major ordeals suddenly appeared, then the rescue.  She's reacted in a way she didn't think possible, Nabiki suspected that few people, if any, would put their life and limb on the line for her.  Like Ranma and defeat, it was beyond her experience.

     The tray had a mix of eggs, fruit, flapjacks and utensils.  It was vaguely embarrassing that she'd climbed into his bed while it was still warm, and in the morning he was serving her breakfast.  And he was the one who killed that thing, she was certain, even as she accepted the attentive servility.  She wondered how much danger she was in, both from the enemies' action, and from pushing the odd boy too far.  What would he do if his secrets were threatened?

     Dr. Akagi watched the progress of the searches marked on a map of the carrier in the damage control center.  The seaman marked on plexiglass mapboards that showed the entire `floorplan` of the carrier.  Already half the carrier had been marked as clear.  A strange place to the mastermind a search from.

     "Bilges are clear," the officer reported and a seaman marked those sections.

     She knew they'd run a massive electrical charge through the water.  Right now she was wondering how the searches of all the other ships in the fleet were progressing.  She smiled at the report from the Marine guard who'd located Rei and Nabiki.  One Marine had yanked opened the door unexpectedly, and had a .45 automatic in his shoved face, with Davis ready to shoot him.  Ranma and Misato had evidently slept through the entire episode.  She hoped they didn't find another.  Fighting one of those monsters would almost require an EVA.

     Nabiki climbed out of Unit 04, and onto the flight deck, I've finished testing out, successfully.  After what happened yesterday, I'm kind of glad to see `Raccoon` standing by with rescue and extraction gear, Nabiki thought.

     A simple 'Hello, Tendo-san,' and he moves off to the hanger, where Asuka is testing out in Unit 00.  After my shower, I'll have to come back to see that, I don't think Asuka will be happy about the implied criticism.  Nabiki smiled to herself.

     Right now I have another mission.  Bleech, after I wash my mouth out, she thinks, A half-dozen times.

     "Hey, Ranma," Nabiki knocks on the cabin door.  After showering three times, I finally feel human again.

     "Yeah, Nab-chan?" he opens the door, stares at her.

     NAB-CHAN!  That's a habit we'll have to break him of.  "Have you thought of you're going to do tomorrow night?  I was wondering if you needed to go over it with me?"

     "Naw, I'll do whatever I need to."  He looks at her, "I need to get back to practice."

     "Of course," she hides her disappointment.  Eat, sleep, practice, and nothing else! she is furious, This is not how he was, how he used to be.  Was he really better off with people attacking him all the time?  Is the peace and quiet I always wanted for him . . . the worst possible thing for him?

     I'm not happy with these thought, part of Belldandy's influence I suspect.  I've always seen under the masks most people wear, seen their needs and used the knowledge for my own ends.  Now I not only have to see them as they are, I must see them as they must be, and drive them along that path.  What is best for me, what I want with all my heart, may not be best for others.  She didn't tell me I'd have to stint myself, but I know I have to.  That make it worse, I'm doing it to myself.

     Asuka stood atop the EVA, hands on her hip, fury radiating off of her.

     Nabiki watched the inevitable confrontation from the hatchway leading to the hanger deck.  She stayed out of sight, where she could watch without being drawn in.

     "What the Hell do you mean waiting here like that?" Asuka's voice rings across the hanger deck.

     The target of her rage ignores her tirade and packs away the gear he had prepared.

     Nabiki smiles at that, Okay, Nabiki, catch him later.  He's hardly in the mood to hear reasonable talk.

     "If you think I need your help to deal with an EVA, you are so stupid even I can't see the end of it."

     "Would you like to hear 'I was going to rescue the EVA from you'?" he replies coolly, "I've seen enough death around these things to last a lifetime."  He bows, "You'll excuse me for not wanting to add your name to the list.  Now I know differently."

     Asuka is furious, but speechless.  An odd combination for her.

     I'll catch him in a little bit.  Out of the showers.

     Nabiki was waiting to ambush her prey.  'Pride' had been Belldandy's warning of her crime, something she'd have to work on.  'The means will be available', was what concerned her now.

     "I want to thank you for saving us," Nabiki told Jeff as he came out of the locker room.

     "You're entirely welcome, although the rescue teams would have gotten you out."

     "That isn't what I mean," she corrected.

     "Now I'm not following you."

     "That thing - "

     "Shoggoth, they aren't supposed to exist anymore.  Somebody is going to be surprised."

     Nabiki realized she was being diverted, "You killed that thing."

     He smiled at her, "Miss Tendo -"


     "Miss Nabiki Tendo, killing one of those things would be hard for a fighter plane.  A single individual would not have a prayer, although," he paused, considered, "If Mister Saotome's prowess isn't just his delusion, he might have a chance."

     "You know what I mean."

     "Yes.  You are attempting to divert me from the investigation of what you did to the creature, I know it couldn't be me, because I know enough not to set one on fire.  Cold and area impacts are superior, that's why Shinji and I used those fire extinguishers.  You might want to adjust your tactics in the future, I'll be keeping my eye on you.  You have secrets that may threaten the project.  Consider who your real allies are, and who your real enemies are."

     She watched him walk away.  He was around the corner when she wanted to kick herself.  He did it AGAIN! She ran into the cross corridor, and it was empty, he could have gone any of a dozen directions.  And he'd practically accused her of killing the thing, the Shoggoth, and diverting attention from him.

     She wanted to strangle him for his game-playing.  But she understood it.  He has no reason to trust you, and every reason to keep his secrets from everybody.  Including the nosy Japanese girl he only met a few days ago.  She hated when she was reasonable, when she just wanted to hit something.  Now you sound like Misato.

     "Either tell me what I need to know, or I'll dig you out of where you're hiding with a spoon," she muttered as she headed to her new quarters, to check what of her personal effects survived the Shoggoth and the smoke damage.

     Rei waited near Ikari-kun's room, she wait for Roku-kun.  I heard his confrontation with Nabiki-kun.  Again they spin their wordgames.  I suspect that nothing that Roku-kun said was untrue, but Nabiki-kun was confused by these clear statements.

Poker Games

     Shinji glanced to Rei on his left, then Nabiki on his right, and finally Raccoon across the table from him.  The overhead light hid the details of Rei-san and Nabiki-san's new cabin.

     Shinji looked at his fellow pilots, tried to hide his smile.  Roku-kun and Tendo-san seemed to be mind readers.  He was enjoying himself.  Since Ranma and Asuka were getting tested tomorrow, the rest of them could sleep in, and stay up late.  Roku-kun had practically dragged him here, to play poker with Nabiki-san and Ayanami-san.  Nobody was picking on him, and it was a safe setting to take chances, and no one would take him to task for taking chances.

     Like now.  He let himself smile and set down his cards, "A straight," he told them.

     "You drew to an inside straight?" Roku-kun couldn't believe it.

     Nabiki smiled, "Well, you took a chance, and it paid off."

     Shinji reached for the pile of matchsticks that was the pot.

     "Wait," Ayanami-san said.  Laid down her cards, "Four of a kind."

     Shinji thought she smiled.  Three threes and a one-eyed Jack, which was wild.

     "Sometimes a risk pays off, then you still don't win," Roku-kun told him.

     For a moment it had felt good, he'd beaten the two 'experts', then had it taken away from him.  It didn't feel so bad that Ayanami-san had beaten them instead of him.

     Ayanami-san accepted the deck and handed it to Roku-kun.  "I wish to know how to use shiners, deal seconds, et cetera."

     "You want me to teach you how to cheat?" Roku-kun seemed incredulous.  Nearly as surprised as Shinji was.

     "I want to see it done, so I can look for it."  Her reasoning was sound, it usually was.

     Roku-kun nodded, took off his watch, "No bets, no special rules, this is just demonstration."

     We watched all the ways he knew how to cheat at cards.  Shinji was uncomfortable with Ayanami-san's interest in it, her intense desire to know how to break the rules.  He had always thought she was interested in following the rules, absolutely.  It was an education.

     Shinji and the other three finish playing cards about 2:00 A.M., It was fun, I think Ayanami-san enjoyed it.

     "We'd better walk our charge back to his room," Nabiki-san stands and stretches.  They all stood.

     Roku-kun leans over and kisses Ayanami-san's forehead, "Good night."

     She seems completely shocked by this.

     Nabiki-san, as competitive as always, also kisses her on the cheek.  Then they both stare at Shinji.

     Ayanami-san glances at him, then stands with downcast eyes.  She's embarrassed by this, but feels a little guilty at enjoying it, Shinji thinks.

     I don't know what to do, I can't think, I almost can't breathe, he take her hands, she's trembling slightly, so is he.  He stands like that for several moments.  I keep expecting one of the others to make a comment, to embarrass both of us.

     But they don't, for that he's grateful.  Ayanami-san raises her eyes expectantly, but keeps her head bowed.

     She brushes his knuckles with her thumbs, "I enjoyed our time."

     "So did I," he tells her as she releases his hands.

     "We should sleep," she says, dismissing us.

     Nabiki-san and Roku-kun `escort` him to the cabin.  I keep expecting them to denigrate me for my cowardice, Shinji thinks, They never do.

     "I'll be back in a moment," Roku-kun tells Shinji as he closes the door.  Shinji lies in his bunk, wondering what Ayanami-san is thinking about.

     Rei touches the spot on her forehead where Roku-kun kissed her, and on her cheek where Nabiki-kun kissed her.  Their styles were very different, the contact was electric.  I was expecting Shinji-kun to also kiss me, and I was terrified by it as well.  I enjoyed simply being with him.  He seemed to understand I didn't expect more from him.  She climbs into bed and pulls the covers over her and wonders what he is thinking about now.
     "Well that went remarkably well," Davis, Roku-kun told Nabiki as he walked her back to her cabin.  "No, this way Tendo-san."  He led her off the most direct path to the cabin she shared with Rei.

     "You've been making a number of requests that I cannot and will not comply with.  Simply put, I have no reason to trust you.  You, on the other hand, are willing to take a leap of faith because of the answers you think I can provide.  I am willing to give you a chance."

     ALL RIGHT!  About time.  But she kept her voice neutral, "What could you possibly need from me?"

     "There will be services I cannot obtain, that you already have links to.  Your's is an extremely closed society, but not to its own members."

     Boy is he hitting that one softly.  'Me gaijin, so me pig shit.' she just nodded for him to continue.  "I'm not that kind of girl," she told him half-jokingly.

     In an instant he'd swept her into a dip, she was parallel to the deck, only his arms kept her from crashing into the metal, "If you want my help."  He kissed me on the throat, "You'll be," and again, "What I say," and again, "You are."

     She had to hang onto him, I was a bit disappointed, when he set her back on me feet, then gently kicked the door to Ranma's and Kaji's room.

     "I'm aware of your desire.  I expect to be informed, so I can adjust my plans accordingly."

     He raised Nabiki's arms so they wrapped around his neck.  Why aren't I strangling you? she wondered.

     "Your pursuit will not succeed, unless he has a rival," he booted the door again, "I will play that role," and again, "For you."

     Ranma yanked the door open, "Whadya want?"

     Davis's head dropped, crushed his lips to hers.

     He made it look like I was kissing him! She didn't know what his plan was, He said I could trust him, I guessed he was trying to prove it, But how? She found myself responding, He is a good kisser.  Ranma was staring open-mouthed. 

     Davis broke off the kiss with a soft pop, and staggered a step away.  "I . . . ," he began, stood up straighter and nearly fell, caught himself on the bulkhead and his cane.  "I don not in any any way admit defeat.  But I readily admit I can in no way clai . . . claim victory."  He turned smartly, and walked into a wall.  "Beg pardon."  He tipped his hat and staggered away.  "Say good night Cyrano, good night Cyrano," he said as he staggered around the corner.

     Ranma was still staring at Nabiki.

     Come on Nabiki, think, you've got a perfect set-up, if you only use it.  "Saotome-san, you must promise me."  Come on you, a plan, a good plan!

     "Promise what?" Ranma was having trouble processing all of this.

     "Well he said he was the best kisser, and I asked if he meant just the boys or all the pilots.  Don't challenge him, he's very, very good.  I may be a little better, but . . . " She could almost hear the wheels turning, Ranma can't be second best at any physical skill or task.

     "Although you might have Ranko get some pointers from him."  She watched him recoil.  I remember the fuss he made when the first amorous kiss Ranma\Ranko ever got was from a guy.  Ranma was clearly weighing the pluses and minuses.  He had to beat Roku-kun, and if Ranko had to get kissed, repeatedly to do it, then . . . 

     She watched him shudder, he'd made his decision.  But he had testing tomorrow, so it would be a few days before Ranko could hunt him down and confront their American colleague.  That would be worth watching.

     Breakfast in the mess hall is extremely grim, all the kids are worried about tonight, and the sailors around them are frightfully amused by this .  Well, Nabiki, Davis and Rei aren't, they have a good plan, as do I, Ritsuko thinks.

     "So, Rit-chan, who's in the wringer today?" Ranma asks her.

     I think I'll have to do something about that, and Kaji's bad influence, she realized

     "If you could read, Horseface," Asuka tells him, "You'd know you test in Unit 01, and I test in Unit 04."

     "Typical Langley, half right and completely backwards, Horse, but not face," Davis adds.  Ranma bridles under the attack, but he's learned not to take the pair of them on.

     "So is the `Angel of Death` going to be waiting with his toys?" Ranma asks.

     "Well that's why I've got the wrench, to beat him unconscious," Davis replies.

     Ranma, when are you going to learn? Ritsuko asks as Maya and Misato arrive.  Maya looks all right.  I think the Admiral just told Misato that her rank and authority get her no reprieve for tonight.  I am curious what Rei and Davis have planned.  Neither has been forthcoming.  Then she chides herself, Spontaneity and creativity aren't Rei's strong suit, and there is no way Davis can carry both of them.

Rei's performance

     I listened to the crowd roaring.  Pilot Davis, Roku-kun, had explained that it was traditional, even required, to make an offering to `Father Neptune` when crossing the International Date Line.  He explained that it was really an excuse to break the monotony of the long voyage, but since it had traditional and religious roots, they could force compliance if they desired.  It was an interesting break after my experience in Unit 01, neither of us will be testing in EVAs until we fully recover from our experience.  It is strange, Unit 01 has killed so many, this time it was only a tentative attempt.  I wonder what has changed.  Was Ikari-kun's presence that decisive?

     Actually, I was enjoying the exercise.  The rules of the exchange were simple and inviolable, they gave me great confidence in communicating in front of so many people.  Memorizing the rules of the game, and misuse of indefinite English pronouns as proper names, was all that was required.  I kept calm, despite Roku-kun's increasing and obvious agitation.  This was also one of the rules, I had to remain calm, Roku-kun would get more exasperated.  Roku-kun was giving me an example, trying, futilely, to untangle the confusion the two of us had woven during the last few minutes.

     "So, me being a good catcher.  I pick up the ball, and throw it, to who?" Roku-kun asked, visibly trying to restrain his temper.

     I reviewed the rules he had taught me.  "That seems right.  Yes, a good plan."

     Roku-kun walked to the edge of the stage and screamed in frustration at the audience, "I don't even know what I'm talking about!" He turned back as the audience roared with laughter, "I want to know what's the pitcher's name!"

     "What is on second."

     "I don't know!"

     "THIRD BASE."  We chorused.  Roku-kun was breathing hard, he came stomping towards me, glowering the whole way.  He lowered his microphone, I did likewise.

     "Are you comfortable with doing a little more?" he asked gently, while he flapped his arms like a bird, and seemed to scream at me.

     "I am not sure."  I admitted, I folded my arms defensively across my chest, as I'd seen others do when arguing.

     "I'll show you the shrug to give.  I'll do it with one arm, you'll do it with both," Roku-kun explained, "Then when I turn my back, you do it exactly how I show it to you."  He turned and walked away.

     I felt a tiny stab of fear, he hadn't shown me.  Then he turned and walked back, putting his nose an inch from mine.

     "Relax, I'll show you, remember when my back is turned.  You're doing fine.  All that noise means you're doing it right.  More noise, better."

     "More noise, is better," I repeated.  Understanding all the subtleties of an exchange felt, welcome.  Knowing what I could expect, and what was expected of me.  I have no previous concept of the peace it brings.

     He stepped back, faced me, raised his microphone.  "The left fielder's name?"

     I raised mine.  "Why."

     He made an elaborate shrug, all shoulders and arm thrown in the air.  "Because."

     "He is centerfield," I told him.  He crashed to the ground as if knocked unconscious.  Another moment of panic, until I realized his back was toward me, and his hand was moving, urged me on.  I turned to the audience and duplicated Roku-kun's elaborate shrug with both arms.  The audience screamed, applauded wildly.  There was a strange feeling of connection with these people, all of them approving of my actions, wishing for my continued success.  More noise, better.

     Roku-kun climbed slowly to his feet, "Who's on first, I don't know, he's on third and I DON'T GIVE A DARN!"

     "He is our shortstop," I told him.  Roku-kun clutched his chest and reeled back a few steps.  "You have not asked about the right fielder."

     He fell backward, scrambled off the stage like a crab.  I gave the audience another shrug, and walked after him, reeling up the microphone cable as I went.  The noise reached a near deafening level, screams, shouts, whistles, feet stomping on the deck and clapping hands.  I stepped off the stage, handed the microphone to a stage hand who was also clapping.  I felt, and still feel, very strange about all of this, I was relieved it was over . . . and felt an odd emptiness that it was, both at the same time.

     Roku-kun rushed up, his agitation not feigned, but he was not angry.  "Ayanami-san, that was perfect.  I loved the bit about the right fielder, everybody knows there isn't a correct answer."  The noise outside had continued, if possible it had gotten louder.

     "Won't they stop?" I asked.

     He smiled, "They just want us out there again."  He saw my uncertainty, "Just follow my lead, just like before."

     He took my hand and walked out, raised his free arm, I raised mine.  The noise increased in force.  He released my hand, stepped away and pointed to me with both hands.  The noise doubled in intensity, achieving a near physical force.  When his hands came down, I duplicated his gesture.  The noise changed character slightly, but remained at the same intensity.  Roku-kun and I walked off the stage hand-in-hand.  Now the noise changed to calls of 'Encore, Encore.'

     He smiled, "Are you ready to do try something a little different?"

     I cocked my head to the side, confused and a bit uncertain.

     "Just like before, just answer the questions with short clear answers.  Are you willing?"

     "I think so."  We took the microphones back from the tech.  I was filled with uncertainty, He's tricked and teased others, is he doing it to me?

     "Let's go."  We walked back onto the stage, Roku-kun gestured for quiet.  The near silence that followed was just as loud, in a surreal way.

     "First base, catcher, these sound like positions of a baseball team."

     "They are," I told him, my uncertainty diminished.

     "I wanted to buy a football team."  Noise interrupted his line, "Are you Misato Katsuragi?"

     "No, I am Rei Ayanami."  More laughter.

     Roku-kun seemed to consider, "Can I at least have my money back?" he asked plaintively.

     I considered, I don't have his money, snickers and faint laughter could be heard during my silence, "No."  I turned and started to walk off the stage.  The laughter again was deafening.

     "WHAT?!" he squawked and turned to run after me.

     "Second base."  I said from offstage, then handed the microphone to the technician.  The crowd roared as he ran off the stage.  His expression changed from affliction to laughter as he crossed out of their view.

     "Was that correct?" I asked.  He nodded, laughing so hard he couldn't speak himself, yet he was also weeping.

     I didn't understand the contradiction.  I felt odd, knowing I could ask him for clarification, and he would not resent explaining.

     Captain Katsuragi and Akagi-sensei approached through the 'back-stage', from the audience, both stared at us in utter disbelief.

     "I think I hurt myself," Roku-kun admitted, still he laughed and cried.  He sobered for a moment, with clear effort.  "Ayanami-san, fair warning.  For the rest of the voyage, maybe for the next few years, people are going to walk up to you, get very serious and say 'No,' to you, and walk away laughing.  Also if you say 'No', people may laugh."


     "You told a joke, in front of hundreds of witnesses.  And it was the funniest line tonight, and completely your own invention."  Roku-kun wiped his eyes.  "People are going to want to share in that, and to relive the moment.  It's also a sign of appreciation for your creativity and cleverness."

     I nodded, I understood.

     "What did you do?" Akagi-sensei asked, looking afflicted.

     "Who's on First."  I told her, "A routine developed by Bud Abbott and Lou Costello.  It was meant as our offering to `Father Neptune`."

     Misato stared, "I've, I've never, how did you . . . ?"

     These are questions I cannot answer, I turned to Roku-kun, "Are we done?"

     "Yes, go enjoy the show, or whatever you want to do."  He touched my shoulder and smiled.  I didn't understand, these feelings racing through me, I still don't.  Only the Commander has shown his approval, and that for my following his orders.  Those people were approving my actions, and especially something I did completely on my own.  I walked to my room, I needed calm time to consider the implications of this.

     Rei set her pen aside, considered the events set down on the page.  "He did trick me," she realized, "He put me . . . the others cared about what I did.  He made it easy for me, painless and unmistakable, success was assured."  My success, she thought, He wanted it to be that way.

     She stared at her hands, she hadn't been frightened, exactly.  Anxious about failing, failing publicly, damaging the confidence others had in NERV, and the Commander.

     But Roku-kun, she considered the name, An attempt to make things easier for us.  He tricked me, but to help me, not to hurt me.  Is that the real truth, or what I want to believe? she asked herself.

     The girl sat back, she wasn't sure what she should think about that.  The people at school never teased her, never talked to her if they didn't have to, she was too `spooky`, they feared her without hating her.  Saotome challenged her because he sought a physical answer to all problems, and he had to be the best.  The Second Children attacked everyone.  Before they could attack her? Also to be the best.

     Tendo Nabiki gathered information, seemingly for the same reason, to have a weapon at hand.  But Ikari . . . , she paused in her thoughts, wondered why he had piloted, run away, came back.  He wanted to protect?  More like the Commander than he would wish to admit or understand.  Did Davis, Roku-kun, do what he did to protect, or as a weapon?  To show he could manipulate me so easily? she wondered, Or to show me something discomforting, didn't hurt?

     She recorded these thoughts in her journal, as Analyst Ibuki had suggested.  She could perhaps formulate appropriate questions, later, and ask Roku-kun.  She wished she could ask the Commander.

     Okay, Nabiki, I thought, This is what you were worried about.

     Ranma stands on the stage, I'm actually afraid for him.  The idea of the entire crew laughing at him frightens me.  I know from Nerima, that's the one thing he can't defend against.

     Maya, Ritsuko and I sang `Thank Heavens for Little Girls`, Shinji played a selection of cello music.  Then Rei and `Raccoon` trumped everything, I don't know what Asuka and Misato are going to do, after that comedy bit, the two of them doing a striptease would be an anticlimax.

     He looks around nervously, I think he'd be more comfortable if this was some kind of pagan sacrifice, or if he had to push a potato the length of the flight deck with his nose.

     He opens up a box and pulls out some red rods.  That isn't dynamite, is it? I wonder as he lights them, The Amazing Exploding Saotome!

     I let out a breath as I realize they're only flares.  He tosses them into the air, lighting a few others and tossing them as he catches the first ones and adds them.  In the darkness he does circles, ellipses, figure-eights with the flares.  Not terribly impressive, if you know his real capability, but enough to impress the Navy crew.  The applause is strong, he doesn't do anything spectacular, but keeps changing the patterns until the flares burn down too close to keep using them, then he tosses them into a bucket of water.  A bow, and he's off the stage.

     Okay Nabiki, rival huh, I sadly realize, That's what he needs, he's just going through the motions otherwise.  Well, I already have a volunteer.

     I find Roku-kun, after the entertainment is all done, right where I'd expect him.  Reciting poetry to the Units.  But rather than just one, he keeps going, the poems have an overarching theme of duty, patience, honor.  And not just Kipling, but Biblical psalms, some poems in German, even a few verses in Japanese.  I'd say he was disciplining them, but that would be ridiculous, Wouldn't it?

     "Tendo-san, shouldn't you be heading off to bed.  I enjoyed your song, I didn't know Analyst Ibuki's English was that good.  Your's and the Doctor's was flawless."

     "Thank you.  Did you stay for Ranma's act?" I ask.

     "Of course, it would have been impolite to leave early.  I also saw Major Katsuragi's and Langley's offerings.  Call it chauvinism, but I don't think anyone matched us."

     "Probably true, what did you think of Ranma's `offering to Father Neptune`?"

     "Hasty and superficial at best.  I've seen him move and fight, he put that together walking across the hanger to find his seat.  I'm very disappointed."

     That makes me feel better, "Would you like to help me do something about it?" I hope I don't grovel too much.

     "I believe Akagi-sensei and Major Katsuragi want his 'Rit-chan' and 'Misa-chan' ended.  I take it you have a plan."

     "You trust me?"

     "No, I do intend to give you a hearing before I decide to trust or distrust you."

     It's a start, I admit.


     Jeff stepped out of the locker room.  The plugsuit was tighter fitting in more uncomfortable places than anything he was used to.  The light green color with the twin white stripes from the right shoulder to the right ankle did nothing to improve his mood about the garment.

     "So, Davis," Asuka taunted, "That's your plugsuit?  You look like . . . "

     "Ah!" Davis shouted and gestured her to be quiet.

     "He's right, Asuka," Misato commented, Asuka's endless taunts of Shinji, and everyone else, were beginning to wear on her.  "You shouldn't insult him."

     "Excuse me, Major.  I don't mind the insults, she's just not very adept.  She'll say something like 'Hey Davis, you look like a nauseated skunk.' I know that, it's just boring.  Like her curses in German, it's the same eight to ten with minor variations.  Listening to them is like watching a dentist sharpening his drill in front of you.  The anticipation is worse than the reality.  A good insult would be:" He sniffed himself, "'Hey Davis, you not only look like a nauseated skunk, that stench coming off of you must be what killed it, and to kill a skunk by reek alone, that's a real accomplishment.' See, it makes a big difference, a little creativity."  He stuck his tongue out at Asuka.

     Misato stared at him, in disbelief.  Asuka stomped away grumbling.

     We're standing in the hanger, in front of the test stand, again.  The hum of equipment can be heard through the thin metal walls.  I don't need to hear what Shinji is saying to feel his fear.  I'd asked him to come, insisted actually.  It tried to kill me, but it likes Shinji.  We watched Langley silently climb into the entry plug, Why do I think we may be sending her to her death?

     Unit 01, again.  This time I'm nervous.  So is Langley, she doesn't object to me standing by with the rescue gear, she doesn't object that I brought Shinji with me.  We've managed to keep that thing from killing anyone else.  I hope to keep the string alive.

     "Are you nervous, Roku-kun?" Shinji asks me, I can see the yellow-green fear on his words, "You don't mind if I call you Roku-kun?  Do you?"

     "It's all right, better than Major Katsuragi, the way she garbles my name, I swear she must drink her breakfast."

     Shinji shudders at that, he doesn't know that I know she does exactly that.  What kind of an idiot put someone like that in charge of this operation? I wonder, Unless she has other qualifications.  From what I've heard about Gendo Ikari, that may be the case.  I'd learned the Shinji's father had taken a lover, Ritsuko-sensei's mother, right after the death of Shinji's mother.  I found that an interesting coincidence.  Then she suddenly commits suicide, from what I'd heard about Yui Ikari, Gendo was drawn to unstable women, driven fanatics.  Maybe because he was one himself.  I wonder how many at NERV Tokyo have bothered investigating their Commander?  If the good Major is an indication, none.

     Which is why she's the commanding officer, a voice in my head rasps.

     So you're worried about Langley too? I think

     No, but I know you are, comes the dry answer.  There is an impression of smug satisfaction.

     You can be replaced by any decent psychosis, I mentally reply.  Mocking laughter indicates the presence has withdrawn.

     "Roku-kun?  Are you all right?" Shinji asks.  The litany of the countdown has begun.

     "Just arguing with myself," I tell him, "I think I lost.  Here it comes."

     We hear the approach of the critical threshold, both of us tense.

     "Threshold passed," Maya announces to the crew, "We can now -"

     Unit 01 raises its arm and lets it crash to the deck, splintering deck plates and its own armor.

     "Daargh."  I shout as my hand sprouts a chunk of EVA armor.

     "Roku-kun!" Shinji shouts, glances at the now still EVA.

     "Never mind me, check on Langley!" I shout at him, half pain and half concern, JESUS!  This hurts!

     "Shinji-kun," Ritsuko's voice comes over the loudspeakers, "She's all right, life signs are normal.  She just can't sync with Unit 01."

     "He's hurt!" Shinji points at me.

     Ritsuko steps up to the glass and sees me kneeling on the deck with a huge splinter of metal in my palm.

     "Infirmary!  Now!" she orders, "Then suit up we'll run you in Unit 00."

     I don't argue as Shinji helps me to my feet, I don't remember falling.  It must be shock.

     I sat in the infirmary, Dr. Akagi was pulling the two and a half inch long splinter of metal from the EVA out of my palm.  She had taken the job because the danger to the tendons, and the possibility of contamination of the wound.

     "So, Doc, will I ever play the violin?"

     "Looking for another reason to fight with Asuka-san?" Dr. Akagi smiled, "This is hardly worth considering.  Although standing by for her and others was very touching."

     "I'm not sure she appreciated it."  I grimaced as the metal came loose.

     "Oh?  Someone did."  Dr. Akagi gestured to the door while examining the wound for additional fragments.

     I glanced at Rei, who stood in the doorway, watching the entire process.  She looked ready to retreat at any moment or provocation.

     "Well."  Doctor Akagi applied a gel to the wound, "Keep the wound clean and have the dressings changed daily, and you'll be playing in a week."  She began bandaging.

     "That's good stuff Doc, I could never play it before," I told Dr. Akagi, who scowled.  I turned to Rei, "Would you please tell me why you're always staring at me?"

     Rei stepped fully into the doorway with a very serious expression on her face.  "No."  She turned and left.

     "OWW!  Doc!" I barked, "What was that?"

     "Sorry."  Dr. Akagi hid a smile, the Raccoon bested by Rei.

     "That's it Nabiki-chan," Ritsuko tells her, "Your sync rate is barely 15%, that's barely enough to move the EVA."

     "Can I get out of her?" she asks.  This, thing, she, doesn't want me here.  Maybe Roku-kun's poetry convinced it not to kill me, but it's clear I am unwelcome.  Just how I know that I can't tell, saying it's a strong impression would be like saying a blast furnace has a tendency for warmth.

     "Scared?" Maya teases.

     "Well, unless you want to stop that war under your window."  She gets Maya to look at Ranma confronting Roku-kun, both in their plugsuits.  Ranma's red and black, styled after his usual ensemble, and Raccoon, the nauseated skunk, with the pile of rescue gear.  If I could sync with this thing I could prevent those two from beating each other senseless.  Raccoon, when I suggested he needed a rival, I didn't expect you'd be fighting! "What the Hell is -!"

     "Miss Tendo's and my relationship is strictly business," Davis tells Saotome in a no-nonsense tone, "None of your affair."  He can see the anger and . . . confusion, on all his words.  Tendo-san's plan seems to be working.

     "I think you're sweet on her," Ranma shouts back.

     "Well, I dispute that most vigorously."  Why is he getting so worked up about this, he's never shown her any attention?  Just that stupid Martial Arts of his.  Should I point it out to him?  Not yet.

     "What, you aren't sweet on her?" Ranma asks.

     "No, the other part."  This is almost too easy.  I think I may even let him hit me, if I can arrange it so he's claiming her when he does.  Who taught this boy not to think?  They did a good job.

     "Are you implying I'm stupid?" Ranma's gets nose-to-nose with Davis.

     "I wasn't implying anything," Davis tell Ranma soothingly.

     Ranma relaxes.  "Oh, okay, then."

     "I thought I stated it quite clearly."  Davis watches the anger boil up again.  He is ill-prepared for this game and hasn't the experience to turn his martial arts strategies to the verbal joust.  I only need to push a little more, Davis thinks, Let him make his claim, then strike.  Violence, even verbal violence is a means to an end, never an end in itself.

     "It sounds like you're jealous of her attentions, not man enough to -"

     Before Ranma's fist can land, another intervenes.  Ranma leaps away yelling in surprise, his ring and middle fingers folded, Maybe it's a warding gesture.  Davis doesn't move as the huge purple fist slams down between them.  Ranma is bouncing around like a spooked cat.  Frankly, I'm too scared to move, or speak, Davis admits to myself, Missed by a few inches, that's good precision.

     "You can't fight in here, this is a WAR room!" Nabiki-san's voice booms from the EVA's external speakers.

     Davis steps back a pace, turns and bows, "Beg pardon, you are of course correct, I beg please extend your forgiveness," Davis tell her, she giggles at him, As she often does when I speak Japanese.

     "Your sync rate jumped to 27%, would you like to retest?" Ritsuko-sensei asks.

     I believe she's teasing our dear Fifth, Davis thinks.

     "NO!  ONE TIME DEAL!  GET ME OUT OF HERE!!" she shouts.

     I don't need my unusual wiring to detect the fear in her voice.  Davis head over as the plug ejects.

     Come on! I want to pound on the plug hatch, Ranma, Roku-kun, Shinji, Rei, anybody!  Let me out of this thing! After Unit 01 just moved on its own, I want out of Unit 01 more than I've ever wanted anything in my life.

     I practically throw myself in their arms as Roku-kun and Ranma pull the top hatch open, I hug them both fiercely as they pull me clear.  I've never been so frightened in my life.  Even in Rei's apartment, there was somebody there who knew we were getting out of this, not this time.

     "It's okay, Tendo-san.  You're safe," from Roku-kun.

     "Yeah, nothin' could hurt you," from Ranma.

     To prevent me from kicking Saotome-san up and down the hanger deck, Roku-kun returns to the old script.  "And you would have done - what, exactly - if a problem arose?  Do you know any fire-fighting or rescue procedures?"

     "I would have figured out something!" Ranma retorts as they carried me off the EVA.

     I couldn't help it, I started laughing at both of them.

     "So, Doctor," the Admiral asks Ritsuko as a Navy steward pours tea.  The Captains and Admirals from the entire group are here in a wardroom, a weekly meeting.

     "Nearly done, Admiral.  Only a few more combinations to try.  Overall it is very encouraging.  We'll have to repeat some tests when Unit 02 is available, but by the day after tomorrow, the testing will be completed."

     "What about the testing of the power packs?  The new external batteries, our tech boys have been going slightly ape to know they work," Captain Ramsey added.

     "After the compatibility tests are completed, I can -"

     "After the compatibility tests are completed, Doctor," Admiral Simson says, "You and your entire staff will stand down for at least 24 hours.  No work, 3 full meals, and at least 10 hours sleep.  I can have Dr. Samuels prescribe something to help if necessary."

     "Admiral, with all due respect, my work is . . . ," Ritsuko tells them, "Well my work continues, constantly."

     "Doctor, Misters Ikari and Fuyutsuki may desire you to keep that schedule, but aboard this ship, at sea, I answer only to MacArthur, God, and Harry Truman, in that order.  I was making it a request, I can make it an order, officially.  If you need more time to dot all the i's and cross all the t's, I can sail around your islands a few days, or 'Show the flag' to our British and Chinese friends in Hong Kong.  You and your staff need a rest, I'm going to see to it you get one, at least for one day."

     "I'll pass your request along," Actually, I would like to spend some time with the kids, as something other than the science chief of NERV.  Sit down and help Ranma through his grief.

     "What's so funny?" Captain Ramsey asks.

     "Oh, I was thinking about doing `mom` stuff.  Five weeks ago I wouldn't have even thought of having children, now I'm responsible for three teenagers."  Ritsuko shakes her head, "And I thought Captain Katsuragi was mad for having one.  Now she's got two."

     "I have some knowledge of Child Psychology, and a good selection of books," Dr. Samuels tells her.

     "To read?"

     "No, to paddle them with, using your hand hurts too much," Samuels explains.

     Catching Ranma would be the trick.  Paddling Kaji might have a useful effect, she thinks.

     "Back to the power packs, I think Pilot Davis would be our best choice," she explains, "He's the only one that can sync with all the Units, although Unit 01 still is a problem.  And he has the lowest overall sync rates."

     "Most expendable, eh?" Captain Ramsey asks.

     "That's exactly what he says," Ritsuko replies.

     "Then when the Doctor is finished with the engines, I'd like to try a speed run," the Coral Sea's Captain speaks up, "30 knots for as long as we can hold it.  This is a shakedown cruise."

     "We can do an UNREP, to the destroyers to top off their bunkers," the man who'd been introduced as COMDESRON says.

     "Can I have a translation?" she asks, I thought my English was pretty good, this is like a foreign language.

     Captain Ramsey smiles, "Sorry, Doctor, Admiral Mathers, Commander of the Destroyer Squadron, wants his destroyers to be refueled, they don't have the endurance the Coral Sea does, so we're going to while we're Underway we Replenish them, UNREP."

     "Transfer fuel while we're steaming along at 25 knots?  I think I'll stay in my cabin," she tells them, "That sounds dangerous."

     "Most of us feel that way about the EVAs," Admiral Mathers tells her, "What's routine and what's frightening are matters of experience."

     She nods.

     "The only problem I can see, is with Cygnus and Pollux," the Captain of one of the two fast freighters tells us, "We've barely kept up at 25 knots, at 30, you'll leave us behind.  And with what we're carrying, I'd rather not have the EVAs over the horizon if something goes wrong."

     "We could always sail circles around you," the Commander of the Alaska, one of the two `large heavy cruisers` suggests, Battlecruisers, Ritsuko thinks.

     "Speak for yourself," the Coral Sea's Captain pipes up, "They'll take any damage out of my pay."

     The others laugh.  This is a far more collegial atmosphere than Gendo's `meetings` where he handed down Holy Writ from on high.  The Admiral watches and listens.  When he gives orders, they will be obeyed, even if he ignores all the wise counsel of the other officers, they'd feel the orders are something they'd had a hand in.  Ritsuko remembers reading about Nelson's 'Band of Brothers' who won Trafalgar and the Nile for him, Simson seems to be the same way.

     I'm beginning to wonder about all the jokes that only broken people are allowed to join NERV.  I know the truth about the pilots.  I am wondering about how far that spread.

     The meeting continues for a while, no one begrudges her an occasional clarification.  Most of it is Navy business, some touches on NERV operations, and Ritsuko speaks for that.  I notice quite a few admiring glances at me, that is flattering, I suspect Gendo and Fuyutsuki only had eyes for one woman.  My mother's fate makes that clear.  I hope Maya doesn't fall into the trap I did, or Misato's trap.

     Finally the meeting breaks up.

     "Dr. Akagi, a moment?" Admiral Simson asks.

     "Yes, Admiral."

     "Sorry to come down on you that way, you and your team have done excellent work, better than anyone else.  That's why the order.  It seems only you and Dr. Schikelgrubber can produce good pilots, and he's dead, according to the Russians.  Callous as it sounds, we have two extra pilots, and if Miss Langley is lost, we can replace her with Miss Alice," he pronounces it Ah-leess, "Without the Senate raising too big a stink.  You're the one we can't replace, unless your assistant has the same talent."

     "I think she does, I'd rather not find out I'm wrong though," Ritsuko replies.

     "Agreed, get some rest Doctor.  Maybe figure out what you're going to do on your `vacation`."

     "Oh, shuffleboard, some canasta.  Maybe watch young Mister Davis and Miss Tendo skin your command staff alive at poker."  She smiles, he nods and she leaves.

     Darkness, I can hear the others, other hunters.  Do they stalk me, as I follow them, or are they after other prey?  Shadow to shadow, padded step.  The Navy men in their dungarees and khakis pay us no heed.  We are just wind or shades to them.  A moment's concern, dismissed with a sip of coffee.  I am here to protect, what are they after?  I wish I could ask, I wish I could trust the answer I'd get.

     If an enemy appeared, how far could I trust them, trust their strange ways?  Would they strike at a moment of weakness, or continue to the end, to disguise their true motives until a later date?  Would they concern themselves with my motives?  And who truly is the stronger of us?  Or would that depend on the circumstances, brute power, guile, the unexpected, all are different?  None know my hidden depths, my full power.  How afraid and angry would they be if they did?

     So we watch, and continue our dance, hoping for something else to vent our frustration on.  And admit that even finding nothing, is a victory.

     Shinji heard the cabin door open and close, and the slam of the door to Ayanami's and Tendo's room.  He liked it quiet, but the silence between the three of them in the corridor had been painful.

     "Where'd you go?" he asked as Davis pulled off his coat and tie.

     "Just walking."

     He glanced at the clock, "For three hours, at 2:00 A.M.  in the morning?" Even I don't believe that.

     "I didn't tell you what we were walking in."  He pulled himself into the upper bunk, and fell silent.

     This is getting more and more weird.  Having Miss Langley and Misato-san as roommates is starting to sound okay.

     I will find out.
     The same mess hall, the same people, the same food as before, I thought, Nobody launching a screaming 'Ranma die!' before breakfast.  Do they have to look so happy? I wonder.

     "Sleep well, Tendo-san?" Roku-kun smiled at me.

     I looked around at the rest of the breakfast crew.  Damn, morning people, I thought of the boys and Rei, Asuka was the only other pilot who looked as bad as I felt.  The Navy food was good, although I really wanted another hour of sleep, despite being up at 6:30 A.M., which helped, but not enough.

     I've been teaching Rei the Art in our cabin, before breakfast, but doing that without screaming at the girl was taxing my patience.  It was as if Rei didn't move like real people.  Where have I heard that before?! I wondered.  "Come on," I muttered, "It isn't that hard."

     Ranma was already talking with Raccoon and Shinji.  "Come on, it'll be fun."

     "I don't see the point," Davis replied, "It will take years to master the advanced techniques.  We don't even have weeks.  What can you teach us in two weeks?"

     "You'll never know unless you try," Ranma retorted.

     "I enjoy my lessons with Nabiki-chan," Rei added.

     Well that's nice to hear, I thought, "Are you afraid?"

     "I'm trying to use my time to the greatest effect," Davis replied.

     "What do you think?" I asked Shinji, fortunately Asuka remained quiet.

     "I'd like to learn to do well."  Shinji seemed to pull in on himself.

     "Maybe you should practice with Tendo-san and Ayanami-san," Raccoon suggested, "That's the beginners' class."

     Rei and Shinji exchanged glances, then looked away.  Shinji blushed, Rei looked down.

     So that's how she looks embarrassed, I added to my `database` of Rei.

     "So is that a yes?" Ranma asked.

     "I'm willing to see if you can add anything to my bag of tricks," Raccoon admitted, although it was clear he had his doubts.

     None of us have ever seen him fight, except once against Asuka.  I was glad at the time, that Ranma was showing an interest in something that would get him outside.  I should have watched closer, if I'd been awake, maybe I would have.

     I caught up with Raccoon waiting with the rescue gear, waiting outside Unit 00 while Ranma was testing.

     "They have rescue teams," I pointed to the red- and white-shirted crewmen.

     "Tendo-san, you're the one who accused me of being a wizard.  Maybe a wizard would be useful."  He smiled.

     Do you know how badly I want to hurt you? I smiled at him.

     Ranma climbed out without incident, and Davis walked to the ladder leading to the flight deck, Unit 04, and Rei's test.

     I decided to talk with Ranma instead.

     "So Saotome," I entered the 'boy's' locker room.

     "Hey, a little - " A splash of water silenced him.

     "Now we're both girls.  Do you really want to teach them?"

     Ranma never showed the least interest in teaching, despite having an unused dojo at his disposal.  Even my not-so-gentle persuasion hadn't convinced him to reopen the dojo.  He wasn't interested, neither Soun nor Genma was interested in teaching him how to teach.  And the few attempts to teach Akane anything had been disasters.  I haven't figured out if that had been Ranma's teaching techniques, or his usual friction with Akane.

     "Sure," she said, smiled cutely.

     I knew when I was being set up, "So you're doing this out of the goodness of your heart?  Your concern for your fellow pilots?"

     She was about to agree when I interrupted, "Nobody's that stupid.  Come on Saotome, the truth."

     She tried to look cute, instead of answering my question.

     "Answer me, or I'll hurt you," I told her.

     She squirmed, she knew I was serious, and she also knew that she'd be unable to fight back effectively, "I'm tired of them saying martial arts aren't important," she told me.

     "So you're going to beat them up because of that?" I made my voice threatening.

     "No!" Ranko tried to move away from me, "But you know what an advantage it would be."

     When Ranma started thinking, it meant trouble.

     "Just remember," I warned, "That they may have ways of making your life miserable."  I smiled at her and all the color drained out of her face.

     I'll have to warn Davis that his plan, whatever it is, seems to be working.  I thought I'd better warn Shinji, Ranma wouldn't hurt him, I sighed, "Why would he want Shinji there if . . . ?" I shook my head.  This was giving me a headache.

     Good grief! I think, Not again! I spot Ranma and Roku-kun arguing outside of Unit 00, that I'm testing in.  Roku-kun is standing by with rescue gear, in case something goes wrong.  And Ranma, unwilling to be `defeated` in any challenge, is waiting with him.  I can hear Ranma hammering the other boy about accepting his offer of training in Martial Arts.  Well, Nabiki, this plan is rapidly spiraling out of control.  Or it's working beyond your wildest dreams.  I can hear them clearly through the EVA's audio pickups.  Who'd have thought EVAs have ears? I wonder.

     "So I can teach you how to fight like a man," Ranma tells him.

     Ranma, he's going to make you pay for that! I wonder how I could intervene to keep them from killing each other.  I am going to have to tell Roku-kun to back off a tad on needling Ranma.

     "But I already know how to take cover and kill my enemies from ambush, preferably at range beyond their ability to reply," Roku-kun says sweetly.

     I don't need to hear the next set of exchanges about honor, I think, "Say, Doc?  How do you generate an AT field?"

     "Why do you want to know that 'Biki-chan?" Ritsuko asks.

     I grit my teeth, "Okay, I get the message.  Doctor, the question still stands."

     "Why are you in such a - " Ritsuko steps up to the control room windows.

     "It isn't honorable to do that!" Ranma shouts at Roku-kun.  Barely restraining his temper, "Anyone who does that isn't honorable!" Ranma throws his strongest insult, at entirely the wrong target.

     "This is how."  Ritsuko explains quickly.

     "Oh, you want to teach me how to fight like a stupid man," Roku-kun insults Ranma back.

     Ranma turns away then comes right back, Roku-kun steps towards him.  Both bounce off an unseen wall.  Both begin probing for the edges of the barrier, both fall against each other when I remove the barrier.

     "If you two can't behave, I'll have to separate you!" I yell at them through the EVA's external speakers, as the two of them embarrassedly disentangle themselves from each other.  Asuka, Rei and Shinji arrive.  All laughing at the pair and help them up and away from each other.

     You two are getting ridiculous, I think as I close down Unit 00.  Roku-kun heads off to help Shinji giving Rei moral support as she tries to link with Unit 01.  Asuka grabs Ranma's ear and drags him with.  Even Asuka seems concerned about Rei syncing with Unit 01.

     I don't believe this, Asuka thought, Waiting here for Wondergirl.  Why are they going to dump her into that - thing - again?  It doesn't like girls.  How tough is it to figure that out? She glared at the others to silence them, she wanted to hear Doctor Akagi's countdown.

     Of course, Raccoon is waiting, she had hated being considered needing help.  But he had done it for everyone, because no one had stood for him.

     "Approaching threshold," Maya reported.

     "Come on, come on," she murmured under her breath, she wasn't lauding Wondergirl, she wanted this over with.

     "Threshold," Ritsuko reported.

     Asuka noted Shinji leaning forward slightly.

     Ready to race to her defense? she insulted, Maybe he isn't as Spineless as he usually acts.  I can cure that.  She smiled, and waited.

     The seconds, then minutes crawled by.  No alarms, no shouting from the `adults`.

     "Okay Rei, you're done," Ritsuko told her, "The rest of you can start breathing again."

     "I wasn't worried," Asuka replied and walked off, Getting all worried for nothing.  The others were congratulating each other.  As if they actually did something, she thought with disgust.

Sea Stories

     Well, so this is what the mess hall looks like between meals, Nabiki thought.

     "Well, they made a deal with hundreds of those things.  In the Antarctic, they were in the cold ice water of the south," Davis told his audience, including Ritsuko and Maya.

     Nabiki smiled at that, she noted Admiral Simson and Captains Ramsey and Storrs entering, the Admiral gestured for them not to interrupt.

     "Well they signed up in droves.  Steam, how would a teakettle be able to move a ship this big?  Do you know why we could build so many big ships and no other nation could?" he asked.

     "The British Navy was supposed to be the biggest and the best, but the U.S.  Navy is a match for the combined navies of the rest of the world.  It's these things.  We could build the engines necessary to drive them."

     "But I've seen the boilers," one of the young men protested.

     "Oh, I never said we didn't use steam.  The steam keeps them moist and warm.  Keeps them comfortable and a little muzzy, you know how it is when it's hot and humid."

     He let the others nod and understand.  "Well, have you ever seen the propellers on a ship like this?"

     No one had.

     "They're slow, compared to the propellers on a plane.  Dozens of RPMs, not hundreds or thousands.  Because the creatures can't move that fast, so they had to redesign the propellers to use the creatures' strength to the best advantage.  The one that escaped . . . " He looked around, "It heard some of the others got Liberty at San Francisco, why do you think it went after the two girls, not someone else."

     "Come on, how could something like that go on Liberty?" one of the cleverer men saw the hole in the story.

     "It can change its shape, to anything.  It couldn't exactly duplicate a particular person."

     "But that one, it was huge!"

     "So one piece goes to the dance hall, another goes upstairs with the lady."  Jeff let the ribald chuckling rise and fall, "Another goes to the bar, another to a restaurant," he explained.

     "Have you wondered why the Captain uses bells to signal the engine room, when it's so loud down there?"

     None of them had an answer.

     "Because, that's - all - they - can - hear," he hissed at them.  "Go down there one night with a bell, and ring it next to the turbines, or the reduction gears.  But don't let the snipes or engineers catch you, you never know where they'll put your . . . pieces."  He tipped his hat and stood up, left a desperate conversation among his audience.  Although Maya and Ritsuko hid their laughter as they walked away.

     Nabiki noted that Admiral Simson beckoned him over, with a smirk on his face.

     "You tell quite a sea story," the Admiral said.

     Davis smiled, shrugged, "I had to learn to do something to entertain the adults.  Telling stories kept their attention longer than other tricks."

     The Admiral nodded and headed off.

     "So you do lie," Nabiki told him.

     "I tell stories, that's different.  There is no expectation of truth with a tall tale or a sea story."

     "So when do I know you're telling a story?" she asked.

     "I would think a clever girl like you could tell instantly."  He tipped his hat and walked away.

     I hope Ranma pounds you into the deck! she mentally screamed at him, I've never had to deal with someone who can get under my skin so easily.  I hate that.

From the Journal of Jeffrey Davis

     What was supposed to be the next day's entry and became the next week's entry.

     Dr. Akagi caught me reading poetry to the Unit 00 and 01 last night, she reminded me, that they weren't alive or aware.  Rather than dispute her I asked 'How close does a simulation have to be, before it is legally treated as real?' She finished her coffee and left me to read, besides I like Kipling, helps me settle my thoughts.  A warrior poet, or poet for soldiers.  Besides, I am certain the good Captain and the gentle analyst have no idea who I am, or where we met, I will not record it here, but I don't think I'll be sleeping too well for a while.

     Without the advice and wise counsel of Unit 04, I would not have survived syncing with Unit 01, or succeeded in syncing with Unit 00.  I wonder if the method is different that the sync method used by the others.  Sort of sliding into link instead of bashing my way in.

     Asuka Soryu Langley: I was right, Unit 01 does NOT like her.  It jerked violently once, then simply refused to do anything, no attack like against Ayanami-san or me, just nothing.  I wonder if the EVA was giving us an insight into her personality.  She was also furious to see me standing by with rescue gear, Captain Katsuragi and Analyst Ibuki thought it was `romantic`.  Getting wounded in the process enhanced the effect.  Except for her age, and uniformly bad judgment, no that's not fair, overaggressive/domineering personality, she could be The Meliorist.  Something more to investigate.  She picks on Pilot Shinji Ikari relentlessly.  I think I have a way to deal with that too.  She couldn't get reactions from Unit 00 or 04 either, what's that all about?

     Shinji Ikari: Passive.  I don't think a shark chewing his leg off could get a rise out of him.  He isn't calm, embarrassed by the most trivial things, his reaction is to retreat, physically or into endless apologies, somehow distancing himself from the trouble, or its consequences.  He's also the best pilot from his sync rates with Unit 00, 01, he can't link with Unit 04 either.  Although Langley assures all of us, that her rate with Unit 02 is higher than his with Unit 01.  He and I share a room aboard the carrier.  I was too exhausted to speak to him last night, or the night before, or all of last week, tonight we should talk.  I wonder if anyone has ever let him talk, and just listened to him.  Maybe Unit 01?

     Ranma Saotome: A horse's ass.  Nabiki Tendo laughed when I grumbled that, Ranma means wild horse, she didn't realize I did it on purpose.  Then we . . . She gets her own entry, write about it there.  Confident, swaggering, `A manly man` with all the pejoratives that go with it.  Expert in several forms of hand-to-hand combat, he offered to teach me 'How to fight like a man.' I told him I already knew how to take cover and kill my enemies from ambush.  He said it wasn't honorable, I retorted he wanted to teach me how to fight like a stupid man, Nabiki, Shinji, Langley and Rei separated us at that point.  He's the second or third best pilot, able to sync with Unit 01 and 04, how he got Unit 01 to work I don't know.  Hidden depths maybe.  Maybe it thought he was Shinji.  Langley had called him Hydromorph, and got into a lot of trouble, I can parse the meaning, but it still makes no sense.  This must be part of the joke they're playing on me.  He's got a higher sync rate than I do in Unit 04, meaning he's the primary pilot.  That does not make our relationship easier.

     Rei Ayanami: Passive.  She seems unfrightened of anything, except communicating, responding in the fewest possible words.  She saw me making notes in this journal and stared, unspeaking, for five minutes (I timed it).  When I told her I record my thoughts in my journal she said, 'I also', and walked off.  A religious zealot is the best I can explain, it's as if she's seen the face of God, and can't understand the `real` world anymore.  She also asks simple questions, that would send a Philosophy professor scrambling, I've managed to get her a few answers after consulting my notes and textbooks.  (E.g., 'Must we love our duty?  If not, how do we succeed?') She's like having final exams hanging over your head ready to drop on you at any moment.  After we cross the International Date Line, there is a talent show, performance is mandatory for all first-time crossers.  I convinced her to do a comedy act with me, that's not what I told her, but with her straightforward, deadpan delivery, she'll be perfect.  She can pilot Units 00, 01, and 04, although 01 at a drastically reduced rate, the only other generalist, she's better than me in all of them.  Oh well, mechanic for life, maybe they'll dig up more of these things, or send Unit 03, BRR.

     Ranko Saotome: Much more personable than her - brother? Cousin? Male relative.  As obnoxious in her desire to master martial arts as Ranma, but she at least has a brain to go with it.  When it isn't martial arts she can be quite charming and clever.  She goes along with the `Ranma and Ranko are the same person.` A dispassionate observer and an IQ test would blow that theory out of the water.  She can sync with Units 01 and 04, her sync rate is lower with 01 and higher with 04 than Ranma's.  Like Shinji, she seems scared of her own shadow, and like Langley, assumes any attention paid her has a sexual slant.  I wonder if this is a characteristic of non-U.S.  of A.  born blue-eyed red-heads.  Ranko's enthusiasm for any task set to her makes her pleasant to be around, if there's something to do.  If not, she's wearing.  For all her bravado and confidence, she's deathly afraid of something.  I'll have to find out what it is.  What happens then, depends.

     Nabiki Tendo: Oh boy.  While Langley may be my scholastic equal, no one else is as mentally agile as Miss Tendo, including the `adults`, even Dr. Akagi, I really must stop thinking of them like that.  She also laughs at things that only she gets as jokes.  Her crack about free numbers, I still don't get.  She also taught me a salute to go with my new name, Jeffrey Davis being unpronounceable by Japanese (although they try until I'm ready to silence them by homicide): two fingers and 'Be seeing you.' It puts her into hysterics, oh well.  Her new nickname for me is Roku-kun, friend six.  To one-up her, Langley changed it to Raccoon, and was furious when Tendo found this even more hilarious.  The Raccoon, or Tanuki, Raccoon-dog, is a shape-changer, and trickster extra ordinaire, and generally not malicious, in Japanese culture, Coyote rather than Raven.  She's already perceived how that fits me.  She has also teased me about, in a, oh blast it, double-entendre.  I doubt she has any, procreative, interest in me, but it is one of the few areas she can fluster me, and that seems to be what she wants.  She also thinks it's 'Terribly Cute,' my rivalry with Saotome, 'Just like home.' From Ranma entry: She gets most of my jokes, even the English-Japanese-German puns, we spent almost twenty minutes building on a theme of misdefining words (it is westerly, no its Thursday, I'm thirsty too, let's get a drink), switching back and forth between languages, until even Dr. Akagi's eyes glazed over.  Strangely, only Rei seemed able to keep up, filing the exchange away for further analysis.  Nabiki . . . can pilot Unit 00 and Unit 04, and she's better than I am, but not better than Rei and Ranma.  So it's likely she'll be first alternate, I'll be second alternate, such is life.  She agrees there is something in there, and the adults don't know all of what's going on.  On a side note, I've spotted Miss Tendo following me on my walks through the ship, and she watches me read poetry to the EVAs.  Why she is so fascinated by me I don't know, I strongly suspect it was the incident in San Francisco and my camera, although it lacks the predatory nature she has when `stalking` Langley.  And I don't think I'm alone, she and Rei `stalk` all the pilots from time to time, as do I, very curious.

     Time for sleep, I need to talk to Shinji tonight, or rather, I need to get him to talk, and I to listen.

Train Dreams

     The clack of rails, the swaying of the cars, the familiar patterns in the wooden floorboards.  Shinji had this dream of riding the train, for as long as he could remember.  He was alone, with the sun warming his back.  He could be completely alone here.  Because of that, he felt safe and secure here, more than any place in the real world.

     The boy who always wore the suit, Roku-kun, opened the door from the adjoining car and entered.  Shinji looked up from the floor in utter shock, as the boy stood across from him.

     "Is this seat taken?" He pointed with his walking stick to the bench directly across from Shinji.  In his shock, Shinji shook his head `no.`

     Davis, Roku-kun, lay down across the bench, put his hat over his face and seemed to go to sleep.

     Sleeping in a dream, Shinji reflected, Lying on the benches.  Why have I never thought of that?  This is MY dream after all.

     "You do good work."

     Shinji started at Roku-kun's words, "Excellent craftsmanship, very realistic without the discomfort of a real trolley car.  More like a Pullman sleeping car."

     Shinji braced himself for teasing, Roku-kun seemed to tease Asuka and Misato relentlessly.  When it didn't come, he felt embarrassed, he wasn't used to compliments.  Here in this dream, he shut out the world, and its scorn and antagonism.  He wasn't prepared for this space to be invaded, and applauded.  They rode in silence for a while, the click and clack of the rails lulled Shinji into a relaxed state.

     "This is a ring line, you know."  Davis said, breaking Shinji's reverie.  He lifted his hat, turned to stare at Shinji, "That means, if you are running away from your troubles, metaphorically speaking, unless their speed of pursuit, exactly matches your speed of getaway, you haven't achieved but a brief respite.  So while you run away from them, you are also running after them, they - will catch - you, or you - will catch - them, eventually.  If your strategy is to get some breathing space, a respite, to plan how to deal with them at your leisure, it is a very good plan.  If your plan is to escape them entirely, it is a very bad plan."  He put the hat back over his face, seemed to go to sleep again.

     Shinji had never viewed it that way, he came here simply to hide.  The idea of confronting his problems here, had never occurred to him.

     "I am still willing to listen," Davis told him, echoing the words he'd said that evening in the waking world, "I can give sympathy or advice, or both.  Your choice, your specification.  I will not leave you alone to suffer, I can't you see."

     "Why not?" Shinji hadn't considered that anyone had to help someone else.

     "Power always comes with a commensurate price, or it is taken for granted, and abused.  So does absolution.  I have the former, I need the later, therefore I can't leave `well-enough alone`."

     "Absolution for what?"

     "Murder."  He sat up, faced Shinji, "I killed someone."  He tapped his head, "Up here, in my mind, and they died.  I didn't really do it, I certainly didn't mean to, I doubt I could do it for real if the world depended on it.  But it happened once, and for the most trivial of reasons.  Since I can never be forgiven, I must atone.  Are you willing to help me?"

     Shinji was confused, and more than a little frightened, "How?  How can I help you?"

     "By letting me help you.  You may just want someone to listen to your troubles, your hopes and dreams, and just acknowledge they exist, and therefore so do you.  You may want someone to help eliminate your troubles, and realize your dreams.  I can do this as well, and more.  But only if you wish it.  You cannot send me away, for one thing, even here, you are not strong enough, yet.  We can work on that.  But I suspect you don't want to send anyone away, you just don't want them to hurt you."

     "Yes," Shinji admitted, shuffled his feet, stared at the floor.

     "Then don't let them, you fear the smallest hurts.  Only you can decide to be hurt this way."  Davis stood, and took the seat next to Shinji, "I hate being laughed at.  So I make people laugh at me, then I'm in on the joke, their laughter is something I created.  In that case, it doesn't hurt - as much.  But I've helped them, that puts the small pain I feel in proper perspective."  He paused, "You are afraid of, and hate, Ikari Gendo, because he is your father?"

     "Yes."  Shinji nodded.  He didn't actually hate his father.  He wanted his father to notice him.  To say something to him, to acknowledge his existence, his efforts.  Even if it was ridicule or complaints.  It would tell him his father was paying attention to him.

     "Then don't let him be.  Did he raise you?  Was he the one who soothed your nightmares, nursed you when you were sick?"

     "No."  Shinji was shocked, Not my father?  What is he talking about?  How can he mean that?! he wondered, How can you not let someone be your father?

     "Did he see to it you had food to eat, clothes on your back and a dry place to sleep?"


     "Then he was hardly your father."

     Shinji was horrified by this idea.  What does any of that have to do with being a father? Shinji wondered, He ignored me because I was worthless.  I don't have any choice about who my father is!  What am I, if I'm not his son?!

     "Then you are like me, a tool for him to use for his ends.  That he had a hand in creating you, gives you no special advantages, or responsibilities.  Do your job, concentrate on that.  If he praises you, it will be for forwarding his interests beyond what he expected, not because his - son - succeeded."

     "This, is too hard to accept."  Shinji's mind was awhirl with those alien thoughts.  The memories of the fight with the worm were more reasonable than what Roku-kun was proposing.

     "Then I'll leave you to ride and consider it."  Jeff stood up, stared out the window at the grasslands and forests flying by, "You created great beauty out there.  Have you ever let yourself simply look at it?  And considered the soul who could create such vistas?" He opened the door, the roar of wind and rail magnified greatly as he stepped from the train.

     "JEFU!" Shinji stood in horror.  Jeff rolled to a stop, and waved his hat at Shinji as he receded into the distance.  Shinji stood for the rest of the dream, staring out the open door.  Forests, temples, blue sky, mountains, grasslands, clouds, small towns whizzed by outside.  It was beautiful, and peaceful.  He recognized bits and pieces from his childhood all carefully assembled into a greater whole.  He saw Jeff strolling in the forests of his imagining twice, before he awoke. 

     "You okay?" Shinji heard Roku-kun's voice as he woke.

     "You stepped out of a moving train."  Shinji woke, rubbed his eyes.

     "In a dream, that makes a big difference.  You'll need to learn to control your dreams.  That's how I crashed your party," he explained.

     "Have you thought about what I said?" Roku-kun asked.

     "I, not really, it's just, well, I, sorry."

     "No need to apologize, it was quite a load to suddenly have to deal with," Roku-kun told him.

     "You said you killed him, someone," Shinji said.  He watched Davis's face freeze, the smile faded, he looked away.

     "My brother, I don't know if he got a bad batch of vaccine, or what.  Smallpox is not a good way to die.  Toxemia, blood poisoning was what killed him, he died in agony.  His death was a mercy."

     "I didn't know," Shinji admitted, "I thought we were all only children."

     "It's in my biography, and nobody but me bothered to read them."  The glum visage faded, the smile returned, "So, I know a bit about what you're going through.  So, do you want to remake the universe before, or after breakfast."

     Shinji smiled, "After.  What do you think of Ranma's offer of training?"

     "We give him a chance."  Then he glared smilingly at Shinji, "Then we feed him to Tendo-san."

     Shinji laughed at that.

Vacation Day

     Ritsuko watched the kids arguing over breakfast.  Shinji and Davis seemed Ranma's particular target.

     "So have you decided to train?" Ranma asked.

     "Not today."  A baseball appeared out of Davis's hands, "I think we need to relax.  But you can think of it as a martial arts' contest.  Can you throw this."  He let the ball roll down his arm, then popped it up and into Ranma's hands with his elbow, "Through a rectangle, fast enough to keep someone standing next to it from hitting the ball as it goes by."

     "Ha, easy," Ranma replied.

     "Why are you bothering to teach them baseball?" Asuka asked, "As soon as the Occupation is over, the Japanese are going to forget about baseball and go back to football, like the rest of the world."

     Nabiki's violent coughing surprised all of us.  Ranma and Davis glared at each other as they patted her on the back.  Asuka didn't think it was funny.

     I still don't know what I'm going to do for the rest of the day.  'Relaxing' is something I don't have much experience with.

     There was a partition of heavy chain screening out the EVAs' area.  The rest of the immense hanger deck was open.  Although off-duty officers and crew crowded every available space.  The noise inside the metal box was incredible.

     "Ball!" Captain Ramsey called from behind Ritsuko, while the impact stung her gloved hand.

     "What are you talking about?" Ranma shouted, "Doctor, what do you say?"

     She threw the ball back to him, "It isn't my job."  She wondered how she got roped into playing catcher.

     Asuka leaned on her bat, "Look Horseface, the strike zone depends on the size of the batter."

     "I know that!" Ranma shouted back.

     Asuka readied her bat, "THEN PUT IT OVER THE PLATE!"

     Ranma was `throwing smoke`, as the Americans say.  With only a few pilots, there's only one base, out and back.  The base man right now is Nabiki, with Rei on base.  The fielders are from the crew, so are the umpires, they know the game.

     KRACKK!  Asuka hit a line drive right back at Ranma.  He caught it and turned to throw to Nabiki.  Rei dove back to the base before Nabiki could tag her out.

     Now Shinji's up.  He was hopeless, Ranma had struck him out every time, or caught the ball.  In the cavernous hanger deck, pop flies were a cause for concern.

     "I'll take it easy on you," Ranma said.

     That's cruel Ranma, Ritsuko thought, but he'd already shown he was `better` than the others.

     Shinji's reaction was not the desperate swing that he'd used before.  He barely tapped the ball, away from Ranma, towards the foul line.  Ranma was scrambling after the ball as Shinji and Rei passed each other.  Ranma had the ball and was torn for an instant where to throw to the ball.  He couldn't beat Rei to the base, I never knew she could run that fast, Ritsuko thought as he threw to Nabiki, Shinji was safe on base.

     "Is that legal?" Ranma asked.

     "It's a bunt," Ramsey explained, "Perfectly legal.  Just unexpected."  Ramsey glanced at some sailors who'd been talking to Shinji after his last strike out.

     Ranma tossed the ball and glove to Rei as he collected a bat, he's up after Davis.

     Jeff was able to hit off Ranma only occasionally, Asuka slightly more often.  Asuka had more trouble hitting off Rei then Jeff did.  Ranma had more trouble than either of them.  From the way Rei pitched to Nabiki and Shinji, it's clear they have a connection.  Nabiki and Shinji were hopeless against Ranma, and Rei hit nearly every time.

     Rei threw the ball, Davis connected.  The ball bounced down the length of the carrier, a home run.  After Davis scored his run, he replaced Nabiki at the base.  Ranma glowered at Rei, the pilots were being scored separately, and Ranma was far down because of Rei's pitching.

     WHAP!  "Strike!" Ramsey called.

     You shouldn't have swung at that Ranma, Ritsuko thought, It was out of your strike zone.  If you quit trying to kill the ball, you'd hit more often.

     WHAP!  "Strike two!"

     KRACK!  Everyone scattered as the foul ball ricocheted off the overheads.

     Admiral Simson watched Ayanami strike out Saotome, who predictably stormed off.  Most of the off-duty crew were surrounding them and cheering.  He smiled, it was a good `vacation` for the NERV crews.  After everything that had happened in the last few days, it was a necessary diversion.

     He also approved of the intensely competitive nature of all the pilots, both for the headaches they've give Gendo Ikari, and for the indomitability it implied about each of them.  The human race would need pilots who just wouldn't quit, no matter what.

     He wondered where Misato Katsuragi was, She should be here, as should Kaji Ryoji . . . so that's where they were.  Well, people relaxed in their own way, he hoped they were done before the pilots finished playing.

     The bath dominated the small medical area.  Other machines I didn't recognize covered all four walls.  All I cared about was the bath.  I hadn't expected to find a whirlpool bath, in `primitive` 1947.  I eased into the swirling hot water.

     "Don't take to long, Nabiki-chan," Ritsuko told me, "I hurt everywhere."

     "There's space for two, because, Doctor, I'm not getting out until I melt."  I settled with the water up to my lower lip.  "Should we kill Davis for getting us into this mess."

     "You scored the second most points, after Asuka.  You should be happy."

     I could see she was seriously considering my invitation, if this was a hot spring neither of us would think anything of it.

     "Go ahead, Doctor, I won't take advantage of you in your weakened condition.  If I did, Maya would kill me."  I hid my smile as she was startled by that.  She reluctantly climbed into the huge bath.  "I noticed that if Asuka was going to score a run, then Rei's a tougher pitcher, if Shinji's was going to score, she's easier, modifying her normal style."

     "What do you think that means?" Ritsuko settled into the hot water, "Fifteen minutes max, after that there's a danger of heat prostration."

     "Fifteen minutes, and you'll have to ladle me onto the floor."  I could feel the heat and swirling water easing my bruised muscles.  It had been fun, but it had also been hard work.  "I don't think Rei likes Asuka, but she's not alone.  I do think she likes Shinji.  Especially after he pulled her out of Unit 01.  She's not used to people being interested in her.  I can't figure out if she enjoys, is repelled or both, by it.  I suspect it changes."

     "Sometimes she doesn't like to be touched, usually when she's agitated."  Ritsuko remembered.  "Believe me, you and the others have turned things upside down.  I still haven't figured out if that's good or bad."

     "Doc, I can call you that, we're alone," I reminded her, "That thing that crawled out of the ventilators.  What killed it, and short of an EVA, what could kill one?"

     "It burned to death," Ritsuko told me, "They're resistant to fire and electricity.  No weapon is really effective against one.  Why, do you know what killed it?"

     "Raccoon said you'd need a fighter plane to kill one," I told her, "I thought he was just trying to scare me, it worked."

     "No, a fighter plane, or a tank might do it.  Flamethrowers, enough cold, maybe acids or caustics, I'm no expert.  I do know they're incredibly hard to kill."

     "Is there anyway of communicating with them?  Just once I'd like to ask one of our enemies why they're doing this."

     "Our enemies," Ritsuko said quietly, "Don't care about us, anymore than we'd care about a nest of ants.  They'll crush us without thought and without malice.  The EVAs give us a few ants with painful stingers, but they still don't regard us as worthy or even able of speech or thought, let alone negotiation."

     "Maybe an intermediary?" I suggested.

     "Trying to find a peaceful solution?" Ritsuko stretched, "The only intermediaries hate us worse than the things trying to kill us.  Nothing remotely human can talk to a Great Old One, that's the name for the lesser of our enemies.  The greater ones are called Outer Gods.  And being able to kill them doesn't gain us any respect, like a poisonous spider, you learn what it looks like, but you don't go talk to it."

     "So we couldn't capture one and talk to it?"

     "If you could, you'd be the first.  A lot of the lesser creatures have the same attitude, and those, we have tried to get them to talk.  Nothing would work, unless they wanted to tell us something."

     "Terrific."  I climbed out, toweled off.  I was going to get a nap before dinner, or maybe sleep through to morning.

     Rei woke unexpectedly.  She remembered she was in the Dreamlands, and she'd been following this army, dodging their cavalry patrols.  Over the last few days she'd gotten no sleep or food because of the intensity of the patrols.

     Her stomach growled, recognizing the smell of food.  Her other senses quickly reported in.  It was dark, but she could see the interior of the tent she was in.  She had been carefully washed, and the silk pajamas she wore were not hers.  Nor was the pile of silk pillows she was lying on.  The smell of a the bowl of vegetable chowder and buttered bread kept drawing her attention.

     "It's perfectly safe," a cultured voice told her from the shadows.  "And you are welcome to it."  The white-haired man she'd seen in Zais stepped into clear view.  "I must apologize for harassing you for the last few days, but you aren't one of us, and you were following us."

     "I am a prisoner," she said, gauging her chances against this strange man.

     "Yes, more of that rug than anything else, the spell holding you is woven into it.  You see, we know what you really are.  And as the Dragon has said, as long as we don't start anything, you have no reason to start anything."

     "I am trapped."  Rei reached out gingerly, expecting a shock or pain to delineate the barrier, the hard wall was unexpected.

     "When we reach our destination, we will release you.  Until then, we will care for you.  For now, eat up, the camp will be moving again in a few hours."  The old man stood and left the tent.

     Rei sniffed the food, it didn't smell poisoned.  They'd hardly need poison, if they could capture me so easily, she considered as she ate, wiping the bowl clean with the crust of bread.  As an experiment, she tried putting the empty bowl beyond the barrier.  It passed through easily.

     With a full stomach she looked around, she frowned at the red and yellow clothes, nothing was perfect.  She was very tired, ordinary sleep, not the grogginess of sedatives, she had enough experience to know the difference.  She settled into the nest of pillows and slept.  The next day would provide her with answers.

     "So what do we do with her?" Anna looked at the tower in the distance, a good day's march away.  The half leaf symbol marked the occupant's notational allegiance.  The half-dozen dragon skulls adorning the summit told her why they were here.

     "We wait," the Dragon replied, paging through the book he carried, "The Committee needs to learn they cannot act with impunity, they may hide behind their spokesmen in the Waking World, but that," the Dragon gestured at the tower, "Cannot be allowed to stand, in more ways than one."

     The Meliorist joined them with her own telescope, "500 yards tall and only 3 yards in diameter.  That isn't possible."

     "It has withstood a dozen sieges, the most powerful engines of the River Cities.  It is said to be larger on the inside," the Dragon told them, citing the references in the book he had.

     "So what do we do?" the Meliorist asked, shaking her red hair loose.  "Dump oil into it until it runs out the bottom?"

     "Something like that," the Dragon told her.  They shared a smile that gave Anna shivers.

     I hate it when they get like this, she thought, I keep expecting them to turn on me and eat me alive.

     "Tomorrow," the Dragon said, "It will be done by tomorrow."  The Dragon flew off.

     He didn't mention our prisoner, Anna wondered, Why didn't he say anything about it, certainly he knows I debriefed the cavalry detachment myself.  Is he protecting Asuka from this Rei, or Rei from Asuka? Anna shook her head and surveyed the ground for the best sites to scout for camp sites tomorrow.

Meeting Kaji

     The ward room was much smaller than the usual mess.  Ritsuko wasn't sure if the NERV crew had been moved here for breakfast for their convenience, or the Navy's piece of mind.  A single table, fine linen, and attentive stewards, who delivered what ever breakfast or coffee was requested.  First-class service.  Asuka approved, so evidently did Nabiki.  Rei and Davis were the most uncomfortable, probably for the exact opposite reasons, Davis enjoyed the Navy personnel being around, Rei was terrified of asking the stewards for her food.

     "I heard you kids had some fun yesterday," Kaji tells the pilots at breakfast.  Asuka is predictably attached to him.  Misato is furious, and isn't hiding it well.

     "So Rit-chan, you played catcher?" he asks Ritsuko.  She nods.

     She also notices the sour looks he's getting from Nabiki and Jeff, I can almost see the plot forming between those two.  Misato's absence during the game was depressing for Shinji.  Everyone, and I mean everyone else from NERV was watching.

     "I can guess what you two were doing," Nabiki fires the opening salvo.

     "What would ever give you an idea like that?" Misato demands.

     "It was on the bulletin board this morning, under mysterious noises," Davis adds.

     Attack en echelon, Ritsuko thinks, Classic strategy.

     "Misa-chan and I wouldn't do something like that," Kaji informs them, "Not since college anyway."  He winks at her, she stares at him.

     "Why can't I stay with Kaji?" Asuka asks, "Then Raccoon can stay with Misato and Spineless, and I won't have to look at him anymore.  DON'T APOLOGIZE!" She sits down at the table, starts wolfing down her breakfast one-handed, the other around Kaji's arm.  Most of the rest of us are done.

     "I don't want to have to clean up after her," Davis throws in, "NERV Massachusetts had rumors about her housekeeping.  'Live on the streets', was the suggested alternative.  Besides, even I've heard about her cooking.  Don't worry Shinji, we'll invite you over for an occasional meal.  We won't let you starve to death."

     "Thanks," Shinji manages.

     "Cookin's fer girls," Ranma tells them.

     Nabiki looks pointedly at Misato, "Only some girls."

     Misato's losing this one, Ritsuko sees, as she pours her coffee.  I also see that two of my charges have completed their battle plans, and are going to engage at the earliest opportunity.  She blows on her coffee to cool it, and awaits the fireworks.

     "So, Shinji," Kaji sets it off, "Does Misato still leaves her underwear all over the house.  We used to find it in the darnest places.  After a few days."

     "Uh, hai," Shinji says.  Everybody recoils, from that little revelation except Rei, Jeff and Nabiki.

     Go get'em guys.

     Jeff stares at Kaji, "You, sir, are no lady."  And leans to look at Misato, "And you are no gentleman."

     Kaji is confused for a moment.

     "Don't mind him," Asuka says, "He's crazy."

     "Fine, what's your excuse Langley?"

     She slaps the table, "My name is Asuka."

     "But Langley fits," Jeff replies.

     "You call her Langley, she has one," Nabiki adds.

     "Precisely.  But that wasn't one of her best.  Langley, aren't you jealous you'll have to share him with the Captain?"

     "Now wait a minute!" Misato finally shouts.

     "We have a competition," Nabiki says.

     "A good start for the newcomer.  But Langley is still ahead on volume and color," Jeff replies like a sports commentator.

     "Misato, I propose you get Kaji on even numbered school nights.  Asuka you're odd."

     "She is," Jeff says.

     "And we put Shinji up on Saturday nights, so he can get some sleep."

     "Never on a Sunday," Jeff says.

     "Right," Nabiki agrees, "Give him a chance to rest up."

     Misato stares at the two, and glares at Asuka.  Shinji looks ready to crawl under the table.

     "Can't you control them," Kaji asks Ritsuko.

     "They aren't picking on me."  She sips her coffee, Besides, you deserve it, we know what you two were doing yesterday, all yesterday.

     "I suggest a whip and a chair," Ranma says.

     "We'll borrow your's, and the leather outfit with the tutu," Jeff says.

     "What are you implying?" Ranma shouts, pounding the table.

     "Oh, good volume and outrage, but the judges only give it a four overall.  We have wonderful parting gifts."

     "A guillotine," Nabiki says.

     "And a pillow for where the door hits you on the way out."

     "He ate a door?" Nabiki asks, "Steel or wood."


     "Ugh, splinters."

     "We've allowed our contestants a moment's respite, now on to round two," Jeff says.

     Nabiki looks at Asuka, "Misato, you said Asuka reminds you of the north end of a southbound monkey.  Which type and how fast?"

     "Monkeys can type?"

     "Of course, 'To be or not to be, that is the gizornin plat.'"

     "Langley," Jeff says, "How often do you dye your hair to erase those short blue roots, and with your constant certitude of EVA supremacy, why aren't your eyes brown?"

     Asuka's mouth and eyes move, but no sound comes out.  Jeff waves his hand in front of her face.

     "I think we broke her," Nabiki says.

     "Let's grab the children and run," Jeff suggests, collecting Shinji as Nabiki takes Rei, and the four retreat.  Misato and Asuka continue trying to catch up with what just happened to them.

     "Now you see why I don't get involved."  She quietly sips her coffee, and wonders if these hormone-addled idiots learned anything.

     I was walking down the corridor to clear my head, about sempai, and Nabiki's embarrassing assertions.  I happen to walk to the entry to the hanger deck and the test stand.  Out of habit I guess, it's where I've been helping sempai and Captain Katsuragi since they arrived.

     I don't normally get to see the pilots in their `natural state`, maybe with sempai having three kids to watch over, I can be over to help more.  Nabiki-san seems to welcome my presence, but she says embarrassing things about me and sempai.  I respect her, a lot, maybe I'm a little intimidated . . . but Nabiki-san thinks I have a crush on her, on sempai.  It just isn't true.

     Rei had been standing at the doorway to the hanger deck for almost fifteen minutes, staring at something.  She seemed utterly fascinated by whatever she was watching.

     I knew how focused, and task-oriented she can get.  It's always been the one thing I liked about Rei.  You could ask her to do something and she'd do it.  As long as it didn't interfere with what sempai, or one of the Commanders told her.

     I slipped into the control booth, it let me see into the bay, and keep an eye on Rei.  Davis was standing next to a spare entry plug, slipped something between the two handles on the emergency hatch.  Then he took, whatever it was, out, looked at it and slipped it back in.  He didn't seem to damage the equipment, and Rei would raise a stink if he did, so I let him continue.

     Rei had been acting very differently lately, her reaction to the new pilots.  It was logical and rational that she'd be social with Nabiki-san, they were roommates.  But her interest in both Shinji-kun and Davis was different enough from her usual patterns to be disturbing.  Sempai said that there was nothing to worry about.  From Shinji-kun's shyness, to Davis's immutable decorum, it was unlikely there would be something to worry about from them.  It was Rei I worry about, there's never been any reason to have to discuss boys her own age with her.  She scared most of them to death, but not Shinji or Davis.  I hoped we didn't have to intervene, I'd like her to have some friends, girls and boys.

     I am aware of Analyst Ibuki watching Roku-kun.  Analyst Ibuki arrived some 15 minutes ago, and slipped into the control booth.  I have watched Roku-kun sliding the piece of wood into the release mechanism for emergency hatch.  The two handles pop out slightly, he shakes the wood, removes it and files it.  Then repeats the procedure.  For nearly an hour and a half I have watched this strange behavior.

     I could see no deliberate attempt to damage the equipment, so I have not intervened.  Apparently Analyst Ibuki saw nothing to distress her, so I will not interrupt.  Although, from his actions, I suspect he will complete his task soon.

     I look to Analyst Ibuki, she nods, then joins me as we walk towards him.

     "Good afternoon ladies."  Our presence doesn't disrupt his efforts, "Something I can do you for?"

     I am confused by the seemingly misstated question.

     "What are you doing?" Analyst Ibuki takes the lead in questioning.

     "Forcible entry tool," Roku-kun says, then gestures for us to follow him, "The main exhaust of the escape rockets passes right over this hatch."  He traces the path of the exhaust from the nozzle to the door.  "I heard Commander Ikari burned his hands dreadfully while rescuing a pilot.  This - " he shoves it in the mechanism and gingerly turns the hatch to open it.  "Will prevent that from happening again."

     He is doing this for the Commander! "Thank you."  I make a slight bow and leave.  He's doing it for the Commander.  I know it is unreasonable to be so pleased, but I felt so guilty that the Commander was injured rescuing me.  Roku-kun is also distressed, and is finding a way to prevent it from happening again.

     Maya watched Rei thank Davis and leave.  He seemed to take this extraordinary event completely in stride.  I have never heard Rei thank anyone, for anything!  I will have to report this to sempai.  Raccoon indeed, he may be a tanuki.

     "Well, I have to take this to the machine shop, have a metal mock-up made.  And have a presentation case made," Davis explained, all Maya could do was nod.  "For the one I'll give Commander Ikari."

     "Yes," she managed, "That may be a good idea."

     He tipped his hat and left.

     I have to talk to sempai, right now! she realized.