Neon Genesis Evangelion Fan Fiction / Ranma 1/2 Fan Fiction / Ah My Goddess Fan Fiction ❯ Sic Semper Morituri ❯ Chapter 20-21 ( Chapter 10 )

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

Chapter 20: Victory - Success Over an Enemy in Battle

     
Uriah the Hittite

     
The Festival of Saint Barbara

     
Wotton's Ambassador

     
Marshal Ferdinand Foch

     
F.D.R. Through Wellington and Montaigne

     
King Lear, Act V, Scene ii, line 293

     
Douglas MacArthur

Chapter 21: It was Magnificent, but it wasn't War


      Correcting An Oversight

     
Cannons to the Left of Me

     
The Left is Not Canonical

     
Out of the Mouth of Hell

     
Sowing Seeds

     
The Worst is Yet to Come

     
There's Not to Reason Why

     
They're But to Do and Die

Sic Semper Morituri Chapter 20: Victory - Success Over an Enemy in Battle

      Enhanced by a suggestion from Bernard Korzeniewicz and his wife, any failure to carry it off is mine.

Disclaimer:

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

E-mail: dan_s.comments@comcast.net

Stories are available in Plain ASCII at:

      http://archives.eyrie.org/anime/Ranma/Sic-Semper-Morituri/

ftp://ftp .cs.ubc.ca/pub/archive/anime-fan-works/Ranma/Sic-Semper-Morituri/

ht tp://www.cs.ubc.ca/cgi-bin/ftp/archive/anime-fan-works/Ranma/type/Sic-Sempe r-Morituri

(these are the original versions)

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 EVA pilots Shinji Ikari, Rei Ayanami, Asuka Soryu Langley and Jeffrey Davis.

      Asuka and Shinji view Rei's dreamscape, Shinji repairs his dreamscape, he again visits Rei's dreamscape, then temporarily links it with his, Rei is overjoyed to tears by this.

      Asuka and Jeff begin deriving the equations to manipulate the AT field.  They also reveal their experiences in the Ranmaverse dream, Ranma is happy, shocked and furious as the dreams are revealed.  Asuka suddenly solves the equations, and drags Shinji and Rei out to celebrate

      Search and Rescue training continues, Nabiki performs an simulated rescue.

      Ranko continues her nightmare, rescued from an ambush by her mental impressions of Rei and Jeff, by Rei rapid-firing artillery.

      Ranma defeats a kidnapping, and is nearly shot by the `hostage`.  Ritsuko and Jeff `shoot` at him to teach a respect for firearms.  Nabiki reacts violently to this, Ranma rescues Jeff from her.  She then ashamedly discovers they were using blanks.

      Ranma uses his new ability to mimic to fool Jeff and Nabiki.  Then uses Nabiki's own self-illusions against her.

      The Russians' situation is revealed.

      While Ranko, Hiroko, Nabiki, and Jeff attend a ballet, Gendo attends dinner with NERV Japan.  During intermission, Hiroko discusses the relationships among the pilots.  NERV Japan is murdered right in front of Gendo.

      Asuka has to clean-up after a drunken Misato.

      Both Ranma and Nabiki have the differences between where they are and what they're used to is very different.

      SEELE summons the Crawling Chaos, sending it to `investigate` NERV, Nyarlathotep taunts Mara, who rushes off to warn Belldandy and her sisters.  Gendo leaves the defeat of the Outer God to the pilots.

25 With the merciful you will show yourself merciful; With a blameless man you will show yourself blameless;

26 With the pure you will show yourself pure; And with the devious you will show yourself shrewd.

Psalm Chapter 18 Verse 25-26

Chapter 20

May 27, 1947

Uriah the Hittite

      Ranma paced the pilot's locker room, they'd retracted the partition that divided it into the girls' and boys' sides, into the ceiling.  He looked at two faces in particular, stormy Asuka Langley, balmy Raccoon.

      "I don't want to do this," Ranma admitted, the entire idea terrified him.  He wanted to run to the EVA bay, climb aboard Unit 04 and lead it back here to attack.  He didn't care if it would destroy him, it made more sense than the wild plan Asuka and Raccoon had put forward.

      Two hands caught him as he paced, turned him to face Raccoon, "You can't feel it - " Ranma rubbed his hands on his arms.

      "That's what you think," Raccoon told him, "I can feel it.  It's like someone's pulled my skin loose, and poured it full of something flaming and slimy," he grimaced, "I can practically taste it crawling around in there."  He released Ranma, "I wanted to go first, but they want you."

      "You can do it Hors . . . Ranma," Asuka said, "Just be yourself."  Asuka patted his shoulder.

      Ranma looked at Nab-chan, Rei-san and Shinji, all three nodded, urging him on.  Ranma sighed, took a deep breath.  "I don't want to do this," Ranma admitted, he smirked, "The Invincible Saotome Ranma . . . is scared."

      Raccoon took his shoulders, shook him and growled, "I'm going next, and I'm terrified, and it's my plan."

      "We cannot win any other way," Rei added, she didn't look all that happy.

      Ranma nodded, he wanted to stay here, he wanted to cry and scream in terror.


      Ranma stepped outside the locker room, fell in step with the NERV staffer, the U.S. Military had nothing to do with this.  He looked at the corridor that stretched on ahead of him.  The lines of the corridor drawing together in the distance, almost to infinity?  Ranma didn't know.  The ugly color of the corridor, and that only he and the silent staffer were present in the normally busy hallway, he couldn't stop thinking of the intestines of some huge creature, that all he and the other man were, was bits of food to be digested by the thing that had consumed them both, and they walked, open-eyed and willing to their fate and digestion.

      He concentrated on the sound, and immensely regretted it.  His training was to make his footfalls soundless, smooth and silent.  The only sounds were the tap and scuff of the staffer's leather soled shoes.  Ranma wished he had borrowed Raccoon's boots.  If he wore that hard-soled, unfamiliar foot gear, he would make sound, affirm his own existence.  But he couldn't hear himself, couldn't feel his own heartbeat.  The silence mocked his existence.

      Do I really exist? Ranma wondered, Am I just a displaced piece of Ranko, or a made thing, no soul except by reflection in others? Ranma shivered at that thought, he wanted to exist, wanted to matter.

      Ranma glanced down at his arms, the fine hairs were rising, waving and falling like tall grass in a wind, he shivered as the patterns of goose bumps came and went.  He knew what he'd be facing.  Every step brought him closer, each silent step confirmed his own nonexistence to the world.  He could feel the ground against his feet, the chill air against his skin, but the world refused to acknowledge him.  His footfalls made no sound, the air accepted no warmth from him.  The man who walked beside him, might as well have been a machine performing its programmed task, he looked neither left nor right, focusing only on the door, that every step brought closer.

      He could feel the corruption emanating from that room, coming off that thing in waves, Only Nab-chan doesn't feel it, he thought, Is that because she never fought one of those things?  Or is it something else?

      Implied in the message was the offer, 'Reject the world, as it rejects you.  Embrace what you will become.  Not the world, not like the things around you.'  The message came without words, feelings instead.  Feelings of otherness, feelings of dislocation, feelings of alienation.

      Ranma clung desperately to his connections to himself and the world.  The internal division that had cropped up worse and worse, Ranko had grown more fervent, as had Ranma, he'd been noticing things about Nab-chan, and after what Raccoon had told him, Rit-chan.  It wasn't right or 'proper', and it had gotten worse when he felt that thing.

      He felt it, he felt it changing him, weakening his hold on who and what he was, the thought of fighting Raccoon and Shinji, not to `claim` the girls, but just to fight them, to prove he was the strongest, increased.  He desperately turned to memories, of Nab-chan, Rit-chan, and Raccoon, to . . . dare he admit it?  To the beauty of the world, the joy he felt creating, from just cooking for his `family`, to making some new Martial Arts moves, to new conclusions from what he already knew.  He also reminded himself the Rei, Asuka and Raccoon were all `disconnected` from the world, and somehow it made them more than others, rather than less.  He rejected the `offer`.

      I will live, or I will die, Ranma thought, But I will do both as a human.  So here I am, he thought as he walked along, I get the first crack at this thing, and all I want to do is run away.  He and the escort arrived at the door to the conference room.  The NERV man opened the door, Ranma saw the table, with that sitting there, another chair facing the table.  Ranma saw Captain Ramsey standing at the wall, watching everything, that gave Ranma some hope, he wouldn't be alone.  He steeled himself, walked inside, and remembered the lessons Asuka and Raccoon had drilled into him, winning here was impossible, he saw that now, saw it clearly.  Even the EVAs weren't strong enough, the only thing they could do, was deny their enemy its victory.  He'd never considered that a lose-lose situation would be an acceptable option. 'The best way to drive out the devil, if he will not yield to text of the Scripture, is to jeer and flout him, for he cannot bear scorn.'  Asuka said Luther said that, 'The devil . . .  The prowde spirite . . .  cannot endure to be mocked,' Raccoon added, what Thomas More said.  But it's up to me to prove it.


      Ramsey watched Ranma walk in, he'd centered himself and walked in.  Ramsey found the NERV `investigator` disgusting, he couldn't put his finger on why.  He wanted to tear the man's head off, but he restrained himself, barely.

      "Saotome Ranma," Ranma mumbled as he walked by, and stood next to the chair, "May I?"

      "Of course," Attergate told him, not looking up from his papers, trying to intimidate the boy.

      Ranma locked his gaze on the man, Ramsey saw real hatred there, something he'd never seen on Saotome's face.

      Then Saotome grabbed the sides of the chair and flipped himself up into a handstand on the back of the chair, then held one arm out to the side, and began doing one-handed vertical push ups.

      Ramsey kept his jaw from dropping.

      Attergate lacked Ramsey's discipline, "Ah, Mister Saotome?"

      "Oh," Ranma tossed himself into the air with one hand, rotated along his long axis, and caught the back of the chair with his other hand, now he was facing Attergate, "Sorry about that."

      "Uh, you are Ranma Saotome?" Attergate asked.

      Ranma executed a complicated flip, landed facing and confronting Ramsey, "Look!  I told you I don't remember much!  If you found somebody who really is Saotome Ranma, who is supposed to be the pilot here, I didn't ask you, you asked me.  I wasn't trying to fool or lie to anybody."

      "Mister Saotome."

      "If you've got the real one, maybe he can tell me the truth, maybe he can explain what's going on."

      "Mister Saotome," Attergate said.

      "All I wanted to do is my job, have I done anything against the U.S. or NERV?"

      Ramsey shook his head.

      "MISTER SAOTOME!" Attergate shouted.

      "What?!" Ranma turned back to face Attergate.

      "I asked you your name."

      "I told you my name," Saotome said, "When I walked in here, and you didn't believe me."

      Attergate stared at him, Saotome angrily stared back.

      "Look, you are supposed to ask questions, if you are going to ask questions, ask your questions, otherwise, you're wasting my time," he flipped himself back up on the chair.

      Ramsey glanced at Attergate, who was having trouble dealing with Saotome's attitude.  Attergate tried to retake the initiative, "Can you sit in the chair?"

      "Sure," Ranma performed another elaborate flip, and landed softly on the chair with his feet up on the table.  He yawned, leaned back to balance on the back legs of the chair.  Ramsey noted the man's barely restrained urge to kick the chair over.

      "This is cutting into my practice time," Ranma said insolently, "If you're going to be the best, you have to practice."

      Attergate was about to reply.

      "Martial Arts is important," Saotome overbalanced, and with much windmilling of arms, walked the chair back into the wall, then got control again.

      "Your martial arts didn't seem to help you too much.  On 11 March 1947, you and three other pilots, were attacked by forces unknown.  You ran away, leaving Captain Everett Walters to be killed."

      "I didn't 'run away'," Saotome said tightly, "What do you call it, running from one place, to a place you can fight better from?"

      "Strategic withdrawal," Ramsey offered.

      "Captain, don't interfere," Attergate ordered.

      I don't know what Saotome's game is, Ramsey considered, But he's going to beat you, Norris.

      "Did you also 'Strategically Withdrawal' all the way to Guam?  That is where the plane landed."

      "After NERV blew those tar-things off the front of Ayanami's apartment, I followed orders.  Someone had to protect the others from those things."

      "You didn't have any objection to them dragging you all the way to Boston, arriving there on the 17th?  Leaving Everett unavenged?  Running away?"

      Ramsey noted the slight anger from Saotome.

      "I followed orders, even if I disagreed, I could see the sense they made," Ranma said carefully, "Sometimes you have to follow orders," he paused, "Some people think they know everything.  All they prove is how stupid they are."

      Attergate narrowed his eyes, "The new pilots, they joined you in Boston on 17 March -"

      "Langley was the 17th, Davis was the 18th," Ranma interrupted lazily.

      Attergate tried to ignore the interruption, "Then you spent the 18th and 19th of March flying back to the West Coast, through St. Louis and Denver.  Were you aware of the attacks being made on the train carrying Unit 04 from Ohio?  While you were safe in the air?"

      "Sure," Ranma leaned side-to-side in the chair, nearly tipping it over, "God, the real one, keeps me up on all the stupid tricks of our enemies."

      Ramsey wondered why Attergate looked so angry at that, Typical insolent teen-ager, he thought, With some of Saotome's natural arrogance layered over it.


      Ritsuko had heard about the loss of NERV Japan, someone had poisoned him.  The family had protested the autopsy, in the strongest terms, but a company of Marines with murder in their eyes, kept any lawyer away from the proceedings.

      She'd known that this day might arrive, she'd hoped it never would.  She'd learned things, things even Gendo didn't know she knew.  So when Gendo sent her into the bowels of NERV, to perform some trivial maintenance checks, she'd rushed through them, and headed to the section that held the deep freezers that restrained some of their more unusual prisoners and specimens.

      She'd reviewed the descriptions and other data, and made her selection.  The 'holding area' looked remarkably like the morgue on the upper levels.  Huge rows of refrigerated lockers like filing cabinets, and large examination tables to put the subjects on, to examine them.  Although here, the `examination` was more likely to be a series of questions, rather than someone looking at or for something.  The tools used to find the answers, were remarkably similar in both cases.  Unlike the morgue, heavy equipment locked and barred these lockers shut, and they used liquid nitrogen, or in a few extreme cases, liquid helium as refrigerant.

      Ritsuko opened number 56 quietly, pulling the creature that appeared to be a young woman, out of the deep freeze.  She set the body on the work table, where she'd already prepared her instrument trays and supplies, and reclosed the drawer, stripping off the heavily insulated gloves as she returned to the table to wait.

      Everything she needed was already prepared, she wished she could have help with this, But who could I ask? she wondered, chain smoking as she waited.


      Ranma didn't care who caught him, he'd barely been able to just walk back to the locker room.  He felt filthy, inside and out.  He'd managed not to break out in a cold sweat.  Now he let the terror bubble to the surface, because he knew he'd have to go back in there, as Ranko.

      "It's okay, it's okay," he heard from Raccoon on his left.

      "You're safe," from Nab-chan on his right.

      He sagged in their arms, he didn't care what anybody thought of him right now.

      "I'll take care of him," Nab-chan said quickly, for that Ranma felt very grateful, then she added, with a hard edge, "Go kill that thing."

      Raccoon carefully transferred Ranma fully into Nab-chan's arms as he left.  Ranma held her tightly, desperate for any surety that he was back, that he was safe again, even if only for a little while.

      Soon he was under the shower of warm water, Nab-chan softly washing him.  Washing away the assumed filth, washing away the fear.

      He wasn't aware until later, there were none of her usual snide comments or lewd grabbing, for which he was immensely grateful.


The Festival of Saint Barbara

      Jeff's thoughts swirled around him like a dark cloud, You had your chance with the most vulnerable, he thought, Some of us were better constituted to kill things like you.  Let's see how you do against someone who has already beaten you at this game.  The Eastern Desert, my name is not in the Book of Azathoth, I bet you've forgotten that.

      Jeff walked through the corridor, he could feel the miasma curling out of the room far ahead.  It stalked towards him, unseen and unheard, filled with palpable menace.  Perhaps it did know what approached, and would crush and destroy him, it hinted at that, made the very air catch in his throat.  Perhaps it would seek to overthrow his reason, replacing his with its.

      Maybe it's already happened, he thought.

      He refused to further examine the fate that might await him, he was inexorably fixed on the goal.  He marched on as if guided by a siren song, not caring if destruction would be his lot for all the effrontery.  The need to hurt and kill this thing almost overwhelmed the carefully designed plans.

      He banished those thoughts, he couldn't afford the distraction or the anger on his face.  His favorite song gave him the countenance he needed, " 'He called his piper, his trusty piper; And bade him sound away, a pibroch sad to play; Upon a hillside but Scottish hillside; Not on these green hills of Tyrol; Because these green hills are not Highland hills; Or the Island's hills they're not my land's hills, As fair as these green foreign hills may be; They are not the hills of home.' "

      He focused on that, on his part, dragging himself back to reason by the barest margins, as he stepped aside to let the staffer open the door.


      The woman's eyes shot open and locked on Dr. Akagi's.  Her hands shot out and closed on Ritsuko's throat a moment later, her incredible strength bore down.  Dr. Akagi bunched the muscles in her own throat, just as Ranma and Jeff had taught her.  The stranglehold occupied the `woman's` full attention as Dr. Akagi extracted the large syringe and stabbed the needle in the woman's chest between the ribs.  Realization, too late, filled her as the serum coursed through her ichor, she belatedly tried to knock the needle away, but the serum was all in, already doing its work.  Dr. Akagi caught the woman's arms with one hand, duplicating the double wrist lock Ranma and Nabiki had taught her, her other hand clamped firmly over the woman's mouth to muffle her screams.  Dr. Akagi knew the process took as long as 30 minutes, she could wait.
      Ramsey had put Saotome's bizarre behavior behind him.  Now Davis was acting equally strange.  He thought he was staring at Attergate's bow-tie, with a look and intensity that would have had Ramsey covering his own throat, if not leaving the room entirely.

      "So, Mr. Davis, you joined NERV in Boston."

      "Cambridge, but essentially the same thing," Davis replied in a distracted voice, tracking the tie like a hunting dog.

      "Uh, yes," Attergate said.  Moving slightly, trying to break the lock, it didn't work.

      "You supposedly attended a funeral of an officer of British Intelligence."

      "Supposedly," Davis turned that ferocious gaze on Ramsey.

      Uh, oh! Ramsey backed up a step, his shoulders met the wall.

      "Did you know about this, that British Intelligence can't die, when did this happen?" Davis stood to confront him.

      Ramsey realized Davis was pulling his leg, by jumping to an erroneous conclusion, "It has something to do with their devotion to King and Country, and their attachment to the Court of St. James."

      "British Intelligence, and the St. James bond.  Interesting."

      Ramsey couldn't figure out why Attergate snapped his pencil, impressive, considering it was a mechanical one.  "Can we get back on subject?" Attergate asked testily.

      "Certainly, my apologies . . . oh, it wasn't a funeral for British Intelligence, it was for a Frisco P.D. officer and his wife.  I am sorry," as soon as he sat down, Davis was again staring at the man's bow-tie.

      Attergate shifted uncomfortably, "March 20th, you flew from San Diego to San Francisco, aboard a plane registered to the British Government."

      "The British are our allies, America's allies," Jeff jerked his head suddenly to one side, kept staring, then jerked it back to the other side.

      Ramsey focused on the design stitched in the fabric, the Eye of Horus above a Sphinx.

      "Are you taking this interview quite seriously?"

      "Of course, sir."  Davis jerked his head to the side.

      "You and the other pilots received a briefing aboard the Coral Sea on 21 March."

      "I can't say."

      Attergate stopped, "You don't know?"

      "I didn't say that," Davis said, jerking his head to the side, staring intently at the tie.

      "Would you STOP that?!" Attergate shouted.

      Davis overtoppled and crashed to the floor, from there, "Sorry, the patterns on your tie, they move when you don't look directly at them," Davis supplied, "Did you know that?"

      In frustration, Attergate started untying it, as Davis stood and set the chair up again.

      Attergate slapped the piece of cloth on the table, "There, go ahead and look at it.  It doesn't move," Attergate glanced at Ramsey, who gave a noncommittal shrug.

      "The other American pilots, one died on 1 March, the other was out of action 10 March.  You were at the burial, and visited the girl in the hospital."

      Davis had extracted a pocket magnifier and was examining the tie minutely, "I am not aware of any regulation against that," Jeff occasionally moved the tie with a pencil, careful not to touch it with his hands.

      "How did you feel about that, the death of your colleagues?"

      "The way I expected such a thing to feel.  Describing it would be difficult to impossible," Davis started poking it with the eraser of the pencil, as if he expected to provoke a reaction.

      "Weren't you worried about syncing with an EVA?" Attergate asked, probing for an opening.

      "No."  Davis slapped the tie and table loudly, causing both Attergate and Ramsey to jump at the noise.  Davis merely stared at the tie, as if he expected some movement or response.

      "NO?" Attergate was shocked.  The silence dragged on, "You weren't worried about syncing with an EVA?"

      "Yes."

      Attergate stopped, "It is correct to say you were not frightened of the idea of your first sync with an EVA."

      "No."

      Attergate grimaced, as he tried to decide his next sentence.

      "I was frightened, I wasn't worried."

      Attergate rolled his eyes and continued, "Your offering to `Father Neptune`, on 28 March."

      "What about it?" Davis put away his tools, he seemed to have satisfied himself about the tie.

      "Don't you find that a little strange?  A comedy routine, with a girl of her reputation?"

      "A gentleman, doesn't inquire into a lady's reputation.  It just isn't done.  I would have expected better of a Switzer, but I suppose . . . "

      Attergate didn't rise to the bait, "The attack by the Shoggoths - "

      "I KNEW there was another one!" Davis slapped the table, stood and shouted, "I knew it!"

      Attergate hid his irritation poorly, "Please sit down.  What do you suppose killed it?  You and young Mr. Ikari were the first on the scene, that 26 March."

      "No, the girls, Pilots Ayanami and Tendo, were already there."

      "You were the first additional people on scene.  What killed it, in your opinion?"

      "When I left, it was still alive.  I don't know how they killed it, or the other one."

      Ramsey knew the Navy had only found one aboard the Coral Sea, others aboard the Castor and Pollux, awakened the somnolent Great Old Ones carried aboard those ships.

      "No guesses?"

      Ramsey wondered why Attergate was hitting that one so hard.

      "Well, there was a rumor, that Captain Katsuragi fed it some of her `special` curry, but I'm sure I would have heard the explosion, certainly.  I suspect it's just a joke," he paused to consider, "No, I'm sure of it."

      Attergate frowned, "On April 3rd, two Angels escaped their solitary confinement aboard the fast freighters Castor and Pollux, destroying both ships.  You launched aboard Unit 04, contrary to orders."

      "Actually, I suffered a communications breakdown, the last order I heard, was for Pilots Ikari and Saotome to launch in Units 00 and 01, respectively.  The only way for them to do that, was after Unit 04 had cleared the deck.  As I told Captain Katsuragi at the time, I couldn't receive instructions, I acted without orders, not against orders."

      "So while you engaged one creature, Pilots Saotome and Ikari engaged the other.  Why didn't one of the veterans accompany you, the untested pilot?"

      "I was not privy to the orders, situation, or thinking going on.  Without communications, I could only track one target."

      "You destroyed it yourself, you should be very proud of yourself."

      "Why?"

      Ramsey watched Attergate come to a halt.  Davis kept staring at him.

      "I'm asking the questions here!" Attergate snapped.

      "Very well," Davis replied coolly.

      "Captain Katsuragi locked you in the brig, after your sortie, did you resent that?"

      "I felt no resentment."

      Attergate raised an eyebrow, Ramsey saw him catch himself, before he demanded an explanation.  "I find that hard to believe."

      Davis stared at him.

      Attergate looked down and rearranged his papers, "Dr. Akagi released you after several hours.  You returned to your quarters, and you claim you harbor no resentment to what some would call an unjust punishment."

      "No, I was too busy sleeping."

      Ramsey kept from laughing, Attergate kept missing the most obvious questions, he wasn't doing a very good job interrogating the kids.  He was expecting outright evasions, not answers that weren't at all useful.

      "On 5 April you and Asuka Langley, launched against another Angel in Unit 02, despite orders to remain behind."

      "Again, inaccurate."

      "Then - enlighten - me," Attergate bit off the words.

      "Of course, sir.  We had orders to get ready," Davis replied, "We had no other orders."

      "Katsuragi disciplined you after that sortie as well, despite successfully killing that Angel as well.  Are you going to say you didn't resent that?"

      "I don't," Davis replied.

      "And what about the fact that you and pilot Langley achieved a 143% sync rate."

      "She's recently tested out at 168%"

      "She only had a sync rate of 123% at the time, a jump of 20% is significant.  Have you ever wondered about that?"

      "I have not."


      Dr. Akagi carefully peeled back the skull of the dead creature on the table before her, like the shell of a hard-boiled egg.  The object that would have been a human brain, she carefully removed.  The entire cranial cavity, she flushed with warm, almost scalding water, she'd incinerate the removed mass and the wash water later.  She'd prepared the other materials, the serums and infusions for the process, she doubted that she'd ever be able to explain what she was doing to the authorities, but she was going to complete the procedure.

      I can't just do nothing, she thought as she made the incisions to place the samples inside integral places in the body, Too much is at stake, I can't allow this to continue.


Wotton's Ambassador

      Nabiki watched Raccoon walk in, the angry, haunted, exhausted look didn't leave as he surveyed the others, "How is Saotome?"

      "Recovering," she replied, she hadn't the faintest idea what was shaking the others up.  Ranma had practically burst into tears on returning, Raccoon looked like he was going to curl up on the floor and fall into a coma, or throw up, then fall into a coma.

      "I guess I'm next," she told him jauntily.

      "Stay with the plan," he intoned, "Don't get too creative, don't get too clever."

      Nabiki left the locker room, she thought whoever was doing the interviews, wasn't very smart, the pilots should have been separated, had their entire time at NERV dissected.  Rei had assured them this was a battle, against one of the most powerful Outer Gods.  So powerful, that they had no hope of victory.  Asuka and Raccoon had developed this plan, she didn't like the toll it was taking on the others.  They all talked about feeling something.

      She wondered why she was immune, Because I've never piloted in combat?  Because I've never killed one of those things?  She didn't like the implications, What are they becoming?  Should I be jealous, or grateful I'm not?


      Hiroko and Hikari stood side-by-side in the classroom, staring out the windows at the fog that clung to the campus and the city.

      "You wanted to talk to me?" Hiroko knew how reticent Hikari was to talk to her, if she wanted to, she had no other choice.

      "There are 85 people missing today," Hikari said flatly, "Even some teachers, today."

      "Not too surprising, the fog probably kept them at home," Hiroko was used to playing the devil's advocate, but this fog had come out of nowhere, as it had occasionally, over the last few days, they all clung tenaciously, as if each was alive, and seeking to survive, before the sun banished or `killed` them.  Even the corridors of the school weren't immune to this one today, as if it were a conquering army, and only the driest, warmest spots could hold it off.  Hiroko knew that was a silly thought, but this unnatural weather seemed to invite that kind of speculation.

      "There were 50 yesterday, and no fog.  Tomorrow, you should talk to those people, the ones out, see what their symptoms were.  I think you'll find an amazing similarity."

      "Thank you," Hiroko told the class rep.  As the other girl walked away, Hiroko was left with her thoughts, there were things falling into place, patterns she couldn't clearly see, perhaps because it wasn't just one enemy, but several working to their own plans.  She idly wondered if revealing which was doing what would be possible, and then plan a counterattack based on that.  Well, I'm studying psychology, I really need a military advisor, she stared at the fog, and wondered if that was only part of someone's plans, or if it was a weird natural phenomenon, or a diversion from more important considerations, Boy, am I getting paranoid, she thought, "Well, they aren't after me, just the people around me."

      She moved away from the windows to find Kensuke, he was the military expert, self-proclaimed, and not wholly inaccurately.


      Nabiki walked in the corridor, the absolute normality, should have frightened her, considering the state Ranma and Raccoon had returned in, after making this very walk.

      But I don't feel anything special, she thought as she glanced around.  The staffer kept silent, she couldn't even summon up the fear that he was really a zombie or a murderous robot, he was just a man, a little awed by being asked to escort the pilots.

      He's immune to . . . whatever, just like me.  That was the only thing that disturbed her, Ranma was usually clueless about other people's feelings, but he'd returned in near hysteria.  Raccoon was utterly unshakable, but he came back, practically in a trance.

      And I haven't the faintest inkling why they are all reacting to this.  I should be glad, not feeling . . . anything, why do I feel I'm betraying them all somehow?


      Ramsey watched Tendo enter, and Attergate began the interview.  Ramsey had already realized Attergate was conducting a fishing expedition, not a serious inquiry into anything, he wondered if the kids had already figured that out, and were acting this way as a response, tainting the data.

      "Oh!  WOW!  Is that what happened?" Tendo asked.  She wasn't quite a mindless bimbo, but her connection with reality seemed tenuous.  "I mean I thought we fought Angels, not real ones, the ones we fight, although I haven't had a chance to fight one, do you think they're prejudiced against girls?  The Angels I mean, not the real ones, I mean not like Asuka or Rei, but girls like me?"

      Attergate blinked, tried and failed to detect an answer anywhere in Tendo's comment, "Can we get back to the question about attacking the students on 6 April?  You led the other pilots in a brawl."

      Tendo sniffed, "They were beating up people, it is a martial artist's duty to protect the weak."

      "It could be argued, that you were attacking the weak."

      Tendo sniffled, "I didn't mean to, I didn't ask them to be mean to people."

      Attergate moved to the next subject, "You are aware, that the same day, there was an attack on Commander Ikari - "

      "I didn't know!  I'm sorry, if I'd known that would happen, I would never - "

      "Miss Tendo!  It was a yes or no question."

      "Oh, sorry."

      "You also brought the military in, to deal with the gang running the school."

      "No, that was pilot Davis's idea.  He thought we should be ecumenical about this."

      "Ecumenical usually refers to religion or philosophy, especially the Christian church."

      "You aren't Christian!" Tendo gasped, "I'm so sorry.  I've never met a Jewish person before.  I hope my ignorance of your faith doesn't count against me in your report."

      Attergate stared at her, obviously considering a scathing retort, then realizing it might have no effect, "No, I'm not Jewish, either."

      "You must be very lonely," Tendo supplied, "I'm sure Captain Ramsey could recommend any number of competent priests or, what's the word . . . ?"

      "Rabbis?" Attergate offered dryly.

      "Circumcisionists," Tendo replied brightly, "I believe they even use anesthetics now.  Any way, we just couldn't have that," she leaned close, "They foul their own nests."

      Now Attergate was floundering, "The Circumcisionists?"

      "No, the school mafia.  I met the real mafia, actually the Yakuza, a few days later, after we explained everything to them, they took us to a concert, but you don't want to hear about that.  You couldn't go anyway, since it's over. It's really sad, it was a nice concert," Tendo considered, "Not that it wouldn't be a nice concert if it were going on right now.  I don't understand how anyone can be tone deaf, I mean I could hear all the tones, even if I couldn't figure out what they meant."

      Ramsey was actually starting to feel sorry for this abhorrent man from NERV.

      "The attack on the school leaders, were you aware they'd be executed?  For crimes against NERV and the Occupation?"

      Tendo sniffled again, wiped her eyes, "I try to be so brave, but you wouldn't believe the absolutely awful things people say about me, when they think I can't hear them."

      "I can imagine," Attergate replied.

      "What else was I supposed to do?" Tendo was crying now, "They were in league with those icky things.  Such ickiness just cannot be tolerated in a beautiful world, where everyone is happy."

      "Beautiful world."

      "Yes, those people just don't understand, it was for their own good."

      "The School Mafia?"

      "No, the icky things," Tendo gently corrected.

      Attergate nodded numbly.

      "It would have been cruel, don't you think?"

      "Having those people executed?"

      "Good Heavens, no, they got what they deserved.  We were entirely too merciful," Tendo said sternly, "No, the icky things, it's not their fault they're hideous, disgusting blobs of putrid slime.  They probably love their blobby wives and their slimy children, but we just can't have them here, we just can't," Tendo sniffled, again on the verge of tears, "I don't want to be cruel, but difficult decisions just have to be made, and I must not let the situation overwhelm me."

      "We can't have them here," Attergate shook himself, "After a serious argument between pilots Saotome and Davis on 10 April, you intervened."

      "I told Ranma to get a replacement thermos."

      "They were arguing over a thermos?"

      Tendo blinked a few times in confusion, "Didn't I just say that?  I clearly heard myself say that.  Captain Ramsey, did you hear me say it?  I don't want to hallucinate.  They say piloting an EVA makes you go crazy, but I haven't really piloted one, so I can't be crazy.  But have you met the other pilots," she leaned close to Attergate, "It's impolite to say, but I think they're all a little crazy, they just fail to understand such simple things."  She turned to face Ramsey, "Like answering a lady's question, Mister Captain, sir."

      "I heard it, Miss Tendo," Ramsey kept a straight face.

      "On 11 April, the actual assault took place, you and the other pilots participated, wasn't that a great risk, to yourself and the other pilots?"

      "Oh no, once Ranma gave Jeffrey his thermos back, I doubt they'd fight anymore.  Well, that might not be so true," she leaned close and whispered, "Pilot Davis started selling pictures of me, not nudes or anything, but it is very vexing."

      "You also sell pictures," Attergate countered.

      "Well it's different when a girl does it, don't you see?"

      "Yes, well, now what about this report, on the removal of 60 cubic meters of hair.  That can't be right."

      "Oh, I agree," Tendo said, "It couldn't possibly be more than 30 cubic meters.  Ranma's hair . . . poof.  Then we were hanging from the ceiling."

      Ramsey remembered that about that time, Admiral Simson had taken an unexpected trip to Kyoto, and never explained to Ramsey what he was doing there.

      "Thank you, Miss Tendo."

      Tendo smiled and left.

      Attergate stared at him, "I take it that they don't act like this normally."

      "They have good and bad days.  The stress has changed them from when I first met them.  Fortunate they are still combat capable," Ramsey paused, "We do, however, buy aspirin by the drum, if you need some."

      "Thank you."


      Gendo and Fuyutsuki listened quietly, suspecting the creature could hear their laughter even separated by the distance.  They knew that they had made the correct decision.

      "Is it possible to give an Outer God a migraine?" Fuyutsuki asked innocently.

      Gendo smiled, "It is an interesting supposition."  They returned their attention to the speaker.


      Nabiki returned to the locker room, she collapsed onto a bench, lying face down with her arms hanging to the ground.

      Ranma headed over, "Are you okay, Nab-chan?"

      "I never wanted to kill something so bad in my life!" she moaned.

      Ranma began massaging her shoulders, she felt the tension and knots easing away.

      "You okay?" she asked.

      "I don't want to go back in there."

      "Relax, Horseface," Asuka said, without her usual bite, "We'll soften him up some more."

      "That isn't very reassuring."

      "Look, Horseface," Asuka told him, "We don't broadcast it . . . but Raccoon and I, we've done this before."

      "At the dance," Rei added, "There were others."

      "Yeah, well, like I said, we've done this before," Asuka headed towards the door.


Marshal Ferdinand Foch

      Asuka steeled herself, she knew the others had set him up, all she had to do was finish him off, like a matador, the picadors and banderilleros had done their work.  She concentrated on that thought as the abyss yawned around her.  Only Raccoon and Anna knew how badly her mother's insanity and suicide had affected her.  The loss and rejection she could deal with, she'd learned the hellish lesson, that the thing that looked like her mother wasn't her mother, not anymore.  The woman who sat little Asuka on her lap and pointed out stars and constellations, taught her about celestial navigation and orbital mechanics, was dead, what remained was a corpse, only time would make appearances catch up with reality.

      What frightened Asuka was the loss of reason, failing to keep what differentiated men from animals, what allowed humans to achieve great things.  She was walking towards insanity personified, if it affected her, as it infected her mother, I'll take her way out, but it won't be years between.

      She prayed her friends would know to do what she wanted.  She knew the screaming instability of those who returned from the Eastern Front.  Those lost to shellfire, the vast distances, the endless threat to life and limb, eventually taking sanity.  The loss of an arm or a leg was worrying, to be destroyed on the inside, to be nothing but a shell, unable to move or react, at the mercy and pity of others to keep the `plant` watered and fed and clean.  She shuddered at that.

      Asuka walked the corridors with the NERV staffer.  She'd told the others what they needed to hear.  Last time, she'd had a lot of experienced help, help that was in short supply here.  You do with what you have, she reminded herself, after she finished, only Spineless and Wondergirl would follow, before it had another chance to mess up Horseface.

      It might have realized what they were doing, and would rip through her mind to find the facts, it might even recognize her.  It would know what she feared, it would destroy what she treasured, and it would laugh at her cries and protests, Like a cat playing with a bird it had crippled, making the death linger as a cruel form of fun, and I'm walking right into the middle of it.  I'm already crazy, she thought as the door opened, insanity welcomed her to its parlor, and she walked in.


      Ramsey watched Asuka enter.  All the other pilots identified themselves.  Asuka simply walked in until she was face to face with the far wall, then stopped and did a pirouetting half-turn.

      "Asuka Soryu Langley?" Attergate asked, seeming to dread any answer he might get.

      "Langley, Langley, Langley," she smiled, "Me."

      Attergate shook his head and decided to continue with the questioning, "On April 21st, an arc of Green Flame - "

      "A parabolic arc, I can give you the equation if you like."

      "Thank you, no.  Shinji Ikari, yourself, Rei Ayanami, and Ranma Saotome sortied against it first."

      "First, Second, Third and Fourth, all true, 3, 1, 2, 4.  1, 0, 2, 4; 220 and 76 since there are only six of us."

      Ramsey couldn't quite figure that one out.

      "The Angel of Time injured Mr. Ikari, you and Miss Ayanami pulled him back into the tunnel."

      "I don't like subtractions," Asuka said firmly.

      Attergate realized, he was finally getting some answers, from someone who might not even be aware of the rest of the world, outside the realm of Mathematics.  "The counterattack, one of your fellow pilots developed it, did this in any way worry you?  An inexperienced source?"

      "It was logical, advancing from point to point to point, describing a new, but acceptable plane of performance."

      Attergate took a moment to rearrange his notes.  Langley turned to study the patterns in the fake stone covering the walls.

      "The plan was extremely risky," Attergate said.

      "Well-engineered operations are well engineered," Asuka replied, still examining the wall.

      "You still had to rescue pilot Davis from his own foolishness."

      "Well, it is logical," she turned to face him, "Subtraction isn't commutative, so a hatred of subtraction would be, I can do the proof for you," she smiled pleasantly.

      "Thank you, no," Attergate said sourly.

      "It's no trouble!" Asuka insisted, "I'd be delighted to explain it."

      "No," Attergate insisted.

      Asuka kept smiling at him, swaying slightly in a breeze, only she seemed to feel.

      "You didn't hesitate to head to the rescue?" Attergate asked.

      "Should I have?" she sounded horrified, "It seemed such a logical extension of my previous conclusions."

      Attergate sighed, "The loss of both pilot Davis and Ikari after that incident - "

      "They survived!  I checked myself.  Something there's no replacement for, actual observations and running the experiment yourself," Asuka asserted.

      "There were reports you slept in pilot Ikari's room."

      "Yes," Asuka replied.

      "You don't see a problem with this?"

      "He wasn't using it."

      Attergate was obviously expecting a lot more, Ramsey would have expected an angry denial or justification, not the simple acknowledgment.  "Then on 11 April, there was a cult, destroyed by the U.S. Military."

      "Oh," Asuka turned to Ramsey, curtsied, "Danke vielmals!"  [Thank you very much indeed!]

      "Can we stick to Japanese?"

      "I was not speaking to you, sir."

      Attergate's face clouded with rage, but Asuka had turned away from him, staring again at the wall, running a finger over the patterns.

      "I understand you submitted a weapon's design to the U.S. Navy, on 22 April, it was rejected."

      "Oh, I have lots of good ideas," Asuka said breezily.

      Ramsey noted Attergate's confused expression, he thought he had her, and Ramsey would have thought the same.  He wondered how Asuka had simply breezed through that, and he decided he would reveal his `surprise` for her, after the interviews were complete, not on Saturday like he'd planned.

      "Considering how much your grades have fallen, I doubt it's all that unimportant to you.  Even your math and physics grades are down.  A poor showing, considering your diploma."

      "Not the least bit important, considering my diploma," Asuka replied airily.

      Another swing and miss, Ramsey thought.

      "A very cavalier attitude, considering on 26 April, you launched completely without orders."

      "Oh, silly man," Asuka chirped, "The Commander had given the orders, so they existed, 'in potentitia', electrons don't create electricity, their movement creates a field, the field is electricity.  So the orders existed, only awaiting delivery, for them to become 'real' to me, they existed awaiting their perception and the collapse of the wave to become real.  Besides, Second and Third, add the Fifth, the symmetry was just too perfect to ignore," she paused, "Perhaps that was what kept the orders from arriving, such a perfect symmetry prevented manifestation.  Do you have some paper?  I must draw up the equation!"

      Ramsey's head was spinning, he wasn't following half of this, but the news that Asuka had taken an EVA without proper authorization was troubling, but if Ikari had given the orders, and Asuka had every reason to believe that Ikari would issue such orders, he thought the Judge Advocate General, JAG, would not even hear the case.

      "The assumption was, that you didn't care about orders, or the safety of the patients and firefighters in the medcenter."

      "That's terrible," Asuka said, "With assumptions like that, you'll never be able to solve the problem correctly."


      Asuka walked back to the locker room, lost in thought, He knew things he couldn't possibly know.  But he didn't ask about the dreams where we all changed places, nor the Western adventure, Asuka thought, "On 20 and 21 April," she said with disdain.

      She reasoned that Security, of the military and NERV, was what was lacking secrecy, not that he had read their minds.

      So as long as we keep things among the pilots, we can keep it secret, she considered, I'll have to tell Raccoon and the others about the AT field math manipulations, we have to keep it to ourselves, if we want to surprise our enemies.  The `adults`, can't keep secrets.


      Admiral Simson looked down at the body on the examination table, This is getting to be a habit I want broken, he thought.

      The `coroner` was one of the `specials`.  The body was laid open on the table.

      "We're lucky you ignored the family's objections," the coroner removed his gloves, "Whoever did this, knew a lot about chemistry."

      "What killed him?"

      "A massive coronary, induced by ozone."

      "Ozone?" Simson asked.

      "Ozone, three oxygens, it's a heart stimulant, there was enough in his system to kill a half-dozen people.  Ozone is unstable, I don't know the half-life, but in a few more hours, there would have been no traces."

      "Ikari was in the room, wouldn't it have gotten him too?  Ozone is a gas, isn't it?"

      "Yes, it's created when ultraviolet light shines on ordinary oxygen or electrical discharges.  That's the tang in the air after a thunderstorm.  Even arc lights create a small amount."

      "The searchlights the Navy uses and the lights theaters use," Admiral Simson commented.

      "I guess."

      "How did it get into his system, and just his system?" Admiral Simson asked.

      "That's got me.  As I said, no trace of the source, soon no trace of why the man died at all.  A real professional, precise attack."

      "A demonstration?" Simson asked.

      "Maybe, but to whom?  Us, or this man's bosses?"

      The man walked to another case on another table, "The mystic defenses on that apartment were incredibly heavy.  Although whether it was to keep things in, or keep things out . . . ?" he opened the case.

      The Admiral recoiled, although there was no sight or smell, or anything to explain his need to flee the area.

      "Relax, sir.  If you didn't react, you'd hardly be human."

      Simson stepped closer, to actually see what had repelled him, "Is that what I think it is?"  The bone `wand` was only about a foot long, and metal protruded from each tip.

      "A child's femur.  It has to be filled with metal while it's still attached, and the child is still alive."

      The Admiral shifted uncomfortably.

      "Frankly, this and a few other things in there, anyone even remotely sensitive, would go into screaming hysterics, just walking past the building."

      "I thought the Angels were our enemies," the Admiral still wanted to shy away from the wand.

      "Wishful thinking I'm afraid."  The `special` closed the box, cutting off the terrible miasma that had filled the room.

      "Okay.  Seal him back up.  Burn the body, then adulterate it with something to prevent a revivification spell."

      The `special` raised an eyebrow, "I've got just the thing, you've done this before?"

      Admiral Simson turned and left.


F.D.R. Through Wellington and Montaigne

      Shinji knew his part was simple, he also felt it, as did the others.  With every step, the crawling unease became a disease, a sickness he could feel and smell.  As if his limbs no longer were the right size and shape, or couldn't bend in the old, human way. He looked at his hands, they still opened and closed the same way, but they didn't feel the same.

      He tightened his fist, and felt the flesh flowing together, the fingers becoming fluid and running together.

      With a gasp, he released his grip, looked at his unmarked hand, Is it still mine or is it something else?  Something that only looks like a human hand? he wondered, How long will it stay in my control.

      He felt the hairs on his neck and arms raising, could imagine them as thousands of tiny tentacles, each burrowing into his flesh, leaving only their tails to wave in the clean air as they consumed him, bit by bit.  Until 'Ikari Shinji' would ride as a mute observer in what was once his own body.  He couldn't turn back, he couldn't run away.  They would find him, they might not even have to search, inflicting a curse on him from a distance, because of who he was, what he did.  Instead, he approached, he would have no trouble achieving his role.


      Shinji Ikari entered the conference room, and looked around worriedly.

      "Mister Ikari?" Attergate asked.

      Shinji nearly jumped out of his skin at Attergate's question.

      "Are you all right?" Attergate asked.

      Ramsey could almost see the 'OH NO!  Not another one,' expression on the interviewer's face.

      "You can't HEAR them?" Shinji asked hysterically.

      "Hear what?" Attergate asked, glancing to Ramsey, then around the room.

      "The worms?" Shinji whimpered, ran and hid in the corner of the room with his arms covering his head, offering a string of apologies.

      "I can assure you, they aren't here," Attergate said.

      Shinji looked at Attergate, then Ramsey, he giggled briefly before returning to his head-covered posture.

      "Mister Ikari, sit in the chair."

      Shinji crept up on the chair, prodded it gingerly with his toe, before he sat down.

      "On 26 April, after the unauthorized launch by Asuka Langley, you stayed with Dr. Akagi and her bunch."

      "Was that wrong?" Shinji asked miserably, "Saotome-san asked, and Pilot Langley was going to be there too."

      "Are you afraid of her?" Attergate asked, smiling.

      "NO!!!" Shinji shrieked, jumped out of the chair, huddled in the corner, glancing around nervously.

      "She isn't here," Attergate tiredly reminded him.

      Ramsey could clearly see the pilots were wearing him down.  Ramsey had to admit, Ikari was getting to him, normally such a display, would have aroused pity.  Instead he felt a crawling revulsion, a desire to be away from Shinji and his apologies and cowering, it was like fingernails on a chalkboard.

      "Weren't you worried about Captain Katsuragi's reaction, considering no one told her about your sleep over?"

      "I left a note," Shinji whined.

      "Please, SIT IN THE CHAIR!" Attergate thundered.

      Ramsey was interested in the rage Ikari's performance was arousing in Attergate, he thought it would be interesting to interrogate the interrogator.  But I have no orders, Ramsey lamented, and he wanted to be away from Attergate as well.

      "You likewise didn't tell your guardian about the shopping trip and picnic you indulged yourselves in, the next day.  Or was it Pilot Langley's idea?"

      "It was a very good idea!" Shinji blurted out.

      "But did you consider your guardian's judgment in this matter, you didn't, did you?"

      "She was asleep," Shinji replied defensively, cringed.

      Attergate turned a smile of triumph at Ramsey, Ramsey was watching Shinji shaking so badly, he toppled over, out of the chair.  Attergate turned to watch Shinji whimpering and kicking the chair to free his trapped leg.

      It almost looks like the chair had tried to bite him, Ramsey thought, And now it won't let go.

      Shinji managed to get free, and crawled into the corner.  Attergate shook his head, giving up on trying to control Shinji.

      "What was your reaction to the information, that Pilot Langley was planning to move out of Captain Katsuragi's house?"

      Shinji seemed to brighten, then looked around in terror, "That would be bad, that would be bad.  I wouldn't like that, not at all.  I wouldn't keep her if she wanted to leave, but it would be bad."  He cowered again.

      Ramsey hadn't known Asuka had made such a decision, she would have had to come to see him.  He wasn't aware that the situation between Captain Katsuragi and Asuka Langley had deteriorated to that point.  If he had, he would have moved Maya Ibuki and the Second and Third Children to an apartment adjacent to Dr. Akagi's.

      Attergate considered, then continued, "Your second picnic, on 4 May, received the mortar attack, was there any evidence that you were being targeted?"

      "No," Shinji assured him, "No warning, just BOOM, then the barrage ended . . . Nancy Thompson was killed, none of us wanted that."

      "And the wounded Miss Langley?  After surgery, she kissed you.  Wasn't that out of character for her?"

      "Dr. Akagi said she was drunk, from the anesthetic," Shinji said desperately.

      "And on May 4th and 5th, reports of a huge creature, flying through the skies of Tokyo, some call it a dragon."

      "I'm sorry, I never heard that," Shinji answered.

      Truthfully, Ramsey thought, The engagement was kept from the pilots, for obvious reasons, they have enough to worry about.

      "As I understand it, there was a history of antipathy between Pilot Ayanami and Pilot Saotome.  Have you noticed this?"

      "No, they just avoid each other," Shinji said.

      "She made her feelings clear on 6 May while Ranma Saotome was practicing martial arts."

      "Martial Arts is important," Shinji retorted.

      That's two, Ramsey noted, as Attergate broke another mechanical pencil.

      "On the evening of 6 May, while you pilots all assembled in Pilot Langley's room, except Pilots Ayanami and Davis, something attacked you, what did it look like?"

      "Like a wax statue of a giant flying ant, that someone left in the sun to melt.  It fired something that set the ceiling on fire."


      Dr. Akagi looked down at the woman as she put away her equipment and supplies, she'd finished her work on her sometime ago.  She just had to wait to see how successful her operation had been.

      The woman's eyes snapped open, they were red, from the blood in the vitreous humor, the color would return to normal in a day or two.

      "Doctor . . . Akagi?"

      "Yes.  Doctor Ritsuko Akagi.  Just lie still," she said soothingly, as she kept her from sitting up, needing only a tiny fraction of the strength she'd used earlier.

      "I feel . . . the others . . . ?" the woman said expectantly, almost gleefully.

      "Yes, they're finally here.  All of them."

      The woman smiled warmly for a moment, hugging herself tightly, then sobered, "What will become of me?" she asked worriedly.

      "That's what we have to discuss," Ritsuko prayed the kids would eventually forgive her, she knew she could never forgive herself.


King Lear, Act V, Scene ii, line 293

      Rei walked the corridor, as had the others before her.  One foot in front of the other.  She'd seen how that thing had affected Shinji-kun.  He'd been so frightened, Rei wished she could have remained, the Second Children had reassured her she'd look after him.  Despite her faults, the Second Children's word is her word, Rei reminded herself, she melancholically remembered the last time the Second had looked after Shinji-kun, He is safer with the Second now, than with me, she thought sadly.  She was barely in control of her own feelings, she wanted to race ahead, and kill this thing, or die in the attempt.  Raw red rage, insane in its own quiet way.  She didn't care what lay before her, what it would do to her.  She was beyond such human concerns, beyond the entire idea of survival.  She would never again see the clear sky, never walk in the human world.  She would have screamed a war cry, if she had known any that would encompass the moment and her fury.  Reason had long since fled, as had the vestiges of fear or self-preservation.  To tear into the enemy, with claws and teeth, kicking and screaming to give vent to whatever cacoethes that seethed and simmered within her.  The fear she'd felt on linking with Unit 01 was a warm and passive thing compared with the fear and rage that spiraled beyond her control and experience.

      She struggled desperately to fix the plan in her mind, trying to master the wild beast ravening through her mind and spirit.  Assuring it, that the plan was the best way to hurt this thing, not to strike and strike and strike, so she could scream her rage flinging her foes' vitals to the four winds.

      Instead she was left with the responsibility of driving the creature away.  The plan felt like lying, but the chance of detection was too high, if they deviated too far from who they really were, and from what people reported them as.  It was a subtle exercise.

      Roku-kun and the Second Children had listened carefully to what she had told them.  The Second had simply asked, 'Are you sure?', Rei had told her she was.  The Second and Roku-kun had simply exchanged glances, and developed the plan, and briefed and drilled them on it, never questioned her veracity.  She was tempted not to give her all to this battle, however, she knew that Ranko Saotome was not the most capable fighter to engage and defeat this monster, so she would have to effectively finish it off herself, leaving Ranko the job of cleaning up after her.

      She stayed her hand for a moment, before she entered, barely managed to control herself before she joined in battle.

      She sighed, I must do this, she concentrated on the mission, pacifying the beast as it raged about what had been done to Shinji-kun, promising to hurt it as much as possible, by sticking to the plan.


      Ramsey watched Ayanami walk in, mechanically putting one foot in front of the other.  She stopped at the chair, which still lay where it had fallen from Shinji's `escape`.  She stared down at it, unmoving.

      Ramsey walked over, picked up the chair and set it up for her to sit in it.

      "Miss Ayanami," Attergate's mood had obviously not improved.

      I didn't let it, Ramsey thought to himself, he'd finally figured out the game, and could play his part in it.

      Attergate seemed more on edge now than before, "Please sit . . . in the chair."

      "Yes," Rei executed an about-face and sat down, staring at the man.

      "The attack on the pilots on 6 May, do you know about it?"

      "Yes."

      "Would you like to tell me about it?" Attergate asked sarcastically.

      "No."

      Attergate shot to his feet, "Can you speak anything except single words?!"

      "Sorry."

      Attergate mastered himself, "I require that you describe the events of that evening."

      "Solitude.

      Loneliness.

      Enemy.

      Attack.

      Protect.

      Flight.

      Unconsciousness.

      Death.

      Return.

      Rest.

      Safety," the words came slowly, clearly enunciated, one at a time.

      Ramsey understood she was choosing the most precise word, evoking the right mood and denotation.  Rei might as well have poured manure in his lap, from Attergate's expression.

      "So when Pilot Ikari fell asleep in your lap - "

      "Beside," Rei interrupted.

      "Beside," Attergate amended, "That must have made you feel good, having a fellow pilot so close to you."

      "Why?" Rei seemed honestly puzzled.

      Attergate changed tacks, Ramsey could guess what was coming next, he'd regarded it as a serious, personal failure.

      "On 7 May, you were all loaded aboard helicopters, to be taken to safety, it didn't work out that way, did it?"

      "No."

      "What happened?"

      "Compulsion.

      Transformation.

      Mind.

      Transformation.

      Body."

      "You and your fellow pilots became animals."

      "Incompletely."

      "So the fight between pilots Davis and Saotome, is indicative of their feelings for each other."

      "Dominance," Rei replied, "Phlegmatic."

      Ramsey had heard little about that fight, after explaining how `dishonorable` Davis as a coyote's attack on Ranma the tiger was, Admiral Simson would always laugh too hard to explain exactly what happened.

      "So it wasn't really a fight, neither seems the type who would fight to gain that kind of control."

      "Females," Rei told him.

      That stopped him, Ramsey watched Attergate's jaw drop.

      "Procreation," Rei added, and increased Attergate's surprise.

      "They were fighting over sexual conquests?"

      "Ranko," the name and Rei's stare bored in relentlessly.

      Ramsey had seen less purposeful volleys from the gun turrets of a battleship, Ranko's the only one left to meet, and she's intimating that Davis and Saotome were fighting over her, Ramsey kept the smile from his face, If I didn't know better, I'd say Rei was setting this all up.  But WHY?

      Attergate was considering his next question carefully.

      "Langley.

      Tendo.

      Likewise," Rei added with the same deadpan delivery she'd been using.  Attergate was left floundering by it.

      "Pilot Davis died as a result of the battle," he managed.

      "Recovered.

      Completely."

      "From dying?" Attergate was incredulous.

      "Misdiagnosis."

      "Misdiagnosis?!  How can you misdiagnose being dead?"

      "Samuel - Clemens," Rei said.

      Attergate frowned at that, "I suppose that the reports of your death have also been greatly exaggerated," Attergate said testily.

      "Greatly."

      Ramsey wondered what that referred to, he'd heard rumors about Ayanami being injured during testing, sometimes severely, but never that she died.

      "You then went on to socialize with the others, why at Dr. Akagi's home?"

      "Huge.

      Space."

      "But you stayed out on the patio, didn't you want to socialize?"

      "Suppressant," Rei admitted.

      "Very commendable," Attergate said sarcastically, "Little monster doesn't want to disturb the others.  That's what they think of you, isn't it?"

      Ramsey was about to intervene, That's out of line.

      Rei beat him to it, "'We monsters have to stick together, God help us, because no one else will.'  Jeffrey Kevin Davis," she quoted in English, saying it as if it was all one word with pauses in it.

      Ramsey enjoyed the shocked expression on Attergate's face, it was tempered by hearing the bleak sentiments of at least two of the pilots.

      "Is that why you and Dr. Akagi played chess with each other?"

      "Reacclimatization."


      Maya hid under her desk, writhing and screaming into her hands as she covered her mouth.  The feeling of spiders crawling all over her skin, an almost feathery touch, all over her body, was terrible.  That they whispered things to her was worse.  That her love for sempai was obscene and depraved, that her relationship with the pilots didn't go far enough, how pretty and innocent they all were, unready for the real world.

      She kept refusing, denying.  She loved sempai, if only at a distance, how could that be wrong.  She would never hurt the pilots!  Never!

      If she would do it, strike at the pilots, at their trust and innocence, the voices promised they would give her Dr. Akagi, body and soul, she would love Maya as passionately and deeply as Maya loved her sempai.

      "I'll never do that!" she sobbed, she wouldn't betray the pilots or sempai, she also knew she couldn't hold off these things forever.  The feathery, filthy touching, the smooth, unctuous, placid voices would find some weakness that she couldn't turn away.  So she silently screamed her denials, knowing she would eventually fall, and betray everything and everyone she stood for and cared about.

      She was staggered when the hand dragged her out from under her desk.  She looked in horror at . . . Rei.

      "You are not alone," she told Maya, "We should not have left you here."

      Maya had never been so glad and so ashamed in her life, "I'm sorry, I couldn't . . . " the touches and voices were creeping back, temporarily banished by the shock, but now Rei was being obscured from her mind.

      Rei was impatient, for that Maya was glad.  Rei draped her over her shoulder in a fireman's carry, and marched back to the locker room, carrying her the whole way.

      Maya was dimly aware as Rei and Asuka carried her to the showers, and ran warm, clean water over her.  Maya sensed the reduction of the feeling of crawling, on and under her skin, and the voices quieted, then fell silent.

      She sagged as the warm water played over her.  She looked up at Rei and Asuka, she could see the difference between Asuka's expressive countenance and Rei's indifferent expression, but she guessed both were equally protective and angry.  She felt embarrassed sitting there, crying in a shower.  The other pilots would glance in at her, mixtures of confusion and outrage, depending on their personality.


Douglas MacArthur

      Now she heard the sound of her shoes against the floor, she dragged her feet, Death awaited up ahead, Ranko was certain of it.  The others had struck, To what effect? Ranko wondered.

      Wondered whether they defeated the creature, or would it still be able to hurt her, corrupt her.  She wasn't sure what frightened her more, that the creature would be ready and angry at the mischief, or if it was still ignorant of what they were doing, and she might give it away, dooming all of them.  She wanted to run back, to be with Raccoon and Nabiki.  The loss of 'manliness' that would cost her, she almost didn't care.

      Ranko walked through the door, as terrified and foul as she felt in that thing's presence, she hadn't had a breakdown as severe as Maya had, close but not quite, I don't want to do this again!

      Asuka and Raccoon had gone over their briefing again and again.  That Shinji had such success, and so had Asuka, then Rei, she felt better about going in, a little better.  The plan would work, even she could see that.

      But it's disgusting! she thought, glancing at her escort, wondering what, if anything, he knew.  At the same time, she hoped that she didn't give away the game.  She wondered why the others, the `adults` hadn't put in an appearance.  Gendo and Fuyutsuki are probably hiding in their office.  Who knows where Misa-chan and Rit-chan are.

      Ranko paused at the door, she steeled herself to make this final confrontation, then she entered the conference room.


      "They have always, been somewhat high strung," Ramsey told Attergate, playing the 'dumb military stuffed shirt.'

      "Violins aren't that tightly strung!" Attergate shot back.

      "Tennis rackets are, sir."

      Attergate was getting frustrated by the insanity of the pilots.  Ramsey decided to carefully keep the pressure up.

      Now he decided to push his luck.  "The present events may have exacerbated the condition."  Ramsey thought the man would throw himself bodily across the table at him, and tear out his throat.

      Instead, `Ranko` Saotome entered, "Oh, hi Attergate-san!  You're interviewing . . . " she stopped, stared at Attergate.  She clutched her hands together under her chin, blinking cutely and smiling.

      Attergate didn't react normally, he sat in his chair, he looked at the girl as if she were unexpected and unpleasant.

      Ranko sighed cutely, smiling brilliantly.

      "Please sit down," Attergate told her firmly.

      Ranko emitted a delighted squeal, and bounced into his lap, staring at him and sighing contentedly.

      Ramsey wondered how long he could stand this, and when, not if, someone was going to explain it to him.  He also noted Attergate's revulsion, if Ranko acted like that to most men, they wouldn't act as if she had just relieved herself in their lap.

      "I meant in the other chair," he practically threw her out of his lap.  She pouted as she walked to the other side, but sat, her elbows on the table supporting her chin, smiling cutely to let him know there were no hard feelings, and dreamily sighing as she kept staring at him.

      Attergate closed his eyes, with an expression of a man preparing to drive his head right through the table, just working out when.  "I have some questions for you," Attergate said officiously.

      Ranko sighed, "You have such dreamy eyes," Ranko sighed again.

      Ramsey noted how much and what parts of Ranko moved and bounced so intriguingly, when she sighed, You're old enough to be her father! Ramsey reminded himself forcefully, as he wondered if he'd survive, if there were more pilots.  Ramsey also wondered if Ranma understood how seductive Ranko could be, and how her proficiency at it, or her natural talent for it, would affect his 'I'm a guy,' insistence.

      "I understand, on 9 May, both you and Ranma Saotome began working with Dr. Akagi."

      Again Captain Ramsey was confused, Didn't this idiot know that Ranma and Ranko were the same person?  he'd assumed calling Ranma back was the beginning of checking one set of stories against another.

      "Oh yes!" Ranko chirped, "Martial Arts is about moving, and she's a biophysicist."

      "This research began as a result of meeting with Pilot Davis," Attergate said.

      Ranko sighed wistfully and nodded, "He's so formal, and so shy.  That's so cute!"

      "Did the fact that Analyst Ibuki and Dr. Akagi attended your class convince you to overstep yourself that way?  You're just a pilot."

      Ranko sighed and nodded, "Then I decided to teach Pilot Davis Martial Arts.  Martial Arts is important, that was May 10th."

      "Then despite the recent attack, on 11 May, along with your friends, you attended a movie."

      Ranko blinked and smiled, "The Navy could protect us, it was their base after all."

      "That must have made you feel good, but it didn't prevent a fight between Pilots Langley and Davis, on the 12th."

      "They fight all the time," Ranko said dreamily.

      "A fist fight," Attergate amplified.

      "Really!?  A fist fight between those two?  And I missed it!?" Ranko wailed, "That is so unfair!  They told me it was just a spanking!"

      Attergate merely shook his head, "You mean he was just giving Asuka Langley a spanking, is that what you heard?"

      "Well, she hit him and Pilot Tendo first, after Pilot Ayanami slapped her," Ranko paused, considered, "After Asuka kissed Shinji," she made a face, "For that she deserves a spanking, he is so uncute!"

      "That didn't stop you from going to the PX with Pilots Langley, Ikari, and Ayanami, the next day."

      "School's boring," she sighed, "Shopping's a lot more fun, even with that bunch.  Besides, I got some blood on Pilot Tendo's new swimsuit.  I had to get a replacement."  She leaned close, whispering, "She acts nice, but she's such a grouch."

      "Yes," Attergate said, "I can imagine."


      Fuyutsuki and Gendo had been listening intently through the hidden microphones.  Gendo wished he could have watched as well, the pilots had surprised him, all of them.  They would ask Captain Ramsey for descriptions, he'd been present for all the interviews with the pilots.

      They wondered at the planning, but it seemed to have had the desired effect on their enemy.

      "I almost don't want to know what they're going to do next," Fuyutsuki said.

      "If Inspector Attergate doesn't want to interview the rest of the staff," Gendo said, openly smiling, "I would consider that a victory."


      Ranko didn't care, she got the door closed, without slamming it, got a little ways down the corridor, then she broke into a run towards the locker room.  She burst in, seeing Nab-chan and Raccoon, she threw herself into their welcoming arms.  She didn't care that 'I am a guy', there were things that no one should be expected to face unflinching.  She barely heard the soft words, felt the gentle touches.  All she knew was that again she was safe.  The evil crawling sensations of just being in the same room with that thing, had faded.  She was half-expecting it to storm in here, and demand details of her dreams, and the night she spent in the furo with a seriously ill Raccoon, cradling his head in her lap the whole night.
      Ritsuko walked the corridors of NERV HQ, she could feel the thing, feel it calling to her, drawing her towards it, but she felt something else, it was far weaker, but she wanted to go to the weaker, the more desperate call.  Not the heavier one that promised distinction.  She opened the door to the locker room.

      Maya and the pilots were huddled together at the far end.  The look on Davis, Rei, and Asuka's faces told her they were not happy with what they been directed to do.  She also had little doubt what the fate of any unwelcome intruder would be.  She noted the call to `renown` had faded, the other one got no stronger, but she headed for her charges.

      "Are you all right?" she sat across from them.

      Shinji raised his head from Rei's lap.  Ranko couldn't even manage that, desperately clinging to both Nabiki and Jeff, he was stroking her back, speaking softly.  Nabiki lay atop Ranko, hugging her, red veined eyes staring fearfully at Ritsuko saying nothing.  Asuka sat between Rei and Jeff, both leaned slightly on her, Asuka didn't seem to mind in the least.

      She'd heard Rei and Asuka singing pianissimo as she entered, Jeff's chant leading in the song.  Jeff couldn't sing to save his life.  Maya sat next to Rei, with her head on the smaller girl's shoulder.

      "I'd never hurt you or the Children, sempai," Maya said tearfully, "You have to believe that."

      "I do," Ritsuko assured her.

      "Then let's go get that thing!" Asuka said as she stood.

      "Rei - " Jeff began.

      "No," Asuka said firmly, "Wondergirl comes with me, you stay here, play teddy bear, you're better at it than we are," she smiled at Jeff's frown, as Rei carefully set Shinji to lean against Jeff.  Asuka turned to Ritsuko, "Doctor, do you know how to use a flamethrower?"

      Ritsuko thought about the uselessness of using any normal weapon on their target.


      The `man` collected his notes.  "I think you are hiding something," Attergate criticized.

      Ramsey merely watched him, he was under no orders to answer the man's questions.

      "I'll escort you to the Commanders," Ramsey held the door for him, for some reason, no one wanted the job.  Considering Attergate's foul mood, he couldn't blame them.


      "You didn't answer me," Attergate prodded.

      "I am not at liberty to discuss many things, as are you," Ramsey noted Rei, Asuka and Dr. Akagi rushing towards them, the two pilots carried big CO2 fire extinguishers.  Dr. Akagi seemed to be wearing a backpack-mounted flamethrower.  Asuka and Rei jerked Attergate's bow-tie out of his hands, and pounded it with the fire extinguishers, then sprayed it with CO2.

      "Get him out of here!" Ritsuko ordered, unlimbering her flamethrower.

      Ramsey rushed the surprised man down the corridor, putting him in Commander Ikari's office as the sound of the flamethrower firing a sustained burst, filled the corridor.  Ramsey closed the door, after noting the shocked looks on all three faces in the office.  Ramsey walked down the corridor as the two pilots extinguished the tie, he was getting to the bottom of this.  They hit that thing with a flamethrower blast, he watched Asuka pick up the tie, And it's only singed!  He definitely was going to get an explanation!


      Fuyutsuki guided Attergate to a seat in front of Gendo's desk.

      "You can see some of the problems we have been laboring under," Gendo said, "They have good and bad days, the good are becoming less common."

      "I can see the situation has seriously deteriorated," Attergate agreed.

      "We've had no problem directing them in combat," Ikari let the 'yet', hang unspoken, "And we have had no incidents of them attacking normal humans."

      "How long do you expect that situation to continue?" Attergate demanded, regaining some control.

      "I have been told that as long as Project E continues, I need not concern myself with that," Ikari said, "We have the resources to push the combat aspects and Project E.  Anything else will require additional resources SEELE doesn't have or won't release."

      The knock on the door interdicted Attergate's reply.

      "Enter!" Ikari commanded.

      Asuka entered, carrying the slightly charred bow-tie at the end of a bayonet, "I apologize, I should have realized what this was.  I needlessly endangered you and the entire base by my carelessness.  I am truly sorry, and submit myself for appropriate discipline."  She dropped the scorched object on Ikari's desk in front of Attergate.  "It's related to the hoop snake."

      "Snake?" Attergate asked.

      "Yes, sir," Asuka said with all seriousness, "Davis told me about them."

      "Who didn't guess that?" Fuyutsuki said sardonically.

      Asuka continued, "They're so rare, they're often considered a myth or legend.  But when you see what looks like a wagon wheel rim rolling along in the distance, and there's nothing there when you arrive where it disappeared, just gopher holes.  Well," Asuka paused, "It gets you thinking, like, why the Mesoamericans never developed the wheel, I believ - "

      "Thank you," Ikari interrupted, "Miss Langley, you may go."

      Asuka nodded and left.

      "I've never met people who can say more about nothing," Ikari explained.

      Attergate nodded.


      Ramsey saw Katsuragi walking ahead, in a Force 8 snit, She'd be attractive, he thought, If she wasn't so childish.  He shook his head, wondering what had gotten into him, he wouldn't touch her with a boat hook.

      Katsuragi started into the locker room with an angry shout.  He nearly ran into her, as she stopped just inside and backed up a step.

      He looked over her shoulder at the pilots.  He'd seen that look only one time, he'd watched a group of tigers eating a kill, in Burma during the war, a pair of females and cubs.  When they spotted him a few hundred feet away, he'd gotten that exact same look.  Barely restrained kill reflex.  Only the need to defend their cubs, a local had explained, prevented them from charging across the distance.

      He stepped past, and away from Katsuragi, determined that she, not he, was the problem.  The pilots and analyst Ibuki were huddled together, the 'mama tigers' were Dr. Akagi, Asuka Langley, Rei Ayanami and Jeffrey Davis.  The others seemed fearful to a greater or lesser extent.  He noted that Saotome had taken joint refuge, in Davis's lap and Ranko's identity.

      "What did you do?" Katsuragi demanded, again their eyes narrowed, anger increased, "You were told to cooperate."

      Davis and Langley rolled their eyes, as if to tell him, 'Now you see what we have to deal with.'

      "Ny har rut hotep," Davis began.

      Ramsey recognized the name.

      Davis continued, "There is - no rest - at the gate."

      Ramsey's eyes widened, he glanced in the direction of Ikari's office, "That was the Crawling Chaos?" Ramsey whispered in horror.

      Katsuragi was still lost.

      "The Soul and Messenger of the Outer Gods," Langley's stare should have burned through Katsuragi's skull instantly, "Should we have told it all the secrets we know?  All our weaknesses and foibles, Captain?"

      Ramsey thought he'd need a bulldozer to scrape all the sarcasm off that question, he noted that Katsuragi had the good sense, or the decency, to look embarrassed, but she didn't apologize.

      "Why didn't you attack it with the EVAs?" Ramsey asked.

      "It is too powerful for four EVAs to combat," Rei told him quietly, concentrated on the shivering boy in her lap, both were very different from the characters they had presented to Attergate, but not so different that they would draw attention to the fraud.  Rei was unwilling to talk unnecessarily, Shinji terribly frightened, but both were very different at the core.

      "I'll check in on him, and have some food sent in," he smirked, "Or some pallets to load you aboard a truck."  He got a few smiles from that, but none of them were likely to move.

      "Captain!" he snapped, shocking Katsuragi out of her stupor.

      "Yes, sir!"

      "OUT!" he ordered, glared at her, daring her to protest.  She moved out, he followed.

      "Captain, now is not the time to scream at them," he told her after they had left the locker room, and closed the door behind them, "Attergate was an Outer God, our real enemy."

      "I know that," she replied testily.

      "Considering your track record, Captain, that is quite a surprise.  It seems that Norris Attergate, Nyarlathotep, knew Miss Langley was planning to move out of your apartment, to base housing," he watched her shocked expression, "I hadn't realized you'd let the situation degenerate to that point.  We'll find alternate arrangements for billeting the Children, and your housekeeping needs."

      Gendo walked up to them, looked serene, pleased with himself and the world, "Mister Norris Attergate has decided that further interviews, 'Would serve no useful purpose.'  It seems the pilots were - not what he expected.  Their deplorable condition irritated him, he mentioned something about recommending increasing outlays for the counseling budget."

      "You might want to tell the pilots that," Ramsey told him

      "Considering they developed and carried out the plan that drove it away, I am quite pleased," Gendo told them as he continued towards the locker room.

      "Attergate was supposed to be a NERV employee," Katsuragi said.  Ramsey could see she was finally getting a handle on the situation, "An auditor."

      "Nyarlathotep was working for SEELE," Ramsey told her, "I suggest you get your facts straight, and learn the real players in this little game, Captain."  Ramsey walked off understanding the term and tone of `adults`, that he'd overheard from the Children, he'd promised them food, but he also needed to report to the Admiral.

      Well, I have a staff for that, he remembered.  He wondered what they would want, then remembered the Security reports about that restaurant cluster, Double portions of everything, he thought, With a side of everything else.


      Ritsuko watched Gendo's expression, as he entered the locker room, he seemed to vaguely approve of the arrangement, all the pilots sort of piled on top of each other.

      "I have received word that - the `inspector` - is returning to Geneva, he felt no further interviews with the staff were necessary.  A very good job, I am proud of all of you," he turned, paused halfway through the door, "Carry on."

      Ritsuko thought he actually cracked a smile, something she would have thought unlikely, Except that means none of the rest of us get interviewed, none of the rest of us will be subjected to this, she thought, she decided to stay with the Children.  The pilots had won another victory, especially when the Crawling Chaos, or SEELE, realized that `mere humans` had fooled it/them.  They'd seek some kind of redress.  She hoped her preparations would make a difference.


      Kaji looked at the lone monolith, labeled '01', it was Kehl, of course, none of the rest of the Committee had his hubris.  Kaji was in the conference room, where Ikari had his meetings.  He wasn't supposed to be in here, technically he wasn't supposed to know this even existed.  But he did, and he was.

      "The Project must not be delayed further," the monolith intoned.

      "Rushing things like you have, hasn't helped," Kaji despised the man, he was glad he'd switched to the winning side years ago, but Kehl didn't need to know that.  "You pushed, and someone pushed back, NERV Japan was murdered, right in front of Gendo.  Unless you did it to send him a message, somebody serious, knocked off your boy."  Lately he'd been poking into all the secrets of NERV that he could, the U.S. Military was taking care of security, that left him plenty of time to examine other things.  Things he wasn't supposed to be examining.

      "We understand events better than you," the monolith told him.

      Your damned scrolls, Kaji had heard the joke, that Patton had actually written them, and had laughed as SEELE had gone quietly mad trying to prove or refute that information, "Then you should have been better prepared.  The problem with prophesy is that it often can't be interpreted until it's past."

      "That is our concern," the monolith replied, "We still need Saotome, he remains a potential solution to seal the breach."

      Him and not her, or them? Kaji hadn't figured out what they would want him for, and he knew they wouldn't tell him.  "You know that the pilots drove off your inspector?  Evidently Langley and Davis did something, the other pilots followed."

      "Your paramour, might find herself out of a job soon," the monolith said, "Perhaps we should tender an offer."

      Yeah, Misa-chan working for you creeps, Kaji thought while he seemed to be considering, I can see that happening.  Especially if she finds out how you set her parents up.  Misato's love/hate relationship with her dead father, was the one reason Kaji hadn't bothered to try to rekindle their relationship.  Until she got over both her unreasoning hatred, and her Electra Complex, and finally got some closure, she was just too unstable.  I'm juggling enough right now.

      "I doubt she'll be receptive," Kaji told them the truth.

      "All have their price," the monolith told him, and vanished.

      Idiots, Kaji slipped out of the room, made sure he was unseen, They aren't as certain as they think they are.

      Kaji was too wrapped up in his own thoughts, to notice the pair of eyes staring out at him from the ventilator.


      Ramsey had taken Asuka aside, the pilots had assembled in Ritsuko Akagi's apartment, to eat the pile of food his staff had brought in.  It seemed that none of them wanted to be out of sight of each other.

      This place is big, but it isn't 'huge space', Ramsey thought, "Some pictures you might want to see, Miss Langley, from Aberdeen Proving Ground, and China Lake."

      Asuka took the photos and thumbed through them, "The sonic glaive!" she said excitedly.

      "They should be here in a few weeks, they all passed their tests.  Your designs were extensively reworked, but you also made our designs work.  You should be very proud."

      "Maybe I should give you the plans I drew up for the Skoda works, an electrically-driven three-barreled Gatling gun using the 50 mm KwK 39 as a base."

      "What gave you that idea?" Ramsey asked, "That could shred anything short of a battleship."

      "That was the idea.  Well, there were tests of a steam-driven Gatling gun in the late 19th Century, it achieved 2000 rounds per minute.  It also would prevent the barrels from melting.  I called it Surtur's Thunderbolt, but you'd probably name it after some Greek god, like Zeus, or Hephaestus, or someone like that."

      Ramsey shuddered at the idea.


      Commander Ikari looked over the reports on his desk.  They'd dodged a bullet, only to encounter a potentially more grave problem, he steepled his fingers and stared at Fuyutsuki, "How did this happen?"

      Commander Fuyutsuki noted Ikari's concern, "We believe it overpowered the guard mentally.  The guard didn't have a mark on him, and according to the security recordings, he terminated it, and took it to the incinerators.  We can only assume, that it escaped somewhere not covered by the security monitors or guard patrols.  Once it was out, the guards who encountered it, assumed it was Rei."

      "So another Rei, is currently walking the streets of Tokyo?" Ikari asked mildly.

      "That would seem reasonable.  Who knows how much it knows?" Fuyutsuki shook his head, "That has yet to be determined.  It stole the cash from the guard's wallet, without taking anything incriminating.  It also seemed able to impersonate Rei well enough to fool guards who encounter her every day.  It seems we finally have a unit that is stable in both the matrix and the compatibility, we just might not be able to use it."

      "Too stable," Ikari replied, "Perhaps much too stable.  Send out the special teams.  We cannot risk it encountering Rei, or agents of SEELE."

      "What if it attempts to link with an EVA?" Fuyutsuki asked, seeing the look of fear on his friend's face, they'd been seeking a way to `upgrade` Rei.  To bring her in line with their projections.  She should have been the best pilot by a wide margin, instead Asuka was the best, with Shinji and Ranma closing the gap with Rei rapidly, Shinji might even surpass Asuka soon.

      "Bring Rei here immediately.  Increase the guard on the pilots and the EVAs, they are to be prevented from meeting.  Deadly force is authorized."

      "Against the unit, or the pilots?" Commander Fuyutsuki suspected he knew, "This can't be a coincidence, the Chaos was here, do you suppose this was his real plan all along."

      "Or SEELE's, which means we have a traitor.  The timing and events are just too close for this to be a coincidence.  The meeting must be prevented by any means," Ikari told him, dismissing him.


Sic Semper Morituri Chapter 21: It was Magnificent, but it wasn't War

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 EVA pilots Shinji Ikari, Rei Ayanami, Asuka Soryu Langley and Jeffrey Davis.

      Asuka and Shinji view Rei's dreamscape, Shinji repairs his dreamscape, he again visits Rei's dreamscape, then temporarily links it with his, Rei is overjoyed to tears by this.

      Asuka and Jeff begin deriving the equations to manipulate the AT field.  They also reveal their experiences in the Ranmaverse dream, Ranma is happy, shocked and furious as the dreams are revealed.  Asuka suddenly solves the equations, and drags Shinji and Rei out to celebrate

      Search and Rescue training continues, Nabiki performs an simulated rescue.

      Ranko continues her nightmare, rescued from an ambush by her mental impressions of Rei and Jeff, by Rei rapid-firing artillery.

      Ranma defeats a kidnapping, and is nearly shot by the `hostage`.  Ritsuko and Jeff `shoot` at him to teach a respect for firearms.  Nabiki reacts violently to this, Ranma rescues Jeff from her.  She then ashamedly discovers they were using blanks.

      Ranma uses his new ability to mimic to fool Jeff and Nabiki.  Then uses Nabiki's own self-illusions against her.

      The Russians' situation is revealed.

      While Ranko, Hiroko, Nabiki, and Jeff attend a ballet, Gendo attends dinner with NERV Japan.  During intermission, Hiroko discusses the relationships among the pilots.  NERV Japan is murdered right in front of Gendo.

      Asuka has to clean-up after a drunken Misato.

      Both Ranma and Nabiki have the differences between where they are and what they're used to is very different.

      SEELE summons the Crawling Chaos, sending it to `investigate` NERV, Nyarlathotep taunts Mara, who rushes off to warn Belldandy and her sisters.  Gendo leaves the defeat of the Outer God to the pilots, they make a mockery of it's mission and drive it off.

Up where the smoke is all billered and curled 'Tween pavement and stars is the chimney sweep worldWhen the's 'ardly no day nor 'ardly no night There's things 'alf in shadow and 'alf way in light

Chim Chim Cher-Ee (from Mary Poppins) Writer: Richard M. and Robert B. Sherman

I've lived all my life in this weird wonderland; I keep buying things that I don't understand,
'Cause they promise me miracles, magic, and hope, But, somehow, it always turns out to be soap.

parody of "Chim Chim Cheree" by Allan Sherman

May 21, 1947

Chapter 21: It was Magnificent, but it wasn't War

Correcting An Oversight

      Ranko stood in their darkened bedroom, watching Raccoon collect the bedding off his bunk again, "What are you doing?"  Ranko was getting irritated by this, and she didn't want to be alone tonight.

      "Well it isn't - " Raccoon explained.

      "Proper, I know.  You've said it before," Ranko said, "Doesn't all of that, all those rules are to protect the girl, since she's weaker?"

      "Physically weaker, yes," Raccoon climbed down the ladder, with the bedding under his arm.

      She saw he wasn't wearing his glasses, "So that really doesn't apply to me, right?"

      "Well, there is the question of your privacy and modesty."

      "And if I don't care about that?" Ranko pressed.

      Raccoon shifted, uncomfortably, "It isn't as simple as that, you can't just say 'Ollie-Ollie-Oxenfree' and it doesn't apply."

      "Fine then," Ranko pulled up her shirt, putting the lower hem atop her breasts, "How about that?"

      "Uh, if I'm supposed to see something, you're going to have to put on the lights and give me my glasses.  All you are is a gray blur."

      Ranko was losing patience, she wanted this over with, "Okay, how's this?" she grabbed his wrists and pressed his palms against her breasts, "You can figure out where your hands are? Can't you?"

      "Ranko, are you crazy?" he strained to pull his hands back, but she was stronger.

      "No, I'm sick and tired of you doing this.  How do you think you're making me feel?  That every time I'm here, I'm kicking you out of the bed you built, and you're making me sleep alone.  Did you ever think I might not mind the company?" she released his wrists, she was almost shouting, "That I might want . . . " Ranko silently stalked to the door and yanked it open.


      Nabiki practically had her ear against the door, when Ranko wrenched it open.  Ranko caught her hand and pulled her forward, fast enough to keep her off balance.  Nabiki desperately tried to regain her footing, but Ranko was moving quickly and tripping her as she moved along.

      Ranko practically threw her at Raccoon, Nabiki hoped Raccoon could see well enough to know she was coming at him, otherwise she knew she'd go face-first onto the floor, or into the window behind him.

      He caught her, driven back from the impact as he held her upright, but neither fell.

      "She feels nice in your arms," Ranko said.

      Nabiki blushed right down to her toes as Raccoon held onto her.

      "Soft and warm, especially when you remember she isn't your daughter," Ranko continued.

      Daughter?! Nabiki thought as she tried to stand up and disentangle herself, Where did that come from?

      "But she's always hitting, always trying to make herself feel big, by making everyone else self-conscious," Ranko put Raccoon's glasses on his face.  "How did it feel Nab-chan?  To have to depend completely on someone else to protect you from danger or embarrassment?  To fall into his arms, and suddenly know you were safe again, and protected?"

      Nabiki tried to pull loose, then realized Ranko had her wrists in one hand, and Raccoon's in the other, neither could get loose, although Raccoon didn't seem to be trying.

      "What are you going to do now?  You can't fight your way out of this, not alone anyway," Ranko said.

      Nabiki shifted, getting ready to shove Ranko away with her foot, then Raccoon lurched, and she lost her balance, having to cling to him for a moment.  "You two are plotting against me," she told them.

      "Maybe he enjoys having a pretty girl in his arms," Ranko leaned close, so Nabiki could see her clearly in the darkness, "And you are a pretty girl."

      Nabiki embarrassedly realized how Ranma was doing this.  She remembered the `Martial Arts` competitions, that had nothing to do with Martial Arts, except their name and combative nature.  Ranma would get into the contest, to prove he was the best, then learn the rules.  After he lost the initial match through ignorance, he'd master enough of the technique, to defeat his opponent in the rematch.

      Here, the `Martial Art` was thinking: controlling events, things and people through education and nimbleness of mind, today had proven the effectiveness of the techniques well enough.  Ranma had already lost against the two local Grandmasters: Raccoon and Asuka, and there were other masters and grandmasters to learn from: Ritsuko, Rei, even Gendo.  Now he was learning the `rules`, and mastering the hard and soft techniques to use against people, manipulations and persuasion, all with his own spin on things.

      "You two fight so much, I wondered what would happen if you two bumped into each other."

      Nabiki glared at Ranko, who smiled back, then she collapsed Nabiki's knees as she released Nabiki's wrists, forcing her to hang onto Raccoon of her own free will.  She was going to have to start treating this more seriously.

      "You want to know why I'm doing this?" Ranko addressed Raccoon, "I think I know how to beat those things.  But I don't want to be alone."

      "I was planning to get reinforcements in dreams."

      "That's not what I was talking about," Ranko pulled her shirt back down, releasing Raccoon's wrists and stepping close, pressing against them both.  "I need . . . I want an anchor, here, in the real world.  I have to know there's someone here watching over me," she said quietly.

      Raccoon pulled one arm loose, then encircled Ranko, pulling her closer.

      "I . . . I can do that," Nabiki admitted, "Why didn't you just ask?"

      "Because I had to teach you that having to totally depend on someone else, isn't a death sentence, if it's the right person.  That asking for help doesn't make me weak, and it doesn't make you weak.  Nor does demanding an explanation before you act."

      Nabiki frowned at the rebuke, she turned to Raccoon, "You want to let me go?  And let me `thank` her properly?"

      "No," he hugged them close, lifting both off the ground, "I like it here with my girls," then he set them down and released them, "But I like living more."

      He stepped away, then Ranko stepped between them, facing Nabiki, "This is what I want.  Neither of you two fighting about me, or Ranma."

      Nabiki looked at Ranko's expectant face, and Raccoon's appraising one.  She hated being judged, she hated failing even more, "All right."

      "What about me?" Ritsuko's voice came from the doorway, a moment later the hall light backlit her, "Are you two, or three, doing something foolish, without consulting me?"

      "No," Raccoon said, "But Ranko can explain, while I line up additional lines of support and defense."


      Ritsuko could hardly believe what she'd been told, as Ranma's female form and Nabiki arranged the futons, sheets and blankets in her bedroom.  She glanced over at Maya who shrugged, she'd evidently never experienced it, but thought it was plausible.

      Ritsuko agreed to stay awake and watch.  What Ranma had told them, was almost impossible to believe.  Although she didn't tell Ranma that she didn't believe.  Dreams were personal things, and after the kids' earlier experiences, she wasn't going to say absolutely anything was impossible.

      Nabiki also seemed confused by the explanation, verging on terror and disgust, as Ranma described certain things.  Although Ritsuko knew Ranma was talking around some of the subjects, wandering within his own mind was a personal and somewhat traumatic experience.

      Jeff returned from making his phone calls, "Ayanami-san, Langley and Shinji-san will be in position to support, you know where," then he took a lecturing tone, "Don't try to be a hero, if you have to fall back, fall back.  Winning is the most important thing, winning today isn't!  Winning tomorrow, or next week, will also serve just as well."

      Ranma nodded, smiled warmly at Jeff.  Ritsuko could read her expression as Ranma looked from Jeff to Nabiki.  Ritsuko glanced to Maya, who nodded perhaps a centimeter, they realized that there might be trouble in the future.  Ranma was attracted to and trusted both of the other pilot/roommates, although Ritsuko suspected there weren't those feelings between Ranma's male form and `Raccoon`.  Nabiki felt as strongly about `Ranko` as she did about Ranma's male form.

      Except I'm not sure of that either, Ritsuko thought, 'They aren't the same person', do you realize how differently you act towards them, `Raccoon`?  How that might color things for both of you? Ritsuko wondered for the hundredth time, why she put up with this, and why she'd fight to keep it.

      Ranma lay down on her side, patted the space in front of her.  Jeff self-consciously lay down with his back to Ranma, she put her own arm around his waist and pulled herself close.  Nabiki lay down behind them, and arranged herself as Ranma had, pressing close, an arm around Ranma's waist.

      There were a few small, settling in adjustments, but all three were soon asleep, Maya followed a short while later.  Ritsuko moved in to sit near the Childrens' heads, to listen.  She hoped she could somehow support them, or intervene in a battle she didn't understand.


      Shinji hadn't understood why Rei-chan had been so frightened.  She'd walked into Misato's apartment, and then into his bedroom as he was getting ready to go to sleep.  'I am afraid,' she'd told him as she led him outside and onto a stairwell, away from of prying eyes.

      They'd sat there for some time, normally he could read what she was thinking, what she was feeling.  All he had been able to sense, was how tightly controlled she was.

      He'd broken the impasse by putting his hand on her shoulder, her response was more of a tackle than a hug.  They'd laid there on the concrete steps, her laying atop him, holding him as if she expected to be dragged away at any second.  He'd been too embarrassed to say anything or protest.

      And you liked it, he admitted to himself, as he stared at the ceiling of his bedroom, Feeling the pulse in her neck racing, in time with your's.

      He still didn't understand her words when she finally broke it off, 'I will never hurt them, or you.  No matter what they tell you.'

      I knew that, he thought, Why did she tell me she loved me?  'You are my love and my heart, whatever happens, please believe that!'  I've never been so embarrassed in my life, why did she say those things, then go away?  Was she afraid of what happened today?  We won, didn't we?

      She'd walked away, as the wailing cry of the `Ghost of Tokyo` announced through its alien music, that NERV had won another victory, one that no one would ever discussed outside the walls of headquarters, but perhaps their greatest to date.

      Why do I feel that I've lost her?  Asuka talked to Raccoon, about dreams, if he wasn't able to get Rei-chan, he would have called back.  I'd know if she was in trouble . . . but I think she is, and there's nothing I can do.  I can ask her in dreams, if I can ever relax enough to get there.

      "I have to," he told himself, "They're depending on me."  That thought struck him, it was both terrifying and stirring, that others thought he was important, necessary, people he knew he wasn't as good as.  He'd never measure up to them, but they needed and wanted him along for their journey.  It's enough, I don't want to lead, he smirked at that, imagining taking leadership from Asuka, or Ranma.


Cannons to the Left of Me

      Ranko walked into the caldera, she wondered at all the craters she found in her mind.

      The panda and his wife had the Ranma skin on a pole, tied there this time.  They were filling it with blue-veined white rocks, then added some kind of syrupy liquid from the familiar black cauldron.

      The panda's stitching and tarring efforts weren't very skilled or effective, as the liquid, and some of the dissolved rock, oozed out of the stitches.

      The `worshipers` surrounding the skin and the pair who were trying to keep it filled, were an odd lot.  Most were the Nerimaniacs that Raccoon and Asuka had described.  Ranko didn't know what portions of her personality they represented, actually she didn't care.

      She had initially despaired, a bit, on arriving: she hadn't seen any of the help she had expected.  Then as she climbed over the crater's rim, she'd spotted the green tree trunks, enough for a forest.  Then she realized in horror, that it was Rei and an artillery `park`.  She didn't know how many guns Rei had assembled, but she didn't want to be on the receiving end, when even part of them fired.

      Even Rei can't fire that many cannons at once, she thought, then realized, that unless she was absolutely sure, which she wasn't, then Rei might figure out a way.

      Ranko hadn't seen the others, but she also knew they were more subtle than Rei, even she might not see them before they acted, perhaps not even after they acted.  She walked boldly down, stopping well short of the circle of `worshipers`.  Some shouted praise, others shouted threats and hatred, some alternated, and in every case, they were not willing to just walk away.

      The center of their universe, she thought, I actually feel sorry for these morons.

      The panda's wife, Ranko still couldn't bring herself to believe this woman was her mother, shrieked in terror, "Go away!  You won't defile my son!"

      So that's it, Ranko thought as her presence attracted every eye in the `congregation`.

      The samurai-wannabe leapt up, declaiming terrible indecision over defending the 'Foul Sorcerer' tm. and embracing his 'Pigtailed Goddess' also tm.  Ranko wasn't sure which one was more pathetic, but she did know she was changing her hair style when she woke up.  Someone bounced a large rock off samurai poet's head, large as in the size of a tank.  The rock crumbled to pieces, Mr. 'I'm a samurai' stood upright for perhaps five seconds of posturing, before he joined the gravel on the ground.

      The ring of a katana clearing the sheath was matched by the sound of a rifle bullet snapping the blade off at the hand guard.  The panda's wife stared in confusion at the maimed sword.

      Ranko realized that must have been the signal, as the entire eastern sky lit up with tongues of flame.  The crash of that many heavy guns raised a cloud of dust that stung the eyes and abraded the skin.

      Fortunately, she knew what was coming next.  As the cloud obscured things, Ranko ran away at her best speed.  Explosions dotted the entire caldera, missing the pole with the Ranma skin, by only a few feet.

      Ranko didn't want to think about what had happened to the `congregation`, for as suddenly as it started, it was over.  Rei had fired a single massive volley, Ranko could almost see the other girl racing around to reload all the cannons.  Ranko took advantage of the lull, racing to the pole, grabbing the skin and racing away as another concentrated barrage landed.

      I've got to figure out a way to make sure Rei doesn't get that mad at me in the real world, Ranko thought.


      Asuka walked in front of the lone wall with a single door set in it.  She suspected that Raccoon had altered the structure to retain Horseface's privacy.  They all kept secrets.  She could understand that, she didn't want the others to know about the additional reinforcements she'd arranged.  Raccoon might have thought the four of them could handle the problem, but Asuka believed you never fought a `fair` fight, if you didn't have to.

      She glanced around, Wondergirl was staying close to Raccoon, Spineless was staying close to the door.  All of them were waiting.  There was little else to do.

      Asuka was the only one obviously concerned, she had her sabre-halberd as she paced near the door.  Evidently, there is something unusual beyond the door, she thought as she waited.

      Horseface crashed through the door.  He was horribly cut up and crudely sewn together, there was also tar all over him, he was shouting in incoherent pain.

      Wondergirl and Raccoon carried him away from the door, after Raccoon kicked it shut.  Asuka noticed the building forming around them, it looked like a Japanese dojo, evidently Horseface expected it to be that way, so it appeared.

      "Get ready," Asuka warned Spineless.  Horseface wouldn't have come sprawling in here in such an undignified manner, if he had any other choice.  His pride would prevent that, Asuka readied himself.

      Raccoon and Wondergirl set Horseface down, a distance from the door.  They began working, gingerly removing the crude stitching.  Asuka turned her attention back to the door, she heard what she thought was Wondergirl singing, That's impossible, or it's something, I don't want to know about, because the door was opening, displaying a desert landscape beyond, That's Genma, Ryoga and . . . some I don't recognize.

      Asuka knew that here, in dreams, she was the stronger, for all Genma and Ryoga's martial arts tricks amounted to precisely nothing.  She only hoped Spineless understood it too.  Genma squared off against her, she didn't listen to whatever he was spouting, she'd already slowed him down so much, she could barely make out what he was saying.

      She spared Spineless a glance, and watched Ryoga make a serious, if not fatal error.  He knocked Spineless down and across the room, and then advanced on the stunned boy as Ranma hollered in pain, as Wondergirl and Raccoon struggled to heal him.

      Asuka saw an expression on Spineless's face she never expected, raw rage.  It was as if the air itself changed to something hot and cloying.  Ryoga further compounded his error, by laughing at the fallen boy.

      Stupid, cruel bastard, Asuka thought as she heard them, glanced around.  There they were, Spineless's little nightmares.  Pink noses and red eyes peered out from all the pillars supporting the building's roof.  Twitching white bunny ears lined the wooden beams running from pillar to pillar.  More could be seen peeking out from every nook and cranny that could even partly conceal them.  The sound of long teeth grinding on teeth, sharpening for battle, snarls on their sickeningly cute faces, their pink noses wrinkled in rage.  It would have been comical, if you hadn't seen these things in action.  Asuka was frightened.

      Spineless thrust out his fist with a shriek of rage.

      Asuka stood stock still, so they would perhaps ignore her.  She released her hold on Genma, she wanted him to see the approach of white, fuzzy death.

      It was like an explosion in reverse, the rabbit-spiders' glowing red eyes streaked by, teeth abrading, leaping at their targets.  A few landed on her, using her only as a springboard for their attack.  The martial artists went into maximum effort, they deflected dozens in the first second, except that wave was hundreds, with thousands awaiting their chance at the fray.

      Asuka pulled back, not wanting to be anywhere near those furry lamias, she'd fought them before.  She looked for anyone not 'programmed' to be attacked, who tried to sneak by.

      She expected the woman in the kimono.

      Nodoka, Asuka hooked her under the chin with her sabre-halberd, and pulled back.  Asuka wished the bottom of the axe blade were sharp, instead of decapitating the intruder, she just pulled her away from Ranma and his medics.  The katana flashed out, and rang against the metal reinforcement protecting the shaft of the sabre-halberd.  Asuka considered simply running the woman through, but decided on the simpler option.  Twisting her body to use the polearm to throw the woman into the melee with the martial artists.

      She'd only met Ranma's `mother` once, in that dream.  She'd sent Nodoka after Kaji-Ranma into China.  The pact to kill Ranma had horrified Asuka.  But even more disturbing, was Nodoka's attitude, that impregnating Ukyo was manly.  However, she didn't consider abandoning her to get another fiancee pregnant unmanly, or even terribly dishonorable.  Whether anything would have changed before events overtook the situation, Asuka didn't know.  She never saw Kaji or Nodoka again.  Asuka considered that if the portrayal of Ranma's `mother` was accurate, and she came looking for Ranma, Asuka could get Wondergirl or Raccoon to give the woman a terminal accident, before Ranma found out she existed.  In dreams she'd killed humans, as had the Meliorist, but Asuka Soryu Langley never had, and she wasn't sure she wanted to start.

      Spineless seemed to have things well in hand.  The writhing mass that covered the battle made her queasy just looking at it.  She didn't want to consider what was under there.  Occasionally a rabbit-spider would go flying off, only to be instantly replaced by another.  She also knew they had additional backup if they needed it.

      She spared a glance back at Raccoon and Wondergirl.  They'd cut most of the crude stitching off Horseface, there was nothing they could do about the tar, evidently.  She had confidence, Raccoon had gained his seat at the Camilenn order's ruling council, by his skill in healing and enchantments, Not that they're specialties people concentrate in, Asuka smiled at that, He was still one of the very best.  The Meliorist still had her hand because of it.  Asuka couldn't figure out what Wondergirl was singing, it didn't have any words Asuka recognized, more like a series of tones or chords, but it seemed to be keeping Horseface quiescent while they put him back together.

      Then the door flew open and more maniacs ran in.  She recognized most of them from the dream.  For whatever reason, Ranma's subconscious had summoned reinforcements.  These things are just manifestations, she reminded herself, she knocked one over the head with the flat of her sabre-halberd, caught another between the legs.

      "Help Shinji-kun," Wondergirl told her, as one of the Nerimaniacs bounced off her AT field.

      Asuka rushed to help defend Spineless, who was beset by a group of the High School bullies she remembered, Kuno's `samurai`, Asuka abandoned the idea of not hurting them, although she avoided possibly easy kills, something she would have never done in a real battle.

      She disarmed one, literally, slashed another's leg open, knocked the third unconscious, letting the others run back through the door.  They had been using the tournament style, which was death, in a real battle.  She kept the space around Spineless clear, until he could reallocate the little monsters to engage the newcomers.

      Asuka saw another creeping along the periphery, trying to remain unnoticed, the wizard's robe and staff seemed jarring on the ersatz-mage Gosunkugi.

      As this danger approached, Raccoon raised his head, then more important, his staff.  Gosunkugi evaporated in a cloud of brilliant blue, then Raccoon's attention returned to his patient.  Asuka couldn't see Horseface moving anymore, she didn't know whether that was good or bad.

      Then the fuzzies all pulled back, Asuka braced herself, expecting them to attack, she looked at their bloodied muzzles and wondered if Spineless's control would be enough.

      "Spineless . . . " she began worriedly, " . . . eeewww!"

      The fuzzies had left only skeletons, which promptly collapsed.

      "I . . . I didn't mean, . . . " he stammered, "I didn't know . . . I -"

      "Spineless!" then she moderated her tone, "They aren't real, like your railroad, and they would have killed us," she explained.

      He seemed to accept this, the fuzzies faded, to Asuka's relief.

      "Stay on guard, they may not be done."

      "I . . . I don't think - erk."

      Asuka hauled him up by the collar, until he was nose-to-nose with her, "You are the only thing that stopped them.  If they get through, we die.  Those are the two choices, fight, or die, because we can't retreat, and I won't abandon a fellow pilot.  I doubt 'Rei-chan'," Asuka felt her stomach churn, "Would do that either."

      She watched Spineless wrestle with the problem, then he saw the reasonableness of her position, she set him on the ground.  "Good, I never said it was easy, just necessary."

      "I don't like it," he muttered.

      He's getting it, she thought, patted his shoulder, "No, you don't have to like it, I'm not Misato."

      He smiled at that, as Asuka headed for Wondergirl and Raccoon.  Both looked wrung out, but they were still working.  Wondergirl's singing was a raw whisper now, Raccoon looked in more pain than Horseface did, as the injures transferred from martial artist to mage.

      She stood guard, moving between the healers and the door, waiting for another assault.


May 28, 1947

The Left is Not Canonical

      Pen Pen stood on the top of the building.  He'd slipped out of Misato's apartment without waking Shinji or Asuka.  He looked across the distance at another apartment building in the fog.  Although the fog didn't trouble or reduce his sight.  A moment later, he was gone.

      Reappearing on the distant building.  He flapped his flippers with delight.  The spell was -so- simple, the trade was well worth it.  He returned to the patio of Misato's apartment.  Now he could do a much better job of keeping an eye on the kids.


      Ritsuko felt the cuffs holding her wrists together, and her ankles apart, they were little more than strips of silk.  She knew that as she lay facedown in the futon, all she was wearing was a silk sheet.  She assumed she could break the bonds, and then investigate what had happened.

      She was wrong, the cloth strips proved completely unbreakable, as did whatever they were moored to.

      She raised her head from the pillow and looked around, someone had tied her to the lower bunk in the boys' room.

      This makes no sense, she struggled again at the bonds, I could break the pipes it's made out of with my bare hands.  She heard the door open and twisted as much as the bonds allowed.  Maya walked in, wearing a nightdress that was much briefer, form-fitting and more transparent that the one she had been wearing when she'd gone to sleep.

      "Maya?" Ritsuko asked, "What is going on here?"

      "Oh, sempai," Maya sat down in the bed next to her, "I just can't let you run away."  Maya released one of the cuffs holding Ritsuko's leg, then put it on her own leg, "And I mustn't run away," she smiled dreamily, "We do too much of that, you and I."  Maya rolled Ritsuko over, so she was supine, and straddled her hips, "Now we can't run away.  We have to explore our feelings," Maya ran a finger down Ritsuko's throat, between her breasts, pulling the sheet back as she did, "Explore each other."

      "Have you completely lost your MIND?" Ritsuko shouted, tried to shake the girl loose, "What about the kids?"

      "I would never hurt them," Maya said in a completely normal tone, then returned to her dreamy expression, "Or you, sempai.  You have to know that."

      Maya stopped, then broke down in tears, "I'd die before I hurt you, or them.  Please tell me you believe me.  Please tell me you love me, even if you have to lie, please tell me."

      Ritsuko looked up at the sobbing young woman, and couldn't figure out what was happening.  Where Maya's feelings had come from, why they were in this situation, what Maya was hoping to accomplish with this.  "We have to be there to look after them," Ritsuko said firmly, "Cuff your hand to mine, but we must be there to guard them."

      "You haven't said," Maya was still crying as she set to her task, unlooping the leg chain from the bedframe, and detaching one hand restraint from Ritsuko and attaching it to herself.

      "The Children are our first priority, they always have been, and they will continue to be," Ritsuko said sternly, "I thought you understood that."

      "I'm sorry, sempai, I should have known better," she smiled at Ritsuko as they carefully walked out of the room, "Do you want to spank me?"

      Ritsuko was considering it, then she realized she was walking into the other room, with no clothes on.


      Ranma woke, he could feel he was still she, and she could still feel the intense burns deep within her skin, where 'Ranma' had fused to 'Ranko'.  She didn't know what Rei and Raccoon had done, but the agony had gone away, first they moved it far away, then it faded completely.  She'd hoped she hadn't hurt Raccoon, when she'd used up her chi in the battle, but Raccoon hadn't hurt her when he'd used his magic to heal her.

      He must have held his power until he needed it, then knew when I'd exhausted mine, she thought.  She realized she was lying on Raccoon's chest, with her arms around his waist.  What Ranko and Ranma had done, while they were separated in dreams, embarrassed her.  Raccoon and Nab-chan might not have minded, or noticed, but Ranma was very embarrassed by it.

      Then she noted the strong arm around her waist, and the faint smell of sweat, Except it wouldn't have been too bad to continue, she relaxed slightly, I'm a guy.  Ranko's me.  Ranma let her confusion swirl around her, and Raccoon's joke that the creator gods were usually a blending of male and female, and maybe that was what Ranma and Ranko were. Not funny, she thought, she felt something move on her chest, fondling her breast.

      She wondered if Raccoon had overcome his shyness, or if he was still asleep.  Except the sleeve attached to the hand was white flannel, not tan broadcloth, Nab-chan, she realized.  She traced Raccoon's other arm, it was resting on Nab-chan's head, as she lay coiled around Ranma's legs, with her head pillowed on her behind.

      So do I embarrass her as she wakes up, let her explain gracefully what she's thought she was doing, or move her hand before she wakes up?  And how did I wind up in this position? Ranma considered, what Nab-chan was doing felt a little too good, I don't really feel like getting up.

      Even morning practice lost its appeal.  And as embarrassing as this arrangement was, it felt more reassuring after the events of the dream.  Ranma would remember forever the half-crawling escape across the desert of his own mind, to the dream dojo.  There were just two categories of events: those who helped with his evasion, and the pursuit.  Ranma knew who his friends really were, who really protected versus who he'd evidently tried to be friends with, and made enemies.  Although there were a few times he wasn't sure.  Rei calling to all that she'd found him, and preventing him from moving from a certain spot.  Her artillery barrage had come awfully close.  Why did they fall for that trick more than once? Ranma wondered.

      Nab-chan throwing him in quicksand, that had been a betrayal that tore at him, until Rit-chan pulled him under, and swam him to safety, a journey long enough that he could rest a bit, with someone else providing propulsion, and his opponents thinking him dead.  He still didn't know how she kept him from drowning underwater, he'd kept breathing normally.

      Raccoon . . . was Raccoon, the cinnamon-scent from the field of chickens, had warned Ranma that it was a minefield.  So he'd picked his way across, without disturbing the chickens.  The others bulled their way across, ignoring Raccoon's offer of cheap, short-term life insurance.  That brought Ranma more time to escape, and the ability to forestall pursuit by making chicken noises.

      She smiled at that.  Then frowned, the fight the others, their real dreamselves, had put up to defend him, had been horrific.  He'd been too hurt, too exhausted to continue running, he couldn't imagine where he'd dredged up the reserves to make it that far.  Rei and Raccoon hadn't left his side while they worked, no matter how close the enemy got.  Asuka and Shinji kept attacking the enemy, until they utterly destroyed them.  If Ranma went back through the door, he'd find them again, but they'd never set foot in his dreamscape again.  That actually worried Ranma, despite Nab-chan copping a feel, and Raccoon being a gentleman, it was the projections and his fellow pilots that concerned him.  The other pilots had come because Raccoon had asked, and because of their own beliefs.  However, his idealistic enemies attacked from ambush, never kept their alliances with each other, it was almost as if they got points for hitting him, and were scored individually.  His un`honor-bound` fellow pilots fought, not because they `had` to, but because they chose to, and with a greater loyalty and ferocity than the others.

      Shinji, Ranma thought, That was a surprise.  Ranma had felt a little of the fear and pain of the enemies as Shinji's attack pressed home.

      There was nothing they could do, Ranma considered, Except die.  Shinji might as well have tossed them into a meat grinder.  I don't want to get him that mad at me, ever!  Ranma smiled at that, the 'Invincible Ranma Saotome' worried about 'Spineless', I'm a disgrace to the Art, a dishonor to my family and an unmanly man, then it hit him.  The semi-worship, the rivals, fiancees and family, they were trying to remake him into what they wanted.  They needed a shell to pour all their hopes, frustrations, dreams, and ambitions in, except they didn't care about the Ranma, or the Ranko inside, both were a hindrance to be disposed of.

      Ranko would `pollute` their pure and perfect son/fiance/whatever.

      Ranma didn't know whether that was really the case or not, but it felt right, it was what she expected, once she saw it start.

      Ranma almost shouted as Nab-chan squashed her breast, You can't milk me like a cow!  She waited as the cycle of Nab-chan's reflexes relaxed, and removed her hand.  Ranma wasn't sure if Nab-chan was awake and taking advantage, or still asleep.  In the latter case, Ranma did not want to know what she was dreaming, she almost preferred it if Nab-chan had been awake.

      Ranma considered, and concluded that she . . . he was Ranma, and was going to follow his own course, not one picked by someone else, not one assigned to him.  Ranma wasn't comfortable about turning into a girl, but he realized, it was part of who he was, And it does have some nice uses, Ranma made himself think entirely like Ranko, and she snuggled against Raccoon, and was rewarded by a slight tightening of the grip around her waist, that made her feel better, protected, Another interesting fringe benefits.

      The others in his mind, didn't like the idea of someone else telling him who he was and what he had to do.  That was their job, so they fought each other, until Ranma asserted himself, then they combined forces to drag him down, to tear him apart, literally, if necessary.  Ranma didn't like the idea of someone else telling him who he was and what he had to do either, especially when they caused the problem he was supposed to solve.

      The Angels will kill us all, if I simply stand aside, Ranma thought, So I follow orders, because it is the best course of action.

      Ranma noted Nab-chan's shifting, in response to Maya's cry of 'sem-PAI!'  I guess that's what I resent about the way Nab-chan acts, if Raccoon wants Ranma or Ranko to do something, he lays out what to do, and the consequences.  Of course he stacks the consequences, so I don't really have an option, but I still have the choice to do as he asks, or let the world drop on me.  Nab-chan tries to keep me ignorant of the other alternatives, so I've no choice except to follow the only road she's shown me, Ranma smiled, However, I keep jumping over the fences, that's part of what gets her so mad.

      "Well, tough," Ranma sat up, and nearly fell over as the world spun around.

      Except Rit-chan grabbed her shoulders, holding her upright, "Are you going to throw up?" Rit-chan asked.  Ranma noted she was looking all over the room, and got a very strange expression, when her eyes fell on Maya.

      Nab-chan looks like that sometimes, Ranma thought, Then I know I'm in trouble.  "I don't think so, there isn't an earthquake?"

      "No, I don't think an earthquake would explain it, maybe bad mushrooms," Rit-chan replied.

      "Okay, give me a second."

      Raccoon sat up, smiled, did a somersault to the clear area of the bedroom.  "You get used to it."

      "If the room would stand still a minute, I'd crawl over there, and hurt you," Ranma said, a little surprised that despite being in female form, she was thinking of himself as he, Ranma, for the first time in a long while.

      Nab-chan stirred, stared at them.

      "It rises from the grave," Raccoon said in a shaky voice, as he pointed at Nab-chan.

      She just growled back, turned to Ranma, "You okay?"

      "Yeah, a little dizzy," Ranma considered, "And sore."  He yanked the shirt up, "Is it badly bruised from where you were squeezing it?"  When he pulled the shirt down to cover his breasts, Nab-chan was ashen.  Ranma leaned close, "Did you want something special for breakfast," Ranma cooed, "Something warm and private?"

      "Is my turn breakfast?  Uh, who's breakfast is . . . ah, you know what I mean," Nab-chan covered her face with both hands.

      "I think," Raccoon walked smartly across the room, Ranma envied his ability to stand upright after all that happened, "She wants what 'oooooo sem-PAI!!' is having."

      Maya turned bright red, then retreated into the corner as all the color drained out of her.

      Raccoon tousled Nab-chan's hair, as he walked past, making it less messy.

      Dropping a bomb in it would make it less messy, Ranma thought, as Nab-chan took a swipe at Raccoon.

      He replied by darting in, rearranging her hair a little more, almost to its usual state.  Nab-chan took another swing at him, missing completely, then she growled and crawled angrily in pursuit, but he was completely awake and upright, she wasn't even close to being in either state.

      "She's so cute in the morning."

      Ranma expected Rit-chan to call him on the carpet, except she was staring at Maya, who was trying to make herself invisible.

      Ranma caught Nab-chan, "You never told him what you wanted," Ranma took over the job of smoothing out Nab-chan's hair.  She bore it with better grace, than when Raccoon was doing it.

      "Fired Raccoon with a side of othercondicent redher, readhead," Nab-chan slurred at Ranma, then headed for the bathroom.

      Raccoon reentered with two cups of coffee, one for Maya, the other for Rit-chan, then left again.

      Ranma decided to break the staring versus cowering contest.  "Did he tell you how he feels about you, Rit-chan?  Did he tell either of you?"

      That shocked Rit-chan out of her mood, she blushed, "Did he tell you about Kairi and Sakai?"

      "Yeah, I look like him, and her.  With Kyoko trying to wake up in there," Ranma jerked his thumb at the bathroom, "That's really messed up."

      "What do you suggest?" Rit-chan asked angrily, "Marry him?"

      "Try to rebuild what never was?" Rit-chan asked sadly, "And he didn't tell you everything.  One other detail, is the other nine kids."

      Ranma eeped at that, "Well, he already does the cooking, the laundry, keeps the kids in line," Ranma looked at Maya.

      Rit-chan raised an eyebrow at that.

      "Sort of," Ranma amended.

      "OH NO!" Nab-chan called from the bathroom.

      "What?" Ranma scrambled to her feet, immediately regretted it.

      "I've turned into a girl and I can't change back WAAH!"

      Ranma let gravity drag her down, as far as a kneeling position, "I take it back."


Out of the Mouth of Hell

      Shinji sat up in his bed, staring at his hand as he opened and closed it.  The hand he had thrust at the boy, who attacked and laughed at him.  He didn't know what came over him.  He was so angry he wanted to kill those people, so he. . . .  He'd never wanted this, any of it: not to pilot the EVA, not to fight monsters, not to have to worry about people who would try to kill him, just because he was a pilot, not to have to worry about people because they would put themselves in harm's way when he was in danger, just because he was a pilot.

      He liked being with Rei-chan, and some of the others, sometimes, but he hated the price he had to pay for those relationships.  He couldn't have just sat there, and let those things overrun Rei-chan and Raccoon, and he knew Asuka wouldn't be strong enough to stop them all herself.  He'd planned to stay in the background, throw up walls, a fog, or maybe a small blizzard, something to make them go away without hurting them or his friends.  But then that one picked him as a target and attacked.

      He'd been angry and frightened, he wanted them to go away, he wanted them to leave him and his friends alone, RIGHT NOW!

      "They're just manifestations from Ranma's dreams," he told himself, but it didn't stop him from remembering that he'd killed them, destroyed them utterly.  He'd wanted to destroy them, uproot them, tear them apart, throw what was left on the fire.  He felt unclean, but he couldn't blame it on yesterday's monster.  He'd felt that kind of anger before, but before, he'd hidden it away, there was nothing he could do, so he muffled it inside himself, and kept the outside impassive, letting the world roll by and over him.  But the dream last night, he had the power.  Ranma wasn't even close to his strength as a dreamer.  He could have dealt with the monsters and fears in human-form in a hundred other ways.  He picked the one that would give them the most fear and pain, he wanted them to see how helpless they were, to know how helpless they made him feel.

      He could guess what the others would say.  Asuka and Ranma would congratulate him, Raccoon and Rei-chan would tell him it was necessary, that he had to act.  He knew that was only part of the truth, yes, he had to act, but he had a dozen different ways that would have been just as effective.  Any of the dozens of ways he thought of acting, while he and the others were just sitting and waiting.

      He wondered if he would become like that in the Waking World, if someone would hurt or threaten him, would he tear them to pieces?  He knew he had that kind of power now, thought of the swords he'd been given by his adversary.  Was it trying to tell me something?  Ranma gets mad, but he doesn't hit people in anger.  Raccoon doesn't stay mad, and any violence is either in a fight, or coldly calculated.  Asuka yells when she's mad, she doesn't hit people, except to protect others or herself, he looked around the room, wondering what else would change, whether he could control it, or would it control him?

      He thought of Misato, she got angry, she hit people.  She only seemed happy when they'd killed an Angel, or when she was drinking.  Neither seemed like habits he wanted to pick up, killing Angels changed you, in ways he didn't and couldn't fully understand, drinking seemed to cost you all your self-control and pride, and you never remembered what you did.

      That isn't the answer, he thought, That isn't even an answer.  The last thing I need, is to lose control.  It would almost be better that all those rumors about me were right, that I was a coward, afraid of anything and everything.

      He climbed out of bed, and nearly collapsed, he was so tired.  He'd never expected that either, such tiredness after a dream battle.  He heard Pen Pen as he looked in.

      "Yes, I know, it's my turn to feed you.  I'll be there."

      "Qua . . . " Pen Pen watched him closely as he stood, then ambled off, checking on Asuka as he passed.

      'Go 'way,' Asuka told him sleepily.  Pen Pen dodged a pillow, and continued out of sight.  Shinji stumbled out of his room and headed for the kitchen, he was not looking forward to today.  If he were tired and out of sorts, Asuka would be moreso.  So would Raccoon, Ranma and Rei-chan, which further darkened his mood.


      Misato looked at her plate, as she arrived at the breakfast table, "What is this?" Misato demanded.

      Asuka stared her down, she was a little worried about how Spineless looked, The fight must have taken a lot more out of him than I thought, Asuka smiled at Misato, "That is your breakfast: pancakes, sausages, butter.  Someone told me I have to be adaptable, its good advice."  Asuka enjoyed throwing Misato's demands, she'd call them advice, back in her face.  Spineless and Pen Pen were enjoying her efforts.

      "And this?" Misato touched the coffee cup.

      "Green tea with milk.  It's a lot more healthy than beer."  I should tell her that it will prevent Outer Gods from sneaking past her into NERV HQ, Asuka thought, But that might push her over the edge.  Not yet.  Asuka smiled, "A proper breakfast is an important and correct start to the day."

      "A proper Japanese breakfast is rice, miso and sake," Misato countered.

      "You forgot the pickles," Spineless offered.

      "You don't like my cooking," Asuka adopted `Ranko's` dewy-eyed, hands clasped posture, "I may cry."

      Spineless went through a half-dozen contortions and an equal number of rapid fire apologies.

      "Now you have to eat it, or you'll hurt Spineless's feelings."

      Neither Misato nor Spineless could see how that applied.  Misato glared, but ate the food without going for a beer.

      One minor victory, Asuka had an idea what was bothering Spineless, she remembered her, actually the Meliorist's, first kill.  The first death on her conscience.  She could imagine what he was thinking, but she wasn't going to tell him anything in front of Misato, she didn't want to give her anything to embarrass them about.  Her usual behavior was more than enough.


      "What do you mean you don't understand?!"  The blast of sound cleared the fog away for a 100-meter radius.  Shinji hadn't ever heard Asuka, or anyone else, make a noise that loud before.

      "Sorry, Asuka," Ranma admitted, "I can't do it."

      "It's only fifteen equations, you don't even have to change them, just hold them in your mind," she poked Ranma in the stomach, "And the blade will come straight out of there.  The origin is the center of mass of the EVA, and the axes remain stable to the EVA as you move."

      Ranma looked desperately at the others.

      Rei-chan and Raccoon understood, of course, Shinji thought, he was pondering, Nabiki probably couldn't do it either, but isn't willing to risk making Asuka mad.

      They had all waited for the armored car, or something, to show up, then they headed off without it.  The visibility in the fog was a few meters clearly, and dimly out to a dozen, maybe.  He could guess how Rei-chan had found him and Asuka, he had no idea how Raccoon had led Ranma and Nabiki to him.  Asuka had elected to explain her breakthrough and concerns about secrecy to the other pilots, while they had some privacy.

      Now she's really mad, Shinji took Rei-chan's hand, hoping the confrontation didn't escalate into a real battle, before they made it to school.

      "Can you see?" Shinji asked Rei-chan, who was leading them.

      "I don't have to," Rei-chan explained.

      He thought she was more distant than last night, he wondered if it had something to do with the battle they'd fought, if it, and he, disgusted her, or if she were just as tired as he was.

      "Do you want to go to the orphanage today, after school?"

      The ghost of a smile flitted across her face, "Yes," she squeezed his hand.

      Now he knew, she was tired and out of sorts, not only because of the dream, but the battle yesterday.

      "Langley, he only learned how to multiply and divide fractions recently, matrices and algebra are a little beyond him for the moment," Raccoon told Asuka.

      Shinji hoped he could keep the peace until they made it to school.

      "Then you'd better start teaching him to do real maths," Asuka replied, "Or his stupid - sorry, his ABYSMAL IGNORANCE might kill him for real."

      Rei-chan squeezed his hand, Shinji glanced at Rei-chan, saw the smile.  The other thing he'd noticed was Raccoon and Rei-chan glancing around, as if something was out there in the fog, something threatening.

      "It's gone, isn't it?" Shinji asked.

      "Yes," Rei-chan said softly, "But it must know we tricked it," she added pensively, "It will be angry."

      Shinji was worried about that, they'd survived, but they'd pay for that.


      "Why are you in such a bad mood?" Ritsuko shifted her glare from Maya to Misato.  Ranko and Jeff had explained about the dream battle, but they only had theories how she'd wound up in Maya's dream, and Maya had been too frightened to explain what had possessed her to dream such things.

      Maya took advantage of the lapse in attention, and scurried off.

      "What's gotten into you?" Misato retorted.

      "How long have you known that my assistant . . . " Ritsuko couldn't continue.

      "Assistant what?" Misato asked.

      Asking her about relationships, Ritsuko thought, I might as well ask Commander Ikari, or the EVAs.

      "Good morning, ladies," Kaji breezed in, ignoring the cold stares from both women.

      No, Ritsuko thought, Definitely not.

      "Don't you have a job to do?" Misato asked.

      "Oh, you cut me to the heart," Kaji told them, "I was just talking to Commander Ikari.  He thinks all this fog is," Kaji mimed pushing up his glasses, "'Ominous', a seacoast town should know about fog."

      "Not in June," Misato said, "The fog didn't even burn off all the way yesterday.  That isn't normal.  I nearly crashed into someone driving home."

      "It's still May.  And what were you doing?" Ritsuko asked, "Walking to your car?"

      Misato growled at Ritsuko.

      "I think you both need to relax more, enjoy life and love.  You act like an old, married couple."

      The glares from both of them would have killed a weaker, or less oblivious man.

      "I think I've had quite enough of that," Ritsuko stormed down the corridor.  She entered her lab, stared at Maya, closed the door behind her.  Locking it with an audible click.  "Should I watch my back from now on?  Locking my bedroom door as well?"

      Maya withered under the accusation, "It was just a dream, sem - "

      "Don't call me that!" Ritsuko snapped.

      "Yes, Doctor, I'm sorry.  It won't happen again."

      "You don't know that," Ritsuko told her, "So you can't promise that, correct?"

      "Yes.  Doctor."

      "So why shouldn't I worry about you doing that to me, or to the kids?" Ritsuko asked harshly.

      "I'd never hurt you, or them!" Maya said desperately, "Please, you have to believe me."

      "I believe, that you believe that, or that you don't believe chaining someone down and victimizing them is hurting them.  I don't imagine I'll have to report this to the Commander."

      "Thank you, Doctor," Maya said despondently, embarrassed and ashamed.  Ritsuko returned to her work, trying and failing to put it out of her mind.


      Shinji let Rei-chan lead them across the playing fields to the school building.  The silence enforced by the fog, had put a damper on the arguments and conversations.  The others had noticed Raccoon and Rei-chan glancing around, searching for something.  They were also scanning the gray walls surrounding them, finding nothing.

      Shinji saw the activity did nothing to reduce their anxiety, even entering the school grounds didn't change that.

      The place appeared abandoned, and seemed that way until they got within 10 meters of the main building.  There are people here, Shinji thought as he heard the conversations, "Hello!" he called, and nearly scared the other pilots out of their skins.

      "Spineless!!" Asuka hissed.

      He smirked, "The monsters have to know we're coming," he said innocently.

      "Only you'd think that," Asuka rushed by him to the entrance, looked around as if checking an enemy bunker, "It's clear."

      They trooped in after her.  In the classroom, they found Hikari, Hiroko, Toji, Kensuke and a few others.  The pilots were late, but the teacher hadn't arrived yet either.

      "This is terrible," Hikari grumped, "School is important."

      Shinji took his seat and considered what to do with no teacher, he could almost guess that Asuka wanted to take Ranma aside, and pour his head full of math.  Shinji glanced out the windows at the fog swirling outside.  He had the impression that it would shatter the windows and come pouring into the classroom.  I'm more scared of what happened yesterday than I thought, he considered.

      Matsuda Natsumi stuck her head in the class, "Most of the teachers haven't shown up, all the students are supposed to assemble in the gym."

      "We won't all fit," Asuka said.

      "Yes we will," Matsuda said.


      Less than a third of the students, and less than a quarter of the teachers were in attendance.  The teachers were in a quandary about what to do.

      Shinji sat near Rei-chan, "I think we're just going to sit here all day."

      Rei-chan nodded, glanced around, as if she could hear something he couldn't, and it irritated her.

      Shinji glanced around, "If we sneak out to the orphanage, would anyone notice?" Shinji asked.

      "We would have to tell the Commander," Rei-chan said firmly.

      "Let's go," Shinji stood up.  Rei followed him to the school office.

      "We need to contact NERV," Shinji told the girl in the office, she gulped and led them to the phone.  Shinji wouldn't lie if asked, he simply would apologize and not answer, he knew Rei-chan disapproved of lying, but had little problem with not answering questions.

      "Tactical, Security and the teachers are not at the school, Pilots Ayanami and Ikari are going to be out at - " he glanced at Rei, she gave him the address, he told Tactical.  "Very good," he got an acknowledgment, he hung up.  They hadn't asked, he sounded sure of what he was doing, so they didn't ask.

      Rei led them out, he followed, she seemed to know exactly where they were going through the fog.


      Asuka glanced around, "Where'd Spineless and Wondergirl disappear to?" she asked, "Where'd Raccoon and Ice Princess go?"

      "I don't know," Horseface replied.

      "Out," Hiroko told Asuka.

      Asuka shook her head, they had taken roll, so she couldn't slip out now, "Why didn't they tell us?"

      "How am I supposed to know?" Horseface replied.

      "Horseface, you may be the finest fighter who ever lived," Asuka said, watching him preen at the compliment, "But you're still useless."  She watched the weight of his now-deflated ego drag him back to earth.


Sowing Seeds

      The unit had hastily purchased hair dye, cosmetics and a change of clothes last night at the PX, with the stolen cash.  Guessing that Ikari wouldn't have told the military yet.  Being an exact duplicate of Rei had been useful getting out of NERV, now it made her an easy target.  The unit considered the next course of action, she knew that Commander Ikari would stop at nothing to destroy her.  Escaping from ordinary NERV troops would be child's play.  If Ikari sent out the Children, with or without their EVAs, to reinforce the troops, she would be outmatched.

      Then she considered, No, Ikari would never give the pilots that kind of information.  Better to engage the guards alone.

      She scanned the area, NO!  Against all odds, one, perhaps two of the Children was already hunting her.  She had to get away.


      Nabiki was already a little irritated, Raccoon had suddenly decided to run out of school, and take off on this sightseeing trip, through this impenetrable fog.  Nabiki had been curious enough about this, she followed him, into the haze.  Now she was regretting it, a school uniform was not the clothing for jumping fences, and climbing through buildings.  She kept almost running into things that suddenly `leapt` out of the fog at her.  How Raccoon was moving so smoothly and surely, in a three-piece suit and that silly fedora, escaped her.

      You're jealous! she told herself as she dodged a mailbox she'd almost run into.

      Ritsuko-sensei was not going to be happy about the filthy condition of her dress, or Raccoon's suit, when they got home.  Who am I kidding? Nabiki asked herself, He'll stay clean, I'll look like I've been rolling in the mud.  She was also aware that the surveillance team, that followed all the Children nearly everywhere, would have an impossible time keeping up.  She came around a corner and stopped short.  Raccoon had just dashed into this alley a few seconds ahead of her, solid concrete walls on three sides greeted her, no windows, no doors.  The lowest wall disappeared over her in the fog, a minimum of ten meters high.  "Okay Mr. Trenchant, how did you get past this?"


      The Children still followed, she had the impression a second Children was close behind the first, but that impression was fading.  Nothing she had successfully done before to evade detection was working.  There was no way the Children could see or hear her in the fog, but he or she was heading straight at her.

      Now that the Children are separated, I have to attack one, while the other is out of sight, she braced herself, she was worried, depending on which one it was, she could be in serious trouble.  She jumped around the corner, her target was scarcely 3 meters away.  Now she could feel the AT field the Children generated, and knew a physical strike would be useless.  Her mind smashed through his weak defenses and . . . "MIRRORS!!" she shrieked in dismay.

      Her onslaught ricocheted around like a beam of light in a house of mirrors, dissipating and refracting, worse the Children was using her own attack to suck the strength right out of her.  In an instant she could barely stand, a moment later her knees buckled.  The drain was cut off as the Children caught her before she could crash to the ground.

      "Sarah?  Sarah!" she heard a voice yelling near her, "Tendo-san, quick, give me a hand!"

      She despaired, the second Children had arrived, she was lost, too weak to fight even one, now she faced two.  She would soon pay for her overconfidence.  Strangely, the pair positioned themselves on either side, draping her arms across their shoulders.

      If I had any strength, I could knock their heads together.  But she had no strength, she couldn't stand, she could barely see.  One Children slid a walking stick under her legs and the pair carried her away.

      "Sarah?  Sarah!" the Children's voice was directed at her?  "I know Tendo-san is Japanese, but if you don't try to hurt her, she won't hurt you.  Nanking was a long time ago."  She could barely understand, one of the Children was Tendo Nabiki.  Was the other Children offering her a pledge, they would not hurt her, if she did not try to hurt them?

      "Hai, wakarimasu," She managed.  [Yes, I understand.]


      Nabiki helped Raccoon carry the strange girl, for it was a girl.  She resented the comment about Japanese, until Raccoon had said Nanking.  The Japanese Army's massacre there had been the worst in recent history, until the German concentration camps had been revealed.  If the girl had lived through that trauma . . . it explained a lot.

      "Tendo-san, we need to get her something to eat, did you see any restaurants or shops while you were following me?" Raccoon asked her.

      "Through this fog I - " then she remembered she had, "This way.  How did you get over that wall?  I was right behind you."

      He gave her a mischievous smile, "Dark magic."

      Well if you don't want to tell me, just say so. Nabiki growled inwardly.


      The surveillance pair was gratified when Tendo reappeared, with Davis.  Tendo's team had barely been able to follow her, Davis's pair had had to follow THEM.  The girl was a mystery, and they couldn't see her clearly, but the way Tendo and Davis were carrying her between them, she had to be a friend.  That could be investigated later.  There was a hostile force out there, Commander Ikari was as tightlipped as ever, but he had authorized deadly force if it threatened or contacted the pilots.
      `Sarah` could barely move, she watched as the Fifth and Sixth Children brought her to an outdoor ramen stand.  Sitting me carefully on a bench, like a rag doll, she was terrified, she couldn't imagine why they were doing this, if they were going to turn her over to Ikari, So Tendo Nabiki, the Fifth, holds me up so carefully, what are she and Davis, the Sixth, really doing?

      "Sarah." The Sixth Children put his walking stick under his arm, "ggreg, I guess, I haven't heard if your uncle formally adopted you.  Nabiki Tendo, or in Japanese style, Tendo Nabiki."  The Sixth Children introduced her politely and formally to the Fifth.

      Sarah, he called me Sarah.  What is he doing?  He must know what is happening.  He has to know what I am!

      "Are you still on that 'Flesh will not cross my lips' bit?" he asked.  She shook her head no.  "Good, extra-large beef ramen, extra beef."  He peeled several bills from a roll.  "Tendo-san, I'm going to impose.  Can you keep an eye on her, I've got to make a phone call."  He rattled his pockets, "And get some change from our minders."

      "NERV Security?" she asked, suddenly feeling trapped again.

      "Ssh," he urged, "Nobody's supposed to know.  They're okay, I just have to explain things."

      "Raccoon, aside from the eyes and hair, doesn't she look like Rei?" Nabiki asked.

      NO!  I'm too weak to run, and this pair could defeat me easily, she thought, The other was actually afraid of these two Children.

      "Actually I thought the opposite.  Rei's the spitting image of someone I met after I met Officer ggreg.  You can imagine what went through my mind when I met Rei-san the first time, it was like seeing a real ghost."  The Sixth Children said.

      "Are you having anything?" `Sarah` asked the Fifth Children.

      "No, Raccoon agreed to take me to a fancy restaurant for lunch," she said, smiling, a smile that would send sharks running for their mommies.  What she said probably wasn't true, until she said it, "I don't want to spoil my appetite."  Somehow that, and the smile, were the first threatening things either of them had said or done.  The Sixth Children recoiled theatrically and walked away.

      "So, Sarah, what dirty secrets can you tell me about our irrepressible Raccoon?" Nabiki asked.

      "Mirrors within mirrors, stretching out to infinity," Sarah told her, the ramen arrived, to her embarrassment, she was still too weak to raise her arms, What did he do to me?  Nabiki carefully started feeding the other girl.  An irritating reminder how completely helpless she was, in the face of two possible enemies, Although the Fif - Nabiki doesn't know the real cause of my frustration.  She thinks she's found a coconspirator.

      "Mirrors huh?  He does some really weird stuff," she asked, "Like charging through the fog.  How did he find you anyway?  Never mind, you probably don't know either.  So, can I trust him?"

      "I do," Sarah told her.  I do?  When did this happen?


      Shinji and Rei-chan knocked on the door, after a short delay, someone opened it.  Shinji noted the worried look on the older nun's face, which changed to joy, as she saw who the unexpected guests were.

      "Come in, come in.  I'm afraid the fog has disquieted all of us," she ushered them inside the simple timber and stone building.

      "It is oppressive," Rei-chan commented, Shinji agreed but said nothing.

      "Isn't there instruction today?" the nun added as she led the two pilots to the common room filled with the kids, the orphans, and the staff, all in their drab working clothes.  There were a few books and some old maps, evidently the kids were getting some of the schooling that Rei-chan and Shinji were taking a break from.

      "Effectively, no," Rei answered.

      "Most of the teachers and students didn't show up.  I called NERV HQ, they didn't object," Shinji braced himself, as the kids swarmed towards him.  For a moment he was afraid they'd knock him over and trample him.  But they stopped at a respectful distance, and stared at him, he had no idea what to do next.


      Jeff was carrying so much change, he clinked when he walked, but a long-distance call to San Francisco was expensive, he hoped the Pacific cable wasn't having trouble.

      His NERV clearance got him priority service from the operator.  He was still feeding coins into the phone far too frequently for his taste.  He hoped they were still open, it was about 18:30 in San Francisco.

      "Langham and Wells, purveyors of fine china and crystal," came the voice from the end of the line.

      "I need a blue-edged order of Wedgewood, rush delivery." Jeff glanced out, Nabiki was still feeding the girl who'd attacked him.  Aside from the monochrome black hair, which indicated an amateurish dye job, and deep brown eyes, which could have come from anything, the resemblance to Rei and Shinji was uncanny, and her telepathic powers were as strong as anyone he'd ever encountered, here or in the Dreamlands.  But she was inexperienced, or his little trick would never have worked.  From her appearance and unworldliness, he could almost guess her origins.

      This is like that night in April '45, he thought as he waited, If I'm even half right, I have to get her out of Japan, away from Ikari, and especially from SEELE.

      "Do you have an open account with us?" the voice on the phone brought him back to reality.

      "T-stroke-78345-stroke-J.  With express overseas air service," Jeff told the receptionist.  He could nearly hear her surprise at the T prefix.  He wished she'd hurry, he wished he had a better alternative.

      "I'm so sorry, I have to connect you with the shipments department, for such large orders."

      I'll bet you do, Jeff thought, "It is a rush order."

      "One moment."

      "Jeff-er-y, what are you doing?" a Chinese-accented, faintly-irritated voice came over the phone.

      "From Tokyo, Adam.  I need an urgent pick up and retrieval.  Very valuable, very delicate, extremely discreet.  Trace my location, there's an alley 6 meters north, it's out of sight of most of the street.  Considering the fog, you could jaunt in anywhere and nobody would see."

      A pause, too long from his point of view.  "I have it Jeff-er-y, I will be there shortly.  Do I need to bring anything?"

      "A stern but loving countenance, for the Major's niece."

      "His niece?!"

      "Yeah, she's here, in Tokyo, with one of the other Children and me."

      "This I must see."

      Jeff started walking back to Nabiki and Sarah, Your uncle is sending a business associate, he'll see you get home safely.  Did you run away again to 'See the world' or did you and your `father` have a fight? he mentally `told` her, to divert her from any of the secrets he carried.  No one really wanted to know the whole truth, Unless they wanted to hurt you or others with it.  The four men nonchalantly vectoring in on the ramen stand raised his hackles, I can barely sense them, he was alarmed, Long coats in this weather?

      "Teki!  Nabiki TEKI!" [Enemy]


      As Sarah heard the first cry of 'enemy', Nabiki threw her to the ground and herself on top.  Sarah managed to form an AT field surrounding them, as gunfire erupted around them.  Nabiki and she looked back in Jeff - Roku-kun's direction.  One of the two men who were between Roku-kun and the girls was falling.  Roku-kun swung his gun in a two-handed stance, and fired two rounds into the second man's head.  There was no blood, the man just jerked as if palsied and collapsed.  The minders had opened fire on the other two.  Why didn't I detect them? Sarah wondered, Their hostility is obvious!

      "Can you walk?" Nabiki asked.

      "I think I can run," she told her,I'd better, my field is collapsing, Sarah thought, Roku-kun's doesn't seem to be holding either.

      Nabiki hoisted her up and they ran.  One of the attackers was swinging a submachinegun at Roku-kun, a fusillade from the guards put the man down, before he fired.

      As they closed on Roku-kun, the odd octagonal ripples of an AT field under attack, shimmered in the air in front of him, and behind her.  Sarah paused so her field was covering his, Nabiki took the proffered derringer from Roku-kun, and pulled another small gun out of his boot.

      She's offering me a gun? Sarah worried about what she'd gotten into.

      Nabiki misread her hesitation, "Can you use . . . ?"

      "Nabiki!" Sarah yelled as the woman, in the same kind of long coat, stepped out of the fog and grabbed Tendo by the throat, and hoisted her up.

      She came out of nowhere, Sarah was terrified.

      Nabiki fired both small pistols directly into the woman's face, flesh was torn, but the woman held on.  Nabiki cocked the pistols and fired again, the woman tightened her grip.  Nabiki grimaced in pain.

      Sarah struck where the memories told her to strike, with all the force she had.  As weak as I am, it still should have tumbled a human, she searched for another way out, or a weapon.  The woman's other hand shot out, encompassing her throat crushing down on it.

      The grip slackened as the woman's eyes rolled up, and she crashed to the ground, revealing a very angry, older Asian man, with a large sledge hammer.

      "Respect your elders," he admonished as he brought the hammer down in a powerful two-handed blow, on the woman's head.  Again there was no blood and little sound.

      "You run away.  You make your uncle very unhappy," he shouted at Sarah in broken Japanese, "You promise not to run away anymore!  I have business to run!  And. It. Is. NotBABYSITTING!"

      "Let's have the reunion elsewhere," Roku-kun was backing up, the octagonal ripples in the AT fields weren't dissipating at the edges, as they were supposed to, they were reflecting and coming back, interfering with the other ripples.  A signal of the imminent collapse of the fields.

      "This way, you can run away but stay close," the Chinese senior ran for the nearby alley.  By unanimous assent the others followed him.

      "You never carry right gun," he accused Roku-kun as he stopped near a large duffel bag, and pulled out a double barreled long gun.  The first attacker came around the corner and the old man fired, the thunder deafened them and broke several windows.  The impact threw the attacker ten feet before he landed and skidded another twenty.

      The woman was up, she rolled a grenade into the alley, but Sarah had another AT field up, the grenade bounced away, exploding back on the woman.  When another attacker charged in, the old man's rifle put him a few yards away from the first man, all those waiting in the alley shook their heads and yawned, trying to recover some of their hearing.

      "Some of us can't carry a street howitzer like that." Roku-kun reloaded his automatic and the spare clips, as the old man ejected and replaced the two enormous rifle shells.

      "We have no quarrel wit' you," a voice called into the alley.  The old man pointed and Roku-kun nodded, letting the old man steady the weapon on his shoulder.  Roku-kun covered his ears and opened his mouth, he looked like he was screaming, the others did the same.

      "We only want the girl."

      "I will pay the oyabun, what the girl owes, and that is all," the old man aimed where the other man was.

      "We aren't criminals," the voice replied.  The rifle thundered again.

      "Now, you aren't," the old man said, as Roku-kun moved up to check around the corner.

      The old man turned to Sarah, "We should go, and go quickly.  There will be too many questions."

      Roku-kun stepped back, "I agree.  The guards are doing a two by two advance."  He pulled a pair of scissors from his jacket, and snipped off a lock of Sarah's hair, tousling the rest.

      My whole head is tingling, she held still for a few moments, until it stopped.

      "I'll do a protection spell, maybe cure your wanderlust," he smiled.

      "Adam?" Nabiki asked, "How did you get here so fast?"

      "Magic," Adam smiled at her frown.

      Sarah smiled back at Roku-kun, she had a feeling she wouldn't be at peace, but she wouldn't be in danger either.  It was a satisfactory compromise.

      The old man packed away the rifle and the spent cartridges, "We go."

      "One thing," Sarah stepped up, and kissed Roku-kun on the cheek, then took his hat, which had somehow remained on his head, during this whole ordeal.  She put it on her head adjusted it to a jaunty angle.

      "Fair exchange," Roku-kun led a fuming Nabiki out of the alley.


      Nabiki felt vaguely jealous, about Raccoon getting kissed, She's just an old friend, she reminded herself, it didn't help, "Security is going to want to question them," she told him, he seemed more disturbed by the loss of his hat, than the dead bodies that needed such a heavy weapon to kill.  Her ears were still ringing, from the enormous noise of the rifle, wondered if that was an elephant gun.  She barely heard Raccoon's response.

      "Question who?" he jerked his thumb back at the empty alley.

      "Adam and Sarah . . . how do you do that?" Nabiki demanded as she turned back to him from the alley, "And don't say magic," she threatened.

      Raccoon jogged around behind the guards, "Magic!" he called out then cowered.

      "Will someone tell me what is going on?!" Nabiki demanded.


The Worst is Yet to Come

      Admiral Simson entered the cell, there was an unarmed guard in here at all times, to prevent an attempt at suicide, or an `accident` that simulated suicide.

      "Sergeant, or should I say, prisoner.  NERV Japan is dead, somebody got to him ahead of us, and I doubt it was your masters, they lack the sense of subtlety to carry something like this out."

      "You can't be sure of that," the little man retorted, "They're everywhere."

      "Well at the moment, they aren't in this cell block.  So I expect some answers.  If they're going to kill you anyway, as you've claimed, you might as well do something worth getting killed for."

      "Make my life have meaning?" the sergeant laughed.

      "No," Simson replied, "Make them pay for killing you.  Make them pay dearly," Simson already had the measure of this man, he was a nothing who resented it, and refused to work hard to 'catch the break' that allowed others to capitalize on circumstances.  He'd want to do anything that reduced his marginalization.

      "I don't know that much," the man admitted.

      "Then tell me what you do know, it may be more than you know," Simson forced himself to be cordial, this . . . person was liable for summary execution, for aiding and abetting the enemy during time of war, he wasn't an enemy soldier, just a spy for the other side, in an American uniform.  Any trial would be extremely short.  They both knew it.


      Simson left the cell, "Where's Captain Ramsey?"

      "Arranging more security, with this accursed fog, the FUBENS had to take on something really strange.  The kids seemed to have better luck than armed troops.  Our teams can't keep dependable sightings on the pilots."

      "I've never heard of Japan being this foggy, not this close to summer," one of his guards told him.

      Simson wondered when it would ever get easier.


      The heavy security that greeted him and Asuka amazed Ranma as they left the school.  Considering that only the most boring teachers managed to make it in to teach, he was happy to lie down on the benches in the personnel carrier, and take a nap.  Asuka wasn't so happy about being `abandoned` by the others.

      If she is so smart, she would have taken off like the others, Ranma thought as the rocking of the tank lulled him into a doze.  He wondered what they had been doing, instead of going to school, It had to be more interesting than what I was doing.


      Dr. Akagi was in a late afternoon conference in Gendo's office, with Gendo and Misato, when Jeff barged in.  He tossed his hat on the desk from across the room, as he advanced.  "Captain, excuse me, but I think the Commander and the good Doctor want to speak with me, privately."

      Gendo steepled his fingers, "What makes you think that?"

      Jeff pulled an envelope from his inside coat pocket, "When I joined Search and Rescue, I didn't realize what I would be searching for, and what I'd be rescuing them from."  Jeff leaned over the desk and smiled right into Ikari's face, "Should I go on?"

      "Captain, we'll continue this later," Gendo said.  Misato was ready to protest, then glared at Jeff and left.

      Jeff tapped the envelope on his palm, "I don't expect an explanation for this, I don't want an explanation for this.  Frankly, when you two are in this office," he glared at both of them, "I wouldn't believe a word from either of you, if you told me the water in this headquarters was wet.  I took care of the assassin, cleaned up your mess.  Then Miss Tendo and I spent hours getting debriefed by the military.  But I suspect you want to keep this private."

      He tossed the envelope on the desk in front of Gendo, "What I object to, is your cleanup team trying to clean up ME and Miss Tendo, long after the need was gone.  Those five maniacs attacked me, Miss Tendo and the guards, that I object to.  I also don't like your messes blindsiding me, nor does the American military I can tell you.  A few minutes either way, and Shinji and Ayanami would be dead, Langley likely would have followed, then those bullet-resistant monsters would have worked their way up.  I take my fellow pilot's health and well-being VERY seriously."

      Ritsuko couldn't meet his gaze, she'd just learned about the disaster, and the extraordinary measures Gendo had gone to, to no real effect, evidently.  She'd been petrified about what might have happened.  Her heart ached that her kids thought of her as a liar, and untrustworthy.  She doubted they'd ever fully understand what she'd had to, and would have to do, to save humanity.  She'd have to talk to each privately, to discover what they really saw and knew.

      "If this really is a war, and we really are protecting Earth, you are doing a contemptible job of protecting us," Jeff picked up his hat, "You did right earlier, by warning us, and we won.  Next time you let something out and it blindsides us, I'll catch it, and return it to this office unharmed, lock the door, and watch.  A warning to keep our eyes open is all I'm asking for, you can even use those words to clue us in."  Jeff put his hat back on, "Just to keep our lies straight, the team who attacked Nabiki and me were SEELE, and a similar team went after Shinji and Ayanami."

      Ikari opened the envelope, extracted a few blue hairs, "How did you, manage?"

      "The design requirement for the 45 auto, was to founder a horse.  I will say that I'll be carrying three clips from now on, and charging the retailoring costs to NERV.  I also suggest that when Captain Ramsey demands corrective measures, firearms training and carry licenses for all the pilots would be a good start.  Riot guns for the security guards are another," Jeff walked to the door.

      "The girl who was with you," Ikari was trying to regain the upper hand, "We have no record of her."

      "You met her parents, Commander," Jeff explained, "Or rather, your regiment did, Sergeant Rokubungi, in Nanking.  They are, after all, why she is an orphan.  And you haven't changed, constancy is so important in our changing world."  Jeff left the room as Ikari's face froze.

      "You realize that the military will be talking to us next?" Ritsuko pointed out, Why can't we ever get time to rest, we go from disaster to disaster.  Rokubungi, that was Gendo's name before he married, did he know the girl, or her family?


      Misato caught Dafisu as he walked out of Ikari's office, "What's going on with you?"

      They stood out of the way as Admiral Simson, Captain Ramsey, Dr. Samuels and Colonel Stedman marched past, looking like they wanted to kill something, and would settle for Ikari and Ritsuko.  Dafisu tipped his hat as the Americans trooped past.

      "Four security guards nearly got annihilated despite my and Tendo-san's help.  You know that.  I - dealt - with another assassination attempt, after security vanished.  A little fog, and they completely lose their effectiveness.  Leaving us to do our job, and theirs.  It makes you wonder."

      "I don't approve of the pilots going armed," Misato said.

      "It isn't your choice, Captain.  NERV is a civilian agency, the pilots are U.S. government wards, the military is technically who is responsible for us," he told her, "Besides, that pop gun you carry, would be useless.  I had eight rounds plus two clips of seven rounds each.  That should be more than enough to put down five people, and I'm a very good shot.  I don't think Ayanami or Shinji saw anything, you might want to check on them."

      Misato stopped, "You, killed one of those teams."

      "Well I had lots of help: Tendo-san, the guards, an old friend."

      "You killed the other by yourself?"

      "I never said that," he smiled at her, "You never heard me say that."  He tipped his hat and walked off.

      Misato wanted to follow him and beat the truth out of him, instead she heard the raised voices in English and Japanese from Ikari's office, and decided to go find Asuka and Shinji.  And a few beers, she thought.


      Shinji kept his face impassive.  He'd learned that Asuka would pound on him, just verbally, usually, as he threw apologies back, until she gave up.  If he could outlast her, he'd win.

      "So why didn't you tell me you were leaving?" Asuka asked in a controlled tone.

      "I couldn't imagine you skipping school," Shinji answered carefully, enjoying watching Asuka caught on the horns of a dilemma.

      "Next time," Asuka said, staring closely at him, "TELL ME."

      Shinji gulped and nodded.

      "What was it you were doing?" Asuka wheedled.

      "Something Rei-chan wanted to do," Shinji admitted.

      "You mean Wondergirl ditched school?!" Asuka needed confirmation, Shinji nodded to each question, "Of her own free will?  Unglaublich!" [Unbelievable!]

      Shinji was glad he'd deflected Asuka.

      "Where do you think Ice Princess and Raccoon disappeared to?" Asuka added.

      "I didn't know they left," Shinji considered, "If we left, and they left . . . why didn't you leave?" now Shinji knew he had the advantage.

      Asuka squirmed under his gaze, "I am not interested in Horseface!" Asuka shouted and left for her room.

      Shinji scratched his head, glanced at Pen Pen who also seemed confused, "It's probably true, but why did she say it?"

      "Qwaa," Pen Pen said sagely.


      Ranko was worried about Raccoon's expression, as he walked out across the fog-shrouded roof towards where she was practicing.  Ranma had learned that if he practiced as Ranma and Ranko, he learned the moves more easily, more quickly, he still didn't know why, but he wasn't going to argue.

      "Let's go somewhere a little more private," Raccoon suggested.

      Ranko looked at his expression and the fog, that still swirled around them, she didn't think it was a good idea to argue with him either, she led him behind one of the tall chimneys that dotted the roof.

      Once they were away from any possible prying eyes, Raccoon turned to her, "Do you want to explain what that little show last night was about?"  Before she could answer, "And I can tell when you're lying.  I also just fought with Gendo and Dr. Akagi, about an assassination attempt they decided not to warn us about, I am not in a good mood."

      Ranko gulped, brushed the back of her head, she thought about trying to be evasive, decided against it, "I know how nervous I was," she admitted, "About being a girl, instead of being just a martial artist.  Well, I thought maybe you could help Nab-chan, the same way you helped me."

      "Ranko, while I appreciate the compliment.  Copying what I, or anyone else does, might work for some things, it won't work for everything.  You can't use a hammer as a screwdriver, the 'right tools' are something you, and Ranma, are going to have to develop yourselves.  Copying how you and I, or Rei and Shinji, act, won't work.  Also, Nabiki isn't dumb, enough not to pick it up."

      "But I don't know what to do!" Ranko complained as she ran her hands through her hair.

      "Patience," Raccoon put his hands on her shoulders, "You've known her for what?  Twelve weeks?  You think you have to get ready to marry her tomorrow?"

      Ranko felt her guts tighten, "No," she let go of her pig-tail.

      "Then be patient.  My best guess, she's scared."

      "Of what, nobody can challenge her, even you and Asuka are careful around her," she brushed the back of her head again, "I took her by surprise, she won't fall for that again, ever."

      "If you had a month, I could explain what I know and what I guess.  It's probably a lot of things.  From what she's said, she's used to being the biggest fish, in a very small pond.  Here, she's a minnow in the ocean, it's about control, she doesn't have it anymore."

      "No control, huh, I know how that is," Ranko admitted, considering the surprises that seemed to be around every corner, for her and him.  "So what do I do?  Besides be patient, I have to do something."

      "Being patient is doing something, sometimes it's the hardest thing to do.  Let her take the initiative, get her used to doing something.  You offered to teach me martial arts, ask her for her help to teach me and Dr. Akagi.  Make her understand that you are teaching all of us, she's helping teach me and Dr. Akagi, and to keep you in line.  You could also talk to her about hair styles, or are you going to rip your pig-tail out by the roots?"

      Ranko shifted ashamedly, pulled her hand away from her hair.  She still wasn't very good at teaching, and the idea of being ineffectual in front of Nab-chan made her extremely uncomfortable.  "I'll think about it," Ranko admitted, "Kuno.  I don't like being a `pig-tailed goddess`, not anymore," she heard something.

      Raccoon looked around, stared at the figure coming through the fog.

      "Uh, oh, Rei's on the warpath, I think I'm going to run away," Ranko said.

      "She won't hurt you," Raccoon told her, "Besides, the only way out, is over the edge."

      Rei stopped a few feet away, "You can cook?  Can you teach me cooking?"

      "Are you referring to me, Ranko, or both of us?" Raccoon asked.  Rei stared at him as if he was speaking a foreign language.

      Raccoon shrugged, "I should be able to, I don't know that much about Japanese cooking."

      "The basics, will be sufficient," Rei seemed to be nervous.

      "Should I find out what are Shinji's favorite foods?"

      Rei blushed slightly at Raccoon's question, she nodded.

      "Okay, I'll schedule something, if I can get Ranma, Ranko and Nabiki out of the apartment."

      Ranko took the hint, it would give Ranma an excuse to be alone with Nab-chan, if only to study together, or just wait together.

      Rei stepped back, vanishing back into the fog.  Ranko considered how spooky things had been over the last few days.  She wondered how to approach Nab-chan about teaching, Or changing my hairstyle, or what else? she wondered.


There's Not to Reason Why

      What worried Ranma, as he returned to the apartment, was the silence, and the looks all of the others were giving each other.  Rit-chan glanced at Raccoon and looked angry and defiant.  Nab-chan looked at both of them, just appearing threatening.  He guessed that any comment or quip from him would redirect all their anger, at him.  So he remained quiet.  There was dinner to make, and nobody had started it yet, This is bad, he thought as he looked around.  Wondering who would break first, or who would break what first.  He doubted that any of them would throw around the large amounts of cat collectibles, But you never know.  He wondered if Shinji ever had this kind of problem with the girls he lived with.


      Shinji wasn't sure who was worse, Asuka being friendly and helpful, or Misato trying to drink all the beer in the refrigerator before dinner.  He waited, near the apartment's dining room table, for the war to break out. And there's nothing I can do to stop this, Shinji thought, One or the other would accuse me of taking sides, and it would just start over that.

      "So were you really going to move out?" Misato asked Asuka.

      "Of course, Captain," Asuka replied sweetly, "Seeing as I was such a drain on your time and resources, and such a crimp in your recreation," Asuka smiled cherubically, "There was just no other honorable course of action.  After all, I wouldn't want my poor performance in school to reflect badly on my commanding officer.  So there would of course, have to be a separation of my home and work life."

      "You weren't happy here?" Misato asked morosely.

      Or maybe it's drunkenly, Shinji thought, Asuka is really playing this out.  He wondered how long this was going to take, before it developed into a screaming match, then Misato would slap or punch Asuka, and that would be the end of it.  How do I tell her? Shinji wondered, I like having her around.  He concentrated on the two, quietly praying that a major war wouldn't break out before bed, or one would break out, outside, forcing them to cooperate to deal with it.  Because if Misato hits Asuka, she'll be gone, and nothing anyone says will ever get her to come back, Shinji reasoned.

      He glanced over at Pen Pen, who seemed as interested in the conflict as he was.  He wondered what the bird thought of these goings on, Were penguins pack animals?  Or were they solitary, or something in between?  He figured asking would get him laughed at, and start the argument he was hoping would just blow over.

      "What makes you think you're qualified to carry a gun?" Misato asked.

      "Either the pilots have some value and the right to defend themselves, or they don't.  It's not as if we spend our entire day down in an armored hole, where the problems of everyday life can't touch us," Asuka replied a little testily, "We have to be out where people can see us, have a normal life, where people can shoot at us.  We should at least be able to shoot back."

      "That's what Security is for," Misato countered.

      "Yes, Kaji has done such a lovely job," Asuka replied, "Maybe I should give him a kiss," she added flatly.

      Oh, no! Shinji wondered if it was too late to make a run for it.

      Misato lurched from her chair, marched over to Asuka, who stood her ground defiantly.  "You leave him out of this!" Misato shouted.

      "Why?  It's his job!" Asuka countered, "If he hasn't been doing his job, what has he been doing?"  Asuka was screaming now, "Since MY life is on the line here, I think I have a need and a right to know.  Or are we just windup tin soldiers, who must follow unto death, and never question the COMPETENCE, of those around us."

      "You have no idea what we have to do," Misato contented.

      "And you don't know what we have to do!  You don't know our responsibilities and trials, because you don't have to!  Just point us at the enemy, and if we follow your program, you praise us, if we don't, you punish us.  You don't care about us!  Just results, just how it reflects on you!  You'll toss us away if we're broken, and get another, like broken toys!  You just - !"

      Misato's slap ended Asuka's tirade.  Shinji was horrified, imagining, despite the silence, that the fight would become physical now.  Misato seemed to realize what she'd done.

      "Asuka, I'm sorry," she reached for her.

      Asuka shied away, "If it really mattered," Asuka headed for the door, "You wouldn't have done it at all.  I'll send for my things."

      And she's gone, Shinji thought, Misato is just standing there.  "Fine," he said angrily, "I'll do it."  He left to follow Asuka, ignoring whatever Misato said as he left.  He headed out into the fog, he hadn't the faintest idea where Asuka had gone, he couldn't see more than a dozen meters, and couldn't hear anything.

      Maybe Raccoon or Rei-chan could help, he thought, Where am I going to find a phone?


      Ranma was actually glad when the phone rang, everybody jumped at the unexpected sound, He wasn't glad that they could concentrate on something else, rather than solve the impasse.  A few moments after he answered it, he handed it to Rit-chan.  "It's Misa-chan, I haven't the faintest idea what she's saying."

      Rit-chan took the phone, if anything, her expression got more angry, "Well you shouldn't have done that!  She's only a kid."  A pause, "Have you called Security?  Well you should have done that FIRST.  How am I supposed to know that?  And you just let him?!"  She sighed, looked at her kids, "Very well, call Security, Search and Rescue, get the Marines and Army out looking for them.  I will not, if a fourteen-year old hits a kid, that's a fit of pique, when an adult does, it's either discipline, or a fight, which one was it?  I thought so."  Rit-chan hung up the phone, she stared at Raccoon, he stared back.

      Ranma wondered which of the two would break the stalemate first, Ranma had an idea, "Misa-chan belted Asuka, didn't she?"

      "Yes," Rit-chan gave him the glare.

      Ranma continued, "So we need to find her - "

      "Them," Rit-chan bit the word off, "We need to find her, and Shinji ran off after her."

      "I hate dealing with amateurs," Raccoon said, practically targeting the remark on Rit-chan, who frowned at it.  "Call Rei, she can help, if it's not too late, we can turn out the eyes and ears."

      "There's no way to coordinate them," Rit-chan replied in a lecturing tone.

      "I can do that," Nab-chan replied, "Anything that keeps me from being in a dark alley with you two, I might get shot in the crossfire."

      Both frowned at her, but neither disagreed.


      Shinji wasn't sure why he was headed towards Hikari's apartment, he'd only heard where it was once, but he suspected Asuka knew exactly where it was, and was headed there.  He hadn't found a phone yet, hadn't really looked for one.

      Why am I doing this? Shinji asked himself for the hundredth time, I don't really like her.  I'd rather she'd never come to live with us.  Misato wasn't this bad before Asuka came here.  But he knew Asuka was only a constant symptom of the problem, and the problem was Kaji.  Shinji didn't have the faintest idea what to do about it.  Kaji was gone out of his office on the few occasions Shinji had been by it.  Asuka's infatuation with Kaji had faded, but he clearly wasn't dating Misato.

      So why is Misato acting this way? Shinji wondered, he couldn't imagine anyone acting this way, As much as I care about Rei-chan, we'd never act this way.

      "Asuka!" he shouted, hoping he would overtake her, hoping she wasn't moving as quickly as he was.


      The man climbed the mast quickly.  Once at the yardarm, he sat with his legs wrapped around the mast, unslung his rifle and scanned the fog.  He wasn't sure what it was out there, it had driven him from his restaurant, and scared away the few late-night customers.  So he climbed, he'd survived too long to ignore his instincts.  He considered yelling for help, somebody would have to hear, and send help, NERV or the military, or both.
      From the jeep's rear seat, Ranko watched Rit-chan and Raccoon carefully, as they drove through the thick fog.  Ranma had become Ranko to better act as a peacemaker, so far they hadn't tried to kill each other.

      The jeep's headlights merely turned the fog ahead into a luminous yellow, they didn't make it easier to see, although other vehicles, with their lights on, were easier to see.

      "Left up here," Raccoon said.

      Ranko didn't know how Raccoon was tracking Asuka, but he seemed to be unerringly homing in.  Ranko was worried that the tension in both Raccoon and Rit-chan would continue to build until there was an explosion.  "So how far are we?"

      "I don't know, we'd have to triangulate for that," Raccoon replied flatly, "Right at the corner."

      "So why don't we do that?" Ranko tried to keep her tone light, she felt like she was sitting on a bomb, and couldn't decide if she should set it off before it got any bigger, or hope it would dissipate of its own accord, I know I'll say the wrong thing, Ranko admitted to herself, I might as well do it on purpose.  "So why didn't we call Maya, have two teams?"

      It took most of her martial arts skills to keep from being thrown through the front windshield, as Rit-chan slammed on the brakes.

      "If you don't trust me, why did you marry me?" Rit-chan turned and shouted at Raccoon.

      Huh, oh, the dream, Ranko positioned herself to jump in and keep the pair apart, if necessary.

      "Is that all I am?" Rit-chan sounded furious, but looked on the verge of tears, "A toy to be played with, then put away unless you're feeling amorous or lonely?"

      "Either a Great Old One, or an Outer God sent MY dream.  Maya's was due to her unresolved feelings towards you," Raccoon replied reasonably.

      That's the worst way to respond, Ranko recognized the tension in Rit-chan, Ranma saw Nab-chan go through it, just before she belted Raccoon for shooting at him.

      "So it's fine to just tie me down and take advantage of me?  Whatever my feelings?" Rit-chan shouted hysterically.

      "What are your feelings?" Raccoon asked, "If even you don't know, why are you taking such offense at dreams?  Maya may not have even known she was dreaming, and had less control of the events than the patron of a movie."

      "That makes it acceptable?"

      "It makes it normal, and I said: when you're in Gendo's office, I don't trust you.  All the secrets he thinks he's keeping, aren't as secret as he thinks they are.  I don't need to drop a hammer on my foot more than once, to know it hurts," Raccoon growled back.

      Ranko couldn't get a word in edgewise to defuse the building fight, she regretted having started this.

      "I don't know why you insist on playing the same game around him.  Keeping all these secrets doesn't make you any stronger or safer.  It just gives our enemies a weapon to use against us.  We're out here in this mess, having this argument, because our oh-so-brilliant tactical commander hasn't got the people skills God gave rocks!  You people are supposed to be the adults!  If you can't be worthy of the title, don't take the attendant responsibilities.  Gendo sent Shinji away because he's an incompetent father, and he knows it!" Raccoon yelled at Rit-chan.

      "And you think you're any better?" Rit-chan screamed back, "You walk into trouble, and act like it's nothing.  'I can handle it.'  Do you have any idea what a bad example that sets for others?"

      "Those are things that have to be done," Raccoon was hollering too, "I don't tell them to follow me, I tell them the opposite, to not follow or duplicate what I do, or are you so blind you can't see or hear that?  I never asked Ranma to follow me like a lovesick puppy!"

      "HEY!" Ranko protested.

      "YOU set a standard!" Rit-chan was practically waving her fist in Raccoon's face, "He follows you, because you're a boy his age."

      "Hey," Ranko shouted, "I'm right here."

      "If I'm responsible, what do I need you for?" Raccoon climbed out of the jeep.

      "Fine!  Run away!  Again!"

      The fog swallowed Raccoon and his reply.

      Ranko was afraid to say anything for a few moments, as Rit-chan stared fiercely at where Raccoon had disappeared, That didn't go as I expected, at least they didn't kill each other.  "Why did those dreams cause such a problem?"

      "I don't want to discuss it."

      Ranko put on her cutest frightened look, "Are you going to thrown me out into the foggy night too?"

      Rit-chan bit back her automatic reply, glowered at Ranko, then sighed.  She seemed to deflate as her anger left her, "I don't like being called a liar, I don't want to be a toy that other people play with for their own amusement."

      "We're all playthings of . . . the gods, fate, chance," Ranko shrugged.

      "I don't want to be!" Rit-chan said angrily.

      "We don't have any choice," Ranko said reasonably, "At least you know he cares.  He walked away, rather than hurt you more," Ranko hadn't realized Raccoon repeatedly did that, until she'd said it, "He cares about you, loves you.  Maybe that's why you working with Gendo hurts him so much."

      Rit-chan tried to ignore the comment, "So how do we find him?"

      Ranko considered, "We don't.  He'll report in when he finds Asuka," she noted that Rit-chan was near tears again.

      "So we go home, and wait?"

      "I don't have a better idea," Ranko admitted, then asked, "Do you remember your dreams?"

      "I don't dream."

      "Everybody dreams, you just don't remember," Ranko said.

      "I don't dream."

      Ranko felt she was on thin ice, "So you've never had dreams of being with someone?"

      "You mean being . . . attacked . . . by someone you thought you could trust."

      "You can trust him . . . and her.  I had dreams like that where I was . . . the victim or target, of Nab-chan and Raccoon.  I wouldn't want them to really do that, but I . . . I didn't control those dreams.  If it gets too bad, I can get out.  But most of the time," Ranko squirmed uncomfortably, "It wasn't too bad."

      "'Too bad'?" Rit-chan started the jeep, and headed home, "I think it was a lot more than not 'too bad'."

      "Maya's dream about you, they were that way," Ranko climbed into the front seat, "If you'd expected it, would you be having this problem with Maya?"

      "It's not right," Rit-chan said doggedly.

      "She may not have any control," Ranko tried to make it sound judicious, "Maybe you should talk to somebody about dreams," Ranko took a deep breath, and plunged ahead, "Then apologize to Maya."

      Ranko noted Rit-chan's knuckles whiten, she decided the conversation was effectively over.


They're But to Do and Die

      Shinji was glad he'd guessed right.  Asuka, with the bruise on her cheek, sat with Hikari in her room.

      "I just wanted to see you were all right."

      "I'm not," Asuka said quietly, "I'll survive."

      "Maybe Raccoon can cover that up, the way he's been covering his, the one Nabiki gave him."

      "I suppose."

      Shinji glanced at Hikari, she seemed as worried by Asuka's discouraged attitude, as he was.

      "You'll be coming to school tomorrow?" Shinji asked.

      "Yes, Spineless, I am going to school.  I don't dare inflict more dishonor on the Great Captain of NERV.  I'm already enough of an embarrassment."

      Shinji would have preferred an explosion, it would have been more predictable.

      "Where are you staying tonight?" Hikari asked.

      "With Wondergirl," Asuka said with a nasty smile.

      He stammered a denial, but felt better at the teasing.  "I'm okay.  I slept out around Tokyo, the last time I ran away from Misato, before I was even living with her," he smiled, "She nearly ran me over, while she was searching, she never found me."

      "I feel sorry for Pen Pen." Asuka slipped back into gloom.

      "I'll look in on him tomorrow," Shinji admitted.

      A knock on the door, and Hikari's father asked if Davis-san and Ayanami-san could come up.

      "I think I'd better go, before the entire staff shows up," Shinji was happy to see Rei-chan had come looking for him.

      "Captain K sent out an APB on you two," Raccoon told him as they left Hikari's family home, "I don't think you or I are welcome at `home`, Ikari-san."

      Shinji glanced at Rei-chan, If I asked, I could spent the night with her, but I don't want to sleep on that filthy floor.  "Maybe we could switch," Shinji joked.

      "I think the base is a better idea, but we'd better call in, that we found Langley, and she's safe."

      "Do we tell them where?" Rei-chan asked.

      "No, unless there's an alert," Raccoon answered, "I wouldn't wish a drunken Captain K on anyone."

      Shinji nodded, "Did you see any payphones anywhere?"

      "This way," Rei-chan led the trio through the fog.


      Nabiki sat by the phone, only a few of the eyes and ears were available this late.  She'd only called the most trusted, she'd also called the military.  Considering what had already happened, she wasn't comfortable with everyone running around in the dark.  In her entire life, she'd never seen fog like this, even Tokyo smog wasn't this bad.

      She was glad when Ranma and Ritsuko had returned, she was also glad she could tell them that Raccoon, Shinji and Asuka were accounted for.

      "Why can't you tell us where?" Ritsuko asked in a controlled tone.

      "Because Raccoon, and Captain Ramsey, asked me not to," Nabiki told them, "I don't argue with people who know where I live, and have access to a battleship."

      "They wouldn't use the big guns on this building," Ranko said.

      That was something else that bothered Nabiki.  From her previous experience, Ranma would as rapidly as possible return to his male form.  Now he was using `Ranko` like he would any other martial arts technique, since both Raccoon and Ritsuko reacted differently to Ranko than to Ranma.  "Funny, Captain Ramsey mentioned that," Nabiki told `her`, "He also mentioned we're still in range of the 5-inchers, and an upgraded South Dakota class has 20, with an additional 100+ in the harbor.  That man wanted his 'no' taken seriously."

      "Okay," Ranma had returned to his male form with a little hot water from the tap.

      Ritsuko didn't look like she was ready to give up the fight that easily.

      "Besides," Nabiki said, "They didn't tell me.  So I could hardly tell you.  Maybe we should look in on Misato?  If both Asuka and Shinji ditched her, with the intention of making it a permanent separation," Nabiki shrugged, "I don't think she'll deal with it well."

      "We should send Maya there to console her," Ritsuko growled.

      Nabiki couldn't figure out why Ritsuko was nursing this grudge, Considering some of the dreams I've had, about Ranma, even about Kuno, she shuddered at that thought, She had to have some, about somebody.  Why is she so bent out of shape that her assistant had some about her?  Didn't she ever listen to the way Maya says 'sempai' to her?  Nabiki hated mysteries.


      Shinji followed Raccoon into the simple bedroom, it was only a little larger than his bedroom.  Desk, bed, one chair, it was all Navy standard-issue furniture.

      "A bolthole, a place to hide," Raccoon said, "The bed's yours."

      "Well I . . . " Shinji didn't want to kick Raccoon out of his own bed, from what he'd heard about when `Ranko` stayed the night, it happened often enough.

      "Shinji, I know it's your way to argue about everything, but I really don't have any patience for being told I'm full of it, no matter how politely.  So just take the bed."

      Shinji didn't think that was what he was doing, but he didn't want to argue.  He settled into the bed, considering how today had started, as Raccoon made a bedroll on the floor.  The orphanage had been another shocking experience.  He'd always wanted friends, people to look at him as something other than what he was.  The way they had looked at and talked about him, it was more frightening than combat.  Even when he told them that, it didn't offend them or drive them away.  They thought he was being modest, falsely modest at that.  The price of that adoration, was to talk about himself, somehow he couldn't talk about how afraid he was, how worthless he was.  They wouldn't accept it, it was mind-boggling.  They accepted he wasn't the best of the pilots, but they all implied he'd get better.  Couldn't they see I am a coward? he wondered, it was as if they were as blind as Raccoon was to Ranko/Ranma.

      "What do you have to hide from?" Shinji asked, it was as if Ranma had admitted to being afraid of something.  What was Asuka's word Unglaublich! [Unbelievable!]

      "Shinji-san," Raccoon began, then switched to English, "Your way, your people's way, is as alien to me as our enemies.  I can study them, but they are not me, and never will be.  Do you understand why I have to hide?"

      "No," he could interpret the words, but not the meaning behind them.  He was glad Raccoon switched back to Japanese.

      "Eastern Asia, from India to Japan, the overriding philosophy, is to be one with the surroundings, to be harmonious.  Because advancement to the next level only occurs to those in harmony."

      "That sounds about right," Shinji had never been religious or philosophical, but it wasn't too far off from what everyone, including Misato, kept telling him.  'Do as you're told,' 'Don't make waves,' 'Don't stand up too far,' and so on.

      "Also Creator and creation are one and the same, or were in the past."

      "So?" That one Shinji knew, the Kami's looked after everything, except their enemies.

      "From Iran west, through Jewish, Christian, Moslem, even Western atheist and Communist thought, the world is a battle field between good and evil, you have one and only one chance through life.  At the end, you will be judged, by God or posterity, by how much of an improvement you made, how much good you made versus how you assisted evil.  Since Created and Creator aren't the same, and never have been, the world is incomplete, but inherently perfectible.  America is essentially 125 million people arguing about how best to do that."

      "Here, you get in trouble for doing that," Shinji admitted, "You especially."

      "Don't I know it.  There are times I want to take, more strenuous actions, when 'Our way is the only way' gets crammed down my throat by morons who wouldn't even understand there is another way of looking at things."

      "Misato-san," Shinji had heard her lecturing Asuka on the same things, until Asuka was nearly ready to hit someone.

      "I wouldn't mind if she wasn't such a hypocrite, she tells us not to make waves, and lives her life inflicting as much damage, on everyone in her orbit, as she possibly can.  One day she'll go too far, and nobody will save her."

      "They'll either turn their back on her, or there won't be anyone," Shinji concluded, "Would you do that?"

      "She already got her free turn, no more chances."

      Shinji considered that, Misato had also worn out Asuka's patience.  He was aware that the two of them had brought Misato home, and cleaned her up after she got drunk . . . and nearly died.  Does he mean he'll just walk away if he sees her like that again?  Or would he just call the authorities, so her drunkenness became something the U.S. Navy would have to deal with?  Which would destroy her almost as effectively.

      Shinji stared at the ceiling, I'm only a kid, what am I supposed to do about this?  Go to my father about it? Shinji smiled at that, his father had to know, Maybe he doesn't care.  Like Kaji doesn't care, not about Asuka, or Misato.  Then why should I?  Why do I?  He shook his head, rolled over, he'd never get to sleep filling his head with those kind of thoughts.

      "Raccoon?"

      "Yes?"

      "What I did, the dreams, in Ranma's head."

      "What about it?" Raccoon asked.

      "Is it . . . " Why am I looking for condemnation? he wondered, I could get that and more just going back to Misato's apartment.  "Was it wrong?"

      "Is getting killed to no purpose 'wrong'?  How about letting others get killed?"

      "The way I did it, I mean . . . it was what I used," he couldn't continue, he was still scared of those things, the manifestation of his fears, and they were the most terrifying thing he had run into.

      "Would a shotgun or a sword be better?  The door was open the whole time, we didn't hit first.  They could have retreated or talked, they attacked instead.  They'd already skinned Ranma alive, the rest of us might not have survived that."

      Shinji shuddered at that thought, he didn't feel any better about what he did, but he understood why none of them were as reproachful as he thought they should be.

      "So you've . . . killed . . . people, in the Waking World?" Shinji was almost afraid of the answer.

      "Like I said, 'define people'."

      Shinji meant other humans, but some of the smaller monsters could be `people` too, he decided he'd rather not know for certain.



Chapter 9
Chapter 11
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