Neon Genesis Evangelion Fan Fiction / Ranma 1/2 Fan Fiction / Ah My Goddess Fan Fiction ❯ Sic Semper Morituri ❯ Chapter 40-41 ( Chapter 19 )

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

Chapter 40 - The Cook, By the Way, Is Not an Inmate
     You Can Neither Eat It Nor Make Flannel Out of It
     I Suspect His Taste In Higher Matters
     Not A Dinner To Ask A Man To
     No Such Thing As A Free Lunch
     I Have Eaten Your Bread And Salt
     Pride That Licks The Dust
     Eat Breakfast Three Times A Day
     Ye Diners-Out From Whom We Guard Our Spoons
     Have We Eaten On The Insane Root
     The Proof Of The Pudding Is In The Eating
     What In Hell Have I Done To Deserve All These Kittens
     The Worm That Hath Eat Of A King

Chapter 41 - The War Situation Has Developed Not Necessarily to Japan's Advantage
     And When the Bad Folks All Get Together at Night
     You Know They All Call Big Jim Boss . . . Just Because . . .
     But Down Home They Call Me Slim
     And It May Sound Funny, But I Come To Get My Money Back
     Well a Hush Fell Over the Pool Room
     Jimmy Come Boppin' In Off the Street

[Ranma][NGE][HPL][AMG][Fusion][Fanfic] Sic Semper Morituri Chapter 40 - The Cook, By the Way, Is Not an Inmate


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

C&C, MSTs are welcome


Stories are available in Plain ASCII at:

ftp :// -Semper-Morituri

(these are the original versions)

What has gone before:

     About Book 11 of the Tankoubon Manga, 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.

     With the return of NERV Tokyo from the Great White Space, everyone is celebrating, except Asuka who realizes their enemies are taking a direct interest in the pilots.  Nabiki and Rei are returned to Tokyo separately, Rei by express, Nabiki aboard the Spruce Goose with cargo for the EVAs.

     Shinji, Asuka, Toji and Hikari meet with Yumiwashi.

     Rei locates and confronts Jeff on the anniversary of Samuel's death.  She remembers her feelings on the death of Yui Ikari, and how she arranged Naoko Akagi's death.  Jeff wants to be left alone, Rei decides he needs to talk about events, and doesn't take no for an answer.  Including revealing how he killed her years earlier in Boston.

     At the welcome home party for Nabiki and Rei, the Azores mission is revealed.  Ranma will move in with Asuka and Sammi.  Three shoggoths, once fragments of Ritsuko, fight and are defeated by combining Ritsuko, Ranma and Jeff, there are some side-effects as the trio's personalities temporarily bleed into each other.  Among them: Jeff, under the influence of Ranma, confronts Belldandy sending her, then her sisters, into a tizzy, Keiichi managed to defuse it.  Ranko, under the influence of the others, gives Jeff the passionate kiss from the bet he lost to Asuka at the carnival.  Then Asuka and Jeff tickle Nabiki remorselessly.  Rei begins calling Asuka mein Grossfeldmarschall {Große}.  All the pilots are giddy from recent events.

     To help Misato and Hiro's relationship, Asuka, Rei and Shinji throw together a Sunday in the park picnic.  Asuka invites Keiichi, Belldandy and Megumi.  Megumi volunteers her services and Belldandy's as caterers.  They work through the night to get everything ready.

     The baseball captain Usagi and her allies are introduced, and what they worship before their softball games.

     The picnic is a success until Usagi and Yuki decide to test the pilots.  Ranma easily intercepts the batted ball, but transforms and must leave.  The picnic ends.  Asuka and Ranma are sulky after the failed picnic.  Asuka also has a letter from Anna reminding her of home, to which she can never return.

     With the aid of a narrow board and two sawhorses, Asuka begins teaching Ranma both sword fighting, and how to teach.  Only he believes his first class with the others was an unmitigated disaster.

     Asuka contracts Keiichi and his sister to construct several bicycles for the pilots.  She shoots a bug and has her second clash with Skuld.

     All four senators from Wyoming and Massachusetts begin investigating the Boston incident and Misato's part in it.  Admiral Simson scrambles to begin his own investigation of what has been happening in NERV before and after the war.  Shinji and Rei console and watch over Misato.

     Asuka and Ranma wash each others hair, Shinji washes Rei's.  They discuss children while doing this.  Asuka doesn't want the responsibility, Rei appreciates her advice.

     Aboard the Bennington, Jeff meets with one of his patrons and receives an update on Sharon.  Nabiki is coming to realize the differences in the way the military treats her and the other pilots.

     Major ggreg and Adam Smith arrive, to cover their `spying` on NERV, they will teach Nabiki and Jeff about explosives.  Ritsuko investigates the unusual way Jeff syncs with the EVA, she is terrified by the contact.  Later she realizes the spirits power the EVAs.  Nabiki and Maya train to operate firearms.

     Jeff and the Scholarly Dragon teach Nabiki about control of her dreams, the Scholarly Dragon prevents an dream attack by Usagi and company.

     Admiral Simson asks about Jeff siccing the Senators on Misato, he did so because the Navy stonewalled his investigation.

     Nabiki adds hand-to-hand training with the rifle.

     Nabiki discusses Hiroko's death with several of her instructors.  Ritsuko looks over Jeff and Nabiki as Nabiki comes under dream attack.

     Joma and Ritsuko discuss the desires of made things for their creators/users.

Two days prior to his scheduled space shot, subject officer, while dining on the base, was observed to pick up a plastic ketchup bottle.  Squeeze a thin red line across his throat, and then to stagger, and fall very heavily across a table, then being occupied by the Director of the National Space Administration, gurgling 'Don't order the swordfish.'

The Ninth Configuration - William Peter Blatty

You Can Neither Eat It Nor Make Flannel Out of It

July 17, 1947

     Asuka was all smiles as she let in Little Miss Happy, Megumi, and Mouse, who looked like Hikari, except for the glasses.  Wondergirl looked like Asuka'd let a lion into the place.  Mouse looked at Horseface and Curly, and blushed.  Asuka wondered why she was working instead of in Junior High.

     "The easiest way to learn is to teach someone.  Hor - Saotome-san and Suzuhara-san will be your `students` they are both good cooks and won't let you make too big a mistake," Asuka told Mouse, she'd also explained it to the others.  Curly hadn't been happy, but with Hikari and Curly's little sister Yumi eager to help, he'd been unable to refuse.  Mouse looked even more nervous.

     "It's all right, Sora," Megumi told Mouse.  Wondergirl also nodded to Mouse, who gulped and nodded back.

     "Good," Asuka said, "Don't stand there you two, break out the stuff!"  Horseface and Curly hopped to it, with their friends, the junior-high crew and the guards all watching.

     Mouse looked ready to jump out of her skin at the sudden activity, Asuka congratulated herself for teaming Mouse with Horseface, most girls went 'Ranma-sigh', that effect ought to be useful for something.  Horseface and Curly set out the utensils, the vegetables, spices, etc. Asuka had supervised Wondergirl purchasing them, fixing another bit of her lacking education.  The utensils were the thank you gift for Little Miss Happy, Asuka had seen the paltry supplied the girl had.

     Asuka had thought Horseface was single-minded, he was an absolute piker compared to Wondergirl as she prepared for the lesson by purchasing things.  Exactly what was called for.  Asuka had discussed with Little Miss Happy on the phone to get the necessary ingredients, she'd let Little Miss Happy `teach` the class, although she'd keep an eye on things.

     Wondergirl and Little Miss Happy didn't seem to get along, that was a secret Asuka would love to unravel, but all Wondergirl said was 'She believes I am someone I am not.'  Asuka hadn't the faintest idea what that meant, and Spineless hadn't been willing to help her question Wondergirl, it was all very frustrating.

     "The first thing to do is wash the vegetables," Little Miss Happy told them.

     Well, so much for the Socratic Method, Asuka said to herself, she preferred it because it got you thinking from the beginning and it was perfect in these small `classes`.  Washing and removing the stems, and other inedible parts were the first lessons. all closely directed by Little Miss Happy.

     "There's no meat!" Mouse commented in a perplexed tone, bordering on terror.  Asuka was beginning to wonder if that was her default condition.

     "I dislike meat," Wondergirl said.

     "So since you'll be tasting it, we leave it out," Asuka explained, "I bet Miss Belldandy eats meat all the time."  Asuka wondered at the strange reaction by Little Miss Happy and Wondergirl, Asuka decided Little Miss Happy was just weird.  Must be a side-effect of the happy pills she's on, she thought.

     Then came the cutting, the reason Sammi had a full service first-aid kit sitting next to her.  Wondergirl of course asked why the different cuts, why the particular knives, why one end of a daikon and not the other, etc., etc., etc.  Each question seemed to vex Little Miss Happy.

     Too bad, that's Wondergirl's way, and Mouse wants to know too, she's just too timid to ask, Asuka thought.

     Asuka had to admit she learned a little too, even the boys were silently taking notes.  They added the vegetables to cold water and the other ingredients.

     "Why not add to the boiling water?" Asuka asked, she'd been taught the addition to boiling water was to help dissolve the flavors into the soup.

     "Some parts dissolve easily in cold water, you want them in the water before oils and other flavors that only dissolve in boiling."

     Makes sense, osmotic pressure, Asuka thought.

     The soup was underway, now came time for the dumplings or potstickers, now the girls would have to tell Horseface and Curly how to prepare the vegetables, Asuka had never heard of all vegetable potstickers, but Little Miss Happy insisted she had a recipe.  Asuka left it to her, the recipe was all in kanji characters, Spineless could watch over Wondergirl.

     "So," Megumi asked as Asuka sat at the table, "What about the cooking contest."

     "Yes.  I'd like to hear about your tragic defeat at the hands of the cunning Raccoon," Sammi said theatrically.

     "Well, Raccoon set me up," Asuka began.

     "You set yourself up for him," Wondergirl called from her position, directing Curly slicing vegetables, "And the cause was much earlier, a battle fought and nearly lost."

     "What are you talking about, Wondergirl?"

     "The Inspector," Spineless added, shivered at the remembrance.

     Asuka nodded, she'd been frightened and sickened as each pilot faced Nyarlathotep alone.  The only way to beat him was to act as caricatures of themselves.  Horseface was the arrogant martial artist to the hilt.  He returned practically in tears, only Raccoon and Ice Princess together soothed him.  Then Raccoon had gone in as a twit, she smiled at what he'd later related about the sortie.  Ice Princess went against it as a homicidal ditz, misinterpreting everything and going off on tangents.  She'd returned in disarray.

     Asuka remembered that she and Raccoon had challenged Nyarlathotep before.  The Scholarly Dragon had driven him off twice.  She took her turn, as cute, polite and completely math-obsessed.  The idea of facing, the creature terrified her, then and now.  Losing her sanity and ability to reason frightened her more than physical injury or even death at the creature's hands.  She was horrified he knew things he couldn't possibly have known.  She barely made it out without breaking cover.  Spineless was of course Spineless to the ultimate degree, afraid of everyone and everything, it irritated Asuka that Spineless probably broke the Inspector, but it was her plan.  The person she felt sorry for was Captain Ramsey, who had to stand there and watch what the pilots were doing, and couldn't react to it.

     "Wondergirl, do you want to tell?" Asuka asked.  Wondergirl just shook her head.

     Rei considered Mein Grossfeldmarschall's request, she did remember the fury she felt, how she wanted to kill and destroy it, but had barely managed to restrain herself.  She remembered how Mein Grossfeldmarschall and Roku-kun had simply accepted what she'd told them, and then she would have to accept that their plan was the best way to hurt it.

     "I had faith, as others had faith in me," she told them.  Mein Grossfeldmarschall seemed to accept that.  Her one word answers had infuriated the Outer God.  Then she had rescued Maya from a mental assault by the Crawling Chaos.  She apologized to Maya for not considering her earlier as she carried her to safety among the pilots, before Ranko left to the last battle against the monster, by being 'sickenly cute'.  Ranko was as disturbed by the experience as Ranma, giving lie to Roku-kun's claims they are different people.

     Finally, Akagi-sensei had arrived so she and Mein Grossfeldmarschall could administer the coup de grace to Nyarlathotep by assaulting his bow tie.  Mein Grossfeldmarschall called it a hoop snake.

     She recalled with pride the Commander's praise, and with anger Captain, now Major, Katsuragi's verbal attack for not cooperating, and Mein Grossfeldmarschall's verbal counterattack that Norris Attergate was Nyarlathotep.

     "Was the Captain the only one unaware of Norris Attergate's true identity?" Rei asked.

     "Pretty much," Mein Grossfeldmarschall said, "Maybe some janitors and maintenance people, but of the people who were supposed to know, yes."

     "Who is No-ris A-teru-gata-?" Sora asked.

     "An enemy we defeated," Shinji-kun said, shivered even as he smiled.

     Rei was glad she wasn't the only one uncomfortable with these memories.

     "Pilot Langley was told that her invention was accepted by the U.S. Government also," Rei added.

     "Yes, the sonic glaive design.  I helped perfect it," Mein Grossfeldmarschall crowed.

     Megumi walked over to Sammi-san, "So what were you doing that day?"

     Sammi sat back in her chair and smiled at that question, decided to tell the truth.  No one will believe it, she thought.

     "I was on a slab getting assembled by Doctor Akagi."

     Belldandy let a plate slip from her hand and it shattered on the floor.

     "Does that girl understand what a joke is?" Sammi asked as she marched into the kitchen to see if anyone had been hurt, then cleared everyone else out.

     "Never," Rei supplied, much to the girl's displeasure, and their other guests' amusement.  Rei was getting more skilled at humor.  Sammi knew she'd get it eventually.  The fact was, she had woken up on a slab that day, Doctor Akagi had murdered a Spawn of Nyogtha by injecting it with the chemicals to make it a proto-shoggoth, a being nearly as plastic and strong as a real shoggoth.  The good doctor had also removed the brain, or its equivalent, from the Spawn and installed the brain of the first Rei, the one murdered by Naoko Akagi.  Then she'd `installed` certain cellular samples from each of the pilots.

     The combination proved more effective than `mommy` Rit-chan knew.  Sammi had awakened with many of the memories of the pilots, and most of their knowledge, fuzzy and somewhat intermixed with others' memories, but she could `feel` out the currents of each pilot.  The Spawn of Nyogtha made her loyal to the death to Ranma and Rei who were the inheritors of his mantle, Rei's brain made her incredibly loyal to Shinji, Asuka and Jeff.  The other elements added Nabiki to the mix.  So when she awakened that day, she was overjoyed that the other pilots were present and close.  She could continuously feel them, Ranma and Rei most strongly, but none of the pilots could ever evade her.  She loved them, each and everyone.  Even if they hadn't been so delightful, she still would have loved them as she cared about herself.  She couldn't have been happier to be alive and to be able to serve.

     She collected all the pieces of the plate and was sweeping up, the others clustered around the kitchen entrance, waiting.

     "That was the day that fog rolled in, May 27th," Hikari said, "Hiroko and I . . . we discussed what to do about it."  Hikari hung her head.  "Sorry."

     "Yes," Asuka said, "Worse was yet to come."

     "How does this have anything to do with the cooking contest?" Megumi asked, "You mentioned 'the Inspector', and most of you immediately went white as a sheet."

     "The contest is important," Rei explained, "Each event builds upon another."

     "You never said anything about - no never mind," Asuka said, "I never asked, so you never told me."

     "Roku-kun made numerous, oblique references," Rei said as they filed back into the kitchen.

     "Too oblique," Asuka complained.

     "Yes, fine," Megumi said as she leaned over the breakfast bar, "But what does that have to do with cooking?"

     "Patience," Asuka and Rei chorused, Asuka glared at Rei for that.

     "I think they're trying to tell you to let the elements unfold and blend as they actually did," Sammi said as she disposed of the plate shards.

     "What about you, Ranma?" Megumi asked, "Do you want to have mercy and tell us."

     "Easier answers make later learning harder," Ranma said, "I learned that sometimes embarrassment and over reaching are useful."  Ranma had caught Nab-chan spying on Ranko and Raccoon who were having a conversation.  Ranko practically threw Nab-chan into Raccoon's arms and didn't let them separate.  "And sometimes asking for help, you have to accept whatever help is offered."

     "And sometimes people will ask for help you never knew they needed," Shinji added.

     Ranma remembered the help `Ranko` had received after she stole the Ranma-skin from the pack of loonies in dreams.  From `Rei's` massive artillery barrage, to the cinnamon chicken minefield, to other diversions and distractions provided by his friends.  The real dreamselves of the other pilots had been waiting in his dream dojo.  While Rei and Raccoon healed Ranma/Ranko, Asuka and ole Shinji slaughtered the pursuers.  Shinji's rabbit-spiders doing the bulk of the work.  The result of all that dream interaction, Rit-chan had been trapped in Maya's dream, and the two still hadn't fully reconciled over what happened or what Rit-chan saw there.  Also, waking up intertwined with Nab-chan and Raccoon, while being Ranma, wasn't the best experience.

     "Yes, the 27th of May was an . . . interesting day," Shinji admitted as he watched Rei quietly directing Toji, she seemed uncertain about that, so did Hikari.  "The next day, the 28th wasn't much better starting out."  Rei had come to him in the dead of night, and assured him that she'd never hurt him or the other pilots and left, then he and Megorofeld-chan had gone to the battle in Ranma's dream and he was the killer, not Rei-chan, she was a healer.  He still hadn't figured that out.

     "Well, we ditched school, Pilot Ayanami and me.  We went to meet the orphans," he admitted embarrassedly, "See, pilots are well-paid and we can get . . . stuff from the military: old blankets, clothes, a lot of stuff, but sometimes they just want to . . . "

     "Be around war heroes," Megorofeld-chan finished his thought.  Megumi, Hikari, and Sora all blushed.  So did Shinji.

     He'd listened to Megorofeld-chan's AT field talk, after she and Misato had another fight.  He didn't think he should mention that to non-pilots.

     "Does anyone know where Ice Princess and Raccoon slipped off to?" Megorofeld-chan asked.

     "They rescued Jeff's friend Sarah from those assassins," Sammi volunteered.

     "The assassins were aimed at the pilots," Rei-chan added, almost as an afterthought.

     "Assassins?!" Sora asked, forgetting to supervise Ranma for the moment.

     "There have been numerous attempts on the pilots' lives.  By human and nonhuman assassins," Rei-chan commented, continuing to supervise Toji.

     "You don't think we're just sitting around looking pretty do you?" Sammi asked, posing cutely at the table.

     Sora gulped.

     Ranma abruptly sidestepped a kick to the ankles.  "Um, you do that fine," he managed.  Megorofeld-chan just shook her head.

     "Why Ranma-san, how very gallant of you," Sammi gushed.

     Belldandy was looking around so fast, Shinji thought her head would unscrew.

     "I also requested basic cooking lessons from Roku-kun."

     "Who's -?" Megumi began.

     "Ranking member of 'Evil Geniuses for a Better Tomorrow,' " Ranma said, "'Langley' here couldn't pass the entrance exams."

     "It sounds terrible," Megumi said, "He sounds terrible."

     "Oh yes, awful, evil-mean-vicious-nasty and he's, oh he's," Megorofeld-chan searched for another inditement.

     "He hates okonomiyaki!" Ranma added in horror, setting the knife aside and covering his face.  All the pilots gasped.

     The other group just looked around.

     "Pilots don't go crazy when they encounter those Angels," Erin explained.

     'They already are/started crazy,' the other guards added.

     "Volley fire present!" Megorofeld-chan commanded, the pilots turned to face their guards.  "Bweeh!"  The pilots all stuck their tongues out at their guards.

     "Mein Grossfeldmarschall is a natural leader," Rei-chan said while the non-pilots were giggling.

     Shinji smiled, then he remembered the fight Asuka and Misato had that day, how hurt she was. As if the Invincible Megorofeld-chan, SIR!, would ever admit to mere human weakness, he thought.  He'd left that night to find Asuka, and Rei found him.

     "You fought with Captain Katsuragi didn't you?" Hikari asked, "You moved out because of that fight."  She looked closely at Megorofeld-chan.

     "Yeah," Megorofeld-chan admitted quietly, "She never decided if she was our commander or our - well, there's a word for it in German, but no equivalent in Japanese I know."

     "You weren't the only one with fighting roommates," Ranma added, "Rit-chan and Raccoon had a fight too, about Maya's dream."

     "Yes, Raccoon showed up, Rei-chan and I spent the night at the base," Shinji added.

     "What are you talking about?" Megumi demanded.

     "Internecine tensions," Rei-chan said, "The build up of friction and pressure."

     Megumi nodded, "I bet there was some explosion."

I Suspect His Taste In Higher Matters

     Toji nodded.  "There was an explosion all right."  But not the way you think, Toji thought about that night.  The dreams he could understand, after having them himself, why people might fight and argue.  He'd seen billions of Cthulhi attacking Ghroth as it approached.  Only the Scholarly Dragon survived, and sent word to Sour Kraut and Raccoon to warn them of its approach, Toji never wanted another dream like that again.

     "And the scariest thing in the world," Shinji said ominously.

     Toji didn't like how Shinji was looking at him.  Not angry, just strange.

     "People trusting you completely.  As if being a pilot gave us some special wisdom, and you know you don't deserve it.  That's worse than finding a body - 50 meters off the ground clutching a loaded rifle in its dead hands," Shinji said, "Just piloting an EVA doesn't give you super powers, just more things to worry about."  Shinji's eyes bored into his.

     "Yeah, you mentioned that, before everything went crazy," Toji said, gulping and turning away.

     "Akagi-sensei believed the figure dead several days, but he could only have died hours earlier," Rei-chan explained, "They encountered other victims, but we first saw the mechanism."

     "MECHANISM!  Is that what you call someone dragged underground to their death?!" Ranma shouted at Rei-chan.

     "Easy Horseface," Sour Kraut soothed, "That is the correct word for it."  She turned to the others.  "One of the coaches got dragged under and killed, and Ho - Pilot Saotome here couldn't save him."

     "Was that before the school blew up on the 28th?" Sora asked.

     "Same day," Toji said, "We didn't know what we were fighting.  Except things kept blowing up, and the fog kept us isolated."  He walked out of the kitchen and took Hikari's hand when he saw her distress, she had her own bad memories of that day.

     "They are the Lliogor, sentient energy matrices who feed on emotional turmoil," Rei said, "They were cultivating it."

     "Fear?" Sora asked, preparations temporarily forgotten.

     "Hysteria," Rei amended, "They attempted to drag Roku-kun down and were nearly successful.  We rescued him."

     "Then Horseface sent him to build some flares," Sour Kraut joked.

     "I was joking," Ranma countered.

     "That proves your thinking is a joke, because only when you're joking do you think," Sour Kraut told him.

     "Those statements are not logically reconcilable," Rei said.

     "When is Horseface logical?" Sour Kraut asked.

     Rei considered, for a while.  "Almost never."

     "You sent him out there to check on them," Toji accused Sour Kraut.

     "That's because he could."

     "What, he has some gizmo to detect evil energy?" Toji asked.

     "Application forms?" Rei asked.

     Even Sour Kraut took a moment to make the connection.  "No.  Members of the Evil Geniuses for a Better Tomorrow can't eat each other, it's in the bylaws."

     "They abide by their own bylaws?" Belldandy asked.

     Toji was beginning to think the girl was as slow getting jokes as Rei used to be.

     "That's when I went crazy," Hikari admitted, drywashing her hands nervously, "I thought something was burning me and eating me from inside."  She covered her face with her hands.

     Sour Kraut hugged her, pushing Toji aside.  "It was just a spell.  They used it on you.  It has nothing to do with your actual sanity or insanity.  Just a spell to hurt you and scare others."  Sour Kraut paused.  "Although knocking Raccoon on his arrogant butt was funny," Sour Kraut insisted.  Hikari laughed at that.

     "That's also when we saw them," Toji said darkly, "Like warped, twisted dragons."

     "I remember Rei-san hitting me," Hikari said, still laughing, she massaged her jaw.  "I should be glad my head is still attached."

     "No anesthetic was available," Rei said as if it explained everything, "Then I carried you inside."

     "I watched Raccoon kill two of them, to let us escape, then while we ran inside," Shinji said, "He ran for the fence."

     "Yeah, he found a barrier all around the building," Ranma said.  "What were you doing all this time?" Ranma asked Sammi and the other guards seated at the table.

     "I was getting cleared, tested and briefed by the Navy," Sammi said.  Tomiyo, Juri and Erin nodded, that's what they were doing.

     "We could have used you there," Ranma griped.

     "The bomb-making team was sufficient," Rei said.

     "BOMB MAKING -?" Sora stammered, "You really did blow up the school!"  She stepped back from the pilots.

     "You should continue your preparations, you are falling behind.  The bombs were used on our opponents," Rei explained, "They worked well."  Rei paused, considered, "We did not know why on their first use.  That use necessitated a rescue.  You should not distract her."

     Ya don't remember that tree blowing up and having to jump out a window to rescue Raccoon, Ranma thought.  "Ya practically set one of those bombs on top of us and set it off," he accused, approached Rei.

     "I knew you would not be injured," Rei replied, ignoring him, staring at Toji.

     "After you got back from putting Raccoon in the infirmity, the Army arrived, finally, and got wiped out," Toji said, as he reentered the kitchen.

     "It was only one tank," Asuka amended, "The potential fight between Horseface and me was a lot more dangerous."

     "I notice you took Tendo-san's orders," Toji teased as he started chopping again.

     "If someone's orders make sense, and I don't have a better idea, I'll follow them.  Besides, who else was going to plan our counterattack besides me and Wondergirl?"

     "Is that why you went after the medical supplies?" Shinji asked.

     "It was that or let Ranko curl up with Raccoon to keep warm and from going into shock."

     Ranma blushed furiously at Asuka's gibe.  They'd gotten the supplies while Shinji and others were getting food and other stuff from the lower floors.

     "The Army did finally arrive," Ranma said, "In force."

     "With our Glorious Leader at the head," Asuka said, "All they found out was they couldn't get past the barrier surrounding the school, and they shouldn't stand still."

     "Wait a second?" Megumi asked, "We've only seen four EVAs, and there are six pilots . . . why isn't there a pilot standing by near an EVA at all times?  For just such emergencies?"

     Asuka turned and smiled at Sammi, someone else had brought up the point she and Raccoon had each made several times.

     "Why do two High School and a College Graduate have to repeat Junior High?" Asuka sneered, "It's `appropriate` for children our age to attend Junior High.  Raccoon and I should be doing research on the EVAs, developing new tactics and weapons."

     "You don't like going to school?" Hikari asked from beside her.

     Terrific, a Ranma-moment, Asuka thought.  "That isn't it.  I could teach most of those classes - "

     "Except Japanese," Horseface said, and tried to look innocent, Sora directing him again.

     Asuka decided a severe beating was inappropriate.  "To give you an example, Raccoon, our American pilot, has to attend English class, he's more fluent - Ice Princess is more fluent than the teacher."

     "That's nuts," Megumi said.

     Asuka agreed.

     "As nuts as Raccoon in a skirt?" Horseface asked, again trying and failing to look innocent.

     "It was a kilt," Wondergirl pointed out.

     "And no more nuts than when those Lliogor-things finally decided they couldn't make us despair, so they started blowing up the building piece by piece?  We started herding people to the roof."

     "Nothing above to fall on them," Wondergirl added, almost conversationally.

     "Yes," Asuka replied tartly, "I think they figured that out."

     "Hikari-san and Suzuhara-san had not," Wondergirl told her.

     Asuka guessed Horseface hoped everyone would forget the `curse` Raccoon had laid on him.

     "What was that spell he cast anyway?" Curly asked.

     Asuka sighed loudly.  "It was a JOKE Curly!" Asuka shouted, then controlled herself.  "With everyone whining 'Oh Woe Is US!', which is exactly what the enemy wanted, he waited until the South Dakota fired, and `cast a spell`!"

     "He didn't do that?" Horseface asked incredulously.  He looked like he thought Asuka was going to hurt him.  Even Mouse chuckled at him.  Horseface frowned at that.

     "If he could really do that, why would we need EVAs?" Asuka asked sweetly, "Try using your brain for something other than an ear spacer."

     She turned away, she could guess Horseface felt relief.

     "I'm surrounded by idiots sometimes.  Like our Glorious Commander leading the armored charge and winding up with her best feature waving in the air after the lead tank hit a ditch the Lliogor had dug.  Even with the magical barrier down, they still couldn't rescue us."

     "We had to rescue them," Spineless pointed out.

     "You better believe we had to rescue them!" Asuka continued, "You and Curly had to rescue our Glorious Commander.  Spraying the whole grounds with flamethrowers would have been a good start."

     "They didn't have the flame tanks up," Curly told her, "They came later."

     "Yeah, instead we did our fire bomb trick with Rei and me as bait," Horseface complained, "After they led Misa-chan - "

     "Our Glorious Commander," Wondergirl translated.

     "Yeah, led her away and put her under guard, I've never seen her so mad."

     "I have," Spineless put in.

     "You imprisoned your commanding officer?" Belldandy exclaimed, paused in stirring the soup.

     Of course, Asuka thought.

     "She acted irrationally," Wondergirl said.

     "We'd discovered fire was the Lliogor's enemy, so we rigged the explosives to become incendiaries," Asuka explained, "Our fast-running bait put them on the most heavily armored parts of two wrecked tanks.  Raccoon, and Ice Princess's friend Hiroko Ayami, shot the bombs when most of the Lliogor closed in.  Boom.  Then Horseface and Wondergirl scrambled inside, a few more bombs finished off their wounded."

     "You left them out there with live bombs?" Sora asked.

     "We were inside the tanks," Wondergirl said.

     She sure is chatty, Asuka thought, Even if she is only clarifying things.

     "That's when they blew up the building," Curly destroyed Asuka's dramatic pause.

     "No, the damaged gas mains did," Wondergirl corrected.

     Case in point, Asuka thought before she said, "That's the explosion.  We were scattered all over the grounds, some in one piece, others not.  We blew up the last ones - "

     "And you got Raccoon buried," Horseface interjected.

     "Who's telling this story?" Asuka retorted.

     "We are," Wondergirl replied, "Jointly."

     Asuka frowned.  "We did dig him up, jointly."

     Belldandy showed them the recipe for the shells for the potstickers.  Rei and Sora began instructing the boys in mixing and adding the ingredients, after learning the difference between mixing, folding and whipping.

     "That was not the only explosion," Rei said, she regarded the battle as ancillary to the real point of the narrative.  "While the battle occurred, the housing was rearranged.  Captain Katsuragi lost custody of Pilots Ikari and Langley, Akagi-sensei lost custody of Pilot Davis, and gained custody of Pilot Ikari.  Officer Kraznyzamok received custody of Pilots Davis and Langley."

     "That's a long sentence for you, Wondergirl," Mein Grossfeldmarschall said as she leaned over the breakfast bar, "Do you need to lie down?"

     Rei was going to say 'no', but since she was standing in from of the tap.  "A glass of water would be welcome."  She enjoyed Mein Grossfeldmarschall's frown, she didn't get nor expect a glass of water.  "Straitjackets were optional, but no owner's manual was included."  She was glad some of the people smiled at her attempt at humor.  "That, I believe, caused a greater explosion than the destruction of the school, a mere building."

     "The pilots received personal guards," Kraznyzamok-san said, "To replace the more distant guard force that had been ineffective against the Lliogor."

     "Most were killed," Juri-san added.

     Rei had heard about reaction to the move out.  Mein Grossfeldmarschall had told Shinji-kun 'Remember Spineless, cringe when confronted, any show of strength will invite a confrontation.'  Rei had considered it odd but sound advice, but had she been warning about Nabiki-kun or the Fourth?  She also remembered Akagi-sensei's stoicism when the relocation was discussed.  She wondered if the older `woman` did reciprocate the feelings Roku-kun had for her, even in part.

     While he mixed the flour, eggs and water, Ranma thought Rei's gift for understatement was working overtime.  The real explosion had occurred after that.  In the first part, Nab-chan had accused him of practically driving Raccoon out of the house, his home, second when she suggested he go see him, she accused him of hiding behind Ranko to deal with Raccoon.

     `Ranko's` visit to Raccoon in the hospital was another part, where Ranma's certainty that Ranma and `Ranko` were ever and always the same began to break down: Ranma and Ranko acted differently to Raccoon, just as Nab-chan had accused him of.

     Ritsuko's arrival complicated things, Ranma didn't remember the scientist ever being that emotional.  Raccoon explained his problems, and why he was leaving, or not fighting the move, he needed time to sort things out.  Ranko had been both glad and angry at the time she had to consider and the abandonment.  Ranma would have been glad to get this scary guy out of the house, Ranko missed him.  Ranko had discussed this with Rit-chan as they walked back, even Rit-chan needed to sort things out.

     That was a shock, Ranma realized, I'd never considered what it would mean to her, and why she seemed almost as messed up about it as I was over the whole Ranma/Ranko thing.  She's an adult and a scientist, shouldn't she understand these things?

     Asuka watched the boys roll out the dough they'd made, considered her plan and considered that Wondergirl had totally mastered the British art of understatement.  The explosion at the school was a sideshow.  The real battle began when she visited Raccoon.  She didn't understand all the hoopla about the move, considering the number of times she'd had to move.  But she did berate Raccoon for his reckless disregard of his own life and not acting on his feelings for Ritsuko and to Hell with what anyone else thought.  She'd also visited Hikari where she was incarcerated.  She'd told Raccoon how sick she was of Japan.

     They discussed rescuing Hikari and their being together in the Dreamlands, rescuing each other, supporting each other.  They discussed his relationship with Ranko, and how Ranko seemed to be advancing it.  Asuka wondered if Horseface even noticed.

     I should have known Raccoon would have a surprise up his sleeve, Asuka thought, I guess I was only surprised by what he was planning, not that he had a surprise.

     "Anyway, everyone was rearranged, things went smoothly."  She watched the boys fill the shells with vegetables.  "Let's getting cooking ladies."

Not A Dinner To Ask A Man To

     "Not hardly," Ranma continued as he greased the cookie sheets while Toji set the oven.

     Shinji expected an explosion about the 'ladies' crack, or Megorofeld-chan being interrupted, he got neither.  Same as cringing at Ranma disarmed the other boy's aggressive nature.  Soon, he was afraid of talking to me, Shinji thought, What Tendo-san said about the IQ tests and the bios she'd real was interesting.  Virtually nothing on Rei-chan.  Ranma's IQ higher than Raccoon's, it all disturbed her.  Like Megorofeld-chan visiting my dreamscape and seeing me sitting on the front of the locomotive and Rei-chan as the engineer.  She wasn't expecting that, and that scared her.

     "I have to agree," Sammi said, "I had to go out that night."  She lowered her voice and leaned forward.  "Something was creeping up on the cultists who'd brought and supported the Lliogor."  She had everyone's attention, Shinji thought they were being set up.  "I watched the sniper shoot the heads off two of the cultists, mages, the leaders it turns out.  Then the sniper retreated in a very professional manner.  I finally cornered it, took a rifle, a pistol and a knife away in rapid order, even fended off a knee to the groin and a thumb to each eye."

     Shinji squirmed at that.  What kind of monster was she fighting, and why does Megorofeld-chan look like she knows?

     "I'm so proud of Jeff, being so vicious is sooo cute!" Sammi declared while hugging herself tightly.  Sammi looked at her utterly stunned audience, Shinji saw only Megorofeld-chan wasn't horrified, she was ruefully shaking her head.  "Well he didn't know who I was, he thought he was fighting for his life," Sammi amended as she pouted and sat back, probably because nobody agreed with her.

     "Thusly proving our guards are shining beacons of sanity, each and every one," Megorofeld-chan said smugly.

     "They're all complete loons," Ranma `translated` as he slid the loaded cookie sheets into the oven.

     "You are what you eat," Rei-chan said.  Everyone stared at her.  He understood what she meant, maybe the only one.

     "I do remember meeting all our guards," Shinji said to change the subject, "Why was Tendo-san so nervous about Tomiyo-san?"

     "Same name, same kanji, and the name Tendo isn't that common," Tomiyo explained, "Nor is an intense interest in martial arts.  It was probably jarring for her."

     "Isn't martial arts illegal," Megumi asked, "Because of the Peace treaty?"

     "Illegal -?!" Ranma stammered.

     He didn't know?! Shinji wondered.

     "Yes and no," Juri-san said, "The law prevents the teaching of martial arts to Japanese, and in Japan.  Technically all the pilots are wards of the U.S. Government and they are sort of in the U.S. Navy.  It's complicated, but common sense broke out regarding the pilots."

     "Lucky you're a pilot, Ranma, or you'd be behind bars, or they would shoot you," Toji said as they waited in the kitchen.

     "They don't have a cannon he'd fit in," Megorofeld-chan said, "School was weird the next day, more weird than usual."

     "The school that morning was a lot of tents on the grounds," Toji said, "Someone blows up the school and we don't even get a day off.  Of course a lot of people had pulled their kids out."

     "Do you want to tell them who taught the classes?" Megorofeld-chan asked.  Shinji knew from her tone that Toji better say 'yes.'

     "You and Raccoon." Toji mumbled.

     "And?" Megorofeld-chan said cheerfully, smiled triumphantly.

     "Okay, you did better than the regular teachers," Toji said, as if admitting a painful secret.

     "That isn't sayin' much," Ranma amended.  Shinji thought he'd actually done it on purpose.

     "Are you saying we weren't the best teachers that class ever had?" Megorofeld-chan said as she glowered, marched into the kitchen.

     "THE - WORST - LANGLEY -!" Ranma, the soon-to-be corpse, replied, facing Megorofeld-chan, "I couldn't sleep a wink."

     Belldandy helped Megorofeld-chan up off the floor.

     "All that in three days?!" Megumi seemed incredulous, "And what's all this about kids, sorry, doing all this.  No 14-year-old could know all that stuff."

     "Dreams," Sour Kraut said, divesting herself of Belldandy, "There are other levels of existence humans touch when they dream.  I've been dreaming that way since I was four, I can remember decades of experiences.  Combat, people, tactics and strategies, so it's like I'm about 40 with patchy memories."

     Toji suspected there was more to it.

     "Case in point, Hikari was still held by the spell, so we had to go after her.  Not in the physical world, but in the realms of the mind and soul.  We had Hor- Pilots Saotome and Tendo as our guards, while Spi - Pilot Ikari, Ayanami and Davis, Curly here and me went after her."

     "How did you do that?" Belldandy asked her first real question in a while.

     "Shaman stuff," Toji said, "Amerind, fringed leather jacket with bones and nuts and knots tied in the fringes."

     "Bones and nuts?  A shaman, like a Shinto priest?" Megumi asked.

     "His token - "

     "Totem!" Sour Kraut interrupted Toji, "Totem - animal is a spanner.  And don't ask, it works."

     "Anyway," Toji said as he glanced at Hikari, he looked away embarrassed.  "We appeared . . . somewhere else, all the pilots seemed to step out of the bodies we had there and became, something else.  Raccoon became a winged serpent, Sour Kraut became a knight, Shinji didn't change much, Ayanami-san became an Angel, a real one."

     Sour Kraut helped Belldandy to her feet.

     "An Angel?  A real servant of the Lord?" Belldandy asked desperately, right in Toji's face.

     Maybe she's religious or somethin', Toji thought as he backed away.  "Yeah, white so pure you couldn't look at it," Toji explained, "You really felt kinda scared and unworthy.  What do all those Christmas Angels always say?  'Be not Afraid!' or somethin'.  Well if Ayanami-san showed up like that, she'd definitely have to say that."  Toji paused, considered how far he could go.  "Well, Raccoon and Sour Kraut went one way to attack the spell, while Ayanami-san, Shinji and I went after the Class rep, Hikari-san.  We found her . . . then we retreated across some really weird territory, even through a wall of fire.  Then Ayanami-san told us to run, and we had to.  Lights flashing on and off, somehow I had to outrun Shinji, I had to."

     "Pilots Davis and Langley were locked in a death struggle with the spell the Lliogor had cast.  The battle would have consumed us," Ayanami-san explained.

     "The spell was that powerful, Ayanami-san?" Hikari asked.

     "The pilots are that powerful," Ayanami-san answered.  That put a damper on things for a while.

     "But we got her out," Toji said, "And the guards all acted as if it happened in an instant."

     "It did," Ranma said, "You nodded off, then the fire went out and you all woke up."

     "They're both right," Sour Kraut said, "It did take hours, and it was all over in an instant, that's the nature of dreams."

     "The strong are not necessarily strong in dreams, and the opposite is also true," Ayanami-san added as she put on tea while everyone waited.

     Sammi watched the interaction.  Power, like the cults Ramsey found out about that day, Sammi thought.  The knowledge had been kept from the pilots.  But if those two tapped into it, even unconsciously, we don't know the upper limit of what they could become.

     "After you checked on Hokari Hikari-san, you went home," Sammi said, "You still weren't sure of me Asuka."

     "I'm still not.  Anyone who would put up with Horseface and keep smiling isn't human."  Asuka turned to face her.

     "He seems very nice," Belldandy said with a smile.

     "An ALIEN!" Asuka shrieked, "She can't be human!"  Asuka rushed into the Kitchen and dragged Sora and Megumi away from the stricken girl.  "Have you heard or seen or been around when something weird or inexplicable happened?  Anything?  It may mean the difference between life and death of the entire civilized world!  Don't worry Horseface, you aren't included."

     "She's an Angel," Rei said, staring at the girl, "Of the type 'Friend of Man', a goddess of the First Order."

     Belldandy looked at the shocked faces around her in panic.  Sammi knew the girl was a little strange, but felt sorry for her.

     "We have to get the EVAs!" Shinji exclaimed, in a good Asuka impersonation, one fist on his hip, the other in the air.

     "They will have no effect," Rei said as she advanced step by deliberate step to reach the refrigerator, "We will have to eat her here."  Rei pulled a bottle of ketchup from the fridge.  "Mein Grossfeldmarschall will lead the attack."  Rei removed another jar.  "We have German mustard."

     Erin cracked first, laughing at the elaborate set up.  "They aren't going to kill and eat you, Belldandy.  So much weird stuff happens, there has to be a release," Erin managed between gasps.

     "So that's why you keep putting off the story," Sora realized, clearly glad she wouldn't have to rush to physically defend her friend.  Belldandy still looked anguished, she clearly wasn't used to the rough and tumble humor of the pilots.

     "Tension must be relieved," Rei said, apparently considering pouring some ketchup on Belldandy's hand, then replaced both bottles in the fridge.

     "You had me so scared!" Hikari stammered.

     "Not as scary as Asuka is in the morning," Sammi said, "Such a disposition."

     Asuka stuck out her tongue at Sammi.

     "We even went to the trouble of preparing her favorite breakfast, and she was still a grouch."

     "Until you told me about it!" Asuka protested.

     "The Great Asuka Soryu Langley is supposed to know these things," Sammi replied, "Angles whisper them into her ears at night.  That's why she likes math so much.  Acute angles, obtuse angles don't know anything."  Asuka didn't even bother to glare at her.

     "You have failed," Rei told Belldandy and walked away.  "She refused to help Nabiki-kun plan for a candle-lit dinner with Pilot Saotome."

     "I was scheduled for a sync test," Asuka replied, "What happened to the 'duty is all' you usually spout."

     "You could have prevailed on your friend to reschedule.  It was left to Roku-kun and myself to rescue her.  They will strip you of your knighthood, for failing to rescue a maiden in peril.  For failing to support Romantic Love."

     Asuka glared at Rei who seemed completely unperturbed.

     "Oh woes is me!" Hikari said, "My friend betrayed True Love!"  She ran to Toji and put her head on his shoulder.  There was only one person more confused than Toji and Belldandy.

     "What are you guys talking about?" Ranma stammered, "Nab-chan's nice and all -"

     "Oh, he doesn't know how she pines for him," Asuka said, taking the spotlight back for herself.  "How truly Romantic!"  Asuka swooned theatrically, both Shinji and Sora stepped aside, Rei caught Asuka.

     "I prefer Shinji-kun, although you are very beautiful."  Rei drew Asuka close for a kiss.

     Asuka scrambled to get out of the kitchen and way from Rei.  Sammi noted that Belldandy's gaze rarely left Rei, and Rei seemed as if she was deliberately trying to pick a fight, doing things specifically to irritate Belldandy, although nearly everyone else missed them, or took them as jokes.  Something to look into, Sammi mentally added to her already long list.

     "Now we can start telling you about the actual contest," Sammi said.  At the morning meeting that day, they thought the kids were calming down, not realizing it was the calm before the storm, or that the storm was carefully planned.

     "Pilots Davis and Langley had a confrontation over the quality of Pilot Davis's cooking," Rei said as she added the tea bags to the boiling water, Belldandy didn't correct her.

     "They solved it by challenging each other to a contest with the NERV staff as judges," Toji added, "Scared the rest of us, we thought there was going to be a fight."

     "Pilots Saotome and Tendo could have restrained them," Rei replied.

     "You're leaving out that you agreed to be the adjudicator," Asuka pointed out.

     "It was not a central theme," Rei replied, "Initially."

     "The heck it wasn't," Ranma argued, "You looked like you were going to faint when he asked, and again when Asuka agreed."

     "Then the rules," Hikari said, "Each Pilot picked two assistants, then the opponent picked the third assistant."  Hikari snickered.  "Both Ranma-san and Toji-san were chosen."

     "As the third," Asuka interpreted.

     "You believed you were doomed," Rei said, "You had not realized Roku-kun had another motive."  She opened the cabinet with the tea cups and saucers, and pointed at Toji.

     "Oh yes I did, when we went to Misato's to determine the ingredients, he practicality admitted it," Asuka replied, turned away.

     Sammi knew how broken up Asuka had been when she returned to the apartment, and how Jeff comforted her.  Then they had gone to the roof to practice fighting, she'd known that Rei and Ranma had watched Asuka and Jeff for some time.  Asuka had been laughing when they returned to wash up and go to bed.

     "The next day, they were in Asuka's room, thick as thieves, working on some project.  Better you ask, I didn't understand half of what they were saying.  So I don't know," Sammi told them, she did know it had something to do with AT fields and Asuka was blushing at the mere mention of it, and at Sammi being enthused about their cooperation.

     "I remember the next day," Hikari began, as she helped pass out the tea cups and saucers, "That sinkhole that opened up.  The Lliogor riddled the campus with holes."  She shuddered.  "One tried to swallow a girl.  Ranma's sister Ranko caught her, but couldn't pull her back out.  So Raccoon unwound the handgrip of his cane as a rope and the rest of us pulled on it to lower Ayanami-san to try to pick up the pair.  We couldn't lift high enough, so Tendo-san sent Raccoon across the field to help, while all the people holding the rope dragged them out sideways.  It was like a tug-of-war, except we were moving up-and-down, then side-to-side to rescue her.  Once she was safe, Kraznyzamok-san ordered everyone off the grounds."  Hikari shook her head, trying to forget the girl's scream.  As bad as the Lliogor attack had been, it was worse thinking the things had suddenly returned.  "The school was closed that day."

     "The campus was to be their forward base," Ayanami-san added, "Also Ibuki Maya agreed to participate in the contest and the location was set at the NERV banquet kitchens."

     Hikari was glad Ayanami-san had broken the dark mood, but she thought Ayanami-san was leaving something out.  She wasn't sure what it was.  It's a NERV secret, she thought.

     Ranma considered the rest of that week, More testing, then on the 4th, Raccoon showing Ranko the shapechanging powers that I'd taken from Nyogtha.  He was still nervous about how happy `Ranko` was about spending time with Raccoon.  Ranko went from enjoying spending time with Raccoon to passing out because I am a monster, then I nearly squeezed the life out of Rit-chan when I realized I was loved, despite being a monster, Ranma remembered, Then I hugged Raccoon while he and Rit-chan explained about the powers the pilots were developing, and that Raccoon actually went looking for them.

     It's embarrassing, Ranma thought, Acting like that, worse, they never made a big deal out of it.

     And how shocked Ranko was when Raccoon told her that Rit-chan thought she was a monster herself Ranma thought, And I denied it.

     "As for weird, dreams, on the 5th I got turned into a mini-Unit 04 and had to fight a dragon, a big, nasty, scary dragon.  I lost.  A bunch of times."

     "Did it . . . eat you?" Megumi asked and gulped.

     "No, it would have been too merciful, it just humiliated me for a few hours."  He accepted the tea pot from Rei, who followed him out of the kitchen with a tray of sugar and milk.

     "Good training though," Asuka said neutrally, letting him pour.

     "Getting humiliated?" Ranma asked sarcastically as he poured for the others, "Yeah, great training.  Better than the Search and Rescue training Raccoon and Nab-chan were going through.  All that time in the water, cold water, deep.  The range-of-motion tests are better.  How far can you bend on your own, how far can you bend without screaming in pain."

     Ranma stopped, considered, a glance to Sammi, who nodded, told him he could tell the rest.  "They graduated the next day, June 6th, I don't know if Rit-chan was the most nervous, or somebody else I won't mention."

     "I was jealous, not nervous, after all, deep diving is a useful skill," Asuka protested.

     "How deep?" Megumi asked as she accepted the tea.

     "About 100 meters," Ranma said, "I think, I never figured out meters to feet, but the tank is taller than this building."

     The girl paled.  "You could die from that."

     "Yep," Ranma agreed.

No Such Thing As A Free Lunch

     That is not all they nearly died of, Rei thought as she poured milk and spooned sugar for the others, Healing your injuries from the escape into your dream dojo also severely injured Raccoon.  Rei had located the Scholarly Dragon supervising the recovery process, then she'd found all the Reis waiting in her dreamscape to add their strength to the healing.  I had never realized `we` were so powerful working in concert, she thought, Why are the other pilots so endlessly fascinating, but each other could be disregarded? she wondered.

     "The actual contest was June 7th.  Roku-kun had already revealed that cooking for many isn't like cooking for a few."

     "We know that, right Belldandy, Sora?" Megumi asked and got answering nods.

     "Pilot Saotome's speed was one advantage for Roku-kun, better understanding of time management was the other."  Rei and the Fourth returned to the kitchen to make more tea.

     "What she's trying to say is while I was running around trying to get things done, he had a schedule he was calmly following.  Experience and preparation rather than superior, natural talent.  Even a yellow alert which cost him Maya didn't derail him, he smoothly redirected the effort and kept going," Mein Grossfeldmarschall said.

     "The contest was the day that giant spider attacked?" Megumi asked.

     "The hour of the spider," Rei answered.

     "I hate spiders," Sora said, shivered, gulped her tea.

     "One as large as an EVA is frightening," Rei agreed.

     "So all the regular pilots went racing for our EVAs while Raccoon and his team stayed behind," Mein Grossfeldmarschall complained.

     "His `team` was only Natsumi Matsuda," Shinji-kun pointed out.

     "He came over and got me and Hikari better organized," Toji noted, "He didn't actually threaten us."

     "He was very polite," Hikari agreed went to help Rei make the tea.

     "He just kept making reasonable suggestions . . . and smiling.  You'd do anything so he'd quit smiling at you," Toji said.

     Mein Grossfeldmarschall was glaring at the floor.  "Did he suggest any changes to my recipe?" Mein Grossfeldmarschall asked.

     "Only - the order we did things," Hikari said and began examining the floor.

     "Doesn't anyone want to hear how we killed the spider?" the Fourth asked.

     "No," Rei told him as she began heating the water, "The fight was trivial," she amplified.  She noted the Fourth's disappointment, that too was trivial.  "Pilot Langley did believe she had utterly failed due to the Angel," Rei said.

     "Nothing we said could make her feel better," Shinji-kun added.

     "I did note the ease she felt with Roku-kun during decontamination," Rei said, stared at Mein Grossfeldmarschall, who was squirming.

     "We're old friends."

     "You are more," Rei corrected Mein Grossfeldmarschall.  She watched for the other girl's reaction, and was amazed that she retreated rather than counterattacked.  "Her `old friend` would not allow her to fail utterly," Rei explained while Hikari dug out a second, larger kettle.

     "Yeah, all that complaining, and she won," the Fourth said.

     "He threw the contest, Horseface!" Mein Grossfeldmarschall shouted angrily, "He made sure I'd won, and only our teams would know."

     "Why would he set the whole thing up, only to intentionally lose?" the Fourth asked, clearly not understanding.

     "Because the contest was one of humanity," Rei said.  Neither the Fourth nor Belldandy understood.

     "He wanted everyone to have some fun," Yumiwashi said brightly, "Some entertainment, and to get people together."  She stared at Toji and Hikari, who looked away.

     "He won what he was after," Rei said.

     Hikari prevented her from putting the tea bags in the boiling water, pouring the water on the bags in a separate pot.  "Like that," she suggested.

     "It was all an excuse to have a party after all the bad things," Megumi said as she put it together, "I thought you said he was evil?"

     "I don't understand why you didn't tell the others," Mein Grossfeldmarschall accused Hikari.

     "He said he'd make my sister into soup if I did," Toji admitted, "You know, I believe him."

     "He told me all my daughters would act like Ranma."  Hikari covered her face at the horror of the threat.  "Such a terrible fate for poor innocent girls."

     "But why not be honest?" Belldandy asked.

     "A battle joined is not a party," Rei told her, without illuminating her at all.

     "Say Wondergirl, why didn't you say something," Mein Grossfeldmarschall accused, "You can't lie."

     "He bribed me," Rei said and thoroughly enjoyed the shocked look on Mein Grossfeldmarschall and Belldandy's faces, "Delicious noodles."

     "You lied for noodles?"

     "Delicious noodles," Rei reminded Mein Grossfeldmarschall, "He asked me to consider I did not understand what was happening.  On July 15th I under - I fully understood, and felt silence served better."  She watched Mein Grossfeldmarschall back away.

     "So things quieted down after that?" Yumiwashi asked.

     "Not hardly," Shinji-kun said.  Rei watched as each pilot recalled Hiroko discovery of the Fourth's transformation.

     Erin remembered that Ramsey had met with all the cult leaders the following morning, and they had warned him about a possible threat to Units 05-09, that warning resulted in a security upgrade.

     "We worked on school stuff the next day," Toji said, now he was helping Rei serve the tea, "Hiroko was with us, and Kensuke."

     "Hiroko is one of your classmates?"

     "Was," Rei said.

     Sora looked away, bowed.  "I didn't realize."

     "Wondergirl was going to eat her, with enough ketchup," Asuka said.

     "We needed a psychiatrist more," Rei said.

     "She wanted to study psychology," Asuka explained, accepting a refill.

     "Why?" Megumi asked.

     "Why do you want to study automotive engineering?" Asuka asked pointedly, "Without a major change, you aren't going to Detroit to work.  It may be a decade before Europe is working again, compared to those two, Japan's car industry may never amount to much.  Everyone has impossible dreams.  Even your brother's girlfriend.  Without your parents' approval, she'll never marry him.  Has she even met your parents?"

     Megumi shook her head.  Belldandy looked stricken, refused tea.

     "See, impossible," Asuka said, "But that doesn't mean you give up."  That seemed to calm the other girls down.

     "You just have to be persistent, a way will present itself," Asuka added, "If you are prepared for it, victory will result."

     Like us finally getting some answers from Raccoon, Ranma thought, After 36 hours simulated locked in an entry plug filled with jet noise, and a massage from Ranko and Nab-chan, he told us a lot.  Especially why Raccoon hated Ranma: for Ranma's treatment of Ranko.  Ranma considered the exchange with some amazement, that normally subtle Nab-chan had nearly messed it up.  Ranko made him promise not to hurt Ranma, as a favor to her, Ranma thought, Weird.

     They had discussed the Scholarly Dragon and SEELE.  And most important, he thought, That other humans are the real enemy.  And the monsters didn't even care about humans as individuals or as a species.

     "After all, on the 9th the sonic glaives, a weapon I helped design, arrived," Asuka told them, "A German girl designing weapons for the United States Navy."

     "Sometimes plans don't work out," Ranma countered.  Like my plan to reveal the change to Raccoon, except Raccoon lost his glasses and couldn't see, Ranma thought, Should I mention the poker game and Rei asking about how to cheat at poker?  His ankle began to hurt in anticipation, so he kept quiet.  "We did study psychology and mathematics," he offered, and watched both Hikari and Toji nearly choke and drop the tea.

     Ranma thought Rei was again frightened by having so many people over, as much as she enjoyed it.  Weird, he thought, Almost as weird as Nab-chan and Hiroko after everyone else went home and Raccoon started the English drills with Ranko.  How easy he made it, after all the failed effort Rit-chan and Nab-chan took.  I really don't know why Nab-chan screamed 'I am not jealous!'  Why would Raccoon being a better teacher make her jealous? Ranma wondered, Of course Nab-chan dousing me with boiling oil wasn't fun, but it did get Raccoon to admit he knew about the transformation and the `curse` was attracting water, and that part he'd neutralized.  And he still insisted Ranko and Ranma were different people.  Really weird, but I guess he has a point, at least he treats them . . . us . . . me differently.  It's also nice having a private joke nobody else gets.  Teasing Nab-chan that night about the scalding was pretty fun.

     "Sometimes you have to know what you want," Ranma said, remembering Rit-chan's talk about why Nab-chan acted the way she did, that she wants Ranma but feels she doesn't deserve him.

     "Thank you Horseface for making absolutely no sense," Asuka said, "At least you aren't being insulting, I think."

     "So assassination attempts are common?" Yumiwashi asked.

     "The pilots are the first line of defense," Asuka explained, then changed the subject, "The day we tested the sonic glaives - "

     "The day I beat you with your own invention?" Horseface asked.  Unfortunately her tea cup was empty.

     "I liked you better incoherent, on June 11th we all had a rough time.  The attackers this time were people who could be tigers or people or something in-between."  Asuka noted Horseface's shiver.

     "Gunfire proved effective," Wondergirl assured the others, "Special arms."

     "Oh," Megumi said, "Special NERV weapons?"

     "In a manner of speaking," Erin said, "Standard ammo in a BAR had little effect, special pistols with ammo took only two shots to kill them."

     Asuka nodded, she still wondered about the strange phone call that sent her charging to the defense of Wondergirl and the gunfight she, Wondergirl and Erin engaged in.  With Wondergirl somehow keeping track of Raccoon and Horseface's battle across town, Asuka remembered, How she did that . . . I wish I knew.

     She glanced at Horseface again, he was still shaken up by the events that day.  "Considering his attackers, and his and Raccoon's `rescuer," Asuka said under her breath, "I wouldn't expect otherwise."  She'd heard the rumors of a giant saber-toothed tiger who carried both boys to temporary safety on the roof, then disappeared without a trace.  The phone call worried her even more, Mysterious strangers, allies or enemies or worse? she wondered, As bad as Misato's dreams of self-torture.  What a sick bunch we're stuck with.

     "There is no truth to that rumor," Sammi said.

     Asuka wondered what she'd missed.

     "I did help Dr. Akagi kill that tiger, although the part about her ripping its spine out with her bare hands . . . well, that's a caring mother for you."

     Asuka wondered who was paler, Wondergirl naturally, or the other girls who'd heard that story for the first time.

     "B - b- bu - bu - but nothing human could tear a tiger apart with its bare hands!" Megumi insisted, glanced at Little Miss Happy.

     "An angry mother could, I watched her," Sammi said, as she finished her tea, "Tomiyo smeared one all over the concrete with a regular shotgun, and it kept moving, although not very well.  A helicopter with a machinegun loaded with special ammo finished off the creatures," Sammi concluded.

     "Could we be attacked here?" Mouse squeaked, looking around desperately.

     "You could be attacked anywhere," Tomiyo said, "But the people most able to defend you are assembled in this room.  A direct attack would be suicide."

     Yes, that settled the girl, Asuka thought, She's smart enough to know if somebody knocked the whole building down where she'd be: mixed in with the rubble.  We weren't so sure we were safe, I barricaded the door, had another pistol loaded and ready and jumped at every sound.  Wondergirl camped on top of Spineless's roof at Ritsuko's apartment, Raccoon and Sammi killed one outside our door and called in an airstrike on the remainder, then Raccoon had to shoot the corpses in the head, but that's just Raccoon.

     "Of course before we went home, Spineless, I'm sorry, Pilot Ikari, actually confronted his father and Admiral Simson, about returning to the job of looking after our Glorious Leader," Asuka said.  Although it took Wondergirl and me backing him up before he did it rather than turn and run.  Asuka chuckled at that and glanced at Spineless, who'd moved to Wondergirl's side, she handed him a tea cup and they exchanged a glance.  Robot Love, how touching, Asuka thought disgustedly.

     Ranma shivered again at the memory of the 11th and 12th.  The attackers had been bad enough.  The talk with Raccoon about what happened, about Ranma/Ranko and the cat all fighting for dominance until Raccoon went down, then collapsing on the roof after Ranko licked his hands and face clean of blood . . . .  He'd wanted to talk, but Raccoon was too worried about being alone with Ranma, more than Raccoon had been about the ti - attackers.

     I nearly lost it when he suggested that Ranko likes Rei.  That would make anyone faint, Ranma thought defensively.  Although only he and Raccoon knew about the incident.  Then Raccoon explained Ranko liked being around other people, Ranma thought as he glanced around the mainly female group and how most of them were interacting, Except Rei and Belldandy, I've seen people fight who weren't as hostile as those two.

     Ranma denied any crush on Rei, and accidentally admitted Ranko's crush on Nab-chan and Raccoon.  Then Raccoon had explained that Ranma hadn't moved forward because he didn't trust Ranko or the neko, that he needed to find a new balance, that Ranma was acting appropriate to the people of Raccoon's dream, not the current reality.  Nobody's trying to possess RANMA to beat anyone else, they look at me, Ranma thought, glanced around again, Like or hate me, they look at the person.  Ranma openly looked around, examining each person.  Sammi was his guard, but also his friend.  Shinji was neutral, but backed him up in the EVA.  Rei hated him, but had sacrificed to protect him.  Asuka had ordered him to `attend`, and he had.  Maybe I do prefer to be ordered around, that I am scared of taking control of my life, being completely responsible for everything, good and bad, that happens.  It's easier to let someone else have that responsibility, he thought, But it's hardly the attitude of a martial artist, we're supposed to be in control of ourselves.  He also remembered Asuka's comment that she'd follow orders that made sense when she didn't have a better plan, he glanced at her.  But did any martial artist ever run into anyone like her? he asked himself, But if Raccoon could control minds, why doesn't he chose for us, instead of laying out the choices and the realistic consequences, including those of not making a choice, and let the others decide, Ranma thought, still frightened of the limitless possibilities available to him.

     "Yeah," Ranma told Sora, "It's a pilot's job to rescue people."

     Sometimes from themselves, he didn't add aloud.  He remembered finally putting together what he'd done as a tiger, and getting violently sick, Nab-chan had tried to help.

I Have Eaten Your Bread And Salt

     Shinji took Rei's hand, she smiled shyly and released his quickly, as if one of the others would catch them.

     "Sometimes you really have to know what you want to do," Shinji said, after the attack Ranma had asked him what he wanted.  He still thought he had what he wanted, why should he worry much about a future that might never come.  We could be dead tomorrow, he thought, then smiled at Rei again, she'd stayed atop the apartment until the morning of the 12th, guarding him, and the others.  She mentioned she'd gotten the blanket he'd found her wrapped in, from Raccoon, when he, Sammi and Hiroko had arrived.

     "Safe isn't always safe," Shinji said, "Hiroko tried to help, the look after us . . . "  He couldn't finish.

     "She was Nabiki-kun's friend and assistant," Rei took up the story, "She even asked to be one with us."

     "A pilot," Megorofeld-chan amended, "And you tried to talk her out of it."

     "I did," Rei replied, "Pilots are for killing and dying."  She looked straight at Belldandy.  "A truly merciful Heaven would have found another way."

     Shinji wondered why Belldandy blanched and turned away, almost like she was embarrassed.  He thought about how embarrassed Tendo-san and Hiroko-san had been when Ranma had suggested they practice together, and with them laughing at everything.  The whole practice degenerated, until Rei-chan and Akagi-sensei used Sammi and Tomiyo-san as an example of 'Rei-fu', pick up your enemy and throw them at other enemies.  It had felt good to just laugh at everyone, except Ranma, being silly.  Later Sammi took Ranma aside to talk with him while he'd told Akagi-sensei that he was moving back to Misato-san's.  Akagi-sensei wailed in distress, and even Rei-chan continued the joke, the ketchup joke came up again.  Rei-chan said something to Akagi-sensei and Hiroko-san before she went to his room to help pack.

     Rei had conversed with Hiroko-san on the rooftop, she had been ineffective, she had enlisted Akagi-sensei to convince Hiroko-san she did not want to be a pilot.  Then she found she could not assist with the packing, the memories attached to whatever she handled intruded.  Whatever she touched, she remembered good and bad things that included her, Shinji-kun and the item.  It had embarrassed and frustrated her that she couldn't put such thoughts aside as she normally could.  She could not continue, so she escorted the Fourth into the bathroom to remind him his job was to survive, fight, and if he had the means to ensure the others do as well, he should employ or distribute them.  She was furious each time he seemed to put his honor above his life and the lives of the other pilots.

     He has no right to sentence the world to death to avoid personal discomfort, she thought angrily, feeling the riptide of anger over the Fourth's arrogance.  The Commander's plan was to enable the survival of the human race, what would matter the deaths of a few volunteers?  If he wishes honor, death in the Last Battle would provide it in vast amounts, she thought.

     "Did you like the job we did?" Mein Grossfeldmarschall asked, "At your apartment?"

     "Yes, thank you," Rei said.

     "Clean up after the battle," Mein Grossfeldmarschall explained, "We had to take off some of the concrete to get all the stains up."

     "Stains?" Sora asked, "Not blood - "

     Mein Grossfeldmarschall simply nodded.

     "What did you use?" Megumi asked.

     "Something Raccoon mixed up.  It stank, even with a gas mask you could still smell it.  I nearly passed out."  Mein Grossfeldmarschall shook her head.

     "Mathematics did the same," Rei commented.  The pilots laughed, remembering the `lampshades` that were the 3-D representations of the AT field mathematics.

     "Hey!  I didn't - "

     "You did," Rei interrupted the Fourth, he still irritated her.  "You overexerted and lost consciousness."

     "I'm surprised Curly hasn't thought himself into a coma," Mein Grossfeldmarschall joked, "I guess I shouldn't have pushed, it's a muscle he so seldom uses, except to break boards with his head."

     "That would have been useful with the loading and unloading," Shinji-kun said, "I moved back to Misato-san's that day."

     "He's a finally tuned fighting machine," Toji-san said, "You can't expect a perfect weapon to stoop to moving furniture like a mere mortal."

     "I did," Rei replied.

     "But you're designed for work too," Mein Grossfeldmarschall said, "He's just designed to fight and look pretty."

     "None would accuse me of that," Rei said, caught her fellow pilot, "Do not hate me because I am beautiful, find a better reason."

     "Anyway," Mein Grossfeldmarschall said as she disentangled herself and retreated, "She was hauling boxes and furniture around like they weighed nothing, that's why we call her Wondergirl."

     "You call me Wondergirl as an insult, Mein Grossfeldmarschall," Rei said, "As you call Spineless, Horseface, Ice Princess, Raccoon and Curly.  Are you jealous of his beauty?"  Rei leaned close to Mein Grossfeldmarschall, as she did when confronting others.

     "Hey wait a minute!" the Fourth protested.

     Sora blushed.

     "He's not as pretty as Shinji!" Megumi insisted.  Shinji-kun blushed, his hand found hers.  "They're so KAwwaaaiii!" Megumi insisted, causing both to blush.

     "More like Siberia, frozen and boring," Mein Grossfeldmarschall said in low but disgusted tones as she turned her back on them.

     "Asuka-chan," Hikari seemed confused, she leaned close, "Are you jealous?"

     "Of the robots of NERV!  Don't be ridiculous!"

     "Yeah, she's jealous of Ranko and Raccoon," Toji said, then glanced around as everyone fell silent.  "It was - you know, just a thought."  He covered his head with his arms.

     "That's just frightening, for all kinds of reasons," Hikari said.

     "Hey!" Ranma protested, not able to put any protests in words, not one that would reveal his real relationship with Ranko.  He frowned at the others.

     "Yes," Sammi came to his defense, as was her job, "Don't pick on the girl who isn't here."

     "Thanks," Ranma said, gratefully.  Then he half-expected her to say 'Pick on people who are here.'  She didn't, for which he was also grateful.

     "Look, those two get mushy enough it bothers me, sneaking off to NERV in the middle of the night to `work` on something.  I can guess what they were really doing," Asuka complained with a sour expression.

     "If they are in love . . . " Belldandy began, "You object?" she asked the pilots, who had been trying to figure out why Ranko had been doing it, and couldn't simply demand clarification while the others were here.  Asuka was clearly uncomfortable with the entire idea of Ranko and Raccoon having a relationship. Almost as uneasy as I am, Ranma thought.

     He had been . . . she, Ranko had been with Raccoon that night at NERV, Ranma had dreams of a dancing flame, and had asked if there was a way to turn math into movement.  Raccoon knew of one in the Magi, he set it up for Ranko while he was digging through the machine for other stuff.  Ranko even learned how the Magi's sensing system worked, and looked in at the `party` Misa-chan was having, and Misa-chan losing badly at Strip Poker.

     I bet that went well, Ranma thought, Everything on our end was going well until the Magi shut down, and Gendo caught us as we were leaving. He finally managed to quit shivering.

     "You haven't seen some of the weird stuff I've seen," Asuka said, "If you think that's weird: A Roman banquet hall with all the debauchery from some of the movies about it.  Someone trapped in a central pillar, watching and crying that they aren't part of it, they get kicked out of that pillar and a huge food fight ensues."

     "Asuka," Hikari said, looked at her strangely, "You're right that is weird."  She patted Asuka's head.  "You should be more careful of what you eat before bed," she said sympathetically.

     Asuka stumbled through a denial but wound up just fuming, Hikari still looking sympathetic patting her head.

     "If you want really scary," Erin suggested, "A meeting with Ikari Gendo takes the top prize."  Erin steepled her fingers and stared at the Tokyo U. group, most shuddered under her gaze.

     "That is not correct," Rei said, "May I?"  She pointed at Sora's glasses.  Once she had them, she sat at the table, adjusted the glasses and just stared at everyone.  No one could meet that gaze, Not Ranma, Shinji, Sammi, Asuka, no one.

     "Thank you," Rei said as she returned Sora's glasses.

     Ranma shook himself free of the spell, and thought of the real meeting on June 13th.  The discussions about the AT field, mathematical manipulation and generating it without an EVA.  I thought Gendo was going to have hysterics or a screaming fit.  It's only amusing once you survived it, after that it was kind of funny, Ranma thought.

     "Well, if you're talking about meetings," Toji said, "Hiroko and the 'eyes and ears.' - "

     "Ice Princess's and Raccoon's spy network," Asuka told the others.

     "They'd been tracking guys takin' pictures of the city," he said, he glanced around nervously, "Stuff that would burn or blow up."

     "You knew it would happen?" Asuka stood and shouted at him over the breakfast bar, "You knew and didn't tell us?!"

     Toji backed up deeper into the kitchen.  Hikari moved to intercept Asuka and keep her out of the kitchen.  "We told the Navy, Hiroko went specifically to tell Admiral Simson," Toji said defensively, "We figured he'd tell you."

     "Well, he didn't," Asuka replied angrily, letting Hikari lead her away and sit her back down.

     "That's not my fault," Toji said.

     "It is no one's fault," Rei said firmly.

     "People do what they think best," Ranma said, pacing the kitchen, he'd had an argument with Nab-chan, and Raccoon, about making choices for his life, about denying him what he needed to know. Both left rather than continue to fight with me about it.  I thought they were too afraid to fight with me, he thought, Now I realize they didn't want to really hurt me.  He had been extremely shaken by the events Raccoon described, and how 'right' they sounded.

     "That wasn't the worst of it," Ranma said, "That happened June 15, 1947."

Pride That Licks The Dust

     "The battle against Cthugha," Rei began as she poured a small amount of flour on the breakfast bar counter and drew a map of Tokyo, "At 0253 the alert came in, NERV Headquarters."  She noted the spot.  "The EVAs launched at 0320, Units 02 and 04 raced ahead to engage the Great Old One."  She drew their route.  The others drew close to see the details.

     "Units 00 and 01 were drawn to large numbers of the servitor race, Flame Vampires.  Three targets, all inflammable to explosive materials storage."  Rei noted the position of the targets.  "Cultists attacked additional targets."  Rei indicated those.  "All of those targets were intended to allow them to incinerate some portion of the city, perhaps all of it."

     She paused to examine the faces around her.  Only Mein Grossfeldmarschall and the Fourth had fully analyzed the battle independently.  The others were horrified, Appropriately, considering, Rei thought before continuing.

     "Cthugha interception at the Ara River, the ships Star of Bremen, Penelope Smith, Randolph Martens were fully aflame and sunk due to proximity of Cthugha.  Fourteen other ships suffered minor to serious fires that did not sink them.  Action at Ara River destroyed Cthugha, the corpse fell here, where it entered shelter PH37-KISK-AF, one of five in this hill.  The corpse detonated, killing all within and injuring those in two adjacent shelters.  Units 02 and 04 were called to reinforce Units 00 and 01 at this paint factory, then were moved to prevent Fire Vampires from reaching this aviation gasoline storage or this oil field.  They were successful.  The surviving Flame Vampires fled Earth.  The EVAs were recalled, time 0329."

     "A nine minute battle?" Megumi breathed, almost too quiet to hear.

     "NERV Search and Rescue, including Pilots Davis and Tendo moved to shelter PH37-KISK-AF, now redesignated Charlie, they commenced rescue operations in Baker and Dog, the adjacent shelters.  An explosion in Able redeployed teams to deal with the aftermath.  A secondary fire flared in Dog, incinerating many, nearly trapping the rescue teams.  They were able to escape through a narrow corridor where the flames did not catch.  Coordinated efforts from above and below put the fire out and allowed the rescue to continue.  Easy remained an accurate designation, few injuries, no special problems."

     Rei noted the comprehension on the faces of the pilots and guards, an AT field prevented the flames from advancing, only she and Raccoon could deploy a field without an EVA.  "While the pilots of EVA Units 00, 01, 02, and 04 were debriefed and tested, NERV SAR was transferred to a hospital here, that was treating casualties.  While this was occurring, fighting between members of the U.S. Military, Tokyo Police and NERV forces against the cultists continued.  Armor and air strikes were of limited value due to the proximity of dangerous and/or inflammable materials.  Casualties were extremely heavy.  Much of the fighting was hand-to-hand."

     Rei steeled herself for the next.  Many considered her emotionless, because she didn't show them.  Truthfully, she didn't know how to appropriately express them, her emotions ran away at times.  Now she seemed calm because a monotonic delivery of the facts was all she could manage out of the maelstrom of pain and sorrow she felt.

     "During the afternoon, while assisting with triage: separation of the salvageable from the dead and soon to be, Pilot Tendo encountered the corpse of her friend, Ayami Hiroko."  Rei paused, all of them, even those who know what to expect, gasped in horror.

     Rei didn't want to continue, even now the pain threatened to overwhelm her.  Sora was taking solace from Belldandy.  Both Mein Grossfeldmarschall and the Fourth were horrified.  Hikari-san and Suzuhara-san were turning to each other, enclosing Yumiwashi in their circle.  Rei let the moment pass, there was more she could describe, more she had found out about the filth, the smells, the screams of the wounded, the stoicism of the dying, the condition of the dead.  None of that mattered now.

     "At 0307 on the 16th, NERV SAR, including Pilots Tendo and Davis stood down.  Most of NERV SAR returned to base, the pilots were returned to Akagi-sensei's apartment."  Rei left out the lack of disciplinary action for the failures, of both the pilots and the senior staff.  Rei decided not to mention the final casualty count, which stood at nearly 10,000 dead and missing, presumed lost, nor the 3500+ cultists killed in nearly suicidal attacks on military positions.  Such facts were now of no relevance to her narrative.

     "For their actions that day, NERV SAR received many commendations, the highest signed by General Douglas MacArthur and the Emperor himself, for heroism and valor in the face of the enemy and great personal danger," Rei concluded.  She still felt angry that none of the EVAs had been released to assist in combat or rescue operations, that the critique had to be done by the pilots themselves, that neither Nabiki-kun nor Roku-kun had been told about the commendations awarded them for their actions.  The lecture about greater and lesser goods and evils by Commander Ikari and being more selective about whose rules to obey and whose confidences to break was not germane to the current discussion, although they did cause her to ignore the customs that otherwise would have prevented her from burglarizing the Ayami apartment.  Nabiki-kun's survival and recovery were more important than the sanctity of a dead family's apartment.  She didn't regret following the Commander's orders after the return to base, however much she might still wish he hadn't issued them.

     Ranma stood and listened to Rei's lecture on what actually happened that day. He didn't react, he only felt empty about the events, the simple assumption he'd done right, then wrong, then assurances he'd done far better than could be expected left him numb and confused.  Charging into Rit-chan's kitchen at lunch time to confront Raccoon and Nab-chan on the 16th, that he could solidly put down as a mistake.  You were so proud of yourself, you didn't bother to read the signals that should have been screaming at you.  Some martial artist, he thought, Then I was so ashamed.  I should have realized how they were really reacting to my boasting, but I was so blinded by what I had accomplished, I assumed they'd appreciate it.  We'd all worked so hard on it.

     Instead I insulted them and rubbed salt in their wounds.  Nab-chan ran away to her room, then into herself, and Raccoon told me part of what happened, and then to get lost, Ranma thought guiltily, All my skill at reading people's moves in a fight, and I couldn't do it once when it really mattered.  He'd been grateful Rei had discussed that he and Asuka had screwed up, he was glad now that she'd sent him to Sakura Street, as a punishment.

     "Sakura Street . . . " Hikari began, "Was that the principal morgue for the . . . dead."

     "No," Rei replied.

     "You knew Hiroko had . . . died?" Hikari asked.

     "Yes," Rei replied, "And our other classmates."

     "The shelter was for an apartment where a lot of our classmates lived with their families," Shinji said.

     The pauses between sentences had gotten longer.  The flour map looked too tiny to him, to contain the disaster.  A few square kilometers that changed things for all the pilots so much.

     "The Ayami family was completely wiped out, no one to pay for a funeral or visit the graves," Toji said, primarily to Yumiwashi.

     Ranma hadn't considered that Toji and his sister might have known Hiroko for a long time, Rei had known her for years.

     I lost Kenta and Seisuke that day, Ranma thought, I never asked if they died in the initial attack or that fire Rei mentioned, I'd never heard about that, but Raccoon wouldn't `burden` others if he was on fire, 'it just isn't done.'  "Jerk," Ranma mumbled under his breath, and knew Ranko would have far harsher words, and the guts to say them to his face.

     I'd never seen Rei so mad, but at the time, I was glad it wasn't me she was mad at.  Now, I wish she had kicked me around instead of standing there not condemning me, he thought.

     "I - I confronted Admiral Simson about not telling us about Raccoon and Ice Princess, about not sending the EVAs in to help - "Asuka said, "Fortunately it was in German so they didn't understand.  The English translation contained all the important points, but had been tempered.  I also insisted on getting a rundown of the battle, it was roughly the one Wondergirl gave you, in all its horror, which she didn't give you.  As cultists of a 'god' of fire, I'll let you figure out their weapon of choice."

     Ranma blanched along with all the others, he hated burns.  He'd gotten ones that faded, but he remembered Raccoon talking about pulling burnt clothes off of flesh, he shuddered at the reminder.

     "I can understand why they kept it from us," Shinji said, "Pilot Davis and especially Pilot Tendo were . . . hurt by what they saw and did . . . what they lost.  We looked after Pilot Tendo for a few days.  Rei-chan and me - looked after her."

     "The problem is there was no enemy to hit to fix things," Ranma summarized Rei's statement at the time.

     Shinji nodded, he'd also learned that the remains and memories, and powers of the things they killed bubble up, he still wasn't happy about that.

     "No," Rei said, "The chosen target is - " she said then she touched herself, "Roku-kun sought to hunt down and kill the leaders of the cult who had escaped, it required physical restraint to dissuade him."

     She said she'd had to take Raccoon to Megorofeld-chan to put to bed, Shinji thought, She hadn't mentioned she'd had to fight him first.

     "You attacked a fellow pilot?" Megumi asked incredulously.

     "I," Rei supplied, "Was gentle, but firm."  She smiled, held it long enough for Megumi to see it.

     "Pilots are so stubborn, they're crazy," Toji added and cringed when Megorofeld-chan opened her mouth to speak, and smiled instead, which worried Toji and Shinji a lot more.  The alarm on the oven made everyone jump.  Toji removed the trays from the oven.

     "He's oversimplifying things.  But determination in the face of overwhelming odds is necessary, or we'd collapse," Megorofeld-chan said, "You've read how hideous the creatures are, well, they are hideous, body, soul, and mind.  Why God lets them exist, I don't know."  She shrugged.

     Shinji noted Belldandy's start at Megorofeld-chan's statement.  Shinji couldn't understand that, he'd discussed religion with Raccoon and Megorofeld-chan, and their `loving God` was a Christian concept, the gods in Shinto just made sure things working in harmony.  If you got caught between the grindstones of the Celestial Bureaucracy, it wasn't your fault.  Except we're always getting caught and catching others between the EVAs and our enemies, Shinji thought.  He hadn't heard the 10,000 dead, but he had heard dozens to hundreds hurt or lost in almost every mission.  This one brought it home, it also steeled the pilots' determination that next time it would be different, they wouldn't just kill the bad guy and dash off home.  We'll stay and help clean up the - our mess, he thought steadfastly.

     "You went to visit her every day?" Belldandy asked.

     "We went to heal her," Rei said with more anger on her face and in her voice than he had ever seen.  Everyone noticed this time, and everyone drew back.  "Every day," Rei concluded.

     "I'm sure Belldandy-san didn't mean anything by it," Sora said.

     And no apology, Shinji thought, Even Ranma would apologize after insulting someone like that, even if he didn't understand what he'd done.

     "She meant it," Rei replied, again her quiet self.  Everyone relaxed at Rei's return to `normal`, Shinji stepped beside her, to let her know he was there, she leaned into him slightly.

     "We went," Shinji said.  And on the 18th Misato teased me about my `harem`, Shinji thought them smiled, She didn't like me saying we'd help her next.  She'd grumbled and quit teasing him about that.

     The real trouble was the dreams, that was Rei-chan's suggestion.  Let Tendo-san rest by preventing her dreams from attacking her.  I have to wonder what was Megorofeld-chan's reaction to getting a call from Rei-chan, 'There is a window of vulnerability.  Good rest is needed for healing.'  Rei-chan probably used the same words for all three of us.  He still felt guilty that he and Rei-chan hadn't suffered as the others had, and that what they did to help Tendo-san seemed so minor.  I guess I'm also jealous of how protective Rei-chan is about the other pilots, he thought, enjoyed her brushing up against him as she worked, But that's one reason I care for her, she'd never abandon me or any other pilot if she had any choice.

     "I wish that - " Ranma began, then hug his head.

     Shinji had heard about Raccoon's written apology to Ranma from Megorofeld-chan, and how it had infuriated Ranma that he'd been asked for forgiveness.

     I wonder if he was more angry at the implication he'd been forgiven or that he was being asked to give forgiveness to someone he owed, Shinji wondered.

     Then Ranma had watched Megorofeld-chan diagram the battle as Rei-chan had.  Except Megorofeld-chan used the entire school grounds, Shinji reminded himself, And the conclusion hasn't changed, they'd done their best, better than they had any right to do, it just wasn't enough to save all those people.  We were failed as much as we failed.

Eat Breakfast Three Times A Day

     "The funeral was the 21st, a rapid burial due to the decomposition from the presence of the dead Great Old One," Rei told them, it seemed an inadequate statement for all that occurred that day.  It had also been Mirei's birthday party, which seemed an odd counterpoint.  Rei had shown Nabiki-kun the diary, told her that Hiroko loved her, she hadn't realized at the time that Nabiki-kun had felt particularly unlovable, that she would attempt to take her life, for her failings which were mostly illusionary.

     Rei couldn't understand it because she couldn't understand why she loved, and others loved her, she accepted it as an odd mystery that defied comprehension.  It had taken a direct confrontation with a goddess and a demon to display her error and to demand action.  I sent Raccoon to save Nabiki-kun, and he sent Mein Grossfeldmarschall to save me, and she brought Shinji-kun.  Sammi and Captain Katsuragi had attended them, she thought warmly, Raccoon confronted and saved Nabiki-kun, comforting her while Shinji-kun comforted me.  She glanced at Belldandy, it hadn't been her who'd brought the message, so Rei saw no reason to bring it up.

     "On Monday the 22d, I took Hor - Pilot Saotome to the University.  With Sp- Pilot Ikari, Ayanami, Davis and Tendo having their therapy session, he was feeling left out, the poor dear," Asuka said, patted Horseface's cheek, as she checked the potstickers.

     Not cool enough, she thought.

     "She is thoughtful," Wondergirl added, "But acting on my request."

     "You set Sour Kraut on Saotome?" Curly asked and drew back in horror, "What did he ever do to you?"

     "Both, Saotomes," Wondergirl corrected, "He exists, that is sufficient."

     "She's either gonna marry or murder you," Curly laughed.

     Asuka watched Wondergirl put her fists on her hips, the gesture was familiar somehow.  "Don't be disgusting Stooge!" Wondergirl said it in a not-too-bad imitation of Asuka.

     "You have to sort of throw the word at him, dis - GUST - ING!"

     "Thank you," Wondergirl said, bowed.

     Asuka replied, "You're welcome."  She turned to the rest of her audience, "It's impossible to insult her."  She shook her head sadly.

     "Call me Ranma," Wondergirl suggested.

     "Hey!" Horseface protested.

     "No food fights!" Sammi thundered as she stood up, no joke this time.

     "No, Rei-chan," Asuka said sweetly, turning back to the girl, "You'd give me a ketchup shampoo and eat my brain."

     "Too high in fat."

     Asuka thought it was Spineless who'd said it, only Spineless was pointing at Curly, who was pointing at Horseface, who was pointing at Sammi, who was pointing back at Asuka.  Asuka turned back and saw Wondergirl pointing at Little Miss Happy, with Megumi, Yumiwashi and Mouse all giggling.

     "Do you have an explanation?" Asuka asked sweetly, advancing menacingly, before the other girl could answer, "Sammi-chan open the window, I may have to throw something through it."

     Little Miss Happy seemed a little confused by the byplay and everyone's amusement.  "The human brain is mostly fats and proteins," she managed under Asuka's withering glare.

     "So you DO think I'm a fat-head!" Asuka thundered in RIGHTEOUS RAGE (tm), "Death is too good for you, feed her Misato's cooking!"

     "EEWWWW!" the pilots and guards chorused.

     Hikari ran into the kitchen and knelt before Asuka, sniffed theatrically, "Please, show the girl mercy, I'm sure she didn't mean it as an insult."

     Mouse got on her knees beside Hikari and bowed, "Please oh Great and Noble Pilot of Unit 02, whose name I am unworthy to speak, Belldandy is my best friend."  She looked up at Asuka with tear-filled eyes.  "I don't want her to go insane and die!" she wailed and collapsed to the ground.

     Asuka could see Little Miss Happy hadn't the faintest idea what was going on.  "I am not without mercy."

     "Oh thank you, thank you, thank you," Hikari and Mouse said, both hugging Asuka's legs.

     "You're getting my knees wet," Asuka intoned, both scrambled away.

     Hikari snagged a potsticker, and passed it hand to hand as she left the kitchen.

     Asuka turned and advanced purposefully on the confused girl, while the others helped themselves.  "I resolve to forgive you of all crimes committed against NERV and my person this day.  I absolve you in the name of the father and the son and Misato's spirits, although what Gendo and Shinji can do, I don't know.  You are sentenced to no braunschweiger for three weeks.  Harsh, but survivable."

     "I don't -"  Megumi covered Little Miss Happy's mouth.

     "She doesn't deserve such mercy, Asuka the Merciful!"

     Mouse took up the chant, bowing, she offered Asuka one of her potstickers and one of Wondergirl's potstickers.  "Asuka the Merci . . . " and fell silent as Asuka glared at her and no one else took it up.  Asuka did take the potstickers.

     "Langley the Merciless," Wondergirl suggested, received a well-deserved pat on the head.  The others took up the chant, even with some prompting Little Miss Happy joined in.  Asuka cut it off with a hand wave.

     "Ranguri the - mer- ci - less," except of course, Horseface.

     "That's it, you need some culture," Asuka said.

     "Dip him in yogurt," Juri suggested, as she sat back at the table with her sample.

     "No, I'll have to take him to a concert, pound it in with a sledgehammer," Asuka said, "All right, commercials are over, back to work."

     "Not bad Mouse, Wondergirl, not bad at all," Asuka said of the potstickers.

     "She called me Mouse," Mouse said proudly, turned to Megumi, "She calls you Megumi."  Mouse stuck out her tongue at Megumi, who was mock weeping.

     Belldandy hadn't the faintest idea what the scene had been about, but everyone seemed to enjoy it and participate.  She wondered how - that girl - had managed to do what she had done, both reaching out to pilot Ikari-san, and the others.  It shouldn't have been possible.

     "You and Pilot Saotome-san were assigned to Keiichi-san as tour guide," Belldandy told them, Keiichi-san had been a little intimidated by Asuka-san, Ranma-san had seemed much more subdued then, she suspected that Asuka-san had been teasing him and he hadn't been able to adequately respond.  "Your knowledge of engineering rivaled anyone else in the motor club, even Keiichi-san."  Asuka-san had been polite, but it was clear she was disappointed by the facility, and Ranma-san had been unimpressed, until they came upon the school Karate and Kendo clubs, technically illegal since the surrender, they met in secret.

     "I believe it was no accident you happened upon the clubs," she said, smiled at Asuka-san covering her face, still ashamed of Ranma-san challenging the entire 40 members to a battle.  She had no idea what Kami-sama had in mind.

     "It was very polite of you to thank them," Belldandy said.

     "The one's still standing," Asuka-san mumbled.

     "He certainly felt better," Belldandy asserted.

     "Never mind," Asuka-san told the guards, then turned to Ranma-san, "And you, you want to get them in trouble, then - say - nothing."

     Ranma-san held up his hands and retreated.

     "He didn't hurt them," Asuka-san said to the guards.

     Except their pride, Belldandy thought, And it was all they could talk about, even speculating whether pilots were human or not.  She'd confided in Keiichi-san how terrible it was to let the pilots suffer, but it was necessary, it was to force them to draw on each other's strengths.  She was sure the One Above All had a plan that included all of them, but no one without His wisdom could ever see it all before hand.

     "I am glad you decided to dress up and attend the Wednesday Festival."  She started instructing on the clean up, the soup would take a little while longer.

     "You also came to visit me that day," Yumiwashi added.

     "I thought you were unconscious," Asuka stuttered.

     "I couldn't respond, but I wasn't deaf.  It ought to be interesting when big brother and Hikari-san realize I heard every word they said, even when the other left the room."

     Hikari and Toji stared in terror at the smiling girl.

     "Asuka, help," Hikari said, head bowed.

     "She hasn't hurt me or NERV you're going to have to do this yourself," Asuka told her friend sympathetically, patting her shoulder.

     "I also heard everything you said about Ranma and Ranko," Yumiwashi added smugly.

     "There's nothing I said that I wouldn't say to his face," Asuka purred.

     "AND Rei."

     Asuka considered, then looked at Rei's curious and expectant expression.  "Curly, you get her arms, I'll get her legs.  There's a flagpole we can impale her on."

     "Ketchup?" Rei asked hopefully.

     "Yes Wondergirl, she's been a vegetable once, we'll make her a vegetable again."

     "Goody," Rei said without emotion.

     "At NERV there was an investigation going on into the victims of Angel's Malaise, you and about 500 others were the victims of enemy action, not a disease," Asuka said.

     "I hate that name, it sounds like I was taking long naps or something," Yumiwashi commented, "I'm glad some experts were working on it.  I'd like to punch that Angel."

     "I kicked him right off a planet," Asuka said, "Good enough?"

     I had discussions, discussions with experts, experts in war fighting, Ranma thought, They put a premium on logistics: 'beans, bullets and black oil.'  He'd noticed how worn out Asuka, Shinji, Raccoon and Rei were, after the talk he understood they were staying with him or Nab-chan all day, and protecting Nab-chan's dreams at night.

     But they weren't paying attention to logistics, fighting as hard as they could to avoid losing either of their charges, he thought, All I had to figure out was where they were getting the `fuel` to fight their battles, and realize how much I had, more than the rest of them combined, and all uncommitted to the battle.  He blushed as he remembered sneaking into Raccoon's room as Ranko, giving him a massage to relax him and laying down atop his back to let her `feel` the battle in terms of Ki and mana expenditure.

     Not to mention finding out that why `he and she` am - are? - so strongly drawn to Nab-chan and Raccoon, the way their Ki made my chi react, he thought, Finding out that living people moving were the reality to me, others might trust science or words or numbers, not me, I don't.  Realizing that each of the pilots saw the world in such fundamentally different ways had been a shock.

     Feeling Raccoon use up his mana reserves and much of his Ki, Ranma thought, Letting mine flood into them, until I was too weak to move.  He glanced over at Sammi, she'd found `Ranko` on the floor of Raccoon's bedroom and carried her to one of the spare bedrooms and tucked her in.  Kinda humiliating, and kinda nice, he thought, Next morning, me weak as a ki - small, furry helpless thing, Raccoon and Asuka back to full strength.  Raccoon even fixed and fed me a bunch of okonomiyaki.  Made me feel like a little kid, him wiping my chin and face every couple of bites.  Ranma had enjoyed the `excuse` and luxury to be helpless and protected by others.

     "Did you enjoy the carnival?" Little Miss Happy asked, obviously trying to get on firmer ground.

     Asuka decided to have mercy on her.  "I especially liked the shooting gallery, and the guess the marbles game was mildly diverting," Asuka smiled, wondered how much of that would get back to that smug kid, Skuld.

     "She beat you, hm Saotome?" Curly asked, up to his arms in dishwater.

     "Not at everything," Asuka said magnanimously, before Horseface could answer.

     "You didn't beat me at everything," Horseface said, "I noticed the guards were gone before you did."

     "Someone or something captured the guards," Asuka said and gestured to the embarrassed adults at the table, "We had to drop all our winnings and run."

     "You did not suffer the fate of Roku-kun and Akagi-sensei," Wondergirl said, "Both were temporarily out of action."

     "They bounced back quick enough," Asuka commented, "She called us in and sent Raccoon out in an EVA to find father and son Ikari."

     "They were in danger," Wondergirl agreed.

     "Even with you guarding them, Wondergirl?  It was more dangerous than I thought."

     "Why was Ritsuko-sensei trailing Raccoon?" Spineless asked, "It doesn't seem like her."  He seemed nervous that others were washing up, instead of him.

     "She wanted to get him alone in a secluded spot and - "

     "ASUKA!" Erin shouted at her.

     "Give him a manicure and pedicure, right?" Horseface asked while putting away the dishes.

     "Oh, exactly," Asuka said in an aggrieved voice, "Didn't you go with your dad to visit your mom's grave?"

     "Yes.  Rei-chan arranged it," Spineless said.

     "You are spooky," Asuka told Wondergirl.

     "Thank you," Wondergirl replied.

     Asuka glanced to where Wondergirl was staring, and wasn't surprised when it was straight at Little Miss Happy, who was staring straight back.  Asuka licked her finger and touched the `line` between the two.  She yanked her hand back and waved it as if to cool it.  "Don't step between them if you value your life," Asuka warned the others, "You'll get burned to a crisp."

     "You mean a ca - ca -," Horseface stammered.

     "No," Asuka said, wondering what she'd stirred up.

     "Is he all right?" Megumi asked.

     "No," Asuka answered, "Cat got his tongue, 5 meters long, black-and-white, saber-toothed."  She leaned close and whispered, "Sometimes he hears it."  She enjoyed the matching looks of horror on Horseface and Megumi.  She did wonder why Horseface hadn't teased her about her feelings for Raccoon, for all the teasing he was suffering about Ranko and Raccoon.

     "Unit 01 arrived to destroy the attackers and take the Commander, Ikari and me to safety," Wondergirl explained.

     "Leaving Raccoon behind," Asuka said.

     "At his insistence," Wondergirl said, they shared a look, Asuka understood that Wondergirl had an inkling what Raccoon was capable of.  Asuka hated the risks he took, as if because of El Nureenen's curse, his life didn't matter.

     "Once adequate forces were available, they were deployed."

     Asuka noted that Wondergirl left out the part where she, Horseface and Raccoon swung by his weapons' bin and loaded up with all he had, before rescuing Security.

     "Well, I went out with Unit 02 to find the enemy while homebody Spineless stayed to guard the base," Asuka said.

     "We still had to battle our foes with hand-weapons until you arrived," Wondergirl pointed out, "Then you left."

     "I had orders to get them to safety," Asuka said, she turned to Wondergirl, "And where did you and Horseface run off to?"

     "I recovered Roku-kun's cane, while Pilot Saotome sought battle."

     "You still didn't get him, all three of you couldn't get it I -"

     "Had to be led to it," Wondergirl interrupted Asuka.

     Wondergirl actually interrupted . . . ME!  The end of the world must be approaching, Asuka thought, The end of the night went back to tedium from screaming terror.  Drilling Horseface how to present the quilt to Ice Princess and the SAY NOTHING! during the presentation.  "So, Horseface, did Ice Princess like the quilt?" Asuka asked.

     "Oh, yeah, a lot," Horseface stammered, he looked at his feet.

     "I am glad," Little Miss Happy said, clasping her hands together.

     "I don't know if she took it with her on the voyage," Horseface admitted.

     That's also when Raccoon found out he was going to Osaka with our Glorious Leader, Asuka thought, To investigate Natsumi's Angel sighting.  I wonder where Kaji was, why he didn't go, nor was he there to wave goodbye, probably on a secret mission for Gendo.

Ye Diners-Out From Whom We Guard Our Spoons

     Rei had arrived early the next day at the ice cream parlor, to find Roku-kun already there.  He discussed the `straight man` in telling jokes, what I had been during our performance aboard the Coral Sea.  We even practiced the routine to use when Akagi-sensei arrived, Rei thought, she smiled briefly.

     Akagi-sensei seemed disturbed when she arrived, explained what she was, and neither I nor Roku-kun was disturbed by her origins or her history as a shoggoth.  We only felt sympathy for her, for her punishment by the Elder Things, for her attempts to be human, Rei considered, Rei couldn't really understand why Akagi-sensei couldn't understand their acceptance.  I still do not know who the 'Valusians' that Roku-kun mentioned are, and I have not been able to ask the Commander for fear of breaking the confidences the others entrusted me with.  I know the Commander made it clear my trust for him is paramount, but betraying such a confidence without contravening good to the Commander seems a poor balance.  I wish I knew.  She hated keeping secrets, but being trusted allowed her to make the Commander's job easier, it was a difficult balancing act.  She relished being of use to him.

     "Do any of you fully understand who you are?" she asked.  Neither Roku-kun nor I fully understood.  I because I had no words for what I understood, he because he lacked the details, she thought as the others stared at her or stammered half-answers that had no use.

     "Didn't you say I was a weapon?" the Fourth managed the only intelligent comment.  It mirrored what Roku-kun and she had concluded about themselves that day.

     We are to defend this, she concluded, watching the others interact.  Then she glanced at Belldandy.  Roku-kun revealed his multiple, or many, `patrons` and the loyalty balance he must maintain.

     "If a race we created, was enslaved by another, would it be our responsibility to free them?" she asked, "Would we ally with an ostensible enemy to free them?"  The Dragons, our dream creation, are slaves of the Elder Gods, Rei thought, And Yig, a Great Old One wants them freed.

     "The Allies already did that, Wondergirl," Mein Grossfeldmarschall told her, "A guy with a hat and mustache called Stalin killed Georgians, Ukrainians, Cossacks, etc., by the millions.  'The Enemy of my Enemy is my Friend', or some such nonsense.  'The Enemy of my Enemy can usually be Eaten in Peace', that I can believe."

     Rei concurred.  Odd that Akagi-sensei, Roku-kun and I are all results of Antarctica and the Elder Things' civilization, or the tools they created.  We are tools, but Roku-kun urged me to 'exceed my design specifications', Rei thought, He also suggested that Akagi-sensei begin shapechanging again to teach the Fourth.  I too absorbed some of Nyogtha, was the message also for me?  Was that why he revealed his magical powers, and I revealed mine, that we two could teach each other?  I have not even revealed those powers to the Commander.

     I had wanted to know who the real enemy was, Rei looked at Belldandy, wondered if she was an enemy as Nyarlathotep was, manipulating things to her ends, or like the humans were, deluded and foolish.  Doing what she thought best with flawed or incomplete understanding? Rei wondered, Akagi-sensei reminded us that Cthulhu and his spawn took one uninhabited continent, and Roku-kun added that in 50 million years the stars will be right and Cthulhu and the others will rule, Rei thought, Implied was that we would not oppose them.  Would the human race join them, be overwhelmed, both, neither?  Rei shook her head to clear it of such thoughts, no one had that particular answer.

     "Have any of you ever fired a pistol?" Rei asked.

     Sora looked embarrassed, as did Megumi, but she spoke, "We all learned a little, for the invasion."

     "Pilot Langley and I began teaching Pilot Tendo," Rei confided, "Her training will continue aboard the U.S.S. Bennington.  It was difficult - "

     "That's because you intimidated her by cutting the center out of all your targets," Mein Grossfeldmarschall accused.

     "You were equally shaken," Rei countered, "And adamant."

     "We've had this discussion before," Mein Grossfeldmarschall warned, "Now is not the time for it."

     "Is that what you two were doing?" Shinji-kun asked, "I thought you were talking or shopping . . . or something."  He wilted under Mein Grossfeldmarschall's gaze.

     "That was the day I saw you in the park!" Megumi chirped.

     Rei squelched the pang of jealousy, she trusted Shinji-kun.

     "Yeah," the Fourth added, grimaced, "With Miss High and Mighty Creepy, right?"

     "She's all right," Sora said.

     "She's in charge of Student Services, her boss is actually, but she does most of the work.  Her family used to be super rich, the war ended that," Megumi explained.

     "She's just confused," Belldandy added sympathetically.

     Rei immediately had doubts, the girl had a fine grasp of human goodness, but no concept of human evil.

     "Yeah, we went to see Mirei," the Fourth said, "Boy did you - OOWWW!"

     Mein Grossfeldmarschall smiled as she pulled her foot back from the Fourth's ankle.  "Don't mind him, he has a congenial defect."

     "Congenital," Rei corrected.

     "I said what I meant, Wondergirl," she cooed, then smiled at the Fourth, "The girl meets a celebrity, no reason to embarrass her about it, right?"  She nodded to clue him in while she prepared for another kick.

     "Right, sure, my mistake," the Fourth admitted as he moved out of reach.

     "I didn't mean to . . . embarrass you."  Megumi hung her head.

     "You see us as we are," Rei said, "You saw us as you wished before."

     "But I . . . " Megumi stammered, Rei's words flustered her, "I really was pleased meet pilots, here it's nice to see you're real people."

     "I was assembled," Rei told her, "As was Kraznyzamok-san."  Rei paused to let the shock settle.  "Mein Grossfeldmarschall is a German computational system, Pilot Saotome is long-dead martial artists, Shinji-kun is Stradivarius reborn."  Rei waited, staring, until Megumi smirked then laughed, then Rei nodded.

     "Okay, okay.  I don't want to know, but I'm glad to be here," Megumi said.  Still laughing, she turned to Sora who nodded.

     "That reminds me," Shinji-kun said, "Have you heard the 'Ghost of Tokyo'?"

     "That wailing cry?" Megumi asked, then shuddered, "Everybody's heard it, do you know what it is?"

     "No," Shinji-kun admitted, "I was hoping you did.  I've thought about going after it, when it plays."

     "It sounds like bagpipes," Belldandy said, "Just like the Navy explained."

     "Of course, someone's going to get into an inaccessible place . . . " Mein Grossfeldmarschall began and considered, "And play bagpipes, sometimes, for an hour . . . ," she added in a soft voice. 

     Rei watched Mein Grossfeldmarschall look around.  "It couldn't be," she said without much conviction.

     "It might," Rei suggested, she had come to the same conclusion, but there were problems with the theory.

     "We'll certainly find out," Asuka said.

     "What are you two talkin' about?" the Fourth demanded.

     "Who in Tokyo would know when NERV won and has a set of bagpipes?" Mein Grossfeldmarschall asked angrily, the Fourth's eyes widened.

     "Naw, it couldn't be him!"  The Fourth shook his head.

     Sora opened her mouth to speak, and shut it quickly after a glance from Megumi.  Rei read it as 'Don't ask.'

     "What was the NERV investigation down in Osaka all about?" Megumi asked, probably to change the subject and reduce the tension in the room.

     The pilots looked at their guards, then looked to Megumi, none could answer.

     "I'd like to know why Misa-chan was in such a rotten mood," the Fourth said.

     "He probably refused to service her," Mein Grossfeldmarschall muttered in German.

     "Asuka!" Erin scolded.

     "What?" Mein Grossfeldmarschall asked in Japanese, "They don't know German."

     "I do," Belldandy said innocently.

     Mein Grossfeldmarschall blushed and fell silent.

     What's with all the weird questions from Rei the silent? Ranma wondered, Koan or mondo, a question requiring meditation or immediate action.  Like confronting all those me's and other pilots that the Scholarly Dragon whipped up in dreams.  Did I want to fight thousands, or do something else?  I don't think he expected me to disguise myself as Asuka and start shouting orders like the original.  I hope the Dragon never mentions it to her, or I am really, really, really dead.

     "That was about the time NERV HQ disappeared," Sora said, "I never did find out when it happened exactly.  The Navy said that Pilot Tendo and Ayanami were at Matsushiro, instead of clear out of the country.  I don't suppose you could tell us about that.  Could you?" Sora asked.

     Ranma doubted they could.  He remembered seeing Rei and Nab-chan in their gray suits on July 1st, before he could say how dumb they looked, his ankles had started to tingle, as if anticipating the kick he'd receive if he spoke.  The test the next day was the real terror.  He remembered watching Nab-chan and Rei waddle into the EVAs to test the S2 engines.  Then the alarms, and seeing the two ejected entry plugs disappear through the ceiling, then everything went mad.  The invaders appeared.  Initially they were harmless, then they started hurting and killing people.

     "We were transported to another reality," Sammi said, "There we encountered two Outer Gods and were involved in the battle between them, unfortunately, they both got away."

     Ranma almost choked when he heard that.  Nothing Sammi said was untrue, but it was a complete lie as well.  If left out desperately herding the noncombat people into the power core for protection, it left out Asuka, Rit-chan and a combat team trying to get to the EVAs despite the dangers, it left out his hazardous attempt to locate his sword, and the hours of battling to protect the Magi from the invaders.

     "How did Pilots Tendo and Ayanami wind up in Las Vegas?" Sora asked.

     "When important experiments are done, not all the pilots are present.  Before the peace, Pilots Ayanami and Langley were separate.  At that time, Pilot Davis was in Osaka, Pilots Tendo and Ayanami wound up surveying the new EVAs being constructed in Las Vegas," Sammi said, again lying without lying.  Ranma felt extremely dizzy listening to this without speaking.

     "When it disappeared, " Megumi began, "The base - there was no explosion, no flash of light, no cloud of smoke like when it returned.  Just convoys of troops heading that way.  Nobody found out for two days it was gone.  That's scary."

     "How do you think we felt?" Toji asked.

     "You came to get me."  Yumiwashi stared at her brother.  "You and Jeff, how did you do that?"

     Toji looked over to the guards.  Toji's fear of being revealed as an EVA pilot seemed comical and security evidently didn't want the truth, or at least the whole truth out.

     Sammi spoke, Ranma didn't know what kind of whopper Sammi was going to tell this time.  "It was the process that the pilots used to rescue Miss Hokari," Sammi said, "I wasn't on the `transmitting` end, but I understand their bodies stayed here, in this world."

     "We spotted one of the - Outer Gods?" Toji asked for clarification.

     Ranma found himself nodding along with the other pilots.  He had no idea where he'd learned the term, but he knew it.

     "Well, it was big, planet big and you and the others were on it," Toji told her.

     "How did you find them?"

     "Magic," Asuka said, "We told you Raccoon is a master sorcerer steeped in ancient arts and bull droppings."

     Sora and Yumiwashi frowned.  "If you aren't going to tell us the truth," Megumi complained.

     "Would you prefer a story about hypergeometric fluxes and transdimensional multiphase space conversions?"  Asuka waved her hands theatrically.

     "Yes," Sora said with a pout.

     "Anyway, after Curly here arrived with Raccoon, we coordinated their efforts with ours and found you.  While they were rescuing you and the others, Spineless, Saotome and I were fighting the second Outer God that had set it all up.  Then the two Outer Gods fought and left, abandoned the field to us."

Have We Eaten On The Insane Root

     "On the 6th of July," Rei began, "While that was occurring, in Las Vegas, Nabiki-kun and I were likewise convinced of the loss of NERV Tokyo."  Rei recalled how devastated she'd felt at the news, the loss of Shinji-kun and the Commander.  Nabiki-kun had talked about the new EVAs and told Rei about the color scheme for Units 05 and 06.  "I prefer blue for an EVA."

     "That orange is pretty hideous," Mein Grossfeldmarschall agreed.

     "The orange is correct," Rei said, "But not for combat."  The orange was appropriate for testing.

     "What are you taking about?" Mein Grossfeldmarschall said with a furrowed brow.

     "Red is a good color for you," Rei replied, leaving her fellow pilot completely perplexed.  Rei was actually rather pleased.  "We discussed the possibility of having to begin again, call up Pilot Langley's friend to pilot."

     "Anna, I can just see you training Anna," Mein Grossfeldmarschall laughed.

     "We have trained you," Rei told her, Mein Grossfeldmarschall advanced towards her.

     "Okay!" Erin commented as she stood up, "Before one of you kills the other, let's go on."

     "I was winning," Rei told her politely.

     "Yes, you were," Mein Grossfeldmarschall said and patted her shoulder, "And I'll punish you for it later.  Basically we had two EVAs operational.  One went and repaired the other two, while Unit 02 rescued the noncombat troops.  Toji was very useful."  Mein Grossfeldmarschall had noticed Toji's terrified expression.  "There's a lot we can't tell you, both for security, and certain details aren't important.  Then we helped plan the attack on Ghroth, where you were rescued from," Mein Grossfeldmarschall told Yumiwashi.

     "You said the Sixth, the base didn't come back on the Sixth," Megumi pointed out.

     "We did a few things before we got back," Toji said, "Weird dreams."

     "Tell me about it," Mein Grossfeldmarschall said.

     "I dreamt of the end of the world," Rei said, "A death by fire."

     "Not me, you Horse - Saotome?"

     The Fourth shook his head 'no'.

     "The enemy influences the unconscious, manifesting in dreams," Rei explained.  Rei had also waited for the dying Rei of a dummy plug to arrive in her dreamscape, trying to welcome the frightened girl to form a bond with her, as none of the other `Reis` had with any other Rei.  She'd sent the Meliorist to help the Fourth's nightmares and the Scholarly Dragon to aid Mein Grossfeldmarschall, while she went to find Shinji-kun.  She'd found him, a baby in the womb dreaming peaceful dreams, but she had also realized that Shinji-kun had discovered something the Commander had wanted to keep hidden from him, and Rei fervently agreed, it was something she dreaded he'd discover.

     So I fled, she thought.

     "An old friend rescued me from my nightmare," Asuka admitted, felt herself shivering.  Death by hanging was a particularly terrifying nightmare for her.  Her mother had died that way and Asuka would always remember finding the body dangling there, swaying as if in a breeze.  The hypocrisy of the funeral.  That had been bad.

     The Meliorist had watched Horseface go through one cat-related scenario after another, each one reducing him to near impotence.  Even the arrival of three Reis and both her bodyguards hadn't allowed Horseface to break out.  Altara had to send Horseface in blind and deaf to combat the enemies himself.

     Where I can't forgive myself for not saving my mother, he can't forgive himself for anyone getting hurt in his defense, Asuka thought ruefully, We're both stupid.

     She decided not to describe Spineless's senselessness on morphine, although she preferred him that way, loopy but unafraid.

     Asuka stopped.  "Sammi, Erin, that meeting, where we discussed how to get the base back where it belongs . . . did Captain Ramsey speak German?"

     "Yes."  "Of course."  The women answered.

     But when I confronted him and Admiral Simson on June 16th . . . he couldn't speak German.  How do you become fluent in about 20 days?  She had no answer.  "Can I tell them how?" she asked Sammi and Erin in German.

     The two considered.  "Yes," Sammi said as Erin nodded.

     "We molded an AT field into the appropriate shape. While we used coils, like the coils of an ignition, to generate the massive magnetic field.  Hor - Pilot Saotome wove the Faraday cages to protect the people and equipment.  Kaji wouldn't give me an atom bomb, so we had to do it the old-fashioned way, by discharging a battery into the coils."

     "An atom bomb."  Mouse and Little Miss Happy seemed equally surprised.

     "Of course, an atom bomb generates a powerful electromagnetic disturbance," Asuka told them, "They said it wasn't feasible, ha, it would have worked perfectly."  Asuka enjoyed the shocked looks on all their faces.

     "You don't need an atom bomb," Horseface said as he rubbed his cheek, "One slap is destructive enough."

     "Maybe if you hadn't grabbed me!" Asuka shouted back, fists on her hips.

     "You didn't enjoy it?" Spineless asked, totally clueless.

     "Getting groped by this . . . this . . . "  She waved her hand dismissively at Horseface.

     "Pervert?" Horseface asked angrily, arms folded.

     "Stinking, sweaty oaf!  I wouldn't insult perverts, they don't smell like you.  A dead horse doesn't smell that bad," Asuka shot back, pinching her nose closed.

     "I mean slapping him, I never saw you looking so . . . ," Spineless said.

     "Radiant, beautiful, excited . . . fulfilled," Wondergirl suggested.

     "Fulfilled," Spineless agreed, smiled, then retreated behind Wondergirl, who braced herself for Asuka's attack.

     "There's too many breakables for Rei Fu!" Sammi announced.

     "Rei Fu?" Mouse asked, and was answered by Wondergirl hoisting her over her head.

     "Throw the enemy at the enemy," Wondergirl explained then set the stunned girl down gently, "You have weapons as long as you have enemies."

     "I . . . see," Mouse stammered, edging away from Wondergirl and behind Little Miss Happy.

     "I think she really objected to where you grabbed her."  Spineless seemed to be belying his name.  "You should have asked."

     "How 'bout you faking bein' loopy," Horseface shot back, "I ain't deaf you know."

     Asuka waved her hand, she'd forgiven him, especially for his laughing at Gendo's beard.

     "It was kind of fun," Spineless guiltily admitted, "It was also a little research."

     Asuka dropped the subject, glared at Horseface to make him do likewise, there was only one reason to `research` that, Spineless's roommate.  "We'd been working on a solution, after explaining all our hours of painstaking labor, our deep understanding of mathematics and the structure of the universe."

     "In a few sentences," Spineless added, not exactly helpfully

     "We went to bed, blissfully unaware he would betray us so deeply."  She sniffed and `swooned`.

     While Spineless was stewing, Horseface told the next, which is what Asuka wanted to know.

     "All he did was talk about all the math and the AT field problem," Horseface insisted, when he got a nod from Sammi he continued, "I just typed them into the Magi."

     "The computing engine!"  Mouse brightened.  "I bet it just solved the problem instantly!"

     "Not quite," Juri said, "It took a couple of hours."

     "Why didn't you use it yourselves?" Mouse asked looking at Asuka.

     "Because no one wanted to type in 50 pages of simultaneous equations dear," Asuka told her, managing not to scream.  "Our martial artist here learned how to type in a few hours, so fast he'd melt a regular typewriter.  I still haven't figured out how you actually ran the program."  Horseface got a head shake from Sammi, Horseface just smiled at Asuka.  "Jealous?  Biggest math problem of the age and dumb ole' me solved it?  Not you?" Horseface asked.

     Asuka was dimly aware of Spineless and Wondergirl dragging Megumi and Mouse out of the path of the explosion, she didn't see if Curly saved Hikari or not.  Horseface stood with that stupid smile on his face and awaited his destruction.

     "That's quite a vocabulary," Sammi commented, she wondered if Ranma had deliberated provoked her.  Who am I kidding, of course he did, and never responded, she thought.  "Asuka dear, you can't insult him in German until you've taught him some."

     The furious redhead looked like she'd been hit on the head with a frying pan, her entire carefully crafted, exquisitely nasty tirade had fallen on deaf ears.

     One reason Ranma kept smiling, Sammi thought, He didn't understand one word if it.

     "Misa-chan gave Raccoon orders to do that," Ranma told the others, "Since he's not here . . . "

     "You perform his duties," Rei realized, nodded.

     Asuka looked like another explosion was imminent, but there was nothing left to back it up.

     "Besides you yourself suggested using his abilities to make the Faraday cages to protect the rest of us," Sammi pointed out, Asuka didn't perk up at that.

     I hope she's just tired, Sammi thought with concern.

     "You break it you bought it," Rei warned Ranma.

     "I am not broken, Wondergirl," Asuka managed.

     Just humiliated, Sammi thought, then sat up when she realized.

     "I heard that you had returned and I was pleased," Rei told Asuka, "I suspected the entrance was your doing."

     "Oh yes," Sora asked enthusiastically, "You sneak out and return with a big entrance."

     "We just burned some cables getting back," Asuka said, sounding more like Rei than Rei had today.

     Sammi knew what was bothering the girl, she'd lost control much the same way she just had, after they returned.  Asuka proclaimed she was a monster, that someone would have to put her down like a mad dog when, not if, she truly became a monster.  Sammi personally thought the chances of that remote, for the same reason Asuka reacted the way she had.  Asuka took things deep inside and kept the world at bay with a mask, that mask and her need for the mask to be the truth would eliminate any chance of Asuka slowly falling to corruption, she'd either hang on until the end, or be destroyed when she collapsed completely.

     And I don't really know if I should let that condition persist, or change it, Sammi thought, she could recall all the conversations Rei had overheard about the AT fields, she could make many of the connections Asuka and Jeff had made.  But it still left the question whether bottling things up or giving them something to fight for was the best way to increase the strength of a pilot's AT field.

     "There were parties and fireworks and all kinds of celebrations," Sora continued breathlessly, "You must have done something fun!"

     "Yeah, getting yelled at's lotsa fun," Ranma grumped.

     "I was more scared than when I was facing Ghroth and Nyarlathotep," Shinji admitted, "Toji was so happy to have his sister back, he didn't even notice."

     Toji looked ready to reply, then saw his sister's smug expression, he turned his back on her, missing her giggle.  All of which were driving spikes into Asuka's heart.  Belldandy saw her distress and headed towards her.

     That got Asuka moving, Sammi thought as she watched Asuka put `Wondergirl` between her and her self-appointed comforter, Which effectively ends that effort, Sammi thought.  Rei glared at Belldandy, taking a more active role as barrier, Or defender, Sammi thought, noting that Asuka had lost none of her tactical skill.  Except that, Sammi knew Asuka wasn't expecting the hug from `Wondergirl.`

     'Thank you for bringing them back safely,' Sammi's lip-reading picked out what Rei had said, she doubted anyone except Asuka had heard it.

     "You didn't celebrate at all?!" Sora asked as if the natural order of things had been upset.

     "I practically cried myself to sleep," Asuka admitted, looked warningly at the others, "I said practically."

     "I did weep, as did Nabiki-kun," Rei said, "Are all tears sea water?"

     "After a fight," Ranma said, "You don't feel like celebrating, you just want to sleep."

     Sora was joined by Megumi and Hikari in looking from pilot to pilot in disbelief.  Hikari got a slight nod from Toji which increased her amazement.

     "You do all the bragging later," Ranma added, returning the world to its axis, and getting frowns from everyone, except Belldandy, who didn't seem to understand, and the guards who did.

     "The closest that came to a party-er was Misato-san," Shinji said, "She met her friend Takemono-san at a party.  I think she had a little to drink."

     "What a surprise," Asuka announced.

     "Both Pilot Tendo and I flew back, I aboard the XB-36, Pilot Tendo in the HK-1," Rei said.

The Proof Of The Pudding Is In The Eating

     "I remember waking up on the morning of July 8th, before that it was March the 2d," Yumiwashi said, "I saw Toji and I knew I had to see the pilots who saved me, to tell them how much it meant."  She frowned at Toji.  "How did you forget to tell them what I asked?"

     Toji squirmed and looked at his feet.  She winked at the others.  She could imagine why the pilots weren't turning cartwheels after their victory.  She'd seen and experienced what they fought.  It isn't something you celebrate, she thought, It was something you survived.  "I know you wanted to rest, and I am glad you came."

     Asuka nodded.  "I do wish you spoke quicker, that laconic delivery is worse than Wondergirl always chattering away."

     "Oh!  I forgot," Yumi' exclaimed, "Did Shinji bring his cello?!  And one of your compositions?"

     Shinji looked shocked, Megumi looked interested.

     "I forgot my violin, we could have played together," Yumi added.

     "I don't have mine," Rei-san added, "I should have asked."

     "I couldn't teach and play," Asuka explained.

     "Why doesn't Ranma play, if he can pick up movements, why can't he play an instrument?" Yumi asked.

     "Music serves no purpose to martial arts," Rei said, "A paraphrase."

     "I never said that," Ranma protested.

     "Rei-san, you were supposed to arrive," Yumi asked, "Why didn't you come by?"

     "Rescue," Rei said, "Roku-kun's brother died July 8, 1939."

     "Oh," Yumi said, "I didn't know."

     Rei nodded, "None did," she said, "I could not abandon him that day."

     "What did you do?" Ranma whispered as he leaned towards her.

     Rei turned to face him.  "Provoked a fight," she said, "Your need."

     "Huh?" Toji said, "How does starting a fight help him . . . ?"

     "To initiate communications," Rei said.

     "How?" Asuka asked, "By letting him tap Morse code on your skull?"

     "Someone said, 'People in distress require others', and that 'danger invites rescue'," Rei said, "And another that truth can take a route through combat."

     Yumi watched Asuka frown and glance at Ranma, she guessed those were the people who'd told Rei.

     "Couldn't you have talked with him?" Belldandy asked, in faintly disapproving tones.

     "If you've ever talked with him, you'd know, he can spin words until he's convinced you black is white, up is down and you're the Queen Mother of Hindustan," Asuka said, "Making him mad enough to take a swing at you strips that away, and it's very dangerous Wondergirl."

     "I was prepared," Rei replied.

     Asuka glanced around, Yumi realized she wanted to tell Rei-san something important, but couldn't without breaking security.  "Okay," Asuka said, "It worked, what are you doing next year?"

     "Enlist Ranko," Rei-san said.

     Ranma started choking.  Shinji and Toji had to slap him on the back.

     "Saotome disapproved of his isolation," Rei said, "She is not tolerant of hypocrisy."

     "So when he got back, she read him the riot act," Yumi said, and laughed.  She could imagine the diminutive redhead telling off the tall, austere gaijin.

     "He spoiled it by apologizing before Saotome could hurt him," Asuka said, sounding extremely disappointed.  Yumi thought Asuka liked fighting a little too much, like Ranma, she hoped Ranko wasn't like that, she sounded nice.

     "I thought they liked each other," Toji said, "And why didn't you break them up."  Toji accused Ranma.

     "He has never beaten her in a fight," Rei intoned, "I do not believe he could."  Everyone seemed shocked, especially . . .

     "Ranko can beat up Ranma?" Toji stammered.

     "I don't hit girls!" Ranma shouted back, terribly embarrassed.

     "Really?" Sammi asked, "Isn't the real reason Jeff and you are at loggerheads, is because of the way you treat Ranko?  Besides, you've hurt Ranko plenty of times."

     Ranma was looking around desperately, at all the angry girls around him.

     "You should be ashamed of yourself!" Sora told him.

     "Hey!  I stopped doing that!" Ranma said, "Ranko even got Raccoon to . . . "

     "To - what, Horseface?" Asuka asked, the paragon of innocence.

     "What about you giving kissing lessons?" Ranma stammered as he regained his confidence, "How about that?  Kissing Raccoon and demanding all of us watch?!"

     Now Asuka blushed and looked around at the others nervously.

     "Cheating on poor Ranko," Hikari said, "The poor girl would never have a chance against your charms, Asuka how could you?"

     "She is very beautiful," Rei agreed, Asuka suddenly backed away from her, "But I prefer Shinji-kun.  The lesson was informative."

     "But it was probably like kissing your brother," Sammi added after her seat at the table.

     "EWWWW!" Yumi said and Megumi's grimace meant she heartily agreed with her.

     "We also began civilizing 'Horseface'," Rei said.

     "How did you do that?" Hikari asked in mock amazement.

     "We started kicking him in the ankles when he says something stupid," Shinji said.

     "Ice Princess arriving also helped," Asuka added, "You'd almost think Horseface missed her."

     "We missed you," Rei said, making Asuka squirm again.

     "We also found out about the trip to the Azores," Shinji said, "Ranma objected to being moved here."

     "He couldn't handle the beauty surrounding him," Sammi added theatrically.

     "I was afraid of what you'd teach Ranko," Ranma replied, "Did you finally get Misa-chan loose?  Her bedroom door trapped her inside."

     "Yes, Pen Pen opened it," Shinji said, "Just pushed it open."

     "Who's Pen Pen?" Megumi asked.

     "Misato's pet penguin," Sammi said, "He just pushed the door open?"  Sammi sounded shocked.  Shinji nodded.

     "That wasn't the only weird thing that night," Ranma said, "Something started following Rit-chan and Rei on their way home.  I trailed them to find out what it was, so did Raccoon," he added with disgust.

     "Your attack did not succeed," Rei said.

     "Neither did the tank you brought," Ranma retorted angrily, "We ran away and set up our ambush," he was embarrassed by that.

     By combining into one being, Ranma thought, It was weird seeing and feeling all those things.  All the colors that came with words, the incredible strength, the easy AT field manipulations, all that and more.  It was like I could finally see the world clearly, think clearly and use my abilities without any limitations.

     "The attacker never had a chance," he said and was ashamed by that.

     He didn't want to reveal that they gave the third one a chance to be reasonable.  The death of the first one was horrible.

     Disentangling my thoughts from Rit-chan and Raccoon's was a lot more work, Ranma thought, Talking like Asuka was not fun, nor was writing everything I discovered in my journal, only to realize it was in German.  Ranma smirked at that, he'd done it to himself, But it's typical of Raccoon, subtly assuring that he gets what he wants.  Then he considered what Rit-chan really was, one of the shoggoths, he couldn't understand why more of them weren't like her.

     Catching Raccoon walking in had been a coup, after nearly scaring Nab-chan by accident.

     And getting thoroughly scared in return, he thought, I wonder what he did to who.  I wonder what I'd do if I caught whoever was threatening Rei, he thought, he knew he couldn't kill someone, but he could beat them up.  He was well aware both from his training and a few lingering bits from the joining, that there were places and ways to hit people that wouldn't kill them, but killing them would be more merciful.

     "Say, 'Langley', you ever hear of anyone who ever went up against Raccoon, and lived?" he asked.

     "He kills his enemies," Rei said with conviction.

     When did she ever see him shoot somebody down? he asked himself.

     "When it mattered, never, when he couldn't reach them for some reason . . . you don't want to know the ten kinds of Hell he put them through."  Asuka seemed frightened by the prospect.

     "One of you has killed . . . people?" Sora asked horrified.

     "Yes," Ranma and Rei told her.

     "I watched him, an assassin," Ranma said, "Bang, one shot, then - then escorted me home, gave me a snack and put me to bed.  Scary."

     "He shot the enemy several times, beat the foe's head against a chimney, then hurled the victim off a six-story building onto a wrought iron fence."

     Sora and Megumi both blanched at that.

     "It was another assassination attempt," Rei added.

     "Who was he trying to assassinate?" Megumi asked with a nervous chuckle, "Say, Bell, are you okay?  You look like you saw a ghost."

     "Just - remembering," Belldandy admitted, shook her head.

     Belldandy had encountered Pilot Davis that early morning of the 10th.  She'd gone to tell - that girl - something when `Raccoon` had intercepted her outside - that girl's - apartment.  He'd told her his training, and trainers, frightening enough, then he'd said things, things she interpreted as a threat to Keiichi-san, possibly Megumi, Sora . . . Kami-sam alone knew how many.  He'd said he 'could cut out her heart'.

     She'd raced back to the temple in terror, enlisted Urd and Skuld to search for anything that might be the spell or curse he'd used.  Keiichi-san had found the mirror, the same one she carried in her pocket, the thing all three goddesses had repeatedly failed to notice.  Then Keiichi-san had told them it was a bluff and a warning.  For hours she had been in Hell, a Hell of her own making, so frightened she'd barely been able to think clearly.  Rearranging the kitchen after Skuld, then Urd searched it, had taken hours, all the while wondering if Keiichi-san was right, if the threat was just an illusion.  She was still catching herself wondering if every injury, misfortune, lost or misplaced item was due to the universe or a malevolent spell.

     The 'Human Condition' indeed, she remembered his words.  It frightened her to imagine herself the plaything of something malignant, and knowing she was personally immune but couldn't protect Keiichi-san, Megumi, Sora, or the others.

     "I was remembering a warning someone gave me, and a gift," Belldandy told Megumi, "Someone very much like your friend."

     "My condolences," Asuka said with real sympathy, "I'd hoped there was only one like him in the world."

     "Perhaps there are thousands, copies of one original, huge legions all awaiting activation," That girl - said in a tone that made everyone shudder.

     "Remind me not to let her talk while I'm cooking," Asuka said, "Stories like that could collapse a souffle.  Stories like that could collapse a cracker.  Where do you get such wild ideas?"

     "Have you never wondered if you are the original or a copy?" that girl - asked, "You have said that pilots are valuable, wouldn't they make thousands?".

     "When they made me, they broke the mold," Asuka said proudly.

     "You do not look moldy," That girl - said.

     "What's gotten into you today?" Asuka asked, "You take your garrulous pills or something?"  She leaned towards - that girl - and sniffed.  "You don't smell like our Glorious Leader.  Why don't you pick on someone else?"

     That girl - turned to Hikari, "You remind me of Ranma."


     "Oh, boo hoo!" Hikari said, covering her face, "Rei-san is so cruel!  What did I ever do to deserve such an insult?!"  Hikari glanced angrily at Toji, "Why aren't you de - fend - ing me?" she wailed.

     "She'd probably tell me I'm as pretty as Sour Kraut or something," Toji responded, cowering in fear, "I'd never survive."


     Belldandy couldn't understand how they could be so cruel to each other.  Skuld and Urd were sisters, but they would still care for each other.  Belldandy could understand that, but not friends being this way.

     "Aren't you going to do something?" Belldandy asked the guards.

     Kraznyzamok eyed her coolly.  "When they go after someone who can't defend themselves, yes," she said, "In the meantime, I remember how I was when I was 14, and cut them some slack.  Don't you remember how silly you were at that age?"

     Belldandy realized the woman had spoken in German, limiting the number of people who could understand.  Belldandy never remembered acting in this fashion.

What In Hell Have I Done To Deserve All These Kittens

     "Yes," Asuka said, "But you put up with us even we go beyond silly."  She grinned widely.

     "You're just sore 'cause I beatcha," Horseface smiled widely back at her.

     "He lost a bet, Ranko had to give Raccoon a passionate kiss," Asuka explained, "She decided to give the payoff a theatrical delivery.  She's so sly, I never thought she'd give Raccoon a goodbye tonsillectomy."

     "I guess she really does like him," Curly said, he turned to Hikari, "You said, 'When a girl gives a boy a kiss like that she more than likes him."  Hikari blushed.

     "Have you ever kissed your Keiichi that way?" Wondergirl asked Little Miss Happy, who instantly became Little Miss Mortified.

     "What about what you two did to poor Nab-chan," Horseface shot back, "Talk about silly."

     "We couldn't let her strangle you, no matter how much you deserved it," Asuka said.  She thought about tickling Ice Princess until she finally broke down and started laughing.  "Aren't you really embarrassed about what she did to you?  No, Sammi, I'm not going to reveal it."

     Explaining how the little control freak peed all over her beloved would just confuse everyone, Asuka thought, then started laughing at how she and Sammi had teased Ice Princess about it.  "I also won't reveal your part in events."

     "I just stood there and watched," Sammi said and glanced nervously at the other guards, embarrassed for once.

     Yes, point to Asuka, Asuka thought.

     "I thought you were killing each other, then I realized the noise had gone on too long.  I bet Rei and Shinji are sorry they missed it."

     "I am not," Wondergirl said.

     "Me, neither," Spineless added.

     "You pilots are just plain weird," Megumi said, shaking her head, Mouse nodded her agreement.

     "Well we weren't all being silly," Asuka said, "I took on a grave and difficult responsibility, to teach Horseface to be human."

     "Oh Asuka, you're so noble," Hikari said, hands clasped under her chin.

     "Can I kick her in the ankle?" Horseface asked Sammi, pointing at Asuka.

     "We only kick you when you're being unintentionally hurtful.  Mein Grossfeldmarschall or Megorofeld-chan is doing it on purpose," Sammi said, "So insult her back."

     Horseface considered, "You don't look half bad today."

     "That's - "

     "For a horse's other end," he concluded.

     "You should have skipped that lesson," Yumi suggested, "Mein Goro - I can't even say it."

     "Mein Grossfeldmarschall," Wondergirl supplied.

     "How do you come up with all these names?" Megumi asked, "Horseface, Curly, Ice Princess, Roku-kun, Spineless, Megorofeld-chan, Raccoon, Misa-chan, Rit-chan. Maybe they mean something to you, but I'm lost."

     Asuka sighed, this was going to take a while to tell.

     "Analyst Ibuki stated calling and thinking of Pilot Langley as 'the Second Children' was disrespectful," Wondergirl said.

     "Wondergirl, you have to stop talking in cliffhangers, you tell half the story and we have to drag the rest out of you."  Asuka paused.  "All right, I'll set it up.  We were packing for the recent move.  Ranma and Ranko had packed up Racoon's room, that is Pilot Davis."

     "I got that.  I want to know how he got that name," Megumi said in exasperation.

     "Mein Grossfeldmarschall gave him it," Wondergirl said, again as if it explained everything.

     "Anyway, I was helping Horseface, because calling him something else is more accurate and less polite, since Saotome was moving into Sammi's place."

     "Both of them?" Yumi asked.

     "They wear the same clothes, I mean all the same clothes," Asuka managed, "Speaking of that, we need to take her shopping, we can use Spineless and Curly as pack mules.  Everyone else, except Wondergirl, Pilot Ayanami because she's so amazing - "

     "I think she is," Spineless interrupted softly.

     Asuka cleared her throat.  "Spineless because he's so bold and intrepid in the face of im - minent - and - cer - tain - doom," Asuka said as she smiled at him.  He muttered an apology and fell silent.  "And Doctor Akagi were helping Ice Princess, because it fits, right?"

     A chorus of 'Langley the Merciless' rang out, half-heartedly.

     "I'll kill you all later," Asuka reassured them, "So Dr. Akagi, Raccoon, Ice Princess and Maya Ibuki were sailing for the Azores, Horseface moved here.  That's the correct set up Wondergirl."

     "Raccoon is a corruption of Roku-kun, with implications of tanuki," Wondergirl said, "Mein Grossfeldmarschall does not wake quickly or easily, so she misspoke Roku-kun because Jeffery Kevin Davis is almost unpronounceable."

     "Misato Katsuragi keeps trying," Juri added, "Very trying."

     'Pick one mispronunciation and stick with it,' the guards chorused their lament on the subject.

     "We could be a barbershop quartet," Erin suggested.  No one thought much of the idea.

     "She was disturbed by the 'little black dress' both you and Nabiki-kun stated was mandatory," Wondergirl said.

     "Is that why she looked like she wanted to rip your faces off at the going away party?" Yumiwashi asked.

     Asuka exchanged a glance with Wondergirl.  "I don't know what you're talking about.  The pilots and support staff are always amicable and respectful of each other, shut up Horseface, or ELSE."

     "Did you leave that threat vague because meaning can only be approached with words?" Wondergirl asked.

     "Oh no," Horseface moaned, "More words that don't mean anything, then why have them?"

     Ranma still distrusted words, and Asuka effectively admitting they didn't mean anything made things worse.  It reminded him that he'd been packing away his pictures, pictures that he understood instead of those static posed shots.  At the party where Asuka said words only approached meaning.

     "Relationships, rather than words, matter," Rei restated her argument from the party, "This is an example.  Megumi is here for Sora, Hikari and Yumiwashi are here for Toji, you are here for Mein Grossfeldmarschall, they are here for us."  She indicated the guards.

     "Also she threatened me," Ranma said, frowned at Asuka.

     "You would succumb to physical violence?" Rei asked, raising an eyebrow perhaps a millimeter or two.

     You're extra speaky today, Ranma thought.  "No, not really," Ranma said proudly, "She couldn't hit me."

     "Then the threat is to your relationship," Rei said.

     "I don't have a relationship with him!" Asuka shouted.

     "Then why do you teach him?  Why do you want me taught?  Why do you thrust Shinji-kun and I together whenever you can?" Rei asked, actually curious.

     Asuka stammered something, he doubted it was in any language.  Kind of like I felt while Raccoon told me what a gentleman was, scary, Ranma thought.

     "Mein Grossfeldmarschall began teaching Pilot Saotome the proper use of swords on the 12th, after the Azores Mission had sailed," Rei said.

     Yeah, she only had to knock me cold, Ranma thought, rubbed the back of his head, Trust that looney Raccoon to give her a magic weapon.  Although she is pretty good with it, he admitted grudgingly, to himself.  He'd never let her hear him say that.

     "You also planned the baseball picnic," Rei said, "I first called you Mein Grossfeldmarschall, because while openly respectful, it also contains a sting."

     "Ha!" Megumi said, "That's what I thought.  Do you tease each other constantly?"

     "Yes/No!" the pilots said.  "No/Yes!" a different mix.

     'Yes,' the guards shouted in chorus.  The pilots glared at their smiling guards.

     "So you came to the motor club to see us?" Belldandy asked.

     "Certainly, I thought I was delivering an invitation - "

     "Soyouhelpedusbuyournewequipment!Thankyou,thankyou!" Sora said.

     "Yumi is she your younger sister?" Asuka asked, backing away from Sora in mock terror.

     Sora glanced around in confusion.

     "I talked like that when I first met the pilots," Yumi admitted, smirking at the others.

     "Why was the kitchen in such a state?" Megumi asked Belldandy, "In fact the whole temple looked like it had been ransacked and you were still cleaning up."

     Boy is she nervous, Ranma thought about Belldandy.

     "Oh, we were searching for something," Belldandy told her, smiled disarmingly.

     Ranma thought he caught a grin, teeth and all, from Rei, just as swiftly gone.  If I could move as fast as her smiles appear and disappear, Ranma thought, I would be the greatest martial artist who ever lived.

     "So why did you insist on continuing to teach me the next day, before the picnic?" Ranma asked, trying not to sound confrontational.

     Asuka gritted her teeth before answering.  "I gave my word.  You know anything about keeping promises?  Well I keep mine."

     "I - " Ranma began angrily, but his ankles started feeling pained, he glanced around and noticed Sammi, Erin and Rei were staring at them, considering how well Sammi and Rei could throw, he changed direction.

     "If you listened, you'd know I was tryin' to say 'thanks', or don't you like bein' thanked."

     "You are welcome, sir."  Asuka gave him the most sarcastic curtsy he had ever seen.  "Last time yes, your `thanks` were unwelcome," Asuka told him.

     The massage `Ranko` offered, Ranma thought angrily, I could see how bad you were hurtin'.  Was I supposed to just ignore it?

     "Well, I want to thank you for the work, the money and the invitation to the party," Megumi broke in, breaking the tension between him and Asuka.

     Ranma still didn't know what her problem was, she was a good, if demanding, teacher, yet she never let him get close to her, Nobody, he stopped the thought, Rei said she let Raccoon and Nab-chan do the decontamination, which is pretty intimate.  Terrific, an answer and to get the rest, I gotta wait or get to the Azores.  "When do those two go through the Panama Canal and can I talk to them when they do?" Ranma asked.

     "You could probably radio them at anytime, if it's important, or write them a postcard if it can wait," Tomiyo told him.

     Ranma thought about how smitten the 'old man' was with Mirei, he wondered what their kids would be like.

     "Do you remember our preparations?" Rei-chan asked Shinji.  He had, at the time he hadn't realized why Rei-chan kept brushing up against him, the times he brushed her had been due to tight quarters and his own clumsiness, he'd assumed the same was true of Rei-chan.  At the party he realized differently.  They'd arrived as Megorofeld-chan had been unloading.  He and Rei-chan had immediately been surrounded by the entire softball team.

     "I remember you picking up that gorilla!" Sora laughed, "He looked so scared."  She paused, "Now I realize you'd never hurt him or anyone else."

     "I intended to frighten him," Rei-chan said, "He would not obey Mein Grossfeldmarschall, unacceptable."

     "Lemon."  Shinji offered Megorofeld-chan.  As sour as you look now, it would be an improvement, he thought as she turned her sour look at him, instead of apologizing, he kept smiling.  He wasn't exactly sure what would happen, but was prepared for the worst.

     His revelation that anything that occurred in the universe made Asuka Soryu Langley mad gave him he had a vast freedom of action with her, more so than Misato-san who got mad randomly and inconsistently.

     "Should I dab that behind my ears to smell nice?" she asked acidly.

     "Whatever you think best, Megorofeld-chan," Shinji said, and prepared for the explosion.

     It didn't come, Megorofeld-chan returned her attention to making lunch.

     "I though Megumi-san was going to die when we started doing 'Who's on First'!" Sora said to Rei-chan.

     "I am pleased someone knew it," Rei-chan replied.

     I'm glad it gave us some room to breathe, Shinji didn't say, Being closed in like that is . . . scary.

     "Did you notice anything . . . strange?" Belldandy asked, "Before that foul ball?"  She looked around uncertainly, like she had at some of the teasing.

     Shinji hadn't, neither had the other pilots.

     "So, did we talk you brother's ears off?" Megorofeld-chan asked, sounding almost apologetic.

     "No, I think he liked it," Megumi said.

     So did you and Sora, Shinji remembered feeling left out as Rei-chan, Megorofeld-chan, Keiichi-san, Sora, Megumi and Skuld all talked completely over his and Belldandy's heads.  They were having such a good time, he hadn't had the heart to interrupt.

     "Skuld hated it," Megumi admitted, "She thinks she's the only female engineer in Japan, or at least Tokyo."

     "HA!" Megorofeld-chan replied.  But the reminder of how the fun ended, quieted everyone.

     "Well, Megorofeld-chan's original plan worked," Shinji said, "Although Kaji-san and Hiro-san arguing was . . . interesting."

     Tomiyo laughed once.  "I particularly liked Ayanami-san's 'You have not considered children', as she walked through.  Major Katsuragi was oustandingly pleased."

     "That's where the question came from!" Megorofeld-chan realized.

     "Yes," Rei-chan said.

     "I think it was fun while it lasted," Toji said.

     "But you and Hikari-san never kissed!" Yumiwashi said.  That stopped everything.

The Worm That Hath Eat Of A King

     Erin cleared her throat.  "You were still teaching Ranma on the 15th when I drove you around."

     "Yeah, even in my nightmares," Ranma said and got a glare from Asuka.

     "He didn't eat all of your pancakes.  Sammi made sure there were plenty," Erin said with a smile.  Everybody assigned it to the Asuka vs. Ranma file folder, and didn't ask.

     Ranma received another glare from Asuka.  "She set up a 4.6 meter board 2.5 cm by 20.3 cm on the narrow edge and had me practice while walking on it," Ranma said, "Good practice though," he added in approving tones.

     "That's tough," Toji said.

     "Naw, putting it across a couple of sawhorses so it could wobble just made it interesting," Ranma said.  Everyone stared at him except Asuka.

     "I knew it would keep him occupied for a couple of hours," Asuka said, "Making sure he'd stick with it, that was the interesting part."  Now Asuka received the glare, gave a grin in response.

     "Aren't they ccuuuuutttteeeee?" Sammi squealed, mortifying the combatants and ending the battle.  Erin envied the other woman's easy handling of all the pilots, that ease made her the de facto leader of the guard force, she could always get them to cooperate or defuse situations that looked on the verge of violence.  Asuka alternated between needy and prickly, the deeper the need, the thicker and sharper the prickles that Asuka threw up as a defense.

     "I never expected you'd have your friends build you some bicycles," Erin said, "Don't you think the military could provide you transport to school?"

     "Always keep your options open, besides I want to watch Spineless teach Wondergirl how to ride, and see if Mr. 'I Can Balance Anything' can even ride a bike."  She grinned, Erin and Hikari joined her.

     Case in point, Erin thought.

     "By the way, Megumi, how is that going?" Asuka asked, smiling - but malevolently.

     "Uh, it should be ready soon, we, uh, have ordered the frame, we, uh, still have time," Megumi stammered as she backed away from Asuka step-by-step and Asuka advanced step-by-step, smiling all the while, "You wouldn't really step on our house, would you?"

     "Of course not," Asuka said with truly radiant innocence, "I only get out in my EVA during an alert.  There hasn't been one of those in a while."  Asuka waited until Megumi relaxed.  "Doesn't that mean we're overdue?" Asuka asked the guards.  Megumi nearly hit the roof.

     "I still need experience in Unit 02," Rei said.

     "You stay away from my EVA!" Asuka shouted as she advanced on Rei, "Don't even joke about things like that."

     Rei wasn't giving ground.  "With Major Katsuragi occupied, who else could function as Tactical Commander?" Rei asked, all innocence and curiosity.

     Asuka stopped, stunned.  "They wouldn't let me . . . would they?"

     "I have already recommended it to the Commander."

     "You WHAT?!" Asuka shrieked, backing away from `Wondergirl`.

     "I recomm - "

     "I heard that part, Wondergirl!" Asuka shouted, "What would have possessed you to do that?!"

     Rei considered for a moment.  "Common sense?" Rei offered.

     Asuka stared slack-jawed at Rei.  "You're joking," she said softly.

     "No," Rei said louder that Asuka, "It is a logical conclusion.  Has anyone gainsaid me?"

     Asuka looked at the others who were mulling the idea over, but nobody simply laughed at her.  Asuka looked completely stunned.

     "We were picked up by Erin-san and Mein Grossfeldmarschall," Rei said, "She had promised to wash Pilot Saotome's hair, and that I should learn to wash Pilot Ikari's."

     "She washed Ranma's hair," Toji said.

     Rei stared at him.  "Did I say that?"

     "Oh."  Toji nodded, obviously thinking it was Ranko.  "Shinji you lucky dog!"  Toji elbowed Shinji, who winced and smiled.

     Sneaky Rei, Erin thought, Who'd you learn that trick from?

     "The process relaxed Saotome almost to the point of sleep," Rei said.

     Hikari stepped next to Asuka, "I'll need your help with Toji, he likes long hair, let him help take care of it," she said, then snickered.

     "I still want to know what was that thing I saw that morning, and the cold I ran through," Ranma said.

     "I don't know," Sammi said, "It's just another weirdness surrounding the pilots."

     That doesn't satisfy anyone, Erin thought.

     "We discussed children, whether each of us wanted them," Rei said, "Mein Grossfeldmarschall wanted us to understand the responsibilities."

     I noticed you didn't mention her vehement denials to wanting any kids of her own, Erin thought, And you always bring up what you think is the most important part.

     "I guess it should be discussed," Megumi said.

     "You have not discussed it with your paramour," Rei said.

     Accused, Erin thought, And doesn't Miss Belldandy look like a worm on a hook.  What are you doing, Ayanami?

     "He wants to complete school."  Belldandy looked at the faces around her.

     "If you do not agree on such fundamentals, you should not continue a relationship which will only hurt your partner," Rei said softly, glanced around for agreement, which she got in abundance.

     Whoa, Rei is really on the attack, Erin thought, glanced at the guards who were also ready to intervene.

     "Rei, people have to advance their relationships at their own pace," Juri said.

     For an instant, Rei looked like an attack dog that had been pulled off a steak.  Too polite and trained to snap at its owner, but displeased in the extreme.

     "So why don't you want kids?" Ranma took up the attack.

     Now it's got him, Erin thought and glanced at Sammi, who shook her head.  Logical, part of why we allowed this is to let the kids interact with other `normal` people, Erin thought, glanced at Asuka, wondered if she was maneuvering to attack or just observing the exchange of fire.

     "I didn't think about it because I always thought I'd be a martial artist, just a martial artist, but me . . . and Ranko, have something to think about," Ranma admitted softly, "But you're an adult, you should have thought about that kind of stuff - "

     "Ranma."  Megumi tried to defend her friend.  " I'm sure Belldandy - "

     "Shinji's dad abandoned him when his mom died, Rei doesn't even know who her parents are, Raccoon's dad and mom never wanted him and told him so, Asuka's dad used his daughter to rise in power and was going to leave a pretty, 12-year-old girl to the Russian Army to save his own skin, I don't know if I've got parents, Nab-chan's are both dead, she's had to fend for herself, I don't want to know what she's had to do to survive.  Don't tell me that you can 'wait' for the subject to come up," Ranma said vehemently.

     Megumi and Belldandy backed away from the force of his anger.

     Erin had never heard Ranma so passionate and rabid.  Belldandy looked like he'd been physically pummeling her, Megumi was silent.  Ranma backed away without offering or looking apologetic.

     "I'm glad Rei-san brought it up," he said finally.

     Ranma had figured out whom Raccoon had attacked for attacking Rei, and that Rei had been trying to signal them all day, trying to be provocative to one person in particular, as if she were restrained from physically attacking the same way Raccoon had been from killing.  He wondered why Raccoon hadn't just gunned her down, but he hadn't and Ranma only had his suspicions.  The things he had just spilled out in his anger had come from his own speculations on the memories from Raccoon and Rit-chan, and a little reading he should have done a long time ago.  The idea that anyone had attacked Rei made him furious, not because Ranko had a crush on Rei or any such nonsense, it was because Rei would defend another pilot, to the death if necessary, and would not adequately defend herself.

     So somebody else has to, Ranma thought, I guess that's what the others were so mad about, my skills didn't defend them.  I didn't use my skills to defend them.

     "I started teaching classes on the 16th," he said to get himself under control.  "I had a lot of help from 'Langley'," he laughed at the absurdity, "Because I can't teach."

     "Yet," Asuka said sternly, "If I can't train you, Raccoon and Ranko can teach you."

     He had to smile at that.

     "It seemed okay to me," Tomiyo said, "And I want to found a dojo, I'd be glad to have you as a teacher, Saotome-san."  He bowed.  "I went back and scribbled down pages of notes about how to do it."

     Ranma was embarrassed and silent.  He glanced at Asuka, the real reason for his success, she was smiling but not looking at him.  Just like the Cooking Contest.  That part that got you so mad, you do to me, he realized, Give somebody a goal and a boost.  He wondered if he'd ever understand his fellow pilots.

     "That can't have done much," Toji said


     Toji turned at Shinji's odd tone and Shinji feinted with his right, and nearly connected with his left.

     "Two lessons," Shinji explained.

     "What were the moves, right and left?" Asuka asked.

     'High guard, medium cut, head thrust to High guard; Plough guard, powerful cut, below cut to Oxen guard.' The pilots intoned.

     Toji was aghast.

     "Careful Toji," Yumiwashi teased, "If you hit him again, you won't like it."

     Toji gulped and nodded.

     "See Horseface, they paid attention," Asuka told him.  Ranma nodded.

     "I feel sorry for the next Angel," Hikari said.

     "I thought that," Ranma said seriously, "And others paid the price . . . last time."

     "We did our best," Rei told him.

     Ranma smiled at her.  "Being the best isn't good enough," Ranma said, "I guess I never thought of that before."

     Belldandy was uneasy about the escort home, even moreso about all the fine pots, pans and utensils - that girl's - thank you gift.  The pilots had insisted leaving them alone that way 'Simply was not done', then they'd all laughed.  That girl - had to know who and what Belldandy was, but there was no way Ranma could have discovered it.

     Yet he attacked, as if I was an enemy, she thought uneasily.  Of all the pilots, that he would turn against her was the most powerful disappointment.  She had seen the effect her presence had on the others, she was terrified that her missteps might have cost them the very element he'd been brought in to provide.  The other pilots and guards seemed neutral to polite to her.  Fortunately Megumi and Sora were still approved of and were still interacting, laughing and talking with the pilots.

     They reached the gate of the temple grounds, Belldandy felt something wrong, something very wrong.  She opened the door to reveal Skuld, running desperately around the corner of the temple proper, tears in her eyes, her mallet in hand.

     "Big sister!" Skuld shouted as she ran towards Belldandy and the group.

     Belldandy's eyes widened as Skuld was pursued by literally hundreds of bugs, some following her around the corner, others leaping over the temple roof.  She didn't know what to do, she couldn't reveal her powers.

     Ranma was already sprinting forward, he grabbed Skuld and raced back to the group.  Sammi grabbed Belldandy and thrust her behind the line of guards and pilots.

     "FIRE!" Sammi commanded as she fired her B.A.R., Asuka and - that girl - began a steady fire with their pistols.  Ranma had drawn a sword and slew the few bugs that got through the relentless fusillade.  Shinji caught the boxes of ammunition and metal bits - that girl - tossed to him, and he loaded six fresh bullets into them and handed it back, likewise he handed six bullets to Asuka as she emptied her pistol and punched out the spent casings one at a time.  Juri reloaded the magazines of Sammi's B.A.R. while Erin and Tomiyo stood by, firing occasionally with their shotguns.  It resulted in a continuous noise, so loud it was felt not heard.

     Belldandy looked at the terrified faces of the girls and Toji as the almost continuous fire and Ranma's cries of rage echoed around the street.  The astringent gun smoke curled around them.

     The silence abruptly descended, it seemed so alien for a moment.  Belldandy coughed at the gun smoke, but none of the bugs were in evidence.  The guards and pilots stood there, scanning the area, determining whether it was safe or not.  Not safe for them, but safe for those that lived here.

     "Spineless!" Asuka said angrily as she methodically reloaded.

     Shinji shook his head, he seemed as surprised as anyone.

     Belldandy dreaded the possibility of ever explaining this, not to the pilots, but to Megumi and her friends.  She had no idea how she would keep Megumi and Keiichi-san out of interrogation or prison for disguising her and her sisters' presence.

     "Uh . . . " Asuka began, "I think it would be a good idea if this never happened."

     Belldandy stared at her, utterly stunned.

     "One question," Megumi said, "Does this happen often?"

     "It didn't happen," That girl - told her.

     "Okay, how often doesn't this happen?" Megumi asked as she slowly recovered from the shock.

     "Too often," Sammi said, "But only to the pilots, you should be safe after we check the place out."

     Belldandy didn't know why the pilots had kept staring angrily at Shinji during the exchange.

     "Right it didn't happen," Megumi said as Sammi and Tomiyo moved off to make sure it was clear.  Megumi coughed at the acrid smoke.  "No bodies and you're collecting the casings.  Nothing happened.  Right Sora?"

     "Ham, haram, har, hamra, ham, . . . " Sora said, staring at the kids who suddenly became combat troops.

     "So," Asuka said brightly, "Do you want to schedule another lesson?"

H1 [Ranma][NGE][HPL][AMG][Fusion][Fanfic] Sic Semper Morituri Chapter 41 - The War Situation Has Developed Not Necessarily to Japan's Advantage

And they say 'You don't tug on Superman's cape, You don't spit into the wind, You don't pull the mask on that old Lone Ranger, and you don't mess around with Jim'

You Don't Mess Around With Jim - Jim Croce

And When the Bad Folks All Get Together at Night

July 18, 1947

     They had assembled at midnight.  Not for the symbolism, although most of them delighted in it, but for concealment.  Usagi did not want to get caught, considering what they were planning.

     The forest was dark and tightly wooded, again for concealment.  The depressed bowl would hide their actions and disguise the sounds they made.  The ridge that rose steeply in front of them allowed them to climb to the top to gain an unobstructed view of their handiwork when the time came.

     Usagi wore plain, brown robes over her clothes.  Others stripped off their robes and reversed them.  The `mystic` symbols, the gilt and lace, the fancy stones and other shiny bits made Usagi smile.  It showed how little they understood about the power they revered.  Glistening junk and magical pretensions made little difference.  She glanced at Yuki and remembered how the girl had lobbied to perform their rituals 'sky-clad'.  Usagi thought Yuki enjoyed flaunting her body a little too much.  She hadn't needed to stifle the impulse, the others had universally refused.

     It had still taken a lot of Usagi's efforts to smooth over that disagreement.  The dark brown robes had been a compromise, Yuki could be naked under her robes if she wished, Usagi didn't want to consider if that was what she was doing.

     The ingredients had been slowly collected and hoarded for a long time, there was no better time to use them.  She rejected the idea that NERV, the EVA pilots and the EVAs themselves should be annihilated.  They might be needed later if one of the other `gods` proved difficult.  Besides, NERV wrongly believed that 'clear the Earth' meant nothing would be brought back.  The chosen would spend a time within the Goddess to be reborn to repopulate the planet.  She lamented the arrogant stupidity of people and some doctrines, false and/or merely malicious.

     Tomoe looked around with disdain, Usagi could never figure out how her little sister could be so different from her.  She never knew why Tomoe was so nasty, she'd never learned that a threat or a negotiation achieved the same results as her methods.  And, you were vastly less likely to a) get caught b) try to beat up something far stronger than you were, and c) manipulating people was so much more satisfying when only you knew you'd beaten them.

     The fire pit drew her attention.  The ingredients were assembled there, awaiting her orders and instructions.

     This was the perfect time, she could give in to the bloodthirsty demands of the others and still not destroy all of their `enemies`, Misguided rivals, she thought.  One EVA and three pilots would remain, an ample counterforce if needed, an easy target on the impossible chance she was wrong.  Also, the sudden loss of three colleagues would make the fourth available pilot and the two reservists more amenable, she might be able to recruit all three to the Goddess and then there would be no need to take further action against them.  It would also allow her to finally bring boys under the Goddess's aegis, another goal she had long and unsuccessfully argued for.

     As such, she had arranged things so there would be no dissent here, now.  All were firm in their purpose.  She set the carrier down, heard the faint scratching at the metal walls.

     "Patience, you're getting as bad as Tomoe!" she cooed to it.

     "I don't see why we need that . . . thing."  Tomoe was so unnerved she'd completely missed the insult.

     "We need 'that thing' to help with the spells and insure the Goddess's blessings on out endeavors.  And afterwards it needs to get out and hunt, unless you want to catch things and feed them - "  More scratching interrupted her.  "Yes, you're hungry, little darling, soon, soon."  She turned back to Tomoe.  "And we need to be in accord for the ritual.  We aren't exactly calling up a bunch of sugar plum fairies."  Usagi heard the laughter, saw the anger in Tomoe's eyes.  The girl hated being teased, and any ritual that included their Goddess's greatest blessing always worried Tomoe.

     Too bad, Usagi thought, That is why I'm still the leader.

     The other girls had even less understanding than Tomoe, but time was not on their side, they needed to move quickly or surprise would be lost.  While she had no doubt they were deploying an overwhelming force, they still needed the element of surprise.

     The brown robed girls circled the cold fire pit.  Again, the lack of fire was for concealment in the darkness, not for any ceremonial purpose, Usagi had tried to convince them.  Every single one of them, including Yuki was sure she was just telling them a story.

     They chanted the words that were ancient when the world was new.  Fire would draw attention, and the frantic scrabbling in the fire pit of their Goddess's gift focused their attention on their mission and that they were succeeding.  They wouldn't even have to shed blood, the gift would do that for them.

     Usagi felt an elation beyond her previous experience, saw it mirrored on the faces of the others.  They were performing the mightiest summoning they had ever attempted, perhaps the mightiest humans had ever attempted, and their Goddess was smiling on them.  Proof of that was the stunning, unearthly chorus that joined their voices as the chanting reached the climax.

     Soon! Usagi thought as she dreamt of all bowing to the Goddess, So very soon.

     The figure watched the circle break up, as the girls stumbled away from the effort of spellcasting.  The forest concealed its presence as it concealed the girls from most watching eyes.  The summonings were complicated, the results would be questionable, the twisted forces curled farther as he watched.  It had thought these would be ideal sacrifices, now it realized that it would be useful to see the outcome of their methods.  If they were hopeless, it would still be able to sacrifice all of them for its own plan.

     "We have a reading!" Aoba shouted, the energy patterns he'd detected through the Magi were unmistakable.  "Correction, two, no - three!  Three separate targets, send the alert, get the Commander and the Admiral on the line."

     Alarms sounded through the complex, although at this hour few heard them.  Outside, air raid sirens wailed, there they had a much wider audience.

     One thing Aoba had always loved about the night shift was the enemy almost never attacked at night, night shift normally only supervised maintenance.  He hoped the 'day' crew got here before the pilots.  He wasn't looking forward to having to do the hand off in the middle of the battle.  He really didn't want to try to manage the battle himself.

     Shinji was still waiting.  Misato hadn't gotten home yet, being interrogated seemed to encourage her drinking.  He didn't understand why she was so depressed, they seemed to be gathering intelligence.  Not trying to arrest her.  He'd sat in on the hearing today, they didn't seem so bad.  He had already put away dinner, gotten a nap and waited.

     He didn't know what else to do.  He had asked Megorofeld-chan, and she'd suggested 'Give her a kick'.  He decided not to ask Megorofeld-chan for advice on Misato-san and her behavior in the future.  He had a bad feeling Rei-chan was supporting Misato-san because he was, and she was unlikely to provide him much help making his decision.

     He wished he could talk with Nabiki, Akagi-sensei or Raccoon, they might understand.

     He was happy when Hiro arrived and knocked on the door.  He was less happy that he was carrying Misato, who was bemoaning her fate.  Shinji acted as if she wasn't doing anything embarrassing, or saying anything embarrassing.  He fended off her grabs, as Hiro was doing, until they sat her in a chair at the table, where she put her head on the table and began to weep uncontrollably.  He had brewed some strong tea, he reheated it, offering a cup with milk and sugar to Hiro who looked tired and a little disgusted, Misato refused to drink hers.  Shinji and Hiro accepted her drunken denials, until Hiro had enough.

     "I bet you can't drink it," Hiro suggested, "Don't feel bad."

     She lifted her head, stared hatefully at him with bloodshot eyes.  She grabbed the tea and downed it all in one gulp.  She returned the cup to the table with a look of triumph.  The triumphant look froze on her face with a woozy grin as she collapsed bonelessly back onto the table.

     Shinji sighed.  "I don't think we'll be able to wake her before morning," Shinji admitted.

     Hiro nodded his agreement, looked like he regretted moving his head.  "Might be a good idea to let her sleep it off."

     "Where did you find her?" Shinji asked, he was getting a little tired of her getting drunk to escape her problems, because he could see the problems didn't go away.  Either someone else had to solve it, or it didn't get solved and often it got worse.  They rarely if ever went away, and having someone else solve the symptom, didn't solve the problem behind it.  No matter how skilled or elegant the solution, because the person would resent her or know they were owed.

     Shinji glanced at Pen Pen, who'd come out of his fridge to watch the proceedings.  Once he saw no food was forthcoming and there was nothing to be done, he promptly returned to his fridge.  Shinji couldn't blame him, he was a little bored with the situation as well.

     "It isn't as if it's as bad as she thinks."

     Hiro glanced at him.  "How much have you heard?"

     "I went to see.  They were questioning her about a Japanese submarine.  She just answered their questions.  They weren't even mean about it.  Kensuke, that's a guy in my class who's a military nut, he could have answered most of the questions," Shinji said, not daring to voice his real question: 'Why does she keep doing this?'

     Hiro only shrugged.

     Then Shinji heard the klaxons, "They never attack at night?!" he exclaimed as he headed for the phone.  He'd be told exactly what to do, they'd drilled him on this.

     "Pilot Ikari, I need transport."

     "This is Aoba, uh, I, - " came the uncertain voice at the other end, and the sound of flipping pages.  Shinji waited impatiently, he knew what to expect, but he didn't want to suggest it to the man.

     "Transport is being sent, Tomiyo Tendo will be with it."

     That still didn't answer Shinji's principal question.  "Is this a drill?" he asked in an exasperated tone.

     "No, it's real."

     He heard the phone disconnect at the other end.  He replaced the handset on the cradle.  "I have to wake her," he told Hiro about the snoring Misato, "The alert is real."

     Hiro paled, glanced desperately at Misato, then back at Shinji.

     Shinji sighed, thought of all the stories of how to wake up and sober up a drunk.

     "Cold shower," Hiro suggested, picking her up easily.  Shinji jogged ahead to open the door to the bathroom.  Hiro set her in the shower stall and Shinji sprayed her with icy water.  Misato moved weakly.

     Both heard Tomiyo's voice.

     "Go, I'll help her along," Hiro told him.

     Shinji dashed from the room.

     This command car has concrete shocks and no springs worth mentioning, Asuka thought as they raced for the base, pausing only to bounce over every pothole in Tokyo.  Her bones shaking, she idly wondered between bounces whether they were shaking her brain loose, and who would be going out.  Me, of course, but what about the others?  It bothered her that the others could command multiple EVAs.  She was the best with Unit 02 by a wide margin, she was the best overall, also by a wide margin, but she could only command Unit 02.  It isn't fair, she thought as she looked over Sammi, Erin and Horseface.  There seemed no bounds to Horseface's enthusiasm.  He gets to defend the Earth and become more of a monster while he does it.  Maybe he thinks he can become the 'Angel of Martial Arts' and become one with the cosmos, Asuka lamented, But who else would do it?  Anna, Curly?  Raccoon or Ice Princess?  Better we do it, then go on from there, rather than destroying anyone else.  She turned away from the others.

     They entered the base and drove through the wide corridors.  The shocked looks as the car drove through the pristine corridors made Asuka smile.  "Make way for the Heroes!" Asuka called out.  She got a dark look from Horseface.  "Cheer up!  You may get a chance to die honorably," she told him, "That will make your day."

     He looked even more put out.  She laughed at him.

     The car abruptly stopped in from of the locker room.  Asuka thought if Erin stopped quicker, she would have pitched them right into the locker room itself.  She staunchly refused to mention this possibility to Erin, for fear she'd try it next time.  As they entered, the view shocked Asuka, there was Wondergirl, already there, already suited up and ready.

     "Should I even ask?" Asuka was shocked.  Horseface just shook his head.

     "I ran," Wondergirl told her, "Mein Grossfeldmarschall would not have it any other way."

     Asuka just shook her head as she headed to her locker.

You Know They All Call Big Jim Boss . . . Just Because . . .

     Where are the others? Aoba thought as he adjusted his console, and his mind set, he was going to have to help manage this battle.  "EVA Units 00, 01, 02 launching.  Three targets on widely different vectors."

     "Send Unit 02 to engage the target heading for the harbor, send Unit 01 to intercept the target heading towards the Navy Fuel Depot," Gendo ordered, "Send Unit 00 to engage the flying target.  Order Rei to standby in the ready room."

     Aoba gave the orders.  "Commander, these are by far the largest enemies we've encountered," Baker reported, "The one heading to the harbor is easily three times the size of the first Angel we fought."  He got no answer, and no rebuke.

     I guess that's the best we can hope for, Aoba thought, glancing at Baker.

     Asuka in Unit 02, was sprinting to the harbor, Shinji in Unit 01 placed himself between the fuel depot and the attacker.  Ranma in Unit 00, headed towards the flying cloud.  Aoba glanced around, he didn't know how this worked, but he'd let the kids have their head and he'd keep them aware of the situation and their mission.  They knew what they were doing better than he did.  He didn't even know what the targets looked like, and wouldn't until the Units got close.  The command staff was in the dark.  It made him wonder where Katsuragi was, and Hyuga.  The kids would be in combat in a few moments.

     "I have visual," Asuka announced, "Switching over.  I wasn't able to intercept them before they entered the harbor, request assistance from the Navy in a water intercept."

     Aoba felt a lump in his throat, two of the immense worms Shinji fought had slid into the water in front of Unit 02.  The Navy was already maneuvering, along with every merchant vessel, fishing boat and sampan in the harbor.  Some were running toward, some were running away, some were just running.  Aoba heard nothing from Ikari, so he authorized the water intercept and sent Asuka's request to the Navy.  He suspected they had a lot on their minds right now.  The sudden explosion of a coal ship punctuated that in a way that defied contradiction.

     Some nightfighters were up, but their radar couldn't find what the NERV sensors could clearly `see`.  The EVAs continued to advance towards their targets.

     "Our enemies are getting wise," Fuyutsuki leaned close to Gendo, who nodded.

     "We've dealt with dholes before, but I don't remember any other creatures large enough to engage an EVA, we should be able to destroy them one at a time," he told his old friend.  He noted Katsuragi's and Hyuga's arrival.  "I am concerned they must have thought of that."

     "Ranma," Katsuragi commanded, "Open fire immediately."

     "I figured that.  I just want to see what I'm shooting at," Saotome replied, "Firing."

     Gendo stared at the screen, he couldn't pick the target out of the darkness, but the shining gold ball of Saotome's attack slowly illuminated the quarry.  Like golden sunlight, Saotome's sphere sailed up into the flying swarm, for that's what it was, many different targets, rather than a single one.

     That's better news, Gendo thought as the glowing ball revealed more details.  First bit as the ball passed, searching for its target, were dozens of shantaks, great horse-headed birds on the scale of the legendary elephant hunting roc, the ball passed dozens of them.

     Then it passed something else, like a huge, winged rope, black as night, invisible in the darkness, Hunting Horrors.  The creature reacted violently to the nearness of the light, although it wasn't even the target.

     Gendo noted that, wondering if the creature's phobia of light, or something else, elicited the reaction.  He filed it away for later analysis.  Shantaks were barely-intelligent beasts of burden, the Hunting Horrors were the harriers of the Outer Gods, both would pursue prey relentlessly, the Horrors would do so with a cruel intelligence.  That also meant that an Outer God was involved, they were vastly more powerful than the Great Old Ones.  Gendo had hoped to avoid confrontations with those creatures until the Children and the EVAs had grown in power.

     The ball ignored all those it passed and homed in unerringly on the target, closing along the shortest line.  The shantak initially targeted had climbed, now it dove for the ground, dragging the golden ball along through anything that got in the way.  As soon as it passed, darkness returned.  Gendo hoped the pilots' vision was better than what they were getting through the Magi.

     Gendo watched quietly as the target of the projectile broke from the rest of the swarm and drew away, luring the weapon into collisions with trees and buildings, eroding its power.

     Only Shinji's target, or possibly targets, remained unknown.

     "This doesn't bode well," Gendo commented neutrally.

     Shinji watched the swarm of flying things scatter when faced by Saotome-san.  The golden glowing ball selected one target and pursued relentlessly, while the others closed in on Unit 00.  Megorofeld-chan was facing two of what he'd fought on his first sortie, if she was even half as good as her boasting, she'd win that fight.

     He was worried that his enemy, or enemies, were playing a coy game: they would advance rapidly, until he could intercept, then run away again, forcing him to close in, at a point not of his choosing.  That was okay, he could also decide not to confront them directly, and keep them away from the fuel tanks.  With the new S type engines, he and the others had six hours, there was no need for the headlong charges anymore, they could play a more careful game.

     He heard Misato-san's orders to Ranma, and to Megorofeld-chan, for the moment she seemed to have forgotten him.  He approached as he'd seen Megorofeld-chan move, run then stop, run then see what the enemy did.  His enemy seemed unwilling to let him get a good look at them, he'd only just been able to discover there were several of them, or it was a really big one.  Some half a mile from end to end.  He hoped it was several smaller targets.      "Why are you hanging back?" Misato-san's voice and image cut through his considerations.

     "I don't want them to get to the fuel dump," he explained.

     "Never mind that!  It's only two kilometers ahead.  Go after it!"

     He charged as ordered.  The target shifted right as several targets appeared to the left, he'd run past them and they'd be behind him.  He wished they'd appear long enough for him to get a good look at them.

     Doesn't the military have flares or something? he wondered.

     "Don't let them get behind you, cut to the left."

     Shinji shifted course, he hoped Megorofeld-chan was enjoying her swim, he was no longer enjoying his run.

     He considered the problem, he wished Misato-san would order a switch, let Megorofeld-chan handle the fliers, as she had against Cthugha's servants, let Ranma deal with this in and out actions by these things, and let him deal with the dholes, he'd fought them once, he had ideas on how to do it again.  Ways that didn't involve getting eaten and slicing them open from the inside.

     "Can sonar give me a fix?" Asuka asked as she walked through Tokyo Harbor.  She was hampered by the need to avoid colliding with any of the warships, not for the damage she might do to them, but the damage they might do to Unit 02.  She hated not being able to see her prey, she also disliked how big it was.  Like everybody else, probably in the world, she'd seen the newsreel footage of Spineless's first battle, getting eaten and killing the thing from the inside.  She'd thought it was an innovative tactic, then she'd learned it was an accident.  That had been pathetic, but now she had to beat two of them, hiding in water.

     She felt more than saw the depth charge launchers and the explosions.  She wished the harbor was empty of civilians, the shock of the blast might wreck a poorly-made boat.  She also didn't want to think about the effect of a nearby explosion on anyone unprotected in the water.  She remembered Hiroko's warning to Wondergirl.

     That probably goes double for depth charges, Asuka thought.

     The flashes of gunfire she could clearly see, what the gun flashes revealed was not encouraging.  A few burning ships did not illuminate the scope of the damaged or crippled boats, the people bobbing in the water.

     None of it would prevent her from destroying the enemy, because more, far more, would be killed by her inaction.  That didn't make her happy about the helpless victims and putting them in greater danger.  One reason she hated these things, she could understand destroying for a purpose, destroying just to destroy was irrationality.

     I just love my life, she thought.  One of those things could flatten a battleship, but the battleships, cruisers and destroyers might be able to help with their guns and torpedoes.  If they can find it, Asuka thought, Unit 02 walked forward slowly, a sonic glaive at the ready.  She wished she had some trick to detect the things.  She had her AT field formed into dozens of long thin spines extending out into the water, below the surface.  If one of the monsters charged her, she'd know it when it impaled itself.  While that defended her, she reminded herself that an EVA wasn't to defend just itself.  The fleet was here, so were the fishing boats and the merchant vessels that fed and clothed and powered the city.  She had to defend them too.

     She hated this, was that ripple the creature, or just where several wakes overlapped for a moment.  Asuka watched another explosion, a tanker this time.  The fire continued to form the slick spreading out from the stricken ship, illuminating the area around it.  The few fireboats, all in U.S. Navy livery, poured water into the vessel.  Asuka knew the casualty count was ratcheting up steadily as she failed to corner and kill these things.  She watched waves capsize several smaller boats, other vessels dodged the worms and the previous victims, sometimes collisions between or even among the potential victims.  It was a disaster.  And she walked through it like a dispassionate god, ignoring the lesser concerns of mortals, intent on a `greater` purpose.  She moved through the harbor, she was aware her own wake might swamp the rescue boats, killing those on board, she was more aware that is she didn't get this thing, they were going to have a lot of company.

     "Sonar, Unit 02, target 353 degrees relative, closing rapidly."

     Asuka turned slightly and readied the glaive, she mentally cursed, I should have brought several, then I could throw them.

     The creature shied away, just out of her reach.  Asuka chased after it, only managing to stab at it, then it sped away.

     "Maybe getting eaten and slicing the thing open from the inside isn't as dumb a strategy as I thought," Asuka said as she wracked her brain for an answer.  Asuka stopped and advanced more carefully, waiting for another opportunity to stab the thing.  It's comparatively slow, she thought, Maybe only eight body lengths per minute, but as big as it is that's 240+ kph.  I can't move that fast in water, not even at a dash.  She moved through the harbor, destroyers and DE's were escorting the fishing boats and merchantmen out, cruisers moved here and there.  She could understand why, that was the food source for the city.  Lose those little boats and in days the city would starve.  She continued to move, continued to search, trying to sound slightly out of sorts, trying to be bait, hoping the unusual sound, smell and sight of the EVA would draw the enemy to her, rather than drive it away.

     She heard Misato-`sama` yelling at Spineless, and Horseface shooting at `birds`.  She walked carefully, she admitted to herself that she had the wrong temperament to be a hunter like this, she needed to be half buzzard to do that, she'd rather close with it and kill it.  If Misato-`sama` had the smarts everyone said she did, she'd switch Unit 01 for Unit 02.  Spineless could stand and wait better than she could.

     About the only thing he can do better than I can, she thought.

     Ranma watched the target dive for the deck, making the ball run through the trees.  The passage didn't seem to harm the trees, but it did weaken the ball.  He could feel that, feel it coming apart.  Worse was when they ducked behind a building and the ball plowed into it.  The first time that happened, Ranma had been apoplectic.  But for whatever reason, the ball, not the building, took the brunt of the damage.  Now it was their standard tactic.

     Ranma couldn't figure out how to make the ball go faster, or pick the nearest target as it flew, or somehow make it less obvious which one it was going after.  He might as well paint a line between himself and his target, a little flittering around by the swarm and even the horse-birds figured out who he was aiming at.

     I'm just not devious enough, he admitted, That's not a bad thing.  He wished he had someone who might give him a clue.  He did not want to ask Misa-chan, he didn't know what she thought she was doing, but ordering ole' Spineless around like a marionette wasn't helping anybody, except the enemy.

     Ranma had heard about the hearings about things Gendo and Misa-chan had done against the Americans in Boston.  But he wasn't in Boston with us, and she was with us most of the time, what could she have done? Ranma knew such speculations were useless, but everything else seemed to be working against him.

     Ranma gritted his teeth as he slashed the air.  Again they stayed out of range of his sonic glaive, And when I fire, it chases after one of them, he thought.  He watched that one dodge and maneuver while the rest threw stuff at him, until either the ball ran out of power or it would evade and the ball wouldn't reacquire.  It seems an AT field ball has a maximum range, he thought, Beyond it would quit chasing a target.  How'd they know that?

     Ranma wanted to know how they knew the vagaries of his attacks better than he did.  Right now, without something to dodge, they flew in a tight formation, they'd swoop close to the ground and then rise into the air before he could close on them.  They'd swirl around his head, high into the night sky, even his best jumps couldn't get at them.  As soon as he landed, they pelted him with the debris they had collected.  From trash cans and benches, to jeeps and even a whole truck.  It was useless, on both sides.  He was getting angrier.  He wanted to fill the sky with his AT field missiles, but the second would vanish rather than the first.

     I need to improve that, Ranma lamented silently, he needed to get them closer.  "Come and get me!" he shouted at them.

     "Crap!" he shouted as they swarmed him, he prepared the glaive to catch one or two before they broke off.

     "NUTS!" he shouted as he dodged the barrage of rocks, I-beams, small vehicles, none of the `birds` came within range.

     As they flew back out of range, he wished he could make a flyswatter like Shinji could, or some of Asuka's tricks.  He wondered if Asuka would be willing to trade opponents, he figured he'd be better at hunting worms, while Asuka would be better at sweeping them from the sky.

     I have to discover a better way to deal with these things, he thought, At least Misa-chan is concentrating on driving ole' Shinji crazy, I've got enough to worry about, he wondered if the anti-aircraft guns could work on these things.  He didn't know how to lure them down into range to find out.

     They landed, he charged them, scattering them before they could collect their missiles to hurl at him.  This time many guns tracked and fired at them, from tanks, to jeeps with machineguns, to individual soldiers.  But all that fire shut off like a spigot once the birds got above 50 meters, Ranma suddenly realized that his altered eyesight and the EVA let him see the creatures clearly, but everyone else was blind.

     Oh good grief! he cursed, That's why I'm not getting any help, that's why I'm here, Asuka and Shinji couldn't see them either.  I guess Misa-chan isn't so dumb after all, he thought morosely.  He wondered if he could keep them `entertained` until it was light enough to see and been seen.

     Then these things will be in for a surprise, he thought, In the meantime, how do I get these things close enough that I can hit them?

     A few of the horse-birds complained loudly back and forth, the black, ropey serpents made their cries.  Ranma had the eerie feeling the ropey serpents were directing the others.  He wished Raccoon were here, he'd know how smart these things were, and unlike Gendo, he'd tell them.  And maybe if there were four EVAs, he thought, We wouldn't be having the trouble we're having.

     Rei entered the command deck and glanced around, she heard Miss Katsuragi warn Mein Grossfeldmarschall to watch out behind her, then Shinji-kun that one of the enemy was trying to get around behind him.  It was obvious, even to Rei, that the older woman was extremely frustrated.

     She shouldn't be here, Rei thought, She has been relieved of duty.  She glanced up at the Commander, if he had no objections, Rei would not raise the issue.

     Rei could understand Miss Katsuragi's frustration, the enemy typically closed and the EVAs charged, and the battle was over.  If the enemy was unaware of the greater time available due to the S type engines, their tactics would have been sound.

     But the normal battery life has long elapsed, she thought.

     Rei had requested, and received permission to return to the command deck to observe.  Rei was confused by the frantic maneuvering and useless orders, as if the Miss Katsuragi had forgotten the time/power problem had been solved, or she had forgotten that the pilots knew their jobs.

     Rei noted the men were checking their equipment and looking around, and looking at each other in frustration.  They could no than form a comment, when Miss Katsuragi would shout something to the pilots that eliminated what they were trying to do.  The exact cause of their frustration, Rei couldn't guess, being countermanded before they could say anything, the general helplessness of NERV in assisting the pilots, or that they were absolutely failing at their task and were thus worse than useless.  Rei decided that she would have to pick one pilot, and directly support them.  She analyzed the three battles and realized there was only one whom she could immediately benefit.

     The one who truly needed continuous updates was Mein Grossfeldmarschall, whose expertise was needed against the fliers.  Leaving the Fourth's superior speed and hand-to-hand capability against those playing 'hide-and-seek' against Shinji-kun.  She wondered how she could tell Miss Katsuragi her conclusions.

     She dreaded that she couldn't, perhaps if someone told her how to, she would.

     All she could do was support the Commander, she took Analyst Ibuki's vacant station and plugged in her own A10 nerve clip into the Magi access.

     The information suddenly available to her was staggering.  Despite all her time at NERV, she had never interfaced with the Magi system.  She shook her head for a moment to clear it, then she concentrated her efforts on assisting Mein Grossfeldmarschall's efforts.  She evidently had a much better view of the enemies' positions than the EVA pilot did.

     Asuka wished she had a professional fisherman or a crocodile hunter, to give her some guidance on how to read the movement of the water, to tell her where the things were.

     "Mein Grossfeldmarschall, one target north northwest 1800 meters moving across, second target southeast 3.5 kilometers moving away."

     Asuka though Horseface had suddenly changed sexes, then she realized it was - "Wondergirl?  Aren't you back at base?"

     "Yes.  First target turning towards you."

     The image that formed wasn't Wondergirl's insipid face, but a radar-like screen, the `beam` of the radar was the direction Asuka's Unit 02 was facing, the images of the worms were little green dashes.  Asuka hoped they weren't to scale.  The ships around were red if military, blue if civilian and there was a faint afterimage as all the objects moved, giving a fading `tail` to indicate course and speed.

     Asuka had to admit, it was exactly what she needed.  But she wasn't going to admit that to Wondergirl.  Except later.  In private.

     Great, now I'm taking orders from Wondergirl, Asuka thought bitterly, I'm officially in Hell.

     "First target, northwest 1400 meters, second east southeast 2.5 kilometers.  First target closing obliquely, second describing an ellipse.  I believe you and target one are the axes points."

     Asuka shrugged.  I wanted another pair of eyes and some help, she thought, I've got them.  Next time I should be more specific what I ask for.

     She hoped Wondergirl's proprietary interest would keep the Major off her neck.  The worms were much faster than anything in the harbor, she wondered if they could use the sensor system to direct heavy artillery ashore or afloat down on the things.  A time-on-target barrage should be child's play for the Magi to calculate, but she doubted she could explain it all to Wondergirl in the time they had.

     Maybe later, she thought, When I congratulate her.  She smiled at the thought of Ice Princess and Raccoon as bridge officers.  They couldn't be worse that the idiots we've got now, Asuka thought.

     "Okay, concentrate on range and bearing on the closing target, but don't ignore the second one, watch for sudden changes in speed or direction."

     "Jawohl," Wondergirl said, "Northwest 1100 meters and accelerating."

     So it's circling, and it doesn't know how far I can project my AT field.  It's trying to attack my right flank rear, Asuka slowly bent her Unit's knees, she'd leap when the creature made its change.

     "Wondergirl, how are the others doing?"

     "West southwest 600 meters.  You are needed elsewhere," Wondergirl said.

     OOoo, Asuka thought, For Wondergirl, that's quite an inditement.

     "Southwest, 400 meters."

     Asuka's smile became a snarl, Finally coming in, at 200 meters . . . Asuka thought as she got ready.

     "South southwest 200 - "

     "AAAAHH!" screamed as she leapt, her sonic glaive stabbed into the worm, her AT field trapped part of it.  She couldn't get all of the huge monster.  "It's trapped, and IT'S GOT NO AT FIELD!" she shouted, "Tell them."  Asuka shouted, she hoped they get help here.

     Asuka watched a tail the size of a battleship rise out of the water and head towards her.  She dodged out of the way, since her AT field was otherwise occupied.  The creature was writhing and pounding on the barriers that she'd established that held it fast.  She hoped they hurried.  The splashes engulfed the EVA in whatever passed for water in Tokyo Harbor.

     "YAAAAA!  YUCK!" Asuka shouted angrily, "What genius gave these things working taste buds!"  She found the combination of L.C.L. on her actual tongue and Tokyo Harbor on the EVA's, created a new and fascinating taste sensation, somehow worse than Misato's cooking.

     "Thanks, Wondergirl."  Boy does that hurt to say, she thought.  "Now get me some artillery support!" she shouted into the pick up.

     "I am endeavoring," Wondergirl told her.

     While Asuka kept Unit 02 doing the dhole two-step, dodging the immense tail as it lashed about.  She hoped everything else had the good sense to stay clear.

     "Pilot Langley has trapped one of the worms," Rei turned and told Miss Katsuragi and the Commander, "She is requesting artillery assistance, she has neutralized its AT field."  Rei was disappointed that neither Miss Katsuragi nor the Commander ordered artillery or some other fire support.  Lieutenant Baker relayed Mein Grossfeldmarschall's information and request to the Navy.

     Rei waited, and fumed without showing her irritation.  She felt better when Mein Grossfeldmarschall was demanding something, or she was relaying the Commander's instructions.  Sitting and waiting frustrated her immensely.  Didn't they understand she needed instructions, orders, some idea of the actions she should be taking?

     Shinji-kun was in danger, and no one would tell her how to support him.  The Fourth was bumbling and no one would tell her to help him, and she couldn't get either Miss Katsuragi's or the Commander's attention to ask permission, neither was paying her any attention.

     So she sat, and seethed, waiting for information that would allow her to do her job, instructions to do something else to assist, or permission to speak and advise.

     Rei also felt jealousy, she was ashamed of it, but it was there.  She was jealous of the Fourth, even Shinji-kun.  She heard the Commander and Miss Katsuragi giving them such meticulous instructions, such a thorough understanding of what was expected of them, what actions they were to take, correcting what they were doing wrong or to an insufficient degree.  They would resent it, while she sat at her station and wished they could give her such clear instructions in doing her duty here, rather than giving her such general goals and no clues how they wanted her to achieve them.

     She sat, frustrated, waiting for someone to tell her what to do next.

     "Torpedo boats, Tennessee and South Dakota are inbound," Lt. Baker called back, "The Alaska is maneuvering."

     Rei waited for some order from Miss Katsuragi, receiving none, she relayed the information to Mein Grossfeldmarschall.

     " 'Hurry'," she repeated the other pilot's message.  Then she looked at the big status board.  "Shinji-kun," she whispered as the enemy charged him.

     Shinji watched them charge, they finally closed to visual range.  Shinji had never seen anything like them.  Two massive goat's feet/legs below a barrel that sprouted several tentacles that seemed to vary in length as they waved in the air.  Three of them, each nearly as tall as an EVA.  He'd heard rumors of the army fighting something like them, but he didn't remember anyone saying they were this big, not the size of an EVA, but big.

     The trio split and charged him from three separate directions.  For a moment Shinji panicked.  But he still had some room to retreat, and he bet he had superior speed.

     And Misato-san won't let me forget about the other ones, he thought as he charged.  He was irritated but not surprised when the one he charged retreated.  It didn't turn, it simply ran backwards.  He turned rapidly and headed for the nearest one.  Since he was coming in from behind it, he knew it couldn't retreat, except towards the fuel dump, and he'd catch it before it arrived.

     He closed on the now zigzagging creature and slashed at it with the glaive.  Neither Ranma nor Megorofeld-chan would have approved of his poor technique, but he severed one of the major tentacles.  Shinji grinned as he closed in.  Then the ground leapt up and hit him.  He glanced around and the severed tentacle uncoiled from his legs and headed, like a sidewinder, after the escaping monster.  He stabbed at it, but it evaded his strikes and increased its rate of retreat as he clambered to his feet.  He glanced around, the other creatures had also retreated.  His confusion now warred with his frustration at these tactics.  He knew when the sun was up, the Army and Navy would have a field day with these creatures, but until then, he had to `play` with them.  He felt his anger growing as he charged after them.

     When I catch one of these things! he thought, It is not getting away.  It's not going to get back up!

     "Uh, do these normally do that?" Shinji shifted his glaive in his hand.  They'd stopped, `shoulder` to `shoulder`.  He refused to be drawn into a trap, backing away to continue guarding the approaches to the fuel dump.  He worried what he'd do if chopping them into pieces wouldn't stop them.  He had listened to Ranma and Asuka's struggles, if Asuka could kill hers, he could expect some help.

     Loud, arrogant help, he thought, But, I'll take it.

     He lunged at one of them, the glaive at maximum extension, it backed away instantly.  He watched the one with the severed tentacle recovered it, and the tentacle reattached itself.

     Shinji's worry grew.  He looked at the darkness around them.  The night would prevent the Americans from using much of their army to help the EVAs.  He'd be alone for hours yet.

     Shinji wanted to get angry, to let his anger out and ignore everything except the target, but he also knew he had the fuel dump behind him, and two other targets.  He heard Rei-chan helping Megorofeld-chan, he decided if he couldn't help, he'd tune out the distraction.

     "Shinji, it's moving towards you, move to your left," Misato told him.

     Shinji glanced at the position of all three.  He feinted to the front and took one step towards the left.  I'm not ready to completely ignore her just yet, he thought, What did Megorofeld-chan call this . . . a delaying action.  He glanced at the power timer, he had over four hours of power, he could wait.

     "I meant more than one step," Misato-san shouted.

     "Sorry," he said automatically.

     "You're supposed to follow my orders."


     "They're moving right again, get ready."


     "What have you got to be sorry about?"

     "I apologize for saying 'Sorry'," he told her, desperately hiding his smile.

     "I expect you to follow directions," Misato-san shouted at him, "Not apologize."

     "Sorry."  He decided to keep one other thing pinned down while the others dealt with the enemy.

But Down Home They Call Me Slim

     'Sorry,' Ranma heard Shinji say, again.

     You go get'er, Ranma thought as he watched the swarm close in.  He wanted to just jump up and grab them, he wanted to shout his frustration at them.

     I never feel this way in Unit 04, he thought.  He wasn't used to having to hold himself back this way.  It was as if the seat prickled or something.  Unit 01 wasn't like that either.  He had the feeling of being almost held back in Unit 04.  In Unit 04 he wasn't as reckless as he was even outside an EVA.  Right now, there was almost a heckler trying to push him onward.  It wasn't something he was used to.

     Is this what Rei faces? he wondered.  It explained why she seemed to come alive in the EVA.  Something was poking her in the butt with a sharp stick, all the time.  Ranma didn't like it.  Didn't like having to restrain himself.  Even he realized that he couldn't act precipitously.

     Now, am I acting correctly, or am I restraining myself so that I'm missing chances I'd normally take to win this? he wondered.  He didn't like this at all.  He wanted to be back in Unit 04, where he was the one running forward and . . . something was always whispering caution in his ear.

     The birds had tried dive bombing.  Now they were trying a low-level attack.  There was probably a name for it, but he just needed to hit the center.

     There were five of the black, ropey serpents in the practically cloud of horse-faced birds.  He'd seen the rope-serpents `screaming` at the horse-birds.  He'd seen people act that way, including Misa-chan.  Little gestures and postures, 'tone' of voice that said these persons were in charge.  The rope-serpents were in charge.  That one, `Misa-chan`, screamed at everything.  Nothing was good enough.  Another one, `Megorofeld-chan` raced around checking on everything.  Correcting everything.

     `Misa-chan's` my first target, he thought.  He wondered how Asuka, 'Megorofeld-chan' would react.  He didn't want to imagine what Misa-chan would think about it.  'I killed them first because they reminded me of you.'  Megorofeld-chan would laugh herself sick.  He doubted he'd survive Misa-chan's reaction.  His eardrums and shins certainly wouldn't.

     He had to time this right.  Iaijitsu wasn't in Talhoffer, Hope or McBane, but it was something he knew.  He placed the sonic glaive across his back, from shoulder to opposite hip as he knelt down.  The swarm came towards him.

     "Ranma look out!  Get out of there!" Misa-chan shouted.

     "I'm sorry," Shinji interjected.

     "What are you - " Ranma tuned Misa-chan out and concentrated on remaining still, drawing the enemy getting closer, closer . . . closer.  He knelt lower, luring the enemy down further.  The edge of the swarm began pelting Unit 00 with rocks and other debris.  Calm, calm, calm, he told himself.

     As the swarm finished passing over, Ranma looked forward at the glaive as it lay extended in front of him.  Ranma smiled in the entry plug as he stood Unit 00 and looked at the swarm climbing into the air.

     Except for one, the lead rope-serpent `Misa-chan` screamed and thrashed on the ground, its guts split open and scattered on the ground.  Ranma saw no reason to be cruel, he released a massive ball at his fallen foe.  It burned away to nothing as the ball struck it.

     Ranma looked at the creatures closing on Shinji.  Ranma owed him for the diversion.  Ranma picked out one of them and fired the heaviest ball he could summon.  He watched the golden ball race towards the group.

     Suddenly the goat-footed tentacle barrels scattered.  The ball's target raced behind Shinji and kept Unit 01 between it and Ranma's attack.  Ranma watched in horror as the golden ball closed unerringly at Unit 01.  "TURN, DISSIPATE, GO AWAY, STOP!"

     "Huh?" Shinji asked as the golden ball enveloped Unit 01, the golden fire crawled over every edge on the Unit.

     "Shinji!  SHINJI!" Ranma shouted as the golden light dispersed.  Ranma watched in horror as Unit 01 took a drunken step, tried another in a random direction, then collapsed to the ground.

     "NO!" Ranma shouted as the things closed in on Shinji and the swarm began another attack run on Unit 00.  Ranma took a step, and was pelted by debris.  The attack suddenly came along two then three axes, two sides and the rear.  With him distracted, they were able to use I-beams, end on.

     He parried and dodged the attacks, but it prevented him from advancing to help Shinji.  Even if he could have leapt to Shinji's side, it would open the unmoving EVA to attack by both forces.  Hhe didn't think the barrage would drive off the barrels.

     He pounded the controls with fury.  They'd taken his best attack and turned it against his allies.  He never wanted to hurt his fellow pilots.  Now he'd injured, if not killed one of them.  Even if Shinji was just stunned, the barrels were closing in.  They'd tear the EVA and Shinji to pieces.

     But if I run over there, both forces will cooperate.  All those birds will have to do is get lucky once, he cursed silently.  He'd vowed he wouldn't make a mistake again, after his `showboating` had killed Hiroko.  Now he'd broken his word, and there seemed nothing he could do to make things right.

     Rei must want to kill me about now, he thought, If things go much worse, I may just let her.      "Shinji!  Shinji!  Shinji get up!  Please get up!" Ranma shouted as dread filled him.

     Usagi gestured to the unfolding battle.  "There, one down," she said.

     "One of theirs, or another one of ours?" Tomoe asked.  The other girls' nervous laughter increased the effect of Tomoe's doubts.

     "One of theirs," Usagi reiterated, "Saotome's `invincible` attack was explained to us.  We observed it.  It was child's play to develop a counter.  Even the Goddess's wisdom was not necessary.  Using it against another EVA was an example of the Goddess's great wisdom.  Do any of you doubt that?"  She waited for the nods and embarrassed looking away.  "Our forces were expected to take casualties.  You should enjoy this, Tomoe.  They'll tear that EVA to pieces, peel it like a hard-boiled egg.  Once they get to the pilot, they'll crunch his bones to dust."  She smiled as Tomoe paled.

     So you don't mind beating people up, but are squeamish about killing them, eh? she thought of her rival.

     "The others will fall soon enough," Usagi said.  She reached towards the carrier, to release her pet so it could go out and hunt, replenish its strength.

And It May Sound Funny, But I Come To Get My Money Back

     "Shinji!  Shinji!" Misato-san called, adding to Ranma's voice echoing around the entry plug.  Shinji ignored them, lay there unmoving.  He felt very uncomfortable.  He didn't know what Ranma's attack did, except made him feel very restricted, like the time Rei-chan had walked naked through her apartment or when she'd laid atop him, kissing him and promising she'd never harm the pilots.  It was like his clothes and skin didn't fit properly anymore.  It felt like a terrible invasion on Shinji's part of something that should have been innermost and intimate, a place no one uninvited should have been part of.  Neither he nor the Unit were damaged in the least, but the others, the enemy didn't know that.  They saw a fallen target.

     At the last game, Megorofeld-chan had pontificated about the best way to play poker, when she thought 'Spineless' had overbet and almost everyone had folded.  'If you are winning, let the enemy come to you,' she'd practically screamed at him, before folding herself.  Only Rei-chan had stayed in the game, her three fives had beaten his two threes, much to Megorofeld-chan's frustration.  But he remembered the lesson, getting the enemy to react to what they wanted to see.  Projecting it had been easy after Ranma's attack.  Now they were finally closing in on the `fallen` EVA.

     He could feel the sweat under his plugsuit as he sat, and waited.  He couldn't move, couldn't tell them he was okay, he knew he could breathe normally, as long as he didn't touch the controls.  But he breathed shallowly, not wanting to risk moving any part of himself unnecessarily, to give them any clues he was faking.

     Closer, he thought eagerly, Come closer, where I can get my hands on you.  Still he waited. 

     They closed slowly, still uncertain, perhaps they sensed his hatred of them.  Ranma was under heavy attack, Asuka was still occupied as the Navy raced to finish off the one she'd caught.  All that made them overconfident.

     Unit 01 leapt up, shoving both arms up to the elbow into the lead creature's barrel like body.  Shinji gave voice to his rage, venting the reservoir of venom he had built up.  His hatred at the uncleanness of these things.  Their existence offended every part of him.  He screamed his hatred as he forced the arms of Unit 01 apart and the monster couldn't hold together, Shinji tore the creature in two pieces, he instantly slammed his knees down on one half of the twitching, bleeding creature as he screamed and tore the other half into tiny pieces smaller than a man.

     Shinji felt the pulpy flesh part under the hands of the Unit.  Shinji wanted this thing to hurt as much as these things hurt others.  He tore the pieces into smaller pieces before he threw the fragments across the town.  He kept screaming his rage, he didn't care what the others thought.  The creature battered with less and less force as he disassembled it, reducing the effectiveness of its counterattack to impotence.  He shifted off the piece beneath him.  Drove his hand through it, driving his fingers into the ground, holding it firm as his free hand tore at it, tearing bits free and casting them to the wind.  The barrel's struggles stopped completely before he'd finished methodically shredding it.

     He was aware of Unit 01 mimicking his own cries of rage.  Let them fear, he thought, he didn't care, this thing was wrong it had been taunting him for over an hour, now it would pay for that, for the crime of existing.

     This is our world! he raged inwardly, Not yours, no more of you!

     As the last bits flew from his hands and sailed through the air, Shinji looked through the red haze of rage.  Shinji sat back letting the terrible rage fade, let the awareness of the world around him return.  The others hadn't taken the opportunity to attack him or the fuel dump.  Instead, the other two were in full flight, their tentacles flailing above them like obscene plumes or maedata, he'd never catch up to them.  Many small flashes dotted the city.  One close up let him see a man with a flamethrower incinerating the bit Shinji had thrown there.  He suddenly felt guilty that he might have flattened someone with the bits he'd scattered.

     Shinji felt the tiredness steal over him as the battle, his small part of it, had ended.  It washed over his guilt as well.  He stood slowly, despite the weariness, he looked around at the battles still being fought around him.

     "You're all right?" Rei-chan asked.

     "I'm fine, what orders?" he asked weakly, all he wanted to do right now was sleep.

     Rei-chan smirked.  "Miss Katsuragi is indisposed."  Rei-chan got very serious.  "You are to proceed to help Mein Grossfeldmarschall with all speed, there is another of the creatures, it seems to be unwilling to engage."

     "I'm on my way."  Shinji felt tired, but he also felt that he'd accomplished a great deal, their enemies had tried to divide the EVAs, but it hadn't worked, and now they were winning.  He started towards the harbor.

     He wondered if Rei-chan realized she'd given him a direct order.  Relayed from his father no doubt, but Rei-chan had delivered it.  But that was the chain of command.  He wondered if she'd be pleased or frightened when he brought it up later.  Of course Megorofeld-chan had ordered people about, but she was used to it, Rei-chan made a more competent bridge officer than some of them.

     Although I doubt my father will keep her out of the EVA on that account, Shinji thought as Unit 01 accelerated and raced for the harbor.

     Usagi heard the silence around her.  It was impossible, the Goddess's Chosen, mightiest of her Dark Young, slain or in retreat.  The pilots had tricked their enemies.  Usagi wanted to order a full retreat of all forces, but the only ones who were compelled to listen were already fleeing.  Even Tomoe was silent.  Even the Goddess's gift was silent, subdued by the carnage.

     "Ayanami is a lot more formidable than we expected," Yuki said in a distraught tone, "They must be holding Ikari in reserve, he's supposed to be the timid one."

     "It doesn't matter," Tomoe said fearfully, "We should get out of here, we can move more effectively as people.  Fighting them force to force clearly doesn't work."

     Usagi smiled inwardly at that, the Goddess's wisdom was vast, she'd sacrificed one of her own bring more of the faithful in.  "Does anyone have an idea of how to deal with them?  As people?  Then I'll tell you," Usagi commanded, all thought of leaving vacated the girls.

     "We deal with them at school, some can befriend, some intimidate and threaten.  But someone will watch them at all times until they become desensitized to our presence.  We will pick the ones who most closely fit our criteria and invite them in, to just our open social gatherings," she added to prevent protests, although that seemed unlikely, the others were still cowed.

     "That doesn't answer the big question, to what end?" Tomoe demanded, then uncharacteristically retreated from Usagi's gaze.

     "Solicitation, seduction," Usagi told them coldly, "It's clear we can't beat their machines, we have to beat them.  If they want to join us, fine, if they are merely intrigued, that will serve for the moment.  Do any of you believe we can operate without spies in the pilots' camp once this Tendo Nabiki returns?" Usagi asked.  Not Yuki, not even Tomoe would meet her eyes.  "Then it's agreed.  When school starts, we'll begin to bring some of them into the fold."

     "I think that Ranma is intriguing," Yuki said, "But Shinji may be a better choice, he seems so shy."

     Who didn't see that coming? Usagi asked herself without letting her disgust show.

     "I'll see how tough Ayanami is," Tomoe volunteered with a snarl, "We should also look into their colleagues and their cadres.  There has to be a weak point."

     Usagi nodded, now they were discussing the subject she wanted them to contemplate, and as if the original plan had not blown up in their face.  She let them argue.  She was lost in her own thoughts, they'd done their best, assumed the force necessary and tripled that force.  Unless there was a major change, they would lose.  They would probably lose a major portion of their force.  The materials used to summon them had been expended to no good end.  Unless they planned on feeding the pilots a stream of easy victories to make them overconfident.

     "We'll need a new strategy," Usagi said quietly, a strategy she already had.

     Asuka watched the salvo of torpedoes go in as the U.S. E-Boats withdrew, but they detonated on the thing's skin, rather than causing much internal damage.  When she was told Spineless was on the way, she had a few plans for the pair of EVAs that might be useful.  Her glaive was keeping the thing's head underwater and its mouth pinned shut.  This kept it from using the goo that messed up Spineless the first time, but the thing was immensely strong.

     She saw the battleship coming in.  With something so much bigger than an EVA, it was hard to consider one small or weak, but this one was older and slower than the South Dakota-class, or the more powerful Iowa-class.  But the heavy battery of 355 mm main guns and the lavish 127 mm secondaries would be useful, she did wonder why it was closing.  Surely it had been in range for some time.  It didn't look like it was going to hit her.  "Whatever you do, turn more star - "

     The forward most gun turret fired, one gun, then the other, then the third.

     Asuka felt the hammer blow of SOUND of the guns.  One shell missed, exploding some distance away, the second tore clear through the creature setting off a paroxysm of lashing about, the Tennessee was out of range.  The third hit the creature, the wound bursting like a boil as the shell detonated inside the creature.

     Before she could react, the second gun turret fired two barrels, the 127 mm guns rapid fired as the ship passed, getting several hits that didn't penetrate the creature's hide.  The aft turrets fired, but the creature was flailing around, all the 355 mm guns missed.  The three shells that had exploded within tore great holes in the worm, splattering Unit 02 with gore and bloody chunks.  Asuka was too occupied to complain, she was having a much harder time controlling the worm.  The battleship remained out of range as the aft turrets made another attempt to shake Asuka's fillings loose as they fired again at the squirming worm.

     As the warship moved off to turn around, Asuka could hardly move or speak, the noise had rung the entry plug like a bell, she was certain it was still ringing.  She saw Misato's face shouting at her.  She could barely hear.  She was surprised she was still in one piece and that she still held the worm.

     'Asuka are you all right?' she heard Misato shouting.  Asuka muted the woman's voice.

     "Wondergirl, tell them not to use the main guns again," Asuka told her, "The secondaries with armor piercing should be fine, concentrate on the existing wounds."

     "Jawohl," Wondergirl told her.

     Asuka shook her head again to clear some of the ringing and deafness.  The A10 nerve clip was supposed to bypass the ears, but she still could barely `hear` over the constant noise in her ears.

     "Wondergirl, I appreciate your enthusiasm, but stick to sending cruisers and destroyers."

     "Battleships are all that is available," Wondergirl told her.

     "BattleshipS?" Asuka squeaked.

     "Jawohl, Mein Grossfeldmarschall."

     Asuka looked up to see the South Dakota approaching, the main guns were definitely tracking.  Asuka wondered if she was going to be deaf after this.  Asuka glanced at the bubbling wounds on the worm as the tail reared up to strike, much less tail now, and it had puckered wounds of gunshots and massive exit wounds from the explosive filling.  It hung there motionless, defiant, a perfect target.  The South Dakota fired all six forward 406 mm guns simultaneously, tearing more holes in the worm.

     "Wondergirl!" Asuka shouted over the noise, "Have the Tennessee go with starshells on the next pass."  Asuka glanced over at the ponderous ship swinging around her in a wide circle, firing salvo after salvo from her 127 mm batteries, the after turret showed no evidence of being brought into play.

     Maybe slicing it open from the inside is the only way, she thought, as the noise shook her, Quieter anyway.  If anyone ever calls me loud again, I'll know they don't know what they're talking about.  She needed one hand and her sonic glaive just to keep it pinned.  The other rested on her aching head, wondering if her brains had shaken loose yet.  If the monster had a brain, she hadn't been able to find it, although a creature this big might have a completely decentralized nervous system.

     The idea that each ring segment of this immense worm would have to be killed individually daunted her.  It also made her angry.  She felt the heat of anger building, but she controlled it, drove it back into the depths where she could use it without becoming it.

     That was the balance she tried to achieve.  She'd figure something out, or the Navy would.

     Watching 'rough-tough' woman of alcohol Misato Katsuragi lose her lunch when `Spineless` tore the thing apart had been worth everything she'd been through.  Asuka wondered idly how Misato had gotten her position, she didn't seem to be a combat soldier.

Well a Hush Fell Over the Pool Room

     Ranma targeted one of the horse-birds.  He had finally realized they weren't `supernatural`, just big.  A rock, big enough, thrown with enough accuracy: the thing cawed and fell from the sky.  Ranma raced forward and finished it off with his glaive.  He picked up another piece of the debris that the things had been showering him with.  He sighted and threw.

     Anything Goes, he thought, he wondered if Mirei and her grandfather would appreciate that their pitching lessons were now saving the city.  The `ball` didn't take a straight path, the target thought it would miss.  Then it broke suddenly and arced at the last moment, slamming into the horse-bird.  The creature let out an unearthly keening.  Ranma had missed, he needed practice, he'd broken the wing rather than killing it outright.  He summoned his AT field ball and fired.  It let out a cry as it died.  Unlike the ropey serpents, the horse-bird simply screamed and fell still.  The birds were circling away, the ropey serpents were still screaming instructions, but more often screaming at each other.  Ten thousand chicken dinners cried out for VENGEANCE! Ranma thought.

     They're worse than us, Ranma thought, the Meliorist's lessons called for attacking the enemy's commanders.  He sighted and threw an I-beam at one of them screaming at another, a straight fastball this time.  The I-beam split it in half.  An immediate follow up rock smashed the wing of the other.  He caught the falling, writhing, screaming creature with an AT field ball, burning it to dust.  That was enough for the others, they scattered in all directions.  Ranma hurled a few more rocks at the fleeing rocs.  But when he couldn't guarantee a hit, he held off.  The idea of one of his missiles dropping on someone chilled him.  He'd ignored that when they fought Cthugha, and Hiroko had died, Kenta and Seisuke had died.  He wasn't going to be that careless again.

     He watched the squawking flock disappearing into the night.  Maybe the nightfighters can get them, he thought as he stood and watched occasional flashes of gunfire in the early morning skies.  The sun wouldn't be up for several hours, but Ranma felt the world brighten.  He'd mixed what he knew before with what Megorofeld-chan and the Meliorist, among others, had painstakingly taught him.  And he'd won.

     Nobody could understand how good this feels! he thought as he headed towards the harbor to finish off the creatures ole' Shinji and Megorofeld-chan were facing.  The other two groups had run away, this batch wouldn't be allowed to.

     Spineless clearly didn't like what they were doing.  He'd caught the worm's tail as she had ordered, catching it between them.  They dragged it towards the shore.  Spineless's disgust grew as he grabbed the pulpy flesh of the dhole's tail where the shells had riddled and burned it.  Part collapsed under the EVA's hands due to the damage.

     Just get it ashore and destroyed before our Glorious Leader decides to feed it to us in soup, Asuka thought as Spineless nearly lost his lunch as the flesh pulsed and crumbled obscenely under the EVA's hands.  Asuka was almost used to it at this point, she'd felt it as if with her own hands.

     The massive wounds still bled the brownish ichor into the harbor.

     "I really can't feel sorry for it," he murmured, "It didn't have to attack the boats."  He probably hadn't intended to be heard as they dragged it ashore.  Asuka let his uncertainties go unchallenged as she watched him intently through the `window` that showed his face.  Asuka wasn't happy about what was going to become butchery, the thing was helpless, the other one was just circling out of range.  Asuka was beginning to get worried.  The second one, the much larger one, hadn't attacked.  Would it when they killed this one?  She also wondered if they actually had exhausted it, or if it was playing possum.  A long strip of the creature tore loose, hung by a small section.  If it stays in one piece, she thought as they dragged the weakly struggling creature onto dry land.

     She knew better than to ask.  Commander Ikari might know, but he'd never tell them.  Nobody else would have the faintest idea, despite sounding certain of their answers.

     "Hey, Spineless, you want to slice it up while I hold it?" she asked in a concerned tone, he turned a little green.  She laughed at that, he'd just torn something apart with his bare hands and he was squeamish about using the sonic glaive to do the same.

     Weird, she concluded.  She glanced over at Horseface arriving in Unit 00, he didn't seem to be slowing down as the harbor edge grew near.

     "He is on an intercept course," Wondergirl said.

     Probably reading Spineless's mind, Asuka thought, That girl will read anything, Asuka smirked, No matter how boring.

     "You're not going to . . . ," Asuka's voice trailed off as Unit 00 flew through the air.

     And landed astride the second monster.  Asuka winced at the impact of the bad landing.  Well, that EVA's definitely a girl, she thought as that worm went through a paroxysm of bucking and twisting.

     "Ride'em Worm-face!" Asuka shouted as she and Spineless dragged the first one farther on shore.  "I have to admire that moron's acrobatic skill," she said as Horseface twisted Unit 00 to avoid flattening a heavy cruiser after getting `bucked` off the worm and flying through the air.

     "Wondergirl, was he on for eight seconds?"

     "No, why?"

     "If he'd stayed on for eight seconds, he'd definitely be a wormboy," Asuka replied.

     "No, not eight seconds," Wondergirl said, "Does that make him a worm girl?"

     "Ha, ha, ha!" Horseface commented when he'd surfaced, covered with mud and other stuff from the harbor bottom.

     "It's charging Units 01 and 02!" Wondergirl warned.

     "Spineless, just hold it.  I'll get it."  She took up her sonic glaive and his.  Suddenly it dodged and headed towards an approaching cruiser squadron.  The cruisers took radical evasive action, reminding everyone a harbor was a poor place to stage a naval battle.  Asuka raced to intercept the worm.

     She cringed as the worm hit one cruiser head-on, crushing the bow and throwing almost everyone topside off the stricken ship.  She passed the damaged ship, ignoring the secondary explosions that marked its death throes.  She heard the other two ships' warning klaxons as she charged her foe.  Behind her, she heard the guns of the Tennessee and recent arrival Alaska, firing broadsides directly into the first one.  She hoped Spineless could handle it, she was busy, and, "Horseface get up here and help me!" she shouted, trying to pursue the thing and keep holding the first one in her AT field was distracting, and she couldn't afford another distraction.  She had to keep a clear head, or people were going to die.

     Horseface raced ahead, this time his impossible leap didn't result in an attempt to ride it.  He landed on it with both feet, drove its `face` into the mud.  It instantly reared up out of it, throwing him aside.

     Let's here it for pollution, Asuka thought as it shook itself to clear the harbor muck off, and she swung the glaive like a baseball bat.  The blade sliced deep.

     With head upraised, Horseface began putting his sonic glaive to work, joined Asuka in her work.

     It dices, it slices, it cleans up easily, she thought as they alternated strikes, like chopping a tree.  It can't be severed in one stroke but the two of us cut through it easily enough, she thought.  The chunks of dhole dropped into the water to float there unmoving.  Asuka didn't think whatever else was in the harbor would be harmed by the thing's blood.  At the 50% mark, it simply fell back into the water, she and Horseface silently dragged it back to 'land it' next to the pulverized corpse of the other one.  They didn't shout their victory.  It was just a dumb animal, they'd overwhelmed it.

     "Okay you three," Misato told them, "Head back to the base."

     "There's lots of people who've fallen into the water," Horseface complained.

     Asuka sidled, as much as a 40 meter, 700 ton machine can, over to the Coral Sea.  "If the Captain or the Admiral can be reached, if they want the EVAs' help with Search and Rescue, they'd better get on the phone to NERV HQ," she said over the external loudspeakers, not sending the message on the communication system.

     Horseface was still arguing with `Misa-chan`, "Major, we can help, we can see in the dark an' pick up people," he offered.

     "What part of order did you misunderstand?" Misato asked angrily.

     "You have not been restored to active duty and the combat situation has ceased," Wondergirl said matter-of-factly, even for her, "Your authority to give orders does not currently exist."

     Asuka wasn't sure who was more surprised, Wondergirl was just stating the facts . . . but she was doing so of her own free will.  She relished Misato's shocked look.

     "EVA pilots, General MacArthur requests all assistance with Search and Rescue procedures, switch to channel 4 to coordinate operations with NERV SAR," came over the Coral Sea's loudspeakers and the radio.

     "Orders from MacArthur himself," Asuka said, "We stay and help, switching to Channel 4, that's you too Wondergirl."  Asuka switched frequencies, without waiting for Misato's complaint.

     "Okay, Wondergirl, can you find people?"


     "Good, you direct Spineless to isolated people, he's so gentle and tender he won't hurt them."

     "Yes," Wondergirl sounded pleased, Spineless looked like he'd either die of embarrassment or do to Asuka what he did to the Dark Young.

     "Spineless, now don't disappoint your girlfriend and bruise them."  She saw Spineless's frown, then his EVA gave her an American style salute.

     "Ja wo ri, Mein Grossfeldmar - shardu."

     Asuka grimaced, but decided she'd make them pay for that after they finished here.

     "Vas is die odors?" Horseface asked.

     For their crimes against German, definitely pay, Asuka thought.

     Horseface carefully scooped the swimming men out of the water.  He had repeatedly formed an AT field ball that would shoot up and hover, to illuminate the scene with golden light as bright as the sun, for several minutes.  Asuka used her field as a strainer and carrying case, she tried not to think about the effect Raccoon's AT field had on her when they were experimenting.  She was collecting dozens of the fallen and getting them out of the water until she had enough to put them ashore.

     The looks she was getting from some of the rescued were beginning to bother her.  But it was too useful a tool to abandon, despite the weird stares she, actually Unit 02, got from many of the rescued people.  She idly wondered if Raccoon felt that weird when she crawled up on his field and practically started purring.  She didn't feel anything, except the pressure of the water and the weight of the people.  She was glad it only went one way.

     She could hear Wondergirl directing Spineless to the lost and forgotten.  She was especially proud of that.  Some poor sailor or fisherman alone in the middle of a battle, probably so scared he was adding to the filth at the harbor bottom, then another monster, an EVA this time, came out of the darkness to rescue him.  As far as Asuka was concerned, NERV needed to polish its reputation.

     Besides, she thought, Despite his: 'I'm rough, I'm tough, I'm the best at what I do (beat people up)' I don't think Horseface is really too comfortable with just fighting and not rescuing people after.  You kill the monster, then you rescue the princess.  She chuckled at that.  Wondergirl is the combat monster, like me, so is Raccoon, the others seem cool to unwilling at best.  She knew there was no changing that, you could make nearly anybody a competent soldier, but not what she, Wondergirl and Raccoon were.  Killers, each with only a code to restrain them.  Wondergirl had to have orders, Raccoon had to have `permission` of his convoluted ethics, she couldn't kill a human being, nor was she comfortable killing monsters outside her EVA.  Outside her `armor` that marked her as one of the good guys.  These were all thin rationalizations, but they were all that kept them from really going mad and becoming what they fought.

Jimmy Come Boppin' In Off the Street

     Usagi knew that the others had long since fled, even Tomoe.  She had the carrier, if anyone asked, she was looking for her cat.  What she'd brought had probably already eaten its fill and headed home.  Usagi had to stay, had to watch.  The EVAs had destroyed and driven off the entire force they had summoned.  Now the `heroes` were out rescuing.

     Usagi felt empty, the defeat was nearly total.  The dholes were not a great loss, great stupid brutes.  One of the Goddess's Chosen was dead, which was a loss.  The Hunting Horrors were depleted.  The force would be insufficient to engage the EVAs again.  They might be able to use the force against an individual pilot, but not mush else.

     The others hadn't argued with her final plan to lure the pilots.  Asuka Soryu Langley would be her first target.  They would also investigate the other girls: Ranko and Rei, another group would investigate the boys: Shinji Ikari and Ranma Saotome.  There was no argument now.  The teams for each had been quickly decided.  Even Yuki hadn't argued about not being assigned to one of the boys.  Usagi had heard that Miss Langley didn't have a boyfriend.  Maybe Yuki could find out what else she could try, maybe the redhead liked girls.  Yuki seemed to enjoy the challenge, it appealed to her voyeuristic side, getting `caught` with a girl . . . Usagi left Yuki to her methods.  Tomoe would challenge Ranko Saotome who was an expert marital artist.  The others had their own assignments, the point was to keep an eye on the pilots.

     There were also to be dirty tricks groups to make the pilots' lives difficult, a friendly face would be most welcome.

     The girls had received their assignments without comment.  When they regained their footing after they had time to absorb the defeat, there would be arguments.  Unfortunately, the EVA/pilot combination was more powerful than any servant even the Goddess could send against them.  They had finally realized what Usagi had been trying to tell them from the beginning, without seeming to blaspheme.  The pilots within their EVAs were gods.  It was a difficult concept that mere humans had created, even temporarily, a group of gods.  The pilots alone were mere humans, the EVAs alone were just machines.

     The real reason they couldn't understand was how could someone walk away from being a god?  Even if they could go back and become one again?  None of the girls understood, but Usagi did.  You did it to disguise what was happening, because with each victory/victim you became stronger.  You didn't announce your apotheosis until none could take it away from you.

     She wondered if any of the pilots had mastered powering the EVA from their own body, or if they could control it from outside the cockpit.  She smiled, she had much to teach them, much she could offer.  Especially presenting a group of young gods to the Goddess, what it would mean to the Goddess, what it would mean for her.  She smiled, especially male and female, two by two.  They were young and fertile, and some bonds were already beginning to form, bonds that could be heightened.  That thought made Usagi's smile really shine.

     It was inconceivable, it was also a clear lesson that they'd never beat the machines.  They'd have to engage the pilots directly.  There were ways of doing this, recruiting a pilot was now more important than ever.  The relative strengths and weaknesses of each pilot paraded through her mind.  The whole experiment had used precious resources to a good end.  They had used a fast, brute force approach, and were thrown back.  It was clear that's what the Goddess was telling them, it was good to know.

     No one would argue with a slower, more judicious approach, they also had the Hunting Horrors and the two Dark Young to call on.  Sufficient for any enemy except an EVA.

     She moved through the woods.  She would continue to watch the rescue efforts until the sun came up, then she'd return home.  Watching them rescuing the weak and helpless was an indication of the psychology and the 'morals' of the pilots or their commanders.  Determining if the action was ordered, standard procedure or an innovation of the pilots would determine how the approach should be handled.

     Yuki already thought one of the bridge officers was 'Cute, in a wimpy kind of way.'  Usagi frowned at that, Yuki seemed to enjoy her tomcat behavior, trading a naked sweaty interval for information, presents, or simply the thrill of possibly getting caught.  Usagi figured she's have `relations` with anyone, no matter how old, fat or ugly if they were willing to do it on MacArthur's desk or in the middle of the Diet.  Usagi wondered what Yuki would do if one of the pilots or NERV staff offered to let her `perform` in the EVA bay, or in some other secret area.

     The manlike figure with the two hideous faces watched the last girl leave.  It was feeling magnanimous, or it simply didn't care.  It had seen the battle and come to the conclusion that the direct confrontation would summon the EVAs, a force beyond its current ability to engage.

     Several EVAs were even stronger, but not unified.  They did not cooperate.  That would prove an ultimate weapon.  The girls' foolishness had sparked an idea, their `Goddess` had servants, to use those servants appealed to it.  Setting things in motion would take time, but the pilots would never overcome what it would send against them, and they would never understand why they were failing.

     Destroying the summoned creature once it had finished off the pilots and their EVAs would be simple.  It could do so easily, it knew the secret.  When the thing that had imprisoned it before returned, it would have all the advantages over the former captor.      It slipped off in a different direction from the girls.  It did not fear them, but the thing they had released might have given it some trouble, killing it would also attract attention better avoided for the moment.

     Misato was not happy being called into the Admiral's office, especially since Ramsey was handling the pilots' debriefing, and she'd been up all night.

     "Miss Katsuragi, why did you override the pilots' request to assist in the rescue?  We have to maintain the goodwill and enthusiasm of the populace, and those little people who do all the seemingly unimportant jobs.  Having the huge, costly machines actually doing something tangible, beneficial, understandable to those people gets through the idea that we aren't 'little tin gods' who don't care about anything except fighting the Angels."

     Misato was furious, he had practically quoted Daimatsu's insults.

     "Do you disagree?" Simson stood up.

     "No.  I agree."  She stared at a point over his head.  Not meeting his eyes.  Not willing to protest that all the EVAs were for was killing Angels, they weren't oversized parade floats or goodwill ambassadors.

     "Your behavior and orders indicate otherwise."  Simson stepped right up to her, forcing her to look at him, "Either you can't remember what you ordered, just like you can't remember you were relieved of duty, or you're lying to me now," he said quietly, "Which is it?"

     Misato swallowed, she hated being put in that position, If the kids had just followed orders, if Ayanami hadn't said anything . . .

     "I think the pilots have a better idea of public relations than their immediate commander.  It strikes me as odd that 'cold' Commander Ikari saw the wisdom, and 'fun-loving' Katsuragi did not, and still does not.  I would have thought your current experiences with the Senators would have made it clear.  You cannot assume you can ignore everything except your vendetta.  There are other people in the world, you should be more aware of that, Miss Katsuragi.  If it doesn't cost you anything to do something to improve your standing with the people we're protecting, it isn't an automatically bad thing to do it.  A major should know that.  Do you disagree?"

     Misato opened her mouth.

     "Of course you do."  Simson returned to his desk, "I'm not recommending disciplinary action, because I can't discipline a civilian."

     Misato winced at that.

     "Until the investigation is complete, you will turn in your keys and badge.  Security is officially ordered that you will not be allowed to access NERV and NERV property.  I also think you should be grateful I can't charge you with being drunk on duty.  If you were on my staff, I'd lock you in the stockade until the DT's had convinced you to dry out.  There's no excuse for showing up in that condition."

     "Yes, sir," Misato said tightly.

     "The core problem, Miss Katsuragi, is the events in Boston.  They could have been dealt with quietly.  Only you saw fit to conceal it from us.  Do you think we should continue to conceal it from the pilots?"

     Misato looked away.  "I don't know, sir."

     "With a NERV Branch in Massachusetts, did you really think they wouldn't investigate the sudden appearance of a swarm of nonhuman monsters?  Especially ones that killed a lot of people?"

     "I - " Misato clamped her mouth shut.  'I don't know,' seemed a terrible answer.  She hadn't really paid attention, she was too busy hunting down the spies who eventually uncovered the operation and destroyed any chance of the plan working.  Necessitating the EVAs.  "I thought that would exceed their mandate," she answered.

     Simson scowled.  "Those people aren't willing to accept the iron control 'top is god bottom is shit' you seem to operate under.  We expect people to think on their own and show initiative, and what you and Commander Ikari released in Boston is a good example of what they should investigate.  After all if NERV Security encountered such an event now, don't you think they'd investigate?"

     "If they were ordered to," Misato answered, standing straight, wishing her headache would stop.  Wishing for a drink to make it all go away.

     "Unfortunately, you're probably right," Simson said, "That still leaves the question of what to do about the pilots."

     "I don't believe we should tell them," Misato said firmly.

     "All right, you won't tell them.  Captain Ramsey is telling them right now, including Miss Ayanami's part.  Considering Pilot Ikari attended one of the hearings, and told the others, how were you going to keep a lid on it?"

     Misato was ashen, she didn't want them to know, she'd never be able to explain that it was wartime and what they'd hoped to achieve.  "I'd advise against that.  Tell them nothing."

     "Miss Katsuragi, I gave you the opportunity to explain it, now it's being done without your input."

     "The pilots will get it out of context," Misato stammered, "They don't need to know."

     "That you'd do something like that, or that it was a complete failure and never would have working in the first place?  Commander Ikari admitted they got it wrong, what you were hoping to do was impossible.  You were operating under bad information.  Had you succeeded, you would have released something that would have required an EVA or a battleship to deal with.  The disaster delivered to Hiroshima and Nagasaki would have been visited on Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Washington, etc.," he told her.

     She was shocked.

     "Do you understand why I might be a little angry about that?  If you had succeeded in paralyzing our foes, the death of a few hundred might have been acceptable, but that wasn't what you did.  And the fact that information proving you were barking up the wrong tree was available to anyone who bothered to look."

     "I didn't know," Misato said.

     "You only followed orders," Simson said angrily, "Miss Katsuragi, 14-year-old kids are seemingly unaware of their mortality.  But they are aware of the foolishness and stupidity of adults.  Giving them reason to reinforce such beliefs is not in the best interests of NERV, the world or hurting Angels.  Being considered not so bright is a serious handicap, being caught covering it up is a red flag to having them doubt on all your command decisions."

     "Then why did you bring up the Boston incident, sir?" Misato asked.

     "Because after young Mister Ikari attended portions of the hearings, and discussed it with Miss Ayanami, they were already speculating, and the only way to combat rumors is with the truth.  To anticipate your question, the rumors would have had a worse effect on morale and command/control than the truth.  Miss Ayanami's actually speculated your animosity towards Pilot Davis is due to your failed murder attempt against him.  That kind of wild speculation might pass without comment by Miss Ayanami, but Miss Langley and young Saotome will definitely take that personally."

     Misato wanted to remind him that they were in command, the kids would do as they were ordered.  She doubted that would fly with the Admiral.  Not in the mood he was in.  "Yes, sir."  There wasn't anything else to say.

     "I suggest you think of how you are going to explain things to the kids.  The Senators have called off today's meeting, in light of the Angels' attacks." Simson told her, "So I suggest you concentrate on mending fences.  Admitting you can make mistakes worked for Commander Ikari, you might try it."

     "Yes, sir," Misato said.  Simson sat down, dismissing Misato with a wave.  Misato stormed down the corridors, she wanted to hit someone and she wanted a drink, she'd settle for one.

     Skuld walked out of the temple.  She'd been up all night working on a project.  She'd awakened wrapped in a blanket.

     Probably Keiichi, she thought angrily, As if I'd need one.  Then Urd had told her she'd missed the entire EVA battle.  She'd slept through it, and the `Ghost` playing afterwards.  She was not happy.

     She turned back to the house.  "You could have -!"  She stumbled and fell into a deep trench.

     "OOWWWW!"  She discovered the trench floor was extremely smooth, and hard.

     "Skuld, are you - " Belldandy said, and stopped to stare at the trench.

     Skuld looked at the trench.  It was where the curved gravel and macadam driveway had been, now it was smooth, flat material.  It didn't reach the garage but the curve began just outside her room and led all the way to the gate.

     "Why didn't you tell me?" she shouted at Keiichi, Urd, and Belldandy who were all staring at the half-meter deep trench.  She climbed out and stared at the others then at the trench, trying to determine what had mesmerized the others.

     "It's a hole.  It - "  She recognized the slightly curved depression, and then she screamed.  It wasn't just a hole, it was a footprint, and EVA's footprint.

And you better believe

They sung a different kind of story

When big Jim hit the floor . . . now they say

You don't tug on Superman's cape

You don't spit into the wind

You don't pull the mask off the old Lone Ranger

And you don't mess around with Slim