Neon Genesis Evangelion Fan Fiction / Ranma 1/2 Fan Fiction / Ah My Goddess Fan Fiction ❯ Sic Semper Morituri ❯ Chapters 6 - 7 ( Chapter 3 )

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Sic Semper Morituri

Chapter 6: The Veterans' First Blood
      Hand to hand
      Nabiki Confronts Ranma
      Revolution
      The Battle Begins
      Pilots in trouble
      Nabiki on the Warpath
      Rei's Invasion
      Breakfast
      The Fourth Angel
      Pep Talk
      Pregrowl
      First meeting with Ikari

Chapter 7: A Turbulent Priest
      Darkness Falls
      Ranma's Nightmare
      Growling
      Rei's Apartment
      Dark Inklings
      Deals and Provocations
      Thunder in the Underground
      Meetings in the Daylight

Disclaimer:

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

C&C, MSTs are welcome

E-mail: dan_s.comments@comcast.net

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(these are the original versions)


Chapter 6: The Veterans' First Blood

What has gone before:

     About Book 11, Akane and Soun Tendo throw Ranma out of the house, Nabiki, in the guise of a wish, follows him.  They meet pilots Shinji Ikari and Rei Ayanami.  Ranma battles the god Nyogtha alongside Rei.  They go to the United States to collect pilots Asuka Soryu Langley and Jeffrey Davis.

     Asuka's Dreamself, a knight called the Meliorist, the Scholarly Dragon and her friend Anna Alice are taking their army into the Blank Lands, Rei's Dreamself pursed and was captured.

     The Pilots and the EVAs board the CVB-43 Coral Sea to sail to Tokyo, testing the pilot/EVA combinations on the trip.  Shoggoths attack Rei and Nabiki, they are rescued by Shinji and Jeff.  The four begin to socialize.  Also the NERV staff perform when they cross the International Date Line, Rei's comedy surprises everyone.

     After a day of relaxation and baseball, the tests begin again.

"When we get the enemy on the run, we must keep him on the run.  We must run faster than he does!  We'll not need food when we are winning!  We will eat the enemy!"

George S.  Patton - (Porter Williamson, Gen.  Patton's Principles)

Chapter 6: The Veterans' First Blood

Hand to hand

     Asuka and I have been watching Ranma `train` Roku-kun and Shinji.  I was glad Rei wasn't in this gymnasium, or there would have been blood on the mats, Ranma's.

     I hate this, I sighed.  Yes, I wanted Ranma to get out and do something.  Yes, I thought Shinji could use the stability and confidence martial arts provides, and yes I hoped to foster the `rivalry` between Ranma and Raccoon.  But.

     Jeff hit the mat, rolled over and tried to stand.

     I've had enough of this, I thought as Shinji hit the mat and yelped, even Asuka, our poster-child for sympathy deprivation, winced at the boys' impacts.  As she looked on from the sidelines with some disgust, both of them were getting pulverized, I don't like my plans not working out.

     "Your form is too stiff," Ranma told Jeff, as he arrogantly braced for Jeff's attack.

     I could tell he expected to throw Raccoon down easily, yet again.

     Kempo abandoned, Raccoon raised his fists.

     NO!  DON'T DO THAT! I wanted to yell, Thank the kamis, the boy is being reasonable.

     He opened his hands, dropped them to his sides, "That's between Nab-chan and me."

     I heard my own gasp and Asuka's snicker at that comment, and saw Ranma's concentration flicker, instead of Raccoon screaming 'an opening' and attacking, Jeff quickly sidestepped and hauled Shinji to his feet.  The pair backed away, Jeff never taking his eyes off Ranma.

     This is not good, I realized as I moved towards them, a moment later Asuka followed me.  Ranma 'Doesn't hit girls', I thought she assumed we're going to interpose ourselves.  Interpose, nothing.  Saotome!  You need a spanking! Our American friend didn't mind being a punching bag, but, like me, he drew the line at Shinji taking that kind of punishment.

     "Langley, mark this day in your calendar, I really made a big mistake.  Nevertheless, I certainly learned something today," Davis told us.

     "I learned how to get bruised," Shinji complained, he had more trouble staying on his feet than Jeff did.

     "What do I mark, that you made a mistake, or that you admitted it publicly?" Asuka asked.

     "Both," Davis answered.

     Okay, here it comes, I knew Davis had gone over to the offense, or the offensive, We'd better hurry.

     "When we agreed to receive training, I expected more than you using us as a couple of heavy bags for 20 minutes.  I had thought, and had heard, you were both honorable and a man of honor."  Jeff told Ranma, who was still ready for the counterattack, not realizing Jeff was making it, "I see we adhere to very different definitions of the word."

     "You said you could fight," Ranma yelled back at him, he still expected a hopeless, screaming charge.

     He isn't going to get one, I thought.

     "I sought education in the style you use.  Not in its aggressive use in brawling."  He half-carried Shinji out of the gym, as we blocked the direct line of pursuit.

     Asuka stared daggers at Ranma, she turned to me, "Let's get those two bakas to the infirmary."

     "I don't need an escort.  However," Jeff said, "I do need a navigator."  Jeff had a map and wasn't able to make heads or tails of it in his current condition.  Asuka helped Jeff carry Shinji, I helped support Jeff.  We carried/led them through the passageways.

     "Not smart, Raccoon," I told him.

     "I am well aware, painfully aware, of my flawed strategy.  The fact remains, Mr.  Ikari and I would still benefit from the training."

     Asuka grumbled something in a language I didn't understand.

     "Just keep your temper this time," Davis replied with a bark of laughter, "Just be gentler this time.  There's only a few meters of metal between us and the sea."

     "I did NOT lose my TEMPER," She yelled as Shinji winced at the volume, "He had it coming."

     "Germany," Davis explained, "Adapting ballet high kicks to soccer, or football."

     Asuka blushed furiously and glared, "It worked.  And how do you know this?"

     "You talk in your sleep," Davis told her.

     Am I going to have to separate these two as well? I wondered, thankfully the infirmary was close.

     We arrived at the infirmary, Misato was loitering there, "What happened?" she demanded as a corpsman moved up to begin treatment.

     "Training accident," Jeff supplied.

     "I picked the wrong teacher," he whispered to me.  "Say, you said you picked up the basic of the art, and you've been teaching Rei."

     "Yes"

     "Are you willing to train us?"

     "I said I know the basics."

     "That's what we need," Asuka said.  "How to fall, basic footwork that kind of thing."

     I was amazed how fast those two went from enemies to allies.

     "Yes."  Shinji winced as his abrasions were cleaned.

     "I thought you were going to have Ranma train you," Misato said.

     "This is twenty minutes of his idea of `training`, give him the full hour, and you'd be left with him, Ayanami, Langley and Tendo.  I might live, they'd be sweeping poor Shinji there into a small sack.  That's the last time I trust him."

     "I'll go have a talk with him.  Training isn't supposed to be that painful, at least not the first day."

     "Why did she have to say that?" Jeff lamented, "The universe hates challenges like that."

     Asuka and I laughed at him.

     I am going to have a talk with Saotome-san, a long talk.

     Good grief, I'm starting to think like Akane!  Somebody please shoot me!


     Ranma caught up with Raccoon as he left the infirmary.  "Don't you want a rematch?" Ranma asked.

     "I would be five kinds of an idiot to request one, Saotome-san."  Raccoon kept walking.

     Ranma was confused, "Is that a yes, or a no?"

     "Saotome, never let anyone ever tell you, you aren't the very embodiment, the very paradigm of the bushido code."

     Well, he's not completely stupid, just a lousy fighter.  "Thanks."  Ranma smiled, "You've got your rematch!  I'll go easy on you this time."  Give him a chance to redeem his honor.  Just us, nobody to interfere.

     "In your dreams."  Raccoon turned around, and walked away.

     Now was that a yes or a no? Ranma wondered.


     I can't believe I'm doing this, Asuka thought as she walked into Wondergirl and Ice Princess's room, "Come on, Wondergirl, we need to help Spi . . . Shinji."

     "Was he injured?"

     The robot actually sounds concerned.  Figures, the two automatons would pair up.  I wonder if Dr. Akagi will have to give them a training manual for their wedding night, she thought as Rei put aside the book on the Coral Sea she was reading.  Wondergirl and Spineless's honeymoon, that is an image I didn't need so close to lunch.

     "No Wondergirl, not very badly, we'll have to see to it that it doesn't happen again," Asuka told her.

     Why can't I just let one of these idiots get wiped out, and get Anna in here as a replacement?  I finally wrote her after so long.  I almost couldn't forgive her for engineering Unit 02's fall into British hands, and me too.  Better the British than the Russians, they were decent enough `chaps`.


Anna,

     I doubt either of us can forgive the other for what happened at the end of the war, and after.  I do think we can agree that both of us made the best of a difficult and painful situation.  I am soon to be called to action in the Waking World.  I wish you were coming with.  I have never mistrusted you to guard my back.  I wish that `ole' Dragon` could be with us, he wouldn't even need an EVA.

     We both know that's impossible, his link here isn't as strong.  But I can wish can't I?  I don't know what kind of disaster I'm going to walk into, Gendo Ikari as supreme commander, oh Wonderful.

     Well practice your Japanese, I expect we'll need more pilots after some real combat missions.

Asuka Soryu Langley


     A small set of weights and a few pieces of exercise equipment had to be moved to give them the clear area to do start practice.  Fortunately, this place has a heavy bag and a speed bag for boxing.  We'll need both eventually, Asuka thought.

     Why don't I wish for one of the pilots to be the Scholarly Dragon in disguise?  Tendo's my best bet for that.  But where would you find a wizard to arrange the transition? Asuka wondered as Spineless stood in the gymnasium.  They were using a different gym, Than where he got his beating this morning.

     "Okay, Wondergirl, put your hands like this."  Asuka took a ready stance, amazingly, Rei duplicated it.  "Now slowly strike at my head, slowly enough I can easily block or dodge.  Don't use your knuckles, use the heel or edge of your hand.  Do you understand?"

     "Hai."

     "Wunderbar."

     Asuka went to a guard position, "Okay, Spineless, watch closely.  When you're ready."  Asuka was surprised, Wondergirl snapped off a fairly elaborate combination, Maybe Ice Princess's lessons are good for something.  I was glad I told her slow, I should have told her soft, she still hits with a fair amount of force.  Asuka could still block, but she was going to bruise.  "When you do that to Spineless, don't hit him that hard."

     "Hai."

     I love you too Wondergirl, Asuka thought.  "Okay, stop."  She was glad Wondergirl dropped her hands to her sides.

     "Okay, Spineless, get over here.  Get your hands up, like I had.  No, elbows tucked here, you're protecting your head."  Asuka made a glancing blow to his triceps.

     He gave her an angry look and rubbed the muscle.

     "If I hit your nose or stuck a thumb in your eye with that much force you'd be on the ground.  So get used to it.  Okay Wondergirl, same speed, a lot less force.  Spineless, catch the punches on your arms and shoulders, and alternate sides, don't take the pounding all on one side.  Begin!"

     Asuka stepped back and let the pair go at it.  Wondergirl was mechanical, Exactly what Spineless needs to practice against to start.  "Change your style occasionally Wondergirl, give him about a dozen, then change.  Keep going Spineless, this is the easy part.  Next you're going to learn how to punch and kick."


Nabiki Confronts Ranma

     "Saotome!"

     "Hey Nab-chan," Ranma begins, I didn't bother to knock, just burst into his room, he and Kaji were talking, then he sees my expression.

     "Outside.  NOW!" I tell him.

     "We were having a private conversation," Kaji tells me.

     I smile at him, "Okay, Saotome-san.  You can finish your conversation."

     He's about to thank me.

     "And every second you make me wait, I'll spend working out how to make the rest of your life a living Hell.  Your choice.  I'll be outside."  I walk out, barely able to keep my temper in check.

     Davis had put the beating down to battle fatigue on Ranma's part, except Ranma was so out of character on that, that I couldn't believe it was anything other than intentional.

     "Well, Nab-chan?"

     I bridle at the implied insult, grit my teeth and don't return one of my own, "What got into you?!  Davis I could understand, he's been insulting you and he knows how to fight -"

     "Not too good, I -"

     "Shut UP!  You interrupt me again, and I'll personally kick you all over this aircraft carrier.  For all your skill, you aren't good enough to avoid me forever.  Do you understand?"

     He nods.

     "The question was, why did you beat up Shinji that way?  He did nothing to deserve it, and he was never a threat to you in that fight."  I pause for a moment, "You may speak now."

     "I already got chewed out by Misa-chan, what's your problem, sticking up for Shinji."

     Maybe I'm worried about what you're turning into Saotome.  "So you are just a bully.  Beating people up who can't fight back.  Thank you for explaining that, coward."

     His face darkens at that insult.  He won't hit me, but he wants to, "Who cares what you think, you arrogant Ice Bitch!" he yells at me.

     I'm seething now.  He could have scarcely picked an insult that hurt more.  His constant 'uncute tomboy' must have had the same effect on Akane, it hit her where it hurt worst.

     "Because until that last comment, I was the only pilot who didn't want to see you broken and beaten for what you did.  Now I see the truth, you're so afraid of the young men around here, that you have to beat them up to prove yourself.  You have to tear others down to make a bully like you feel like you're brave."  I'm shouting at him.  I calm myself, "And all a bully is, is a coward with muscles or training, and that's all you are.  Sorry I wasted your time, I'm more sorry I wasted mine.  Go back and worship at `Daddy's` feet.  I'm sure lessons how to seduce college girls will come in handy when you're living on the street!" I turn and march away.  I don't want him to see me cry.

     "Nab-chan, wait!  NAB-CHAN!" He runs after me.

     I wipe away the tears before I turn around and frost him with hauteur, "My name is Tendo Nabiki.  My friends may call me Nabiki, you don't qualify, Saotome-san."

     He shifts nervously from foot to foot.

     I want to be pleased that maybe he just needs to be brought up short to correct his behavior, but it's too early to tell, Come on Ranma, just admit you were wrong, we can go on from there, I want to tell him, Admitting an error isn't fatal, the pain goes away and the others will forgive you too.  But I can't say that, I have to stand there, staring at him, hurting him, because it has to be done.  He has to learn.  The others don't love him like I do, they'll hate him, and I can't allow that.

     So here I am, hurting him again to make him a better person.  I don't want this, to do this, to see the need.

     He looks at me with those soft, hurt eyes, and I want to hug him, to tell him all is forgiven, do anything to make that hurt go away.  But I can't, I realize, What was it Davis said, 'Sometimes a pat on the head is pure damage and a swift kick in the teeth is true love.' He wasn't joking by much.

     "I . . . I . . . "

     Come on.  Say it Ranma! I want to shout.

     "I, apologize for Shinji.  I, don't know why I had to win so bad.  I'd do a move on Raccoon, then I'd do the same on Shinji.  That was wrong, I admit that."

     Well, that's the most critical part.  "You should tell Shinji-kun that," I let my greater familiarity with Shinji sting him.

     "Hai, what about Roku-kun?" he asks.

     "Check you bed for landmines for the next week."

     NOW he's looking nervous.

     "I don't think he'd use a live one, but you might accidentally arm it in your sleep."  I'm glad he relaxes slightly, Davis can fight his own battles, and I don't want Ranma to think I'm interested in our future housemate, but it's okay if he thinks Davis is interested, that is our plan after all.

     I gesture back to the cabin he shares with Kaji, "Do you actually listen to the crap he's spewing out?" We get out of the way of a steward pushing a cart of half-empty glasses to the kitchen, I snag one.  Good, there's still ice in the water.

     "Yeah, some of the things he sez make good sense."

     I dump the ice water on him, "Why don't you go ask Davis, he doesn't mind answering Rei's questions.  He seems to like Ranko, he'd probably help her too."

     "He's crazy, he doesn't believe I'm Ranma!" Ranko retorts after transforming.

     "He's never seen it," I remind her, "It's kind of hard to explain until you see it.  Look Saotome, Everett was a gentleman, Kaji isn't, his only interest in girls is getting into their head or their panties.  Davis is a gentleman.  And Harvard trained him to be a gentleman, he had to pass classes in it even.  You could do a lot worse than trying to be a gentleman."  I ready the stake in his heart, "As bad as you're doing right now."

     "You really hate him, don't you?" Ranko asks, "Kaji, I mean."

     More than you could ever know.  "He turned somebody I thought was worthy of my respect and affection into a cowardly, vicious, little monster in a few days.  What's not to hate about that?  Go apologize to Shinji, then talk to ole Raccoon.  'Cause if you go back there like that . . . well, I'll let you imagine what he and Misato-san were doing, all, yesterday, alone, together, in a dark room."

     She gulps and pales, leaving quickly.

     Please come back, the Ranma I remember and cared for.  Come back to me.  "Stupid schoolgirl," I curse as I head off.


     Shinji's punching and kneeing the heavy bag.  Wondergirl's holding it for him.  I have to admit, he's a quick learner, Asuka sees, Although getting Wondergirl to spot the heavy bag properly was a chore.  Spineless knocked her on her butt a few times, It took both of us to keep him from running away.

     For the thirtieth time, Asuka wonders, Why am I doing this.  Let him ran away, then they'll bring in Anna, and I'll have some real help.

     Then the -, No, I can't call him, her, it, Hydromorph any more.  "What do you want?  Horseface?" Asuka suspects Spineless is actually considering running away again.  And if I jump Horseface, from her attentive expression, Wondergirl would probably help me.

     "I, I came to apologize, for this morning."

     "It's all right," Spineless tells him, "I didn't get hurt too badly."

     Horseface winces at that.

     Good, Spineless needs toughening up, not beating down.

     Horseface nods, "Do you want -?"

     "NO!" Wondergirl and Asuka shout together, Well, as much of a shout as you get out of her.

     "You said your piece Saotome.  Get out."  I don't know which way I'm hoping this will go, will he/she/it stay and make a fight out of it, or a meek retreat.

     Horseface skulks off.

     Good riddance.  Forgive, yeah, I'll forgive, but I'll never forget.


Revolution

     Jeff sat in Unit 04's entry plug and waited in filthy darkness for the systems to come online.  Jeff was beginning to think when they needed to test something new, Ritsuko-sensei would toss him in the EVA before they gave it a whirl.  The new power interfaces of Unit 04 were a case in point.  As 2d alternate it made sense, he was the most expendable, and he could sync with all three EVAs, possibly with Unit 02 as well.

     And isn't Langley pleased with that possibility, he thought as he began the start up sequence.  "I don't mind playing test pilot, Doctor, but I am curious why you don't intend to rotate the pilots.  Letting some rest while you have a full stable."

     "Because your and Nabiki's sync rates are lower than the others, considerably lower."

     Ten to 15 percent, he thought, That still doesn't mean we can't get better with practice.  Practice we're denied.

     "You just have to check the power systems," she told him.

     "And if it electrocutes me, you still have all your real pilots," he muttered as he examined the metal chair.  You fill a vessel with a neutrally buoyant, nonconducting liquid, then sit the most delicate component in a metal chair bolted to the hull.  He shook his head.

     He heard Dr. Akagi and Maya chuckling, they'd been told by Nabiki that `When he's griping he's got the situation under control, when he's quiet everything has gone to Hell.' More truth to that than I care to admit, he thought.  "Power is coming through the tether, all systems functioning within normal parameters."

     "Good," Dr. Akagi said, "Eject the tether and check the internal batteries."

     "Ejecting."  The clunk of the tether and the clock going from 'Infinite' to a diminishing count from 5:00.00 minutes:seconds, didn't fill him with confidence.  "Five minute clock, counting down.  All systems still nominal to profile."


     Dr. Akagi relaxed in the test stand as the deck crews prepared to reinstall the tether and the huge external battery packs.

     "Sempai," Maya intruded, "The clock isn't counting down correctly, we have a slight lag on the time function from standard."

     "Jeff," Dr. Akagi said, she took a perverse pride that she could actually say it correctly, "Are you doing anything unusual?"

     "Not for me, but how do you define `unusual`?"

     "You're using power at less than standard rates."

     "Well I assume you calibrated the other units to Ayanami's consumption rate in Unit 00.  We're calibrating this system now."

     "That makes perfect sense, Sempai," Maya told her.

     "Why do I think you two are conspiring against me?" she chuckled at Maya's scandalized look.

     "Doctor Akagi," the deck officer called, "Tether reinstalled, batteries are next."

     "Switch over to tether power took place automatically.  No problems detected," Jeff reported.

     Dr. Akagi sighed, Unit 04 was so different from the humanoid units, she had foreseen all manner of problems, so far none had cropped up.

     "Doc, I was thinking."

     When am I going to learn? she wondered, "Yes, Jeff?"

     "This thing - well you are a thing - okay, him."

     Dr. Akagi and Maya exchanged worried glances, they hoped `Raccoon` was only pulling their leg again.

     "Well, he's like a long-legged centipede with a snake's head or a snake with a lot of grasping/walking limbs.  So what would combat be like?  From a biophysicist's point-of-view."

     Ritsuko hung her head, Maya giggled.  She wasn't even thinking in those terms.  It was a completely legitimate question, and she was the most qualified to answer it.

     "Do you really enjoy being in L.C.L.  that much, to investigate all the possibilities?"

     "No, it's just -"

     "Doctor Akagi, battery packs are installed."

     "Okay, Jeff, we'll shelve that discussion, eject the tether and we'll check the external batteries."

     "Ejecting, 60 minutes, zero seconds countdown.  All systems oper-" Static interrupted, "-cept comm-" More static.

     "Maya, check communications system."

     "Yes, sempai."

     "All systems seem to be functioning otherwise," the boy's voice came in clean.

     "Good, we'll reattach the tether and see if the batteries -"

     "Please say again, all after 'tether', that's all I got."

     "Stand by.  I repeat, stand by.  Did you get that?  Did you get that?"

     "Got it, standing by.  I thought things were going too smoothly," he grumbled, then fell silent.

     "Maya, start tracing the circuits.  If we can't communicate, we can't use the battery packs."

     "Yes, semp-"

     An explosion shattered one of the fast freighters accompanying the fleet.

     "What was that?" the boy demanded.

     "Stand by, I repeat, stand by!" Ritsuko urged, lifting the phone to the bridge.


     Oh, Gott in Himmel! Asuka walked over to the dithering Spineless.  She'd finally managed to find some proper punching gloves and gotten Wondergirl to use them properly, while she improved Spineless's punching technique.

     Wondergirl let her mind wander just as Spineless connected with one of the few decent punches he'd thrown.  So instead of being able to finally congratulate him on getting it right, he knocked Wondergirl's glove into her head, so now he was apologizing profusely, he reminds me of a bird that knows a cat's around, but can't see it and can't bear to leave the food either.

     "Give her some air," Asuka pushed him away, "Stay here!" she ordered.  He nodded, more nervous now he'd seen the cat.

     "Sorry, Wondergirl," Asuka knelt next to where Rei sat, "This wasn't what I had in mind, but this is what happens when you don't pay attention in a fight," Asuka told her.

     "Something is wrong," she told them.

     Or she was talking to hear herself talk, Asuka didn't believe that.

     Of course something's wrong, you just got clobbered, should I ask what the little birdies are singing?

     "Pilot Ikari report to Unit 00, Pilot Saotome report to Unit 01 for immediate launch," Misato's voice came over the loudspeaker, 1-MC the Navy calls it.

     "Go!  I'll take care of Wondergirl!"

     He ran off.

     "You know if it hurts, you are allowed to yell or cry, or say bad words."

     "It does not help," she told Asuka.

     Yeah, but it would make me feel better if you did, Asuka thought as she helped Wondergirl to her feet.  Asuka thought she was just dizzy from the blow, but that she should take her to the infirmary to be sure.


     "That must be NERV for 'Don't bother me, I'm busy.'" Jeff looked around the entry plug, watched the counter wind down.  "Doctor something -"

     "Pilot Ikari report to Unit 00, Pilot Saotome report to Unit 01 for immediate launch," Misato said over the ship wide loudspeakers.

     "Okay, that I heard.  Doctor, what do I do?"

     Silence, not even static.

     "Analyst Ibuki?"

     "Anybody?"

     RED.

     "Yes I know.  Okay.  If I do not hear contravening orders in 30 seconds, I am going to clear the deck to allow launching of the other units.  Please respond."

     RED.

     "Hold your horses, I know."  He watched the test stand, someone running out waving at him would have been enough.  Nothing.  "Okay."

     BLUERED.

     "Unit 04 clearing the flight deck for EVA launches."  He jumped gently off the deck, and over the side.

     RED RED RED RED.

     "Yeah, yeah, yeah.  I get the message.  I have a target descending from the stricken ship.  Without contradicting instructions, I will pursue to guide combat units to the target.  Please acknowledge."

     RED RED RED.

     "Not you, okay, here we go.  I don't know how to get back on board anyway."


     "Return to the carrier immediately Deimitsu, do you hear me?!" Misato shouted while standing behind the two radioman with their oversized helmets.  The bridge's windows clearly slowed the disaster, as Admiral Simson watched through his binoculars and gave orders to the fleet.  Other officers and crew set to their tasks or brought information.

     "Probably not."  Ritsuko entered the bridge, "We were having communication problems."

     The U.S.  Navy crews were trying to coordinate the rescue of the freighter's crew with the underwater pursuit.

     "Marines are engaging your other `special cargo`," Admiral Simson reported, "Wait."  He listened to the phone, "It's gone over the side too.  There's two of them in the water."

     "Send Units 00 and 01 against our recent escapee.  Where's the first?"

     "Dropping like a stone, straight down.  Unit 04 in pursuit," Simson told them.

     "We can monitor communications here?" Ritsuko asked.

     "We have command radios, but only you two can make them work."  Captain Ramsey handed Ritsuko one of the headsets, like the EVAs' nerve clip.

     "Now passing 500 meters.  All systems save communications nominal to profile.  Target still descending, no other actions apparent.  Will stop transmitting for 30 seconds to listen for communications."  Jeff's voice came over the speakers.

     "Jeff, Jeff.  Pilot Davis we are transmitting, please acknowledge, I say again we are transmitting, please acknowledge," Ritsuko sent over the radio.

     Silence.

     "Receiving no transmissions, target has stopped descent, depth 2300 meters.  It hasn't moved.  I will keep my distance, monitoring the situation until it takes hostile action, awaiting reinforcements.  On a positive note I - Woah!  It's attacking.  I'm going to be a little busy!"

     "Damn," Ritsuko said.

     "Units 00 and 01 head directly to the target, keep it away from the rescue efforts, that thing is a man-eater," Misato ordered.

     "Yes, Captain."  "You got it, Misa-chan."  Shinji and Ranma acknowledged the orders.

     Misato darkened at Ranma's 'Misa-chan', something he'd picked up from Kaji, Ranma needed a better role model.


The Battle Begins

     "Let's get it," Ranma exulted as Unit 01 surged forward.

     Shinji felt a little guilty taking Rei's seat, but she was recovering from her encounter with Unit 01, and wasn't back on the combat roster.  He wondered if Asuka was jealous that he could sync with multiple EVAs.

     The strange multi-limbed creature was swimming straight towards the men of the sunken freighter.  Saotome and Unit 01 were closing with powerful strokes.  Shinji was following behind.  He wasn't a swimmer like Saotome, he didn't know how, and being in all this water was making him a little nervous.  Saotome seemed naturally good at everything.  Like Asuka was, and Nabiki, and Davis.

     Why do they need me?

     Ranma came to a sudden stop a short distance from the creature.  To avoid a collision, Shinji swam down, and encountered an invisible wall.

     "Captain, it's stopping us," he reported.

     "Deploy your AT fields and break through its field," Misato replied.

     Shinji did as ordered, the creature's field collapsed so suddenly it surprised Shinji, but he started after it, reaching out and grabbing a leg, that came off in his hand.

     The creature screamed and turned towards them.

     "Ranma!" Shinji yelled as he drew his prog knife.  Fear warred with anger, he couldn't run away, he wouldn't let this thing eat all those helpless people.  Rage won out, a shout of rage built up in his chest.

     "Try to take it alive!" Misato ordered.

     Shinji fell forward, then shouted with Ranma, "NANI!" [What!]

     Rhan Tegoth crashed into them.


     Jeff circled the Great Old One.  "Major Katsuragi, Doctor Akagi, . . . Langley, somebody talk to me."  He'd learned a lot about moving through the sea, more like a crocodile crossed with an oared galley.  The speed and maneuverability was tremendous.  As interesting as that was, he still didn't know whether he should capture or kill this thing, or simply wait.  It hadn't made another move, after the first, and without definitive orders, he wouldn't either.

     "Of course the obvious question as how would I attack?  Grapple?  Bite?  Do you have fangs and venom?" His attention was drawn to a number of subsystems he hadn't had a chance to check out before.

     "Oh," he cooed, "With ears like that, yes, that will work.  Just the same, I'd rather wait for orders."

     YELLOWWHITE.

     "Thanks for the vote of confidence.  Look if it so much as moves, we'll go after it, agreed?"


     "Shinji move left, catch it with your AT field.  Ranma, stop hitting it, you're killing it," Misato ordered, "I told you to capture it!"

     "It keeps getting away!" Ranma protested.

     "Quit trying to beat Shinji while you're beating that thing!  Do as you're told!" Misato let out an exasperated sigh.  "Those two just aren't listening."  Then turned to Ritsuko and Maya who were trying to untangle communications.

     "Say again . . . capture or kill . . . spotted target . . . unarry . . . orders&nb sp;. . . respond."

     "That's the best we can do," Maya admitted, "We don't know if he's receiving."

     "Deimitsu," Misato shouted into the pickup, "Return to the carrier immediately!  Do you hear me?  Return to -"

     "Ak!" the sonar man screamed as he tore off his headphones, "I don't know what that was, but it was loud."

     "Deimistsu, respond," Misato shouted.

     "Maybe you should just call him `Raccoon`," Ritsuko suggested, "It's easier to pronounce."

     That earned her a dark glare from Misato.


     "Okay, that works."  Jeff shook his head to clear his ringing ears.  "Not smart underwater, but it hurt him worse."

     Chaugnar Faugn had released a spell, and that had ended any indecision, the EVA's roar that followed had seemed to have stunned the creature.

     "And deafened everyone for half a mile," he admitted, "Let's go collect this thing and take it back to the surface, I think I've got enough grapplers to handle it."

     The EVA bit down on the elephant-like Great Old One's trunk, while multiple arm/legs grabbed the creature as the snakelike body squeezed as tightly as he could manage.

     "It would be easier without this stupid chair."

     GREEN.

     "Yeah, why not," he stepped out and floated above it, the new freedom allowed him to drive the EVA through the motions better.  He remembered a Greek statue of two naked warriors, one upside down about to have his head crushed against the ground had grabbed the only handle that presented itself.  'Now are we going to hurt each other?' had been Malkowitz's name for it.  Jeff thought it applied to his current situation, if the Great Old One made a fuss, he'd have no reply except to kill it, and that would get him in trouble.

     "Hell, breathing gets me in trouble with her."

     YELLOWPURPLEGREEN.

     "Thanks for the support.  Let's head back to the surface.  Have you got any ideas how we're supposed to get back aboard the carrier?"

     Colorless silence.

     "That's what I thought," he sighed, he was not looking forward to explaining all this.


     Misato was wondering if anyone on this ship had a tanto and a white kimono they didn't want anymore.  Glancing around the bridge, Maya's giggles were bad enough, the quivering lips and absolutely stoic silence from Nabiki and Ritsuko and Asuka was infinitely worse.

     "Spineless has a brain," Asuka said innocently, as she trembled, nearly in hysterics, "Who would have thought that?"

     "A very innovative solution," Ritsuko said as she watched the two EVAs load the squirming ball onto the rear deck of the South Dakota.  The big, turretted guns loaded and ready to fire.  While they couldn't kill it, the heat and the blast of the guns at that range wouldn't be pleasant, shells would actually detract from the effect.

     "The cable will hold it, Captain," Admiral Simson advised her from his seat, raised his binoculars to hide his smile.

     "Thank you, sir," Misato mumbled.  It had been an offhand remark as Shinji and Ranma had tangled each other's tethers while fighting the beast.  She'd told them not to forget tangling the Angel while they were at it.  She'd meant it to get them to stop their bickering, and it worked.

     Now she wasn't sure she was more embarrassed that it worked, or that the pilots had taken it to heart so seriously.

     "Another Katsuragi victory, snatch victory from the jaws of defeat," Kaji entered.

     Misato shook her head, I do not need this.  "Send Shinji to pick up a tether and to assist Unit 04.  Where is he by the way?"

     "Heading towards the surface," the sonar man reported.

     "He has the Angel," Maya added.  She didn't know her smile was heaping hot coals on Misato's head.  Nothing had gone according to the original plan, and they hadn't plotted to make her look stupid and ineffectual, but that's how it turned out.

     "Get him aboard as soon as possible, those packs won't last forever," Ritsuko said, keeping her voice neutral.

     It would be better if they all just started laughing at me, Misato thought as she walked off the bridge.  She hadn't gotten 10 meters before raucous laughter broke out behind her.


     Maya's comment that the Angel looked like a kitten caught in a ball of string had broken the tension.  Ritsuko looked at the others, everyone had been too frightened to say anything on the risk that the entire house of cards Misato had constructed would come tumbling down.  Now it was over, she'd won again, the expert tactician, her wild ideas had won the day again.  Now all they had to do was recover the EVAs, Davis even had their second runaway.

     "The packs work, even under extreme pressure," she told the other pilots and the bridge crew, "I can't wait to hear the debrief."  She smiled at the others.

     "But I think they overwrapped it," Asuka said, her unforced laughter much more attractive than her more raucous bay.

     Ritsuko considered this and waited to judge that, when Ranma withdrew his AT field from surrounding the creature.  As amusing as it looked, without the AT field to reinforce the structure and to prevent the Great Old One from manifesting its own, it was a stop-gap only.


     "Shin . . . call . . . Unit&n bsp;. . . "

     "Unit 04 is receiving," Jeff was ecstatic to hear the transmission, even one as spotty as this.  "Boost your signal and say again, I say again, boost your signal and say again."

     "Raccoon . . . help you."

     Jeff recognized Shinji's voice.

     "Do you hear me, Raccoon?  I'm here to help you."

     "I got the last loud and clear.  Acknowledge."

     "I hear you.  I heard you clearly through the whole fight."

     "Well I didn't hear anything.  I got tired of you two lollygagging, so I took matters into my own hands, hands, hands, teeth, hands, hands."

     Shinji laughed at him.  "What help do you need?"

     "How do I get back aboard the carrier, and where do I put this thing?"

     "Wait, I'll check."

     "I'm not going anywhere except up," Jeff waited for instructions.


     Shinji stood by, swam by, as Unit 04 uncoiled itself from the creature, it looked to Shinji like an elephant doing an impersonation of the Buddha.  If anything, he was more frightened of Unit 04, despite that he knew there was a human inside of it, in control of it.

     The creature was loaded aboard the cruiser, the forward guns of the South Dakota trained on it.

     "So, how do I get back aboard the carrier?  I've got 10 minutes of power left."  Jeff asked, a human face appearing in Shinji's mind's eye, it removed the edge of the fearsome appearance of the odd machine.

     "Akagi-sensei says that you jump back on, using your AT field to distribute the blow more evenly."

     "That's good to know," Raccoon sighed, "Is it always like this?"

     "I've only piloted once before.  But it was kind of like this."

     "A solo capture on my first sortie.  Not bad, if I do say so, I'd really -"

     "Look OUT!" Shinji yelled as the `Elephant` god slipped its bindings and jumped on Unit 04's head.  The EVA sank instantly with the added weight.

     "Shinji!  Get over here!  It's loose!" Ranma yelled.

     Shinji was torn, not certain what to do.

     "Go help him, then help me!" Jeff yelled as he and Unit 04 descended into the depths.

     Shinji rushed to aid Ranma, whose Unit 00 looked like it had grown another head, one with many legs.


     "All pilots, you are authorized to use whatever force necessary to safeguard yourselves and your EVAs," Ritsuko broadcast from the bridge, it was clear they couldn't restrain the creatures all the way back to Tokyo, "We would prefer the specimens alive if practicable," she turned to the sonar crew, "Can you broadcast through the sonar system?"

     "Not this one," Admiral Simson said, "We can broadcast from one of the destroyers," he signaled for a yeoman to take the message she dictated.

     How do I put in an authentication code? she wondered, then smiled.


     Unit 04 darted in, snapped at Chaugnar Faugn, and raced off.  The creature was still dropping like a stone, but he wasn't going to let the creature use its powers against him again.  He'd just sat there when it jumped on him.  Only when it fell off did it lose its mental hold.

     "Nauseated Raccoon, nauseated Raccoon, orders from the Doc, orders from the Doc, get the specimen, get the specimen, do not endanger yourself or unit, do not endanger yourself or unit."  The message repeated twice more.

     Who said Doctor Akagi doesn't have a sense of humor? Jeff digested the sonar message.  Then broadcast his own message to the Great Old One, "Okay, you can go quietly, or you can be lunch."  He didn't expect an answer.


     Misato had returned to the bridge the moment it was clear the captures had been unsuccessful, now she listened to the angry shouts of both boys.  They were having a very difficult time chasing down the creature.  She shouted instructions, course corrections as the fleet scattered to allow the two EVAs to pursue.  The creature was using the ships as obstacles.  The twin cable reels ran to the edge of the carrier and down.

     "Increase power, the EVAs need more speed," the Admiral ordered his engine room, "Captain, we're doing our best to keep up, but this carrier doesn't exactly stop or turn on a dime."

     Misato nodded, glanced at Maya who was monitoring communications.

     "Where's Ritsuko?"

     "Trying to get another prog knife ready, Unit 04 launched without one," Maya told her.

     Misato felt her stomach drop.  The progressive knives had been absolutely necessary fighting the other two Angels.


     Ranma caught a leg, the claw at the end bit deep into the Unit's wrist.  Ranma felt the pain, "Argh!  Why you!" Ranma rapid-fire punched it, only the first dozen blows connected.

     The creature changed course and sped away.

     Shinji slashed at it, "Well . . . it's running out of legs."

     Ranma looked at the disgusting thing disintegrating in his EVA's hand.


     "Why doesn't it slow down?" Shinji asked as he raced after it.

     This is stupid, he thought, Maybe I should have gone after Raccoon, and get all three of us to catch this thing.


     Asuka was on the gun deck railing, she was laughing her head off, "Three EVAs, and they can't beat Angels so weak we could trap and crate them!"

     Nabiki was watching the proceedings with more concern, "Why don't they just turn and run away?  Why are they circling?"

     Asuka sobered, "I guess they're even dumber than the pilots chasing them."

     "You'd be better?" Nabiki asked.

     "Of course, Unit 02 is a specifically designed combat unit, Unit 00 and Unit 01 are the prototype and test models.  Unit 04 isn't even humanoid.  Unit 03 and the French one are.  What kind of idiot designed it anyway?"

     Nabiki shook her head.


Pilots in trouble

     Jeff curled into a ball.  What he had seen and felt when he'd absorbed . . . when Chaugnar Faugn died, made him physically ill.

     Only force of will and the hand clamped over his mouth and nose kept him from vomiting.  He knew how dangerous doing that in the L.C.L.  would be, so he forced himself not to react.

     He also knew that the EVA was sinking, but after what the assimilation had made part of him, he welcomed death.  He couldn't live with what he saw, what he remembered.  Sacrifices, bloody orgies with young men and women captured by his -

     "NO NOT MINE!" he screamed, then fought down an intense wave of nausea.

     That was the real problem, untangling his memories, his identity from what he'd gotten.  He'd briefly considered tearing out his eyes, so he couldn't see it anymore.  But the memories were there, in crystal clarity, only death would erase them.

     The images, the glory of slaughter kept coming back to him.  If I'd know it felt that way, he thought, I would have torn it apart slower.  Made it feel the suffering, let it experience the terror.

     Another bout of nausea, barely restrained.  He'd resign, poor Sharon in Bethesda locked away, never to be released, never see the light of day again, maybe she was the lucky one.  He'd known these things were evil, but he never imagined they'd be predators that would put the vilest mass murderer to shame.  He'd never rest with these things in his mind, he'd always have to be on guard, never let them out.

     You are not alone, he heard.

     "I thought you'd run too," he said weakly.

     Repulsive, but not unexpected, the voice told him, You have survived worse.  You survived me.

     "You weren't this bad," he admitted, pulled himself into the command chair, despite the environmental controls, he was shivering with cold.

     Unclean, unclean, a dry chuckle, You at least suspected.

     "I want sympathy, not answers," he jeered as he righted the EVA and began heading for the surface.

     Go somewhere else, you have a job to do, the presence left him.

     "Good to see your people skills are improving."

     REDBLUERED.

     "Oh shut up."


     Ranma would have matched his misery against anyone's.  The dreams had been bad enough, now the thoughts invaded his waking mind.  He might have toyed with his food, he couldn't know for sure, but never when it was still alive.  He knew that for certain.  Played with the lives of thinking beings like a ca . . . ca . . . cat.  Now why is that a more disturbing image than this thing eating people? he wondered.  What that - thing - had planned with those sailors, then the entire human race.

     Ranma had always depended on martial arts and meditation to find his center.  If those thoughts kept invading his mind, he'd never find his center, not a human center, not a balance he could live with.  He believed in the balance of yin and yang.  For such an evil to exist, there had to be a synchronous good.  He would remember if he'd heard legends or stories about such a power.  Nothing he knew would ever balance out that this thing had been allowed to exist.  Killing them, all of them, every single one of them! . . . was the only thing he could do.

     The idea of killing them, of total genocide, should have repelled and appalled him, except he'd never heard of anything so foul and corrupt as these things, they all had to die, even if it killed him, they all had to die.  Honor, future, meant nothing, even the Art he had dedicated his life to, meant nothing.  They all had to die.  And the thought of that saddened him.

     "Come on sleepyheads, we can't winch you up over the side."  Misato's chirpy exhortation contrasted with how he felt.  He called up Shinji's comm line, saw how sick his fellow pilot looked.  "Let's head back.  We have to get aboard and down below before Raccoon can, and he's on batteries."

     Shinji nodded.

     Ranma wanted to talk to him, to Raccoon, to Rei, all had been in combat with these things, maybe he was sensitive to it, maybe the others had an idea, any idea how to deal with it.  Maybe Raccoon, he'd either know, or Ranma would have the pleasure of stumping the know-it-all.

     "Come on you guys, you act like you lost, you won, show some enthusiasm," Misato's image told them.

     Ranma was tempted to tell her exactly what they'd won, and what it had cost them.  Maybe the memories would go away, the dreams had faded, at least partially.  Maybe the memories would too.  He wanted them to.

     "When you get aboard, get a shower and change, then proceed to the conference room.  We need to talk about your coordination.  You should have done much better."

     Ranma considered telling Captain `You-screwed-up-smiley-face` what she could do with her lecture, but he couldn't manage the energy.  Maybe Shinji's `accept/apologize` strategy is the right one, he thought, It will sure cut the meeting short.  Maybe I can get some sleep, maybe I won't dream.


     They were in the pilots' briefing room, where they'd received their initial debut into the reality of what they fought.  All alone, it seemed much bigger.  With Misato screaming at us, Shinji thought, It isn't big enough.

     "Why didn't you follow my orders?" Misato angrily asked Shinji and Ranma, the only other two in the large room.  "I clearly told you to coordinate your actions.  And who told you to wrap the Angel up in tether cable?  That stuff is hard to make and very expensive!  You should have captured it between your AT fields."

     "I'm sorry," Shinji said.

     "I also."  Ranma bowed slightly.

     Misato stared at them and fumed.

     How are we supposed to do something we've never trained for? Shinji asked himself.  Every time my AT field touched Saotome's they burnt each other away.  No matter how `coordinated` we were, it still had a huge gap to slip through.

     "Where's Raccoon?" Ranma asked.

     Shinji wondered why his roommate wasn't getting chewed out alongside them.

     "He's in the brig," Misato announced, "Where you two could be, if you don't learn to follow orders.  The world depends on us to destroy the Angels.  You have to follow orders to do that."

     We managed to do fine without orders, Shinji thought as he offered another apology, We caught both of them without any instructions, and killed both without any instructions.

     "Remind me to get arrested next time," Ranma whispered.

     Shinji nodded.

     "What was that?!" Misato asked.

     Ranma fell silent, looked at the floor.

     "Look you two!  This is important!"

     If it's so important, why don't you find someone who actually wants to do this? Shinji studied the deck, Like Asuka, Roku-kun, Ayanami-san or Nabiki-san?  I don't want to do this anymore.

     "Are you listening to me?"

     "Hai, hai."  No, Shinji thought, I can't do better than I did.

     Finally they were released.  His and Ranma's cabins were a short distance from each other.

     "Do you think Rei has the same memories in her head?" Ranma asked Shinji, as they trudged down the corridors.

     Shinji vaguely noticed the sailors got out of their way, smiles on the sailors' faces vanished as they got a good look at the pilots.  It depressed both boys.

     Shinji shook his head, "I don't know."

     "What about Raccoon?"

     "I don't think anything bothers him."  Shinji knew that wasn't fair, but he seemed to take everything in stride, adapting.  I wish I could be like that, he thought, Let the world wash over me without being battered by it, like I am.


     Jeff finally managed to collapse onto the cell's bunk, stared up at the gray ceiling, thought about nothing but that gray expanse, drove the other thoughts from his mind under the monotonous gray onslaught.  He prayed it wouldn't be like this every time.  If it was, he'd have to find a way to deal with it.  Or he'd lose his mind and so would the others.
     Nabiki stormed through the ship's corridors, she had set her stride so she stepped over all the `kneeknockers` of the watertight doors, and wore a grim expression.

     Nabiki was angry, she hadn't been this angry since her `family` had thrown Ranma out.  She's watched the battle, overheard the nonsensical, to her, instructions Misato kept spouting.  Although Asuka managed to `translate` them for her, she'd no more idea what they meant than the boys did.

     Ranma looked as bad as he did when Akane had clobbered him for something he'd actually done wrong, and knew it.

     She didn't know the cause of Shinji's despair, but she was arguably the world's leading expert on Saotome Ranma.  She hadn't followed them into the changing rooms, but typically, after a hard-won victory, Ranma was insufferably proud of himself, Why did he look and act like this was a serious defeat?

     She eavesdropped on the `debriefing`, another Misato temper-tantrum, this was the second she'd witnessed and she was going to put a stop to it.

     One of the Chiefs told her that Davis was in the brig for disobeying orders, and from what Nabiki had overheard, Shinji and Ranma weren't far behind.  She headed down to the brig and was denied entry, although the Chief Master at Arms, did check on Davis, I hope Ranma never hears that title, he'll challenge for the it.  The CMAA reported back that Davis was standing in the cell, staring at the wall, exactly where he was when they'd put him in the cell an hour previous.  So when Nabiki saw Rei, she was already on the warpath.


Nabiki on the Warpath

     Nabiki is walking through the corridors outside the pilot's cabins.

     "Hello, Rei."  Nabiki tried to keep her voice level.  'Protect these people, possibly from themselves,' You might have warned me I'd have to protect them from each other.  "Can you do me a big favor?"

     Nabiki waited for the other girl to nod.  "Possibly," Rei said.

     "Check to see Shinji's alive in there, and if he wants any dinner."

     Rei nodded and headed into Shinji's cabin.

     Nabiki entered Ranma's cabin.  Less than three hours ago I came in here breathing fire, now I'm afraid for him.  Kaji's not here, that figures.  Never around when there's difficult work to do.  He'd fit `back home` just perfectly., "Hey, Saotome, dinner's almost ready.  Do you want to come to dinner, or would you like me to bring you something?" she asked quietly.

     The silence stretched on until she got worried.

     "Not hungry," he finally said.  Dragged it out like a sentence of death.  "Leave me alone."

     "Okay," Nabiki left, a moment later Rei came out of Shinji's room.

     "He is breathing and his pulse is regular.  He wants no food."

     Nabiki considered for a moment then plunged ahead, "I was teasing about making sure he was alive.  A statement made in an attempt at humor, or to hurt someone," she added when Rei didn't understand.  "I'll give you a good example.  Everything I say to Misato-chan will be aimed at hurting her as much as I can."

     "Why?" Rei asked.

     "Because giving her a physical beating will get me in too much trouble, and she needs to be brought up short, or she'll hurt Ranma and Shinji again."

     Rei nodded, Nabiki thought Rei was developing a crush on Shinji, ever since he pulled her out of Unit 01 when she tried to sync with it.  I had to put up with Soun and Genma treating Ranma and Akane that way.  I do not have to put up with another `adult` who acted like that.  Especially when it was life and death of the whole world at stake, Nabiki thought.


     Nabiki-kun and I approach Dr. Akagi and Captain Katsuragi in the crowded mess hall.  Nabiki-kun's attack on the Captain will be interesting and, I hope, informative.  Dr. Akagi and Captain Katsuragi are already staring at each other with slitted eyes, they fall silent as we approach.

     "Well, you forgot the most important detail, Captain," Nabiki tells her as we sit down across from the Captain.  "But Ayanami-san," she nods to me, "And I took care of it.  Who would have thought white kimonos and tantos would be so hard to find.  Fortunately Westerners think white is a color of celebration.  Shinji and Ranma will redeem your lost honor."

     Dr. Akagi stares into her coffee.  Captain Katsuragi transfers her squint to Nabiki, who continues happily.  I agree that Shinji-kun did little if anything wrong.  If he did not understand the orders, how was he supposed to follow them?

     "Davis understood seppuku, but he'll just shoot himself, it's a Wild West thing, 'eating a gun'."  Nabiki smiles and shakes her head, "I couldn't figure out why you hadn't bothered to train them in radio procedures, what the orders mean, all that silly, absolutely critical stuff.  Rei and Asuka understands them, and thanks to Asuka's translation during the fight, I do.  Then I remembered a girl back home, very pretty, lousy cook, called all boys 'perverts', hated and beat them up for their interest.  I suddenly realized."  Nabiki smiled broadly, and said in extremely loud English, "It wasn't that you are incompetent, you wanted to kill them, and when they didn't die in battle, you decided to demoralize them to make it easier next time."

     The rest of the room falls silent, every conversation in the crowded mess stops.  Captain Katsuragi has lost all the color in her face, Dr. Akagi also, both stare wide-eyed at Nabiki who continues in Japanese, her happy, quieter tone, smiling and clapping her hands with every major point.

     "While all the Americans are treating this as a tremendous victory, you've managed to drive all three pilots to the depths of despair.  I'm glad I can study with you, such calculated viciousness is a rare talent and to use it on such vulnerable targets, truly inspiring."

     Nabiki looks at me, "Well, Rei and I are going to see if those two have done the honorable thing, if not, we'll egg them on," she winks at Captain Katsuragi, "That way, nobody will track it back to you.  Don't worry Captain, your secret's safe with us."

     She stands, I decide to try my hand at it.  "My congratulation Captain."  I bow slightly, "You are still NERV's best tactician."

     Once we are out of earshot of the two silent adults, Nabiki turns to me, "You catch on fast."

     I nod, "Some of the other students did that.  Complimented me, in that way."

     Nabiki nods, "It's cruel, picking on the weak, and those who can't fight back."

     "Do you refer to yourself, or the Captain?"

     Nabiki smiles again, this smile is different around the eyes.  "As I said, you catch on fast."


     "That little bitch!" Misato growled, "I'll have her up on insubordination!"

     "You're lucky she didn't come after you with a fire axe or charge you formally with dereliction of duty, for what you did!" Ritsuko retorted.

     "What I did!?" Misato angrily replied.

     "Yes, what have you been doing for the last 10 days, wait, with Kaji aboard I can just guess!" Ritsuko noticed most of the people around them were leaving, quickly.  "I've only had at most two or three pilots out for testing.  I would have thought you'd familiarize them with radio procedures, NERV protocols, what the orders mean."

     "I thought we'd have time once we got back to Tokyo, I'm not their training officer!"

     "Your job is to prepare a combat-capable force to put in the field.  That's the tactical officer's job.  If you didn't have a training officer, you get one, if you needed help from Technical Services you order it.  This isn't college and this isn't a War College simulation where you've got a dozen other officers to carry out your orders and see to the trivial details.  We only have TWO TRAINED pilots.  One's not recovered enough to be on the combat roster, the other can't sync with the EVAs we have onboard.  Did it occur to you that they might be useful in training our FOUR UNTRAINED pilots?!"

     "Why are you picking on me?  I'm not a training officer, you're the ranking officer here, if they had to be trained why didn't you order it?"

     Ritsuko fumed, training pilots was not the job of Technical Services, it was strictly a Tactical Command job, if she'd have ordered anyone to do it, it would have been Misato.  For not the first time Ritsuko wondered just how Misato had spent the past nearly two weeks when she wasn't helping with the testing.  That she and Kaji were sharing a room with the pilots wouldn't mean anything, there were plenty of other empty places, so Ritsuko suspected she knew the answer and would hate having it confirmed.

     "Fine," she stood, "If you want me to take responsibility for this, I will, full and complete responsibility."

     "Where are you going?" Misato stood to follow her.

     "You no longer have a need to know, Captain, it's not your obligation now, it's mine."

     Misato snarled and headed after her.

     I don't have three kids, Ritsuko angrily thought, I have four!  And the younger ones aren't this much trouble!


     Shinji lay on his bunk, in his cabin.  Sick didn't begin to describe it.  Shinji didn't think the worm was this bad.  When he and Ranma had stabbed that thing.  He'd never even imagined anything could be that foul.  Not just evil, not just unearthly, but fundamentally wrong.  It didn't belong here, Or, Shinji remembered what he'd learned from the worm, We don't.  Everything we believe is a lie, an illusion.  The treatment I'd always gotten from everyone, they weren't being mean, that's how the whole universe was.  Someone knocks you down in a crowd, you're lucky if you can stand up again before you're trampled to death.  And none of the tramplers cares enough about you to really hate you.  All you are is a bit of uneven pavement.

     Being hated is better, at least then somebody cares, he thought, admittedly, they wanted you hurt or dead.  But at least someone would feel something when you were gone.

     He pulled the covers around himself more tightly.  "I'm a coward, sneaky, mean and selfish," he said quietly, But compared to that . . . thing.  I am Amaterasu Omikami.  I am the son of Heaven.  Asuka claimed she'd been trained, did they tell her how to deal with this?  Ayanami had been trained, it didn't seem to bother her, why weren't any of the boys trained?  Why does Misato-san hate us so much?  Why did she want to hurt us?  Because we're boys?  Because we're not Kaji?  Asuka seems to think no male is as great as Kaji, and Misato-san seems to agree.  Why is she punishing us for that?

     He clenched his eyes closed, tried to keep from crying, he couldn't run away, unless he wanted to jump off the aircraft carrier.  He didn't want to abandon the other pilots, even if they frightened or hurt him, they actually seemed to care.

     We did our best, we tried to do what she wanted.  As soon as we figured out what she wanted, she'd change it, so we were always late.  "At least nobody died this time," he rolled over, faced the wall.  He was exhausted, wanted to sleep, but with sleep came dreams, and in dreams - he'd remember all the things Rhan Tegoth had done.  Those memories would settle in his mind and he'd never be rid of them.  Maybe if I stay awake long enough, I won't dream.


     Admiral Simson and Captain Ramsey stood in the Admiral's day cabin.  The recently rescued captain of the Cygnus was wrapped in a blanket, sipping brandy with a fair amount of coffee in it.

     Simson was glad to see that after Ramsey's first encounter face to face with their enemies, he was shaken but holding up.

     The Admiral didn't want to push either man too hard, so he handled the questioning, "So after you heard the chanting, that's when it broke out?"

     "Yes, Admiral.  I thought it was dead, a weird specimen we were taking to NERV for study.  I never thought it would wake up."

     "Did it attack anyone?" Simson asked.

     "No, it headed straight for the engine spaces, that's what caused the explosion.  I also remember there were suds, black suds all over the bottom of the crate."

     "Suds?" Ramsey asked.

     The Cygnus's captain glanced around.

     His ship is fragments on the bottom of the sea, Simson thought, All of us know there'll be a court martial.  He doesn't want to be thought insane.  "What did they look like, one big pile, lots of smaller piles, uniform color, anything unusual: movement, sounds, smells, anything?"

     "Flat across the bottom of the crate, except for that other thing's footprints.  No movement, no sound.  They started to go gray, but I didn't have a chance to watch them.  And the smell, Wee hoo!  We had a stoker who hated bathing, even after a week, he didn't smell that bad."

     "Very well, Captain," Simson said, "I'm afraid there will be a court martial.  Tell the JAG officer everything since it happened while we were working with NERV, it'll all be classified higher than God.  Depending on how well you saw to the evacuation, you may only lose a temporary pay-grade.  I don't think they'll make you pay for the ship."

     "Thank you, sir," the man stood and saluted.  He took the doctored coffee with him as the Marine guard led him away.

     "Sweet guy," Ramsey said, "Assuming that thing was a guy.  One of those Shoggoths woke him up, and he eats it.  That's why he was so lively."

     "Same thing must have happened on Pollux, since we've got no report of 'soap suds' from them.  Institute another fleet wide search, this time special emphasis on all the places it couldn't possibly be," Simson ordered.

     "Yes, sir.  What do we do if we find more?" Ramsey asked.

     "That's what the EVAs are for," Simson told him, he knew it wasn't a good answer, but it was the only one either man had.

     "Until today, I'd only seen the aftermaths, and read books.  In the flesh, these things are . . . "

     "Not us," Simson said, "In a disturbingly explicit way.  We aren't the masters of our own fate.  We just haven't been stepped on yet."

     "At least with the EVAs, we can convince them to put their foot/feet elsewhere," Ramsey paused, "Sir, I know discipline of the pilots is entirely a NERV matter."

     "Not entirely," Simson corrected, "Go on."

     "We give our new draftees weeks of Basic Training and a Bluejacket's Manual.  Any chief or officer who chewed out a new sailor like that, they'd be up on charges.  I admit, any skipper who handled their ship as badly as those three did, would face a Captain's Mast or worse, but no one in this man's Navy would put newbies that green in command of a vessel of any size.  Hell, the ship's lifeboats are commanded by men with five to six years experience minimum."

     "Are you saying we should take a more active hand, Captain?" Simson asked.

     Ramsey glanced around, then forged ahead, "Yes, sir.  By whatever means necessary.  If this is war, and I was in the pig boats around Guadalcanal before they cut us loose, and I've served aboard tin cans, and carriers.  You know my service, I know war, sir."  He waited for Simson to nod, "If you only have a handful, you don't use'em up, and you don't break'em out of pique.  There've been times I wanted to chuck reporters and Washington V.I.P.s over the side, but you don't do that."

     "Different attitudes, different rules.  Rigid chain of command and absolute deference to authority."  Simson was glad his right hand now lost his temper.

     "So we're taking lessons from the people who LOST!!" Ramsey paused, regained his temper, "Sorry, Admiral, I shouldn't have raised my voice."

     "I don't see why not, I would have been throwing things at this point.  We'll look into it.  In the meantime, we've got a more pressing concern."  Simson handed Ramsey a folder.

     "British Intelligence?"

     "Very interesting reading.  Read it, then it goes back in the safe."

     Ramsey sat and read, as ordered.


     Ranma sits alone in his cabin in the dark.  Kaji hadn't returned, nor had Nabiki.  I'd told Nabiki I wanted to be alone, that wasn't completely true.  I just didn't feel comfortable with . . . humans, around me.  I knew I was human too when I told her, but, I didn't feel that way.  I wanted and needed time to sort things out, a chance to center myself.  I knew I didn't want anything to eat, the mere thought of food brought up memories and images I'd rather not have to deal with.

     At least that thing didn't have any worshipers I'll have to deal with.  That unleashes another flood of memories, And drives home the fact that most of my memories aren't my own.  'Ranma Saotome' has existed for less than a month, Nyogtha and Rhan Tegoth have existed for centuries and millennia, even if they spent most of their time sitting around waiting for something to happen, waiting for a rival to challenge their dominance, waiting for sacrifices to gain their favor to be offered.

     That was stupid!  As Asuka might say.  It shouldn't have taken anybody long to realize that those things didn't care about anyone or anything, they were just . . . bullies.

     Ranma pauses, thinking long and hard on that notion.  Nab-chan, no, Tendo-san, accused me of being a bully, using the Art to beat down a weaker opponent.  She'd been defending Shinji, evidently she thought Raccoon could handle himself or deserved what I was doing, or some combination of both.

     But Shinji was their most experienced combat pilot, alongside me, Ranma realizes.  Only they had two fights, Rei and Raccoon had one each, Asuka and Nabiki had none.  Is that why I fought Shinji so hard?  Because Ranma Saotome, was the strongest and had to remain that way?

     I'd arrived here believing that `real men` don't talk about things or complain about them.  Everett had told me that real soldiers, Japanese and Americans, liked to brag about how scared they were when they got the job done, but only around other soldiers.  I remember Asuka talking about Berlin and Raccoon talking about the U-boat.  I knew they'd been afraid, Asuka turned it into anger, Raccoon to defiance.

     Maybe I should ask him, Ranma smiles for the first time in hours.  Raccoon has no reason to help `Ranma`, but since 'Ranma wasn't Ranko,' she can ask.  Maybe there are advantages to having a teammate who was crazy.  Now that he has a course of action, he relaxes, no more thinking on the problem is required.


     Jeff knew he was in trouble, but then he suspected that being forced on to these people, he couldn't expect they'd accept him.  He was curious what he'd done wrong.  They'd tell him eventually, if they even remembered he was down here, in the brig.  The smell of drying L.C.L.  was permeating even the reek of this area.  If Major Katsuragi or Dr. Akagi came down here, he'd have the advantage, the smell wasn't as bad as some places he'd been, and both women seemed fastidious about smells and odors.
     Misato walked into the brig.  Ritsuko was following her.  Ritsuko was curious how this interview would go.  Misato seemed to have it in for Davis, although Ritsuko knew even her friend didn't know exactly why.  The smell of the place was terrible, not just from the other inmates, mostly drunks, but from their target here.

     "You did order him taken directly into custody," Ritsuko joked, "I would have at least had them hose him off."

     Misato scowled at the smell, and at her friend's amusement.  She was going in.

     The cell was bare, except for a fold down bunk.  Jeff was leaning against the far corner when she stepped up to the bars.

     "Major Katsuragi."  He snapped to attention.

     Misato ignored Ritsuko's smirk, "I'm a Captain."

     "Begging the Major's pardon, sir, but only the officer actually commanding the ship, is the Captain.  Army Captains become Majors, Navy Captains become Commodores."

     Ritsuko covered her mouth to stifle a laugh.  She knew they'd been warned about bright teen-agers, and Misato seemed to go through this with all the pilots, after their first combat mission.

     "Why did you launch without orders?  Why did you engage the target against my specific orders?"

     "Major - "

     "My name is Misato!"

     "That would be inappropriate, Major, given the current circumstances.  This is a disciplinary hearing, is it not, sir?"

     Ritsuko had heard of people killing with kindness.  Davis was bludgeoning her friend with courtesy, and making Misato madder and madder, Ritsuko figured he knew he was doing it.

     "May I continue, Major?"

     Misato folded her arms and stared at him.  The stare might have worked, except the boy was almost as tall as Misato, and thus not intimidated by her height.  Ritsuko would have guessed he wasn't even looking at her face, but over her shoulder or some such.  The silence dragged on.

     "So talk, already!" Misato shouted.

     "Thank you, Major.  I heard you giving Pilots Ikari and Saotome orders to deploy to Units 00 and 01, respectively.  I received no orders to leave Unit 04, surrender control to another pilot, or any orders at all.  Since Unit 04, at that time, blocked access to the hanger deck, I had to clear the deck, to allow the other EVAs to launch.  Over the side was the only viable option that wouldn't hamper ship-wide operations."

     "So you jumped overboard, because no one told you not to?"

     "Beg pardon, Major.  I jumped overboard, because no one told me anything.  I took up the pursuit of Chaugnar Faugn - "

     "How did you know its name?" Ritsuko blurted out.

     "The Romans had to deal with him, I speak and read Latin."

     "Go on.  Once you launched, I ordered you to return to the carrier," Misato said.

     "Major, I received no clear communications, until Pilot Ikari arrived with Unit 00 to act as a relay.  At that point, I had already defeated, and captured the creature.  I admit I operated - without - orders, but I did not knowingly operate - against - orders.  I also transmitted a stream of requests for orders, clarifications, et cetera.  I apologize for any embarrassment I caused you."

     "Embarrassment?" Misato stammered.

     "Excuse me, Major, perhaps I should have said `loss of face`.  I was attempting to operate by the paradigms of NERV, as explained by the Massachusetts' branch.  I now understand, that Tokyo's branch operates very differently."

     Ritsuko could almost hear the insult implied, but no one they related the conversation to, ever would.

     "What is that supposed to mean?" Misato demanded.

     "Different cultures, different rules, Major.  At Massachusetts' branch I was told the pilots were being prepared to defend the human race against the `Angels`.  All I've heard the Major say is, 'Kill them'.  As I said, Major, Doctor, it's a different paradigm.  I apologize for not adapting sooner."

     Ritsuko saw Misato's clenched jaw.  Davis seemed immune, neither noticed nor enjoyed, a completely blank expression, he just stared straight ahead, stood at attention.

     "Besides, Major, we won.  No losses or damage, beyond that of the initial escape, and a coordinated action under your command, I would be pleased, under similar circumstances," Davis said, "A very successful operation."

     "If you're trying to worm your way into my good graces!" Misato was shouting at him, "Forget it!"

     Ritsuko thought she was overreacting, yes, he was needling her a bit.  Nevertheless, no one had complained about the results, even the American Admiral had been pleased.

     "Permission to speak freely, Major?"

     "That'll be a first!" Misato shouted, paused . . . waited . . . then shouted, "Go ahead."

     Ritsuko shook her head, now he was going to get himself in hot water.

     "As long as I do my job, and do it well, Major.  I don't care what your - personal - opinion of me is.  I wouldn't care if you thought I was the greatest thing since sliced bread, or if you wanted to ship me back to the 'States in a pine box.  I won't even consider it.  You are my commanding officer, I am your subordinate.  I am to follow your orders, my personal feelings have nothing to do with anything, whether I hate you, mistrust you, or pity you, I am to do my job."

     "I wish I could say you have the right attitude, we're expected to work together.  Your 'I don't care' attitude, will get you killed piloting an EVA," Misato said coldly.

     He didn't say he didn't care about piloting.  He said he didn't care what you thought of him, Ritsuko realized, And she isn't hearing that.  It's entirely personal for her.

     "Major, with all due respect, you haven't the faintest idea what you're talking about.  You cannot sync with an EVA, you are not a pilot, you do not know the attitude necessary to - be - a pilot.  If you really looked at the pilots you do have, I think you will find, my attitude is similar to, if not the same as, theirs.  I, unlike the others, have the tools to actually make the analysis."

     "Then why don't you just get out and go home!" Misato shouted at him.

     Ritsuko watched the pilot puzzle out the `Major's` confusing reaction, Well now he's figured out they're having two different conversations.

     He took one swift step toward the bars.  The first time he'd moved during the interview, Misato scrambled back out of reach.

     "If I had that option, Major, I would have taken it.  Like it or not, you and your flying circus are the only hope for mankind.  My presence ensures continued funding of your operations.  I refuse to let you, or anyone else, Major, sir, flush fifty thousand years of civilization down the toilet out of pique.  I hope you understand that, Major.  The oath American soldiers take is: to protect and defend the Constitution from all enemies, foreign and domestic.  No one has asked me to give that vow, but it governs my actions."

     "Is that a threat?" Misato asked angrily.

     "No, Major, merely a clarification."

     Misato turned on her heel and left.  Ritsuko tracked her friend's progress by the shouts, crashes and tortured metal.  Davis seemed to have a positive talent for getting under her skin.  "Not the most auspicious entry."  Misato is making this too intimate, it's just `business` to him, Ritsuko considered.

     "She needs to grow up, Doctor."

     "My name is Ritsuko."

     A slight nod.  "Very well, Ritsuko-sensei."

     She noted the easy acceptance, versus the rigid protocol he adhered to with Misato.  Personal, not business.

     "The Major wants the Angels all dead, first day of the war, last day of the war.  She hates life, hers and others.  The lives of all six pilots, the health and sanity of the two pilots in her charge, are her direct responsibility.  And I have the wrong attitude?  My job is to defend humanity.  I fear the Good Major may push the pilots into a place where those goals are mutually exclusive."

     "My guess is, the pilots will die before they let humanity be destroyed.  I think you should know, on which side I'll come down on, Doctor, pardon, Ritsuko."

     "Understood," Dr. Akagi signaled the guard forward.  "Go get cleaned up.  Rei and Nabiki-chan are worried about you."

     "I would have enjoyed watching that confrontation.  Well, I finished my career, at least it ended on a high note."

     Ritsuko didn't want to debate him on that, she'd never seen Misato so angry over something so trivial.  She needed to know where it came from.


     Nabiki-kun and I are walking through the corridors on our way to the `boys` cabins when, we encounter the Sixth, Roku-kun, on his way to the cabin he shares with Shinji-kun.  His walk is a shuffle and his coat is draped across his shoulders, very atypical.

     "Hey, Raccoon," Nabiki-kun hails him, "Good job today."

     He stops, nods, then shuffles on his way.

     "You do know you won?" she asks, her tone is different, "Don't you?"

     He stops and turns to face us, "Tendo-san, Ayanami-san," he nods to each of us, "I'm afraid I'm not good company, and wish to be left alone.  Excuse me."  He shuffles on.

     I catch Nabiki-kun's sleeve and draw her back, "Shinji-kun used almost exactly those words.  Especially 'I want to be left alone.'" I stop, watch her think, as her face goes through a series of contortions.

     "Ranma said he wanted to be left alone.  Have you known any of them to both want to be left alone and specifically ask for it?"

     "I have never seen it," I tell her.  Shinji-kun prefers to be alone, but would never ask.  The Fourth, Saotome and the Sixth would not want and would not ask, respectively.  "Should we inform the Captain?"

     She frowns, "Now you're teasing me.  The Captain is why they're in this condition in the first place.  I don't think Doctor Akagi could help," she frowns, looks around, "Let's get Maya, then let's keep an eye on them.  I don't want my joke about seppuku to become a prophesy."

     I nod my agreement, we leave the food with the boys.  My tray with Shinji-kun.  The Sixth seems to be having trouble navigating the ladder, I push him up the rest of the way into the bunk.  There is no protest of the contact and no thanks for the assistance, further evidence that something is not right.

     Nabiki confides Ranma is not interest in the food we brought.  A behavior she's never seen in boys their age.

     I am worried.  The Commander must have wanted a range of abilities, abilities I cannot duplicate, to bring in these new pilots.  Shinji-kun's rage in a fight, the Fourth's combat skills, the Second's fiery personality, the Sixth's unusual point of view, the Fifth's cunning and viciousness.  To deprive the Commander of these necessary tools is wrong, and endangers the plan.  Short of reporting directly to the Commander, I must follow the lead of the Fifth, and her Higher wisdom source.  Until the Commander can clarify the conditions.

     Maya's suggestion is: we watch and wait, she will tell Dr. Akagi.  Nabiki-kun urges her 'Don't tell `mom` when Misato's around.' I don't agree with this, the Captain should have the information, but Nabiki-kun is adamant.  I defer to her judgment.

     Standing watch, actively sitting and watching does not tell me anything.  Neither touched the tray of food, so I eat it quietly.  Neither has dreams with outward manifestations, no sounds, no violent tossing and turning, nothing.  Although both have adopted a similar posture: legs folded tightly against the chest, blankets wrapped around completely.  Shinji-kun has his arms wrapped around his legs, Roku-kun covers his head with his.  Their sleep is uneasy, but not as mine when I have nightmares.

     I will wait for morning, before consulting with Nabiki and Dr. Akagi about this behavior, and its effect on piloting.  We cannot afford to lose pilots, even though we have an excess and I can be replaced, the Commander will not have gathered them in, unless they were valuable to him.

     I have another way to intervene, for one of them.  I am ashamed that such a decision comes so easily, to abandon one to help the other.


     Nabiki stretched, looked around Ranma's cabin, stifled a yawn.  She considered that she and Rei should have brought all of them together, then they'd be able to keep each other awake, played cards, something other than just sitting there.  She also wondered if Rei was the best choice for a suicide watch.  Would she pick up the subtle clues?  Would she know enough to intervene effectively?

     Nabiki had watched Ranma sleep enough, she knew this wasn't natural or normal.  Fetal position, faint, unintelligible comments.  Nabiki could guess they were denials, but denials of what, whom, about what?  And most important, in what language?  She doubted Ranma spoke anything except Japanese, and a little English or Chinese, and he wasn't speaking any language she recognized.  Not knowing anything was worrying her, Shinji hadn't acted this way when she'd first met him.  Frightened with a hint of anger.  This seemed more like depression.

     More not knowing.  She also wished she could ask her `patron`, but she came and went on her own schedule and answered only what she wanted to answer.  Oh, she'd answer any question, but usually with the same kind of gibberish Genma and Soun used, Nabiki thought, Useless.


Rei's Invasion

     Anna watched the plan go forward.  She doubted anyone had attacked using this procedure.  The dragons had assaulted the uppermost floors, removed the skulls and 'established a beachhead'.  Then the infantry and engineers had used turtles, armored frameworks, to assault the main gate, the defenders had set the first on fire, that served their needs precisely.  The oil and phosphorus massed at the top of the tower were set ablaze.  Barrels of special herbs were added to the blaze down below.  The entire tower was now a chimney drawing noxious fumes through the entire spire, in less than an hour terms would be offered.  And accepted.

     "We have trouble with our guest," One of Asuka's werewolves told her.

     She joined Asuka outside Alwyk's tent.

     "She seems to want to leave," the Meliorist told her.

     "We could tell her who we are," Anna suggested.

     "We still don't know whose side she's on," the Meliorist explained.

     The Scholarly Dragon landed, "There is one way to deal with this.  I trust you two to work with Alwyk, to deliver the terms.  I will take her where she's asks to go," he told them, "There are advantages to being a dragon."

     "Besides armor, flight, and breathing fire?" Anna asked.

     "I do not breathe . . . fire."  The dragon stuck his head in the tent.


     I have been frightened before, but what just glided into my tent 'prison' is terrifying beyond any previous experience.

     "You wish to leave, I will take you.  Otherwise you will remain, Rei-san."  The dragon tells me in a soothing voice.

     The fear is almost overwhelming.  This creature is huge, only the head is within, and it nearly fills this tent.  I can feel its evil radiating off in nearly physical waves.  But Shinji-kun needs me, and somehow, the creature is testing me, my word of 'honor'.

     "I go to a dreamscape.  It is necessary," I tell him, it, through my clenched teeth.  First an angel, now a dragon.  Nabiki-kun serves a high order Friend of Man.  This monster, part demon, part dragon, who or what is your master?

     A taloned hand, large enough to crush an automobile reaches forward, "Take my hand and we go."

     Can I trust this thing?  I cannot ask others, or I will be too late, I don't know what to do.

     "There is no quarrel between us unless you desire to begin one."

     I touch the barrier that held me and the dragon's claws encompass me.  I nearly scream in fear.

     "Think of the place, and we will be there."

     Shinji-kun.


     Anna watched the immense bulk vanish.  "It always gives me the creeps.  What is he helping us for?  I mean, he could do whatever he wanted."

     "The girl worries me worse.  Who quit screaming first when we met that thing the first time?" Asuka asked.

     "False modesty aside, me.  After I'd wet and soiled myself.  I'd screamed myself hoarse.  You had a healthier throat, and more practice."

     Asuka ignored the barb, "Not a peep out of her.  I've had nightmares about that girl for years.  Chasing, watching, stalking me.  She'd never close or finish me off, no purchased charm or spell could ever keep them away, the girl or the dreams.  Even when our friend became that - dragon, and I was as scared of his madness as you were.  I was more frightened by the dreams of that girl, and that makes no sense.  Why should I be more afraid of a little girl I could slice in half?" She brandished her sabre-halberd, "Than a half-demonic creature that could eat a light cruiser or a tank battalion for breakfast.  It doesn't make sense."

     "Dreams rarely make sense.  Like that dream you had about Gunther in college."

     "Don't be so disgusting right before lunch."


     "This one, Ayanami," the creature tells me.  We float amidst a sea of shining pearls of myriad sizes, of a thousand different colors, I can tell the one the dragon points to is the correct one, it is Shinji-kun's.

     I know Nabiki-kun told me to watch, but I can watch better from inside.

     "Do you require any assistance?"

     I don't know if it is trying to be polite, or if it is curious about my purpose here.  "Can you stop a train without hurting it?"

     It raises an eyebrow as we enter.

     Fields and forests, soft breezes and fluffy clouds, all encircled by the train track, and the train sitting idle as we descend.  The dragon peers at the steam locomotive, then blows into the firebox, extinguishing the flames there.

     "You will not leaves this place before morning."

     I recognized the threat, I nod.

     "I go, the owner will arrive soon," it gestures, then pours a number of coins into my hand, "I can smell food, from that town, purchase some."

     He is gone before I can say anything.  I know Shinji-kun will be here soon, to sit alone and ignored in his train.  I have seen others sit and eat amid the cherry blossoms, and thought it foolish.  I am learning that what is foolish, and what is necessary for a better life, depends greatly on who is with you at the time. 


     Ranma looked around at his surroundings.  He could recognize he was inside a boxing ring, but where was the light coming from?  Not from overhead, not from the sides, that was all darkness beyond the edges of the ring.  Everything stood out in harsh lines, he cast no shadows.

     "It is surreal," Jeff told him, he hadn't been there a moment before.  "As promised, you have your rematch."

     "This is a dream," Ranma realized.

     Jeff shrugged, Ranma knew he was in line for a lecture, Hell a lecture from Raccoon is better than the dreams I was expecting.  I'll listen, it'll give me an advantage.

     "Many of our foes can attack through mental sendings, and dreams."  Jeff circled him, he suddenly wore boxing trunks and gloves, instead of suit and tie.  "You felt the residue, a conscious attack will be infinitely worse."

     Ranma looked at his own clothes, he now wore a standard white gi, with a white belt, he fumed at the insult.

     "Your defenses are truly pitiful.  You are here, without your approval or understanding, and our enemies are far better at this than I am."

     "So you brought me here to humiliate me?  To get revenge?" Ranma asked.

     "In a way.  I intend to show you I am the better instructor, and that given a teaching opportunity, I will teach, without regard to settling scores."

     "Hmph."

     "Begin.  Hit me, if you can."

     Ranma charged.


     The Meliorist braced herself as the gate opened before her.  He was not going to be pleased, they'd rejected the terms, and the Dragon's rages were known and rightly feared.  She'd sent Anna to renew the chemical assault, while she explained, and hopefully mollified the monster's wrath.  Despite her long acquaintance, and that they were allies in some hideous adventures, they were not friends.  The Scholarly Dragon stepped out of the gate, sitting up on his back legs, curling his tail around him on the ground.

     A distinctly catlike pose, the Knight considered.

     "Raccoon fights the Iron Horse."  The dragon gestured at the gateway.

     "How did - ?" the knight abandoned the thought, the conclusion was obvious, and answered many questions.  "Let's go."

     The Dragon preceded her, and the gate disappeared moments after they passed through.


     Ranma didn't remember having fought so hard in his life.  Punches, kicks, sweeps, high, low, in between.  He'd make an attack, and by the time it arrived, that damned Raccoon simply wasn't there, often simply inches out of place, but he dodged with superhuman speed and skill.  Unless I'm telegraphing my blows.

     His opponent hadn't seriously counterattacked, Ranma had managed to dodge a few blows, then an occasional one would land completely out of left field.

     "Stop trying and do," Jeff taunted.

     Ranma got angry, and feinted with a kick, and punched Jeff as hard as he could in the chest.  Ranma's feeling of elation and triumph, turned to horror as Jeff hit the ropes and came back with a look of malevolent glee.  Ranma couldn't dodge out of the way quickly enough.


     "Ouch."  The Meliorist winced in the darkness surrounding the ring, "That's gotta hurt."

     "The Iron Horse seems to learn only from his defeats."  The Scholarly Dragon watched Ranma clamber to his feet, "If he cannot learn from his victories, all is lost.  I am reminded of another, extremely irritating human."

     A growl from The Meliorist brought a faint smile to the Dragon's face.


     Ranma stared at his opponent who sat on the top turnbuckle, so smug and serene.  He wanted to march over, and teach the other boy a lesson, he also knew he couldn't beat him, he couldn't even come close, not here.

     "How did I beat you?" Jeff asked, in a vaguely smug tone.

     You cheated, Ranma wanted to shout, "You were too fast.  I couldn't hit you.  Your blows and blocks were too powerful."

     "Speed and strength," Jeff paused, "In a dream, what part of my body would give me those things."

     Ranma couldn't answer.

     "Why is this a boxing ring, instead of a dojo?" For an instant it was a dojo, straw mats, practice dummies, diagrams of chakras and strikes.  Then it was a boxing ring again.

     "I don't know," Ranma said.

     "Wrong, your pride won't let you admit it."  Jeff jumped down and marched over to face him, "You aren't as stupid as your lack of education and social graces would indicate.  Use your brain for something."

     "This is all will.  Your will dominates, so I'm the puppet here," Ranma realized.

     "No, I wouldn't do that, besides, it's easier to change the universe than another person.  I adjusted things to give me time to counter you.  Have you wondered why there are so many women in the NERV forces, compared with the regular military?  Why the odd range of personalities?"

     Ranma hadn't.

     "To sync with an EVA, indeed to use much of the NERV equipment, you have to be able to manipulate energies without instrumentalities."

     "In that case.  'Ima Shoden . . . '"

     "STOP!" Jeff ordered

     This time Ranma felt power forcing his compliance.

     "You summon that here, with your current level of training, it will manifest in the Waking World, you'll probably kill someone."

     Ranma relaxed, and felt the compulsion holding him slip away.

     "You're on the right track.  Your ki powers allow you to sync with EVAs, it doubtless makes you the best at syncing, but as it is a purely physical expression, it leaves you terribly vulnerable to mental and spiritual attacks.  That needs to be addressed.  That is why we are here."

     "How do you do it?"

     "My focus is more mental and spiritual.  It weakens the physical aspect, but makes me infinitely less vulnerable to more subtle attacks.  I also have a vast experience to draw on."

     "Adventures in your dreams?" Ranma asked.

     "Yes, you can live a dozen lifetimes, in a single dream.  If you can retain even part of what you experienced, well, learning is learning."

     "I'd heard you couldn't know anything you didn't know when you were awake," Ranma said, pointed out the obvious flaw.

     "You can't," Jeff agreed, "But do you consciously know everything you know?"

     Ranma shook his head 'no.'

     "The lesson is about control.  The battle here was iconic, your will against mine.  I gave you a venue you were familiar with, and my control was stronger.  I leave you a bit of homework."  The lights went out.

     "AAAGH!  Change it back!  Change it back!" Ranma screamed.

     "This is your dream, you change it back."  Jeff walked across the darkened arena, to the Meliorist and the Scholarly Dragon.  "Go away," he told them coldly.

     "What did you do to him?" she asked.

     "He won't tell us."  The Dragon uncoiled, "I am returning."

     "I make my own way, thanks."

     The dragon vanished.

     "There is unfinished business," she said.

     "Your business is with the Scholarly Dragon, not me," Jeff replied, "Good night."  He mimed tipping his hat, and vanished.

     The Knight shook her head and vanished, leaving an anguished Ranma shouting, "Change.  I order you to change!  C'mon change!"


Breakfast

     I left my night-long vigil in Ranma's cabin for Shinji's.  I'm furious.

     I'd been in such a good mood a few moments ago.  Last night I'd asked Rei to look after the other two, and this morning, I find her asleep!  It ruins my good mood, it also drives out the confusion of getting flashed by Ranma.  He woke with a scream of 'CHANGE!', jumped out of bed, pulled down his boxers and checked himself out, front and rear, in the mirror.

     I didn't say anything, for obvious reasons, until he pulled his boxers back on.  'Please, sir, can I see some more?'

     He turned about a dozen shades of red and purple before he ran out of the room.  I hope that was a sign he's feeling better.  Kaji didn't show up any time during the night.  If he was with Misato, we would have heard something.  Like less snoring from Misa-chan.  Then I found Rei asleep.

     I am about to launch an `alpha-strike`, Navy talk for throwing the kitchen sink at something, when I see the contented smile on Shinji's face, and hear the quiet 'Tendo-san.  Shh!' from Roku-kun.

     "Let's get some breakfast," he suggests, "Let them sleep a little while longer."

     I silently agree.  Unfortunately Roku-kun hadn't changed out of his clothes from last night, so no second show.  I guess I have to wait to see if it's true what I've heard about Americans, and cowboys, or was that just Texans?


     We are back in our `regular` mess hall.

     Ranma's already eating breakfast.

     "Be nice!" I order Roku-kun, "He had to listen to Misa-chan, she just locked you up."

     "As you command, milady Tendo," he bows, he gets me to smile at that, "I just wish to know if he got the monkey off his back."

     "I'll ask him," I tell my coconspirator, this morning is not the time to continue their `rivalry`.

     "Hey, Saotome-kun."  I open with more familiarity, let him know he's back in my good graces.

     "Hey, Nab-ch-Nabiki-chan."

     Well, I think, It's a start.

     "So, have you got the monkey off your back, or can I expect another show?"

     Ranma starts coughing uncontrollably.  Roku-kun slaps him on the back a few times, all the time smiling at me.

     I'm going to get you for that!  Whatever it was! He knew without me saying it.

     "Do . . . thanks, I'm not hungry, bye!" Ranma beats a very hasty retreat.

     "Did you scare him?" Raccoon asks innocently.

     I briefly consider slapping that grin off his face, and kicking him around the mess hall.

     But I restrain myself.  Face it, Nabiki, you're too used to the easy marks in Nerima.  Here they've got real experts.  I vow he won't beat me again so easily.


     Shinji and Rei arrive in the mess hall as Raccoon and I are finishing breakfast.  Shinji and Rei keep glancing at each other then shame-faced, look away, Shinji blushing, Rei looking at her feet.

     "What a disgusting display that is?" Asuka announces her arrival, "Don't you have a room."

     "Not together," Rei tells her.

     I'm not sure Rei intends the 'kick-in-the-guts' effect it has on our loudest pilot, but a second pilot leaves rapidly without finishing breakfast.

     Shinji and Rei sit across from us.  Shinji seems no worse for wear after yesterday.

     Well, Ranma's mostly recovered, Shinji's different, but surviving, Raccoon can still dance with . . . Belldandy, if you're putting those images in my head, STAY OUT!!! I stab my last bit of toast and look jealously at the pair.  I wish I could be with Ranma that way, just spend some quiet time together with him.

     Neither of the pair say anything, or react to my glances.  What really hurts is Shinji smiling at random intervals and Rei taking an inordinate interest in Shinji mastering the knife and fork to eat his eggs and toast.  Neither has any sausages, although Roku-kun and I made sure we left a few.  The silence from my other breakfast companion only twists the knife, he's as pleased as I am about our two quiet pilots getting along.  Well fix him up with Asuka, and that clears the field for you and Ranma, I tell myself.

     I switch to German, so we can have some privacy, "So, Davis, what do you think they were doing?"

     "Picnicking under the cherry blossoms," he tells me, gets the frown he expects, "Nothing dirty.  Other than that, it's really none of our business."

     A picnic?!  You're no fun, and you've got less imagination that I thought, then I reconsider, An occasional picnic, pilots only, might be nice.  Ranma would attend anything involving free food.  We could leave these two to deal with the ants while the rest of us did something.  We'd know exactly where to find them afterwards.

     The urge to tease those two is overwhelming, but I do not want to explain that to Belldandy, nor do I want Davis in full attack mode this early in the morning.  Enough bad news has just arrived.

     "Ohayo!" Misato tells us.

     "Beg pardon, sir, that was a week ago," Raccoon replies in English.

     Sir?!  Oh, she's got to love that.

     Misato frowns, I can feel the tension between the pair.  Shinji looks ready to crawl under the table, I don't know exactly what Rei's extremely neutral and attentive expression means.

     "We should have a celebration, after our victory," she says.

     "I didn't think your people went in for cannibalism and human sacrifice," Raccoon whispers in German.

     I nearly lose my breakfast, I'm laughing so hard.

     "What's so funny?" Misato asks suspiciously.

     "I merely commented on the barbecue and the entertainment."  Raccoon smiles.

     Yes, it's good to watch an expert at work.

     "I didn't think you were pleased with the results," I say sweetly, when I manage to stop laughing, at the image of Misato roasting Shinji and Ranma on a spit.  'Who wants dark meat?'

     Misato frowns at that, mumbles something about beer and stalks off.

     "You shouldn't do that to Misato-san," Shinji says, after Misato is out of the room.

     "Yes, I know," Raccoon says, "She's trying her best."

     Shinji nods.

     "It isn't her fault they let a drunken, vicious incompetent keep a job she never deserved and can't perform, now it is?"

     Even Rei is shocked by the amount of venom in Raccoon's, no, Davis's, statement, there's none of the Raccoon in those words, maybe Vlad the Impaler.

     Oh good, he knows and hates our tactical commander.  How did this happen and what can . . . is there anything, I can do about it?


     The smell of sea salt has finally driven out the stench of L.C.L., no more hum of the pumps and fans, just the ship moving through the water.  The only light comes through the aircraft elevators.  For a few moments, all the problems recede, then it all comes back.

     "The kids ganged up on Misato," Ritsuko tells Maya as they walk across the hanger deck.  The Navy crews are installing, or are finishing installing, a shower and privacy panels for the pilots to use after they exit their EVAs.  Davis's tenure in the brig accelerated things.

     "Well, sempai.  Nabiki-chan was very angry about it," Maya tells her.

     "I'm glad you told me.  Friction among the pilots is bad enough, a lack of confidence in their commanding officer is a critical problem.  Following orders would eventually cause a situation that prompt the pilots to second guess, and that . . . "

     Maya gulps and nods, "What do we do?"

     Ritsuko sighs, "I don't know, we, you and I seem to retain their confidence, how we transfer that to other areas - " she doesn't finish the thought, she doesn't have an answer and can hear another argument brewing a hundred feet away.

     "This place really echoes."  Maya says as they rush forward.

     Ritsuko wishes she knew who they were rescuing from whom, Misato is confronting Ranma and Davis, both of whom are staring angrily at each other.

     'Why do you have to be so stubborn!?' Misato yells at, I think Davis, Ritsuko decides, Stubborn practically defines all three of them.

     "All I'm saying Major, is that it's not something I've seen.  I am not suggesting anything other than that," Davis replies calmly.

     Ranma looks ready to run or fight either of them, as Ritsuko and Maya approach, he hasn't decided which.

     "Ritsuko!  Tell this, young man, about Ranma's curse."

     I don't need this.  Ritsuko glances at Maya, She's never encountered Davis's disbelief.  "I told him in Saint Louis," she tries to keep her voice level, inject a voice of calm into the argument, "And we haven't had a chance to show him."

     Misato's eyes fall on a sealed red and yellow bucket someone left.  She upends it over Saotome.

     So much for secrecy.

     "NOOO!!" Davis yells and lunges at Saotome.

     The sudden smell of gasoline assaults our nostrils, Oh Good Lord!

     Davis is practically running Saotome into the shower, with Ritsuko on his heels.  The shower works, he keeps the martial artist's face in the stream of warm water despite Ranma's struggles.

     "That stuff can blind you, quit fighting me!" Davis shouts as he tries to keep the gasoline out of Ranma's eyes while he washes him off.  Ranma struggles less and Ritsuko helps hold his head to protect his eyes, get the gasoline out of his hair and off his face.  They have to take off Ranma's clothes to wash him down completely, because they didn't know what else was in that bucket with the gasoline.  Better to embarrass him than let him be permanently injured, Ritsuko thought.

     As they finish, Davis takes off his damp shirt and gives it to Ranma to wear while he takes Ranma's contaminated clothes to be cleaned.

     "Thanks Doc, Raccoon.  That hurt," he says as he buttons the shirt.  It's long enough to protect his modesty.

     "Yes," Ritsuko keeps her voice level.  Misato is nowhere to be seen.  Maya returns with some towels so they can all dry off.

     "A little privacy, Doc?" Ranma asks sheepishly.

     "I've already seen it all," Ritsuko tells him, then leaves him alone, sealing the barriers behind them.

     Maya stifles a laugh at the boy's sudden attack of shyness.  "Davis left with the clothes, I don't know where Katsuragi-san went," Maya tells Ritsuko.

     "I hope they don't meet."  Ritsuko saw his absolute, rigid calm.  She'd seen people get that angry, they were capable of anything.

     "Find him," Ritsuko orders, "I'll take Ranma to check him over."

     Maya heads off.

     This is not going to help the quandary with the pilots, Ritsuko realizes, Maybe I should tell Misato to hide in the bulges until we reach Japan tomorrow.  I don't think Ranma or Davis will be too happy about this, Nabiki will find out and be displeased, she sighs, At least that relieves the tension between Ranma and Davis.  Danger invites rescue.


     Frankly Asuka wasn't the person Nabiki most wanted to see.  I was rather torn about which of the two I did want to see more.  The Honorable Captain Katsuragi for a quiet bit of murder, or Ranma to see he was all right.

     She'd spotted Ranma wearing one of Davis's shirts, being led by Ritsuko.  She'd noted it hung down to mid-thigh, and thought it would have made a good nightshirt for Ranko, but dismissed the thought from her mind.  Now she knew what happened, and was furious.  I'm beginning to think my joke about her hating boys wasn't too far off the mark.

     "Say, Tendo.  You heard what happened?"

     "Asuka, I heard, I -"

     "Saotome's all right."

     Nabiki almost thought she heard sympathy in Asuka's voice.

     "Gasoline, how stupid is that?  You can't turn around on this boat without running into a pitcher of ice water, tripping over a mop bucket, something!"

     Nabiki considered that, the only time Ranma changed, Admittedly, that I was aware of, was when I drenched him.  Normally he couldn't stay dry and male for more than an hour.  Yet he'd been predominantly male on this voyage.

     "Just 'cause Raccoon hasn't seen the change, that's no reason to douse him, is it?" Asuka asked.

     "No, it isn't."  I don't need to like her, but I am able to accept when someone's making sense.  "Any idea what we can do?"

     "Pee in all her beer," Asuka suggested, "Not that she'd notice, but we'd feel better."

     "Have you seen our trickster?"

     "Yeah."  Asuka seemed disturbed by the question.  "He and Wondergirl were shooting skeet with the Admiral and some of the senior officers.  Those two, Raccoon was using a .45 auto, and Wondergirl used a rifle she took from one of the Marines.  Everybody knows you're supposed to use a shotgun."

     I didn't know.  "So they weren't any good?" Nabiki's question stopped Asuka.  She stared at Asuka until she answered, Besides I needed to practice my stare.

     "No, they weren't too bad.  Pretty good . . . "

     "Pretty good?"

     "Okay they were doing fine, don't give me the third degree!" she paused, "They were doing fine for using shotguns.  That level of marksmanship is just spooky."

     "Asuka, I know nothing about skeet shooting.  What has you so shook up?"

     She was about to deny it, when her anger ran into Nabiki's stare.  Fire against Ice.  They struggled that way for a few moments.

     She gave up the contest, wisely decided a victory wasn't worth the cost.  "A clay ashtray-target is thrown into the air.  A shotgun fires a pattern of small bullets at it.  If one of those pellets hits, the ashtray breaks.  A pistol and a rifle fire single bullets, so you can't get `real close`, you have to hit a small moving target perfectly.  That's what they were doing."

     She looked around, "Look Tendo, I'm good.  With the right coaches and training, I could be on the German Olympic team, but I wouldn't shoot against those two on a bet.  If the EVAs ever get rifles, those two could stand off and kill an Angel before it ever got to hand-to-hand range."

     Another thing to consider.  "What did the Navy think of their shooting?"

     "Admiration, and some fear Tendo.  Nothing human can possibly shoot like that," she told me, "Nothing."


     Jeff stretched his legs, warmed up a little.  It was moonless, and there was a heavy cloud cover, or he'd never be doing this.  No one on the flight deck, only a minimal watch on the island, the lights would destroy their night vision.  He knew he would not be seen or noticed.  Then stood on the stern-most portion of the Carrier's flight deck, he checked his watch, then sprinted towards the bow.  Halfway to the island he slowed, he was going far too fast, it would attract attention, even at 1:30 in the morning.  As he approached the bow, he halted, checked his watch.  Distance: 915 feet, time: 17.8 seconds.  That's a sustained speed of 35 MPH.  I'm not even breathing hard, he thought, checked his pulse, Heart rate slightly elevated, more a canter than a gallop.

     So the EVAs can't buffer everything physical, and buffer virtually nothing mental.  What are they hoping to accomplish with that arrangement? he wondered.  He debated running back to the cabin he shared with Shinji, but discarded the idea, too many potential witnesses.  What other changes are occurring among the pilots? he wondered how to research that, and if anyone else cared, Beyond the pilots, probably not


The Fourth Angel

     Shinji woke suddenly.  His roommate was calling to him, "Shinji-san.  Shinji-san?"

     "Nani?" he asked.  [What?]

     "Does the carrier sound different to you?" Davis peered over the edge of the upper bunk at him.

     "Na . . . Hai.  What's going on?" Shinji was waking up quickly.

     "Get dressed, we'll ask the Captain, first our captain, then the ship's."  Jeff hopped to the ground next to him, and began pulling on his pants.

     Shinji climbed out of bed, catching the pants and shirt the Sixth tossed him, How can he see in the dark?

     Once clad in his suit and tie, Davis stepped out of the cabin.

     Shinji was still waking up and trying to get dressed, his pants weren't cooperating, and the darkness wasn't helping.  His watch said 2:00 A.M., the carrier had been scheduled to arrive in Tokyo Harbor in about three hours.


     "Major?  Major Katsuragi?"

     Asuka heard someone quietly knocking on the door to their cabin, it was almost impossible to hear over Misato's snoring.  She hadn't really been able to sleep, so she walked to the door and yanked it open.  "What do you want?" she blinked at Raccoon wearily.

     "I think the carrier's picked up speed.  I was wondering if the Major knew anything about this," he asked.

     "She's asleep and she's a Captain, dummkoft."

     "There's only one captain aboard a ship.  When in Roman . . . "

     "Wait a moment."  She slammed the door in his face.

     "Hope for a vomitorium."  She heard through the door.

     She winced at that.  "Captain."  She shook Misato, "Captain, wake up."

     "Ferven growf," Misato answered.

     "Captain, Raccoon said the carrier's picked up speed.  The idiot thinks it's important."

     "Let'im handle it, jackass," Misato told her.  She was snoring again in seconds.

     Asuka shook her head and returned to open the door, "She gives you authority to find out."

     "Nice of her."

     "Just wait till I get dressed," she told him.

     "I'll wait till Shinji arrives, not one second longer."

     Asuka closed the door and started getting dressed, And what are we going to do when we get to the bridge?  Ask 'Excuse me Admiral, Captain Katsuragi sent me to find out what is going on.' Yeah, right.

     Asuka was ready before Shinji arrived, Dummkoft must have gotten lost.  "Where are we going, Raccoon?" she asked, "The bridge?"

     Red lights lit all the corridors, I thought that was for battle stations, Asuka thought, as visibility mixed with darkness in an odd combination.

     "The Major gave me authority, so yes, I'm going to the bridge, then the CIC," he turned to her, "She did give me authority, didn't she?"

     "Well, she was awfully sleepy, and I didn't really . . . "

     "Langley!" he yelled at her, "If this really is an emergency we need to know, and a bunch of 14-year-old kids have no reason to traipse onto the bridge and ask questions.  If she didn't give permission, we have to go back and get it."

     "Well I repeated what you said, and she said 'He'll handle it, the jackass' I think."

     "They're going to shoot us."

     Raccoon sounds like Spineless.  They headed towards the bridge, she had to grab Spineless's arm so he would keep up and not get lost.


     The trio of Marine guards were in place outside the CIC, and armed.  The NERV trio stopped.

     "What are we going to do now genius?" Asuka asked Roku-kun in German.

     "You're the one with the degree, remember, maybe you should do this," Jeff replied in German.  Asuka was silent.

     "Excuse me, Corporal.  Major Katsuragi sent us to find out why we've picked up speed."

     The Corporal nodded to the junior private, he went inside.  "Wait here."  The Corporal told them.

     "I wish we had rank," Asuka griped.

     "Assuming hazardous duty pay, and flight pay," Jeff explained in Japanese, "We're getting paid roughly what a Lieutenant Colonel is getting paid.  I doubt we have the same privileges."

     The door opened, and Admiral Simson stepped out.  "Major, eh?" he asked, "Giving her the courtesy promotion?"

     "Yes, sir."  Asuka realized Jeff thought it sounded foolish now.

     "Well, I'm not as big a stickler for protocol.  Come inside."  The Admiral led the trio into the Combat Information Center.  Many people operating various radios, then writing backwards on the backs of plexiglass sheets.  The marks showed the officers in the center of the room where the enemy is in relation to the carrier group, the fleet, and other Allied and civilian shipping.  Ordinary opaque maps were brought out and checked, orders went out to direct civilians away from the Angel.  All the activity seemed random and pointless, unless you belonged there, then you could understand it.

      "NERV Tokyo detected an Angel heading towards Japan."  Admiral Simson pointed out the positions, "We're racing to get you, and the EVAs, into an intercept position.  Failing that, you can at least attack it in the harbor."

     "Admiral, do you know where the tanker Star of Bremen, and the cruisers Louisville and Chester are?" Jeff asked.

     "My EVA?" Asuka realized.

     "Dollars to donuts says that's their target."

     The Admiral passed the question to a junior officer, who returned the answer immediately.  "They're preparing to enter Tokyo Harbor.  They're just waiting for a harbor pilot."  He indicated their position on the map.

     "Admiral," Jeff began, "It's not my place, but four EVAs, six pilots and a battle fleet, sounds like a better fight than a pilotless EVA and a pair of old heavy cruisers."

     "To me too.  Tell the - Major - to get you ready."

     They knew they were dismissed, they left the CIC.

     "Those rotten Angels are after my EVA!" Asuka cursed, "I'll kill'em!"

     "With what?" Jeff answered.  "Shinji, you wake up Major K, I'll stir up Ranma, Tendo-san and Ayanami-san.  Asuka you wake Dr. Akagi and Ibuki-san."

     "Why me?" Asuka and Shinji chorused, then stared at each other.

     "You want to switch jobs, fine, Ranma and I have to work out who takes Unit 04 out to intercept.  And I'll need Ayanami-san and Tendo-san to keep us from killing each other."

     "Getting ahead of yourself aren't you, Raccoon?" Asuka teased.

     "It's the fastest thing in the fleet, and time is what we need to buy until we can get you to your EVA, that will make it four against one."

     "Yeah," Asuka admitted, "That would be better.  Come on, Spineless."


     Ranma stomped around the pilots' briefing room like a caged tiger, fortunately for the others, the aisles between the chairs were too narrow for him, "What do you mean I'm not going?" Ranma asked angrily, "There's an Angel to fight out there."

     "Sometimes you need the best," Jeff teased him from his chair near the front.

     Ranma frowned at him and the others' laughter. 

     "You aren't going either," Misato told both of them from the front of the room where a `talker` was updating the progress of the fleet, the Star of Bremen group and the Angel.

     "Nihon-go ga wakarimasen," Raccoon said.  [Don't understand the Japanese language]

     "What part of."  She switched to English, "'No' don't you wakarimasen?"

     Ranma sat back, enjoying the argument.  It was a fighting skill he needed to master.

     "The logic behind it.  You already said that thing changed course and speed.  Somebody has to go out and slow it down, unless you want a helicopter to fly Langley to the Star of Bremen to prep her EVA."

     "The Bremen and her escorts, will be with the fleet fifteen minutes before the Angel can intercept," Misato indicated the maps on the chalkboard, "Rei in Unit 00, Shinji in Unit 01, and Ranma in Unit 04 will attack the Angel.  When it arrives."

     "What will I do?!" Asuka complained, "I can fight that silly thing single-handed!"

     Ranma doubted that, more of Asuka's bravado.

     "How do you propose we get you to the Bremen in the middle of a battle?" Misato countered.

     "She's skinny enough, we'll fire her from one of the Alaska's guns," Jeff teased.

     "Who are you calling skinny?!" Asuka shot back.

     "Not you, you're fat, at least your warhead."

     Yes, it was good learning from a master, Ranma thought.

     Asuka let loose a stream of German curses, Jeff ticked them off on his fingers.  "You're repeating yourself.  I told you she wasn't creative."

     Asuka glared at him, Ranma guessed she wanted to find something heavy enough to hit Raccoon with, and really do some damage.

     Misato intervened, "That's enough!  You three get suited up, and ready to launch."  She turned to Nabiki, Jeff, and Asuka, "You three stay out of their way, but get ready."

     "To do what?" Asuka grumbled under her breath.  "Damned Angels."

     "Nihon-jin ga wakarimasen," Jeff commented to her.  [Don't understand the Japanese people]

     She nodded angrily.  As Ranma left with Shinji and Rei.


     Nabiki stepped out of the locker room, walked into the briefing room, "The leather goddess will discipline you."  Modeled her new skin-tight, jet black plugsuit, Asuka in red and Jeff in the white-striped green sat in their chairs and paid her no attention.  Rei, Ranma and Shinji were already aboard their EVAs, and awaited their launch.  It irked her that Jeff didn't even look up.  Of course, he isn't looking at Asuka either, and no slap marks, she thought.  "You two are in a good mood."

     "Maybe you can sit here and do nothing," Asuka growled, "That's my EVA under attack.  I don't intend to share with others."

     "What share?" Jeff asked, exasperated, "With two packs, I could have gone out, and kept that thing occupied, while you and the other two could have got ready to come out and polish the thing off.  No, only the people with the highest sync rates get to pilot."

     "There has to be a way to get out there.  I have to fight that Angel!" Asuka declared.

     "Why's it so important?" Nabiki asked, genuinely interested, "There'll be other Angels, and plenty of opportunities to prove yourself."  She sat across from the pair.

     Asuka sneered.

     Jeff sighed and stared at the ceiling.  "Tendo-san, please tell the good Major, that Asuka will be launching in Unit 02."  Jeff stood up, "Come on, Langley-anjin."  Jeff and Asuka walked out of the room.

     Nabiki stood up a moment later, and chased after them, into an empty corridor, she looked up and down the deserted corridor.  "Captain!  Captain Katsuragi!" Nabiki ran to the CIC.


     The EVA floated in a subdivision of the Star of Bremen's main hold.  Asuka crawled over the outside of the huge machine, "Should I even ask?" Asuka ran through Unit 02's external check list

The entry plug was in place, just not seated, it's rear hatch was open to allow entry and loading, Jeff checked the entry plug loading gear.

     Cables ran from the overheads to the EVA, "I figured The Meliorist could handle it."  Jeff checked over the power disconnects and other support lines.

     Asuka stared, "I, I thought you'd - I thought you were . . . "

     "I was.  I did.  You never saw me again, are you ready to launch this thing and make the world a better place?" Jeff interrogated her.

     "Yes, get in.  This time I'm going to prove I'm 'Not all mouth.'" She smirked, Jeff shrugged, which infuriated her.  "Get in!" she shouted in German, led him to the hatch.


     Nabiki used the hop-jog the more experience Navy men used to get through the corridors, heading towards the guarded door marked 'CIC'.

     "Captain!" Nabiki caught up with Misato and Ritsuko, "Asuka is going to launch Unit 02."  Earlier jokes aside, she felt embarrassed in the plugsuit now, but she knew the Doctor and Captain needed to know.

     "How did they get off the ship?" Ritsuko demanded.

     "I don't know," Nabiki admitted, she considered asking for a jacket to cover herself.

     "Go back to the locker room," Captain told her, "Await instructions."

     "Captain?!" Nabiki pleaded, "I'm the only one not doing anything."

     Ritsuko got the clue, put her lab coat over Nabiki, "Now you won't be so distracting."

     "Thank you."  Nabiki buttoned it up and followed the two women.

     In the CIC, the red light gave everything a hellish appearance.

     Misato approached the main plot, "Admiral, what is the situation?"

     The Admiral looked up at the three NERV women, "Chester and Louisville have fallen back, fired torpedoes, I wish we had the Long-Lance type.  Nine hits, no effect.  The subs emptied their tubes, twenty-three hits, nothing."

     "Unless you tipped them with atom bombs," Ritsuko told him, "They won't do anything.  What about EVA support, Unit 02 is preparing to launch."

     The Admiral was confused and shocked, but he was a professional.  "Alaska and Hawaii have their power take-offs available, Hawaii has nearly two and a half miles of cable, so send them to her.  We have smaller reels ready on Coral Sea, if the packs run out.  Bataan and Monterey have two squadrons of spotters up.  The rest of the fleet is maneuvering.  We're as ready as we can be."


     Asuka looked down at Jeff as he hung just off the bottom of the plug, monitoring communications, while she, in the command chair, started the litany of prestart in German.

     "Langley-anjin."  He disturbed her.

     "What?!" she hated being interrupted.

     "You'll need to reset to English, or Japanese, we have to communicate.  And those are the languages our people understand," Jeff explained carefully, waiting.

     "Scheisse!" Asuka cursed, "Switching to Japanese, for our pilots and officers."  She quickly ran through the start up again.

     "I've got communication and long-range sensors," Jeff told her.

     Long-range . . . ?  "Launching."  Both were pressed down as the EVA flew into the air.

     "Enemy 30 seconds away.  The other EVAs are deploying on packs."  Jeff listened to the stream of communications between Misato and the EVAs, among the fleet and among the other EVAs.  Asuka tapped into the EVAs' tactical net as they descended.

     "Head to Hawaii, they've got a cable hook up," Jeff told her.

     "Which one?" Asuka directed the EVA to land on the deck of a cruiser, using her AT field to spread out the blow, then leapt towards one of the two `Large Heavy Cruisers`."

     "Rearward, the one with no aft turret, the power take-off is aft," Jeff found the Angel, as Asuka leapt the EVA from cruiser to cruiser, marking its position for her.  "It's twenty seconds away, the others can't catch it.  This is becoming a pattern."

     Asuka reached around as soon as they landed, plugging into the ship's main power plant.  The ship slowed as power flowed into the EVA.  "We're ready."  She drew the prog knife and waited, "We'll kill it right here."

     "Asuka!" Misato's voice came over the connection, filled with enthusiasm, "Go over the side, take it underwater, the fleet will just get in the way."

     "Undersea combat," Jeff commented brightly, "Just terrific," he muttered.

     Asuka smiled at that, considering the trouble he'd gotten into last time.

     "You're there too Raccoon?" Misato asked, she lost her previous enthusiasm.

     "Hai," she answered for him, she knew that in battle, Jeff would concentrate on the progress of the Angels, and the other EVAs.  While it irritated her, it was good having reliable back up her first time out.  The Scholarly Dragon guarding her back again.

     "Over we go."  Asuka told them, as the EVA dropped into the water.  "Where is it?" Content to let others fix the target, she was the killing force.

     "Dead ahead," Jeff told her, "Five seconds, four, three, two, one."

     Asuka shouted as she slashed out, carving deep into the creature, it looked like a ray or skate, a flat fish.  It screamed as it swam out of sight.  Three EVAs swam past.  "First blood!" Asuka crowed.

     "Ranma get the lead out!" Jeff yelled, "Unit 04 is faster than that!"

     "I should have taken Unit 04 out," Jeff grumbled, "I can get more speed out of it."

     Nothing's ever good enough when the troops are in harm's-way, she thought, Give me another chance, and that thing is dead!

     "How can you see in this soup?" Asuka was looking around frantically, "Where is it?"

     "Swinging around, heading back our way.  Thirty-five seconds out.  I'll teach you later, it deals with charged objects moving through a stable magnetic field, in a conductive fluid.  Physics major like you should know these things."

     "Oh.  I LOST THE PROG KNIFE!" Asuka shouted.

     "Well, break off its teeth and kill it with one of those," Jeff said with his irritating calm, "Twenty seconds."

     "Asuka, Raccoon, we need you two to slow it down so the others can catch it."  Misato told them.

     "I hate fishing," Jeff griped.

     "If it catches us, we'll slow it down."  Asuka braced herself, "From the inside."

     "What are you . . . oh!" Jeff dreadfully realized.

     Good, he doesn't know everything, she thought.

     The creature opened a tooth-filled mouth, to engulf the EVA.

     "The left arm, give it to me, trust me."  Jeff swam up next to Asuka in the plug, taking the control in both hands.

     "Huh, okay," Asuka let the creature swallow them, driving the EVA inside the Angel.

     The Angel's mouth slammed shut, Jeff caught a piece of the nearly severed power cable one handed.

     "Wa a a a a a yu yu yu."  Asuka spasmed from the electricity, What idiot designed this thing to conduct electricity through the hull?! she wondered, until Jeff yanked her out of the metal command chair.  Always has to be the hero, she grumbled inwardly.

     "L.C.L.  is an insulator, break off a tooth.  Let's give it a hot foot."  Jeff smiled evilly.  Asuka enthusiastically returned it, Just like old times.


     The EVA wrenched one the creature's teeth loose, and shoved the cable into the socket.  Now the Angel was writhing in shock.
     Asuka grabbed Jeff's collar, "Sensors!  Where's the core!?"

     She watched him close his eyes and concentrate.  "Fifteen meters, 10 o'clock."  Jeff pointed to it.

     Now! She slammed the tooth into the core.

     "It won't penetrate."  She risked climbing back into the command chair, the handgrips gave her more confidence and control.  Jeff slid in behind her.

     "What are you -!" she yelled.

     "Shut up and kill that thing!" he yelled back, as he took a grip on the controls, backing her attack.

     She drove Unit 02 to smash the broken tooth into the core, pieces of tooth, and pieces of core shattered from the impact.  The creature tried to dislodge them and the power cable.  A stroke went home penetrating the core and killing the huge Angel.

     "Let's get out of here."  Jeff pulled himself free from where she'd squashed him in the fight.  "Cut power to the tether!" he yelled to Misato, as Asuka pushed the mouth open and grabbed the heavy cable with both of the EVA's hands.

     The Angel was disintegrating beneath them, as the other EVAs closed in.

     "Your first kill."  Jeff told her as he floated free in the plug, "Congratulation, you'll get a solo eventually, or we'll run out."

     "I could have gotten it myself."  But it was nice having you backing me up once again, even if you desperately need training.

     Jeff floated upside down in front of her, "Yes, I believe you."  The power failed, and the plug went completely dark.

     "Don't take advantage!  Don't even think of touching me you pervert!" I know that expression! she battered at the shadows, You're going to pull some stupid trick on me! "I knew I couldn't trust you!"


     Jeff floated to the bottom of the plug, and listened to Asuka beating the L.C.L.  near the command chair to a froth, Good as it has been to see you again Langley, I'd rather find a rattlesnake in my bed that you, he considered, So I can sync with this one too, and she can only sync with Unit 02, interesting.  And no mental backwash, so that must mean this was a young one.  I don't think I'll tell Langley that, I want to live.  He closed his eyes to take a nap while they awaited rescue.  In the dreams and darkness, he heard a voice . . . 
     Asuka and Jeff sat on the floor of the pilots' briefing room, neither was about to sit in the chairs, they'd never get the smell of L.C.L.  out of the upholstery.

     Misato paced in front of the pair, lecturing new pilots was getting to be a habit, one she wanted broken.  "I just want to know how you two got to the tanker."  She'd dragged them here, straight out of the entry plug, given neither a chance to shower or change.  Both stank to the high heavens from the drying L.C.L., if she could barely stand it, they would break soon.  No they wouldn't, she realized, as revulsion and nausea welled up in her.

     Jeff stood up, "Major, I'll tell you, but you must agree that it doesn't leave this room."

     "I won't make that promise."

     Jeff shrugged and sat down.  "Nauseated skunk indeed."  Asuka laughed once, then strangled further laughter.

     "Asuka, I've learned to expect that from him, but I know you better," Misato faced the younger girl.

     Asuka shifted uncomfortably.  Glanced at Jeff, looked away.

     "Okay, I can handle myself, but torturing poor, pitiful Langley."

     "Hey!"

     "I'm a master magician, I teleported us there.  And Langley here is an honorable knight of a mystical kingdom, bearing the magic blade of honor."

     Asuka stared at him in utter horror.

     Misato opened her mouth, then closed it shaking her head, "I want the truth."

     "I can't give you the truth.  I'll give you the facts, the Angel is dead, none of us got hurt.  I refuse to get a pilot in trouble for helping us do the right thing, just because he, and we, didn't follow exact procedures."

     Misato stared at him, tried to stare him down.  He returned a blank look.

     "All right, go get cleaned up and changed.  Asuka-chan, don't let him keep getting you in trouble.  Demitsu, that's twice, there won't be a third chance for you."  She left as the Children left.


     They walked the short corridor from the briefing room to the locker room, a few sailors smiled at Asuka in her plugsuit, then go a whiff of L.C.L., and remembered urgent business elsewhere.

     Asuka verified no one was in earshot, "Are you insane?!  Telling her that?" she hissed, It's supposed to be a secret!

     "Raccoon, I might as well live up to it.  She'll never believe it, best security there is."

     "You are going to get me in so much trouble!" This really is like old times, she thought, The bad ones!

     "You were always famous for being fearless."

     "And you were known for having some sense!  Do you have any idea what you are doing?"

     "I'm working for people who tried to kill me."  He stopped, stared at her, "And I'm not including you in that statement."

     As the memories seared her conscience, Asuka had the good sense to look embarrassed, "It turned out all right, didn't it."

     "Very well in fact, but you're forgetting El Nureenen's curse."  Jeff started walking again, "But you did it before that, and I didn't appreciate what you did."  He entered the boy pilot's locker room, Asuka went to the girl's across the corridor, intent on catching him later, she wondered what other tricks they'd have to pull out of their hats.  Well, I wanted help, once Anna's here, It'll be like El Nureenen's War again.  At least we know what we're doing.  Well, some of us.


     Misato sat in her `office`, the wardroom where they'd had that disastrous breakfast.  Catching up on the mounds of paperwork she'd neglected in the first few days of the voyage.  Several empty beer cans like signal towers dotted the `landscape`.

     Misato opened another beer, and drained the whole can, then opened a second one without comment.

     "You must be depressed."  Kaji entered, helped himself to a beer.

     "I, am going, to, KILL, Jefuri Daimasu," Misato said.  "He's insane, he's a liar, he told me he teleported over to the Bremen, he told Ritsuko he was a magician."

     "She told me," Kaji shook his head, sipped the beer, "After she told him about Ranma/Ranko's condition.  Sounds like a way of coping, it has the added advantage of driving the adults crazy.  That's always important to teenagers."  He held out a typed page, with several chart recorder strips hanging from it, "If you want another reason to be angry."  He handed her the page, stroked her leg in passing.

     Misato pulled her legs out of reach as she scanned the page, looked at the charts.  "One hundred forty three percent sync rate!"

     "Just for 23 seconds, while they killed the Angel, and they managed to split command of Unit 02 between the two of them.  If you fire them, it's a toss up if Ritsuko-chan or I draft them to our staffs, or split their time between us."  Kaji smirked as Misato fumed.

     She cracked open another beer and drank the whole thing in one gulp.


     Asuka was waiting in ambush outside the locker room, she had chased off Tendo and Ayanami, she wanted to do this privately.  Raccoon walked out, into her ambush, "Why didn't you tell me, say something?!  Send a message!?!" she hissed in Latin.

     "Langley, what was I supposed to do?  Give a postcard to the Eighth Air Force?  'Gee, while you're BOMBING BERLIN OFF THE MAP, would you really mind dropping a postcard to Asuka Langley, the EVA pilot, care of Adolf Hitler?'" he replied in Latin, "Do you have any idea what would have happened if I ever mentioned that I knew you, I would have been on truth serum giving assassins all the data they needed.  Do you have any idea how petrified Allied HQ was about Unit 02?  The pilots were the most vulnerable part."

     Asuka was petrified by the implications.  "What about after the war?" Asuka asked quietly.

     He sighed, laid a hand on her shoulder, "I wasn't lying when I said a horse turned over on me.  You know how dangerous that is.  How many cavalry have you seen destroyed by a fallen horse?"

     She nodded, "A few too many," she replied.

     "I'm lucky, blessed really, not only did I keep my legs, they still work.  But it's been nearly two years before I could walk properly.  I thought I'd have time, later.  Well, now is later."

     "What about the time between April and June.  We'd surrendered," Asuka felt her lip trembling, she remembered how alone she'd felt, how forsaken.

     "I didn't abandon you Langley.  The war wasn't over for me yet.  So I sent what help I could."

     "That was you?" Asuka breathed, "But, British Intelligence?"

     "I knew the man.  I could hold him personally responsible for any mistreatment of Asuka Soryu Langley or Anna Alice."

     "They didn't, they were very polite, very British," she smiled, "So even laid up in a hospital, you were looking after me."

     Jeff shrugged, "It wasn't exactly one way for them, Asuka Langley and Unit 02.  The benefits were worth the risk."

     "So who looks after you?" she asked quietly, "Does anybody?"

     "With El Nureenen's curse, I don't need anyone to do that."

     "It actually affects you in the Waking World?!" Asuka was horrified, "And something happened that let you find out it worked?!"

     "Oh you bet, let's practice our Greek, Latin, Cantonese and Mandarin," he told her, then started switching languages almost at random.

     Asuka could keep up and reply the same way, barely.

     Jeff began, "Let me tell you what our brilliant commanders were trying to do to annihilate my college city two springs ago."


Pep Talk

     Misato stalked through the corridors and hated them, she had to duck and jump at every door, unlike the Children, even Rei, she hadn't found a rhythm that let her move quickly.  Fourteen beers had nothing to do with it.

     Misato was going to get Davis away from Shinji, to make sure he couldn't be a bad influence on him, the way he had on Asuka.  She had nearly reached the door when she heard voices.


     "I admire you."

     Shinji's brow furrowed, he heard the words, but couldn't believe them.  The other boy peered over the edge of his bunk.  "I can't imagine what you went through.  First into combat, first solo kill.  No warning, no training.  If they'd done that to me, I would have run away so far, so fast.  You couldn't have heard them chasing me, if they were shooting at me with the South Dakota."

     "I did run away," Shinji admitted.

     "After, the fight was over.  Believe me, I would have run too.  I've known about EVAs, and what they're for, for years.  So have Ayanami-san, and Langley.  Tendo-san saw Saotome-san and Ayanami-san's fight.  Saotome-san knew about them, and had an idea what they were for.  I can't even imagine that.  Being that scared, and still doing the job."

     "I ran away," Shinji said miserably, "I was a coward, I am a coward."

     "You went in cold, and got the job done.  You killed it, then you ran away.  After what you went through, anyone would.  You set a high standard for the rest of us to meet, Shinji-san.  Tougher than most of our `handlers` can meet, but that's beside the point."  The Sixth, Raccoon, paused to let Shinji retort, which he did with a stunned silence.  He continued, "When we saw the newsreel footage of your battle, no one in the audience could contain themselves.  Theater patrons made them run it again after the main feature.  Cheering, whooping and hollering, like it was a live sporting event or something."

     Jeff climbed out of the upper bunk, dropped to sit on the floor next to Shinji's bunk, "The second American pilot had just been committed to Bethesda, and I was trying to think of a way, any way, to get out of the program.  Then I saw you, and Unit 01, doing the job they were training me for.  No training, no familiarity with the EVA . . . I couldn't run away, not after that."

     "I'm a spineless chicken, like Asuka said," Shinji said flatly, "If I didn't do it . . . they would have made Ayanami-san, and she was hurt."

     "And you couldn't let a wounded girl do a job you weren't sure you could do, or even survive.  That's a strange definition of cowardice, Shinji-kun.  Sometimes people are brave, because they're afraid of their friends and neighbors thinking them a coward.  You didn't have any friends in the room.  Ayanami-san was a trained pilot, you could have left her to do it, but you didn't."

     "I ran away!" Shinji sat up and yelled at him, "Don't you understand?  I was so scared, I ran away!  I didn't tell them I was going!  I just ran away!  Security had to find me and bring me back!" He flopped back down on the pillow, "I'm a coward!  Worthless!  Sneaky!"

     "Shinji-kun."  Jeff leaned close to the other boy, "Let me tell you a story about a Jewish carpenter.  He'd recently retired, and was going to spend a few years preaching and teaching, being a Rabbi.  Trying to get the other Jews in the area right with their God.  Well, his cousin had also retired and was going the same route as a preacher."

     "So this carpenter goes to get baptized by his cousin.  Just as his cousin finishes, the sky opens up and this voice comes down from Heaven and says, 'This is my son in whom I am well pleased.' And this carpenter, being a devout and reasonable sort, ran off into the desert for 40 days, that's Biblical slang for a long time, to get his head together.  There he was tempted.  He was tempted because he was frightened and confused.  Wasn't fear one of the things the Buddha was tempted by?  When he'd finished, he led one of the most radical changes to the Jewish religion since the founding of the second temple, maybe the most radical change ever.  You can still find his followers today, although they call him by his Greek name, Jesus.  You ever hear of them?  Weird bunch."

     Shinji smiled, nodded.

     "The point is, everybody reaches a climax where they have to run away and think, to consider where their lives have been, where they're going.  When Sharon, the second U.S.  pilot was confined, I ran away, I'm no coward.  But I needed that time alone.  If you think the rest of us aren't scared out of our socks about what the adults are asking us to do, put it out of your mind, we are.  Tendo-san, Langley, me.  Saotome-san might not be, but he's an idiot that way.  If someone says you're a coward, they don't understand what you went through, look at where they are during combat.  Safe in a shelter?  Safe back at headquarters?  I know how scared you were, I've been shot at before, and it scared me so bad I peed in my pants.  The only reason I stayed, was I had other people around me.  You came back, when it was clear you were necessary.  I can only hope to do as well the next time I go in."

     Shinji hadn't considered his . . . friend anything other than totally fearless.

     "When I was fighting Chaugnar Faugn, I knew you and Saotome-san were back there somewhere, to bail me out, if I got in trouble.  You had nobody, and nothing.  No training, no allies, no help, and you still did it.  I know what EVA combat does, after I won I almost got sick in the plug."

     Shinji smirked at that.

     "I wanted to run away too, only I wanted to make the ultimate escape, from life itself, just lay down and die," Jeff admitted, "Now Langley and Saotome may go on and kill every other monster we face, and you, me, Tendo-san and Ayanami-san may just stand on the sidelines to watch and applaud.  But they can't match up to what you've already done."

     "Is that why Asuka-san's so mad all the time?" Shinji asked, "She's jealous of me?"

     "Maybe, the invincible Third Children, born to pilot EVAs into battle and win," he said theatrically, "I think she's kind of intimidated, she expected to blitz in here, and set the standard, and here a seemingly timid, self-effacing boy already set a mark nobody can ever beat.  Everything she does now is catch up.  She'd be better off if she'd just acknowledge that.  Second place isn't the first loser.  Even Sixth isn't losing.  Besides, she has other skills you need to learn, and so do I, and Tendo-san and Saotome-san.  I don't think Ayanami-san can teach us."

     "What can she teach?" Shinji sat up, he remembered the fighting, it hadn't gone too well.  He was still looking for a way to talk to the high-strung redhead who was supposed to be his housemate, "What do I ask her?"

     "Combat, silly, fighting.  She's been trained, remember?  Knife, gun, tactics and strategy.  And take it from me, when she keeps her head about her, she's very, very good at it."

     "So, I should ask her about using the EVA's weapons?  Like that?"

     Jeff nodded.

     "If she starts giving me a hard time?"

     "Like Saotome-san did?  Both of us?" Jeff and Shinji both winced at the painful memory.

     "Yeah, just like that."  Shinji blushed, thinking about dealing with the firestorm called Asuka.  Her training hadn't hurt anywhere near as much as Ranma's, except his ears.

     "Tell her she's not as good a teacher as you'd hoped.  Don't say she's bad, just say she didn't meet your expectations."  Jeff laughed, "She'll rant and scream.  Then she'll go over the lesson until you get it perfect.  So do that sparingly."

     That's exactly what she did.  "How do you know her so well?" Shinji asked.

     "Can you keep a secret?" Jeff looked around.

     Shinji nodded, amused that the other boy trusted him.  It was a new experience.

     "She's an honorable knight of a mystical kingdom bearing the magic blade of honor, I'm actually a master magician.  But don't tell Major Katsuragi."

     Shinji sighed, "If you don't want to tell me."  He's teasing me.  And even that didn't hurt as much as he expected.

     "What's to tell?  I'm good at reading people."  He leaned close, whispered, "Like your picnic with Ayanami."  He enjoyed Shinji's look of shock.  He whispered, "Like I know Major Katsuragi is eavesdropping on us right now."

     "Isn't that right, Major?!" Jeff shouted at the door.

     Shinji practically jumped out of his skin at the sudden change in volume.  The rapid pounding of receding feet answered Raccoon.  "I hate when they do that."

     I hate it when you do what you just did, Shinji thought, as he tried to get his hear restarted.


     Misato had gotten far enough away from the door, that she wouldn't be seen if they opened it.  She'd wanted to thank Davis, then he'd pointed her out, and destroyed the illusion of privacy the two boys had shared.  She knew the Children were under surveillance all the time, but they weren't supposed to know that.
     "Why was she spying on us?" Shinji asked.

     "Because that's part of her job, and Dr. Akagi's.  They have to keep an eye on us, haven't you noticed a couple of guys following you around everywhere?"

     "No, I haven't.  I thought they just sent NERV Security after me when I ran away," Shinji admitted.

     "No, the U.S.  Navy knew the pilots were in danger, that's why they packed up everyone, and took you all to the 'States.  It also gave all four of you a chance to get to know each other, and to rest.  The last vacation you'll get for a while, I'll bet."

     "But we're still in danger?"

     "Shinji-kun, if I may be so familiar, our enemy isn't just a collection of battleships, like the ones you, and Saotome-san, and Ayanami-san fought.  There are smaller ones too."

     "Some small ones attacked Ayanami-san's apartment," Shinji said.

     "And another attacked Ayanami-san and Tendo-san.  Some can be killed by a competent infantry man, others that, even though they're human-sized, require an EVA or other special means.  Look, Major Katsuragi may say she's been with you at all times.  That's a lie, she was safe in headquarters, surrounded by armor, concrete and an army.  We'll be the ones putting our lives and sanity on the line.  You felt it."

     Shinji nodded.

     "You did it, then came back to do it again.  You're no coward."  Jeff patted his shoulder, "Talk to some of the soldiers, sailors and Marines, combat scares everyone.  If you find someone who isn't scared, run away, they either don't understand, or they're insane, or both."

     Shinji smirked.

     "Just remember, a coward runs before, or in the face of danger.  I don't know the Japanese word for someone who runs away after the danger has ended.  Maybe the Phantom, or the Lone Ranger, or Superman."  Jeff left the cabin.

     Shinji flopped back down, stared at the ceiling, wondering if the other boy was right.  Shinji really didn't know what to think.


Pregrowl

     Ranma and Shinji were acting as tour guides, for the pilots, after they left the ship.  Roku-kun and Asuka were rubber necking, looking at everything from the people to the architecture to the roadsigns, everything was new to them.  The streets were extremely crowded, but no one jostled them, Rei seemed to be at the center of an exclusion zone that no one willingly entered.  Rei herself was quiet, walking next to `Shinji-kun`.  Nabiki had to keep reminding herself, Nabiki, don't laugh, to which she replied, If I don't laugh soon, I'm going to explode.  It was comical, the two sophisticates so totally overwhelmed by the differences from anything they were used to.  Asuka kept asking questions about buildings and street signs.

     Nabiki was beginning to realize, Asuka didn't read kanji.  Roku-kun was also vigilantly looking around, but what he was looking for/at eluded her.  She couldn't determine a pattern.  I'll have to ask Rei, she seems to be watching `Raccoon` intently.  Perhaps after Coral Sea she felt attachments.  Nabiki wondered how shocked people would be about Rei, now new and improved.  Instant humanity, just add a little attention and kindness.

     Ranma stopped suddenly, so suddenly Nabiki nearly piled into him and Roku-kun into her.  I wouldn't have minded the sandwich, but Ranma was listening, the rest of them soon were too.

     "This way," Ranma took off at a run.

     What scared Nabiki was that Jeff and Rei had no trouble keeping up with him.  My experience with Ranma was that he could outrun nearly anything on feet or wheels, not `Wondergirl` or `Raccoon`: two of Asuka's insults the rest of them adopted.  As the three slower ones closed with Ranma, Nabiki heard what had attracted his attention.  Hiroko was in the grips of some of the 'School Mafia' while Toji and Kensuke stood by stupidly, That's not fair, they were two against 15.  If I didn't know about Ranma's and my abilities, all eight would not have been enough.

     The 15 were the best fighters in their group, black belts, 1st degree minimum.  They had caught her near an arcade.  The crowds would limit Ranma's maneuverability, and ran the risk of hurting bystanders.

     "Left right?" Roku-kun asked Asuka in German, as they stood behind Nabiki.

     "Full shock," Asuka replied, also in German.  Roku-kun disappeared into the crowds on the left, Asuka on the right.  Their height made them obvious, if you were specifically looking for them, otherwise they were almost invisible, so the group hadn't noticed them, or us, yet.

     "Turn her loose!" Ranma demanded, drawing every eye in the place.  Now the fight would begin.


     The place was crammed full of people, That's how they got close, Kensuke admitted to himself.  He and Toji had invited Hiroko out to get some food, play some games, to get all their minds off the troubles at school.

     Kensuke glanced at Toji, and felt stupid and helpless.  We'd been looking out for Hiroko and Hikari after Nabiki-san and the other pilots left suddenly.  Nabiki had been stirring things up, and Hikari had started acting like her election as class president was something other than the insult it was supposed to be.  Toji and I believed that without Nabiki and Ranma here, the tallest tree would be cut down.

     They saw Ranma and Nabiki-san, But even those two against 15 of the 'Mafia's' best, wouldn't be enough.  Toji cracked his knuckles, indicating he'd get into the fight too.  I doubted Shinji or Ayanami would fight, and I wouldn't be any good.  Then he saw them: two gaijin, BIG.  The girl was almost as tall as Misato-san, the man/boy? as tall as Misato-san, and she's TALL.

     The girl did a quick handstand, and hit one of the bruisers feet-first, in the shoulders and face, knocking him into two others, all three when down.  Several quick, well-placed kicks would keep them there.

     The boy/man? covered another's face with his hat and that dropped him instantly and silently.  Now behind the boy holding Hiroko, and undetected, he grabbed the boy by his pigtail and jerked him almost a meter off the ground.  That tore hair and scalp, so the boy screamed as he released Hiroko.

     Ranma had torn into the main body, knocking down foes left and right, almost without stopping.

     I get it!  A classic double envelopment, Kensuke's attention returned to the present, as the red-haired girl now faced him and Toji, her expression indicated who was next on her target list.  Kensuke smiled quickly and dragged Toji back out of the way.  I think he had a bit of a nosebleed.

     With our withdrawal clearing her sector of the field, she turned her attention back to what was left of the fight.  Ranma had cut down every single one of their fighters.  The male gaijin had his suit coat around a shaken Hiroko, and had led her away from the fight, glancing around, looking for new threats.

     Nabiki raced to her.  Shinji spotted Toji and Kensuke, waved to them and headed after Nabiki, with Ayanami-san in tow.  The group slipped away, right past the police who charged in to deal with the disturbance.

     That didn't make any sense.  The police should have seen them?!


     Nabiki glanced at Ranma who stood off about two meters to her right, Asuka had taken a similar position in front, Raccoon three meters behind.  Once the group was clear of the arcade they stopped and let Hiroko sit down.

     "Hiroko-chan?" Nabiki took Hiroko's hands, "Are you all right?"

     "Yes, boss," her friend said, smiled now that she was safe, "Now that you're back, I am."

     Nabiki noticed Ranma and the two new pilots had formed a perimeter, allowing no one close to the two girls.

     Hiroko looked at Nabiki, "Boss, they said they were going to teach everybody a lesson."

     "Well, we dealt with that," Nabiki assured her friend, "I also suspect we'll be getting some help taking them down."

     Hiroko looked at the six pilots.  "Yeah, with this kind of help, you won't have any trouble."

     "We need to get to headquarters soon," Rei reminded them.

     "I'm fine," Hiroko assured the pilots.

     "You don't object to us escorting her home?" Nabiki asked Rei, who immediately headed off towards Hiroko's house.


     The apartments are new, and such a marked contrast to Rei's.  Clean, neat with manicured lawn.  A small, sandy hill served as a playground.

     "The Angel shelters are underneath," Hiroko told them, "Where we hide like mice, while you all fight to save us."

     All the pilots were embarrassed by her admission.

     They arrived in a few minutes.  Rei and Shinji as pathfinders/advanced guard, Nabiki and Ranma as close escort, and Jeff and Asuka as rearguards and keeping the `convoy` together, darting ahead, then stopping until at rearguard, then the other darted ahead.  Nabiki was starting to wonder about those two, and Ranma's suspicions about them.

     Hiroko was safely home, she sheepishly returned Raccoon's coat.  "I think I got it wet."  She bowed.

     "Quite all right."  He bowed slightly.

     "They won't try anything between now and school, tomorrow?" Nabiki asked Hiroko.

     "I don't think so."  She smiled, "I can call in your `army` if they do, right?"

     Nabiki smiled back, "Yeah, probably."  The pilots headed off.

     "Don't worry," Asuka told Nabiki, "If that was their best, HA!  We'll wipe the floor with them."

     "We?" Ranma said, "I didn't see you do much fighting."

     "That's because you didn't leave us any, Saotome-san," Jeff replied, "You really need to deal with that inferiority complex of yours."

     Ranma sputtered a little at that.


First meeting with Ikari

     Commander Fuyutsuki entered Gendo's office, just behind his one-time student.  Here the complete pilot roster and the complete set of department heads waited.  The pilots and staff sat in two rows of chairs, pilots in front, staff behind.  Fuyutsuki was disappointed none of the pilots found the tree of life design in the floor either interesting or threatening.

     "So he throws the dwarf through the stain glass window, then the elf turns to the ogre and says, 'Of course not, it's bifurcated.'" The new pilot stopped to wait for reactions.

     "Auuugh, bifurcated!  I can't believe we sat here, and listened to that!" Asuka Langley shouted.

     Dr. Akagi's pinched expression indicated the new world of pain she was experiencing.

     "Uh," Ranma said, "I don't get it."

     "You see, Saotome-san, the gremlin had a deck of cards, 'Cut the cards?'."

     "Stop."  Ranma held up his hands, "I heard all the words, I just don't get it."

     "Would it be funny, if the dwarf, did sell lawnmowers?" Rei asked.

     Commander Ikari and Fuyutsuki exchanged glances.

     "I don't know, then he'd have to not sell flapjacks.  I can tell it again like that."

     "NO!" Asuka and Ritsuko shouted in chorus.

     "Okay.  The NERV Glee Club and Chowder Society has spoken."  Davis covered his head.

     Tendo stared at him, "Lemon-favored aluminum siding?" she shook her head.  He shrugged.

     Fuyutsuki was getting a very bad feeling about events.

     Ikari cleared his throat as he sat down, steepled his fingers, Fuyutsuki stood behind him.  The pilots and staff rose.

     "I'm Asuka Soryu Langley, Second Children, pleased to meet you again Commander.  I'm sure we'll work well together."  She sat down when he nodded.

     "Jeffrey Davis, Sixth Children, Commander Ikari, we've met."

     "You're mistaken," Ikari said, obviously perplexed.

     "Of course, my mistake."  Jeff apologized and sat down.  Commanders Ikari and Fuyutsuki exchanged glances.

     Fuyutsuki stared at the boy, How could he have possibly met Ikari before? It was another thing he had to look into, that and the unbelievable reports of shipboard activities.

     "You are all aware of your job here?" Ikari asked.

     "To pilot the EVAs," Asuka piped up.

     "To close with the enemy and destroy it," Jeff replied.

     "That is correct, the destruction of the Angels is of paramount importance to the survival of Humanity.  Anything else is unimportant, do you all understand?" Ikari glared at them.

     Affirmations in three languages answered him.

     "Excuse me Commander Ikari," Jeff stood and spoke, "To that end, if the someone sees a correctable error, or an improvement in a department's procedures or tactics, what is the appropriate way to address corrections?"

     Asuka rolled her eyes and shook her head.  Katsuragi cringed slightly.

     "Commander Fuyutsuki handles interdepartmental relations."  Ikari tried to stare the boy down.  Jeff adjusted his own glasses after he sat down, and looked back amiably.

     The meeting continued, the various department heads were introduced.  Misato Katsuragi: Tactical and Operations, Dr. Ritsuko Akagi: Technical and Support, Kaji Ryoji: Security and Special Tactics.  Since all the principals had already met each other, Ikari then introduced himself as Commander of NERV, and Commander Fuyutsuki as Vice Commander.

     Fuyutsuki noticed that Dr. Akagi glared at Davis on hearing his title, the boy kept silent.

     Ikari told them about the importance of their job in defending mankind and fighting the alien invaders.  Ikari finished by informing them, he expected them to do their jobs, anything else wouldn't be tolerated.

     The adults stood to file out.

     "Rei, Dr. Akagi, please remain behind for a moment," Ikari said.

     Fuyutsuki prepared for the typical 'meeting-after-the meeting', where they would discuss the real issues.

     Davis waited until most of the people had left, "Commanders, with your permission."  He removed a wooden box from beneath his seat.  "Pilot Ayanami confirmed you were injured rescuing a pilot from an entry plug."  He opened the box, turning it to face the commanders.  "You insert this tool in between the recessed hatch levers and turn.  This is the prototype, I would like permission to have the Navy make more, to equip the rescue personnel."

     Gendo nodded.

     "Also, sir.  Would you please use this next time, damaging government property is a no-no."  Jeff tipped his hat and left.

     Fuyutsuki noticed Dr. Akagi's expression hadn't flickered a bit during the presentation, she kept staring at a spot about a foot over Gendo's head.


     Nabiki looked at the corridors, realized that the NERV Massachusetts corridors at least had a little more color, instead of white, institutional drab.  She smirked that the pilots and high ranking staff provided the only color.  They must have picked the uniforms so they'd disappear into the walls, she thought.

     "That was fun," Asuka griped as they left.  "Sucking up to the boss already Raccoon?  Why does Wondergirl get special treatment?"

     "What's the harm in protecting another member of the team?" Jeff asked, "I'd even protect you."  He paused, "Mainly from herself," he whispered to Nabiki.

     "Staying in that room longer, isn't special," Nabiki said, she disliked Ikari by reputation, having finally met the man face to face, she loathed him, "Unless you're really desperate for attention.  And how many times did he adjust his glasses?"

     "Thirty-seven," Jeff answered, his were still in place, "Roughly every 96 seconds.  You'd think a super-tech place like this, could afford a decent pair of glasses for their Supreme Commander."  His hand stopped halfway to his face, "Just what do you think you're doing?  My glasses are fine."  His hand dropped.  Jeff stretched and yawned, while the others snickered at him, "Well this is all loads of fun, but I've got to do some apartment hunting.  With the prices around here, even with the allowance, it's going to be tough."

     "You're staying with Dr. Akagi," Misato told him.

     "Temporarily yes, but I'm an emancipated minor, with gainful employment.  I shouldn't be freeloading off of her, it isn't fair."

     "Are you calling me a freeloader?" Asuka shouted.

     "You, are still legally a child.  I'm not, it makes a difference, Langley," Jeff replied, "Didn't someone say there were vacant apartments, near where Ayanami-san lives.  They should be cheap, and within walking distance of school and NERV."

     "Uh," Shinji began, "They're all abandoned, nobody lives there.  Except Ayanami-san."

     Jeff stared at him in confusion.

     "Oh," Asuka sneered, "Spineless knows where Wondergirl lives, have you been seeing her on the side?"

     Shinji squirmed under the attack.

     "She, at least has all nice sides.  Well, I should be able to get a good deal then," Jeff said, "She wouldn't be a bad neighbor.  Unless she has wild, drunken parties on the weekends, a roommate like that would be intolerable."

     Shinji sweated furiously, wondering if something should be said.  Misato merely glared.  Jeff gave Nabiki a smile, she smiled back.



Nobody who has not been in the interior of a family can say what the difficulties of any individual of that family may be.

     Jane Austin, Emma Chpt.  18

What has gone before:

     About Book 11, Akane and Soun Tendo throw Ranma out of the house, Nabiki, in the guise of a wish, follows him.  They meet pilots Shinji Ikari and Rei Ayanami, then pilots Asuka Soryu Langley and Jeffrey Davis.

     The Pilots and the EVAs board the CVB-43 Coral Sea to sail to Tokyo, testing the pilot/EVA combinations on the trip.  Ranma beats up Shinji and Jeff, Jeff's revenge is teaching Ranma about controlling dreams.  Nabiki takes Ranma to task for his unwarranted attack.  Asuka gives Shinji some basic hand-to-hand training.  The Great Old Ones Chaugnar Faugn and Rhan-Tegoth escape their somnambulance aboard ship and escape.  They are captured, then killed by Ranma, Shinji and Jeff.  Despite their victory, Misato punishes them for disobeying orders, Nabiki and Ritsuko verbal attack her for her lax attitude towards training the new pilots.

     Rei enters Shinji's dreamscape to protect him from the Great Old One's memories.  An Angel attempts to attack Unit 02, it is killed by Asuka and Jeff cooperating in Unit 02's entry plug.  Asuka realizes Jeff is her old friend from the Dreamlands, they tell Misato, who doesn't believe them.  Shinji finds he has a friend in the new pilot.  With the arrival in Tokyo of all six pilots, the first battle against the school `mafia` goes entirely the pilots way.

Chapter 7: A Turbulent Priest

     Ranko watched Raccoon pick up three of the four box stack from the huge pile of boxes outside Misato's apartment building.  He headed towards the stairs to take them to Misato's apartment.

     "Hey, Ranko-san," Raccoon hailed her, "Saotome-san took off, left you to do the heavy lifting?  That figures, he probably couldn't figure out any way to make this a martial arts contest."

     Ranko growled inwardly at the insult.  Misato had dragooned all the pilots to help Asuka move her belongings into Misato's apartment.  Then she'd realized the huge amount of boxes that Asuka had, so they were sorting them, and easily three-quarters of the loads Ranma and Raccoon had carried up six flights of stairs, had to be carried back down.  A splash of cold water almost an hour ago, had changed the players, but not the job, or its futility.  It was mid-afternoon, and Misato had neglected to provide anything to drink, except beer, or any kind of lunch, despite numerous prompts.  That didn't make Ranko any happier.

     I only hope we're done before dinner.  Well, if he can carry three, she thought as she nearly gave herself a hernia by lifting the fourth.  "Ugh, how did you pick up three?" Ranko struggled after her fellow pilot.


     Ritsuko looked at the steamer trunk.  The small number of boxes that were the rest of Davis's baggage, the Army crew had been willing to carry up the eight flights of stairs to her apartment.  All six men could barely move the trunk off the truck, and the elevator wasn't working.  They had returned to base to get some better moving equipment.

     She pushed the trunk in a small circle.  The wheeled dolly on one end allowed her to move the trunk easily along a flat surface, but it was useless in regard to stairs.  She considered, the building had a particular stairway that was rarely used, it was a long way from her apartment, but with the wheels, she could easily push the trunk the rest of the way.

     She rolled the trunk to the entrance of the enclosed stairway, looked around, stepped inside the stairway, looked around again, Nobody's around, she took solace in that, picked up the trunk, set it on her shoulder and started climbing.

     "Just four of the pilots moved this thing?  I'll have to test their strength when I have a chance."  She heard the stairs groan beneath her feet under the extreme load, "I'm glad I'm not wearing heels for this.  This thing must be solid lead.  It must weigh over 400 kilos!" She climbed with some effort, "I need to exercise more.  How, is the problem."


     "But I have to have those!" Asuka shouted at Misato, from the room that was her new bedroom.

     Nabiki looked at Rei, then set down the box she was holding in the middle of Misato's living room, Rei did as well.

     "Where are you going to put those dresses?" Misato shouted back, she'd availed herself of a few beers.

     "Shinji doesn't need all his closet space!" Asuka replied, she'd had one as well.

     "You really want him pawing through your dresses after he looked at your underwear?" Nabiki shouted as the two argued in Asuka's room.  Her own temper was growing short.  It was getting dark outside, and because of the argument, they had scarcely a third of the job done.

     Shinji retreated back into his room, not willing to face the wrath of Asuka again.  Nabiki felt a little bad about that, it had been an accident.

     Nabiki looked at Pen Pen, moving from box to box, she could have sworn he was examining the contents.

     Probably just looking for something to eat, Nabiki thought hungrily, He's not so dumb.  We haven't eaten since the carrier this morning.  She smiled, the penguin had been a shock to Asuka, which Nabiki had enjoyed, almost as much as she enjoyed Ranma's shocked reaction when the penguin snuck up on him.  Ranma might not have jumped like that, even if Pen Pen had been a cat.  She did wonder why the curious, and otherwise friendly creature, avoided Rei.  She suspected it disturbed Rei, but the girl would never admit it.

     "Okay, we'll repack these three and keep these three," Asuka argued with Misato.

     "All right, Rei bring in the next box," Misato called, Rei approached the war zone that was supposed to be 'A quick job'.

     "Okay, Wondergirl, that one goes back down," Asuka told Rei, as Rei picked the box up and carried it away.

     Nabiki waited as the clash of egos continued, box by box.

     Rei returned to wait, held another box.

     Even she's looking tired about this nonsense.  "I would have brought all the boxes inside, no matter where they had to be stacked.  A preliminary sort, then go through them at leisure," she told Rei.  She still couldn't believe anyone had accumulated this much stuff in one lifetime, let alone the short time Asuka had been alive.

     "They would not all fit," Rei replied, considered, "They would all fit in the garage."

     "Should we tell them that?" Nabiki asked.

     Rei said nothing, didn't even look at her.

     "Right, stay out of the fight," Nabiki admitted, "Next we go back to Ritsuko's place, and do the whole thing again."

     "No, only the trunk will be a problem," Rei told her.

     "Did you inventory all of Roku-kun's stuff?"

     "I saw it when it was transferred between planes."

     This girl would be a good spy, Nabiki thought, Let her carry the secret plans out in her head.  A thought struck her, "Can you draw?"

     When Rei stared at her, Nabiki continued, "Draw pictures, like with a pencil, crayons, or paint?"

     "Why would I do that?" Rei asked.

     "To preserve an image of something you've seen."

     "I remember what I see."

     This girl takes things so literally, Nabiki thought.  "I mean preserve it so others can see it too."

     "They could see it themselves," Rei replied.

     Nabiki refused to lose her temper.  Belldandy's latest `interview` had belabored that point, that she was making progress, but still needed work on her temper.  Evidently Akane's not the only Tendo with an attitude problem, she thought, Try again.  "Because they might not see what you saw.  Or you can draw things only you can see."

     "That would violate security."

     I will NOT scream! "I mean like Shinji wearing a suit, or Ranko and Roku-kun dancing, or something else you can imagine.  Like roasting Misato and Asuka on a spit."

     The shouting was quieter, Nabiki was hoping that meant they were finally strangling each other to death.

     Rei looked down.

     I embarrassed her again, Nabiki thought.  "Don't worry, I'm almost to that point with these two."

     Rei nodded.

     "So, have you ever tried drawing?"

     "No," Rei answered.

     "Would you be interested in trying?" Nabiki asked.

     "Who would teach me?" Rei asked.

     Ah, that's the problem.  I can't draw, maybe one of the others, Nabiki thought.  "Maybe the art teacher?" Now I'm reaching.

     Rei fell silent as Asuka called 'Next!' and Nabiki brought her box forward.


     Ranko panted as she finally made it to the entrance of Misato's apartment.  She had heard Misato and Asuka arguing all the way up the long climb.  She and Raccoon were the outside team, Nabiki and Rei were the inside team.

     "That's impossible," she tiredly told Raccoon, "Nobody's that strong!"

     "Well, there is a secret.  But, well you wouldn't want to pay the price," Raccoon told her.

     She set the box inside, and waited for Rei or Nabiki to put it in Asuka's room, for Asuka or Misato to determine if they left it or carried it back.  "What price?"

     "Well."  Raccoon idly kicked the floor, "If things go really badly, your will, your volition, aspirations, self-control, will be cast into the outermost darkness, to be consumed by what gnaws and gnashes its teeth eternally."

     That sounds like what I've heard about magic, Ranko drew back.

     "If you agree, I promise to treat you gently, let no one else take advantage of you."

     Ranko shuddered at that.

     "I can understand why you'd be afraid, it's probably bet - "

     "AFRAID!?" Ranko snarled, "I'm not afraid of anything!"

     "Well," Raccoon shrugged, "You see the strange lettering on the sides of the boxes?"

     Ranko nodded, realized she had just made a huge mistake, What did he mean 'treat you gently', 'no one else take advantage'? she wondered.  But she couldn't tell him to stop, he'd think she was afraid.

     "It says: 'lamp shade', singular, and this one: 'sheets', and this one: 'hats'.  The one you picked up says 'silverware'.  So these three together probably weight less than a third what that one weighs, which is about 60 to 80 kilos."

     Ranko nodded, waited for the dark secret that would strip away her soul, making her Raccoon's slave, body and mind, forever.

     "Do you know how adorably cute you look, going from terrified to stupidly brave?" Raccoon asked, "She wrote the contents on the side in German."

     "Then what was all that outer darkness, gnashing of teeth stuff?!" Ranko demanded.

     "You need to learn the difference between being brave and being stupid.  The way you are right now, I could convince you to do a nude ballet dance in Admiral Simson's office in front of his entire staff, if I called you a coward convincingly enough."

     Ranko shuddered at that.

     "I still haven't figured out how to clue that knothead Saotome-san in to the same thing, he'll get himself, and us, killed, at the rate he's going," Raccoon said sadly.

     Ranko wasn't sure she was more angry or embarrassed by that revelation.


Darkness Falls

     Ranko looked at the pile of boxes and the gathering gloom.  "We're never going to get this job done before it's too dark to see."  Even the streetlights now lighting up, only accentuated the darkness.  They did nothing to make the boxes more visible.  Or the writing more legible, by the way Raccoon was staring at them.

     "What was Ayanami-san saying about all these fitting in the garage?" Raccoon asked, "Let's transfer them in there, we can also do Tendo-san's preliminary sort."

     "Sounds good," Ranko sighed, she was moving slower now, even her stamina had been tested today, "We'll sort them over there.  There's a light over the garage."  The pair started carrying the boxes over as quickly as they could.  Then ran another load upstairs to be sorted by Misato and Asuka.

     Ranko saw that Rei and Nabiki looked as weary as she felt, then she and Raccoon carried the remaining stack of `returns` down the stairs.

     Raccoon was putting the boxes into the garage.

     "Can you tell what's in them by the labels?" Ranko asked.

     "Aside from the light being better over here, well, I have to assume she labeled them correctly.  Four basic categories: books, clothes, housewares, miscellaneous.  The books are the heaviest."

     They started hauling them into the garage, stacking them in the stall next to Misato's blue '37 Chevy.  "What did you ask her about her car that got her so mad?" Ranko asked, as she set down the boxes she was carrying.

     "I asked her when she was changing the Nakajima radial back to a GM inline," Raccoon stacked more boxes in the books' pile.  "I didn't mean it as an insult.  She drives like a fighter pilot."

     Kamikaze pilot, Ranko thought, collecting another load.

     "So it is logical her car would have a fighter plane engine," Raccoon said.

     Once the books were moved, Ranko decided she would carry a lot more clothing boxes, I want this over with, let's finish and go home.  She balanced a box on her head, it was light enough, she tossed another light box to catch on her head.

     "I wouldn't -"

     Ranko would have agreed with Raccoon as the box collapsed, imprisoning her head inside, except Ranko suddenly found herself face-to-face with a snarling cat.  She screamed and scrambled away, but it was trapped inside the box with her.  "No!  No!  NO!  NOO!"

     "Ranko!" Raccoon caught her, "There's nothing here except us!"

     "It's in here!" she shouted, staring at the cat as it moved, struggled to escape Raccoon's grip.  She couldn't get the box off.

     In her mind, amid the terror, something moved.

     The box tore open, scattered the contents of stuffed animals on the floor, and Raccoon swept her off the ground.  None of them moved.

     "Where is it?" Raccoon asked, holding Ranko off the ground and sweeping the area with his cane is if it were a weapon.

     Ranko had a tight grip on him, she was shivering with fear.  Not just from the cat, but . . . something had tried to awaken, something had tried to supplant her conscious mind from control of her body, something unquestionably not human.

     "Are you all right?" Raccoon pulled off his suit jacket and wrapped if around her.  She could tell he was surprised when she didn't release her tight grip on him.

     "I'm not hurt.  No, I'm not . . . " she looked at him, then buried her face in his shoulder.

     "It's okay.  There's nothing to worry about."

     "Yes there is!" she was nearly in tears from the dread and the near total loss of control.  She was relieved when he put his arm around her shoulders, rocking her gently.

     Yeah, he's a guy, she shamefully admitted to herself, but she needed that human touch, a connection to another person right now, more than anything else.  She could live with the embarrassment, she couldn't live with the thought of disappearing, lost and consumed by whatever it had been, maybe never to surface again.

     "You're free, whatever it was is gone," he assured her.

     "No.  No, it isn't," she sobbed, "It wasn't just what I saw.  I felt something in my head, moving, waking."

     She felt him sigh, "In your brain, the organic part, or in your mind, the nonphysical part."

     The scientist, she thought, "My mind, it -" her voice caught, "It wasn't human.  I felt it rising, if I'd been more scared, it would have taken over, taken over completely.  Maybe I - "

     "It didn't" he soothed, "You're here, and you're still you."

     "Davis-san, I know what happens when you fought those things."  How am I going to explain this? "I know through Ranma," she paused.

     "That explains why you two are the Fourth."

     "If I can be taken - if it happens . . . don't let - I don't want to - "

     "I won't make that promise.  I won't abandon you, or anyone else," Raccoon said forcefully, at odds with the gently rocking motion.

     "But I felt it, what happens if I lose control?"

     "We'll deal with that problem when we have to.  Look Ranko-chan, when I killed that thing, and it flooded my mind, I wanted to die, then I realized I had to survive, because I knew how.  Who I was, was stronger than what was left of that thing.  You don't have much to hold on to, but you can hold on to me, and Tendo-san.  We won't let you fall.  If you insist on falling, we can pick you up."

     "I'm so scared, you think I'm just a silly girl," Ranko said, utterly mortified.

     "No," Raccoon said quietly, "After all we've been through in the past few weeks, I'd be suspicious if you didn't react.  Everybody is scared.  I knew I was going to die on my first sync attempt, just like the rest of the Brits and Americans.  I knew it as well as I know my own name, but I didn't.  It's not being afraid that's the shame, it's what you do afterwards.  Do you curl up and die, do you do your job, or do you do something stupid to prove you aren't scared?"

     Ranko laughed, the day's fatigue hit her now as she relaxed, the rocking eased her mind.

     He released her, she felt a stab of fear, she didn't want to be alone.

     He lifted her onto his back, piggyback, still wrapped in his weighty coat, "Let's go tell Captain K we're done for the night.  I still need to square my gear away, and I still haven't seen where I'm going to be living."  He adjusted carefully to the load, "Better?"

     "Yeah."  Inside she was embarrassed, but she needed a human touchstone, a lifeline to keep away whatever had been stirring.  Why did a cat frighten me so bad?  Destroy my self-control?  Is that why I'm so nervous in Dr. Akagi's apartment? She felt she was holding onto sanity and humanity by her fingernails.  She wanted to be with Nabiki and Ritsuko, she wanted to be home, in her room, asleep, safe in her bed.  She closed her eyes, resting on his shoulder.  "Why?"

     "Why what?" she heard his voice, "Why are you afraid?  We can look into that," it sounded like he was getting farther and farther away.  "Ranko?" a long way away now.  "Ranko-san?" Too far away now.  "Oh, good grief, don't fall asleep!" he pleaded.  Too late.


     Ritsuko looked at the highland claymore stuck in the ceiling of her living room, and then to Maya.  "I didn't mean for that to happen," she explained to her assistant, who was snickering at her.  Ritsuko stared at it, hoped it would come loose of its own accord.

     "I'm sure, sempai.  At least you missed the ceiling fixture.  How are you going to get it out of there?" she asked, "And if you can't, how do you intend to explain it to Raccoon."

     Ritsuko shook her head at Davis's nickname.  Maya had asked about the long, heavy, wooden box.  Well, it was her job to look after the pilots, so she'd opened the box, found the pair of Scottish two-handed swords.

     "I only wanted to swing it once," she defended her action.  You swung it once, and were so surprised how it moved that you stuck it in the ceiling.

     "Can't you just pull it out?" Maya asked, trying to wiggle it loose.

     "Watch."  Ritsuko grabbed the handguard crosspiece and pulled herself off the ground.  From outside they heard the screech of tires.  "That can only be Misato."  She hadn't figured out how they were going to explain this, she also didn't like the idea of a sword that could come loose at any moment, stuck in her ceiling.


     Ritsuko wasn't happy about being the entertainment, Misato's and Asuka's laughter was bad enough.  Rei's and Davis's neutral expressions were worse.  'Adults,' Davis had said flatly.  Rei quietly agreed.

     What seriously worried her, was how quiet Ranma's female persona had been when she'd come in, wearing Davis's coat and holding Nabiki's and Davis's hands.  And no immediate demands for hot water, she remembered.  If Ritsuko hadn't known they were all the same age, she might have thought they were a young couple with an older child.  That worried her far more than the sword in the ceiling.

     Asuka and Ranko had tried, and failed, to dislodge the weapon.  Misato's muscles bunched as she hauled on the recalcitrant blade.

     "Don't twist, you'll break it!" Asuka reminded her.

     Misato gave up, glared at Asuka, "I would have gotten it loose."

     "Before or after you broke it?" Nabiki asked, wiggled the blade speculatively.

     Ritsuko wondered how much of the ceiling they'd have to dig out, to get it free.

     "What are you doing with swords anyway?" Misato demanded of Davis.

     "Fencing," Davis answered her.

     "Katanas are better," Ranko said, showing some of her usual spark.

     "Not against a foe in full metal armor, the edge would shatter, it's too hard."  Davis went to his and Ranma's room and returned with the other blade.  "It isn't a katana, so it's safe to unsheathe."  Davis pulled the 5-foot blade from its sheathe and handed it pommel-first to Ranko.

     "It's light," Ranko commented, flicked it down, and seemed surprised, "The balance changed!"

     "Langley, you want to explain it?" Davis and Asuka exchanged smiles.

     "It's hollow, there's a bunch of ball bearings or something inside," Asuka puzzled out.

     "That's why it accelerated when I swung it!" Ritsuko blurted out, "Who'd make a sword like that?"

     Davis raised his hand, smiled.  Nabiki fell with a crash, the freed sword firmly in her grip.

     Davis knelt next to her, and took her shoulders in his hands, "You have pulled the sword from the stone, fate has chosen you among all women, you alone are worthy to marry me and bear my many children, oh blessed maiden.  You cannot deny your destiny."

     "The metal knob on the handle is for bashing morons who get too close," Asuka told Nabiki, who considered it.

     Davis helped Nabiki to her feet, "Thank you for not breaking it, it took a year to make those."

     "Uh, can you people get out of the way so we can put this thing away?" Nabiki asked, uncomfortable with the piece of sharp metal in her hand, that was taller than she was.  Ritsuko and Maya stepped away quickly.  "You made this thing?" she asked.

     "Yes."

     "'J.  K.  Davis forged me,' is etched into the blade.  Jeffrey Kevin?" Nabiki asked.  He nodded.

     Ranko followed with the blade she'd been handed, carefully pointed it at the ceiling, "So let's put these away and have dinner."

     "Aren't you going to challenge somebody to a duel?" Davis asked, "There are two of them."

     Ritsuko cringed at that.

     "Naw, I'd rather eat," Ranko said.

     While Ritsuko was shocked by this, she was extremely grateful.


     Gendo got out of his car on the darkened street.  He eschewed the driver his position entitled him to, he went places he didn't want anyone knowing about.  The walk from the car to the house that was more a book repository than his home, was a short one.  Except tonight.

     He didn't see or hear the motorcycle until it was too late, it ran him down short of the gate to the house.  The impact knocked him most of the way back to his car.  He struggled to locate the motorcycle again as he drew his pistol.  They must have been waiting, he thought.

     He knew he was in serious trouble when the unmarked 6x6 truck smashed into the car.  It shoved him and the car through the concrete wall that surrounded the house.  As he lay there, broken and bleeding, the crumpled car atop him, he was aware no one knew he was here.  He listened, sought any clue to his attacker's identity.

     "Rust in pieces, Ikari."  Then he heard the shattering of glass bottles and spreading flames, and the smell of gasoline.

     Molotov cocktails, he thought, his assassins were sparing no expense or effort, under other circumstances, he might have found a place for such thoroughness at NERV.  He hoped the fire didn't spread to the books.  The explosion of the car's gas tank cut off further speculation.


     Rei sat in her apartment, she had enjoyed the company of the other Children, but she was also glad to be alone in her apartment, in the cool darkness.  The soothing brown.  The company of the others was wearing in a way she did not understand, she cherished it, but it exhausted her at the same time.  Also, there were things to consider.

     Rei remembered last night, hearing the knock on the door of the cabin she had shared with Nabiki-kun, aboard the Coral Sea.  Nabiki-kun had climbed out of her bunk and down the ladder.  Rei did not understand at the time, and still could not understand why Nabiki had been so pleased when she had asked for the lower bunk in their replacement cabin, it was the bunk she had had in their first cabin.

     Nabiki had opened the door slightly.

     "Tendo-san," it had been Roku-kun's voice, "It's Jeff.  I believe we have to talk.  I think you deserve an explanation."

     The possibility of further information had crystallized a plan in Rei's mind.

     "And an apology?" Nabiki had countered.

     "I did not say that," he had told her.

     "Give me a moment to change."

     "Don't dally, the walls have ears."

     They do? she had wondered, Why do I not see them? She knew he was speaking figuratively, but she could locate most eavesdroppers and listening devices, there were few of either aboard the Coral Sea.

     "Dally, does anyone use the word dally anymore?" Nabiki had mumbled as she dressed in slacks and a blouse.

     Rei had laid there, unmoving, she had hoped that Nabiki would assume she was asleep.  When Nabiki silently slipped out of the cabin, Rei had waited a few moments, dressed quickly and slipped out to follow them.

     "I'm actually glad you seemed to have found the details of our - `briefing` - so hard to accept.  Considering it was half-truths and misinformation," Roku-kun had told Nabiki in low tones, it had been extremely difficult for Rei to hear and still remain hidden.

     Misinformation? Rei had been and was still shocked, it was this information she had based her life on, if it was incorrect, something was fundamentally wrong, Perhaps he only worries about its incompleteness.  she had thought desperately, she knew all that had been left out, and why.

     "The others seemed to accept it at face value," Roku-kun had continued.

     "You can't fake photos like that," Nabiki-kun had countered.

     "The best lies are either faced with truth, or the truth told unconvincingly.  They originally developed the atomic bombs for use against Berlin and Dusseldorf.  You see, Hitler and Goebbels were obsessed with the occult, and that's putting it mildly."

     Rei had realized she had never heard any of this, but it did not seem to bear on their mission.

     "That's where their stores of magic items were?" Nabiki-kun had asked.

     "Especially their greatest magic item, an ancient statue dug up in Turkey."  Roku-kun had referred to EVA Unit 02.

     "They designed the atomic bombs to be used against the EVAs?!" Nabiki-kun had whispered fiercely.  It was a concept Rei had never considered either.

     "Speculation, but consider.  In August of 1945 the British had a fully-trained pilot, and an EVA: Asuka Soryu Langley and Unit 02, the Americans had determined what Unit 04 was, and had another fully-trained, captured German pilot.  The French had a pilot and a damaged Unit they'd dug up in North Africa."

     "How do you know that?" Nabiki-kun had asked the very question Rei had wanted answered.

     "You can learn a lot by listening, and thinking, putting pieces together like a jigsaw puzzle.  The French Unit has a brasslike shell and is missing a leg."

     Rei remembered seeing Nabiki shake her head in confusion.

     "Tantalus, I'm sorry, Talos, I think we're Tantalus.  Look it up in a good book on Greek Mythology," Roku-kun had told her.

     Rei had, Talos was a giant man of brass fashioned by the gods, an EVA?  Tantalus was in a hell trapped between the food and drink he so craved, unable to reach any of it.  What does he think we are trapped among and denied? she still wondered.

     "So the Allies had three EVA/pilot combinations, spare fast carriers, and almost two weeks' warning.  Do you know why they didn't load any or all of the three units aboard carriers, and send them through the Panama or Suez canals to Japan?  Why the first EVA/Angel battle didn't take place in 1945?"

     "No, I don't."  Nabiki-kun's stunned admission had mirrored both Rei's reaction and her emotional state, she had felt the world spinning out of control.

     Neither she nor Unit 00 was combat ready in August 1945, or the Commander would have sent her, she knew that.  If there were EVAs and pilots available, why were they not used?!  Why allow the destruction?  Did the Allies not trust the pilots, or did they not trust the EVAs?

     "I don't either," Roku-kun had admitted, "The possibilities are rather monstrous, aren't they?  The other question is, if the Americans and British were first on the scene of the disaster in 1933, why didn't they develop the weapons the Axis powers did?  EVAs were remanufactured in Japan, Germany and Occupied France, countries without the sea power to challenge the de facto Anglo-American naval blockade of Antarctica.  Britain had Unit 03, America Unit 04, both unearthed after February 1945.  I've often wondered what little secrets they had, what things to do an EVA's job.  An intriguing mystery is it not?"

     "Very," Nabiki-kun had said.

     Rei envied the girl's control, these questions were still continuing to undermine everything that she believed, and based her life on.  The Commander has to know about these questions, has to have asked them.  Does he have the answers?  Why has he not shared them with me?  Because I have not asked, because he does not wish to confuse me, why?

     She had been so shocked at the time, she missed some of what Roku-kun had said, "Magic is generally considered the pull a rabbit out of the hat type thing."

     "That's why you denied what I saw?"

     What did Nabiki-kun see? Rei had wondered.

     "What you thought you saw.  I was thirty miles away, and have very credible witnesses to affirm it," Roku-kun had countered.

     "So who can I trust?" Nabiki-kun had seemed to lose her usual confidence, "If everyone is plotting against everyone?"

     The Commander, Rei had wanted to shout to them, but she had known she needed to listen.

     "You can trust me to keep you alive, and Katsuragi-san to throw you into the fight, and probably keep you somewhat combat-ready.  'Many's the lad, fought on that day, well the claymore could wield.  When the night came, silently lay, dead on Culloden's field.' Trust no one and nothing anyone says, not me especially."  He had smiled at her, "After all, you don't know if I'm telling the truth, constructed all of this out of whole cloth, or why I'm telling you these things."  He had tipped his hat when he told her that, "Sleep lightly, Tendo-san."

     Then much louder, "Good night, Ayanami-san."

     Rei had scrambled to get back to the cabin as quickly and quietly as she could manage, ahead of Nabiki-kun.  How had he detected me? she had wondered, she still wondered.

     "Maybe I should start laughing like Kodachi," Nabiki-kun had muttered as she found Rei lying `asleep` in her bunk, "People will quit doing this to me."  Nabiki had examined her closely to figure out if she was actually asleep, when she was satisfied, she climbed into her own bunk.


     In the cool, dark of her apartment, Rei still was not comfortable with the implications of the questions Roku-kun had asked, and why he had told Nabiki-kun . . . and her, what he had.  She was also uncomfortable that it was remotely possible, that the Commander did not have the answers to these questions.  Or had not considered, and asked the questions himself.  Given what had happened earlier, she needed to tell the Commander, get instructions.

Ranma's Nightmare

     Ranko turned and looked at her fellow pilot lying just a few feet away.  A glass of cold water had started the odyssey.  Now the boy watched in fascination as her hands explored her body, "You want?" she asked coquettishly.

     A faint flash of teeth in the darkness was all the invitation she needed, no more worry about those drooling idiots at the school.  Now she could be secure and fulfilled, she thought as she advanced.


     The ringed hand guided the other beringed hand across her flat belly to the spot where new life was quickening within her.  She willed herself to be silent while her husband, the child's father, listened and felt the stirrings she herself had been aware of for only a few days.  The fury of the others had fueled the passion of their relationship.  As he stroked her smooth skin, she smiled at the stirring within her.

     So Saotome, are you willing to kill an innocent to regain your manhood?  I'll keep my lover busy, my womb filled with new life.  You'll be trapped watching a man take his pleasures with my body for years and decades.  No one will even remember you when I've finished, you can have old age and all its infirmities.  Ranko chuckled at her plan as she guided her lover's attention, he was so inventive and uninhibited.


     Ranma awoke with a shriek.  Only a dream!  Only a dream!! he thought desperately.  He looked around, he was back in his bedroom, the room he shared with . . . !

     "Saotome-san, are you okay?"

     "Get out!" Normally, he could barely hit that note as Ranko, "GET OUT!"

     Davis raised his hands and retreated from Ranma's fury, leaving his bedroll as he scrambled from the room and closed the door behind him.

     Ranma tried to get his terror under control, he ignored the knock and concerned voices from Nabiki and Doctor Akagi.  He didn't want to be around girls right now.  Or anyone else for that matter.


     Nabiki stumbled again, the cobblestones she was walking on defined slippery.  Even with her training, she had difficulty keeping on her feet, and blood was ankle-deep across them, the stench was horrifying.  Her shoes were ruined, her socks and her school uniform skirt were saturated.  She could see what was around her, but not more than a few meters.  Frankly, she was scared.  She didn't know where she was, or how she had gotten there.

     As she looked around, she saw a light, a long way off, but getting closer.  Something about it made her want to run away.  It wasn't malevolent or dangerous, but something in the back of her mind told her she didn't want to be there when whatever was making that light arrived.  She also saw, backlit, statues of people, many different sizes and shapes, many different poses.  She stopped and skittered, as she tried to move away.  Whatever was approaching was advancing steadily, without the problems Nabiki was facing.  An attempt to run left her face-down with a mouthful of blood, she spat it out and looked at her pursuer, for it had clearly changed course when she'd moved.  She searched her pockets for a weapon, any weapon, to defend herself.  A sodden calendar book and a coupon for free dry cleaning might be useful later, but now they only highlighted her own helplessness.

     She could make out the figure now.  It looked like Rei, if Rei was a 2 meter tall, buxom amazon.

     Okay, if I'm dreaming, where did I get her from? she had to admire the silk and chain-mail bikini, and worried that her exposure to Happosai had a permanent effect on her after all.  "I almost wish the old pervert was here, it would give me time to get out of here."  Somehow, knowing it was Rei, had increased her desire to escape.  Revealing the many statues were people she knew, here and in Nerima, didn't settle her mind any.

     Since running was out, she kept walking.  Now she was opening the distance, because Rei seemed to be stopping at every statue, exchanging a few words, and then the statue would move and glow.  Kodachi was a sickly yellow-green, Ranma-kun a blue-white, Shinji a royal blue, Kasumi gold, except around her waist, which was jet black.  Nabiki didn't watch the rest of the transformations, the riot of colors and shadows told her the tale and made her footing even more treacherous.

     I know why Shinji's 'I mustn't run away,' you fall on your butt.

     Rei rapidly caught up with her.  The statues-now-people wandered behind her, like a cloud of immense lightning bugs, ignoring each other.

     "Hey Rei," Nabiki said brightly, any further pleasantries failed, something about the girl's expression terrified her.  The girl said nothing, her stare was far from her ordinary one.  Nabiki turned to run, Mistake! she thought as her feet slipped beneath her.

     Rei's fingers combed through Nabiki's hair, and took a solid grip on her skull.  It prevented Nabiki from falling, but Rei then lifted her off the ground.

     "I know who you appear to be," Rei turned Nabiki around to face her.

     Nabiki considered a counter or escape, and discarded the idea when she realized Rei was standing on the blood instead of in it.  She also remembered that Rei was both faster and stronger than she was.  Nabiki wasn't about to fight someone faster, stronger, and with better footing.

     "I will not let you harm them anymore," Rei told her.

     Nabiki found herself turned to face a pair of vignettes.  A 5-year-old Nabiki playing alone in a sandbox, had just had a bucket of sand dumped over her head by a 17-year-old Nabiki.  The other was an 11-year-old Nabiki lying on her bed, in her bedroom back in Nerima, crying her eyes out over a boy who wasn't interested in her anymore.  Instead of the gentle older sister soothing her hurts, another 17-year-old Nabiki was yelling at her, shaking her to get her to quit acting soft and stupid.

     I'm doing Genma and Gendo impersonations, no wonder Rei's so angry.

     "You care about no one and nothing, be gone," Rei threw her away before she could protest she was trying.  The other girl marched over to the Nabiki who berated the 11-year-old.  Rei grasped the older girl by the throat and hurled her away.

     From the odd flight and the rag doll landing, Nabiki understood Rei had broken the other girl's neck as part of the throw.  Rei marched over to the other older Nabiki, who had wrenched the little 5-year-old's head back and was threatening to pour another bucket of sand, this time directly in the younger Nabiki's eyes.

     Rei gestured, the older Nabiki's gasped and gave a look of surprise as the bucket slipped from her nerveless grasp to land suspended over the little girl.  Nabiki watched Rei return to her familiar 14-year-old form and clothes, she scooped up the little girl as the corpse fell in two pieces.  Rei gently and diligently brushed off the sand, finally turning her over and shaking the last bit off her.

     Nabiki didn't need to be able to hear, to recognize the happy squeals and the requests 'Again!  Again!'.  Rei rotated the girl carefully as she carried her to the 11-year-old's bedside.

     The 11-year-old looked up at the strange apparitions invading her misery.  Rei set the young Nabiki next to her older counterpart, while she knelt on the floor, watching the interaction.  Nabiki had to admit, they acted as she had at the appropriate ages.  'Knock, knock, knock' by the 5-year-old on the 11-year-old's head, 'Is anyone in there?'

     Kasumi used to hate that when I did it to her, even at 7 she was trying to be a proper `mommy`, Nabiki sat and watched, not sure what else she could do.

     The 11-year-old moved the irrepressible 5-year-old to her lap, also to get her arms around the raucous bundle of energy.  Rei reached out to touch each one, Nabiki thought she was singing, a much longer and more complex version of the chirrup she'd made to Belldandy when the Shoggoth had attacked the three of them.  As if a songbird had access to the range and power of an entire symphony orchestra.

     The two girls, and Rei, faded from sight, leaving Nabiki alone.  Even the blood and slippery stones were gone.  Nabiki Tendo alone in the universe, she considered what she'd seen, what it meant.

     What had those two represented that Rei was willing to kill to protect?  Was that really Rei, walking in my dreams, or did that represent something else? Nabiki considered these odd thoughts, alone, all alone.  She wasn't comfortable about that either, she was always around other people.  Being alone with just herself was beginning to pall.

     She walked to where the other Nabikis had been, wondered if they were still there, if they wanted to talk to her, or play.  They weren't, she was beginning to realize how alone she really was here, and she was rather poor company.


     Rei woke in her own bed, rolled over, she sighed.  Nabiki had been friendly and interested in her, a new experience for Rei.  She hated doing that to the girl.

     But Rei had orders, orders she had to follow.  She'd never considered she could be blackmailed, that there were things she wanted beyond the success of the Commander's plan.  That such things could be offered and taken away to force her compliance.  She was not comfortable with that revelation, or that she would do that to another pilot to follow orders.

     She sighed again, she could see the necessity . . . except . . . 


     Nabiki heard Ranma shriek for the second time in the night, wakened her from a sound sleep, and bad dreams.  A quiet 'Are you all right Saotome-san?' from Roku-kun was followed by a loud thwap and a series of thumps.  She exchanged glances with Dr. Akagi and the two of them opened the bedroom door to the hall.  They looked down on Roku-kun lying on the floor in a fetal position, legs pulled up to protect his head and vitals, forehead on his knees, hands covered his face.

     "Davis?" Ritsuko asked.

     "No move," the boy answered, a slipper lay near his head.

     Nabiki wondered how hard Ranma had thrown the cloth slipper, and how badly Davis was hurt.  People around here weren't as fast healing or as durable as the Nerima crew.

     "Can you stand?" Dr. Akagi asked.

     "Nausea," he replied.

     "Sounds like a concussion," Dr. Akagi knelt down, he shied away from her pulling his hands away.

     Nabiki and Dr. Akagi half-carried him into the bathroom to check his injuries.  Nabiki tried to check on Ranma, had to dodge a shoe that might have taken her head off.

     Hours later, breakfast was quiet, school started today.  Roku-kun's twin black eyes and yellow-purple bruise looked particularly bad.  "I've got a theatrical make up kit, which should cover this up," Roku-kun explained.

     "I'd like to know what you were dreaming about," Nabiki said.

     Ranma shrugged, "Just a nightmare."

     "Don't you have something else to say?" Dr. Akagi asked, indicating his fellow pilot.

     "You need to learn to duck," Ranma said, "Like Nabiki."

     Nabiki and Roku-kun exchanged frowns.

     "That isn't what I meant," Dr. Akagi said.

     Ranma looked around in confusion.  Ritsuko sighed.


Growling

     "This is the day the new pilots arrive!" Kensuke said excitedly, "Foreigners, we saw them yesterday!"

     "I heard they were college students," Hikari interjected.

     "I heard one was a farmer," Toji countered.

     Rei sat in the corner of the classroom, it was her seat last grade, it was her seat now, she was half-listening to the interaction and speculation running through the class.  She knew the truth, the speculations were useless.  However, she knew they would resent her simply telling them the facts, they seemed to prefer speculating, they would know the truth soon enough.  Shinji-kun arrived without Langley, Unit 02's pilot.  Ranma and Nabiki-kun had not arrived, perhaps Ranma had another accident and refused to arrive as Ranko.

     Roku-kun, Nabiki-kun and Ranma arrived, only Nabiki wore a uniform.  Both Ranma and Roku-kun wore their usual clothes.  Conversations slowed, the others watched.  Nabiki-kun told Roku-kun to write his name on the board, he did.  Nabiki and Ranma took their seats.  Nabiki-kun exchanged pleasantries with Hiroko.  Roku-kun glanced around at the now silent class room, he took a seat next to Rei.

     "Ayanami-san."  He pointed at the cluster of Kensuke, Toji, Hikari and a few others who stared at the pair, "Who's pitching?"

     She remembered the reaction of the carrier crew, "Who, is playing first."

     The whole class was shocked.  Rei felt absurdly pleased by this.

     "He.  He.  He," Toji stammered.

     "Rei-san told a joke!" Hikari said.

     Roku-kun seemed perplexed by this.  He stood, gestured with his walking stick, "Silence!" he commanded, "Be wary of rousing a wizard's wrath."  The shock became laughter as he sat down, with a few exceptions.

     Hikari, the class president, for one.  "You should start wearing a proper uniform."  She marched towards him, "While your suit might be appropriate for America.  Here, your clothing should be suitable!"

     His smile vanished, Rei noted Nabiki watched him very closely.  As he stood up again, he moved his hat from back on his head to forward, almost covering his eyebrows.  He bared his teeth in a snarl, and a deep animal growl issued from him.  The kind of sound that made primitive man crawl deeper into his caves.  Rei became concerned, although she told herself it was another joke, Probably, she added.

     Hikari paled and backed away quickly.

     "What was that for?" Toji approached, his fist raised.

     Roku-kun reached for his hat, Toji quailed, remembering the incident yesterday.  Roku-kun flipped his hat, it landed perfectly on the hatstand in the corner.  Toji swallowed.

     "This is, and was, appropriate for Harvard, it will be appropriate, here," Roku-kun said quietly in his odd Japanese.

     Toji and Hikari blinked and returned to their seats.  Nabiki was smirking at Hiroko, who returned it.  `Raccoon` had just placed himself outside the hierarchy, as last night he said he would.  There were murmurs, as everyone tried to decide whether or not `it`, was safe to approach.  Rei watched the interactions.

     Kensuke was first, "So are you the pilot of the American EVA?"

     "No, Saotome-san is, I'm second alternate."

     "Have you met Ranko yet, is she beautiful or what?" Another boy asked.  Rei noted Ranma's grimace at that.

     "Yes, she's a very sweet young woman," Roku-kun said.  Ranma balled his fists.

     Now on safer ground, Toji entered the conversation, "Sweet!  Man, I wish I was a pilot."  He said wistfully, "Just to be close to her."  Toji's obsession with Ranko after having seen her just once, for a few moments, was a source of mystery to all of us.  Ranma looked ready to run or fight.

     Hikari was fuming, Roku-kun looked pointedly at her, she blushed and turned away.  Roku-kun then stared at Toji, "You, sir," he intoned, "Are an idiot."  Dismissing him from his thoughts.

     "What's that supposed to mean?" Toji blustered.  Roku-kun pointed his walking stick at Hikari, Toji looked, Hikari blushed again and looked away.

     "As I said," he said.

     "So you're living with Nabiki-san and Ranma-kun?" one of the girls asked.

     "I will be finding my own apartment soon."

     "You said Harvard, you mean Harvard University?"

     "Chemical Engineering and History," he said, "I was drafted six weeks before graduating."  He shrugged, "Oh, well."

     They plied him with questions for several minutes, probing for answers and information about, 'The strange animal who had wandered in', as he had told Rei last night at dinner.  Rei wondered why Misato had so strongly disapproved of his planned tactics, suggesting he should blend in.  He had politely refused, muttered something that the Second Children and Nabiki-kun laughed at.

     Rei wondered if he really understood people that well.

     "Ohayo!" the Second Children entered, loudly, "I'm Asuka Soryu Langley."  Attention was drawn to her immediately.  Nabiki caught Roku-kun's quick grin.

     "You'll be ignored now," Nabiki teased, he smiled, nodding at her cleverness.

     "I'm the Pilot of EVA Unit 02.  I destroyed an Angel yesterday, just outside of Tokyo Harbor.  Now you won't have to depend on Spineless," she indicated Shinji, who'd accompanied her, "Or Wondergirl to save you.  You've got a bona fide expert to do it now."

     Rei noted Roku-kun's smirk, and Ranma's frown.  Nabiki-kun's whispering to Hiroko was probably giving the other girl the actual story.  The Second took a seat, front center, next to Hokari Hikari, who nodded to her before the teacher arrived.


     Rei observed that the lessons bored both Roku-kun and the Second, Langley, to tears, and they reacted to the boredom very differently.  Roku-kun whispered to her during a break, that he could teach the classes better.

     Lunch finally arrived, everyone left the classroom and went outside.  The Second had drawn off the curious, boys and girls, alike.  Roku-kun found a good vantage point to watch and learn the interactions and the pecking order, another of his goals.  Rei watched him, he seemed to be looking for a few things in particular.  He seemed to linger over a few likely candidates, Rei could find no pattern to his selection, Maybe I should ask him what he was looking for and at.


     Jeff had spotted a few likely candidates for his organization, but nothing definite, I'll check a few out with Tendo-san.  "Speaking of Tendo-san," he looked around, "Where is my fellow roomer?" He noted Rei Ayanami watching him carefully, he tipped his hat and moved off to find Miss Tendo.
     Nabiki cursed her foolishness, she'd gotten separated from Ranma, and had wandered around the buildings to find him.

     I walk into the perfect spot for an ambush, just as I've been successful in stirring up the schools `mafia`, she thought.  They'd caught her alone, and after all the effort of moving yesterday, she wasn't up to six against one.

     "Tendo-chan, you need to be taught a lesson, Pilot or not, we run things around here," the boy, the leaders' chief enforcer, raised his fist.  His cronies laughed, anticipating the beating she was going to get.  Nabiki turned her head away, braced herself for the impact, she'd counterattack after the first blow.  There was an odd sound and no strike.

     "You seem like a boy who might be informed in a subject I was looking into, a word and its meaning."  Jeff's upraised cane had caught the other boy's arm, his tone, one of an anxious student.  "Its true meaning, if you catch my meaning, ha, ha."

     "What do you want?  Gaijin."

     "The very word!" he brightened, "I looked it up, it means 'foreigner.' Yet it's said with such vigor, and in such a way, practically thrown at the recipient, if you take my meaning.  Well, it has to have another, a deeper significance."

     Nabiki and the other boy could hardly believe their ears.  "It's an insult," he said.

     "A pejorative, fascinating, like `ferin-er` in the dialect.  My understanding of this delightful country grows by leaps and bounds, I thank you, sir."  He paused, bowed slightly.

     Here it comes, Nabiki thought, she was trying not to laugh, and give away the game.  With his accent and delivery, he seemed a bigger twit than Kuno, but it was a pretense.

     "Pray, forgive my ignorance again.  I fail to understand why, six lads beat up one girl.  I do not judge, I only seek enlightenment.  My dear aunt and my departed mother wouldn't have tolerated such a thing, but both are gaijin.  Yes!  Said with such hateful intent, it flows so much more readily."

     The others of the enforcers were exchanging glances.  What had been the delivery of a quick and painful lesson, was taking too long, as this foreign lunatic interfered.

     "We run things around here, understand."  The boy disentangled his arm from Jeff's cane, "Little Miss Tendo here doesn't believe it."

     "Oh, power and control.  I should have realized, my apologies."  The heavy ball at the top of the cane caught the boy on the short ribs.  As he folded, the cane hit him on the base of the skull.  "Hold!" Jeff pointed the tip of the cane at the five remaining thugs.  "Interesting thing about antique canes.  Some are just hard wood and metal, others carry swords, still others air rifles."  He smiled, his tone still in full `twit` mode, extending his hand backwards to take Nabiki's.  She took it as they sidestepped away from the thugs.

     "It's almost impossible to tell.  One of my neighbors had a shotgun disguised as a broom, 'Yankee ingenuity'."  They were clear of the encirclement, "Now, I may only be bluffing, this may only be to help when my leg acts up, and nothing else.  The question you have to ask is - "

     "Do you feel lucky, punk?" Nabiki asked quietly, she had to hear him say it.

     "Yes.  Do you feel lucky?  Well, do you?" Jeff asked in a very menacingly different tone.

     Maybe there is something to that phrase, she thought.

     One of the smarter kids put his hand up, "She's selling pictures," he offered.

     "And you were inquiring about refunds or quality problems?" He released Nabiki's hand.

     What are you doing? she wondered, Let's get out of here!

     "Some of them are of you," he countered.

     Jeff waved the boy forward.  The boy produced a packet wrapped with string.  Jeff reached into his coat and pulled a foot-long trench knife.  The others stared at it, a soldier's fighting knife.  The cane still aimed at the other four.  Jeff slit the string, the boy swallowed, removed the picture he'd mentioned, and relaxed a bit as the knife disappeared back into Jeff's coat.

     "Good play of light and shadow, well focused, good framing.  Although."  He returned the picture, "I don't know which should disturb you more, if it's for you, or your girlfriend."

     The boy blushed, "She's selling them."

     And you stole them, Nabiki thought about telling him that, decided she wanted out of the trap first.

     "And they were supposed to be free?  I'm afraid I don't understand."  Jeff and Nabiki continued to back up.

     "Is anyone behind us?" Jeff asked quietly in German.

     "Nothing," she answered quietly in the same language.

     "Good day, gentlemen."  He saluted with the cane, turned and slipped around the corner of the building.

     The five charged past where Jeff and Nabiki waited, and off into the lunch crowd.

     "Tendo-san, I do not care about Ranma's photos, other than he knows you take them.  However, half of the income from mine, not profit mind, income, will go to the various charities set up to help those wounded and displaced by the Angel attacks."  He turned to her, face completely neutral, but somehow, very threatening, "Are we clear on this?"

     "Very clear."  The tone and expression unsettled Nabiki.

     "Good day, Tendo-san, Saotome-san is holding court in that direction."  Jeff pointed, tipped his hat, and started to walk away.

     "Roku-kun," Nabiki called, "What really is in that cane?"

     He looked at it, then her, no change in his blank expression, "Fear, Tendo-san."  He walked away.

     Nabiki considered, she should stay close, safety in numbers, but she also needed to talk to Ranma.

     Also with `the Invincible Ranma Saotome` and `The fear-breathing Gaijin` backing me up, she thought, I can use a different technique than back in Nerima.  She smiled at that, she never considered that facing Ranma would be the preferred option.  Yes, with additional resources, I can do this easily.


     "Hey, Raccoon!" Asuka hailed, as they filed back into class.  She lounged at the board, forcing the other students to squeeze around her, They can wait, she thought, It's not as if they're actually learning anything in this glorified warehouse.  "What's with the chicken scratches?" Both had written their names on the board.  To each, Jeff had added another row of writing she didn't recognize.

     "Katakana to indicate an adequate pronunciation.  Asuka would be easy, so would Soryu, I can't help you too much with Langley.  RANGURI is the closest I could come up with," he answered.

     "Why not Raccoon?" she teased, the eyes of the class tracked to him, Gotcha.

     "Tendo-san suggested, Roku-kun, since I am the Sixth Children.  Langley slurred it to Rakkun which Tendo-san adapted to 'Raccoon'.  Some people have the opinion I am some kind of Tanuki trickster/shapechanger, so it stuck."

     "Like Misato-san!" Asuka barked laughter.

     Jeff wrote Raakuun next to his name, "Having heard the butchery Jeffrey and Davis have taken today, at least that one is pronounceable."

     Several of the class laughed, Asuka fumed, another insult against him turned in her hands.

     The afternoon classes were as torturous as the morning.  Asuka was glad when the day ended, Although Raccoon would die before he said it openly.  And the others didn't even notice! "That was SO BORING!!" Asuka started packing away her books.

     "I liked some of the Literature class," Raccoon admitted.

     Asuka smirked, that had been pretty funny, typical ambush, like in the Dreamlands.

     Nabiki laughed, "Dissecting butterflies.  I didn't think he was expecting haiku."

     "It was two lines longer than the classic form, but it did show I had a nodding acquaintance," Raccoon replied, "Ayanami-san.  I understand there are apartments available near where you live.  Would you mind if I walked with you, and took a look at them?"

     "Hai," she said.

     Asuka couldn't figure if she did or didn't object, Raccoon'd find out when he got there.

     "Oh, Roku-kun," Shinji said, "That might not be a good idea."

     "Are you suggesting the fair and beauteous maiden spider lures pretty, young boys away from their companions, to an untimely and hideous doom?"

     "No, course not!" Shinji shouted, embarrassed.

     Asuka looked at Shinji squirming under the cross-examination, she shook her head.  She wondered how they picked pilots here in Japan, she and Anna had been carefully screened and trained, Darts, a map and a drunken macaque, she concluded.

     "Are you suggesting, Oh the Horror, that she might have, pardon the phrase, bad breath?"

     Shinji shook his head in defeat.

     Face it Spineless, Asuka thought, Our American is crazy, that's all there is to it, or close enough for NERV purposes.  Just learn to live with it, or you'll wind up just as nuts.

     "Don't worry, you warned me, you acquitted yourself with honor," Raccoon told him.

     "I don't believe you!" Asuka shouted, What's all this honor crap, we're here to do a job.

     "Good!  You shouldn't," Raccoon shot back, "I don't exist.  Of course neither do you, so that's fair."

     Asuka threw her hands up and walked off.  I am not getting caught in this insanity.  It's bad enough I'm ordered to attend Ennui Junior High, that's enough insanity for one day.

     "I wouldn't do that, except the Captain did order it," Jeff explained.

     "We believe you."  Nabiki rolled her eyes, "Really we do.  Once we're off school grounds, I'd like to see that scale model saber you carry."

     He's still carrying that thing? Asuka thought, How'd he manage to get it out of the Dreamlands? She considered the possibilities.  I'll have to ask him to get me one as well.  I hate walking around without a decent weapon, especially if the monster reports are right.  She also considered the effect of carrying a short sword would have on some of the local perverts.  Teach these `roosters` some manners, or make capons out of'em.  She chuckled at that.


Rei's Apartment

     The walk wasn't a terribly long one, Jeff noted, Rei was absolutely silent.  She's either too polite to tell me to leave, or she expected me to follow, he thought.  Jeff was considering getting a bicycle if he continued to go to school.  Why he and Langley had to go to Middle School, was beyond him.  She was degreed and he nearly so.

     Maybe they want us all in one place so they can keep an eye on us? That seemed stupid, a large enough bomb would take out all the pilots at once.  Jeff's instinct was to have spread them around.  Also, to give them some time away from each other.  They seemed to have picked mutually antagonistic personalities, perhaps to foster excellence through competition.  Yeah, they planned that, he thought, When flying pigs gracefully ice skate in Hell.

     The area was run down, row after row of abandoned buildings.  Hundreds of families could be housed in these buildings.  The entire place felt oppressive, like nighttime thunder overhead, without lightning.  Jeff considered the place, he couldn't figure out why he was feeling this way.  Rei's building wasn't special compared to the others.  There was uncollected trash everywhere, a few rats scampered about.  Rei seemed comfortable, or perhaps oblivious, to this.  Jeff didn't comment, it was clear why Shinji had warned him, This place is a complete dump.

     The odors were muted, anything that might have decayed was long gone.  The only sound was the distant vehicle traffic and the closer traffic of rats and other vermin.

     How does she live here? he wondered, Why does she live here? He wouldn't have stood for it, as tenant or as custodian/guardian.

     She stopped in front of a door, little different from many of the others, except the mail shoved in and overflowing the slot in the door.  No key, she simply opened the door.  Inside was terrible.  A simple bed and dresser, unwashed floors, walls, and ceiling.  All a mottled brown of accumulated dirt.

     How do you get a ceiling that dirty? Jeff wondered.  Every instinct told him to leave immediately and never return.  If I did that, Jeff considered, I'd never be able to look myself in the face again.  He heard a faint atonal chord he recognized as the scent of blood, human blood.  There were enchantments laid into the walls, floor and ceiling.  Is the dirt supposed to cover it all up? he wondered.

     She removed her shoes and stepped into a pair of slippers.  Jeff took off his boots, looking at the filthy concrete floor.  He could wash his socks later.  The place was depressing.  Bathroom, a small kitchen, small living area.  His dorm room wasn't much larger, but even sharing it with a roommate, he'd managed to stamp his personality on it more thoroughly than Rei had on her apartment.  A few books on EVAs and NERV procedures, a case for glasses, a wastebasket full of bloody bandages, no chairs, no table.  Bloodstains on the pillow and bedsheets.  No mirror in the bathroom, just an empty frame.  The bathroom was equally dirty, shower, sink, toilet.  He'd seen cheerier jail cells.

     "Thank you, Ayanami-san.  This has been most helpful."

     She sat on the bed, stared at him.

     Switched off, went through his mind.  His eyes caught a case in the clothes' closet.  "Your violin?" Either that or her Thompson submachine gun, he thought.

     "Hai."

     "Do you practice regularly?" Jeff tried to keep his tone light, he'd seen the faint yellow-green of fear.  Is she afraid of this place, of me, or of talking? he wondered.

     "Hai."

     Okay, he thought, "I play some music, so do Ikari-anjin and Langley.  Maybe you'd like to practice or play together sometime."

     No response except a visible increase in her tension.

     "Well, can I make up for intruding by buying you a soda or an ice cream?"

     A look of vague curiosity.

     "If not, I'll see you at school tomorrow."

     "Sayonara."

     I thought that was for when someone was going away for a long while.  As Jeff walked back to Dr. Akagi's apartment, he thought.  He was already trying to devise a method to get her to open up.  She seemed more afraid or uncertain than aloof.  So he'd need to let her interact in a way that had specific rules and methods.  Like he had back on Coral Sea, I thought I'd been explaining the routine in the most concentrated way, now I am reconsidering.


     Shinji was sitting at the dining room table, enjoying having survived his first day in the new grade, and with the new students.  He couldn't figure out either of them, or why they were in the same school he was.  He'd changed out of his school clothes and was listening to some traditional music on the radio when Asuka came out of her room, still in her school uniform, frowning.

     Bad sign, Shinji realized.

     She changed the station on the radio, he was about to protest, but he decided he wanted to live a while longer.  Another station playing traditional music, Asuka changed the channel again.  Sports, another channel.  News, another channel, Asuka frowning and getting more angry with each station change.  Armed Forces Radio playing big band music.  Asuka snapped the radio off.  Shinji was just glad she didn't snap it, or him, in half.

     "A country as old as this one should have produced a few decent composers, but no," she marched back into her room.

     Shinji was considering how badly she'd hurt him if he turned the radio back on, when she marched out with a handful of records, "I'll give you a choice, Mozart, Beethoven, Bach, or Wagner."

     Shinji decided it was time to test a theory, "No Handel?" he asked.

     Asuka frowned at him, and marched back into her room.  Rather than an explosion, the sounds of Handel's Water Music came out of her room.  Curious, he got up to go look.

     Asuka was lying on her bed, staring at the ceiling, idly scratching Pen Pen's head, he hadn't quite figured out why the penguin had taken to her so fast.  "Happy?" she asked, her tone wasn't angry, it sounded to Shinji almost, defeated.

     That's impossible, Shinji thought, "Is something wrong?"

     "NO!"

     That sounds like the Asuka I'm used to, Shinji thought.

     "I have to go to a boring school, with boring people, live in a boring country.  I've finally got Unit 02, the Angels are finally showing up, I'm ready, my EVA is ready, and what, no Angels!"

     "It's only been a day and a half," Shinji said, "They don't show up that often."

     "They're hiding from me," she declared, "They're going to let you people BORE ME TO DEATH, then sweep in and conquer the world."

     Maybe one of the others might have understood her, but he didn't.  He didn't want to ever have to pilot again, and couldn't understand how anyone could feel differently.  If the Angels never showed up again, that would be fine with him.  He was also worried about what was happening at Ayanami's apartment.  He remembered what happened the first time he was there, and blushed furiously.

     "Relax, Spineless, you're not my type.  I don't mind you being in my room," Asuka told him.

     "I - it's not - if just - " he signed, I'd better not say anything, he thought, I don't need to get teased about it.  Then something occurred to him, "You're worried about Kaji and Misato-san."  oops.  He was nose-to-nose with a furious Asuka.

     "How dare you suggest such a thing?!  Kaji's mine!  Misato had her chance, and she threw him away!  It's me he'll turn to with his broken heart!" She advanced a step with each declaration.

     Shinji didn't bother listening to the rest, he was too busy retreating out of her room, closing the door after him.  He felt a little guilty about leaving Pen Pen in there alone, but the penguin seemed to be able to take care of himself.


     Asuka flopped face first down on her pillow.  How dare that little boy suggest Kaji would be unfaithful to her!  Still, Misato had hours and hours alone with him at work to arrange things her way, being with Kaji, slipping little hints, showing more skin than was decent, talking Asuka down as too young, too much a child.

     She didn't see why she couldn't work at NERV, instead of going to that STUPID school!  She had a physics and math degree, she could work with Dr. Akagi or the other researchers, she knew as much about the EVAs as they did, she was a pilot after all, they weren't.  Except Misato had told her to go to school, probably to have Kaji all to herself, to show Kaji how immature she was 'Only a Junior High Schooler', or was hoping she'd explode at the injustice, and prove she was immature.

     "I won't let her win, you know," she told Pen Pen, "She'll never get my Kaji."  She smiled, Pen Pen backed against the door at the sight of it.

     "She's going to have that big dinner party in a few days, I'll invite Kaji to dinner tonight!  Let him taste my cooking, let him see me in a party dress.  Let that talentless old-maid compete with a real woman!" she declared, turned up the volume of her record player and strode to the kitchen.

     "Get ready for a culinary masterpiece," she yelled to Spineless, He's probably pining for Wondergirl, she thought with disgust.

     She looked at what Misato had in the way of fixings, "First a trip to the store, they weren't kidding about anti-Angel weapons."  She'd need Shinji to carry stuff, and she admitted, translate the labels.  Well, at least I'll teach him enough that he won't poison himself.


     "I can't believe it," Nabiki heard Raccoon announce as he entered the apartment.

     "Believe what?" Nabiki looked over to him, wondered what the newcomer thought of Ayanami-san's apartment.  It still gives me the creeps, thinking about that place.

     "Where Ayanami-san lives," he replied.

     I thought so, Nabiki thought.

     "Trash, rats, no lock on the door.  I don't think the place has been cleaned since it was built."

     She watched him take off his boots, then stripped off his filthy socks, he grimaced at them.

     "Take a look," he showed them to her and Ranma, "This was from walking on the floor for less than ten minutes."

     "Don't wave those around," Ranma complained.

     Nabiki frowned at that.

     "Look, have either of you been to her apartment?" he asked angrily.

     "So you aren't moving out?" Nabiki asked, she didn't want to remember her second visit to that cheerless place.  She couldn't imagine anyone willingly living there. 

     "Not into those apartments.  Not without cleaning the whole building."  He shook his head, "I can't imagine them letting her live that way.  I mean, Ikari-san got picked up by Captain Katsuragi, you two got picked up by Akagi-sensei, Langley by the Captain, me to the good Doctor, even if temporarily.  Who looks after her?"

     Nabiki shrugged, felt guilty about Raccoon's irritated expression, and her ignorance.  But she remembered those armored shutters and the runes on the walls.  She didn't want to think about why they were there.

     "Maybe she likes living that way, like the mess at Captain Misato's.  It isn't our business," Ranma said.

     Nabiki watched the expressions flash by on Raccoon's face: Confusion: 'Did I hear that correctly?', then fury, the kind that typically preceded Akane Air-Expressing Ranma to another island.  Then he took a breath, unclenched his fists, a cold, almost blank expression on his face.

     "Saotome-san, do not let anyone ever tell you, that you are not the embodiment of the Bushido Code," Raccoon told him as he walked by.

     Ranma nodded.

     'Humanity is our business.  Filth and rats here I come.' Nabiki heard him mutter in German, as he walked to the bedroom he and Ranma shared.

     Would Ranma understand the insult if I explained it? she wondered as she headed after Raccoon, Ranma doesn't need any new enemies, and from his expression, Raccoon just reclassified himself as one.  I love my job.

     "Hey, you need help unpacking?" she offered as she entered.

     "Thank you, Tendo-san - "

     "Nabiki."  Why is it when he's angry, he gets more polite, not less? she wondered.

     "That wouldn't be proper, Tendo-san.  I don't think I'll be staying too long."

     "Look, he said something stupid, everybody does, he wasn't thinking," she tried to lighten the mood.

     "So that belief is instinctive, or habitual?" Raccoon asked.

     Nabiki sensed the trap, "No, I didn't mean that.  He has a talent for saying the wrong thing."

     "Tendo-san, all that he did, was remind me how far I am from home, in dimension and culture.  You've been in Tokyo how long?  Three weeks?"

     "That's about right."

     "During that time, you've been to Ikari Shinji's home how many times?"

     "Twice, exactly."

     "And how many times to Ayanami-san's apartment?"

     "I've been there twice, once with Shinji, once with all the pilots," Nabiki explained, glad he seemed taken off-stride by the relative numbers.

     "And Captain Katsuragi or Doctor Akagi, how often have they been there while you've been here?" he asked, very carefully.

     "Never, I don't think Captain Katsuragi has ever been there, in the apartment proper," Nabiki said quietly, she remembered her visit with Shinji because, she guessed, Misato didn't want to go to Rei's apartment.

     "Yes, Rei's a weird, quiet girl, let's ignore her, she never complains so nothing could be wrong.  Has it occurred to anybody around here that her long contact with EVA might have damaged her mind, might keep her from being able to properly take care of herself, or even acknowledge the lack?  Like Langley's temper?  No, from your expression, I can guess that all this is new thinking."

     He's right, Nabiki had ignored the strange girl, since she'd gotten back, because, despite her mission, it was easier not to think about her.  Out of sight, out of mind, she condemned her inattention.

     "Well, I can't do that, somebody has to keep an eye on her.  Since you and Saotome are minors, and our guardians are too busy, that leaves me."

     "You're a minor."

     "I'm an emancipated minor," Raccoon corrected her, "That means legally, I'm an adult, I can be responsible."

     "Are you sure that's all this is?" Nabiki teased.  He got mad, but it was a cold, rational anger.  Nabiki realized she'd misstepped.

     "Goodbye, Tendo-san."

     "Are you going to throw me out?" she teased, judging how far she could get under his skin, That far.  She retreated when he angrily stood and reached for the collar of the school uniform she still wore.


     Dr. Akagi returned home after a long day.  She could smell food already being prepared.  Jeff was in the kitchen, dinner looked like it was only a few minutes away.

     "We'll have to work up a schedule," she said.  "So you won't have to cook all the time."

     "You wouldn't say that if you had ever tasted my cooking," Jeff replied lightly, "I was studying Chemical Engineering you know."

     Ritsuko caught the faint undercurrent, Ranma and Nabiki were usually loud, the whole place was quiet.  Only the sounds of cooking and them setting the table broke the silence.  "Is something wrong?  Are you and Ranma fighting over closet space?"

     "He's not staying," Ranma tossed out, "He's got a bug up his butt, about us ignoring Rei."

     "I'm not singling you out, Saotome-san," Jeff replied, fixing Ritsuko with an angry smile.

     Ritsuko remembered the warnings she and Misato had gotten from the Davises: active, smart kids were a handful, and now she was seeing the truth of it.

     "He went by Ayanami-san's apartment and - " Nabiki began.

     "Yes, Doctor," he asked, "When was the last time you checked in on the First Children, rather than her having to come to you?" the smile had teeth you heard rather than saw.

     Thoughts swirled in her mind, "I, I haven't in some time, I - "

     "Let me sum up: I didn't think, I didn't know, it's someone else's job, I'm too busy, she never complains, I don't like her, I don't care, she frightens me, I blame her for, whatever."  Jeff set the pans on the table.  "I didn't poison it, but I think I need to check up on our colleague, see if she's hunting and eating rats, or if someone thought to provide her with food.  Enjoy.  Don't expect me."

     Jeff grabbed his hat, coat, and boots, and marched out.  The door closed quietly behind him.

     "That went well," Nabiki said sardonically, "He didn't kill any of us."

     "Forget him, let's eat."  Ranma started shoveling out the food.

     "Doctor, out of curiosity," Nabiki began quietly, "When was the last time you checked in on Ayanami, at her apartment."

     "I . . . Never, she's the Commander's ward, I thought he was looking after her welfare."

     "He did a real good job with Shinji," Ranma said between bites.

     Tactless and straight to the truth, Ritsuko thought, What am I supposed to do?  Tell them the truth?  Yes, she scares me, and yes, I hate her.  Who she is and what she represents.

     "Well that's 'I didn't think' and 'it's someone else's job,'" Nabiki told her, "Care to go for 'I don't like her' or 'she frightens me'?"

     Ritsuko glowered at her, Nabiki only shook her head disgustedly.  Ritsuko decided she almost preferred the Angel attacks to home life.  Misato got the quiet ones, I've got World War Three.  I just hope we can keep them all aimed at the enemy.  If they ever discover the truth, kamis help us, she thought.


Dark Inklings

     Rei felt them outside, again.  They hadn't found a gap to slip through, yet.  She had to sleep eventually, then they would attack again.  And she would fight them, again.  When her stomach growled, she realized she had neglected to prepare something to eat.  Roku-kun's visit had completely thrown off her routine, and filled her with apprehension.  He could not actually be thinking of moving here?  No one is that stupid.

     A knock on the door interrupted her thoughts, "Ayanami-san?"

     She ignored it, they would eventually go away, they always did.  It was better if they did, they were in danger here.  That was why she was here, away from all the others, all alone.

     "Ayanami-san, unless you tell me to go away, I am coming inside."  A pause of a few seconds.

     Rei stared at the door, it was not Ikari, either of them, or one of the other adults from NERV.  She wanted to tell whoever it was to go away, but she was curious.  Everyone else could feel this place, the residue of the battle fought here all too often.  They fled as soon as they could, who would be foolish enough to actually come here?

     The door creaked open, Roku-kun entered, glanced around, "Since you didn't say anything," he said by way of apology.  He was in his usual suit and tie, carrying several grocery bags and a large wrench.  He dropped a set of slippers on the floor, then carefully set the bags and wrench down.

     "Since you didn't want a soda or ice cream, I thought the least I could do was buy you dinner.  Do you want to go out, or I should make something here?" he removed his muddy boots and put on the slippers.

     Is he stupid, does he feel it? then she realized, I cannot feel it!  It is gone, they are never gone.  What did he do?

     "I'll take than as a 'Spend money on me you filthy-rich American, the fancier the better, you can cook later.' Since that's the case let me put these away."  He set the bags on the counter in the kitchenette.  "Some fresh vegetables, canned meats, they'll keep longer."  He opened her small refrigerator to put them away.

     "I dislike meat."  It sounded stupid even to her, Why can't he just go?

     "Okay, what about fish or eggs, can you eat them?"

     "I eat eggs."

     "Okay, so the canned fish goes with me too.  Or maybe I'll give it to Shinji and Langley, give them something decent to eat."  He smiled, trying to make light of his clumsy questioning.  "So, do you have a preference."  He pulled out a book from his coat pocket, "This isn't the Michelin Guide, but there are a few restaurants within walking distance.  A couple of them are rated three stars."

     Rei had no idea what he was talking about, her expression must have showed that.  Although almost no one except the Commander or Nabiki-kun would have picked that up, she thought.

     "Three stars out of five," Roku-kun explained, "It means they're good."  He took on a haughty air, "I normally insist on five stars, but then one must dress for dinner, to go as we are, simply is not done."

     Silence, she did not know what to say.

     "Okay, score another airplane joke."

     "Airplane?" Rei asked.

     "It's a metaphor, the joke went over your head, like an airplane."  He offered Rei his arm, "Are you ready to go?"

     "I await an alert."  Rei looked around worriedly, Where were they?  Why had they gone?

     "I'm sure the restaurant has telephones, we can call them when we get there."

     "I will stay here."  Rei was becoming exasperated, he was in danger, how did she tell him that without violating security, without violating the trust of the Commander?

     "All right, I'll cook something here."  He headed into the kitchenette.

     She followed him into the kitchen, she was beginning to think she'd have to physically throw him out of the building to get him to leave, yet, the probing had stopped.  Were they too waiting for him to leave?  If they were, to ambush him on his walk home, perhaps.  She should keep him here tonight.  Maybe they feared to attack two at once?  Perhaps she should change tactics, if he and she were in danger separately, but they were safe together, she should keep it a they?

     "Hai."

     "I'll get started."  He smiled, turning to the stove, ignoring the electric hot plate.

     He smiles for such trivial reasons, she thought.

     "I'm afraid all I've got is my mess kit, and the stove doesn't work."  He opened the top, "Pilot lights won't relight, and there's no gas.  We do this the old-fashioned way."


     Nabiki stared at the bedroom ceiling for another night.  There was no simple solution to the problem.  When it was just Shinji, she could almost assume he'd go to school, go to work, then crawl back to his room and hide.  Asuka was definitely more social, but she seemed to be following the same patterns: work or school, then home.  It was easy tagging along with Ranma, he didn't go out much either, just to the roof to train.  Rei . . . Rei did things, and went places Nabiki couldn't follow, but she was predicable and followed orders.  And what short of one of those Shoggoths could challenge her? Nabiki wondered.  Raccoon was a loose cannon, going wherever he wanted, whenever he wanted, making statements that disturbed her equanimity, asking questions that no one wanted asked, or answered.

     Now he's out who knows where.  Rei doesn't have a phone, so I can't exactly call her and check up.  And Akagi-sensei would have a fit if I left this late at night.  She's going to give our Raccoon such a chewing out when he gets back, Nabiki thought, then rolled over, she wanted to hear the confrontation, she also wanted to get some sleep.  She needed to be sharp tomorrow, that rescue today was mere chance, she couldn't rely on it happening again.


     Rei stared down at the strange food, and the strange implements.  She knew what a knife, fork and spoon were, but she rarely used them.  She knew about steaming vegetables, but she had never thought of putting cheese on them.

     "Ayanami-san?" Roku-kun asked, "Is something wrong?"

     She shook her head.  The knife was what was bothering her.  For most of my life, I have thought of it, and other such implements as a means of killing Angels, she thought, Not for eating with.

     "I apologize, I should have brought a card table and some folding chairs."  He smiled again, "Then I would have had to have brought a truck too."

     "Truck?" she asked.

     "To carry everything.  It's a joke, a humorous exaggeration."

     "Oh."  I know what jokes are.  I just do not understand them, she thought.

     She picked at the food, uncomfortable that he was watching her eat.

     "So, what is the cube root of 3375?"

     "Fifteen," she told him between bites, Why had he asked that?

     "A sergeant of Technical Branch is outranked by sergeant of what other branches?"

     "Tactical, in all cases, Security and Search & Rescue in their special functions," she was enjoying the odd flavor of the food.

     "What are the qualifications of a Search and Rescue member?"

     "They must be a certified Master diver and be able to carry 50 kilos of equipment at a run for 200 meters -"

     "Can you smoke in the paint mixing room of the Coral Sea?" he asked.

     "No, nor in the Hanger deck, on the Flight deck, in the galleys, near any inflammable or explosive materials or ammunition."  She was pleased he was asking questions about things she liked to talk about.  She could not talk about them to the people at school.

     "Can you tell me how to get to the command bridge from the main entrance?" he asked.

     She felt more at ease now.  She ate the last of what was on her plate, he gave her more as she considered the best way to get there.


     The general entered the dark-paneled office, looked out at the Kremlin in the office's picture window.  He waited to be noticed.  His friend could concentrate on minutia that drove the general mad.  The room was sparsely furnished, but everything was the best, from the solid silver frame around the pictures of his family, to the fine furniture.  It wasn't ostentatious, but the man clearly didn't stint himself.

     "Welcome General Borodin."  The smaller man stepped from behind his desk, hugged the bear of a general, "I can see from your face, the world is not to your liking.  You should know we have prepared the old Graf Zeppelin for transport to Riga to prepare as a transport for our units."

     "As we have with the cruiser Murmansk?" Borodin asked archly, "A loaned American cruiser and a captured German aircraft carrier, all to ape the mighty Coral Sea group.  Uri Pavelovich, must we imitate then in everything.  If the Americans were to announce they would fly to the moon, how many billions of rubles would we waste to arrive there within a week of their landing?  How many trillions to be there even five minutes before?"

     "Comrade, you are alone of those in power know not to be jealous of others.  It makes you so dangerous a general, but not understanding it in others makes you no politician."

     "Uri, I care only to serve Rodina.  Anything else is treason, for a general or a politician.  Those are resources we could better use elsewhere.  The rail lines don't reach all the way to the eastern coast, and fancy ships cannot help us in Siberia, unless the Germans discovered a way to make their ships fly as well."

     "No.  Old friend, there are rumblings.  We have five units and five pilots.  The Americans in Japan have only four and six, respectively.  And only the sea separates them."

     "Not that insanity again," the General shouted, "Better they take the brunt of the fighting this time.  Let them know how we felt from June until they quit fucking a cow after the Japs sank all their pretty ships in December."

     "You are nekulturniy," Uri Pavelovich admonished him.  [Uncultured.]

     The general calmed himself, took the proffered vodka, "I humbly apologize to you and to them.  I will follow orders Uri, you know that.  But you must convince those fossils that we are best served by looking to our own affairs.  The enemy still attacks from time to time, and Rasputin's Legacy gives its secrets only slowly.  We can afford to be patient, the newer weapons are even better than we'd hoped.  The scientists have a new form of armor than may actually withstand the progressive knives of the EVAs.  With those enhancements we will prevail in any contest.  Later, but not now."

     "I will tell them, diplomatically of course."  He smiled at the General's grunt, "Do you want to yell about anything else?"

     "Some decent food for the crews.  I think everyone is thoroughly tired of salted reindeer meat, and whatever they can shoot around the base.  I know I am, and I have first choice of both."

     "That I think I can arrange.  They could hardly argue with two Heroes of the Soviet Union."  He embraced his old friend before he left.

     "He talks too much."  The thin, almost cadaverous man in the black trenchcoat entered from where he'd been eavesdropping, once General Borodin was gone.

     Uri Pavelovich looked at the GRU man with distaste, "He talks too much only to me.  And I will not allow him to be punished for that.  He is correct, and his observations make me seem omniscient in the Politburo."

     "Still, perhaps intelligence needs to have a presence there," the GRU man suggested.

     "How, you are one of the few in the GRU with clearance to know, even State Security has no such person.  Do you fancy a trip to Tunguska?  In the fine summer weather?"

     "Despite what you may think of me, Comrade, I too am a patriot.  I will not harm your pet General, but I wonder what displeases him that he does not see," the GRU man said.

     "Go then, look, and see Rodina's greatest treasure, and greatest danger, but be careful you don't burn your fingers."  Uri Pavelovich wondered what was under that trenchcoat, he suspected that if he yanked it away the man beneath wouldn't be there.


     The GRU `man` shrugged, he hated the human form he had to maintain.  Summer in Tunguska was a preferable climate to Moscow in the winter.  He couldn't comprehend why these humans insisted in living in such inhospitable climes.  The moon, he thought, We have enough trouble with those things without invading their main base close to Earth.  He almost laughed at that, both sides tried to control things far beyond their grasp, and arrogantly assumed they had the advantage.  One side: advanced and logical, the other: passionate and ferocious, neither side understood the wisest course of action with Rasputin's Legacy, would be to construct a gate to the heart of the nearest black hole, and chuck it through.  Or into an exploding supernova, something other than what the humans were doing, or what those mycotic fools would try to do.  He wondered if the Japanese and Germans understood better what they had done.

     Probably not, he realized, Why haven't those `Third Empire` idiots in Tokyo made contact?  They've had plenty of opportunities.  He sadly realized, stupidity wasn't limited to Russians, or their current enemies.


Deals and Provocations

     Nabiki woke to the smell of frying eggs, and Ritsuko's raised voice.

     "Where were you last night?"

     Night? Nabiki looked out the window, the sun was lightening the sky, it would soon be morning.  She looked at the clock and flopped down.  It's 6:00 A.M., why are they up at this hour?

     "Out hunting, I had to finish it off.  You know how extremely dangerous apartment buildings are when they're wounded."  Jeff replied evenly.

     Nabiki grinned into her pillow, he still reminded her of Kuno, except Kuno was that nuts by accident.

     "I'm responsible for you!"

     "I'm responsible for myself, Doctor," he replied, his tone suggesting he was ignoring the older woman's ire, "I've studied your language and customs.  Drive on the English side, don't resheathe your sword without drawing blood, all those kinds of things.  Can you resheathe a letter opener without slicing paper?  I've always wondered about that," he said, "I only need to know one thing, who do I contact to rent an apartment.  Does NERV own the building?"

     Before she could comment further, the phone rang.  Nabiki listened intently to the exchange.

     "Dr. Akagi.  Yes, he's right here.  Captain Ramsey for you."

     Nabiki threw off the covers and smoothed down her flannel pajamas, she wanted to hear this.  She opened the door slightly so she could watch the pair in the kitchen.

     Jeff took the phone, "Yes, sir.  Yes, that's correct.  You are aware, sir, I can legally tell you to take that on a long walk down a short pier, but I am willing to negotiate.  Not over the phone, I understand, sir."

     Nabiki stepped out of her room, glanced at Dr. Akagi who was staring at the boy talking on the phone.

     Good, Nabiki thought, She's concerned, just like she was about us.

     "Well, school ends at 15:30, is 16:30 - " Jeff listened to the phone, "You'll have a jeep waiting, very well.  Good day, sir."  He hung up the phone, looked at Dr. Akagi and Nabiki, "Somebody's got an excellent spy network.  It seems the Admiral is concerned about me being `unsupervised`," he said with distaste.

     "So you aren't moving out?" Nabiki asked, she was aware of the stares from Dr. Akagi and Jeff.  In the morning she typically looked like something the cat would drag out, and bury.

     "That depends on what he can offer," Jeff said.


     Nabiki, Ranma and Raccoon were walking to school.  I can't believe I actually threw stuff at them, Ranma thought, After the tongue-lashing Nabiki-chan gave me on the carrier, I'd better come up with something to make it up to her.

     "If you two are serious about training," Ranma told them as he walked atop the fence, "You should get up here and practice."

     "Milady," Raccoon offered Nabiki a hand-up, then swung himself atop the fence.

     "Where'd you learn that?" Ranma watched the pair awkwardly balance.

     "Getting aboard a moving horse, and getting into the upper bunk with two legs in a cast."

     Nabiki stabilized as soon as they started moving.  Jeff used his cane like a tightrope-walker.

     "So where'd you go last night?" Nabiki asked.

     "I went to see Ayanami-san, I found out what she eats.  Desiccated vegetables, bullion and noodles, all as a soup."

     Doesn't sound too bad, you can make decent food with that, he frowned inwardly, he still hadn't figured out where he learned to cook, but even Dr. Akagi said he was good.  "Cookin's fer girls," he muttered.

     "I also found out she's a fount of knowledge about NERV," Raccoon added.

     "She is?" Nabiki asked.

     Ranma figured Raccoon was laying it on thick, to impress Nabiki, who, he angrily noticed, was eating it up.

     "Talked your ear off?" Nabiki asked.

     "More like answered my questions completely."  Raccoon was having trouble balancing.

     "So what did you learn?" Ranma asked.

     "Some manuals to study, getting from point to point in the base, I also found out the crews use a nerve clip to access their computers and sensor systems, it was wild, like x-ray vision over the terrain.  All run through some computers they call the Magi.  Machines that calculate, rather than think."

     Nabiki chuckled at him.  It didn't sound like anything to get excited about to Ranma.

     "I also had some fun with the Commander," Raccoon added.

     Raccoon versus ole` Stoneface, Ranma thought, That's a story I want to hear.  But . . .  "If you can talk, you can move faster," Ranma said as he picked up the pace, "What'd you do?"

     Nabiki and Raccoon tried to keep up.

     "I didn't correct," Raccoon wobbled unstably, "His belief that Ayanami-san was babbling.  He took off as fast as he could."

     "You realize we'll have to go back and wait for the others," Nabiki pointed out.

     Ranma stopped suddenly, he watched Nabiki's arms windmill as she tried to keep her balance.  Ranma watched her struggle, "You have to learn to balance moving and standing still."

     She glowered at him as she wobbled to stay atop the fence.

     "Chicken," Ranma told Raccoon, who'd jumped to the ground.

     Then Raccoon caught Nabiki's hand, steadying her, "You weren't going to trick him into a hug, you should have lunged at him when you had the chance," he said.  Ranma blushed.

     Nabiki glared at Raccoon, then at Shinji and Asuka as they arrived.

     "What are you idiots doing up there?" Asuka demanded.

     "Cats always go to the highest place," Raccoon said.

     CAT!  Where? Ranma couldn't see one, "I'm not a cat.  I don't turn into a cat!"

     Nabiki nearly lost of her footing.

     "He isn't objecting, because he can look up your skirt," Asuka said.

     Nabiki jumped down before she fell, glared at Raccoon.  Ranma stared disgustedly at all of them.

     "Meow!" Asuka yelled at him and he nearly fell off the fence.

     "He's an ailurophobe," Asuka laughed, "Ha!"

     "I am not!" Ranma shouted back at Asuka.

     "Then what is one?" Asuka asked.

     "Uh," Ranma considered.

     "Come on, Spineless."  Asuka dragged Shinji off.

     "It means you're afraid of cats, irrationally," Raccoon told him.

     "Well, you'd be the expert on irrational, wouldn't you," Ranma shot back.

     "Yes, I have studied many things at college," Raccoon replied.

     Rei arrived, looked at the three of them glaring at each other, looked at the retreating Asuka and Shinji, and quickly followed the pair.

     "See, even Ayanami-san doesn't want to deal with you two," Nabiki told them as she walked on.  Ranma jumped to the ground and followed Nabiki.

     "You're planning to hit and take over the school `mafia`," Ranma heard as Raccoon caught up to Nabiki, "Well, I want in."

     "Why?" Nabiki asked.

     "Have you ever heard of the Hedgehog's dilemma?" Raccoon asked.

     "No."

     "'The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one great thing,' Archilochus," Raccoon told her.  "Ranma's a hedgehog, all he knows is Martial Arts."

     "What else do I need?" Ranma asked.

     "Table manners, balancing a checkbook, some way of earning a living with your skills," Nabiki suggested.

     "I get by," Ranma replied defensively.

     "You can do a lot better than just 'getting by'," Nabiki replied.

     What's gotten into her, he wondered.

     "Even if all you do is teach, you still have to have enough business acumen to keep the school running," Raccoon piled on.

     Would you two quit picking on me? Ranma thought.  It was almost worse than insults.

     "Unless you marry someone with the business sense and let them running things," Raccoon suggested.

     Why does Nab-chan look like she swallowed wrong? Ranma wondered.  "You got someone in mind?" he asked sardonically, Probably wants to fix me up with Langley, he shuddered at that thought.

     "Most people around here are hedgehogs.  They know one great thing.  So you want a spy network?" Nabiki asked.

     "I'm impressed," Raccoon replied.

     "You wanted to be a military intelligence officer.  I know about having informers, networks of extra eyes and ears.  To gather intelligence, we already have the strike arm."  She patted Ranma's shoulder.

     "We just have to know where to aim him," Raccoon agreed.

     "Hey!" Ranma protested as they approached the gate to the school.

     "So, Tendo, Saotome, and the gaijin Raccoon," the same little jerk who'd introduced himself on the first day was lounging near the entrance.  "You and your two shining knights.  They can't protect you all the time, accidents will happen."

     Ranma grabbed the boy's collar, "Quit threatening Nabiki!"

     "I'm not threatening," he whimpered, "Just giving some friendly advice.  You know?"

     Ranma released the boy, and watched him scamper away, "I won't let them near you," Ranma told Nabiki.

     "You'd better include Hiroko-san in that blanket," Raccoon said, glancing around as they walked to the side entrance.  "But first you'd better find Ranko."

     "Why?" Ranma asked.

     "How are you going to follow them into the bathroom?" Raccoon asked.

     Ranma hadn't considered that.

     "AH HA!" Raccoon said so loud Ranma nearly jumped.  It scared off nearly everyone around them.

     "What 'ah ha'?!"

     "If you were . . . what you say about you and Ranko, you wouldn't have hesitated like that.  If the situation were reversed, her guarding Shinji, she'd have already thought of the ideal solution."  Raccoon marched triumphantly into the building.  Ranma and Nabiki were alone now.

     "Great," Ranma lamented, "Monsters all over the place, the school's idiot squad wants a rematch."  He looked at Nabiki who was hiding a smile, "And both my roommates are lunatics.  What else can go wrong?"

     SPLASH!

     "Funny about that Ranko," Nabiki said to the soaking-wet redhead, "You showing up with no one else around, and just as you're needed."

     "Just find me some hot water," Ranko said, "Before it can - "

     "Sorry about that," Toji looked out from the window above, "It was an accident."

     Oh no! Ranko grabbed Nabiki's hand and ran for another entrance.

     "Wait!  Please!  I just want to talk!" Toji yelled after them.

     Ranko thought about comets, a fast-moving body with a long, streaming tail, except he'd never heard of a comet's tail laughing that hard.


     "Well we were supposed to stay together," Ranma offered, standing outside the classroom with buckets of water.

     Nabiki and Hiroko, who also carried buckets, scowled at him.

     "I don't see what you're so mad about," Toji stood at the end of the line, farthest from Ranma, "I lost her again!"

     "Don't look at me," Ranma said, "She's a military secret."

     "How can someone so cute be a military secret?" Toji idly balanced the bucket on his head and tried to keep it there.

     Hiroko angrily edged away from him.

     "Don't," Nabiki warned Ranma.

     I'm not that stupid.  One slip and Toji's mystery girl would be revealed to one and all, Ranma thought.

     "Why were you late Hiroko-chan?" Nabiki asked.

     "I wanted to find you, boss.  The leaders are supposed to be meeting, you're their topic.  You guys really struck a nerve in a hurry."

     "Thanks, you might want to talk to Roku-kun, he's setting up a spy network," Nabiki whispered to her.

     "Maybe you should get him to take a picture of the leaders," Ranma suggested, "Solve the big mystery."

     "Give that to the Admiral," Nabiki said, and smiled evilly.

     Ranma felt sorry for them at that moment.


     "We have to deal with Tendo."  The committee members heard from their chairman.

     "Our operations are threatened."  Another voice said.

     They met in darkness, both to shield their anonymity, and to increase the gravitas of their proceedings.

     "Her guardians Saotome and Raccoon, prevent direct action."

     "Strike the weaker.  Saotome will exceed our current resources."

     "Agreed," the committee intoned.

     "With her defenses reduced, we can move against Tendo directly," another member said enthusiastically.

     "Letting a girl think she could challenge us!" There were general murmurs of agreement.

     "Her pilot status?" someone else brought up.

     "Immaterial.  The Student Safety Committee does not concern itself with such things," the chairman, the only one who knew all the members of the committee seated around the table, spoke, "The students' safety and orderliness are our primary concerns.  If she does not comply, she can be dealt with, by any and all means."

     "Thank you."  FLASH!  CLICK!  The entire committee room stood out with harsh light and shadows.  Many of the committee members thought they'd been stabbed through the eyes, the light was so bright.  The slam of an exit door told the tale eloquently.

     The screams of pain mixed with squeals of outrage that someone had breeched their sacred bunker's security and they'd been recorded doing their hallowed business.

     "This is intolerable!" their chairman shouted, totally blind now that darkness again reigned.

     "We must strike hard, and we must strike soon!" another added, as they stumbled around in the darkness.  There were murmurs of agreement.

     The chairman also considered another problem, the members hadn't known each other, there were boys who weren't in anyway friends, now many knew who many of the other members were.  He would have to do some fast talking to keep the group focused.  Fortunately he had a pair of ready-made targets.


     Nabiki watched Roku-kun pigeonhole Hiroko and Kensuke outside the classroom.  The sale of photos had gone well, several of the school mafia's goons had been observing the sales, but they weren't interfering.

     Probably afraid of Ranma, she thought, she hadn't been stupid enough to get out of the vicinity of where Ranma had been `holding court`, she still smiled at the apt image.  Brave Warrior-King Ranma, and his courtiers and sycophants.

     Roku-kun said something to Hikari as she headed to the classroom.  The class President objected.  Nabiki closed to eavesdropping distance.

     "Hokari-sama, you are not just the executive, you are also the administrator.  If you cannot fulfill your obligations, please do not run for office again on Saturday."

     Nabiki thought Hikari was going to faint as Roku-kun, Hiroko and Kensuke marched off, Hiroko looked at Nabiki and shrugged.

     "You pilots think you're above all of us," Hikari hissed at Nabiki.

     "Asuka's a college-grad, Davis approximately so, I've already graduated High School.  In a way, we are," Nabiki told her.

     Hikari frowned and moved to take her seat.

     Nabiki wondered where the others had disappeared to, and why after a quiet word from Hikari, the teacher didn't object to their late return.  I'll ambush him after school, Nabiki thought, I'll beat the answers out of him if I have to.  She glanced over at Ranma, who seemed oblivious to the goings on.  She also needed to figure out how to draw out the `school mafia`.  No one was willing to admit they knew any of the leaders, or where their headquarters was.  She could have used the invitation they gave Ranma, but the rescue of Hiroko eliminated that possibility.  Something unusual, spectacular even, to draw them out into the open, she smirked, glanced at Ranma, Asuka and Roku-kun, Where they can be destroyed.

     Roku-kun was working on some project or other during Literature Class, the teacher knew enough not to disturb him, as long as he appeared to be quietly working.  Nabiki glanced at it, it was a 3-D perspective drawing of a pipe with a bulge in the middle.  She didn't know what he was doing exactly.  She couldn't ask Asuka, and her new, bestest friend, Hikari the class President.  That pair turned Nabiki's stomach.  Was Asuka that desperate for friends, or was Hikari that good at sucking up?  No one else would have any idea what was going on.

     As the class ended, Nabiki caught Hiroko, "What did you three do?"

     "He said it was Navy business, he just had us identify some people, put names to faces," Hiroko seemed confused by her friend's urgency about it.

     Nabiki watched the jeep, with Roku-kun in it, drive away.

     Another mystery.


Thunder in the Underground

     Asuka was walking home from school with Shinji.  "Why do we have to clean the classroom?  Can't you people afford janitors?"

     "It's our job," he replied.

     "It's common drudgery!  You clean the classroom, you clean Misato's apartment, are you going to be a maid when you finally grow up?"

     "You help," Shinji said quietly.

     "Because I will not be accused of abandoning a fellow pilot in the face of such injustice," Asuka told him, wondered if anything bothered him.  If he wouldn't stand up for himself on something so trivial, would he stand up when it was important?  "What do you think about Tendo and Raccoon doing whatever they're doing?"

     "I don't know," he said.

     "Why aren't you interested?" she shouted at him.  She couldn't believe he didn't care.  "So when are you going to take Wondergirl on a date?" she asked.

     Shinji looked like he was having a heart attack.

     "Come ON, Spineless!" she grabbed his arm and headed away from Misato's apartment, "The path to true love requires some backbone, since you don't have one, I can lend you some."

     "Where are we going?" Shinji asked.

     "Her apartment, dummkoft!"

     "She's doing a compatibility test today," Shinji countered.

     "Compatibility test?  We took care of that on the carrier . . . MY UNIT 02!?  Wondergirl is testing in MY EVA?  WHY DIDN'T THEY TELL ME!?" She dragged him along at a dead run.

     'They wanted to live?' she heard Shinji mumble as he tried to keep up.

     "Terrific, Raccoon's giving him joke lessons too."  She grumbled.  "Who else is testing?" she demanded.

     "Saotome-san, I guess," Shinji tried to keep up.


     Nabiki sat alone in the living room, she watched the cat statuary, the cat clock that `spat out a tweeting bird` on the hour, and was BORED!  After the frantic activity of the last few weeks, and all the time in Nerima, she'd almost forgotten what it was like to just sit and relax.  Not grab a moment of peace between disasters, but knowing nothing was going to happen in the near future.  She had counted her profits, twice, but they were such a pittance compared with her wages, even her allowance, it almost wasn't worth it.  She'd never imagined being this socially secure.

     "All I have to worry about is getting killed."  She wished she'd gone with Ranma to the testing, but she also wanted to know whether Roku-kun was going to continue living with them, whether she was going to have access to those additional resources.

     "You're getting as bad as Ranma, not deciding when the decision's obvious.  And partially in your hands."  She walked over to the phone and called for a jeep to take her to the Admiral's office, and leave a message that Davis should wait for her, they had something to discuss.  She considered the situation, a huge amount of opportunities she could avail herself of, but she had to focus on the ones that would preserve the pilots and serve the greater good, rather than just enriching herself.  She wondered if the world could get anymore disgustingly sweet.

     Maybe birdies will follow me around now, sweetly singing their most specialest songs, as a gift to one so good and pure as I am now, she thought angrily, thought about strangling those birds, and anyone else, if they tried it.


     Ritsuko wondered if she was going to have to call Security, Or the Marines' Armored, as Asuka glowered at everyone in the control center.  Her Unit 02 was clearly visible in the test chamber through the windows, and Rei was already aboard.  They hadn't started the tests.  Ritsuko wanted to avoid any of the disasters they'd suffered with Unit 01.  Now that hardly seemed possible.

     Shinji stood back, away from Asuka, trying to fade into the background.

     "Why is she testing in my EVA?" Asuka asked, on the verge of an explosion, "What gives you the right?"

     "All combinations have to be tested," Ritsuko told her, "Just as we tested you in the other Units."

     "And if they test higher than me?!" Asuka was shrieking now.

     Ritsuko glanced at the arriving Security, "Unless you test lower than all the others, I don't think you have to worry."  Ritsuko braced herself for the tirade Asuka was clearly building up to.  Security didn't know what to do, since they had no orders, and no physical blows had been struck.

     "C'mon Asuka, nobody'll ever beat you in Unit 02," Shinji said quietly, "But if you get hurt, we'll still need it to win."

     She paused, "Damn right!  It the best EVA there is!" she grabbed Shinji's arm and bulled through the Security men, "Come on Spineless, I don't want to be accused of ruining Wondergirl's one chance in a real EVA."

     Ritsuko sighed with relief, signaled the Security that they could go.  Shinji of all people.  Where'd he pick up that little piece of psychological judo? she wondered as she turned to the consoles to start the tests.  She wondered, With all the bad blood between Asuka and Rei, how is that going to end up?


     "Of course my EVA's the best," Asuka's voice rang off the NERV corridors they marched through, as she dragged Shinji behind her, "Why else would Wondergirl and Horseface want a chance to try it out?!"

     Shinji smiled to himself, he was extremely pleased how he'd turned her anger.  She wasn't too hard to figure out, once you fixed on her need to be the best.  He couldn't eliminate her anger, but he could divert it to other things, like her pride.

     "What could I have been thinking?" Asuka continued.

     He couldn't resist, "Maybe you were worried about Ayanami-san and Saotome-san, after what happened with Unit 01."

     She stopped, turned and stared at him, all her anger had returned and found a new target, "Unit 02 is not a monster like that purple dinosaur you ride around in!  How dare you compare my EVA with yours!"

     That was a mistake, "Sorry, I was worried, I thought you'd be."

     "They'll be fine," Asuka grabbed his arm and marched on.

     I'm going to need more practice, and more lessons, Shinji thought, And a new arm.  OUCH!


     Nabiki arrived at the Headquarters of the Naval Base.  She'd ignored the smirks from the driver as they'd headed in.  After all, she was a fourteen-year-old kid.  What business did she have with the three-star Admiral who was the American presence at NERV.  But she was also a NERV pilot, the Fifth Children! That had to count for something, she told herself, as her confidence wavered, I have a job, and a mission.

     She wondered why she felt so unsteady, I am an expert, I ran my High School, I could push the Nerima Crew almost any way I wanted, one American Admiral can't be that much more difficult, she paused, Can it? Once she entered the Admiral's office, she understood why she was there, and why she wanted to turn around and run.

     Admiral Simson was pacing angrily.  Hiroko was sitting at a map table, looking like she wanted to disappear in the grain of the wooden chair she sat on.  Raccoon looked very much like the canary that had eaten the cat, and backed by 6 large bulldogs, was bragging to the cat's family.  The 6 bulldogs were other officers, Nabiki didn't recognize them, but the mostly green-brown uniforms meant Marines and/or Army.  Every single one had at least one star on his collar, most had 2 or 3, like Admiral Simson.

     "I did tell you, gentlemen," Raccoon said, the Admiral grimaced.

     "We thought it was sabotage, enemy action," the Admiral was evidently continuing a rant he'd been having before she'd entered.

     Nabiki stepped over to Hiroko and laid a hand on her shoulder.  The other girl still looked petrified.  Nabiki didn't blame her one bit.

     "Glad to see you, boss," Hiroko said, very quietly.

     "And here we lost those people because of the machinations of a bunch of Junior High kids!" the Admiral stopped pacing and stared at Nabiki.

     Although Nabiki considered herself a tough customer, she was not used to the aura of real power coming off the men in this room.  Nabiki knew that their rank insignia marked them as generals or admirals.  The power this small group commanded, probably exceeded that of the entire Japanese Defense Force from her time.  If they had been challenged by one of the Nerima crew, they could have simply firestormed the entire district, then sent in battalions of tanks and troops, to kill anything still moving.  By any measure, that was real power, the power to utterly destroy.

     "I apologize for dragging your factor into this, but I needed someone who might actually know who was sent away," Davis said.

     Nabiki envied his calm resolve, she was tongue-tied.  She nodded, patted Hiroko's shoulder.  She tried to simulate a businesslike detachment by studying the map that dominated the large table.  She recognized the school, there were dozens of photos also on the table, obscuring part of the map.

     "As I said," Jeff said, "Miss Tendo and Mister Saotome will be the first blow in an en echelon attack, you're going to need hard evidence to make the charges stick.  Culminating in the arrival of Army and Marine troops."

     "It's too risky," one of the generals commented, "Drop a company of Rangers or Raiders on each target, and let the Judge Advocate sort it out.  We are talking about treason here."

     "You've never seen Mister Saotome fight," Admiral Simson took over the conversation, "We aren't talking about regulars, or even armed troops, chains, knives at most, not even zip guns.  Besides, how many troops do you have that can pass as Japanese Junior High schoolers?  This has to be a political victory.  Let the Japanese clean their own house."

     The other generals glanced around.  Nabiki noticed that several arrows were converging on two spots near the main wall of the school, a pair of out of the way places.  "The bomb shelter," she realized, "That's their headquarters.  It's supposed to be locked."

     "Except for the student trustees, who all have keys," Hiroko finished the puzzle for her.

     Nabiki felt angry, then furious, they'd fooled her, the membership was obvious once you knew the key.  Nobody talked about it because it was obvious.  She looked at the pictures, recognized many of those in the photos.  It all began to fall into place for her.  An elegantly simple plan.

     They tricked me, she thought angrily, Hiding in plain sight.  She wanted revenge for being fooled, she looked up at the generals and admirals, her muting was gone, "All right, what do you want me to do?"


     "Are you going to be okay?" Nabiki asked Roku-kun outside the Headquarters, as he helped her and Hiroko into a jeep.  She was going to accompany Hiroko home, and try to steady her nerves, Hiroko's nerves, and her parents' nerves.  Getting their daughter politely plucked out of their house by the military had probably shaken them up.  That would shake up anybody, she thought, Like Godzilla asking to dance.

     "Are you sure that isn't my line?" Roku-kun smiled, "You seemed pretty shocked when you walked in."

     "When you said you were going to help," Nabiki replied, "You didn't tell me you were BRINGING IN THE U.S.  ARMY!"

     "And the Navy, the Marines, the Coast Guard," he smiled, "Anyone who can help."

     Yeah, stay just out of reach, Nabiki thought, So I can't hit you!

     "I need to walk to clear my head," Roku-kun told her, "Besides, the military will be shadowing us for a few days."

     Nabiki nodded, "See you at home.  If you get there first, explain to Dr. Akagi where I am."

     "Will do."  He waved as the jeep pulled away.

     "Are you okay with this?" Nabiki asked Hiroko.

     "I'm sorry, I'm not much of a fighter," the girl apologized.

     "Relax, the political end of this is just as important, and you'll be in charge of that.  We can win the battle, it's up to you to see to it that we win the war."

     "I still think I'm going to throw up again."  Hiroko blushed at the memory of running from the Admiral's office.  Nabiki had found her in a bathroom a few moments later.

     "I think they understood.  The rest of us are getting paid to be shot at, and we're nervous.  You're a civilian, it's okay to be frightened."

     "You're not frightened, you aren't scared of anything," Hiroko countered shamefully.

     "I still haven't piloted in combat.  If you think that doesn't wake me up in the middle of the night, covered in sweat, keep dreaming," Nabiki told her.  "The pilots all get nightmares, and all get scared.  I watched Ranma-kun and Shinji-kun climb out of their EVAs after a victory, looking like they'd just been told their family had all died.  That was after they won.  So, I don't think you have to worry about being scared."

     "Thanks, boss," Hiroko took Nabiki's hands, "I need the encouragement."

     "I just wonder how we're going to explain this to your parents."  Nabiki considered the cars flashing by.


Meetings in the Daylight

     Well, Jeff, it had to be today, didn't it, I think to myself as I march through the more built up area of Tokyo near the river, tall buildings and crowded alleys and sidewalks.  I sent Tendo-san off with Hiroko-san, and a story about me walking home.  I know Dr. Akagi and Saotome-san are going to be busy until much later.  Perhaps when I am done, I can invite Tendo-san and Ayanami-san out to dinner.  Those idiots had put this meeting off again and again, until I insisted.  I hate when people don't do their jobs.  I know the guards are there, they are always there.  Watching.  What their orders are to interfere, I don't know.  I've gotten into scuffles at school, and they've done nothing, I 'sparred' briefly with Langley and Shinji and they didn't interfere.  But they are eyes I don't need right now.  My hat blows off my head, and I sprint after it, around the corner, into an alley.

     They storm into the alley, only the Tokyo River at the back, they run to the low fence, look at the rocky shore.  No sign of me, no sign of my hat.  One pulls a handheld radio and reports.  It never occurs to them, I'm on the other side of the river.  After all, no one can jump that far, not even an EVA.  I lower my small telescope after I've confirmed they have the alert out.  I've changed my appearance, that will throw off any search for a while, they'll be looking for an Anglo boy, not a Japanese man.  Moustache, sideburns, short beard eliminates me from consideration.  Other means will cause their eyes to slide off me.  None of that will confuse who I'm meeting with.  NO, that one hunts without eyes, I think.


     "You, are late," the dry voice is full of disapproval.  It appears to be a typical Japanese office worker, relaxing on a park bench after work.  Much like my disguise.  A western-style park of trees and open spaces, trees screen us from any casual observers and an open area to prevent anyone from closing in unobserved.

     Yellow-green of fear and red, he knows he's lying, Why does he insist on playing these games? I am glad we're using a human language, reading this creature is hard enough as it is.  "Your watch is fast," I counter, I'm on time, half a minute early just to make sure.  I don't like playing these petty power games, never have.

     "The situation has changed.  There is doubt you can recover it."  The glance indicates he, or rather it, is one of the chief doubters.

     Now contempt and congratulatory satisfaction, Does this fool not realize how transparent he is? I consider how easy breaking his neck would be.  Despite his puffed up attitude, he's unnecessary for the plan, I wonder if anyone ever explained that to him.

     "I was supposed to be the fourth pilot.  Did you dig up the other two just to spite me?"

     The `man` stands suddenly, such an insult requires an immediate response.  Except I have the `man's` jaws clamped shut and his head twisted back, just short of the breaking point, and he knows it.

     "You've been dogging my steps all this time, whispering your poisons in every ear that would hear.  Now you have to deal with your negligence.  Your section was supposed to prepare the selection process.  A good many expended a great deal of effort to see to it I got this position.  All you had to do was make certain I was the Third or Fourth.  Instead, I'm Sixth.  There is a body of thought that such complete and utter incompetence should be punishable by death."  I feel the muscles stiffen, see the pleading in the creature's eyes.  "I disagree.  Now you can either help me rescue this mess, and complete my mission, and your's, or I can carry out the Discipline of the Council, with extreme prejudice."  I feel the strike-reflex relax.  The `man` nods.  I release him.

     He glares at me, well I am not here to collect friends.

     "If you are going to tell me Saotome and Tendo weren't on the original list.  I already know that.  Neither of them fit the psychological parameters of the standard pilots.  Like me, they shouldn't be here.  So how did they get here, who 'sponsored' them?"

     "We don't know, no other forces were supposed to be involved," he says sullenly.

     He's angry now.  Good, it will keep him focused, these `Third Empire` types are too easily distracted.  I wonder if he is taking all of this seriously, I think.  "Well, the Cthonians are already here and taking an inordinate interest in the First Children."

     "So kill them, you've killed others," he replies.

     "Why don't you teach your grandmother to lay eggs?  Your section is supposed to be providing me with intelligence, not the other way around.  Also, if the Cthonians are here, you and your forces will have to be more circumspect.  Unless you think you have something that's a match for them."

     "Besides youYou know we don't," he admits.

     "Then watch your step.  Fire hydrants work, that's what I used.  All that takes is timing and a wrench."

     "You are concerned, I'm touched.  You've already started circumventing us.  A private intelligence operation?"

     Now he's back to self-satisfied and contemptuous.  Fine don't believe me, the Cthonians think both of us are food, I remind myself.  "I need information.  They go places you can't, and you haven't been apprizing me of the things I really need to know."

     The `man` shook his head, "SEELE is backed by the Crawler himself.  We have limits how far we can penetrate the organization."

     "See, that wasn't so hard," I say sardonically.  "I don't care about the squabbles and the petty politics of the Council.  I've never cared about it, my mission comes first.  It always has, but I've always rewarded loyalty, and I always repay a favor.  You'd be surprised what I can arrange."  I pause, "So quit fighting me.  You don't want me as an enemy, and you certainly don't want me considering you an obstacle.  I remove both with extreme prejudice.  I also have no problem working with nearly anyone.  To get what I need."

     "I've noticed," the `man` says scornfully,"The Cthonians are a problem.  I'll get a population estimate and try to discover what they're after.  Your attention to SEELE will have to be stepped up.  They don't like the competition and all is not right and wonderful within NERV."

     "Fine, find out who sent Saotome and Tendo, once I know that, I can deal with them appropriately."  Or bring them to our side, I don't add.

     "We've been here as long as we dare.  We'll contact you for our next meeting."

     I nod, and let him leave before changing out of my disguise, waiting several minutes before leaving by a different route.

     "Raakkuun!" I hear, turn to see Tendo Nabiki running towards me.

     "What's up?  I didn't hear an alert."  Genuine fear and concern, I note the yellow-green `conversation block`.

     "Nothing like that."  She smiles.

     Blue-green of sincere happiness, then I remind myself, Or she's a good actress or enhanced to carry off the simulation better.  "Then you must have lost money, and needed a manly shoulder to cry on, and since Ranma, Kaji, Kouzou, - "

     "It's not like that!"

     Anger and irritation, I note, "Shinji, Gendo, Pen Pen, and Misato were all busy," I shrug.

     "You are nuts, you know that?" she asks, perfectly seriously.

     "Shh.  It's a military secret," I warn, "So what's up."

     "I overheard security lost you.  I came looking?"

     Fear again, tinged with something else, concern? "Good Grief!  I take my hat off and what, I become invisible?" I take off my hat to punctuate the point.

     "I guess."

     I pull the phone card, "Should I call in?"

     "No, my 'minders' have probably already done that."  She smiles, takes my hand.  "So what kind of ice-cream are you going to buy me for finding you?"

     "I wasn't lost," I say haughtily, "However, let's take Ayanami-san out for dinner, you can have ice-cream for desert."  Going out for dinner is a good cover, and will let me find out about the only other person who might threaten my mission here.  Ayanami-san has the Cthonians as enemies, Miss Tendo is friends with Saotome-san, and you can judge a person's quality better by their enemies than by their friends.


Chapter 2
Chapter 4
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