Neon Genesis Evangelion Fan Fiction / Ranma 1/2 Fan Fiction / Ah My Goddess Fan Fiction ❯ Sic Semper Morituri ❯ Chapter Prelude, 1, 2, 3 ( Chapter 1 )

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

Prelude

Chapter 1: Vital Forces
      Shinji Pilots
     Dragon
     First Aftermath
     Break with the Past

Chapter 2: Nabiki Arrives
     First Customer
     A New Day, Different $#!+
     Settling In, Drawing Plans
     Making Plans
     School Day

Chapter 3: The Fell Sergeant
     The Spawn of Nyogtha
     Flight to America
     Knight Rescued
     Boston
     The Sixth Children
     Flight Home

Disclaimer:

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

C&C, MSTs are welcome

E-mail: dan_s.comments@comcast.net

Stories are available in Plain ASCII at:

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(these are the original versions)

"There are three sides to every argument: my side, your side and the truth."

Prelude

Nerima, Japan 1995

     Ukyo opened her eyes.  Drops of rain had wakened her.  With wakefulness, the damage to her restaurant and the surrounding area presented themselves.  She tried to move.  Something pinned her legs, she raised her head and something crackled on her face and neck.  The ridge pole that held up the roof had fallen across her legs.  She could still feel them, So they're still attached, she thought.  She sat up; everything looked strange, like a movie screen.  She passed her hand in front of her face to find the hand covered with burns and her right eye blind.  She put her despair aside; the ridge pole was her primary concern.  She couldn't lift such a weight, and her ever present baker's peel was nowhere to be seen; no other prying tools presented themselves.  She scrabbled at the debris under her legs, intent on digging herself out.

     "Mousse?!" she shouted as she dug, hoping he'd escaped the collapse.  The rain was intensifying, If Mousse was caught by the debris and then transformed, she dug faster, ignored the skin it was costing her, and freed herself in moments.  The blood on her leggings told her to move carefully, the pain reminded her swiftly and agonizingly.  She pulled herself through the gaps and holes in the debris.

     Her hair hadn't caught on the debris, that surprised her.  Then she remembered, she'd been near the stove when the building had exploded.  The propane tanks had ruptured . . . and engulfed her in flames.  Her arms and hands were burned, so was her hair.  She didn't want to think about her face and legs.

     "Mousse!" she shouted.

     "Waaack."

     She dragged herself toward the sound.

     "Waak."  Softer, weaker this time.

     "Hang on Mousse.  I'm coming."  She ignored the pain in her hands and legs, concentrating on her goal.  Mousse had been her only companion of late.  She wasn't going to lose him too.

     She found him under the overturned counter, only his head visible.  She lifted the end of the counter, left more charred skin, she didn't care she was leaving, on the surface.

     Mousse, in his duck form, could barely pull himself out with his bill.

     She set down the counter, and carefully picked up Mousse.  He squawked piteously, she sat him on her stomach.

     He coughed up blood and laid his head between her breasts, looking at her, "Qwaa."

     "I know.  It isn't fair."  She couldn't see a clear way out of the debris, except straight up.  Anger and fear welled up in her, they hadn't been hurting anyone.  Both of them had finally found someone, each other.  They'd been alone, and grown to depend on one another.

     "Waak," Mousse felt her distress, offering what comfort he could.

     The rain continued to fall on them, she touched his head, stroked the feathers gently.  What kamis had decreed this? she heard someone going through the wreckage.  "Here!" she called.

     The debris over her shifted, a boy with a mop of blue hair, wearing a gray jumpsuit looked in.  "I found them."  He gave her a beatific smile, then he dropped in next to her.  He took Mousse off her chest, handing him up out of the hole.

     "WAAG?!" Mousse struggled weakly.

     "No!" she shouted.

     "Spatula-girl too loud."  A purple-haired girl in Chinese clothes looked over the edge.

     "Shampoo?"

     "Relax, Ukyo-chan."  A red-haired girl looked over the edge, "Nabiki would never hurt him."  She dropped into the hole on the other side.

     Ukyo recognized Asuka, who wore the same gray coveralls as the boy, she lacked the repressed anger Ukyo had always seen in her before.  She and the boy handed Ukyo up to another pair of hands.

     How did they move me without pain? she wondered then focused on those who lifted her clear of the debris.  "Nabiki!"

     A warm, mischievous smile answered her.

     "Ranma."

     A polite smile, but little recognition.

     "Relax."  Nabiki took Ukyo's head in her hands, "Shinji will take good care of Mousse.  There is no pain."

     Serenity filled Ukyo as she closed her eyes.

     "Ukyo-chan!"

     She woke a moment later.

     "Ukyo-chan!" Mousse, again in human form, helped her sit up, held her close.

     She returned the hug.  "My hands."

     "You helped us, put your one life at risk, when the world was against us," Asuka told her, her grim visage more artifice than essence, "We could hardly ignore a call for help."

     "Karma and all that," Nabiki joked.

     Mousse ran his fingers through her restored hair, while he smiled at her.  He noticed the rain fell, affecting none of them.  "How did you manage?" he indicated his human form.

     "Changed the temperature of the rain, then kept it off all of us," the boy Ukyo had first seen answered.

     "Excuse us."  Nabiki apologized, "Nagisa Kaworu."  The boy.  "Ikari Shinji."  A black-haired Japanese boy.  "Sonya Rozhestvenski."  A blond Caucasian girl.  "Uri Katkov."  A blonde Caucasian boy.  Nabiki made the introductions.  All wore the same gray jumpsuits.

     "What happened here?" Ranma asked, more concerned about his friends' reactions and two hurt people, than a specific concern for an old girlfriend he didn't remember.

     "I don't really know.  The stove and the propane tanks exploded as the building came down," Ukyo told them.

     "Not that the explosion leveled the building?" Asuka asked.

     "No," Mousse said, "The building began collapsing, then I heard the explosion from the kitchen.  I couldn't get there," he added regretfully.  Ukyo hugged him closer.

     "Where's your baker's peel?" Nabiki had been studying the wreckage.

     "Under there somewhere," Ukyo told her.

     "No, it isn't.  Important possessions have a residue of that person on them.  Like the legend of the red string."  Nabiki helped the pair to their feet, she was becoming concerned.  "Someone leveled the building just to get that?"

     "What leads down this road?" Kaworu asked.

     "I don't know," Mousse was confused.

     Ukyo abruptly realized, "The Tendo dojo!  What else, after leveling the building to steal my spatula?"

     Nabiki made an angry noise, Ranma patted her shoulder.

     "Nabiki, I know you're still angry, but Kasumi's having a baby shower there.  Akane and her daughter will be there," Ukyo pleaded.

     Nabiki looked away angrily.

     "Nabiki," Asuka told her gently, "Akane and Kasumi aren't asking, Ukyo is."

     "You're right," Nabiki relented.

     "Are you ready?" Shinji asked the others.

     Mousse stood with Ukyo, "We're going too.  The Tendos not withstanding, we were attacked in our home and business, and left for dead.  Whoever did this must be defeated and punished."

     "If you accept destroyed as an alternative, you may come with us," Uri told them coldly.  His stern visage was no front.

     "You'd kill him?" Ukyo asked.

     "I refuse to limit my options.  If it becomes a question of our opponent or one of you, I choose you and will not restrict myself in any way," the boy explained.

     "The Russians have been fighting a very serious enemy," Asuka explained, "Who would attack out of nowhere."

     "Try not to, please?" Ukyo asked.

     The gray-clad youths exchanged glances, and nodded.

     Kaworu watched as the others vanished.  He located the massive ridge pole, that had trapped Ukyo in the toppled building.  He pulled it loose of the rubble, and tossed it into the air.  "Remember."  He commanded the building to reassemble itself.  It was like an explosion in reverse.  He watched his finished handiwork for a moment, then left to join the others.


     Urd watched from the shadows, smiled at her handiwork and the work of her protegees.  No trace of the damage to the restaurant, or the surrounding buildings, remained.  Urd felt Belldandy approach.

     "Are they ready yet?"

     "Very nearly," Urd replied, "Actually they are more than ready, they need to discover that for themselves."

     Belldandy smiled, "KamiSama is merciful and wise."

     "And has a wicked sense of humor," Urd agreed, as they too returned home.


     "How is that possible?" Ukyo asked.

     "Time, space, have become meaningless," Ranma said.

     "Not meaningless," Asuka corrected, "Just unimportant."

     "Like the rules of courtesy," Nabiki explained, "You follow them to make things easier and if there's no threat.  As soon as they get in the way of saving lives or property, you ignore them."

     "Need and motivation are `realer` to us," Sonya explained, not fully understanding the physics herself.

     "Well, if you understand it.  I trust you," Ukyo admitted, "Why did we arrive half an hour earlier.  I can tell by the sun."

     "There was a chance the creature came from here and attacked your shop," Shinji explained, "Rather than coming here from your shop."

     "How did this all start?" Mousse asked.

     "That, is a long story," Ranma sighed, "A very long story."  None of them were willing to elaborate.

     "Where are the others?  I would have expected them to come charging to the rescue too," Mousse said, slightly irritated.

     "They killed them, all the others."  Nabiki said flatly, "They arranged to get the rest of us out, dropped me somewhere safe, and drew them off."  She couldn't continue, turning away.

     "It can't be," Mousse was disbelieving, "'Always have a way out.' It was the most important part of a plan.  'At the end of the day, always go home alive.'"

     "They had a way out," Asuka said angrily, "For us.  Rei held them off long enough, for us, to escape."

     "I am so sorry, Nab-chan.  I didn't know," Ukyo said, "I'm sorry.  I liked . . . I liked them, even Toji."

     "Well."  Nabiki looked embarrassed, "Rei and I were there at the beginning, and she told me a lot, that last night.  It's only fair I should start."



"Lasciate ogni speranza voi ch'entrate!"

[All hope abandon, ye who enter here!]

'Inferno', Canto 3, 1, 9 by Dante Alighieri

Chapter 1: Vital Forces

Tokyo, Occupied Japan 1947

     Rei walked to school, because it was expected, not because she had any feelings about it, one way or the other.  Her kind were known for their strong feelings, so they had been excised before she had been allowed to be here.  So she didn't understand most of the people around her.  She didn't understand the necessity of this, but she had orders, which she followed.  The appearance of a Goddess 2d class told her she had violated some precept or stipulation, which one she didn't know.  She didn't believe she had, she had no memory of having done so, but that was not for her to judge.  She dropped her school bag and took a position on her knees, she hoped full obeisance would not be required.  The resulting dirt on her school uniform would cause endless questions, from the students and teachers, questions she was forbidden to answer.

     On her knees, head bowed, she awaited judgment.  She would accept any punishment that allowed her to remain here, with these people, to help them prevail against the coming darkness.  Even her own survival was nothing compared to that.

     "Arise.  Face me!"

     Rei looked up, she saw the dark-skinned white-haired goddess staring down at her with a mixture of pity and sympathy.  She had a large silver sphere, nearly as large as Rei, before her.

     "I did not agree with what they did, I still don't.  Soon, you won't be alone."  She brought the sphere down to Rei, "Take this boy to NERV," she dissolved the sphere revealing a boy about Rei's age.  "If anyone asks, tell them he fell from the sky, which is the truth."

     Rei nodded, said nothing.  Stared at the boy, the Goddess was correct, he was of the Children, What could he have done to deserve such an accursed fate?


Nerima, Japan 1992

     Tendo Nabiki criss-crossed the streets of Nerima for the fourth time, she turned out her legions of informants, strong-armed many of her `clients`, even in desperation, enlisted Tatewaki and Kodachi Kuno.  The haiku-spouting samurai-wannabe had declared he would find 'the pigtailed goddess or die in the attempt'.  Kodachi had simply laughed and leapt away.  Her own family had been of no help.

     "One last resource," Nabiki sighed and headed toward the Cat Café.  Ucchan's had been closed, the okonomiyaki chef was not reachable.

     "Nihao."  Shampoo greeted her brightly, "Nabiki-chan, is Airen come too?"

     "No, Shampoo.  I was hoping he was here, or that you'd know where he was."

     "Airen not with violent pervert girl?" Shampoo asked hopefully.

     Nabiki winced inwardly, and then decided to brave the rapids.  "Akane broke off their engagement, my father dissolved the agreement between himself and Genma.  Neither Akane, nor Kasumi, nor I, have any claim on him.  After Akane threw him out, I started looking for him."

     "Shampoo look, Shampoo find, have Airen all for Shampoo."

     Nabiki caught her arm before the Amazon advanced a step, "He needs a friend right now Shampoo, he doesn't need to be tackled by you, or anyone else.  He loved Akane, for her to reject him that way . . . "

     "What did my foolish son-in-law do this time?" Cologne hopped out of the kitchen.

     "He was born," Nabiki said coldly.

     "Nabiki is hurting Shampoo," the Amazon warned.

     Embarrassed, Nabiki released the grip she hadn't realized she had tightened.

     "Nabiki care for Ranma?" Shampoo asked, "Even after Akane reject?"

     "He didn't do anything, he didn't deserve what happened," Nabiki replied through clenched teeth.

     "Shampoo, find Ranma, do not approach him.  Mousse!"

     A hail from the storeroom answered.

     "Go with Shampoo.  When you find son-in-law, return here with word," Cologne ordered.  Mousse grimaced, but nodded.  The pair left.  "How are you keeping in contact with your spies?"

     Nabiki held up her cell phone.

     "Good.  We will track the sightings on a city map.  Then, you and I, will contact him.  I suspect you are correct, that he needs friends, rather than girlfriends and wives," Cologne told her.  Nabiki only nodded.


     The storm culvert was like any other in the city, save for the shattered stone and blast marks.  "The foul sorcerer Saotome's handiwork."  Kuno Tatewaki pointed out.

     Nabiki and Cologne were amazed that this fool had tracked Ranma's path, where so many others had failed.

     "He took himself to destruction."

     "Sent to," Nabiki corrected, "Something about the damage doesn't look right."

     "He used a Heavy Ki attack, that requires severe depression," Cologne noted, "Ryoga's specialty.  But you are correct, something blocked part of the attack."

     "So the foul sorcerer still lives!  I, Tate - "

     A blow from Cologne's staff silenced the boy, he slumped to the ground.  "Tiresome," she said.

     For once, Nabiki was in full agreement.

     "The explosion occurred within the stone or beneath it."

     "That can't be done," Nabiki said.  "My fath - , Soun tried to teach Akane once.  You have to generate it, then release it.  You can't form it through 10 to 20 centimeters of concrete."

     "I fear the boy is lost to us.  For he clearly intended to destroy himself by releasing the force inside himself.  Someone, or something, removed the power and projected it away.  Such a being would be beyond our power to track, or combat.  We should pray he is where he is needed.  He was a worthy warrior, that should remain."  Cologne, having pronounced sentence, turned away.

     Nabiki stared at the broken concrete and twisted rebar that marked his last moments . . . , "No, I can't think that way."  She felt all the memories flooding back, threatening to overwhelm her carefully constructed armor.  From the first day when the strange girl appeared, to his latest fight with Akane, over something so trivial.  "It's not fair!  It isn't right!" she shouted at the uncaring world.  He could have given his heart to any of a half-dozen other girls, girls who openly loved and cared about him.  The one he chose, and rescued more often than not, was the one who could so callously destroy him.  "AKANE!  YOU HEARTLESS BITCH!"

     She was surprised by the tears rolling down her cheeks.  She hadn't openly cried since her mother died, not for herself, not for anyone else.  She willed herself to stop, and found her mind offering up images of Ranma `toughing it out`, being `manly` no matter how badly he'd been hurt, physically or emotionally.  The tears became sobs.


Tokyo, Occupied Japan 1947

     The Commander and Rei stared through the multiple layers of glass and plexiglass at the single bed in the isolation lab.  Doctor Akagi moved carefully in the `extension suit` that allowed her to operate inside the lab without breaking containment.

     Ikari moved to the flexible tunnel, "No traces of Angel contamination, Doctor?" he asked.

     Dr. Akagi turned, "Not in the hair, blood, bone or muscle samples.  He's just an ordinary 14-year-old boy."

     "One who just 'Dropped out of the sky'," Commander Ikari turned to Rei, who waited in her plugsuit.

     "It is the truth," she said.

     "From anyone else, I'd think they were trying to be amusing."  Ikari turned back to the boy.  "Do the preliminary tests show he has pilot capability?"

     "Yes.  But without a complete test with the L.C.L., and a sync test, there's no way to know.  He'll have to be conscious for those."  The Doctor turned to face the Commander, "Isn't another pilot good news?"

     "We've already located two more, one here in Japan, and one in Germany."

     "That's got to make the Allies happy," the Doctor chuckled as she walked down the tunnel and into the med lab proper.

     Ikari adjusted his glasses.  "The Americans have found a few `promising candidates` of their own," he spat.

     Commander Fuyutsuki entered.  "They are making the rules because they have the money, the industry and the military to make it all work."  He looked at the boy.  "So, is this our new candidate?"

     "Yes," Ikari told him, "Damn Yankee arrogance.  We're trying to do important work here, I don't give a damn about nationalism, that's over.  They won the Pacific War, haven't they read their own headlines.  The world is all one big happy family, under their thumb.  Nuremberg will see to that."

     "No one really believes that, and Truman has an election coming up," Commander Fuyutsuki commented, "He's having enough trouble keeping the politicians in his own country from, 'Striping us back down to Pearl Harbor levels.' Most don't believe there's extra money for some silly project of MacArthur's, way out in Japan."

     "So we accept one or more of these Americans, or we accept a withdrawal of American resources?" Ikari fumed.

     "Yes, but the States will go isolationist, it isn't as personal as you're trying to make it.  If they keep up their military, don't we keep access to bases and intelligence resources all over the world?" Dr. Akagi asked.

     "What about the Soviets?" Ikari asked, "No word on pilots or EVAs in their area of control?"

     "None they've been willing to admit to," Commander Fuyutsuki said.

     Ikari shook his head, "There have to be some megalithic statues in Russia."

     "Not necessarily," Dr. Akagi said.

     "Next order of business, what about the French protest?" Ikari asked.

     Commander Fuyutsuki smiled, "Fortunately, the German and one of the Americans are fluent in Japanese.  We can use that excuse to refuse their offer of `help`.  The girl is barely qualified, and speaks only French, and refuses to learn our 'barbaric language', or English, or German.  Maybe the Russians will take her.  Although the French have made it clear, an interpreter will be provided."  Commander Fuyutsuki almost laughed at the last.

     "Oh, I can see that.  A French spy, that we have to pay for," Dr. Akagi commented, "Ideally, the entire team will have good fluency in Japanese and adequate in English, only the German Asuka Langley and two of the three Americans speak any French, and none very well."

     "I think it's safe to table the argument.  When will the cruiser reach Bremen?"

     "Two more days," Commander Fuyutsuki consulted his notes, "Then five days to the American East coast, a day layover while Captain Katsuragi discusses the situation with NERV Massachusetts, they will fly to San Diego or San Francisco to meet the Coral Sea, then meet the train bringing the Ohio Mound Unit 04 EVA to the Coral Sea.  We can do sync testing on Langley and the Americans for Units 00 and 04, and compatibility testing with all the pilots to the same Units."

     "Coral Sea, what a name for our carrier."  Ikari adjusted his glasses.

     "It was that, or Midway," Commander Fuyutsuki explained, "They are the largest afloat.  Isn't the Captain picking up your son today?"

     "Tomorrow," Ikari corrected his old friend.  "Doctor, take Rei, and test her compatibility with Unit 01, in case Ikari Shinji proves incompatible, and has to use the prototype."

     Dr. Akagi had lost this argument before about testing pilots in Unit 01, she knew she was going to lose again, "Yes, Commander."  The Doctor knew she and Rei had been dismissed.  She left the med lab, Rei followed her.

     "There's something you aren't telling me," Ikari had waited until Doctor Akagi and Rei had left.  "Or is it something you don't want the doctor overhearing?"

     "There are stories about Langley being active in the Dreamlands, very active.  The two surviving Americans have seen the fate of the third American pilot, they may have drawn conclusions.  These facts will complicate things terribly.  They will know more than we'll be comfortable telling the other pilots.  Keeping them uninformed about the true nature of the opposition may not be possible.  Disinformation may be disastrous."

     "They will follow orders," Ikari retorted, "Or they'll pay the consequences.  The psychological profile we established for successful pilots has enough hooks and soft spots, we'll have no trouble controlling them."

     Even your own son? Commander Fuyutsuki thought but didn't ask.  Alarms cut off further conversation as both men rushed from the room.


     It had been raining for a while, Nabiki welcomed it.  It hid her tears, and it kept people away.  No one wanted to be out near a storm culvert, in a cold rain.

     "Nabiki, come home."  The voice was so kind and gentle, Nabiki whirled, ready to pummel the speaker, "Kasumi!  If I . . . " Instead she faced a wild-eyed Shampoo in a rain cape, who had dropped into a defensive crouch.

     "Shampoo, I'm, I'm so sorry."  She dropped her hands to her sides.  Shampoo did likewise.  "It just that . . . Kasumi sat there with that vapid expression of her's while Akane and fa . . . Soun did that to Ranma.  She just sat there!  I asked her to do something, to say, anything.  Do you know what she finally said?"

     Shampoo shook her head, alarmed by the fury of the normally self-composed Tendo girl.

     Mocking Kasumi's tone, "'We have no place to interfere in this.  If he'd been honest with us from the beginning, we could have resolved this quickly and without dishonor.' I should have just slapped her, and run after him."  Nabiki shook her fists at the clouds, she made a raw shout of rage, "But instead I stood there and tried to reason with them.  If I'd have listened to my heart instead of trying to be reasonable and sensible . . . "

     Nabiki felt Shampoo enclose her in a hug, "Nabiki stop.  Nabiki come home, Shampoo no want to cry for Ranma all alone."

     Nabiki hugged the Amazon back, "All right, it's all right."

     They didn't make it half way half-way back, before Nabiki changed into the rain cape with a thoroughly irritated Shampoo-Neko(1) perched on her shoulder, sharing the hood.

     "I used to think Ranma got into these water messes on purpose."

     Shampoo-Neko made an annoyed noise.

     "Yeah, sorry.  I guess it isn't funny to you.  It probably wasn't funny to him either.  I keep wondering, if he had known what Akane's reaction would be, would he have chosen you, Ukyo . . . or me."

     Shampoo-Neko made an interrogative mew.

     "Eta," Nabiki explained, "One of his distant ancestors was a meat butcher or a leather worker or an undertaker, and thus `unclean`.  Not worthy to be part of our oh-so honorable family."  She practically spat the last.

     Shampoo-Neko made an almost strangling sound.

     Nabiki realized she was laughing, "Sounds dumb to me too.  So, does your great-grandmother have an opening at your restaurant?  I'm not in Ranma's or Akane's class, but I did master the basics."

     Shampoo-Neko rubbed up against the side of Nabiki's face and purred.

     "Okay, I get the message.  You press much harder, and you'll knock me over."  Nabiki chuckled.  She felt like laughing, she hadn't felt like laughing in too long.  Part of it was Shampoo's open display of affection, the Chinese Amazon had never considered Nabiki a serious rival, the other part was considering what would happen to the others when she withdrew her considerable financial support.  They'd have to fend for themselves, in the real world, as she now had to.  It was a small and petty thing, but for today she felt entitled to be small and petty, to wound them for the hurts they'd caused.


     Commander Ikari ordered the firefighting teams into the bay, the massive EVA seemed to have quieted down again, "Report on Rei's . . . "

     "Cuts and bruises, a few burns.  She'll be out of commission for a few days," Dr. Akagi reported, "We should rename that damned Unit, `The Siege Perilous.`"

     "I had no idea you'd studied the Arthurian Legends," Commander Fuyutsuki said to Ikari and the Doctor, while bandaging his younger friends hands, "The fires are out, the damage to the control center was more cosmetic than anything else.  The same could be said for most of the control center injuries, except yours.  Nothing on the chart recorders indicate any reason for Unit 01 to have gone berserk like that.  It looked like a perfectly normal sync test, right up to where Unit 01 broke free.  Unfortunately we lost the data lines at that point, so we have no way of knowing what happened."

     "Secure Unit 01 in the restraining cage, speed repairs on Unit 00," Ikari coughed, "And get those ventilators working."

     "What about mothballing Unit 01, this is the least damage we've ever had done to a pilot from Unit 01, it's just too dangerous."  Doctor Akagi repeated her previous argument.

     "With only a few Units available, we must try all combinations," Ikari shot back.

     "Well, this `combination` nearly finished our only available trained pilot."

     "We have others."

     "That doesn't mean we waste the one we have."  Doctor Akagi kept her voice level, "Rei almost didn't survive.  Have you considered what a death in training, especially of a 14-year-old girl, will have on our political sponsors and our new untrained pilots?  Sync rates are almost wholly psychological.  Killing one of them because of the necessity to test a private theory, is not a good way to begin the new team."

     "Are you quite, through?" Ikari asked, "My son will be arriving tomorrow.  Test him in Unit 01.  Langley will be arriving in a few weeks.  The EVAs they will be bringing with them will have to be test piloted by everyone, to determine the most effective pairings.  And that includes Unit 01.  Do I make myself . . . Perfectly . . . Clear? "

     "Yes, Commander."  The Doctor nodded, Cold-hearted bastard, she thought as she walked away.

     "That command style may not work with the new pilots," Fuyutsuki warned, "Rei follows orders exactly, because she'd never conceive of doing otherwise.  You know your own son better than the insights the reports give me.  But Langley will compete with you, and with everyone else.  The Americans .  .  ."  The two shared a chuckle at that, "One ran a betting pool at Harvard, and the faculty tolerated it, because it sold $30,000 in war bonds a month and they could never prove criminal intent, or that he benefitted directly.  The other has already applied to West Point, and is making a stink about being turned down because she's a girl.  I doubt any of them will take 'I told you so,' as an answer, even from a commanding officer."  Commander Fuyutsuki told Ikari.

     "We shall see."

     "Commander - Commanders, Doctor!" Maya ran up, out of breath, "The boy Rei brought in.  He's gone, sort of."

     "Sort of?" Ikari was irritated, "How can someone be 'sort of' gone.  Either he's in custody or he's wandering loose, which is it?"

     "The body is still in the isolation lab, and still unconscious, and no one has been in or out of the isolation unit, but . . . "

     "Let's go see this mystery for ourselves," Commander Fuyutsuki said while Ikari fumed.


     Doctor Akagi was back in the extension suit.  She moved carefully, duplicating the tests she'd performed earlier.  Rei peered at them weakly, through the tables of instruments and equipment from her bed.  She couldn't see what they were examining, nor could she assist the Commander if there was danger.  The effort cost her consciousness, as she heard the Commander speak from his place at the large window with Professor Fuyutsuki and Analyst Maya at his side.

     "It's impossible," Ikari said quietly.

     "As I said, sir.  He's gone, she's here," Maya explained about the soaking wet redheaded girl, still unconscious on the table in the isolation bed.

     "Blood tests, finger prints?" Commander Fuyutsuki asked.

     "Preliminary tests indicate same blood type, fingerprints changed, but the structure of the ear didn't," Doctor Akagi reported from inside the isolation unit, "As far as I can tell, our guest didn't leave."

     "I thought you said there was no trace of Angel contamination."  Ikari reset his spare pair of glasses, winced at his burned hands.

     "There still isn't.  The only thing I can think of, is that when the sprinkler system went on, he changed to she.  If this has to do with being wet and she'll be a he when he dries off, or the temperature of the water, or some stress reaction to the alarms, I don't know.  I can prepare a battery of tests, but it will mean stalling work on the sync tests."

     "Leave the tests on this subject to Maya and your other assistants, you have to be ready to perform basic sync tests on Unit 01 and Ikari, and compatibility tests with all the pilots on Units 00, 01 and newly unearthed Unit 04."

     "What about your son's arrival tomorrow?"

     "His testing will have first priority, full battery of tests," Ikari replied.

     That hadn't been what she meant, so Doctor Akagi shrugged, and headed for the exit of the extension suit.


From the Journal of Tendo Nabiki

     After several days of 'Testing my worthiness', Cologne decided to allow me to work at the Nekohanten, after school.  Since graduation is only a few weeks away, I'm grateful she insisted I complete my high school education.  Keiko, Yuikiko, and Shinobu helped me pack up everything from the house, strange it used to be a home.  Soun cried, he was losing his daughter.  Genma was gone on a training trip, probably to avoid telling Nodoka.  Kasumi was content that I was happy.  I had angry retorts for both of them, but I remembered I was leaving.  Cologne advised that the break should be clean.  Keiko did ask if Soun was going to take students at the dojo.  He seemed completely nonplused by that.  I have to admit, I couldn't conceive of a reason for her to ask that question.  When Soun said no, she asked what were they going to do for money, as she pushed me out the front door.

     When we returned to the Nekohanten, and were back in the room I would be sharing with Shampoo, Keiko apologized.  She admitted it wasn't her business, but she thought someone needed to rattle their cage.  I suggested she tell Akane, since I wouldn't be coming back, perhaps they could rent my, and Ranma's, rooms, to paying boarders.  We all had a laugh about that.  It seems so sad, after several months of being at a wild festival, never sure what the rules were, but always ready to make a buck for my family, and myself.  Now it's all over, and many of the players are headed elsewhere.


From the Journal Of Tendo Nabiki

     Ukyo arrived back at Ucchan's, a week after Ranma's disappearance.  Shampoo and I went to tell her about Ranma's departure, Cologne tagged along.  I was glad, later, it took all three of us to restrain Ukyo, prevent her from from charging over to the dojo, and killing Akane.  The sewer repair crews had already eliminated the damage, a clean patch of concrete was the only marker of his passing from this world.  Ukyo broke down and cried, blaming herself for not being here when 'Ran-chan needed me, needed someone, anyone.' Both Shampoo and I tried to convince her that nothing and no one could have changed what happened, a white lie, someone definitely could have.  She wasn't listening, through her pain.  She finally calmed down enough to return with us to the Nekohanten.  Akane was waiting for me outside.  Cologne stood in the entrance, barring the way.  The three of us exchanged glances.  Each of us realized that if we'd happened on Akane individually, there would have been a reckoning.  Together, we could deny the others, the `privilege`.  Cologne pointed her staff at our trio.


     Akane turned around, clearly furious, "Nabiki-chan, when are you going to quit acting like a baby and come home?"

     Nabiki took a step forward and found Ukyo and Shampoo had each grabbed an arm.

     "Patience," Shampoo counseled.

     "Don't do something you'll regret, Sugar," Ukyo added.

     Nabiki shook them off, "Tendo-san, I am home, as much as I can be."

     Akane flinched, "You can't ignore your responsibilities."

     "Those responsibilities would have eventually passed from me anyway.  Since P-Chan has his feet under the table, why don't you two reopen the dojo.  With your reputations, you'd earn plenty of money."

     Akane looked nonplused, "What does P-chan have to do with anything?"

     "She doesn't know about Ryoga?" Ukyo asked quietly.

     "Violent pervert girl, stupid," Shampoo concluded.

     "Just willfully blind," Nabiki told the other two, quietly.  "If it isn't money you need, why are you here?"

     "Not everything is about money," Akane replied primly.

     Nabiki grimaced, "Then . . . Why . . . Are .&nb sp;. . You . . . Here?"

     "It's time for the family to be whole again," Akane replied, "Father and Kasumi are willing to forgive you.  So am I."  She made the difficult admission.

     Nabiki could hardly believe her ears, it was so aberrant and so typical, Akane blaming someone else for her problems.  As Shampoo and Ukyo growled furiously, Nabiki started laughing like a madwoman.  Akane backed up a pace in horror.  Nabiki sobered up a moment later.

     She looked at Akane, "Any business I might have had with you and the others is OVER.  I don't want your forgiveness for trying to drag you, kicking and screaming, into the twentieth-century.  What you three did, I, can never forgive.  Better for you to assume I died with Ranma that night."  Nabiki turned to the other two, "Let's go inside."

     "You have a duty to the family," Akane repeated desperately.

     "I do, but you aren't my family anymore.  I would have kept him around, no matter how `impure` he was.  If saving your life time, and time again didn't convince you!  Then nothing ever will!" Nabiki was on the edge of hysteria, it took all her self-control to just walk past.

     "No."  Akane grabbed her arm, and wound up flat on her back with her nose bleeding.

     Nabiki relaxed from the stance Cologne had taught her, "Never touch me again," Nabiki said, ice replacing the fury.  Shampoo and Cologne followed her inside.

     Ukyo stared daggers at Akane, then decided she wasn't worth the effort.  When Ukyo shut the door after Cologne and Shampoo, Nabiki collapsed to the floor.

     "Well, I've made my decision.  And there's no going back."

     Cologne approached, "You chose honor over tradition.  I don't disagree with your decision.  I wish I could make it.  Amazon Law demands they must pay for what they did."

     "As long as it's reversible, and it doesn't kill them, I don't need to know.  I don't want to know what you're planning."

     "Honor makes its demands, you chose your conditions well," Cologne commented.  The four turned their attention to their business prospects.  Nekohanten would continue to make money as long as Cologne and Shampoo remained; Ucchan's would continue to operate, although there was little if anything to hold any of them in Nerima anymore.  Cologne made the excuse she wanted to learn more about `the modern world` and would remain for a season or two.  Ukyo had a good location, she was loathe to give it up.  Nabiki suspected that Cologne wanted to see the effects of her revenge, probably so did Ukyo.  And all of them hoped that Ranma might escape his imprisonment, and return here.


Shinji Pilots

Shinji Pilots

     Shinji sat in the L.C.L., in the plug.  No worse for wear from Misato's driving, or his revulsion and nausea at the black sludge he was currently in.  Doctor Akagi and Commander Fuyutsuki watched the preliminary tests.  "Siege Perilous indeed.  It seems we have our Galahad, the Commander's son no less," Commander Fuyutsuki said.

     "I doubt our Commander qualifies as Lancelot," Doctor Akagi replied.  Alarms sounded.

     "We have reports of unknown energy," Maya told them, "Pattern is Orange, extremely high order, we're attempting to triangulate the exact location.  It's outside of Tokyo."

     "Launch Unit 01."  Commander Ikari approached them from behind, "Get Rei in Unit 00 as possible backup."

     "We haven't even completed Shinji's sync tests, to sent him into combat . . . " Doctor Akagi protested.

     "I gave you an order.  Follow it, or I'll find someone who will."

     "Yes, sir," Dr. Akagi growled.


     Ritsuko stood with Misato on the penultimate level of the multi-story command deck.  She looked at the image of Shinji in her mind's eye.

     "You can't be serious?!" Misato and Shinji chorused; Dr. Akagi was impressed, considering Misato was standing in front of her and Shinji was still in the EVA.

     "Shinji, your father ordered it."  Dr. Akagi addressed the boy, and answered her friend at the same time.  "All you have to do is walk, we can guide you through the rest."

     "What about the Americans?" Shinji said desperately, "They have bombers, a fleet, tanks!  I can't do this!"

     "They're children's toys against an Angel," Dr. Akagi explained, rapidly losing her patience, Shinji was as stubborn, in his own way, as his father.  "Shinji, a lot of people are going to die if you won't pilot it.  I don't think you want that to happen.  And you can, the tests prove it."

     "But I haven't been trained, I can't do this!" Shinji shouted desperately.

     "Third tank battalion has been wiped out," Thompson reported from the bridge.

     "Air strikes are having no effect," Walters added.

     "Put the Angel up on the monitor," Misato yelled.  A half-mile long worm appeared, she knew Shinji was seeing it too.

     "The American command has sent to Washington for nuclear authorization!" Maya shouted.

     "Shinji?" Misato tried to keep her voice level, "In twenty minutes, the Americans are going to launch their bombers, with orders to drop nuclear weapons on Tokyo.  Dozens, maybe hundreds.  You are the only one who can prevent that."

     "But I can't!  I don't know how!  Can't somebody else do it?!"

     "Bring Rei to Unit 01," Commander Ikari said, "We'll launch Unit 01 with Rei."

     "Commander!" Ritsuko protested, "It nearly killed her before!  We can't trust it won't try again!"

     "We have no time for this!" Ikari told them, "The bombers will have no more effect than their conventional forces, other than the devastation they'll cause."

     "She's hurt."  Shinji observed of the wounded girl they were bringing in on a stretcher, "You can't send her out like that!"

     "It's you or her," Ritsuko said sharply, "It's your choice."


     Shinji felt uneasy trying to control the huge machine's movements, its balance was off, he'd fallen several times, and had to clamber to his feet.

     "The main weapon is a special knife," Misato chirped, trying to keep his spirits up, "And your AT field, that's what makes your EVA the only weapon that can engage an Angel, it also makes you almost invulnerable."

     Shinji rubbed the bruises he'd received in the falls, and knew he was not being told everything.  "Hai, hai."  He continued walking towards his target.  The worm was tracing a spiral track around headquarters.  He marched through the debris of the monster's previous pass.  "Why is it doing all this?" he asked.

     "We don't really know," Misato smiled.

     Shinji felt sick and unsure.  He stepped gingerly into an undamaged area, watching left and right.  The blob of goo that stuck him to a building was unexpected.  With a shout, he pulled himself free, and fell on his face.  "This isn't working out.  AHHH!" he screamed as the dhole closed the distance and engulfed the fallen EVA.


     "The pilot is still alive," Walters reported from the `support` level of the command deck, between Analyst Ibuki and Lt.  Thompson, "The tether has not been severed."  Something in the worm, the dhole, was preventing transmission.

     "Shinji," Misato yelled from the penultimate tier, "Shinji!!" Seconds, then minutes crawled by.

     "AT field has formed inside the Angel!" Thompson reported with a disbelieving shout.


     At the top of the `Christmas tree` of the command deck, Commander Fuyutsuki caught the ghost of a smile flit across his young colleague's face.  They watched as the EVA's prog knife burst through the side of the Angel.  The dhole thrashed in agony as the EVA cut through its body.

     "The target's is dissolving!" Thompson called from below.  The worm was breaking down, great chunks were falling off, shattering into gray powder as they hit pavement and masonry.

     "Our first success," Ikari said quietly to his friend.

     "Should we tell them it wasn't an Angel?" Fuyutsuki whispered to him.

     "No, let then have this victory, besides, one of that size is nearly in an Angel's class, armor replacing an AT field.  His next challenge will be far more difficult."


     "Shinji," Misato said, "Good job, wait there, and we'll send Search and Rescue to get you."  A pause, "Shinji?  Shinji?!  SHINJI?!  Get Search and Rescue out there now!  What is the pilot's status?"

     "All lifesigns within acceptable levels, elevated heart rate and breathing, but other than that no anomalies," Maya reported.

     "Poor kid," Ritsuko said, "He's just reacting to getting eaten.  He'll be fine once we recover him."

     Misato nodded grimly.


     Eyes open, cold metal beneath, Who am I, what is this place? The redhead stepped off the table onto the cold concrete floor.  She looked through the window at the medical lab beyond.  A pale, blue-haired girl on a medical bed looked back at her, the redhead waved weakly.  The girl looked away, and closed her eyes.

     "Ranma, Ranma Saotome," the redhead said as she remembered, glancing down, she stared at what was impossible, she was supposed to be a guy, "What did you people do to me!" He/she charged the door to the isolation lab.


     Misato and Ritsuko walked through the corridors, Shinji had been recovered.  Once he was decontaminated, they would bring him here.  He was comatose, shock, a few minor injuries.  They didn't suspect mental contamination, but would take no chances.  A loud scream, and one of the orderlies exited the medical lab without opening the door first.  Misato and Ritsuko exchanged glances before they charged.
     Rei watched the strange girl tear through the people trying to restrain her; she considered the possibility of trying to escape the redheaded tornado, but it hurt too much to move.  She couldn't imagine what anyone had, 'Done to me', to elicit such a violent reaction.  And where was the boy they had brought in?  Perhaps he could be of help.  Misato and Ritsuko entered, looked at the carnage and the panting redhead in the middle of it.

     "You did this to me!" the redhead launched herself at the pair of older women.

     Misato reached for her pistol; Ritsuko grabbed the only thing handy, a pot of hot coffee.  Ritsuko hit the target perfectly, the now-boy yowled from the scalding and fastened his hands around their throats.

     "Change me," he paused, aware of his deeper voice, "Back?"

     "It's done," Misato pushed him away, massaging her throat.

     Ritsuko carefully filled a container of cold water from the tap, and set another coffee pot of water to heat.  "I'm glad you're awake, you can answer some of our questions."  She glanced at the door to the isolation lab, torn off it's hinges and embedded in the wall.  It would take artillery to do that! she thought.  She touched the pot, I hope that's hot enough.  "With cold water - " Ritsuko emptied the pot over the young man, "You become a girl."  She hastily dumped the hot water on him, before he reacted.  "With hot you become a boy.  Do you have any explanation for this?"

     The boy's eyes rolled up, and he collapsed to the floor.

     "He fainted," Rei observed.

     Misato and Ritsuko exchanged glances as the SAR crew entered with Shinji, setting him in one of the beds.

     "I need a beer," Misato grumped.

     "After work," Ritsuko reminded her, "I'll buy the first five.  After that, you're on your own."  Ritsuko looked at the carnage that surrounded the salvation of mankind.  Despite her education, she lacked the words to adequately describe her feelings.  She envied Misato, who was cursing like a hungover sailor.  I must learn those words.


     "Ranma, Saotome Ranma," the boy, Ranma, said, "I'm a guy."  He looked around the barren interrogation room.  It's only decorations were the two NERV troopers with their Browning Automatic Rifles.  The table and chairs were strictly utilitarian, and bolted solidly to the floor.

     "How do you know?  For certain, I mean," Commander Fuyutsuki asked, for some reason neither Katsuragi nor Akagi wanted to be in the same room with this boy.

     "I just do?"

     "What are your parents' names?" Fuyutsuki asked, checking over the scant results from Dr. Akagi's research.

     The boy considered before shaking his head.

     "Your home address, island, prefecture?"

     "I, I don't remember."

     "Why did you attack Dr. Akagi and Captain Katsuragi?" Commander Fuyutsuki kept his voice level, trying not to accuse.

     "I," the boy sighed, "I woke up.  I was a girl, I thought they did it to me."  He seemed to remember something, "The girl in the lab, she was hurt before I woke up."

     Fuyutsuki nodded, "You didn't aggravate her injuries.  She's the one who brought you in."  He smiled, "She claims you 'dropped out of the sky.' That is probably an accurate description of how you arrived."

     Ranma shook his head, "All I remember is my name."

     "As you remember more, I expect you to tell myself, Dr. Akagi or Captain Katsuragi."  Fuyutsuki warned, "Do you understand?  You are not to attack anyone else, you seriously injured those orderlies.  I suspect you don't know the full extent of your own strength."

     "Hai."  He nodded, touched his pigtail, "Sorry, 'bout that.  Uh, what do you do around here?" Ranma looked around.

     "You aren't cleared for that information.  We will be doing tests, to determine your suitability for our work.  If the results are in line with our needs, we will tell you more."

     "Otherwise?"

     Fuyutsuki smiled, "We'll deal with that problem when we have to."  As long as he knows nothing, Fuyutsuki thought, Or next to nothing, we should be able to release him.


Dragon

Dragon

     Two cows flew through the skies over the Dreamlands.  They were not happy cows, not only because they were flying, but because of the dragon carrying them.  The dragon headed into the high mountains.  One particular pass was its goal, where thick fibers spanned the pass from the various peaks and outcroppings.

     The dragon had paid for the cows; actually he'd left the gold on the doorstep, and helped himself.  On entering the pass, the dragon banked suddenly, and released the cows to fly into a thick collection of strands.  The dragon circled close to the two bovines, lowing in terrified tones.  Even their pitiful minds realized their jeopardy.

     The huge spider crawled out along the web, injecting venom into both and spinning a sack around both, to be consumed later, when the dragon wasn't there.

     "I offer gifts to the mighty Atlach-Nacha in hopes of garnering your keen insights," the dragon intoned.

     The Spider God turned to face the dragon, "Oh how the mighty have fallen.  Daimorigon.  Once, you were nearly one of us."

     "Now I am greater," the dragon replied, settling out of the Spider God's range.  "I offer you presents and you return insults.  Should I gift you with fire?"

     "What do you want?" the Spider God felt less secure.  No one threatened its master work.  But this dragon would, and had the means to carry out its threat.

     "What happens in the waking world?  I've seen the ripples across the Dreamlands, and through a thousand other dreamscapes . . . you know, I want to know."

     "They wake, all of them.  The Stars aren't Right, yet they wake.  My weaving isn't near finished and they wake!" the Spider God was screaming in fear and fury.

     "How?"

     "No one knows.  Few are even rational, striking out blindly against any that would oppose them.  Yet .  .  " the Spider God paused, considering, "Something else, something ancient, even by our standards.  It stirs slowly, deeply, not fully awake, but waking."

     "What is it?"

     "I don't know!" the Spider God shrieked, "Go!  Go to the ultimate south.  Ask your questions there!  Then hide, hide to quiver in terror from the answers you seek."

     "I will return with further offerings.  The information is useful, but I need more."

     "Perhaps I won't tell you, or I'll out wait you."

     "You are only a little god.  Need there be threats between us?  I wish to remain cordial."

     "Bring human sacrifices next time," the Spider God told the dragon.

     "Perhaps I will bring Spiders of Leng, next time.  Let you sup on your own slaves," the dragon spread his wings and flew away.

     The Spider God sucked the fluid out of the sacks, before it returned to its endless spinning.


     The dragon considered what he had learned, and what he hadn't.  Ultimate south, Antarctica.  There were no minds there that dreamed, he could hardly observe dreamscapes that didn't exist.  Perhaps the boy could be sent.  The dragon discarded the idea, the most hostile place on the surface of the planet was not where he wanted the boy, no matter the need.  Perhaps the two of them could breech the barrier, and the dragon could go there himself.  What would he do?  If and when he found out what the truth was, fight it?  Was even he strong enough?  Run away?  That wasn't in his character.  Atlach-Nacha was a coward, even for a Great Old One, but it heard and could be paid for information.  And it feared, perhaps rightly.
First Aftermath

First Aftermath

     Shinji woke from a nightmare about his father eating him alive, and an armored, purple, humanoid monster laughing at him in the corner.  The gray ceiling was something he hadn't seen before.  He was someplace he hadn't been before.

     He let his mind float for a while, as he tried to decide what was real and what wasn't, of what he remembered.  The robot couldn't have been real?  Could it?  The worm and the fight, he'd never been in a fight in his life, not one that he won anyway.  "It had to be a dream," he said quietly.  He raised an arm, looking at the acid burns that weren't there.  He remembered being digested by that giant worm, then . . . then what, what was dream and what was reality?  He must have won the battle, cut the worm open and escaped, if anything about the giant robot was real, that had to be.

     "But what else?" he asked no one in particular.

     He decided he'd never get any peace just lying here, perhaps he should find someone and ask what really happened, perhaps he should ask his father . . . "What does he want of me?"

     He threw the covers off the bed, and wandered outside.  The hospital had provided him with pajamas instead of a gown.  He felt better about that, he would have felt better with a set of shoes.

     He kept looking at his arm and hands.  He could remember the feeling of having his arm nearly wrenched from its socket by the worm, and the creature trying to digest him.  But they weren't his memories, it hadn't happened to him.  It had happened to the robot, so why did he remember those feelings, why did he keep expecting to see the burns on his flesh, to feel the pain of moving his arm?

     He was frightened and confused, he didn't know who to turn to.  Everyone here frightened him.  No, he thought, That's not right, that girl.  He remembered her, the girl they had brought before him, used her to coerce him into piloting the robot.  He wondered if she knew what was happening, would she be able to talk to him.


     Ranma sat on his bed, glanced around the private room.  He noted the solidness of the door, and the armed guards outside.  He could get out anytime he wanted, but a window would have made it easier.

     "Saotome Ranma," the big man, an American, addressed him.  "I'm Captain Everett Walters U.S.  Marine Corp."

     "Yes, sir," Ranma noted the man's stance and the way he carried himself.  A fighter, Ranma thought, As well as a soldier.

     "I understand you know some martial arts."

     "Yes, sir, I seem to, I just don't -"

     "Easy lad," the man held up his hands, "I'm not here to interrogate you.  I thought you might like to spar, find out how much you do know."  The man smiled, and whispered, "Besides, I can beat most of the people here.  So, I've been looking for a challenge."

     Something in Ranma perked up, "Well, I'm your man."


     They had changed into gis and were out on the training floor.  The floor was padded, Ranma didn't know how, but it meant he could go further in the throws and falls.

     "What have you studied?" Ranma asked.

     "Karate, Judo, Boxing, Wrestling, some fencing, Capoeira, Savate, and Football."

     "Football isn't a martial art," Ranma said.

     "We'll see.  I'll start slow, I used to be an instructor of hand-to-hand, before they made me an officer and a gentleman.  If I'm going too slow, tell me, I'll speed up.  I'm here to see how good you are, not to bore or hurt you.  Agreed?"

     "Agreed, Captain."

     "Everett.  Corners are neutral, if you get hurt or get the wind knocked out of you, or anything else, go to a corner."

     Ranma nodded.  "Let's start, Everett."

     "Since you said Football isn't a martial art."


     Commander Fuyutsuki and Captain Katsuragi watched the match through the surveillance system.

     "He's very good," Misato said, "He'll wipe the floor with our Marine friend."

     "Captain Walters is smarter than that, he'll back off and try to analyze Saotome's style.  He understands he's to gather intelligence, as well as give the boy a workout."

     Misato watched Saotome throw the much bigger man several times.  "I think we should tell Saotome that."


     Everett headed into the corner, "You're better than I thought.  I think you're better than you thought.  Saotome-sensei."

     Ranma brushed the back of his head, "Yeah well, it's like it's automatic.  I just do the moves."

     "Yes, so that part of your memory wasn't lost.  Do you know the name of the style?  I've never seen it before."

     Ranma considered, "No, sorry.  I just don't remember."

     "Well, are you interested in trying to test yourself against some more unusual styles?"

     "Yeah, I'd like to learn those Football moves.  They could be useful."  Ranma grinned, "Against a real opponent."

     "Watch it," Everett warned, "You aren't so tough I can't send you to bed without dinner."

     Ranma braced himself and awaited the attack.  None came as Everett walked to the center of the room, that seemed very curious to him.


     Fuyutsuki had seen enough, he left to consult with some people.  Misato stayed to watch.  Everett, who had been NERV Tokyo's hand-to-hand expert was getting creamed by the boy who was only two-thirds his height and probably about a third his weight.  Saotome's style seemed to rely on fast dodges and staying in the air as much as possible.  The bigger man's unorthodox methods caught Ranma off guard a few times, but he could never use the same trick twice.  Ranma hadn't even tried to hit back, dodging, blocking and analyzing.  From what Misato knew about the martial arts, you couldn't be stupid and be this good.  She just wondered how much of it could be transferred to the EVA.
     Everett held up his hands, "I surrender."  He blew out a breath, "I was looking for a challenge.  I think I got one."

     Ranma returned the larger man's smile as he stood and bowed, signaling the match was over.

     "Well, it wasn't so tough."

     "Careful boy, that attitude can get you into trouble.  You never know when someone may attack."

     Ranma tensed, he was sure he had heard those word, or at least that sentiment before.

     "Relax," Everett held up his hands, "The match is over.  There's no honor in attacking now.  But, if you want to exchange some of those moves, I'm willing to teach you."

     "Yes, sensei."  Ranma bowed.

     "All right, we'll start with Capoeira since you like the unorthodox so much.  Can you do a handstand?"

     Ranma did one, and held it.  Everett approached.


     Ritsuko came into the surveillance room, "So," she asked Misato, "Are they bonding?"

     "Yes," Misato said, "Ranma seems to have taken to him right away."

     "Missing father figure," Ritsuko observed, "Same as our young wanderer."

     "Shinji's awake?" Misato asked.

     "Yes, wandering around the hospital wing, looking for Rei."  Ritsuko seated herself behind the console.

     Misato rushed from the room.

     Ritsuko watched the two go through a series of fast martial arts exchanges.  The revelation that the boy was a martial artist had opened more possibilities.  Both Rei and Shinji were untrained in hand-to-hand combat.  If they had someone of their own age to train with, perhaps they would be more comfortable learning.

     Because the Angel they had just fought would be a walk in the park compare to the ones that were coming.


     Shinji had wandered around.  He'd discovered the name of the girl, Ayanami Rei.  But no one was willing to tell him where she was, if she was all right.  Security they said, and advised him to return to his room.  Not, 'She's too badly injured', but 'security concerns'.  That isn't right, he thought as he walked.

     He wasn't sure he wanted to be here, he wasn't sure why he was here.  Yes, they needed a person to sit in the robot.  But . . . why did they trust him with a giant fighting robot, and they wouldn't let him talk to an injured girl?  Normally he didn't mind being ignored, he preferred it actually.  Here, ignoring him was a policy.  He didn't belong here, that was the clear message he was getting from everyone.  Even his father.  Even if they wanted him here, he didn't belong.

     "Shinji-kun!" the dark-haired woman from yesterday, the maniac, was running towards him, "I'm so glad you're all right."

     He wasn't sure how to take it, was she glad she still had a pilot, or that a person hadn't been hurt?

     "Hello, Captain."

     "Misato, everybody calls me Misato.  Captain is just too formal."

     Shinji was more than a little overwhelmed.  "Why am I here?"

     "Well you were injured, and this is the best hospital in Tokyo, probably in the whole world."

     "No, Misato-san.  Why am I here, why did you ask me to pilot - that thing?  Can't you have soldiers do it instead?  I thought my father wanted to see me, I didn't expect to be in a war."

     "Don't worry about that, we can train you.  That's what we're here for," Misato chuckled.

     She didn't answer my question, he thought, and realized he wasn't going to get any answers, not from her, and that meant none from his father either.

     "So, are you my father's secretary or something?" he asked.

     She frowned and a vein popped out on her head, "I am your commanding officer.  Show a little respect!"

     She's scary, he thought.  "I'm sorry."

     She smiled, "It's okay.  I hear you're looking for Rei, are you already sweet on her."

     Shinji blushed and said nothing.  He already knew he'd get no straight answers here.  "I wanted to see if she was all right.  She looked badly hurt when I got into the robot."

     "Oh, she'll be fine."  Misato urged him back to his hospital room.  "You should rest, don't worry, everything's under control."

     It certainly is, Shinji thought, I am, of that I'm absolutely certain.

     Soon he was back in his room, he was surprised they didn't lock the door after Misato tucked him in.  He couldn't figure these people out, he'd never been good with people, but these were especially strange.

     As soon as he was sure Misato wasn't camped outside his door, he left again.  If he was stuck here, he at least wanted to be able to look outside.


     Ranma enjoyed the workout, he'd showered and was headed with Doctor Akagi and Captain Walters to test a few things.  "Not my, problem, I hope."

     "No," Dr. Akagi said, "Your speed.  I've got pretty good eyes, and I couldn't follow some of your moves.  My specialty is biophysics, I study organisms and how they work physically.  You're an interesting specimen, in more ways than one.  Have you considered our offer?"

     "I'd need to know what you're doing, other than saving the world.  I may be no good at what you're doin'.  I don't like disappointing people."

     Dr. Akagi and Capt.  Walters exchanged glances, they had him hooked.  All they had to do is reel him in.

     "Mr.  Ikari," Ritsuko spoke up, seeing Shinji wandering again.  "You should be in bed, doctor's orders."

     "I feel fine Doctor," Shinji said, "I just wanted to look through a window while -"

     A scream cut through all of them.  Walters and a few others were not seriously affected.  Dr. Akagi was on her knees, covering her head.  Ranma had fallen, he felt knives slicing through his brain as the scream went on and on and on.


     Shinji could barely stand up.  He'd never heard agony like that, it was a woman's scream, a girl's, maybe the girl he'd seen yesterday.  He swayed under the relentless attack.  Something told him this wasn't an actual sound, nothing could be that loud, it would have deafened him instantly.  One of the nurses who'd been following Dr. Akagi stumbled and fell, drenching the boy with Dr. Akagi and the Marine.

     Shinji watched in horror as the boy shrank, his hair changed from black to red, and he definitely became a she.  Shinji had thought the girl, Ayanami-san, had been unusual.  Now he watched a boy, probably another new pilot, become a girl, while this screaming went on and on in his head.  That decided everything for Shinji.  Despite the pain, despite the disorientation, he began heading back to the hospital room.  The pain forced him into a drunken lurch, but he was getting away from these people.  He'd find his clothes, and leave quietly.  Now he understood why his father hadn't said, or explained anything to him.  Piloting the machines did things to you, weird, unnatural things.  He had to get out of here before that happened to him, if he wasn't already too late.

     I only piloted it once, he thought desperately, Maybe I won't change, or maybe the change won't be noticeable.  Maybe I'll be able to hide it.

     He reached his room and closed the door, leaning against it, as the screaming stopped.  It had been as loud with the door open as closed.  Somehow, Shinji knew, someone had just died.  And he was sure it had something to do with the robot or other NERV machines.


     Gendo stood up, seemingly unaffected by mental assault that had prostrated the entire crew.

     "Damn," Fuyutsuki cursed as Gendo pulled him to his feet, "Why can we stabilize either the matrix or the compatibility, not both?"

     "See to resetting the system, note the destruction of number 28," Gendo told him.  "What is Rei's condition?  I want to make sure there is no harmonic effect."

     "I'll see to it this."  Fuyutsuki watched his friend leave the test chamber.

     "What is it?  What are we missing?" Kouzou stared at the pool of L.C.L..

     Girlish giggles mocked their failure.


Break with the Past

Break with the Past

1992 Nerima

     Nabiki looked down, remembering the piece of paper in her hand.  She hadn't expected a party from Cologne and Shampoo, not when so many others were celebrating their graduations.  The Nekohanten had three parties going on, and Nabiki was working.  She had the results from the tests for Tokyo University, Stanford, Harvard, and Cambridge.  Only Stanford had rejected her.  All in all, it wasn't a bad life.

     A tap on the back of the head, "No time for daydreaming."

     Except for a few things, Nabiki thought.  "Hai, Honored Elder."  She got back to work.  Her reflexes were better, her skills had improved considerably.  Although she wasn't foolish enough to think she was in Ranma's or Shampoo's class, or even Ukyo's.  However, I do fill out the costume almost as well as Shampoo does, she thought.  She smiled at Akane's recent attempt to bring her `home` as she took another order.  Short as the fight had been, it had felt good.


     "Thank you for choosing the Nekohanten," she said to the last customers as they left.  She sighed as the door closed.  Mousse was already sweeping up, Nabiki knew she was going to help.  Nabiki picked up the broom and began sweeping.

     "Nabiki-chan," Shampoo called to her, carrying out a decorated cake with the word 'Congratulations' on it.

     Nabiki smiled "I don't know what to say."

     "Say nothing."  Cologne handed her a knife, "Just cut the cake."

     "Has the celebration started?" Ukyo entered, Mousse closed the door after her.  "So off to the real world?" Ukyo smiled.

     "Should Nabiki make wish?" Shampoo asked.

     "That's a birthday cake, Sugar," Ukyo told her.

     "Why not?  I wish I could know that Ranma's all right, wherever he is."  Nabiki started cutting the cake, And I wish that someone is watching over that headstrong baka.  Someone who actually cares about him, he deserves at least that much, she thought.

     The others nodded, even Mousse, which surprised Ukyo.


     "So where are you going?" Ukyo asked.

     "I don't know," Nabiki admitted, "I could go to Tokyo University, or Harvard, or even Cambridge.  It's a big choice."

     "Nabiki want to leave?" Shampoo asked.

     "Maybe.  I can't go to college this fall.  I'm going to take a semester off and travel, that gives me some time to think.  I'd like to go to Harvard, but Cambridge is prestigious too."

     "Decisions, decisions," Cologne commented.

     "What about you, Honored Elder?" Nabiki asked, "Are you going to leave Nerima when the next semester starts?"

     "No, we will remain for a year.  Then we will each decide what to do."

     "What happens to Shampoo?" Ukyo asked, "If Ran-chan is gone and .  .  ..  " the okonomiyaki chef bit her lip.

     "The Council will have to decide.  My advice for her would be find another groom from the people here, or tour the world.  Let the cooler heads in the Council prevail before she returns."

     Nabiki and Ukyo nodded.

     I could have a worse traveling companion, Nabiki thought.


     Nabiki was cleaning up after the party, she'd let Mousse and Shampoo go, she wanted some time with Ukyo.

     "You miss him?" Ukyo asked mischievously.

     Nabiki frowned, "Yes, not just making money.  It was kind of fun having him around.  I didn't appreciate having the house under attack every day by various forces, but it was interesting in the Chinese sense of an interesting life.  It was also kind of nice to have a white knight running around when the trouble and enemies came through.  As bad as it got, I always knew he'd get things fixed."

     Ukyo cleared her throat.

     "Okay, maybe with some of our help as well," Nabiki admitted.  Ukyo nodded.

     "The sad thing: I always supported Ranma and Akane, over the rest of you.  I wanted him as part of my family.  Now, I'm not part of my family.  I'm as much an `unperson` as Ranma is to them."

     "So, you were plotting against me," Ukyo said.

     "If I knew . . . If I'd known how Akane would react, I wouldn't have.  I kept hoping for both of them to grow up.  If we could have gotten his father out of the picture .  .  .."

     "Yeah, can you imagine him without Genma?!" Ukyo started laughing.

     Nabiki joined in, "He'd never get into all those messes, and kept his honor."


     Shinji had found his clothes in a closet, he didn't know why he hadn't smelled them until now.  They still smelled terrible, like the machine, he wasn't about to wear them again.  Would even touching them be safe? he wondered, deciding to leave them in the closet and look for the baggage he'd had with him, when he'd come to Tokyo.

     He was searching the room for it when Misato burst in.

     "Hi, Shinji-kun!" she said brightly.

     "Commander."  Shinji bowed.

     "I told you to call me Misato!" she told him.

     "I'm sorry."

     "Why did they keep these?" she wrinkled her nose at the faint stench coming off the clothes.  "We can burn these and get you something else."  She collected them.

     Making sure I can't leave? he thought.  "Thank you, Co . . . Misato-san."  He was glad she didn't yell at him again.

     Instead she smiled, "You'll be glad to know you'll be staying with me.  I've been assigned as your guardian."

     Assigned?!  Well it's better than having to live with my father.  "I don't want to put you to any trouble."

     "Don't worry, it's my job," she told him.

     I'm your job, well it's good to know I'm not important or anything, he thought as he bowed again.  "Thank you for your hospitality."

     "You'll like living with me," she continued, "It'll be like a party every day."

     As soon as I find my clothes, I'm leaving, he decided, No, as soon as I'm sure she's gone, I'm leaving.

     "We'll liven up your personality pretty quick," she told him as she left.

     "Where are my spare clothes?" He began searching frantically.


     Ranma stood his ground near the first of the EVA entry plugs.  The two EVAs merely accented the vacancy of the huge room.  The three adults were the only others in the enormous room.  Although, high up on one wall, an audience had gathered at the windows there.  Ranma wouldn't back down, and they couldn't force him.  "I'm not getting in there!" Ranma folded his arms and stared defiantly at Dr. Akagi and Gendo.

     "I'll take care of this," Everett told them, motioning them away.

     Gendo adjusted his glasses and glared at them both, then turned on his heel and stalked off.  Dr. Akagi raised an eyebrow and walked off.

     Ranma stuck his tongue out at both of them "What's their problem?"

     "How many weeks have you got?" Everett said, "Look Ranma I can smell it, and I can guess how bad it tastes.  But without that liquid, you can't link properly with the EVA, and just walking would shake you apart.  As bad as it seems, it's the only solution.  Don't worry, if you're afraid of the dark - "

     "I'm not afraid of anything!" Ranma insisted.

     "Then get in there.  Most people are terrified of their first contact with that stuff."

     Ranma grimaced and jumped in, splashing Everett with some of the L.C.L..  He headed straight for the control room, better to share the experience with others.


     "Okay, Ranma.  Just relax," Dr. Akagi said, then wrinkled her nose.

     Everett stepped up beside Gendo.  "This stuff really does stink, doesn't it?"

     Gendo frowned, "You should have showered."

     "And let that boy prove he's tougher than his Commander.  It would cost you a great deal of face.  Imagine, a boy claiming he was braver than you?  Terrible."

     Gendo frowned.  Dr. Akagi hadn't moved, as revolting as the smell was.

     "How is the link up going?" Gendo asked to change the subject.

     "Some odd harmonics initially, everything else is proceeding normally," Dr. Akagi said, "But we're not sure what will happen when we cross the threshold."

     "Approaching threshold," Lt.  Thompson reported.

     Everett moved to drop the armored shutters at the slightest problem.

     "Passing threshold," Maya announced, "No anomalies to report."

     Dr. Akagi relaxed.  Gendo frowned less.

     "No anomalies or harmonics, data coming in," Lt.  Thompson reported.

     "That's twice.  After so many . . . " Dr. Akagi said, not believing it.

     "I leave the testing to you, Doctor."  Gendo left.

     Everett waited until Gendo had left the room, "I think I'll get a clean uniform and quick shower."

     Dr. Akagi pinched her nose, "Yes please.  Go!"

     Maya and Lt.  Thompson giggled.

     "Okay Ranma, just relax.  You don't have to do anything.  Relax, but don't go to sleep, let us get some readings."

     "This stuff is awful," Ranma complained.

     "Don't complain to the doctor who has to maintain the EVAs.  I have to swim in the L.C.L., at least you can breathe it in its current state.  I can't, so it could be worse."

     "I guess," Ranma admitted.


     Misato entered the conference room, the staff were going over the results with Ranma, who was wearing a pair of coveralls, his previous clothes left in the locker room for burning.

     "I took three showers, and I can still smell that stuff," he complained.  "Is that why your hair is that color?"

     "What?" Dr. Akagi's head came up.

     "Blonde at the ends and brown at the scalp?" Ranma asked.

     Maya and Lt.  Thompson started laughing as Ritsuko blushed.

     "Ranma, you really shouldn't ask the lady those things," Everett told him.

     "Why not?  I just want to know what this stuff will do to me."

     "Because she schedules all your medical tests.  All of them."

     Ranma blanched.

     "Have any of you seen Shinji?" Misato asked, "I can't seem to find him."

     "Last I saw him was when that screaming was going on."  Dr. Akagi sipped her coffee, "Can't keep track of one little boy?"

     "I told him he'd be staying with me, and now when I'm ready to go home, I can't find him."

     "And you think that's unrelated," Lt.  Thompson asked, "Maybe someone told him about your cooking."

     "Was he the kid we saw when I got splashed?" Ranma asked.

     "I heard about that.  Yes," Misato said, "Have you seen him after that?"

     "No.  But the way he reacted, I thought he was going to run clear out of the building."  Ranma told them.

     "You did explain about Saotome-san's condition?" Dr. Akagi asked, "Didn't you?"

     "It must have slipped my mind."  Misato waved the concern away.

     "That's it then," Ranma concluded, "He bugged out."

     "What do you mean?" Dr. Akagi asked, "How do you know that?"

     Ranma looked at the adults sheepishly, "I saw the expression on his face, saw how he ran away.  I was getting chopsticks rammed through my skull, so was he, but he saw me transform and he still managed to run away.  He's either real tough, or real scared."

     "'Out of the mouths of babes,' probably some of both," Everett said, "You want to turn out the Marines to go get him?"

     "No.  When I can't find one boy -" She stormed out.

     "She's never gonna find him like that," Ranma said.

     "What makes you the expert?" Everett asked.

     "I saw the kid's face.  Nobody else looked at him.  This stupid transformation is a curse, I can't help getting splashed, and if it's going to scare the other pilots that bad, that's just terrific.  Ayanami knows, doesn't she?"

     "She was there when you attacked Misato and me," Dr. Akagi assured him, "And she saw how you transform.  Don't worry about Rei, she's used to handling the unusual."

     "I feel sorry for him, you know?" Ranma said, "I know how scared I was when I woke up.  And I didn't just get eaten by a giant worm."


     Shinji didn't know what to think.  He felt guilty about abandoning everyone, but they had two pilots didn't they?  They only needed him until the others were ready.  Well that one that changed gender was healthy enough.  He felt guilty about not making sure that girl, Ayanami-san, was okay.  Dragging her out of her hospital bed couldn't have been easy on her.  He wanted to apologize to her, but no one would let him see her.  Another secret they didn't want him to know about.

     He heard a car screech its tires, he only knew one person who drove like that.  He quickly hid himself behind two sacks of garbage and waited for the sound to recede.

     "Aw, I wanted to stay clean."  He looked at his soiled clothes.  He didn't have another change.  What? he asked himself, You thought you could outrun cars?  They'll probably have troops out looking for you, to make sure you don't give away any of their secrets.  With a shiver he kept walking.  Trying to lose himself in this strange city.


     "Hello, Ayanami-san."  Ranma stood over the girl's hospital bed.  Everett and Maya were waiting out in the corridor.  "I understand you're the First Children."  He was confused at the name, wasn't one a child, and two or more children?  He waited a moment for her response.

     She just looked at him, blinking occasionally.

     "Well I guess I'm the Fourth."  He brushed the back of his head.

     "You are cursed."

     A flat statement, it took him by surprise.  "Yeah, I guess that's easier than calling it a transformation, especially when I can't seem to go ten minutes without being splashed."  He laughed half-heartedly.  When Rei didn't respond he continued, "Well, I thought I should introduce myself.  Seein' as we're gonna be pilots together."

     "You are not Ikari."

     "No, I'm Saotome, Ranma Saotome.  Shinji took off.  He saw my change and took off."  Ranma bent close to the injured girl, "I think he found out about Captain Misato's cooking and that he was going to be living with her.  That's why he ran away."

     "The Captain cooks poorly."

     "Yeah, so I've heard."  Ranma didn't have much to say, he waited for her to say something.

     She didn't.

     "Well, I have to be going.  It was good to speak with you."

     She turned to face the ceiling, blotting him out of her universe.

     Out in the corridor Ranma shivered, "Brr.  She doesn't talk much."

     "For her, that was especially garrulous," Maya said.

     "Very chatty," she added when she saw Ranma's confusion.

     "I think she hates me," Ranma told them.  The two adults exchanged confused looks.


     The Nekohanten had been closed for an hour, Nabiki was doing katas, by Cologne's order.  Kuno had come in to demand information on the fate of 'the divine pigtailed goddess', and it had taken Shampoo and Nabiki to defeat him when they'd told him the truth.  Cologne had demanded both girls practice.  Nabiki transitioned from blocks and kicks to strikes and sweeps.  The moves were graceful, almost dance-like.  Nabiki wondered why Ranma never wanted to dance, he would have been superb.  She pulled her punch suddenly as a young woman had appeared before her.

     She must be really good to sneak up on me that way, Nabiki thought, Foreigner by the look of her.  Nabiki noted the odd tattoos on the woman's face.  "I'm sorry, but the Nekohanten is closed.  You are welcome to come back tomorrow at 10:00 A.M."

     "You are Tendo Nabiki."  The woman's voice sounded like Kasumi's, similar timbre, the same gentle, loving tone.

     Except Nabiki remembered what that loving, and oh-so-proper tone, had done to her, and to Ranma.  "I'm sorry, the Nekohanten is closed.  I'm afraid I'll have to ask you to come back tomorrow."

     "Tendo Nabiki, I have information on Saotome Ranma," she told her, "You wished to know if he was safe and cared for.  I am here to fulfill that wish."

     Nabiki smiled, "Yes, of course."

     "You doubt me, you believe that I am a mad woman and that you are wondering if you can handle me yourself, or if you need to call for your friend Xian Pu for help."

     "Any carnival mind reader could do the same."  Nabiki considered which direction was the best to move to get Shampoo.  If the woman were insane, she'd need help to subdue her without hurting her.

     She smiled, "My name is Belldandy.  You will find Xian Pu and the others cannot hear you, I wished to keep this conversation private.  Call them if you wish."

     "Shampoo, Cologne!  Mousse!" Nabiki glanced at the woman, "Ranma!!"

     Belldandy smiled at that, "The encryption key for your personal financial records is 'Splendid Mustang'."

     Nabiki felt her blood run cold.

     "You changed it three weeks after Ranma arrived."

     "What do you want?" Nabiki whispered.  Belldandy? she wondered, Where have I heard that name before?

     Belldandy smiled.  "You made a wish.  I am here to grant it, and no, I am not insane.  We only have to work out the exact terms."

     "I hadn't thought you were insane," Nabiki countered, damping down her excitement.  Getting down to business, she knew that getting terms was her specialty.

     "The specific parameters: first you wished to know he's all right, he is, for the moment.  Second, you wished that someone would watch over him, someone who actually cares about him.  It has been decided that you will be that person."

     Nabiki was overjoyed, considering all the possibilities.

     "Unfortunately."

     Why didn't I see that coming? she wondered.

     "He will not be your only charge, there are others who will require your help, perhaps as much or more than Ranma.  Also, to ease his transition, he became a tabula rasa, a blank slate.  He remembers what he has been trained to do, but none of the relationships, none of those things that link him to the people here.  He will not know you, nor any of the places and people you remember."

     "Then why send me?" Nabiki was realizing it wasn't as good a deal as she'd thought.

     "You are there as a balance.  We took him to a place needful of bold knights as he.  Nevertheless, there is also a need for people such as yourself."

     "Selfish manipulators?" Nabiki asked, irritated at her own candor and this woman's double speak.

     "Those who know villainy, can better be on guard for it," Belldandy soothed, "That will be your task, to look where they would not, and guard them from what is there."

     "That's a tall order.  I can't do that without help.  Here I have a whole network of agents, that will take time to set up.  As well as equipment."

     "You can take only the clothes on your back, to take more would cause problems.  Still, we can offer recompense for your troubles and dislocation."

     "Okay, I want my friends to know that he's safe and I've gone after Ranma.  I also need means to do the job."

     Belldandy smiled sadly, "I cannot give you the means.  The means will be readily available, if you only look for them.  Are you ready to go?"

     "Now?  No word to the others?" Nabiki realized she was stalling, it was the biggest leap of faith she'd ever made.  And faith was something in extremely short supply in Nabiki Tendo.

     "I cannot take you, but I will transfer you to my counterpart.  Good luck and God Bless Tendo Nabiki."  The Tendo girl vanished, "I fear you will need it."  Belldandy turned and saw Urd waiting for her, "I don't like punishing the girl this way.  It is cruel, and it is wrong."

     "Her karmic load is too high," Urd commented, "Besides, to win, we'll need a few devils on our side."

     Belldandy stared at her hands, "Why must we play by their rules."  She sighed, "It makes me wonder who truly commands."

     "We protect and guide," Urd told her, "They fight."

     Belldandy nodded, ashamed of her momentary loss of faith, carefully scribed a note and the pair vanished.

     "Nabiki?  Nabiki?!  Great-grandmother!  Where is Nabiki?" Shampoo searched the restaurant as Cologne found and read the note.


     Shinji slept in the theater, ignoring the sound of the other patrons.  The film was about death and destruction.  The exact details were unimportant.  The events of the film filled his thoughts with the battle.  How many buildings had he knocked down?  Had those buildings had people in them?  If so, how many had been injured?  How many killed?  Because he didn't know what he was doing.  Would it have been better to let the girl, the trained pilot, even if she was hurt, do the job?  Would there have been as much damage, as many deaths?

     He'd walked by a repair crew, earlier today.  They'd warned him away when he asked about if there were people trapped in the ruined building.

     'Are you a relative?' one of the rescue workers asked.  Shinji hadn't been willing to tell them he was the pilot.

     'No, I'm just worried that's all,' he'd told them.  They had given him the name of a nearby hospital.

     So he had hurt people, maybe killed them.  Because he couldn't pilot the robot properly.  Misato had said they'd train him.  How would he ever apologize to the people he'd hurt?  To the people he'd killed?  He couldn't do it again.  He would go back to where he came from.  He would try and forget everything that happened.

     Then a realization came, so swiftly he woke out of his troubled sleep.  They wanted to use him against the First Angel, before they risked their pilots.  He was expendable, they'd wanted to expose him and see what had happened.  As soon as he thought that, he abandoned the thought.  He'd seen nothing that would prove they knew what they were doing.  They didn't have a healthy pilot, so they sent him in.  He might have been expendable, but all he was . . . was a stopgap, an emergency measure.  I'm still worthless, he thought as he settled back to sleep, But they aren't plotting against me, yet.


     Shinji missed the tiny figure turn and walk into the darkness.  It had been following him since night fell, now it had other work to do.
     Ranma stood near the entry plug loading station.  At least Gendo wasn't there, and at least the weird costume they'd given him looked like his regular clothes: red top, black pants and black slippers/shoes. 

     "Why do I have to do this again?" Ranma asked, tugging at the plugsuit, it was embarrassingly tight.

     "Because it's your responsibility as a pilot," Everett told him, "Just as it's my responsibility to keep an eye on you.  You do want to learn more of those moves don't you?"

     "Oh course!" Ranma demanded.  Learning marital arts was as important to him as breathing.  He didn't know why, right now he didn't care.  "So I either do the stupid test, or you won't teach me anymore.  Is that it?"

     "Don't look at it that way," Everett scolded, "Look at it as an exchange.  You get something you want, after you give us something we want.  Thinking about it that way puts you back in control.  You can walk away anytime.  Of course, the rest of your life will be spent wondering if there was something I could teach you, or that you could have piloted the EVA in actual combat."

     "Why this one, and not the other one?"

     This one was Unit 00, they'd just released it from the restraints.

     "Two reasons, one we need to see if you can.  Second, because all the girls will think you're a coward if you don't," Everett told him.

     Ranma climbed inside with a determined expression.  Everett walked back to the control room to take his station.


     "You're getting good at that," Ritsuko teased the American.

     "He wants to do well, but he just resents not having any control over it."  Everett activated the control board, "You just put it in terms he understands.  Our boss needs to learn that the stick only works part of the time.  Sometimes a carrot works better."

     "Don't let him hear you say that," Ritsuko warned, then chuckled.  Gendo had no control of the U.S.  'oversight' personnel, except for actual combat situations.

     "How do you feel Ranma?" Ritsuko asked over the comm system.

     "Like it doesn't fit," Ranma replied.

     "The control on the wrist - " Ritsuko said.

     "That's not it, Sensei.  The suit is snug.  It's the EVA that doesn't fit.  That's how it feels."

     Ritsuko glanced over at Maya.

     "Less than 7 percent.  The pulses are just dissipating in the EVA," the woman told her, "It isn't rejecting him.  It's like they don't even affect each other."

     "Okay, Ranma relax, relax as much as you can.  Then focus on syncing with the EVA, just like the test with Unit 01."  Ritsuko looked at the paper trails from the chart recorders, "I don't think this is working."

     "Up to 9 percent," Maya reported, "Not enough to move the EVA."

     "All right, we'll pull him out of there.  Run some tests with, since his transformation is secret, we need another name for his female form."

     "How about Ranko," Lt.  Thompson suggested, "It's close enough that if she reacts to Ranma, it's an easy mistake."

     "Good.  I'll make the necessary adjustment to - her - file."  Ritsuko scribbled something on her pad.

     "Ranma," Everett began, "I've got good news, and bad news."


     Ranma was laughing, quickly did a handstand and feinted at Everett.

     "You're learning."  The Marine stepped out of reach.  "But you haven't quite mastered it."

     Ranma returned to an upright stance.  "What's next?  I can already beat you."

     "The point of the art is to be able to fight with your wrists and ankles chained," Everett told him.  "Time for other practice."

     Ranma looked in the direction Everett was pointing, Rei sat carefully exercising her injured leg.  She looked at the leg moving as if it was someone elses.

     "Hello, Rei-san," Ranma said.

     Rei looked at him, and said nothing.

     Ranma rubbed the back of his head, "You know, you'd be cute if you smiled more."

     Rei looked at him for a moment, then continued her work.  Ranma walked back to a disgusted Everett.

     "Saotome-san, you may be a good martial artist, but you need to learn not to pick fights with people."

     Ranma stared at him in confusion.

     "You just told her she's repulsive."

     "I just said she'd be cute if she smiled more," Ranma replied defensively.

     "And she isn't now?" Everett's tone indicated a lot was riding on Ranma's answer.

     "No, but I, I mean I never.  I'd better apologize."

     "You'd better not do it at all, in the future."  Everett pointed to the machine Rei was using.

     "How'd she do that?" Ranma looked around, "I never heard her leave!"

     "Something else to consider."  Everett sat Ranma in the machine Rei had been using.  He smirked as Ranma could barely duplicate the exercise Rei had been doing.

     "How strong is she?" Ranma stood up and stared at the weights fragile-looking Rei had been moving.

     "I'm not planning on arm-wrestling her any time soon," Everett admitted.  "Also, you're the second person who just strolled in and could pilot Unit 01.  She got hurt trying, and it's killed a few candidates.  You and Shinji made it look easy.  She may not show it, but that has to hurt.  She's worked for years, and two novices do the one thing she can't."

     "I didn't know."  Ranma looked embarrassed.

     "Of course not.  But if you irritate her, she may hit you."  Everett smiled, "So you might want to fill out your will and burial instructions."

     Ranma smirked at him.


     "What's the delay?" Gendo faced the monoliths of the committee, rather than their spokesmen, arranged around him in the darkness.

     "That is not your concern.  We have need of the cruiser sent to collect the Second Children.  Evidently you have a pilot for both of your units."  They modulated the voices to sound all the same, to prevent Gendo from pinpointing who spoke.  But they couldn't hide the phrasing used.

     "The attacks have begun," Gendo countered, "The delay also pushes back the arrival of EVA Units 02 and 04.  We will need all the resources available to ensure success."

     "That is not your concern.  Project E is your primary area of attention."

     That has to be Kehl, Gendo thought.  "Project E will do us no good if we are destroyed beforehand by one of them."

     "One monster does not constitute the beginning of the Return.  Once they are withdrawn, Europe and the Americas are defenseless."

     NERV France, Gendo identified the whiner.

     "There will be more.  Efforts in Canada to find a pilot, and construction continues in Nevada.  Soon we will have ample EVAs for our purposes."

     "Until that time," Gendo reminded them, "We are still vulnerable."

     "You have two EVAs, two pilots and an immense conventional military force."

     Definitely NERV Russia, Gendo considered.  He decided against asking about EVAs in the Russian areas of control.

     "They will suffice."

     "This meeting is adjourned."  The monoliths faded.  Gendo stood and left the `conference room`.

     Fools, he thought, They didn't even ask about Saotome.  When we recover Shinji, we'll have spare pilots.  We won't have to follow their restrained schedule.

(1) Neko: Cat

     Names are [Person/Mind] [Form/body]



"Better a friend on paths unknown, than be alone in Hell."

     The Wolf Pack: Strange Blood by Leslie Fish

Chapter 2: Nabiki Arrives

     The overcast dimmed the early afternoon to near twilight.  Faint thunder echoed off the buildings of the city.  Newsstands, none of the `stuffers` appeared on duty for the rush hour trains, tiny two car trains instead of the Shinkansen or any modern trains.  Nabiki found herself in this odd train station.  For an instant, she thought she was in a museum.

     "This place is ancient!" she commented.

     "The year is 1947," a slightly different Belldandy told her.  Nabiki noticed the changes in their heights and their clothing.  Belldandy nodded, "You are now 14-years-old, and dressed appropriately for this time and place.  You have retained your knowledge of the future, and its wonders, it is the only advantage you have, except."  Belldandy touched Nabiki's forehead.

     Nabiki's mind was instantly awhirl.  Thoughts, ideas, concepts flooded her mind, then settled down.  It was not wholly unpleasant.

     "It was agreed, to give you absolute fluency in German, and English, they will be very necessary."

     "When can I see Ranma?" Nabiki asked.  Air-raid sirens sounded all over the city.  Nabiki tensed as the few people she could see, stopped whatever they were doing, and moved in various directions.

     "He will appear soon.  But he is not your first priority.  There are others who will require your help, perhaps as much or more than Ranma.  You may discover, that you have to protect them from themselves, over any external enemy," Belldandy explained.

     Nabiki shook her head, "A bunch of crazies, like Kuno."

     "No, their fears are more justified."  The goddess gestured to the two humanoid machines walking through the city, one purple, the other orange.

     "Giant robots!" Nabiki was confused, "I thought you said this was 1947, we couldn't build those things in our time!"

     "Correct.  There are other technologies available," the goddess explained as the two machines jogged to the same position.  Some black, tarry substance flowed over the purple one.  The orange one pulled a knife that was normally proportionated to it, which made it huge, and slashed at the tar.  The tar smothered the orange one as well.

     Nabiki looked at the goddess, "What's happening?"

     "Your friend is piloting the purple machine, the false god is trying to kill them, him and the other pilot."  The goddess looked at her, "The other pilot, will be one who needs your help as well."

     Nabiki nodded, "Can't you do something?"

     "No."  She shook her head, "I'm not permitted to use that level of power.  The pilots must use their machines to destroy the false gods.  We cannot intervene directly.  Only humans can."

     "So I'm your agent here?  Do I have to abide by any special rules?"

     "We would not have chosen you, unless we knew you would do the job."

     "Terrific."  Nabiki turned back to the battle, the robots seemed to be losing.  "Can't I do something?  It's killing him, I can feel it!"

     "Yes," Belldandy admitted, "But they are not the ones who need you now."

     "I can't stand here and let him die!" Nabiki retorted angrily.  A ball of white light exploded from the hand of the purple machine, the tar looked like a slow-motion splash, as the ball hit it.  The orange one extended its hands, the tar began to pull in on itself, bits turned gray.  The knives rose and fell.  The machines stooped to continue the fight.

     Nabiki noticed the goddess turning away in horror.  Nabiki was confused, she hadn't seen anything too terribly horrible.  Maybe she was sensitive to the murder of anything.

     Belldandy composed herself, "Your first target is along this path, he will need saving, from himself, from the world.  Good luck to you, Tendo Nabiki, and God Bless."  The woman vanished.

     Nabiki looked at the cow path that led up into the hills, "No time like the past."  She joked as she started climbing.


     Ranma lowered his head, released his grip on the controls.  He'd never felt this tired, that he could remember.  "Rei-san?" he asked, "Are you still alive?"

     "Hai, Ranma-san," came back, even less expressive than usual.

     Ranma massaged his chest, it felt like somebody parked a truck there.  He couldn't breathe properly, his heart was barely beating.  He was sure he was dying, the `Angel` had been killing them somehow, in a way they couldn't counter.  Compressing my 'AT shield' and releasing it inside the monster, had been a last second act of desperation, he thought, I'm not sure how I did it, I didn't want to die, not with so much riding on my success or failure.  It felt, to him, like something he'd done before.  He wasn't even sure how to do it again.

     Right now I just want to sleep for a week, he thought.  Even the rotten taste and smell of L.C.L.  didn't rouse him as it had in the past.  He reached up, ran his hand across the smooth metal of the entry plug.  I'd heard all the people worried about me taking this EVA out in combat.  As far as I could tell, there hadn't been a problem.  He somehow had the feeling, that the EVA had been helping him along the way.  He couldn't describe it.

     It felt like it loved you.  However stupid that sounded, he thought.

     "Hey, sleepyheads!" Misato's voice and image appeared in the entry plug.  Another thing he wasn't sure of.

     "You aren't done 'til you bring them back in!"

     "Hai, Captain," Rei said.

     "Let me take a nap, I'll be in later."

     "Now!" Misato demanded.

     "I guess when you're that old, you get grouchy," he told Rei, ignoring Misato's outraged squawk.  Rei started walking slowly back to the EVA bays.  Ranma fell in behind her.  Each step was like walking with heavier and heavier lead weights on his feet.


     Misato stared daggers at Ritsuko and Maya, who were laughing at her discomfort.

     "You're just not having any luck with younger men," Ritsuko teased, "Maybe I should take him home.  Besides, he seems too tired to walk away."

     "Fine," Misato snapped back, Shinji's running away was a very sore spot right now.  She suddenly remembered, "We were supposed to pick up Tendo Nabiki!"

     "She's probably at a shelter.  We'll send Security out to find her," Ritsuko replied, "Any word about Shinji?"

     "None," Misato said glumly, "I suppose Security will have to drag him back here."

     "Let's just hope Rei doesn't run away too.  We'll run out of replacements," Maya joked.  "Sorry."  The glares from the other two silenced her.


     The path beaten through the waist-high grass led Nabiki forward.  The creature's defeat had broken the overcast, but true twilight was settling in over the area.

     Nabiki saw the boy ahead, she considered how she was going to approach him.  Usually, people came to her, but she could already sense how skittish he was.  Hi I'm lost.  Do you know the way to NERV?  Did you see those monsters fighting it out?  No scratch that one.  Hi, I'm Nabiki Tendo.  I'm the new pilot, can you point me in the direction of NERV Headquarters?  No, leave NERV out of it, she thought.  Her stomach rumbled, Hey, have you got anything to eat?  Yeah, that will do.  "Excuse me!  Sir, excuse me!" she closed the distance at a jog.


     Ranma crawled out of the entry plug, and onto the stretcher.  He hated how feeble he felt.  Rei had to be loaded from the chair to a stretcher, she couldn't move.  Ranma's pride demanded, he at least prove his strength.  The medics loaded the stretchers on wheeled gurneys, and left the EVA bay.

     For all her talk about being with us, Ranma thought, She doesn't waste any time seeing if we're all right.  He heard the medics commenting on blood pressure, heart rate, none of it meant anything to him.  He felt floaty, weak, temporary, as if a strong wind would blow him apart, at the same time, he felt twitches all over his body as if he couldn't sit still.  It was a frightening feeling, nothing was acting like he expected it to.

     He watched the lights passing over him, heard the squeak of the wheels on his gurney and Rei's up ahead.  He hated the taste of L.C.L.  in his mouth.  He hated the tests, which always followed a contact with the EVA.  This time, he was too weary to care.  He wasn't sure what he'd done, compressing his AT field to a point and releasing it within the monster.  Absorbing it had also disturbed him terribly, the uncleanliness of the thoughts and reaction.  He kept expecting his body to go liquid and flow away.  He was glad he got Maya for his examination.  Dr. Akagi might be a better doctor, but Maya was a lot more caring.

     He was tired of living here at the base, he wanted to get out, do something, anything.  If you can even get off this table, he told himself.

     They picked him off the gurney and placed him on the examination table.  Maya removed enough of his plugsuit to start her examination.  That also bothered him, being half-naked with a pretty girl, who insisted on examining him all over.

     "Are you all right?" Maya entered.

     "Tastes bad."

     She gave him a cup of water to rinse his mouth out, held him up so he didn't choke on it.

     "That was, one of them?"

     "Yes, Ranma."

     "Is Ayanami okay?"

     "Let's concentrate on you for the moment," Maya urged, she couldn't conceal her concern.

     She applied the tests.

     "Any word on Shinji?" Ranma asked.

     "Let's make sure you're all right first.  You had us worried during the fight."

     "I was kinda worried myself," Ranma joked.


     "How is that possible?" Ikari asked Dr. Akagi and Captain Katsuragi.

     "We aren't exactly sure ourselves.  From what we can determine, Saotome compressed his AT field to a mathematical point, then let it expand.  We all saw the effect.  Rei simply contained the creature in her field and crushed it."

     "Neither of those uses of an AT field, are supposed to be possible."

     "I have no explanation," Dr. Akagi admitted.

     "What is Saotome?" Ikari demanded.

     "We are still investigating," Akagi told him.


First Customer

First Customer

     Nabiki stared at the fire, enjoying the boiling cabbage smell coming out of what looked like an oversized binocular case.  It still had the U.S.  Marine Corp markings.  She wondered how Shinji had gotten it, and from whom.

     "I'm sorry it isn't more," the boy apologized.

     "It's more than I had," Nabiki thanked him, Does this kid have any self-confidence? She wondered, I've seen whipped puppies with more spunk.

     "Do you have any idea where everybody left to?" Nabiki broached the subject carefully, "Some people were supposed to meet me, but the sirens went off, and everybody scattered."

     "You haven't heard about the Angels?"

     "I've heard about messengers from the Christians' God, but that isn't what you mean, is it?  I've been traveling for a while.  I've been out of touch."

     The boy stared at her, "I thought everybody knew."

     "Sorry."  Nabiki shrugged, "What happened, if you don't mind talking about it?"

     "No."  He hung his head.  "The EVA was launched and it . . . killed the monster, a giant worm.  But a lot of people got hurt."

     "If the thing was as dangerous as the one those two took on, I should have expected a lot of hurt people.  That . . . thing was an Angel?"

     "I guess so, it was different from the one I.  .  .  ."

     "Than the one you fought?" Nabiki asked carefully.  Is he going to bolt now? She wondered as she carefully moved some of the cabbage to her plate, picking at it.  "Can you tell me about it?  I'm the new pilot."

     Shinji looked at her, he didn't seem to think she was trying to trick him.  "I'd rather not.  You, change, somehow, I don't want to go back.  I met one of the pilots, a girl, she was nice but strange.  Another - "

     Nabiki noted the boy was shaking with fear, she had to think fast.  The other pilot can only be Ranma, now I know what he's afraid of, she thought.  "He changed, somehow."

     The boy nodded, clearly terrified by what he'd seen.

     "Okay," Nabiki relented, "Can you tell me what NERV is like?"

     "Yes, I can," Shinji agreed reluctantly.

     Nabiki listened for an hour, gently but relentlessly drawing the boy out, listening to the words and the tone he used.  She kept her sarcasm to herself, she'd made a deal, she was going to honor it.  She could tell he wasn't frightened by the experience, not like his fear of the pilots, and what piloting did.  Disgusted, concerned, many other things.  He seemed eager to have someone actually listen to him, listen to what he had to say, what he thought was important to say.

     He's a lot like Ranma that way, trying to fit into an unfamiliar situation, she realized, Didn't they explain the curse to him, or does even Ranma know about the nature of the curse?

     Nabiki heard the approaching troops, before she could see them.  She prepared to face the men.  Shinji seemed worried that she dropped into a combat stance.

     "They're surrounding us!" she warned, now she could see he was concerned.

     They announced themselves as NERV Security, and had orders to return both of them to Headquarters.  Nabiki demanded to see identification, the guards seemed amused, but provided it, before they took the pair to a car.  Shinji brought their dinner with them, they ate it in the car.  Nabiki wasn't about to be separated from the boy.  She wasn't sure if she was protecting him, or if she was trying to keep company.

     Or maybe you just want to finish dinner, She frowned at that, if she was supposed to be on the side of the angels, the real ones, she was going to have to change her thinking.

     She hadn't realized how different this world was.  Primitive, violent, more genteel and serious.  She realized the terrain was familiar, but the buildings were completely different.


     When she arrived at the base, two women greeted them.  Pretty, early 30's, both tall, a bottle blonde and a plum-haired one.  The second could have been Shampoo's mother, from her lush build and combative stance.  They gave her a cursory greeting, and they interrogated the boy as another woman took her way, also pretty, mid-twenties and short hair.

     "I'm Ibuki Maya, and I work for Dr. Akagi."

     "Tendo Nabiki.  I saw the fight this afternoon.  Are the pilots all right?"

     "They're under observation.  We don't expect any serious health problems."

     "You're not sure what happens in combat to the pilots?" Nabiki asked.

     "Well," Maya admitted, "We have only sent the EVAs into combat, twice."

     "So you aren't sure."  Nabiki smiled, Maya nodded.

     "What will happen to Shinji-kun?"

     Maya raised her eyebrows at Nabiki's familiarity, "That doesn't concern you."

     That's what you think, Nabiki didn't say.

     Nabiki and Maya entered the med lab, she realized Dr. Tofu had a more technologically advanced examining room.


     Misato watched the new pilot leave with Maya.  She noted the concerned look back at Shinji.  "Well you certainly forced us to waste a lot of effort on you."

     "Actually, just your effort," Ritsuko corrected, "Let's not make this bigger than it is."

     Misato glared at her friend.

     "I don't want to pilot again.  You have pilots.  You don't need me," Shinji told them.

     Misato stopped, and turned her glare at Shinji, "What do you mean?  'You have enough pilots'?  What are we supposed to do if one of them gets hurt again?"

     "Why don't you just shoot him and drag him inside," Ritsuko told her, "Excuse us?  Please don't leave."

     Shinji nodded and apologized.

     Misato let Ritsuko lead her away, "Frightening him further runs counter to our needs.  He saw Ranma's transformation right after awakening from the battle, and feeling the death of another test subject.  To continue threatening him won't get him to agree.  We've nearly lost all our pilots in our few early clashes.  We just got another, and our two foreign pilots won't be here soon enough if Ranma and Rei can't pilot.  We need him for the moment.  Put your feelings aside and act like an officer."

     "I can't just turn off my emotions, like you can."

     Ritsuko stepped forward, pushing Misato back a step, "My emotions aren't off, but I don't parade them for all to see.  I suggest you might need to do that, on occasion."

     Misato glared at Ritsuko, trying to wear away at her implacable friend.  "You're going to show me how to do it?" Misato asked.

     "Of course, I'm used to dealing with stubborn children.  I had this college roommate once . . . " She walked back towards Shinji.

     Misato growled and chased after Ritsuko, Shinji hadn't moved an inch, not even set his bag down.


     "Misato," Ritsuko prodded.

     "Shinji, we'll need to keep you overnight for observation."

     "Fine," Shinji said listlessly.

     "Misato," Ritsuko reminded her.

     Misato glared back, "Shinji-kun, Pilot Saotome, they said you saw his transformation."

     Shinji didn't react, Ritsuko found that curious, she nodded at Misato to continue.

     "He came to us like that."

     You make him sound like a damaged car, Ritsuko thought.

     "Well, I just thought you should know."  Misato turned to Security, "Put him in with Pilot Saotome."  She told Security.

     Ritsuko shook her head, Misato was holding a grudge again.  This was going to take some undoing.  Ritsuko felt a headache coming on, I'm a biophysicist and a mathematician.  I'm supposed to know how things work, not how they think.  She sighed and continued inside, there were readings she wanted to go over and a few things she needed to explain to the new pilot, Tendo Nabiki, before they lost her too.


     The medical examination was more thorough than anything Nabiki had ever experienced.  'We're done Tendo-san,' were some of the most welcome words she'd ever heard.  Blood sample, hair sample, skin sample, marrow samples, complete physical, dental exam, gynecological\urological exam, as well as more x-rays than she'd ever had before.

     It was too late to send her anywhere else, so Maya sent Tendo Nabiki, according to the Marduk Report: The Fifth Children, to the medical wing.  The blue-haired, pale-skinned girl in the room's other bed was quiet, even when she was awake, which she wouldn't be very often that night.

     She barely learned the girl's name: Ayanami Rei, the First Children.

     Well, Belldandy said she'd be a major cause of concern for the near future.  She couldn't get anything from the girl from her small talk, the `First` simply shut down, and stayed sound asleep, or apparently so.  The medical bay looked to Nabiki like something out of a 1950's monster movie.  A mix of primitive equipment with a smattering of equipment more advanced than she could recognize.  They were an odd mix, What kind of a world have I found myself in? Nabiki wondered.


     Ritsuko caught up with Maya, "Any trouble with our new pilot?"

     "She seems very worried about Ikari-san, sempai," Maya admitted nervously "She also had no luck striking up a conversation with Rei."

     "That's to be expected.  Misato blew up at Shinji, something else I should have expected."

     "You can't do everything, sempai," Maya retorted.

     "I'm not, I just suspect that Pilot Saotome's transformation had a bad effect on Ikari's desire to pilot.  I think we need to head that off in Pilot Tendo, as quickly as possible."

     They entered the medical wing.  Except for her steady breathing, Rei might have been a statue, or a cadaver.  The new girl was examining the equipment minutely.

     "Anything we can help you with?" Ritsuko asked, she noticed the girl hadn't actually touched any of the equipment, just looked at it.

     "Oh, sorry.  I just figured if this was my room, I'd better take a look around," she replied.

     "We'll arrange better quarters soon for you," Maya told her, "This is Akagi Ritsuko-sensei."

     The girl bowed, "Then you'd know what happened to Shinji-kun, sensei."

     "He's not sure he wants to pilot again."

     "He is wise," Rei said from her bed.

     Both Maya and Ritsuko cringed at that.

     "The main reason he reacted so badly is that -" Ritsuko took a deep breath, they needed the confidence of the pilots, this was going to tax that considerably.  "When Pilot Saotome is exposed to cold water, he becomes a she, hot water reverses the process.  This information is absolutely Top Secret.  It isn't to be discussed with anyone.  Do you understand?"

     The girl nodded.

     "Do you have any questions?"

     "How much do we get paid, and can I get an advance?"

     Maya and Ritsuko exchanged stunned looks, neither had expected that question after the bombshell they had dropped on the girl.

     "Ah.  I know you get an allowance.  Ah, we bank the rest of your salary until you turn 18."  Ritsuko stammered, "Why did you want to know that?"

     The pilot extended her arms and turned around, "This is all I have."

     "You can send for the rest of your things," Maya suggested.

     "What's the address of wherever you sent that monster?  I lost my luggage before the battle."

     "Oh," Maya realized.

     "I thought you might have some other questions," Ritsuko suggested.

     "You just said I couldn't talk about Ran - Pilot Saotome's condition."

     "I meant about Saotome, where did you hear his name was Ranma?" Dr. Akagi stared at the girl, who pointed at Maya.

     "'I've got to check on Ranma,' unless you have five pilots, Saotome could only be Ranma, right?"

     "I'm sorry.  Things have been, tense, the last few days."

     "Do you mind if I talk to Shinji?  Someone his own age might, be more effective than an authority figure.  He seemed pretty scared of the whole process of piloting."

     "Yes, thank you, we haven't had much luck.  Are you sure you're all right?  With Pilot Saotome's transformation?"

     "I volunteered to pilot a giant robot to kill deadly pools of slime, why should I have a problem with a guy - how are you sure he's a guy?"

     "He's sure," Maya answered.

     "Anyway, why should I have a problem with someone who can switch genders in water?"

     "Smart aleck," Ritsuko said.

     "And what's the meaning of leaving me in a room with her?" Nabiki asked.

     Ritsuko and Maya tensed, problems with Rei might force them to release this pilot even before testing.

     "I haven't been able to get a word in edgewise.  Talk, talk, talk.  It hurts my ears."

     Maya burst out laughing.

     "Keep it up young lady, and you'll be rooming with Misato," Ritsuko threatened, "I roomed with her in college, that's an ordeal."

     "Bad temper, bad cook, all the boys want her?" Nabiki asked.

     Ritsuko nodded.

     "I know the type," Nabiki admitted, "She doesn't use a hammer does she?"

     "No."  Ritsuko rubbed her cheek, she hadn't realized what a joker they had with this new pilot, and wondered how she'd fit in with the usually humorless NERV crew.  Probably a breath of fresh air, she thought.  "Okay, I can have Maya take you shopping tomorrow for some clothes, after you're measured for your plugsuit, and some more tests."

     "Plugsuit?"

     "Read your packet.  You might want to buy a red nose and some floppy shoes to let everyone know what they're in for."  Ritsuko turned to leave, Maya followed her out of the room.

     In the corridor, Maya was still chuckling, "I'm sorry, sempai, but you should have seen the expression on your face.  'How much do we get paid?'"

     "You looked nearly as surprised, I'm a little concerned that -"

     "He whats when what happens?!" Nabiki shouted from the door of the medical bay, she looked both ways then jogged up to them.  "Did I hear you right, or am I dreaming all this?" she said in a demanding tone.

     They hustled her to Dr. Akagi's office, and explained it to her again.  Nabiki calmly nodded at appropriate points.

     "Okay."  Nabiki walked back to her room, shaking her head.

     "I think she's a bit overwhelmed," Maya told Ritsuko.

     Ritsuko silently agreed.


     Nabiki looked at Rei, she now realized Ranma's transformation would be a deep, dark secret here, she'd nearly blown it by acting so nonchalant.  She glanced at Rei, realizing she'd have to cover all her bases.  "Why didn't you mention it, wait, don't tell me.  I didn't ask, right?"

     "Correct," Rei told her.

     "Oh, this place is going to be lots of fun."

     "Incorrect.  It will be lots of work, and fear."

     "Why do I get the idea you aren't as emotionless as you've got everybody convinced you are?"

     Rei said nothing.


A New Day, Different $#!+

A New Day, Different $#!+

     Ranma woke in his room in the medical wing, and found he could barely move.  The pain in his chest was gone, and he still felt a slight worry that he would liquefy or go to pieces any minute.  Nobody had told him how Rei felt, even if she survived.  He knew the two of them didn't get along, but he didn't want her hurt, especially as badly as he'd been hurt.  Nobody deserved that.

     "I don't think I want to pilot again if it feels like this."  He tried, and was barely able, to raise an arm.  He let it drop with a thump, closed his eyes and waited.  Typically, as soon as they thought he was awake, the tests would begin.  Maybe he could get breakfast, and find out how Rei was, before they tossed him into the EVA again.

     He wondered if he really wanted to learn what Everett could teach him so badly he'd go through this again.  He doubted it.  The dreams had been the worst part.  Strange things throwing screaming victims to him.  The sickening crunch as he - he couldn't have bitten them, he didn't have any bones or teeth - but they crunched, torn to pieces by him.  He'd enjoyed the, taste was the only word for it, of their terror.  He remembered feeling grateful and as a reward . . . he hurled that thought away, even though they weren't human, what he remembered doing to those girls was obscene.  He shook his head, and was immediately sure it would fall off if he did that again.  Memories and dreams hurt worse than the injuries.  He'd never do things like that, not ever, but he remembered them in perfect clarity.  He was ashamed, and polluted, he'd never feel clean again, not ever.


     Nabiki met Shinji at breakfast.  Rei had declined to leave her hospital bed.  Nabiki reported this to Dr. Akagi's other assistance, Lt.  Nancy Thompson, an American Army nurse, who teased her that it wasn't her job to look after the pilots.  Nabiki had retorted that somebody had to.

     "Hey, Shinji-kun."  She sat down next to him at one of the long tables that dominated the cafeteria.  As far from the actual kitchens as you could actually get without leaving the room.  Most of the room's scattered occupants had taken similar positions away from the kitchens and their smell.  She thought he would say something, but when he didn't, she continued, "Did they tell you about Pilot Saotome's . . . condition."

     "I saw it."  Shinji picked at his food, "I guess that's what happens to pilots.  I saw how badly Ayanami-san was hurt."  He seems depressed and a little worried about that, and maybe other things.

     "She's okay.  A little tired but okay," Nabiki told him, she had noticed her presence as well as her words seemed to reassured him, "Is she always that quiet?"

     Shinji shook his head, "I only saw her once.  She didn't cry out when she was hurt.  She got hurt worse when they pushed me to pilot it."

     "You feel guilty about that, and all the other damage?" Nabiki asked.

     Shinji nodded.

     "It's perfectly natural.  But if you were fighting anything like the thing they fought yesterday, you're just lucky more people weren't hurt.  You made a mistake.  That's what beginners do."

     "I might have killed people," Shinji hissed back, "I know I did."

     "More than would have died without your actions?" Nabiki asked.

     Shinji stared at his breakfast.

     "This is a war, in battle there are casualties.  The Americans incinerated entire Japanese cities, killed hundreds and thousands, and we were still planning to fight back.  To meet their invasion on the beaches, armed with sharp sticks if that's all we had.  Did you do your best, yes or no?"

     "Yes," Shinji admitted.

     "Could you do better with more training?"

     "Any training.  This isn't natural to me."

     "I don't think most things come natural to people, flying, riding a bicycle, playing an instrument.  Dealing with the bunch of weirdos we have to work with," she told him sarcastically.

     "Piloting makes them that way," Shinji told her.

     "Then how do you explain her?" Nabiki pointed to Misato, who was marching in wearing shorts and a T-shirt that looked slept in.

     Shinji smiled at that.

     "Well, are you ready to get to work?" Misato stood, arms akimbo.

     "And who are you?" Nabiki asked, "The town crier?"

     "I'm your commanding officer, Pilot Tendo," Misato told her.

     "Excuse me, Officer is Your, your first name, or your family name?" Nabiki stood and saluted, tapped Shinji, "Stand up and salute Commanding Officer Your.  Show a little respect."

     Shinji hid a smile, Nabiki had dealt with idiot martinets, a show of false courtesy was the best approach, for the likes Kuno, or Happosai.

     "My name is Misato Katsuragi," she told them.  "I am your commanding officer."

     "Oh.  Do we have to wear a fancy uniform like that?" Nabiki asked, "It must get very drafty in the winter, sir."  Nabiki kept her tone curious and respectful, and kept from laughing.  Shinji was a little less successful, he had to cover his mouth to prevent his laughter from being heard.

     Misato's face went through a series of shades and contortions.  "Come with me."  She simply stormed off.

     Nabiki shrugged at Shinji, took his hand, and headed after her.  They followed through a series of twists and turns, then Misato suddenly stopped.

     "Uh, there should be a door here."

     "We're lost?" Nabiki asked, "How can that be, you're our commanding officer."  Nabiki walked over to one of the internal phones, she dialed the only number she knew.  "Come on Rei, pick up the phone," she murmured.

     "Hai."

     "Rei-san, we're lost in section 47-3, level four."  She turned to Misato, "We're going to the EVA bays, right?"

     "Yes."

     "Rei, we need the most direct route to the EVA bays."  Nabiki quickly wrote down the concise directions the normally quiet girl gave her.  "Thanks, Rei-san."  Nabiki hung up the phone, "Okay, I know where we're going."

     They marched off, Nabiki in the lead.  Misato occasionally disagreed with Rei's directions.  Nabiki flatly told her that she was following the directions Rei gave her, and marched quickly out of sight of a fuming Misato.


     Nabiki entered the huge room after Shinji.  The orange and purple robots and their stands caught Nabiki's attention, as did at least 4 empty sets of scaffolding and loading equipment along the near wall, and six half-completed slots across the liquid filled pool the robots rested in.  A liquid so black it was completely opaque, and it stank.  Even the clear floor to ceiling partitions between the walkways and the pool couldn't keep it out.  Two giant cigar tubes awaited them to load into the robots.  Those are the machines, and they have kids as pilots, she thought.

     "You're late," Ritsuko told them as they entered, "We'll have to postpone the measuring."

     "Officer Katsuragi led us to a dead end.  I called Rei-san to get directions," Nabiki told her, "She said she'd been here a while.  I figured she'd know her way around."

     "So, Shinji."  Ritsuko tried to put on a pleasant face, "Would you be willing to try piloting again?  Just tests, if another Angel shows up, we'll get Ranma and Rei to take it on."

     "Yeah, I guess," Shinji said.

     "Thank you."

     "Could you teach that to 'Commanding Officer'?" Nabiki asked Ritsuko.

     "Teach, yes, make her learn?  That would require Divine Providence."

     "Send her to Rhode Island when she goes to pick up the American," Nabiki suggested.  Seeing Dr. Akagi's expression she added, "Two foreign pilots, one German, one American, it's all over the base.  And the packet says NERV Massachusetts is a personnel training base.  Boston is close to Rhode Island, its capital is Providence."  From her expression, Nabiki realized Dr. Akagi was going to keep a close eye on her.  I'm going to have to quit making these goofs, Nabiki thought, They aren't used to people who actually think.


     The size and noise of the place always surprised the General, he was too used to the foundries and tank factories of the industrial centers.  This seemed more like a glass blower's shop staffed by rabbits, who moved the huge slabs of brightly colored material from one oven to another, suspended from overhead rails.  Treating the multi-ton plates and shapes as if they would disappear like smoke if they weren't babied ever moment of every day until they were installed.

     The General didn't complain, it somehow instilled everyone at the project with a sense of mission he'd rarely seen outside of elite combat units.  Let the scientists do their jobs, he remonstrated himself, As long as they do their jobs so well, keep your cavalry boots of them.  He turned away from the window and back to the small scientist testing the sample.

     If the workers in their protective clothing were rabbits, this one in his lab coat was a mouse.  The latest batch was being tested, 'A whole new approach!' the man had squeaked enthusiastically, suggesting the General hurry over.  Now he waited to see if this 'new approach' would survive testing, as the last five had not.  Rolled steel armor, the General's specialty, would never do the job.

     "How much longer?" the General looked over the scientist's shoulder and asked.

     "General, we cannot go any faster.  The armor takes time to anneal properly.  Otherwise, the plates will develop voids and crystals.  That will make weak points that will allow the enemy to penetrate and destroy the unit.  The process will take two more days.  Another day to install the plating.  With the first pilots, you'll have the most powerful fighting force the world has ever known."

     "Yes, if Hitler had these, he would have marched from Calais to Vladivostok, nothing could have stopped them."

     "Have they penetrated the site?" the scientist asked.

     "A company of OT-34's stopped them this time.  Brave men, more posthumous medals to grieving families."

     "There have been two incidents in Japan," the scientist commented, "Maybe they can spare an EVA or two."

     Both men chuckled.

     "Have you considered that our five pilots, soon six, and then seven in a few months, will give us the preponderance?" the scientist asked.

     "I have no such appetites.  The greatest weapon ever created, all to be used to defend.  An appropriate irony."


     Nabiki climbed out of the plug of Unit 00, Unit 01 hadn't reacted to her at all.  Unit 00 had little reaction to Shinji, so they switched and ran the tests.

     "How'd I do?" Nabiki asked, then noted Shinji throwing up in a bucket.  That stuff isn't as bad as some of Akane's cooking, I guess I'm immune, she realized. 

     "Thirty-five, not great, but not bad.  It qualifies you as a pilot," Maya told her, setting down the bucket she'd been holding.

     "Sorry about the window."  Nabiki looked up as the armored shutter retracted, she'd tripped while trying to make Unit 00 stand.  She'd nearly put the EVA's fist into the middle of the control room.  "I guess you'll take it out of my salary."

     "We're just glad your 'Oh no,' was clumsiness, and not a problem with the EVA.  That's how Ayanami was hurt."

     Misato stormed in, "Why didn't you wait for me?"

     "Because after the tests and measurements, Maya and I are going shopping, I need some clothes."

     "Oh," Misato brightened, "I can help you pick out some good outfits."

     Nabiki pointedly looked over Misato's outfit, long shorts and a T-shirt, both scruffy.  And took the barf bucket back from Maya, put her head in it, made apropos noises, and then returned it, still empty.

     "Akagi-sensei," Nabiki shouted up to the shattered control room windows, "I'm ready for more tests if you are."  She guessed Ritsuko was smirking at least as much as Maya was.

     "I'll just have to wear a spiffy uniform like she does."  Nabiki wondered how far she could push this woman before she either got the hint, or exploded.  From their expressions, none of the others had ever seen anyone verbally spar with Officer Katsuragi Misato, and they were enjoying the novel experience.  Officer Katsuragi herself was having trouble dealing with someone who was opposing her wishes, but not directly confronting her, a passive-aggressive approach.  Nabiki doubted she'd ever encountered someone who would adopt it as a defense.  If I'm losing, I'll call the game off, Nabiki thought.

     "All right, I won't go, I've got paperwork to do anyway."

     "Well, I'm sorry you're busy.  It would have been fun."

     Misato glared at the pleasantly smiling Nabiki before she stormed out.

     "Did I say something wrong?" Nabiki asked innocently.

     Maya guffawed, even Shinji smiled.

     "I'm sorry, I've had to deal with pushy people all my life.  The simplest thing to do is use their own energy against them, like judo."

     "Are you a martial artist too?" Ritsuko's voice came over the loudspeakers.

     "Yeah, while my mom was still alive," Nabiki answered, she hoped the goddesses had produced a good cover identity, they'd given her no briefing papers, so she'd have to stay close to the truth.

     "Maybe you should meet with Ranma, give him someone else to practice with.  You'd give poor Captain Everett a break."

     "HEY!" a man's voice protested.  The others chuckled.

     Nabiki noticed the almost unfamiliarity with laughter.  As if they had almost forgotten how, or feared punishment.  She thought of Principal Kuno and the 'Fathers of the Anything Goes School' and their arbitrary and childish demands of those under their control, she wondered what kind of person was in charge of the place.


     "Come on Shinji," the Fifth Children, Tendo Nabiki tells me.

     I follow Nabiki and Maya to the locker room.  I pause and freeze.  Nabiki looks inside, "I think we'll need a separate locker room, or a separator."  She turns back to me, "Okay Shinji-kun, no peeking.  I'll use the farther row, you use the closer.  I'll take a quick shower.  Then you, all right?"

     I nod, glad for all the decisions out of my hands and the privacy.

     "What about our clothes?" I ask.  "I'm wearing my last set of clothes, I think Tendo-san is in the same situation."

     Analyst Ibuki shifts uncomfortably, "I think I can get some coveralls from Search and Rescue."

     "Go."  Nabiki tells her.  She waits until Maya is out of earshot.  "They sent you into battle without any training?" She pauses, pats my shoulder, it's embarrassing, "Now I can believe it."  She pauses again, "You said you saw Ranma - Pilot Saotome, and water?"

     I nod.

     "I wish we could talk about it."  She falls silent, waiting for Maya.

     It seems strange, everyone else seems to want me to talk, this Nabiki Tendo seems to accept I don't want to speak, but she does.  Although her questions are more probing than Katsuragi-san's.  It's a strange combination.

     "So does everyone around here either talk incessantly, or not at all?" Nabiki smiles at me, letting me know I'm included in the joke, instead of the butt of it.

     I smile, "So, which are you?"

     She smiles back, "Neither.  That's why I wanted to know."  She sniffs, "Do we ready smell as bad as I think we do?"

     "Yes," I tell her, she nods.

     She leans close, "Don't tell anyone, but the L.C.L.  isn't the worst tasting thing there is."

     Impossible.

     "I'm not kidding.  Akane was her name, if we dropped her food on the Angels," her voice turns menacing, "They'd die screaming."

     I laugh, the idea of anything worse than L.C.L.  was hard to imagine.  Anything more terrible than those things was almost impossible to imagine.

     "Tell me," Nabiki gets serious again, "Were you as scared as I am now?  I mean, I put that thing's fist through the control room windows because I couldn't stand up."

     "I fell down a lot," I admit.  "One time the worm ate me.  I don't want to think about it."

     "Okay," she considers, "That's your only set of clothes, isn't it?"

     I nod.

     "You should come shopping for some clothes with us."  She stands up straight, partially unbuttoning her L.C.L.  sodden blouse, I get ready to run.  "As your exhibitionist commanding officer, I demand it."  She imitates Captain Katsuragi, badly.

     "I can't stand the smell anymore," Nabiki says, "I'm going to take a shower, if you're bringing me clean clothes, you can peek."  She smiles, "If I can."

     I blush, she smiles and enters the locker room.  A moment later I follow her, but stay in the first row.  A few minutes later, Analyst Ibuki returns with some coveralls and work shirts.  I slip a set next to Tendo-san's clothes and wait in the first row for her to finish her shower.


     "I invited Shinji-san to come with us," Nabiki told Maya who was waiting just outside the locker room when the pilots left.  "Both of us need clothes, shoes, et cetera."  They were burning her last set of clothes as they spoke, she wished she could get the smell completely out of her hair.  Or maybe I am just so used to smelling it, I smell it everywhere.

     "He agreed?" Maya seemed a bit surprised.

     "I didn't exactly give him a choice.  You'd think a high-tech - nology place like this would at least have robes we could wear when we get out of a shared shower, and special clothes for swimming in that gunk.  The smell is never coming out of my clothes, and my shoes are ruined."

     "Well, you'll be issued special uniforms.  They just aren't ready yet.  And you did miss getting measured for your plugsuits."

     "Maya-san, don't take this wrong, but was anything ready before you started all of this?  Untrained pilots, no uniforms, are all the floors installed?"

     "Well," Maya squirmed, "We were doing our best, and no, the Angels arrived before we were fully ready.  We were expecting two foreign pilots, and two more EVAs before the battles got going.  You were supposed to be our backups.  Things just happened too fast.  The critical systems are fully functional."

     "Well, it worries me.  If things are important, you take MORE care, not less.  I don't mind sleeping in the medical wing, but what happens if there are casualties?"

     "You'll get quarters, that was only for one night.  Ayanami-san has her own apartment."

     "Does anyone live with her?"

     "No.  Of course not."

     They let a young kid like her live alone, unsupervised? That horrifies her more than the monsters she'd heard about, she kept her expression neutral.  Maybe I'll have to live alone, I wonder if Ranma would want a roommate?  They wouldn't allow that, would they? she wondered.

     Shinji arrived from the locker room, he seemed worried about being with two women.

     "Easy, Shinji-kun, we won't hurt you," Nabiki patted Shinji's shoulder, "We're just buying clothes."

     He nodded, apologized.

     "It's okay, I forgive you for being human," she told him, he seemed nonplused by this.  What have I gotten myself into? she wondered.  Maya seemed rational enough.

     The trio got a jeep from the motor pool.  Out in the streets, I must admit, I've never seen so many Americans in uniform, all over the place.

     Maya misinterpreted Nabiki's rubbernecking.  "Tokyo is a big place isn't it."

     "I've been to Tokyo before.  It's just so different than what I remember.  All the uniforms too.  I didn't see them when I was here last."

     "Yes," Maya admitted, "I prefer them to the Kempeitai though.  Women got the vote, got the right to drive.  It's like waking up in a different world."

     "So how are the clothing stores?" Nabiki asked, "And how much money have you got?"

     "I've got a month's worth, of your, salaries.  You both can spend all you want."

     I think I'm going to like it here.


Settling In, Drawing Plans

     Shinji and Nabiki each got a number of outfits, and several school uniforms.  They never used up the entire amount Maya was holding for them.  How much do we actually make? she wondered.  The drive home was equally quiet, Nabiki had little time to `work` on Shinji, And once Misato, gets her hands on him, she'll scare him off again.  I'm beginning to realize that Belldandy and her counterpart, Belldandy, needed an arch-manipulator like me to keep this bunch running on an even keel.  I should have asked for a lot more before they sent me, like a doctorate in Child and Abnormal Psychology, Psychiatry and a license to practice medicine.  These people need keepers! Nabiki spotted a restaurant, ironically near where the Nekohanten would be in 'her' world.

     "Let's stop there, my treat."  The things I do to save the world.

     "Well, Dr. Akagi - "

     "Telephone her, see if she can ditch Officer Motormouth and we can have a quiet dinner."

     Maya blushed.

     Another something to look into.

     "I couldn't do that."

     "Well, then - "

     "No!" Maya nearly drove off the road, "It's all right," she said.

     Shinji was wide awake now.  Maya pulled in.  Parking is easier now than in 'the future', a NERV ID lets you get away with a lot.

     The food was mediocre at best, Probably why it was so long abandoned when Cologne and Shampoo bought it, but that wasn't the reason we're here.  The layout hadn't changed either, tables surrounding the central cooking area.

     "So how many of those things are we going to have to fight?" Nabiki asked Maya.

     She shrugged, "The Commander might know.  Or sempai."

     Sempai, Nabiki mentally made another note.  Kuno wanted to be called sempai, upperclassman/social superior.  I think with Maya, it's a lot more than an honorific.  "What can you tell me about the other three pilots?  Saotome and the two . . . " I was going to say gaijin, that strikes a little too close to burakumin.

     "Well, Asuka Soryu Langley," Maya butchered 'Langley', "Is from Germany, she's been training since before the end of the war.  The Americans have two pilots training, we'll get the most capable.  They had three but . . . "

     That got Shinji's attention, "What happened?"

     Maya looked around, trying to spot eavesdroppers.  The reason Nabiki suggested this random stop was to spot them, as well as talk to Shinji.

     "Well," Maya stammered, "He died."

     "Like the girl that morning?" Shinji asked.

     "What girl?" Nabiki asked.

     "The day I, ran away.  A girl died.  You could hear it."  He tapped his head, "Up here.  Then I saw Pilot Saotome . . . "

     "It isn't like that," Maya whispered defensively, "You both survived initial contact, there's no more danger and no problems."

     I don't know how to tell her that was easily the worst thing she could have told us.  Nabiki barely beats Shinji to the punch, "So we could have died?" she hissed.

     Maya looked around sheepishly, "You didn't."

     Nabiki extended her hand to Shinji, "Congratulations, they didn't kill us on their first try.  How much is a train ticket back to where you're from?  I've got some money left."  I turned back to Maya, "Anything else you'd like to tell us?  Our commanding officer is an alien robot, this is all a television program?"

     "What's television?" Maya asked.

     "A radio that sends moving pictures as well as sound.  The Americans have them."  Nabiki racked her brains, she thought television was invented before the war.  "Look, we're both worried about piloting," Nabiki told her, thankfully Shinji nodded.  "Just telling us to shoot first and ask questions later, well, it's gotten some people in trouble here and in Germany."

     Maya clearly didn't like the comparison.

     Good, a bit of outrage will loosen her tongue, Nabiki thought, she didn't believe she could get Maya drunk.  When were truth serums invented?  Better question, why didn't I pay more attention in history class?

     "It isn't like that," Maya said again, trying to reassure the pilots.  "Shinji-kun, they weren't lying.  If you hadn't agreed to pilot, the Americans would have bombed Tokyo into a radioactive crater to get the Angel.  We didn't have any choice."

     "So you made sure I didn't either."  He pointed out.

     Good, the kid's not a complete doormat.  "I guess we still don't.  We either pilot, or watch cities and people get carpet bombed."

     "Yeah," Shinji admitted, "I wouldn't want that on my conscience, and the people depending on me, you and Misato-san, and Akagi-sensei, and you Nabiki-san.  Maybe even my father."  He sighed.

     It wasn't much, but it was a start, Nabiki realized.

     "Two Units, six pilots, maybe you won't have to pilot all the time, they might rotate us around," Nabiki suggested.  He brightened at that, then fell into despair again.  She was beginning to wonder if Rei would be any easier to deal with.

     "What about Rei?" Nabiki asked, "Is she always that quiet?  She acts like every word shortens her lifespan."

     "She's always been quiet.  Except with the Commander," Maya admitted, "I can't figure that out.  They . . . " She glanced at Shinji's expectant expression, and fell silent.

     They open up to each other, Nabiki completed the thought, That should make Shinji really happy.

     "What can you tell us about our Commanding Officer, the fashion model?"

     "Captain Katsuragi?  She was a regular army officer, almost unheard of.  Her tactical skills are amazing."

     Judged by whom? Nabiki wondered.  Tests aren't the same as reality, and how far wrong can you go with 'March out and stab the thing!' ?


     Ranma stood among the gym's weight sets and exercise machines, doing the katas slowly, he was clumsy and that made him angry.  It was as if his arms had suddenly gotten heavier and longer, both.  Everett wasn't watching this pitiful performance.  Ranma could never have lived down his new teacher seeing him like this.  Rei wandered in and began a series of exercises.  She did each one mechanically, as if it was something to be checked off a list, then on to do the next.  She didn't break a sweat.

     "You could do a lot more, build up your strength and endurance," he suggested.

     She looked at him as if he'd advised she jump off the building, then returned to her exercises.  Finished them.

     "Do you want to spar?" He went through a few moves.

     "No."  She left.

     He looked after her, wondered why she was so angry, and went back to his katas.  Kept trying to get his muscles to do what they were supposed to.  Later he decided to go see Dr. Akagi.


     For the first time since Ranma had arrived, he was glad of the horrible smell of L.C.L.  He'd walked into Dr. Akagi's office and called her, and told her he had a question about his muscles.  She'd told him to take a seat, she'd just come from checking the EVAs.  She'd walked out of the lab a moment later, wearing a wetsuit that clung to her.  Drops of the jet-black L.C.L.  still dotted her skin, giving the impression of a cheetah, he wasn't sure why that bothered him more than her minimal clothing.  He finally managed to ignore both, focus on the smell, and frame his problem.

     "They aren't doing what I'm telling them."  He tried to explain to the scientist, while ignoring the woman.  "I tried doing my usual exercises, but it, didn't work."

     "How so?  Is it reaction time or strength or balance?"

     He was totally flabbergasted, he hadn't expected anyone to understand, especially a scientist, or a girl.

     "My doctorate is in Biophysics, the study of how living systems work, like people and muscles."  She took his arm and did a quick, but thorough range of motion check on it.

     "Oh."  He wasn't sure if he was embarrassed or pleased she understood, "All of them.  I'm slower and my balance is off."

     "You suffered extreme exhaustion and some heart trauma during the fight.  You need to relax, rest a few days.  You can't expect to bounce back instantly."  She checked his other arm, then both legs, she didn't seem pleased by what she found.  "Squeeze my fingers, as hard as you can.  Okay."

     "But, Doc, I have to train," he explained.

     "So you'll turn purple and explode if you don't?" she asked, "Let me set up some equipment.  I want to see that happen, and study it."

     "Doc, it's not like that," he considered, "I'm a marital artist, to be the best, I have to practice.  If I can't, I'll fall behind."

     "Well, in my medical opinion, you're pushing too hard.  You have injuries that need to heal.  That's going to take time.  As chief NERV medical officer, I'm ordering you to take the time."

     "You think I'm being stubborn," he said.

     "Pride makes a good servant, but a poor master.  You're entitled to rest and heal.  We've got spare pilots, no need to kill yourself to get ready to get back in the cockpit."  She smiled, "Besides, the next Angel isn't due for a few days."

     "You know -" Then he realized she was joking.  "Okay, Doc, I understand.  By the way, you aren't going to stick me with Misato are you.  She'd think it was cute to dump water on me and play dress up."

     "Well, that's good to know if we need to discipline you."

     Ranma blanched.

     "I take it you don't want to stay at the base.  They have private rooms outside of the medical wing."

     "I'll think about it.  When do I meet the others?  I only saw Shinji once and I've never met the new, it's a girl right?"

     "Any problems with her being a girl?" she asked.

     He sensed the trap, "Not with Ayanami-san as a pilot."

     "Good.  They went out to get some new clothes.  We don't have plugsuits for them yet.  You should get some new clothes as well, you'll need a uniform when you go to school."

     He wasn't going to wear one of the dopey uniforms, if someone had a problem with this, they could take it up with him.

     "Say, it's kind of late, do you want to get some dinner at the cafeteria."

     Ranma was always open to food, "Sure, who's paying?"

     "Since you don't have your I.D.  card, I am, it's free for all employees.  It's not very good, but if you can't get out.  You won't starve."


     The cafeteria was as I expected it at dinner, long tables with a few people scattered about, a mix of American and Japanese food.  Cuisine is French and is supposed to indicate fine food, this isn't.  Although dinner's a lot better than breakfast, and breakfast is better than Misato's cooking.

     "Akagi-sensei?" Ranma asked me, "Can I get two trays?" He holds up the one of the large metal, multi-compartment trays.

     "What happened to 'Doc'?" I asked.

     He seemed embarrassed, "Well, we . . . "

     "Why not three trays."  I carefully balanced a tray on his head.

     "Gee, thanks."  He headed off, not spilling a drop despite passing the three from head to hand to hand, all at a speed I could barely catch.  If this is at diminished speed and balance, I thought, I have to test his real limits.

     At the cashier I presented my card, the older woman stared at the three huge heaps of food.  I caught a comment about growing kids as I passed.

     "I expect you to eat all you take, we're lucky to have that food."  There are people starving in this very city, I didn't tell him, As well as all over Japan.

     He looked guiltily at the feast before him.

     "It's a cruel irony," I told him, "We use resources that could save people from disease and starvation, to keep many more from dying at the hands of monsters."

     "So if I eat this, sleep in a warm bed, I kinda owe'em?"

     "You could look at it that way."  He's not as dumb as he lets on, I realized.  I glanced down, I had two dumplings and a small salad.  Now I had one.  Ranma shoveled food at a speed that would beat a steam shovel.  The speed and precision were beyond human norms.  Did one piloting experience do that?  Or is it normal for him?

     I almost missed the swift move that stole my second dumpling.  "Excuse me for a moment."  I got up and returned with six more on a separate plate.  Then, while I ate my salad, I sat and watched him snatch the dumplings from the plate.  I was relatively certain he wasn't remotely aware he was doing it, and it never disrupted his rhythm in eating off the other trays.  I considered the speed and reflexes needed to accomplish this, and the tests I would have to perform.  Another on the long list of things to check.  Then Misato stormed in.

     "Have either of you seen Shinji?  If he's run away again -!"

     "He, Nabiki-san and Maya are getting them some new clothes," I told her, calmly, "Have you forgotten they have to go to school tomorrow, and only Rei and Ranma have plugsuits yet, because of someone getting lost?"

     "Why didn't someone tell me?"

     The idea that a soft answer turns away wrath, never met Misato with a full head of steam.

     "Probably couldn't find you," Ranma said between bites.  I braced for the explosion.

     "Are you saying I'm not doing my job?"

     Ranma seemed mystified that she was angry, at least Rei's tactlessness is due to a compulsion to be factual.  Ranma simply puts his foot in it.

     "Because if you are -!"

     "Do you want Shinji to hear you screaming again?  You'd scare him off for sure."  Besides, they did tell you.

     Misato merely glared at us and stamped off.

     I glanced down at what was left of my salad, it's gone, I mean the bowl was clean.  What did he do? I wondered, Lick the bowl when I wasn't looking.

     Ranma had given the trays the same treatment, they're all down to bare metal.  "Can I get seconds?"

     The question took me completely off stride, the kid just polished off a week's worth of food, and he's still hungry.  "Didn't anyone ever feed you?" This time I just put my foot wrong.  "I'm sorry, I keep forgetting you don't remember."

     "Sometimes, it's like I can reach out and touch who and what I was.  But when I try, it's like grabbing smoke.  Why can't I remember?  Am I trying to forget?"

     "That may be possible.  The mind takes steps to prevent its destruction.  You also have instances of head injuries, it could be either, it could be both, it could be neither.  Rei suggested you 'Dropped out of the sky.' It may be hard to accept, but you might think of yourself as reborn: there was no 'you' before that moment.  Many people lost their entire family in the war.  Some lost them afterward.  If you think you're running away from something, that's probably it."

     He nodded.

     "Besides, as hard as you work, I can't imagine a farm between here and Sapporo tossing you out."  Although they would have to monitor your food intake, she admitted.

     "Thanks.  It's, it's been bothering me."

     "Ranma, even if we'd recruited you, your situation would be the same.  You'd have left people behind.  Shinji left his teacher, Nabiki left her family.  You're new job here is important, you're protecting these people, even if you can't remember who they are."

     He nodded.

     I'm not a psychologist and I'm hardly the one to explain to anyone about good parenting, I had to give away a cat I'd raised from a kitten when it wouldn't stay in the same room as me, and my `mother`, sometimes I wish I didn't know her.

     Maya, Shinji, and Nabiki's arrival banished these maudlin thoughts.  Nabiki made a beeline for Ranma, who seemed suspicious about the sudden attention.  She looked him over minutely.  Ranma looked ready to bolt, Shinji stood watching carefully, a strange role reversal.

     "You don't look any different," she told him.

     I began to think tactlessness was the defining characteristic of all pilots.

     "Sorry, sempai, we stopped off for dinner," Maya told me.

     "You don't have to explain or apologize."  As opposed to the bridge crew, who are too obsequious, how is this girl going to get anyone to notice her, if she doesn't stand up for herself?

     "So where are we staying tonight?" Nabiki asked, "I don't look forward to another night in the med lab."

     "Sempai, they shouldn't be unsupervised," Maya said.

     "I hardly have the room."  Oh, that wasn't a smart thing to say.

     "I can sleep on the floor."  Ranma said, "I don't want to stay in the medical wing either."

     "Maya?" I implored.

     "My place is too tiny.  You have those two huge bedrooms."

     "I don't mind doubling up, it's not like I haven't had to before," Nabiki said.

     I have the perfect excuse, two actually, to get out of this.  But security precludes one, and the other .  .  ..  "I can't take care of two kids!  I can't even take care of a cat!"

     "We aren't exactly high maintenance," Nabiki said irritably.

     "If they approve Misato, they can hardly refuse you," Shinji said.

     I think he's the only one in the room, besides me, who thought this was a bad idea, but if they stuck him with Misato . . . 

     "I can help you get them settled in," Maya volunteered.

     I don't want them! I wanted to shout, Why can't the Angels attack when it might be useful? I could say no, pull rank, protest my unfitness, my busy schedule, anything.  And it will make me look petty, I told myself.  "I'll need to get approval from Commander Ikari, I can't promise anything."

     "He won't object, if it's just tonight," Maya said, "Children should have someone to look after them."

     "So you have to look after Misato."  Nabiki patted Shinji's shoulder, "A grave responsibility, watching over our commanding officer."

     I'm doomed, I might as well accept it.  "All right, collect your things from the medical bay.  Shinji-san, you'd better go to Misato's office, she was looking for you."  Why did he look like I just sent him to his execution, and was resigned to it?

     Once the Children left, Maya leaned close, "You should have a family, sempai, someone to look after and look after you."

     I glared at her, she squeaked and retreated.  Kamis help me, I've got two of them, and I thought Misato was insane to take Shinji, and I've got two of them.  Next they'll be telling me to take Rei in.  That I won't do, I know too well why she is where she is.


Making Plans

     This is working out better than I hoped, I'm going to be staying with Dr. Akagi and Ranma, Nabiki thought, From her expression, I suspect she didn't want to go along with this.  But a little phone call to Commander Ikari while she was collecting her stuff helped.  Rei had been doing her usual cadaver impersonation, Nabiki asked her what she thought of the idea, Rei said having trusted people looking after us seemed a good idea.  I think Gendo, she nearly called him Genma, Was shocked when I mentioned that, as if no one ever consulted Rei.  If what Maya said last night was true, Rei's been with Commander Ikari since the construction of the base started.  Always go to the source.  That started Nabiki thinking.

     "Rei-san.  What do you think about piloting?  Any advice for us novices?" Nabiki asked as she got the rest of her few possessions.

     "I can do it.  If I die, I can be replaced."

     So that's what's bugging her, Nabiki thought.  "Rei-san, we aren't here as your replacements.  We're here as your partners.  Sure you can do the job, but that doesn't mean you have to do it alone.  We are here to help."

     Her eyes closed and she said nothing.  Nabiki didn't know if she fell asleep again or if she's just digesting what Nabiki had said.  She's been the only pilot, then suddenly there are three more, and two on the way.  One, the Commander's own son.  She's got to be feeling threatened, as if someone decided she wasn't good enough.  And if she's close to the Commander, and assumes he made the decision and didn't tell her?  I remember how insecure I was at that age, and she doesn't have oneechan to go running to.  Or does she?

     "Besides, with four EVAs somebody else has to pilot them, it's not like there's a half dozen of you," Nabiki told Rei.

     She opened her eyes and stared at Nabiki.  For a moment she was uncertain, It's almost as bad as Soun's 'demon head' attack, but Nabiki still held her ground until Rei turned away and closed her eyes.  I didn't expect that.  If she's uncertain of her position, it's no wonder she's hostile.

     Nabiki got her heart rate under control and collect her things.  "Are you going to be all right, here all alone?" Tried to start building a bridge to the girl.

     "Hai."

     Nabiki considered arguing the point, but abandoned the idea, she was going to be a tough one, besides, she thought they'd be straining Dr. Akagi's disposition right now.  Well at least I don't .  .  ., then she stopped.  Belldandy said, 'He will not be your only charge, there are others who will require your help, perhaps as much or more than Ranma.' She didn't mean the whole staff did she?! "Nabiki, when you blow a deal, you don't go halfway do you?" she whispered.

     Nabiki shivered slightly, missing Rei's intense stare as she left.


     Doctor Akagi drove the jeep in a bemused silence, Maya seemed subdued, but amused.  Ranma was silent, so was Shinji, Nabiki between them in the back.

     "Here I am between two boys and they both stare at the city.  Am I really that hideous?  Oh, woe is me," Nabiki announced.

     That got a smile out of Ritsuko and a chuckle from Maya.  Shinji and Ranma had matching bewildered looks.  Shinji apologized, Ranma got more perplexed.

     "So, Ranma, have you ever been to Tokyo before?" Nabiki asked.

     "He's lost his memory," Dr. Akagi warned.

     She can hear over the wind and road noise?  She's got good ears.  "Sorry, I didn't know."

     "It's not anything," he said grimly and went back to staring at the streets going by.

     Nabiki recognized a little of it, she had never realized how much of Tokyo was, will be?, rebuilt between the end of the war and the 'modern' era.  They dropped Shinji off, Dr. Akagi spoke with Misato at length before Misato called to Shinji.  If this was Nerima, I'd have said Misato and Ritsuko just had a fight, at least Misato is trying to be pleasant when Shinji arrives.

     The drive to Ritsuko's apartment was filled with some talk about Shinji cleaning up after Misato.

     "We were roommates in college," Ritsuko supplied, "A thoughtless slob."

     Both Ranma and Nabiki were shocked.

     "Frankly, I needed that.  I was a little too neat and orderly.  It was useful for school, but I had to learn about the unpredictability of real life."

     They arrived at Dr. Akagi's apartment, and carried what few possessions they had.  Nabiki knew neither Ranma nor she ever had many things, but all he had now was the clothes on his back.  All she had was a few items purchased today, three or four changes of clothes.

     I quit congratulating myself at my cleverness and realized I'd just thrust Ranma into the depths of Hell, when Dr. Akagi opened the door, Nabiki thought, I'd heard the cliches about the 'lonely cat lady', there was one on our block, but she was eighty and her husband had been dead 25 years.  She had close to 15 cats in her house.  Here, there were towels with cats on them, three curio cabinets with various cat collectibles, even coffee cups with cats on them.  I instantly expected Ranma to either bolt or drop into the Neko-ken.  Either would disgrace him, and I doubted the goddesses would have removed his most powerful technique.

     He looked around nervously, he didn't seem to know why he was so nervous, but he was.

     "Ranma, Nabiki, aren't you coming in?" Ritsuko asked.

     Ranma shrugged and walked gingerly inside.  He kept looking around as if he expected the walls to leap out and attack him.

     Maya and Ritsuko had the second bedroom door open.  "Nabiki, I think this should be yours."

     There wasn't anything remotely catlike in there.  "Ah, can Ranma sleep in there instead?" she asked, "I'd really prefer the couch."

     Maya and Ritsuko exchanged glances.  "I guess so."  Ritsuko looked at Ranma standing in the center of the room, looking around warily.  "Ranma, this will be your room."

     "Ah, sure, thanks."  Ranma trotted into the room.

     Nabiki saw him relax slightly, I don't think either of them noticed.

     "I would have thought you'd want your privacy," Maya said quietly.

     "I do," Nabiki explained, "If he's in the room, I can hear the door open."  Both women nodded.

     Nabiki was amazed at the size of the rooms.  The two bedrooms were nearly as large as the living room of . . . No it isn't my home, the Tendo house.  The rest of the apartment was built on the same scale, even to the ten foot ceilings.  Maya hadn't been kidding about the size of this place.

     "It was for bachelor general officers," Ritsuko explained to cover her embarrassment.  Considering the housing shortage in Tokyo, having an apartment that could comfortably house two entire families did look suspicious.

     "The bathroom is here."  She opened the door.  It was clearly two bathrooms originally, one for the master bedroom, the other opening into the hall for general use.  Two sinks, two toilets, two showers and an enormous furo in the center.

     "There were two bathtubs and a wall, I had the wall removed and a proper furo installed."

     "Let's keep this a secret."  Nabiki tapped the furo, "Or Misato will insist on having her next `party` in here."  The Captain's predilection for drunken gatherings was infamous.  Ritsuko and Maya nodded.

     "We can have stalls put around the toilets, and curtains for the showers," Maya suggested.

     "That furo is big enough for two, four if they get really friendly."  We, huh, Nabiki thought, recognizing a new co-plotter

     Maya and Ritsuko blushed at her suggestion, then chided her for such thoughts.  The real game was to keep the doctor a little off balance, Nabiki thought, Frankly, I am not eager to have Ranma unsupervised, he was bad enough as a sixteen-year-old.

     The kitchen was large, a large western-style 'breakfast bar' faces it.  All the furnishings are western style.

     "I do sometimes miss sitting on the floor with a kotatsu," Ritsuko said, "Everybodies' legs under the table, trying to stay warm."

     Maya didn't say anything, so Nabiki helped her shy and unwitting coconspirator, "You've got one, don't you Ibuki-san.  You can bring it over some night."

     "It's only a little one, and it's so old," Maya said, she's shocked by the suggestion.

     Nabiki kept her smile to herself.  If Maya doesn't get over her crush, she'll never get on with her life.  And she seems to be the only other one who sees how lonely Ritsuko is, Nabiki thought.


     They got the arrangements set up.  Since Dr. Akagi and Maya were going to be talking, they let Nabiki stay in her bedroom.  Considering the amount of cat stuff in here, I don't have to worry about Ranma sneaking in here, Nabiki thought, Frankly, we hadn't heard a peep out of him since he went into his bedroom.  That worries me a little, but I am not about to check on him and let them tease me about it.
     I faced my assistant across my own dining room table, worried, terrified of the future, my place in it, "I can't take care of two kids, Maya," I admitted, quietly, so not to wake either of them, "I never even had any brothers or sisters.  I don't know what to do."

     "Mothering is instinctive," Maya told me.

     "You never met my mother, did you?" I accused.

     "Then why did you accept?" Maya asked, "You have many ways you could have refused."

     "You were right, they need someone to look after them, and before you say it, Ayanami Rei is a special case.  I had to look out for myself, but growing up wasn't easy."

     "Nabiki-san was right, they aren't pets, and they aren't helpless, sempai," Maya soothed, an odd role-reversal for us, she's the expert here.

     I wondered how she had grown up, in a big family perhaps, I should have known that about my own assistant.  "Maybe I should call my grandmother.  She'd probably love looking out after two kids."

     "You're evading your responsibilities," Maya said gently, but firmly, "You didn't turn down our idea, why?" she asked, "Because you thought it was a good idea.  Because you saw how Shinji reacted to being rejected by his father, and you didn't want to do that to these kids."  Then she went back to the insecure Maya I'm used to, "Am I right?"

     "Right enough," I admitted.

     "If you need help or advising, I come from a big family, being an older sister means I had to be mother on occasion."

     "Thank you, I may take you up on that.  So if you get a hysterical call at two in the morning, you know you volunteered."

     She's shocked, but nodded her agreement.

     "So what do I do first?"

     "Ranma's an attractive young man, Nabiki is a pretty girl, they'll be fighting alongside each other and they aren't directly related.  What do you think you'll have to do?"

     If I felt afraid before, it's nothing compared with what I feel now.  Even I noticed how Nabiki was looking at Ranma, and looking after him.  She's already got a proprietary interest.  "How quickly do you suppose I can get drunk?"

     "That may not be a good idea, sempai" Maya counseled.

     "It works for Misato," I retorted, "You're right, and I don't think trading Nabiki for Shinji will solve any problems.  The first time Misato hits her, we'll have a knock-down drag-out fight on our hands."  I remember the number of times Misato punched, slapped or kicked me and Kaji.  "It would take Ranma and Captain Walters to separate them."

     Maya nodded.


School Day

     I was a bit alarmed that I woke first.  I looked around, realized I wasn't in my room.  This was neither the Nekohanten, nor the Tendo dojo.  It took a few moments to recognize Dr. Akagi's bedroom, I hate waking up.  Ranma up and practicing with his father at the break of dawn was a constant I attached to my life around Ranma.  I peeked outside.  Ritsuko and Maya were asleep on the couch and the floor respectively.  I didn't hear a peep from Ranma's room.  I decided I had time to get some practice in before the day's activities started.  I smirked at that, here I was practicing the Art, up before anyone else.  I saw how the machines fought.  What I'd learned would be extremely useful.  If the monsters had to be fought hand-to-hand, I should keep the edge Cologne had carefully put on me, as sharp as possible.

     Ritsuko walked in, watched me a moment, "You really are another martial artist, aren't you?  Maybe you and Ranma can get more practice."

     "You already suggested that," I reminded her.

     "I need coffee and some clean clothes.  When you finish, wake Maya, you two can fix breakfast."

     "Oh, she knows her way around your kitchen?" I asked innocently, smiling at my host.

     Ritsuko stared at me, "It's laid out like any other kitchen, you two can find what you need."

     She's obviously not been in too many kitchens, I thought as I continued, "Oh, you might want to block the door, so Ranma doesn't wander in."

     I heard the hasty shuffling and smiled, Yes, things were working out splendidly.

     Maya was as logy in the morning as I was, we managed to put together a breakfast without burning down the place, but just barely.  I need to practice cooking, no oneechan or Cologne to do all the cooking.

     As we sat waiting around the dining room table.  Ranma finally wanders out, looking like he usually does, after Akane's given him a beating.

     "Maybe we can practice together?" I suggested, "My dad made me study martial arts."

     His face darkened, "I don't hit girls.  You think you're better than me?"

     I didn't know what to say.

     "You can't embarrass me that way."  He went back to his room.

     I was totally nonplused, he never had acted like that, not to Akane, not Ryoga, no one.

     "What did I do?" I asked Maya and Ritsuko who seemed as surprised as I was.

     Ritsuko sighed, "He has some injuries from his last battle, and he hasn't recovered fully.  It's probably bothering him."

     Probably, definitely, "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to start a fight on our first day together."

     "Don't worry, Tendo-san, he'll get over it.  Take him some breakfast.  I don't imagine he'd turn down food, even from his worst enemy," Ritsuko told me.

     "As long as it's remotely edible," I joked back.  As I looked around the apartment, at all the cat decorations, and wondered if that also had an effect.

     I knocked at the door, "Ranma-san, I've got some breakfast for you."  I'm getting tired of getting the silent treatment.  "I'm coming in."

     He was staring out the window.

     "I'm sorry.  I didn't mean to tease you."  I kept my teeth from gnashing.  I'm beginning to understand Akane's frustration, but he's 14, an amnesiac, in a war zone, so he's under much more stress.

     "Sorry about that," he said quietly.

     "I wasn't trying to challenge you.  I just thought you'd like practicing with someone your own age."

     "I don't fight girls."

     "Good, I can hit you and you can't hit me back.  Perfect."  I set the food down and patted him on the shoulder, "Eat up, you'll need your strength to go to school today."  I left him with the food.


     Captain Everett arrives to walk us to school.  Ranma is sullen, while Everett and I talk about the arts he and I know.  He is willing to teach me, as well as Ranma, as long as it doesn't interfere with teaching Ranma.  I get the message that Everett wants to help Ranma first and foremost.  I don't know if he's doing it because I'm a girl or if he thinks Ranma needs it worse than I do, which I have to admit is true.

     The path is clear, although Everett points out several alternative routes and recommends we change routes randomly to avoid any pursuit.  I don't ask why he would suggest such a thing, Ranma doesn't ask either.  What worries me is Ranma doesn't take to the fences, considering his usual insistence on it, I'm worried about him.  I don't want to ask Capt.  Everett now, because I don't want to embarrass Ranma in front of the man he obviously wants to impress.  At least he found someone to act as a father substitute.  And from what little I've seen and heard of Everett, he definitely `traded up`.


     We arrive at school, the students are milling around.  The arrival of Misato and Shinji draws most of the attention from us.  Although some of the students note the American officer arriving with two Japanese.

     I can almost smell the opportunities here.  I know people, the pilots and the staff of NERV will be objects of interest, especially considering Misato's flamboyant arrival and sexy outfit.

     We head to the office to sign in.  There are a few students there who eye us with calculation.  The behavior isn't of an `alpha` checking out a new competitor, the people seem to be looking for alternatives.  Yes, this has possibilities.

     One of the girls working for the office staff asks, "Coming in so late in the term is going to be hard, isn't it?"

     I smile and shake my head, "I already graduated High School back home."  I mean how hard can it be?

     She's sent to take us to class, Everett will take care of the paperwork.  Ranma's pretty out of it not to notice Capt.  Everett's tension.  I'll keep an eye on Ranma and Shinji, I may not be in Ranma's league, but I doubt any of these kids could challenge me.

     Our guide introduces herself, "Since, you're new here, I'm Ayami Hiroko.  You probably need someone to show you around." 

     My reply was interrupted by the toughs approaching.  "Scram fleabite, we have business."

     Ayami paled, but bowed and retreated as the three toughs circled Ranma like a pack of sharks waiting for a chance to bite.  They completely ignored me.  I'll wait to teach them their error.

     "You look like you can fight," their leader says.

     Ranma nods.

     "Well, you can see us for a tryout.  Bring her with you, she looks smart enough to take orders."  They laugh as they walk off.

     I barely keep my temper under control.  Unlike my sisters, I don't completely suppress or thoroughly express mine.  Being ignored or belittled is a sure way to get me mad, "You want to beat those jerks up, I'll hold your book bag."

     "Naw, it might be interesting to hear what they say."

     I wonder if Ranma is waiting to find out what's what before he acts, or whether his father's 'Women are worthless housewives' is cropping up.

     We get to class.  Shinji's already picked a seat.  Rei is sitting by the window, ignoring everything, as badly hurt as she is, I'm surprised they let her out of the infirmary.

     Is she that tough?  Like Ranma?  Or are they that callous? I don't think I want to know.  I spot Ayami entering, she takes a seat and gestures to an empty seat next to her.  Well, it's good to have at least one ally.

     "Watch out for those boys, and the rest of their group.  They sort of run things around here."

     "They beat up whoever doesn't go along?" I ask, I've got a few answers to that.

     "No.  Anyone who doesn't go along, suddenly your parents aren't working, not for NERV, or the U.S.  Occupation.  If you're lucky, they've got enough to leave Tokyo."

     Now that could be a problem, recruiting especially.  I'm immune, but what about my agents?

     "So who's their boss?" Take him out and I can take the entire organization, it's what I did at Furinkan High.  It should work here.

     "Nobody really knows."

     Well, I can tag along with Ranma, he's got an invitation, all I have to do is convince him to insist on seeing the top boss, that shouldn't be too difficult, except the way he's been moping.  That's a side of Ranma I've never seen before.  More things to look into.  I'm definitely going to need some help.

     Classes are surprisingly hard, some things are easy, others are very tough.  The class president, a girl, gave her 'Stand, bow, sit', like back `home`.  I thought they were being progressive, until I saw the girl's expression and heard the snickers of some of the boys.  They gave her the job to humiliate her, they probably couldn't threaten her through her family.  I'm really starting to not like this place.  With some luck I should be able to clean it up.  Ranma continues to be a concern.


     The object of Nabiki's concern was considering his situation, his surroundings, those around him.

     I barely hear the lessons, the teacher, my fellow students.  Is this why Shinji ran away, the voices in his head, the memories of things he'd never done, of things he'd never do?

     I don't sit and ponder much, at least I don't think I do.  That's the thing, I don't have many of my own memories and I have all these other memories of . . . terrible things.  Things I haven't done, but I'm not sure.  They don't `feel` right, but my memories are so spotty and I can recall them in perfect detail.  I'm sure it wasn't me doing these things, but how do I know?  No wonder I have the shakes, it destroyed my concentration this morning, messed up even the easiest practices.  Do I ask someone about this, or am I going crazy?  Rei might know, but how do I get her to talk?  Would Shinji know?  This Nabiki girl, she's never piloted, what would she know to help?  All she did was challenge me to a fight, I don't fight girls, maybe she knew how weak I was and that's why she wanted to fight.  She's some macho chick who enjoys beating people up, I saw the look in her eye when those jerks wanted me to join their little group.

     I don't know, and it wouldn't matter.  I have to find a solution.  That much I'm sure of.  Nobody's going to help me with this and I'm taking too much time worrying about it.  When I should be doing something.  Doing what?  I can't ignore these images and I won't act on them.  Concentrating elsewhere does no good, the lecture is boring, most of the people in class are worse.  Rei and Shinji may as well be stone statues.  Nabiki has found a friend and the two are talking as much as they can.  I really don't care what their talking about.  Suddenly there's a shout from the class.  People are getting out of their seats and surrounding Shinji, well, I wonder what he did?

     "Are you really a pilot?"

     "Did you fight both of the monsters?"

     I'll let him field the questions.  I look at the people.  A couple are frantically writing notes, one in athletic clothes is glaring at Shinji.  Nabiki's new friend is staring silently at her.  She points at me and Nabiki nods.  She stares at me, Sheesh.  Rei's been in this class how long?  And they go crazy over Shinji.

     "You people are stupid," I tell them, "You've got four pilots here."  Not smart, suddenly I'm surrounded too, by people asking questions demanding answers.  The old fool at the front keeps droning on, Nabiki shot me a poisonous look as she was surrounded too.  Strange thing, they don't close on Rei that way.  Maybe she's already told them what she knows, or maybe she just doesn't talk.


     Rei notes that the other pilots are surrounded, they stammer answers or brag about battles, or their prowess.  She ignores them.  None of their questions would help her, or them.  Out there, that is what holds my interest.  When again will I do what I must, when will the Commander need me, no, need us again?

     Of all of them, only Tendo asks questions back, Rei can hear her clearly, Perhaps she might answer some of my questions: Why are we here, why would I need them?

     Nabiki said they are not my replacements, then what are they?  Where have I failed the Commander that he should need them?


     At lunch, one of the boys calls Ikari to follow him.  Hiroko tells Nabiki he is Toji Suzuhara.  Tendo Nabiki and Saotome Ranma follow, out of curiosity, Rei follows them.

     "Okay punk!  You should have been more careful!" He throws a punch at Shinji, who just stands there and takes the punch, falling from the blow.  He seems confused, but accepting.  The Commander needs these pilots, Whatever my failure, I cannot make another by allowing this.

     "Ranma, you want to help," Tendo Nabiki asks him as Rei moves up to intervene, as Shinji climbs to his feet.

     "Not my fight," Ranma replies, "They're evenly matched."

     Nabiki bares her teeth, like a snarl, "Fine."  She marches over to Toji.


     If Shinji was fighting back, I might agree with Ranma, but this is just a beating, Nabiki spun the boy around, "Want to fight someone who hits back?"

     He sneered at the threat, Nabiki dropped him with one punch.  "Try driving a car with no training, before you judge.  Or would you prefer the city as a nuclear graveyard?  If you don't think he did his best, then -"

     "It's all right," Shinji told them, "I don't really care if he hits me."

     Nabiki was surprised by that, as Shinji walked away.  Nabiki left the boy on the ground, he's shocked a girl dropped him.  Nabiki was more alarmed and angry that Ranma didn't jump into the fight, Normally he'd be defending the weak, in this case Shinji.  But he didn't, because the fight was fair, because neither were martial artists? Nabiki thought, That didn't used to matter.  Nabiki noticed Rei followed them up and left as soon as the situation was resolved.  She didn't seem to be ready to intervene, but I don't know for certain.

     Nabiki thought the psychology of these two might be interesting to study, and it would give her a better grasp of the problems she might have to expect.

     Toji returned to the classroom, eyed Nabiki worriedly.  She smiled at him.  He just shook his head.

     Hiroko leaned over, "What did you do?"

     "Knocked him down.  We pilots have to stick together," Nabiki answered.

     "That may not be the smartest thing.  They don't like `uppity` girls.  They'll put you in your place," she warned.

     Nabiki wasn't worried.  The level of martial arts in my old neighborhood is almost unmatched here.  Ranma may have been the greatest fighter in his generation, but even Akane would mop the floor with these people, and thanks to Cologne and Shampoo, I'm a little better than she is.


     Nabiki thinks the walk home is curious.  Ranma keeps eyeing Nabiki suspiciously.  Shinji seems vaguely afraid.

     Captain Everett keeps smirking, "Here I thought I would be protecting you from them, I guess I'll have to protect them from you."

     "Oh, will you!" Nabiki enthuses, "I'd be ever so grateful.  Those icky blood stains just ruin my pretty, new clothes."

     Everett chuckles, no reaction from the other pilots.  I'd give my eye teeth for one with a sense of humor, Nabiki reflects.

     Rei peels off first.  She just steps out and away, no salutation, no nothing.

     "Shouldn't we walk her home?" Shinji asks.

     "She'll be all right.  Nobody lives in her building and people . . . don't bother her," Everett says.  Something about those statements sits crosswise in Nabiki's mind.  Nabiki resolves to check out Rei's place at the earliest excuse.

     Ranma perks up a little at the offer to do some practice.  Shinji heads off.

     "Why don't you two go to NERV, I'll give Shinji a close escort, then make my way back to the Doctor's place?" Nabiki suggests.

     Everett reluctantly agrees.  Ranma looks at Nabiki even more suspiciously.

     She grimly wonders, How can I possibly further screw up any chance of a relationship with Ranma.  Maybe beat him unconscious with a cat.

     Nabiki catches up with Shinji, "Hey mister, you got anything to eat?" she calls to him.

     He stops.

     "Sorry about intervening, if you really want to get pounded, go spar with Ranma, but I thought you didn't want to hurt that guy."

     "Maybe I deserved it.  I hurt his sister, and I killed some people," he said, "Maybe I did want to get hit."

     "Believe me, no one is more aware that our actions have consequences than I am."  Oh boy am I aware, she thought.  "But you also have to think about consequences of non-action.  Those would have been even worse."

     He nods, accepting her words.

     "Do you want to check out Ayanami-san's apartment?" she asks.

     "Captain Misato wants to talk to me right after school," he tells her, "She said it was important."

     "Will she mind you being a few minutes late?"

     "She might," he replies.

     And you don't want to get her mad, she adds.  With her temper that's probably more than a good idea, it's a survival technique.


     They arrive at the Katsuragi residence, Misato isn't there.  He has to be on time, she thought to herself, then she gets a real shock.  Coming out of a refrigerator is a penguin, an honest-to-kamis penguin!  Nabiki is more than a little shocked.

     "That's just Pen Pen," Shinji tells her, hiding a smirk.

     After pandas, pigs, cats and ducks, I shouldn't be upset by a penguin.

     "And he lives in her refrigerator?!" she manages.

     "Yeah," Shinji tells her, "He won't fit in this one."

     She walks over to the other refrigerator.  It was full of beer and open cans and a few other things.  "You eat this - stuff?" she asks, some of it looks like Akane's idea of `cooking`.

     "I try to do most of the cooking," he admits.

     "And eat as little of what she cooks as possible?"

     He nods.

     "Sounds like a girl I grew up with.  We kept expecting her cooking to get up and walk away."

     "Misato's would still kill it," he replies, "You got your wish."

     She stifles a cringe, My current `wish` is turning out to be a lot of work, and I haven't really started yet.

     He hands her a card.  "Our new ID cards, I have to give one to each of the pilots."

     "I'll take Ranma's.  Well, if you have orders to go to Ayanami's place, lets go."

     He nods, seems embarrassed by the whole thing.

     Nabiki is curious why he got the job.  Misato could have given ours to Ritsuko, she could have driven to Ayanami's apartment.  Is she trying to set Shinji up with Rei, or just embarrass him more?  Or could she just not be troubled to deal with Rei?



Chapter 3: The Fell Sergeant

What has gone before:

     About Book 11, Akane and Soun Tendo throw Ranma out of the house and sever the agreement with the Saotomes.  Ranma memories of Nerima and its people are erased, and he is taken to an alternate EVA universe, where NERV is fighting the Great Old Ones and Outer Gods of H.  P.  Lovecraft's Mythos, in 1947.  Ranma meets his fellow pilot Ayanami Rei and battles the god Nyogtha alongside her.

     Nabiki, in the guise of a wish, is `recruited` to follow and assist him, and the others at NERV.  She's getting a major lesson in 'be careful what you wish for.' Nabiki and Ranma are staying with Dr. Akagi, and Ranma's transformation intrigues the biophysicist.

Soldiers are citizens of death's gray land,

Drawing no dividend from time's to-morrows

Dreamers by Siegfried Sassoon.  1886-

Chapter 3:The Fell Sergeant

     My walk with Shinji over to Rei's apartment is a good opportunity to find out a little more about him.  His dad dumped him on a tutor and concentrated on his work, Sweet guy, some time after his mother died in an accident.  And I thought Genma was a lousy father, for Ranma.  He learned to play the cello, although he practices more because it is expected.  Somehow I don't believe that, his tone suggests he likes it, and is uncomfortable about that.  He doesn't know why he was chosen to pilot, and would prefer not to.

     "Any particular reason?"

     He shakes his head, "It doesn't come naturally to me."

     "A lot of things don't come naturally, You just have to work at them," I tell him, "Although piloting a giant robot is one of the most unnatural I can think of.  I didn't even know anyone could build something like that."

     "They're pretty shocking face-to-face, and actually piloting . . . "

     I feel I've almost broken through, then the gap closes up.

     "I don't really want to talk about it."

     "I understand."

     The apartment block is run down, and abandoned.  I keep looking over my shoulder to see what's following us.  Occasionally I hear the skitter of rats.  BIG rats.  Maybe Misato isn't so weird wanting to palm this job off on someone else.  I wonder if there's an Anything-Goes-Exterminator technique, probably not, too useful.  Practicality was never high on the priorities of the `masters`, 'Be beneficial or profitable?  Heavens Forbid!' He keeps referring to the note from Misato as we navigate through the building.  Apartment 402 is different only because of the pile of mail shoved in the mail slot.  The door is as filthy as all the others.

     "I guess we should ring the bell?" Shinji asks.

     You ring the bell, I'm not touching anything around here until I disinfect it first.  I nod to him.

     The bell does not work.  Surprise, surprise.  Shinji's knock on the door causes it to swing open.

     "Let's run for it," I suggest, "I've seen this movie.  The monster's waiting just inside."

     "Ayanami-san isn't a monster!" he insists.

     I give him a faint smile, he blushes, realizing what he has said.

     "Relax, Shinji-kun.  I think it's sweet, you trying to stick up for your team-mate."  I make him blush more.  "We knocked, we'd better go in," I suggest.

     He seems so nervous.  Rei may be very quiet, but I don't think she's dangerous to us.  Most of the whispers in class label her 'creepy', but considering the people she works with, she's hardly the weirdest of the bunch.

     Inside is almost as bad as outside.  I hear the shower going, that's why no answer.  The walls, floor and ceiling all unwashed until they are a mottled brown.  Kasumi would throw a fit if she saw this place.  So would Cologne.  The odor, I can't place it, but it makes me edgy.

     "Does it smell like blood to you?" Shinji asks.

     That's it, I nod.  A box full of bloody bandages, blood stained sheets and pillow.  Kasumi nothing, Tofu-sensei would throw a fit.

     "Should we wait?" Shinji asks.

     "It gives us time to snoop," I tell him as he stands by the chest of drawers staring at the content of the top.  The kitchenette is as spartan and dirty as the rest of the apartment.  Rust stains, I hope they're rust stains, in the sink.  A hot plate with little bits of charcoal on it, marking the demise of spilled food.  Bare cupboards.  What does this girl eat? The shower shuts off.

     "These people all need keepers, and aren't you lucky, you volunteered," I say to myself, ending my quick inspection.  I turn back to see Shinji staring and Rei staring back at us, stark naked.  She looks from one to the other, seemingly completely unashamed.

     "Yes?" she asks, Shinji seems to have brainlock.

     Even I find myself examining her, she is very poised and lovely, not creepy at all.  I shake myself free.  "The card," I remind Shinji.

     Then she stares at him intently.  It takes a few seconds for him to realize she wants the new I.D.  card.

     He pulls it from his pocket, barely able to speak.  She yanks it out of his hand, I've never seen anyone except for the Nerima crew move that fast.  I half-expect Shinji's hand to be on fire.

     She turns away, ignoring us, putting on her clothes.

     I grab Shinji's arm, to drag him out of there, this is where Ranma always gets pounded by Akane, with Akane screaming 'Pervert' the entire time.

     She sits down on the bed and stares at the I.D., then at us.  Shinji is too mortified to move or react.

     "Well Rei, I guess we'll be seeing you at school."  I drag Shinji to the door.

     "Sayonara."  We hear as we close the door behind us.

     "She hates me," Shinji manages as we head down the stairs.

     "Don't be silly.  She hates all of us," I tell him, "Equally."

     I never saw anything like that.  Even Kasumi would have reacted more than that, although she'd never be impolite about it, she might even laugh embarrassedly about it, but not that odd calm.  She was more concerned about the I.D.  card and acted for a moment as if we were keeping it from her to deny her position.  I wonder if she would have attacked us to get it, or paid for it.  Was she angry, fearful, or secretly glad she could display her strength and speed to us? I wonder.  Another mystery, they are piling up, and no answers were in sight.

     Shinji has been staring at his feet while we walked, muttering about doom.

     "Relax, we aren't doomed, not by this at least."

     I drop Shinji off at Misato's, he still wonders if she's angry/going to report him.  I frankly doubt it, she didn't seem to take it seriously.  What I can't shake, is the feeling I'm being watched.

     Nothing I do can catch them, whoever they are.  I don't take a direct route home.  I wonder if Rei is following me, but I can't pick her out of the sea of faces around me, and she would stand out.  Blue hair and an empty space around her.

     I'd go roof running, except that would draw attention I don't want.  I settle for doubling back, crossing my own trail, nothing.  Either I'm being paranoid, or they're a lot better than I am, neither possibility is very reassuring.  I wonder if I should mention this to Doctor Akagi, ask about security procedures in this case.

     I wonder if Rei would react to us cleaning her apartment, or teaching her to.  I don't know, I hate not knowing, but it took me years to assemble my network and take control in Nerima.  I don't have years, I might not have weeks.

     Well, Hiroko is a good candidate, Hikari is too wrapped up in her position, she reminds me of Ukyo, without the gender problem.  A natural leader, and a natural housewife.  The last thing I need is to have another leader challenging my authority, changing my methods.  I doubt anyone would believe me if I told them the truth.  I barely believe it myself.  Why do I think I'm getting the worst of this deal?


     I find Ranma on the roof, practicing.  I've rarely seen him practicing so fiercely, except when he'd been beaten severely by Ryoga or Cologne.  Maybe this is why my comments hurt him so much.

     I watch for a while, then return to the apartment.  Then I set to my homework in the living room.

     Ranma comes down from the roof.

     "Do you want to help with dinner?" I watch him wrestle with himself.  He actually wants to help, but he doesn't want to do a `girly` thing.

     "Are you any good with a knife?" I ask, giving him an easy way out.  He agrees, he'll help after his shower.

     Doctor Akagi is pleasantly surprised by dinner being ready when she arrives home.

     "A hidden advantage to having us around," I tease her.

     I'm still wondering about getting Ranma's help to clean Rei's apartment, it's a good way to show the girl that we aren't the enemy, that we are all a team or group.

     Team building, I think, Terrific, Nabiki Tendo: Goody-two-shoes in training.


     The next morning Everett is escorting us again.  I wonder whether he's going to keep acting this way.  As I look around, I also wonder if I'm ever going to shake the feeling I'm being followed.

     "Captain, is Security following us?  Because I'm sure somebody is."

     That gets Everett's attention, "They shouldn't, since I'm here."  He looks around nervously, "What do they look like?"

     "I haven't seen them, I thought it was just nerves, but I had the exact feeling today and yesterday."

     Ranma glances around, it's clear he isn't seeing anything, now he thinks I'm playing a trick on him.

     Shinji joins us, he seems very nervous, but that may be due to his inevitable meeting with Ayanami.

     She arrives, says nothing, not hostile but also not interested.

     "Good morning, Ayanami-san," I say.

     She only nods.

     I have the odd feeling that she is uncomfortable.  But is she feeling what I'm feeling, something hostile is watching us, or the embarrassment that Shinji feels?  Everett does not share his misgivings to Shinji or Ayanami, so I don't.

     Once on the school grounds proper, the feeling fades.  I share that with Everett.  He acknowledges it, and quietly shares that with Ayanami.

     She nods to me, she feels it too.

     Well, at least I have another set of eyes, I think.  I'm glad to see Hiroko, I joke with her that I've had the terrible feeling of being followed, is it the school `mafia`?

     "No, I don't think they'd be that subtle," Hiroko tells me.

     That genuinely worries me more, if not the school bullies, then who?

     Shinji seems to be nervously glancing at Ayanami, gauging her disinterest as personal or general.

     I've watched and analyzed people for longer than he has, her interest of the outside, and what it represents is not something 'better', but where she matters.  In class, she is feared and ignored, even by the teacher, as an EVA pilot, she has respect and value.  This builds on my supposition that her hostility is due to the attack on her position, of her value.  Developing a way to address that will be difficult.  Manipulating people has always been my speciality, here I must manipulate them to do . . . what?  Survive, grow . . . live?  Can't I just take their money?

     The available information on psychology is terribly limited.  The only comprehensive information that is helpful is 'moral treatment', which is based on the idea that if you provide a quiet place and expectations of good behavior, you can cure or ease mental illness.  I know it works, I watched Kasumi use it on us for years, the only difference is the idea of punishment by removal of privileges.  With available resources, I believe this is the best course of action I can develop, the problem is: establishing the privileges, which I can remove, or threaten to remove.

     The smells from Misato's boxed lunch provide one idea for Shinji, and I hope Rei, decent food, simple dinner parties.  I can almost hear Kasumi laughing at me, 'Imoto-chan is interested in becoming a homemaker,' Laugh all you want oneechan, I'm trying to save the world, what are you doing?

     Ranma is a more difficult problem, I know what doesn't work.  Akane, and Shampoo, gave me numerous examples, Ukyo used the same 'tea and sympathy' method on Ranma.  It kept him from seeing her as a mate, but . . . I wanted to be with Ranma.  Am I willing to accept that I will only be his friend, in order to keep him and the others safe and healthy, and never be more than that?

     Sigh.  Character is what you do when people aren't watching.


     "Hey boss, when did you find out your dog died?" Hiroko asked as we changed into the gym clothes and headed to the practice field.

     "I was thinking about what I have to do."

     "Being a pilot is that depressing?" she asked.  "Come on slowpoke, I mean boss.  If you can't run faster than that, they won't let you be a pilot."

     I growled and increased my pace to keep up with her.  Glad that for a little while I could finish with the thoughts in my mind.  Worrying about them wouldn't give any answers.  Besides, maybe I can ask her and Hikari about what to do, after all I haven't been in Tokyo for a while, or better, I'm unfamiliar with Tokyo as it is now.  Better to mislead than out-and-out lie.

     Unfortunately they were no help, both either reiterated what I'd already learned from Kasumi or the advice was totally inapplicable, although both thought I was more than a little crazy, dealing with 'Creepy Rei'.

     My reply was as icy as I could manage, "Oh, so you depend on us to save you from the monsters, but when you don't need us, 'Go Away!' Very well, I shall!" I left them.  Show someone their prejudices and they will either grow or confirm they don't think, they just parrot.

     Hikari stayed, Hiroko came after me.

     "That isn't what we meant."

     I glared at Hikari, "It's what she meant."

     "You pilots are all crazy," Hiroko said.

     "Kensuke wants to be a pilot, who's the crazy one?" I chuckled, Hiroko laughed with me.


The Spawn of Nyogtha

     The walk home is filled with worry.  As soon as we step off school grounds, the certainty that we are being watched is back.  I even catch Rei glancing around.  I doubt she's worried, but I'm not good at reading her.  Yet.  The crowd of people around us are from all walks of life, but they're all heading towards us.  I recognize several of them.  No wonder I couldn't spot who was trailing me!  There were dozens of them! I realize.

     "They are all around us!" Rei tells us.

     I'm glad Ayanami verified my suspicions, but I'm not happy about being surrounded.

     "Security, we'll need immediate extraction!" Everett is calling into his handie-talkie.

     Ranma drops into a fighting crouch, so do I.

     Shinji is looking around desperately.  The sound of Everett's pistol shocks all of us.  But the splash of the impact and the wound sealing over immediately, shocks me even more.  The tarry substance of the person hit.  I recognized the black tar and the splash.  The two EVAs fought a monstrosity like that, but these are humans, people, not monsters!  Aren't they?!  I can't believe what I'm seeing.  Only the gunfire from Everett breaks the spell.

     "Run!" Everett throws the pistol and attacks the people with his bare hands, he has better luck, battering a hole for us to run through.  I grab Ranma and Rei pulls Shinji after her.

     "We've got to help him!" Ranma says pointing at his new friend as the creatures swarmed over him.

     "He has died," Rei tells him as we run.  She sounds so sure, and so callous.

     The crowd is moving in pursuit.  This reminds me too much of a Hollywood zombie movie, except our pursuers are too clever, groups cut us off from our path, we can't make it back to NERV.  Ironically, Rei is leading us wherever we're going.  She's the only one of us who knows the city, the only one trained.  I guess she knows what to do.  She certainly acts like she does, for the first time since I've met her.

     Since have cut us off from NERV, and Dr. Akagi's apartment, we head for Rei's apartment.  One or two of the things interpose themselves in our way.  Ranma has recovered enough that he drops them, his martial arts skills do a better job than Everett's pistol.

     Where's Security?  Why haven't they swooped down and rescued us?

     Rei grabs one who blocks our access to the stairs to her apartment, and throws him a good 4 meters.  This little girl is strong!  Maybe that's another reason she's shy, freakish - STOP THAT! I tell myself, She isn't a freak.

     We arrive at her apartment, I suddenly remember, she doesn't have a phone.

     She puts a key in the wall and turns it.  "Shields protocol," Rei says clearly, thick metal plates slam down over the windows and the door.  I think I hear smaller ones covering the air vents.

     The silence that follows is chilling, only the sound of four terrified teenagers gasping for breath.  No, Rei isn't gasping, she's walking, touching the walls.

     "Searching for gaps?" I ask.

     Ranma is staring at the door, Shinji seems to be trying to look at everything at once.

     "Yes," Rei's reply doesn't settle my mind, "The Commander will send help."

     "Shooting them didn't work," Ranma's desperate, he just watched a man he respected sacrifice his life for us, for him.  Nothing like this has ever happened in Ranma's history before.  Rarely did anyone put themselves in danger for Ranma, he usually had to do the rescuing.  Here he can't rescue.  I don't think he knows how to deal with it.

     Shinji's on the edge of panic, but he hasn't broken yet.  I want to start screaming, but once I start, I may never be able to stop, and I have the terrible certainty the worst is yet to come.

     The first pounding on the door is desultory, trying to force an ordinary door.  Our attackers rapidly become more serious.

     "Are there any weapons here?" I ask Rei.

     She shakes her head, "The Commander will come."

     From what I've heard of Gendo Ikari, he cares about nothing except his project, not even himself, a true fanatic.  I can only hope we're part of his project, an important enough part to waste resources rescuing.  Now the assault on the window grate begins.  Rhythmic pounding going in and out of phase.  If this was a jungle movie, someone would start screaming about 'The drums!' But this isn't a movie, it's real.  This isn't Ryoga yelling 'Ranma, die!', then beating him unconscious.  It's you they're trying to kill.

     I have a more practical concern, "Rei, are the walls, floor and ceiling reinforced?"

     "Yes," she tells me.  The glowing blood-red sigils that appear on the walls must be what she meant.  But I doubt they'll hold forever, they are going from a dull- to a cherry-red in a few moments, I know orange and yellow will follow, then what?


     I shouldn't have come back, I should have just kept running, Shinji thinks to himself.  Ranma Saotome-san can fight these things, Ayanami-san too.  Maybe even Tendo-san, but I can't.  I saw what they did the Captain Everett.  I know what they'll do to us.

     "Why do they hate us?  Why are they after us?" he asks no one in particular.

     "We are their enemy," Ayanami-san tells them as she glances over the defenses, "You have no faith in your father?"

     "How could I?!  He abandoned me once!" For you and his project, Shinji doesn't add.

     She raises her fist to strike him.  He braces for the blow.  She pauses, her expression impassioned but unreadable, then it changes to blank.  "He will come, you will see."  She turns away, to go back to looking at the eye-watering symbols that glow red-orange on the walls.

     He can't look at them.  I can't understand Ayanami, or my father.  Why can't they just get it over with?  It doesn't matter anyway.  I saw that much after I fought that worm, things like that are going to win.  There's too many of them, and not enough of us.


     The darkness hid the details of the warehouse, although none of those within were bothered, they preferred it.  They had painted over windows, hunted down any light leaks.  Some used the darkness to disorient their victims, sudden slowing them what really surrounded them.  Their shrieks and denials were delicious.  The few boxes served as seat to the things that walked and glided all over.  They would meet, discuss, and the opinions would pass throughout the building. 

     "Soon," the man told his companions.

     "Better without light," something in the shadowed edges of the warehouse chided.  Susurrations of agreement.

     "They would expect it.  Better now than when they are ready," he told them, defending his position as leader, "Better after the days we have waited.  They become complacent."

     The heavy doors of the warehouse blew inward, flooded the area with sunlight.  The beams of antiaircraft searchlights dispelled any gloom the sunlight hadn't touched.  The human-looking ones screamed less than their bestial compatriots.

     "Get all of them!" Doctor Akagi ordered the Security and U.S.  Army troops in.  Halftracks and jeeps were the weapons of choice, ramming and shoving.  Bullets and fire were useless, CO2 fire extinguishers were the favored 'sidearms' of the troops who battered and rammed the creatures into the center of the warehouse, pinning them there with the beams of truck-mounted searchlights.

     Under other circumstances, the piteous cries would have elicited pity from Ritsuko, who didn't like inflicting pain, some things were painful of necessity.  This wasn't one of those times.

     "Keep a few of the more human-looking alive, we don't need the rest."  She hated these things, for their mockery of the human form, for the plastic way they flowed, wounds reforming and closing, for the acts they lured others into.  And because they threatened the project.

     Especially Ranma and Nabiki, her mind offered up.  It struck her as odd that in just a few days, they'd wormed their way past her defenses.  She wouldn't have thought it possible.  She smiled at that, and hoped Misato's wild plan actually worked.


     The armored plates vibrated under the impact.  Dust settled down on all the pilots, the entire apartment shook.  The yellow glow from the symbols bathed them in a sickly light.  Above the sound of hammers, as they assaulted the floor of the apartment above.  Nabiki was glad that they have no torches, drills or explosives.  "Wouldn't it be easier to knock the building down?" she asked, she felt very frightened and vulnerable.  A beam of sunlight from the door drew their full attention and signaled the beginning of the end.

     Something black and tarry wormed its way through the tiny gap.  Shinji had been in the kitchen brewing tea, just to do something.  He shrieked and ran forward, emptying the boiling liquid on the invader, then beating on the tendril with the metal teapot.  "Die, Die!  DIE!" he shrieked at the strand as he pounded it into retreat.  He slumped, stared in horror at the gap in our defenses.

     I never knew he had it in him, Nabiki thought.

     New sounds, running water, and shouts of surprise from the besiegers.  Not running water, like a fire hose.  Water poured in the gap in the door.

     "We're sinking!" Nabiki yelled, believing it for an instant, then realized how hysterical she sounded, Hey I'm scared, give me a break.  Rei and Shinji gave her matching blank looks, probably for different reasons, but Rei's mouth shifted for a moment, Maybe her equivalent of a smile.

     More pounding on the door, "Rei!" a man's voice, "Disengage the safety locks!"

     Now a real smile, a triumphant smile at Shinji, her whole face lighted up, a pretty girl for an instant, "Door safeties, disengage."  She turned the key in the wall.  Metal groaned, the plate didn't fully withdraw, but the pilots could squeeze through the door.

     "Women and children first," Nabiki shouted as water poured into the apartment.  Men in body armor and spacesuit-like garments urged them forward.  Two teams had a firehose each, kept the creatures away, while several bright red fire trucks with NERV stamped on the side flooded the floors above and below with water.  Simple crowd control with water cannons.  The kids ran down the stairs, to where Captain Katsuragi waited.

     She shouted, but couldn't be heard over the noise of pumps and spraying water.  The truck she's stood in front of, with the loading gate down, was clear enough.

     Once all the pilots were aboard, and Captain Katsuragi slammed the rear gate, the truck lurched away.  A convoy of vehicles: jeeps, tanks, half-tracks formed around them.  I don't know where we're going.  From Captain Katsuragi's expression, anyone who tries to stop us will get shot on sight, Nabiki thought.


     Ranma looks ashamedly at the others, The `Invincible` Saotome, now Ranko, couldn't do anything.  She kept thinking about Captain Everett, and that she should have known those things were there.  I saw them in my mind, in my dreams.  Human-looking, but inhuman things reveling in wild violent orgies.  Seducing humans into the worship of the god.  To be eaten or twisted into alien things when they weren't necessary anymore.

     She realizes, These things were avenging their god's death, murder.  The thing I killed was intelligent, it had . . . things, to serve it and dependent on it.  I should have realized they'd come after us.  I should have used the trick I used on their master/creator.  But I couldn't, I was so shocked I couldn't, I didn't know how.

     So Everett died when we ran away, I hope he died.  I knew how they sacrifice their victims.  A clean death was preferable.  I couldn't imagine anyone actually wanting someone they . . . liked, to die, Ranma thought, What kind of monster have I become?  I can't fight to defend myself, or anyone else.  I have to change that.  Change it as soon as I can!

     Ranma barely acknowledges being put aboard the plane, and buckled in by the flight crew.  She didn't know where they were going, Just right now, I don't care.  Sleep claimed her, mercifully dreamless.  The droning of the engines kept her and the others asleep until they touched down.


     Ritsuko looked over the conference room, Colonel Stedman, NERV's ostensible overall military commander, and the liaison to the U.S.  Occupation forces, and Admiral Simson, the newly arrived Admiral of the Coral Sea group, were already here.

     "Thank you for bringing some in alive, Doctor," the Admiral told her, "I'm not sure I could be so . . . reasonable."

     She nodded to him.

     Commander Ikari and Fuyutsuki arrived.

     "I was delayed," Gendo told them.

     Always the charmer, she thought.

     "These cultists have yielded a good deal of information," Admiral Simson said.

     She considered, He doesn't have the scruples of some of the others regarding Mythos creatures.  The Geneva Convention didn't apply to inhuman monsters who wanted to destroy us all.

     "The activity is much more extensive than previously assumed," Colonel Stedman said, "Our current estimates put all activity higher than even the wildest estimates.  We'd have to ferret them out and destroy them."

     "I'd depend on the Coral Sea and her group to protect the Children and their EVAs," Admiral Simson assured them.

     "They'll need to be tested, all the combinations," Gendo glanced from Ritsuko to the Admiral.

     "I can assemble a staff to carry out the tests," she told them.

     "Let your assistant take care of that.  Fly ahead to link up with the Children and Captain Katsuragi, Admiral Simson can prepare Units 00 and 01 for testing and work out the problems with carrying the EVAs."

     "Reasonable suggestion," Admiral Simson put Gendo in his place, "So while the Marines and the Army sweep these islands.  We'll get the other pilots and Unit 04, then we can head back as fast or as slowly as necessary to let you finish the job."

     The Marine Colonel agreed.  Gendo fumed a bit, the plan was practically what he'd proposed when NERV planned the rescues, but now they weren't his plans.

     "I still think we should divert Unit 02 south to the canal," she suggested.

     "The Star of Bremen is too large to squeeze through the Panama Canal, that means a transit around the Cape," the Admiral explained, "That's too close to Antarctica for anyone's piece of mind."

     "Agreed," Gendo said.  Antarctica was practically an American province, now even the British didn't have free, unfettered access.

     "Doctor," Gendo continued, "Get some clothes and toiletries for the Children.  Then join up with Captain Katsuragi on Iwo Jima.  You'll fly back to the States to collect the Second and Sixth and Unit 04."

     "Agreed," Again Admiral Simson made Gendo's `order` an informed suggestion.  Unlike the previous administrations, that had let NERV and its Commanders do as they wished, this new Admiral obviously intended to keep Gendo and Fuyutsuki on a tight leash.

     Ritsuko wondered how much he really knew about what was going on at NERV, how much he knew for certain about the Mythos.  There were rumors of O.S.S.  operations against the Mythos, and against Axis involvement with it.  Was this new man one of these with experience, or just a meddler over his head and trying to retain his power? she wondered.

     "Is there further business?  I believe Commanders Ikari and Fuyutsuki and Colonel Stedman can take care of security concerns and Dr. Akagi can have her assistants help my staff with transferring the EVAs."

     There was no comment.

     "Dismissed, Dr. Akagi, I'll have a command car and a crew to collect what you need for yourself, Captain Katsuragi and the Children."

     She nodded.

     "I hope you don't mind flying in a fighter.  It's reasonable to assume both you and Katsuragi are also targets.  We need you alive and fit, to help keep the pilots we have healthy and able to do their job.  We just lost our second one, all we have left is the third, and no more in the pipeline."

     She paled at that, but nodded.  They'd expected to get two to three American pilots.  Now they had only one.

     "It's a lot less fun when they're shooting at you too," the Admiral commented as they parted.


Flight to America

     Misato was fuming.  She'd been at some morose gatherings.  NERV meetings were practically seminars on depression and depressed people, so she'd tried to cheer the kids up.  Rei was hopeless as always, so she didn't waste time trying.  She'd had some success jollying Shinji out of his moods.  But not this time.  Ranma seemed to have moved into Rei's camp, nothing cheered him up.  And she couldn't get any beer to share with them.  She 'Was not U.S.  Military personnel,' so she couldn't go into the Post Exchange.

     Tendo, Misato frowned at that.  'Some of us can't just shrug off the death of a friend, so leave us alone!' Misato had wanted to slap the girl for that, spoiling all her work.

     Only Ritsuko's arrival forestalled her action, "Did you hear what she said?" Misato asked.

     "You probably deserved it," Ritsuko replied evenly, "I've got your clothes, toothbrushes, et cetera."

     "So you get to be the `good mommy`," Misato joked with her friend.

     Ritsuko just stared at her, "I've got your's too."

     "Oh, thanks."

     "Let's get you kids cleaned up and fed, we'll be flying out in the morning.  Clear to America."  Ritsuko paused for reactions, she got no more than Misato had, dull acceptance.

     "We caught the . . . people who did this, they won't threaten you again, we're also hunting down their allies and supporters.  You'll be safe when we return."

     "Yeah," Ranma said, obviously disbelieving, but without the energy to protest further.

     "Lets get moving," Misato ordered, earning a dark look from Ritsuko.

     The kids are moving, Misato thought, What's her problem?


     Ritsuko was settling into her quarters when she heard a faint knock on the door.

     Can't be Misato, she pulled her lab coat on, she'd grabbed it out of her closet, instead of a proper robe.  "Just a moment," she said in English, it was an American Military base after all.

     She opened the door and saw Nabiki and the female Ranma, Ranko, there, "Can we stay with you?" It was in English, and so totally out of character for the brash, take-charge pair she'd had under her roof, she immediately stepped out of the way.

     Then she looked around the room, the bed was a single, "I'm afraid two of us will have to sleep on the floor," she said in Japanese.

     "Floor's fine," Nabiki mumbled.  Ranko only nodded.

     It took a moment for Ritsuko to consider, "Help me push the bed out of the way."

     The pair seemed confused by this, but complied.  Ritsuko pulled the sheets off and lay them on the floor.  "I guess nobody wants to be alone tonight.  I saw Rei peeping on Shinji earlier tonight."  She expected a joke or comment.

     Nothing from either of them.  She was glad it was too warm to use the small blanket.  Although as a bit of a joke, she folded it lengthwise and covered their feet with it.  The kids got the pillows.  Within a few moments both had snuggled against her.

     She fought back a few tears.

     Maya had joked she needed people to take care of.  She knew the psychological profile of pilots, she'd helped Gendo and Fuyutsuki draw it up, although it appalled her as the time.  She couldn't imagine what she'd done to deserve this.  She put her arms around her two shivering charges, and waited in the darkness, she could sleep on the plane.  Occasionally in the quiet, she heard a faint cries from one or the other, and the soft footfalls outside the door.  A touch and soft word quieted the first.  She recognized the second, she didn't like Rei, normally, what she was, what she represented.  Tonight, the First Children padded up and down the corridor outside the pilots' rooms, and Ritsuko was glad the strange girl prowled the passageways, A tigress with her cubs? What she'd do to something she found . . . Ritsuko didn't want to think about.


     I walked the halls until sunrise, then returned to the room they had offered me.  It was a disconcerting gray.  I was glad I could fall asleep and not look at it anymore.  What seemed like a few moments later, I heard Doctor Akagi's voice.

     "Rei, wake up."

     "Doctor," I blinked at the brightness of the room, light had not improved the color.  The smells from the tray she carried arrested my attention.

     "I have some breakfast for you."

     Melon slices, a hard-boiled egg, glass of milk, and a large bowl of . . . orange shrapnel?

     "It's breakfast cereal, you eat it with milk and sugar.  Shinji didn't know what it was either.  The plane will be leaving in two hours, I'll send Tendo-san to make sure you don't get lost.  We'll be flying to America to pick up out next two pilots."

     I nodded, accepting the information.

     She paused, half turned away, "What you did last night . . . I think Commander Ikari would be very pleased."

     "Thank you, Doctor," I managed, I was only doing my duty, and the Commander would be pleased.  She left me to ponder that and the odd utensils Americans eat breakfast with.


     I think the Commander would be pleased, Ritsuko thinks, Coward!  Why don't you tell her you were grateful? She sighs, Rei always frightened her, but having a gorgon prowling the hallways meant it would take another gorgon to get past it.

     And she did it of her own free will, she reminds herself.  She's reacting to the pilots differently than predicted.

     "Well you look lively today," Misato greets Ritsuko

     She's probably on her third beer, she's so chipper.

     "You find something warm to curl up with last night?"

     Ritsuko keeps from reacting to that statement, Yes it was warm, warmer than you can imagine, and not for the reason you're suggesting.  I won't tell her that, she dropped Shinji in his room and left.  It's what I'd expect her to do, and she lived down to my expectations.  I'm the one who didn't act in character.  If I'm going insane, so be it.  Maya would approve.  Great, I'm seeking approval from my subordinate who doesn't even have a boyfriend of her own!

     "Wow!" Misato's voice intrudes upon my thoughts, "It must have been terrific if you keep zoning out like this."

     Ritsuko decides to have a little cruel fun, "Like nothing before; I freely wept tears of joy; to do it again."  I don't normally go in for haiku, but Misato's face makes it worth the effort.  She's aghast and envious.

     "If you'd brush up on your English skills, maybe you'd find something waiting on your doorstep asking to come in."

     Misato looks angry enough to chew through an Angel.

     "Let's not discuss it around the Children, they're very impressionable at that age."  Ritsuko continues walking, listening to Misato's grumping behind her, her `unusual` command of English is a joke among the staff.

     They find Shinji, Ranma as a boy, and Nabiki all together in the officer's mess.

     "I think Rei's finishing breakfast, if you three want to check on her," Ritsuko tells them.  I'll have to remember to tell Nabiki and Ranma not to mention last night to Misato, I guess I'll explain the joke to them, anything else might undermine their confidence in me.  The three file out.  She gets a smile from Nabiki, Shinji and Ranma are still grim.  Not surprising.


From the Journal of Nabiki Tendo

     The flight to the United States was a weird one.  We flew out of Iwo Jima in a converted B-29 designed for passengers, and across to Midway, not Hawaii.  My joke about Japanese Military landing in Hawaii fell flat.  Misato didn't think it was funny, Rei didn't understand and Shinji and Ranma wouldn't think anything was funny, only Ritsuko gave me a smile.  More for the attempt at making a joke rather than the humor of it.

     I wish I could get some advice, from someone.  I can barely keep my emotional head above water.  How can I help the others if I can barely help myself?  Ranma spent most of the flight practicing, he's obsessive about it.  I wish I knew how much was rage, how much was grief, and how much was plain boredom.  Shinji spent most of the time listening to the sounds of the motors, he's sitting right where the wings meet the fuselage, I have to admit he's right.  The engines going in and out of sync sounds like a weird kind of music.  Rei isn't as serious a problem.  She had the biggest part of our `victory` and she isn't as standoffish as she has been.


     Rei sat at the front right corner of the plane's cabin.  She stares out the small window.

     I bet if I could test it, that's one of the places you can hear anyone in the entire plane, Nabiki thought as she passed Shinji sitting in an aisle seat over the wing, on her way to stand next to Rei.

     "You realize it's our responsibility to look after them," Nabiki tells Rei.

     "Yes.  The Commander expects that," she replies.

     For an instant Nabiki wants to tell her, 'I was joking', but instead she has a wedge into her thinking, "Maybe we don't understand all of the Commander's plan."

     "Perhaps."

     I think that makes her happier, although it's hard to tell.

     "Perhaps we're all parts of the plan."

     She considers this deeply, "Yes."

     Well, at least she doesn't hate us as much, that's something.  "Do you want to learn to fight, like Ranma does?"

     I think that's embarrassment on her face, Nabiki recognizes.

     "I'm not good that way," she admits.  I didn't think anything could shame her.

     "Don't worry, I was no good when I started either.  Other students were always better than me.  Practice makes you better."

     "I am not comfortable practicing on an airplane.  Flying is enough."

     Two entire sentences, I should be jumping for joy, but that might scare her off, but Nabiki allows herself a smile.  "When we're on solid ground then," she tells her.

     She nods.


Knight rescued

     The forest was ash trees and pine, all tall, the area between them was clear enough for the horses to pass easily.  The Meliorist noted the lack of underbrush, or any cover.  She tested her bonds, they held firm, tying her hands together to the pommel of the saddle.  A dozen of the knights of General Tembris rode `escort` around her.  She cursed her foolishness, going to that meeting without a bodyguard, but no.  Tough and loyal as her werewolves were, a single silver arrow for each would have done the job, Better that they lived.

     The party stopped, most drew their weapons before untying her, giving her no chance to escape.  Two took her away from the horses, four or five formed a distant perimeter while five or six others formed a reserve in case by some miracle, she did run.

     "Kneel," the detachment commander ordered.  "We give you a moment to confess, before you see your God."

     The Meliorist flushed in anger, considering what was happening to Germany in the Waking World, they must have thought it funny.

     Father I ask your protection of my friends and family, let them escape the traps I've put them in.  She was done, she had nothing to confess, her eyes bored into the detachment commander, "I would have expected more than a simple killing, especially from you."

     The man reached out with his foot to knock her down, a sneer on his face.  The arrow that sprouted out of his face changed the sneer to a look of confusion that would have been comical at another time.  The knight to her side had started to draw his sword when the Meliorist crashed into him.  He shoved her away, clutching at his armpit where the joint prevented the armor from protecting his artery from the knife she'd concealed.

     "Amazing what you can learn from `gutter scrapings`," she told the man as he bled to death in an instant.  She looked around for cover, anything to give her a moment to get loose and get centered.  One of the perimeter guards was on his way in, spurring his horse to a gallop as he leveled his lance.  A saber-halberd, her personal weapon, sailed through the air, running the man through and knocking him off his horse, the horse charged by as she reached up to grab the pommel and mount.  Better to run, she noted none of the perimeter guards were still there, their horses were, but they weren't.

     The muted thump of something very heavy landing gently caught her attention.  "Private murder?" the Scholarly Dragon shouted, idly picking bits of leaves and bracken off its foreclaws.  A black shadow of armored malevolence, in the Waking World, it, he, would have dwarfed most heavy bombers.

     The knights made an instant decision.  All six spaced out far enough a single blast of dragon fire wouldn't get all of them, and they couched their lances and charged.  The dragon paid them no mind as hidden archers knocked knight after knight from the saddle, only a pair made it to the dragon, whose tail smashed one off his saddle, and the other caught enough dragon fire to burn her to a crisp from the waist up.  The dragon flicked the unburned portion from the saddle as the horse ran by.  He glanced around and jogged to catch up the horses.

     Anna rode up to The Meliorist, "Asuka!  You take too many chances!" Her Chief of Scouts scolded her.  An athletic brunette who sat her horse like the master she was.  Despite her air of controlled power, she managed to look petite and unnoticeable.  The mousy expression hid the eyes filled with intelligence and cunning.  She was a cipher inside and out.

     "I know," she apologized as the other woman cut her bonds.  "'Always keep a shiv up your sleeve,' I'll never doubt that again."

     Anna smiled as the pair of archers detached from the trees leading captured mounts.  The dragon arrived a few minutes later with another mounted archer and the rest of the horses.

     "Head south, kill the horses if you have to, speed is all," the Dragon told them, "The rest of the force awaits at Zais, I sent them marching when I heard about this little `get together`."  The Dragon did not approve, "The Council will shelter you, they owe you and I'll see to it."

     "Why?" The Meliorist had to ask.

     "You were once important to the boy, Langley."  The Dragon stepped away, spread his wings, preparing for flight, "I suppose you still are."  He leapt into the air and headed east.

     "That isn't an answer," the little girl inside The Meliorist said, she turned to Anna

     "We ride, I guess."

     Anna nodded then led them south, "Something certainly has him stirred up."

     "Me too, something is moving, here and in the Waking World."

     "We can't protect you there, neither of us can."  She tousled her general's auburn hair, "So keep your head down, and quit letting your temper get the better of you!"

     Asuka laughed at her friend's concern.  'You were important to the boy, Langley,' I killed him, as sure as I'm sitting here.  My most steadfast friend, and I killed him.  I'll never forgive myself.


From the Journal of Nabiki Tendo

     Landing in Los Angeles is interesting.  I would have expected San Francisco or San Diego, but we're trying to maintain a low profile.  Los Angeles is mostly strawberry fields and orange groves.  A far cry from the city I know/knew in my time.  The next flight is nonstop to the East Coast, clear across the country.  Ranma practices, Misato keeps irritating me and the others.  I try to sleep during the time she's awake, because even over the engines, we hear her snoring at night.

     So she remains diurnal, while the rest of us become nocturnal.  Reading, talking, and Ranma practicing, practicing, practicing, that gets on my nerves almost as much as Misato's 'I do not snore!' I taught Rei a few basic moves when we were on the ground in Los Angeles.  She seems confused I'd take an interest in her.  I also find out why she limits herself to single sentences.  When she tries longer passages, she leaves out the transitions, jumping from point to point without warning.  'Did you see the dog with that flight crew, the new pilot has red-brown hair.  I have to get some milk when we get back to Tokyo.' Huh?

     I make sure I just listen, then go back and reconstruct what she told me from what I know.  The dog was red-brown, and was drinking milk, all very logical, once you understand it.  Very strange.


Boston

     It's pouring rain when they land in Boston.  Great, I'm going to get wet, I might as well get it over with, Ranma thought, "Yeargh!!  That's COLD!" he shouts as the change takes place.

     "Ranma, what are you doing?" Misato asks.

     "I'm wet anyway," she replies.

     "I brought rain gear for all of us," she tells him.

     "oh."

     Shinji snickers at her, Nabiki studies the ground, stifling her laughter.

     "Let's get you some hot water, Ranko" Ritsuko reminds them of the `girl's` name.


     The NERV group walks towards a hotel in Boston where the 'Second Children' is staying.  They're all in raincoats and umbrellas.

     I feel stupid wearing it.  But it's better than being stuck as a girl, Ranma thinks, The hotel is a fancy/expensive one, I guess NERV has the money.  The staff looks at us weird for the raincoats, that's their problem, Ranma dismisses the problem.  The pilot is in a suite of rooms upstairs.

     "Guten Morgan," she greets them, red-hair blue-eyes.

     She's kinda cute, in a harsh way, Ranma compares her to his female form.  Then she says something he can't follow.

     "She asked if it's still raining," Nabiki supplies, then says something to the girl.

     "No one speaks German, how boring."  She walks over to the group, "So who's the Third Children?  Our famous first combat pilot?" she asks.

     Shinji raises his hand.

     Ranma sees the sneer on her face, "You didn't manage to bring too much shame on us.  It will be up to the rest of us, the best of us, to redeem things."

     "Asuka!" Misato calls her to task.

     "Shouldn't you introduce yourself?" Nabiki suggests, they introduce themselves.

     Rei helps herself to the water at the side table.

     Asuka confronts her, "So you're the famous First, the other trained pilot."

     "Yes," Rei answers, sipping the water.

     "We'll see who's the best soon enough."  She turns to face Shinji.

     Nabiki heads for the closet to help Ritsuko hang up all of our coats.

     Ranma's drenching is unexpected.  Rei is shocked by the slip, she caught her foot on the rug.  Asuka is utterly shocked, then she bursts into laughter.

     "Robots and a hydromorph!  Bwah ha ha!  Are all the Japanese pilots freaks?"

     Ranma, now Ranko blushes yet again.  She's embarrassed by her transformation.

     "He turns back with hot water," Misato tells Asuka.

     She laughs again, "So if he can't get a date, splash, and try again?!  Bwah hah ah!"

     Ranko clenches her fists in frustration, I hate being laughed at.


     Misato could have handled that better, Ritsuko thinks as she and Nabiki return from hanging up the rain gear.

     Asuka turns to Nabiki, "So what's your failing?"

     "I've got manners," Nabiki replies, smiles at the red head.

     I'd better intervene, Ritsuko sees, "The transformation is Top Secret," she tells 'the Second', "Not to be discussed with anyone expect for the Pilots and technical staff of NERV Tokyo."

     She snickers more, "So is it really a boy or a girl?"

     "I'm a guy!" Ranko snaps.

     "How can you tell?" she laughs again.

     Ranko growls at her.  Misato makes placating gestures to no avail.

     "Missed it again," Nabiki whispers to Ritsuko.

     I have to get control of the situation, Ritsuko shouts, "Miss Langley," she switches to English and uses her sternest tone.  "If you're telling us you can't work with the other pilots.  We can dispense with your services.  We'd still have five pilots."

     She's stricken, Ritsuko knows she can already deflect Asuka's counter, "How will you win without my Unit 02?  It's the best EVA there is."

     "The EVA is NERV property, we will use it.  Don't worry, for preparing the EVA for use, we can offer you a very comfortable pension."

     The girl is nearly apoplectic, "Nobody's piloting my EVA but me!"

     "Then comport yourself as a professional should."  Although admittedly, you would be the first to do so.

     She grumbles something about Ritsuko and nods once.  Then glares at Ranko.

     "Ooo, scary lady," Nabiki comments quietly to Ritsuko.

     She frowns at Nabiki, who cowers.  "Clown," Ritsuko says low enough for just Nabiki to hear.

     "We should check in," Rei reminds us, quoting policy.

     "We have 24 hours after the flight.  I think we all need some rest," Ritsuko tells them.

     "Jet lag," Nabiki says.

     None of the others have the faintest idea what she means.  She's uncomfortable being the center of attention.  "We're all tired and hungry and out-of-sorts after the long trip in the air."

     That girl thinks of the strangest things.  It's as if she's from another planet, or another century, Ritsuko thinks, Like the rest of us oddballs.


From the Journal of Nabiki Tendo

     Asuka isn't happy to discover the huge suite of rooms was meant for all of us, not just her.  I can already see trouble brewing!  I note in my Journal.  Maya told me 'Tendo-san, you'll have to keep a journal.  We'll need to monitor your reactions and thoughts.' "I bet Ranma just loved that," I put my `public` Journal away and open my private one.

     My last entry was about Belldandy appearing and telling me Dr. Akagi needed us, Ranma and me.  As bad as I felt, I could hardly believe what she was saying.  I thought I needed to be alone.  But it was kind of nice being with `mom`, to keep the nightmares away.  It certainly wasn't my ideal fantasy of sleeping with Ranma, but I felt a lot better in the morning.  I remembered back to spending time with my real mom when bad dreams woke me.  It wasn't what I expected either.  I suspect Belldandy and her `people` are effective manipulators too, although they probably don't think of it that way.  All three of us felt better in the morning.  Maybe they need me to be the one making the hard, cruel choices.  They can only manipulate to be `nice`.  I have to be the bad guy.  Sigh.  Here I thought I could be a new shining hero, but considering the creatures we're facing, I'd be a saint compared with these things.  I WANT TO RENEGOTIATE THIS DEAL!!!


     A rocky field with a thick screen of trees to hide it from the road and the nearby farms, and to hide the caves that were the cultists' final bolthole.  The flame-throwing tank sprayed the fleeing cultists with napalm.  The cultists were now hemmed in by flames the engineers had set earlier, unless they wanted to be torches.

     "Surrender or die!" Gendo ordered.  He knew what they'd say.

     Colonel Stedman was reminded of the bocage country of Normandy, with all the inherent hazards of concealment and surprise.  This time, he knew what was coming next.  Like a goat-footed banyan tree, it stomped out of the darkness, immune to fire, bullets, explosives.  An entire company of riflemen fired practice grenades.  The creature reeled back from the hundred plus impacts, hurt badly, but not killed.  A bulldozer-tank rammed it, then retreated as the tendrils tried to wrap themselves around the frame.  A second Sherman dozer rammed it from another direction.  A pair of flail tanks, mineclearing units, began their approach.

     The creature vanished as suddenly as it appeared.

     "All units report additional sightings," Stedman ordered.

     Gendo held his contempt for his `allies` and his foes.

     "The cultists in the cavern refuse to surrender," a major reported to them.

     "We have sufficient prisoners to interrogate," Gendo said.

     Stedman nodded.  "Burn'em out," he ordered.

     A flame throwing tank sprayed a stream of unlit napalm deep into the cavern, while several crude launchers hurled cylinders of acetylene or propane into the cavern.

     And waited 30 seconds after a lieutenant with a bullhorn ordered them to surrender.  One of the cultists crept to the cave mouth and opened fire, the muzzle flash was enough.

     The explosion lit the sky for miles, jets of flaming gas indicated secondary tunnels out of the rat hole.

     "'Idiots," Stedman said.  Gendo agreed.

     "Just like a car, fuel-air mixture.  Nobody should be that willing to die."

     "Except your enemy, then you both get what you want," Gendo commented, "How are the other teams doing?"

     "Fighting was house-to-house up north.  Your colleague, the Professor, is having a tougher time of it.  It seems the Ainu don't like the Tcho-Tchos any more than anybody else, getting any alive to interrogate is going to be a problem."

     Gendo nodded, These fools thought they could disrupt my plans.  But these are no ordinary batch of degenerates, worshiping in some isolated hamlet.  Someone has to be backing them.  Someone with enough muscle to keep a Marine division busy.  Who, and what did they want to protect while they kept us busy here and a few other places? Gendo was not looking forward to his next `meeting` with the Committee, they'd object to the audacity of him actively taking the field, rather than staying where they could reach him at a whim.  He had the excuse of Admiral Simson's orders, and despite SEELE's belief to the contrary, the United States Military Occupation ruled Japan.  For as long as he found it convenient.  Not for the first time he wondered how the fools of the Committee would enjoy discovering he had ferreted out their secret hideaway in Switzerland, by telling the Allied Military, and telling them SEELE's plan.  The fireworks would be amusing, he'd save that option when he needed to divert both of them from his operations.


     Thump.

     Ritsuko opened her eyes, looked around the hotel room.

     Thump.

     We're on the 16th floor.  It can't be that giant gorilla, besides, we're in Boston.

     Thump . . . Thump, Thump.

     She tossed off the covers and pulled her lab coat over her night gown, and looked into the suite's `common` room.  Nabiki fell back-first onto the floor.

     Thump.

     Rei and Shinji dropped from a sitting position to flat on the floor.

     Thump, Thump.

     Ranma was off to the side, going through the almost dance-like motions of his morning practice.  Nabiki was standing again, demonstrating how to fall, Ritsuko realized, Teaching the other two how to as well.

     Ritsuko smiled and walked out.

     "Good morning, Doctor," Nabiki said, mirrored quickly by her two `students`.

     'Morning,' from Ranma.

     She didn't want to tease Nabiki about her actions, especially before her first cup of coffee, also because she'd been hoping Ranma would do exactly what Nabiki was doing.

     "Have you four already had breakfast?" she asked.

     Misato wasn't up, and Ritsuko didn't expect her to be.  That Asuka wasn't, was telling.  If the American pilot is an early riser, I'll take him, she sighed, If he even wants to pilot The second American had been confined to Bethesda Naval Hospital after a synchronization accident.  The third had disappeared a day later, then turned up again a day after that, at his aunt and uncle's home at Cambridge, Mass.  Ritsuko figured that he was probably as frightened as Shinji had been, and for better reasons.  Two sync attempts, two catastrophic failures.  She hadn't seen anything to assume NERV Massachusetts had done anything wrong, but she was going to oversee the Sixth's first sync personally.  They needed continuing American goodwill, and she wasn't in the mood to explain the results of a sync accident to the other pilots in their current mental state.

     Thank you.  Someone had at least made coffee.  She sipped her coffee and watched Nabiki had Shinji and Rei falling from a squatting position, to the floor.  Shinji was more coordinated than Rei, which was understandable.  Rei never moved as most people did, another thing that bothered the biophysicist.  Rei lacked the coordination for some of these activities.  Nabiki seemed to have a good store of patience for the fumbling of the two novices.

     Ranma's workout was centered entirely on his movements and actions.  Everett had been a what?  Friend, teacher, father-figure, role model?  The Marine had died as he'd lived, eyes open facing the enemy.  The Samurai movies and the Bushido code may claim it's the ideal way to die, unfortunately it ignored the effect on others around you.

     Listen to the philosopher, she thought as she looked at the empty coffee cup, Misato must have spiked it before she went to bed.  She poured herself another cup.

     Ritsuko watched Ranma move for a while, considering what he'd gone through, how he'd react in the future, and if there was anything she could do for him.

     Asuka stormed out, demanded to know, "What idiot is making all the noise at this ungodly hour!?" And made more noise that the targets of her complaint.

     "Maybe you'd like to learn?" Nabiki said sweetly.

     Careful, Asuka, Ritsuko hid her smile.  Sweet lil' 'Biki-chan was the cute face of a crocodile, and the teeth were never far behind.

     "Stupid dancing around," Asuka said, clearly not fully awake.  "What's that hydro -?"

     "Asuka!" Ritsuko snapped.

     The girl paled, frowned, "Does he - expect to dance around his opponents?  It's really pretty.  But it won't get the job done," she said with confidence.

     "It works," Ranma replied, not letting it disturb his practice.

     "HA."  She walked over to Rei, "Stand up."

     Rei did as `ordered`.

     Asuka applied a simple wrist lock, "What do you do to get out of this?"

     Rei grabbed a handful of Asuka's nightgown and picked her up off the ground, tapped her once against the wall and set her back down.  She pulled her hand free of the shocked girl's grip, and walked back to her place near Nabiki.

     "Somebody's had their spinach today," Asuka said to cover her shock, "Hey, Wondergirl, how strong are you?"

     Rei didn't answer, resumed her falling practice.

     "Stronger than most people," Ritsuko intervened to end the escalation, she noted Ranma had stopped to watch the display of strength as well, "Not as strong as I am."

     That really got Ranma's attention.  "How strong are you, doc?"

     "Strong enough to beat you at arm wrestling, but then I know the best way to use my muscles."

     Ranma nodded.

     "What's on the agenda for today . . . doc?" Nabiki asked, a little too innocently.

     "Well, 'Biki, we check in with NERV Massachusetts, and collect the American pilot."

     "What if he doesn't want to pilot?" Shinji asked.

     "They'll chain him up and drag him with us," Nabiki told him, "No favoritism."

     "Where do we pick him up?" Asuka asked, trying to ignore the other girls, as Misato walked out of her room.

     "Harvard University," Ritsuko said, and watched all the color drain out of Misato's face.


     "Dr. Akagi, we do so happiness, attention visited, for you."

     Nabiki winced at the man's terrible Japanese, she doubted even he knew what he said.  Ritsuko had to keep a smile plastered on her face, shaking the man's hand.  Fortunately Misato hadn't understood the cry of 'Hide the booze!' as they entered the Massachusetts's branch of NERV.  Nabiki thought they had used the same architect and decorator as the Tokyo Branch.

     "Doctor?" Nabiki asked in English, "What language are they using?"

     The man took the hint and stayed with English for the rest of the tour.

     "Nabiki?" Ranma asked quietly, "Why were Rei and Misato so nervous about walking around Boston?  They weren't as lost as Ritsuko-sensei was."

     "Which if Shinji is correct, is a reversal for Misato," Nabiki said, "Maybe they studied maps provided.  Rei seems to study whatever you put in front of her."

     He shrugged and continued to ignore the tour, but it got her thinking.

     The Massachusetts base didn't have any EVAs, it did have a plug simulator, including a combat simulator for training purposes.  Ritsuko seemed impressed by their enhancements of the systems and how it would simplify operations in Tokyo.

     Shinji seemed embarrassed, and Asuka angry, about the attention paid to him.  Nabiki wondered if Shinji realized what an effect his actions had, world-wide.

     With what I've heard about his father, and what I've seen of Misato, probably not, Nabiki thought.

     "Is the Serpent Mound Unit ready?" Ritsuko asked.

     "They've started loading it," the guide explained, "But there has been some very odd sabotage."

     "That's to be expected," Ritsuko answered, "The last thing they want is us getting a quartet of EVAs where they can do the most good."

     "You are aware of its `unusual` configuration?" the man seemed almost frightened to bring it up.

     "Unusual?" Misato pushed forward, "How unusual?"

     "It isn't humanoid," Ritsuko told them

     "Well," the man seemed embarrassed, "It was named Serpent Mound for a good reason."

     "I don't believe this," Misato covered her face with her hand.

     "There's talk of modifying Units 05 through 09 to a fine-tuned hybrid form."

     Ritsuko frowned at that.

     Nabiki didn't understand what they were talking about.

     "This alters the bypass and conversion ratios, and could create untold subharmonics," Ritsuko told their guide.

     "Our biophysicists believe control and interfaces shouldn't cause any problems," the guide replied, "Although it would reduce compatibility between different physiognomical types, although the hybrid should . . . "

     Nabiki had no idea what they were talking about exactly, although because of her `alteration`, she understood the words, but not the context.  So she quit listening before she fell asleep.  Possibly it was a piloting effect they were discussing.  She concentrated instead on the emptiness of the base, after the bustle of its Tokyo counterpart, the counterpoint shocked her.

     The base had obviously been set up for a large number of people.  People who weren't in evidence.  Evidently the pilots they had expected to find had never appeared.  Doctor Akagi seemed a mix of embarrassed and pleased by the attention lavished on her.  Asuka and Misato both seemed irritated by the center of attention, male attention in Misato's case, not being on them.

     Interesting, Nabiki thought, Something to use as a lever or a club.


The Sixth Children

     "Captain Katsuragi, Doctor Akagi, welcome.  Kon-ichi-wa."  An older woman answered their knock.

     "Thank you," Misato said in English.  Inwardly winced at the woman's terrible Japanese.  Abigail Davis, Misato guessed from their briefing.

     "Please come in."  Abigail gestured to the interior of the house.  "I hope you didn't have any trouble finding us."

     "No, no trouble."  Misato was getting a very bad feeling, she did not want to tell anyone she'd been here before, waiting with a silenced pistol outside this very house in fact.

     The place was huge, compared to anyplace Misato had seen as living quarters.  Her father had to live in a place two-thirds the combined size of the entryway and the parlor.  An older man and a young man, in not-quite matching suits and glasses, sat in chairs facing each other, both had extremely neutral expressions, more even than Rei's.

     Misato felt a certain hostility in the room.  But, nothing like Shinji and his father, she was glad to see.

     "Ohayo Gozaimasu, Tai-I Katsuragi, Akagi-sensei."  The young man stood, nodded to each, as much of a bow as they'd gotten in this country.  "Ikaga desu ka?" [Are you well?]

     "Hai genki."  [Yes I'm well.]

     "Genki ka?" Ritsuko asked.  [Are you well?]

     "That isn't in my hands," the boy answered in English, glanced at the older man as he sat down.

     "Jeff."  Abigail entered, carrying a tray with a tea set on it.

     "Yes, ma'am."  He stood up, and took the tray.

     "Please sit."  Abigail led them to a pair of high-backed chairs.  "I apologize for the furnishings.  This is the house for the Dean of the History department, antiques from an English Gentlemens' Club seems the main decoration theme.  My husband, William Davis, I'm Abigail.  I suspect you're here to talk about Jeffrey."  She indicated the boy.

     "One lump or two."  The boy had poured tea for Misato and Ritsuko.

     "One."

     "Two," Misato said.

     Another knock on the door.  Jeff put the sugar in with tongs, then offered cream, both refused.  Abigail left, Jeff's scowl returned.

     That is one pissed kid, Misato realized.

     "The other pilots have arrived," Abigail told them.

     "Since you don't need me anymore.  I'll finish packing."  Jeff set the tray down.

     "Jeff," Abigail said, "Your manners."

     "Good morning, Doctor, Captain," he nodded and left.

     Jeff nodded to the other pilots, as he walked among them.  Misato told them to go with him.  Shinji and Rei turned to follow.  Ranma grumbled, Nabiki looked from Jeff's parents to her guardian, then left.

     Abigail sat down, "I have to apologize for Jeff.  Eighty percent of the time you'd swear you're dealing with a 57-year-old gentleman's gentleman."

     "The other 20%, you deal with a colicky, two-year-old," Williams said irritatedly.

     "That isn't completely fair," Abigail chided her husband, "Our nephew was overjoyed when he was one of the three pilots chosen from the United States.  Until the second accident, a week ago."

     "You aren't his parents?" Misato asked.

     Ritsuko rolled her eyes that her friend hadn't bothered reading through the whole report.

     "No, his parents have been dead since '43," William explained, "But my brother Cyrus's family, and mine, have shared his guardianship since '39.  We have him when school is in session, and they have him in Wyoming, on their ranch, over the summer."

     "So he spends most of the time as a scholar, and a quarter of the time as a cowboy?" Misato asked, chuckling.

     "More time than that, I assure you," William said.


     The wide concrete walkways, ivy-colored buildings of different colored brick, red, black, gray.  All covered with green.  Other people nodded to their guide and got out of the way.  A few wore ridiculous looking hats, they were the most deferential.

     "So you aren't the first American Pilot?" Asuka asked.

     "Nope, I'm third," Jeff admitted.

     "Why didn't we get number one or two?" Asuka pressed.

     "The first is at Arlington, the second is in Bethesda Naval Hospital."

     "Arlington National Cemetery?" Nabiki asked.

     "A cigar for the lady in the purple derby.  The second is in a permanent psychotic state, she's not expected to ever recover.  They had to sedate her when they pulled her out of the entry plug."  He rubbed his throat and frowned.

     Nabiki noticed the faint scratches hidden by his shirt collar.

     "So have you test with EVA?" Shinji asked, struggling with English.

     "They canceled my test for that day.  So, my next time, will be my first time," Jeff admitted, "Of those that pass 1st stage training, 92% can't get an EVA to do anything.  Of the remaining 8%, roughly half die because they forget they have a body somewhere else.  About a third become psychotic, when they encounter the realities of the EVA, a sixth are killed or injured when the EVA reacts violently to the contact."

     "That adds up to a whole," Nabiki said, "We all made it."

     Jeff switched to Japanese, "The actual numbers are 47.2, 31.6, and 15.9 percent, I had no intention of offending, by insulting your English skills."

     Nabiki winced at his use of the super-polite form, it reminded her of Kuno.  At least he's not speaking in haiku.

     "That's 5.3%, one in 19," Asuka said, also in Japanese, "You might survive."

     "Thanks," the American said without enthusiasm, "I thought of that."


     Ranma watched the new pilots.  He often judged people not by what they said, but by how they moved.  The two new pilots, didn't move like 14-year-olds, both they were too sure.  Davis's gawkiness robbed him of true grace, but his movements were too assured.  Asuka moved like Everett had, a soldier and a fighter.  It bothered the martial artist, "What's that for?"

     "This?" Jeff held up the dark wood and brass-fitted walking stick.  "I had a horse turn over on me two years ago.  I spend a couple of months in traction, and more in a cast, and learning to walk again.  Now I can predict the weather, by which cracks hurt how bad.  When the weather goes from freezing rain to bright and sunny."  He pointed with the walking stick to the cloudless sky, "It hurts, a lot, to run up a set of stairs, taking some of the weight off helps."

     "How we'd get stuck with a bespectacled cripple?" Asuka whispered to Shinji.

     "Aha . . . "

     "Nothing's wrong with my hearing."  Jeff opened the door, tipped his hat, "If you please."


     "These are startling statistics," Ritsuko said.

     "We checked his numbers," Abigail said, "He also was at the first pilot's funeral, without our knowledge, and definitely without our consent.  I also believe he went to see the second pilot, after she was confined.  Afterwards, he was, far less enthusiastic, about this entire process."

     "He doesn't want to be a pilot?" Misato was growing worried.

     "A group of senators has been agitating for more American involvement," William explained, "After Misses Langley and Tendo, and Messrs.  Saotome and Ikari were announced as pilots, they announced that 'If there are not any American pilots,' they would withhold your funding."  William shrugged.

     "And he's the only American pilot available," Ritsuko said sourly.

     "The only one still alive and sane.  He'll do his duty," William assured them, "That's what that tantrum was about.  He's not happy about it.  He wants to help, he hates to be forced.  And truth be told, he's terrified of what his first contact will do to him."

     "Oh great."  Misato felt her stomach churn, remembering Shinji's reaction.

     "I would like to know, why you couldn't wait six weeks to let him finish his degree?" Abigail asked.

     "We need all the pilots and EVAs we can get, before the Angels attack again," Ritsuko told them, "We have already had two Angels attack, we are expecting more, very quickly."

     "Well, you're going to have your hands full with Jeff, and the others I suspect," William told them, "Miss Langley and the other two American pilots were the same way: Very high to genius intelligence, a very marked arrogance, and a determined standoffishness.  They won't let you get close to them.  Very tough, but simultaneously, very brittle.  I assume most or all of the Japanese pilots fit that same pattern.  He wants to do well, they all did, but he also thinks he's smarter than anybody else.  I suspect they all do, one way or another."

     Misato could believe that, Nabiki was already challenging, Ranma was just insolent.

     "His betting pool," Ritsuko said.  Misato was confused.  "Thirty thousand American dollars a month," Ritsuko told Misato in Japanese.


     "You what?!" Nabiki stammered in Japanese, mentally converting the poker winnings' dollars to ounces of gold, at $35 per ounce, then to `modern` prices.  She was suddenly very interested.

     "Most of it went to tuition, books, and other expenses."  Jeff steered the conversation back to English, and glared at his roommate, a one-legged ex-Marine Gunnery Sergeant named Malkowitz.

     "And I didn't win as often or as big as the sergeant seems to think.  Poker is more psychology than statistics.  I'm good at it."

     "Math would beat you every time," Langley told him.  He just smiled, as he packed the travel bag.

     "Can we help?" Shinji asked.

     "Sure, the steamer trunk goes.  That will take at least four of us to take down the stairs.  However, you and Saotome-san should be able to wrestle, sorry, carry it to the door."

     Malkowitz turned in his wheelchair, "I'm losing my tutor, and the best poker player I ever met.  Why don't they let you graduate?"

     "You haven't graduated?" Asuka taunted, "I got my Math\Physics degree, almost a year ago."

     "That's why," Jeff stage whispered to Malkowitz, who smiled back.

     Great she's already arguing with the guy we just met, Nabiki thought, I just hope he doesn't think he can fight, or Ranma will be on his case.

     "Two related fields," Jeff sneered back at Asuka, "My Chemical Engineering work is complete, but I've got a couple of classes to finish for History.  Two very different fields."

     Asuka frowned, looked at Shinji struggling with the trunk.  "Move it Spineless."  She pushed Shinji out of the way.  Then groaned at the weight, "What's in this?!"

     "It could be the gold bullion I'm smuggling out, F.D.R.  made it illegal to own or sell in this country."

     "Really?" Nabiki asked.  Gold BULLION!  LIKE BRICKS?

     "No, it's really my grand piano, or is that in storage?" Jeff slung the overnight bag over his shoulder and walked to the trunk, displacing a struggling Ranma.  "Please go help the others."

     "Excuse me," Nabiki said peevishly, "I'm not a wilting flower, neither is Rei."

     "Sumimasen."  Jeff made a European bow, sweeping his hand in front of him.  He picked up a metal case, "This is a 35-millimeter camera, please, be very careful with it."

     Nabiki smiled, "I'm a camera fan myself, can you show it to me?"

     "Certainly, we'll have plenty of time on the flight.  It's a Leica, the best German optics and mechanism, spoils of war, through a poker game.  Shinji, can you get my duffel bag?"

     "Hai."

     Ranma and Asuka struggled to pick up one end of the trunk, Jeff held his walking stick in one hand and lifted with the other.  Rei moved to help the overburdened Ranma and Asuka.

     "You don't talk much do you?" Jeff asked.

     She shook her head, then they toiled down the stairs.

     Terrific, another weirdo.  Do they even let sane people work at NERV? Nabiki wondered, Present company excepted, or is it?


     William shrugged, "Is it wrong to be proud of a boy clever enough to match the Dean of the Business Department?" William admitted, "We never found any way he personally profited, and the books were perfect, using correct accounting principles."

     "Chemical Engineering, History, and Business."  Misato smiled at Ritsuko, "You should marry him."

     Ritsuko smiled nastily at her friend, "If he can cook and clean, you should."

     "He can," Abigail said, "Very well in fact."  Ritsuko and Misato got nervous.


     The grassy areas they rested in was a short distance from the dormitory, but it was accessible to the road the trucks would arrive down.  No trees shaded the area, although the weather was pleasant enough, none were needed.

     Ranma was panting, Asuka lay sprawled on the grass, even Rei was sitting, resting against the trunk they had struggled down four flights of stairs.  Like Rei, Jeff hadn't even broken a sweat, despite having been on the down side, alone, the whole way down.

     "How'd you do that?" Ranma panted.

     "Do what?" Jeff asked, Ranma tapped the trunk

     "Oh, I just didn't let myself feel the weight, just the mass."

     Asuka looked up, "What's that supposed to mean?"

     "You're the Math/Physics grad, you tell me."  He smiled evilly, "You can rest until the truck arrives."

     "What's really in there?" Asuka tapped the side of the trunk.

     Jeff shrugged, unlocked it, flipped the latches.  Dozens of films cans, many books, a pair of sabers, and almost no empty space.

     "You fence?" Nabiki asked.

     "Yes, saber and some foil, I never could master the epee.  I can also handle a Highland Claymore, but that's in the boxes I shipped."

     "What good are swords?" Asuka asked.

     "Grace, flexibility, aggressiveness.  Besides, aren't the EVAs hand-to-hand combat only?  I would think a sword would be ideal practice."

     "Pots, pans, spices, you cook?" Nabiki asked, Curious, should we send him to save Shinji, or keep him ourselves?

     "Very well."  Jeff slapped his forehead, "My manners, Aunt Abigail is going to kill me.  Do any of you want something to drink?" A chorus of 'hai's answered him, he pulled a metal pitcher from the trunk before closing it.  "Give me a few minutes."  He walked off.

     Nabiki, camera case still firmly in hand, trailed after him.

     "What kind of lenses do you have?"

     "A touch of astigmatism, a little far sightedness, I just enjoy the scholarly look they give me, and the eye protection."  Jeff held up his glasses.  "Oh, you mean the camera."

     Clown.

     "Standard, a wide-angle, several telephoto, a rig for copying pages onto film.  I used that to copy some very old and valuable books I was studying.  The clarity of the optics is better than any others, Leitz lenses and mechanism.  The very best and the most durable, I still don't take chances, hence the case."

     "You don't trust anyone with the camera?" He likes to talk.  I wonder if he can take instructions?  I could use an American for my network, the `mafia` couldn't touch him.

     "A few, you can't get a replacement.  The Allies realized that the factory was in the Russian sector, so they sent a bunch of trucks, picked up the dies, the master lens makers and their families, and left the factory, and all the semiskilled and unskilled workers for the Soviets.  The new factory hasn't gotten the quality up to the prewar standards."

     "So it's not replaceable?  Do you have a zoom lens, a variable magnification lens?"

     "Ah, no.  It's a good idea though."

     They returned, with a pitcher of iced tea and several cups.  Soon the trunk was loaded on an army truck, Jeff kept the camera case and the overnight bag.

     "So do any of you cook?" Jeff asked.

     "I do," Shinji offered.

     "Cooking's fer girls," Ranma pronounced.

     Jeff looked at Shinji and shook his head.

     "I'm probably a better cook than you are," Asuka told both of them, "And I can prove it."

     "I won't take that challenge," Jeff replied, "Not yet, anyway."

     "Are you a chicken?  Afraid I'll beat you?" Asuka taunted, "Not good enough to beat a girl?"

     "No, without knowing how good you are, I'll never be able to set the odds correctly."

     "You'd bet on a contest?!" The idea offended Asuka.

     Jeff shrugged.

     Intriguing, Nabiki thought, I might be able to use him.

     "I'm going to have to use that tactic on Langley," Jeff whispered to Nabiki.  "I've met people like her, always having to fight against everybody else.  If she's that single-minded and predictable, someone could make some good money from bookmaking."

     "So, are you offering to back me, or be an agent?" Nabiki asked.

     "I can do both.  You know the lay of the land, and I bring in the heavy stuff."

     Yes, very useful.


     Misato and Ritsuko were feeling a little shell-shocked as they arrived.  William and Abigail had been warning them of the perils and pitfalls of raising very bright 14-year-olds, especially the pack of them that the pair had on their hands.  The university couple had studied all three American pilots, and Miss Langley, 'Fourteen is almost the worst age.  Thirteen to eighteen is very bad.  They are literally changing from adults to children, and back, sometimes on an hourly basis.  And at 14, the hormone surges are the worst.' Abigail and William had assured them.  The NERV pair thanked them and left to collect the pilots to take them to the airport.

     "I think those two are in a lot of trouble," Abigail told her husband, who nodded agreement.


Flight Home

     They arrived at the airport.  A Constellation and five trucks were waiting for them.

     "A Constellation has stainless steel engine mounts, so an engine won't burn loose."  Jeff enthused as he ran a hand over the airplane's skin, "She's faster than a Zero-sen fighter, she's designed for flying over the 'Hump' in the China-Burma theater."

     "Sounds like you're in love," Nabiki said sourly, it irritated her that he missed it.

     "I've never flown on one before.  Big plane."

     Small plane, Nabiki thought, they'd flown here on a B-29 modified for passengers, this one was smaller.  Asuka had run over to the trucks, to supervise their unloading.

     "How much of that is yours?" Ranma asked.

     "All of it," Asuka shouted back.

     "Is the plane going to get off the ground with all that?" Jeff asked Shinji.  Jeff, who noted that Misato and Ritsuko were arguing, nodded to Nabiki, she followed him over.

     "There isn't room."  Misato said, shutting up as two of the Children drew close.

     "If space is a problem, can't you get all our housing allowances, pool that and get larger living quarters?"

     The two women stared at him until he turned away.

     "I thought it was a good idea," he grumped.

     "Housing allowance?" Nabiki asked.

     "Since we are underage, and except for a small `allowance`, our salary gets banked - "

     "I know all this."

     "I apologize, we have to be allocated funds for our living expenses: food, clothing, housing, all above and beyond our salary."

     "So if we share it with Ritsuko and Misato, they can defray expenses," Nabiki concluded.

     "Since they were arguing about money . . . ."  Jeff shrugged.

     "So, you read lips too?" Nabiki asked.

     "Doesn't everybody in our business?"

     "That wasn't in my packet," Nabiki countered.  Our business? she wondered.  "I read it very carefully."

     "Navy Regulations," Jeff replied, "We're legally wards of the U.S.  of A.  government, all of us, through the Department of the Navy.  I think that also means we can't be tried in normal court, we have to be impeached, but don't quote me."

     Gendo will just love hearing that, Nabiki considered.


     Aboard the plane, the cargo was strapped down, and Ritsuko saw to it that the Children were situated.  Misato had left, she was going on ahead to Ohio.

     "How?" Jeff asked Nabiki, who had decided to sit across the aisle from him, "This is the fastest transport there is."

     "Jets," Nabiki answered.  She told herself the seating was so she could learn about the camera he was unpacking, And not about his money.

     "What?  A P-80, hop across the country?  No, has to be a P-61 Black Widow, or an F-82."

     Nabiki hadn't considered that, no jet airliners, no long range jets of any kind.

     The piston engines roared to life, and soon the plane was airborne, climbed to it's cruising altitude.

     "Fighter planes!" Shinji shouted.  Everyone looked out the windows, and saw a dozen P-51 Mustangs and a few F-82 Double Mustangs, one waggled its wings and took off.  'Misato's plane.' Everyone concluded.

     "They're our escorts," Dr. Akagi assured everyone, "They will be guarding us across the country."

     "And here I thought the war was over," Jeff joked, he got a dark look from all the other pilots, "I apologize, I forgot."

     At cruising altitude, they were free to move around.  She and Davis went over the camera, its settings, lenses and proper care.  Ranma wanted to know when they were getting lunch.  They got a few sandwiches and sodas.  Ranma complained.

     "Hot food, aboard an airplane," Asuka commented, "Served by pretty girls no doubt.  You're dreaming."

     None of the others understood why Nabiki found this funny.

     "You play poker?" Nabiki asked.

     "Yes.  The sergeant wasn't exaggerating, that much," Jeff replied.

     "How's your Japanese?"

     "Almost most as truly excellent as your English, although I am not as skilled as I should be."  He said in Japanese.

     Nabiki blinked, Shinji stared.

     "That's the super-polite form," Ranma laughed, "He sounds like a sissy."

     Jeff shrugged, "The better to mislead people."

     Ranma quit laughing and glared.

     "Sprechenz Deutch?" Asuka asked.  [You speak German?]

     "Ja.  Perfekt."  [Yes.  Perfectly.]

     "I was planning on being an intelligence agent when I grew up.  So I studied the Germans and Japanese.  No chance of that now.  Excuse me."  He headed up the aisle, towards where Rei stared out the window.

     Nabiki wondered if he meant Military Intelligence, or growing up.  Another one I have to protect from himself, she gloomed inwardly.

     Ranma caught Nabiki's eye.  "He moves wrong," he said quietly, "Watch him."

     Nabiki did, as he knelt to see what Rei was staring out the window at, then he stood, touched her shoulder telling her that the fighters were no threat.  Rei looked at him, looked at his hand, which he removed and apologized for, and she returned to staring out the window.

     Nabiki saw, Ayanami's stare doesn't put him off, it scared me and Ranma.  "Maybe he's a martial artist, like us.  We don't move `right` either."

     "No, Langley moves the same way," Ranma explained, words weren't his strong suit.  "Shinji and our classmates move a certain way, we don't because we're trained, Rei has been too.  But those two don't move like us, or the others.  They move almost like, well like soldiers, but not quite."

     "I'll keep an eye on him," Nabiki assured him.  Soldiers, but not quite?  Like Everett?

     "Good," Ranma said, then stopped, "You don't need an excuse," he frowned, "And I thought you were after his money."

     "Oh.  I can get that too."  Nabiki smiled, both at the cleverness, and at getting Ranma's interest.

     "Shall I endeavor a sneeze?" Jeff asked in Japanese, as he retook his seat, "That is what the Japanese people perform when others converse about them, is it not?"

     "We were talking about separating you from all that money you made," Nabiki said in English, his Kuno-esque Japanese was giving her giggles, and an Ice Queen never giggles.

     "What money?  None of the cash stayed in my hands.  There isn't a pile of money to raid.  Besides, I'm a Scot, the happiest moment in Scottish history will be when someone invents something that makes your wallet scream when you open it."

     "Velcro," Nabiki muttered.

     "What afflicts Ayanami-san?  She hasn't the shyness of Ikari-san, instead I speculate she fails to understand communication methodologies."

     "She's been that way, like your Japanese," Ranma was chuckling.

     "She's really nice," Shinji came to her defense.

     "I meant no attack against her, or to impugn her character," Jeff countered, "If she withdraws, how can we fight alongside her?"

     "She's different in combat," Ranma assured him.

     "What is your history?" Jeff asked Shinji, "Junior High?  High School, College?  Musician?  War Experience?"

     "Uh . . . "

     "You play an instrument?" Asuka skipped up.  "I play violin," She imitated it.

     "Cello, I've practiced a lot."

     "Bagpipes and . . . "

     "Bagpipes!" Asuka jeered, "Those noisy things?!"

     Don't start a war just yet, at least not while we're still in the air, Nabiki looked from one to the other, wondering which would break off first. 

     Jeff frowned, continued in English, "Okay . . . war experience: I arrived on the Atlantic coast about the start of the second 'Happy Time'.  People swore you could read a newspaper by the light of burning ships, especially tankers.  A couple of other freshmen and I broke curfew.  We watched a U-boat surface, and shell a tanker, then machine gun the lifeboats.  We swam out into the oily water to drag a few survivors onto the beach.  The Dean, not my uncle, was so furious at our breaking curfew, he was ready to expel us.  Then the police brought us in: oil soaked, exhausted, haunted trio of kids.  I think the heat went out of him.  He told us that there was a reason for the curfew.  He let us go.  Of course he called us 'The Ghastly Trio' for the rest of our time.  And I never did that again."

     "That is nothing compared to the Battle of Berlin," Asuka countered, "With the Russians moving in from all sides, bombing and shelling.  You Americans did a thorough job on my city.  Then the Russians finished the task."

     Nabiki looked at the hostility between the two and braced herself to intervene if necessary, a quick glance confirmed Ranma, and even Dr. Akagi were equally prepared.  They had gone through experiences she could never fathom.  Her mother had died, but she hadn't been there, she hadn't watched.  These two had friends die, or had people killed right in front of them.  Something that until a few days ago, the rest of us hadn't ever thought about.  Neither was a stranger to violence of a level that would chill most of the Nerima crew to their heart and soul, despite all their bloodthirsty oaths.

     "To prevent refighting the last war."  Jeff forced himself to relax, "What about you three?"

     Ranma caught Nabiki's eye again, he'd seen another facet to the new pair.

     "No raids where I lived," Shinji admitted, "We had shortages, and people were all worried about the invasion, but the bombs and the Emperor's surrender ended all that.  There was rebuilding and taking care of the wounded soldiers, but we were so far away from any major cities or roads, nothing really happened."

     "I don't really remember much, times were always hard for my family," Nabiki admitted, hoping she didn't contradict or draw attention to herself, "My mom died when I was real little, I stopped paying attention for a few years.  Then it was all panic, and lots of destruction.  But people actually ignored it, after a while, or got used to it."

     "Ranma-san?" Asuka prompted expectantly.

     Probably wants to know about the curse, Nabiki thought.

     "I don't remember.  It's like someone erased my whole childhood."

     "Wait a second," Jeff interjected, "Tendo-san, your mom died?"

     "Hai."  She answered suspiciously.

     "Ranma's an orphan, effectively.  Shinji-san and Langley-san's mothers died from their work on NERV projects - "

     "How'd you know that?" Asuka demanded, shocked.

     "I read all your official biographies."

     We have official biographies?! Nabiki hid her moment of panic, He might know more about the me here than I do!

     "Pilot at eight, graduated Berlin Polytechnical with Math/Physics at 13, in the top 3% no less."

     "Smartest and the best," Asuka said.

     "Well, we'll see," Jeff teased.

     Well, I've got a balance for loud-mouth Langley, Nabiki thought, Now what or who balances him.  She doubted she could cooperate with Asuka in that regard.

     "I got a little information on Shinji, his father is Director of NERV.  There's no information on Ayanami-san, not even that she exists.  So I assume she's an orphan.  My parents died in 1943, even Doctor Akagi's mother died at NERV.  Does anyone have an intact birth family?"

     Silence reigned.

     "Well at least I've got my aunts and uncles.  They raised me."

     "We met them."  Ranma leaned back.

     "You met half, of them.  The other pair are my `summer` family.  I'm a cowboy from Wyoming 3 months out of the year.  So I'm an Ivy League cowboy.  I fit all the important demographics," he said cynically, "I'm an outsider everywhere."

     "At least you've got them," Nabiki countered.

     "I didn't need parents to raise me.  I raised myself."  Asuka arrogantly told the others.

     "A self-made woman?" Jeff asked innocently.

     "Of course!" Asuka said proudly.

     Jeff sighed, "Whatever happened to German craftsmanship?" he asked, and winked at Nabiki when Asuka squawked.


     They landed at St.  Louis, for refueling.  It was raining in St.  Louis, not surprising for late May.  The airport wasn't too different from what Nabiki knew in modern airports, concrete runways, low buildings and tanker trucks for refueling.  Only the sound of piston engines instead of jets reminded her of how different it was.  The rain reminded her of more familiar problems.

     "Oh great, now what are we going to do?" Ranma lamented in English.  Asuka was taking a certain sadistic glee in Ranma's concern, and that only the Sixth Children didn't know about Ranma's affliction.

     A doorman's umbrella, 5 feet across, sprouted, "What's the problem?" Jeff asked, walking under it, towards Shinji and the others.

     "Hey, great!" Ranma sprinted under it.

     Jeff handed the umbrella to Shinji.  "If you please."  He turned to the women clustered under the wing.  "Ladies."  He handed his jacket to Nabiki, as she and the others clustered under the umbrella.

     She grunted under the weight, This thing must weigh 15 kilos!

     Jeff grabbed Ranma by the ear, and dragged him into the rain, "Give them some room."

     "No don't!" "You can't!" Nabiki and Ritsuko yelled.  Asuka grinned evilly.

     "Come on, hydrophobe."  Jeff started jogging towards the canteen, Ranma followed, then passed him at a dead run.

     The others pushed through the swinging doors into a cafeteria like most of others.  Kitchens to one side, long tables down the middle.  A few people, officers, enlisted and civilians were inside, eating, sipping coffee, or avoiding the downpour outside.  Inside the canteen, they also found a very wet, very male, Ranma, and a dampened Jeff, who reclaimed his coat.  "See.  He didn't melt.  You'd think he'd never been in the rain before."  He considered putting his coat on, decided against it.  "If you want rain to worry about, go to Gary or Akron.  You can precipitate anvils from the rain at Gary, and the snowballs bounce in Akron."

     "We aren't as delicate as all that either," Nabiki chided him.

     "'The Female of the species is deadlier than the Male,' Kipling," Jeff replied.

     "You've got that right," Asuka said.

     "It was . . . warm," Ranma explained.

     "It's 95 F out there, of course the rain is warm!" Jeff said disgustedly, shook his head and headed for the food line.


     Ritsuko sat down opposite the Sixth Children, at the long cafeteria tables.  Her nose wrinkled at the food, too-American fare, at least the coffee was good.  "Davis-san, there's something you need to know about Pilot Saotome."  She spoke quietly, gravely, in Japanese, to confound any eavesdropping.

     "Yes, Doctor?" Jeff kept his eyes on the food he was shoveling in, as fast as good manners would allow.  Nabiki sat down next to him, with a tray of food, and dug in more daintily, but with no less manners or enthusiasm, she wanted to hear this.

     "The reason Ranma is so worried about water is, well, he changes gender.  When he is doused with cold water, he becomes a girl, and only changes back when he's doused with hot water."

     "That would explain his hydrophobia," Jeff said levelly.

     "Exact . . . You don't believe me!" Ritsuko realized, "I can call him over and show you."

     "Let me get this straight Doctor: You want to call the hydrophobic martial-artist over, and dump water on him, for my benefit?" Jeff explained, as if to a madwoman, "Doctor, you might not see why that is a bad idea to do that to a fellow member of a combat team, but I do.  I'll pass.  I saw the movie Gaslight."

     Nabiki seemed to be snickering between bites.

     "Besides, why should I disbelieve you?  The master scientist of the project to save all Earthly life from monsters, you should be an expert in such things."  Jeff smiled, "The mysteries of the Orient: ninja master assassins of invisibility; monks who can kill months, or years later with a touch; doctors who stick needles in people to heal them.  Why would a gender-switching martial artist be hard to believe?" Jeff asked in a patronizing tone.

     "Captain Katsuragi can verify what I'm telling you.  So can Pilot Tendo," Ritsuko countered.

     "I've never actually seen it.  The transformation itself, I mean," Nabiki admitted.

     Ritsuko gaped.

     "Don't worry, Doctor," Jeff soothed, "I'm really a mighty wizard, and when Mandrake and I were giving magical support to Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon, against the Flying Battleship Musashi . . . "

     "Space Battleship Yamato," Nabiki corrected, smirking.

     "My apologies.  Anyway, after preventing the death of all the cattle in Wyoming from the crew of Nazi death zombies.  The four of us felt we deserved a trip to Oz, to consult with the Wizard and Dorothy, of course."  Jeff nodded and concentrated on eating.

     Nabiki kept grinning and avoided Dr. Akagi's eyes while she ate.


Chapter 2
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