Ah My Goddess Fan Fiction / Neon Genesis Evangelion Fan Fiction / Ranma 1/2 Fan Fiction ❯ Chapter 16-17 ( Chapter 8 )

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

Sic Semper Morituri

Chapter 16: Voltaire’s Prayer
     Coming Clean
     Laughable Cries
     Brown Hates You Too
     Ranko Teaches
     2d Briefing
     Lab Sabotage

Chapter 17 – Lessons From Your Enemy
     Pen Pen
     Ranko Learns
     Playhouse Beguilement
     Ferreting Out Wildcats
     Search and Rescue
     Employing Grit
     Reviving Reverberations


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

C&C, MSTs are welcome

E-mail: dan_s.comments@comcast.net

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(these are the original versions)

The being known as Wondergirl is speaking I believe, it’s not easy trying to tell her, that I shortly have to leave.

Why don’t you yell at me?

Why don’t you stop and see?

Why don’t you hate who I hate?

Kill who I kill to be free?

Randy Scouse Git, Mickey Dolenz of the Monkees

Chapter 16: Voltaire’s Prayer

     Asuka wanted to announce to the Heavens what a dump this place was, but anywhere free of Shinji’s little, furry nightmares was welcome.  The place looked like many things had been started, and nothing had been finished. Or they’re all exploded view drawings of things, Asuka thought.  There was no rhyme or reason to the context.  Pieces of watches were mixed willy-nilly with pistols and wrenches, and with their parts in disordered or neat piles, even the partially assembled/disassembled six story buildings, and in the far distance, even a partial Eiffel Tower, the left half.  All either completely or partially disassembled.  Even the road was excavated in places, to examine the pipe and cables beneath.

     Asuka leaned down to examine a pile of watches.  Many were similar, all in differing states of disassembly.  Some whole, some with just the backs or crystals off, some were merely a pile of parts, the oddest were the ones disassembled that had little red strings tying the parts to the place in the structure they’d been removed from.  Something about that tantalized her mind, beyond that, in Wondergirl’s literal view of things, the choice of a red string would have to be intentional.  She couldn’t place the missing piece of this puzzle, yet.

     The pistols were another question, she found a LeMat, just like the one Raccoon used, it was one solid piece, the cylinder didn’t rotate, nor did the break open release work.  But a perfectly functional Schofield was sitting right next to it.

     It occurred to Asuka, that maybe, Wondergirl didn’t understand that the components were parts of a greater whole, but the parts and the integrated whole, were essentially the same thing.  That, and that similar structures, had a similar function.  It was the only explanation she could come up with, for what she was seeing, these bits and pieces that Wondergirl had scattered all over the place, each new item, each new device or experience was disconnected from any similar experience/device, and was treated as a new set of data, to be analyzed meticulously, with no correlation to previous data.

     That frightened Asuka, she hadn’t the faintest idea how to deal with that.  Leave it to Raccoon, she finally realized, If he can teach me to how to wield a sword, he can teach anybody anything.

     She stood, and continued walking around the base of the hill, where Wondergirl and Spineless were.  Wondergirl was in her usual `quiet, ashamed` mode, staring at her feet.  Asuka hated her for that, she knew it was a pose.  An attempt to draw someone closer, then assassinate.  Asuka kept her in view, but never got close.  Spineless, of course, went up to her like a puppy happy to see his mistress.  Wag your tail and lick her face, while you’re at it, the sight and thought turned Asuka’s stomach.  She didn’t need any excuse to patrol the area, to see if any of those things had followed them.

     Not just to get away from the blooming of robot love. « They are not here, » she called to the pair.

     Wondergirl stepped out in front of her, a slightly younger Wondergirl.  Asuka looked over, Wondergirl was still with Shinji.  Asuka noticed the regular pattern of bloodstains on the younger girl’s smock, Asuka tightened her grip on the saber-halberd.

     « I’m doing my job, » she told this apparition, she doubted anything short of an Angel or an EVA, could get past the Dragon.

     « You are safe here, » the second Wondergirl tried to reassure her.

     Asuka didn’t want to believe her, she wanted to hit her and get away.  Instead she stepped past the second Wondergirl, and walked away, not taking her eyes off her, while she was in reach.  She wondered how Wondergirl could manifest a second version of herself.  Asuka knew the Meliorist was her second self, but ‘she’, Asuka Soryu Langley, couldn’t coexist in a dreamscape with her.  They’d merge and the Meliorist would dominate, because of her greater affinity for dreams.  It wasn’t a loss for Asuka, she’d learn most, if not all that the Meliorist would learn or do.

     Wondergirl as a little girl, stepped out in front of Asuka, « Will you play with me? » the little girl smiled.

     Almost like a real kid, Asuka thought.  One Wondergirl was with Shinji, the other, almost a teenager, stared at her from where she’d first confronted Asuka.  Three?  How many of them are there? Asuka looked around, the little one acted almost normal.  Rocking back and forth heels to toes, and smiling at her while she awaited an answer.  This creature who haunted her nightmares, since she was this thing’s apparent age, was asking to play.  She had no reason not to, other than utter revulsion.  It took a step towards her, Asuka froze, wondering if this was an attack, Would killing it unleash this place’s true nature?

     « Tag, » she slapped Asuka’s bloody hand and ran off.

     Asuka shook herself, she’d been jumping at shadows, assuming the worst about Wondergirl because . . . Because she was always following you around, and never moved in.  She looked at the Wondergirl who had confronted her, « Come on you, help me look. »

     She didn’t like the idea of a kid, even a baby Wondergirl, running around the place.  The buildings were all incomplete, as was everything, but some had been started at the top, and only the most tenuous structure supported them.  She’d never forgive herself, if she let someone get squashed in this madhouse.  She knew death in the Dreamlands was real death, she didn’t know if that also applied to dreamscapes, especially this weird one, populated by Wondergirls.

     The other Wondergirl followed her, rather than searching on her own.  Asuka soon had a total of five Wondergirls of different ages, in different clothing, hunting for the littlest one.

     It bothered her that only the youngest had any spunk, taunting and teasing the ‘old hag’ as she called her, or maybe all of them.  Asuka actually wished the real one showed some of the little one’s sparkle.

     « You two circle that way, » Asuka told the two 8-10 year old Wondergirls, « You two head the other way, » Asuka told the two 11-12 year old Wondergirls, she kept the 6-8 year old with her as she headed straight in.

     The youngest Wondergirl squealed with delight as Asuka hemmed her in and caught her.  She squirmed uselessly and giggled in Asuka’s iron grip.  Asuka tossed her over her shoulder and marched straight up the hill towards the Original Wondergirl and Spineless.

     Asuka stood before a stunned Spineless and a very worried Wondergirl, with a trail of other Wondergirls following.  Asuka tried to set the littlest one down, only to discover she wouldn’t let go.  She’d wind up with a Baby Wondergirl backpack, or the little one would wrap her legs around Asuka’s waist and both arms around her leg.  Getting her loose took a surprising amount of strength, and during the effort to pry her loose, she’d just latch on somewhere else.  Asuka was very mindful she’d only been able to wipe her bloodstained arms off, not get them clean.  She was getting it all over the little girl, and she was then transferring back to Asuka’s clothes, her face, her hair.

     Spineless looked like he would have laughed, but understood she’d kill him if he did.  Wondergirl looked confused, horrified and amused by turns.

     Asuka knew simply belting the kid would solve the problem, but considering what had already happened today, she didn’t want to find out what would happen if she did that.  « Don’t you have any place to get cleaned up, Wondergirl? » she asked in a controlled tone, when she really wanted to scream and punch all eight of them.

     Wondergirl pointed at another half-finished building.  Asuka hobbled along, a firmly gripping, gleefully laughing Baby Wondergirl hanging on.

     Asuka entered the building through the unfinished wall, and realized the other Wondergirls were still following her.  Except they had to go through the front door, she thought disgustedly, Do you always have to follow the rules?  Even when they don’t apply?

     « Don’t you have something better to do? » Asuka shouted at them as they filed in, trying to stay balanced as Baby Wondergirl suddenly shifted position.

     They formed an orderly line, and a chorus of ‘no’s told her that she was really in Wondergirl-land, she was the only interesting thing here.

     « Find me some soap, » Asuka commanded, to her disgust, all five of them headed off in the same direction. I’m in Hell, Asuka thought, Shinji’s little things killed and ate me, and I’m in Hell.

     There were showers here, Asuka had heard of public baths, this one looked like an oversized version of the girls’ locker room at school, except for the huge pool at one end of the room.  Asuka had never been in a public bath, she knew she’d use a bucket of cold water, a rag and a sink, before she’d go parading around naked in front of a crowd of strangers.  She didn’t intend to take off her clothes here either, since they were filthy too.  She’d wash them and herself simultaneously, and hopefully, wash off the giggling limpet.

     The icy water made her want to shriek as much as Baby Wondergirl was, although hers wouldn’t have the happy undertones.  Turning to give the little one a blast of ice water, only caused her to crawl somewhere else.

     Finally, Asuka gave up trying the freeze her off, adjusted the water to a comfortable temperature and thoroughly soaked both of them, then started washing herself, and Baby Wondergirl.

     When both of them were too soapy/slippery to get a decent grip anymore, Asuka resisted the urge to just toss the little one in the huge pool, and make a run for it.  It would take too long to get the other Wondergirls, who were all still standing around watching, to go rescue her.  Asuka couldn’t bring herself to do that, no matter how uncomfortable it made her.

     Making me uncomfortable is not a capital crime, she laughed at that.  That, and she vaguely remembered what a terror she’d been when her mother had given her a bath, acting a lot like Baby Wondergirl did.

     As pleasant as the memories were, they made her very melancholy.  When you’re being smart or assertive, you can forget how much mama loved you, she cast that thought aside.

     Finally she was done, she knew she’d never rinse both of them off adequately, so there was only one alternative.  And to Hell with Japanese proprieties, she picked up the still soapy Baby Wondergirl, who was clinging tightly to her.  She pinched the little girl’s nose closed, and jumped into the deepest part of the pool.

     This water is freezing! As she broke the surface, sputtering, « What is it with you and cold water?  Huh, Wondergirl? »

     The others simply stared at each other.  Baby Wondergirl was a bit more subdued now.  Asuka showered both with hot water to drive off the chill, there were no towels to dry off of course, so she marched off to locate Spineless and Wondergirl.  They hadn’t moved.

     She marched up the hill, carrying the little one on her shoulders, with a trail of Wondergirls following.

     « Spineless you’re certainly safe here.  I’m getting out of here, » she told him, set the little one in front of him, There’s one dreamscape I want to see.

     The little one watched her new playmate vanish.  She sadly walked back `home`, nobody wanted to play with her, not now, not before, maybe never.

Coming Clean

     Ranko was glad Raccoon was finally resting quietly.  They hadn’t said anything for an hour.  Ranko had felt the tension in him, nothing seemed to erase it.  She was weary, both from the effort, and from her own tension.  Her mind started focusing on minutia, anything to stay awake.  She glanced at her hands, then her charge’s hands.  They were both smooth.  She didn’t think Akagi-sensei had done anything special to the water.  Both of them should be wrinkled up like prunes, but they weren’t.  She wondered why that was, it had to be something to do with the creatures they absorbed, or something else.  She nodded off for an instant.

     Ranko looked down at her resting charge, she’d expected some useful information.  Not the wild tale Raccoon had told her.  Since Gendo had been there too, it would be easy to verify what they’d experienced.  So she doubted he was lying to her.

     It has to be a parody, Ranko thought, How could anybody be that stupid.  Then she realized she didn’t know if she was referring to the arrangement of the fiance-go-round, or the opponents who would get beaten, then charge right back to get another beating, never acknowledging that, just maybe, Ranma was the best.

     Ranko had to admit that she’d never consider turning them against each other, the way Raccoon had, but Raccoon evidently wanted peace and quiet, A quiet home and family, Ranko realized, The thing he was finally allowed to build, then have stripped away.

     Ranma would see the constant invasion as a possibility to better his skills, new challenges and techniques, but had never considered a wife and family, and the effect the destruction would have on them.  Maybe that was another difference between the two: Ranma lived now, for Raccoon, now was only the moment for analyzing the past and planning for the future, the future was the time when he could finally do as he wished.  Ranko thought it was a sad way to live.  Ranma’s life was the Art, and while that cut him off from some things, it also freed him from such worries, about the future, about the past, about other people.

     Somewhere between the two lies the truth, Ranko realized.  Her head nodded again, she was having trouble staying awake.  Taking the temperature reading a little early helped perk her up, but that just meant 20 minutes, of doing nothing, before she had to take the next one.  Her head snapped up, and she blinked, she was dozing off.  Raccoon was awake, but she didn’t want to disturb him.  Especially after he’d gotten all torn up inside, remembering the dream, his dream, where he’d finally gotten what he wanted.

     « So what do I want? » she asked.

     « Excuse me? » Raccoon asked back.

     « Sorry, thinking out loud, » she replied softly, Do I even want a family?  I mean ever? then she smiled, And as who, Nab-chan’s husband, or Raccoon’s wife? she smirked at that.  She doubted it would ever happen, Ranma might eventually settle down enough to teach what he had learned, but he’d probably never settle down enough to have a family, if he/she, Raccoon and Nab-chan were any indication, kids were a lot of work.  So no more training, no chance to travel to study under other masters, or challenge them.  Just another stay-at-home who slaved away to keep a roof over his head, food and clothes for his children.  That kind of life held zero appeal for Ranma.

     She woke again with a start, tried to work out some of the tension in her arms and back, without shaking Raccoon too much.  She quietly realized that bringing a timer, instead of a clock, had been a mistake: she had no idea how far away or how close dawn was.  The conversation had felt like it had gone on all night, but that didn’t mean anything, really.

     Wasn’t that what Asuka said about time being relative?

     Ranma found himself in the dream dojo, « Oh GREAT, I’m asleep, I really blew it! »

     He tried the various tricks that allowed escape from nightmares, but none of them worked, he changed to Ranko, and still none of them worked.  He returned to Ranma, and stared at the door to the dojo, the door to the `outside`.  « Maybe you have to be in a nightmare, for them to work. »  He sighed, decided he really didn’t have a choice, unless he wanted to explain how he fell asleep ‘on duty’.

     He walked outside, onto a barren, rocky landscape, Weird! he looked around, he’d expected all kinds of fears and monsters, windswept stormy seas, or something more exciting.  He saw nothing except the terrain, sand and little rocks up close, boulders in the distance.  No plants, no clouds, no sky, not even black, it just wasn’t there.  It was tremendously boring.

     A shadow appeared, slashed at him, he felt the tearing of his flesh across his chest, as its claws cut deep into him.

     He jumped back, looking for the enemy, bracing himself.  He risked a glance down at his ruined shirt, the wounding had hurt terribly, but now it was only a tingle.  His shirt was torn, his breasts were unmarked, « BREASTS?! » he was appalled.

     The shadow attacked again, he barely blocked, it felt like his entire forearm was torn off.  But his hand and arm were unmarked, except the missing sleeve.  And my hands aren’t the same size anymore, he realized his sleeveless forearm was his girl-form’s, like his exposed chest.

     The shadow’s next attack, he tried to dodge, but the shadow was nearly as good as he was.  It clawed him across the face.  The agony of having his face torn off, and the shock of seeing a Ranma-skin mask looking up at him, let the shadow tear the rest of his arm clear off.  Ranko’s voice made the scream, as he danced out of range, trying to understand what was happening.  The shadow stopped and stared at him some distance away.  It reached down to pick up the pieces it had flayed from Ranma, it brought Ranma’s ‘face’ to its head, mocked him with it, and ate it.

     « HEY! » Ranma heard himself in Ranko’s voice, « That’s mine! »

     The shadow braced for the attack, the leap kick Ranma aimed at the shadow’s head.  Its claws caught in his extended leg, and the force of the blow ripped the whole leg loose.  Ranma rolled as he landed, looked at the unmaimed leg, Ranko’s leg.  Suddenly he realized that the creature was tearing off the outer, `Ranma` layer.

     He considered for a moment, as he watched the shadow consume the leg piece, he knew he couldn’t beat this creature.  None of the tricks to awaken from a nightmare were working here either.

     So he turned and ran for the dream dojo, It isn’t there anymore! he turned to face the shadow, as it ate more of `Ranma`, it began taking on a definite round form.  Ranma was off-balance, because part of him was Ranko, and part was still Ranma. 

     With his legs and arms of different lengths, he was at a tremendous disadvantage, in fighting, and in running away.  The shadow caught him across the back, ripping it all loose, he turned to counter the attack, and caught a kick in the groin.

     I didn’t think girls could get hurt from that, Ranko was slowed by the pain of the blow, she was also deeply ashamed of her weakness.  She tried to shake it off as the creature ripped the rest of `Ranma` off.  She attacked, the shadow simply let the blow land, and Ranko passed through.  As she passed through, she felt cold hands touching her and mocking laughter about the ‘pretty, little tramp’.

     « Pervert! » she shouted and attacked.

     « Useless girl! » the shadow spoke, Ranko felt a blow across her breasts, « Weak. »  A kick in the groin, « Pretty, but only a decoration. »  The slap across the face.  More words, more insults translated into physical blows.

     The humiliation of the insults and the effect of the strikes on her more intimate regions were too strong to be anything except enhanced by the shadow, every time she’d tried to raise up, the insults/blows would rain down on her until she collapsed and wanted to die.

     She watched the creature eat the rest of the flayed loose Ranma pieces, sections of the shadow lightened to white, others remained black.

     A panda bear? Ranko wondered if this had anything to do the dream Raccoon had described, Probably, « Father . . .  »

     That initiated the most savage beating, physical blows, insults and degradations.  Ranko curled up into a ball, trying to protect herself, tried to ignore the words which bypassed her defenses, and hurt worse than the impacts.

     The panda marched off, laughing at her the whole way.

     Ranko lay there, the ache she felt was not physical, she couldn’t see a scratch or bruise on the parts she could see without moving.  She reasoned it must be ki or mana based, her unwillingness to move, It’s depression, I just don’t feel like moving.  She knew she should get up and pursue the creature who’d stolen `Ranma`, but she could barely convince herself to sit up.

     She checked herself over, Not a bruise, not a scratch, then she found the sticky blood between her legs, she couldn’t find the wound that would have caused it, There’s not that much, but where did it come from?

     « Ranko-san? »

     She heard the voice, she turned, expecting Raccoon to penalize her for being out here, for getting beaten, for . . . for being Ranko, and not Ranma.

     « Ranko-san, temperature reading. »

     Nabiki walked along the top of the rail, through the night sky, in her gi and soft shoes.  The entire city of Tokyo, modern 1992 Tokyo, was laid out below her.  Thousands of feet below, she thought, as she walked along.  The rail extended to infinity before and behind.

     The faint breeze plucked at her hair and clothes, even that weak wind threatened to hurl her off the edge.

     « Jump. »

     Nabiki pivoted easily, As good as Kodachi, she thought, now facing the Amazon Rei.  Nabiki stepped back, and bumped into another figure, glanced over her shoulder at Belldandy.

     « Okay, I screwed up again, » Nabiki told her, « So you toss me off, and we discuss the mistakes while I hurtle towards the pavement? »

     « No, » the goddess pushed her slightly, causing Nabiki to windmill her arms to avoid falling.

     « What’s that about? » Nabiki shouted.

     « Stand aside, » Rei told her.

     « Who, Hiroko? » Nabiki asked, « Is that what all this is about?  Who gets Ranma?  I thought you jerks were beyond that! »

     « You aren’t beyond it.  You have much to learn, » Rei approached.

     Nabiki knelt, grabbed the rail and swung beneath and behind Belldandy, then pulled herself back up.

     And she ran.

     All that pursued her was their laughter, Belldandy’s tinkling mirth, Amazon Rei sounded like Cologne’s bullfrog croak.  Nabiki burned with frustration.  They could pursue her as they chose, she was arrogant to think she could get away.

     She stopped, turned, she could still see them clearly, « You want me to step aside?  How’s this? » she dove off the rail, sailing through the air.  « Yeah, I showed them, » she said sardonically, as the ground rushed up towards her, Why do I do these things?

     Rei looked on, as Shinji-kun played with the littlest version of her, the first and best version of her.  He’d volunteered to play, when the Second had dropped her off and left.  He held the little one’s hands and spun her around, as she delightedly shouted for him to go faster.

     Rei wondered why that game, why hide-and-seek, as opposed to any other games she’d seen others playing.  No catching or throwing games, despite the availability of balls and bats.  A cold lump had started in her stomach, first that Shinji-kun had seen her dreamscape, and so had the Second, and that neither had raised any serious complaints or insults.  Both had automatically played with the little one, grudgingly for the Second, with joy for Shinji-kun.

     Even the little one, and the other hers, had little interest in being with Rei, the others had remained to watch Shinji-kun play, not interfering, not interacting.  Rei felt ashamed that she hadn’t, couldn’t, join in.  Not with the Second, not with Shinji-kun.

     Why do I need permission to? she wished Shinji-kun would ask her to, to be part of the joy, to be able to laugh and play and be silly, because she was too afraid to ask herself if she could join in.

     Ranko blinked, looked at Raccoon’s concerned face.

     « You okay? » he asked, sitting up, staring at her.

     « I’m so sorry, » she said, she couldn’t understand why she was near tears over forgetting to take the water temperature, she could see Raccoon’s neat handwriting he’d entered the value, it humiliated her, « I’m . . . I can’t be trusted.  I’m worthless. »

     « For dozing off? » Raccoon was incredulous, « You’ve only got a half hour to go.  Your real job was to make sure I didn’t fall sleep, or break my neck going to the bathroom.  You did that. »

     « I did okay? » she asked in a small voice, she couldn’t figure out why she so desperately needed the reassurance.

     « You did very well, and –  » he must have been shocked at the intensity and desperation of her hug.

     « Thank you, thank you, thank you! » she buried her face in his chest, suddenly she felt safe again, « Please don’t hate me. »

     « I don’t, I won’t.  Why would I hate you? » he put his arms around her shoulders.

     She wished he’d put his arms around her tightly, then worried about those kinds of thoughts.  Now she was glad he was being friendly, or fatherly, instead of a more romantic approach.

     She released him, he instantly did likewise.

     « I think I need to use the bathroom, » she told him shyly.

     « Oh, that does my ego a lot of good, I excite your bladder. »

     She felt a stab of dread that he hated her because . . . then she realized he was just teasing, and she hadn’t shaken the effect of the dream.

     « What about you men?  You wake up, the poor girl thinks you were thinking of her, and all you want to do right now is take a pee. »

     He smiled and blushed as she climbed out.  She wondered where on her his eye was lingering.  As she walked to the toilet and closed the stall door, she wondered how much the dream had shaken her up for her to be thinking like this.

Laughable Cries

     Ranko’s scream woke the entire household.  Nabiki was glad of it, she’d been about an inch off the pavement when she, then Ranko screamed.

     Ranko was still screaming, so no one had noticed Nabiki’s, when Nabiki charged into the bathroom, ahead of Ritsuko.  Maya came in through the hall door.  Raccoon was blinking furiously, because he had put the lights on.

     Ranko was at the nearer toilet stall, she came out, the swimsuit in hand, instead of wearing it, « I’m bleeding! » she showed everyone the tiny bloodstains on the suit panties.

     Nabiki noted with distaste that she seemed the most disturbed by Ranko’s nakedness, She’s only spotting, then she realized Ranma didn’t remember the last time this happened.

     « It’s perfectly natural, » Ritsuko said soothingly.

     « And normal, » Raccoon added, « I can –  » he started getting out of the furo.

     « Stop! » Ritsuko commanded.

     He settled back in, turned his back to the frantic girl, tossing her a towel from the wall rack.

     « It happens to all women, » Maya added as Ranko twisted the towel in her hands until Nabiki worried it might disintegrate.

     « It’s never happened before! » Ranko wailed.

     « It happens monthly, the woman’s body builds up a blood rich layer in the uterus to accept a fertilized egg.  If no fertilization occurs, the blood layer is shed.  That’s the source of it. »  Raccoon’s clinical explanation helped calm Ranko down.

     « Where were you when my sister was fumbling through her explanation? » Nabiki asked.

     « Wyoming, on the ranch, learning all this stuff, » Raccoon replied.

     « I’ll get some hot water, » Nabiki said, « That –  »

     « NO! » Ranko told Nabiki, she didn’t know why, but she didn’t want to risk returning to Ranma-form, for fear that the dream had `done` something to him.

     « Well, I’m out, » Ritsuko admitted sheepishly, « Misato forgot, and almost had an accident. »

     « I used my last one, » Nabiki added.

     « I don’t have any with me, » Maya admitted.

     What are they talking about? Ranko wondered.

     « Since I can’t leave, Maya, can you go get my medical kit, right hip pocket of my suit coat, » Raccoon said.

     Nabiki and Ritsuko stared at him open-mouthed, Maya headed to get the kit.  Ranko still didn’t understand what they were talking about.

     « Ranko, » Rit-chan said, « At least cover yourself with that towel. »

     Ranko looked down and then looked at Raccoon, who had been trying to look anywhere else in the room, and mostly succeeding.  Ranko quickly covered herself and blushed ashamedly.

     Predictably, Nabiki thought it was funny.

     Maya returned with a white metal box emblazoned with a red plus-sign on the top, a bit smaller than a textbook.

     « I want to know, » Nabiki told Raccoon.

     « So do I, I’ll start first.  My aunt is a nurse, she claimed her medical kit could deal with any physical problems, that didn’t require a doctor or major surgery.  When I decided to carry a medical kit, I duplicated hers, exactly. »

     « So how old are these? » Maya looked inside the kit.

     « About two months.  Like you, girls realized I always carried them and was willing to sell.  I went through about a box a year.  Now, » he said, « How are you going to show her how to use them? »

     « I’m not, you are, » Nabiki smiled.  She and Raccoon stared at each other.

     Ranko thought she could hear the crickets outside, eight floors below.

     « I’m leaving, » Raccoon was out the door before Rit-chan could protest.

     « Would someone tell me what’s going on?! » Ranko demanded.

     Asuka walked out of her room, she quietly started making breakfast.  She decided never to go through Misato’s dreamscapes again.  She had walked into what looked like a Roman party, low couches, jugs of wine, tables full of food, except everyone was in traditional Japanese dress.  The pilots and senior staff all eating, drinking and copulating, willingly and unashamedly.

     Occasionally, the central pillar that held up the roof of the hall, would make a sound.  Everyone would stop whatever they were doing, and surround the pillar, and spend a few minutes bowing to it, then they’d go back to continue on, or on to another activity.

     Asuka had been confused about the mechanism that caused this, so she investigated: inside the pillar was Misato.  Clear water and plain, white rice instead of the much richer food and drink on the tables, and alone instead of the sensual delights abounding outside.  Even Asuka was embarrassed by the ingenuous and enthusiastic pairings going on outside.  Asuka had listened to Misato’s pleas to be freed, be included, until Misato was furious, frustrated or tearful enough to pound on the walls of the pillar.  Whereupon all the participants would ‘show proper obeisance’.

     Then they returned to their activities without any thought, although some of the people would ‘demonstrate’ their joy right in front of the pillar: food, sex or simply touching each other or the pillar.

     While Misato’s assumption, that her fellow NERV employees were such wanton libertines, embarrassed Asuka, Misato’s desperate and pitiful reaction really disturbed her.  She felt guilty about the way she’d treated her commander.  It struck her as vaguely terrifying, that their commanding officer and chief tactical officer, was basically ‘all broken inside.’  She knew she was, so was Raccoon, but neither of them could ‘fix’ the other.

     Now I have to repair my commanding officer, she thought despairingly, she wasn’t any good at coddling people, you were either good enough, or you got out of the way for someone who was.  She sighed, « I’m the kid, why do I have to do this? »

     Ranko accepted the breakfast dishes, she kept glaring at Nabiki, she wasn’t the only one.  Raccoon mimed hitting Nabiki on the head, as he walked behind her.

     « You’d make him do that? » she was disgusted.

     « I saw how you were looking at him, » Nabiki teased.

     Ranko was not comfortable with that, nor with the `solution` to her problem.  Although Nabiki, Maya and Rit-chan had assured her it was ordinary.

     The whole thing grossed her out, « Isn’t there a better way? »

     « A polyvinyl alcohol polymer in a nylon sheath, but that would be worn externally, » Raccoon set his own plate down.

     « How do you know about this stuff? » Nab-chan demanded.

     « Some of the sillier girls at Radcliffe, thought it was `cute` to try to embarrass me.  If you’ve ever been around animals, especially breeding stock, you discover mammals are mammals, and what happens to one, happens to all of them.  Having an aunt who’s a nurse, and has a very – mechanical – view of certain things, also helped. »

     Ranko hid her smile at the description of the ‘silly girls’, and the impossibility of embarrassing Raccoon if he didn’t care about you.  Although what Ranko really wanted to ask about, was the dream, and what had happened.  She doubted she’d get a chance on the walk or ride to school.

     Asuka watched Misato drag herself out of her bedroom to the breakfast table, while she and Shinji were half-done with breakfast.  Bloodshot eyes, half-falling out of the few clothes she was managing to wear, hairdo by Alfred Nobel.  Rather than coffee and breakfast, which Asuka believed she needed, Misato got a beer, guzzling it down and screaming, as she usually did.

     Asuka refused to let her usual disapproval show, Shinji seemed to be following suit.

     « What are you two so grumpy about? » Misato asked.

     « Actually, Captain, » Asuka saw Misato wince, « That’s what I was going to ask you.  Perhaps if you didn’t wall yourself off from the rest of us, decided to join the fun we’re having, instead of demanding we do what you want, maybe you wouldn’t feel so lonesome.  Maybe you wouldn’t be so jealous of Ritsuko and the ‘Second Three’. »  Asuka watched Misato’s frown, as if Asuka had just told her a horse had relieved itself in all her beer supply.

     « Now, Misato, would you kindly explain why a college graduate should care about retaking junior high school? »

     Misato squirmed.

     Ritsuko answered the phone, « Hello, Asuka. »

     « Skip school to go shopping? » Ritsuko asked, she glanced at the dining room as the kids were clearing the breakfast dishes, « I think Nabiki needs to go to school, but I think Ranko will be willing to go with. »

     Ranko was about to protest, when both Nabiki and Jeff clamped their hands over her mouth, both standing just out of Ranko’s shorter reach.

     « Have you considering asking Rei along? » Ritsuko asked, « You can tell her I authorized it.  Well, I have some tests to run on Jeff, I’ll have Maya and Ranko meet you at Rei’s apartment. »

     Ritsuko hung up the phone, « Asuka and Misato are going shopping, together. »  Ritsuko felt confused, considering how the pair had been fighting lately.  « Anyway.  Ranko needs to replace Nabiki’s swimsuit, and get a few of her own, and other things, » she gestured for the pair to release Ranko.  Ranko looked defiant.

     « You owe her, » Ritsuko said firmly, « Maya knows what else you’ll need. »

     Ritsuko turned to her assistant, « You did volunteer. »  Maya shrugged.

     « Why aren’t I going on this trip? » Nabiki asked.

     « You’re the only one who enjoys running the school, and Hiroko would kill you, besides, someone needs to tell the teachers that this was an excused absence, and get the homework.  Jeff is going back to the lab, for more tests, which would you rather go to? »

     « Shopping with Ranko, Asuka, and Misa-chan; medical tests with Raccoon, or going to school . . . is there going to be rectal or urological work? »

     « Probably. »

     « Well, Raccoon, can you fix me a lunch, while I get ready for school? » Nabiki chirped as she headed back to the bedroom.

     « That’s dirty pool, » Jeff headed for the kitchen.

     « Sempai, aside from the obvious, what do you think we need to get.  Feminine hygiene, some underwear –  »

     « I ain’t wearin’ no bra! » Ranko growled.

     Ritsuko left that argument for later, as big, and physically active as Ranko was, she’d understand the necessity soon enough.

     Asuka was wondering about the wisdom of letting Misato drive, bouncing around in the tank had been only slightly worse.  Spineless looked like he was going to expire any second.  Only the joyous contemplation of seeing his beloved once again, kept the mighty Prince of NERV from swooning dead away, Asuka thought, she shook her head, I’ve got to kill something, REAL soon.

     She was amused that Maya and her jeep had beaten Flash Katsuragi to Wondergirl’s apartment, as had their Greyhound armored cars escort.  The cars’ machine gunners watched Misato’s sliding stop with some concern.  Horseface waited for them.  Asuka wasn’t eager to go into Wondergirl’s apartment alone, she felt better when Maya and Horseface fell in with her and Spineless as they bailed out of Misato’s car.

     As they reached the stairs, Asuka noticed that Misato was hanging back, « You, too, our Brave Captain, » Asuka told her, when she didn’t move, « Horseface, how much time would you need to get to the apartment, throw out all the beer, and get back here? »

     « Say fifteen minutes, » Horseface assured them.

     « Okay, Maya, Spineless, remember, don’t tell Wondergirl we’ve got Dr. Akagi’s approval, for fifteen minutes, agreed? »

     Spineless, Maya and Horseface all agreed.  Misato was right behind as they climbed the stairs.

     As they entered Wondergirl’s apartment, Asuka was glad to see Wondergirl was dressed.  Misato was disgusted by the filthy conditions.  Spineless seemed embarrassed by it.

     « Wondergirl, we’re going shopping, instead of going to school. »

     She stared at her, Asuka already had some questions, she’d get Wondergirl to agree through logic, she’d hold the orders back until, and unless, she needed them.  Hopefully, Misato will also get the lesson I’m trying to teach, Asuka thought, « Do you know what percentage of soldiers lost in World War One were lost to disease and infection, versus those lost to battle wounds? »

     « Yes. »

     Of course you do, « Then you understand why your bedding and bath towels need to be changed occasionally, and washed? » Asuka asked and watched Wondergirl make a conclusion she hadn’t considered before.

     I actually managed to surprise her, Asuka was pleased, « We need you to accompany us, to pick out the color, texture, style, et cetera, you prefer. »  What’s got her so rattled? Asuka looked at the shocked Wondergirl staring pleadingly at Spineless, Come on Spineless, don’t crumble now!

     Shinji nodded, Wondergirl relaxed.

     « I will accompany you, » Wondergirl glanced at her then at Spineless.

     Asuka thought she actually looked grateful to both of them, « We would have brought him anyway, we need someone to carry everything, » Asuka told her.  Wondergirl nodded.  Asuka closed her eyes, sighed inwardly, This is going to be a looonng day.

     Nabiki entered the classroom, she’d expected the grounds to be full, except she couldn’t find Hiroko or any of her class at all.  She found them all in the class room, clustered around Toji, Kensuke and Hiroko.

     « I tell you, being a pilot is so cool! » Kensuke said.

     Someday, Nabiki thought, I’m going to find the CD he has that on, oh, sorry, the record, no CDs yet.

     « They live in a palace! » Kensuke said.

     That deterred Nabiki from announcing her presence, she stepped back through the door, so she could hear, but not be seen.  Yeah, it’s okay, but I’d rather give up the second bathroom for a little more space.

     « I mean they have a furo of their very own! » Toji said, as if that were shocking.

     Nabiki realized from the amazement of the others, it was.

     « No going to the public baths? » one of the girls asked, « No perverts peeping on you!? »

     Hiroko shook her head, « The bathroom doors, they lock, from the inside. »

     She said it as if the Emperor came by regularly to play cards and discuss fish, Nabiki thought, Well, Doctor Akagi and Raccoon would probably be willing to do that, she smirked, but she couldn’t fathom their amazement.

     « Did I tell you how much food they brought to the first picnic?! » Hikari said breathlessly, « Five dollars’ worth!  Asuka actually bought steak, two pounds of steak! »

     « I heard they can shop at the PX if they want, » Hiroko added, « All those dresses, all that chocolate, sodas, fresh meat and fish.  If I could buy there, it would be like Christmas every day. »

     « Hey! » Toji had a thought, « Since they’re all richer than all the Kamis, why do they need our money, what for? »

     « To keep you under control, » Nabiki entered, glanced around, the little discussion group dissolved, the usual cliques taking over.  Nabiki sat down next to Hiroko, fingered her uniform.  « With all the money I’m paying you, you should be able to have better clothes. »

     « Boss, you show me the tree they’re growing on, and I’ll pick you one too. »

     « Oh good grief, I saw some perfectly good ones just yesterday.  Since Asuka’s taking the rest shopping, and Raccoon’s getting his sanity tested . . .  »

     She let the others laugh at that, the fight yesterday had terrified a lot of the students, it had frightened her and Ranma, Until he got that calculating look on his face.  That had scared Nabiki more than the fight, he’d looked almost like she did, when she figured the angles to a situation.

     « Well, we can get bolts of cloth, or finished clothes, » Nabiki said, noted Hiroko’s stunned look, and the envious glares from the others.  I never considered the power just having access to a shopping center gave you, she thought, she’d gotten used to no electronics, there were substitutes to most electronic/electrical gadgets, so life wasn’t too hard here, compared to the future.  She’d never realized how far above, just a little bit below 1992 levels, that put her and the other pilots above their classmates.

     I’m going to actually go into Hiroko’s apartment, and see how they live `back here`, Nabiki thought guiltily, then she shook her head, ‘Since you obviously don’t know how to properly use the power you do have,’ boy was he right.  $150 a month spending money, and a place to actually buy anything the world had to offer with the money.  I’m a dunce!  That’s real power, and I didn’t even know I had it.

Brown Hates You Too

     Ritsuko and Jeff headed into the secure lab storage.  Ritsuko moved through the racks of steel shelves of labeled samples that turned the huge room into a maze, and towards the heavy refrigerators at the back.  The sights and smells were familiar to her, she enjoyed `Raccoon` rubbernecking to try and take it all in.  Something finally surprised him, she thought.

     « This is where it’s stored, » she told him, opening a particular brown refrigerator.  She was alarmed when he stooped over, « Jeff! »

     « Doctor, don’t touch the jar, » he stared at the floor of the refrigerator.

     « What do . . . that’s not right, » she caught herself reaching for the sample jar, « The material was brown. »  The gallon jar was clear, as if it were empty and the glass had grown hazy.  « What are you looking at? »

     « A hole in the floor of the refrigerator.  Through the enamel, and that’s stainless steel? »

     « Silicon phosphor bronze, I think.  More chemically resistant than steel, » Ritsuko was getting worried.

     Jeff stood up, looked at the hazy glass jar, « There’s a hole in the back of the jar. »

     « I need to make a phone call, » Ritsuko moved rapidly through the maze, to the phone.

     « Doctor, what’s that on top of the jar, beneath the lid? »

     « Bakelite, » she told him, as she dialed the Commander’s office, « Commander, we need to check the security of the pump room. »

     « What’s wrong? » Ikari asked.

     « The L.C.L. samples escaped.  Dissolved, bored, or melted their way out. »

     « Understood, I’ll see to it myself. »

     She hung up the phone, felt a cold dread.  She looked around, wondering if the samples were out there, waiting.

     Jeff had carefully cleared the shelf of everything except the jar, then removed the shelf and carefully set it on a nearby examination table, « The hole is only about 2 mm in diameter, same as the hole in the bottom of the refrigerator, » he indicated the tiny hole, « The walls of this jar are almost gone, the hazy appearance is due to uneven attack.  Doctor, there are almost no chemicals that affect glass, enamel, and metal, but don’t affect thermoset plastics.  Maybe sodium hydroxide, but I doubt it.  That leaves directed action, it didn’t want to attack the bakelite. »

     « We’ll have to check on the other samples, » Ritsuko said.

     « We have a bigger problem, Doctor, » Jeff told her, « Do you have a really strong, armored room?  Somewhere you can hermetically seal from the outside, and monitor what’s inside? »  He removed his jacket, setting it on an empty tray, added his .45 auto and knife, his boots.

     « You’re taking this rather well, » Ritsuko glanced from Jeff to the three Marines armed with flamethrowers, as they walked through the whitewashed concrete halls to the secure cells.  He was barefoot, wearing only his shirt and slacks, somehow the missing coat, tie and hat made him more naked than Ranko had been this morning.

     « That’s because you’re thinking like a loving mother, I’m thinking like a paranoid scientist. »

     She frowned at the compliment, and te smiles of the marines.

     « Frankly, I’m rather relieved.  I physically assaulted a good friend, because I was angry.  The possibility that I was under external influence, or had a temporary chemical imbalance, both of which can be corrected; versus permanent insanity, or a reaction to the stress of the last few weeks, which would be permanent; well which would you choose? »

     « You’re right, » she watched the forklift remove the heavy door.  She watched Jeff walk inside, and signal for the door to be replaced.  She watched as the door was bolted shut.

     Ritsuko knew that Captain Ramsey and Dr. Samuels were monitoring, she had an appointment with the Commander.  She hadn’t told Jeff, but the Navy med lab had checked the blood samples she’d taken from him yesterday.  The material in his blood had reduced the glass slides to tiny balls of black, vitreous material.  Until they knew what was happening . . . Why is it that I’m not acting like a scientist?   She headed off.  She hoped that the idea of flushing his blood would have some effect.  She wished there was a machine available to filter his blood.  Yeah, artificial kidneys, she thought, How about rockets to the moon while you’re wishing.

     Ramsey turned to Dr. Samuels, as they sat behind the armored one-way glass, watching down into the cell, « I know why I volunteered for this, why did you? »

     « My specialty has become battle fatigue, people suffering from what they called ‘sunstroke’ from the Civil War, were what made the Wild West so wild, » he chuckled, « I often wish I could have been in that tent in Sicily, when ole ‘Blood and Guts’ slapped that soldier, I would have told him to his face, he was suffering from battle fatigue. »

     « Patton would have shot you, Doctor, right then and there. »

     Samuels smiled, « It still would have been worth it. »

     Ramsey sighed, he knew why they were here, aside from the ‘specials’, they were the most able to deal with this problem, if it turned out to be mythos related, « What are we going to do? »

     « Break the tension somehow.  They’ve been ‘on the line’ for nearly six weeks, more like 10, there has to be something that gives them a break. »

     « Another talent show?  I don’t think we can manage that, » Ramsey admitted, « I mean, they went to a concert, and came under attack in dreams and in the Waking World, » Ramsey still didn’t know how the Admiral knew about the dreams, the kids hadn’t breathed a word of it to anyone, « I’m beginning to think Colonel Stedman’s idea of letting them run through a few hundred rounds of tank ammo, isn’t so far off the mark. »

     « It is, unless the violence breaks down the important barrier, getting them to talk about what is bothering them, what happened, that’s the first and most important step, » Samuels explained.  « The more they bottle up, the more force it has.  Analysis won’t help, it’s a trauma, as real as any physical wound, and just as dangerous if left untreated.  Saotome hasn’t had an adequate chance to mourn Captain Everett, according to his medical and action reports.  Langley never mourned her mother, none of them are the kind to just open up and let things out.  While that’s the kind of people who make good pilots, it makes them vulnerable to exactly this sort of thing. »

     « What do you suggest?  And don’t forget, Doctor, the Japanese are petrified of psychiatry, shying away from the merest hint of `abnormality`. »

     « You don’t need a psychiatrist, all you need is to get them talking, call it a security debriefing, call it a philological interview, anything.  If they don’t let it out, we’ll have an explosion on our hands. »

     Ramsey nodded, « Speaking of explosions, did you hear about that muckraking reporter, who snapped all those pictures of the kids? »

     « He was raising some stink about the kids being radioactive or something, because all his film was fogged. »

     « Probably just had a light leak in his camera, » Ramsey said, « Considering they were out of focus too, I don’t put too much stock in his story. »

     Samuels nodded, they might have a long wait, Davis had set himself in the corner, not moving since he arrived, « I don’t think we have anything to worry about from him, » Samuels spoke his doubts aloud, « I’ll stick by my diagnosis of battle fatigue. »

     « You want to go down in there with him? » Ramsey asked.

     Samuels shook his head, « I’m not that certain. »

     « There is no evidence it came here, » Gendo told Ritsuko, as the pair walked along the catwalk over a pulsing mass of gray, it and they were surrounded by humming machinery.  « The L.C.L. production has not been affected.  All samples of the contaminated L.C.L. have escaped. »

     Ritsuko nodded, if it had come here to rejoin, the situation would have been far easier.  « Have we been able to track any of it? »

     « Once it reached the ventilation system, it ceased burning through the material, and seemed to take a more conventional escape route, » Gendo stared down through the grating, at the greatest piece of `technology` scavenged from Antarctica, the core of the EVA system.

     « Your patient? » Gendo asked.

     « We’re starting with chelation treatments, the medical staff suggested large quantities of fluids.  Considering they’re talking several gallons a day, we may have to lock him in a bathroom, we’ll check the mineral content of his urine, to prevent serious side effects. »

     « I’ll leave it to you, Doctor, » Gendo seemed to be meditating on the slowly roiling gray mass below, « Are you aware that SEELE didn’t know the identity of the blue-eyed redhead who used martial arts to rescue Rei?  Curious don’t you think? »

     « Oh, no! » Ritsuko was astounded, « Have you informed the Americans, or Captain Katsuragi? »

     « Our last set of orders came from the Americans.  As for the Captain, and the pilots, better we don’t tell them for the moment.  Agreed? »

     Ritsuko knew he wasn’t really asking for her approval, « Yes.  Considering the security screening they put the rest of us through, you’d think they’d have caught that. »

     « No, not if procedures are circumvented.  I think you should see to your patient, Doctor. »

     « Yes, sir, » Ritsuko hurried away, she wasn’t sure how to deal with this, If our security has been penetrated to this extent, what else are we vulnerable to?

     « You caught it? » Jeff asked as they led him towards `his` hospital room at the med center.  He was leaning heavily on his cane, a couple hours sitting unmoving had stiffened him up.

     Ritsuko had returned his coat, hat and boots, but not his knife or pistol.  She wanted him to feel more at ease, but unarmed.  She’d been shocked to learn the Navy and ONI knew about the weapons he carried, even approved of them.

     « Not really, » Ritsuko told him, « We just think you aren’t in any danger, and frankly our treatment regimen will be easier, if you have access to a bathroom. »

     « Hot Barium Sulfate enemas, oh joy. »

     Ritsuko frowned, « You forgot the leeches and burning incense. »

     « Not to minimize your efforts, for which I’m grateful, but how do you know this will work?  I’m not worried about being in danger, I’m afraid of being of danger. »

     « Well don’t, but we can run tests to check our progress.  Don’t worry, » I’m worrying enough for both of us, she didn’t tell him.

     Asuka looked around the Navy Post Exchange, the shelves and racks of `whites`: towels and wash clothes, etc.  She took a deep breath, « Wondergirl, you do know those are brown too? » Asuka was trying to be patient, But these people are so frustrating!

     « Yes. »

     Asuka couldn’t understand what was wrong with these people.  `Ranko` she could understand, Horseface was uncivilized as a boy, as a girl he was Maya’s problem, and Asuka had her hands full.  Misato and Wondergirl were driving her CRAZY!

     Wondergirl seemed to grasp that she was allowed towels of different weights and textures, Spineless was actually fairly helpful with that.  And Wondergirl managed to spontaneously pick out a dress, all on her own.  It could even be worn with a blouse underneath or as a sundress, clever of Wondergirl, but the color!

     Wondergirl looked at the current bath towel she had, compared it to the other four she’d picked out that Spineless was carrying, and her dress, « They are not exactly the same color. »

     « Yes, » Asuka acceded, « But they’re all shades of brown. »  Even the plaid dress only had the tiniest amount of blue or yellow, but three shades of brown or green-brown.  And now she stares at me as if I’m the stupid one, Asuka thought.  « Spineless, you explain it to her, » Asuka walked off through the wooden shelves and metal racks, towards Misato, before she had to resort to violence, her other charge was going off in the wrong direction, again.

     « Misato, » she said sweetly, « You already have a couple of outfits like that. »  And you look like a cheap French whore while you’re wearing them, she didn’t add.  She picked a dress off the rack, « Why don’t you try one of these dresses that aren’t so, »  Sluttish, « Flamboyant. »

     « But I like these, » Misato countered.

     You’re as stubborn as Wondergirl, Asuka fought to keep a smile on her face without gritting her teeth, But she doesn’t whine.  « Variety, Misato, variety, » Asuka counseled, This isn’t a trip to go shopping, this is a trip into Hell, at least Dante got Virgil.  All I’ve got is Spineless.

     Seeing that Misato was getting the idea, for the next five minutes, Asuka returned to Wondergirl, Patience, Asuka, patience, she counseled, « Wondergirl, is there a reason all these sheets, towels, wash cloths, and dresses, » Spineless picked out three more dresses in just this time, Asuka thought, He’s not as useless as I thought, « Are all brown, or mostly brown?  This is not a yes or no question, I would like to know the reason. »

     Wondergirl stared at her, considering, « I like brown. »

     Hence the walls of your apartment.  Clear, concise, and as answers go, completely useless, « I still think you should pick out a few of other colors as well.  Are there any other colors you like, except brown?  How about a nice red or blue, to match your eyes or hair? »

     « I dislike red. »

     And I love you too, Wondergirl, Asuka forced herself to ignore the implied insult, She’s just trying to be factual.  « That’s red, there are other colors.  You have to be able to tell them apart, or you could get something that’s mostly brown, » Asuka picked two towels out of a bin, « But they have a pattern or a border of different color. »  Asuka stood there sweating while Wondergirl considered.

     Maya was quietly wondering who was going to explode first, her or Asuka.  Normally she would have looked forward to this, she’d actually expected to have to play ` big sister` for the girl pilots, but someone like Ranma, she hadn’t prepared for.

     « Ranko, you need to get at least one, » Maya noted Asuka’s efforts, the pair of them had been leading the confused and the unwilling, through half the shopping district of Tokyo, only to discover that there was nothing either Ranko or Rei wanted.

     Then Asuka to the rescue, she’d remembered the post exchange at the Naval Base.  The place still reminded Maya of the tales of the magic caves full of Oni or dragon treasure.  Here they found the variety that would allow them to convince their skittish charges, to actually buy something they needed.

     It also shocked Maya, the profusion of goods here.  Technically, she couldn’t shop here, neither could Captain Katsuragi, only U.S. Military and their dependents, but that included all the pilots.  She’d found a couple of things she’d been searching for for ages.  Asuka had already agreed to buy them, and Maya would reimburse her later.

     She glanced over piles and racks and shelves of merchandise, to Asuka, and wondered if Misato was consciously sabotaging Asuka’s efforts, or if she was just trying to be `fun`.  Maya could have gleefully strangled Captain Katsuragi, over her last bit of `fun`.  Maya, with the help of a nice lady Marine, who was about as ‘girly’ as a heavy tank, had finally convinced Ranko to buy one bra.

     Sempai is either going to laugh herself sick, or have me locked up as a pervert, when I tell her how I got Ranko fitted, Maya fumed as she remembered Misato wandering over and saying ‘How cute.’  Ranko balked, an embarrassing and nerve-racking hour of work, gone in an instant, and no chance of recovering it today, Ranko was now adamant about ‘No girly stuff.’  Not fully remembering, that was exactly why they were out here.  So Maya slipped the one bra they’d managed to get, into the stuff Asuka would buy for her.

     « Whether you want anything or not, » Maya reminded Ranko, « You do owe Nabiki a new suit. »

     « Yeah, okay, but none for me, » Ranko said.

     If I had your figure, I’d want to show it off in a swimsuit, Maya felt a bit jealous of the shapely fourteen-year-old, But then I’m not ‘I’m a GUY!’ Maya chuckled, then attacked the problem from a different direction, « Then get some for Ranma, something you wouldn’t be uncomfortable wearing. »  This girl was running around naked earlier this morning, in front of men and woman, and she’s embarrassed over a swimsuit? Maya left the perversity of the universe to deeper thinkers, and concentrated on trailing the teen, then it hit her, Ranko got naked in front of us girls, and Raccoon, she’s skittish about Toji and even Shinji . . .  « I have to warn sempai about this, » Maya was getting a headache, « I almost prefer people shooting at me, as long as they miss. »

     Lunch came none too soon for Maya.  Ranma and Shinji had teamed up to lead the entire crew in the same direction.  The two armored cars following, she could almost ignore, while they walked.  Maya couldn’t ignore the mast rising in the shortening distance, it was a clever advertising gimmick, fortunate that no tall buildings were there to obscure it.

     « Haven’t you had enough of ships and navy? » Misato was trying to be witty, Maya and Asuka were trying not to be homicidal.

     « It’s the best –  » the two boys agreed that the best could be found there, only disagreeing on what was the best food.

     Rei looked uncomfortable.

     « I’m sure you’ll find something to eat there too, » Asuka reassured her.

     Maya smiled at that, Asuka was definitely on her ‘best behavior’, Maybe a spanking was what she needed.  Something concrete she could safely put all her anger on.

     The two found a table outside.  It was pleasant enough, but during the rainy or winter season, it would be more comfortable inside.  Maya had never thought of the idea of clustering restaurants around a central plaza.  The bustle of people coming and going was such a contrast to the last time she’d gone back home to her parent’s house, half her luggage had been necessities that she could get in Tokyo, especially from the Americans, but were rare, nearly treasures, elsewhere in Japan.  She’d felt guilty about it, she’d spread them around as welcoming gifts, to nearly every family in town, but there was so little she could do, due to constraints in time and resources.

     Misato went with Ranma, Rei with Shinji, leaving her occupying the table with Asuka.

     « We can’t kill them, » Maya teased.

     « Not even a little? » Asuka asked morosely.

     « Think of it as redeeming karma, » Maya told her.  Asuka glowered at her, Maya smiled back.

     Nabiki walked into the post exchange, I am an idiot, for not thinking of this before.  The place was like a modern supermarket and department store combined.  Hiroko was looking around, she obviously couldn’t decide where to go first.

     « We don’t have a time limit, » Nabiki told her factor, « You were the one who reminded me that I have access to advanced communications.  So your parents know you’re going to be a little late. »

     Nabiki hadn’t ever considered admission to sources of goods would be power, money didn’t matter, if the goods weren’t there to buy.  Even the old school mafia couldn’t match this, I could hold the others up for nothing more than a bolt of cloth, some chocolates, a basket of Washington apples.  It shocked Nabiki, that the town where you could buy anything, could ever had been this bad off.

     « Where should I start? » Hiroko asked.

     A girl who doesn’t know how to shop? Nabiki smiled at that, « Consider if you want your mom to make the clothes, or if you want to buy them already made.  Then what you want to bring your father, and maybe something for your sisters and brothers. »  It was funny watching her consider it.

     « Thank you for bringing me here, » Hiroko looked around, « I could never afford all the things I’d want to get. »

     « Consider it a bonus, » Nabiki said, « For stepping in and taking care of the operations and the ‘eyes and ears’, plus $20 cash, from Raccoon and me. »  Nabiki started wondering how she was going to justify that to her roommate.  The clunk from Hiroko brought her attention back.

     « Hiroko, HIROKO! » she patted the fallen girl’s cheek, trying to wake her, I’ve got to remember the exchange rate, that’s not four days’ pilot’s wages!  It’s four MONTHS’ wages for a female factory worker!  Nabiki you idiot!

     Asuka was glad they’d dropped off Wondergirl, Horseface and Maya before returning home.  Right now, she wanted a bath and a nap.

     Being nice to idiots, is hard work, she wondered why she’d decided to do this.  Misato had been her usual self, and it took both her and Maya to keep things on track.  For once, she wished Ice Princess had come with, as a third person, a rational person, someone else to ride herd on that mob.

     « Asuka, » Misato chirruped, « Don’t forget, it’s your turn to fix dinner. »

     Asuka nodded, God hates me, that’s what it is, I should never have tried to be nice to these . . . people.

     « Ah, would you be willing to trade? » Spineless asked, « I’d like to see if I can cook this ba . . . baratawo . . .  »

     « Bratwurst? » Asuka asked, He couldn’t mean that?  Could he?

     « You just sort of . . . boil it? » Spineless set the bag down: bratwurst, potatoes, sauerkraut.

     Asuka couldn’t believe it, « Where did you get that? » she’d been looking all over Tokyo, fish sausages were fit only for cats, and mixes just wouldn’t do. And forget finding a potato on this island!

     « At the PX, » Spineless said, « When you and Ranma were talking about lunch, Ayanami-san said I could get these, since I was there. »  Spineless shrugged.

     Asuka was shocked, Wondergirl thought of that?! Asuka would have thought that was impossible, « Yes, but you’re just heating it in the water. »

     « Oh, you’ve got to use beer! » Misato said, « And I’ve got this chili sauce that will go with it. »

     « We can’t get decent beer, in Japan, » Asuka smiled, « So, stick with water. »

     « Well, the clerk said this mustard is supposed to go with it, » Spineless offered Asuka the jar.

     Misato snatched it out of his hand, « How can mustard – ? » she opened the jar and scooped some out with her finger, « Compared to a decent –  » her finger went in her mouth . . . and Misato turned bright-red.

     Asuka ran to the bathroom to get the door open and the shower running, Misato was about three screaming steps behind her.  As Asuka returned to the dining room, she and Spineless heard the shower continue.  « You don’t do that with German mustard, » Asuka warned Spineless, who nodded.  « Thank you. »

     Spineless nodded again.  « It was Ayanami-san’s suggestion, » Spineless reminded her.

     That’s almost terrifying, Asuka thought, « What did she really tell you? »

     « Well, » Spineless temporized, « She said she was concerned about what to eat, and that you hadn’t said anything. »

     « And you got buying German food out of that? » Asuka was flabbergasted.

     « Well, that’s what she meant. »

     Asuka shook her head to clear it, « You two scare me sometimes, » Asuka headed for her room to get ready for a shower.

     Ritsuko heard the voices coming out of the EVA bay.  The language was Japanese, she headed in quickly.  She saw her patient, walking on the walkway surrounding the EVAs, declaiming poetry.  Ritsuko glanced around, there was no one in the bay, except her, and Jeff.

     He spotted her, nodded, but continued reading aloud.

     She didn’t recognize the poem, it spoke of flight and birds and sunlight.  Finally finishing, he closed the book.

     « Can I help you, doctor? » Jeff asked her.

     « What was that? »

     « Greek poem, translated into Japanese, I hope my translation wasn’t too bad. »

     « I’m going home, you should head back to the med center and get some rest, » she told him.

     « Well, I haven’t done this in a while, I thought it was important to remind them I wasn’t gone, » Jeff gestured to the EVAs.

     Ritsuko didn’t rise to the bait, she’d had this argument before.  The EVAs weren’t alive, but like Ranma’s curse, there were somethings she couldn’t convince Jeff of no matter how she argued, Because he can outargue you, she thought, « Let me walk you back. »

     « Are you going to tuck me in, mom? »

     She froze, there’d been no sarcasm, only a little hesitation, she shook her head, I’m imagining things.

Ranko Teaches

     Ranko was thoroughly frustrated.  She wanted to scream, she wanted to hit something.

     With the tousling of her hair and the hands on her shoulders, she calmed down considerably.

     « Easy, Ranko-san, » his chin also touched her shoulder, Raccoon gave her as much of a hug as she was comfortable with, « You don’t have to be good at everything related to martial arts. »

     She wanted to shrug him off, but she also wanted reassurances, after her abject failure.  She’d found that anger seemed to draw away with the soothing touch, his, Nab-chan’s, Rit-chan’s.  She felt the anger drain away, « But I wanted to teach you! » she complained bitterly.

     « Ranko-san, » he turned her to face him, « Teaching is a skill like any other, there’s no shame that you can’t do it automatically. »  He paused, « If Ranma-san is the same, it explains part of why he turned his teaching into pummeling, at least you quit before you became violent. »

     She punched him as she frowned at him, neither was very heartfelt.  He’d insisted she try to teach in dreams first, so no one else would see. Saving my honor, Ranko was grateful.  Her failure humiliated her, but if Rit-chan, or worse, Nab-chan or Asuka had watched that disaster . . . she didn’t think she’d ever live it down.

     « Let’s analyze what isn’t working. »

     « You aren’t learning! » she complained.

     « You learn when someone merely shows you a move, once or twice? » he waited for her to nod, « You have a kinesthetic eidetic memory.  Stop.  Let me explain, » he didn’t let her interrupt, « It’s a photographic memory of body movements.  Does that make sense? »

     « Yeah, it explains a lot.  Why can’t I teach you, if it’s so easy for me? »

     « That’s exactly why, the rest of us have to work at it, we don’t understand it all instantly and instinctively.  Like you and scholastics, you aren’t good at them, because you have to work so hard at it.  You probably aren’t working much harder than the rest of us, but what matters to you: Martial Arts and body movement, are easy.  I studied makeup for years.  You picked up the basics of application in a few hours, and with a little study, you could be better than me.  You can’t match the theory, but putting on an existing design . . .  »

     Ranko writhed and blushed pure scarlet at that.

     « You might consider Noh, or acting. »

     Those are girly things, Ranko thought.

     « Take a look at the Three Stooges, they have wild, almost insignificant plots, to set up displays of their stylized fighting techniques.  I don’t know if a full-length movie of that kind would ever become popular, but you might consider that. »

     « Now, you’re being silly, » Ranko said.

     « Think about how you taught me to breathe, you weren’t teaching a single skill, you were teaching a procedure, a series of linked steps.  You didn’t learn it all in one step, you didn’t teach it all in one step, and you still had to touch me yourself to verify if I was doing it right.  You couldn’t just watch, or trust I was.  You had to physically feel it to be sure. »

     Ranko considered, nodded, « So, I have to break the moves into steps, pieces. »

     « Right, then teach the step. »

     « But Martial Arts are supposed to flow! » Ranko complained, « That’s the entire point! »

     « Teach the flow, later, » Raccoon cut her off, « Ranko-san, I learned to teach martial arts when I was you, and Ranma-san.  I have 13 years experience, here in dreams, I can use it, all of it.  And I’m still not even in your league.  I learned about the ki attacks you were talking about, and chi manipulation. »

     « You can do them?!  You can teach me?! » Ranko brightened.

     « I don’t know how to explain it, » Raccoon admitted, « And I can’t do them anymore, even here. »

     Ranko frowned, then chuckled at the disappointment and disgust on Raccoon’s face, « Do I have to die to understand? » Ranko dodged the angry grab from Raccoon.

     « No, but if I start talking about ley lines, differential vector fields, generating negative pressure fields, I’d lose you in ten seconds. »

     « You lost me already, » Ranko sat down, gestured for Raccoon to do the same, « They couldn’t have taught you using those words, right? »

     « Oh, I could parrot back what they said about emotional energies, karmic centers, et cetera, but I wouldn’t know if I was making any sense to you, or if you were making progress, and if you weren’t, why.  Besides, it wouldn’t help what you were really concerned about.  A ki attack would have no effect on most of the things we fight. »  He gestured, a bowl of water appeared.

     « Imagine my hand over a bowl of water.  How hard would you have to hit my hand’s reflection in the water, to hurt my hand? »

     Ranko considered, « Pretty hard. »

     « It’s more difficult if my hand is moving in one dimension, » Raccoon moved his hand left and right.

     « Yeah, and adding front and back, it gets harder. »

     « What about adding up and down, still never touching the water? »

     Ranko watched his hand move in three-dimensions, « Yeah, it would be tough, but I could do it. »

     « Blindfolded? »

     Ranko frowned, « No chance. »

     « That’s what the ki attacks are, 4-dimensional: height, length, width and duration, they’d only affect the surface of the water. »

     « Okay, » Ranko nodded, « I got that.  AT fields, what, reach out of the water?  Raise the basin? »

     « Very good, raising the basin is effectively what it does.  Now if you were Asuka, we could talk about superimposing Newtonian mechanics on a Quantum Mechanical reality, DON’T ask! »

     Ranko eagerly nodded.  She understood the simpler explanation, but when Raccoon talked to Asuka, Ranma didn’t understand most of it, even though they were speaking his/her native tongue.

     « But, and hold your ears, your brain is going to come running out.  Great Old Ones operate in an existence that has some things that are always dimensions, like moving left and right, some are half-dimensions, say you can only move forward in time, and some that could be a dimension or a pair of half-dimensions depending on how you test for them. »

     Ranko pushed her jaw back into place, « WHAT?! »

     « Simply put, they can be elsewhere, when any attack hits, even a ki attack. »

     « I still want to learn, » Ranko replied.

     « I still have to figure out how to teach you, » Raccoon replied, « I think I can simulate the pattern in mana, let you see or feel the flows. »

     « Okay, let’s start breaking the moves into pieces, » Ranko said.

     « No, » Raccoon said, « That you’ll have to do yourself.  Because you have to understand them.  I think we need to investigate something you do understand, consider it a form of martial arts. »

     That got Ranko’s instant attention, « Okay. »

     She stared at his expression, considered, « That looks like Shinji.  You’re trying to look like Shinji, right? »

     « Exactly, now? »

     Ranko looked and thought, « Rei. »

     Another.  « Nabiki. »

     « That’s easy, Asuka. »

     « You need to steeple your fingers for that one. »

     « Actually I was trying to do Misato, » Raccoon said, contemplated, « That’s something I hadn’t considered.  The expressions are similar, when they’re both being serious. »

     « You mean, » Ranko scrunched her face into ‘Angry Misato’, and then ‘Gendo staring someone down’.  They do feel the same, she thought.

     « Now you understand, you can mimic how someone looks, with a little voice work, you can duplicate their voice and speaking patterns, » Raccoon told her, « It’s all about body control.  Listening to the pattern of speech and tone. »

     Ranko stared at him, thought carefully, « I had not considered this use. »

     « Not bad, Ayanami-san. »

     Ranko stood up, a fist in the air, « I’m the best of the best, and I’ll pound anybody who disagrees, even you Spineless. »

     « Ranma-san’s voice isn’t that high, Ranko-san, » Raccoon said, Ranko frowned.

     « We’ll also need to get you some ballet exposure. »

     « BALLET!! » Ranko’s complaint exploded, « That’s all girly stuff! »

     « It’s all about communicating with your body, » Raccoon gestured, a life-sized image of a woman in a ballet costume appeared.

     Ranko watched her movements with some initial interest, to humor Raccoon.  She started fidgeting uncomfortably, as the woman continued her `dance`, it was uncomfortable, Ranko couldn’t put her finger on exactly why.

     « Just stop it! » Ranko demanded.

     The image vanished, Ranko rubbed her arms, she felt cold.

     « What’s wrong? » Raccoon asked neutrally.

     « It was like watching a dying bird, » Ranko realized what it reminded her of.

     « Death of a Swan, » Raccoon said.

     « Swan’s a bird isn’t it? » Ranko shot back.

     « Could you do what you just saw? »

     « If I wanted, yeah, but I don’t want to, » Ranko was irritated by Raccoon’s calm tone and ‘vaguely pleased’ expression. If that’s what he wants me to `communicate`, Ranko thought, I could learn more burning ants under a magnifying glass.

     « You just compared yourself to one of the prima ballerinas of all time, doing her signature piece.  My point is, that it isn’t just martial arts you can master, anything physical, as long as whoever you’re learning from is good enough.  That’s a rare talent you’re wasting, by only learning martial arts, » Raccoon told her, « There’s more to life than hitting people, » he paused, « Is there anything physical you’ve ever wanted to do, and don’t worry, you’ll never be much of a ballerina. »

     « Why not! » Ranko demanded, I can do that stuff, it looks easy!

     « Your proportions are all wrong, leg’s too short, and you’re already too busty, and you aren’t even full-grown. »

     Ranko blushed, pulled her gi tighter over her chest.  « What about baseball? » Ranko asked.

     « You don’t need me to teach you that, but that’s a good example.  Don’t limit yourself.  Start thinking about what you’re good at.  In the `other world` all `you` were supposed to be, was a martial artist, eventually teaching at a dojo.  I think that’s a waste of your talents and abilities.  But that’s all they tried to `let` me be.  By the way, you got one thing wrong, that little cat is supposed to be pink and purple, not black and white. »

     « Whoever heard of a pink and purple cat, and all those loonies, » Ranko replied, « I think you’re right, it was all a distortion.  I mean, eight fiances, Chinese Amazons?  That makes as much sense as saying my fear of cats came from martial arts, » Ranko scoffed.

     « Actually, during the Taiping rebellion, there were Amazon Battalions fighting for the rebels.  Maybe the training is some deep dark secret, » Raccoon said, « Chasing mice to learn speed! »

     Ranko manifested a shinai, « I’d rather beat Raccoons unconscious. »

     « Oh my! » Raccoon held a hand over his mouth.

     It struck a chord in Ranko, she dismissed it and attacked.

     Ranko groggily hit the inside of the door of the safe, that had landed on and engulfed her, until the shriek of metal indicated the locking bolts had given up the ghost.  She opened the door and looked across the dojo, the ruins of cream pies and kitchen sinks, among other things, littered the floor.  Fallout from their `battle`.  A battle she’d been losing since she started it.  She stepped out of the safe, dodged the falling, little table.

     Little black table!!!! and dove back into the safe as a grand piano landed, with a distinctly musical crash, right where she’d been standing.  She pulled the door closed and created some earplugs, as anvils rained down on everything.  The noise inside the safe was bad enough, she smelled the faint odor of cinnamon as she tried to comb the crud out of her hair.

     I’m going to get you for the exploding chickens, Raccoon! she thought, then something hit the safe, bending the roof towards her, Later.  She tied a newly created piece of white cloth to the end of the shinai, waved it desperately outside the safe, before stepping out.  A German U-boat laid atop the safe, crushing it to half it’s original height.

     « Where’d you get a submarine? » Ranko demanded of her unseen opponent.

     « Same place I got the battleship, » Raccoon indicated the IJN Yamato, stuck bow first in the floor, like a dart.

     « What was this supposed to prove? » Ranko looked in horror at the pieces of various odd things all over.  One wall was covered by tomato sauce, or what looked like, but definitely didn’t smell like, tomato sauce, the tusks were a dead giveaway.

     « Elephant splash, » Ranko decided even a Great Old One couldn’t out-weird Raccoon.  It really worried her that she could figure it out so easily.

     « So, are you calmed down, Ranko-san? » Raccoon asked with a grin.

     « If you can’t win, you cheat, » Ranko accused carefully.  She watched for other falling things.

     « If the fight really matters, there are no rules, » Raccoon snickered, « I wonder if Ranma-san understands that now. »

     « Why would – ? »

     Raccoon pantomiming a bite, ended Ranko’s question.

     Yeah, he didn’t have a chance against a tiger, so he cheated, she fought the urge to cover the affected area, girls didn’t have them anyway.

     « I just needed him to know I was there, and in control of the situation.  Of course it was a complete stalemate, I couldn’t really attack without being destroyed, nor could I release him without being destroyed, and he had no way to tell me if I let go, he wouldn’t hurt me.  That segues into yesterday’s lesson on World War I. »

     « We went over that before dinner, » Ranko complained.

     « And you didn’t get it at the time, » Raccoon countered, « Do you now? »

     Ranko was about to deny she did, when the situation resolved itself, the parallel mobilization, the fear on all sides.  Nobody trusted anyone to just walk away.  Ranma wouldn’t have walked away, and coyote versus tiger had a predictable outcome.

     « Yeah, I guess, » she frowned at him.

     Rei looked at the telephone they’d installed in her apartment while she was out shopping with the others.  It meant she could contact the Commander, Shinji-kun, Nabiki-kun, or Roku-kun whenever she wanted, whenever it was important.

     She felt an intense anxiety about that, and that they could likewise contact her.  The intrusion was in someways unwelcome, because they weren’t the only people who could contact her, others could force her to talk to them.

     She wasn’t ready for that, Why would anyone want to have to do that? she wondered, A radio would be preferable.  She finished dressing for school, looking at the intruder in her apartment, this thing that would force her to react in a certain way, this trespasser that would force her to deal with it.

     She wished she could ignore it, let someone leave a message, then she could decide if she wanted to deal with them or not.  Perhaps a wire recorder could be attached, make a recording to play back later, she considered, she could amuse the Second and Roku-kun with her suggestion, ‘Only you would want such a device, Wondergirl’, she could hear the Second’s loud assertion.

     She was tempted to use this for communicating with Ikari-kun, the anonymity would make it attractive, as would the ability to retreat, to severe the communication the instant it became uncomfortable.  Except she wanted to see his face as they talked, if she saw his face, she could at least guess what he was feeling, how he was reacting.  With just words, she would never know.  The nuances of his gaze, his posture, a glance or a smile `spoke` so much more clearly than clumsy words did.  So it was a temptation she did not want, a system she did not want to use.  No, it was not an advance, it just masqueraded as one.

     And she needed to talk to him, soon, and privately.

     Why did he choose those games?  Instead of any others he knew, he has to know more than just those three or four, she thought, « Is he remembering? » she asked the empty room.

     « Please, don’t let him remember, » she prayed.

     Nabiki looked across the classroom at Ranma.  Normally she’d assume he was fidgeting, moving seemingly randomly.  Except now he would move, get a look of intense concentration, and either shake his head, make the same movement, or smile and make a completely different move.

     Then there was Rei, Ranma couldn’t be as nervous as she was, in a room full of water-spitting cats.  Rei kept glancing at Shinji and looking away whenever he looked at her.  Or she’d look at Asuka.  Nabiki couldn’t read her look, except Asuka would look back, frown and look away.

2d Briefing

     Jeff wandered out of the `gift shop` in the hospital with his purchase, and walked out to sit on a bench near a little pond.  He’d been going out there for several days when he was last here, as cover for such a meeting.  He also enjoyed having the sun on his face, and the idea he could actually walk around under his own power without shattering, as Dr. Akagi seemed to believe.  Security watched carefully, knowing he was out of effective mortar range.

     He sat on the bench, and watched the wind driven ripples in the water.  He saw the macaque examining the various trees, and peering in the water to look at the fish.  Jeff didn’t think macaques came this far south, but he was no expert on these ‘old men of the forest’.  This one, bold as brass, walked over to him, and examined the bag of writing tools and drawing materials he’d brought with him.

     « Hey! »

     The macaque studiously looked at him, carefully revealing the scrap of paper concealed in its hand, as it dropped it in the bag.

     Jeff opened the tin of sweetened rice crackers he’d purchased at the gift shop.  The creature jumped off the bench and scrambled to the other side to take the cracker.  Jeff wondered at the strange instructions to purchase them, surely his contact knew him on sight.

     « Autism, Asperger Syndrome, you ask for some weird stuff, » the macaque said.

     That surprised Jeff, he knew his contact could shape change, but this kind of playacting was beneath his `dignity`.

     « I asked for what I need.  You aren’t . . .  »

     « No, idiot got himself killed, and half his staff, » the monkey accepted another rice cookie, munched contentedly.

     « So you are the new station chief.  Third Empire? »

     « Good lord no! » the macaque let out a screech and shied back.  Only to be lured back with another cookie.  « Let you monkeys build the roads, grow the food, keep the peace.  We shall move through the upper circles, discussing literature, art, philosophy, as is our right.  We shall dispense our wisdom with those who have the wit to appreciate it, and use it for our good, and theirs. »  The creature paused halfway through stuffing his face with cookies to stare at him, « You must really be out of it, if you haven’t recognized me yet. »

     « I’ve been sick. »

     Rather than take the proffered cookie, the macaque sniffed at his hand, « You’ve got some problem there. »  He sat back and munched on the cookie.  « So what do you need to know? »

     « What’s the connection, between the worms and their prey?  What’s so interesting? »

     « Fourth floor, versus sixth or eighth, deserted location? » the macaque shrugged, « Didn’t Alwyk tell you? »

     « Nothing that makes sense, I’ll have to step up my activities. »

     « When you are well! » the creature said sternly, « While you’re here, check around Dr. Akagi’s lab.  We’ll arrange the `miscommunication`.  Are you aware that SEELE doesn’t know who Ranko is? »

     « Oh, great, that narrows things down nicely, right into a dead-end I can’t do anything about, yet.  Any word on Tendo or Saotome? » Jeff asked.

     « No, except Saotome doesn’t seem connected to anyone, we haven’t had any luck with Tendo’s patrons.  That means a lot of muscle, both pelf and poof. »

     Jeff recognized the Camilenn Order catch phrase for money and magic, usually ill-used. So he’s part of my Order, Jeff considered his fellow mage.

     « Terrific, if it is somebody who changes into a panda while wet, or a haiku-spouting samurai wannabe, I do not want to know.  I’ve got a shopping list. »  The next cookie had a slip of paper beneath it.  « I need to deal with a troublesome problem. »

     « Yeah, I know how that is, » the macaque licked the now empty tin and looked hopefully, then mournfully at him.  It hopped down and wandered away, soon lost from sight.

     Jeff checked his writing supplies, as if to make sure they were all right, then he headed back.  He could read the reports later, he wondered if it was a coincidence that such similar mental difficulties had been discovered in the same general region, roughly a year apart.

     Who was pushing that research, and why is it so conveniently available to me now?  He didn’t like coincidences.

     Nabiki was glad lunch had finally arrived.  The insanity of the others was beginning to get to her.  Rei approached Asuka, the redhead did everything short of throwing desks at her, to keep Rei away.

     These people are going nuts right before my eyes, Nabiki thought as she headed outside.

     « Say, Boss.  Bad day? » Hiroko was sitting outside, under the trees, with Natsumi of the Chemistry club, « Can we interest you in some tranquilizer darts? »  As they made room for her on the bench.

     Nabiki frowned as she sat down, remembering her last encounter with tranq darts, « Why do they always shoot you in the butt? » Nabiki asked.

     « High fat and muscle content, plus lots of blood vessels, Hiroko smiled, « It isn’t the size of the target.  I bet Ranma thinks yours is just perfect. »

     Nabiki frowned at that.  After the incident in the bathroom, Ranma had gotten a good look at it, and all the rest of her, it hadn’t piqued his interest.  If anything, he seemed more afraid of her now, than he was before.  « You probably know better what’s going on in his head than I do. »

     « Sorry, » Hiroko admitted.

     « What are you two talking about? » Natsumi asked.

     « The Boss has the same disease as most of the girls in school, » Hiroko sighed, blinked dreamily, « Ranma. »

     « HIM?! » Natsumi shook her head, « What does anyone see in that dumb, inconsiderate jock? »

     « Hear, hear, » Hiroko applauded.

     « Boss Tendo, I understand that you believe you can overcome anything, if you put your mind to it.  But unless you can convince him hugging and kissing are a martial arts technique, forget it, » Natsumi considered while she had Nabiki squirming on the grill, « Of course if you can do that, you’d be able to teach him to take out the garbage without being asked. »

     « I can do one better, » Nabiki replied, trying to change the subject, « Raccoon already has him trained not only to put the seat down, but close the lid as well, on the toilet. »

     « Western style toilets, » Hiroko explained to Natsumi.

     « Seat and lid?! » Natsumi said, « That Raccoon is a scary guy.  Now Shinji . . .  » Natsumi said in a tone, and with an expression Nabiki had only seen aimed at Ranma, usually by the fiance-brigade.  « He’s just too yummy for words.  Too bad he’s tied up with Ayanami. »

     « You could still ask him out, » Nabiki suggested.

     « And have Ayanami tear me in half? » Natsumi asked, « Not all of us are as brave as you are, Boss Tendo. »

     « Well, she knows Martial Arts, she’s almost as good as Saotome. »

     « We mere mortals can’t compete, » Natsumi said.

     Again Nabiki had the gulf between the pilots and non-pilots thrust in her face, she found she didn’t like it one bit.

Lab Sabotage

     « What are you doing?! » Ritsuko shouted as she entered her lab.

     Jeff looked up sheepishly from the chemicals he was working on, and pointed at the blackboard: ‘Check the chemicals in’ along with the tests for each, was written there.

     « That wasn’t why I asked you here, » Ritsuko calmed down, walked over to the lab bench he was working at.

     « Well, I’m glad I did before you used these, » Jeff told her, lowered the hygrometer in the beaker, « Isopropyl alcohol should not have a specific gravity of 1.05.  I started an acid hydrogen sulfide series, » he gestured to the exhaust hood, « And discovered mercury in the residue, in several of the chemicals. »

     Ritsuko went cold.  She needed these chemicals, desperately.  Getting them had been difficult and time-consuming, she didn’t have enough time to get more before her supplies ran out.

     « Doc, are you okay? » Jeff’s voice penetrated her mind.

     « Yes, fine, » For the next few days, then what?

     « You need this stuff replaced, it’s not usable as is. »

     « It’s not that simple, » Doctor Akagi lamented, looking around, feeling trapped in her own lab, for the first time in her life.

     « I’m sure the budget can afford the chemicals. »

     « That isn’t the problem, » she was feeling the walls and time closing in, a few more days, and then . . . she barely heard Jeff’s request for a jeep.

     « What? » she forced herself to return to the here and now.

     « I said, ‘If you can get me a jeep and driver, I can get some replacements.' »

     « How is that possible? » she asked.

     « Mysterious and inscrutable are the ways of we Americans, » he told her.

     « I need these chemicals, » she wasn’t expecting him to be able to procure replacements, in anything less than two months.

     « Oh, why did you want me down here, in the first place? » Jeff asked.

     « Oh, I need to do a complete gastrointestinal work up, including Barium Sulfate, for x-rays, so don’t eat or drink anything after 4:00 p.m. today. »

     « Lovely, » Jeff headed off, « I knew Barium Sulfate would enter into this eventually. »

     Ritsuko realized he must have gotten a list of the chemicals as he was processing them, « Mercury, » she wondered what else had been sabotaged, and by who.  Now it was getting personal.  She’d test some of the bottles that were still sealed, to see if any of it was still salvageable.

     Nabiki got back to her seat after lunch, early.  She noted the envious looks from the other girls when Hiroko walked in, they heartily resented her status as `beta` wolf.  Although who was the male alpha, was still up for grabs.  Neither Ranma nor Raccoon seem eager to claim the position, and the few who tried to take it, soon ran afoul of one or both, and were cast down.  She wondered if the two boys even realized they were doing it.

     « What are you smirking about? » Hiroko asked quietly.

     « Trying to figure out the best way to `thank` you for lunch.  Do you enjoy dragging me over the coals that way? »

     « Oh, » she leaned close and whispered, « Bind me with silk ribbons and beat me with roses. »

     Nabiki felt as if all the blood had left her body, She CAN’T know about Kodachi!!  She can’t!

     « Easy, Boss, it’s a joke.  Do you need to go lie down? »

     « No, I’ll be fine, » When the world goes back to the way it belongs, Nabiki thought.

     The phone call three hours after Jeff left, shocked Dr. Akagi.

     « I can have a quart of each chemical tomorrow, the balance of the shipment in a week, » he told her.

     « A week?!  That’s not possible, » she was utterly astonished.

     « Yes, a week, that’s what I said, that’s what I meant. »

     « I’ll have to check on the purity, when they get in. »

     « I understand, Doctor.  I don’t think I or my suppliers will take offense. »  The line cut off.

     Ritsuko stared at the phone, it just wasn’t possible.  Some of that material was rare, unobtainium, she’d heard it called.  But even a few drops of some of the compounds would stave off disaster for a week or two.

     Jeff turned to Oyabun Shimurata, « I thank you for your prompt handling of this crisis, » Jeff bowed.

     « Your gifts to my family, and allowing us to serve, do us great honor, » the oyabun bowed lower.  « There is no evidence of who made this ghastly attack on the pilots? »  The man gestured for Jeff to kneel at the table.

     « None, I may be too suspicious, but I don’t believe in coincidence, the timing is too convenient for our enemies, » Jeff replied as he sat.

     « What of the stories of that monster, that some have called a dragon? » the oyabun’s wife served tea to her husband.

     Jeff politely refused, citing Dr. Akagi’s orders.

     « If it hasn’t attacked yet, I doubt it will be a threat, » Jeff left them, returning to the NERV med center, he was not looking forward to more of Dr. Akagi’s tests.

From the Journal of Nabiki Tendo

     When I got home, I discovered sanity hadn’t broken out.  Ritsuko was giving Raccoon the same kind of weird looks Rei had been giving Shinji and Asuka all day.

     Raccoon was the most disturbing, I’d teasingly asked him if he’d seen Ranko, and the poor boy did a credible impersonation of Dr. Tofu suffering from a severe case of Kasumi-madness, retreating from our mystified group, leaving the rest of us to eat dinner, for some reason he wasn’t eating either.

     ‘What got into him?’ Ranma had asked, a little more offended than confused.  That confused me.

     What’s gotten into all of you?  That’s what I want to know.

Sic Semper Morituri Chapter 17 – Lessons From Your Enemy

I’m really a very bad man, but I’m a very good wizard.

– with apologies to Lyman Frank Baum

Pen Pen

     Pen Pen walked through the apartment and picked up the beer cans.  They provided a sufficient material for his purpose.  The Children were at school, Misato was at work.  He assembled the cans on the patio, outside the ward’s protective magic, in a specific pattern, he’d done it often enough before, through repetition, he could do it in his sleep.

     The penguin closed his eyes, bowed his head, « Waak, » he said softly.  « Waaak! » with more force, « WAAARK! » he screamed, raising his head and flippers high.

     There was an answering rumble, Pen Pen flopped down on his belly, his head bowed.  A small cloud of gray fog formed over the collection of beer cans.  Another rumble from within, Pen Pen stood instantly.  An interrogative rumble from within the cloud.

     Pen Pen’s head bobbed up and down rapidly as if in apology, then he stood perfectly still.  Another rumble.

     Pen Pen squawked furiously, running in a circle, a rumble, Pen Pen continued his frantic squawking but was alternating between a deep note and falsetto.

     A rumble.  Pen Pen drew a flipper across his throat.  A rumble of approval, then another that questioned.

     « Wark! » Pen Pen mimed pushing glasses up his nose, « Waak, waark! »

     A rumble of approval, a moment of consideration, then a rumble that sounded almost like a cash register.  Pen Pen picked up two cans, placing one on his head and another under his arm.  Dumped them off a moment later.

     An angry rumble.  Pen Pen stepped back, glancing around.  He picked up a pair of cans again, putting them back on his head and under his arm.  He walked back and forth with firm purpose.

     Another rumble of approval.  Pen Pen hopped up and down, squawking frantically, he ran to the kitchen pointing to an area on the kitchen floor, in front of the oven.  The linoleum peeled back.  A rumble of grudging approval and the hidden metal pattern altered slightly.  The linoleum flopped back and sealed to the floor.  The cloud headed to the other points Pen Pen indicated, and made similar changes.  It paused above the pile of beer cans in the living room, another interrogative rumble, so carefully neutral it couldn’t be anything except a rebuke.  Pen Pen kicked the pile of cans and hung his head in defeat.  A soft rumble that went on for some time.  Pen Pen nodded occasionally in agreement.

     The fog vanished as Pen Pen scattered the cans on the patio.  Deep in thought, he walked back to his refrigerator to consider, his progress, and his failures.  A pair of legs blocked the entry.  Pen Pen looked up at the suited figure, a can a beer replacing the ever-present fedora.

     He screamed, « Wark!! » and jumped a good meter backwards.

     « Feathers, we have to talk, » Jeff told the penguin.  Pen Pen hung his head in defeat.

Ranko Learns

     Ranko had both hands around Raccoon’s throat as she leaned close, Raccoon’s lips were skinned back in an odd snarl.

     Nabiki glanced at Ritsuko, across the dining room table, who was watching with intense interest and expectation.  Nabiki was nervous, something had to work, something had to break the deadlock that had developed.

     « Loch, lock, » Raccoon intoned, « Bach, bock. »

     Ranko shifted her hands, nodded, losing not one bit of her ferocious intensity.

     « Loch, lock, Bach, bock. »

     Ranko twisted to each sides, peering closer to see Raccoon’s tongue and teeth, nodded.

     « Loch, lock, Bach, bock. »

     Ranko released her grip and leaned back against the dining room table they were all sitting around.  « Roch, rock, Bach, bock. »

     « Loch, lock. »

     Nabiki relaxed, Ranma had progressed more in one session, than two weeks of their frustratingly, fruitless efforts.

     « Okay, we’ll work on the l’s and r’s. »

     Ranko resumed the seeming-death grip on Raccoon’s throat and peering at his mouth.

     « Luscious lemon-yellow lollipops, rarely remain red. »  He repeated himself several times as Ranko looked, front, left, right, shifting her hands, even skinning his lips back herself, to get the nuances of the pronunciations.

     Then she quietly mouthed the sentence, with Raccoon saying it softly.

     « Luscious – lemon – yellow – lollipops – rarely – remain – red. »

     « I think she’s got it. »

     Ranko repeated herself with greater speed and confidence, running to and hugging each of her tutors in turn.  Nabiki thought she was lingering a little longer with Raccoon.

     « How? » Ritsuko asked.

     « Ranma-san said he could learn any move easily, and I watched him do it, a few experiments with Ranko determined she could too, and it wasn’t just Martial Arts, it was any body movement. »

     « Kinesthetic Eidetic Memory, » Ranko said proudly, although she clearly didn’t know what it meant, she was giddy she could pronounce it so easily.

     Nabiki felt a little stab of jealousy, when Ranko hugged Raccoon again, despite Raccoon’s slight discomfort at the demonstrative aspects of Ranko’s joy.  She was beginning to look on him as a rival, although logically, Raccoon would only be a rival for Ranko, not Ranma.  What hurt, was she’d never seen Ranma/Ranko so happy, even back in Nerima nobody had made him so happy.  She idly wondered what would happen if Ranko actually kissed Raccoon, what Ranma would do, what Raccoon would do, what she would do.  The way Ranko was carrying on, they might all find out.

     « Ranko, » Raccoon said gently, when she didn’t stop, more harshly, « Ranko-san! »

     She stopped, stricken.

     « Show the good Doctor what else you learned. »  The two exchanged grins.

     Ranko ran through all the major bones and muscle groups in her arms and legs.  She’d touch the area of the bone, or flex her arm or leg to make the named muscle do its job, then pronounce the name and if the muscle was extending or contracting.

     Ritsuko was open mouthed at this.

     Ranko was giggling with delight at her accomplishment.

     « It’s not a panacea, » Raccoon explained, as Ranko’s hug nearly dragged him out of his chair, « But it should help with English and some other subjects that involve movement, writing for example; Math and Literature . . . well, I’m working on it. »

     « Again, » Ritsuko demanded, « How did you do this? »

     « Doctor, I’ve been earning a living teaching for four years, at Harvard, and I was studying to be a military intelligence officer, that means dropping into enemy territory, and training the local resistance into an effective fighting force.  I studied how to teach. »

     « So you could make a 5th Column to blow us all up? » Ritsuko asked sardonically.

     Raccoon only shrugged.

     Nabiki hugged the delighted girl back, as Ranko came around to her on her celebratory circle.  She was shocked when Ranko kissed her on the lips, then rubbed her cheek against Nabiki’s, then bounced off to hug Ritsuko.

     « Don’t get too happy, » Ritsuko hugged Ranko, « We still have math to do. »

     Ranko’s joy turned to disappointment and dread.

     Nabiki wished Ritsuko had let Ranko keep being deliriously happy, for just a little while longer.

     « Algebra, » Raccoon considered, « Katas, bits and pieces that don’t make sense initially. »

     An hour later.

     « Raccoon, you looked like you’ve been fighting with Ranko, » Nabiki chuckled at that, he did look exhausted and slightly punchy, as he glared back at her.

     However, Ranko was grinding through the math homework, with an expression that would have promised untold mayhem to any mortal opponent.  Ritsuko had objected to the rigid procedure, Ranko and Raccoon had overruled her.  Ranko explained she’d learn when to drop the steps from the procedure.  Nabiki was amazed at the progress she was making, this success silenced Ritsuko’s objections.

     « We still have to do Literature, » Nabiki said, laying her head exhaustedly on the table.  The only one of them who hadn’t gone through the wringer was Ranko.  She looked grim, but still happy.  Nabiki noted Ritsuko looked nearly as bad as Raccoon.

     « Enough, » Raccoon stood, « We don’t have to win everything in one night.  Accept you’ve won, and let’s get some sleep. »  He walked drunkenly away from the table.

     « I can –  » Ranko was unwilling to stop now that she was winning.

     « No, » Raccoon told her tiredly, angrily, he paused to get his temper under control, « Besides, with you working at the table, I’ll never get any sleep.  Which I clearly need. »  He headed for the bedroom.

     « How do you figure that? » Ranko asked, putting away the papers and books.

     « Well, I already changed the sheets and turned the mattress, you can sleep in Ranma’s bed.  I’ll sleep out here. »

     « What about your bed? » Ranko asked.

     « What about it? » he dropped a pile of blankets and sheets on one of the couches.

     Ranko was confused.

     Nabiki just shook her head, as she stood and stretched, she was having almost as much trouble moving as Raccoon, Ranko of course would get the bed, and it wouldn’t be `proper` for him to sleep in the same room, she summarized the entire argument in her head.  It was a predictable side-effect of Raccoon not believing the curse.

     As he laid out the makeshift bedroll, Ritsuko went into the kitchen, and started running the hot water.

     After he’d settled in, Nabiki walked over, checked him closely, « Don’t bother, Doc, he’s dead to the world. »

     « It’s not fair, » Ranma pulled his hand out of the hot water.

     « Well, you want to move him? » Nabiki asked, lifting, then dropping an arm, « I don’t think anything will wake him up. »

From the Journal of Jeffrey Kevin Davis

     I think I’m in real trouble.  I learned that the Staff revealed itself to Ranko, that is serious, but by no means fatal.  She’ll keep the secret.

     However, I also learned that Ranko used the Staff to rescue Ayanami.  This would not be a problem if,

1.) Ranko or Ayanami was within 3-4 degrees of consanguinity,

2.) I had transferred ownership with informed consent, after all, Kavon lost the bet, and I got his Staff,

3.) The scary one: Consummated marriage, in dragon-terms that requires the sincere intention by both parties to produce and raise baby dragons.  Dragons mate for life.

     Now I suspect that the spirit bound within the Staff might bend the rules if necessary, Kavon was a wily old dragon, and a trickster, as well as a good friend.  But all that would only extend it to this:

1.) 6-8 levels of consanguinity, which still limits it to my relatives in North America, England, Scotland, or the Ruhr district of Germany, so Ranko and Ayanami don’t qualify.  Unless there’s something my parents didn’t tell me.

2.) Temporary loan, there is no way I could have given any kind of consent, informed or not.

3.) This one could be pushed slightly into the future, and changed to human offspring.  With the differences between dragon and human gestation times, then the Staff scanned all possible futures it could, and it is certain that in all of them, that I will impregnate Ranko or Ayanami, sometime in the next five months, and the pregnancy will go to term, producing at least one live offspring.  While this means it is possible that in some futures I partnered with Ayanami, in others I partnered with Ranko, or both.  That small variation does not fill me with joy.

     Frankly, Ranma would kill me if I got Ranko pregnant, with Nabiki and Dr. Akagi bringing up a close second.  The Ikaris, likewise for Ayanami, and I cannot determine any reason I would get close enough to either (physically or emotionally) to even make the attempt.

     While the possibility of a future unforeseen exists, I think it would be best to avoid them both for the next few months.  This unfortunately, still assumes that I would be the initiator.  As humiliating as it is to contemplate, I could not match either in hand-to-hand combat, without resorting to lethal force.  I think such an event completely unlikely, except I ran the prognostications myself.  The chance the Staff is right: 16 nines: 99.99999999999999%, I have 1 chance in 10 quadrillion to get out of this.

     Even if I agreed with this destiny/fate, now is not the right time to start and raise a family, I’m definitely not ready, neither Ranko nor Ayanami are, and the idea of having a Child of the Children anywhere Gendo Ikari could get his hands on, that is enough to give me nightmares.  And I’m not the least romantically interested in either of them.

     That leads to the second half, Ranko asked for some very special help.  I am suspicious of the coincidence.  Even though I suggested the operation initially, I am no longer comfortable with the level of intimacy it entails.  Her plan is simple and relatively foolproof, Captain Katsuragi should take lessons.  But not completely without risk, or complications.

     But to refuse for these reasons, would undermine the trust she has in me, and she has too few she can trust now.  Hemmed around with enemies and false admirers, and threatened directly by Ranma, it would not do to abandon her because of something that I fear may happen.

     Who knows?  Ranko or Rei may be a relative, then I’d be worrying for nothing.  Testing for genetics would provide the answer, and be prohibitively difficult, even with the additional help I could get, they were supposed to be expert geneticists after all.  We all have different blood-types, but that doesn’t automatically rule everything else out, and there are no records of the parentage of either.

     It’s in my nature to worry, so many things can go wrong, but this complication is completely unexpected.  And unwelcome.

Playhouse Beguilement

     The school day began, Ranko steeled herself to do what she had to, what she herself had planned.  She entered the classroom and walked over to Raccoon’s desk.  « Davis-san, » she said quietly, coquettishly.  She was aware of the rapid reduction in volume, as every eye tracked to her and him.  « I wanted to thank you, thank you so much. »  She moved closer, took his face in her hands, « Let me know how a lady can expect to be treated. »  She leaned down and touched her forehead to his.  She was aware of the tension in him, without reading his ki, she couldn’t be sure if it was real or feigned.

     « Relax, » he said so only she could hear, « You can get through this. »  « You deserve no less, » he said louder, « You are a real lady. »

     Ranko ignored Asuka’s guffaw, that Hikari’s elbow converted into a squawk.  She was trembling now, it made things seem more real.  They had agreed she would set the pace.  It’s just an act, it’s all fake, she reminded herself, brushed her lips against his, immediately pulled back, blushing furiously.  That too, would add to the effect.  She leaned forward again, brushed her cheek against his, « There’s more, » she promised.  Hoping he’d understand, and the others would misinterpret what she meant.

     That wasn’t part of the plan, but she hoped he was as good at improvisation as he claimed.  She took his thermos, clutched it to her breast and left, giggling and hugging the token.  She heard dozens of heart shattering as she ran from the room, pausing at the doorway to stare at him and wave shyly, before she disappeared.

     Behind her, the room exploded with noise, everyone was demanding to know when this had happened, what had happened to make this occur.  Toji tearfully accused Raccoon of conspiring to steal her away.  Raccoon countered that she had made the decision, had pursued the relationship, not the other way around.  The girls thought it was all so romantic, except Asuka, who seemed to have gone into hysterics.  Pouring the thermos over her head, started the second, completely improvised, and most important act.

     « Davis! » Ranma slammed the door to the classroom open, « Ranko told me everything. »  The room fell silent, Raccoon stood up.  The battle that had been discussed, speculated about, and feared, was about to erupt in their midst.  He threw the empty thermos at Raccoon.  Right over the plate, he saw Raccoon smoothly catch it, and set it aside.  Their gazes locked and held for several moments, neither looked away, then Ranma advanced on a straight path.  People cleared out of his way, he bulled through the empty desks.

     « Teaching her to be a real lady, huh, » he shouted, « What else have you been teaching her?! »

     « I was a perfect gentleman, if you had been, perhaps she would have stayed with you, » Raccoon stood his ground, answered Ranma’s fervor with his own glacial demeanor, « Why is it your business? »

     « You made it my business. »  Ranma glanced at the window, was glad Raccoon got the idea.  He punched, brushed Raccoon’s cheek as he twisted out of the way, and smashed the concrete wall behind him.  Raccoon slammed both fists into Ranma’s ribs, throwing him through the desks to the window.  Ayanami scrambled out of the way, she looked ready to intervene.

     As Ranma stood, his elbow brushed open the window catch, « What else did the little tramp do?  Huh? »

     Raccoon brushed the thin stream of fake blood Ranma’s punch had painted across his cheekbone, « You take that back, Saotome.  Right.  Now. »  He drew his walking stick, held it like a sword.

     « That’s what she is, marry you to get your money. »  Ranma expected the shout of rage and the tackle that pushed both of them out the window, « Go limp! »  He felt Raccoon forming his AT field to further reduce the impact.  Ranma knew he was a lot tougher than the other boy, so he could take the impact.  He did.

     « What you said –  » Raccoon said groggily, but with real anger.

     « She, wrote it, » he replied, dragging Raccoon to his feet, making it look like they were wrestling, choking each other.

     « Who wins it? » Raccoon asked as he broke away.

     « You! » Ranma shouted, charged, his `punch` picked up and threw Raccoon right to his walking stick, as the class poured out onto the field.  Ranma came to a dead halt as Raccoon rolled to a kneeling position, held his cane tight in his armpit, like a rifle.

     « You wouldn’t use that, not on a human being, would you? » Ranma let fear suffuse his voice, he glanced worriedly around.

     « Are you a human being, or a bug, to be stepped on? » Raccoon asked coldly as he stood, Ranma could almost believe Raccoon would kill him.

     Time to end this, Ranma thought, he wasn’t sure how long they could keep this up.  Nabiki was gauging who she could count on when she moved to intervene, she had Rei, Asuka and Hiroko firmly on her side.  With them, she was ready to intervene at any moment.

     « If you were a real man, you’d fight me fair! »  His eyes twitched to the side, he saw Raccoon’s do the same.

     « Your funeral, Saotome. »  He tossed the walking stick away, it landed standing straight upright in the dirt.

     Show off, Ranma thought, not sure if he meant Raccoon or the stick.  He made his screaming charge, then dodged sideways to grab the stick with both hands.

     « AAUURGH! » Ranma screamed as loud and as high as he could, before he collapsed in a heap.  The Navy and Marine security troops were arriving now, jeeps full, the ones with mounted machine guns were in the forefront.

     Raccoon walked over, stepped over Ranma, picked up the cane, « Did you think I’d be stupid enough to leave it around unguarded?  Idiot! »

     With the fight over, the Navy troops and Marines weren’t sure what to do.

     « Tendo-san, help me carry his carcass to the lab, maybe Dr. Akagi can install some brains while she’s at it, » Ranma heard Raccoon shout, then the two of them picked him up and loaded him in a jeep.

     « What is going on? » Nabiki hissed.

     « Keep a straight face, or I’ll give you a reason to look somber, » Raccoon told her as the jeeps drove back off of school grounds.

     Ritsuko had heard from Security, that Ranma and Davis had finally come to blows, to the point of throwing each other out a third story window.  She had the surgery prepared, as well as the entire medical staff.  She had a strong feeling that neither of the pair would give up the fight, until they’d been torn to pieces.

     She didn’t know why Admiral Simson, and General Tomlinson had decided to visit the med lab, today of all days.

     The sounds of hilarious laughter from her two expected patients, as well as the Security guards, wasn’t what she was expecting.  Neither were the smiles from the American `brass`.  Although Nabiki’s expression indicated she might soon need medical attention, or people around her might.

     « Me!? » Davis’s affronted dignity, « I overplayed my part?  I didn’t decide to jump out a window! »

     « You still did it, » Ranma countered.

     « Why didn’t you tell me you were going to do that? » Nabiki’s tone threatened Hell, Death and Damnation, if her question wasn’t answered.  Right, NOW!

     « It was Ranko’s idea, give it ver –  vera – veris –  »

     « Verisimilitude, truthfulness, » Davis corrected, « It also let’s you keep your title as undisputed best fighter, although I did hold my own, barely. »

     « Then what’s this? » Ritsuko rubbed the red liquid on Davis’s cheek, it didn’t feel like blood.

     « Fake, I put some under my fingernail, dabbed it on as my fist went past, » Ranma was obviously very proud of himself.

     Ritsuko decided she could dismiss the medical teams, then she was going to get to the bottom of this.  She also hadn’t decided what or if punishment was appropriate. Someone, and she could guess who, had told Security and the Military what was going to happen, but the boys had neglected to inform – her.  She considered that, was she angry because, like Nabiki, she’d been kept ignorant when her boys did something foolish, or was she thinking about the danger to the project.  She didn’t know.  At least Davis and Ranma seem friendlier now than they have been.  Although Miss Tendo looks mad enough to chew armor plate.  She could tell, the prankster in Ranma had been awakened, as long as she could put up with their bragging, she’d get the whole story.

     Rei cowered in her apartment, she had thought of her sanctuary was inviolable.  She needed a quiet evening, after the odd occurrences at school.  But she had a new intruder, the Cthonians were better somehow, only she would be destroyed by them.

     « Your relationship with Ikari Shinji concerns them, » Belldandy told her.

     « Yes, » Rei felt her world ending, she needed to be with Shinji-kun, if she could no longer . . . she also believed that ending it would hurt him.

     « I do sympathize, but you agreed to this, » Belldandy gently reminded her, « You can still meet with him in dreams. »

     « Yes, » Rei bowed her head, she had made her agreement, she now suspected she had made it badly.

     Belldandy was looking around, « We will speak again later. »  The goddess left through the door, the reason Rei made sure there were no reflective surfaces anywhere in her apartment, or the ones immediately above, below, or to either side.  She knew her agreement would save Shinji-kun’s life, and many others, but at what cost to her?

     Jeff lowered his telescope, « Well, isn’t that just lovely.  One of them. »  He looked to the sky, « God, you are my God, and you Sir, are having too much fun at my expense.  Another useless distraction, » he wondered how he could untangle this latest complication.  He finally got some trustworthy back up, they just bought Ranko some breathing room, then this happened.

     « I should have let the Dragon kill them when he was here, » he sighed, « It would have simplified things. »

     Jeff walked along the river, consciously retracing the steps the Dragon had taken, for the same reason, to get away from witnesses or collateral casualties, if it came to violence.  Unfortunately, only Rei was getting close.

     Cowards, he thought, then turned and marched towards her, intent on confronting the ones hiding behind her.

     She caught his arm as he walked by, « Please, » she said desperately, glanced at him, looked down.

     « Are you such cowards, you have to hide behind a frightened girl?! » he shouted at them, he couldn’t see them, but he knew they were there.  They were always there, being without doing.

     « Please, » Rei turned him away from the confrontation.

     « Rei-san, the word angels means literally: messengers.  They have no more understanding of the actual message, or right to interpret it, than has the piece of paper a telegram is printed on.  Any interpretation of what they told you, is up to you, their reading of it, can be discarded, » he paused, continued more quietly, « Don’t assume they’re omniscient.  They can be wrong, they can be stupid, and they can lie. »

     Rei stared at him in utter disbelief.  He nodded, trying to reassure her.  He didn’t want to go into how he knew, but he’d seen it, been the victim of it.

     « Yes, they can betray, in small things and large, and they can be killed. »

     Rei’s eyes went wide with shock.

     « I’m not just talking, I’ve seen it.  Their loyalty is not to us, but they demand our loyalty, because they answer to a Higher Power.  Or some claim to.  They could be lying, about who they work with and for.  Some of them switch sides, I’ve seen that, too. »  Jeff was aware that Rei’s grip on his arm was becoming painful.  But she had to learn, those things had many of the failings of humans, hubris, was practically an epidemic among them.

     In few cases, did they deal well with the seeming insanity of humans.  Jeff also knew that they’d left the mythos problem for the humans to deal with, for reasons no human could adequately understand, the frames of reference and priorities of the two groups were just too different.

     He’d leave who was actually right up to God.  In his experience, neither side got it right all the time.  Sometimes both got it wrong, he had a few scars from that happening too.  Humans could rise far above or fall vastly below, scaring a girl until she was too petrified to move, hardly seemed an efficient way to operate.

     « They said . . .  » Rei stopped, unwilling to continue.

     « Yes, I know, » All those defenses against magic and eavesdropping, bypassed by a dime-store telescope and lip reading!  « It doesn’t mean anything, » he realized she was crying.  « All it means is they are concerned, not how they’re concerned, » he wiped her tears away, « Why don’t you two come with Tendo-san and me this Sunday, we’re going to a restaurant, you might want to give young Ikari-san a chance to see how pretty you look in one of your new dresses. »

     « Shinji-kun picked them, » she admitted.

     « Well, you can show you appreciate his help, or are they all terrible? »

     Rei shook her head.

     « Well, if you have to think about it that way, consider it a learning experience, practicing a social skill you don’t have. »

     She nodded, released the deathgrip she’d had on his arm, stepped away.

     He thought she wanted to say something, then she turned and broke into a run.  He doubted, even with his enhanced speed, he could have kept up.  Instead he rubbed some feeling back in his arm, while he scanned the area, he wished he could find his target.  He wasn’t sure what he would have done, too often they underestimated `mere` humans, forgetting that `mere` humans, also contained the Breath of God.

     Jeff pulled his coat around him, he suddenly felt very cold.  He was in a foul mood now, but he smiled, he knew how to lighten it.  It wasn’t exactly legal, but he’d enjoy it.  He walked off smiling.

     Nabiki wondered why she’d been told to come here, then Raccoon and Rei had their odd confrontation.  Different from the last time `Rei` and `Jeff` had confronted each other on the same spot, when the real ones were both in the hospital, a desperation and fright in Rei, and a rage at . . . something, from Raccoon.

     Whatever it was, Nabiki felt sorry for it.  If Raccoon caught it, he’d kill it, twice.  Or anything else nasty he runs into this evening, Nabiki thought.

     She debated which of the two she should follow.  Rei was again returning to her apartment, at a rate of speed that would do Ranma proud, and again Raccoon was heading for the Naval Base at a determined walk.

     She decided she’d follow Raccoon, actually get inside the Base ahead of him, she’d lost the other one when it entered the Base.

     If I can get there first, Nabiki thought about the best place to be in position, to observe what happened next.  She hoped he didn’t stay out too late, Ritsuko would be in a temper if they came in too late.

     Belldandy watched her three `targets` head off from this rendezvous.  She had to admit, sometimes she didn’t understand humans, and sometimes she received orders that made no sense what-so-ever.  This had been both.  A specific sentence to Ayanami Rei at a specific time, following a phone call to Tendo Nabiki, with another very specific message.  Now, suddenly, eight major objectives were advanced, without any further action on her part, or revealing her presence to any of their enemies.  KamiSama was KamiSama, and she was not, but the subtlety of this maneuver had completely escaped her, until a few moments ago.  All her concerns had been fully answered, she now followed Tendo Nabiki unseen.

     She had heard stories from El Nureenen’s War, about the 35 who had forsworn both Heaven and Hell to join him.  She’d discounted the stories as impossible, always spoken as rumors.  They were finally brought down, by the Hosts, and the hounds.  The best, most capable, clever and driven, some would say obsessive, warriors they, and their fallen brethren, had to offer.  Still, the rumors also claimed the 35 were harried, coursed, and chivvied from their sanctums, onto the killing grounds, by a band of humans.

     Like many others, she honestly believed that no human could have done what they reported, not even true sorcerers, but they told the stories in the Angelic Tongue, and a lie simply could not have been spoken.  She knew enough to realize a great deal could be left unspoken.

     « Where have you been? » Dr. Akagi asked angrily, it was nearly eleven o’clock, she was already cross with Nabiki, who’d arrived only fifteen minutes earlier.  She’d warmed up on Nabiki, and was going to let this young man have a piece of her mind.  This day had been shocking enough already.

     « I was hunting down the darkest, plagues of fear and the night, and slaying them according to their kinds. » Jeff told her in the super polite form, he bowed formally, « I humbly apologize for losing track of time.  But I was behind my monthly quota, now I can stay home for the rest of the week, to concentrate on homework. »

     Dr. Akagi’s mind ground to a halt, he was so earnest and serious about it.  He’s telling a story, he must be.  Platitudes were all her mind could manage for the moment, « If you’re going to be out, you should call and tell me. »

     « Understood, again I apologize. » He bowed slightly, and headed for the bathroom.

     Dr. Akagi was still nonplused, her anger was gone.  Nabiki had been better, she’d been evasive.  Was Jeff being evasive?  I think I’ll have Commander Ikari put an additional tail on him for the immediate future.

     In the bathroom Jeff laved off the day’s sweat and grime with cold water, Stupid saying something like that.  It aroused her suspicions, she’ll be more wary now, limiting my actions.

     He sighed tiredly, he had to admit, he was still a kid, and kids sometimes did kid things.  Still, the look on her face was priceless.  I’ll have to impress the image on a piece of film to capture the moment properly.

     Nabiki stared at the ceiling of the bedroom she shared with Akagi-sensei.  She heard Raccoon come in, and Dr. Akagi’s angry confrontation, worse than the one she’d gotten.  He’d said something too soft for her to overhear, it had calmed the Doctor immediately.  He was in the bathroom now, and would soon join Ranma in the room they shared, the Doctor apparently hadn’t moved. Maybe she’s just stunned, Nabiki considered.

     She’d trailed Jeff onto the base, and what she saw simply amazed her.

     Nobody that young, could be that good.  She’d seen professionals who could exceed him for technical prowess, but no one she’d ever seen could put their heart and soul into it like he had.  Forty Marines and sailors, a tough crowd, hardened professionals.  They hadn’t stood a chance, a few left before he really got going.  She was crying by the end of it, and she never let things get to her like that.  He’d finished, tipped his hat, collected his coat with a real spring in his step.  He was positively beaming.  She hadn’t been able to stay and watch the aftermath, not if she was going to beat him home.  Whom could she tell, who’d believe her?

     « Can I make some money off it?  Should I even try? » she wondered aloud.  Too much to think about, she concluded, Make a plan in the morning.

Ferreting Out Wildcats

     Have you considered doing that in front of an audience?  I followed you to the base last night, have you thought of going professional?  Last night was incredible, could you . . . Nabiki was frustrated, normally she could broach any subject with anyone, now she was getting tongue-tied, Maybe it’s not the what, but the who.  She couldn’t get around her anger at being pitied, at being considered less than fully capable.  Maybe it’s genetic, she laughed inwardly at that, Akane was always proclaiming she was a martial artist, too, although she was clearly the weakest by far, of all those who classified themselves that way.  Here it’s me, she thought, Look at me, I’m clever.  But not brilliant like Dr. Akagi, Asuka, Raccoon, or even Rei, in her areas of interest.  I’m sneaky, but ditto.  And that bugs you, doesn’t it?  She discarded that line of thinking.  Yesterday she’d been outmaneuvered and left in the dust, by plans and schemes of others, even RANMA’S!  Now this, something else she didn’t know about, like Hiroko’s ‘special friend’, until reality thrust it in her face.  Then, going back over things, it had been there all along, like Ranma’s skills.  Nobody’s been approaching Hiroko while I’ve been spending time with her, she thought, Did I scare them off?

     I need to do something completely different, something ‘un-me’, just to keep up and shake myself loose of my presumptions, she looked at her fellow pilots, Right now, I want some answers.

     She finally had her opportunity, after the others had joined them on the walk to school.  Asuka was defiantly following Ranma on his walk along the top of the fence.  Nabiki had absolutely no idea where that impulse had come from.  She wasn’t teasing Ranma, saying nothing to him at all, but was managing to match his pace, if not his poise.  Shinji and Rei were up ahead, enjoying each other’s silence.

     « I followed you last night, » she said carefully.

     « And? » Raccoon asked neutrally.

     « What you did, on the base, I mean, it was like nothing I’ve – have you considered doing that professionally.  It was just incredible. »

     « As good as Saotome-san, even? » he asked, « He’s supposed to be the best at everything, as long as it’s a contest. »

     « Don’t be jealous, if Ranma wanted to, he could be as, well, skilled, but it wouldn’t have the fervor, the fire of last night.  People want to see that. »

     « People would pay money for that you think? » he asked sardonically.

     « Are you kidding?  That was fantastic, magic even, I could get an audience no problem. »

     « There is more truth than you know.  The answer is ‘no’. »  He kept his voice low, but she could tell, the conversation was over as far as he was concerned.

     « Why?  Renting a hall can’t be that expensive.  There’d be a lot of people who pay a lot of money for the experience.  We could do it for charity. »

     « Tendo Nabiki-san, you are an intelligent and observant member of the species, more so than most.  What part of ‘no’ escapes your comprehension?  I chose to do what I did last night, when I choose, when I find a group I think deserves it.  When I need to do it.  To employ my skills elsewise is – not what I would desire. »

     « Why you hide what you can do, is what I don’t understand, » Nabiki retorted angrily.

     « I could get in a great deal of trouble for it, for one thing.  I don’t want it common knowledge, for another.  Some of those men had a taste of what I could do, why do you think they left?  Some people can take it, some can’t, I won’t force anyone to stay, if they leave, more power to them. » He took her arm, « Some secrets should stay secrets.  This.  Is.  One.  If you want to be told when the mood strikes me, that I can do.  And do us both a favor, don’t throw words like `magic` around so casually.  There are important truths, to which you’ll be made blind. »

     « Thanks, Yoda.  I wish I could have recorded the whole thing. »

     « Bing Crosby’s company developed a machine to tape such things, audio and visual, the equipment is truly immense and the tapes are the size of an office dictionary.  Somebody has got to improve the technology. »

     She could sympathize with his confusion when she burst out laughing.

     « By the way.  I’ll need your assistance dealing with a problem that Ayanami-san and Ikari-san have gotten themselves into.  Don’t tell Saotome-san, either of them.  I think our two shrinking violets need some quiet, supervised time, and prickling Saotome-san’s curiosity should advance things between you two.  Perhaps the ballet with Ranko, next Saturday, will help further, » Raccoon said.

     « What do I get out of it? » Nabiki asked, How is he going to get Ranma to agree to go to the ballet?

     « Very well, my treat, you can even bring Hiroko along as a chaperone, on Saturday. »

     « Oh, in that case of course! » Nabiki said with sarcastic enthusiasm, « You know money can’t buy happiness. »  Especially where Ranma’s concerned.

     « No, but then you hire tutors, like any other professional service. »

     Now who’s teasing who? Nabiki frowned.

     « Besides, who wants to be happy, » Raccoon told her, « I’d rather be useful.  Wouldn’t you? » he smirked and picked up the pace.

     Nabiki frowned at his receding back, Like I’m not now?

     « This looks like the reverse of the Marine Raider battalions, » Colonel Stedman looked over the proposed table of organization of the Ready Reaction Force.  « Where are we going to get the engineers this needs? » Colonel Stedman looked over to Admiral Simson and General Tomlinson, who were with him in his office at NERV.

     « Some of those `engineers` are going to be trained and equipped with flamethrowers and satchel charges, they won’t be true engineers.  Actually, we’ll only double the number of true engineers in the formation, the rest will be specially-trained riflemen.  That shouldn’t put too much strain on our other formations.  Sea Bees can make up the lack in non-combat formations, » Admiral Simson explained, he hardly needed their approval, but he wanted to see if they could knock any holes in his idea.

     « How many battalions are we talking about? » General Tomlinson asked.

     « Three Army, two Marines.  Combined with several tank battalions all with flame guns, it will reduce the number in our regular battalions, but we have a large number of the old M3 Satans, we’ll be using those with the Flame Shermans, in the Ready Reaction Companies. »

     « It seems a risk to concentrate our formations this way, » Stedman said, « But I don’t see we have any real choice.  My only suggestion would be to designate a squadron of fighter-bombers: Corsairs and Thunderbolts, to each company.  Also armed with rockets and incendiaries.  Also you’ll want to get the gunners of your ships trained up, even the secondaries of the Coral Sea. »

     « I agree, the 12 and 16 inchers may be overkill, » Tomlinson said, « The 5 inch guns will be more useful in the city.  Getting them to do a TOT will be a lot easier with the broadside from a Navy ship, instead of individual guns.  That’s if you swabbies can actually hit a target, that isn’t bobbing around in the water. »

     « Are you saying the Navy is going to have to start shouldering more of the load? » Simson smiled.

     « If you squids want part of the glory, you at least have to shoot, » Stedman replied with mock gravity.

     « All right, if none of you have anything to add, » Simson waited for both men to shake their heads.  « Our Miss Ayanami had a visitor, one that evaded security on the way in, and on her way out.  Frankly, I expected the FUBENS to screw-up that way, not our security people.  Considering how agitated Miss Ayanami was when she ran out of her apartment, I want that person designated as hostile, I want a clear photo or drawing that can be distributed to the Tokyo Police and our security forces.  This person is to be detained, if possible, if they offer any threat or resistance, they are to be shot on sight. »  He glanced at the other two, « The pilots are under enough strain.  I want no repetition of this incident.  Is that understood? »

     « Yes, sir, » both said.

     « Miss Ayanami might not be ready to deal with, or give a description of our intruder, so we have to deal with it.  The last thing we need is some crazed fan putting her in danger. »

     « Agreed, » Stedman said.

     « How far do we go in capturing someone like this? » Tomlinson asked.

     « We need to be concerned about cultists.  I’m not talking about the usual nuts walking around, but nuts who are now considering the pilots as objects of veneration, » Stedman told them, « To our chagrin, we didn’t uncover that, Miss Ayami and Miss Matsuda discovered that, they also had the good sense to agree to keep that from the pilots. »

     « That’s even more frightening, have these ‘neo-cultists’ been harmless, or real religious zealots? » Simson asked.

     « Mix of both, » Stedman explained.

     « Just great, » Simson sighed, « Okay, we’ll have to look into that.  How did we miss that? »

     « We aren’t used to thinking like madmen, » Stedman suggested, « Teenagers don’t have those distractions.  I also think that Miss Tendo has been assembling a cult of personality, members of that `cult` may be very rigorous in defending the object of their devotion. »

     The three smiled at that, remembering their high school days, and their children’s, as well as the people who stayed with general officers as they rose.

     « Keep an eye on it, » Simson told them.  He handed out the briefing prepared by ONI.

     « Okay, let’s go international: The French situation in Indochina and Cochin China has been deteriorating.  The Vietminh are giving them the same headaches they were giving the Japanese. »

     « Idiots, let them be, » Stedman said, « China Burma taught us that. »

     « GOOD GOD!! » Tomlinson shouted, « They can’t be serious! »

     « I think the General found the salient passage in that entire paper.  The French are preparing to send their EVA to ‘engage these bandits.’  They are preparing the Bearn to support her, with a couple of heavy cruisers for gunfire support, » Simson told the two stunned officers.  « Yes, I know the risks of letting people see the real effect of EVAs on ground troops, even if they are irregulars.  The last thing we want, is someone developing tactics for normal, combat troops to defeat EVAs.  Our enemies don’t need any of our help showing them how to win. »

     « If I commanded the Navy around here, » Tomlinson stood at a chart of the waters of East Asia, « That French fleet might have a dreadful accident, in water shallow enough to salvage that EVA. »

     « The French are our good, dear friends, and always will be, just ask General Eisenhower, » Simson replied, « That’s not showing the proper attitude. »

     « Of course, sir. »

     « Besides, that’s what Marines are for, » Stedman said, « I don’t think there’s been a boarding action against a capital ship in a while. »

     « We’re all assuming they can make the conversions.  Their shipyards are probably as shocked about the news as we are.  I’m guessing, it’s all saber-rattling.  I’m more concerned that they may demand our assistance in reinforcements, expendables, power-packs, etc. »

     « Not without a hand-written note from Truman, himself, » Tomlinson growled.

     « I’m just warning what may be coming down the pike.  I don’t want anyone surprised, » Simson said.

Search and Rescue

     Nabiki walked out of the locker room.  The testing had been short, for her and Raccoon, just long enough to ruin an otherwise beautiful Saturday afternoon.  Once it was proven, again, she and Raccoon were the lowest ranked, the other four went to hours of testing in the simulators, and she and Raccoon could do whatever they wanted, except get the training they both thought they needed.  Nabiki didn’t like that she’d been in an EVA only once, and that had been just backing up Shinji and Asuka.  She worried that with her low sync rate and inexperience, her first real combat sortie would be a disaster.

     That Shinji’s had been successful didn’t raise her mood, Shinji was an EVA pilot, the same way Ranma was a Martial Artist, born to it.  Ranma had had help every time he went out, Raccoon and Asuka had known the others were there to help.  Nabiki still had nightmares about going out alone, and the EVA simply freezing up, pleas, threats, bribes had no more effect than the controls.  Fortunately, the `monsters` had been anticlimactic, Akane’s escaped cooking, a giant Shampoo deciding that the EVA was her new glomp toy/Airen, or Happosai deciding he’d ‘Never seen a girl that BIG!’  Fortunately without power, the nerve connections didn’t work either, whatever happened to the EVA, she didn’t know about it.

     Nabiki watched Raccoon watching the training in the sunken classrooms, squared-off pits, surrounded by a railing, a stair leading down into them.  She remembered his comment that they’d taken a bombed out area and simply paved over it, instead of filling in the craters, then paving.  He sensed, rather than heard her approach, since she knew she wasn’t making any noise.

     He turned to face her, « You and your friend Saotome-san are so skilled at sneaking up on people, one wonders to what end such training took place. »

     Nabiki smiled, Raccoon’s insistence at forever using the super polite form still gave her the impression of Kuno, a samurai from ancient times lost in the modern world.  Raccoon carried it off better, aloof and alien, and in an odd way, more honorable.

     « Are you always so insulting, to defame me and Ranma-san? » she put on her most aggrieved tone and face.

     « My apologies, Tendo-san. » He bowed mockingly, « I look for patterns throughout the world, some sense that there is something greater out there, taking an active and beneficent hand in our affairs.  You and your comrade do not fit the pattern.  It is as if you both dropped out of the sky somehow.  But who dropped you, ally, enemy or – what amuses you so? »

     Nabiki was laughing. If he only knew.  « Can we switch to English?  It’s like talking to his Majesty’s private investigator. »

     « Very well, although court jester is more accurate.  The one who can say what needs to be said, and escapes harm by hiding behind humor and wittiness, » he said in English, « What about you?  Don’t you want to be more than first backup, admittedly that puts you ahead of me. »

     « No, I do want to do something.  Something that will make a difference.  You’re right, I’d rather be useful than happy.  Don’t you get tired of being strange? »

     « Estranged, » Raccoon corrected loftily, « I had to do that at Harvard.  Keep people a little off-center, so they’d quit treating me as ‘just a kid’.  I didn’t fit expected categories, so they’d have to treat me like an individual, after they realized I was helpful and friendly. »

     « And so modest, » Nabiki said.

     « Yes, true, but true greatness needs no advertisement. »

     Even in English he can still `Kuno`, Nabiki smirked.

     « There was one upperclassman, he terrorized all the freshmen and sophomores.  So at two in the morning . . .  »

     « Can I help you two ladies? » the Japanese Marine captain teaching the class yelled up to them.

     « Oops. » Nabiki hadn’t thought they could be heard.

     « Opportunity, » Raccoon started down the steps, out of curiosity, Nabiki followed him.

     « As a matter-of-fact, good Captain, you can be of immense service.  Tendo-san and I seem to be permanently relegated to pilots-in-waiting, » Raccoon said in Japanese, « Since it seems this will continue for the foreseeable future, and since honor demands that such a threat to humanity be met with maximum effort, we wish to join your class and become fully trained in rescue procedures. »

     « Rescue, huh? » the man repeated the one thing he seemed to understand.

     « While success at rescue may keep us as auxiliaries, if our compatriots are better, they are better.  We are still doing an important and honorable job. »

     Nabiki kept a straight face, the Captain seemed to be having some trouble parsing Raccoon’s use of the Captain’s own language.  She hadn’t volunteered to take the training, but he was right, it was doing something. Well, I wanted to do something ‘un-me’, Nabiki thought, Pulling people’s fat out of the fire is pretty ‘un-me’!

     « Besides, looking over your fine lads, I realize Tendo-san and I can do something few of them could, and I doubt you could do at all, especially in a hard hat suit. »

     That pricked the man’s pride, « Oh! And what’s that? »

     « Squeeze through a 50-centimeter hole. » Jeff held his hands apart, slightly more than shoulder width.

     The Captain looked at the burly men of his team, and the slim youths, and quickly laughed, « Okay, point taken.  But you need to be certified expert divers to qualify. »

     « I trust the facilities for this training are available here.  You will find Tendo-san and I eager and attentive students. »

     « Okay, » the Captain relented, as much overwhelmed by Raccoon’s odd use of the language as his logic, « Welcome to search and rescue.  You’ve got a lot of catching up to do. »

     « I believe that is my permanent condition, » Raccoon admitted.  The others laughed.

     Nabiki sat in front of Rei.  She was glad Raccoon had left a camp stool for her, along with his makeup kit, before he went out this Sunday morning.  Predictably, Ranma had followed him, allowing Nabiki to slip out unseen.

     Rei didn’t have any chairs or tables in the place.  Rei was sitting on her bed, with the make-up case next to her.  If Nabiki had doubted Raccoon studied the theater at Harvard, the makeup case had destroyed those doubts.  There were more colors and other things than she’d ever seen before.  To ease Rei’s fear, the two of them were playing with all the equipment.

     Nabiki held up the mirror, she still didn’t know why Rei didn’t have one in her apartment.  « Well, what do you think? » Nabiki kept a straight face as Rei stared at the strange creature looking back.

     Rei smoothed down the moustache, looked at the violently red lipstick and looked at the twelve concentric rings of eyeliner, all of wildly clashing colors.  She immediately removed the fake mole that was in the same place as Ritsuko’s.  Rei stared at Nabiki with a quizzical expression.

     « Don’t worry, we can clean it off, » Nabiki told her.

     « Yes, » Rei said.

     « I just wanted you to see the limits of what we could do, » Nabiki explained, as she stood up, to get some wash cloths to clean Rei’s face.  She noticed that Rei immediately put the mirror back in the case.  She wondered if she should as ask her about that.

     « What we’re going to do, is just enhance what you already have, » Nabiki told her, « Add a little blusher, give your cheeks some color.  Give you a little different hairstyle, a little lipstick.  You want to look really pretty for Shinji don’t you? »

     Rei nodded, Nabiki couldn’t figure out why she looked so guilty.

     Nabiki pondered Rei as a blank canvas, the only thing keeping her from humiliating the girl, to repay her for the bathroom incident, was her own decency.  It wouldn’t do any good to look better than Rei, after all, she wasn’t dressing for Raccoon, the way Rei was primping for Shinji.  Nabiki tried a few hairstyles, discovered without a huge amount of styling gel, the hair wouldn’t stay.  Rei would have to grow her hair out a bit for it to hold any style, and change whatever she was washing her hair with, make it less dry and stiff.

     « What, how do you wash your hair? »

     « Soap. »

     « Not shampoo?  Special hair soap? »

     « No, » Rei looked at her.

     Nabiki looked at her watch, she had plenty of time.  She dug through the case, « Yes, thank you, Raccoon.  Rei, I’ll demonstrate the important difference. »  She led the girl into the bathroom.

     Nabiki watched Rei checking her hair, running her fingers through it.  Enjoying the different feeling.

     « This is . . . pleasant, » Rei said.

     « I think you’ll find you can style your hair differently now, » Nabiki combed Rei’s hair into a few different styles.  This time they held together.

     Rei walked over to the case, opened it and removed the big walrus moustache, « I like this. »

     Nabiki kept a straight face, « I think you shouldn’t wear that to see Shinji, » Nabiki told her, « Although, you might talk to Raccoon about when it would be appropriate to wear it. »  Nabiki could imagine what would happen on Halloween, if Rei went all out.

     But right now, Nabiki wanted to get a dress on her, so she could help Rei with the make-up, then get home to wash and change into a dress herself.


     Ranma walked along the top of the fence, and looked down on his fellow pilot, in more ways than one.

     « This is what I’m talking about, Saotome-san, » Raccoon told him, « I never asked for your presence here. »

     « But you need it, » Ranma replied.

     « I don’t see how you made that leap.  I didn’t tell you where I was going, I didn’t ask for your help.  You’re here for yourself, not for any other reason. »

     « What do you mean by that?  Hey, wait! » Ranma shouted as Raccoon headed off perpendicular to the fence.  « You’re no fighter.  You need me to look after you. »

     « You mean you’re hoping I’ll walk into trouble, and you can show off.  You’re completely narcissistic Saotome-san. »

     « Is that bad? »

     « Narcissus was so beautiful, he caught a glimpse of his own reflection and starved to death, because he couldn’t bear to be away from something so beautiful, » Raccoon lectured at him.

     Ranma grimaced at the stupidity of this Narc . . . « Why didn’t he leave, get something to eat, and come back? »

     Raccoon sighed, « Why didn’t he marry the beautiful nymph Echo, who was after him?  Because he was stupid, Saotome-san, too wrapped up in himself to think straight.  Like someone else I won’t mention. »

     « Hey, I’m doing a job, I’m helping save the world, » Ranma replied defensively.

     « You’re doing it to show off, » Raccoon replied, taking another seemingly random turn.  « Not for us, not for the world.  Shinji-san and Ayanami-san at least are doing it for others. »

     « So what are you doing later? » Ranma asked.  Raccoon and Nab-chan had been very evasive about their Sunday activity.  He hopped up on another fence paralleling Raccoon’s path.

     « I haven’t told you, I don’t intend to tell you. »

     « How are you going – ? »

     « Saotome-san, let me tell you a little something about `honor` and your `noble` Bushido code.  I had two cousins, I loved them both dearly, note the use of the past tense.  They were Conscientious Objectors, they didn’t believe in fighting, at all, for any reason.  I thought they were stupid believing such a thing, but I could accept the courage of their conviction. »

     « Not fight, yeah, that’s dumb. »

     « Somehow I knew, you’d interrupt me with that.  Since they were liable for the draft, they volunteered for military service, as Navy Corpsmen, the medical guys you’ve seen helping the doctors and nurses.  Well, they were both sent to the Philippines, to serve with the Marines.  Being battlefield medics are the corpsmens’ main job.  Well, when the Americans were ordered to surrender, by their commanding officer, your Bushido-inspired, honor-bound army, showed how much they valued civilized behavior and their word in keeping the Geneva Convention.  One of my cousins made the unforgivable mistake of asking a Japanese officer about the malaria medicines, according to reports, they took a ten-foot bamboo pole, they shoved one end up his ass, and the other in a hole in the ground so he hung there, until he died.  I think that’s an exaggeration.  They probably just crucified him upside down.  Although he was just as dead. »

     Ranma shuddered at that, he’d heard stories about that, but had dismissed them.  No honorable person would ever do stuff like that.

     « My other cousin was carrying a doctor who had a broken leg.  The Japanese told him to let the doctor walk on his own.  When my cousin made the mistake of discussing the situation, they beat his feet with steel rods, until they broke most of the bones, then they quick-marched him up and down the column, until he died.  They were only two of the few thousand murdered that way, so those aren’t isolated cases.  I can give you the names and addresses of the officers who did this.  I can guide you to them, let you go talk to them, discuss their honorable service.  The Bushido code is like every other `warriors’ code`, it describes what atrocities you can commit against whom, and when. »

     Ranma writhed at that, he’d overheard some other stories like that.  From other soldiers who didn’t know he spoke a little English.

     « The Bushido Code merely says that as long as you are serving your lord, and eventually, the Divine Emperor, you can rape women, abuse the helpless, or murder anyone designated the enemy, or of low enough social standing, at any time.  And, due to your certainty that you serve the Emperor on the divine missions to unite the eight-corners of the world under his August rule, anything is acceptable.  Those soldiers had `honor` just like you.  Also, since the Bushido code assumes surrender is impossible, the only choice left to the soldiers who were captured, was to switch sides.  So if you truly are what you claim to be, I’m rooming with someone who’ll betray us at the first appropriate defeat, and having done so, will follow any order including assault, rape and murder, without hesitation and without regret, because the orders would be of divine origin, direct from the godhead.  That’s why every time you start spouting about `honor` and the `code`, I want to reach for my pistol. »

     « You can’t really believe that! » Ranma angrily protested, as Raccoon changed directions again, forcing Ranma to jump off the fence to follow him.  « I’d never do anything like that!  No one would! »

     « It’s already happened, Saotome-san, countless times in the past few years alone, » Raccoon replied coldly, « Samurai were allowed to kill anyone they chose, as long as they were a lower social order.  Other samurai could be killed too, but had to be given a warning.  Shouting as you kicked open the door to their bedroom, was considered sufficient.  If your people had delivered the Declaration of War even a minute before the first bombs struck at Pearl Harbor, the samurai-officers would have been mystified at the Americans labeling it treachery.  That’s the code and honor system you allege you subscribe to, Saotome-san.  Your treatment of Shinji-san, the way you talk about Ranko-san, show you do accept at least part of it. »

     Ranma was furious at that.  What Raccoon was saying, turned everything Ranma believed in on its head.  Unfortunately, Raccoon would have studied the question, That’s not the same as actually following the code! Ranma fumed.

     « Besides, why would a martial artist follow Bushido anyway?  I mean the samurai had all the weapons, had the automatic right to kill any farmer, peasant, monk, artisan or woman of lesser rank.  Those people developed martial arts, as a counter to that, to fight back without using banned weapons, not to fight bandits.  It makes no sense to follow the philosophy that caused the problem in the first place, it would be like curing polio by infecting everybody, it makes no sense.  The technique works for smallpox, because it uses a weakened version.  The martial arts community would develop their own, very different, philosophy. »

     « I’m sure you’ve got a `code of honor`, like those gunfighters, » Ranma said morosely.

     « That’s as big a myth as the Bushido Code, the real Code of the West was just people trying to survive, and your only resource was your self or your neighbors, so even if you don’t like them, your survival may depend on them, and theirs on you.  If Max Bad saunters into town, intent on shooting the place up, several of the citizens are likely to kill him before he ever gets off his horse. »

     « You evaded my question, do you have a code of any kind? »

     « Yes, » Raccoon stopped, stared at Ranma with an oddly frightening expression on his face, « I keep my contracts.  I give every chance for you to back off and leave before everything starts, and you’ve got one chance to dig in and get the job done, because you aren’t getting a second. »  Then he gave Ranma a cold smile, « Don’t worry, Saotome-san, I don’t think you’re honor-bound or a follower of Bushido. »

     « WHAT?! » Ranma shouted, getting ready to pummel Raccoon for the insult.

     « You sure wouldn’t be here if you were. »

     That stopped Ranma, it made absolutely no sense at all.

     « You see, with your higher sync rate and superior combat skills, samurai honor and logic, would dictate that you are infinitely more valuable to Humanity than I am.  Hey, I don’t claim to follow it, I’m just telling you that as it’s actually practiced, you’re operating contrary to it’s most important dictates, enlightened self-interest.  Or in the vernacular: Covering your ass from the big boys. »

     Ranma was trying to sort out what Raccoon was saying, all he was getting was a headache.  « So, I’m dishonorable because I’m helping you. »

     « Well no, first you aren’t helping me, second you aren’t ‘honor-bound’, that’s not the same as honorable.  Nabiki-san and Ayanami-san are honorable, although neither follows any code except their own.  You act more like a musketeer from the movies: Never back down from a challenge, defend those you assume are weak, defend women, until you’ve charmed them into your bed.  Like Errol Flynn. »

     « Who’s Errol Flynn? »

     « DIE! » the man leapt out of the alley, knife held high.

     Ranma saw the gleam of the knife in the shadows, before the man attacked, The gleam was black!  « Magic, » he realized, stepped in front, to guard Raccoon.

     The lone gunshot flipped the assassin back onto the ground, where he twitched slightly, then lay still.

     « I need you to protect me? » Raccoon asked as he pulled on a pair of gloves, and collected the shell casing, to put it in a film can.  He kept his pistol aimed at the man the entire time, « I hardly find that likely, Saotome-san, » he glanced around, « Let’s get out of here, I don’t think he was reacting to your ignorance of Mr. Flynn, although, sometimes I’m tempted. »

     Ranma stared at Raccoon, the dead body, at Raccoon walking away.  He glanced at the body, Raccoon dragged him away, Ranma felt as if the man’s death was contagious.  « You, you, you . . . kill, kill . . . ed. »  Raccoon pushed/dragged him along at a fast jog.

     « It’s interesting, » Raccoon said as they jogged, « The term fan, comes from fanatic, which means ‘of the temple’.  It makes the term religious fanatic, to a degree, redundant, don’t you think. »

     Ranma could only stare at him.

     They stopped several blocks away, at a payphone.

     « We’ve got to do something, we can’t just . . .  » Ranma’s mind was awhirl, shocked by the cold anger Raccoon showed while they’d been talking, but the boy’s words paled in comparison to his actions.

     « Please, I’m on the phone.  Yes, Tokyo police.  Yes, I’d like to report a dead body. »  Raccoon patted Ranma’s shoulder, smiled politely at him.

     The `friendly` Raccoon chilled Ranma even more, than when he was angry.

     « Gunshot, one shot.  Yes.  Yes.  This morning while I was combing my hair.  Yes, I shot him.  Certainly not, I have an appointment.  It should be over at say, 22:00 hours, would it be more convenient to come at that time, or early in the morning?  Very well, you also should coordinate with NERV Security and ONI, since two of the EVA pilots were involved.  The two NERV pilots involved, they got away without being injured.  Certainly.  Well, I certainly made sure they didn’t remain in the area. »

     Raccoon patted his shoulder again, Ranma could only stare, I can’t believe he’s doing this! Ranma thought, He’s blowing off the police!

     « 22:00 hours, which station should I come to, and whom should I ask for?  Shima station, just ask for the desk sergeant. »  He wrote it down.

     Ranma kept staring in horror at the other boy.  The cooling body just a dozen blocks away, and he wasn’t going to alter his plans.

     « Oh, I’ll need to bring the pistol.  I don’t want to alarm anyone, so how should I package it?  Paper bag?  Certainly, no problem.  Oh, I’ll have to wash my hands, will that interfere with the paraffin test? » he paused, « Yes, it is my gun.  Oh, no problem.  Thank you, thank you very much.  I’ll be in later. »  He hung up.  « Close your mouth, Saotome-san, you’re catching flies, let’s get out of here, in case there are others. »

     Ranma noted he waved to their security guards, as they started home.

     Ranma stayed close as they walked, an armored car in front and behind, « You’re just leaving the body? »

     Despite the escort, Raccoon was scanning everywhere as they headed home, keeping Ranma moving, « Well, I don’t really care if someone steals it, there’s nothing I can do to help him. »  He stepped aside and pressed Ranma back out of sight, as the police car raced by.  « It is hardly my fault that idiot decided to commit suicide, now is it? »

     Ranma considered hailing the police, but was still too tongue-tied.  Security knew, and weren’t doing anything.

     « I made a promise, I intend to keep it.  That’s what I was talking about before we were interrupted.  Yes, it’ll be more inconvenient later, but the others need the – well, I’m going ahead.  I take it you want to spend time letting the police ask lots of questions, gather their evidence, analyze it and ask still more questions. »

     « Yeah. »  Ranma couldn’t imagine doing anything else.

     Raccoon shook his head, « Why not let them gather their evidence, frame their questions and get a good dinner for themselves, then go in?  I mean isn’t it better for everyone?  Well, except me.  After all, it’s not like they are going to charge me with anything. »

     Ranma’s mind was racing, « I have to tell Dr. Akagi. »

     « Oh, I’ll tell her, you’re hardly in a state to.  Besides, Security will probably inform her before we get home.  She’ll need to know why I’m late.  I frankly wouldn’t trust you to tell her when you calm down, I haven’t figured out how telling her will assist your internal self-representation.  That’s the real problem, deciding how your self-interest will cause you to act.  You don’t do good things without a motive, that while it appears sinister, may very well be solely unlearned. »

     « You just shot somebody! » Ranma yelled at him.

     « I should have let him hurt or kill you? » Raccoon asked, « Such a thing is not done.  If he’d threatened just Saotome Ranma, I’d probably have withheld my assistance.  However, he threatened the safety of this entire world.  Like it or not Saotome-san, as a pilot, you have a terrible load of responsibility.  Your success or failure as a pilot has nothing to do with `honor`, it has everything to do with doing right for the Human race.  Honor is inherently selfish.  ‘I do `X` because it makes me feel good’, rather than ‘I do `X` because it is the right thing to do.' »

     « Honor is about more than feeling good –  »

     « No, it isn’t, » Raccoon cut him off angrily, « It’s about not wanting to be accused of being dishonorable, whether the allegation is true or not, you’re trying to avoid the defamation.  It makes you incapable of making the hard choices, choices adults have to make. »

     « Like shooting a cultist? » Ranma felt a touch hysterical.

     « Certainly, but also dealing with problems in more permanent ways.  This wasn’t a street punk you could pummel unconscious.  That was an assassin, who would kill us, given another chance.  You leave someone like that alive –  »

     « I’m not a killer! » Ranma retorted.

     « Then you’ve decided to put the rest of us at deadly risk, for your precious `honor`.  None of the rest of us could disarm that man without injury.  That blade was a patch of darkness, darker than the shadows around it.  That’s how I felt it.  What do you think the merest scratch from that blade would do? »

     Ranma shook his head, magic was something he tried to have nothing to do with.  He still felt disconnected from reality.  He’d watched a murder, and they were arguing about it, and why it was acceptable, while the murderer escorted him safely home.  Ranma had never killed anybody, that he remembered.  Angels weren’t people, but how could anyone kill with such a serene temperament.  He’d envied the tranquility, now he was repelled by it.

     « Come on, Saotome-san, we can discuss this later, » Raccoon gently took his arm, « I apologize, this is the wrong time to be debating this.  Let’s get you home, you look terrible. »  He helped him onto the rear deck of the armored car.

     Ranma stared at him, but allowed himself to be driven home, the insults stopped from both of them, silence reigned.  Ranma noted that Raccoon sat close enough to make sure he stayed safely seated on the vehicle.

     He shot someone, no thought, just boom!  And no regrets afterward.  He just goes on as if nothing’s wrong! Ranma was having severe problems with that, but couldn’t center himself to make a protest by word or deed.

     They arrived at the apartment, despite the ever-present cats, Ranma was less uneasy here, except he was usually uneasy about the cats.  Raccoon sat Ranma at the dining room table.  Ranma stared at the patterns in the wood of the table.  Focused his mind on them, to recenter himself

     « I’ll call Dr. Akagi.  Don’t stare at me that way, I said I’d do it. »

     I didn’t think I was staring at him at all.  Ranma listened to the conversation, He’s going to be later than he planned, no details.

     Ranma watched Raccoon fix a quick snack while he was talking, he put the okonomiyaki in front of Ranma with an admonishment to eat.  Then he walked into the bedroom, leaving Ranma alone with his thoughts.

     He blows someone away, tells the police he did it, walks me home, and makes me a light supper, Ranma wolfed down his favorite food, What kind of nut is he?

     Captain Ramsey checked with the guards that would be surrounding the Children during their ‘date’.  It made him smile that Davis had proposed the `operation`, and suggested the security be tightened, incidentally that the soldiers who’d been slogging after the kids as they did the things kids did, would get a meal at arguably the finest restaurant in Tokyo, because it would disturb things if all the people around them weren’t eating.

     Now that security was in deadly earnest.  He didn’t know why Davis had walked the streets around the restaurant, or why the crazed man had allowed security patrols to pass by without revealing himself, but attacked the pilots at such a disadvantage.  The Admiral had overruled Ramsey about canceling the entire `show`.  Ramsey had argued his point.  In retrospect, the Admiral was correct, only Davis and Saotome had seen the cultist, and the method of his dispatch had Saotome more worried about Davis than the attack.  The others had to be able to relax, and unwind a bit, or there would be a disaster.

     He stepped into the kitchen, of the regular employees, only the senior chef and two assistants were present, the rest of the staff was still being checked, as replacements they had some of the best cooks from the South Dakota, Coral Sea and the Base’s officer’s mess assisting.  One senior chief, who’d been cooking longer than the chef had been alive, meandered over.

     « Captain, he’s a stuck up martinet, but I don’t think he’s any threat to the kids, » the chief looked at the chef screaming at someone for slicing the radishes too thin, « Us on the other hand . . .  »

     Ramsey nodded, « Do your best, keep smiling no matter how much it hurts, » he headed outside, the riflemen were in position.  Each armed with a 50-caliber machinegun with a sniper gun sight.  A small ready reaction force was standing by, out of the route of approach, to extricate the Children if anything happened.  Ramsey looked over the preparations and sighed.

     « If I’m missing anything, I can’t see it, » he wondered why the Admiral had sent a radar F7F to Kyoto in such a hurry.  He did want to be in on the debriefing of Pilot Davis by Tokyo P.D. and ONI.  He knew Pilot Saotome wouldn’t be included, he suspected that they would downplay the presence of the other pilot, to protect Saotome.  He wondered why the reports about the incident had not surprised the Admiral.  The Tokyo P.D. guys had been shocked by the phone call and the dead body, they calmed down considerably when ONI had descended on them in force.  Suddenly a murder victim and a manhunt, was changed to a treason and security investigation.  Ramsey was just nasty enough, he’d insist on letting the Tokyo P.D. see Davis shoot.  Ramsey still hadn’t forgiven him for fleecing him out of $50 using a pistol to shoot skeet, while Ayanami used a Garand rifle to do the same.

     He checked his watch again.  Walked the perimeter of the restaurant, low wood buildings, no place someone could hide that weren’t covered by at least two machineguns.  It all felt useless, if the security was good, the cultist would have never got past them earlier.  He was coming to think the pilots themselves, were the only adequate security for the pilots.

Employing Grit

     Nabiki sat in the apartment bathroom, in her shirt and shorts, impatient to get dressed to start this evening.  She stared at this thing looking out at her from the mirror, What am I so nervous about? she wondered, Rei’s out in the living room, learning how to help a guy tie a tie, looking better that she’s ever looked before.  Thanks entirely to me.  And I’m in here, botching a simple make-up job on myself.  « It’s not like this is a real date, » she mumbled, tried to figure out what she was doing wrong.

     Finally she gave up, I’m not Saotome, I can ask for help, « Raccoon, can you get in here and fix your make-up kit?  It’s broken. »

     « Sure, » he entered, closing the bathroom door behind him. « Ah, I can see your problem. »

     She frowned, « If you say ‘your face’, I’ll kick you so hard, they’ll hear you in Boston.  Because you’ll be landing there. »

     « Actually, » he stood her up, facing the mirror, « The problem is . . .  » he covered half her face with the kit’s large hand mirror, « The duckling can’t decide if it wants to be a swan, » he moved the mirror to cover the other side, « Or a falcon. »

     The difference in the two sides shocked her, one looked like Kasumi might, the other a vamp from the silent film era.

     « My suggestion, » he held up a wash cloth, « If I may. »

     She nodded.

     He began removing the make-up, « Since this is young Ikari and Ayanami-san’s night, we tone this down.  Saotome-san seems to have taken to his bed, so I doubt all your efforts will have the desired effect. »

     « What did you do to him, anyway? »  When Nabiki had gotten back with Rei, Raccoon was on the phone to Captain Ramsey, and Ranma had already gone to bed, before the sun was down.

     « I told him what I thought of him and his honor code, » Raccoon selected a lipstick, « Believe me, it wasn’t polite dinner conversation.  I don’t know why he feels compelled to follow me around, like a balloon on a string, but I don’t like it. »  He added blusher, and eye make up.

     Because Ranko’s got a crush on you, and only you two can’t see it, Nabiki thought jealously, Ranko’s joined the ‘sigh, oh sempai,’ club with Maya. « Maybe he’s bored. »  She wondered if Rei felt like this, a subject for someone else, possibly a victim.

     « Well, » Raccoon stepped out of the way to let Nabiki look at herself in the mirror, « Why don’t you go give him a good night kiss, and get him interested in something else. »

     Nabiki stared at the image in the mirror, it was her, rather than the somebody else she’d been trying to be, and she was very pretty.  She blushed, turned away, « It took me an hour-and-a-half to get Rei looking that way. »

     « And a very good job too. »

     She curtsied, « Sir, is just too gallant.  Anyway, you took about two minutes. »

     Raccoon sighed, « When I studied at Harvard, do you think I was out on the stage?  They wouldn’t even cast me as one of the dead bodies strewing the earth.  No, I was make-up, a prompter, fixing the electrical systems, painting flats, building scenery, heck, I even wrote an entire play, with stage direction.  Some of my classmates are in Hollywood now, doing this professionally, or teaching other professionals.  As for Ranko, a couple more lessons, and she could be almost as good as I am.  Better, if she’d hang up the ‘It’s all girly-stuff,’ nonsense. »

     And you can’t see why she has a crush on you? Nabiki thought, If Akane had been half as patient or accepting, they’d be married by now, she sighed, and divorced.  She got angry at the stupidity of it all.

     « Now, that’s a good look for you, I’m Tendo Nabiki, and I’m going to bite off your head, and spit it down your neck. »

     « You, sir, are hardly the one who should talk about biting, » Nabiki shot back.

     « I think Saotome-san really enjoyed it, bleech, and I should know, » Raccoon replied as he left.

     Nabiki shook her head, He couldn’t have meant that, could he? Nabiki shook her head again, trying to erase the image he’d put there.  He did that on purpose! she realized, as she entered the boy’s bedroom.

     Ranma was wide awake, staring up at the bunk over his head.  « Hey – Nab-chan, you look like a real girl. »

     Oh, you are going to pay for that, Saotome, she thought as she knelt next to his bed, kept her smile friendly.  « Since you got kissed the other day, » she didn’t alter her smile at his wince, she leaned over slowly, « I’ve been jealous, and so I thought you’d like to kiss a girl, see if you liked it . . . as much. »  He opened his mouth to protest, and she struck.  She kept it firm but gentle, feeling him finally relax, then she broke off the kiss.  « Well, I’m off on my date.  She you later, Ranma, maybe much later. »  She got the door closed just before his frustrated shout of ‘GIRLS!’

     Nabiki looks across the crowded restaurant, she realizes most of the customers were Americans or Europeans.

     « You’re looking lovely, Ayanami-san, » Raccoon tells their other dinner companion as he pulls out the chair for Nabiki.

     Shinji takes the hint, pulling out the chair for Rei, « You look good too, Nabiki. »

     « Any trouble? » Nabiki asks.

     « Well, I shot someone to make sure Ranma didn’t barge in, but Ranma should be back to normal in the morning. »

     « You’re kidding? » Shinji asks, « Right? »

     « Shinji, » Nabiki tells him, « Even Raccoon wouldn’t shoot someone for no reason. »

     Rei glances at Nabiki, both hope he’s joking, but he might not be.

     The waiter arrives, the four of them are too young for real cocktails, Raccoon acts as host and orders Shirley Temples and Virgin Marys, one for each.  The waiter bustles off.

     Nabiki notes Shinji winces slightly, she guesses Raccoon kicked him under the table.

     « Ayanami-san, you look very nice, » Shinji manages.

     Rei nods, « Thank you. »  She looks at the twin stares, « You look nice too. »

     Well, it isn’t the script we rehearsed, but it’s more sincere, Nabiki thinks.

     There is little small talk, Rei seems extremely uncomfortable talking about something other than `work`.  Shinji is uncomfortable period.  The conversation goes to music, Now I’m the one left out, Nabiki thinks, I don’t know about fingering, string tensions, etc.

     But Rei and Shinji are comfortable talking about it.  Classical music styles, baroque, neoclassical, Beethoven, Bartok, Musgorsky.

     I can’t even nod intelligently, Nabiki looks around, I wonder if they are keeping me out of the conversation, to teach me how it feels.

     They order the food, the utensils are western-style: knife, fork, spoon.  Raccoon of course . . . but there are a half-dozen of each utensil, which goes with which dish?  Nabiki looks around, trying to get an idea from the other patrons, who seem to accept it all naturally.

     « If the table setters and the food delivery is done correctly, you start with the outermost and work in, » he confides, easing Nabiki’s dis-ease, Rei and Shinji’s near panic.

     Salad, soup, bread, main course, which Rei has an eggplant dish, ice cream for dessert.  Both Rei and Shinji relax considerably with a nonjudgmental audience.  Nabiki and Raccoon correct them gently on etiquette, and the two of them work together to keep the conversation light and moving.  Rei tends to monopolize, and Nabiki notices she still doesn’t make transitions, even when she’s relaxed.  ‘I saw that stray dog the other day.  The Second seems to like her hair long.  Do you think you’ll have to shave soon?’  Nabiki had to supply the transitions that the dog’s red tail looks like Asuka’s hairstyle, and both Shinji and Raccoon are growing peach fuzz on their cheeks.

     No wonder she limits herself to single sentences, Nabiki thinks, If she talked like that normally, people would laugh at her, and be very confused.

     Nabiki decides to roleplay a little scenario, « Since you said you’d be friends with Asuka, if ordered, Rei, you should go over to Asuka and talk about shopping, movies, hairstyles, cosmetics.  And when Asuka is totally confused, ask her if the two of us can give you an order that you have to be friends with her, since she really doesn’t have any. »

     Shinji about chokes on the drink he was sipping, « Please don’t.  I have to live with Asuka. »

     Rei agrees, « I do not want to be cruel to the Second Children. »

     In my, not so, humble opinion, Nabiki thinks, Calling her Second Children or the Second, is cruel in its own way, when you call me Nabiki-chan, Jeff: Roku-kun, and Shinji: Shinji-kun.  Although you call Ranma: Saotome or the Fourth.  The differentiation can’t be lost on Asuka, it’s probably lost on Ranma, but you treat them differently.

     Admiral Simson led the smaller man into the morgue.  He didn’t want to let on about his connection, but he needed answers, and he needed them now.

     The filing cabinets for the dead were all closed, a coroner opened the one he’d been told to.  Then he left, he didn’t like it.  However, when a Marine Captain with a platoon of armed Marines backing you up, gives you an order, you follow it exactly.  Even if they take pains to make it sound like a request.

     The body was worse than Simson expected, the face was undamaged, he thought it was thoughtful of Davis to kill this man, and still leave him identifiable.  But the ugly wound in the throat, and the missing back of the head made it a grisly scene.

     His son-in-law looked at the body, frowned, turned away.  « I’ve never seen him before. »

     Simson walked to the clear plastic box on the coroner’s desk.  « They had to put it in a box to move it.  The blood stains are from a police officer, he touched it, and then tried to knife himself to death.  It took fifteen other cops to subdue him, » Simson looked at his son-in-law, « Sound familiar? »

     The younger man picked up the box, looking at the engravings on the knife, « Yeah, Ansiwari sect, assassins, the best.  But I thought they only operated in the Dreamlands, and even there, few have ever heard of them. »

     « I think we’ve figured out why, the knife is forged, some poor slob has it slapped in his hand, and instant assassin.  The body was a janitor at Tokyo University, no criminal record, no marks against him in his war record.  Not social, not a loner, textbook example of average. »  Simson led his son-in-law, Anthony, out of the room, the coroner slipped by them to close everything up.

     « Someone or something crossed over, » Simson told Anthony, « The SD was here, a pack of Corsairs actually got a sighting, and some gun camera footage. »

     They waited until they were back in the Admiral’s car and had some privacy, he’d dispensed with the driver, letting his son-in-law drive, for tonight.

     « Well, he’s back now, » Anthony said, « And not too happy with the security procedures you had in place, and not too pleased he couldn’t find out who did this. »

     « We were none-too happy ourselves, » Simson admitted, « Is that . . . thing, really as big as a B-36. »

     The other man nodded, « Just as big and ten times as nasty, and that’s letting the B-36 carry its nuclear payload.  He’s good people though.  That knife, the runes, I recognize them: Moonbeast.  That definitely confirms that somebody from the Dreamlands crossed over to the Waking World.  It’s perfect cover, they have some to all the memories of their Waking World counterpart.  There’s no record of them anywhere, and depending on who they are, they might have training the counterpart doesn’t. »

     « I thought that wasn’t possible, » Simson pointed out.

     « There are a few devices, the Crystallizer of Dreams is the best known, but there are others, that would let a dream stay real in this world.  Until you kill it, or find the device and reverse its effects. »

     « Another needle in a haystack, » Simson stared at the city going by.

     « There is one other possibility, a physical gate, that means anything can just walk through.  Most things will just dissipate the instant they’re in the Waking World.  But there are legends of gates that make things dreams going one way and real going the other.  If they have one of those, they could bring other things through the gate. »

     « What kind of ‘other things’? » Admiral Simson asked.

     « Giant worms, for one. »

     The Admiral was wide awake now.

     The evening ends, Nabiki, Raccoon and Shinji walk Rei back to her apartment.  The suggestion that an evening properly ends with a goodnight kiss embarrasses both her and Shinji.  It’s cute, Nabiki thinks, Both of them embarrassed like that.

     « At least kiss each other on the cheek, we won’t watch, » Raccoon drags Nabiki around the corner and out of line of sight.

     Nabiki is irritated, « Well, I can’t photograph the moment.  Are you going to give me a kiss? »

     « I’m afraid I’ll have to be ungallant, but I still have an appointment tonight, » Raccoon admits.

     Before she can probe further, a blushing Shinji rejoins them.

     « How was it? » Nabiki asks.

     He blushes even more at her question.

     « So what’s the appointment? » she asks.

     « Oh, Top Secret stuff, clandestine meeting with the police about murders. »  He smiles as he tells them.

     « If you don’t want to tell us, » Shinji complains.

     I’m beginning to wonder, Nabiki thinks.

Reviving Reverberations

     Raccoon arrives back at 2:00 A.M. with Dr. Akagi.  Ranma can hear from her voice, that she’s out of sorts, but not angry at anyone in particular.  She orders him to shower and get some sleep.

     Ranma sees him after he’s hanging up his suit.

     « Why are you still awake? » Raccoon asks, he sounds concerned.

     « I can’t get it out of my head. »

     « I could suggest a good cleanser, but then they could accuse me of brainwashing. »

     A long pause, Was that a joke?

     He shrugs and leaves, showering quickly and returns to climb into the top bunk.

     I can’t believe he isn’t disturbed by that, Ranma thinks, Murder, cold-blooded, he’d obviously thought about it, the move was well practiced.  And it didn’t bother him.  All that philosophical talk and he just kills somebody, boom.  How can someone be like that?

     Ritsuko stares at the ceiling again.  Nabiki, a silent lump a meter away. The victim was a cultist, the knife was enchanted with a lone fatal spell.  And one of my kids shot him, Ritsuko runs the incident over in her mind, again, Just below the jawline up through the skull.  The man was dead even before he hit the ground.  Jeff showed no remorse, he was defending two pilots, therefore it was a military action.  A military inquiry would be appropriate.  The detectives had all the evidence for an airtight manslaughter case, gun against knife.  She and ONI, Office of Naval Intelligence, had to explain to the police about security concerns for the Children, she’d never thought that her `cowboy` would walk around armed, until a few days ago.  She’d confronted ONI, they knew and approved.  It was understandable.  Rei and Ranma were as deadly unarmed, as an armed gunman, but not willing to kill. Well, maybe Rei, but not Saotome or the others, she considers.

     The reports on the rescue of Rei from the Cthonians came back.  She discounted the reports as impossible, at the time.  Now she has to worry. How much danger were the other pilots in? she worries, Ranma was always pushing Jeff, but he seemed content to absorb the effects.

     Now she has a clue, He was intentionally letting Ranma do what he did without reacting.  Yet what if he cracked?  How much danger was there?  What did she need to do?

     She’d talked to him, had the points she could verify.  He understood her concern over the incident, but was more concerned that there was no alternative, other than himself and Ranma being a victim, which he was unwilling to do.  He’d take the protection of the pilots seriously, the reason he’d taken it on himself to sweep the area.

     She wonders if she should run a psychological profile test.  She knows what they’d established as the criteria for pilots, she’d never expected those outcomes, Shinji’s aggressiveness in combat, Rei’s interest in the other pilots were unexpected side-effects, if this is the same?  She is beginning to realize she is going to need a greater knowledge of the psychology of adolescents.  Commander Fuyutsuki would be of little help.  He needs the pilots at a certain state, she finds she needs them in a very different state.  The warrior Children versus stable children in her home.  It isn’t a comfortable balancing act.

     Jeff didn’t have nightmares, no truly experienced dreamer did.  But sometimes he remembered, in perfect clarity, with all the nuances and sensations there had been at the time, and only with extraordinary effort, could he get away from those memories.

     With some of his experiences, the difference between the truth and a nightmare, was too small to even consider.  This was one of those times.

     When he’d seen that thing coming out of Ayanami-san’s apartment, all the memories came crowding back from the unmarked grave he’d thought he’d thoroughly buried them in.

     The El Nureenen War had taken on the characteristics that would define it until final victory, a siege against an enemy with seemingly unlimited resources, who only fought when it chose.  A sweep of an entire section of the huge mazelike complex would turn up absolutely nothing except dust, corpses and vermin.  They removed the corpses for burial in hallowed ground, the rest was left to fend for itself.  Five minutes after the main force left, a smaller group could be virtually annihilated by battalions of things that literally weren’t there minutes before.

     The 35 were the worst.  It seemed nothing could stop them, 17 dragons and 53 mages took on one of them, and were blotted out, except for one very, junior mage.  It was not the first time this had happened, it was theorized that their powers couldn’t affect certain types of souls.

     Jeff firmly believed, the sadist wanted him alive to spread the word.  In the waking World, it was February 1942, the Allies were losing absolutely everywhere it seemed, Russia, North Africa, the Pacific, China, Burma, even the Atlantic.  When the chance to hit back against the 35 arrived, Jeff was among the first to volunteer, and one of the few accepted.  It seemed those who’d had extensive experiences with the spirit world, especially those who’d functioned as a psychopomp, however unwillingly as in Jeff’s case, could feel those things.  They would locate them, and call in a special strike force they hadn’t been allowed to meet.

     There had been 60 of these hunters, on this thin information, Jeff and several dozen others, had sought out advice to develop tactics.  Langley’s great-uncle Sigmund was a U-boat commander, after having lost nearly a dozen friends to those things, he was more than willing to explain what worked, and what didn’t, when hunting an unseen/unseeable enemy.  He knew, he’d died in the Waking World by underestimating sonar and a British Captain.  Others had gathered similar insights, and plans and procedures were drawn up.

     One other thing was happening.  Friends, longtime messmates, even lovers, had begun to refer to the 60 as if they were already dead, to avoid their presence, no longer speaking their names aloud.  It was logical, in a very human way, perhaps they were already dead.  For three months of Dreamlands time, they had been going into the very darkest places, with the intention of locating the screaming, flaming death, everyone else tried to avoid.  Treating them as if they’d already died, made it easier on everyone else.

     Jeff remembered those days, walking through the ebon corridors, effectively alone, where sometimes only days before, platoons and even companies had been wiped out.  The nearest person was a dozen yards away, also alone in the darkness.  Because a single person wouldn’t attract attention.  They carried no light, because it might attract attention, and never spoke or sang or laughed, because it might attract attention.  The only sound, was the footsteps of distant others, transmuted by echoes and imagined fears into the scratchings and tappings of entities trying to break into the world.  Walking through the corridors alone, your spirit stretched thin and sensitized until you supposed you could feel every ripple, every nonmaterial texture, every emotion a place contained.  Like someone slowly dragging their fingernails across the inside of your skull.  Feeling the outstretched spirits of the others around you, as well as your own.

     That was why they wanted psychopomps, because they could also feel when something interrupted that coverage, like detecting the radar signal of another ship, even if they couldn’t detect you by the reflection.  That was the way they found the first of the 35.

     Sixty walking dead men, thrust their heads into the trap, and by luck, skill, or the grace of God, 60 dead men walked out.  As the 35 became the 34, the 33, the 32, the others in the camps started looking at and treating the 60 differently, not better, just different.  In some ways it was worse.  Some discovered the identity of the strike force, and the 60 literally became those who daily walked where Angels feared to tread.  He NEVER told Langley how much her change in attitude had hurt him, that, more than the war in the Waking World, had driven a gap between them.  A gap neither could bridge.

     As the 35 became the 18, even the Killers, for the 60 were now ‘the Hunters’, spoke of them with a fear that bordered on respect.  They were still dead men, conversations would falter, even brawls would cease, as one of them came in sight.  No one challenged them, because no one wanted their job, except the foolish and the suicidal, who were manifestly unwelcome.

     When the 35 were down to the 6, an attempt was made to get all of them at once.  The Killers had refined their tactics and practiced, letting the 60 catch two or one time three at once.  The battle that erupted was a total free-for-all.  Not all the Killers were from the same `side`, some were from the Heavenly Choirs, others were of the bands of Demons, even among their own kind, the teamwork was often lacking.  Alliances between sides were uncertain things, but held, old friends or old rivals standing together without regard to original `regiment`.

     Jeff stopped the trip down memory lane for a moment, extended his spirit around him.  The trick had other applications, something the 60 hadn’t shared with their `allies` the Killers.  Saotome was asleep, or so close, the difference was unimportant.  As Jeff let the nightmare/memory drag him back, he wondered if the reason he’d been so brutal with Saotome and his damned `honor and `code`, was he’d already met too many things who spoke the same words, and cared nothing at all for humans, individually or collectively, they served a code, like Saotome.  It didn’t stop them from desperately needing humans to do their leg work, it didn’t stop them from `withholding` important information.  Both sides did it, after a while, you learned the difference.  There might have been members of their groups, who gave a tinker’s damn about humans, but he hadn’t met any.  All that mattered was their code, their honor, not even their mission, as they looked down their noses at the rest of Creation, who didn’t share it, or live up to their standards.

     Yes, Jeff thought, I know what it’s like being told ‘You’re Expendable’, by things that desperately need you.

     Ranma stared at the now-occupied bunk over his head.  He hadn’t really slept, since he’d laid down here.  He’d gone over and over the incident in his head, the argument had advanced some.  The procedure for the math homework and the procedure for running experiments had taught him that running the same argument over and over in your head did some good, if you changed the parameters, and carefully watched what else changed and how.

     It had begun simply enough: Raccoon’s a murderer.  He killed to protect you.

     It still bothered Ranma, that the accuser in his head had his voice, and the one who defended Raccoon, had Ranko’s.  During the hours of going over it, he had come to some uncomfortable and disturbing conclusions.  One, Raccoon was madder at Ranma, than he was at the man he shot.  Two, Raccoon had been acting to protect Ranma, every step of the way, from shooting the man, to dragging him away from the scene, to not involving him with the police, to getting him home safely.  Lastly, while he’d been insulting honor and the Bushido code, he never insulted Ranma for following a code and honor, he’d insulted his ignorance in not understanding what his words meant, what actions those words predicted, actions Ranma would ever take.  Raccoon was angry for Ranma not understanding.

     Arrogantly not understanding, `Ranko` amplified it.

     He joked that my ignorance sometimes made him want to kill me, Ranma considered.

     He also kept you out in another important way, `Ranko` continued, You had nothing to do with the man’s death.  You intended to engage him hand-to-hand, and he didn’t tell you he was going to fire.  Your hands are clean, you aren’t a murderer, and you’re still alive.

     Ranma didn’t like all that implied.  He laid and stared at the bunk and the ceiling.  He heard the occasional squeak and rustling above him, that actually worried him.  Raccoon usually slept like a rock.  Not that he was hard to awaken, but he didn’t move, didn’t make noise.  Considering how heavily built the bed was, the idea that Raccoon was moving around enough to make it squeak was worry-some.

     And so what are you going to do about it? Ranma wondered, he knew he couldn’t even find Raccoon’s dreamscape, and wasn’t all that eager to go looking, considering what happened last time, and was waiting for him. No comments from `you`? he asked the other voice that had been in his head, it was completely silent.

     The sound of a fist hitting the pipe railing brought Ranma back to the here and now.  « What now? » Ranma threw off the covers, he heard the sound again and again.  He stood and saw Raccoon’s bloodied fists hitting the railing.  Ranma was disgusted, even asleep he knew how to throw a punch that didn’t hurt himself.  Ranma grabbed Raccoon’s wrists and pulled them through the railing, grabbed a shirt and tied Raccoon’s hands to keep them there.

     Now what? Ranma thought, there was an obvious answer, but it didn’t attack the real problem.  « Raccoon wake up! » Ranma shook him.  Nothing happened.  « At least I can clean those wounds. »

     Ranma headed for the bathroom, to get a clean cloth and some bandages.  While he walked, he also thought back over what Ayanami had done, put herself at risk for him.  That was the one thing that Ranma had agreed made Raccoon’s dream, as Ranma, a real nightmare.  The closest he had to anyone he could count on, was Gendo Ikari.  If that wasn’t a nightmare, Ranma didn’t know what was.  As much as Ayanami and Raccoon hated him, they didn’t want him seriously hurt.  The fall onto those spikes would have left him dead or permanently crippled, if Ranma had had to kill that man, or if the murderer had escaped to kill one of the others, Ranma would have been destroyed in a way he’d never recover from.  Both of them knew exactly what would have happened, and took it on themselves to protect him, without any real regard for their fate or the cost to them.  That was not something he was comfortable with, Everett had sacrificed himself to protect Ranma and the others.  Ayanami and Raccoon seemed willing to do the same, it wasn’t ‘a martial artist’s duty’, that drove them to it, he didn’t know what did.

     Ranko carried the cold, damp rag and the bandages.  She carefully cleaned the wounded knuckles, despite the twitches and mewling of her patient, « The first thing I’m going to teach you, is how to punch. »  As she packed gauze over the injuries, she heard the door open, glanced back at Ritsuko who was entering.

     « You can do that good a job dressing wounds, in the dark? » Ritsuko asked.

     « You can see me doing it, in the dark? » Ranko asked, smiled at the doctor’s discomfort, « I had to do something. »

     « You aren’t the only one worried about what happened, » Ritsuko smirked at the improvised `handcuffs`, « I won’t tell him how Ranko tied him up.  You aren’t the only one worried. »

     « Why are you worried, they didn’t save you? » Ranko explained her conclusions, she saw Ritsuko rubbing her own hands.

     « You aren’t the only one, believe me, » Ritsuko patted her shoulder, « And I don’t understand it either.  Someone you don’t like tries to . . . maybe their not liking you doesn’t have anything to do with their code of honor. »

     Ranko shuddered at that.

Chapter 14-15
Chapter 20-21