[FFML] [Ranma][NGE][HPL][AMG][Fusion][Fanfic] Sic Semper Morituri Chapter 57 - The Price of Victory Part 3 of 3

Daniel Jess Gibson dan_s.comments at att.net
Sun Dec 28 07:28:14 PST 2008


[Ranma][NGE][HPL][AMG][Fusion][Fanfic] Sic Semper Morituri Chapter 57
- The Price of Victory

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

[Note to Moderators, this is part 3 of a 3 part posting.
Please combine with parts 1 and 2 for archiving.]

August 21, 1947
  . . . ~An all-hands meeting with Commander Ikari is something _no
one_, not even Rei, looks forward to,~ Ikari thought as he watched
them arrive, and listened to their byplay, ~As they file into the
office before the desk, the pilots, a clear comment on their
boldness, take the chairs at the front, and the senior staff files in
behind.  And the war for position and dominance begins.~
  . . . "The invitation ordered the front seats to be 'left open' for
the pilots," Asuka teased Shinji, "But didn't order us to take the
front.  I guess maybe you _are_ growing a spine!"
  . . . "I wanted to sit with Ayanami," Shinji replied softly.
  . . . Asuka turned and stared at Misato.  "I guess you aren't his
favorite anymore."  She turned back before she could see Misato's
shocked and angry reaction.
  . . . "Dangerous," Nabiki warned, "Taking a shot like that, and
turning your back on her."
  . . . "Once Roku-kun returned, she knew he would guard her back,"
Rei said quietly, "As he has done often before."
  . . . "What's she gonna do?" Ranma asked as he sloppily lounged in
the chair, "Strangle her while we're all sittin' here?"
  . . . Ritsuko shook her head and stared at Misato.  "And I'd _so_
hoped you could keep them civilized," Ritsuko said with a sigh, "All
that work for nothing.  We'll have to start all over again."
  . . . Misato could only sputter helplessly in response as the kids
and others grinned at their coordinated attack.
  . . . "So where is he?" Asuka demanded.
  . . . Gendo steeled himself, made certain his bag had all the items
in it.
  . . . "And what did we mess up?" Ranma asked.
  . . . "Hear the 'we'?" Nabiki asked, "He _is_ more civilized."
  . . . ~It begins,~ he thought as he marched inside.
  . . . "Oh Hellooo!" Gendo trilled as he swept into the room, wearing
a Santa Claus hat and carrying a large sack over his shoulder.  "So
sorry I was late," he trilled as he walked across the Sephiroth, "But
I have presents!"  He stepped up to the line of pilots who stared at
him in horror, amazement and shock.  "You've all done _such_ a
wonderfully good job.  I just had to find some way to show my
gratitude!"   He stopped before the Second Children.  "You've tried
_so_ hard, and you think no one appreciates your efforts.  But I do!"
He ignored her suspicious look as he leaned close, and Asuka leaned
away with a snarl.  "You see the U.S. Navy doesn't have any medals
they can give to people who aren't in the Navy, and they wouldn't
make the Army give away any of _its_ medals, the meanies!" he
announced in a tone usually associated with kindergarten teachers,
"And you're just so _cute!_"
  . . . Asuka's expression of waxing terror as she stared at him had
no apparent effect on him, but the other pilots seemed divided
between leaping to her defense, and running away.  He knelt next to
Asuka and held the bag up to hide most of his face, except his eyes.
Asuka looked ready to jump out of her seat, if not her skin.  "I've
got a fuzzy surprise for _you!_" he told her and lowered the bag to
display the manic grin.
  . . . Only Asuka's eyes moved as she tracked his hand reaching into
the sack.
  . . . "I know you hate dollies!" he said in a singsong tone, "But
this isn't a dolly!"
  . . . "How nice," Asuka braced herself in her chair and looked at
the others for help, and realized whatever horror mad Gendo pulled
from the bag, she would face it alone.
  . . . He held the colorful object in front of his face, moving it to
make it seem to dance.  "It's not a dolly, but it is cute!  And it
wants to be your bestest friend," he squealed and carefully placed
the toy in Asuka's hands.
  . . . Asuka examined the furry, multicolored model of the
Panzerkampfwagen Koeingtiger with the colorful `camouflage` scheme
and the oversized main gun.  She looked at the mantelet and saw the
smile gracing the mantelet and the eyes glued to the sides of the
turret, then she turned it over to look at the buttons sewed on the
hull that were surrounded by the pink belt that simulated the tracks.
  . . . "Oh you naughty girl, turning it over to look at its road
wheels!" Gendo squealed, "The poor thing!  Only Dr. Akagi and Maya
are allowed to look at _your_ road wheels!"  Gendo tsk tsked at her.
  . . . Asuka seemed on the verge of replying, then looked at the
grinning face first of Gendo, then the tank, and decided the only
reaction would be to turn the tank right side up.
  . . . "They're overlapping, not interleaved," Gendo told her
petulantly, waggling his finger in her face, "You won't catch _me_
that easily."
  . . . "Thank you, Commander.  It's very nice."
  . . . "Ooooo!  I'm so _glad_ you like it," Gendo squealed happily,
clasped his hand under his chin and did a little dance, "I'm just so
delighted to know I guessed right and you like it!"
  . . . Gendo skipped a few steps, then whirled to face Rei and
Shinji.  Shinji cringed and Rei stared at him with wide eyes.  "I
have something special to give to you two too!  TOO!  TOO!  TOO!"
Gendo said and giggled as he set the sack on the ground, knelt before
Shinji and Rei, and reached in with both hands, then thrust what he'd
grabbed from the sack into Rei and Shinji's hands.
  . . . Gendo's face fell, he covered his mouth and squeaked, "Oh no!
It's horrible!"
  . . . Rei stared at the object in her hands and clearly did not find
it horrible.  "It is a credible duplication of myself as a doll."
She held the figure out to Asuka.  "This is a doll.  I am not."  When
Asuka barely glanced up from her minute examination of her present,
Rei turned to Shinji.  "He seems mildly offended by his likeness, but
nothing to warrant your reaction, Commander."
  . . . "Oh Rei, I've made an awful mistake!" Gendo said as he knelt
before Rei and rested his forehead on her knees, "Can you forgive a
foolish old man such a tragic mistake?"
  . . . Shinji looked at Rei, who stared back wild-eyed.  "Uh, yes,"
Shinji said nervously.
  . . . Rei watched the Commander as most people watched rabid
animals.  "Of . . . of course, Commander," Rei stammered, glancing at
the others, her expression showed how completely lost she was, "I
assume no malice involved in your error."  She looked around again
wide-eyed, at the Commander's lost of stoicism and the resulting
violation of the natural order of the universe that governed her
life.
  . . . Gendo turned to Shinji, who recoiled at the older man's
desperate, tearful expression.  "Can you forgive your poor father his
tragic mistake?"
  . . . "Uh," Shinji said as he glanced around and found no one who
wasn't at least as bewildered as he was, even the senior staff was
nonplused or worse.  "Yes."  He nodded.
  . . . Gendo hugged Shinji's knees and shouted, "Thank you, thank
you, thank you!"  He released Shinji's knees, sat up straight and
took Shinji by the shoulders.  "Son, of all the pilots, I've always
known I could count on you two."  Gendo's expression froze again, and
Shinji tried to disappear into his chair.  Gendo looked up and down
the line.  "I have faith in all of you pilots.  You all do your very
best, and you have never failed to rise to any challenge given you.
Some of your ideas of _how_ to meet a challenge are not in perfect
synchronization with how I'd best want a situation dealt with.  I
hope you all understand."  Asuka kept staring at the smiling tank.
Ranma shook his head while the others nodded and stammered 'thank
yous'.  "I'm so haaappy!" Gendo said as he clasped his hands under
his chin.
  . . . Gendo knelt between Shinji and Rei.  "If I may?" he asked
worriedly as he looked from one to the other, then pointed at the two
dolls the pair held.  Shinji and Rei glanced at each other, then
looked at Gendo and nodded.  Their uncertainty etched in their faces.
  . . . With the wariness of someone removing a live fuse from a
shell, Gendo pulled the Shinji doll from Shinji's hands while
simultaneously removing the Rei doll from Rei's grasp.  He relaxed
not a whit as he crossed his arms and just as painstakingly placed
the Rei doll in Shinji's hands, and the Shinji doll in Rei's hands.
With that accomplished, he bowed his head, hugged both of them and
let out a loud sigh.  "I must simply learn to stop rushing."
  . . . " 'More haste, less speed'," he trilled and giggled with
relief, instantly setting off alarmed expressions in everyone around
him.
  . . . As Gendo stood and reached into his bag, he smiled at Maya.
"I bet you thought I forgot you!" he said in the singsong tone.
  . . . "I had.  I didn't expect any reward, Commander," Maya managed
as the Commander drew near her.  Both Kaji and Misato moved away from
the Analyst, although Ritsuko bristled and remained at her side.
  . . . "Oh you were _so_ clever!  And _so_ brave!" Gendo squealed, "I
just _had_ to get you a reward _too_."  He pulled out a gray lump of
fur that seemed to have every eye in the place glued to it: it looked
a little disturbing with all the eyes glued on it.  Asuka's and
Ranma's different blue, Rei's red, Simson's gray and the more common
browns and blacks of the others, even a couple with rose-tinted
lenses.  "There's Misato's, and Kaji's and Shinji's," Gendo chirped
as he pointed out the different styles and seeming expressions of the
eyes.
  . . . "Thank you, Commander," Maya said as she accepted the gift and
hugged it to her cheek, all the while smiling at a very nervous
Ritsuko, "It's adorable."  The others edge further away from Maya, as
if fearing her and the Commander's condition were catching.  Ranma
looked as if he'd changed the membership of his top phobia list.
  . . . "I'm so pleased you like it," Gendo squealed.
  . . . Gendo stepped back to the front row, and took one long step,
so he was confronting the last three pilots.  Gendo stepped in front
of Nabiki, who looked one step away from violence.  "I bet you think
I forgot _you!_" Gendo accused with a happy grin.
  . . . "I know you wouldn't!" Nabiki replied in the same eerie
singsong while grinning back at Gendo, and got an elbow in the ribs
from a terrified Ranma.  Jeff had palmed the holdout pistol he
carried.
  . . . "A girl with such overwhelming faith in her fellow man!" Gendo
squealed, with his hands clasped under his chin and a wide grin on
his face while he danced.
  . . . When he stopped, he knelt before the three, still wearing his
wide, oddly-disturbing grin.  "Do you want to guess what I got for
you all?"
  . . . Nabiki's nerve failed and she only shook her head.
  . . . "Nothing of the Felis-family," Jeff managed, then glanced at
Ranma.
  . . . "I searched and researched, ha ha!" Gendo laughed and reached
in his bag, "I was such a big silly, it was so obvious once I knew."
He removed a doll.  "See, see, see?" he said eagerly as he displayed
the Ranma doll.  Then folded it into itself and revealed a Ranko doll
was the inside, now the outside.  "You didn't guess that!  I know
you'd never settle for just one!" he teased as he shook his finger at
Nabiki.  "It's just _so clever!_"  He handed the doll to her.  "You
think both are yummy, and you want both, you naughty girl.  You get
to be utterly devoted, and a two-timer all at the same time!"
  . . . Nabiki nearly slugged him for that remark, but took one look
at his mad grin, and decided to just nod.
  . . . Gendo grinned at Jeff.  "I just couldn't think of what to get
you, then it came to me in a dream."  He pulled the figure out.  The
winged, face-tentacled, pudgy figure would have been cute, except the
violently clashing, eye-watering paisley and plaid made it a bit of a
nightmare.
  . . . "This may break our treaty," Davis murmured as he accepted the
odd figure.
  . . . "Oh you're _such_ an old worry wort!" Gendo teased as he
tousled Jeff's hair, "If he didn't like that dream, he certainly
could have stopped it!"
  . . . Ranma wore a sick smile as he stared at Gendo and Nabiki.
Then blanched as Gendo turned that grin on him.
  . . . He beamed at Ranma, who would have preferred facing a Great
Old One or even a giant cat.  "I've got something extra, superduper,
scrumptiously special for you!"
  . . . Ranma looked desperately at the other pilots then at the
staff.  "Help me!" he whispered.
  . . . "You were so difficult.  One of those cute, adorable, soft and
furry . . . "
  . . . Ranma looked ready to leap clear out of the room.
  . . . Gendo sighed, "Then I remembered how you feel about them.  So
tragic."
  . . . Ranma relaxed slightly.  "Yeah, tragic," Ranma said, visibly
relieved he wasn't going to have one of ~THEM~ dropped in his lap.
  . . . "I wanted to make something adorable for each of you!  But I
was out of practice, and it took too much time," Gendo said, and
pouted with his lip out-thrust, then he brightened, "But then I
thought, gosh darn it, I'm a big important officer.  No more Gendo
Grumpy-Pants.  There are people who need the work and can do a better
job than I could.  I designed and personally supervised all the
others, and concentrated on making yours."
  . . . Ranma could only managed a sick grin as he watched Gendo pull
the box off his desk, and held it open facing Ranma.  The martial
artist had covered his face with both hands.
  . . . "Oh that's just _adorable!_" Gendo squealed, "You thought I
might have water in there!"
  . . . What Gendo carefully pulled out of the box was neither water,
nor could it be described as cute.  The intricately carved red,
wooden statue of the rearing horse seemed alive.  The black thread
mane and the fierce expression made it closely resemble Ranma,
exactly as if the `wild horse` had been a wild horse.
  . . . "You carved that?" Ranma asked as he carefully accepted the
work of art.
  . . . "I never knew why I gave it up," Gendo said with a thoughtful
sigh, "It's so . . . relaxing.  Bringing out beauty with only the
skill of your hands."  This seemingly insightful comment extracted
even more discomfort and squirming among those who watched Gendo walk
around his desk.
  . . . "It's beautiful," Ranma said in confused, yet reverent tones,
"Thank you."
------------------------------
  . . . Gendo merely smiled at Ranma's innocent enjoyment of beauty
from a source he'd never suspected or expected.  As he sat, he smiled
as he looked at them. ~Every person,~ he thought, ~Even Rei, has
their hand on their sidearm or other hand weapon.  Except Simson, but
he knew.  Poor Kaji has his as well, and he should have known.
Ritsuko doesn't, but she hardly needs to does she?  Although she
bristled every time I approached Maya or the pilots.  So they have
her sewn up.  None have set their toys aside.  So, all I need is Rei
at my side, and there will be no point tricking them to their fate, I
only need let them volunteer, and they'll run over the top of us to
get there.  SEELE can never match that level of control.~
  . . . He glared at them all as he pushed his glasses up his face,
then steepled his fingers.  "I've never seen such pleased relief for
glaring and playing the 'Evil Heartless Gendo' at anyone," he said as
he deliberately reached up, picked the hat off his head, and tossed
it to Rei.  Simson tipped his hat to Gendo.
  . . . ~I'm glad my hands hide my grin,~ he thought.
  . . . "Adaptability," he said, "We assumed that since we could not
truly fathom our enemies, that the opposite was equally true.  We
have become too dependent on this, and have become predictable.  Our
own unpredictability is our best weapon.  Their defeat in the recent
battle was in large part due to the completely unpredictable actions
by Admiral Adams and the Azores Group."
  . . . ~They are much more relaxed,~ he thought, ~Now that I'm 'back
to normal'.  I'll have to keep them a little off balance.~
  . . . "I have demonstrated it, and severely disconcerted all of
you."  He paused to let them consider.  "The rewards are meant to be
tokens of my and the other command staff's esteem for your hard work
and dedication.  You have performed superbly - for novices.  We can
no longer accept and assume that you are novices.  Your expertise
with the EVAs, and your acquired knowledge of our enemies, easily
approaches that of the junior technical and research staff.  All of
you must accept greater responsibility and must take a greater role.
The first part is that you will begin rotating through other elements
of NERV, rather than just serving as pilots.  Some of you have
participated in NERV SAR, now we will begin training you to take
bridge positions, so you will better understand the limitations and
advantages your commanding officers have in overseeing and directing
you."
  . . . ~I do understand why Shinji looks so pleased to be out of the
cockpit, odd that Asuka and Saotome seem to as well,~ Gendo thought,
~Only Rei, Davis and Tendo look eager.  Perhaps we should begin the
rotations immediately.~
  . . . "As for your predictability, I am not ordering you to change
who you are," he said while looking at Rei to make it doubly clear to
her.
  . . . Rei responded by carefully straightening and folding the hat
before putting it on her head with the point sticking straight up.
  . . . "But you, as did I, need to learn to act temporarily and
occasionally as if you were a different person."  He paused to let
that sink in.
  . . . "I'm going to be stuck with Spineless!  Aren't I!?" Asuka
shouted in derision.
  . . . "Perceptive and predictable as always, Miss Langley," Gendo
replied and enjoyed the girl's wince.  "You are correct.  However, it
is deeper than merely chaining you together."  He paused to let them
settle down.  "It is my intention that you each learn tactics and
strategies from the very different personalities.  What the Twins
summoned will require a level of integration that _none_ of you have
shown.  Since you seem to rival my knowledge of the Mythos, they are
called Nug and Yeb."
  . . . "Aren't they supposed . . . ?"
  . . . ~Miss Langley's certainty drains away as she realizes she knew
what she knew,~ Gendo thought of the stricken girl.
  . . . "Yes, they have the Torch and Furnace that will cleanse the
world, of us, and open the path for the Outer Gods to wake and rule.
I think we all agree that stopping them is a huge priority."
  . . . "That's a joke, Wondergirl," Miss Langley said as she
recovered.
  . . . "I believe that this may be another reason for the `treaty`
with Cthulhu," Rei said, and looked at the others, "That we might
prevent loss of Earth, not to us, but to him."
  . . . "Unintended consequences," Davis said and shrugged.
  . . . "They will be arriving soon - "
  . . . "They're here," Lieutenant Aoba said as he rushed into the
meeting, "They appeared about 90 seconds ago."
  . . . He was pleased that none of the pilots needed an order to dash
from the room, each leaving their award sitting on their chairs.
  . . . "I think the Children _have_ led," Simson said as he and
Ramsey left at a more sedate pace.
  . . . Gendo stood and walked towards the command deck.
------------------------------
I need your gentle hands to keep me calm
  . . . Asuka looked at the `windows` that appeared in her mind's eye.
"What's the matter Horseface?  Doesn't the seat fit anymore?"
  . . . "I dunno know," Horseface replied as he fidgeted, "It's like
it doesn't feel the same."
  . . . "All the EVAs feel of their pilots," Wondergirl commented.
  . . . "Why don't we go?" Spineless added, as the bay doors rumbled
open.
  . . . "See, put him in an -"
  . . . "EVA and he grows a spine," Shinji finished Asuka's comment,
"You've said it before.  Predictable."
  . . . Asuka grumbled under her breath.  ~I'm starting to _hate_ that
word!~
  . . . "Launch," came Misato's order, and the pilots headed out.
  . . . "Why are we back on batteries and tethers?" Asuka asked as she
moved out of the bay.
  . . . "Because we aren't sure that our visitors didn't sabotage the
S and S2 engines," Ritsuko replied from the command deck, "Until we
are sure, you aren't using them."
  . . . Asuka harrumphed as she dashed along the cleared area.  "What
are you waiting for?" she asked as she pulled ahead.
  . . . "The disaster of Cthugha," Wondergirl commented.  Asuka
immediately slowed down.
  . . . "This one can't burn or blow things up," Asuka replied
defensively, "They only eat things.  You wear that hat in the L.C.L.,
you'll never get it clean," she added.  She immediately picked up the
pace as the other three caught up to her.
  . . . "Should we attack together?" Spineless suggested.
  . . . "How about Horseface and I kill it, and you and Wondergirl
make sure it doesn't hurt any civilians?" Asuka replied as the
corrupt, floating mass glided towards them.
  . . . "That is acceptable," Wondergirl said.
  . . . "I'm _so_ glad that you approve.  Horseface, can you keep up
with me?  Or should you stay back and hold hands with Spineless?"
  . . . "Can you?" Horseface asked as he leapt past Asuka and at the
creature.
  . . . "Whaauugh!" Asuka shouted as she raced the distance to catch
up.
------------------------------
  . . . Shinji heard Ranma's whoop of triumph.  ~Something's not
right,~ he thought, ~I don't know what is wrong.  I only know
something is.  What do I tell them?~
  . . . Before he could resolve his dilemma, Misato's face appeared in
the screen.
  . . . "Shinji!  Why are you hanging back?  You were -?"
  . . . Rei's more welcome face replaced it.  "Remember Cthugha," she
urged gently, then her face vanished, leaving a white-faced Misato in
mid-tirade.
  . . . "We thought we'd best prevent it from happening again," Shinji
said, "I'm sorry, I'll rush ahead."  He cut the transmission and
briefly considered blocking the line.
  . . . ~That's it, there's more than one, but it isn't what father
described!~ he thought as the two targets separated.
  . . . "No shelters, no people, no burning ships, just farmland and
we're on tethers," Asuka said as her face appeared, "This is the
place to attack full force. Spineless, you and Wondergirl keep an eye
out for surprises and be ready to back us up."
  . . . "Jawhol," Rei replied, causing Asuka to frown.
  . . . "That isn't how jawohl is pronounced," Asuka said with a
pained expression.
  . . . Misato's face reappeared.  "Are _any_ of you listening to me?"
she asked angrily.
  . . . "That does not follow the Commander's new doctrine."
  . . . ~That sounds almost like Ayanami-san,~ Shinji thought, ~But it
has to be Saotome-san.  Ayanami would never say that on an open
channel.~
  . . . "I requested risk reduction, not a cessation of action," Rei's
face accompanied her explanation.
  . . . "Okay Mein Gro - " Ranma stumbled over the German, "Let's
attack together, with Rei and Shinji as our back up."
  . . . "Okay," Asuka said, "Wondergirl, you back me up, girls with
girls, whatever you two are together."
  . . . "They are males," Ayanami-san pronounced.
  . . . "Are?" Asuka asked, "And how do you know that, Wondergirl?"
  . . . "How do you not?" Ayanami-san replied.
  . . . ~I think she's smiling,~ Shinji thought as he shifted the
sonic glaive in his hands.
  . . . "You may attack," Ayanami-san commented as she and he stopped
moving, evidently in position.
  . . . Ranma moved forward towards one, tipped Unit 04 on its side so
he ran on the legs on one side.  He circled warily as he waited for
Asuka to attack, then he launched his super speed attack with fist
and prog knives.  "Strike!" Asuka shouted as she sunk her sonic
glaive into her target as Horseface rapid-pummeled his.  Asuka again
stabbed her sonic glaive deep into her target, aiming for the main
mass of the swirling cloud of corruption she faced.
  . . . "More is needed," Ayanami-san commented, "Synchronized mode
and timing."
  . . . "_WAAAH!_" Asuka shouted as the creatures counterattacked.
  . . . "I think we're in trouble," Shinji said as both Asuka's and
Ranma's EVAs sailed through the air in different directions.
  . . . "Coordination," came Ayanami-san's suggestion as she raised
her sonic glaive.  Shinji nodded and mirrored her move as they
approached the monsters.
------------------------------
  . . . Gendo watched the screen as the pair moved and struck their
widely separated targets with near-perfect synchronization.  The
resulting dual explosions hurled both EVAs back, but no where near as
far as Asuka's Unit 02 and Ranma's Unit 04 had gone.
  . . . "Some people were listening, some people just think they were
listening," he said as he stood up to return to his office.
----------------------------------------
  . . . "Why are we doing this again?" Jeff asked over the tether
radio.
  . . . "Because we're the smallest on the team, and you've got more
muscle and leverage," Nabiki replied.
  . . . "They didn't count the bone in my head."
  . . . "I tried to tell them."  The pair swam toward a pair of
upside-down, nearly submerged EVAs.
  . . . ~Ranma was thrown here, when the Angel(s) used Unit 02 like a
club,~ Nabiki thought and tried not to smirk, ~Asuka followed, while
Shinji and Rei killed it/them.~  Nabiki remembered the briefing
before launch, ~Ranma's tether was severed, and he was forced to shut
down everything but minimal life support.  Asuka's tether was still
attached, but with concerns for the dive teams, power had been
reduced to a bare minimum.  Neither plug could be ejected, because
they'd lodge in the lake bottom, and the pilots would drown.
Terrific, so we go in to fix it.~
  . . . She remembered that the Captain of SAR had devised a simple
plan.  ~Raccoon and I will swim down to the inverted EVAs' entry
plugs, open the `bottom` hatch, and create an air bubble in the plug
to allow the pilot to clear the L.C.L. from their lungs.  Then they'd
be given an air mask, and would follow the entry swimmer's tether out
of the entry plug, to the other swimmer, who would direct them to the
knotted hawser to the surface.~  She checked the minimal gear she and
Raccoon carried, and the tool cache the hard-hat divers had placed,
in case it was needed.  ~Hard hat divers will supervise the
decompression stages.  The simplicity is marred by the EVAs both
being upside-down on their backs, and while Rei and Shinji could
shift the other EVAs, their presence on tether power, endangered all
the people in the water.  Armor's no good, send in the infantry.~
  . . . Nabiki considered how the adventure had started, ~An Angel was
sighted and the pilots had scrambled, racing from Gendo's crazed
meeting, getting suited for battle, and for her and `Raccoon`,
waiting.~
  . . . "Are you as bored as I am?" she had asked as the pair of them
sat in their plugsuits in a room adjoining the EVAs' bay.
  . . . Raccoon had held up a book, "Not really."
  . . . "Do you carry a book with you everywhere?"
  . . . "Not everywhere, just anywhere I expect to have to wait."
  . . . By agreement, they had been speaking German, ~I had wanted to
practice.~
  . . . "Poetry or . . . ?" she'd asked.
  . . . "Tendo Nabiki, Davis Jeffrey," the intercom had blared,
"Report to the search and rescue center.  Immediately."
  . . . Raccoon had shaken his head, "Be careful what you wish for,
you may get it."
  . . . "I didn't wish for anything," she had said as they had jogged
through the complex.
  . . . "Five bucks says Langley screwed up and took Shinji or Ranma
with her."
  . . . "What odds are you giving?" she had asked.
  . . . "Even up."
  . . . "No bet."
  . . . "Coward!  Cheapskate!" he had shouted back.
  . . . ~We were briefed and launched toward Ranma's Unit 04,~ she
thought as they approached, ~Another team should be dropping the
return hawser to Asuka's Unit 02, and setting up all they safely
could, to get her out, once we got Ranma clear.~  Two divers in hard
hat suits waited at the edge of each of the EVAs, with additional
tools and air supplies, should the trapped pilots or their rescuers
need them.  ~The back of Unit 04 is nearly on the lake bottom,~ she
thought, ~Leaving a very narrow crevice down its spine to swim
through to get at the plug.~
  . . . "Nabiki-kun, stay back.  Make sure no lines get fouled.  I'll
rescue Ranma.  I'll depend on you to rescue us."
  . . . "Okay."
  . . . ~Not that I'm eager to swim 10 meters through a half meter gap
beneath the EVA's back.  At least it's not an EVA I can't sync with,
EVAs don't `like` people they can't sync with.~  She kept breathing
regularly while she paid the lines out to Jeff.  ~Under other
circumstances, his lack of interest of me in a tight swimsuit would
have been irritating.  But, typically, he is completely focused on
what he was doing.  Gendo's right, I want them all. I wonder what I'd
look like in a harem dress?~
  . . . "We've got a problem," he reported, "There isn't enough
clearance to get the hatch open.  Charge the airline and I'll blast a
pit for it to swing in."
  . . . "Okay, we've got it," Captain Madison replied from the control
boat above.
  . . . "One more thing.  What's the specific gravity of L.C.L.?  If
it is heavier than water, we'll all be blind once I open the hatch."
  . . . "I'll check on it."
  . . . Jeff braced himself on the EVA as air and water blasted out of
the hose he carried.  Silt soon obscured him from Nabiki's view.
"Okay, shut down, that should be enough."
  . . . The water cleared, Jeff was pulling on the entrance wheel with
a wrench.  "Come on!  This is unacceptable.  I can't have you
quitting on me!"  He relaxed.  "Nabiki, I need a cheater, maybe two,
two feet and four feet."
  . . . "What's a . . . "
  . . . "We got'em."  One of the hard-hat divers handed her a pair of
pipe lengths.  She swam in with the pipes, she saw how agitated he
looked.  "You okay?"
  . . . "Grr.  Frustrated."  He walloped the hatch with the wrench.
"So close and yet so far."  He fitted the short length on the wrench,
braced his feet on the plug's load brackets and pulled with his
entire body.  "Durak, poshol ty kuda podal'she!  Poshol ty!"  He
pulled off the two-foot section and replaced it with the four-foot
section and pulled. {Fool, get outta here!  Go to the devil!}
  . . . "Specific gravity is similar to sea water, mostly temperature
dependent."
  . . . "Urg, thanks."  The wheel released.  "Nabiki! Air hose!"
  . . . She grabbed for it as black liquid seeped, then poured out of
the plug, obscuring everything.  "Charge the line," she ordered, then
aimed the stream of air into the open hatch.  She and Jeff fixed it
through a loading bracket, and Jeff made his entry while Nabiki kept
the lines clear of obstructions.
  . . . "Slack, we need slack," she told them.
  . . . She almost jumped when Jeff let out a yelp.  "Raccoon?!
Jeffery?  Are you all right?" she demanded.
  . . . "I'm . . . Ranko caught me . . . we're going to need another
plugsuit, and another air pack."
  . . . "What happened?" Captain Madison asked, "Should Tendo go in
there?"
  . . . "I think I've got it covered.  There's no immediate danger,
and here and now aren't the time and place to figure it out.  Our job
is rescue."
  . . . "Tendo," Madison ordered, "Take the equipment to him."  There
was a click, indicating the private channel had cut in.  "And Tendo,
Find out.  I need some real answers."
  . . . "Yes, sir," she replied and waited for the equipment to
arrive.
  . . . ~Ranma shouldn't be shy about losing a plugsuit,~ she thought,
~As Ranma _or_ Ranko.  Maybe he got it tangled and needs to be cut
out of it, and then did Raccoon drop the air pack and can't find it?
That makes no sense.  I agree with Captain Madison, if Raccoon
doesn't want to jabber about something, it's pretty strange.~
  . . . The diver arrived with the suit and air pack.  Nabiki steeled
herself and headed down the narrow corridor under the EVA.  ~Every
moan and groan is magnified,~ she thought, ~I can almost feel the EVA
getting ready to crush me.~ She entered the still spreading black
cloud, and made it to the hatch, slipping through and to relative
safety.  ~Now to deliver - ~  As she surfaced, someone grabbed her.
  . . . "YIKE!" Nabiki yelped, "Saotome!  You're freezing!" Nabiki
yelled at the boy who'd latched onto her.
  . . . "Ranko's got the same problem," Raccoon told her, "Except she
doesn't have a plugsuit."
  . . . Nabiki briefly considered summoning a light ball to let her
actually see the scene inside the air bubble.  Nabiki's eyes crossed
as she envisioned it.  ~No, my imagination's enough,~ she thought, ~I
don't need confirmation.~  She shook her head again.  ~Get my mind
out of the gutter, and back to the rescue.  He's hanging on as if he
were terrified.  He's not acting like it's something perverted.~
  . . . "Okay, how do we get them out of the hatch?"
  . . . "We get them calmed down, like any other hedgehog," he told
her in German.
  . . . ~Poor Ranma, and poor Ranko,~ Nabiki thought, ~No wonder
he/she broke down. If it's not one thing it's another!  And it _is_
freezing in here, how come when the water outside is warm?~
------------------------------
  . . . "Okay, there are people just outside who'll take you to the
surface," Nabiki told Ranma while they treaded water in the entry
plug.  She saw Raccoon was soothing a now-dressed Ranko with a
similar message.
  . . . "Are you coming too?" Ranma asked, "Sorry about the . . . "
  . . . "We have to get Asuka," Nabiki apologized, "You'll be fine,
once you're back on the surface and 'Rit-chan' can check up on you.
Everything will be fine."
  . . . Ranma looked at Ranko, then both looked back at their
counselors.
  . . . "Okay," Ranma said.
  . . . Ranko nodded to whatever Raccoon had said and put on a
determined, brave face as she dove under the L.C.L./water mix.
  . . . A moment later, Ranma exited the entry plug with his air
bottle in one hand and carefully guiding himself along Nabiki's
tether to the divers, closely following Ranko with her air bottle in
hand, feeling her way along on Jeff's tether with the other.  Nabiki
pointed toward the other two divers.  They nodded and carefully swam
through the inky waters.
  . . . "Salt water, salt water, salt water, stupid, stupid, stupid!"
Jeff exited the entry plug in a fury.
  . . . "Hey!  Hey."  Nabiki caught his hands.  "He's safe, she's
safe, the other divers . . . "  She shifted her grip.  "Your pulse is
racing."
  . . . Jeff pulled his hands free.  "A friend nearly died because I
didn't hear _salt_ water.  I'm a little angry with myself.  Okay."
  . . . "More than a little.  Listen, calm down, you'll need a clear
head when we get to Asuka."
  . . . ~Friend?~ Nabiki thought, ~_A_, which one?  And what is the
other one?~
  . . . "Right, yes.  I promise."  They carefully moved out from under
the EVA, Ranma, Ranko and a pair of divers were heading for the
surface.
----------------------------------------
  . . . Jeff passed by the plug without a tether to 'ground' him, to
determine the conditions.
  . . . ~There's more clearance on Unit 02, except it was sitting on
its side, in a hole on the bottom with a dozen feet of clearance from
the sloping lake bed,~ Nabiki surmised, ~The Captain figures with
Unit 02's life support and communications still working, this was
going to be a lot easier.  Why is it _still_ so cold down here?  At
least Ranma and Ranko are safe aboard and wanted to stay, awaiting
'Asuka-chan's' rescue rather than pester Ritsuko-sensei for a
diagnosis and a cure.  Interesting.~  The actinic flashes from the
damaged umbilical had everyone worried.
  . . . "Only Langley, only Langley.  Nothing's ever easy." Jeff
reported after retaking his airline, after his close pass on the
entry plug, "The turn wheel and the shaft are gone, one of the hinges
is smeared like a clay model.  We can't unbolt it, and since both we
and Langley are in liquid, I don't like the idea of explosives or
cutting torches."
  . . . "What about a saw?  Cut through the hinges and get her out
that way?" Nabiki suggested.
  . . . "Pilot Langley reports both inner hatches are jammed, she
can't budge either," Captain Madison replied, "What about having the
other EVAs lift it out?"
  . . . "Negative," Nabiki replied, "The surface is too soft.  Even
lying down, Unit 02 sank 3 meters into the bottom.  The other two
will sink worse if they walk in and lift."
  . . . "I've got a radical idea," Jeff said.
  . . . You usually do, Nabiki teased inwardly.
  . . . "We don't have enough clearance to eject the plug completely,
but it would give access to the other hatch.  Unbolt the hinges, pull
the whole side hatch off, and get Langley out that way,"  Jeff
suggested.
  . . . "Let me check with the eggheads," the captain told them.
  . . . "Fine, fine.  Anybody bring a deck of cards?" Jeff asked.
  . . . "Against you two sharks?  No thanks," one of the hard hat
divers said.
  . . . "Not even penny-ante or matchsticks!" said the other.
  . . . "Our reputation precedes us," Nabiki lamented.
  . . . "Eggheads approved your plan," the captain said, "They figure
that an EVA should be able to recover the plug even if your plan
doesn't work.  They also think there's 15 minutes breathing in the
tube once it ejects, then four minutes until the pilot dies.  So
we've got 12 minutes to get an air supply to the pilot, after that we
can take our time or let Pilots Ikari and Ayanami pull the plug
free."
  . . . "Affirmative," Jeff and Nabiki said.
  . . . "They'll start the eject, then cut power to the tether, the
eject will take place under internal power.  One less thing to worry
about."
  . . . Nabiki grabbed Jeff's hand, checking his pulse, "Stay calm,
stay focused."  She ignored his frown and how cold his skin was,
while suppressing a shudder at the increasing cold of the water.
----------------------------------------
  . . . Jeff was unscrewing the stiffest bolts in the history of
mankind, "I love my job.  Tight quarters, no light."  Bzapt.  "Random
electric shocks, and THESE STUPID BOLTS!"
  . . . Nabiki smiled at his outrage.  ~The job was progressing
smoothly.~
  . . . "That's one, time?"
  . . . "Eight minute left," she told him.
  . . . "I'm not going to comment, or this next one will be worse."
  . . . She heard the shriek of metal as he started on the second and
last hinge.
  . . . "I thought I'd be facing monsters." Bzapt.  "Fighting
shoulder-to-shoulder to save the -"  Zap!  "World.  Know what I am?
A mechanic."  Zap.  "Who got me into this situation?!"
  . . . Variations of 'You did' or 'You volunteered,' filled the comm
channel.  Nabiki laughed, she suspected the others were too.  ~As
long as Raccoon is griping, everything is going along well, when he's
quiet, he's concentrating on trouble.~
  . . . "Thanks for the -"  Zap.  "Support and sympathy."  Brzapt.
"Ouch!  Now look, I'm just doing -"  Zap.  "My job, and I -" Zoopt,
"I'd like a little -"  Crakzap.  "Cooperation on your part!"  Zapt!
Zaaap!  "Okay!  I'll shut up!  What a grouch."  Zap.
  . . . Nabiki watched and listened to Jeff work.  ~I can hear the
squeal of metal, but can only see him when the battery's discharge
arcs.~  She winced at that.  ~I understood the discharges don't touch
him directly and he probably has some mystical defense up, but they
have to be painful, the way he is reacting to them showed that.~  The
silence dragged on.  ~Now I'm getting worried.~
  . . . Another arc and she could see the cloud of L.C.L. coming out
of the hatch.   "Six minutes left."
  . . . "Okay, fine," he replied curtly in English, "Discipline.  Mind
over matter and perceptions."
  . . . Something in his tone set her teeth on edge.  ~I've heard him
use that tone on Shinji, and me, often enough, when we wanted to run
away and Jeff wouldn't let us.  Who's he talking to?~ she asked
herself.
  . . . "People are depending on you.  Langley and Ranma are depending
on you, and those two have had enough problems in their lives without
you adding on."
  . . . ~Heck with it!  I'm heading -~  When the call of 'Ware below,
charge the line,' came through, she dodged as the 70-kilo hatch
sailed out of the spreading cloud.  The line to make the pilot's air
bubble surged as the control boat above responded.  A few moments
later, a somewhat bedraggled Asuka Langley descended the tether line,
Nabiki directed her to the ascent line and made sure her air bottle
was working correctly.  She watched Asuka take the accent hawser.
The hard hats would escort her up.
  . . . "Jeff, she's clear, no need to hold the line."  No answer.
"Jeff can you hear me?  Control boat, am I transmitting?"
  . . . "Receiving loud and clear.  Maybe the radio line got snagged."
  . . . "I need one of the hard hats to keep my lines clear," she said
  . . . ~_This_ time I follow my instincts.~  One of the hard hat
divers moved up and signaled ready.  Nabiki swam into and through the
expanding black cloud of L.C.L.  She could hear the bubbling that
indicated regular breathing.  She couldn't see anything.
  . . . ~My intellect tells me Jeff is playing a juvenile game, luring
me up into the privacy and anonymity of the L.C.L. cloud, to tickle
me again, or some other ridiculous . . .  My instincts tell me he's
in trouble, maybe from before the hatch came out of the darkness.~
She moved slowly, touching the radio line of the tether.  ~If it is
snagged and severed, the air line could easily be next, explaining
Jeff's paralysis.~  Her arm bumped into something, she thought it was
the hatch entrance, until she got closer.  ~It's Raccoon.  I can't
see anything in this soup, but I haven't felt anything that would
foul the tether.~
  . . . "I've got him.  Haul him back slowly.  We may have a problem."
She shepherded him back down the gap between the EVA and the plug.
Two divers were carefully reeling them in, feeling for the least
resistance, they'd stop.  Once in less murky water she saw minor
burns on his arms, legs, neck, and on the back of the wetsuit, but
nothing to cause the apparent catatonia.  She and the hard hats
carefully took him to the surface, wary for any signs of the bends.
----------------------------------------
  . . . Dr. Akagi stepped out of the airlock in the decompression
chamber.  She and Captain Madison had recommended Jeff be taken back
down to depth and allowed to `soak`, brought up slowly over 24 hours.
Nabiki stepped in, she had volunteered to watch him.  The doctor and
Captain Madison agreed.  With the doctor's physical exam completed
and Jeff changed out of his damaged wetsuit, they were being
pressurized.
  . . . Ikari evaluated Dr. Akagi's report, "He suffered first and
second degree burns on 27% of his body.  The catatonia seems to be a
defense reaction to claustrophobia, scotophobia, bathophobia or some
combination of them or others.  He should never have been allowed
into this organization like that, why didn't the tests show this
before."
  . . . "He suffered the attack _after_ he rescued Pilot Langley,"
Captain Madison asserted, "He showed no problem during confined entry
testing, and we exceeded normal parameters due to his claim that his
smaller physical size was a major advantage.  A fear of dark or
enclosed spaces would have shown up during those tests, I assure
you."
  . . . "It may also have something to do with the proximity to Unit
02.  He has difficulty syncing with it.  Considering what happened to
Ranma as well, there may have been a residual.  All the factors taken
together may have been too much."
  . . . "Or the release may have been too much," Maya commented,
"Nabiki reported she lost contact after Asuka was safe and on her
way.  He may have been wound tight and the release went too far."
  . . . "I want a full battery of tests run, if it _is_
claustrophobia, he's of no use as an EVA pilot."  Ikari dismissed
them, realized the dive team wasn't leaving `their` area, he left.
  . . . Maya caught up with Dr. Akagi as she left, "Sempai, is it just
me, or does the Commander seem completely back to how he used to be?"
----------------------------------------
  . . . "If we're going to be together, then they're probably going to
stick us in places we're used to, right?" Asuka asked, more animated
than usual as she paced and gestured as if orchestrating their
thoughts along desired lines, and she was the conductor.
  . . . "That sounds reasonable," Shinji admitted, glancing nervously
at Ranma and Ranko, two separate people, when he looked back, Asuka
was leaning right into his face.
  . . . ~I think I can see her eyes boiling,~ he thought, remembering
Misato doing the exact same thing, ~I can also see she's not wearing
a bra.  Uh oh.~
  . . . "Are you enjoying looking down my shirt?" Asuka asked in a
pleasant tone, which the boiling fury in her eyes completely spoiled.
  . . . "Umm . . . " Shinji managed while bracing for the assault.
  . . . Instead, Asuka straightened up, her expression one of
humiliation.  "What?! Just because I don't have Misato's jiggly
watermelons, they aren't worth looking at?"
  . . . Shinji searched for an answer that wouldn't turn every girl in
the room against him.
  . . . "So what if Ranko's are bigger, she's a guy!" Asuka whined.
  . . . "Thank you," Ranko said, then frowned and glared at Ranma to
warn him to say nothing.
  . . . "But I'm bigger than Wondergirl!" Asuka stated, almost in
tears at that point.
  . . . "Why is this relevant?" Ayanami-san asked pointedly.
  . . . "What?  You think you're prettier than me?" Asuka complained.
  . . . "You lack my serenity," Ayanami-san said carefully, even for
her.
  . . . "So just because I _have_ emotions, I'm not as good as you
are?!"
  . . . "I _have_ them," Ayanami-san explained dangerously, glancing
to Shinji for support, "You display them as you -"
  . . . "So I have to be all stoic, like you?" Asuka yelled at
Ayanami-san, "Or no one will like me, is that what you're saying?!"
  . . . "I do not believe so," Ayanami-san answered, showing signs of
growing confusion and anger, "The Commander showed - "
  . . . "He gave us all _toys_ like we were a bunch of kids!" Asuka
shouted, then stomped into a corner and plunked down on the floor.
  . . . ~I think she's going to burst into tears!?  Is she practicing
what father told us to do?  Or is she really acting like this?~ he
wondered.
  . . . "Asuka, are you feeling all right?" he asked.
  . . . Her head snapped up and she stared at him suspiciously.  "I'm
fine.  I wanted to talk about cleaning up Wondergirl's apartment, and
you all decided to get sidetracked."
  . . . "We-?" Ranma exclaimed.
  . . . "Yes, you too.  Now shut up unless you have something useful
to add," Asuka told him as she shot to her feet and began marching
towards them.  Shinji cringed back at her approach.  "What'cha scared
of?  Little boy."
  . . . ~That you've finally flipped,~ Shinji kept to himself.
  . . . "I, uh, that is -" he tried to explain.
  . . . "Good, then you shut up too, you're boring.  Like I was
saying.  Spineless kept Misato's place livable, if not spotless,
Ritsuko's place has been cleaned by pros, and that leaves
Wondergirl's place for another pair.  Put your hand down Ranko, I
know we have seven instead of six, so there'll be one group of
three."
  . . . "Perhaps one of three, and the other of four," Ayanami-san
suggested.
  . . . "Are you telling me you don't _want_ your place cleaned up
Wondergirl?" Asuka asked almost tearfully.
  . . . Ayanami-san looked at Shinji in utter confusion, as Asuka
stood there, fumed and waited.
----------------------------------------
  . . . Ranko brushed out her hair and stared at the mirror before
her.  ~Her, me,~ she thought as she stared at the girl looking back
at her, ~Just me, just a girl. No trace of Ranma looking back at me.
I am pretty.  Soft in all the right places.~  She smiled at herself.
~And able to melt boys' hearts with that smile.~  She frowned.
~Maybe because I realize how much they want it, and everything they
think goes with it.  But it's still me in there, but it isn't the me
Ranma thinks I - we - are.  I could never give in, be a wife, and all
the would require, but I could be a girl, a woman.  'Look but don't
touch.'~
  . . . Ranko looked at herself, her face, her body.  "No, as
confusing and frustrating as it was, I want to go back to being me.
Without both of us, we'll never find the real Ranma."
  . . . Ranko finished brushing her hair before she went to bed.
----------------------------------------
  . . . Jeff woke, lifted his head enough to look around, then dropped
it back, "I really screwed up this time.  I didn't even make it to
med-lab.  What did you do to end up here?  Kill Ikari-chan and die in
the escape?"
  . . . "You aren't in Hell," Nabiki smirked.
  . . . "That's what you think."
  . . . "You got them out, what happened?"
  . . . "I was in a mine cave-in, in the Dreamlands, when I was six.
I got to listen to 34 people in a lower gallery drown, one by one,
and every time I tried to dig down to give them a place to escape to,
the chamber I was in got smaller, caved-in.  So I spent 17 hours in
this tiny space, alone, in the dark, unable to help people I could
hear dying.  I had nightmares for weeks.  But I've never had problems
before.  I guess the combination of water, dark, the closed-in area,
and something else got me agitated.  You felt my pulse after we got
Ranma and Ranko out.  It felt like something was tearing me apart.
Pitting one part against another.  One of those parts was that scared
little kid.  The added electric shocks and the EVA continually
groaning was too much.  I held on until Langley was out . . . then I
couldn't make myself move anymore."
  . . . "I heard you talking," Nabiki told him, "You were talking to
yourself, scolding yourself, weren't you?"
  . . . "Yes, trying to convince the frightened kid part of me to go
on.  This time it _would_ make a difference."
  . . . "Why didn't you have me go in for Langley?"
  . . . "I needed all my strength to get Ranma out, I don't think you
are as strong as I am, and I knew I had help.  If it was the L.C.L.
that triggered the fear, I would have been useless getting the pair
of you out when you and they most needed me."
  . . . "Another of your secrets I have to keep," Nabiki sighed, "I
could make a lot of money blackmailing you.  Why don't I?"
  . . . "I'd slit your pretty throat, and you know it," Jeff replied,
"How long have we got?"
  . . . "Twenty one hours left."
  . . . "Let me get some sleep, then I'll teach you something."
  . . . "You trust me with more?" she said eagerly.
  . . . "No, but you've earned a few more insights."
  . . . "Frankly," Nabiki said with a sigh, "The insights I've been
getting lately, are not the kind of insights I want."


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