[FFML] Sic Semper Morituri Chapter 55 - Let the Ladies Be Heard From Part 1 of 5

Daniel Jess Gibson dan_s.comments at att.net
Sun Jun 22 13:41:18 PDT 2008


[Ranma][NGE][HPL][AMG][Fusion][Fanfic] Sic Semper Morituri
Chapter 55 - Let the Ladies Be Heard From

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

C&C, MSTs are welcome
E-mail: dan_s.comments at comcast.net or  dan_s.comments at att.net
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Morituri/

http://www.cs.ubc.ca/cgi-bin/ftp/archive/anime-fan-works/Ranma/ty
pe/Sic-Semper-Morituri
(these are the original versions)

What has gone before:
      About Book 11 of the Tankoubon Manga, Akane and Soun Tendo
throw Ranma out of the house.  Nabiki, in the guise of a wish,
follows him.  They meet EVA pilots Shinji Ikari, Rei Ayanami,
Asuka Soryu Langley and Jeffrey Davis.
      The troops of the Bennington, who will accompany NERV forces
to U.S.S. Boxer, give `Brown Bess` a flint to put between her
teeth.
      Ranma begins developing individual arts for each pilot to
incorporate their natural inclinations, strengths and weaknesses.
      The Scholarly Dragon and Jeff are thrown out of the Council
of Dragonmages for their plans to teach Nabiki.
      Several of the students are revealed.  The initial meeting
between the pilots and Usagi's group does not go as Usagi
planned.  Rei is also shocked that some students insist she is
the pilots' leader, her shock deepens as Asuka facilitates the
error.  Rei then confronts and defeats Tomoe using Ranma's
tactics and training.
      Ranma tells Asuka that he's sensed something new, something
he doesn't understand, he also admits he can't live up to
people's expectations.
      The train carrying the NERV force across the U.S. is
attacked by the Brothers of Chaugnar Faugn, lesser versions of
the Great Old One.  Ritsuko and Maya organize the resistance, the
search for the pilots, and the repair of the EVAs for later use.
Nabiki and Jeff face the monsters directly.  Nabiki's unease
about how she is perceived versus the reality begins to grow.
This unease multiplies as she bonds with a wind elemental who
takes the `nom de guerre` Coffee, then she destroys numerous
Flying Polyps that were supposed to be used as necessary against
the pilots.
      The tensions between the pilots in Tokyo and the cultists
begins ratcheting up.  The cultists haze the pilots and their
allies, and the pilots plan to strike back, including Asuka going
head-to-head with Usagi, the cultist leader.
      Rei detects that another force is intervening in the ongoing
conflicts.  Later, Ranma detects the same enemy and helps Sammi
engage it.  Sammi realizes that the situation is more
complicated, the enemy is more sophisticated and there are
possible allies she hadn't considered.
      Toji and Shinji repulse an attack on Ranma's dreamscape,
both show unexpected aptitude.
      Sarah, in England, learns that the situation in the Severn
Valley has deteriorated beyond what she had known, she offers her
services to bring the pilots to aid operations, her offer is
accepted.  She reports to the pilots, in dreams, what the
situation is.
      The Tokyo group goes shopping for Rei and Ranko.  Asuka
tries to embarrass Ranma, Mirei defends him.  Asuka convinced Rei
to start wearing her A10 nerve clip to keep her hair out of her
face.
      Usagi sacrifices Yuki to Shub-Niggurath, to warn the Goddess
from engaging the pilots.
      Shinji reveals to the pilots what he discovered in the
dream, that the pilots won't survive, the war between the Outer
and Elder Gods is over the secrets of Creation.  Because to get
the prize, four of them will have to be killed.  None are happy
about that, Ranma and Ranko are especially displeased, but they
all see any of the alternatives as worse.
      After the battle with the Flying Polyps, Jeff and Nabiki
land the EVA aboard the Boxer, not the Bunker Hill, and are
`adopted` by VMF-214.  Jeff also begins teaching Ritsuko and
Nabiki about magic.
      Ranma and Shinji receive their first firearms training.


She keeps Moet et Chandon in her pretty cabinet
'Let them eat cake' she says, just like Marie Antoinette
A built-in remedy for Kruschev and Kennedy
At anytime an invitation you can't decline
Caviar and cigarettes.  Well versed in etiquette.
Extraordinarily nice.
She's a Killer Queen, gunpowder, gelatine, dynamite with a laser
beam
Guaranteed to blow your mind, anytime
      Killer Queen - words and music by Freddie Mercury

In conversation she spoke just like a baroness
Aug 12, 1947
      "I'm sorry, Doctor" the Marine stood at attention as he told
Ritsuko, "The Admiral requests your immediate presence."
      "That explains the aircraft flying in from the other
carriers," Ritsuko said, as she turned, glancing around the
hanger deck for her assistant, "Keep an eye on them.  They've
been waiting for the testing in the EVA for an hour, I doubt
they'll be in a good mood."
      "Do I continued the tests?" Maya asked as she ran up to the
doctor.
      "No, not with fueled aircraft on board," Ritsuko said,
"Better to get them out and cleaned up.  Tell them I'm sorry, but
the situation changed."
      Maya nodded and walked towards the EVA.
      "Let's go see what all the fuss is about," Ritsuko told the
Marine and fell in behind him, "Do you have anything from the
ship's grapevine, beyond what we've already heard?"
      "No ma'am, new dispatch, coded, all hush hush.  I do know
that soon after the dispatch arrived, the other captains were on
their way here."  The Marine marched through the corridors,
headed deeper into the ship, the sailor and technicians got out
of his way.
----------------------------------------
      "The black spot!" two of the deck crew chorused and did a
ridiculous dance to `ward off` the evils of L.C.L.  The young
Ensign who'd been covered with drops of the foul-smelling liquid
was not the least bit amused.
      Maya stood by, doing her best not to laugh at the man, as
the pilots headed for decontam.   I was a victim of this, I
shouldn't find it funny, she thought, I guess some people don't
learn from other people's mistakes.  "It wash off with lemon
oil," she offered helpfully, barely keeping the smile from her
face, "I'm sure as soon as the pilots will be done, the
decontamination showers will clean you."   Serves you right for
that comment, she thought.
      "You really should have a warning about that," the irate
young Ensign complained, "Bratty bunch of kids."
      "O5's, sir," one of the senior chiefs who'd come with them
from the Bennington said, his face as straight as his
ramrod-backed posture.
      The Ensign looked shocked.  However, Maya clearly didn't
understand.
      "Ensigns are O1's, and Lieutenants like you, ma'am, are
O3's, the pilots have an O5 pay-grade," the man added, still
standing at attention and speaking in respectful tones.
      The Ensign was getting _extremely_ nervous about this.
      So the kids out-rank him, she thought, Although . . . I do
think there should be a warning, for people with no common sense.
------------------------------
      "What is your take on this?" Admiral Adams asked Ritsuko as
he refilled her coffee.
      She glanced around the wardroom, deep within the ship.  She
could clearly hear the noise of the ship's engines.   He must
have stolen this from the engine room, Ritsuko thought while she
considered her answer, The coffee in 'officer's country'
generally stinks, only the snipes make decent brew aboard this
ship.  "Assuming that this isn't an intentional leak by NERV or
the U.S. Military to help flush the attackers -" Ritsuko looked
at the shaking heads in the ward room around her.  "Then someone
else is playing games.  What they hope to accomplish . . . I
don't know.  I assume that there are additional security measures
to be put in place."
      "I want the guards checked again, and your technical people,
Doctor," Admiral Adams said, waited for Ritsuko to nod, "We have
a security leak, one of immense proportions.  I want to make
_certain_ it isn't at our end.  I also thought your request for
more speed was just homesickness.  I apologize, I was wrong,
somebody figured that we'd be out of position to help.  I want to
prove them wrong.  Your monsters may be out of my experience, but
something vulnerable to .50 API and 500 pounders, that I can deal
with."
      "Most of our enemies are resistant or immune to bullets, but
other _people_, the monsters' human servants, are our most
dangerous enemies," Ritsuko admitted.  Kehl and SEELE must be
trying something.  Since our battle group is trying to be coy
about our exact location . . . if we can keep it secret, we can't
be ordered off at the last minute when we're already in theater.
Which is SEELE's style, let the dogs smell the steak, but make
them watch you eat it, Ritsuko thought angrily, sipped her coffee
to cover her fury.  When she could manage a passable smile, she
continued, "The difference between a monster immune to bullets,
and one resistant to bullets can be determined with a short burst
of .50 API, if it is merely unhappy and not seriously wounded,
it's immune.  Further testing is unnecessary."
      The Navy men and Marines chuckled.  "Okay, Bob, work up a
couple of strike plans, both with the EVAs and without.  Charles,
get your Marines spun up.  If we have to make a hot landing, I
want them ready," Admiral Adams ordered.
      "I'd suggest an overabundance of flame-throwers, bazookas,
and incendiary or tracer ammunition for everyone," Ritsuko
suggested, "Before I left, Admiral Simson and General Tomlinson
were working out a TOE with two platoons of engineer-armed troops
and one platoon of standard composition per company.  I don't
know what that means exactly, but they seemed very proud of their
solution to the problem."  Ritsuko endured the chuckles of the
men, found their chuckles didn't hurt as they once would have.
They accepted her expertise and she could accept her ignorance,
even if it was feigned.  "I'd also point out that you have over
5,000 additional `troops`.  Every mother and every child old
enough to carry a gun should be prepared."  She saw the vaguely
horrified looks on the military men's faces, but continued, "I'm
not suggesting they be put on the front lines, but when their
quarters are swept, additional eyes and guns may be the
difference between a lark and a tragedy."
      "We'll get Marines on that," Admiral Adams said in a shaky
voice, "Too bad we can't test those new mortars, I'd really like
the pilots to be familiar with them . . . if things will be as
bad as you say."
      "They can be dry-fired, and the pilots trained on mortar
tactics."   They are going to _love_ this, she thought.  "I hope
I'm wrong and all this is over-reaction," Ritsuko said, "I just
don't want to bet anyone's life on that.  Not mine, not yours,
not your loved ones'."
      The military men nodded.
------------------------------
      Nabiki sat across from Jeff in the ready room that had
become the private training chamber, where things 'Man Was Not
Meant To Know!  tm' were taught.  Or so Nabiki had teased Maya.
"There are things you need to learn.  If you received the powers
of Chaugnar Faugh, as I did," Jeff told her, "You could call it
'the Stare', but it doesn't require eye-contact, just to look at
the target."
      "That mind-zapping power you used on me," Nabiki countered,
both infuriated and expectant.
      "Yes.  The original could make a target docile and compel
them to approach and be eaten.  Maybe it can still be used for
that, I've only been able to calm and sedate people.  You've felt
it, it's of temporary duration."
      "But you used it when you wanted to calm me down," Nabiki
stated sharply, "So now you're going to teach me, so I can use it
on you?"  She smiled at the prospect, leaning towards him.
      "Perhaps, but I suspect I'll be immune."  He shrugged.
      "Why?  I'm not."
      "Because I knew how to defeat the technique," he told her.
      "And you didn't feel a need to share _that_ little tidbit?"
Nabiki accused, shaking a finger in his face.
      "You couldn't do it anyway," he told her smugly, "You're
still human."
      Nabiki shivered at that, sitting back.  "Okay, what do I
do?"
      "You empty your mind of everything except the target.  Now
for me, I push a wave through them that sweeps away thought,
emotion and any actions they were planning to take.  I don't yet
know if the activation is like magic and therefore these are
spells that are vastly different ways to access the power, or if
it would be the same for everyone."
      Nabiki paused to concentrate.  "You do realize the Unit 04
took out Chaugnar Faugh, and the agglomerated Brothers, right?"
      "Yes."  Jeff nodded, not seeing where she was going.
      The thought resisted forming.  "So . . . is _it_ now
Chaugnar Faugh . . . ?"
      "Or are we?" intrigued, Jeff finished her question, "I think
all three of us are."  He considered the possibilities.
      "You realize what that means, don't you?" she asked
worriedly.
      "I realize a lot of what that means," Jeff said, not seeing
what she saw, or not worried by it, "What in particular?"
      Nabiki sighed and collected herself.  "Chaugnar Faugh would
resist destruction by nearly any force, for a short time.  He
could be knocked unconscious or wounded, but he couldn't be
destroyed or even made discorporeal for some time.  We could
teleport into the heart of an exploding supernova, and as long as
the recording devices were in the plug with us, they'd still be
recording the data for retrieval," Nabiki explained passionately,
"There are spells, a time delay.  Teleport in with one spell,
wait five minutes, teleport out."
      "Yes, of course," Jeff said, nodded, "Of course, in certain
circumstances, we'd be rendered unconscious and inactive almost
instantly."
      "But we could act as a delivery system," Nabiki told him
firmly.
      "Thinking of delivering a few thousand tons of antimatter to
the Court of Azathoth?" Jeff teased.
      "NO!" Nabiki countered, "But Nyarlathotep has to have a
base, a seat of power somewhere!" Nabiki said fiercely.
      "Sharnoth, we can be there and back in a few hours."
      Nabiki stared at him  "You're joking . . . you're not
joking?!" she demanded, "If you knew - why haven't you -?"
      "Because it wouldn't necessarily kill _him_," Jeff replied
calmly, "The only way to do that would be to kill him
hand-to-hand, face-to-face, and Sharnoth is not the place to do
that.  It has to be someplace he can't or won't escape from, and
_that_ I haven't figured out yet."
      "I still think we could try it," Nabiki told him, "Prove he
can't mess with _us_ willy-nilly!"  She shook her fist.
      "No.  Because it would provoke a response we couldn't deal
with.  We're very much on the low end of the power scale right
now, when we are stronger, when we have more pieces on the board,
then we can move decisively."
      "Until then, we skulk like mice along the baseboards,"
Nabiki told him, frowned, "You do realize it was probably him
that told the people to use those Flying Polyps?"
      "And he probably assisted the U.S. development of the atomic
bomb, and is probably working right now to help us develop the
hydrogen bomb.  Both so we'll use them, and to think, wrongly, we
have a weapon to use against them."
      "And so a country which believes in its nobility, is the
only one to have used such a weapon in combat . . . not that any
other country would have hesitated, but they can always deny they
would have," Nabiki added, nodding as she understood the enemy
they faced.
      "They also helped the Germans, French and Japanese recover
and figure out their EVAs," Jeff continued, "Heck, he probably
developed some of the techniques they used to create _me_.  I
don't think dropping a brick on him is such a good idea, we
should wait until we can drop on him with both feet, _all_ of
us."
      Nabiki held up her hands in frustration.  "Okay, discussion
tabled.  How can we be so powerful and so weak at the same time?
I know, it's all relative . . . how did you know it was
Sharnoth?" she asked, "Chaugnar Faugn didn't know, at least the
Brothers didn't."
      "All those books I read in that dream, everything about the
mythos has proven true and accurate," he told her with a shrug.
      Nabiki slapped her face with little force.  "Only _you_
would go along with a Great Old One's mad dream to use it as a
reading room."
      "Well, Asuka would, so _did_ Gendo," he told her, And if you
knew them well enough, so would you."
      "Let's get back to the exercises," Nabiki suggested.
      "Very well, clear your mind, focus on me, not as a person,
but as an object.  Now push the wave at me."
      Nabiki did it.   I could have used this in Nerima.  Most of
those idiots only _had_ one thought at any one time.  Stop!
Concentrate!   She refocused, pushing at him the wave that swept
away all thought and emotion.  "Anything?"
      "No.  Don't expect too much, don't assume it will work," he
reminded her, "Don't know it will or won't work, just do it."
      "Trying again," Nabiki said as she centered herself, emptied
her normally racing mind, and tried to push a wall of
non-thought, non-emotion at him.
------------------------------
      The package was wrapped and the carrier prepared. One
doesn't mail such a thing, or teleport with it, Hiro thought as
he watched General Tembris and his coterie, The courier exits
their minds once he is out of their sight.
      "We did well," the General said, "Let the Twins complete its
summoning, keep the cultists' agents from moving any further, and
set the stage for our victory."
      The gloating made him sick.  "I'd like to get back to my
cover job," Hiro said as submissively as he could, "Now would be
a good time to get some background material and check in on
them."
      "You aren't supposed to get attached to your target,"
Tembris chided.
      "My only 'target' is on its way to our bosses.  To disappear
now, would arouse suspicions," he countered.   The fact is, I
_do_ like the kids, he admitted to himself, I see no need to be
nasty.  We've won.  My 'mission' is over, unless and until they
have another.  I just want to make sure our defeated kids are all
right.
      "SEELE and the others will no doubt order them all
exterminated," Tembris said, smiling to show _his_ opinion of
that action.
      "Why?  Just to maintain their monopoly?  Besides, it's too
early isn't it?" Hiro gasped.  He looked around, and saw he was
in the minority
      "No, with the defeat of the Children, the entire plan can
move forward.  Only Cthulhu can move against us, and he won't,"
Tembris's master mage assured Hiro and the others.  His mad
expression showed both his zeal for the subject, and that he'd
studied it far more than was healthy for a human.  "Cleansing the
Earth and rebuilding it afterward, that is the goal."  He seemed
in the grip of religious ecstacy, the others regarded him with
amusement.
      And if you believe one word of that tripe, Hiro thought, You
just want to see the world burn, and to dance on the ashes of
your enemies.
      "The only one who might oppose is the Lord of R'lyeh, and he
clearly wants to avoid any confrontation," the mage continued,
almost giggling, "If he had the chance to destroy two of them,
and he didn't take the opportunity, he doesn't want a fight."
      Unless he is willing to wait and let it all drop into his
lap, Hiro thought at the smiling faces surrounding him, A
strategy half-a-dozen of the NERV personnel, both pilots and
officers, could come up with.  Why fight and kill to get today
what will be a gift tomorrow?
      Because you want to see the misery.  Who is the monster?
You, Tembris and your pack, SEELE who pulls your strings, or our
`enemies` who do what they do to us out of apathy?   "I still
want to check on the kids," Hiro said, "I still have to maintain
my cover, or it will attract attention, all those inquires may
lead back here."
      "Agreed, go," Tembris told him, waving him away, dismissing
him from his mind.
      I think you lost my loyalty with all that 'burn the world'
crap, Hiro thought, I fulfilled my mission, that's all I owe you.
Don't expect blind loyalty next time.  I know you'll kill me for
it, but I find there _are_ some things worth dying for.  Pity you
don't feel the same.
----------------------------------------
      Asuka stood in Stoneface's office and stared at him and his
hands-folded pose, controlling her temper with strenuous effort.
"Commander, respectfully," she nearly choked on the word, "I
understand the need for security."  She paused to keep from
screaming the next.  "I just don't see how such a tiny piece of
information could cause the calamity you describe."
      "It does," Stoneface told her, "They can do math, it would
allow then to put other bits of information together.  That's all
there is to it."
      Asuka shook her head, clasped her hands tightly behind her
back to keep them from closing over something else convenient.
"So, no hints, no consideration of the effect it will have on
operations?"
      "Is this truly for _your_ benefit?" the Commander probed
gently.
      "I'll concede the point that I _do_ have a vested interest
in seeing this through," Asuka admitted, "Which is why I need the
information."
      "Why not simply pick a value?" Stoneface asked, "There will
never be any official conformation or repudiation, I won't
contradict you, 'Wondergirl' won't contradict you, and we are the
only ones who could."
      "Something arbitrary doesn't have the same effect," Asuka
countered, "Besides, Wo - Ayanami-san would know."
      "I think there is a significant flaw in your logic."
Stoneface leaned back and stared at her over his interlaced
fingers.  "Hypothetically, do you lock a door to keep people from
accessing what's behind it?"
      "Yes," Asuka replied, letting herself _think_ rather than
get angry.  She rocked back and forth on her heels to burn
nervous energy.
      "Is that the _only_ reason?"
      Asuka felt his eyes on her, gauging her as she worked on the
problem.  He's probably thinking, 'For someone with such a
temper, appealing to logic seems to be having the desired
effect'.  Smug bastard, she thought, Okay, what would Stoneface .
. . oh, it can't be _that_ simple!  Somebody would figure it out!
No, it's that someone goes poking around to find out - that's
what sends up all the flags!
      "No," she managed, giving Stoneface a nod for his
cleverness, "Hypothetically, you might lock a door, so people
would _speculate_ on what is behind it.  To make them change
their plans, to deal with what they are most worried about, of
all the things that could be behind it."
      "And what needs to be behind the door?"
      "Nothing at all," Asuka sighed in admiration, "You don't
know either!"
      Stoneface nodded.  "Who would it serve to answer a question
they spent time and effort ferreting out?"
      "And depending on what you allow them to find, they would
reveal where and how it was stolen."  Asuka noted Stoneface's
swiftly hidden look of confusion.   Not as 'all-knowing' as you
thought, Asuka thought triumphantly, We mere mortals can still
steal a march on you.   "Hypothetically, of course."  She smiled
happily at him.
      "Yes, of course," Stoneface said distractedly.
      Probably itching to get me out so he can steal my idea, she
thought, still grinning, I'll let him.  It's not what I wanted,
but I have what I want.   Asuka turned and left.   Okay, there is
no answer, she thought, So any answer will be acceptable.  It
will also set the precedent, that's not a _bad_ thing.
------------------------------
      Outside the ready room that had become known as 'The Pilots'
Playroom', Ritsuko spotted the two Marines standing guard.   I
guess the place's reputation has gotten around, Ritsuko thought,
I know _I_ didn't order a guard.   As she walked by, she caught
sight of a clipboard, and several pages titled 'NERV's Official
But Unwritten Rules'.  The two Marines developed an aura of
expectation as she picked up the clipboard and read the two
entries in Maya's clear printing.

'NERV's Official but Unwritten Rules
1.) Do not tease pilots who have just exited L.C.L.'

      Ritsuko guffawed once at that, remembering Maya's `dusting`.
  True, very true, she thought as she caught a smile from one of
the guards.  "Someone didn't hear?"
      "Evidently not, ma'am," one of the Marines said, struggling
to keep a straight face, "He was cussing a blue streak about it,
beg pardon, ma'am."
      "At ease, Marines, I've heard some of the things said about
them, and me," Ritsuko told them as she read the second.   I'm
not sure if I should be offended or pleased, she thought as she
read.
'2.) Do not do anything to Dr. Akagi's coffee you would not want
done to yourself or your children.'

      She frowned at that.   I think I need to make that more -
accurate, she considered the best way to correct the entry, Don't
erase what's there, just amend them.   She carefully wrote under
Maya's entry.

'2a.) This applies to Commander Ikari's, Admiral Simson's, Major
Katsuragi's as well.'

      The second was in Jeff's flowing script.

'3.) Yes, they are `nasty-minded little S.O.B.s`, they were
recruited because of that, not in spite of that.'

      That earned a stifled laugh, and a guilty glance to the two
guards who were enjoying her reactions.
      "He heard some people talking, ma'am," one of the guards
offered.
      Ritsuko nodded.  She considered what the Marine had said.
She handed the clipboard to the Marine.  "Include this in the
regular housekeeping traffic to NERV, include it under my
authorization."
      "Yes, ma'am," the man saluted.
      "No profanity," Ritsuko said, "There are clean ways to say
anything."
      "Yes, ma'am," the Marines said in unison as Ritsuko walked
off.
      This isn't too bad an idea, she thought, It lets people have
an acceptable and anonymous way to blow-off steam, and to
comment.  Good job, Maya.
------------------------------
To absolutely drive you wild, wild
      Ritsuko looked closely at Nabiki, knowing that she should
have dealt with this earlier, but she'd demurred.  Now I can't
anymore, she thought, I hadn't wanted to press my `advantage`, of
having Jeff's memories, especially his memories of a family from
Nerima and the two newcomers/trouble-magnets who had appeared in
their midst.  Now I have to use that wedge to crack her open and
get her to accept who and what she was, and who and what she has
become.
      The pair sat in Nabiki's cabin.  The girl seemed a little
shell-shocked and was hugging a pillow tightly to her chest as
she sat on her bed.
      Ritsuko watched from the chair beside the desk.  "Do you
want to talk about it?" Ritsuko offered.
      Nabiki shook her head firmly, once.
      "How about Nerima?  The 'Ice Queen of Furinkan High'?  The
'Junior Yakuza of Nerima'?"
      Nabiki's eyes had grown wider with the mention of each of
those names.  She still wouldn't look at Ritsuko.
      "Jeff was sent to Nerima as Ranma, by Cthulhu I'd guess, and
he remembers it.  Remembers it all.  It's one of the memories I
picked up."  She paused to let that sink in.  "Now, do you want
to talk about it?" Ritsuko asked while Nabiki stared at her.
Better start with the top of the list, Ritsuko thought as she
broke the silence, "How about how you broke your hip, and how it
healed wrong.  That sway you've managed to turn it into, probably
caught a lot of boys' attentions, but I've seen your x-rays.
That kind of break normally only - "
      "All right, let's talk about the Ice Queen!" Nabiki blurted
out, staring at Ritsuko in fear.
      So, you do have some sensitive spots, Ritsuko thought, If
Jeff hadn't mentioned it, I would have continued to ignore it on
your x-rays.  But now that I know how fast you heal, I know it
wasn't a birth accident, as I'd originally thought.
      "What do you want to know?" Nabiki offered, trying to steer
the conversation, and Ritsuko, away from the other subject.
      "The obvious question I guess . . . why?"
      Nabiki smiled, then buried her face in the pillow.  When she
raised her head a few moments later, it was as if Ritsuko was
looking at someone else entirely.   More like Asuka, or Shinji in
a fight, Ritsuko analyzed Nabiki's twisted expression, A lot of
unresolved rage there.
      "What do you know about being hurt?  By people you cared
about, and you thought cared about you?" Nabiki asked, not
accusing, but trying to find common ground.
      "Quite a lot, actually," Ritsuko told her, torn between
dropping the subject and holding the girl to make the pain go
away.   It has to be dug out and exposed, like any other
infection, Ritsuko reminded herself as she looked at the very
different girl sitting on the bed.  Only the pillow-clutching
posture told her that the Nabiki she knew . . . and loved, was
still in there somewhere.
      "By lying and blackmail?"
      "I never had much, so blackmail never really worked on me.
My biggest secret isn't useful, I'd literally just slip away.
For Megayears I was a slave, threats were bread and butter to
me," Ritsuko told her, conscious of her own adjustments in
posture, her own sudden wariness of this newcomer.
      "Where I grew up, you were either a bully or a victim.  The
only way to remain unmolested, was to either be the biggest
bully, or to keep the upper levels of the `food chain` focused on
someone, or something else.  As for anyone actually _caring_
about anyone else -" Nabiki shook her head.  "That was just to
get them close, so you could blackmail them: physical threats,
emotional blackmail."  Nabiki sighed, and some of the girl
Ritsuko was used to, came peeking through the stonyhearted mask.
"If you know what Jeff saw, you probably have it pretty clear.
I grew up happy, until my mother died.  Everybody wanted
something after that.  Everything had a price.  Everything had
strings attached.  My father's love, my sisters', safety in the
neighborhood, peace at home.  I learned _real_ quick that Tendo
Nabiki wasn't worth anything more than what one person or another
could get out of her.  Lunch money, favors, whatever.  When I -
quit - practicing martial arts, after my injury . . . I realized
I had to come up with another way.  Another way to make people
respect me," she stopped, composed herself and wiped away the
tears forming.  "Everyone has secrets, people so wrapped up in
themselves they don't care about anyone else think _everything_
about themselves is a secret."
      She looked at Ritsuko and asked, "Can you see where I'm
going with this?"
      Ritsuko nodded.   I also know you have to go the whole way,
she thought, Get it all out of your system or you'll keep tearing
yourself apart.  I also know somehow we have to do the same for
Ranma.   "You figured out that if they didn't want their
'terrible secrets' revealed, they might be willing to pay."
      "More than that," Nabiki said with a disgusted pride, "If I
got there or figured it out a few moments ahead of absolutely
_everyone_ else, I could make them pay dearly.  Or I could find
out little things they needed, or obsessed over.  It was easy, I
didn't have to work at it.  I just had to be quicker with my mind
than they were with their feet.  None of them bothered to think
of a dozen different ways to get the exact same thing.  They
couldn't be bothered, or they couldn't risk getting caught.  None
of them _ever_ considered 'publish and be damned', despite the
fact they should have known not only was everything going to come
out shortly, but everyone else was so wrapped up in themselves -"
Fury boiled up in her.  "That nobody else really _cared_!_ |ABOUT
ANYONE BUT THEMSELVES!|"  Nabiki laughed mirthlessly, smiling a
tired, revolted smile, "No, I was omniscient, omnipotent and
feared by all!"  She chuckled at that, then buried her face in
her pillow.
      She was shuddering now.  "And I couldn't see a way out, no
matter _what_ I did, no matter _what_ happened to me."  The
pillow muffled her voice and hid her tears.
      So you played your existing game with the newcomers, Ritsuko
mentally added the next step in the chain.  Then added the last,
"Until the others turned on the most emotionally vulnerable of
your group."
      Nabiki's head shot up, her eyes gleaming with rage.
"There's no _way_ he could be eta!  Wouldn't _I_ have found out?
Wouldn't his `Master` have found out?  Wouldn't my dear father
have found out his friend or the man's wife was unclean?" she
asked hysterically.
      Ritsuko was afraid of the violence she saw in Nabiki's
expression, afraid the girl would turn it on herself.  She forced
herself to walk over to the bed and sit next to Nabiki.
      "The only thing Ranma ever thought he had was his honor!
The funniest part was he never realized his father and Master had
so dishonored his House and School that he had none, yet he clung
to that as the core of his being!  When he really found out his
honor was nothing . . . " Nabiki quit screaming and seemed to
fold in on herself.  Ritsuko gathered the girl against her, held
her while she could practically feel the emotions raging within
Nabiki.
      "Then nothing mattered," Nabiki whispered, "Two seconds of
clear thought . . . if I'd been able - if I'd _tried_ to get him
alone - he could have realized he was never more than a slave to
his father's and my father's whims.  I never forced him to face
that when it would have hurt him, I couldn't make myself make him
face it when he'd lost everything.  It would have killed him -
almost - but he would have been free, gone to someone who didn't
care about it . . . maybe taken me with him when he escaped."
      But that _is_ what happened, isn't it? Ritsuko thought she
could see the problem, You wanted him to make a clean break, and
help you escape, but that's what he did, and you escaped too.
Except, you don't feel you either deserve the gift, or that
you've earned your fare.  You haven't realized you `died` and
were reborn, both of you.  He hasn't realized it, and you're
going through a difficult delivery.   She asked the next question
to prevent the wound from scabbing over until all the bile was
out, "Was there -?"
      "Was there anyone he could turn to?" Nabiki asked as
spitefully as she could, "Who?  The six-year-old who dedicated a
decade to bloody revenge, then changed from murderer to lover
with a phrase?  The one who wanted him as a training dummy and
breeding stock?  One of the other mad ones who wandered in and
out of his life?"
      "Your sisters?" Ritsuko asked and braced for the explosion.
All out, all at once, she reminded herself, wondering about her
own cruelty in doing this to Nabiki.
      Nabiki laughed scornfully at her, "My two loving sisters?
Akane, who's so two-faced she's practically a split personality?
She'd be the nicest girl to her loyal friends, but betray her, or
worse be a boy who shows her any romantic interest, and you won't
see the end of the violence, cause you'll be unconscious while
she pounds you into the ground."
      "That's an exaggeration, and you know it," Ritsuko said
dryly.
      "You're right, stand up to her, force her to submit, and
she'll turn all meek and mild.  All her bravado and independence
crumble to dust.  She was a bigger bully than I could ever hope
to be, always willing to hurt someone, unless they could force
her to knuckle under and crawl."
      "You're saying if Ranma had simply beaten her up, he could
have made her behave?" Ritsuko asked another leading question.
      "I'm telling you what I saw.  She'd beat up man or boy who
looked at her wrong, but a strong personality, and she'd become a
demure, little dolly.  Our family doctor was the best example,
and she _adored_ him," Nabiki spat out.
      I'm going to regret this, Ritsuko thought, But I'd best get
_all_ the venom out, before she poisons herself on it.   "Of
course, Kasumi -"
      "Kasumi was _worse_!" Nabiki shouted, as she struggled in
Ritsuko's grip, " 'She's so _good_!_'  She wasn't _good_, she was
_never_ good!  She was _polite_!_  So tied up on the need to
appear as the perfect, the very best, the number one housewife -"
Nabiki's mouth snapped shut, again going from rage to tears.
      "She let you and Akane run rampant," Ritsuko concluded,
"More interested in appearing perfect to the neighbors than doing
a good job."  Causing Nabiki to lie down, still clutching the
pillow as though it would keep her from drowning.  At least
that's what _you_ believe, she thought, I know what a handful you
can be.  Without being able to use you as an `adult` to watch
over Ranma and Jeff, and without Jeff to use on you, you three
would have run me ragged.  And I'm no underaged girl who'd just
lost her mother and effectively, her father.
      "Yes, if she really loved us, she -" Nabiki said in a small
voice, "I learned to hurt and frighten people, before they could
do the same to me.  When everyone was afraid of me . . . they
couldn't hurt me anymore.  And none of them figured out how to
get past the 'Ice Queen's' armor, to get at the real me.  After a
while, nobody even _tried_."
      "So why the change?  Not just Ranma."
      Nabiki snorted, sounding more like her old self.
"Blackmailing any of you is too much like work," she said with a
sneer, then paused and began more thoughtfully, "What would any
of you care, about revealing some trivial secret?  You'd either
shrug it off . . . or you'd take steps.  I like living with all
my pieces intact and in place.  I know what pain is, I don't need
a refresher course."
      "Do you really think that's all there is to it?" Ritsuko
asked, feeling like she'd gotten the horse to water, now she'd
have to hold it's head under to make it drink.
      "What else could there be?" Nabiki asked defensively as she
sat up and tried to stare down Ritsuko.
      Only I'm more than ten million times older, and I have a
near-infinite well of patience to draw on, she thought mildly as
she returned the stare levelly, I also learned from an expert how
to get people to fill the silence, and I can counter 'The Stare'
with some effort.
      "Yes," Nabiki hung her head, the word was almost too soft
for a human to hear.
      I heard you, loud and clear, Ritsuko thought, gathering the
unresisting girl in her arms again, Do you really believe it's as
terrible as all that? she wanted to ask sympathetically.  "Why
are you afraid of them, if 'They won't hurt me first'?" Ritsuko
asked, "Are you so expectant of pain, that affection frightens
you?"   Not that you'd be alone in that, among the pilots . . .
and the _staff_ of NERV.
      Nabiki sniffed disdainfully, but her beaten expression gave
her derision a hollowness.  "Why not?  Asuka yells and threatens,
but she'd never attack out of caprice . . . and if a raised voice
or a raised hand is what it takes, that's what she uses, that's
_all_ she uses.  Shinji weathers everything, except the Angels.
It's like he's saved up all his rage for them.  Against them,
he's a Berserker.  The others . . . Raccoon and Rei-chan wouldn't
push or play games, unless that was the rules to win by.  They'd
kill instantly.  I can't control them, they don't try to hurt me,
Raccoon manipulates everybody, it's nothing personal."
      Nabiki sighed and took a deep breath.  She stared towards
the bulkhead for a long time, when she spoke again, it was as if
her voice was the same far-away place she was staring at, "What
makes me different?  What makes _me_ special?"
      Ah, now we get to the root of the problem, Ritsuko thought
with no visible sign of relief.  "Could it be that they know, or
sense, you are like them?" she asked, instead of her real
thought, You're the only one of them who was allowed to be a
child with a family, even for a little while.  They all want to
protect the innocent, and wouldn't being considered 'the
innocent' be a shock to you?
      "What?  A killer, a destroyer?  A -?"
      "A scared kid who doesn't _want_ to be any of those things?"
Ritsuko watched Nabiki calm down, just a little.  "Jeff has
magic, because of his heritage, he's very powerful, but what are
his real specialties?  Ranma's martial arts would let him kill
with barely a thought, yet he won't fight 'the weak' no matter
the justification.  Asuka yells and screams, but about what?
What is her goal?"
      "To make us think, to make us better.  So you think I'm like
that?" Mockery and yearning warred in Nabiki's tone and
expression.
      "You and I, both know you could sell your skills to the
highest bidder.  Yet I'll bet you've never considered that.  If
money was your goal, you'd be rich beyond your dreams of avarice.
Or power, you have power now that there are only two others
aboard this ship who could challenge you, me and Jeff, yet you're
terrified of it.  If it isn't money and power, what _do_ you
want?  Do you know, and can't put it into words?" Ritsuko asked
as she stood, moved so she was kneeling in front of Nabiki,
staring at the girl's expression, "Or do you know, but keep
denying it because you're afraid to lose it all if you claim it?"
She saw the tension Nabiki was putting herself under.   Do you
`claim` what you want, and risk the loss?  Or do you keep tearing
yourself apart wanting, and denying you want? Ritsuko wondered as
she watched the war being waged right in front of her.
------------------------------
      Maya kept twisting the towel in her hands as she stared at
the cabin's other occupant.  "Well?" she asked Jeff.
      "It's still too dangerous," he replied, "Most people who go
through the process go insane, violently so."
      "But they won't have all your knowledge of magic and
genetics to deal with the process," Maya countered with a grin
she hoped came across as hopeful instead of desperate, she'd been
working on her arguments since they'd left San Diego, "I bet none
of them _wanted_ to go through the process, or understood what
was happening.  I want and understand it."
      "Then why won't you wait?" Jeff countered, "Given a few more
weeks, I'll - "
      "Or months, or never?" Maya countered, calmed herself, and
explained carefully, "I don't want her to be alone anymore.
You've survived, and stayed rational."
      "If that were true I would have said 'no' and been done with
it," Jeff replied as he stood and began pacing, "She's happy with
you the way you are, why can't you be?"
      Maya sighed, but she'd worked that part over in her mind.
"Because we humans don't live very long, a century is an
eyeblink.  She's immortal, that's how I'd have to be."  She stood
to face him.  "And don't tell me about 'giving up my humanity',
you keep saying humanity is a state of mind, not a genetic
legacy.  If you can hold on to yours, and Sempai can learn, then
I can keep mine."
      He frowned, then nodded.  "Okay, all right, well-taken
points, but the real concern is I don't know the process well
enough.  Chaugnar Faugh didn't develop it, the Elder Things did,
and they used Ubbo-Sathla to do it.  That's Outer God stuff, not
Great Old One, I can puzzle the process out, but that's a far cry
from actually being able to make the necessary improvements."
      She teased, "Then all we have to do is find Ubbo -"
      "Ubbo-Sathla, and killing _that_ particular worthy will take
considerable doing.  Whether he or Azathoth is the mightiest of
the bunch is an open question.  We aren't up to taking on
Nyarlathotep, what makes you think we can kill one of the big two
. . . whatever and wherever he is?"
      "Very well, you need more knowledge," she shuddered at the
thought, but tried to make a joke of it, "Who do you need to eat
to get that knowledge?"
      "That's not funny," Jeff said as he frowned, "There's other
concerns, and other ways of getting what you want -"
      "None that make me as close to her as this one would," Maya
replied determinedly.
      "You know, it's too bad that you can't ask Rei or Ranma,
their memories of Nyogtha might be the very clues I need."  He
shrugged.  "Somehow I doubt either would be very helpful."
      Ritsuko's arrival, looking worn to a frazzle, prevented
further discussion.  "Shouldn't you be in bed?" she asked.
      "Delighted to, only it would make Maya jealous, and she'd
slit my throat in the night!" Jeff complained, making Ritsuko
smirk and Maya scowl.
      "I think you need to have a talk with Miss Tendo in the
morning," Ritsuko said to Jeff, "Right now I think I'm going to
get some real sleep.  Just resting isn't going to do it tonight.
And both of you get some sleep too, it's going to be a busy
week."
      "You need a bucket or a drum?" Jeff teased as he headed for
the door, "By the way, I said 'chocolate', Maya said 'flowers',
who's right?"
      "About what?" Ritsuko asked as she sat on her bunk.
      "St. Valentine's Day," Jeff said.
      "Shoes, out!" Ritsuko said as she threw one at the door
frame.  She collapsed into bed, was surprised when Maya sat down
beside her, "I don't think that's a good idea.  I'm not going to
turn into a puddle, but I'm not going to be very human in a few
minutes," she explained tiredly.
      "I understand," Maya said, glad her Sempai wasn't ordering
her to her own bed, "How is Nabiki-chan?"   I guess I've begun
thinking of her as a younger sister, she thought.
      "Her homesickness and culture shock finally let me get
through her defenses, and lance a few emotional abscesses she's
got, but I _really_ don't want to talk about it.  I just hope she
doesn't feel as awful as I do."
      "I understand," Maya said as she laid her hand on her
Sempai's shoulder.
------------------------------


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