[FFML] Sic Semper Morituri Chapter 55 - Let the Ladies Be Heard From Part 4 of 5

Daniel Jess Gibson dan_s.comments at att.net
Sun Jun 22 13:42:19 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)

      Jeff walked through the wall to reach his target.  The woman
immediately sat up in her futon and screamed.   That's very
impressive, Jeff thought as he stood and watched with an amused
expression, It might even be loud enough to be heard in the
Waking World, but no one is going to come to your `rescue`.
      When the girl finally realized her screams were neither
summoning nearby help, nor impressing the intruder, she ceased.
"I'll call the Police!" she announced haughtily, but the
conversation block told her real feeling was dread.
      Jeff glanced around the room.   Mostly junk, but a few truly
fine pieces.  That they haven't been sold indicates they are
heirlooms, keepsakes, or both, he thought as he regarded the
place and the girl, So she used to have money, and is now just
hanging on.  I've let her stew long enough.   "And I'll tell the
Police, that you've been torturing that girl," he replied coldly,
pressing his aura of superiority to the utmost, "I may even tell
NERV about someone using hostile magic based on the Great Old
Ones."  He chuckled in contempt.  "You aren't the wronged person
here."
      "I didn't mean to get _her_, I was aiming at someone else.
She just got in the way."
      He saw her certainty had been consumed by fear.   The plot
thickens, he thought as he asked, "Why would you use that spell
on anybody?"
      "She's not human!" the girl said with venom, "She can't be,
she can't possibly be!"
      I think I know who was the intended target.  I wonder what
Pickles will think when she learns _she_ was the target . . . who
am I kidding?  She probably already knows, that's the only reason
she didn't bump it up to higher authorities, she thinks it's her
fault and her responsibility that girl got zapped.   "So you
crossed Belldandy, and she somehow diverted the spell onto
someone else?  Did it ever occur to you that that was the most
_likely_ outcome of a spell cast on her?  That she might be more
capable than you?" Jeff asked while cataloging the girl's
expressions, Of course not I'm the most powerful and beautiful in
my coven/club, and my family inherited all our money instead of
working for it, like peasants do.  So of course my spell will be
flawless.
      Openly, he chuckled at the girl's stricken expression.
"I'll take your silence as a 'no'."
      "I didn't . . . I didn't mean to . . . I just . . . she's
always _so_ superior!  Smiling as if she's got the kamis' ears!
And we're just dirt under her fingernails!"
      Can't stand the competition? he wondered, Much as I agree
with you, you still have to be punished. He pulled the wall
aside, folding it against the corner like a curtain.  He ignored
the girl's gasp at the impossibility, and the scene he'd
revealed.  A forest, like the one in Belldandy's friend had
inflicted on herself.  "You will give up that spell.  It's clear
it didn't work anyway."
      "But he promised it would!"
      " 'He', describe him," Jeff ordered, letting her see the
anger he'd been hiding.
      Her description was perfect for the avatar of Nyarlathotep
who'd troubled then months ago.
      "He's a liar and a fraud.  He wanted you to hurt an
innocent, not strike at an enemy," he explained carefully, "The
pain you inflicted on Belldandy was due to another's suffering.
You got your wish, now live with the consequences of getting your
revenge cheap."
      "But what am I supposed to do?!"
      "Endure," Jeff told her as reasonably as he could, "We are .
. . aware.  I'll say no more."  He walked into the forest,
letting the girl deal with the various sounds and glimpses of . .
. things, that had been the real terror within the other girl's
nightmare.   The |_Unknown_!_| he thought, You fill in the blanks
with your own fears.
----------------------------------------
Perfume came naturally from Paris, for cars she couldn't care
less
      Gendo inspected the craftswomen at their task.  He'd already
approved their work so far.  So, the Admiral thinks he's so
clever, Gendo thought with a smile, This will put _that_ idea to
rest.  The pilots won't know _what_ to do, other than accept it.
I can't wait to see their reaction, and the others'.
      He smiled slightly at the thought of the pilots receiving
his little gifts, and the terrible embarrassment it would rain on
Washington, the Pentagon and even the American military.  All of
whom thought they'd considered and controlled everything about
him, NERV and Japan.  They'll never be able to look at - 'Ole
Stoneface' - quite the same way again.  He examined one he'd
recently added to his list, one for Maya.  Patience, he counseled
himself as he nodded to the woman, indicating the strange object
was exactly as he'd wanted, SEELE will get wind of this too late.
If they don't have Dr. Akagi's new data . . . no, they'd never
allow me to do this.  They will remain ignorant, and I will not
make the connection for them.  None of them, not their strawmen,
nor the actual committee, would believe I was capable of such a
thing.
      He allowed himself a slight chuckle, which brought smiles to
the women's faces.  They knew what they were making, and for whom
they were making them.  Most would have done it for nothing, he
thought as he turned and left them to their work, Such is the
strength of sentiments some have towards the pilots.
------------------------------
      Kaji withdrew into the shadows.   I _saw_ it, he thought,
his mind ablaze with the image, But he couldn't be doing this!
It's impossible!  It's insane . . . or _I_ am!   He briefly
considered who'd he report this too.   Anyone I wanted to,
provided I wanted to be shot, imprisoned, or sent on a long
`relaxing` vacation until my sanity returned, he thought as he
glanced down at the workshop and the women gleefully chattering
about their task.   No one would believe this.   _Why_ is he
doing it?  There has to be a purpose, it can't be the obvious
one.  The Committee knows he has something unexpected planned . .
. but this?  Does Admiral Simson know about this?  Does Doctor
Akagi?  Does Rei?
      Kaji shuddered at the possibilities, and kept wondering if
he were missing something obvious.  If Gendo had truly fooled
everyone so effectively for so long.
------------------------------
August 14, 1947
      Nabiki considered what damage she could inflict on her dear
`friend`, for getting her into this mess.   How about
concentrating on getting _out_ of this first? she reminded
herself.
      "Why should anyone suffer?" Megumi asked, a faint glimmer of
anger that Nabiki wanted to use to rekindle the girl's spirit.
      But I'm no philosopher or theologian.  I never believed in
God or gods or religion, now that I've got no choice, I'd rather
_not_ know.   "Because -"
      "Suffering makes us wise and noble, makes us ascend to a
higher plane?  Because when we can endure, we march towards
Nirvana," the girl growled, "Why?  If the gods made this world.
Why'd they make it this way!?  Does suffering amuse the gods?  Do
we have to become immune to it before we can admitted to their
ranks?  So we can callously play with other mortals because the
gods can't develop their own games of cruelty?!  Torturing them
on one hand and holding out some reward for not complaining on
the other?!  Is that all it means to be Enlightened?!"
      So much for carefully nurturing a flame.  Those questions .
. . you better ask Belldandy, Nabiki thought as she struggled
with her own experiences, her own doubts about the universe and
her place in it, And worse, I've got a better understanding of
the world and the Greater powers in it.  'No, the gods don't
enjoy suffering, they don't _care_ about humans, except as fuel
and food', that would _really_ help.  The Great Old Ones know the
universe doesn't care, but some of them care for their people or
else we couldn't have made a deal with one.  God, are you or
anyone else listening?!  I wish I had an answer, for her or for
me.
      "So what's all this good for?  Entertainment value?  A
better place somewhere else?  If we have to stay in the same
place and worship the being who inflicted all of this on us, or
ignore it and be annihilated, then what's the point?"
      "What happened to you was -"
      "I'm not talking about torment inflicted by one human on
another, we aren't all-wise and perfect, some people _enjoy_
seeing others grovel.  Some enjoy seeing others afraid of them."
      Nabiki winced at that, then hoped the girl hadn't noticed.
I can't figure out if she wants answers, or comfort or both or .
. . at least she hasn't lashed out - like I did, Nabiki thought
as she searched herself for words that had never worked on her,
and she knew would never work for Megumi.
      "Gods know the universe is a harsh place," came a voice,
deep and vaguely sibilant.  A bald man wearing a cloak approached
the circle where the two girls sat.  "A friend asked for me."  He
gave Nabiki a slight nod.  "I came to help."
      Nabiki was getting all kinds of danger signals from the man.
But I'm the one who . . . oh, crap, I got a `wish` from one of
the beings we made a deal with.  A bribe to leave him out of the
war.  Anything I could want, and instead of gold, stock, a string
of increasingly rich husbands, what did I wish for . . .
Nabiki shook her head.   Belldandy really _is_ going to kill me,
she thought, If Raccoon's laughter doesn't do it first.
      Megumi either didn't notice, or didn't care about the aura
of danger surrounding the new arrival.  She did indicate he
should sit with them.  "So the universe is harsh?  Why?" Megumi
demanded in a tone that should have provoked a different reaction
than hissing laughter from the now-seated newcomer.
      "Gods, who want followers not just food, don't want _just_
followers, they want adults capable of standing on their own,
without gods, yet who still look to god or gods as an important
part of their life.  They want good role models and strong
characters.  There is only one way to create that, suffering, in
yourself and others.  You - "
      "So you're saying it's all a test?!"
      Nabiki wanted to counsel the girl to take a more civil tone,
but the man seemed to enjoy her fire.   Of course, she's becoming
exactly the kind of person he was talking about.  Strong enough
to stand without him, to challenge the gods themselves, yet
desperately wanting the relationship, Nabiki realized, getting a
slight raised, hairless eyebrow from the man, Oh, great, now _I_
get it too.
      "I'm saying it is inherent in the system.  The Buddhists say
'endure the unendurable', the Christians say 'fix the
irreparable', the rewards are oblivion and paradise.  In both
cases, everything you've been practicing all your life become
utterly unnecessary with the reward.  Nothing to endure and
nothing to fix," he continued softly, reasonably, "Some religions
talk of a fall from paradise.  That all innocence was lost, to
purchase the right to be free, to take the consequences for your
actions, even animals have that.  But understanding and taking
responsibility for your actions?  That's too godlike, that's for
sentient beings alone.  Sentient beings make deals, give up part
of their freedom for other benefits.  That's civilization."  He
looked straight at Nabiki.  "The first deal is 'Don't kill me.'"
      "What did I give up to be . . . who did I offend to be hurt
this way?" Megumi asked softly.  Nabiki moved up, putting her
arms around the sobbing girl.
      "Who was hurt was immaterial, there was no plan to your
injury, no cosmic scorekeeper.  The blow fell on you, but the
test here is not yours Morisato Megumi, but her's."  He pointed
at Nabiki.  "Your rescue was her task, and she had to surrender
more than you could ever dream of to accomplish it: a guarantee
of love that would never fail, wealth beyond imagining, even
immortality.  You ask why there is suffering?  Because of what it
brings out in others.  You have suffered, you survived, you will
grow much stronger once the wounds heal.  She traded a chance for
all the frippery of her age, for wisdom.  Was it worth the price,
are _you_ worth the price?  She seemed to think so."
      Megumi turned to look Nabiki in the face.  "For . . . me?"
she asked, wiping away her tears.
      Nabiki looked at the girl's tear-streaked face, and saw
precisely the same look she'd seen on the sailors and Marines
'Brown Bess will get us out of this mess, ole' Bess will save
us'.  She hoped she had used her wish wisely.  "I'm no saint, I
wanted many of the same answers.  I guess part of 'wisdom' is
learning to listen to what people have been yelling at you for
years."  She smiled ruefully.
      Megumi give a hiccup that might have been a chuckle.  Nabiki
glanced over at the man, and realized that considering who and
what he was, and that he showed no signs of leaving, she could
ask all her questions, and she was finally in a frame of mind to
actually listen carefully to the answers.
      "So why haven't you struck at your - _our_ enemies directly?
You have the power, yet you work through us."
      The man smiled at Nabiki's more respectful tone.  "Because
we aren't powerful enough, in the right way, to destroy such a
creature."  He glanced at Megumi.  "The one who used _your_
suffering to harm another more deeply."  His unblinking gaze
returned to Nabiki.  "If you were willing to plunge this entire
universe into endlessly dissolving chaos, it could be done, I
could even teach you both how.  Otherwise, this requires an epee
and splendid timing, not a carelessly-wielded mallet," he added
the last with a knowing smile.  Nabiki hoped Megumi ignored her
grimace.
      "So we're stuck with the job," Nabiki lamented, beating down
her anger and fear.
      "You will be more able to do it than we will, and you'll
exchange your friends and loved ones far more carefully than we
would," the man explained.
      "Why would you help us?" Megumi asked respectfully, catching
Nabiki's tone as a warning, "How could you give her all those
things?  Are you a kami?"
      "Not as you mean it, a god wouldn't be able to interact with
humans.  The real powers are too terrifying, even the angelic
ones," the man said, a hissing laugh, "There are many powers,
most don't care, you are too small to notice.  Others regard you
as a valuable tool, like a jeweler you despise, yet he is the
only one who can make the perfect wedding ring for you."
      Megumi blushed at that, beginning to react more normally.
      "And you?" Nabiki asked.
      The creature actually took on a faraway look.  "Imagine your
beloved father, seeking eternally after some goal.  Perfection in
form and function, yet beyond the grasp of him, his loyal
children, his cleverest servants," the man explained, "Then a
group comes along . . . and they give it away with their every
breath."  He turned and looked at Nabiki and Megumi.  "Such
creatures, perhaps they should be protected, think of the wonders
they would produce."
----------------------------------------
      Nabiki woke suddenly with a gasp.  She instantly fell to
shudders at the `wisdom` she had gained.  She'd been glad that
Megumi had been there when she broke down.  The weight of all the
revelations, and what they meant personally to Nabiki and her
future, had dragged the pilot to the brink of despair.
      She felt strong arms around her sobbing form, as Megumi had
held her.  She was glad Ritsuko was there, as she'd been glad of
Megumi's company, and their tolerance at her crying her eyes out
without immediate explanation.
------------------------------
      Gendo walked through the corridors of NERV.  So, my
`Diabolical Plan` continues, he thought, I also noted that
Admiral Simson and General Tomlinson had their heads together
about an appropriate military response.  It seems I've discovered
a weakness that can be exploited.  He smiled as he thought of the
meeting he'd had reports about, with the general officers, their
staffs, the adjutant generals for all the services, as well as
academicians and historians, all seeking a solution, and finding
none.  He smiled at the chaos his simple idea had caused, and
Simson's effort that _he_ not be guilty of what he'd accused
Gendo of.
      Gendo noticed the additions to the posting on the main
message board.  "More  'Unwritten Rules of NERV'?" he read
quietly.   I believe they should appreciate an answer to one of
their unvoiced questions, he thought.
      He took down the clipboard the message was posted on and
displaced the deputy signals officer from his desk while he added
another notation on the lines provided.  He immediately signed
it.  "Please transmit this to the Bunker Hill as part of the
regular housekeeping traffic."
      "Wait," Simson was bustling up, took the clipboard, read it,
and undersigned Gendo's addition, then added one of his own.  "I
learned my lesson.  Miss Ayanami has some - disturbing insights,"
Simson explained, Gendo nodded for him to continue, "I had the
most fascinating dream . . . after I died."
      Gendo raised an eyebrow, all the smile he allowed himself in
`public`.
      "Don't ask," Simson explained, "There are things man was not
meant to know."
      Gendo nodded, determined to ask Rei later.
      The deputy signals officer accepted the clipboard and looked
at the entries.  '10.) You are not authorized to die, without
specific written orders to the contrary.
Gendo Ikari, Commander NERV, R. Simson V.ADM., CINC Task Force 7N
11.) Yes, the paint scheme does have a specific meaning, if you
don't know, you aren't authorized to know.'
      The deputy signals officer set the clipboard down, added the
newly written sheets to the pages he'd been typing to send to the
crypto-room, and vowed never to ask how the conversation and the
rules fit together.  "I've got _enough_ to worry about."
------------------------------
      Ranma spotted Rei walking through the base's corridors, one
of her arms was covered in what Ranma initially thought was
blood.  Then he realized it was two-toned, and while blood, it
wasn't human blood.  "Shouldn't you wash that off?" Ranma asked,
retreated a step from Rei's glare.  He relaxed as it softened,
the hatred still there, just not directed at him.
      "You are combat, accompany me . . . please."
      Ranma fell in behind her.  He got nervous when she entered a
_men's_ bathroom.  Ranma steeled himself and followed.  He
watched Rei scan the room carefully before she began washing off
her arm.  The fluid stayed two separate colors as it mixed and
flowed down the drain.  Rei interrupted his glancing around the
room by affixing him with her stare.  When she had his full
attention she asked, "Are you carrying a gun or your sword?"
      Her intensity worried him.  "Uh, no, not here.  It's our
base, right?" he smiled, tried to chuckle, but it died in his
throat as Rei looked at her half-cleansed arm, then stared at
him, and looked back to the basin.
      "Start," she told him.  She finished washing, and marched
out with a demeanor that said she'd go _through_ any obstacles.
Ranma followed.
      She didn't mean I should go get it right _now_, did she? he
wondered as he followed.
      When Rei arrived at the communications desk, she took down
the clipboard and made a notation.
      Ranma's English skills weren't up to reading the English
version, but Rei had presumably written the same message in
English and Japanese.
      " Number 12: 'All pilots and civilian technical staff will
be armed at all times, no exceptions, especially when going to
the head'," Rei told him, "Number 13, 'Japanese are not
triskaidekaphobic, they aren't too happy about the number 4.'"
      "Is that why you went into a boy's bathroom?" Ranma asked.
      "Yes."
      Ranma decided to ask something else, "What does Tris - a
phobic mean?"
----------------------------------------
      Ranko still hated and flinched at the sound of gunfire.
Rei-chan's odd .45 in her hands, and Rei-chan's arms around her
made it doubly strange.
      It's almost . . . intimate, she thought of the other girl's
arms enclosing her, Rei-chan being very gentle with her, for
once.  She'd twisted _his_ arm, literally, to get him to come.
Why'd I suddenly become Ranko body and mind when Rei-chan started
dragging me here? Ranko wondered idly, I still think guns are
stupid, too easy to depend on and too easy to take away.
      "Are you more afraid of the gun," Rei-chan asked as she had
asked Shinji, adjusting Ranko's posture, "Or me?"  A smile
ghosted across Rei-chan's face as Ranko smirked at the implied
challenge.
      "I still don't like them, they aren't honorable weapons,"
Ranko said shyly.
      "No weapon is honorable," Rei-chan said soothingly, "Unless
it prevents conflict.  For a weapon to be used, it has failed its
first purpose, to defend.  This will have the greater chance to
deter, most would not understand a sword or your art.  Did not
Sun Tzu suggest that war is a mental as well as a physical
discipline?"
      Yeah, something like that," Ranko replied, not understanding
why Rei-chan was _discussing_ and persuading, instead of simply
ordering.
      "Just hold the pistol, do not touch the trigger, just feel
the weight.  You aim from here, to here, to the target," Rei-chan
repeated the instructions Sammi had given Ranma as she'd slid the
clip in the GI .45 during her first instruction.  "Understand the
_purpose_ of the weapon.  As you can throw, so this throws.  The
noise and flash are as much part of the weapon as the edge and
point of a sword.  Was not a battle won by shooting a fan from an
opposing General's hand?"  Rei-chan's hands covered Ranko's.
      "Yes."  Ranko settled herself, aiming as Rei-chan had
instructed, feeling the other girl's body surrounding her's.
      "Remember, just squeeze the trigger," Rei-chan counseled.
      Ranko flinched as the trigger clicked.  She had expected the
bullet to miss the target completely, not refuse to even come out
of the barrel.
      She could _feel_ Rei-chan smiling at her.  "You closed your
eyes _before_ you fired.  Without the explosion even occurring.
The fear is all in your expectations, it does not exist.  Just
squeeze the trigger and relax.  It will not harm you.  The noise
is unpleasant, but it is part of what is, learn to use it.  Think
of ways to use it _against_ your foes."
      "I can do this," Ranko assured her.  She sighted again,
slowly pulled the trigger.  She flinched again as it fired, but
she hit the target, nowhere inside the rings, but the outer edge
of the paper.
      "Again."
      She fired, hitting the corner of the paper, near where the
first shot had hit.  She smiled weakly, she set the pistol down.
I feel like I practiced for an hour, she thought, Not fired two
shots.  I'm too tense.
      Rei-chan patted her shoulder and helped her to a chair.  "If
I may?"  She emptied her revolver, Ranko saw it had only 2 live
shells, the others seemed to be empty cartridges. "I am trained.
Only point it at something you intend to destroy."  She raised
her pistol, aiming it carefully at the target Ranko had winged
twice.  She emptied the pistol at the target by fanning it,
making the shots almost a continuous sound.  As the wire shuttle
returned the target from the 15-meter distance, she continued,
"That is an application of your technique to a slow-firing
weapon.  Think not of what you believe of the weapon.  Accept you
know little of it, and you must learn its secrets and
techniques."
      Ranko nodded.  Rei-chan emptied the pistol again, turned her
back so Ranko couldn't see her load it.
      "We will continue," she said as she stood where she could
watch Ranko's eyes as she fired.
      Ranko stepped into the stall and took aim.  Remembering an
old technique, she tightened up every muscle.  She relaxed them
all and fired.
      "Better," Rei-chan said.
      "But I missed," Ranko complained.
      "You are not yet ready to compete with Roku-kun, nor Mein
Grosse Feldmarschall, nor I.  That is not the point.  Not
flinching is," Rei-chan said quietly, then a little of her usual
anger with Ranma/Ranko bubbled up, "Continue."
      Ranko screwed herself up tight, and relaxed as she pulled
the trigger.  On a spent round.
      "Again," Rei-chan said.
      I think this is going to be a long day, Ranko thought as she
sighted, tightened everything up, relaxed and fired.
----------------------------------------
To avoid complications, she never kept the same address
August 15, 1947
      The `convoy` had formed, Ranma thought as he glanced around
the `force`: Mirei-chan and her two gorillas, with her
grandfather following on an old sidecar motorcycle.  Yumiwashi
had dragged Toji along to accompany Hikari on her walk with
Asuka-chan.  Rei-chan had helped Shinji to complete his morning
chores early, so he could stay with the group after the morning
practice.  The guards formed up, with Juri driving the jeep with
the pack radio.  Both she and Mirei-chan's grandfather knew a
smart enemy would take them out first, so they hung back a bit.
      Ranma grumbled a bit at the stern admonishment that he _not_
walk on the fences.
      "The technique has shown some progress," Rei-chan told him,
ending his planned protest.
      "It's not like you're gonna master it instantly," Ranma
replied.
      "My reasoning dictates otherwise.  If you mastered it, it
must be easy," Rei-chan said and stared at him while he fumed.
      Then he got it.   I've been training them how to insult
people, he thought.  "Somehow I bet you didn't need training to
insult people, you just needed permission."
      She put her hands on her cheeks as Asuka-chan had.  "The
world must be ending early."
      Ranma fumed at the swiftly hidden giggles from the others.
"I'm gonna tell Ranko on you!" he mock sniveled at Rei, "You
meanie."
      "A blue meanie, what an idea for a silly song," Yumiwashi
said, only to be hauled back by Hikari and Mirei-chan.
      "When tigers play, your part can only be lunch," Mirei-chan
warned.
      Ranma frowned and shuddered at anyone referring to _him_ as
a cat of any kind.  He tried to change the subject as he walked
along looking for any treacherous ground to practice his balance
on, "Don't you have a big game on Tuesday?"
      "Yeah, it was supposed to be Saturday," Mirei-chan piped up,
"But with Yuki-sempai disappearing, they moved it back a couple
days."
      "Why didn't they move it to Wednesday?" Toji asked, "Then
Raccoon and Tendo-san could watch it."  He glanced around at the
curious faces.  "Kensuke told me the carrier's coming in on the
20th."  He relaxed as they did.
      "Here I thought somehow he'd found a crystal ball in his
backyard," Asuka-chan said, looked at Ranma balancing on a fallen
branch, "I don't see why you have to show off."
      "I'm not showing off," Ranma countered, "I'm _practicing_._"
      "Then you need a higher level of difficulty," Asuka-chan
said as she tossed her backpack to Ranma, and motioned for the
others to add theirs to his burden.
      "HA!" Ranma exulted as he balanced the unwieldy collection
on his head and took his hands away, "Caught all of them without
dropping or breaking anything!"
      "Let's just see if you can carry them all the way to school
without dropping or breaking anything," Asuka -chan added, "You
haven't got the patience for the long haul, especially if it is
boring."
      "If that's all the challenge you got, then give up!  I can
do anything you can imagine."
      "English homework," Hikari said.
      "Chewing with your mouth closed," Shinji added.
      "Now that's not fair Spineless," Asuka-chan admonished
sweetly, "He doesn't chew, he just swallows."
      Ranma ignored that as he continued balancing the ungainly
burden, as it shifted with each step.  He almost missed Sammi's
angry glance at Asuka-chan for turning him into an eager pack
mule.   I don't care _why_ she did it, he thought, It's _still_
good practice, that's all I care about.
----------------------------------------
      Asuka ignored Sammi's frown, noting some of the kids who
were paralleling their course.   They're going to the same
school, she thought as Tomiyo and Juri noted her glances, So they
are following us, out of necessity . . . but why are they only
going as fast as we are?  I can't believe they are flocking
around us because we're 'Oh!  Wow!  Pilots!'.  They may be here
for reasons we'd rather not deal with, Asuka wondered.  She
glanced at the guards, hoping they'd get the hint and keep an eye
on the newcomers as well.
----------------------------------------
      Jamie watched Asuka closely, as Asuka watched them.  Jamie
screwed on her most embarrassed smile and waved shyly to Asuka.
As _just_ a schoolgirl fan, her presence was erased from Asuka's
area of concern.   Exactly as I wanted, she thought, and gave
Asuka the same shy smile and wave when her gaze swept over her
and her companion.
      "She suspects something," Mihiro said.
      "She expects trouble," Jamie replied as Eriko and several
others fell in, dispersed through the crowd, but warding the
front and sides, as she and Mihiro guarded the rear.   Too thin,
a diffuse shield, the one-time spawn of Nyogtha thought as she
looked around, as if gawking at the collection of the pilots'
admirers, Something _is_ wrong, I can feel it.
      Mihiro scanned the crowd, feeling the same ill-at-ease,
nagging feeling.  "Which one are they aiming at?" Mihiro
whispered, "Which one of you will they strike?"
      "We need to get some answers," Jamie said, "Like where Yuki
_really_ went, as well as her parents.  However, for the moment,
concentrate on being an admiring student going to school."
      Mihiro nodded, but couldn't completely loose her unease.
----------------------------------------
      It watched them, one in particular.  It knew that one was
the most like it in nature.  It decided it would strike that one,
but it will allow the humans who orbited leaderless to strike at
the others.  It considered the means, and most importantly, how
to strip off the outer layers of protection.
      It clacked the tiles of the necklace, worried not how to
accomplish it, but which of the myriad ways it could would be the
most appropriate.  It knew it must provide a sacrifice.  Each of
them possessed enough of a dual nature that any would serve, but
one in particular.  It focused on the tallest female in the
group, and considered all the ways and means.
----------------------------------------
      Nabiki caught Jeff before he joined the rest of the mess
hall crowd.  "What were you and Maya talking about?" she paused,
"If you don't mind my asking."
      "She's in love with her Sempai, and wanted some advice and
help in that regard," Jeff said offhandedly.
      Nabiki considered this and shook her head.   What kind of
`Respect for the Aged` present do you get for someone 'Megayears'
old?  Would she appreciate the reminder?
      "Are you going to be teaching Ritsuko more magic?" Nabiki
couldn't keep the dread from her voice.   Every step into that
world tears at every certainty I've ever had, she thought with a
shudder.
      "Probably, just so she can keep pace with you.  Remember,
she has all my memories, so it's more a case of joining the
dots."  They entered the mess hall.  "She was as disappointed as
you are that she can't just blow stuff up."
      Nabiki smirked at that, then grimaced as she remembered her
_entire_ day was going to be practice with the rifles, pistols
and the 30 and 50 caliber machineguns.  "Good luck, I know _I'm_
going to need it.  Do you suppose the others are getting firearms
instruction?"
      "You didn't read the latest update.  I'd bet Asuka cajoled,
then Rei just dragged him to the range."
      "Then Asuka threatened and cajoled some more, or called his
bravery, honor or manliness into question," Nabiki said with a
chuckle about someone else was being introduced to the fine art
of firearms.  "Oh," Nabiki said carefully, "Did you and Rei
discuss or arrange this before hand?"
      "I'm not omniscient," he said defensively, "Although, once
Rei gets an idea in her head, and if Asuka cares to support her,
I doubt even Admiral Simson would get in there way."
      Ouch, she thought of the combination.
      Jeff continued, "Everyone seems to have forgotten she grew
up literally inside NERV and she isn't stupid.  Are you glad to
be almost home?"
      'Another answer to a dozen unasked questions.'  "Are you?"
she asked with a smile as she saw she'd flustered him.
      "I've had places I lived, but rarely a home," Jeff said
quietly in English, "I enjoy being with you and the others,
although there are times I want to strangle each and every one of
you.  From what I know of your growing up, that's part and parcel
of having a family."
      That's clear enough.  "I was hoping you'd have some insight,
where we're going isn't exactly 'home' for me either, weird.  I
miss it, full of people sometimes _I_ want to strangle."  She
smiled at the joke, he either missed it or ignored it, "For that
to happen, I guess I would have had to get Gendo's and the
Admiral's permission, right?"
      "No, just orders through the chain of command."
      Okay, he's in that kind of mood, Nabiki thought as she
realized she'd been skillfully diverted, again, I'll have to
torture the truth out of Maya about what they _really_ talked
about.  It's about time someone tried to straighten her out.
------------------------------
      Hiro walked into the Admiral's office with considerable
trepidation.  The Admiral looked up from his seemingly endless
paperwork as Hiro was issued into the room.  The Admiral's yeoman
closed the door, the pair were alone.
      "Ah, Mr. Takemono, I am pleased to see you.  How goes the
project?" the Admiral got up from behind his desk, offered Hiro a
small, but polite bow, then his hand.
      Hiro returned a much deeper bow, then shook the offered
hand.   Things are going too smoothly, he thought, The security
checks to get in here were perfunctory at best, and I was issued
directly into the Admiral's presence.  Simson's no fool, he has
to know something isn't right, so where are the guards?  Where
are the angry men demanding answers?  Not that thumbscrews and
hot irons would get them anything, since I don't know.  Better
just answer his questions, he thought, Then I can get to the real
business.  "I found a musician at Toho, he's very good and open
to both Western, Japanese, and even Ainu influences.  He already
heard about the project and had done a couple of preliminary
pieces, sort of a resume.  I must admit, some of it may sound
dissonant to Western ears, but it highlights the conflict the
Children are under better than anyone else.  He's already got
signature themes for several of the pilots, and I think he
appreciates the work."  He felt himself relaxing, as he always
did when talking about the documentary.  I wonder if we'll ever
get a chance to finish it? he wondered.
      "I do think people will start accusing me of only using men
named 'Akira' to do the major work, but I go where the talent is.
I'd like to thank you and the Navy for your emotional and
financial support."
      "Happy to help," the Admiral said as he retook his seat,
"Please sit.  I know you enjoy talking about your movie, but I
doubt that's what you came to talk about."
      "Admiral, there is something you need to know," Hiro said
breathlessly as he paced, "I . . . I went along with them because
- "  He froze as the Admiral pulled a small jar from his desk
drawer and set it on the desk in front of Hiro, it was filled
with white-veined blue crystals.  Hiro swallowed, not daring to
take his eyes off the treasure that literally meant life and
death for him.  "How did you know!?" Hiro stammered as he stared
at it hungrily.
      "Do your friends really think we are _that_ foolish?" the
Admiral asked placidly, "I also know Miss Langley `suggested` a
theme to your composer for Mr.  Davis."
      Hiro felt his blood run cold at the promise of true freedom
sitting there, almost within his grip.   All I have to do is
reach out and take them, he thought as he found himself terrified
at the prospect of getting exactly what he'd longed for.  His
hand reached for the jar with more care than he would have shown
an ancient pottery.
      "Why don't you verify they are correct?" the Admiral said
carefully, "Then tell me what you wanted to tell me."
      Hiro stared at the jar as he took it in his hands.  I don't
need to examine them, I can feel - I can _smell_ they are what I
need, he thought desperately, glanced at the Admiral's neutral
expression, If I took even half of what's here - all at once -
I'd never need to take any more.  "How?"
      "The pilots have a wealth of knowledge: Martial Arts,
literature, music, mathematics . . . alchemy," the Admiral said,
almost playing with him, but not quite.  "It's amazing what a
straight-forward question will net.  If they are inclined to
talk.  I suspect they could completely rewrite the manuals on the
EVAs' deployment, maintenance, disposition and combat, if we
asked.  Take what you need.  Take all you need, so you won't need
any more."
      The Admiral watched Hiro as he removed several of the
largest pieces and let them absorb into his skin, one at a time.
Hiro shuddered at the growing feeling of completeness that filled
him with each addition.   I'm not human, and I never will be, he
thought as he came down from the mountains of exhilaration, and
stared at the almost-pleased expression on Admiral Simson's face.
  He's got me now, Hiro realized, More than if he'd held it over
my head as a bribe.  And he knows it, he's realized the power
those kids have, one that is completely secret, because no one
ever thinks to remark on it.  The others are all too caught up in
it.
      "I'm sure you have something important to tell me.  Why
don't you take that seat you obviously need, and tell me about
it?"
      "How did you know?" he asked again as he slid into the
chair.
      The admiral's smile faded.  "You came in, willing to risk
your life, to tell me something.  Now that I've removed the
greater part of that risk, please - tell - me."
      Although it was a question phrased in the superpolite form
of Japanese, that only underlined that it was a direct order and
would be carried out, whether willingly or not.  "I know things
about General Tembris, a Swiss-based organization called SEELE,
and their plans for the pilots.  Their _near-term_ plans for the
pilots."
      "Please continue.  Should I have a stenographer brought in?"
      "If you have one you can trust," Hiro said.  I
underestimated you, as you have underestimated the pilots, he
thought as the Admiral opened the door and issued in a yeoman, I
wonder if that's the real joke or their real power.  Anyone
around them is drawn in, human, or not, but they still insist on
seeing them as clever kids, not the nascent gods they are
becoming.  Protective camouflage.  Quite a power, if that was the
intention, I wonder who gave it to them.
      "You could have traded for the information," Hiro suggested.
      "You came to us before that was necessary.  This doesn't let
you off the hook."  The Admiral shrugged.  "You'll get your
punishment as a free man."
      "Thank you.  I've been working for General Tembris.  He's
working for some people, they're headquartered in Geneva - I
believe - he plays that part pretty close to the vest.  All our
communications come from Swiss sources.  He wanted something from
Ranma, a sample.  I got it, and they shipped it off.  I rather
stupidly thought that getting the sample would be the end of it.
They are waiting for orders, orders I believe will be to kill all
the pilots.  They haven't gotten the actual orders, but none of
them doubt those will be the orders they'll receive."  He paused,
the yeoman looked up, nodded, indicating he was able to keep up
with the conversation.
      "Can you get us more intel?"
      He shook his head.  "They moved their base again, until they
contact me, I don't know where they are."
      "I suggest you tell Miss Kraznyzamok everything,
_absolutely_ everything.  How are the interviews with the kids
for the movie going?  I haven't had time to see the bits you've
sent over, but the people who have say it's excellent, really
captures the pilots."
      The Admiral looked up at the man staring at him.  "You
wouldn't have been cleared to make it, unless we knew you were
safe."
      "I guess I should have figured you'd have your own spy
network."
      "Good.  Please don't let me keep you."
------------------------------
      The Admiral watched Hiro and the yeoman leave.  He'd leave
further interrogation to Miss Kraznyzamok and the professionals.
He lifted the phone and dialed.  "Captain Ramsey, Admiral Simson.
Their information panned out.  Put them on full alert.  I want
that bastard, I don't care if they bring him to me in a sponge,
just as long as we can prove it's him, and _all_ of him."   If
they can make a person like Hiro out of chemicals, he thought,
They can make duplicates of themselves out of pieces.
      "Understood, Admiral," Ramsey replied.
      Simson hung up the phone and turned to stare out the window.
"I hate waiting.  I hate not knowing if I can trust my own
government."
------------------------------
Fastidious and precise
August 16, 1947
      Ranma walked to the now famous list, he was furious and
decided it was a good way to express it for all to see.  He
noticed someone had crossed out Rei's 'should' in rule 12, and
replaced it with a 'will'.  Admiral Simson had initialed the
change, and made a formal posting to that effect right next to
the list.   Including classes on firearms, been there, done that,
got the ringing ears . . . from getting _yelled_ at, Ranma
thought as he read the Japanese text of the message, and guessed
the English said much the same, From what little I can read it
seems to.  It also explains why Gendo's shadow gave Shinji and me
our swords, before we climbed into the EVAs this morning for sync
testing.   He glanced down at the metal on his hip, frowned at it
and the necessity.
      The reminder made Ranma's blood boil again.   What was that
idiot trying to do? Ranma wondered, nearly breaking the clipboard
as his rage nearly took control of him again, Asuka has enough
problems syncing with the other EVAs without some idiot on the
ground crew phone.  He's lucky I got to him before Shinji did
with Unit 02.
      'Do not distract the pilots while they are in the EVA, they
may accidentally step on you.'  He wrote in Japanese.   Yeah, one
of the _other_ pilots, he thought angrily as he handed the
clipboard to the duty signals officer.  "Pretty please transpose
that one in for English," Ranma told him in English.
      "Certainly, sir," the officer replied in Japanese.
      The officer looked at the recently arrived list from the
Bunker Hill, and saw the `translation` already there, practically
word-for-word.  "Somebody's being too generous with the stupid
pills lately," he muttered, "Maybe there should be an award for
that.  This used to be a nice boring job."
------------------------------


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