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Altered Lives (The Parody)

Book 12 "Revelations"

Time - Late 2016 when Shakey is 15 years old (TV episode 23 to Movies)

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Copyright Info and Disclaimer.

"Neon Genesis Evangelion" is Copyright (c) 2003 by Gainax.  All OTHER material is Copyright (c) 2003 their owners.  All materials used for PARODY purposes.

"Altered Lives (The Parody)" is Copyright (c) 2003 by DBM.  This work is an Amateur, Non-Commercial work by an Anime/Manga Fan.  This work was created in the Spirit of the Copyright Exemptions regarding Parodies and Satire.

If you like my work, you may keep a copy for your own personal records, but you may NOT post it on any websites/newsgroups, NOR may you include it in any printed publication for sale/public distribution.  If printing out a copy for yourself or a friend, you may reformat it (paragraph spacing, page-breaks, font and font size, borders, bold/italic, etc) to fit the paper you use, but please do not change any of the actual words or wording in the document.

Sole web-posting at FanFiction.Net - Author's E-Mail address on File.

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Censorship Info and Disclaimer.

NOT Recommended for Children.

Intended for MATURE Audiences.

There are NO 'sex scenes', but, just like the original NGE series, the story will explore the results and side effects of such activities.  Along the way, there'll be swearing, violence, drugs, Adult situations, and frank discussions of sex education/family planning information, as well as thoughts and opinions on the morals and ethics of sexual assault, dating, courtship, marriage, alternate sexualities, pregnancy, childbirth, parenthood, Family Values, etc.

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Fandom Alerts and Disclaimer.

AU Alert (Alternate Universe).

OOC Alert (Out Of Character).

ACC Alert (Author Created Character).

SI Alert (Self Insert - Author appears in the story as a character).

SPOILER Alert (May 'spoil' surprises in the Manga and Anime TV/Movies).

' ' denotes thoughts.

" " denotes speech.

* * denotes emphasis, or electronic communication.

denotes other method of communication.

--- denotes letters deleted for censorship reasons.

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Chapter - Personal History.

In Mazurka's apartment, Natsumi Iwakawa sat on a couch and stared in shock at Shakey Atari's unexpected revelation.  Two disguised Clones dressed in Maid's outfits stood nearby, silently listening in.

"…y-your… Father?" a wide-eyed Natsumi gasped aloud.

Shakey didn't say anything, but his facial expression, let alone the body language of the half shrug of his shoulders spoke volumes.

"…ah…" Natsumi suddenly looked very nervous.

"…sometimes I wish he weren't…" Shakey muttered darkly, his mind dredging up all the 'Quality-Time' Father-Son Male Bonding sessions they'd had over the years…

…all of which could be counted on one hand…

"…i think… i'd better be going…" Natsumi slid off the couch.  With eyes downcast, she started for the door.

"Wait!" Shakey suddenly rose from the couch, his hand reaching out to Natsumi, "Please don't go!  Me and my Father, we… we aren't really family…  I mean, he is my Father, but we… kind of split up some years ago…"

Natsumi stopped in her tracks, her back to Shakey.

"I hadn't seen or spoken to him in years…" Shakey rabbited on, "…I was living with relatives, and then he suddenly sends for me…  But even then it…"

Shakey's comments suddenly cut off, the boy painfully aware that, 'I can't tell Natsumi that my Father only wanted me as an AVE Pilot!'

"…we weren't anymore of a family than we were…" Shakey finished lamely.

"…i see…" Natsumi's words were an enlightened whisper, "…he wanted you here, but he doesn't treat you as family…"

Shakey was about to confirm Natsumi's opinion when the girl did something that surprised him…

"…I understand…" Natsumi turned around, a trembling smile on her face and tears in her eyes.  "My… Father…" Natsumi choked on the word, "Didn't treat me or my mother as Family either…"

"Huh?" Shakey was mystified, not least because, 'What's she talking about?  She said her parents died soon after she was born?  Is she talking about her Foster-Parents?'

"I know what that's like…" Natsumi muttered, "…to be Family in name only…"

Shakey kept quiet, aware that despite the unique situation he was in with his Father, too many other people came from dysfunctional families as well.

Natsumi slowly walked back to the couch and sat down, her gaze firmly on the floor.  A shiver ran through her, then she quietly asked, "What has he told you about me?"

"Uh…" Shakey blinked, then shrugged the question off as he sat down, "Nothing…  As I said, we don't talk much…  I hardly ever see him, and even then, it's only when I'm work-"

Shakey bit his tongue, realising he'd almost said more than he intended to.

"Work?" Natsumi glanced at Shakey, "You mean when you Pilot AVE?"

Shakey stared at Natsumi in shock, his slack-jawed expression prompting a true smile from the girl sitting on the couch.

"Oh, Mr Atari!" Natsumi almost giggled, "You think I didn't know?  Everyone in school knows that you're an AVE Pilot!"

"Ev-Everyone?" Shakey was NOT feeling happy with himself, especially not as he remembered how he'd blabbed the secret out on his first day in school…

"And Rave, and Ms Skrewyou," Natsumi confirmed, "The school chat rooms are full of people talking about the three of you…"

"…full of?" Shakey squeaked in dismay.

"Uh-Huh!" Natsumi confirmed with some merriment.  Her expression suddenly fell, "That's why… when I saw Rave looking for me at the school gates…"

Natsumi paused, then continued in a subdued voice, "…I was concerned that people would start talking about me and my life, as much as they do about you…"

Shakey was lost, he couldn't make any sense out of what Natsumi was saying.

"Mr Atari?" Natsumi timidly asked, "I know there's been rumours about you and Rave in the chat rooms…" Natsumi shivered, her arms folding around her thin body in a self-hug, "…well… …you may hear some rumours about me…"

"Don't worry about that!" Shakey commiserated, "I've heard too many unfounded rumours about me and Rave to believe everything I hear anymore…"

"Mr Atari…" Natsumi's voice dropped to a whisper, "…you and Rave have been nice to me…  Kuroko and Chairoko too…  if… if your father hasn't told you… about me…  …may i tell you the truth about me…?  that way you'll know for sure, no matter what anyone else says…"

"Sure," Shakey agreed, "Truth's the only thing that can stop rumours…"

"We will listen, if you wish to talk," the two Clones said in unison.

"…if I tell the truth…" Natsumi hesitantly asked, "…will you keep it a secret?"

"No worries," Shakey confirmed.

"We will not tell," the Clones added their voices.

"…thank you…" Natsumi sniffled, "…you see…  my Father… killed my Grand-Mother…  he would have killed me and my Mother as well… but… we escaped…"

Shakey swallowed hard, Natsumi's words showing him the painful reason behind the pleasant lie of Natsumi's parents dying in an Earthquake…

"…my Aunt isn't really my Aunt…" Natsumi continued, "…she's my Mother…"

Shakey nodded dumbly, accepting the subterfuge.

Many of those who escaped from domestic violence often adopted some sort of disguise, even if only changing their names.  Blessed anonymity gave survivors a better chance at starting a new life, mainly by keeping them safe from the wrath of those they'd escaped from.  The ruse of a Mother assuming an extra layer of disguise as an Aunt was understandable, especially if there was good reason to be paranoid…

"…she's also my sister…" Natsumi finished, her eyes on the carpet…

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Chapter - Inside Job.

Mazurka dropped Kantsee, 'Rave', 'Chairoko' and 'Kuroko' off at school, well before the start of classes.

"Thank YOU Major Kutsarug!" Kantsee exclaimed gratefully, smitten by both Militaristic Idol Worship, and his teenage hormones.

"Not a Problem!" Mazurka smiled at Kantsee, then drove off with a wave.

"What a woman!" Kantsee sighed, before heading off to class…

…And getting an unusual surprise…

Despite being the only ones in the classroom, Rave, Kuroko and Chairoko went straight to their desks and powered up their computer terminals.  Within seconds of the machines booting up, the girls were rapidly scanning through the school computer network, their fingers quickly typing in data strings and go-to commands.

Kantsee watched the strange goings on, then sat down at his desk and booted his own terminal up.

"What the…?" one of Kantsee's anti-hacker programs let him know that someone was trying to access his private files.  His eyes widened in panic at the realisation that the cyber-invader was scanning through his customised firewalls, as if they were glass covers on public notice boards…

"Oh NO!" wailed Kantsee, as several 'pin-up' images he kept in a private file for paying customers were ruthlessly accessed.

"Do not worry," Rave's voice was unexpected, "They are not what we are after…"

"What YOU'RE after?" Kantsee nearly screamed as several of his 'special' and thus 'encrypted' pin-up images suddenly unencrypted themselves on-screen.

"Nor those," added Kuroko, raising an eyebrow as the images disappeared.

"…ah… ah…" Kantsee looked on in horrified fascination as the rest of the data files hidden on his school computer were rapidly laid bare.

When the invasive access stopped, Kantsee found the courage to peek over the shoulder of one of the Twins.  His eyes widened in surprise as he saw the girl's computer screen was displaying several data windows, some of which appeared to be in raw machine code.

Rave sat back and watched her screen, using speed-reading techniques to quickly capture and relay the visual data to the Group Mind for detailed analysis.

That the amount of material being leeched from the school chat rooms, e-mail repositories, and student data caches was more than a normal person could be expected to quickly assimilate, was something that didn't bother the 137 members of the Clones' Group Mind…  Their individual minds, acting in concert with one another like parallel processors in a computer, were fully capable of handling the data stream that 'Rave' was 'channelling' to them.

Elsewhere in the classroom, Kuroko and Chairoko continued to route data to Rave's terminal, their 'Hacking' of the School computer system meeting zero resistance…

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Chapter - Cooking up a Storm.

In Mazurka's apartment, Shakey Atari sat on a couch and stared in shock at Natsumi Iwakawa's unexpected revelation.  Two disguised Clones dressed in Maid outfits stood nearby, silently appraising Natsumi's comment…

"We do not understand," the Clones chorused, "How can the woman you call your Aunt, be both your Sister and your Mother?"

Natsumi closed her eyes, her lips locked in a narrow line, "My Father… was my Grandma's third husband…  Grandma's second husband, my mom's father, died in a car accident, leaving Grandma with a young daughter to look after…  When my Father came along, Grandma was only too happy to have his support as a Husband…  When my mother was barely in her teens… well, neither Grandma nor my Mother ever gave me details about 'that' part of the story…  But when my Mother found out she was pregnant to her own Father, 'Father' wouldn't let her get an abortion…"

"What do you mean?" Kuroko was somewhat suspicious of Natsumi's comment, "He wouldn't let your mother get an abortion?"

"Mom was still at school," Natsumi shrugged, "And since she was under the age of eighteen, she had to have both of her parents' signatures to get a legal abortion in that particular state of the USA…"

"If she was under the age of eighteen," Chairoko pointed out, "Could she not have had the Authorities intervene?"

Natsumi stared long and hard at Chairoko, "If she'd done that…  He would have killed her and Grandma…"

"But the Police could have given her protection-" Kuroko started.

"Protection?" Natsumi's interruption dismissed the notion immediately, "Yeah… Right!  As if!  The cops were too busy dealing with drugs and gang fights to worry about some stupid little slut that got herself knocked up…"

"You should not talk about your Mother like that…" Chairoko remonstrated.

"I ain't," Natsumi protested, "Their words, not mine…  You think we could have gotten 'protection'?  Dream on!  The US of A cared SO MUCH for it's womenfolk back then, that it still allowed men to forcibly rape their wives, and treated any rape victim like a lying slut if she dared speak up.  'Protection' for my mother would have been detention in Juvenile Hall until she gave birth!  Huh!  SOME Protection!  'Juvie' was supposed to be a place of rehabilitation, but it was just another form of Prison, farmed out to the lowest bidding Entrepreneur…"

Many have asked 'Why' people stay with abusive partners.  While the reasons for this are many and varied, they usually boil down to a lack of acceptable options, created by an uncaring society's attitude to the poor and weak…

For instance, many victims didn't know how relationships could or should be.  They had no way of assessing their situation and finding out what was wrong, let alone getting access to the resources to fix it up…

Many victims flat-out refused to see reality, or could not accept that things were as bad as they were, especially if it meant upsetting the cosy little world they thought they had…

Then there were the victims with false expectations, those that believed that if only they were loving enough, caring enough, submissive enough, then they could cure the 'wayward half'…

Some poor souls believed that things could never get better, no matter what was done…  They often believed no-one else cared, a feeling reinforced by what they saw in the world around them…

…And then there was the frequently used argument of "If you leave me, I'll kill you and the kids…" one that made ANY victim think twice, especially if they were totally dependent on the threat-maker…

…And if there was no 'safe' way of leaving, let alone a 'safe' place to go to…

"You were not born in Japan…" Chairoko stated her question as a fact, "Yet you have a Japanese name."

"As the song goes, I was 'Born in the USA'…" Natsumi sadly confirmed, "My 'Father' was the sort of man who didn't stay in one place too long, so my earliest memories are of moving house.  A lot.  After the family was broken up, me and my mom kept on moving, we just moved faster and stayed for less time in the one place…  We also started changing our names regularly as well…"

"How old is your mother?" Kuroko asked, trying to reconcile Natsumi's story with the apparent age of Hatsuko Iwakawa.

"A lot younger than she looks…" Natsumi admitted, "We've lived rough ever since the family broke up eight years ago, and things have taken a real toll on her…  We only arrived in Japan about five years ago, after travelling through the USA, Mexico, Canada, Alaska, and some of the Aleutian Islands…"

Natsumi suddenly stared at the Clones, "Tell me, how old do I look to you?"

The Clones stared back for several long moments, then shook their heads and replied with, "We are unsure.  You are in a lower grade, and you are shorter than we are…  It is reasonable to assume that you are years younger than we are…"

"I'm sixteen…" Natsumi replied dryly, "…by a couple of months…  Although as far as the school records are concerned, I'm three years younger…"

"You're older than I am?" Shakey was amazed.

Natsumi smiled, batting her eyelashes at Shakey as she teasingly asked, "Why Mr Atari!  Don't tell me you like Older Women?"

Shakey was taken aback at the comment, "No!  Ah… I mean…"

Natsumi didn't let Shakey finish his incoherent reply, "The reason I'm so short, is because we HAVE been living rough.  Not enough food to grow up 'Big and Strong' as the School Nurse would say…  Stunted growth is one of the side benefits of Malnutrition, as well as delaying puberty and keeping my boobs small…" 

Shakey blushed.

"By rights," there was anger in Natsumi's face, "I should be taller than anyone else in school, and have larger breasts than anyone else, teachers included!  At least, if my Mother and Grandmother are anything to go by!"

Shakey's blush got worse…

"Still…" Natsumi's anger abated, "We've got a real home now, regular income, and plenty of decent food on the table…  I should start having some 'growth spurts' real soon now…  Unless… my lack of growth IS some sort of 'inbreeding' thing…"

"Um…" Shakey mumbled as he stood up, "…I'll just… in the kitchen…"

An embarrassed Shakey stumbled off to the relative safety of Mazurka's kitchen, leaving the three girls alone by the couch…

Shakey clattered around in Mazurka's kitchen, trying to settle himself by the time-honoured Manly technique of getting 'Hands-On' with inanimate objects.  That he was also creating a meal in the process, rather than 'fine-tuning' a car engine, probably intimated something better left unsaid about his 'Machismo'…

'…oh man…' despite the soothing therapy derived from using sharp-edged metal implements on defenceless vegetables, Shakey's mind was still stuck in a loop of denial.  Natsumi's confession of how her Family Tree 'didn't branch' was not something he felt up to handling.

…Let alone Natsumi's forthright manner in telling her story…

"…fluent in English and Japanese, and I can also get by in Spanish and French!" Natsumi was regaling the curious Clones with stories of her life on the run, tossing in a few anecdotes and bits and pieces of what she'd learned.

"Is that why you told no-one about the Senior's Gang?" Chairoko asked, "You were afraid that any official investigation would reveal who you really were?"

"Partly…" Natsumi shivered, "…I just… have this thing… about people bigger than me taking control of my life, pushing me around…  They…" she sighed, "…they reminded me too much of my Father…  Their actions… and their threats…"

"Um?" Shakey's brilliant conversation stopper came from the vicinity of the kitchen, "If… If anyone's hungry…?"  He gestured towards the kitchen.

Once again, Shakey's Culinary Skills had created a tasty treat.  Mindful of how the Rave Clones were vegetarian, Shakey had made savoury omelettes, with cream cheese, garlic, chives, tomatoes, and onions.  Served with fresh lettuce leaves and chopped cucumbers, they were both a tasty snack, and a nutritious meal.

"…oh…" Natsumi suddenly seemed every bit the child she was supposed to be.

"Please," Shakey waved towards the dining table self-consciously, "I was feeling hungry, and since it's rude to eat in front of guests, I…"

"…thank you…" Natsumi accepted Shakey's offer with good grace.

Chairoko and Kuroko helped the others to their seats, then served up Shakey's impromptu brunch.  Conversation during the meal was practically non-existent, with everyone dealing with things in their own way.  Shakey was still in denial, the Clones had already assimilated the data without any problems, and Natsumi…

…Natsumi didn't look very happy with things…

When the meal was over, the reason for Natsumi's attitude became known…

"Thank You for the meal," Natsumi said quietly, "I'm sorry for having been such a burden…"

"…ah…" Shakey was his usual eloquent self.

"…I won't be in future," Natsumi promised sadly as she started for the door, "…you needn't worry about me being… you know… 'intrusive' in your lives anymore…"

"Were you being intrusive?" Chairoko asked.

Natsumi stopped and looked back at the others, "…but… if I hang around with you… and others find out about me…"

"We will not tell anyone," Kuroko repeated their earlier promise.

"And if we hear of any rumours," Chairoko added, "We will inform those responsible that their information is… incorrect…"

"I never heard you say anything…" Shakey decided that selective amnesia was the better part of being a 'Sensitive New Age Guy'.

"Will we see you after school?" Kuroko asked, "I believe that Rave will not feel your story to be a 'burden' either?"

Natsumi nodded, a smile on her face and happy tears in her eyes…

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Chapter - Getting Results.

In her office somewhere in the NERVIS Base, Mazurka was NOT having a good day…

On arriving for work, Mazurka had found a nondescript e-mail waiting for her.  From her co-worker and sometimes co-conspirator Moccona Hoover, it merely stated "Unable to make Lunch meeting - see me to reschedule…"

Within minutes, Mazurka and Moccona were having a deadly serious 'coffee break' in an isolated corner of one of the staff lounge rooms…

"What's wrong?" Mazurka was worried, "Couldn't your contact come through?"

"Oh they came through all right," Moccona said from behind his coffee cup, "It's just that they couldn't make sense of what you gave them…"

"What do you mean?"

"Where did you get that capsule from?"

"That's not important at this stage," Mazurka dismissed the question, "What do you mean, they couldn't make sense of what I gave them?"

Moccona sighed, "That's just it Major!  They couldn't make sense of the contents of that capsule!  What they could analyse was strange enough, but there was too much that they couldn't even touch…"

"What did they find?"

Moccona shrugged, "Mega doses of a range of vitamins and minerals…  And large doses of Female Hormones…"

"Female Hormones?"

"That's what they said," Moccona took another swig, "And not the ones you'd normally find in the 'Pill' either!  The report said they appeared to be modified from 'Phyto-Estrogens', vegetable based versions of Animal hormones…"

"Could…" Mazurka chewed her lip thoughtfully, "Could they be used to interrupt a person's normal menstrual cycle?"

"Ah…" Moccona was taken aback, "I… don't know about that…  I could make some enquiries, but…"

"Please do!" Mazurka ordered.

"…but…" Moccona continued, "There's no way of knowing what effect they'd have on a person, in conjunction with the other things in that capsule…"

"What do you mean?"

Moccona sighed, "It's what I was trying to tell you, my contacts weren't able to analyse all of what was in that capsule…"

'…weren't able…?' Mazurka had a sudden sense of déjà vu, remembering when Ritzy had tried to analyse one of the Alien Invaders, and of Ritzy's own inability in determining exactly what the Aliens were made out of…

"Major?" Moccona was looking at Mazurka with some concern.

"Huh?" Mazurka realised her mind had wandered, "Oh, sorry…  Just spaced out for a bit… you were saying they weren't able to do some of the tests?"

Moccona looked slightly hurt, "No, I'm saying they did do all of the tests, it's just they couldn't analyse what was in that capsule…"

Mazurka felt a sudden chill…

"Major?" Moccona looked worried, "Where did you get that capsule?"

Mazurka didn't reply.  She didn't know how to tell Moccona that the capsule had come from a Rave Clone's bottle of 'prescription medicine'…

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Chapter - The Searchers.

Three Rave Clones sat in the school classroom, methodically sifting through the data stored on the School computer network.

Kantsee sat at his desk, feverishly deleting all of the files he now knew had been 'compromised'…

'If Rave and the Twins could hack my systems like that,' Kantsee rationalised, 'Then there's no telling what a trained Government Operative could do…'

Kantsee's paranoia would have turned to hysteria had he known the real truth…

In the years before Mazurka had become the Clones' Guardian, the Clone living the role of Rave Imanonymous had done so under the jurisdiction of Glando Atari.  That Glando had been in any way capable of acting as Guardian to the Clone, had been made possible by how he delegated certain parts of Rave's upbringing to other people…

…Usually the very few people Glando trusted enough to give such a job to, let alone be capable of actually doing an acceptable job of helping raise Rave…

…People like the Polymath Computer Genius, Doctor Ritzy Akatlover…

Ritzy had been the source of much of Rave's early education, with Rave spending many hours in her company.  That Rave's time was usually spent with Rave quietly reading a book while Ritzy toiled nearby, was probably partly responsible for Ritzy finding Rave reading a complex computer manual one day…

Ritzy's surprise had turned to astonishment, and then delight as Rave began asking questions about computers that proved the child knew more than she could possibly be expected to know at such a tender age…

Like her mother Nayokay, Ritzy had been a 'child prodigy', an intelligence whose early blooming had led to a divergent social upbringing to those around her.  With the discovery of Rave's own abilities, Ritzy had started an impromptu training curriculum for the child.  One that often saw 'hands-on' experience with some of the most advanced computing systems in existence…

Put simply…  The School computer systems were NOTHING compared to what Rave had 'dabbled in', deep in the NERVIS Base with the Chief Computer Programmer…

One of the Twins finished her keystrokes, and was rewarded with the appearance of a new window on her screen.

Uplink established…

Web browser on line…

Accessing Google Japan Search Engine…

Disengaging Adult Filter…

Having completed their pillaging of the data held on the School's computers, the Clones now moved further afield…

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Chapter - Dated Advice?

Deep in the bowels of the NERVIS Base, Major Mazurka Kutsarug valiantly toiled on, heroically performing that most odious of her Official duties…  'Paperwork'…

After her not-so-satisfactory meeting with Moccona Hoover, Mazurka had tried to figure out what course of action to take next.

'If Moccona's contacts couldn't come through, I'll need to speak with someone more 'in the know'…  Since Ritzy's out of the picture, that leaves Mayi…'

Mazurka's plans weren't helped by the 'In-Box from Below Hell', a wire tray bent flat beneath the weight of the various reports and folders that overflowed its confines into large untidy stacks on Mazurka's desk.

'I've left it this long,' Mazurka wearily decided on viewing her workload, 'I can't leave it any longer…  My talk with Mayi will have to wait'.

Resigning herself to the inevitable, Mazurka got stuck into the waiting work…

An unknown Eon later, a knock sounded at the door to Mazurka's too-small office.

"Mazurka?" asked Rave#3, on her way to her underground restroom from an all-nighter at the Test Facility, "May we speak with you?"

Mazurka sighed, ANY distraction from her current workload was MORE than welcome.

"Sure," agreed Mazurka, 'I need a break, this will do for an excuse…'

The Clone entered, and sat on Mazurka's visitors chair, almost hidden from Mazurka's sight by the stack of paperwork…

"On Second Thoughts…" decided Mazurka, "Perhaps we should get out of this stuffy office and get some fresh air…" 

With that, the two left Mazurka's office, swapping it for the more spacious confines of the nearest Canteen/Lounge area.

"You want a drink?" Mazurka asked, going over to the nearest drink dispenser.

"No," replied the Clone, watching as Mazurka got herself two coffees.

They sat in a corner of the room, away from the thoroughfare.

"Now," Mazurka said as she sipped her coffee, "What's up?"

The Clone paused before starting, "Mazurka, you have taught us many things.  Not least of which, have been your lessons in Human relationships…  That is what we wish to talk to you about now…  We… would like to know more about… Dating…"

Mazurka smiled, 'Oh-HO!' she thought, 'Looks like the Clones are 'growing up'…'

"Well now," drawled Mazurka, "You're certainly 'old enough' to start dating…  Any ideas of boys you might like to go out with?  Hmmm?"

The Clone lowered her gaze and blushed.

Mazurka couldn't help grinning, 'Even bet it's Shakey…'

"It's Shakey, isn't it?" Mazurka prompted, watching for any reaction.

"…yes…" the Clone's cheeks went a deeper pink.

"Okay then," murmured Mazurka, "If you're going to go on a date with someone, you need to sort a few things out first…"

The Clone looked expectantly at Mazurka.

"First!" said Mazurka, going into 'Lecture Mode', "You need to know something about the other person in question.  It's important to 'check out' ANY potential dating partner, to make sure they're a 'nice' sort of person, and not some creep…"

"Shakey is not a creep," responded the Clone.

"I know that!" confirmed Mazurka, "But if I'm going to teach you about dating, I'd better do a proper job of it, and make sure you know what sort of people you should, and shouldn't date!  For example, does he smoke or drink to excess?"

The Clone sweat dropped as she remembered how much Mazurka drank…

Mazurka droned on unawares, "Does he do drugs?  If so, that's a BIG strike against him!  Is he a compulsive Gambler?  Have a 'bad' reputation?  Is he known to be dishonest, disrespectful, vain, arrogant, violent, or a bully…"

"No, none of those," replied the Clone.

"Well then," continued Mazurka, "Does he have a 'good' reputation?  For example, is he Polite?  Honest?  Helpful?  Hard working?  Respectful of others?  Does he keep himself Neat and Tidy?"

"Yes," the Clone replied, while the Group Mind concurred that Shakey is all of those things…

"Good!" smiled Mazurka, "I can't stress how important it is, not to waste time dating the 'wrong' sort of man…  You'll only get grief and trouble if you do…  As the old saying goes, 'An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure'…"

"Second Point!" Mazurka took a swig of coffee, "You need to work out what you WANT from the Date in question…  Is it just for the sake of going out and having fun?  Say at an Amusement park?  Is it just to be with someone you like?  Or, when you get older, to find out if you can have a viable 'Relationship' with them?  Such as Marriage?"

The Clone stayed quiet, although her blush deepened.

"Third!" added Mazurka, "You need to work out an itinerary, a set of plans of what you're going to do on the date…  Where are you going?  What will you do?  For example, you might go out, take in a movie, then have a meal at restaurant.  Or Vice Versa.  In any case, you'll need to research the background details, such as transport, what movies are available, how long they run, whether you'll need a reservation at the restaurant, all of the costs involved, to name a few…"

"Which brings us to Four!" Mazurka paused to drain her first Coffee dry, "When you go out on a date, the idea is to have a good time, to do things you both like.  And that means, BOTH of you!  What are the other person's interests?"

"…we… do not know, that we know that…" the Clone admitted.

"All right then, what do you know that he likes doing?"

The Clone paused, "We know he likes Malted Milks… helping others… listening to music on his SDAT player… cooking… cleaning… laundry…"

Mazurka interrupted the Clone's recital by splurting coffee out of her nose.

"Mazurka?" asked the Clone as Mazurka choked and coughed, "Are you all right?"

"Hmmm, yes," hacked Mazurka, "What makes you think he likes… cleaning… laundry?"

"He does so much of it at your apartment," replied the Clone, "Why would he do so much if he did not enjoy doing it?"

"Ahhh… well…" Mazurka suddenly had a vision of Rave and Shakey on a date… 

Shakey was in a tuxedo, Rave was in a formal gown…  Both of them were sitting in a Laundromat watching laundry go round and round in a washing machine, sipping Malted Milks from Champagne glasses while sharing Shakey's SDAT player…

It was almost too much for Mazurka's mind to take…

"Mazurka?" asked the Clone in worried tones, noting Mazurka's pale green complexion, and 'spaced-out' expression, "Are you sure you are all right?"

"I'm… fine…" groaned Mazurka, leaning forward to rest her head on the table.

The Clone watched Mazurka intently, from experience, the Clones knew that Humans sometimes said that just before they fell over…

"Rave?" Mazurka gave in to the inevitable, "I think it best if I help you arrange your first few dates…  Just until you get the hang of it…"

"Please," agreed the Clone, "We would prefer that."

"Well then," smiled Mazurka, "We may as well start by working on Point Four to start with…"

"Yes!  What does Shakey like?"

"Mazurka frowned, "To tell the truth, I'm not too sure of that myself…  But!" Mazurka smiled slyly, "I know how to find out!"

"Rave dear," Mazurka's smile grew into a grin, "You Girls are to have 'Cultural Integration and Assimilation' training…  And guess which Nice Young Man will be helping out?"

The Clones smiled…

======================================================================

Chapter - Playing Doctor.

Mazurka stood before a lab door, somewhere in the NERVIS Base.  Taking a deep breath, she knocked on the door.

"Come in," the answering voice was muffled by the door.

Mazurka opened the door and entered the room.  Pausing to shut and lock the door behind her, Mazurka turned to the sole occupant of the lab.

…Mayi Buttin…

"Morning Mayi," Mazurka said with forced nonchalance, "I need to have a chat… about the… recent Pilot Candidates you've been examining… and Rave…"

Mayi tensed, but she still answered cheerily, "Sure, What do you need to know?"

"Their prescriptions…"

Mayi relaxed visibly, "Oh THEM!  Don't the girls have enough?"

"No," Mazurka said curtly, "I want to know what's in them…"

"Sorry," Mayi shrugged casually, "But I don't know what's in them…"

"Oh Really?"

Mayi looked uneasy, "No I don't…  I just know that they all need the same prescription that Rave does…  And that I have to allow for certain things in their test res-" she bit the end of her comment off, a sure sign that she'd just said something she shouldn't have.

"What sort of things?" the mildness of Mazurka's voice didn't match the intensity of the stare she was directing at Mayi.

"…ah… well…" Mayi fidgeted.

"Mayi," Mazurka sighed, "I've been appointed their Guardian.  That means I have a NEED to know if there's any thing wrong with them, and…" she broke off as she saw that Mayi was visibly upset.

"…I…" Mayi closed her mouth and swallowed hard, her body trembling, "…I think there's some things you should know…"

"About the Pills?" Mazurka pressed.

"…no…"

"What then?"

Mayi didn't reply, she just keyed in some data on her computer terminal.  On the screens around her, various medical scans came up, mostly of the x-ray and ultrasound variety.

"…see for yourself…" Mayi gestured weakly at a particular screen.

"Mazurka turned her untrained eye on the image shown…

Done in black, white and various shades of grey, the image was labelled as being a scan of someone's lower abdomen.  Rib bones, spine and pelvic girdle stood out in white and bright greys, with more subtle shadings marking the location of intestines and internal organs.

"What am I looking for?" Mazurka demanded, unable to see Mayi's point.

"Sorry!" Mayi laughed nervously, her hands keying in another request…

The image on the screen changed, reducing in size as another image appeared alongside it.  Looking almost exactly identical, the biggest difference in the new image was the addition of several faint clouds just above the middle of the hipbone.

"And…?" Mazurka was no more enlightened than before…

"…the first scan is that of Rave…" Mayi's words had strange undertones to them, "…the second scan is that of a normal woman…"

Mazurka frowned, her eyes comparing the images, but not recognising anything of significance…

"This is a similar scan of #005," Mayi replaced Rave's scan with another, "…and this is #006's… #007's… #008's…" Mayi's voice cracked as she began bringing up scan after scan in quick succession.

"Hold on," Mazurka protested, "I don't see what you're getting at…"

"THIS!" Mayi's voice broke as she stabbed a finger at the scan of a normal woman, "It's different to the others, can't you SEE that!"

"Mayi," Mazurka sighed irritably, "I'm NOT a Medical technician!  What exactly are you trying to show me?"

"The candidates are ALL like Rave…" Mayi slowly ground out, her voice edging on hysteria, "None of them… have wombs…"

======================================================================

Chapter - Class Act.

In the School room, the ageing Sensei (Teacher) was droning on again, enthusing his students with more gripping yarns of the world before Second Strike…

That most of the students were ignoring the lecture was nothing new.  Nor was that fact that many of them were using their terminals to send e-mails and chat with their friends in Cyberspace, rather than take notes. 

…Or in the case of three particular students, conduct their own research…

Kantsee stretched in his seat, using the movement to take a quick glance at what was appearing on one of the Musume Twins' monitors.

'HUH?' Kantsee blinked and took a second look, 'Birth Defects?  Why would they be looking THAT up?'  A quick turn of his head to see the other Twin's screen didn't help much either, 'Need for Genetic Counselling in Consanguineous- ?'

"Is everything all right, Mr Hayeater?" the Sensei suddenly asked, shocking Kantsee back to Reality.

"Uh…" Kantsee thought quickly, "Sorry Sir!  Cramp!"

"Do you need to see the School Nurse?"

"Uh…  No sir!" Kantsee answered honestly, before sitting down in a hurry.

*That time of the month?* some Smart-A**E sent to Kantsee's terminal.

Kantsee ignored the jibe, but not the next e-mail…

*Are you unwell?* this one came from Rave Imanonymous.

Kantsee blinked, 'What?  Rave NEVER sends people e-mails?'  He paused for all of two seconds before sending a reply, *I am fine, thank you…*

There was a subtle change in the classroom as three pairs of hands stopped clicking keys.  Three feminine heads turned to look at Kantsee momentarily, before two turned back to their monitors, their respective hands resuming their caress of the keyboards.

Kantsee turned slightly pink as he noticed that Rave was looking intently at him.  After a significant pause, she turned back to her own terminal.

'What are they doing?' Kantsee asked himself, trying to see what was on the girls' screens without attracting the attention of the teacher.

Failing to satisfy his curiosity, Kantsee hesitantly sent Rave a message, *What exactly are you doing?  Those don't look like school web pages?*

*Research…* came the reply, *…on the Toudai (Tokyo University) section of the Department of Education WAN (Wide Area Network) that our school is part of…*

Kantsee's eyes widened as he realised what that meant…

*You're accessing the COLLEGE Intranets?*

*Yes*

Kantsee sat back in his seat, his mind awhirl at the prospect, 'First they hack my files, and now they're surfing the College Intranets??  No Way!  Those sites aren't accessible from here!?  Unless… they found some way of connecting their terminals to the Net via the local server?  But how?  Regardless of what server authorisation they had, the clunky heap of junk couldn't spare the processing capability unless a System Administrator reallocated- !! ???'

Kantsee's head turned slowly, looking in suspicious awe at Rave and the Twins.

======================================================================

Chapter - Facts of Life.

"What… What the H--L are you saying?" Mazurka gasped in horror.

"…just…" Mayi had seemed on the verge of tears, her sentence ended as her voice choked off into a sob.

'None of them have wombs?' Mazurka turned away from the distraught technician, her mind tumbling Mayi's last coherent words over and over, 'None of them have wombs…  None of them…  Good God!  No wonder they don't menstruate…'

"…knew about Rave…" Mayi sniffled, "…but…"

"How…" Mazurka asked tonelessly, "How did you 'know' Rave was… like this?"

"…physical tests…" Mayi confirmed, "…i…  Doctor Akatlover… said…"

Mazurka's ears went back at the mention of Ritzy's involvement.

"…Rave was…" Mayi's voice grew thick with emotion, "…special case…"

'I'll just bet she did!' Mazurka thought sourly, memories of the Doppelganger Lab returning to haunt her.

"…the pills…" Mayi tried to get her voice back under control, "…are Hormone replacement therapy…  That's why Rave has a… a… 'figure'… instead of… none…"

"And the rest?" Mazurka demanded, thinking of the mysterious contents of the capsule…

"I don't KNOW!" Mayi wailed, "When it was just Rave, I… I could accept what I was told…  But now…?  With ALL of Them?!"

"The capsules…" Mazurka tried again, "Do you know what's in them?"

Mayi's voice failed on her reply, so she shook her head instead, adding a broken "…no… not really…"

"Who would?" Mazurka quietly asked.

Mayi shrugged half-heartedly, "…Doctor Akatlover might…"

'Looks like I'll have to get a Second Opinion…' Mazurka scowled at the prospect.  She forced her face into a semblance of a friendly smile and said softly, "Hey, Mayi?  Don't be upset…  It's not your fault…"

Mayi nodded, wiping her eyes…

"What exactly did Ritzy say was the cause of Rave's… condition?" Mazurka gently enquired, "Did she tell you how Rave came to be… that way…?"

"…no…" Mayi said in a subdued voice, "Doctor Akatlover never gave me a reason…"

"You know they're all Clones, don't you?"  The older woman's comment caused Mayi to stare wide-eyed at Mazurka.

Mazurka's smile was not quite as forced, "Since they've all got the same DNA, they all look alike…  Their… condition… is probably some kind of genetic thing…"

Mayi shook her head, "I have trouble believing that Major.  If a genetic flaw resulted in the total removal of the Uterus and Fallopian tubes, then it should have affected the rest of their Birth Canal as well…"

"Birth Canal?" the term was lost on Mazurka.

"You know?" Mayi prompted, "Their Coital Sheath?  The dilatable membranous canal that stretches from the Cervix of the Uterus to the Labia Minora?"

"Um…?" Mazurka sweat-dropped.

Mayi blinked, then the ghost of smile appeared on her face, "Their Vaginas…"

Mazurka coughed discretely, "Well… I… wouldn't know about that…"

Mayi blushed, but seemed to relax, "Well I do…  I should, given how many times I've done their internal exams…  Instead of ending in the familiar orifice of the 'os uteri externum', there's just a continuous wall of membranous tissue, they don't even have the anterior and posterior cul de sacs of the-"

"Please use plain words!" Mazurka felt a headache coming on, "I've already said that I'm NOT a Medical technician…"

"Their… equipment…" Mayi tried her best, "…isn't shaped like ours is at the entrance to the Womb…  They have… blind tunnels… walls of smooth tissue where there should be an opening…"

Unfortunately for Mazurka, having things explained in non-technical terms didn't help her handle the situation any better…

======================================================================

Chapter - Interruption.

We see… the Group Mind of the Clones found enlightenment in the information fed to it by Rave and the Twins.

Natsumi feared her lack of physical development was due to 'inbreeding'…  But her Mother and Father were only related by marriage, not by 'blood'…  There is only a 2 to 5 per cent chance of Birth Defects caused by genetic flaws…

Unless… the Group Mind realised they might not have enough information to make any determinations… Natsumi's Father was related to either the Father or Mother of Natsumi's Mother?

The Group Mind pondered the possible implications, If Natsumi's Father was a First Cousin to Natsumi's Mother or Father, there would be the same potential rate of Birth Defects.  But… if Natsumi's Father was the brother of the Father of Natsumi's Mother…  The chance of Birth Defects from the union of Uncle and Niece would rise to 10 per cent…  If the men in question were Identical Twins, having the exact same DNA pattern, then the chance of Birth Defects would rise to 30 to 50 per cent…  The same as for a mating between Sire and Offspring…

Perhaps we should ask Natsumi for more infor-

A mobile phone suddenly rang in the school classroom, interrupting the work of the Clones there.

…Mostly because the phone ringing, belonged to 'Rave'…

"Yes?" 'Rave' answered the phone with swift precision.

"Rave?" the familiar voice of Major Mazurka Kutsarug asked.

"Yes."

"I… need to see you…" Mazurka said guardedly.

"Where?"

"My 'downstairs' office…" Mazurka used the code word that referred to her usual Office down in the depths of the subterranean NERVIS Base, rather than 'ground floor' the term designating her makeshift office on the Loading Dock level of the armoured building known as the Clone Zone.

"When?"

"As soon as possible…"

"Confirmed…  I am on my way…" Rave hung up.  She turned off her terminal and gathered her things, then walked up to the Sensei.

"Gomen Nasai, Sensei," (I Am Very Sorry, Teacher) Rave added a polite bow, "I have been informed that I must be elsewhere…"

The ageing Sensei nodded and motioned toward the door.

The Sensei had long ago gotten used to Rave's erratic attendance in his classes, an acceptance helped by a 'little chat' he'd had with the School Principle while in the presence of some thugs from a Government Agency…

The memory still made the Sensei shiver…  Especially the memory of how one bearded thug had coldly looked at him, like he were a bug under a microscope…

A smile creased an aged face, 'At least the Girl is properly polite and respectful about things…'

Rave made efficient haste to Mazurka's office.  On her arrival, she found the door open, and Mazurka sitting at her desk staring at a computer terminal.

"I am here," Rave announced, walking over to the desk.

"Can you explain this?" Mazurka didn't raise her head, she just pointed at the terminal screen.

Moving around the desk, Rave looked at the screen before her…

The screen had several data windows open on it, one of which showed the face of Doctor Ritzy Akatlover.  Another window had the title bar of 'Staff Location Query' on it, and was overlaid with a Security pop-up stating "Access Denied".

On the security pop-up was a box for authorisation codes, and surprisingly, a very helpful drop-down list of what High-ranking staff could authorise the request.  The list contained only three names, and not surprisingly, the top two were Glando Atari and his Advisor Fu2ok.  What was surprising, was the third name…

…Rave Imanonymous…

======================================================================

Chapter - Right of Way.

"Since when do you have higher clearance than myself?" Mazurka asked her visitor.

"I…" Rave had no answer, apart from the honest, "I… do not know…"

"Why don't we test it and see?" Mazurka rolled her chair back and waved a hand towards the terminal, "It's got a print scanner on the side…"

"That may not work," Rave pointed out, "They do not specify which of us is designated as 'Rave'.  I am #36, they may mean #3…"

"Try it and see…" Mazurka urged.

"Our fingerprints…" Rave#36 faltered, "We may have the same DNA pattern, but our fingerprints are not identical…"

"They aren't?" Mazurka looked surprised.

"No…  DNA may determine an initial pattern type for each finger, but the actual development of the patterns is distorted by the normal unpredictability of cell growth.  It is also affected by usage, wear and tear, injury and healing…"

"Oh…" Mazurka looked crestfallen.

"Unless…" the Clone held out a possibility, "They have all of our biometric data on file…  Since I am acting as Rave today, perhaps my personal biometric data has been designated as being that of 'Rave' for security purposes?"

Mazurka chewed that over, then ordered, "Do it!  We won't know otherwise, and if that IS the case, it's not a bad thing to know!"

Rave Clone#36 obediently put her finger on the scanner, and entered the only personal access code the Clones had.  The one for 'Rave'…

The terminal showed the 'working icon' for longer than was comfortable given the circumstances, then an 'Access Granted' pop-up appeared along with a new window and the information Mazurka wanted.

"Bingo!" crowed Mazurka, "Looks like you were right, it IS set up for your personal data!"

Mazurka paused, a thoughtful look on her face, 'Which means…  That since Rave's the one authorising the request, I may need her with me…  In case there are any… challenges to my being authorised to be there…'

Mazurka wrote a quick note, then logged out of her terminal.  Standing up she turned to Rave and said, "Sorry, but I'm going to have to take up some more of your time…  Please come with me…"

"Is there a problem?" Rave was justly confused over the unexpected turn of events.  Especially the unusual prospect of her having authority just below that of the two most powerful people on the Base…

"Not… exactly," Mazurka wasn't sure how to put it, "It's just…  Being your Guardian, there's things I need to know, and Ritzy's the only one I can ask…"

Mazurka turned the light in her office out as she left, leaving the empty room in darkness.

Elsewhere, the MOGGY Supercomputers discretely erased any reference to the events in Mazurka's office, substituting Glando's and Fu2ok's authorisation codes into the place that Rave's personal codes had occupied in the data stream…

======================================================================

Chapter - Second Opinion.

It was dark in the room…

The only illumination came from a single bulb, one of the many that clustered on the ceiling high overhead.

It was quiet in the room…

The only sounds were the sigh of the ventilation system, and the occasional muted noise that came through the thickness of the reinforced concrete walls.

The dim light gave a semblance of night in the room, taunting the room's sole occupant to try and escape the waking nightmare of their life through sleep…

Doctor Ritzy Akatlover slept fitfully on the rough fabrics of the prison cell cot, her surroundings, let alone her current situation, nowhere near relaxing enough to promote a truly restful sleep.

Since her incarceration, Ritzy had lived in a shadowy world of doubt and fear.  The regular but infrequent visits of Guards bringing food, had always had the unspoken implication that someday they would come for the last time…

Through it all, Ritzy had played the part of a brilliant mind broken by stress, a ruse that hid her scheming plans for revenge from all who saw her.

A sudden rumble as the armoured door to the cell began opening, and Ritzy was fully awake in an instant.  She forced herself to lie as still as she could, seemingly oblivious to the world around her…

…And to any escape opportunities a sloppy guard might accidentally give a sleeping prisoner…

"Ritzy…" the familiar voice of Major Mazurka Kutsarug surprised Ritzy into opening her eyes despite herself.  Her act spoiled, Ritzy made a show of waking up, stretching and yawning as she turned to face her unexpected visitor.

Ritzy blinked, partly from the bright light that streamed through the open doorway of the cell, and partly from the sight of two mismatched silhouettes that stood side by side in the open doorway, dark shadows that barred the promise of freedom that the glowing rectangle of the open door hinted at.

Mazurka got to the point, "I need answers…"

Ritzy wasn't paying attention.  As her eyes had adjusted to the light and the features of her visitors became apparent, Ritzy's attention was seized by a sight that froze her heart…

"…Rave…?" Ritzy breathed the word, fear washing over her, 'Why is SHE here?  Did Glando send his doll to execute his other puppet?'

"Ritzy!" Mazurka barked, snapping the blond-haired scientist back to her senses, "Will you answer me?"

"…sorry…" Ritzy mumbled, quickly covering with, "…thought I was dreaming…"

"Humph!" Mazurka eloquently snorted her opinion, "Well I ain't the Sugarplum Fairy, and this isn't the Land of Nod…  Now, if you're awake?  I've got some questions that need answers, and you seem to be the only one I can trust…"

"Trust!?" Ritzy laughed the idea to scorn, "You think I'd believe that?  Given the current situation?"

Mazurka sighed, "Would you believe I'd get a more truthful answer from Glando, given the current situation?"

"Touché…" Ritzy conceded the point, "Ask away, the Oracle is in…"

"To start with," Mazurka took a deep breath, then asked, "What's in the medicine pills the Clones take, and WHY?"

Ritzy smiled, "Dietary supplements…"

"Ritzy!" Mazurka snarled irritably, "I DON'T have time for this S**T!"

Ritzy waved a hand nonchalantly, silencing Mazurka, "It's not a lie…  They may not be normal supplements, but they're just the thing that a growing… girl… like Rave here needs to look her best…"

"I am #36…" the blue-haired Rave facsimile stated.

Ritzy blinked, but swiftly recovered her composure, "As to what's actually in them, it boils down to synthetic Female Sex Hormones, a regimen of conventional vitamin and mineral supplements, as well as… crystallised TLC… and some substances so exotic, even *I* don't know for sure what they are…"

In the gloom, Mazurka swallowed hard at Ritzy's words.

Ritzy shrugged lazily, "Sorry…  It's one of the things I've never been told about.  So I really can't tell you any more than that…"

"What about our colours?" the calm comment from the Rave Clone was as unexpected as the topic it changed the conversation to.

"Colours?" Ritzy blinked again at the sudden change of topic.

"We have blue hair and red irises," the Clone clarified, "While some people may achieve a similar appearance with dye and contact lenses, we have never met anyone else who had such colours naturally.  Are our bodily colours the product of Albinism?  Or Inbreeding?"

"Inbreeding?" Ritzy started laughing, "Oh, no…  They're NOT the product of any 'Inbreeding'…  Not by a long shot!"

Ritzy chuckled as she looked at the Clone standing quietly in the room, "No, they are… 'normal'… if unusual…  But since you mention colours, tell me, does your pale skin ever get sunburnt?"

Rave hesitated, then replied, "No.  We have no memories of ever having been sunburnt."

"What about a suntan?" Ritzy casually asked, "Got any 'tan lines' from when you wear your swimsuit at school?"

"No."

"Of course not…" a snide tone appeared in Ritzy's voice, "Suntan depends on the presence of the dark coloured pigment Melanin in the skin.  And you Clones don't have any…"

"But…" Mazurka was puzzled, "In that case, aren't they Albinos?"

"No," Ritzy stopped smiling, "They are NOT Albinos.  Albinos lack skin pigment, the Clones do not."

While Mazurka tried to work that out, the Clone responded with, "If we do not lack skin pigment, why are we so pale?"

A crooked smile appeared on Ritzy's face, "Because the pigment you DO have, is a light coloured one.  In practical effect, it performs the same function that white zinc cream does when applied to Human skin.  It blocks and reflects radiation away from the body beneath, instead of absorbing it as Melanin does…"

"So…" the Clone breathed.

"Why did you ask me that?" Ritzy seemed interested.

"We… are unlike other girls…" the Clone responded, "…We… were wondering…"

"You're unlike them in more ways than that," Ritzy muttered, the smile leaving her face, "Tell me, 'Rave'… have any of you started menstruating yet?"

"Doctor?" Mazurka stated in a warning tone of voice, suddenly uneasy at Ritzy's choice of topic.

"No," the Clone calmly replied, "None of us have yet started…"

"And you never will…" Ritzy seemed subdued, "Do you know why?"

"Never?" the Clone repeated in surprise, "Please explain?"

"Ah?" Mazurka looked uneasy, "Perhaps we should leave Sex Education until another time?  I mean, I-"

"You have Nothing to menstruate WITH!" Ritzy continued, riding roughshod over Mazurka's request, "You have No womb, no Fallopian tubes, no Ovaries!  The only reason you even LOOK like a girl your age SHOULD, is because of the hormones in the pills you've been taking!"

Rave blinked, Mazurka suddenly felt sick.

"So…" the Clone trembled slightly, "We could not bear his children…"

"WHAT?" Ritzy screeched, suddenly twisting around on her cot as if she was about to lunge at Rave.

"Doctor!" Mazurka snapped, her hand taking hold of the gun in her shoulder holster, "Calm down!"

"WHOSE CHILDREN!" Ritzy demanded, a strange look on her face.

"Shakey's…" the Clone replied, to the surprise of the other people in the cell.

"SHAKEY?" Ritzy stared wide-eyed at the Clone, "Y-you mean… you've… with HIM?!"

"Ahem!" Mazurka coughed, trying to salvage the situation, "The girls HAVEN'T  'done' anything with anyone…  But since Shakey is the only boy they know well enough, they're naturally interested in dating him and-"

"…you… you can't… 'date' him…" Ritzy said hollowly, sinking back on her cot.

"Why not?" Mazurka asked, "He's a nice enough young man, even if the potential Father-In-Law situation isn't that great…"

"Clones…" Ritzy's voice had a ragged edge to it, and her eyes had a glassy, far-away look to them,  "Do you know wha-… who the DNA donor was?"

"Ah, No?" Ritzy's words and attitude made Mazurka uneasy.

"The DNA…" Ritzy's voice cracked as she looked directly at the Clone, "…came from Shakey's mother…"

======================================================================

Chapter - Parentage or Percentage?

Mazurka stared long and hard at Ritzy…  The comments she had just heard echoing through her mind… '…their DNA came from Shakey's MOTHER!!??  Oh MY *GOD*!!'

"We are a Clone of Shakey's Mother?" The Rave Clone seemed unaffected.

"…no…" Ritzy breathed, looking away from the Clone, "…not… exactly…"

"Then we are not a Clone of Shakey's Mother?" the Clone persisted.

"…you…" Ritzy stopped, then laboured slowly on with, "…you are all Clones… of a Genetic Construct that… incorporates… her DNA…"

"…so…" Mazurka found that her trembling voice was low and weak, "…you're saying that they're… related?  To Shakey?"

Ritzy started laughing, putting her hands to her face as the chuckles became a demented cackle, "…related?" Ritzy laughed helplessly between words, tears streaming down her face, "…to SHAKEY?  …oh dear me… RELATED!?"

It took a few minutes for Ritzy to calm down, but when she did, it was to look at Rave in a not unkindly fashion…

"Genetics 101…" Ritzy murmured, "As it applies to normal Humans…  Point One… every person has two Parents, a Male and a Female…  Every normal person gets 50 per cent of their DNA from either parent, which means that some genes from a particular parent may or may not be included…  Point Two… the chance of passing a particular gene onto their offspring is reinforced if both parents have that particular gene…  Point Three… because of point two, reproduction between closely related people has a much greater chance of handing on defective or malignant genes, than reproduction between less closely related people…"

"3 to 5 precent for offspring between unrelated Humans…" Rave ventured.

Ritzy looked surprised, "You've looked it up?"

"Yes…" the Clone blushed slightly, "We were wondering about our appearance… it is different to other girls…"

"So…" Mazurka finally found her voice, "You're saying that… since they're Shakey's… sisters?  They shouldn't…"

"I never said that," Ritzy returned dryly, "And I'm not sure if that could even be seen as the case…"

"What do you mean?" Mazurka asked fearfully, "Are you saying that they're more like his… his Mother… or something?"

Ritzy sighed, "Mazurka?  You have GOT to stop reading those trashy Sci-Fi Fantasy books…  Even if the Clones had a 100 per cent DNA match with Shakey's mother, they wouldn't BE his mother!  At most, they'd be the same as 'Identical Twins'… That is, they'd be her 'sister', and thus Shakey's 'Aunt'…"

"Ah-Aunt?" Mazurka sweat-dropped…

"However!" Ritzy pointed out, "The Clones don't look like Shakey's mother did…  For starters, they have different hair and eye colour…  That alone indicates that they are NOT 'clones' of Shakey's mother!  If they were, they'd have the same colours, just as an 'Identical Twin' would…"

"The age difference?" the Clone asked in the silence that showed Mazurka was having troubles, "We are years younger than Shakey's mother?  Would we not be seen as her 'daughters'?"

"Irrelevant" Ritzy winced almost as soon as the word left her mouth, "Even Identical Twins can be born a few months apart if the pregnancy has problems.  And that's not even touching on the problem of embryos created at the same time via 'in vitro' fertilisation, but then frozen and born years apart…"

"If we are not her Clone," the Clone slowly said, "What are we then?"

"I don't really know…" Ritzy admitted, "I can theorize as much as I want, but until I get definite base data, I can't make any valid determination…"

"Wha-what would bee… base dah-ta?" Mazurka came back into the conversation.

Ritzy sighed, "Not easy to say…  Genetic Engineering is a lot like 3D modelling in some ways…  You can take bits and pieces of a thing, and turn them into something completely different to the original object…  But Genetics is far more complex, there isn't the same level of control over the base building blocks, especially not with the complex DNA code of an advanced life form like a Human Being…"

Mazurka leaned against a wall, grateful for the support of something concrete.

Ritzy looked at the Clone, "To find out what your relationship is to Shakey, you'd first have to have hard answers on a lot of questions.  While the source of your DNA is from his mother, that doesn't mean that it's still the same as hers.  DNA can be tweaked, the actual coding rearranged or even replaced with different versions of the same gene…  While 'Tweaked' DNA may produce something that looks the same as the original, it may have gotten to that state by very different means…"

Ritzy paused, searching for the right words, "In the story of 'The Three Little Pigs', three houses were built out of different materials, straw, sticks, and bricks respectively…  The resulting structures all had different strengths and weaknesses, regardless of whether or not they followed the same floor plan…"

"I'm sorry…" Ritzy looked embarrassed, "I didn't put that too well…  Perhaps a better analogy would be that of two musicians playing the same love song…  One plays it on electric instruments with a Rock 'n' Roll arrangement, the other plays it on a concert piano, with a slower, more romantic beat…  It's the same song, but performed in two very different ways…"

"What about our Mitochondria?" the Clone suddenly asked.

"Mitochondria?" Ritzy's look of surprise turned to a smile of pleasure, "You really HAVE been researching this, haven't you?"

The Clone merely nodded.

"Yes," Ritzy considered the question, "One of the few things that could prove you weren't 'related' to Shakey at all…"

"What?" Mazurka perked up, "What's this 'Mighty Kon' thingy?"

"Mitochondria," Ritzy enunciated the word clearly, "They're part of cells.  When discussing Genetic information, most people only worry about what's in the 23 pairs of Chromosomes in a Human cell, despite the Mitochondria having their own DNA and genes…"

Ritzy wore a strange smile as she suddenly looked at Mazurka, "If you want to prove the Clones AREN'T related to Shakey, get Mayi to do a simple Mitochondrial DNA test on the both of them…  Since Mitochondria are passed down from Mother to Child via the Mitochondria in the female OVA, if Rave's Mitochondria are in ANY way different to Shakey's, that's proof enough for ANY court in the land…"

Mazurka wasn't convinced, "But… what if… they're the same?  Won't that prove…"

"Absolutely nothing," Ritzy finished Mazurka's sentence with casual dismissiveness, "Worldwide, there are only several hundred different types of Mitochondrial DNA for all of Billions of Humans that share them…  If Shakey and Rave have the same Mitochondria, all it could possibly prove is that Rave is as 'Japanese' as Shakey and his mother are…"

Mazurka looked slightly relieved.

"Then again," Ritzy couldn't leave well enough alone, "Since Clones are often created through Enucleation of a donated Ova, a court might rule that the donor of the Ova was actually the 'mother', while the donor of the DNA in the 23 pairs of Chromosomes was the 'Father', regardless of the gender of the DNA donor…"

'?!?!?!' Mazurka was currently in Genealogical Hell, 'If Shakey's Mother is the Clones' Father, does that mean the Clones are Shakey's Brothers, and that Shakey's their Sister?'

A brief vision of the Rave Clones dressed in Boy's School uniforms (and looking suspiciously like Bishounen Hunk Male leads from a CLAMP Manga) floated through Mazurka's head.  As did an apparition of Shakey, one that looked EXTREMELY feminine in a Sailor Blouse School Uniform…

"OH MY GOD!!" wailed Mazurka, the vision of Shakey looking FAR TOO SIMILAR to what Shakey sometimes looked like when dressed in an Apron…  Let alone when Shakey was doing such 'Manly' things as Cooking, and taking care of cleaning Mazurka's Laundry…  Lacy Underwear and all…

Ritzy blinked at Mazurka's outburst, then carried on, "Since all of the issues concerning 'Parentage' in Genetic Engineering haven't been adequately addressed, the matter would probably come back to the actual percentage of UNALTERED DNA that came from the donor…  Or rather, the amount of unaltered DNA that came from the less than 2 per cent of the Human Genome that actually accounts for any visible difference between humans…"

"We see…" the Clone looked troubled.

Ritzy shrugged, "If it were up to me…  If you have a 100 per cent match, as most true clones would be, I'd see you as an 'Identical Twin' of the DNA donor.  If you had a match between 50 and 100 per cent, I'd see you as a 'Full Blood' Sibling, just like a 'normal' Brother or Sister…  If you had 25 to 50 percent…  That's where the problems would really start!  You could be seen as a 'Half-Blood' Sibling, Aunt, Uncle, Grandchild, or Grandparent, depending on the age difference with the other person…  If you had between 6.25 and 25 per cent, I'd say you were some sort of 'First' Cousin…"

"And if we had less than a 6.25 per cent match," the Rave Clone murmured, "We would be seen as having less DNA in common than a First Cousin…"

"Perhaps," Ritzy leaned back on her cot, "But it's all academic unless you have the hard data to back it up…  Even then, many wouldn't believe you…"

"…six point two five…" gurgled Mazurka, seriously wanting to believe things were not as they might be…

"How could we find out for certain?" the Clone's question ventured where Mazurka's mind was still too freaked out to go.

Ritzy wore a strange smile, "You and Shakey could have exhaustive DNA tests, then compare the results…  But as that method might not differentiate between original and modified DNA, you'd probably be better off asking the Commander…"

Ritzy's smile had grown, but her expression still didn't fully match the sweet tone of her voice, "I'm sure that if anyone knew, HE would…"

======================================================================

Chapter - Playing the Piper…

It has been said that the mills of Fate grind exceedingly slow, but they grind exceedingly fine.  Regardless, it is usually the case that disaster strikes when least expected, and woe unto those who are unprepared.

Glando Atari was a man that many people thought was prepared for anything.  He always seemed in control, and his perpetual cool demeanour in high-pressure situations was legendary.

However, only being a mere Mortal, Glando's seeming omnipotence was as perfectly fallible as the imperfect tools he relied on.  The onset of the current crisis was something that Glando and his extensive intelligence network of spies and informants had been completely unaware of.

Glando sat at his desk, his hands steepled before him as he quietly appraised the latest problem to challenge him…

Rave Imanonymous Clone#36 stood before Glando in her school uniform, her unkempt blue hair framing a face that wore a slightly different expression than normal.

Not that the general population would note any difference in Clone#36 from what 'Rave' usually appeared as.  But to the enigmatic Glando Atari, Commander of the secret NERVIS Base and the man who had raised the Clones…

Rave's crimson eyes stared intently at Glando, her hands lightly clenched into loose fists at her sides.  Her breathing was slow and even, and flowed in and out from her lower abdomen.  Her body was tilted slightly, as if she were tense and carrying her body weight on the balls of her feet. 

…Just as she would be if she were expecting… trouble…

"You said you wanted to see me…" Glando stated rather than asked.

"Yes Sir…  We…" Rave's words stopped, and she lapsed into silence.

Glando's eyes narrowed slightly as a faint tremor passed through Rave.

"Sir…" the words were louder than Rave usually spoke, "…why were we not told… that Shakey is our relative?"

Glando slowly sat back in his chair, his hands casually resting on the arms of his chair, "What makes you think that Shakey is your relative?"

"We share DNA…" #36 replied quietly, "…from his mother…"

"Who told you that?" Glando asked in dangerously soft tones.

Rave didn't answer.

For the next few minutes, the two stared at each other in silence, as if testing each other's mettle and intent.

Glando was the first to break the staring match.

"So…" Glando muttered under his breath, "The blind men found the elephant…"

"Sir?"

Glando waved his hand dismissively, "An old story."

Glando leaned forward, twisting slightly as he propped one hand beneath his chin, his other hand slipping unobtrusively beneath his desk.  His face froze up into a non-expressive mask, "What makes you think I should answer your questions, when you won't answer mine?"

"Children have the right to know their cultural heritage," Clone#36 countered, "It is a fundamental part of the 2009 Revised U.N. Charter on Human Rights."

"And would you go to the U.N. if I didn't give you what you want?" Glando asked tonelessly, as he stared intently at the Clone's face.

"It is a possible course of action…"

Glando's expression didn't change, "And why is that?"

"Because you just gave the impression that you have the information."

"Did I?" Glando asked in neutral tones, "May I enquire when?"

"The terms you used, indicated the use of free will in non-disclosure of the information, rather than an inability to do so based on non-existence."

A grim smile spread over Glando's face, "Correct.  I do have that information.  I have had it for some time.  Can you think WHY I did not tell you?"

The Clone paused before replying, "Was our Security Clearance too low?"

Glando frowned, "Not… exactly…  Tell me, do you remember when I interrogated the other Clones?  Over how they handled those thugs that attacked Shakey?"

"Yes Sir," although Clone#36 was not involved, the Group Mind remembered.

"Do you remember how I challenged their comment, when they referred to Shakey AS 'Shakey', and NOT as 'Pilot Atari'?"

"Yes Sir."

"That is a clear example of WHY I never told you," Glando said in dry tones, "No matter how well a person may control themselves, little slips will happen.  The effect of that comment was negligible, as it could easily be explained away by the level of the social relationship they were involved in.  However…"

Glando stopped as he suddenly rose from his chair, his extra height making the Clone tilt her head to look up at him.

"This time," Glando snapped as he walked towards the Clone, "Your actions could have caused a disaster!  You came HERE because that information UPSET you!  Because that information affected your EMOTIONS, your subsequent ACTIONS have also been affected!  How else can you explain this meeting?"

"Sir!  We needed-" the Clone began.

"What you 'needed' is Irrelevant!" Glando roared as he stopped directly in front of the Clone, glaring down at her in disgust, "You reacted to events around you, in an emotional manner, without proper planning or even verification of the information you acted on!  I thought I trained you BETTER than this?"

The Clone lowered her gaze, rather than meet Glando's angry stare.

"None of us can afford to make mistakes!" Glando stated coldly, "If ANY of us do not perform our duties as we should, it MAY very well be fatal…"

Glando's voice dropped as a sour look of distaste spread across his face, "And if 'certain people' think you Clones are not performing as required, or are in any way deviating from their planned course, it WILL be fatal… to ALL of us!"

Silence fell as Glando paused to let that sink in.

"You now know things you were not supposed to know," Glando continued in a more controlled voice, "I assume you now wonder what ELSE I haven't told you?"

The Clone hesitated, then nodded, her eyes on the floor.

Glando sighed, "Rave…  I have good reason for not telling you these, and many other things.  Not just because it might affect your actions, but because…"

Glando reached out to the Clone, one hand going to her shoulder, the other to her chin, gently tilting it up so her face looked at his.

"…it would hurt your feelings," Glando said quietly, a softer look on his face.

The Clone blinked as the hand on her chin moved to caress the side of her face.

"Follow me," Glando ordered, his hands dropping away from the Clone as he stepped back and turned to stalk towards his private elevator, "Since you now know SOME parts of the truth, it's best you learn the full facts of the matter, instead of some well-informed rumours…"

"Where are we going Sir?"

"To visit the roots of your family tree…" Glando muttered.

======================================================================

Chapter - Descent into Truth.

The NERVIS Base sprawled beneath the earth's surface, a man-made ant's nest of corridors, storage rooms, and research facilities.

The many floor levels demanded widespread availability of vertical access systems, the better to ensure speedy transit between levels and prevent delays that could prove disastrous during times of crisis.  Accordingly, there were many large ramps and rail lines for the bulk delivery of goods and consumables, with stairs, escalators, and lifts serving the smaller needs of the Human personnel.

In an elevator somewhere in the technological labyrinth, two people were taking a long drop into the unknown heart of the NERVIS Base.

Rave Imanonymous Clone #36 stood silently in the elevator, her eyes directed at the elevator door in front of her.  Occasionally, her eyes would flicker over the floor level indicator, sometimes looking at her fellow passenger, the Commander of the NERVIS Base, Glando Atari.

Glando made no noise during the entire length of the trip, he just stood in the lift, a living statue that saw no need to speak.

…yet…

The elevator finally stopped, and Glando wordlessly stalked out, his actions prompting Rave to follow him.  A short distance away, Glando paused before armoured bulkheads to key in a pass code, the armoured doors slowly opening to reveal a second elevator.

In the elevator, Glando spoke for the first time since he'd left his office several minutes before, "Rave…  What you are about to see, may affect you emotionally…  It may also affect any of the Others you communicate with…  They should remove themselves from the Public Eye, until things have been… resolved…"

Clone#36 nodded, her mind sending a message to her sister Clones.

In the Testing Facility, a trio of Rave Clones acted in perfect synch, triggering their test units' manual override and self-aborting their tests, much to the surprise and concern of the Bridge crew on duty.  The Clone's comments of "Please refer all enquiries to Commander Atari…" did nothing to enlighten.

In the School, Chairoko and Kuroko Musume suddenly asked their teacher if they could go and see the School Nurse, as they were feeling… unwell…

In Mazurka's apartment, the Clones disguised as Maids, but acting as bodyguards, withdrew from Shakey's immediate presence.  Shakey's habit of 'zoning out' while listening to music on headphones helped them immensely.

The second elevator ride was almost as long as the first, but when it eventually came to a halt, the doors opened onto a short and narrow corridor that ended at more armoured bulkheads.

"On the other side of this…" Glando murmured, as he tapped a code on a keypad beside the door, "You'll see…"

The door hissed slowly open, revealing a darkened room beyond.  Glando turned the lights up, revealing the contents of the room to his companion…

The room was lined with workbenches and computer consoles, as well as various apparatus attached to electrical conduits and tubing.  The centre of the room was taken up with a large metal slab mounted on powered gimbals.  The slab was currently tilted away from the door, slowly swivelling and rocking from side to side as the hydraulics beneath it moved in near-silent precision.  The slab began to swivel and tilt towards the Lab door, revealing…

…Numerous pipes and sensor leads descended into a pale mass that swelled and thinned to a moist breathing sound.  Padded Kevlar straps secured the thing to the slab, making use of the abnormal number of deformed limbs that sprang randomly from it.  A thatch of blue fur marked one protrusion as a possible head…

"Sir?" the Clone asked in confused apprehension, "What… is that?"

"You are a Rave Clone," Glando said in a voice devoid of emotion, "Did you ever wonder what it was, that Rave was a Clone OF?"

The Clone nodded, her eyes not leaving the misshapen mass of flesh on the table.

"Number 36," Glando said quietly, "Meet your prototype…  Number Zero…"

======================================================================

Chapter - Family Reunion.

In a lab somewhere in the NERVIS Base, Glando stood quietly as he watched one of the Rave Clones come to grips with a secret from her past.

The Rave Clone walked over to the lump of living meat on the slab.  She stopped a few feet from it, and for long moments, did nothing but observe.  Then…

"Is this what we came from?" the Clone asked softly.

"Yes," Glando confirmed, "Zero was the prototype you were all cloned from."

"She… does not look like us…" the Clone stated the obvious.

"She had an accident," Glando replied, "Once, she was as normal as you are…"

"What…" The Clone asked with a tremble in both her voice and body, "…happened?"

Glando reached up to remove his glasses and rub his eyes before answering, "Early in her AVE research, my late wife created Zero as part of her research into how to allow a Human and an AVE to synchronise…"

"…created…" the one word from the Clone was a faint question.

Glando ignored the Clone's comment, "Zero was created after several attempts to make a Human Neural Net Emulator.  In her case, Biology succeeded where interactive cybernetics could not.  She became a standard control reference that was vital to the success of the early synchronisation tests, eventually allowing us to establish the parameters needed for successful synchronisation."

The Clone stood silently, her eyes never leaving the pale mass on the slab.

Glando continued his unexpected disclosure, "We began training Zero as a pilot, incorporating her into synchronisation attempts with Unit Won…  We linked her into the feedback loop via controlled access through a contamination filter…  The system was supposed to let her learn how to synchronise with an AVE, while under the watchful supervision of a more experienced Pilot…  Similar to how a 'dual control' car in a Driver's License School allows someone to learn how to drive, while ensuring a more experienced driver can take control if need be…"

"It was in one such test," Glando's tones soured as a scowl came over his face, "That Zero received the… injuries… that resulted in her current condition…"

"Your wife?" the Clone asked without looking at Glando.

"Yes," Glando ground out, "My wife…  Zero was linked into Unit Won during that test, and while my wife was lost… Zero… survived…"

Glando walked over to the shape on the table and reached out a hand to gently pat the blue-furred 'head'.  At Glando's touch, several slits opened in the head and neck of Zero's distorted mass, revealing the trademark red irises of the Rave Clones.  The moist breathing turning to cooing gurgles as Zero's 'face' turned towards Glando, the myriad eyelids half-drooping in evident mindless delight.

"Zero was only partially absorbed," Glando murmured, "We were able to retrieve her in a… physically survivable condition…  But… she had no mind…"

"We did our best to rebuild her…" Glando said quietly, a sad look on his face, "But as you can see, our best was… barely sufficient…"

Zero's visitors contemplated her in silence.

"…they could have been the same…" the whispered words trembled painfully into the air of the room, barely heard over Zero's primal comments.

Yes agreed the Group Mind of the Clones, thinking of two other cases of absorption, They could have…

======================================================================

Chapter - Second Generation.

"Power without control is dangerous," Glando continued to caress the happily cooing lump of meat on the slab, "Zero has no mind, so she has no concept of her own strength, nor of the damage that strength can do to others."

"Do not be misled by her appearance!" Glando warned the Clone beside him, "Despite her… condition… Zero's reflexes are as fast as yours, even if her body structure limits her ability to move.  Her strength may exceed your own, hence the need for restraints."

"Commander?" asked the Clone, "How… old… is Zero?"

"The age of Genetic Constructs such as Zero and yourselves is relative," Glando replied cryptically, "But, you were cloned from her when Zero was about five years of age, back before Second Strike…"

"So…" mused the Clone, "With time for creation and gestation of our blastomeres… and we are about fifteen now…  She is about… 21 Years of age?"

"Yes," agreed Glando, "She would be about that, IF she were a normal person…"

The Clone fell silent.

"Zero was to be the First…" Glando quietly reminisced, "…the forerunner of a squad of Clones trained to be pilots…  But… with the accident… she was no longer suitable for the memory download program…  All those years of training… wasted…"

"Soon after my wife… died…" Glando bit the word off, "…I took one of you Second Generation Clones from the tank…  I had already created the persona known as Rave Imanonymous, a guise you would use while training…  Soon after the first Clone was decanted, we began preparing you remaining Clones for your role…"

"But Zero is not the only founding member of your family tree," Glando muttered as he gave Zero one last affectionate caress.

Zero's comments, gurgled back into a breathy silence, the loss of physical contact with Glando immediately forgotten by the mindless meat.

Glando turned to the Rave Clone, "You know that you have DNA from Shakey's mother in you.  What else do you know about your… DNA?"

"It…" the Clone hesitated, "…is not exactly like hers…"

"Correct," Glando started to walk out of the room, "Come with me, and I'll show you another part of your 'Heritage'…"

The pair retraced their steps from the forbidding room, taking a different route after using the elevator that led to Zero's care centre.

…A route that gave the Clone an uneasy feeling…

"Sir?" Rave asked as they stopped before a pair of huge armoured doors.

Glando didn't respond, he just punched in the override sequence on the lock.

The armoured doors swung open slowly, allowing the Clone a clear view of a deformed white giant fixed to a red cross.

Glando walked into the massive room, stopping at the edge of a vast lake of TLC that dripped from the body of the crucified behemoth.

"Look at Little," Glando instructed, swinging one arm up to point at the white giant, "Look at her form…"

With faltering steps, the Clone came up beside Glando.

"Do you know the significance of what you see?" Glando asked, "No?  Let me tell you then…  The Alien Artefact we code named 'Little', is already Humanoid…  From the studies conducted on Little's Biotechnology, we created modified facsimiles to meet our current needs…  AVE Maria Unit Won in particular…"

"The name AVE Maria," Glando continued, his hand coming down to rest with the other in the small of his back, "Is based on an acronym from the English words, 'Alien Verisimilitude Entity'.  Maria was added to confuse espionage attempts.  That's why we pronounce it 'Ar-Vey', rather than 'Arve'…  …Or 'Ayve'…"

The Clone looked at the pale giant, a sinking feeling in her heart.

"How do you spell the name 'Rave'?" Glando suddenly asked, "In English?"

Rave had seen enough reports in Romaji (Roman Alphabet) to answer the question.

"R-A-V-E, Sir" Clone#36 replied through trembling lips.

"What do you get…" Glando quietly asked, "…if you add the first letter from the English phrase 'Recombinant DNA', to the beginning of the acronym for AVE?"

When no answer came, Glando said softly, "You… are also an AVE… …RAVE…"

======================================================================

Chapter - Planned Genealogy.

Glando stood patiently, waiting for any reaction the Rave Clone might have.  When none came after several minutes, he turned to check the Clone beside him.

Rave Clone #36 stood beside Glando, her head bowed and her shoulders slumped.  On the ground beneath her, spots of moisture were joined by others, as tears slowly dripped from her face.

…we… the Group Mind was in turmoil.

A memory arose in the Group Mind, a memory of floating somewhere warm, the ebb and flow of liquid being breathed, and of hearing the distorted voice of a blonde-haired scientist say…

"…inside an AVE is a Human Soul…  but the only container that can hold a soul, is Rave… …these things aren't human… just things with human form…"

…not… human…

…things…

…clothes… Rave#3, huddling in shock with other Clones in the Test facility.

…Another memory arose, of Glando asking a pair of Clones…

"Do you understand what was meant by the term 'tough bitch'?"

…And of the Clone's socially inexperienced answer of…

"I believe it was meant as a derogatory comment, an insult, used to imply a female has unusual physical or social qualities, and thus is not a normal female."

"Rave," Glando murmured, his words interrupting Clone#36's train of thought, "I have told you some of the truth, and it has upset you.  Now do you know why I never told you the full truth?"

"…y-yes sir…" the Clone answered in a broken voice.

"There is more to tell you," Glando continued, "But it would also hurt you.  I think it best if you take time to deal with what you now know, rather than suffer from the emotional overload full disclosure may bring.  Don't you agree?"

'Rave' gave a collective, albeit feeble nod.

"But…" Glando reached out to lay a comforting hand on the Clone's shoulder, "…one thing you should know…  Little's DNA equivalents, Alien though they are, already had over a 97 per cent structural match with the information encoded in the Human Genome.  It was Little's genetic template that my wife used as a basis when creating Zero…  Using comparisons with her own DNA template, my wife gave Zero a fully Human appearance…"

"…hair…" the Clone suddenly realised what Glando meant, listing the visible physical differences between herself and the white giant in a hushed whisper, "…ears… finger nails… toes and toe nails… breasts… g-genitalia…"

"Correct.  Parts my wife incorporated from her own DNA…"

"…but…" the Clone whispered, "…no wombs… …we do not contain the cradle of life… we are… empty vessels…"

Glando paused, than said in low and angry tones, "STEELY… carried out their own modifications… unknown to my wife or myself…"

Silence fell between the pair.

"Rave?" Glando gently prompted.

The Clone raised her tear-streaked face to look at Glando.

Glando squeezed the Clone's shoulder reassuringly, "While a Parent is usually someone who contributes their seed or egg when creating a child, a person may also be considered a parent if they carry a foetus in their womb, or if they adopt a child…  Yet…  None of these definitions… apply to either myself or my late wife… as far as you Clones are concerned…"

"…b-but…" the Clone's voice caught in her throat.

"Rave," Glando said gently, "None of you Clones were born from my seed, nor were you born from my wife's eggs, nor were you carried in her womb.  Your genetic code was created in a Lab, spliced together from the sources that you now know of.  You were all carried to term in artificial wombs, then raised by Guardians…  My wife and I, we are NOT your parents…  Shakey… is NOT your relative…"

The Clone sobbed quietly, her trembling hands rising to cover her face.

"…he is… human…" the Clone's voice almost broke into a wail, "…we… are not…"

Glando's expression fell slightly as he heard the Clone cry.  He hesitated, then reached out and pulled her to him, cradling her against his chest.  The Clone crumpled against Glando's chest, offering no resistance to the familiarity of the embrace.

"What is Human?" Glando asked quietly, "No matter what standard is used, there are always exceptions…  Even among 'normal' Humans, there are differences…  Some are insignificant, like a person's race or skin colour…  Others… are profound…  We all have blood, but blood chemistry varies, and what might be a life-giving transfusion to one person, is liquid death to another…"

Glando looked up at Little, a faint sneer appearing on his lips, "How can you judge Humanity?  How can you judge the worth of the person inside the body?  Should it be measured by the external appearance of their physical form?  By their educated Intelligence?  Or by the things they do, though forced and stymied by dire and uncaring circumstance?"

Glando glared up at Little for few moments longer, then lowered his face.

"There is an old saying…" Glando murmured soothingly, stroking the Clone's hair, "…that 'Family is, as Family does'.  Even though someone is not related to you by blood, they can still be as close to you, as supportive of you, as family or blood kin are supposed to be.  The term 'brother' is often applied to any male, that a person trusts deeply enough to give their loyalty and respect to."

Glando held the distraught Clone, giving what Fatherly care he could…

======================================================================

Chapter - Recall.

In a restricted part of the NERVIS Base, Glando Atari cradled a distraught Rave Clone, waiting for her to get over some of the truths behind her existence.

"How are you feeling," Glando's voice was unusually gentle.

The Clone straightened up, assuming a more emotionally distant posture as she pulled away from Glando and wiped her eyes, keeping her head downcast.

"I am… fine…" the Clone stated, finally understanding one use of the word.

"I'm glad," Glando said quietly, "And what of the Others?"

The Clone paused, casting an unspoken mental query forth and waiting until all had answered, "We are all… fine… Sir…"

"Good…" Glando relaxed slightly, "You are all excused Official Duties for the rest of the day.  Go home and sleep things off.  If anyone asks, tell them to take the matter up with myself…"

"…sir…?"

"Yes?"

"…we came… from Little…"

"Yes…"

"…we… are not normal humans…"

"…No…"

"…is that why…" the Clone paused, "…we can create… E.T. Fields…"

"Perhaps…" Glando stated non-committedly.

"…you said…" the Clone lapsed into silence.

"Yes?"

The Clone raised her head to look at Glando, tears welling in the corners of her eyes as she quoted verbatim, "…'since time immemorial, there have been stories of normal humans who have exhibited extraordinary abilities'…  You said that when we first learned that we could create an E.T. Field…"

"Yes…"

"…you… gave…" the Clone choked on the words, she stopped to swallow and restore her voice, "…the impression… that we… were as human as they were…"

Glando looked impassively at the distraught Clone, then said, "One thing you should know about the Heroes of Legend…  Many of them did not have normal origins…  Many of them were Half-Breeds, born from the union of Gods or Powerful Supernatural Beings with mortals…  Others were created wholly from Magic, or from powerful elemental forces…  Did I ever tell you that about them?"

"…no…"

"Did you ever know that about them before now?"

"…no…" the Clone seemed subdued.

"Even though such explanations were part of the Training materials I gave you?"

The Clone hesitated, then nodded.  The Training materials Glando had used to teach the Clones about PSI abilities, had included many fanciful explanations of the origins of the powers depicted.  But then, Hollywood and Anime had never been famous for relying too heavily on Hard Science…  

"Rave…" Glando's attitude became tense and urgent, "The Human Race is fighting for its very survival…  Do you blame us for trying to create the Heroes we needed to save us?"

The Clone was taken aback, "…no…"

"Will you forgive the race who gave you birth?"

The Clone blushed, clearly embarrassed, "…yes sir…"

"I am glad to hear that…" Glando murmured…

======================================================================

Chapter - Misdiagnosis.

The doors of Glando's private elevator opened, and Glando entered his Office.

"Are you trying to give me a Heart Attack?" Fu2ok demanded from his place in the chair at Glando's desk.

Glando didn't react to the comment.

"Damn it All!" Fu2ok exclaimed, "I get an automated alert telling me to be prepared to take over command, and when I try to contact you, you're God knows where, doing God knows what!  I only find you when it SUITS you to be found, and even THEN what do I see?  You telling a Rave Clone the TRUTH about her origins?  A Rave Clone that was obviously on the brink of an emotional collapse?!  You-"

"Don't worry, Professor…" Glando's mild reply cut through the other's vitriol, "It was the timing of the thing…  I was unable to employ any social niceties…"

Fu2ok spluttered something unprintable.

"Still," Glando's expression became more sombre as he sat on the corner of his desk, "We survived this latest crisis, and in doing so, have found ourselves with some important questions…"

"As usual!" Fu2ok sighed, "What came out of Pandora's Box THIS time?"

"Rave didn't want to say who gave her the information about herself…" Glando appeared thoughtful, "Given the situation, I deemed it unwise to press her on the matter too strongly…  Still, there are only so many people who could tell her…"

Fu2ok sighed, "How many do we have to round up this time?"

"None…"

"None?"

"I had my suspicions, so I made a few fruitful enquiries…  It appears that earlier today, the Clone spoke to Doctor Akatlover in her cell…  Along with Major Kutsarug…"

Fu2ok glanced suspiciously at Glando, "I thought any visits had to be authorised by ourselves?  Why did you give them permission?"

"I didn't," Glando said in a too quiet voice, much to Fu2ok's sudden alarm, "But it appears that somehow, WE both did…  While the Major could have used her own resources to find out where Doctor Akatlover was being held, she somehow managed to get permission to visit Doctor Akatlover without obtaining any of the Official releases required…"

"What?  How?"

"I asked the Major that myself, soon after I sent Rave home.  According to the Major, the visitation request was authorised by Rave…"

"WHAT?"

"The Clone acting as Rave today confirmed it.  The name of Rave Imanonymous appeared as an authorised officer on the electronic application form…"

"That's Impossible!"

"I know…" Glando muttered, "That's why I had the application thoroughly checked out by a Security Tech team…"

"Let me guess," Fu2ok sounded as tired as he looked, "Random Computer Glitch?"

"No…  Despite what the Major and Rave both said, the form appeared to have been duly authorised by the two of us, rather than Rave.  While the form's point of origin was in the Major's office according to the two witnesses, the Security Tech team couldn't find a definite source.  All they could do, was trace it back into an endless electronic loop of 'passing the buck'…"

"STEELY…" the word hissed out of Fu2ok.

"Most likely," Glando confirmed sourly, "Who else would know our systems well enough to falsify security clearances…  While choosing the Major's request seems odd, it may have been a specific test of our security…"

"That's the last thing we need," Fu2ok stated bitterly, "STEELY knowing that their secret agents can come and go as they please on forged authorisations…"

Glando scowled, "This charade IS almost over.  Despite their words to the contrary, it appears that STEELY is already moving against us…"

Fu2ok looked deathly ill…

Glando's voice lowered into a growl of anger, "Since we don't know what they've done with this ability, or how long they've been using it…  We no longer have any choice…  We must take drastic countermeasures…  Immediately!"

======================================================================

Chapter - Distance.

The Group Mind had calmed down from the events of the afternoon, but here and there in the star dappled landscape of the Clones' Mind, there were ripples.

Reflections of Rave in locker room mirrors, memories of other girls in the changing room …we are different to other girls…

…we knew…

…yet…

…we did not know…

…how…

…how much…

A vision of a white giant …not human…

Various laboratories …created…

Clothes hanging in a locker …clothes…

Zero on her slab, Vegetables in a frypan …tailor made…

A strange feeling existed in the Group Mind, a bitter-sweet thing, a longing that proved elusive …loneliness…

Rave sitting naked on the floor in a dark room …the sense of being alone…

Many Raves sitting on the floor in the dark …we are many… yet still alone…

Memories of walking through crowds …we walk among them…

People walking around Rave, letting her pass by …yet never with them…

People's disinterest, their aloofness to Rave …a gulf exists between us…

The truth of their 'heritage' …and all others…

Wondering why they seemed different …we sensed it…

The puzzle of their appearance …but did not know it for what it was…

A vision of Shakey smiling at her …

Shakey talking to her …yet…?

Shakey holding her …perhaps…?

The Commander holding her …yes…!

Mazurka holding her …perhaps…!

…the distance…

…is not so great…

…it cannot be crossed…

While some Clones slept, the others thought long and hard…

======================================================================

The END of this Book of "Altered Lives (The Parody)"

======================================================================

OMAKE - The Searchers.

One of the Twins finished her keystrokes, and was rewarded with the appearance of a new window on her screen.

Uplink established…

Reactors on line…

Accessing Star charts…

Disengaging docking restraints…

Anti-gravity Drive to full strength…

With a Mournful Groan, the entire school building slowly ripped free from the ground and began rising at an accelerating rate into the atmosphere…

The Fan Fiction Writer began to sweat, this WASN'T in his plans for the story…

"Err?  Ladies?" the F.F.W. nervously ventured, "What exactly are you doing?"

The Clone acting as Rave spoke up, "Do you remember the ending of that 'Otaku No Video' Fan-Sub you saw all those years ago?"

"Err… Possibly…?"

"Well, we've decided to go and look for the Planet of the Bishounen Hunks!  We've heard it's located somewhere in the Shoujo Manga Quadrant…"

"Um…" the F.F.W. noted how many of Rave's fellow students were in the class room with the Clones, "But why take all the others?"

"Because there's a convenient Plot Device of a Magic Portal," the Clone replied with a toothy grin, "That can transform even the Ugliest Dork Jerk-Off into a Sensitive New Age Sex Symbol…"

"???" the F.F.W. couldn't believe his ears, but was powerless to do anything.

Sometime later…  The School building dropped from de-warping Orbit back into the hole in the school grounds…

"???" the F.F.W. couldn't believe his eyes, when Gorgeous Examples of Prime Teenaged Manhood began strolling casually out of the building…

"Strewth!" the F.F.W. exclaimed aloud, "The Girls must have been right on the money!  All these blokes need are the outfits, and it'd look like 'Hunks Day' at a CLAMP Cosplayers convention…"

"Tell me about it," said a soft, well-cultured voice.

The comment came from a longhaired Bishounen Hunk, one looking like a 'Noble Hero' version of the Main male Characters from 'Revolutionary Girl Utena'…

"Ah…  Sorry Mate…  You are…?"

The Bishounen Hunk sighed, the slight shake of his head causing his long silky locks to float like gossamer on the breeze, "It's me… Kantsee!"

"KANTSEE?" the F.F.W. was incredulous, "But… But you wear glasses?"

"Beneficial Mutation…" Kantsee smiled, "I've now got perfect 20/20 vision…"

Being a Middle Aged Lard A--E, the F.F.W. stared enviously at the transmogrified teen, before sidling up to one of the smug looking Clones…

"UM…  Where EXACTLY did you say that planet was?" the F.F.W. asked hopefully.

Note - Otaku no Video was a legendary comedy about the adventure of some Fans (Otakus) and their rise to power and glory by creating their own entertainment empire.  It finished with them searching space for the Planet of the Otakus…

Note - Bishounen Hunks are Handsome Young Men.  Shoujo Manga are comics targeted at girl and young women readers.

Note - CLAMP is a Anime/Manga publisher run by women.  Not surprisingly, they have lots of stories with cute guys in them.

Note - Cosplay is short for Costume Play, or dressing up as a favourite character.  Cosplayers are Fans who make a habit of doing this at conventions.

Note - in Revolutionary Girl Utena, the two Main Hunks are more on the Evil Side than the Noble side.  The term 'Devilishly Handsome' applies.

Note - Kantsee has light brown hair, and to a colour-blind person like myself, it appears reasonably close to the Main Male characters in Revolutionary Girl Utena.

======================================================================

OMAKE - Playing Doctor.

Mayi didn't reply, she just keyed in some data on her computer terminal.  On the screens around her, various medical scans came up, mostly of the x-ray and ultrasound variety.

"…see for yourself…" Mayi gestured weakly at a particular screen.

"Mazurka turned her untrained eye on the image shown…

Done in black, white and various shades of grey, the image was labelled as being a scan of someone's upper Thorax.  Rib bones, spine and the top of the pelvic girdle stood out in white and bright greys, with more subtle shadings marking the location of intestines and internal organs.

"What am I looking for?" Mazurka demanded, unable to see Mayi's point.

"THIS!" Mayi's voice broke as she stabbed a finger at the scan.

"Mayi," Mazurka sighed irritably, "I'm NOT a Medical technician!  What exactly are you trying to show me?"

"The candidates are ALL like Rave…" Mayi slowly ground out, her voice edging on hysteria, "None of them… have silicon implants…"

Mazurka blinked, "What?"

Mayi sighed disconsolately, "She's only fifteen!  At 160 cm she's already the height of the average Japanese woman…  But with her figure ALREADY like that…"

Mazurka twigged to what Mayi was saying, "Oh S--T!  You're right!  If the Clones keeps developing at this rate, they'll not only become Japan's answer to 'Elle McPherson', but 'Linsey Dawn McKenzie' as well!"

"How do you think it makes me feel?" wailed Mayi, "Here I am, a sweet young woman with a pure heart and a decent bod, but I know I'll never get a look in with the males 'cause the Clones will surpass my feminine charms by the time they're 18!  Unless I submit to scraping the bottom of the dating barrel, I'm doomed to be an Old Maid for life…  WAHHHHH!"  Mayi burst into tears.

Mazurka's heart went out to the distressed Technician, she went over and took her friend and workmate in a sympathetic hug, "Oh Mayi…  You're not alone…  All of us Japanese women are in the same boat…  We're all feeling the social pressure from Japanese Men's fascination with those Fat-Uddered Foreign Things…"

"Still," Mazurka smiled, "That's not to say that the Men's fascination with the Clones figures won't be ALL bad!"

"Huh?" Mayi didn't understand.

"It seems to ME," once again, Mazurka's Sheer Tactical Brilliance began making Long Range Plans, "That we owe it to the Girls to protect them from the sort of sleazes that will only be after them for their bodies.  H--L!  To be fair to the girls, we should make sure that they only get the VERY Best of what Fine Young Men are available…"

Mayi blinked, the light dawning, "Y-You mean?"

Mazurka grinned, "And since all those Heart-broken Hunks that only JUST failed to measure up may need consoling…"

"I get you!" a smiling Mayi confirmed, "A Second-rate Bishounen Hunk on the Rebound, is better than a First-rate Scumbag on the Prowl…"

Note – Elle McPherson is a famous Australian Fashion model.

Note – Linsey Dawn Mckenzie is a famous British Pinup model.

======================================================================

OMAKE - Facts Of Life.

Mayi shook her head, "I have trouble believing that Major.  If a genetic flaw resulted in the total removal of the Uterus and Fallopian tubes, then it should have affected the rest of their Birth Canal as well…"

"Birth Canal?" the term was lost on Mazurka.

"You know?" Mayi prompted, "Their Coital Sheath?  The dilatable membranous canal that stretches from the Cervix of the Uterus to the Labia Minora?"

"Please use plain words!" Mazurka felt a headache coming on, "I've already said that I'm NOT a Medical technician…"

Mayi blinked, then the ghost of smile appeared on her face, "The part inside their… Omanko…" (Japanese equivalent to using 'Pussy' for Female Genitals)

Mazurka coughed discretely, "Well… I… wouldn't know about that…"

======================================================================

OMAKE - Playing the Piper.

"Sir…" the words were louder than Rave usually spoke, "…why were we not told… that Shakey is our relative?"

Glando slowly sat back in his chair, his hands casually resting on the arms of his chair, "What makes you think, he is your relative?"

"We share DNA…" #36 replied quietly, "…from his mother…"

Glando suddenly rose from his chair, his extra height making the Clone tilt her head to look up at him.

Glando pressed a button on his desk, and an ancient musical tune filled the air.

"Rave," Glando said, his voice slipping into 'singing mode', "I know you like Shakey, and want to have him as a boyfriend…  But I Have To Say No…"

"???" wondered the Clone, as Glando acted completely out of character, swaying around ala Elvis 'The Pelvis' Presley in time to the music.

"That Boy Is Your Brother, But Your Brother Don't Know!" Glando growled out.

All of the Clones suddenly sprang up in the background, singing in unison the chorus of "Woe!  Is ME!  Shame and Scandal In The Family!"

======================================================================

OMAKE - Family Reunion and Second Generation.

"She… does not look like us…" the Clone stated the obvious.

"She had an accident," Glando replied, "Once, she was as normal as you are…"

"What…" The Clone asked with a tremble in both her voice and body, "…happened?"

"Zero was partially absorbed," Glando murmured, "We were able to retrieve her in a… physically survivable condition…  But… she had no mind…"

The Rave Clone stared at the seven-foot tall ivory statue of body-sculpted perfection on the slab.  Zero's silky blue hair flowed in fashionable waves down past her waist, highlighting the trim curves of well-muscled limbs, and an overly-generous 'hourglass' shaped torso barely contained within a skimpy string bikini that adhered like a second skin.

!!?? thought the Clone, as she estimated stress loads, The Bikini top MUST be made of Kevlar!  There is NO WAY ordinary material could support the weight!

"We did our best to rebuild her…" Glando said quietly, a sad look on his face, "But as you can see, our best was… barely sufficient…"

"Did what you could, huh?" the Clone repeated, arching an eyebrow as she mentally compared her own developing figure to Zero's lushly over-endowed one.

"Commander?" asked the Clone, "How… OLD… is Zero?"

"The age of Genetic Constructs such as Zero and yourselves is relative," Glando replied cryptically, "But, you were cloned from her when Zero was about five years of age, back before Second Strike…"

"So…" mused the Clone, "With time for creation and gestation of our blastomeres… and we are about fifteen now…  She is about… 21 Years of age?"

"Yes," agreed Glando, "She would be about that, IF she were a normal person…"

The Clone looked at Glando, "And you are not… attracted… to girls as young as we Clones are?"

"Of course not," Glando blushed, "I'm NOT that sort of man!"

"Of course not," said the Clone, her gaze lingering suspiciously on a rack of Zero-sized 'Cosplaying' outfits in one corner of the room.

======================================================================

OMAKE - Planned Genealogy.

Glando squeezed the Clone's shoulder reassuringly, "While a Parent is usually someone who contributes their seed or egg when creating a child, a person may also be considered a parent if they carry a foetus in their womb, or if they adopt a child…  Yet…  None of these definitions… apply to either myself or my late wife… as far as you Clones are concerned…"

The Clone sobbed quietly, her trembling hands rising to cover her face. 

Glando's expression fell slightly as he heard the Clone cry.  He hesitated, then reached out and pulled her to him, cradling her against his chest.  The Clone crumpled against Glando's chest, offering no resistance to the familiarity of the embrace.

"So," said the Clone as she suddenly looped her arms around Glando and hugged him back, rather FIRMLY, "You acknowledge that we Clones are NOT related to you?"

"Err?" flustered Glando, "Yes, well, that IS technically correct…"

"Commander," the Clone said in 'warm' tones, her blushing face smiling shyly up at Glando, "I Love You…  I want you to be the Father of my children…"

"Ahhh… Haaa?" gurgled Glando, beginning to sweat drop profusely as he realised the dangerous situation he was in, "Rave… y-you're only fif-fifteen and…"

"I will be an adult in 2019," the Clone reminded Glando, "I can wait…"

'S--T!' thought Glando, 'Has the Fan Fiction Writer been reading the Manga episode where Asuka 'declares her love' for Kaji, or what?'

=========================The END of the OMAKE=========================