AUTHOR'S NOTES: Here we go. Hopefully no more two month waits. I appreciate those of you who are hanging tough with this story. Only two people R&Red last time; I must've ticked someone off.

Anyway, on with the show. Oh, and by the way, you get a virtual cookie if you can decipher what the Backstabber tells Asuka. And 'hajoca' really is a swear word in his language; just ask Jack McKinney.

The address on Belldandy's card brought Gendo, Shinji, and Asuka to a tall, slab sided building painted a deep green. The windows were reflective, giving the entire edifice–which stood near the center of the city a stark functionality. The locals called it the Big Pickle.

The trio entered the building through the front doors, Gendo immediately steering for an elevator and cutting in line. He brusquely walked into the elevator and hit the button for the top floor, the penthouse restaurant at the nose of the pickle. Other people tried to enter the elevator, but Gendo merely folded his arms across his chest and let the light reflect off of his glasses. That and the two plugsuited pilots flanking him on either side was enough. No one accompanied them on the long ride up to the top.

"What can you see, Shinji?" Gendo asked.

Shinji tried to see beyond the visible. "It's weird. The code is somehow different."

"Encrypted?"

"Beats me. Maybe."

Asuka tapped her foot impatiently, waiting for the elevator doors to open. She knew Shinji was a little nervous, but she was anticipatory. She really wanted to kick someone's posterior in; it had been awhile. "Is that good or bad, Third Child?"

"Well...um...it looks like every floor is wired with explosives."

"WHAT?" She seized Shinji by the front of the plugsuit. "Are you CRAZY?! We're heading into a giant green bomb!" She let go of him and tried to get to the down buttons, but Gendo managed to fend her off until the elevator doors opened.

A big, ugly man with frizzy hair and pale skin met them at the door. He looked disdainfully down at them; he towered over even Gendo. "What the hell do you want?"

Gendo merely smiled, gloved hands behind his back. "Yes, kind sir. We are here to speak with the Backstabber."

"Ehrm," the giant grunted, and thumbed behind him. The trio had no trouble following his directions; their quarry sat on a raised dais at one end of the large dining room. It was rather sophisticated, if one forgave the fact that everything was done in jade. The floor was polished to high perfection, and the room was filled with people of varying races and sizes. Shinji's stomach rumbled at the smell of good food, made by some of the finest chefs of Tokyo-3.

Though the Backstabber was entertaining guests, it was simple to pick him out. He sat at the middle of the table, dressed in a silk burgundy suit, with a high collar, crisscrossed at the wrists by yellow and black stripes, which were repeated on his tie. He was a devilishly handsome man, despite his blue-tinged skin, with purple hair combed down anime style over his left eye, which he occasionally brushed back.. Those eyes were hard and black, like a shark's. An apt description, Gendo thought, as he strode up the steps to stand in front of the man known as the Backstabber, though his formal name was Khyron.

Khyron looked up at Gendo, but not by much; he was well over six feet. He gave them a predator's smile as his gaze fell on Shinji. "Ah, here he is at last. The Third Child...Shinji, is it not? And his father, the legendary Gendo Ikari." His eyes wandered over to Asuka and immediately visually stripped her. "And of course, Asuka Langely Soryu, iiawak anih." In mid-sentence, he switched to a language they had not heard before–a guttural, harsh language.

"What did you call me?" Asuka growled.

Khyron ignored her. "I have heard so much about you, you honor me with your presence. Please, sit. Join us." He motioned to a woman on his left. "This is my consort, Azonia." Shinji smiled and nodded, but she returned only the ghost of a smile; her skin was paler than Rei's, and while she was dressed similarly to Khyron–though the suit was tailored for a woman, of course–her hair was much shorter, cut in a pageboy that had been dyed blue, unless it was naturally so. "And these are my...shall we say...bodyguards?" He nodded at a group of people sitting to his right. None of them looked particularly savory: their dress ranged from traditional Japanese kimonos to fur and leather. Prominent among them, were two catgirls, dressed in body armor. Shinji blinked; they were twins. One of them licked her lips suggestively at Shinji, and Khyron laughed at the look of imminent homicide on Asuka's face. "Ah yes, Unipuma and Annapuma. Please, lovely Asuka, there is steam coming from your ears. Drink?" She shook her head violently. "Something to eat?"

Shinji was a little more polite. "No, domo arigato. We're fine." They had discussed this earlier, and there was no way they were eating anything from the plate of a man known as the Backstabber.

Khyron shrugged. "Of course. Who has time? But if we do not take time, how can we ever have time?" He chuckled and smelled the wine. "Ah, Chateau Picard, 2004. Magnificent wine. I love French wine, though Zentraedi wine is slightly better; more full. I have learned many languages, Third Child, but my favorite is still my own tongue, especially to curse with. Hajoca kaka kilala kuso chiksho azumanga daioh. You see, it's like wiping your ass with sandpaper, I love it."

Gendo was already tired of Khyron's version of witty repartee. "You know why we're here, Khyron."

Khyron's friendly air instantly evaporated. "Hmph. No one takes time anymore to talk about the important things in life. I am a trafficker of information, Gendo Ikari. I know everything I can." He leaned across the table towards Gendo. "The question is, do you know why you are here?"

Gendo steepled his hands on the table, covering his mouth with his gloves. "We are looking for the Fleamaker."

Khyron leaned back and took a sip of the wine. "Ah, the Fleamaker, Myoga the Wise. Of course. But this is not a reason, Gendo Ikari, not a 'why.' Myoga is a means, not an end, and so if you're looking for him, you're looking for a means to do...what?" He smirked.

"You know the answer," Shinji said.

"But do you? You think you do but you do not. You are here because you were sent here–you were told to come here by the celestial doormat and you obeyed, like good little children." He laughed harshly. "It is the way of all things. You see, there is only one constant, one universal, and it is only the real truth--"

"The bigger the object, the faster it moves," Asuka interrupted.

"If there's an American, he's either a villain or a big goofy sidekick," Gendo added.

"Every human body has 16 gallons of blood under high pressure," Shinji said, raising a finger.

"No," Khyron sighed, "those are the laws of anime. I meant casuality. You know...action. Reaction. Cause and effect."

Gendo pushed his glasses up his nose. "Everything begins with choice."

"Wrong," Khyron snapped irritably. "Choice is an illusion, created by those with power, and those without."

"Sounds like a Rush song," Shinji said.

"Perhaps." Khyron pointed towards a table in the restaurant. "Look there, at that woman." He blinked. "I mean, damn. Look at her."

Shinji did. The black haired woman was sitting among a group of robed men, her head perched on one hand, looking bored out of her mind at whatever the men were talking about, tapping one black-gloved hand on the table. Shinji could see what Khyron meant: the woman wasn't wearing very much. From what he could see, her entire wardrobe consisted of a black push-up bra from which her basketball-sized breasts were desperately trying to escape, held together with a skull; black leather gloves; a choker of jewels and skulls; spiked shoulder pads; and a golden tiara.

"The men around her, they are fools, ignoring her," Khyron continued. "She is bored. But wait...you see, I have sent her a dessert, a very special dessert." Sure enough, the ugly maitre'd set a slice of cake in front of her. The woman's eyes lit up instantly. She clapped her hands twice and began scarfing down the cake with all the manners of a hanyou confronted with ramen.

Khyron leaned over the table, getting a better view. "You see, I wrote the cake into the script myself. It starts so simply, each line of the program creating a new effect, just like hentai poetry. First, a rush..." The woman smacked her lips loudly as she finished the cake , then suddenly her face turned bright red. "Heat..." She blinked and chugged a glass of wine. "Her heart flutters." He glanced at Shinji and grinned. "You can see it, Shinji, yes? She does not understand why–is it the wine? Is it the shoes? No. What is it then, what is the reason?" The woman looked at the wine, set down the glass carefully, then down at herself, shifting uncomfortably in her chair. "And soon it does not matter, soon the why and the reason are gone, and all that matters is the feeling itself. Such is the nature of the universe. We struggle against it..."

The woman looked around her nervously, her fists clenching and unclenching.

"We fight to deny it..."

She bit her lip, trying not to let the inward battle show on her face.

"...but it is of course pretense, it is a lie. Beneath our poised appearance, the truth is, we are completely out of control."

Suddenly the woman could hold back no longer. She threw back her head, raised one hand to the side of her face, and let out a raucous, fingernails-on-chalkboard laugh. "OHHHHHH HO HO HO HO HO HO!" Instantly, everyone looked at her, but she continued to laugh, setting Shinji's teeth on edge. She finally got up and retreated towards the bathrooms, still screaming with laughter.

Khyron snickered. "You see? Causality. There is no escape from it. Our only hope, our only peace is to understand it, to understand the why. 'Why' is what separates us from them, you from me. 'Why' is the only real power; without it you are powerless. And that–" he pointed at Gendo "–is how you come to me, without the why, without power. Hmpf." He tossed his hair back. "But fear not. Since I have seen how good you are at following orders, I will tell you what to do next. Run back to her celestial high-handedness, that platinum haired bimbo fortune teller, and tell her this: her time is almost up." He drew out the last word in a hiss. He sat back, finished his wine, and stood. "Now then. I have some real business to attend to, so I will say sayonara and goodbye."

Shinji shot to his feet. "Hey, we're not done here!"

"Oh yes we are," Khyron sneered. "Myoga is mine, and I see no reason why I should give him up." He tossed his napkin on the table and scooted back his chair to leave.

"Where are you going?" Azonia asked.

"Please, lovemate, I've told you–we are all victims of causality. I drank too much wine, so now I must take a leak. Cause and effect." He gave the trio an ironic bow, and sauntered away.

The young man dressed in fur and leather came around the table as Gendo stood and bowed formally to Azonia, who paid him little attention. Asuka kicked her chair back and stood as the man tried to put a hand on her shoulder to steer her out. "Touch me with that hand, wolf-boy, and I will rip it off and beat you to death with it." The hand was withdrawn. With a look that promised death to the two Puma Twins, Asuka followed Shinji and Gendo out of the restaurant. The ugly maitre'd showed them to the elevator. Once the doors had closed, Shinji leaned back against the wall and sighed. "Well, that didn't go too well."

"Are you certain Belldandy said nothing else?" Gendo asked. Shinji shook his head.

Asuka banged a fist into the wall in frustration. "Maybe we did something wrong."

"Or didn't do something," Shinji added.

"No. What happened happened and couldn't have happened any other way," Gendo stated.

"In other words, father, you have no idea."

"I have no idea," Gendo admitted, "but we are still alive."

The elevator suddenly shuddered to a halt. "So far," Asuka said as the doors began to open, readying herself to kill whomever came out of it, one hand on the pistol strapped to the side of her plugsuit.

Instead of the 'welcoming party' of either Agent Scouts or the Backstabber's retinue, it was only Azonia, who stood placidly at the doors, arms folded across her chest. "If you want the Fleamaker, come with me," she said simply, turned, and walked away. The trio quickly ran after her. To their surprise, she went into the men's room. It was a very sophisticated men's room, against finished in the ubiquitous jade marble, all the fixtures gold and porcelain. Only one patron was present, and his eyes went wide when he saw Azonia stride in. "Get out before I make you eat the little blue candies in the urinals," Azonia snarled. The man nodded spastically, zipped up, and ran out the door.

Azonia leaned against the sink, then suddenly smashed a fist into the wall, leaving a crater. "I'm so sick of his bullshit! On and on and on, the pompous ass. Talking like a philosophy major just because he can read in seven different languages. 'Ooh, I'm so sophisticated! Ooh, I snort Flowers of Life!'" She spat into the sink. "Not even a warrior any longer." She looked up at Shinji, and her blue eyes softened. "A long time ago, when we first came here, it was so different. He was so different...he was like you, Third Child." She shrugged. "A taller, less wimpy, more insane version of you, but like you." She sighed and was silent for a moment. "I'll give you what you want, Third Child. But first, you have to give me something."

Shinji reached into his pocket, and froze. "Oh man, I left my wallet in my other plugsuit..."

"No. It is not money I desire or need." Her eyes met his. "A kiss."

"Say WHAT?" Asuka and Shinji exclaimed simutaneously.

"Yes. I want you to kiss me as if you were kissing her, Shinji." Azonia pointed at Asuka.

"Why?"

"You love her. She loves you. It's so obvious it's sickening. A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, I knew what that felt like. I want to remember it, like Celine Dion. I want to sample it, like Puff Daddy. That's all. Just a sample."

The pistol was in Asuka's hand and pointed at the Zentraedi woman's head in a blur. "Why don't you sample Colonel Colt instead–" Gendo gently put a hand on the barrel and pushed it down.

"Such Micronian emotion over something so small. It's only a kiss."

Shinji wasn't so sure about this. He had been suckered by females into kisses before. "Why should we trust you?"

"If I don't deliver you to Myoga, Asuka can kill me."

"You sure I can't just kill you now?" Asuka asked sarcastically.

"Um..." Shinji looked at Asuka, who turned and put her nose in the air. "O-Okay..." He drew close to her and she to him. It was awkward; Azonia was taller than he was. She put a finger up as she leaned down. "But you have to make me believe I am her."

"Er, okay." Shinji leaned upwards and brushed his lips with hers, a tender, loving kiss. Azonia was trembling, but her lips were as cold as marble. "Um...how's that?"

"Terrible," Azonia growled. "Forget it. I am leaving."

"Wait!" Shinji put a hand on her arm before she could draw away. "You–you want me to kiss you like she kisses me, right?" Azonia nodded. "All right." Without warning, Shinji pinched Azonia's nose shut and clamped his mouth on hers. He held her steady until he felt her body begin to shake and her cheeks swell with the need for oxygen. Only when it looked like she was ready to pass out did he let go of her nose and let their lips part. Azonia stumbled backwards, puffing with exertion, and nearly fell.

"Wow," she struggled out. "That...that was how she kisses you?"

"Uh, yeah. I mean, I didn't squeeze your butt or anything, but..."

"Wow," Azonia repeated. "That..." She looked at Asuka, who was surprised to see the other woman's eyes misty with tears. "I envy you, Asuka Langely Soryu. But such things are not meant to last."

"Whatever," Asuka snorted.

"Come with me." Azonia, still stumbling a little, led them out of the bathroom. Gendo looked at his son and winked. Asuka stared daggers at Azonia's back, then gave Shinji only a slightly less threatening look.

"I had to do it," Shinji whispered insistently.

"She better not have given you the tongue," Asuka snapped back.