Completed: 01/17/2005
Modified: 15-JUL-2011

This is a speculative fic exploring how Seto Kaiba learned to fly and how the development of BEWD jet reflects the changes in Seto Kaiba's character. It's also a chance to explore how Seto Kaiba interacts with people outside of duels, especially his employees.


Title: Mighty Wings
Author: Madamhydra
Status: One-shot, complete
Rating: PG-13
Wordcount: ~10,300
Spoilers: entire series (anime and manga)
Pairings: none

Summary: Seto Kaiba learns to fly and the development of the BEWD jet.

Disclaimer: (Full Disclaimers at the end) Yu-Gi-Oh! is the copyright and property of its creator and legally associated parties. Used without permission. Not for profit.


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Author's Notes:
~ This fic is based on my own personal mix of the manga and anime - mostly the anime, but using the manga version of Kaiba's initial encounters with Yami (i.e., the Death-T story arc and Kaiba's resulting coma). Unfortunately, there are no English translations for Duellist Kingdom, especially for the time period when Kaiba recovers from his coma, so in the event the manga contradicts something in this story, consider this story an AU. ::sheepish grin::

~Timeline: Since the timeline in the anime/manga is rather vague, I've either tried to avoid definite dates or have tweaked things to suit the fic.

~ BEWD Jet: I'm using the anime version where Kaiba and Mokuba escape from the destruction of Alcatraz in what looks like a completely custom Blue Eyes jet. However in the manga, Kaiba flies conventional Harrier jet with a BEWD paint scheme.

~ Female OC Yes, there is a female OC in this fic. And despite her last name or references to dragons, she is not - I repeat, NOT - an incarnation of Kisara in any way, shape, or form.

CREDITS: Thanks for all the people who betaed the first very rough draft, and for all their encouragement! ^_^


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o~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~oo~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~o

It's just a ball of dust
Underneath my feet
It rolls around the sun
Doesn't mean that much to me

I take a chance on the edge of life
Just like all the rest
I look inside and dig it out
'Cause there's no points for second best

- "Mighty Wings" by Cheap Trick

o~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~oo~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~o

George Asamiya stared at the impassive boy standing off to his left, then gave his employer a dubious look.

"Uh, isn't he a bit... well, *young* to learn to fly fighter jets, sir?"

Young? Hell, his employer's stepson was only eleven, maybe twelve. It would be years until the child would be old enough to get a license to drive. And he was supposed to teach that kid how to fly high performance military aircraft? He would need a booster seat just to see out of the damn cockpit.

Gozaburo Kaiba pulled the cigar from his mouth, exhaled a thin stream of smoke, and grinned in a way that always made George think of a ravenous great white shark. Then in a remarkably casual voice, he said, "Within four months, I want Seto to able to fly every sort of aircraft Kaiba Corporation manufactures."

George blinked, then yelped, "Everything!"

"Everything, and that includes the vertical takeoff jets, etc. The works. Oh, while you're at it, you might as well throw in the helicopters, too."

"In FOUR months! But sir...!" George sputtered. Military pilot training typically took at least a year, and that took into account concentrating on only one type of aircraft. And his employer was expecting his stepson to learn all that and more in four months?

"Don't worry. He's got excellent physical coordination and he's a fast learner. Aren't you, boy?" Kaiba said as he glanced down at his stepson, who acknowledged the remark with a curt nod.

"But...!" Georged tried again.

His employer jabbed a finger in his direction. "Look, Asamiya. You're one of my best test pilots and flight instructors. You *know* planes. I'm not asking you to make a fighter ace out of the boy. He merely needs some hands-on experience with a variety of aircraft." He grinned at his stepson. "Be grateful I'm cutting you so much slack in this regard, Seto."

George glanced over at the boy and was intrigued by Seto's reaction, or rather the lack of it. Most boys Seto's age would be wildly jumping for joy at the idea of being able to fly fancy jets, especially fighters. But instead of looking enthusiastic or excited, Seto Kaiba looked grimly stoic. Shoving that puzzle aside, George focused on the more immediate problem. If Kaiba was right about his stepson's abilities, then it might be possible to meet his employer's deadline IF he cut the technical material down to the bone and focused almost entirely on the flight training phase. Even so...

But it turned out that his employer wasn't finished. Kaiba chuckled, then turned his attention back to George.

"Within those four months, I want Seto to learn not only how to fly those aircraft, but what makes them tick, from tip to tail, from the landing gear to the electronic systems. Not just the basic stuff, either. I want the full technical drill."

"But... but...!" George sputtered. Very intelligent, highly motivated adults spent years, even entire lifetimes, acquiring that type of knowledge. And Gozaburo Kaiba wanted an eleven year old child to learn all that in FOUR months?

His employer smirked. "Don't worry. You aren't starting from a blank page. He already knows a fair bit of the basic technology. But you can only learn so much from books. I want him to have practical, hands-on experience with real-life applications. Operational and maintenance considerations, in both test and field conditions. That sort of thing. Take him around to meet the design teams, the flight crews. You get the picture."

The elder Kaiba again looked at Seto. "Of course, I still expect you to keep up with your other schoolwork, too. No excuses."

George watched the boy's lips tighten slightly, but Seto did not make any attempt to complain or change his stepfather's mind. A stark "Yes, sir," was the boy's only reply to what George felt was a blatantly unreasonable demand on a child.

That feeling led him to protest, "But sir, with just the flight and technical training, the boy's easily looking at twelve, maybe even fifteen hour days, at the least! Surely you can't expect him to put in even more hours every day for schoolwork!"

His employer grunted, then said, "He'll manage." There was a meaningful, almost menacing pause as he glanced over at his stepson, then the older Kaiba continued, "Asamiya, all I want you and your team to worry about is the aviation end of things. You basically have four months to cram as much aeronautical knowledge into that boy's skull as you can."

George, seeing that it was futile to argue the point further, sighed deeply and said, "All right. When do we start?"

"As soon as you can get a schedule worked out with his other tutors. That's all," the elder Kaiba said, waving his hand dismissively in Seto's direction.

George watched the boy leave the office, then said, "If you don't mind me saying so, Mr. Kaiba, but you're asking far too much from your stepson! I can see why you'd like him to learn something about Kaiba Corporation's products, but aren't you going a bit overboard? I mean, even if he manages to learn all this stuff, what's a kid going to do with all that information?"

With a cryptic smirk, Kaiba replied, "Oh, I'll find some productive activity for the boy. Besides, it's high time that he developed an appreciation of the things that put the clothes on his back and food on the table. Military hardware and weaponry for air, land, sea, and space. Electronic systems and information technology for both military and civilian applications. He's going to learn about all of it."

The elder Kaiba knocked the ash off his cigar, then said, "The boy's going to be the next CEO of Kaiba Corporation, and I'm not about to let him botch the job from ignorance and stupidity. By the end of this year, Seto's going to know Kaiba Corporation's product divisions backward and forwards. That's the easy part. After that, he's moving on to the hard stuff."

"You call learning about aviation and aeronautical engineering easy?" George said, raising an incredulous eyebrow.

"Compared to the financial side of things, it is," Kaiba said with a condescending smirk. "There are plenty of people who can fly airplanes, plenty of people who can design airplanes. But a damn few people in this world can make a fortune marketing and selling them." He tapped his own chest. "I'm one of those people, and I intend to see that that boy is, too."

The elder Kaiba leaned back into his massive leather-covered chair.

"But it helps if you understand and appreciate the product you're trying to sell. That's how my father taught me and how his father taught him. Now it's Seto's turn."

That might be partially true, but George was pretty sure that his employer's father never made go Gozaburo through the sort of rigorous training he planned for Seto.

Kaiba folded his hands. "Don't worry about my stepson. He'll learn whatever I want him to learn. But if he gets stubborn about it, let me know and I'll take care of the problem."

George sighed and wondered how he was going to fit a booster seat into the cockpit of a fighter jet.


.


After watching the boy only a few times in the flight simulators, George knew that Kaiba's stepson had much more than good eyesight and excellent physical reflexes. Seto Kaiba had the instincts and soul of a true flyer. The kid should have been born with wings.

Oh, Seto wasn't the best pilot he'd ever seen - not yet, at least. But once he had the training and experience he needed, there was no telling what Seto could do, flight-wise.

And once they started actual in-air training, George knew that his first impression had been right on target. No matter how hard the boy tried to hide it - and what was up with that? - he could tell that the wide open skies called to Seto in ways that no ordinary person could possibly understand. But George understood, because the sky called to him, too.

Being a sociable person by nature, George had hoped that this shared love of flying would create some sort of connection between Seto and himself. And he tried to befriend the boy. He really tried.

But Seto clearly had no interest in becoming buddy-buddy with anyone. He wasn't outright rude or actively hostile about it, but his cold, silent stare was usually enough to stop any friendly overture in its tracks. To be honest, Seto was not an easy child to like. Aside from his aloof, wary attitude and general lack of friendliness, the boy was capable of being unnervingly focused.

As for his ability to learn, well, THAT bordered on outright scary. The boy wasn't merely doing rote memorization, which would have been impressive enough. Seto absorbed and assimilated information at a phenomenal rate. Within weeks, he was regularly stumping people who had been working on plane far longer than than the boy had been alive.

But even for a child of Seto's intelligence and drive, handling the grueling technical curriculum while keeping up with the schoolwork his stepfather required was no easy task. As the months passed, George could see the physical toll all those endless hours of work took on the boy. However, Seto flatly ignored all of George's suggestions to ease up and instead continued to study at a merciless pace.

Frustration with Seto's stubbornness, combined with a growing concern that the boy would work himself into total physical collapse, finally drove George to take drastic measures. He went to his employer and asked Gozaburo to extend the deadline and/or at least talk some sense into his stepson. The older Kaiba heard him out, then summoned Seto to his office.

"Asamiya wants to revise your training schedule. Apparently he questions your ability to achieve the desired level of proficiency by the given deadline."

Actually, that wasn't what George had said to his employer. HE had merely expressed his concern that the boy was pushing himself much too hard. However, George didn't get a chance to correct or soften his employer's statement.

"Well, what do you say to that, boy?" the older Kaiba demanded.

George knew Seto well enough to know that the boy would resent his interference. And considering the way that the older Kaiba had phrased things, he wasn't at all surprised at the fierce flash of anger in the boy's blue eyes. However, Seto's response was perfectly civil, if decidedly chilly.

"I am fully capable of meeting the stated deadline."

Kaiba grinned at his stepson and said, "You say that with such confidence, boy. But would you say the same thing if I changed my mind and gave you only... say, three and half months? Or how about three months?"

If Seto had given George an angry look for interfering, that was nothing compared to the coldly furious glare he gave his stepfather.

"But...!" George attempted to protest, but the older Kaiba silenced him with a sharp gesture, while keeping his eyes fixed on Seto, who was nearly quivering with understandable anger.

"Well, boy? Can you do it?" Kaiba taunted in a voice positively dripping with malicious amusement.

George shifted uncomfortably as the two Kaiba continued their staring contest. His employer looked smug, and had every reason to be, George supposed. The older Kaiba was the one setting the rules of the game. George didn't have a clue what sort of game it was, only that it was an ugly and disturbing one. At the moment, he was too busy kicking himself for being so stupid. In trying to help Seto, he had only managed to make things infinitely worse.

The tension in the office grew. The older Kaiba clearly held the upper hand in this contest, but the younger Kaiba was not about to back down from his stepfather's challenge.

"Are you changing the rules because you're afraid of losing, stepfather?" Seto finally replied in a low, cold voice.

The older Kaiba's jaw clenched, grinding down on the expensive cigar he had been smoking. George involuntarily retreated a step and desperately wished that he was someplace far, far away.

But just as George was working up the courage to say something, anything, to break the unbearable tension, the older Kaiba abruptly relaxed and chuckled.

"No. I can afford to be generous, boy. You can have your four full months. I trust you won't disappoint me. Will you?"

Pale-faced, blue eyes glittering, Seto replied, "No, sir."

Gozaburo turned to George and grinned smugly. "Well, you heard what he said, Asamiya. He says he can do it."

Dismissed with a casual wave of Gozaburo's hand, George exited the office and closed the door behind him, leaving the two Kaibas to finish their discussion.


.


After that disastrous meeting, Seto worked even harder. Having blundered once, George made no more attempts to interfere with his student's study habits. However, he did point out that physical and mental exhaustion would affect Seto's fitness to fly, which in turn would delay his flight training.

At the end of the alloted four months, Seto put on an extremely convincing demonstration of his newly acquired flight skills. As for the boy's technical proficiency, George was quite confident that even Gozaburo would be impressed. And he was right, when the CEO conceded, however grudgingly, that Seto had in fact met the stated goals in the stated period of time.


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During the next three years, George occasionally crossed paths with his former student - once or twice for refresher flight courses, but more usually brief meetings during business presentations or conferences. From those encounters and media reports, George knew that the heir to Kaiba Corporation was becoming even more brilliant and more accomplished with every passing year.

But he also noticed that Seto had changed in less pleasant ways. The wary reserve the boy had possessed was gone, replaced by a cold, hard edge that steadily become colder, harder, and sharper every time George saw him.


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George gaped at the printouts in his hand, then looked up at the brand new CEO of Kaiba Corporation - Seto Kaiba.

The project was bold and audacious, no question about it. Building a world class high performance aircraft to those sorts of specifications was... visionary, to say the least. Some might call it foolish, even crazy.

But it was feasible. Just barely. It would take time and money. It would mean pushing current technology to the limits. Hell, they might even need to develop new technology to make it work. But it WAS possible. The evidence lay in the printouts sitting on the desk in front of him.

Seto Kaiba smiled - well, smirked - smugly and propped his chin on his steepled fingers.

"Well, what do you say, Asamiya? Since Kaiba Corporation is no longer in the weapons business, are you interested in heading the new project team?"

He grinned a bit dizzily at his new employer and said, "Mr. Kaiba, you'd have to beat me away with a stick."


.


Just over a year later, George found himself in disbelief at the email message on his computer. It consisted of only two words.

PROJECT CANCELLED

It just didn't make sense. The project was on-schedule, and miraculously enough, close to budget as well. Why the sudden change, and with no warning? Baffled, he picked up the phone and gave his employer a call.

"Mr. Kaiba, this is Asamiya. I just received this email today saying that the project is canc..."

"That's correct," Seto Kaiba interrupted.

"But sir, why? We've been making so much progress..."

"Because it is, and always was, a fool's dream. Nothing more."

"But... but...," George found himself stammering.

"I saw the real thing. And it was... magnificent."

George never imagined that Kaiba's voice could contain such a dreamy, wistful tone of awe, but that was exactly what he was hearing. But Kaiba's next words was crisp and almost unnatural in their precision.

"I saw the real Blue Eyes. And it saw the real me."

George jerked his head back from the phone's receiver and stared at it, deeply unsettled. There was something definitely *wrong* with Kaiba's behavior and the entire conversation. The teenager's voice sounded perfectly pleasant, which was weird enough by itself. Kaiba was reasonably civil to his employees as long as they did their jobs properly, but he certainly wasn't what one would call 'friendly'.

And now here he was, sounding almost... cordial.

But under that apparently pleasant surface, George somehow sensed much darker and uglier emotions lurking.

There had to be, because this project had been extremely important to Kaiba. George was certain of that. Even with all the other things that surely demanded the young CEO's attention, Kaiba had still somehow managed to find the time and energy for this particular project. The teenager had been eager - one might even say desperate - for its success.

George didn't know what could possibly cause Kaiba to change his mind and attitude so drastically. Considering the CEO's passionate dedication to the project, he wouldn't have changed his mind for ordinary mundane financial or business reasons. Kaiba would have found a way to make it work.

So whatever the trigger was, it had to be devastating on a profoundly personal level. And in that case, the usual and much more understandable response for a teenager would have been a full-blown screaming, object-hurtling tantrum.

Anything would have have been better than this far too calm response that hinted, at least to himself, at Kaiba's soul-deep despair and rage.

"The project is DEAD. Do you understand me, Asamiya?"

While Kaiba's voice remained perfectly conversational, his choice of words had a nasty, vindictive finality about them, as if merely cancelling, calling off, or even terminating the project was not enough.

It had to be *killed*.

George rubbed his hand over his face, then said, "Yes, sir I understand. So, what do you want me to do with the prototype?"

"I have no use for a pathetic mechanical copy. Purge the design data, then tear it apart and sell it for scrap. Then at least I'll get some use out of that worthless piece of garbage," Kaiba replied in that same unnervingly pleasant tone.

"Um... right." George gazed out his office window into the cavernous hangar and the sleek silvery form gradually taking shape inside it. It would be such a damnable waste.

After a little hesitation, George said, "Are you planning a new project to replace it?"

"Indeed I am. Something that suits me and my talents much, much better."

Kaiba's voice was no longer quite so calm. While still sounding cordial, it now contained a hint of almost savage anticipation.

"What sort of project, if you don't mind me asking, sir?"

Kaiba laughed softly, chillingly, and George shuddered at the sound.

"I'm building a new game."

"A... game?" Well, that did make some sort of sense, George supposed. He'd heard about the plans for a new Kaibaland entertainment complex.

"Yes. A game. A very special, very intense combination of virtual reality and live action. A penalty game."

And with those words, the phone went dead.

It was often said that there is a fine line between genius and madness. George had a unhappy, sinking feeling that Seto Kaiba had just crossed it.


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A few months later, Seto Kaiba disappeared from public view following the opening of the new Kaibaland megaplex. The official press releases claimed that the young CEO was merely suffering from physical exhaustion from being overworked. However, George heard other, more sinister rumors involving nervous breakdowns and mysterious comas.

Recalling his last unsettling conversation with Kaiba, George had a good idea which version was closer to the truth. But there was nothing that he or any of his fellow employees could do except work, wait, and hope that their unpredictable, temperamental, brilliant, charismatic CEO would eventually recover.


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A few months later, Seto Kaiba indeed recovered from whatever mysterious illness he had. Without warning, without explanations, he descended upon Kaiba Corp headquarters like the proverbial wrath of God. The days immediately after his reappearance were filled with a slew of firings, scathing reprimands, punitive demotions, and general butt-kicking throughout the corporation. The Big 5, the old board of directors who had served under Kaiba's stepfather Gozaburo, were out, and new directors appointed from both within and outside the company.

But despite the speed and ferocity of the purge - for that was the only real way to describe the whole affair - it was by no means arbitrary or capricious. And while everyone in the company walked very, very softly and tried their best not to attract their CEO's attention, the general consensus was that if you were doing your job competently, you were basically safe, and that the people who got fired or demoted pretty much deserved it...

...then George received a summons to Seto Kaiba's office.


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There was an uncanny sense of deja vu about the meeting. Nearly two years had elapsed but George was back in the same office, facing the same CEO, with the same project designs on the desk. George even felt much of the same giddy excitement.

So many things about the scene were similar, but there were differences, of course. Most were minor, but others were not. The Seto Kaiba of today was somehow fundamentally different from the Seto Kaiba of the past, although George could not say what that exact difference was.

Physically, Kaiba was now several inches taller and unquestionably thinner. But mentally, little had apparently changed. Regardless of what had happened to Kaiba, whether physical exhaustion or nervous breakdown, the CEO's mental facilities and business skills had clearly lost none of their sharpness or edge.

Maybe that mysterious difference had something to do with the eyes. The Kaiba sitting across the desk today had eyes that were just as blue, just as cold, and just as intimidating as before. But those eyes also now possessed a clarity and a fire that George had never noticed before. Kaiba seemed revitalized, reawakened somehow... almost like a man reborn.

But one thing about Kaiba certainly remained the same - he wasted no time on idle pleasantries. He pushed the printouts over toward George and said curtly, "I want you to restart the project."

George took a more careful look at the blueprints and found himself gaping in stunned admiration. He had been wrong about the plans being the same. The old designs had been impressive. However, these new designs left him speechless with awe.

Kaiba's previous plans had been all about raw performance - more power, more speed, more maneuverability. And while the overall concept remained the same, the new designs no longer focused solely on a brute force approach. This new aircraft would not only be powerful, fast, and agile, but it would also be sleek and graceful, a joy to both fly and to watch flying.

What George now saw in those plans was the purest essence of Seto Kaiba's vision, the perfect fusion of an engineer's mind and an artist's eye. It was, in a word, beautiful.

He glanced up to see Kaiba giving him an impatient look.

"Since we're essentially starting from scratch, the initial construction phase should take six months. I expect you to keep your team on schedule, Asamiya."

George tugged at his shirt collar and gave his employer a sheepish look.

"Um... Mr. Kaiba. I have a slight... confession to make."

Kaiba raised an eyebrow sharply and gave him a cynical smirk.

"A 'slight' confession? What, you've been embezzling company funds? Or have you been selling designs to Kaiba Corporation's competitors?"

"No, no! It's nothing like that!" George denied hastily. "It's just... well, I know you explicitly ordered me to junk the prototype and all that stuff." He loosened his tie nervously, then blurted in a rush, "I somehow never got around to doing it."

Kaiba leaned across the desk and said softly, "Are you telling that the prototype jet is still intact?"

"Uh... yes."

Kaiba gave him a hard, penetrating stare, then straightened with a snort.

"You and airplanes. I should have known better."

Surprised, but relieved to see that Kaiba looked more amused than annoyed, George shrugged ruefully and said, "Sorry, but I just couldn't bring myself to demolish such a fantastic machine, even if half-finished."

"Even though I gave you a direct order to do so?" Kaiba demanded.

There were many things George could have said, many reasons he could have given to rationalize his decision. He could have told Kaiba that he couldn't bring himself to turn his back on Kaiba's dream, even if Kaiba himself had utterly rejected it. He could have explained how Kaiba's vision, dedication, and hard work had in turn inspired George and his fellow designers to test their limits, and in return, how they had all wanted to keep Kaiba's dream alive in hopes that the gifted teenager who had poured his heart and soul into this magnificant winged creation would someday, somehow, return to his senses and pursue that dream again.

With anyone else, George would have tried to explain. But that sort of discussion would surely be far too personal, too intrusive, to his intensely private employer to tolerate.

So in the end, George looked at Kaiba and simply said, "That plane deserves to fly."

For a moment, he wondered if Kaiba would laugh in his face. Instead, the CEO merely gave him a long, thoughtful look.

George realized that he had misjudged his employer. The brilliant individual who could conceive and design such an aircraft would surely understand that some planes were special, not because of their fancy technology or performance specs, but because of the hopes and dreams they embodied.

Not that Kaiba would ever admit such a thing aloud, of course.

Should he also confess that he and various members of the design team had continued to tinker with the project on their own time? No, it would probably be better to wait.

George coughed and said quickly, "We're in luck. I think we can use the prototype pretty much as is, with only a few minor modifications to the engines and airframe. That will save us months of construction time." He quickly scanned the blueprints, then added, "I see you've changed the cockpit configuration from a single seat to a tandem two-seater."

To George's surprise, this totally innocuous comment made his employer stiffen sharply. Kaiba stared at him for a long moment, then unlocked a drawer and pulled out a folder that had 'RESTRICTED' clearly stamped across it.

"There is one more significant modification I want to make to the design, Asamiya."

Kaiba placed the folder on the desk, then with grim deliberation, he slid it over to George.

Curious to see what could possibly make his employer become so tense, George picked up the folder and started reading. After scanning the first page, he jerked his head up and stared at Kaiba in shock, then reread the first page twice to make sure he hadn't made a mistake. Finally, he again looked at Kaiba, took a deep breath, and spoke in the most neutral, non-confrontational voice he could manage.

"You want it armed."

George had tried his best to phrase his words as a simple request for confirmation, and not a challenge. But he was certain that Kaiba picked up on his serious reservations.

"Do you have a problem with that, Asamiya?"

George expected impatience, even anger, for daring to second-guess his employer. Instead, Kaiba's voice somehow managed to sound even more neutral than his own, which gave George a good idea of just how difficult this particular design decision had been. It was clear to anyone with half a brain that Kaiba had no love whatsoever for weapons and the machines of war. And while the items outlined in the folder were not conventional military armaments, they were still unquestionably weapons.

George took his time before saying, "I spent years developing fighters and other military aircraft for your stepfather. So, no, I don't categorically object to the idea of putting weapons on planes. But I am curious to know your reasons for including weapon systems in *this* particular aircraft. Sir."

George braced himself to be yelled at or even fired on the spot. But to his surprise, Kaiba did not respond immediately. And just as George began to worry that this silence was the lull before a truly titanic explosion of temper, the door behind him suddenly burst open.

Startled, George turned to see a black-haired boy, perhaps eleven or twelve years old, stalking into the office. The kid look vaguely familiar, although George couldn't immediately match the face with a name.

"What is it, Mokuba?" Kaiba demanded.

Unintimidated by the CEO's snappish tone, the boy folded his arms and said firmly, "It's lunchtime, Nisama."

"I'm in the middle of a conference here!" Kaiba snarled back in exasperated tones.

"Yeah, but Ms. Ryudou said it was just a design meeting," the boy retorted, jerking a thumb over his shoulder. "The sky's not going to fall if it gets postponed for an hour or two."

George looked through the open door behind Mokuba and caught a glimpse of Hotoke Ryudou - Kaiba's personal secretary and the woman frequently described by Kaiba Corp employees as 'the dragoness who guards the dragon's lair' - as she sat at her desk in the outer office. The secretary gave him a steely glare that warned him that he'd better not try to contradict Mokuba's statement.

Back when Gozaburo was CEO, Ryudou had been merely one of several junior secretaries. When Seto had taken over the company, he had promoted her to head secretary instead of dismissing or reassigning her like he had done with the majority of Gozaburo's personal staff. And while plenty of businessmen would have hired Ryudou merely for her looks and impressive breast size, George was quite certain that Seto Kaiba had hired her solely for her efficiency, intelligence, discretion, and no-nonsense attitude.

Still, Kaiba had an almost uncanny knack for combining form with function. And she WAS a very attractive young woman...

When Ryudou's dark eyes narrowed ominously, George realized that he had been staring her with a bit too much appreciation. With a guilty twitch, he hastily returned his attention to the conversation between Kaiba and his little brother, and fervently hoped that his next paycheck wouldn't be late due to some 'clerical' error.

Mokuba coughed significantly and said, "Do you remember what the doctor said about rest, regaining a healthy body weight, and regular meals?"

With an impatient gesture, Kaiba said, "Fine. I'll get something to eat when I'm not busy."

The younger Kaiba brother rolled his eyes and retorted, "Which basically means 'never'." He eyed his brother's slender frame and frowned worriedly. "You really need to eat more. C'mon and have some lunch with me. Please?"

George struggled to keep a straight face as he watched Kaiba, the terror of countless employees and competitors all over the world, get badgered and nagged into compliance by a stubborn twelve year old kid. But now that Mokuba brought up the subject, George could clearly see just how thin his employer was. And while Kaiba did an excellent job of hiding it, George now noticed the bone-deep fatigue behind that confident, arrogant front. To put it bluntly, Kaiba was dangerously exhausted. It was all too easy to forget that this forceful young man - George couldn't think of Seto as a mere teenager any more - had only just recovered from a major physical and/or mental breakdown and/or a coma.

Kaiba propped his hands on the desk, bowed his head in defeat, and growled, "All right, all right. Just let me finish up here."

"Ten minutes," Mokuba said sternly, then gave George an apologetic smile. "Sorry about the interruption, but like I said, doctor's orders."

"No problem. We were pretty much done anyway." He couldn't help grinning back at the younger brother.

"And you are?" Mokuba said, curiously.

"George Asamiya. I currently supervise several of the design groups in Kaiba Corps' aeronautics division."

"Asamiya was my first flight instructor," Kaiba muttered somewhat distractedly as he gathered the project designs into a tidy pile and tucked them away.

"You mean you taught Nisama how to fly? Cool!" Mokuba said, nearly bouncing with excitement.

"Yes. When he was... well, about your age, in fact. And he was probably the most promising student that I ever had."

"Bullshit," Kaiba said succinctly.

"Ha! I bet it's perfectly true! Nisama is the best!" the younger Kaiba said, practically glowing with brotherly pride. He then turned to his older brother and said, "Hey, since I'm twelve, does that mean that I can learn to fly, too?"

"We'll see," Kaiba replied in quelling tones.

Mokuba seemed totally undaunted by his brother's response. With a cheery goodbye to George and a conspiratorial grin at his brother's secretary, he ran out of the office with a parting shout of, "Remember, ten minutes!"

George shook his head in rueful amazement. So that was Seto Kaiba's younger brother. Even from this brief encounter, it was hard to believe how much the two brothers differed in personality and temperament. Mokuba's sunny nature was a shocking contrast to the CEO's cold, unrelenting intensity.

Behind him, he suddenly heard Kaiba speak, in a quiet voice devoid of its more usual acerbity or arrogance.

"By its very nature, a dragon cannot afford to be defenseless. It must be able to protect what it treasures. No matter what it takes. No matter what the cost."

For a moment, George had no idea what Kaiba was talking about. He turned to find his employer staring at the doorway where Mokuba had so recently been standing. Then with a jolt of shock, he realized that Kaiba, however indirectly, had given George the answer he had requested but never expected to receive.

Kaiba's expression revealed nothing as he handed the folder to George but didn't immediately release his grip.

"Mokuba doesn't know about this project. See that it stays that way."

So Kaiba's seemingly 'absent-minded' comment about Asamiya being his flight instructor hadn't been a careless slip at all. Kaiba had used that little tidbit of information to distract his little brother just long enough to allow the CEO to sweep the project designs out of sight.

When George nodded somberly, Kaiba allowed him to take the project folder.

As he quietly let himself out the office, George carefully considered Kaiba's response, then he thought about a dragon jet that had once been designed to carry only one person, but now would carry two - a plane whose performance would allow a superb pilot to test his skills to the limit, but at the same time could be flown by an inexperienced, but intelligent, youngster.

But most of all, he thought about the strangely haunted, yet fiercely resolute look in Kaiba's blue eyes as the young man gazed after his little brother.


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Two weeks later, George introduced the new project team to his employer. At the end of the meeting, after Kaiba had swept out of the room, George glanced around the conference table. The returning members of the project team generally looked rueful or resigned, depending on how much work they had to do. Saitoshi, one of the younger engineers, looked smug, having received a rare compliment from Kaiba on his upgrades to the avionic systems.

But just as George expected, virtually all the new members of the project team, the ones that had never worked with Seto Kaiba before, had varying sorts of dazed expressions on their faces.

George could sympathize whole-heartedly. They were the best people he could steal or hire. Experts in their particular areas, they weren't used to being mentally three steps behind anyone, especially a seventeen year old teenager. But then again, they had never worked with someone like Seto Kaiba.

George had no doubt that Kaiba was a force to be reckoned with in the corporate boardroom and the gaming world. But in George's personal opinion, it was in the technical realm where Kaiba really shone the brightest. His particular genius was in being able to transform innovative ideas and imaginative concepts into practical, profitable technology. It was a rare gift, indeed, and one that frequently left experienced scientists and engineers both dazzled and floundering in his wake.

That wasn't to say that Kaiba didn't listen to other people. A lot of the rich and powerful tended to follow the creed 'my way or else'. George knew from personal experience that Kaiba could be a real pain-in-the-ass prima donna when he wanted to be. But however unyielding Kaiba was in other areas of his life, at least on the technical side of things, Kaiba went for the 'my way, a better way, or else' approach.

Which meant that if you had something useful or constructive to say, he'd actually listen to you. And if Kaiba thought that your approach was better than his, he'd even go for it. But if Kaiba thought that you were wasting his valuable time... well, the result wouldn't be pretty.

As they prepared to leave the conference room, Kanto, an old college friend whom George had just lured away from one of Kaiba Corp's leading competitors, walked over to him and said, "Is Kaiba ALWAYS like that? Or was he simply trying to impress us with his technical expertise?"

George heard a few muffled snickers behind him from the more experienced project members.

"Were you impressed?" he asked mildly.

"Hell, yes," Kanto admitted, although somewhat grudgingly.

George grinned and patted his old classmate on the shoulder.

"No, our boss wasn't going out of his way to impress you." He leaned a bit closer to Kanto and added, "Confidentially, I think he was trying to take it slow for you new guys."


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George double-checked the last set of test results, then leaned back in his chair with an exhausted whoosh of relief and satisfaction. Finally, he leaned forward, grabbed his phone, and made a long anticipated call.

"Kaiba," came the curt reply.

"It's ready, sir."


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George rose to his feet as his employer stalked into his office. Dressed in a white trenchcoat, Seto Kaiba looked as sleek, graceful, and dangerous as the plane he had created. The two would be a perfect match. And that was exactly as it should be.

"Status?" Kaiba barked at him.

"The engines and all other systems have been fully tested. But as you specifically ordered, the plane itself has never actually been flown."

"Good."

In that particular regard, Kaiba had left nothing to chance. Only Kaiba had the master passcodes to the jet's systems. Individual components could be tested, but there was no way that jet was going to leave the ground without his express permission. Considering how much his own fingers itched to fly that plane, George had to admit that Kaiba's precautions made a certain amount of sense.

So far, everything on the plane checked out perfectly. George had only one problem with the upcoming test flight.

"Are you *sure* you want to do this, Mr. Kaiba?"

His employer turned his head slightly and gave George a quelling stare.

"Quite sure. Do you have a problem with it?"

"Sir, with all due respect, taking a completely untested experimental jet plane out on its maiden flight is a job for a test pilot, not the CEO of the corporation!"

"Are you saying that I'm not competent to fly this jet?" Kaiba in silky tones.

"No, of course not. It's not a matter of IF you can fly it. I know you can. The question is whether you SHOULD fly it. First flights are always risky. No matter how many computer simulations we run, no matter how thoroughly we test on the ground, there's always a chance of something going wrong in the air."

"I know that."

"But..."

"Are you telling me that you lack confidence in my design?"

"No, sir!"

"Do you lack confidence in your team's work?"

"No! Of course not! But, if anything should happen to you..."

"I'll take full responsibility. You don't need to worry about getting fired if I die," Kaiba said with an impatient wave of his hand.

"I'm not concerned about my job! I'm worried about your safety!" George said in exasperation.

Kaiba gave him a slightly malicious smirk. "Oh, really? Or is that just a convenient excuse so you can fly this jet yourself?"

"Of course, I would love to fly that jet. Who wouldn't? But I'm not trying to..." Then realizing how neatly he had been sidetracked and put on the defensive, George flushed and cursed himself for forgetting that it wasn't Kaiba's physical reflexes, but rather his brains that made the young man so formidable.

Returning doggedly to his original point, George said, "I'm just saying that as CEO of Kaiba Corp, it's really not your job to take these sorts of risks. There are plenty of people who have the skill to test-fly this plane. But there are precious few people who can successfully run a business like Kaiba Corp. And there are things that only YOU are capable of doing!"

"I'm hardly indispensable or irreplaceable," Kaiba said coldly. "And under the right conditions, anyone can be expendable."

Somehow the conversation had veered away from the original subject of Kaiba's safety and gone off into much more personal - and therefore much more dangerous - direction.

But something in the cold, clinical way Kaiba spoke about himself brought back unpleasant memories for George - old memories of frustration and helplessness as he watched a child, who should have out laughing and playing with other children, push himself mercilessly day after day as he fought to meet a seemingly impossible deadline. And George felt a fresh surge of frustration, and perhaps even anger, because Kaiba, despite his brilliant, analytical mind, didn't really seem to grasp the true reason for George's concern.

The combination of these old and new emotions drove George to continue arguing when normally, he would have given up.

"This isn't a matter of who's expendable or not! Don't you understand how important you are to us?" And before Kaiba could make a cutting comment, George continued quickly, "And not merely because you're the one paying our salaries. You're the one who managed to turn this company in a whole new direction." George gestured toward the engineers, technicians, and mechanics bustling around in the hangar outside his office. "These guys were never interested in building weapons that killed people. They simply love building machines that fly, and fly well. You made it possible for them to do that without hurting others.

"Yes, there are people who have both the will and the business acumen to make Kaiba Corporation a profitable company. But none of them have your sense of vision, your strength of conviction. You have a tremendous gift for making seemingly impossible things possible. But more importantly, you have the ability to make others believe it, too. And that's what makes you special to us! THAT's why we're concerned about your safety and why we want someone else to do the test flight. Don't you get it? We're trying to protect you!"

For the first time, George saw Seto Kaiba look totally nonplussed, and he felt a guilty sort of satisfaction that he had actually managed to catch his genius employer completely off-guard.

Kaiba stared blankly at him for a moment or two, as if struggling to make sense of what George had just said, then the the corners of Kaiba's mouth twitched upward in the merest hint of what might have been an appreciative smile. The expression vanished as quickly as it had appeared, to be replaced by Kaiba's usual cold, cynical expression.

"Your objections are duly noted, but my decision stands. As for Kaiba Corp, I've already made contingency plans," Kaiba replied curtly.

Before George could respond, Kaiba continued in a noticeably milder tone, "I... appreciate the sentiment. And in other situations, I might even be willing to concede the point. But not this time. Not with this plane."

Because he had managed to get his point across - part of it, anyway - and because he had some idea what this aircraft meant to Kaiba, especially the dreams and hopes it somehow embodied for the young CEO, George shrugged and finally let the topic drop.

He led Kaiba out into the darkened hangar. The technicians, usually so talkative, was strangely silent, as if they, too, sensed something momentous in the air. A strangely reverent hush settled over the observers as George reached out and flicked a switch.

The brilliant white floodlights came on, one by one, throwing great pools of light. They started at the rear of the aircraft, illuminated the long, sinuous curves of its body and the sharp sweeping edges of its wings, and then finally the gleaming closed cockpit.

Finally, the Kaiba Corp X-BEWD stood revealed in all its silvery white glory.

He heard his employer take a slow, deep breath of satisfaction, and had no problem understanding why. While obviously mechanical in nature, the aircraft also seemed uncannily... alive. Behind him, he could hear the project team speaking in low, hushed whispers, as if afraid of waking the metallic beast that sat in the light, waiting for its creator and master.

George stood back respectfully and watched as Seto Kaiba slowly approached the waiting jet. And perhaps he was imagining things, but he could almost swear that he saw Kaiba's hand tremble ever so slightly when he raised his hand to touch the lethal-looking spikes framing the aircraft's 'jaw'.

He and the project team knew that jet inside and out, had sweated over every single detail - every structural panel and circuit board, every millimeter of wiring. Kaiba, of course, was intimately familiar with every aspect of the aircraft. The CEO had seen the Blue Eyes jet in person numerous times during construction, and had viewed the completed version on blueprints, computer models, and even in virtual reality.

So why did George have the weird sensation that Kaiba was seeing something... different... this time around as he stood before the completed X-BEWD?

Everyone remained silent as their employer ran his hand along the segmented neck and body, which mimicked the sinuous curves of the Blue Eyes White Dragon as closely as current technology would allow. He didn't linger, but moved on, turning his attention to the sweeping edges of the great white wings.

George could only begin to guess what sorts of emotions were going through his employer at this moment. Surely Kaiba felt the understandable pride any creator would have toward such a magnificent creation, along with the equally understandable anticipation any pilot would feel at the prospect of guiding that creation into the wide open skies.

That same sort of pride and anticipation was clearly felt by the members of the project team as they watched their CEO examine the X-BEWD. Anyone could slap a few jets onto a dragon-shaped fuselage and call it a dragon jet. And any halfway decent aerospace engineer could probably make such a contraption fly. But it took someone of Seto Kaiba's vision and genius to make such a thing beautiful, a superlative combination of fantasy and function. This jet wasn't merely a pretty looking rich man's toy. It could out-fly virtually any military fighter jet currently on the market.

In a way, the X-BEWD could be considered both the crowning masterpiece and the final fanfare of the now defunct Kaiba Corporation's military aircraft division. Everything learned over decades of aircraft design had been poured into this single plane.

While Kaiba's face betrayed little obvious emotion, there was no mistaking the fierce joy and satisfaction in his blue eyes as he methodically worked his way down the sleek silvery body of the X-BEWD.

Finally, after reaching the tip of the tail, Kaiba stepped back and stared silently at the X-BEWD for several minutes. He then looked at George and gave him a curt nod.

Taking this as his cue to start, George gestured for the hangar doors to be opened. The mechanics moved forward to prepare the jet for towing onto the tarmac, but they froze in mid-step as Kaiba imperiously raised his hand, then waved everyone out of the area.

The ensuing silence was broken by Kaiba's crisp, decisive voice.

"Blue Eyes."

The master called and the beast answered. A subdued hum filled the air as the X-BEWD's systems activated.

"Initiate startup."

A low rumble filled the air as systems switched from standby and the engine began their warmup sequence.

Without a word, Kaiba turned and walked toward the open hangar doors. The X-BEWD pivoted precisely, then taxied smoothly after him. Machine followed man as they both emerged from the hangar, with George and the rest of the test team following at a cautious distance.

The combination of a moderate breeze and the exhaust from the jet engines set Kaiba's white trenchcoat fluttering as he ordered the X-BEWD to open its cockpit. Almost before Kaiba finished speaking, the cockpit canopy rose and the plane's 'neck' curved downward to allow its pilot easy access.

"Initiate preflight."

The engines' sound changed from a rumble to a steady roar as the aircraft began to prep itself for flight. As George and the others hastily backed away, Kaiba stood unflinchingly amid the gale created by the increasing backwash from the revving jet engines.

The CEO seemed to instinctively know exactly when the X-BEWD was ready. Ignoring the built-in ladder, Kaiba leapt effortlessly into the open cockpit. The canopy closed, the 'neck' flexed upward, and the jet lifted its 'head' off the ground. More than ever, the X-BEWD looked like a legendary beast brought to life.

Its engines growled even louder, as if impatient to shake the dust of the earth from its feet and soar into the skies for which it was created.

The tower radioed in, "Ready whenever you are, Mr. Kaiba."

The jet's only response was to crouch slightly and angle its wings, then the engines howled as the X-BEWD launched itself skyward.

The thunderous roar nearly drowned out the cheers of the assembled crew as the silvery beast headed straight upward and left the ground far behind.

A few seconds later, the X-BEWD made a flawless transition from vertical to horizontal flight. It tucked its 'legs' close to the body, afterburners kicked in, and the jet accelerated into the clear blue sky.


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Once in the air, the control tower and the project team heard virtually nothing from Kaiba. They knew from the radar track that the X-BEWD hadn't blown up or crashed, so it was reasonable to assume that the test flight was going okay. Other than that, they were forced to content themselves with the telemetry data transmitted from the jet's onboard sensors.

Two hours later, Kaiba and his dragon finally returned to earth.

The X-BEWD swept toward them, hovered overhead for a moment, then just like its draconic namesake, landed amid a roar of sound and wind. Its 'legs' stretched downward to touch the ground, then flexed as the jet settled gracefully on the tarmac.

The project team edged closer as the engines powered down. The 'neck' lowered, the cockpit opened, and Kaiba rose from the pilot's seat, only to freeze as the sound of spontaneous applause and cheering filled the air.

His foot poised on the edge of the cockpit, he just stood there and stared down at them with a slight baffled expression on his face as he watched the entire project team - engineers, scientists, mechanics, and flight crew - jumping around, shouting, waving their arms, and basically acting like fans at a championship baseball game.

For a few seconds, it looked as if he might unleash some blistering comments about grown adults acting like total idiots, but the impulse abruptly vanished when he began to listen to what they were actually shouting.

George saw when it all began to sink in, when Seto Kaiba finally realized that the project team wasn't merely celebrating the success of the X-BEWD, but for some strange unfathomable reason, they were also cheering HIM.

He allowed the minor riot to continue for a few more minutes, then said coolly, "If you're quite through with the party..."

And even though Kaiba didn't raise his voice, everyone quickly fell silent.

Kaiba eyed them, one eyebrow raised, then with an amused smirk, he drily announced, "Congratulations, gentlemen, ladies. It works, so I suppose you can all keep your jobs."

A quick ripple of laughter swept through the crowd.

He raised a finger and they fell silent again. "But, that doesn't mean you can become lazy and complacent. With this aircraft, you've proven that you represent the cutting edge of the aviation industry. But you know as well as I do that to stay there, we must constantly strive to improve, to never be satisfied with merely 'good enough'. You've shown me what you're capable of doing. I want to see how much further you can go." The grin that accompanied that little speech was both encouragement and fierce challenge.

When Kaiba leapt down onto the tarmac, he was instantly mobbed by the project team. Everyone started demanding detailed feedback on the X-BEWD's performance, his impressions as pilot, suggestions for improvements...

Several hours later, when the dust had settled and most of the project team had either gone home for a well deserved rest or scuttled back to their desks to work on problems or further improvements, George finally had a chance to talk privately to Kaiba.

"Always keep moving forward, hm?"

Kaiba, his eyes still on the X-BEWD, replied, "That's right. If you stand still in this world, you'll get plowed under and buried." He turned to George, blue eyes glittering in the partially darkened hangar. "Isn't that the law of nature? Evolve or die?"

"Hard to argue with that, I suppose."

Kaiba abruptly changed topics.

"You have one week to get the problems fixed. As for any upgrades, that will have to wait until after the Battle City tournament."

"One week? And what Battle City tournament?"

Kaiba snorted, then said, "The Duel Monster tournament that I'm holding in Domino City."

"Duel Monsters? Isn't that some sort of card game?"

"Some sort," Kaiba said drily. "I'm going to be busy running a few final tests on the new Duel Disk system, so you're going to have to handle things on this end." In a swirl of white, Kaiba turned and headed toward the waiting car.

"So what happens in a week?" George called after him.

Kaiba paused in the doorway. Without looking, he said, "At the end of next week, the X-BEWD goes to Alcatraz."

~~ the end ~~


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AUTHOR'S SOAPBOX 1: Kaiba and courtesy

Yes, I know that it sound like an oxymoron. Yes, Kaiba can be incredibly callous and rude at times. But there's also some pretty clear evidence (in the subbed anime, at least) that Kaiba is quite capable of reasonable civility. In the Doom story arc, he actually thanks people or expresses appreciation on at least two occasions. The first is when Isono (Roland in the dub) and the other black-suited guy express their loyalty to him even after Dartz takes over Kaiba Corp. The second is when the captain of US aircraft carrier offers transportation and support to Dartz's citadel. Granted, the subtitles could be all wrong, but at least he *acts* semi-politely.

It's also interesting to note that when Kaiba and Yami are breaking into the Doom-occupied Kaiba Corp building, Rebecca hacks her way into the security system to help them. But instead of getting mad at her for insulting his computer security, he says that he'll think about it when Rebecca offers to write a better program for him. So this seems to be pretty clear evidence that Kaiba is capable of listening to other people in the right circumstances.

So while it's hard to picture Kaiba being nice-nice, I really don't think that he's nearly as abrasive as many people and the US edited dub make him out to be. He apparently reserves that treatment for specific persons (i.e., Yami, Jounouchi, other duelists, etc.). Unfortunately, most of the times we see Kaiba, he's in some sort of high-stress situations, which would ruin almost anybody's manners. ^_-


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AUTHOR'S SOAPBOX 2: Kaiba and loyalty

It's also pretty clear (from the anime, at least) that Kaiba is capable of inspiring a great deal of loyalty in people besides Mokuba. A prime example is Isono and his fellow black-suited assistant/gofer. Just consider how many times they've been shot at, nearly blown up, and otherwise endangered throughout the series! ^_^ Now, one could argue that Kaiba pays them to take such risks, but IMHO, Isono and the other guy go well beyond the call of duty. And while Isono acts like a ditz at times, he seems to have a variety of useful skills (e.g., piloting, etc). And I seriously doubt that Kaiba would tolerate incompetence in the people around him.

Considering the difficulties in running a multinational corporation, I think that Kaiba definitely has to have at least a small, highly loyal and dedicated personal staff (i.e., a secretary, personal assistants, etc.) simply in order to function. I mean, if Bill Gates gets over 3 million pieces of spam a DAY, there's really no way that Kaiba could handle all his own correspondence. Also, despite his genius and determination, I think it would be extremely difficult for Kaiba to run Kaiba Corp effectively without support and/or acceptance from a majority of the employees, especially in view of his youth.

There's also some evidence that Kaiba does value his employees in return. In the Doom arc, Kaiba sends some of his security people to a museum for information. Kaiba reacts ever so slightly (just the faintest freeze/twitch) when the security guy he's talking to over the computer is attacked by the enemy.


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The Full Disclaimer
All names, likenesses, and rights of Yu-Gi-Oh! are trademarks, copyright, and property of Kazuki Takahashi and legally associated parties. The characters and associated materials of these works are used WITHOUT permission for the purpose of entertainment only. This work of fiction is not meant for sale or profit.
Original portion of the fiction included here is considered to be the sole property and copyrighted to the author.


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