So I finally got off my lazy ass and wrote the chapter as per the poll. Holy crap, it's the apocalypse!

12/17/07: I would like to add my thanks to everyone who reviewed in Chapter Five -- including SBB, Haunted Obsidian, DigitalGirl, Seldavia, quirien, and...LAURA!

You need to come out of your shell, Laura. C'mon, I don't bite. ;)

"Fever dreams can only haunt you

'Til the fever breaks

They can only haunt you

'Til the fever breaks

They can only haunt you

'Til the fever breaks

They can only haunt you beneath your skin"

-- "Fever Dreams" by Dashboard Confessional


"Mycoplasma pneumonia."

If Batou had eyes, he would be blinking. "The what now?"

Akio made an indelicate noise, and placed his black bag on the kitchen table. "More commonly known as 'walking pneumonia.' He has enlarged lymph nodes, and a slightly inflamed eardrum. His fever is a bit high for it, though."

"Are you sure?" Motoko demanded.

"Personally? Yes. But making a true diagnosis would be impossible without some testing."

"What kind of testing?"

"His lungs don't sound unusual, so to be absolutely certain I'd have to have some chest x-rays or a blood test." He opened up his bag, and brought out a small sterile container with something soggy on the inside. "Failing that however, an examination of his sputum does just fine."

As Batou made gagging noises over the thought, Pazu, nursing of a cup of coffee in the corner, asked, "What is this when it hits home?"

"Very mild, though Togusa probably won't think so. He's been healthy, so this should blow over in about a week."


"The coughing will likely linger for the rest of the month."

"That'll make him so happy," Saito murmured.


(thirty minutes before)

"I want to go home."

Togusa's hoarse voice held none of its usual vigor; he appeared more sullen than determined, slumped in the couch as he was.

Akio felt sorrier for him than ever, but he continued relentlessly. "'Gold cats are worse than black,'" he quoted to his patient. "Remember? Do you really want to give your kids this?"

Togusa glared at him. "You said this was mild!"

"For an adult, yes. I don't want to risk your children, and neither do you. Anyway, it's not really for that long. Only six days."

"Only six days?!"



Togusa began spluttering, and tried to get up at the same time. Akio raised up one finger and, with no particular effort, used it to push him back down.

"Minimum," he said.



"How long until he's back in action?" Motoko asked.

"Making him do anything as strenuous as paperwork probably wouldn't be a good idea."

"What would happen if we suited him up and threw him into a combat situation?"

"He would die," Akio supplied immediately.

She stared at him violently. "You said this was mild!"

"As he is now, yes. But that doesn't mean he still isn't in bad shape. He's going to be extremely dizzy for next few days; that alone would probably be a death sentence for him, given the amount of energy and attention I imagine he would have to expend during a fire-fight." His gaze became slightly amused. "You don't really know that much about normal humans do you?"

Motoko worked her brain furiously for a snappy retort. Nothing was forthcoming. Damn.

"No duties for the rest of the week," Akio said. "Which brings me to my regretful goodbye; I need to drop the sample off at the hospital for it to be tested, and then once the results are in, it's off to bed for me. Especially since it is now two in the morning." He put the sputum sample back in his bag. "I can find my way out," he said when Pazu stood.

And then he left.


"He said the only thing we were doing wrong was not giving Togusa enough water."

Major accepted this with thinning lips. "Anything else?"

Saito considered mentioning what else Akio had said -- and decided against it. He liked breathing as hobby, and being forced to stop would be distressing. "Ah -- no, Major. That was it."

The two stood outside the door to the briefing room, pretending not to be having a fight. Saito really couldn't understand what the problem was; Major had been twitchy and snarky ever since the doctor had left. The only thing he could think of that would cause such a thing was that nasty comment about humans, but he knew she wouldn't let something like that get to her.

It was with that in mind that he handed her the water bottle six-pack. Without a word, she took it from him and entered the briefing room.

Pausing for a moment to let her eyes adjust to the gloom, Motoko wondered if she ought to be here at all. Batou would be far better at this than she. She always had to force herself to make personal connections with people; and it showed. She was probably the last person Togusa needed right now. He was in no state to combat his prickly commander; she ought not to make him strain himself.

Prickly, ha ha. That was a polite way of putting it. "Ungrateful bitch" was an appellation given to Motoko frequently; one she earned often, she would admit.

Togusa was lying down, but restlessly. He shifted under his blankets -- trying to find a new position, or in the grips of some sort of nightmare. She went to his side and set the water bottles down on the table before taking her spot at the sofa cushions perpendicular to his head. The chair had been put away.

That was the problem with peace and quiet, she thought. It allowed for too much introspection.


It used to be that it took up to five days for a culture to be stained and grown. Now, it only took three hours.

Akio silently blessed the old woman that had reduced the culture-test to that time. As he silently added the stain to the sample he had taken from Togusa, he was already thinking of the bench three feet behind and to the left of him. Once he put this little darling into the oven, he would be able to get out some quality naptime...

He slid the prepared culture into the incubator and retreated to the bench to curl up underneath his lab coat. Three glorious hours of sleep waited.


The sun had not yet risen. Instead, strange silver light lay over everything, leaving shadows in the alleys and around corners. The colors on the signs had been turned to pastels, pinks and reds and yellows dazzling his vision.

Not many people were up yet; a jogger passed him by as he slowly walked on the grass, taking in the long-missed views. He had wondered these streets for so long -- and then they had taken him away...

His stomach rumbled. He wished he hadn't had to leave his supplies behind; now he would have to scrounge, and if there was one good thing about the white place it was that there was food.

The wind was blowing too, and it was cold to begin with. His clothes were too thin for this weather; another problem he would have to deal with. Silently using the curses he had learned from the elder children, he crouched behind a hedge located by the path. He didn't know where he was, or where he was going; he was probably going to freeze and starve a little; and he didn't have any money. Worse, he couldn't read the signs, written as they were in Japanese.

Why couldn't there be more English? He had learned English as easily as breathing, but kanji and hiragana defeated him still.

Still on his haunches, he picked up a stick and began drawing in the dirt in front of himself. The eggs first, and then bacon. The only good breakfast he remembered having.

He wished he could have it now.


The voice made him freeze, muscles seizing, joints melding together crudely. Damn! They had found him; they were going to take him away again--

The man who had called out to him strode with impatient steps until his shadow loomed large.

"Hey. Kid. What are you doing here?"

The child was only able to stare up at him dumbly. His mouth refused to work, as if his vocal cords had been cut. This didn't make sense --

The man scowled at him, making him shrink back. The man's eyes were strange. They reminded him of the tops you found on plastic water bottles -- white, opaque. Just like his hair. Why were there bottle tops in this man's face? Where were his real eyes?

"What -- can't talk? Fantastic, a dummy." He looked down at the dirt, the picture drawn there. "That what you had for breakfast this morning?"

The child shook his head frantically. The sheer fright this man generated inside him forbid communication, and also demanded it. Head-bobbing seemed the way to go.

The man sighed. "Where are your parents?"

...Parents? What were 'parents'?

"They'll be looking for you, anyway. C'mon." Without really asking, the man picked him up and stepped over the hedge. With strong, precise strides, the man carried him down the sidewalk. "By the way," he said, "Why are do you have gold eyes?"

And it ends there. With a mystery. sobs Dammit, I wanted seven pages, not five!