Six

A Xenosaga fanfic by Princess Artemis

© copyright S.D. Green 2006, 2007 except what is clearly the property and © copyright Namco/Bandai and Monolithsoft

Takes place slightly over six months after Xenosaga II ends. I realize I've played a little loose with the timeline (as pertains to Xenosaga III—the timing is right for the laws) and locations, but don't let it bother too much, as it's neither important to this story nor to the game, really.

---

Jin and chaos walked into the café where Allen had indicated he would meet them. The restaurant was on Fifth Jerusalem, in a wealthy town near Bormeo. The café itself seemed fairly low-key, but was not without its own air of refinement. It was quiet, its patrons dressed in unusually archaic suits and elegant dresses, talking softly amongst one another. Jin looked around, located Allen by the color of his hair, for he wore the same type of clothes as the rest of the patrons, and started off in his direction. chaos followed him toward the closest thing the well-lit café had to a dark corner.

When Allen noticed the two approaching, his expression changed to something akin to relief mixed with a poor excuse for a smile. He looked utterly dejected, which was unusual, although both Jin and chaos had seen him upset before. Just not this upset. He was fidgeting with an otherwise untouched glass of water, and finally waved them over.

Jin sat first, then chaos, across from Allen. He stopped playing with his glass and said, "Thanks for coming, guys. I'm really glad you agreed to come out all this way."

"It was no trouble," Jin said.

chaos nodded. "I hope there's something we can do to help; your message sounded serious."

"Yeah, it is," Allen said, hanging his head. Jin thought it looked very uncomfortable with the stiff collar Allen wore, but he didn't seem to be bothered by it.

"What is it?" chaos asked.

"Oh, it's, it's...it's awful and it's really interfering with work. You know, after the Chief left, I was promoted in her place. Chief of Vector's First R & D Division...but it doesn't really mean much when half the division hates me for pulling truly horrific practical jokes I had nothing to do with and the rest hardly hear me even if I shout."

Jin raised a brow. "That must be an exaggeration, Allen."

Allen shrugged. "Maybe, about the shouting, but they really are angry with me. Did you hear a while back there was a rumor of a lovelorn Vector employee committing suicide because his boss never noticed him? And that his ghost haunted the city at night?"

"I remember hearing something like that on Second Miltia," chaos said with a nod.

Allen fished around inside his charcoal suit, then pulled a photograph out of a hidden pocket. "See? This is what John Bell found in a closet about a week after the Chief quit. He said that there was a sudden stench, and now he won't speak to me." He set the photo down so that Jin and chaos could see it easily.

"Good lord," Jin exhaled, picking up the photograph. It depicted Allen, his face slashed nearly beyond recognition, with both wrists slit. Copious blood pooled beneath him, and he appeared to be holding a blood-stained book.

chaos studied the photo over Jin's shoulder, sitting up a bit to get a better view. Jin muttered an apology to the shorter man and set the photo down. After a while, chaos said, "How could they find something like this?"

"Indeed. It's self-evident that you're still alive."

Allen twisted his fingers. "I have no idea. But they did, several other people saw it, and even I smelled it. Whatever that, that, that thing is, it was solid enough that they had to carry it out and they even did an autopsy. It's impossible, but that's my body! And worse than that, several Vector employees claim that I'm haunting them, that I drip blood all over their work, walk through walls and stare at them while they're trying to relax! Then they see me and get angry and tell me to cut it out, but I'm not doing anything. I wouldn't do something like that!"

chaos reached over and set a gloved hand on Allen's arm. "I believe you. I know you wouldn't do something that cruel."

"It does present an interesting problem though," Jin said, his hand on his chin. "Who would do this? How could they cause so-called hauntings?"

Allen shrugged, his expression despairing. "Before the Chief left, I couldn't tell you who would hate me enough to do something that mean. Most employees who weren't so busy teasing me about the Chief hardly noticed if I was around or not. After? I could give you a list a hundred feet long. There's a lot of bad blood between me and many people in First Division." He finally took a tiny sip of water. "At least it hasn't seemed to have gone past First Division. Miyuki says she's heard rumors, but that no one in Second Division has seen anything like this.

"What really puzzles me, though, is that whoever is responsible knows things about me that I haven't told anyone. And they're typing it on screens, writing it all over the walls in blood." Allen snorted a little. "Of course, I never see any of this, and that just makes people more suspicious."

"This," chaos indicated the photograph, "is only part of the problem, right?"

Allen nodded. "Yeah. Everyone else, I mean, everyone I'm not supposedly terrifying in their sleep, well, they don't see me. Really. I know I tend to be easy to overlook, but it's really bad now. Sometimes I'll say something directly to someone while standing right in front of them, and they'll just look and act like they didn't hear a thing. And if by some miracle they do hear me, I have to repeat myself two or three times. They act like they never saw or heard me in the first place, like I wasn't even there at all! It's hard to describe. It's almost impossible to do my job if no one can see or hear me. The KOS-MOS project has practically ground to a halt because of this."

"And this has only been happening since Shion left Vector?" Jin asked.

Allen nodded. "I tried contacting her a couple times, but apparently she can't see or hear me either. She knows it's me because of the ID, but I guess she just gets static...she was really annoyed the last time I tried calling, so I stopped."

"Is there anything else we may need to know in order to solve this mystery?" Jin asked.

"Uh...maybe. I didn't bring any of it with me, though. Some of it's personal," Allen said. "If you think it would help, you can come to my house and see it..." He trailed off, with a distinct look in his blue eyes that said he hoped they wouldn't need anything more.

"Anything else probably would help," chaos said, an apology in his voice.

Allen nodded stiffly. "Right, OK. Do you need a ride?"

"Yeah. We took a public transport here," chaos answered.

"All right, um, come with me then."

---

Allen's vehicle wasn't anything out of the ordinary, which for some reason surprised Jin. Jin took the passenger seat while chaos opted for the back seat. When they sat down and were on their way, Jin commented on it and said, "I can't help but feel like I was being stared at in that café."

Allen dipped his head by way of apology. "Most people here haven't ever seen anyone in a green and purple kimono before. The dragons on the side probably didn't help either."

chaos laughed a bit. "They must have thought my clothes are atrocious!" He was wearing a small yellow jacket, white pants, and a navy body suit along with his usual gloves.

"Ah, well, for here...uh, they are. Sorry, chaos. To, um, us, you look like you're wearing a jacket over really colorful underwear." Allen scratched the hair at the nape of his neck. "I'm sorry people stared."

"It's not your fault," Jin said. "Is this your home town?"

"It's close. The fashion sense is the same, though. It was a little weird going to University of Bormeo...the first and last time I ever stood out, I think."

"Why is that?"

Allen shrugged. "Apparently this is the only place in the galaxy where people wear suits like this. The University of Bormeo was full of people wearing clothes I thought looked really strange...but I guess I was the one standing out. This is comfortable for me, though, and I'd just look like a fool trying to wear something I'm not comfortable in. There's no need for me to make myself look any more foolish than I already do." After a pause, Allen added, "Don't say it! I'm very comfortable in this!"

Jin opened his mouth, then closed it, while chaos covered his smile with a hand and tried to suppress his chuckles.

Finally, Jin crossed his arms, tucking his hands into the sleeves of his kimono, and said quite primly, "I didn't say anything." He had thought it though; that collar looked like a fancy garrote to him.

"I didn't say anything about you looking more foolish than usual, either," chaos said, leaning forward from the back seat.

Allen shot chaos a dirty look, which prompted Jin to smile a bit and chaos to duck his head and sit back in his seat, stifling another snicker. Allen sighed. "I guess I sort of walked into that. But you knew what I meant, chaos!"

"Yeah, I knew. I just thought it would make you feel better if we acted normally for a bit."

Allen found a tissue, wadded it up, and threw it back at chaos. chaos started laughing in earnest then.

"That's not funny! Teasing me does not make me feel better!" The wadded up tissue bounced neatly off the top of Allen's head. "Hey!"

The tissue pegged chaos right on the nose. "You started it," chaos declared as he returned fire.

Jin looked at his two companions and said, "Children, behave yourselves." The tissue had ricocheted off Allen's cheek and lodged itself behind Jin's ear.

Suddenly Allen had to ward off a bout of giggles, and chaos didn't even bother.

---

The vehicle stopped some way into a densely foliated area, a forest well outside the city limits and far from civilization. Jin and chaos exited the vehicle and looked around while Allen secured it and got out as well. While Allen went to fetch something from the trunk of his vehicle, Jin walked over to a tall tree, a conifer. He set a hand on it, then looked over at Allen. "This is a beautiful area. It feels ancient."

Allen nodded, hefting a crossbow with a stock that resembled a rifle over his shoulder. "It is. It's on the edge of a small old growth forest. There aren't many areas like this left in this part of Fifth Jerusalem. Being the capital planet of the Galactic Federation has made it difficult to hold onto places like this."

"Expecting a fight?" chaos asked, pointing to the crossbow.

"Oh, uh, not really, but it's always better to be safe, right? My house isn't far from here, but it's still a forest. Large animals live in forests, and I've needed to scare a few off before."

"Then I'm glad I brought my katana," Jin said. "Lead the way, Allen."

"Yeah. Just, please, don't get trigger-happy with your Connection Gear if you brought it, OK? I try to keep the trail clear."

chaos said, "I brought mine; I won't go randomly blowing things up."

"Thanks. God, I don't even want to know what would happen if the Chief ever came here. It was bad enough when Togashi and Miyuki visited once. I think we had to break hers to stop her from trying to vaporize everything in a hundred foot radius."

Jin just inclined his head to indicate he thought Shion was a bit on the trigger-happy side as well. Allen nodded once, held his crossbow ready, and started off down the trail.

As Allen had said, the trail was well kept and easy to traverse. The forest swiftly swallowed them and the dappled sunlight that fell from above danced on undergrowth. It was cool beneath the eaves of the tall trees. After about ten minutes into the hike, Jin asked, "How did you come to own a house in an area like this?"

Allen shrugged slightly, and answered in a soft voice, "It's part of my inheritance. Well...inheritance isn't quite the right word for it. The property has been in my family for a long time; it used to be a vacation home. My parents gave it to me because it's near Bormeo."

"The property?"

"Um, yeah. I own this trail, several acres on both sides of it, and a good chunk of land around my house." Allen started fidgeting, fiddling with the loading mechanism of his crossbow.

"That's...ah..." Jin found himself at a loss for words. That was not something he had expected to find out about Allen; he didn't act like he had such extraordinary wealth. Just based on the property he had seen, Jin guessed that Allen was so rich he wouldn't have to work unless he wanted to.

Again, Allen shrugged. He seemed to be getting nervous again. "That's...ah...one of the, the things that, maybe, you might need to know. I don't know if you had heard that my family is 'wealthy'..."

Jin nodded. "Shion mentioned that she had heard such."

"Well, ah, that's really an understatement. They're disgustingly rich. They just don't really spend a lot, and when they do it's anonymous so they aren't well known. They have the money to pay for anonymity. You know how I got into the University of Bormeo?"

"How?" chaos asked, brushing aside a low hanging tree branch.

"They arranged to anonymously renovate the entire University and add a new college building if they'd admit me. I didn't find out until I'd been there for three years. I thought I'd actually got in on my own merits, even if they paid for my tuition." Allen sneered. It was an ugly and unexpected expression on him. "They wanted me gone so badly they gave me this house, one fifth of their fortune, and bought my way into Bormeo.

"And that's not all—I did a little digging into my records after finding out about the arrangement with Bormeo. They cut me off. I've been disowned, and their will now specifies their entire estate will be left to, to, animals, to the upkeep and care of their exotic pets." Allen was visibly shaking with rage, so chaos very carefully pulled the crossbow out of his hands lest he accidentally fire it and impale his foot with a bolt.

"There's even more than that!" Allen shouted as he walked. "I don't care if their damn pets get what would have been mine, that doesn't matter. I don't care about the money or the heirlooms, that's nothing. There's a restraining order! If I so much as query the U.M.N. for an address to send them a birthday card, I'll be arrested! I have no idea where they are. They did that after I found out about the thing with Bormeo.

"They hate me. And all I did to deserve it was not display any damned difference from their God-damned genetic engineering."

chaos grasped Allen's arm, preventing him from storming the rest of the way down the path. "Do you mean they are Life Recycling variants, or that you are?" His voice was soft and modulated, calm.

Some of chaos' calm seemed to reach Allen, as he stopped shaking so hard and his voice lowered. "Both," he said, chewing on his lower lip. "For a long time I thought it was just them. They had to have medical intervention to have me; I guess because whatever they had changed about themselves made it almost impossible for them to have children. But I don't show any unusual traits, not really. I didn't inherit my mother's inhuman, engineered talent for Ether, or my father's strength and way with animals. Just the opposite, actually. Both of them had their intelligence artificially enhanced. I didn't inherit that either...but whatever engineering they did on me, it didn't take. Or if it did, I don't know how it affects me. They tried to get their traits to show, though. They didn't believe the engineers that I likely hadn't inherited their genes, spent too damned much money on everything involved with me, and didn't want to waste it. They tried really hard, so hard that I got sick from it. I spent a long time with doctors removing nanomachines, only to get stuck having more installed until I got sick again and had to have them removed, too. That is, until the Species Preservation Act was passed. I guess there were enough Ether machines left over, so I never had any installed as an adult. I think they hate me because they started seeing me as nothing but a money pit. And I hate them and I don't trust mutants because of them...I knew they were and I knew they were hurting me and I didn't understand why."

Jin asked, "When did you discover you were a variant?" He was careful to use the most neutral term, although if what Allen were saying were accurate, he would be better described as a victim and his parents as überhumans or mutants.

Allen turned away and started walking much slower down the trail. "The first time I visited the Kukai Foundation, although if I had just thought about it, I should have known by the way my parents treated me. Someone there, in one of the sectors I visited, had a talent for spotting variants and asked me about it. I told him I had no idea what he was talking about, but he insisted. So I had some testing done...it was easy to spot at least part of what had been engineered on me. I really didn't inherit any of my parent's genetic engineering. But whatever it was that was engineered, no one I found at the Kukai Foundation could tell me what it did or even if it did anything at all. I guess it's just a bunch of unexpressed junk."

Jin and chaos continued on as well. "Do you know what the engineering was supposed to express?" Jin asked.

Allen shook his head. "Not really. Some kind of brain chemistry, that's all they could tell me. They said it was very subtle changes, so it would be hard to figure out what it was supposed to do without extensive study. I think they decided the engineer didn't flip all the right switches or perhaps missed a few genes and that's why it didn't seem to be doing anything. That's all I know about it."

The forest trail gave way to a brick walkway without warning, and the forest fell away, revealing a quiet clearing with a medium sized, ornate house perched in the middle of a garden. Ivy climbed the walls of the house, and several maples with small, colorful leaves stood amongst the roses and other flowering shrubs.

Allen waved a hand toward the house. "Welcome to my home. I hope it's not too much or in bad taste." He started quickly down the short brick path; Jin and chaos followed close behind. When they reached the door, Allen first used a palm scanner to unlock it, then a much more traditional and ancient method—a simple key. The carved door opened and Allen stood back, allowing Jin and chaos to enter first.

Jin took off his shoes just before stepping over the threshold. chaos glanced at Allen, and he shook his head then held his hands out for his crossbow. After handing it over, chaos entered the house. As soon as Allen fired the crossbow into the dirt, he followed after chaos, closing the door behind him.

"Jin, try to walk on the rugs," Allen called after him. "The hardwood's probably a little slippery."

"Ah, yes, I see that," Jin said, standing with his socked feet a little farther apart than was normal for him.

chaos took a moment to look around. "This was built by human hands, wasn't it?"

"Ah, yeah." Allen took his crossbow and put it in a closet near the door. He then took off his frock coat and hung it up in the closet. "I don't know when, but the original builders wanted something more than just the feel of authenticity. Everything was carved by hand, nanomachines weren't used at all. I'm sure machines were used to help build the frame and lay the flooring. So...uh, I, I hope it's not too much."

"Don't worry about appearances so much, Allen," chaos said. "I appreciate the handiwork, and I'm glad I got to see it. I think perhaps humans rely too much on technology, and it's nice to see what lovely things we can make with our own hands when we put our minds to it. Your house is beautiful, Allen."

A bit of red crept up Allen's cheeks. "Thank you, chaos. I guess I'm just a little self-conscious about it. It feels like too much to me, sometimes."

"I agree," Jin said, "it is a beautiful house. I certainly would have preferred—whoa...yes, the rugs, right... That is, I would have preferred to have had my house built in a more traditional manner. However, I confess, I...whoops, steady Jin...spent most of my money on books." Allen and chaos looked at Jin in concern, but there was no need. It seemed the swordsman had finally made it to a rug and was no longer sliding around on the slick hardwood floor. Real books were quite rare and expensive, so it was possible that Jin may have been able to build his residence without nanomachines if he hadn't used it in the pursuit of books. However, Jin's traditional styled home was far more modest and austere than Allen's.

"Well, I'm glad you like it...and I'm glad you don't think it's overdoing it," Allen said, finally entering the room where Jin stood. "I like it...I used to spend time here during the summer with my grandparents. I, ah, know I could sell it, get something a little more fitting for me, but I don't really see the point. All the money I'd make from the sale would either stay with me or go to some charity I wouldn't trust not to pocket it instead of use it the way it should. Then the land would be up for 'less wasteful' uses. I prefer it this way...for a lot of reasons."

chaos came up behind Allen. "Oh, no, don't sell it. It's worth more than money to you and to a lot of people, including myself, just that it exists is worth something. That the forest is protected is worth more than money as well." He paused for a moment while he found a chair to sit in. "It's similar to how Captain Matthews always wants to see the Seraphim Sisters live. He says it's not the same over the U.M.N.. He's right, although I'd never let him know that; it's too much fun teasing him." chaos ran a hand along a coffee table in front of his seat. "There is an ineffable quality to something real like this. You don't need to feel ashamed or make excuses."

Allen wasn't sure what to say to that, or if he need say anything. Instead, he asked, "Are you guys hungry? Thirsty?"

"I'm feeling a bit thirsty," Jin said. "What do you have?"

"Let's see, I have water, soda, tea, coffee, wine... I think I have a little blueberry milk left."

"Blueberry milk?" chaos asked, incredulous.

"What? It's good!"

chaos just shook his head. "If you have red wine, I'd like that."

"I do. Jin?"

"Green tea?"

"I think I have some. Let me check." Allen headed off to the kitchen, where the other two men heard a great deal of shuffling, clattering, and soft curses after one loud crash. After a few minutes Allen returned with two wineglasses and an open bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon in one hand, and a small teakettle and mug on a plate in the other. Somehow, he was also juggling a plate of cheese and crackers amidst this.

"You could have made two trips," chaos commented, getting up to take the plate of cheese out of its precarious place.

Allen set the glasses and mug down on some coasters that happened to be out, then set the kettle near Jin. He poured some wine into the two glasses, set the bottle on another coaster, and handed a glass to chaos.

Jin waited for his tea to steep longer before he served himself. "Is there anything else that you think might help us solve your mystery, Allen?"

After taking a sip of his wine and nibbling the edge of a slice of cheese, Allen said, "The only thing extraordinary about me, really, is that I'm a genius at building Encephalons. Uh, I mean, virtual locations built within the Encephalon, mostly self-contained. I'm not trying to be egotistical about that, I mean, being a genius at building them. I know I'm a very good engineer and talented at A.I. development, but everything involved with the Encephalon is where I really excel. I've never failed at building a stable Encephalon location, although in unpredictable environments, I can't always maintain them." He rubbed his face. "The Chief got a bit complacent about how well they were built, or something...she was always pushing too hard and she's had seven, seven, that I built to test KOS-MOS collapse on her just after someone, usually me, went in and grabbed her. And people wonder why I have to get nanotreatment for ulcers so often."

He took another sip of wine. "In normal, fairly predictable environments, I can build simple, stable locations that will last for years without collapsing or melting back into the Encephalon. When I was taking an advanced computer science course before I went to Bormeo, we had an assignment to build a simple location based on ourselves as practice for U.M.N. access, things like that. It's still there, just like I built it. Oh...that reminds me, the other unusual thing about me. I already had an Encephalon I was connected to then, but I don't remember anyone building it. It's possible someone did before I was old enough to remember...it's still there, too. I don't mean a subconscious domain, everyone has that without it being built into a virtual location someone else could dive into; I mean I've had, as long as I can remember, a distinct, extremely stable, self-contained virtual location in the Encephalon that is connected to me. I don't know what it's based on, though it's probably what most people would call my subconscious domain.

"Otherwise, there's nothing especially extraordinary or anything about me. I'm pretty unremarkable in every other way."

chaos set his glass down. "I'm not sure that last part is quite true, but that's my opinion."

"I believe you about your assessment of your talents," Jin said, then took a drink of his tea. "But you say Shion was aware of it, so I have to assume most of your colleagues were also aware of this."

Allen nodded, a little glum. He drained his glass. "Yeah, they know. That's not what keeps getting written all over everything, if that's what you're getting at. Some of it...it's...it's what I told you in the forest. But, but most of it, they're things no one could know." He stood up, a little shaky. "I'll get it...I'll show you...if you promise never to tell anyone else."

"You have my word," Jin said.

"Mine as well," chaos added.

"All...all right." Allen left the room, and after a few minutes, he came back holding, no, hugging, a plain white covered book. He stood there for a long moment, hugging the book tightly to himself. It was clear he was loath to let anyone see it, but he eventually shoved it toward Jin. As soon as Jin laid hands on it, Allen retreated to a corner of the room. He didn't turn away from them, not quite, but he was partially turned toward the corner, an expression of absolute terror on his face. No small animal in the face of a predator had looked more frightened.

Seeing this, Jin smoothed a hand over the cover of the book, hesitant to open it. He did note that the book looked very similar to the one the not-Allen had held in his bloodied hands in the photograph that Allen had showed them at the café. Jin looked over at Allen. "Are you sure you want us to see this?"

In a small voice, Allen answered, "No, I don't want you to see it. But I want even less for the entire Vector First R&D Division either hating me or not seeing or hearing me when I stand right in front of them. I want even less for the Chief to be mad at me for randomly contacting her just to send static. Just, just get it over with. There are some pictures inside you might need to see, too." He held his hands against his chest, twisting his fingers. He couldn't have looked smaller or more vulnerable than he did now without curling up and hiding under a table.

chaos nodded in sympathy. He supposed the book must be a diary or journal of some sort, something Allen had never meant to share with anyone.

Jin understood Allen's reluctance as well, if it were a diary. So he was careful when he opened it, and for a moment was glad to find the pictures first before any writing. He pulled out the pictures and spread them on the short table. They were all night photos, most from the city near Jin's residence on Second Miltia, although a few seemed to be from other areas. All of them were of a translucent figure, some easier to recognize than others, some were in a Vector uniform, some in a frock suit and a holding a cane. All of them were Allen. One particularly clear photograph showed an almost solid Allen sitting on a bench, holding a dead flower, crying tears of blood.

"How did you get these? They're of the ghost that was rumored to haunt the city at night, aren't they?" chaos asked.

Allen nodded without turning. "I searched the U.M.N. for non-Gnosis paranormal phenomena. There's actually a lot to find, but I managed to locate those photos that people had taken."

"They lend credence to the rumor," Jin murmured as he slowly turned the first page in the book. As he did, Allen turned a little more toward the corner.

chaos was torn as to what he should do. His heart hurt to see Allen hiding from them in a corner in his own house, but he felt that whatever was in the book that Allen was willing to share despite the difficulty must be important. Eventually he decided to read over Jin's shoulder for a while. He didn't want to leave Allen in such a state, but that he would put himself in such a state at all decided for chaos that the book must have something important in it.

The first several pages were not particularly private, detailing in a precise hand Allen's first few days at Vector. Then there came the mentions of Shion Uzuki. Some entries just mentioned her in passing, but the further chaos and Jin skimmed through the book, the more the content turned to Shion. Some entries were still normal how-was-my-day types, but frequently there were pages and pages devoted to every tiny detail it was physically possible to note about Shion. There were entire missives on how her hands moved, the look in her eyes when she was deep in thought. Eventually, and by the dates, these entries came after the incident with the KOS-MOS Archetype, the pages were almost nothing but a solid description of every observable minutia of Shion's existence and how Allen felt about them and her.

If they had only this book to go by, it would be difficult indeed to believe Allen was not wholly and unhealthily obsessed and that he wasn't a dangerous stalker. By dint of having read many books, Jin recognized, however, that no matter how frighteningly detailed Allen's writing was, it was the natural and sane writings of a man with a frighteningly exquisite eye for detail. It was surprisingly unimaginative; there was little in the way of daydreaming or flights of fancy. There was enough written in the book about the KOS-MOS project and other subjects that were just as detailed to keep it from being entirely about Shion. There were some descriptions of esoteric computer programming that flew right over Jin's head. He also knew Allen somewhat—he doubted very much that he was an obsessive stalker. This was just a slice of who he was, not the whole of him; context dictated that the journal was simply that, an outpouring of very private thoughts and feelings. It described in intimate detail how Allen felt about Jin's sister, but it almost never went into Allen's physical desires which, after simply skimming the book, he knew must be quite present; it was mainly emotional desires. Emotional desires in regards to Shion that Jin himself found not unfamiliar. Wanting to get closer to her...wanting her to open up to him, wanting to share with him her hopes and fears...and the deepening misery of being unable to have that badly desired relationship. It had not been at all easy reading about Allen's feelings for Shion, and at the level of detail that Jin thought he could have done without—it brought out his protective side, but he felt a strong kinship nonetheless.

In a way, it confused him, and he was torn between wanting to protect Shion from someone who observed her oh so very closely and wanting to give his blessing to Allen for being so selflessly in love. Jin thought it wouldn't take much at all to overcome his own ambivalence toward Allen, whom he thought was often an irritant. They shared a lot more common ground than he had realized.

Jin closed the book and set it on the table. Allen dashed over and grabbed it and then returned to the corner he had buried himself in.

"I knew you loved her...I had no idea how much," Jin said softly. The journal had struck him deeply. He didn't want a romantic relationship with his sister, but he wanted very badly a great many things that Allen also wanted with her. He tucked his hands into his kimono and sat still as stone.

Allen just jerked his head in a nod.

chaos knew Allen better than Jin did, so he wasn't particularly surprised at the contents of his journal. He did think that if whatever was haunting Vector was writing secrets out of it, it was more than understandable that Allen would want it to stop. Perhaps more to keep it quiet than to stop it from harassing his co-workers, though that was likely a slim thing. He walked over to Allen and tried to coax him out of the corner. "I know that was hard to share, Allen. I think it was the right thing to do, though. It's given me an idea about what might be bothering your colleagues."

"Really?" Allen looked askance at chaos, more wearied now than terrified. But fear was not entirely absent.

"Yes, it did. Now please come out of hiding. We don't think less of you for having secret thoughts and feelings. We don't think it's pathetic or obsessive."

"Quite the contrary," Jin murmured, lost in thought.

Allen seemed surprised to hear Jin's opinion, considering the book was almost exclusively devoted to his sister. A good part of Allen's fear had been anticipating Jin's reaction; he had been almost certain that Jin would react badly, probably be furious and protective of Shion, and never speak to him again if he was lucky. If he was unlucky... Jin's kenjutsu was frighteningly good and his katana sharp. But Jin wasn't acting that way at all. He finally turned toward chaos. "I was right to trust you?" Allen hated himself for asking, for the way it came out, such a childish thing, but he couldn't unsay it.

chaos smiled. "Yes, and we'll keep our word." He walked over to the wine bottle and poured himself and Allen another glass. He held out the glass to Allen. "Maybe you need to relax a little, though."

Allen nodded and stepped out of the corner, taking the glass from chaos. After taking a decent drink from it, he asked, "So, you, you think you can help me?" He still held the book in a death grip in his other arm.

"Yes, I think so." chaos sat down and sipped some of his fresh wine. "I think we might have to be sneaky. If it knows the contents of your book that you guard so well, it might know that you want to catch it and stop it. So, I propose that you let us stay here a few days and leave instructions, if you have the authority, with the Vector offices here to let Jin and me in whenever we feel like coming. We'll come sometime when you aren't expecting us. We might be able to surprise it that way."

"I could do that. I couldn't let you into the other divisions, but I could authorize a tour of First Division or something...I might even be able to let you in to visit KOS-MOS. She's asleep right now; we're building her a better frame and making more improvements, but maybe you'd like to come say hi anyway. There are some perks to being Chief; I think I can get the Director to agree to that, especially since you've both met KOS-MOS." Then Allen paused, thinking a moment. "How long would you need to stay? You can stay here if you want."

Jin spoke up. "I think I need to confer with chaos about this plan of his." He jerked his hand as he stood, indicating to chaos that he wanted him to follow him this instant. Then, as carefully as he could, he slid himself across the floor to an adjacent room, opening the door and leaving it open.

"I'll be right back," chaos said, then followed Jin to the next room and closed the door.

In a low whisper, Jin stated, "I have other commitments. I can't put them off long."

His voice just as low, chaos answered, "I can't really say, but not too long."

"Why not?"

"I have a suspicion...whatever this haunting is I think it's been going on a lot longer than Allen realizes. Can you trust me just on that? I don't think it'll be too long."

Jin narrowed his eyes. "Why can't you say more?"

chaos gave the walls and the door between the two rooms a meaningful glance. "Just trust me."

Heaving a sigh, Jin said, "All right, but not too long."

Letting Jin use his arm for balance (the floors were really quite slippery), chaos led them back out to where Allen was sitting, munching on another bit of cheese. After depositing Jin back in his seat, chaos picked up a cheese slice, ate it, took a sip of wine, and said, "At least a month, if that's all right."

"A month?" Jin and Allen exclaimed in unison. While Jin stared daggers at chaos, Allen stuttered, "Well, uh, w-w-well, if, if you need to stay that long...OK, uh, sure...that's fine."

Ignoring Jin's heated glare, chaos said, "We probably won't need that long, but that should be long enough. Can you get us authorization to visit Vector's First R&D Division any time in the next month?"

"I, er, well, I can try. It might be harder to convince the Director to let you in to see KOS-MOS whenever you want in the next month, but I'll try." Allen sipped a bit of his wine. "Should be an interesting time," he muttered to himself.

Jin said nothing, still giving chaos a heated look while drinking his tea. chaos was not oblivious to Jin's displeasure or Allen's discomfort, but he thought the time frame was needed for his plan to work.