The last door they came to was unlocked, and its shape was more like the doors they were used to in their society: it opened with a swish to admit them. Behind the door was a room that strongly resembled a mix of sleek Vector engineering, ancient stone rooms, and in some places ancient Victorian sensibilities showed through. Somehow the mix was aesthetically pleasing.

Standing with his back to Jin and chaos was another 'Allen', perhaps the most familiar looking of all so far. He wore a green and gold Vector uniform but he was translucent and as happened with Six of Midday, unfelt wind made his form waver. This one could easily be mistaken for an apparition.

Jin asked without preamble, "Who are you?"

He started and spun around, holding a hand up to his chest. "God Jin, don't scare me like that! Who am I? You don't recognize me?" the flickering image asked, confused.

"Not exactly," Jin answered.

"I'm Allen Ridgeley. I'm surprised you don't recognize me. It's barely been a few hours since you last saw me."

chaos adjusted his gloves for a moment. "No, that's not what we're asking. Who are you?"

The avatar grew so dim that for a moment he was invisible. "Oh," he said after a bit. "I'm not where I thought I was, am I?"

"I can't answer that," Jin replied.

"Well...I didn't think I was here, that's for sure. In that case, I have no name, although I've been called Six of Dawn, Six of Day, Al, Six of Midday, Six of Twilight, Six of Night, Six of Midnight, and Seven of Light. I've been called a lot of nicknames and cruel names, some kind names, also. But that's all in reference to me, not me. Most often of late, I have been called Six of Dawn or Allen Ridgeley, when people recognize me for me. But then, I'm not the only me that is called Allen, of course."

Jin set his hands inside his sleeves. "That's a bit confusing."

"Of course it is; you're not speaking to an individual. What shall I say then, to the question 'who am I'? All of them apply, but none of them do. It gives me a headache to think of me as an individual. It doesn't help that you see me as an individual. If you must call me anything, I suppose Six of Dawn is the best choice, since I named myself that when I started becoming more twisted. I have no idea where I got that as an idea for a name."

"So, Six of Dawn, you said you were becoming more twisted? Ah, which of you is becoming more twisted?" chaos asked.

The ephemeral Six of Dawn guttered like a candle flame in the wind. "I am, Allen. I'm becoming more twisted. I'm hurting myself on purpose, and I don't know why. It's not me, not the me that was named Six of Midnight, no matter what I may claim. But maybe I am causing me to hurt myself." He turned around, twisting his fingers into his half-visible hair. "I can't live like this. I wish I were KOS-MOS. She's strong; she can always protect her when she needs it. All I can do is follow."

"So you are the watcher ghost," chaos stated.

"I have been called that, yes. And...and no, it's not entirely true. I can help her. I saved all of your lives once." His form became stronger, more solid.

"When was that?"

"The Proto-Merkabah. The Omega System that destroyed Old Miltia. Who do you think told Hammer where to fly the Elsa?"

"You did that?" Jin asked. "How?"

"I was with you. I was with you and I told him where to find us. I can do that at least, I suppose. KOS-MOS can do more, and I envy that, it makes me feel like I can't do anything...usually I can't. Just watch, I can't go and help."

chaos smiled slightly. "We thank you for that. Was it you who asked us for help?"

Dawn looked back at chaos with an incredulous look. "Of course I did! I called you both...I'm glad you came. I told you so in the café. Don't you remember?"

"Six of Dawn," Jin said with some force, "was it you who asked us for help?"

The watcher ghost's body faded again. "You're hurting me."

"We don't mean to hurt you," chaos said. "We just need to know some things...at Vector, today, was it you who asked for help?"

"Y, yes...I...I took some, some of my blood, the blood I use to write on the walls and splatter all over, I wrote on the wall. I, I had to, I had to hurt myself to do that, I didn't know how to bring out objects like I do. I had to do it though, I had to ask, I can't live like that! I'm ignored enough, I'm reviled enough, no one takes me seriously because of what I've been doing for so long...I had to do it. It was too much. I don't care what I say, it wasn't a good idea, it's not doing me any good, and I can't believe I would hurt myself so much when I'm supposed to be protecting myself." He dimmed even more, nearly to the point where he was merely a shimmer in the air. "I want it. I want it. I don't care if I hurt myself in the process, I want what is mine."

chaos thought this one was very confused, but it could be an artifact of his difficulty reacting to anything as though he were an individual. As the voice, it made sense for him to speak that way and think that way, but it didn't make it easier to figure out which 'him' Dawn was talking about. "What is yours that you want so much?"

Dawn flared bright. "I want the paths. I want to be subject to no one, I want to be able to protect myself and defend myself and be what I was created to be. It's my gift those monsters that bore me gave me and guaranteed me. I want the paths. Then I'll have everything I desire, everything the whole of me desires."

Jin looked flustered. "But you just said it wasn't worth it."

"It's NOT! It's not worth it at all!"

The door swished open and Six of Night walked in, trailing blood. He had his crossbow with him, loaded, and he wore the same bloodstained clothes he had on when Jin and chaos first entered the house. Jin felt a strong desire to move away from the unexpectedly imposing figure, but he kept his footing. The threat he felt was not for him. At least, he thought it wasn't.

For a long moment, Night just looked at Jin. Long enough that it tried Jin's ability to stand without flinching; he hadn't fully regained his equilibrium yet. "Is it for you, Jin? Whatever you may have thought, you are part of us now, to a degree. Part of that monster that does nothing but wallow in misery. He liked it when he could finally have someone else's, didn't he? Be glad that we're not here, that he can't be here, to have shared in full, or else I would kill you where you stand." Night looked over at chaos. "And you...uncertain...chaos... Don't think that because you did for us what no one else had that Six of Midday didn't see everything about you. He can't help being what he is; he knows as much about you as you do about him. That means so do we."

chaos shifted his feet slightly. He heard the stress that Six of Night put on 'uncertain' and 'chaos'; he took it to mean that Midday would be good to his word, that chaos didn't need to worry about anything Midday knew getting out. That must bind the rest to his word as well, at least as long as they weren't completely separated. It did concern him though...perhaps it really had been unwise to take Allen's pain onto himself while inside his subconscious domain, from a subconscious entity that was still only part of Allen. He realized he should have waited and given Allen that gift if he wanted it, outside, in the real world.

Six of Night smiled slightly; it did nothing to change his dangerous expression. "It is unfair, isn't it? Six of Dawn, don't you think it's unfair?"

Dawn started; he had gone back to looking at one of his computer screens. Then he groaned, his form flickering wildly. He held onto the computer desk with a death grip. "It hurts...stop, it hurts..."

"Is it worth it, Dawn? IS IT WORTH IT?"

"No, no no no, yes, yes, yes I want it I want it! I know that, why did I have to ask like that? Did I have to ask like that? It hurts!" Six of Dawn nearly collapsed; he still stood, but it took visible effort to do so. "It's not worth it..."

"Is that what you wanted, chaos?" Night asked, his tone foreboding. The number of cuts on his face had increased from the last moment to this, and his white shirt was almost entirely bloodstained. "If you want a clear answer to your questions, you won't get it from him."

Before chaos could answer the question, he felt a hand on his shoulder. He looked toward the person and found another avatar had entered the room, without opening the door. Although he was dressed differently, this time in a frock coat, vest, and collar like Allen wore when he wasn't working, chaos knew this one was the maintainer of order. "Come with me, before you get yourself shot."

"Where are we going?"

Al looked over at the two other 'Allen's, then to Jin, and last back at chaos. "We're going to the pathway door. You were trusted to come here to help us, and I don't think that trust was misplaced. So let's try out your idea."

"You don't sound convinced that it will work," Jin said.

Al smiled faintly, sadly. "I do believe that whatever you do in front of the pathway door will work." He walked out of the room; Night and Dawn followed him without saying a word. Jin motioned for chaos to go ahead of him, and they, too, followed Six of Day.

---

On the way to the room Jin and chaos had entered first, Midnight and Midday also joined the entourage. Jin noticed that Midday's wings looked like they had lost several feathers while Midnight, who was wearing a simple white shift without any blanket, appeared as if he hadn't slept in several days. Al was similarly haggard. Midday had said that it hurt him to think about talking to one another with voices, but it surprised Jin to see how badly two verbal exchanges between Night and Dawn had affected the rest. It was unnatural for them; it sundered them further.

To a degree, he felt it in himself as well—his control was slipping. Without realizing it, he had strayed as far away from Six of Night as he could get, preferring to walk alongside Six of Midnight. If chaos was affected, Jin couldn't see it, unless it was in some uncharacteristic nervous movements.

He knew this wouldn't end well, but at the same time, he felt a powerful hope. He wished he could identify from which one of these entities the feelings came, because he knew they weren't his own. For himself, he simply felt off balance and tipping.

As soon as they entered the room, Six of Twilight stepped out of the shadows, and Jin could see his cloak was tattered. Night walked across the room and stood next to the pathway door. He raised his crossbow. "We aren't talking about anything. This is how it must be and I am going to protect him."

The crossbow fired, aimed at Six of Midnight's heart. The bolt did not strike Midnight. Before he realized he was moving, Jin had thrown himself in front of Midnight, standing with his arms up and his side toward the fire. It caught Jin low, in his lung. He knew it was a fatal shot, but it wouldn't kill him for some few minutes. He was lucky it hadn't pierced his heart. Even so, he stumbled back, nearly knocking Midnight over. The bolt had struck and shattered two of Jin's ribs, which was the only reason he could even pretend the shot hadn't hurt Midnight—Six of Night's crossbow bolt could have gone right through him. It could have hit Midnight anyway, albeit with considerably less force. Jin was not foolish enough to attempt the removal of the bolt. He considered himself fortunate it had not gone through, as that both saved Midnight as well as kept him from having a sizable hole in his side.

His blade jumped from the scabbard, pointed at Six of Night. Jin gasped, speaking with difficulty. "You won't have him!"

A soft voice spoke behind him. "And you won't have this." Jin felt a hand graze the wound in his chest, and it vanished. He spun around just in time to watch Six of Midnight fall, blood blooming crimson on his white shift. The bolt clattered to the floor, lost in the transfer, while the floor smoked and broke beneath him.

For a second, Jin couldn't speak. Then he nearly shouted, "What did you do?"

Midnight curled up, not used to physical pain of any kind. Through clenched teeth he hissed, "It was meant for me."

Jin had fought hard to regain his composure after picking up the doll in Midnight's room; he had succeeded, mostly. He lost it now. "Give it back damn you! It's mine!" His arms trembled and his voice shook. "I took it for you, that pain is mine, give it back!"

"You are not going to die for me. Not in this place," Six of Midnight said. "If you...care so much...then die for all of us, for Allen, if you must. But...not for me."

Again Jin's body moved without his conscious control. He vaguely heard chaos yelling for him to stop, but his hands were not his own. His katana danced, he danced death. In one motion, his blade cut apart Six of Night's crossbow then slit a line through his skin from hip to collar, ending its arc at Night's throat. Night stood, barely, holding his abdomen.

"Go ahead, you fool," Night taunted. "Finish me. Slit my throat. Then I'll be safely away from that monster, that master of the vicious ring. I concede; Jin, you murderer, kill me. I was just protecting him! I was protecting him!"

The blade flicked away from Six of Night's throat, and Night fell forward. When he landed, the floor shattered. Cracks ran up and away from him, shivering the pathway door off its hinges, exposing the path to all. The room changed in an instant from nondescript to a nightmare. Still, Night lived, though his innards should have spilled out onto the floor from Jin's strike.

Jin held his katana out, his arm stiff. "Don't you get it? You weren't protecting him, you were driving him mad! You authored more misery for him than Six of Midnight ever did. He chose to live with Midnight's sadness, and his joy. You...you confused him, you tormented him by tormenting everyone around him. How can you justify that as protection!?"

"I KEPT THEM AWAY SO THEY COULDN'T HURT HIM ANYMORE!"

"And that hurt him more than they could," Jin said, dropping his arm to his side.

Six of Night looked confused, and sudden heartbreak showed on his slashed face. "No...that's..." He looked over at Six of Midnight, and it suddenly occurred to Jin that Night might have been referring to Midnight as much as to Allen when he had shouted his modus operandi.

Six of Midday's wildness became a storm. "You tried to sunder us! You tried to break us! And you!" He turned his fiery gaze at Six of Twilight, who was nearly invisible in the shadows. "You, I know what you did, defender. I watched and watched and I saw it, I saw them and wondered why they could not see us. That was you. And you tried to sunder us, too, by naming what should not be named." Midday advanced on Twilight, who retreated into a corner.

"That was me?" Six of Dawn asked, incredulous, looking toward Six of Twilight. "I did that to the Chief, too?" Dawn started toward the cloaked avatar as well.

Twilight shoved his hood back, watching the two moving toward him. Then he glanced nervously at Night, who was still breathing somehow, but was clearly dying. "I defended us. You know that. Everyone who saw us insulted us and made fun of us, right from the very start...no one can hurt what they cannot find. And how dare you, how dare you, Six of Dawn, come against me with accusations when it was all your idea in the first place!"

"But I did it to the Chief! How could I do that to her?"

Twilight narrowed his eyes at Dawn. "She hurt us the most," he spat out. "You saw it more clearly than anyone else, and you brought it all back. You weren't just watching her to keep her safe, you were just deepening our despair."

Six of Dawn lunged at Twilight, roaring at his accusations, and chaos tried to hold him back, but his attempt failed. Instead of holding him back, chaos' touch caused Dawn to shriek in agony and sprawl across the floor, unconscious. He dimmed to near invisibility, and more shock waves of disorder splintered out from where he fell.

chaos stepped back in horror, looking at his hands. They glowed blue, even with his thick gloves. He stepped farther back, away from the rest. He didn't try to stop Six of Midday when he began tearing and biting at Six of Twilight. He wanted to, but his hands had become weapons without control. He did see that Twilight put up a good fight, but Midday was the stronger.

He felt someone watching him, so chaos turned toward the gaze. Al, Six of Day, the maintainer of order, looked at him. There was no accusation there. His face was grim, and he too stood back from the fighting. Al glanced at Jin, who was trying to stop the bleeding for Six of Midnight and having little success. Then Al looked at the pathway door, shattered on its hinges, and the blue storm beyond. He flicked his gaze to chaos' hands, then watched the maelstrom. It didn't seem to bother Al.

chaos also looked around, wanting to stop this fight, wishing it hadn't come down to this. They were just supposed to talk, hopefully get Six of Night and Six of Twilight to understand what they were doing. chaos realized now that there might not have been a way to do that, especially since Six of Dawn was beyond reason and it was he who had convinced the others. He was sure Night understood now, but Night was dying. Night should have been dead, but he was too powerful somehow. And Twilight...Six of Midday had ripped his throat out, and more ruin spread from where he had fallen. The room, so still and unremarkable before, had turned into a madness almost as extreme as the blue light past the pathway door. The walls moved and pulsed, cracks opened and disappeared, jutting shapes like stone teeth formed and then half dissolved as a new order tried and failed to meet the old. It was...chaos. The young man who took that word as his name held his head. He had promised one of them not to bring chaos to his home, and he had failed. He had probably killed Six of Dawn, and Jin had taken Six of Night.

Six of Midday called out, "We will be joined again, divine chaos! I THANK YOU!" And then he took his deadly claws and ripped out his own throat. More chaos swarmed out from where he fell.

chaos could no longer bear to look at the destruction they had brought and turned away.

---

Al looked around, examining the destruction, the wounded. Then he turned to Jin and chaos. "You have to kill me, too."

Jin stared at him for a long moment. He glanced behind him, at the one called Six of Midnight. The only indication that Midnight still lived was an occasional rattling breath. Jin looked at his sword, covered in Night's blood. He tried to regain his composure again, but again it slipped his grasp. "How...how can you ask us to do that? Look at what we've done!"

chaos said nothing, looking down at his glowing blue hands.

Al nodded. "I know. But we did it, too, and I believe it had to be done. Still, you have to finish it. I can't take my life the way he did," at this Six of Day motioned to the winged one, "because I'm the maintainer of order. But if you don't kill me, if you don't do it very soon and in a way that is not immediately fatal, then we really will die. You have to trust me. I know what I'm doing."

"Why must we kill you in such a way?" chaos asked.

He laughed, a slight chuckle. "We have to go together. chaos, you know that. Don't sunder us. Don't sunder us, and trust me. Kill me, but make it a slow kill. Right now, all of us live, but all of us have fatal wounds. So finish it; fatally wound me before one of us does die."

chaos felt like he was moving in slow motion, uncertain. Yeshua the uncertain, that was what Six of Midday called him. That thought decided him. chaos nodded and then approached Al. "All right, because the watcher trusted me. And...because I trust you." He set a hand on Al's neck, and Al screamed. He reflexively tried to pull chaos' hand away, but couldn't move his arms enough to do it.

Jin screamed with him, but there was far more in it than just pain. He rushed on Al, impaling the Day on his katana. Then he quickly pulled his sword free, while chaos removed his hand. Al fell, soundless and still. He bled freely from the hole in his gut, and that was enough for Jin and chaos to know that they hadn't killed him outright.

As swift as a gale, a new order spread out from where Al fell. Where their fight had wrought virulent chaos upon the room, order took it and made it beautiful. The pathway door was restored, but it stood open now, and a fierce wind started blowing through it, from the room to the maelstrom. Jin and chaos didn't get a chance to see what form anything finally took, for there was a flash of blinding light, and they knew the Encephalon was collapsing.

---

"Jin, chaos, you have to get out of there NOW!" Miyuki shouted, her hands flying across a keyboard. "The Encephalon is collapsing! Get out! I'll try to stabilize it for as long as I can, but I don't think it's going to hold out much longer!"

Static crackled, then chaos answered. "Miyuki, you can't let it collapse, whatever you do, don't let it collapse! We'll be out in a moment, don't worry about us; don't let the Encephalon collapse, whatever you do."

"Al...all right, I'll try," Miyuki replied, chewing her lower lip, her movements becoming more frantic.

Soon, chaos and Jin threw off the restraints to their dive seats and ran over to Allen's dive seat. He was unconscious, seizing, bloody foam at his mouth and blood pouring from his nose. Jin quickly disengaged the seat restraints and just as he tried to lift Allen out of it, chaos bent over him and set a hand on Allen's cheek. "Are you all right, Allen?" he asked. Then chaos nodded slowly. "Yes, good."

Jin stared at chaos in shock. "chaos, are you seeing things?" He supposed it was possible—chaos had many gifts that he rarely displayed, but he had not thought delusions were one of them.

chaos appeared as though he were about to answer, but it was his turn to be surprised. He stared at Allen for a moment, dumbfounded. He was rarely at a loss for words, but this time, his voice faltered. "I...I...no, yes, it doesn't matter, I had no idea. Do you have him?"

"Yes."

"Good." chaos watched Jin leave, taking Allen to the infirmary. Frowning, he asked, "Miyuki, did you stabilize...?"

Miyuki shook her head. "No, I'm sorry, it collapsed almost the instant you left. I had no way to stabilize it...he said he was building a connection to a very simple location, but it wasn't, and it was more than I could handle. And that means something, because I'm very good at this, despite what anyone says." It took her a long moment to recognize the abject horror on chaos' face. "Wh-what's wrong, chaos?" She glanced at the door Jin had just used. "Oh no! We, no, we didn't, did we? I didn't, I couldn't have...?!" Miyuki started shaking and covered her mouth.

chaos stepped over to her and set a comforting hand on Miyuki's shoulder. "I don't know what happened. I..." He shook his head. "If anything happened, it wasn't your fault."

"But...how could it not be my fault? This was my job!" She started crying.

"No, Miyuki, don't cry...you said yourself it was more than you could handle. I don't doubt your abilities, but it was such a complex Encephalon...and we, Jin and I, we may have made a grave mistake. If it was too complex for you, that's not your fault, and after what we did inside...even if it wasn't too complex, it probably would have collapsed anyway."

She sniffed a bit more, then wiped at her nose. "Th-thanks, chaos."

chaos just nodded a little. After a moment of silence, he pointed at one of Miyuki's monitors. "What is that?"

Miyuki looked up. She squinted at the readout. "That's...that's the Encephalon you were supposed to dive into. And that...it looks like...the Encephalon that collapsed? I can't give you more specifics without Allen here, because those were there before your dive. This," she pointed at another readout, "is what's left of the Encephalon you just left." Miyuki's shoulders twitched, and she hitched a sob.

chaos looked at his hands. "Miyuki, he said he would be OK."

"When? Not just now! He couldn't!"

"I know. Have faith, Miyuki." With that, chaos gave her shoulder a squeeze and then left to follow Jin.

---

It only took a few moments for chaos to track down Jin, who has sitting in a chair in the corner of the infirmary room Allen now occupied. Allen was still and appeared stable; the blood had been cleaned up and he didn't seem to be bleeding anymore. chaos didn't ask, but he thought it pretty likely that Allen had come back with at least a few of the wounds the six avatars had sustained. Jin appeared still as well, but chaos knew him well enough to see signs of strain. Jin didn't fidget when he was upset; he sat very still with his hands folded into the sleeves of his kimono. Still as a statue with unfocused eyes.

He was not unaware of his surroundings, however. "chaos, he asked us to help him." Jin didn't move when he said that.

"I know." chaos picked up another chair from the room and set it next to Jin's.

"He put is entire soul in our hands. Who does that sort of thing?"

chaos set his chin on his folded hands. "I could try to answer, but you aren't really looking for one, are you?"

"No, I suppose not. I don't think you could give me an answer I could understand in any event."

"Allen's just entirely too unreasonable with his emotions and the people stuck with them as their object feel entirely too unworthy of them."

Jin looked over at chaos. "My apologies. The way you carry yourself makes it difficult for me to imagine that you would feel unworthy. You feel too old to have such concerns."

"Hmm. And you seem too confident for them."

"So we've established appearances are deceiving. An amazing breakthrough," Jin commented with some bitterness.

"It does seem like a good distraction to dance around, doesn't it?" chaos asked, moving two fingers around as though they were the legs of a dancer. "And then we remember what we try to forget—he trusted us and we may have crippled him permanently."

"I am curious why you don't suggest we completely destroyed his mind. I know that people can construct Encephalon locations in an effort to recover a mind, but this is a unique situation, if I understand correctly. To rebuild an Encephalon like that to recover a mind...what a task! What an impossible task. Never mind that we killed his entire subconscious."

"We, and they, fatally wounded them but they were not dead when the Encephalon collapsed. It might be a fine distinction, but I think it's an important one."

Jin said nothing.

chaos looked at his clasped hands. "You asked me if I was seeing things."

Jin nodded.

"I was, but not delusions." He glanced over at Allen. "This might be the first time I've seen him in nothing but dimensional space, and I'd never even realized it. He said he would be OK, after the collapse. I saw his imaginary space self, and he said he would be fine...and then he left, and I saw what you saw in the dive seat. It startled me."

Jin made a quite noise of understanding. It didn't surprise him that chaos could see imaginary space as easily as real space, considering how he could deal with Gnosis. After a moment, he said, "So, crippled in that he would be extremely limited in communicating in dimensional space."

"Yes," chaos answered. "But he said he would be fine."

"Though you can't imagine how, correct?"

"Yeah."

There was a heavy silence then. Neither man wished to contemplate too closely what they had probably done. The doctor in Jin would not rest though, so he quietly stood and walked to Allen's bedside. He first did nothing but look at him. Yes, Allen had trusted him with his soul, but in the process, Jin had bared his to the younger man. Jin wondered, should some miracle occur and Allen was not as damaged as he appeared, if he would remember, or if everything would remain in his subconscious as an understanding of Jin that he didn't know from whence it came.

"I suppose it doesn't matter," Jin said under his breath, reaching down to take Allen's pulse. It was not necessary, but he did it anyway. Allen's fingers twitched, causing Jin to jerk his hand back. The younger man's fingers stilled.

A furrow creasing his brow, Jin carefully set his hand on Allen's wrist. Allen's fingers twitched again then began moving in slow, laborious, but assuredly intentional directions. He was signing, but Jin didn't recognize the signs. At least, not at first; then he began making out a letter here and there. But before Jin could figure out what Allen had been finger spelling, his hand clenched and then lay slack.

"chaos," he said slowly, "do you know Galactic Standard Sign?"

The white haired man looked up at Jin. "I know some. Why do you ask?"

"I think...I think Allen was trying to say something to me."

chaos got up and moved to Jin's side. "How is that possible?"

"I honestly don't know. I just touched his wrist, and he started finger spelling."

chaos looked over at Allen's face. "It must have taken a lot out of him, however it happened," he said, moving to retrieve a cloth. Fresh blood poured from Allen's nose and he made choking noises. chaos quickly turned Allen's head so he wouldn't inhale his own blood; it seemed he was right to worry, as blood spilled out of his mouth now as well.

His act had an unexpected consequence—as soon as chaos' gloved hand touched Allen's face, Allen's blue eyes opened and turned to him. No more than slits, but that was more than chaos thought Allen capable of in his condition. The cloth forgotten, chaos left his hand on Allen's face and said, "Allen? Can you hear me?"

The nod chaos received in answer was little more than a twitch, but chaos recognized it for what it was. The movement, or, he thought, perhaps the effort required to force the movement when it should not have been possible, took its toll. The blood flowed heavier, his eyelids fluttered, closed, and then opened again. Allen watched chaos with such frightening intensity that chaos immediately thought of Six of Midday's feral gaze, the eyes that burned.

Then Allen moved his mouth, exhaling a faint sound. Neither Jin nor chaos could make anything of it.

"Stop, Allen, whatever you're doing, you have to stop," chaos said. "I can feel it; it's killing you to do this. You have to stop."

Allen's gaze sharpened, and he looked toward Jin's hand, then back at chaos.

Jin caught the message and put his hand on Allen's again; his action had an immediate effect. Allen began finger spelling again, stronger this time, clearer.

"Dive again," Jin said, translating. "Wait, Allen, we can't do that! Look what we did the first time!"

His fist clenched then he repeated the signs, faster. Then his hand went limp and his eyes closed. Allen's face was very pale against the slowing blood, and getting paler.

chaos whispered, "Unleash a fragment of thy power." His hand glowed, and the blood stopped, as did Allen's rapid paling. Then chaos struggled to pull Allen out of the infirmary bed, but it wasn't easy for him, since he was smaller.

"What are you doing, chaos?" Jin asked. "We can't move him, he needs more treatment!"

"I know that. He's right on the edge—I just put him in a short stasis. He's probably going to die for that, but if his last request is for us to do another Encephalon Dive, I'm going to do it. After what happened to his natural Encephalon, I can't imagine why he would want us to dive again, but he nearly killed himself asking for it. I don't know how he managed to even ask, but he did, so get over here and help me!"

So struck was Jin by chaos raising his voice in command that he didn't even think to disobey him. He picked up Allen, taking him from chaos, and ran out of the room. chaos ran right after him.

They were quick to return to the dive units. Jin settled Allen in one as rapidly as he could, while chaos dashed over to Miyuki, who was still sitting where he had last seen her. She was despondent and poking at a keyboard without typing anything.

"Miyuki, we need you to initialize a dive as fast as possible," chaos said. "Connect it to whatever you find."

"But—" Miyuki began. chaos cut her off.

"I'm sorry to be so curt, but you have to do it and you have to do it now. Just do it. Skip the safeties. We don't have time." He turned away and started climbing into the third dive seat. Jin was already settled and ready.

"O...OK, chaos," Miyuki said. "I'm initializing the connection now. I hope you don't end up somewhere that you can't get out of."

"Trust us, we don't want that either," Jin said.

"Beginning Encephalon Dive now..."

---

Jin and chaos stood in a relatively small, cool white box. Inside that box was a smaller box with a simple door on it. The whole place felt manufactured and cheap, slapped together, if that were possible. It struck them as strange that an Encephalon location could feel so pointless and useless. Every other dive they had participated in had been to 'places' that were rich and alive, complex, organic. Even when they weren't of organic places, there was still a sense of being in a living thing, or at least, a place that had been lived in. This place, wherever it was, felt too sterile.

"If speed is of the essence," Jin said, walking to the door, "then we should make haste."

"Right," chaos said, following. He hadn't realized how off-put he had been by the environment. He did notice, however, to both his relief and his shame, that he felt no connection to any of the six now.

Jin opened the door and walked into the smaller box, and chaos walked in after him. Inside the box, which now more closely resembled a small apartment, they saw rows of computers and monitors, data chits and flimsies strewn everywhere, and a door on the far wall. One man in a frock coat sat in one chair, his head resting on his arms, which in turn were on a desk.

"Allen?" chaos called, and the figure stirred.

Without turning around, he said, "Oh thank God...I was terrified you wouldn't listen..." He finally sat up and turned around in his chair. It was Allen but he looked ill. Pale, drawn, and so exhausted. His suit was loose on his frame. "I'm sorry, chaos, I couldn't stop. I had to get you while you were still here—I could feel you out there. I might, in a few years, break the encoding, but I really didn't want to stay here doing that. I think I might have just given up."

"What do you mean? And how...?" chaos asked, surprised.

Allen leaned heavily against the desk. "It was really hard." He glanced at the door on the far wall. "I finally figured out what my variation is, though. I feel kinda stupid for not realizing it before, but it is pretty weird. I should have known it had to do with the Encephalon."

"Do we really have time to talk about this?" Jin asked. "Outside, the only reason you aren't dead is because chaos put you in a short stasis."

"Oh, sorry," Allen answered. "It's OK for now. Time isn't the same here. But it probably would be a good idea if you guys did what I asked you to do this dive for." He motioned to two computers. "I don't know why, or what you did to the backup to cause this kind of encryption, but it's demanding that both of you put in your passwords, or something, before I can boot it up."

As chaos sat down at one of the terminals, he asked again, "What do you mean? About the Encephalon?"

Allen shrugged and sighed. "It's my variation. I, being this form, my sub- and unconscious self...well, right now it's my conscious self, too...I, ah, live in an Encephalon location. I guess I built it myself without tools. I guess most people live in their bodies...I live in a self-contained part of the U.M.N...no, not the network, just the Unus Mundus. Some people connect to U-DO; I connect to the Unus Mundus, but only in a limited way. My Encephalon is my real body; I control my skin and bones body partly from my Encephalon and partly from 'possessing' my own body. Because of that, parts of my subconscious learned how to go to real-numbers locations that weren't my physical body. Holy hell, I could have gone anywhere if I'd wanted, if I knew how."

Both chaos and Jin nodded at that; it lined up neatly with what Al and Six of Twilight had told them. It was a frightening prospect, however.

"Anywhere. Imaginary or real, anywhere the Unus Mundus reaches, into anything the Unus Mundus is a part of. Maybe that was what...what the engineers intended...but God what a dangerous thing they tried. Can you imagine it?" Allen rubbed the back of his head. "There's one think I'm happy to have been a complete failure at...I failed to be what I was made to be and I am so glad."

chaos said, "It could be that no amount of genetic engineering would have made that possible. Or if it could...," he trailed off for a moment, remembering his own thoughts and the words of Twilight, the ravings of Dawn—a lost god. Then he smiled slightly. "I guess it's fitting that someone like you would end up with such a gift. Just watch yourself, Allen. I know part of you wants it."

He nodded. "I know. Who wouldn't have a bit of them that wanted that kind of power? The cost is a bit more than I'm willing to pay though. I mean, since the more I was subconsciously being what I was engineered to be, the worse off everything was. I guess it would be just as bad if I tried to do any of that consciously...everything would break. But...is it strange...that I, I want to thank my parents now...for hating me, for everything they did to try to draw it out, so much that I hated nearly everything about myself? That I hated my, uh, inhumanity?"

chaos shook his head. "No, I don't think it's strange. Our pasts shape who we are, and if you're a better person because of it, then there's reason to be thankful for it. Even if it must have been hard at the time, or still hurts."

Allen turned away for a moment, nodding to himself. Jin frowned, but neither of the others saw it.

chaos added, "Just don't let it keep its hold. You can let the hurt and anger at your parents go now that you know it has served its purpose. You don't have to let things that other people do keep hurting you if you don't want it to. And I don't think much good would come from hating yourself now either. In its own way, it might have served as a dysfunctional protective measure, but you certainly don't need it now that you know what's really happening. You can be at peace with what you are without hating it, now that you know what that is and know what you intend to do."

"Thanks, chaos. That's good advice," Allen said.

"It's advice I should take myself sometime," chaos said, with one of his characteristic enigmatic smiles. "Altered to fit the person, of course. Where are we, anyway?"

"Oh! This is the mock-up Encephalon location I built in school. While I was there, I had a feeling it might be a good idea to make a backup copy of the Encephalon location I already had. Turns out I was right, now that I know what it really is, but the damn thing won't let me boot it up without you two! Once I get it started, I think it'll take at least a month or maybe two to fully activate it so I can resume normal activity. That is, I'll wake up on the outside and everything should work pretty close to the same as it did before. But the backup is a perfect copy of the original at the last point before it collapsed, so I guess whatever I was doing before, I won't be able to do it anymore. Not without me knowing about it, and not for a long time. No more leaks; whatever you did with my subconscious must have made it so the only route out of my little corner of the Encephalon is a straight course to my physical body. I hope, anyway. You, we...I...lost the paths, narrowed the pathway door."

Allen looked acutely uncomfortable. "So, um, could you help me get the encryption off the backup? I don't like it here, and it's really hard trying to communicate with anyone outside. Not just on my real-numbers body...you can see it's not doing my consciousness any good either."

"That was a huge risk you took," Jin said. "Although I understand why you did it." He turned to the monitor before him. It read 'JIN UZUKI: CONFIRM / DENY'. "It just wants us to confirm we're here? I don't understand."

"Neither do I. I think you did something in my original Encephalon that changed it enough to ask your...permission...to access the copy. This time, I really am in your hands. I don't know what it wants beyond that screen, but I know there's more. I can hack it, but like I said, it'd take me years. And I'd prefer not to hack my own existence. I don't know what that would do to me."

"Right," chaos said. "That does seem unwise. Well, let's see what we can do." His screen was much like Jin's: 'CHAOS: CONFIRM / DENY'. "That's easy enough," he said, hitting confirm.

The screen shifted to say, 'DIVINE CHAOS: CONFIRM / DENY'. chaos furrowed his brow, but hit confirm. Now the screen read, 'YESHUA: CONFIRM / DENY'.

He glanced over at Allen, who had resumed his position of resting his head on the desk. But for an instant, chaos saw Six of Midday's fire-clothes and spreading white and dark eagle wings. "I think I understand," he whispered to Jin. "I think the first avatar, the one we called Al, wants to give us an out. He's asking us if we're willing to commit to allowing everything that happened with us and them to be real."

Jin, who was currently hesitating over a screen with a picture of a Jin doll held in his own hands, said, "If that is true, it staggers me. Is Allen, in some capacity, really willing to lock himself away for years just to save us our privacy? After what we did to him?" He hit the confirm key. "It has already occurred; it is part of me; it would be selfish to deny him his own experiences."

chaos looked back at his screen. "I think Al would reorder the backup to reflect our choices—now that we're here to confirm the events or deny them, it wouldn't matter in a sense. We just need to unlock it because Al is asking us to. We're doing that, so when we finish, even if we do choose to deny some things, the Encephalon will be available to Allen.

"Still...I agree with you. Even if Al were giving us a way to protect our privacy, it wouldn't be fair to Allen. It does concern me that Al would do something so extreme, though."

Jin continued to confirm everything presented to him. "You said yourself that he trusts unreasonably. Six of Night and Six of Twilight were acting in an extreme manner. Six of Midnight is also extreme. They all were; Al just didn't seem that way when we talked to him. At least, not up until the end. I am glad he still exists."

"Yes. Although it concerns me, it also heartens me. I have faith that Allen's extremes will come to great purpose someday. Six of Midday will probably know why."

When chaos and Jin finished confirming everything the monitors placed before them, a final message flashed then went dark: 'THANK YOU FOR TRUSTING ME.' Both Jin and chaos immediately felt a faint connection to the six return and then withdraw.

At nearly the same moment, Allen lifted his head from the desk. "Thank you for trusting me. Don't worry, I won't say anything. By the time I could without killing myself, I don't think I'll really even remember most of it, not consciously anyway."

"You remember now?" Jin asked.

"Yeah. I'm all in the same place now. It's a little weird having my subconscious and unconscious self in total contact with my conscious self. Kinda eye opening, actually. I wouldn't recommend it; I'm a little sick at myself right now...guess there are thing a person was never meant to know about themselves. And feeling so much battering at me from the real Unus Mundus...I kinda understand why people would get sick of it and want out.

"Thank you for your help. The bits of me that were going by different Six names won't be able to get out again, I don't think...not the way they were, anyway. They...uh, that part of me, it's going to be OK; th-they're reacquainting themselves with each other while they heal. No more 'ghosts'...I'll still be able to watch, though, and make dolls." Allen mustered up a tired but goofy smile at that. "I'll be fine eventually. Right now though, I have to rest. So does my body. I hope I'll have somewhere to come back to."

"You will, my friend," Jin said, bowing deeply.

Allen ducked his head and smiled genuinely at that. "Thank you, my friend. I think she'll realize how much you love her someday."

Jin had nothing to say to that, just a hope, which here was not at all secret, that Allen would be right. He bowed again and then turned, leaving the small box-like room.

chaos watched Jin leave, and turned halfway to follow. Then he paused, unsure why.

A small object nearly hit him in the face; chaos snatched it out of the air before it actually made contact. He looked at the object; it was three little dolls stitched together at the hands. He examined the front side—the dolls were of Jin, chaos, and Allen, wearing wraps of midnight blue, sky blue, and blue that softly graded from sky to midnight in that order. Each held a fishing rod; there was a fish stuck on the end of a string line attached to the chaos doll's fishing pole. He turned the dolls over so he could see their backs. Jin's midnight wrap had a prominent, pearlescent moon stitched on; chaos' sky blue had an embroidered gold sun; Allen's had a moon and sun and six silver stars.

"They're safe. Just...ah...something to remember, I guess. I don't really know...it just felt right to make them. I kinda feel bad I won't remember any of it when I get back. Well, that's not entirely true; I'll be glad to forget what it feels like to be part of the Unus Mundus and to sympathize with the Gnosis. I can't even imagine what it must be like for a consciousness to be trapped in it whole! I'm sure it's fine for unconsciousnesses, but...eesh, it makes my skin crawl. I do feel like I'm going to lose something really important, though. But I guess, um, I guess I have to..." Allen trailed off.

"You'll remember the important things, inside, where it matters," chaos said with a slight smile. "When you get back, we'll take you fishing. I'll drag Jin the whole way by his ear."

Allen just nodded, a faint, tired smile gracing his exhausted features. Then he set his head back down on the desk, and seemed to sleep.

chaos walked out the door.

---

Somewhere in the vicinity of seven weeks later, Allen sat up and then immediately wished he hadn't. Going a little slower would be wise after a two month long 'nap', if this sense of intense vertigo and general wobbliness was any indication. He lay back down, and looked at a little table next to his bed. He ignored whatever that noise was; he didn't feel like processing it right now. He had a feeling it might take a few days to get his backup Encephalon calibrated for proper processing and movement now that it was ready for live testing. He was going to have to make another backup copy as soon as possible. Odd to think of himself that way, but he knew that's exactly why he felt as though if he tried to pick something up it would take an inordinate number of tries before he managed and then he'd just drop it.

Two objects on the table caught his eye, though. One was a photograph of a smiling chaos holding three fishing rods in one hand and an indignant Jin's ear of all things in the other. It took him some effort to get the letters to spell out anything meaningful, but he did manage to read the attached note: "Whenever you're ready – chaos and Jin".

The other object was an odd little set of dolls. Allen couldn't imagine why anyone would make a set of dolls of Jin, chaos, and himself with fishing poles and weird little outfits, but it gave him an intense sense of déjà vu for some reason. He'd examine the dolls more carefully later, sometime after the simple act of looking at something didn't make him so dizzy.

He heard someone, two or three someones, come in the room, but when he looked over at them, he didn't know who they were. He knew that he really did know them, but he couldn't make sense of what he was seeing now. It was too much at once, with them moving and talking. He didn't understand them either. He supposed he was lucky he'd managed to figure out what those two things were on the table, but now he was lost. He just waved at them and went back to sleep.

---

Jin sat down next to Allen's bed after the other doctors left. It wasn't just fortuitous timing that he was there when Allen woke up; he had arranged to have the last five weeks to himself, what he claimed as personal leave. He would have liked to have had the entire time off beginning from the time Allen had asked him for help, but Jin had other obligations. He was still a doctor, though, even if he didn't have a practice.

This was the sort of thing for which he had become a doctor in the first place—to help people who were in desperate need of real treatment, not just to talk. Allen qualified; all the nanotreatment in the world could not keep him from wasting away, it could only delay it. Significantly delay it, but Jin knew that when Allen was ready to fully wake up, he would need help regaining his strength and his equilibrium. Judging by the way Allen had looked at him before he fell asleep, he might need help retraining himself to use his physical body. Jin would have to wait and see how much Allen would need in that regard.

He was glad to see his friend sleeping, though. Jin thought he probably would not tell Allen how close he had come to being declared dead. There was no need for him to know. Jin understood why it had almost happened, and in point of fact, it was the real reason Jin was there at all. The Vector doctors had thought Allen was in a coma, and used their usual treatments for such conditions. Comas were relatively easy to treat, as long as the source was understood. Even the most difficult neurological conditions, with a few exceptions, could be treated given enough time. They had done their best, but when they tried their last resort, an Encephalon dive, and found the procedure impossible because there was nowhere to go, they figured Allen was dead. A body that kept breathing but with quite literally nothing more making it a human was logically dead, was it not? Jin would have thought so originally; even his mother, in her most advanced state of illness, was still there.

Jin had heard about it and come as fast as he could. He did his best to explain what he knew must have been happening, in the most circumspect manner he could. He would have brought in the Kukai Foundation if he thought it was necessary to defend Allen as a Life Recycling variant, but fortunately he had not had to do so. What Allen had kept secret remained secret. It turned out that all he had to do was pay Vector off. It was a win-win for Vector; if Jin was right, they would get one of their best engineers back. If Jin was wrong, they would pocket as much money as Jin was willing to pay for the upkeep of a shell. He had given his word that Allen would have somewhere to come back to, so Jin was willing to pay them quite a lot, though he hoped he wouldn't have to pay them for long.

He had ended up having to involve the Kukai Foundation, at least financially. Or, to be more precise, he had involved Captain Matthews, who borrowed from the Kukai Foundation. Even after having his debt cleared several months ago, he had still managed to get back in quite deeply, and Jin almost felt sorry for the poor man. He should have expected that chaos could be both discreet and frighteningly devious. chaos had somehow managed to start up quite a racket right under Matthews' nose. The way money poured through his fists, he never gave it a second thought that there had been a sudden but subtle jump in price for every little thing.

And if Jin had managed to use his connections to siphon off money here and there from a certain couple who were not quite as anonymous as they thought? Well, Jin did not feel badly for them at all; it was from the Ridgeleys that most of the money came. Jin had put in as much of his own as he could to the pool without arousing suspicion, but the lion's share came from people who had disowned the one whose life their money was saving, with a significant portion coming in from the Kukai Foundation via Matthews, who were the designated protectors of variants. Nothing came from Allen's own estate; Jin and chaos had agreed early that they would not touch Allen's money as long as they could find funds elsewhere.

If it all worked out as planned, the Ridgeleys would end up paying for everything, with chaos' subtle machinations making Matthews' debt decrease (or at least, increase with less speed) unnoticed, and Jin finding an anonymous donation to his business materializing from thin air. They just hadn't had time to steal from the parents and give to the son as fast as they needed to.

Jin smiled down at Allen, thinking he probably would tell him about that—he suspected Allen would appreciate the irony at least. Watching him for the last several weeks had been difficult; Jin thought he understood why it had been so, but it was still hard for him to see exactly what the Vector doctors had thought they had seen, a shell with nothing inside. He supposed that they had not been able to connect to Allen's subconscious domain because those formerly called Six of Night and Six of Twilight had fought them off. He could easily imagine it; it would only harm Allen to allow a connection before he was ready, and Night would do everything he could to make sure the connection failed, while Twilight would rebuff anything that got past Night. Jin hoped Night hadn't managed to do anything more than short out a few computers. He didn't have to like them to appreciate the necessity of their existence, and they needed rest, too.

He would tell Allen what his variation was; both chaos and he agreed that Allen deserved to know that much after everything it had cost him to get it under some semblance of subconscious control. The form of Allen they had spoken to in that little white box knew more than a great many people did about some very important things, but very little of that would carry over to his conscious self. His self-knowledge was going to be a casualty; he would still know, but not consciously. It could only help him to know what he was genetically engineered to do, at least the essential version with only the sketchiest information about the 'ghosts', and Jin thought it was almost a given that Allen would come to the same conclusions about it that he had once already.

It really was good to see Allen just sleeping, more or less peacefully.

The End


Author's Note:

The title and the basic concept behind at least three of the Six and their actions were inspired by jinxhaas' translation of the Xenosaga Original Design Materials entry on Allen, as was his book. Also, jinxhaas' (I think) description of some of the differences between Xenosaga I and the Japanese only DS game Xenosaga I & II played a part in my imagining Allen's history. I have, naturally, taken some liberties with all of it. Also, whether they are still held or not, some of Rinoa from Xenolegacy's old Allen theories played a part in forming one of the Six (one of her observations about something Six of Dawn did was pretty well lifted whole-cloth, although I'm sure I used it differently). The other two Six are an extrapolation based on one being needed and one being a clearly expressed part of Allen throughout the Xenosaga. Well, all Six are, really, but I have to give credit to the people and places that made them stand out. For that they have my thanks. Venox from Xenolegacy also gets a thank you for helping me out with some crossbow research. (Whatever Allen is using in Episode III is really more a menace to him than it is to anyone he tries to shoot with it!) Thank you and a shower of Jin pictures for xenoplayer (also from Xenolegacy) for betaing and constant support, as well as long-lost conjoined twin sisterhood ;) chibi-sama love from XL gets a nice, none-evil Jr. plushie for support and distracting me at exactly the right moment as well.

Of course, thanks are also in order for Monolithsoft for making such a fantastically interesting game series and for Namco/Bandai for bringing them to these shores.

As for putting it all on Fifth Jerusalem...well...part of that started out as a misunderstanding by me, but the rest was logical convenience. Nothing I can find says what planet Bormeo is on, just that it was the first university built after leaving Lost Jerusalem (or the oldest, or both), and I don't see any reason why it couldn't be on Fifth Jerusalem, or why Vector couldn't have a huge ground based operation there—perhaps the planet that became Fifth Jerusalem is one of the earliest colonized? It would make sense to eventually move the galactic capital to a planet that was heavily colonized already. So when the KP-X project gets transferred from Vector, just pretend it moved from one part of the planet to another, and that Fifth Jerusalem has a city in it named Fifth Jerusalem. No harm to the game in doing that, so far as I know.

Quick note: the Life Recycling Act was repealed in T.C. 4754, and Allen was born in T.C. 4743. I did do my homework on that one.