Disclaimer: I don't own Eureka Seven. That would be Bones—the studio not the show with that dude from Angel. Anyway, this is my first non-Eva fic so there, you've been warned. Feedback is welcome. I hate having to put stuff between scenes, but FFN strips blank lines and non-breaking spaces. You can look this up on Darkscribes for better formating.

haven't had this one pre-read as none of my usual guys (and girls) have finished Eureka Seven and would not spoil it for them. Am I not merciful? If anyone wants to help proof-reading, I can certainly use you.

-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Eureka Seven: Withdrawal Syndrome.

By: Rommel

One: "Physical Graffiti."


I

Fate had a sense of irony. Well, actually, maybe it had a really complicated sense of humor. Holland Novak would have thought that it—or whatever cosmological power ruled it—would not have seen it fit to match him up someone like Dewey for a brother. They had been nothing alike. Holland was brash and impulsive, the kind of guy who jumped before looking and wouldn't really care if someone told him he was jumping to his own death because it was the jump itself that mattered. Dewey was the scheming type. He didn't get off his bed without planing five or six moves ahead of it time. When he was having breakfast he'd already figured out what to have for lunch, a best laid plans kind of guy. If it was fate's idea of a joke Holland didn't get it.

It was a shame that it had to end the way it had. At least Renton and Eureka had gotten to be together out of the deal. That was something to be happy about. Maybe one day he could earn that, when he'd fixed Dewey's mess.

Holland ran his fingers across the collar of his uniform, a carryover from his SOF days. Slumped on his chair he still felt tense. He wasn't being shot at or hunted down, and didn't have to worry about having his LFO torn to pieces from beneath him by a war machine in the shape of a pink-haired girl—in other words, he was perfectly safe—but his danger sense kept warning that he was about make a huge mistake, very much like lining yourself up into your enemy's line of fire.

And yet he had to do it. He had to start somewhere.

"That uniform looks horrible on you. Good thing you quit."

Holland drew his eyes down the hall and recognized the man walking towards him. He smiled his usual sarcastic grin. "You following me or something?"

"Trouble loves company." Captain Jurgens, career military officer and one-time fellow renegade took a seat next to him. He was a tall man, well-built, and aside from the handlebar mustache, the sort you'd expect on recruitment posters. "Did he call you too?" He took off his black beret, revealing a slightly receding hairline.

Holland ran a hand through his tousled ash-gray hair, shaking his head. "Nope. I asked to see him. We go way back. Just thought I'd ask a favor."

"Part of that burden you vowed to carry?"

"Yeah, something like that. I might be a traitor and a hero all at once, but I've still got connections. The government might have seen our side of the thing, but that doesn't make them right, or make us wrong. Still as long I can, I'd figured I'd do something for the good of mankind. You?"

Jurgens leaned back, lifting his head to look at the garishly ornate ceiling. "Orders."

Holland almost laughed. "Military simplicity is a bliss."

"Not really. Orders are only as good as the intentions behind them. I think I learned that from you. But there really didn't seem to be any harm this time."

Sitting up a little straighter, Holland propped up his arm against the backrest. He looked up and down the hallway, taking only slight offense at the sumptuous decorations, the statues, the extremely expensive polished wooden floors. It reminded him so much of his old home, but when so many people were suffering out on the world it just seemed wrong that some select few should have so much.

"So what have you heard about the new government?" Jurgens asked him after a moment.

"Nothing much. I might be just over-thinking it, but it seems a sign of how bad things really are that both the nobles and the military are agreeing to work together. The kind of power vacuum left by Dewey is just the sort of thing that would make people fight each for the dubious honor of being the next Dewey. It's a good thing he didn't think to leave a successor or we'd had civil war for sure. But we could do without the mess."

"You know, the military still doesn't believe it," Jurgens said. "Most of them were just following orders, and as far as most of them believe they were doing the right thing. None of them witnessed what he was capable off firsthand. And it doesn't help that they lost a lot of good people."

Holland sighed. "Yeah, I think that if I hadn't already thought my brother a monster I'd have trouble believing it too. 'The dignity of the planet'. Really. How does that justify mass murder?"

"I suppose in the mind of a madman no real justification is needed. Mankind has been doing horrible things to each other since well before Dewey, and probably well after. Even things like the work of the Novak Foundation are just reincarnations of older evils. However, the blame can not be squarely placed on one man. Even madmen are only as dangerous as the sane people who follow."

"Yeah, Mankind is just peachy. But ..." Holland let his mind bring back the images of the Second Summer of Love, the moment when Renton went to get the one he loved and succeeded in winning for humanity a reprieve. He succeeded with his heart where Dewey had failed with his weapons and all the pain and death he'd caused people. A genuine smile came to his face.

Jurgens set his hand on Holland's shoulder. "I know what you mean. As long as a single descent human being remains, mistakes can be fixed."

"Gentlemen."

Both Holland and Jurgens lookd down the hallway as a slender girl with her dirty-blond hair tied up in a tight bun walked over to them. She had on a dark uniform, cut similar to those worm by female U.F. officers, but embroiled with the rich heraldic symbols of the house. "It has been a while, right Mr. Holland," she said politely.

Having the nagging suspicion that he had met her before, Holland tried his best to search his memory for her name, but came up blank. He was a little embarrassed to admit that he could forget such a detail a lovely young lady. He stood and hoped he could bluff his way out of that indiscretion "So you remember me?"

"Well, yes. You are only the greatest ref-boarder alive, of course," she beamed, and even serious demeanor could not hide her excitement.

Jurgens scoffed. It wasn't an insult against himself, Holland knew, Jurgens just didn't like lifting in general.

The girl turned her head to him. "Oh yes, Captain. I hope you forgive the Master for calling you like this, but he wished to meet both of you together. He hoped it would help make his point," she paused to consider her words. "I am afraid we are in a little bit of bad situation at the moment. Well, you'll see. If you would please come with me."

They were ushered into a rather spacious office, adorned with high windows that allowed a great deal of the morning light in. At the center there was large wooden desk around which several men were assembled. They all wore the U.F.'s colors except for one man, who had the rich clothing and impeccable bearing that distinguished the nobility. They had been talking heatedly, but once Holland and Jurgens entered the room, they fell quiet. The girl took her leave and closed the door behind them, and for some reason, Holland felt as if his only route of escape had been taken away and he was about to be shot.

Holland hadn't seen Jan Eicke in years, since before Ciudades del Cielo, and before all the troubles with Dewey started. In truth, he had no idea what to expect. He had left instructions with the Gekko—if he didn't return they were to blast off and somehow try to make lives for themselves in this brave new world. They were not—and he had been very explicit about this—to come and try to rescue him.

"Holland!" In a heartbeat, Jan covered the distance between them and clasped Holland's hand in a firm grip, smiling broadly. "So nice of you to come."

He let go of Holland and repeated the gesture to Jurgens. "Captain."

"I'm sorry to fall in on you like this," Holland said, casting a suspicious eye towards the assembled military men. "But I need to ask a favor."

Jan stiffened up, as if expecting some completely outrageous request that he could not possibly comply with.

Holland took a deep breath. "I want a clean slate for the Gekko."

"Absolutely not!" One of the military officers blared out, a Lieutenant-Colonel judging by the rank insignia on his black uniform. "That ship is responsible for more death and destruction than can be accurately calculated."

"It is also responsible for stopping Dewey!" Holland retorted.

"Your brother!"

Holland was ready to strike. Jan placed himself between him and the Colonel. "Gentlemen, please. We are not going to get anything done by throwing recriminations at each other. Holland is no more to blame for Dewey's actions than the bulk of the military for enabling them. Certainly we can all still be civilized around each other, or can't we? The only thing we need to focus on is how to solve what problems we have now. Listen," he looked at Holland, "I know you didn't come here to pick a fight. It is not in my power to give you a full pardon, regardless of how much I think you deserve it, but the new council will have no problem seeing that you do get it. You deserve it. But--"

Here it comes, thought Holland. There is always a but.

"A little good-will gesture would go a long way towards convincing everyone that you are not up to no good."

Holland frowned. "Like what?"

"The Federation is stretched incredibly thin. That's why they are here. They can't keep the peace anymore with all the loses they sustained. Conflicts are flaring up faster than they can be controlled—long forgotten hates and animosities. You are heroes, Holland, for what you did. And I don't just mean in the underground like before. People will listen to you. You are in a better position than anyone if you decide you want to help. Work with us here."

"I will not take orders from you," Holland said firmly, and threw a glare at the military men. "And I will definitely not take orders from them."

"I said work 'with us', not 'for us'," Jan said. "You won't have to take orders from anyone. All you have to do is go out with your ship and you crew and do good and help—basically, what you've been doing all along—only this time with the backing of the U.F. You won't have to run or hide anymore, from anyone. Just help, however you think you can."

He had a point, Holland admitted. That was pretty much what had intended to do but now, presented with the prospect of U.F. Backing and what—if he understood correctly-- was a carte blanc, he was very much tempted to accept the offer. After all, Jurgens was right. Now that Dewey was gone he didn't have a reason to hate the U.F. and its people. There was a lot of suffering left in Dewey's wake, and if they were sincere and really meant that Jan was telling him, then it would he selfish not to accept; he be thinking only of himself and his own reason for doing what he wanted instead of what needed doing for the greater good. And if he could not make a compromise like that, what was the point in having bowed to carry this burden?

Finally, after a long, thoughtful moment he nodded. "Just for the record," he added, "I don't agree with what you are doing. Replacing one big tyrant with a lot of little tyrants is not a change for the better."

"But many people are able to keep each other in check," Jan said slyly. "And it is harder keeping secrets that way, which mean people are much less likely to be underhanded if they know there's a high chance that they will be found out. This isn't a regression to the old way, this is a new way. Or we can just do nothing and let the entire planet go to hell. Personally, I am not ready to let that happen. My children deserve a better world."

Reassured in his own belief, Holland said, "So does mine. But I'll do it my way."

"That's been working for you so far." Jan walked back to his desk, picked up a file from among the pile of papers scattered on the dark writing surface and came back to hand it to Holland. "If I may suggest a place to start."

"I'll look at it," Hollad said noncommittally. "Don't promise anything."

Jan raised his hands in surrender. "Good enough. That's all I'm asking."

There as grumble of disagreement from the military men, and Holland didn't have to be a fortune-teller to figure out that they didn't very much like what had just happened here. He knew most of them would like nothing more than to throw him in the brig and his entire crew along with him until pigs learned to lift. He gave them one more contemptuous glare as Jan turned to Jurgens, who had remained stoically silent through the whole discussion.

"I didn't forget about you, Captain," he said. "I called you because there's the issue of your resigning your commission. And, well, I was wondering if I could not talk you into being reinstated. Several council members—and specially the military—insist that since you resigned under Dewey, then it is no longer valid and therefore there is no need for reinstating you since technically you never felt. Since I would like to stick with proper military decorum, I would like to get this whole nasty affair over with by offering back to you and your crew your ranks, commissions, and pensions."

Jurgens was clearly surprised by this. Holland couldn't tell exactly what he had expected from his summons, but he had an idea that it hadn't been this—a demotion and a slap on the wrist if he got lucky, but not a full reinstatement. It would be as if he'd never left.

Aside from the fact that he had helped save the entire world, of course. It eased Holland's mind that the military wanted someone like Jurgens back, willing to disobey orders to see that the right thing be done. It served to convince him that had not just made a huge screw-up sidling with them. Perhaps there was hope for the U.F. after all.


II

It was a quick ride back to the airfield. Holland rode in the Terminus TypeR606's rear seat, letting Matthew do the driving. He would much rather drive himself, but as Mathew had pointed out he had already destroyed two LFOs and he wasn't about to let Holland wreck his precious 606 too. Holland took the ribbing in good nature, but there was a painful bit of reality in those words: he no longer had an LFO of his own.

The Gekko was parked at the end of the runway, its worn paint and banged-up frame still graceful to Holland's eyes. There hadn't been time to do much save for the most necessary repairs in the weeks after the battle over the Tian Shan mountain range; the crew had done its best but there was only so much that could be fixed with the limited resources available. Unlike most other aircraft of its size, the Gekko lacked the boxy look that defined military conventions. It was a sleek craft shaped like a swan, with a long neck at the end of which was the bridge, and forward-swept wings holding a triple tracking laser battery under each, and unlike the black of its brethren it was colored in silver and a lime green that its crew called Gekko Green.

Jurgens' ship, the Super Izumo, was also parked nearby. A bond had been forged between the two crews that Holland found hard to believe, the kind of thing that usually happened after going up against huge odds together and somehow surviving.

As the 606 pulled up at the ramp that led into the Gekko's hangar, Holland found his rag-tag crew having what he could only assume was a lifting-board waxing party, joined by a couple of Izumo enthusiasts who looked way out of place in their black uniforms among the shorts, cargoes, and tank-tops of his own crew.

He climbed down from the cockpit, tossing his uniform jacket over the seat. "Okay, guys, we gotta talk," he told his crew, then turned to the Izumo guys, adding, "That means shoo for you lot."

He waited for them to leave before taking a deep breath and starting the speech he had practiced hundreds of times in his head but never mastered.

"Gekkostate was created to protect Eureka—to help humans and coralians find a way to live together. We have done that. You have all done everything to make our mission a success, and risked your own lives. I can't ask any more from any of you. But now, unfortunately there is no reason for Gekkostate to exist." He noticed the faces of the crew, usually cheerful, were sullen. "You can all go your separate ways, you can live your lives as best you think you should live them—you have earned that. But I can't. There are things I feel I should do. It is my responsibility. The world is a better place because of what we did, but there is still suffering and that is something I want to help with. I am responsible for this—only me—and I am not willing to put you at risk anymore for my own sake."

Hilda, a dark-skinned beauty with short black hair and the pilot of the 808, their only other LFO left stood up. "And what makes you think we'll let you go anywhere without us?"

Well, technically he wouldn't be able to go anywhere by himself as the Gekko could not be flown by one man, but Talho, Hap, and Ken had already agreed to come with him when he had brought the subject up.

"Hilda, no. Dewey was my brother. I am the only one that's responsible," Holland said, slightly shaking his head.

"That's no reason at all," Talho said suddenly. "Which is really kinda the worst kind of reason."

Holland gave her a shifty frown—she was supposed to be on his side and back him up on this. She looked radiant sitting on the mat the group had laid out on the concrete runway, her shoulder-length black hair framing a pretty face sporting deceptively delicate features. The form-fitting white coveralls she wore could not hide the bump on her belly where their baby was growing healthily. She returned Holland's frown with a beaming smile.

Yep, she had set him up.

Holland sighed. "Look, I am not going to ask you—"

"Then we volunteer," Gidget said.

"I'm not taking volunteers."

"I don't think you have a choice," Hap said and looked around at the crew; Holland realized he was pretty much standing alone. "In case you haven't noticed, its you against the rest of us. You are just not going anywhere without us, buddy."

"So it's a mutiny, I see," Holland said, his lips twisted into a grin of defeat. "You don't happen to have built a plank while I was gone too, did you?"

Gidget raised a hand giddily. "Does that mean we can have a pirate party?"

Maurice, Maeter, and Link all yelled at the same time, "Arrg!"

"Guys, I'm serious," Holland said. He looked at each of the individuals assembled before him, his crew—no, his family, the only family he had now. And they looked back at him, and he knew that though his word was law on board the Gekko, this was not an issue they would budge on.

"So are we," Talho said, and Holland knew she was speaking for them all. "We haven't been with you so long so you could just decide that whatever it is you are gonna do is not a part of our futures. That is not your decision. Think of it as you having earned the right to have us around. Or mutiny. Either one works for me."

"Besides," Moondoggie said, "if we go we'll have to find jobs. I'm not very employable."

Gidget quickly threw an arm around the young blonde pilot of the Gekko—and compared to her, the only youngest active member of Gekkostate—much to his embarrassment. "That's right. I hadn't even thought about that. Holland, you have to take us. You HAVE to."

Holland sighed accepting defeat. "Fine. Fine, but I don't want anybody complaining when I make you work twice as hard."

"This from the man who commands the ship in his underwear," Talho said, "cheeky."


III

Dominic was still in the shower.

What was he doing in there anyway? She was the girl, she was the one supposed to take ages in the bathroom—not that she didn't, because, in fact, Dominic had complained about that very same thing. But she had stuff to do. Important stuff! And she did appreciate the fact that he liked being clean, but what could possibly take a man more than maybe a minute to do in the shower?

Anemone sighed impatiently. She was lying in bed, still in her nightgown, among rumpled sheets that had only the night before been as fresh and well-pressed as a uniform. Gulliver, her grossly overweight pet, was propped-up on her stomach, sleeping contently and making little noises. She had been tracing a finger along the top of his chubby head for a while now, absently staring at the ceiling.

Red. What a nice color. Almost as pretty as pink.

Gently, Anemone slipped her arms around Gulliver, scooping him, and sat up. He was heavy, but not as heavy as Dominic said. She held him for a little while then set him back down on the warm sheets, turning to swing her legs off the sides of the bed and searching for her slippers with her feet.

She yawned broadly and stretched her arms as she stood. The ruffled hem of her gown, which had ridden up during the night, slid down to just above her knees where it belonged. Brushing long strands of pink hair away from her eyes, she looked around the tiny apartment she shared with Dominic and couldn't avoid noticing it looked like a hurricane had gone through. Most of it was her fault. Discarded shopping bags lay scattered about, their contents, in some cases fairly expensive, strewn across the floor or tossed carelessly over what little furniture they had managed to collect. A large stack of music disks crowded a corner where Dominic had set up a small player that, despite its size, was loud enough to get the neighbors knocking on their door. And there were used plates and glasses and cutlery everywhere.

It was surprising how fast the stuff of life could pile up when you actually had a life, when you didn't have to live in fear or alone, when you could just be a normal teenage girl doing teenage girl things instead of--

Instead of what Dewey did to her?

Instead of what she did—was doing—to herself?

Anemone sat down in front of her dresser, leaning forward to rest her head on her arms folded atop of the wooden surface, and stared at her reflection on the mirror. How could such a pretty face hide so much pain? She wanted to be happy. When she was with Dominic she could almost forget and reach out, like she had reached for him when they were falling through the air, and always feel better. His smile made her smile. His kindness made her feel warm. His eyes were deep and caring. When she was with him she was the closest to being happy.

But when she was alone—

Normal teenage girl, she told herself. That's a nice fantasy, isn't it?

The eyes that stared back at her from the mirror were not human; they were a clear purple, with diagonal red lines running across the irises. She didn't remember how Dewey's scientists had managed that, only that it hurt a lot. And even though he was dead now, her eyes were the legacy of his handiwork. Like the small receptacle implanted just beneath her left ear used for the injector, they were a reminder carved into her body of who and what she was. And that whatever little nest she had made for herself with Dominic couldn't erase the scars of the past.

She was what Dewey made her. She was what his scientists and their experiments made her. Dominic could try to cheer her up all he wanted, and she loved him all the more for trying, but his words would always go away and she would be left with the truth spelled on her eyes. In her, Dewey's crimes lived on, because he had so completely ruined her.

Her happiness was just a fantasy.

As if conjured by that thought, a dull ache began flaring inside her head. She closed her eyes, and pressed a hand against her temple as if that would help. It wasn't the pounding jackhammer of the withdrawal she'd experienced when laid off the medication designed to send her into a bloodlust to pilot TheEND; it was more like the rumble of a train passing in the distance.

Regardless, her head still hurt and there was only one way she knew to make it go away. "Dominic, hurry up. I need to use the bathroom!"


IV

As the Gekko soared through the air leaving a trail of shimmering emerald trapar behind it, Holland finally got a chance to retreat to his quarters. His crew was good enough that they didn't require him on-station all the time, but he liked hanging out in the bridge. However, being in command made his job the most stressful, and the least fun. The crew had their heading and their directions, so he was finally free to take a break and headed for his quarters. He had been lying on the bed for a few minutes, for the second time leafing through the file Jan had given him, when there was a knock at the door. He grunted an inquiry.

"It's me," said Talho's voice. "You know, the mother of your child."

"Come one in. The more the merrier. Apparently"

The door slid open to reveal the Gekko's second in command. She walked over to him, her hips swinging in that inimitable way, causing Holland to sit up, crossing his legs and paying attention.

Sitting on the bed next to him, she said, "You aren't mad are you?"

"About what?"

Talho looked at him sheepishly. "I know we talked about this before, but it didn't seem fair. For all your talk of responsibility, trying to get rid of your crew—the crew that has put their lives at risk so many times for you—was a very irresponsible thing to do."

Holland's mouth turned into a slopped line. "I'm still new at the whole responsibility thing. If you didn't think it was such a good idea, why didn't you say anything before?"

"Because you are more stubborn than I am," Talho said. Absently, she rested a hand on her belly. "I knew I couldn't convince you by myself."

"You are a tricky one, aren't you?"

"The best. Don't you know that by now?" She laughed.

"Oh, I know." He moved closer to her and placed his hand over hers. He always did this unless she invited him to touch her. He didn't know why, but he thought it had something to do with wanting their child to feel both of its parents together. "So how's …"

"Fine," Talho said, having heard the question hundreds of times. "Mischa is on top of things. She's driving me crazy with this diet, though. I tried to sneak in a drink the other night, but it's like she's got some kind of radar, or FLIR, or trapar density detector, or something. I wonder why she never gave Eureka so much fuss."

"It could be worse. It could be Gidget looking after you."

Talho made a face. "Okay, first of all, I can look after myself, thank you very much. And second, how would that be worse, exactly?"

"Well, I'm sure pizza and ungodly amounts of soda isn't very healthy."

"But it tastes so much better than that soy crap Mischa has me on."

Holland smiled at her. "Next time you try to sneak something by her, let me know. We can do it together. I'll run a decoy. She won't know what hit her."

"She'll probably catch us, and then she'll put you on a diet."

Holland shrugged. "No way. I'm not the one getting fatter by the day."

Talho looked at him as though he had insulted her honor, which he kinda just had. She twisted her lips into a tiny pout, then lunged at him playfully. In the blink of an eye she was laying on top of him, holding him down. She looked down at him, and smiled a charmingly boyish grin at her. She loved that expression, he knew.

"So this mission," she said after a while, "it isn't just responsibility, is it?"

"Partly, yes, but also--" His eyes left hers and focused on her swollen belly. "—I wouldn't be much of a man if I didn't try to leave a better world for my children."

Talho took his hand, knotting both their fingers together. "You already have. You, and Renton, and Eureka. You are a hero."

Holland didn't find that very comforting. Dewey had been a hero to a lot of people too, and a lot of good it did them. Granted, they could not have known—people only believed in heroes out of great need and desperation. That was why he didn't like being referred to as one—except perhaps by the people who fully understood what being a hero was all about, and for whom it was more than a flitting title to give false hope; people who had enjoyed with him and suffered with him, whether in the sunshine or through the scudding drifts of trapar.

"Renton and Eureka are the heroes. I was just along for the ride."

There was another knock at the door.

Holland groaned. "Can't I get some peace?"

"Sorry to bother you, Leader, but I've got a question," came Stoner's voice.

"It's open," Talho said.

Stoner stepped in. He was the Gekko's photographer, and editor and publisher of Gekkostate's magazine, Ray-Out. As usual, there was camera slung over his shoulder. He wore cargo shorts and a hooded pullover. He had his facial hair trimmed down to two triangles on either side of his mouth and a small goatee. Holland himself hated shaving, so he would often sport three or four-day stubble, but Stoner, like most artists was very interested in his personal appearance.

"This question better be important," Holland told Stoner, joking.

Stoner raised an eyebrow at him, then at Talho, who was still straddling his waist. "I'm not interrupting something, right?"

Talho smiled prettily. "Nope."

"Well." Stoner pulled out an envelope from underneath his hoodie. "You know I've been working on the next issue of Ray-Out and I thought you might want to give your input. I don't have any pictures of the Nirvash in its final form, so I thought I could get away with an older "stock" image, but they all seem rather plain by comparison. Then I thought maybe a picture of Renton and Eureka, but after Pacific State—well, come on, nothing I've got comes close to that for pure Zen. A photographer can live a hundred years and not take another picture like that." He tossed the envelope onto the bed. "So I narrowed it down to these, but I can't make up my mind."

Holland reached for the envelope, but Talho beat him to it. She opened, took a quick look at the content and turned an up-turned eyebrow at Stoner.

"What?" Holland asked.

She withdrew on of the photographs from inside the envelope and held it up for him to see. It was them, years ago. She wore a helmet and goggles, her hair tied up in a long ponytail that fluttered in the wind, Hollands arms wrapped around her. Their faces were younger, but Holland realized just how little they had changed from those more carefree days. "You want to write about us again?" he said.

"Yes. The Second Summer of Love is a fascinating subject, but people seem to want to know more about you two. Woz set up a server for fanmail and you'd be surprised how much mail comes in for you. Questions, answers, love letters, pictures of girls wearing—well, very al natural--everything. People seem to really like you. I mean, Renton and Eureka are like superstars, but you two are much more approachable. As far people are concerned you are one of them."

Holland sighed. "Yeah, I supposed nothing bad could come of it. Just one condition, though. Don't tell them I used to kick Renton around."

Stoner considered that and, taking back his pictures from Talho's outstretched arm, said, "Violence sells."


V

Ravensbruck was a nice enough place but it had not been Dominic's first choice. It was a fairly populous city, largely untouched by the events preceding the Second Summer of Love, which meant that living here afforded them a measure of normalcy he thought was good for them. Originally, he had wanted to go to Bellforest since Axel Thurston had told him he would be welcome, and he really wanted to catch up with the old man and thank him, and tell him what a hero his grandson Renton had become. It was a peaceful and quiet place to settle where they wouldn't be bothered. However, Anemone would have none of it. For starters, Bellforest was boring, she'd said. And it had no good shops, no interesting people and, generally, nothing to do whatsoever.

And, while she held no particular resentment towards the Thurstons, spending time with an old man wasn't something she was looking forward to, either.

Dominic was not going to argue the point. There would be time for Bellforest later, and he was sure that one day Anemone would meet Axel. Until then, what she wanted he was going to give her. She deserved no less after all that happened, and after his own complicity in the whole thing.

Anemone seemed to either don't care or have already forgiven him, but he had not forgiven himself. It didn't change what he had done. Dewey had never really confided in him, that was true, and for most people it would be an excuse. He had just been a soldier following orders, gathering intelligence. He had just failed to see the man for what he was.

Warsaw had been an eye opener, but it shouldn't have had to come to that—he should have done something sooner. All that time he thought he was doing the right thing he was really just being used, and worse, he was hurting Anemone.

"Dominic!"

Anemone's sharp voice brought Dominic out of his reverie. His gray-blue eyes glanced at her sheepishly across the table. "Sorry."

They were sitting at one of the open-air cafes situated along a busy cobblestone street lined with shops and restaurants. Dominic didn't have too much of an appetite for sweets at the moment, but Anemone seemed intent on trying everything, and whatever she didn't eat Gulliver was keen to pounce on. There were quite a few people on the tables around them; obviously this was a popular place. Probably why Anemone had wanted to come here.

"I said, are you gonna eat that or what?" Anemone repeated, pointing with her spoon at the chocolate sundae in front of Dominic, which he had hardly touched. "What's the matter with you? You've been spacing out a lot lately."

"Just thinking." He passed the dessert to her, and she quickly dug her spoon into it and lifted a large chunk into her mouth. "Lots of things happened in such a short time that I really didn't have much of a chance to get my head around all of it. Did you?"

Anemone shrugged her shoulders, turning the spoon upside-down to scrape the last bit of chocolate syrup off of it, then taking another spoonful.

To anyone who didn't know her she would appear as nothing more than an uninterested teenager being fickle, clad in a white sundress with red accents along the shoulders and red open-heeled shoes. She had her hair done in the same style as always, but she had let it grow longer and didn't use clasps to hold it back anymore. Dominic couldn't help but smile. "You know, Anemone, it's really a mystery how you can eat all this stuff and not gain a pound."

"Are you saying--" she leaned an elbow on the table, fixing him with a beady eye "--you rather I did or something?"

Dominic blushed. "No, of course not. I love you just the way you are."

"Then stop it with the looking like you want to be somewhere else."

Dominic shook his head. "I'm sorry, okay? I'll make it up to you."

"You'll let me bite?"

Dominic blushed a fierce red. "No. I'll buy you something nice."

Anemone seemed to consider his answer for a few moments before deciding it was adequate and returning to her sundae. "Really, if there's anything that's really bothering you, why don't you say something? I'm not stupid, you know, you can talk to me about stuff."

"Yes, I know," Dominic said, feeling embarrassed that he would make her think that. "That's not what I think at all."

She made a face. "That's your problem. You think too much."

"Is it … really a problem?"

"It is when you are so hung up on figuring stuff out that you miss what's going on now." Anemone's voice had a slight tone of reproach, but her features were open, sincere. "Military types are all about the past, right? But you get so concerned about it that you stumble all over yourselves in the present. Instead of always looking over your shoulders, why don't you look at where you are walking?"

Dominic thought about that and decided she was right. "That's good advice."

Anemone smiled happily, pushing the now nearly-empty sundae cup in front of Gulliver.

She is really a remarkable girl, Dominic thought. He didn't remember the exact moment when we knew he had fallen in love with her; it was such a gradual thing. His assignment had been to look after her, which was easier said than done. For most of the time he had known her she had been prone to dramatic mood changes, some times violently so, and the drugs she had been injected with didn't help matters much. She had bit him on three different occasions, once rather painfully on the neck as he tried to restrain her, and had punched and kicked him more times than he cared to recall. But despite all that he had never blamed her.

Dominic sat back on his chair, watching the pink-haired girl. How odd that there had been a time when he'd thought he'd never see her again, when he wasn't even sure that his feelings were not unrequited. He had always tried to be kind to her, going above and beyond his duty, but there had never been any certainly—not the slightest hint, really—that she felt the same way. He'd admitted that to Holland and the Gekkostate. And they had compared to Renton, which was really the highest compliment they could pay him.

He looked away, focusing on the crowd walking by.

But even if Anemone hadn't felt anything for him, he would have still gone to save her. And he would have still--

Suddenly, there was a loud noise further down the street, like a boom echoing through the small canyon of old buildings. At once, Dominic and Anemone and everyone in the cafe turned their heads, just in time to notice a thick cloud of dust billowing around a corner. The people on the street stopped, though some, those closest to the cloud, began moving away clearly in fright. The first thing that came to Dominic's mind was that there had been some kind of accident.

Anemone sprang from her chair. "Let's go!"

"What?" Dominic sputtered.

"Somebody might be hurt!" Anemone said, and without any further explanation took off running, rounding the wrought-iron fence that separated the cafe from the street beyond.

Dominic quickly gathered Guilliver's heavy form with an arm, turning to tell nearest stunned waiter that he'd be back to take care of the bill, and, even with the creature's weight added to his own managed to vault altogether over the fence. He placed Gulliver in his motorcycle's side-car and took off after Anemone. As he ran, a series of hammering sounds reached his ears, and the crowded street turned to chaos. His heart pounding in his chest, two words came to mind: gunfire! Anemone!

People were screaming now, the sort of universal wail that fear always produced, and rushing to get away. He came around the corner at a full sprint, not really noticing anything else around him.

Anemone was standing on the sidewalk, her attention fixed on a locale a few yards further down the street that had had its front windows shattered open, and from which a thick column of smoke was rising.

"Anemone!"

Anemone turned at the sound of her name, and it was then that Dominic saw a man emerging from the building's windows. And he was carrying an assault rifle.

Without any conscious thought, Dominic grabbed Anemone's wrist, spinning her around, and dragging her into her nearest bit of cover her could find, a large black mailbox. It wasn't much, but crouching down next to it would at least provide some protection from the barrage he was sure was coming, and though he was painfully aware that the thin material would likely not even slow down rifle rounds. He put his arms protectively around Anemone.

There was no fire in their direction.

Dominic, with his back now pressed against the mailbox, inched along its surface until he could peek around the edge. The soldier—militant—criminal—or whatever—had turned around, examining the interior of the building which was darkened by smoke. He caught sight of the sign above the doorway.

"It's a bank," he whispered to Anemone.

"A bank robbery!" Anemone said, a little too loudly. She pushed away from him so that she could also look around the mailbox. "That's kinda cool."

Dominic could not believe she just said that. "It isn't. These guys look like they are serious. We don't want to be stuck in the crossfire when the local law enforcement gets here." He put his hands on her shoulders and, gently but firmly, moved her back behind cover. "Be quiet, please."

Anemone gave him a pout but offered no further protest. Dominic looked at the scene again, carefully scanning their surroundings looking for a way out. There was an old military truck parked across the bank, sort generally used as a troop carrier, which led him to believe there were more than enough criminals still inside. The one guy keeping watch outside—for Dominic was sure that was his job—didn't seem too concerned. He was slim, wearing a black mask over the lower part of his face and camo trousers; he was holding his weapon loosely, comfortably. Not a good sign. There wasn't any space between the buildings as they were so close to each other their facades made for what was basically once solid wall, meaning that he would have to take Anemone back the way they had come.

They could do it. All they would have to do was--

"Gulliver!"

Dominic spun around just as Anemone jumped onto her feet.

"Ane--" he threw out his hand to catch her but she was already gone. He saw Gulliver running towards them, as fast as his short chubby legs would carry him and made his decision, right on that split second of fear, to go after Anemone.

Anemone reached Gulliver in full stride, scooping him up almost as if he didn't weight more than thin air and turned on a dime, clearly intending to rush back to Dominic. And as she did this, her right foot slipped on the cobblestones. She landed on her side a groan; Gulliver squealed.

Dominic was besides her a second later, his heart threatening to burst through his chest. He took a hold of them both and, fueled by adrenaline, managed to haul them back up. It all happened very quickly, but it wasn't quick enough.

"Halt!"

Dominic's heart stopped. He turned immediately, raising only one hand as the other was still firmly wrapped around Anemone's waist; whether because she didn't fully understand what was happening, she didn't look half as scared as he thought she ought to. "Don't shoot!" he called, quickly getting over the shock of having an assault rifle aimed directly and him and the girl he loved. "We are civilians!"

"Come forward!" the criminal ordered.

Dominic looked down at Anemone. Her gaze dropped. "I'm sorry, Dominic," she said.

"Don't worry," he told her soothingly, "I'll get us out of this."

He wished he could believe his own words.

Trying to put as much of himself between Anemone at the gun pointed at them, Dominic moved them closer, very slowly—where the hell was law enforcement?--When he was just a few paces away, the armed robber lowered his gun. For a moment, Dominic thought he could overpower him, but with Anemone so close he didn't want to risk anything that might get her hurt. He had to play it cool; these guys were here for the bank, after all, not bystanders.

"Take it easy, mister, there's no need for bloodshed," the man said, and Dominic was taken aback by how young he sounded.

"My name is Dominic Sorel, who are you?" he asked.

"I don't have to answer that."

Those words triggered a powerful memory for Dominic, of the first time he'd met Renton and the boy had started asking him all kinds of questions about Anemone and TheEND. "I told that to a friend once," he said.

"I am not your friend."

"At the time, neither was he." Dominic said. But the man was not looking at him anymore: he had his bright blue eyes fixed on Anemone, and his brow, the only other part of his face visible, was furrowed. Dominic tightened his grip on her. Did he know who they were? Could he use that to their advantage? He hadn't recognized Dominic's name so the most likely answers was a negative.

Maybe it was even worse than that.

After Jurgens had sent them on their way at Dominic's own request, he had tried keeping up with current events. He knew from the media that while Gekkostate was generally regarded as full-blown heroes, there was a lot of anger for those who aided Dewey in any away. Dominic himself had stayed in the background, as was his job, but Dewey had unveiled Anemone to the world as his Goddess of War, and a seemingly willful participant in his plans. Along with the Ageha Squad, she was at the top of the list for some of the people who thought accountability, in one form or another, should not die with Dewey. And Anemone wouldn't exactly be hard to pick out from among a crowd. If they just so happened to be standing in front of one of those people, they were in very serious trouble.

"Do I know you?" the man said uncertainly to Anemone.

She barred her teeth angrily. "I make a point not to hang out with losers."

"Brave words for someone so young," came a new voice.

Both Dominic and Anemone turned as a second man stepped out of the back. He was of average height, but unlike the other one wore no mask so his face was plainly visible. He was older than Dominic but still fairly young, his eyes were a clear blue, and his hair was curly and blond. On his head sat a red beret, slightly tilted to the side. He wore full combat gear, fatigues and body armor, and was unarmed except for a handgun holstered on his belt. Behind him came another man, dark skinned and huge. Some kind of bodyguard was Dominic's first guess, with a squad machine gun.

The first man, the one who had aimed his assault rifle at them, saluted. "Sir, got some looky-loos here."

The blond man sighed, as if he regretted being given such information. "I guess it was to be expected," he turned to his bodyguard. "Art, bring what we have."

The dark-skinned man nodded and disappeared into the bank.

"Sir," Dominic started, fixing the newcomer, who was obviously in charge, with his eyes. His military experience had taught him that authority figure tended to have rather large egos, which could be taken advantage of. "We are innocent civilians. We've got nothing to do with this, and just so happened to be walking by."

"Who are they?" the leader asked the first man, ignoring Dominic.

"This guy said his name was Dominic. Don't know about the girl, she seems familiar though."

The leader turned his attention now more fully to Anemone, but she was looking up at Dominic and their eyes didn't meet. Dominic tucked her as close to his aside as he could. He was afraid, but not for his own safety. Anemone was the most important thing in his life, he would not let her go without a mighty fight and if it came to that, he was prepared to defend her to his last breath. He realized then that she was clinging on to his shirt with a hand, and placed his own on top of hers and squeezed hard, and she squeezed back. Gulliver, safe in Anemone's embrace, tried holding on to him too.

"She's just another pretty girl," the leader told his subordinate. "Don't concern yourself with it."

The bodyguard came back out, leading a pack of a dozen civilians and nearly half-a-dozen armed militias. The civilians all carried bags of currency. Dominic felt his heart sank as they were herded into the nearby truck.

"You are coming with us too," the leader said.

Dominic snarled as he was poked in the back by the man with the rifle and had no choice but to comply. He gave Anemone a look of apology; he wouldn't be getting them out of it after all for the time being.

As they walked past the leader, however, he reached out and took Anemone by the arm. Before Dominic could do anything, she looked up, her face surprised and angry, and her uniquely beautiful eyes met the leader's.

Dominic lunged, grabbing the man's collar, knowing full well that they were as good as dead. He was about to scream for Anemone to run when something hard slammed into the back of his knee. He turned, or tried to, as he fell and threw out his elbow hoping to strike a lucky blow. He saw Anemone struggling to restrain the man with the rifle as he lifted the butt of his weapon and—

—brought it down hard on Dominic's temple.

And before darkness completely obliterated his world, he heard Anemone desperately screaming his name, and he wished he had gotten one last chance to tell her how much he loved her.


VI

Holland fixed up his usual yellow ascot around his neck and walked onto observation platform above the Gekko's bridge. Talho sat bellow him in the captain's chair, with Ken, Moondoggie, Hap, Gidget, and Woz sitting around her in a star-shape layout where each of them had a station located at the point. As warships went, it was a rather spacious set-up, with large windows and canopy providing an astonishing view of the sky around them.

"We are authorized," Gidget called from her station. "Ravensbruck Air Traffic Control is very happy to see us."

"Doggie, bring us into the landing pattern," Talho ordered.

Moondoggie nodded promptly, moving his control stick slightly. The Gekko's nose dipped, and entered into a gentle turn, slowly spiraling towards the large blue Tower in the distance. Like most major cities, Ravensbruck was primarily built around the shimmering metal Tower that rose up thousands of feet into the air and which located at its center. It was here that the airports, as well as governmental offices, were located. The sun was low on the horizon, casting long shadows over the ground bellow, tinting everything in an orange and black palette. It really was beautiful.

"Gidget, what's our ETA?" Talho asked.

The dark-skinned teenager replied almost immediately. "Twenty minutes—oh, wait. Um, looks like we've been bumped up." She looked up at Talho surprised. "ETA is now."

Holland gripped the nearby safety rails as the Gekko's descend angle increased. With a whine of the straining engines, Moondoggie brought the graceful craft into the final landing stage. The fuselage shuddered as the landing gear was lowered and began catching the air, breaking their aerodynamic profile. A quick glance at the forward canopy confirmed to Holland that they were properly lined-up with the streaks of light that bordered the runway.

The engines were shut off so they were gliding in. As a general rule Gekkostate did all it could to keep from polluting and that meant riding the trapar waves, which also meant that they had to be really good at reading them to take full advantage of the lift they provided. It also meant there was no room for error during landing, as their glide slope would determine the speed at which they would hit the runway and if it was too steed they would hit with crushing force, destroying their landing gear and smashing up the Gekko; if it was too shallow, they would overshoot their target and run out of space before decelerating. Both scenarios would be near disastrous. Thankfully, Holland had full confidence in his crew and so he didn't worry. Compared to what they had been through this was cake, even with a damaged ship.

"Vectoring in for final run," Moondoggie said. "It's kinda shaky, but we'll make it."

"No problem with structural integrity. We are good for landing," Hap verified. "Everyone might want to hold on to something though."

Holland took that little of information with a growl, wishing he'd had a chance to go back to Tresor for repairs already. But the engineers there currently had their hands full fixing up certain elements of the U.F. fleet and it would be weeks before they could look at the Gekko. And Holland would much rather be up and about than sitting in a hanger somewhere waiting to let those wrench-heads have their way with his ship. Repairs would have to wait.

The Gekko touched down with a jolt and a roar. Almost as soon as it hit the runway, the brakes were engaged. Holland held on tightly. They came to stop just before the wide yellow stripes that signaled the end of the runway, with about three hundred yards to spare, and quick taxied to their designated elevator, designated by a glowing white square painted on the tarmac.

"Good job everyone," Talho said. "Doggie, secure us for parking. Ken, lock down weapons."

Holland descended the stairs to the bridge floor. "Gidget, ask Traffic Control about supplies. We are not here to impose, so only if they can spare."

Gidget nodded and dedicated herself to chatting up whoever was on the other side of her headset. Holland came to stand next to Talho. The ride down the elevator was short and uneventful, but as they entered the massive hangar, he noticed there a rather large crowd gather beneath them, right in front of where the elevator platform was meant to settle.

Hap was smiling broadly. "You guys should hear this." He pressed a button on his console.

And, much to the amazement of the entire crew, the sound of cheering flooded the bridge. Holland shook his head in amused disbelieve.

"I guess somebody must have let it slip that we were coming," Talho said.

Holland smiled sardonically. "Yeah, lets see how much they really like us once they get to know us."

By the time the elevator had come to a stop on the hangar deck, Holland had gathered the crew on the Gekko's own hangar, surrounded by their remaining LFOs, and spare parts for them and Nirvash. He wasn't about to tell them to behave. They hadn't made it this far by doing that. In fact, he'd told Matthew to bring out his boombox and his collection of the loudest music he had. These people were here to see Gekkostate, after all, and Holland didn't intend to let them go home disappointed. The girls, mainly--Gidget and Hilda, but also Talho--seemed to have found a renewed interest in makeup and as Holland led them all down the exit ramp generally used for deploying the LFOs, he noticed they were still attempting to fix themselves up for the adoring crowd.

As soon as they came into view, the crowd exploded in a huge collective cheer. There was a cordon of security personnel holding back the tide of people trying to push their way forward, holding signs and screaming adoringly. Holland, Talho by his side, waved—so did the rest of the crew. Matthew's blaring music was almost completely drawn out.

He noticed that the Gekko was far from the only ship in the hangar, and that was to be expected, but seeing military-grade KLFs unsettled him. And they weren't the standard Mon-Soono they had never had a problem with; they were bulkier, more heavily armored.

A security officer wearing a black uniform approached them and eagerly shook Holland's hand. "Captain Novak," he had to scream to be heard over the crowd. "Welcome to Ravensbruck. Sorry about the commotion, but once people found out Gekkostate was coming …"

"Call me Holland. Don't worry about it," Holland told them man. "I've had worse receptions than this."

The officer seemed to need a moment to consider what to say next. It wasn't nervousness, just uncertainty. "I've been told that the Administrator has asked to see you right away. Is that okay with you?"

Holland exchanged a look with Talho. There would be no time for sightseeing, apparently. He hadn't really expected this to be a vacation, but he had hoped for an opportunity to look around and meet some of the people and see who needed help with what. It was all rather new to, and he hadn't really thought it through—but then again that wasn't anything new. This might just prove an even better starting point, provided he could secure the cooperation of the local authority.

He nodded his accent to the security officer, then gestured for Talho and Hap to come with him as he followed down a corridor made up by security guys holding onto each other's belts to keep the crowd at bay. The others were left to their own devices. He trusted that they would not cause too much of a mess.

Although he had the feeling that those who had come to greet them would not care at all if they did.

With his arm around Talho's waist, Holland stepped through a side doorway and unto a narrow hall. They were brought to another elevator. As the officer pressed a button and they started to descend further into the tower, he turned to them. "We sure are glad you guys are here."

"We heard you've been having trouble," Holland told him.

"I am afraid so. The U.F. used to be able to keep the peace around here, but with them called back, things have been going to hell lately. We've been forced to arm ourselves. It wasn't cheap."

Holland this was a good a time as any to ask. "So I saw. Were did you get those KLFs?"

"Black market. Lots of stuff going around there. Unfortunately, they don't just sell their equipment to those intending to use it for lawful purposes only. You got the money, they sell you anything. But now that you are here—well, if half the stuff we've heard is even true--"

"I'm sure there's some wild exaggeration in whatever you've hear, but that tends to happen," Talho said.

"So the Colonel wanting to destroy the world—"

Hearing his brother referred to by his rank, a sign of respect anywhere, made Holland grind his teeth. "That's mostly true. Actually, it's all true."

The elevator came to a stop, and they were led down another hall, and into a large conference room lined with large tactical display monitors that glowed in its darkened confines; the electronic hum of machinery filled the air with an unnatural yet pleasant symphony. A large bald man stood up and approached them. "Holland Novak," he extended a hand, "I am happy to meet you at last. I am Administrator Odilo. I run this city."

Holland shook his hand, but had a distinct sense of uneasiness about the man. "We understand you are in need of help."

"Well, yes. Anyone can see that." Odilo said sharply. "We've been having problems with certain subversive elements that seem intent on disturbing the peace. Normally, the U.F. would take care of such ravel but after the Colonel saw it fit to take our local contingent away, we were in a rather precarious position. Enforcement is a matter of strength, and since we no longer have the miliraty by our sides, it seems like some people don't expect the law to apply anymore. Things have only gotten more violent lately. Now that you have arrived, however, our firepower will be greatly increased. You will be fairly compensated, of course. That is how you do things, right?"

Holland a felt his stomach tighten. "Hold on. We are not mercenaries," he said quickly. "We came with the intention to prevent bloodshed, not to fight for you against your enemies."

Odilo frowned. "Oh, but the time for mediation is long past. We can not sit idly while our citizens are attacked by this violent rabble. Just this afternoon we have a large-scale raid by local rebels on a crowded street. Many wounded. Several innocent people were taken hostages," he said. "Proper action must be taken."

"There has been too much death lately," Holland said, thought he had the impression that these people had already made up his mind. "There has to be away to find a peaceful solution."

"I don't believe this!" Odilo roared, visibly angered. "Gekkostate—the ones who stood up to the might of the Federation military and Dewey Novak—refuse to take action when action is needed most. What is this, some kind of joke? And you claim that you are here to help?"

Talho stepped in, her face set. "It seems to me you don't need any help—you've already made up your mind about what you want to do. We aren't here to do your dirty work."

"Nonsense!" he bellowed. "You are Gekkostate, you do this all the time!"

Talho looked like she wanted to punch this prick, and Holland had a mind to agree. That would not help them any, and so he put a restraining hand on her shoulder. She glared at him. Hap, obviously sensing the tension and hostility being thrown across the room, came between the two groups.

"Listen," he said, "We didn't come here to add to the problem." He turned to Holland, raising an eyebrow shiftily. "Maybe we should think about this."

Holland got it—they didn't have to agree to anything, they just needed an out for the time being. Ordinarily, he wouldn't have caved in like this, but there really didn't seem much good in continuing this discussion further. "We'll think about it," he said, not really intending to. He wasn't about to throw his crew into this. This place had merely been a suggestion, and if they didn't want the Gekko's help, he had no problem walking away.

As they turned to leave, Odilo called to them. "Do you know a Lieutenant Dominic Sorel?"

Holland, Talho, and Hap stopped on their tracks. Of course they knew him, but what did that have to do with—

"He's one of the hostages," the Administrator answered the unvoiced question. "Him and that thing he's infatuated with. They have been living here for a few weeks now."

Hearing Anemone referred to as 'that thing' made Holland wish he hadn't restrained Talho moments ago. Actually, it made him want to gut this guy himself and be done with it.

While Dominic had defected to Gekkostate and Anemone had joined him later on, he had only met them briefly, but though they caused Nirvash and the Gekko considerable grief he had felt a powerful connection to them. Dominic had been annoyingly reluctant to explain much at first, but once they had opened up to Holland, he couldn't help the sense that, even when they had been committed to hunt down Gekkostate, there had been an element of reluctance on the part of Anemone and TheEND. They were manipulated, like a lot of other people had, but it was really much worse than that. Anemone had been treated like a machine, a soulless thing whose only worth was its ability to cause pain and suffering.

Even Eureka, who had been placed in the front lines repeatedly, had always done so willingly, but Anemone had been forced from the start—forced to become a dehumanized weapon, deprived of human contact and kindness, and meant to exist so long as she served Dewey's purpose. When Dominic had told them about the drugs specifically created to turn her into a remorseless killing machine and the terrible way in which they affected her body and mind, and the constant side effects Holland had genuinely felt sorry for her. Nobody should be made to live like that.

And that she was made so much like Eureka—it was another one of his brother's sins.

"How do you know that?" Talho said. Her pale brown eyes were poisonous. "How do you know about them?"

"I know because I would not let them roam this city without supervision, as if they were regular people. They don't know they were being followed, of course. That would defeat the purpose. We all the trouble we've had it was a completely sensible precaution."

"Talho, lets go," Holland, said, all pretense of diplomacy now forgotten, and a new suddenly chilling possibility filling him with a kind of fear he hadn't felt in a long time.

He had made it perfectly clear to Dominic that he was responsible for them now—even if they didn't want him to be. Dewey was dead and so would never be brought to account though he certainly should. Holland would take it upon himself to make things right for them; to somehow make up for the life that Dewey had destroyed to turn a wounded and helpless little girl into the girl that was Anemone. He owed it to them. They had protested, but he had been adamant. It was no different than the oath he'd sworn to protect Eureka.

"I can't make you do anything," Odilo said surreptitiously, seemingly picking up on Holland's unsettled concern, "but you know as well as I do what is likely to happen if these rebels find out just who, exactly, they happen to have taken hostage. I'd give them maybe five minutes if they decide they want to have some fun with the 'girl' before killing her. The Lieutenant would more than likely be executed on the spot. An operation has been planed at first light tomorrow morning. You can choose to do as you wish. However, I feel the need to inform you your cooperation would greatly improve their chances of survival. Such as they are."

That wasn't much of a choice at all. It had been a while since Holland had felt so pissed with anyone.

What the hell had Dominic been thinking, getting taken hostage? He'd been told to keep a low profile. He knew people blamed Anemone for Dewey's murderous actions—that in the public mind she was as responsible for all the death and misery he had inflicted on the planet. He knew that given a chance they would want to hurt her, and, like an idiot, he had refused to stay with Gekkostate or the Izumo for their own protection. An idiot in love, like Holland himself, but still an idiot.

And now, somehow, he had to save them.


VII

Pain. Even as darkness dissolved into visible shapes, the first sensation that came back was pain, as if someone where trying to drive a nail into the side of his head. He was lying still on his back but somehow his whole body felt like it was moving, vibrating.

"Dominic!"

Pink hair.

It was then that he realized he had opened his eyes, and Anemone was leaning over him, her face sick with worry. She hit him on the arm then returned to cradling his head. "You idiot! Why do you always have to go and get yourself hurt?"

Dominic blinked insistently, clearing up his vision so he was able to take in surrounding. He was really moving—they were on the truck. The civilians he'd seen earlier were sitting on the bench across from them; the militias were standing, holding the railings that ran the length of the truck's top for support. Gulliver was curled up next to him, apparently standing guard.

He returned his attention to Anemone. "What happened?"

"You got hit in the head," she said, giving him an inquisitive frown. "Don't you remember? Did you loose your memory or something?"

Dominic almost laughed.

"I remember." He raised his hand, ignoring the pain for now, and gently stroked he side of her face. He then moved it slowly until he was holding a bare shoulder and pulled her down to whisper in her ear. "Listen, Anemone, keep your head down," he told her, "don't look at them in the eyes."

"I kinda figured that one out," Anemone said, resting her head against his chest. "Either they don't know who we are, or they know but aren't looking to hurt us. We can't take the chance, right?"

"Right."

A new face appeared above him, young with blue eyes and curly hair, and an expression of apology. "I'm sorry," he said. "My men are not trained for this sort of work. But desperate times call for desperate measures."

Anemone started and straightened up, but kept her gaze on Dominic. Neither said a word. Gulliver growled as threateningly as a ball covered in white fur standing on end could. The leader kneeled down in front of them, stretching out his hand to offer something to Anemone. She looked at them item suspiciously, as if it would hurt her. "Ice pack," the leader said, pointing at Dominic, "for his head."

Anemone took it and promptly pressed it against the side of Dominic's aching temple, brushing a rather thick lock of his dark hair out of the way. At first, the cold made it hurt worse, but slowly the pain ebbed away.

"My name is Simon," he said.

Dominic nodded, committing the name to memory. "Where are we going?" he managed, thinking it wouldn't hurt to get know more about their current situation.

Simon stood up, taking a hold of the overhead railing. "For me, safety. For you, well, don't worry, you'll be safe too, at least for now. I'm a freedom fighter not a murderer."

It occurred to Dominic that, at one point or another, just about every murderer in history must have claimed to be a freedom fighter. Of course, Anemone didn't need to hear that, but judging from her glum expression he had the distinct feeling that she probably knew.


VIII

"Dammit!" Holland kicked the first thing he could find--a large bucket, which clattered loudly as it skidded across the floor and smashed into the side of the heavily-armed 808. Hilda promptly threw a look of reproach his way, but didn't say anything. The entire crew had gathered on the hangar to discuss what to do next, and for the last few minutes, after Holland and the others had finished filling everybody in, there had been a grim, unbroken silence. The enthusiasm at their euphoric reception now just another distant memory.

Hap, who was sitting cross-legged on the deck, said, "Well, we aren't gonna solve anything like this."

"Holland, you don't really think they would hurt them, do you?" Gidget said. "I mean, once Dominic explained everything to us, we wouldn't hurt them and we had more cause than most people. They threatened the Nirvash before, but you wouldn't hurt them, right?"

Wouldn't he? Holland thought. The answer was rather hard to swallow. If he had met Anemone before anyone had had a chance to explain, and if he had known that she was the pilot of TheEND, he would have hurt her. He had tried twice—rather, twice he had been in a position to fight her. The first time before he even knew anything about her and simply assumed that it was another ace inside the black LFO, and the second after he'd found out about the way Dominic felt about her, but weight against the importance of what Renton and Eureka had to do he'd been more than willing to place himself in her way.

Until Dominic risked his own life to get her to stand down.

Yes, he decided. He would have hurt Anemone. And that knowledge made this entire situation all the more troubling. Gidget wouldn't understand if he told her; she was much too young and much too naïve.

"We need to get them out of there," Holland said. "This Odilo guy didn't sound like he was to keen on caring for their well-being so I don't like their chances if they are caught in some misguided assault. The local security force seems just as likely to want to kill them as the rebels."

"So then what?" Hilda said.

"We use the dawn assault as a diversion, then go in with the 606 and 808. We get Dominic and Anemone out of there and pull back. We do it fast and hard. Hopefully, there should be enough confusion that we can do it before anyone knows we're there."

There were looks exchanged all around. Then, Ken, their mustachioed weapons maestro said, "What about the other hostages?"

"I'm not as concerned about them as I am about our love birds," Holland said. "Our intervention will sway the battled, probably."

"That's not the point," Ken objected. "As long as there's weapon fire being thrown around people are bound to get hurt, maybe even killed."

Holland took a deep breath and let it out slowly. It was all he could do to keep from signing. He didn't want to say it, but sometimes being the Leader meant stating the painfully obvious. "We can't protect everyone."

He hadn't really wanted things to turn out like this, and he wanted to say it, but from the looks of resignation being traded around he understood that he didn't have to.

"The Gekko won't be much help in ground support," that from Hap. "We'll stay overhead and help coordinate the LFOs."

Holland nodded at him. "Woz, try to get us some intel. I don't care if you have to hack the tower's computer system. I want tactical dispositions, and whatever you can on these rebels. Tactics, weaponry, profiles, anything. And the locals too."

Woz nodded, his long dreadlocks bobbing up and down. "Do you want me to coordinate with the locals?"

"No. And don't let them know what you are doing. The last thing I want is for these people to think we sanction what they are doing." He turned to Hilda and Matthew, who were standing next to each other looking very much like a couple. "Hilda, you'll go in the 606 with Matthew. I'll take the 808."

Her jaw dropped. "Holland!"

"I know, I know. It isn't fair. But I have to be out there." He waved her protest away. "And it's not like I'm making you stay on the ship."

Hilda folded her arms across her chest, pouting. Matthew patted her ebony shoulders consolingly. Holland hated doing this to her, but he wouldn't be much a leader if he sent people into danger and didn't put himself also in the fight. Her discontent reminded him how much he missed having an LFO. At least she recognized the seriousness of what they were doing enough not to caution him against destroying her 808 too.

"I think it would also be a good idea to keep an ear on radio traffic, since we are depending on these guy's assault," Hap suggested. "We don't want something to change and not know about it."

Holland agreed. "Gidget, you want the job?"

She nodded excitedly. Holland envied her energy; he was starting to feel much older than he had in a while, and he wasn't even thirty yet. "Anything else?"

There was a lot of head shaking.

"Alright, lets get this thing prepped. You got your assignments."

As the crew scattered to their station or to tend to their duties, Holland noticed Talho, who was yet to say much of anything was staring absently at the heavily-armored shape of the 808. He came to stand besides her and placed an arm around her waist. She unceremoniously pushed him away.

"What?" he asked, puzzled.

"You know, you don't owe those two anything," she said bitterly. "They tried to kill you."

Holland's eyebrows came down into an ugly frown. "Where is this coming from? I thought you liked Dominic and Anemone."

"I like them just fine," she said. "But not enough that I would like to see you get killed for their sakes."

"I am not getting killed."

Talho turned fully to face him. Her expression was angry, but Holland saw something else there--a kind of sickening concern. She was deadly afraid for him. He was her lover, but more importantly, the father of the little creature growing inside of her. Far from holding it against her, Holland found he suddenly hated himself.

"Do you know that?" she roared. "Can you tell me, right know, that nothing will happen to you? That our child won't grow without a father? Can you promise me that?"

Holland raised his hands, intending to calm her down. "Talho …"

"CAN YOU?" Her voice was breaking now. There were tears running down her cheeks. "Or are you going to go and put yourself in harm's way like you always do and damn the consequences?"

And that was when he hugged her. At first he thought she might push him away in her anger, but she didn't and simply allowed him to hold her. Words were meaningless now because nothing he could say could possible diminish her grief and the worry at seeing him go into combat against an enemy they knew nothing about. So he held her, and hoped it was enough to reassure her, even a little, that he had no intention of leaving her all alone with their child. But he owed it to Dominic and Anemone to look after them also. It wasn't easy, to choose between his love for her and his sense of responsibility, but even if he had to destroy everything in his path, there wasn't a force in the world powerful enough to keep him away from her.

And so combat was not even an issue in his mind. He would go out there, and he would do whatever it took to win, and then he would come back to hug her again. That wasn't cockiness, that was fact.


IX

Dominic could only estimate how far outside the city they had been taken, but he guessed it was pretty far. Night had fallen by the time the truck reached a stop and they were told to get out. Dominic, Anemone, and the other hostages did so without protest, but as his feet hit the ground, the world took a violent spin and his knees turned to jelly. Before he knew what had happened, Anemone--in a reversal of their usual roles--was helping him up. He felt pretty damn stupid.

As the militias climbed off behind them, Dominic managed to look around. And what he saw surprised them. There people here, and not just the sort of people one would expect at a military camp. There were men, but also women and children, all living in flimsy canvas tents, tending cooking fires, looking disheveled and ragged. The camp was arranged in a circle around what looked like an abandoned storage building, the large steel gates of which had been thrown open to reveal a large amount of ordnance been hidden inside, and was surrounded by thick shrubbery and high cliffs that loomed overhead.

That was what he had expected, some kind of defensible position, but not—

And then he realized Anemone's fingers were digging into his arm. He turned to look and saw her face had gone completely slack, and she was staring absently at the people around her. "Anemone?"

"What is this place?" she said to no one in particular.

Dominic shook his head.

"You two," Simon, who after getting off the truck had been talking to one of the civilians as if obtaining some critical information, called after them. "Inside. You'll be warmer there."

Gulliver at their heels, they followed Art, Simon's bodyguard, through the camp along with the other hostages picked up at the bank, having to dodge children as they ran around them chasing each and laughing in that hopelessly oblivious way that only children possessed. Dominic was shocked. No responsible military leader would surround himself with innocent civilians. Or was that just the point? Were these people meant as human shields?

No. Even as the thought occurred to him, it was quickly dismissed. The looks on these people's faces, and the sense he got from them were not those of hostages herded here against their will. It was more like contentment, relief. The sort of thing he'd seen and gotten used to before he'd met Dewey Novak, when he had lived in a refugee camp.

A shiver shot down his spine.

Refugees?

But there were no refugees in Ravensbruck. It wasn't the sort of thing that was easy to miss. He would have heard something if there were, it would have been on the news or on the papers. Somewhere somebody would have mentioned it. Lots of people had been affected by the Coralian counter-attack after Dewey destroyed their Control Cluster, but not here. Ravensbruck was supposed to be untouched.

The inside of the storage building was illuminated a bright orange by the fire that had been lit besides some of the crates Dominic had noticed earlier. Now that he had a closer he realized that he'd been wrong about his original assumption; there were weapons here, lots of them, but also a lot of food and water and medical supplies. Far more than were required even by people such as these. There were several large hulks covered by sheets of canvas on a corner surrounded by cables and computer terminals. A sleek metal gun barrel jutted out from among the folds of this covering as it would from a KLF. Dominic recognized that was probably just what he was looking at.

A young dark-haired girl was working on the computers, but she paid the newcomers no more than a curious glance over her shoulder.

"You stay here tonight," Art said, pointing around the fire. His voice was deep, the sort one would expect from singers, though he was built like a black bull. Several unsatisfied grumbles filled the air. He ignored this. "We are scrounging some blankets for you, but you'll have a guard, so don't think this is some kind of wildlife vacation."

They sat around the fire, making themselves as comfortable as they could, and also placing their backs against the nearby crates so they would have something to lean on and rest. Dominic pulled Anemone into his arms, feeling her warmth and letting her feel his. Gulliver curled up besides them. Anemone soon had her head lay wearily on his shoulder, though her eyes were wide open. She must be really tired, he thought, kicking himself mentally for allowing them to be caught up in this, but also knowing that he couldn't afford to dwell too much on what happened.

What was done was done, and now, more than at any other time, the advice she had given him that very afternoon seemed to have urgent meaning. He needed to stop thinking about the past and focus on the present; he had to if he wanted to get Anemone out of this.

Art stood over them for a while, then was relived by a much younger looking man, barely out of boyhood. They exchanged a few joking words; Dominic recognized the newcomer's voice as that of the man they had first stopped outside the bank. He took over watching the hostages and Art walked off towards the girl working on the covered KLFs.

Dominic's eyes followed him, hoping to perhaps overhear something that might help them out of this jam, but both Art and the girl spoke in such soft whispers that it was impossible to pick up on any part of their conversation. He did notice, however, that she had started to blush and, though he was easily three times her size, hit him playfully and made an indignantly angry face that reminded him of the way Anemone sometimes acted.

As if instructed by his thoughts, Anemone tugged on his sleeve. "Hey, Dominic."

Turning his attention back to her, he saw that she looking intently at the wall opposite them. It had been filled in bright graffiti, of all sorts of colors that were, even in the orange flickering glow of the flames still distinct and vivid. But what really struck Dominic were the words that been scrawled there in a sort of elaborate free-flowing script, put there by someone who clearly had a mastery of such art …

Justicia. Tierra. Libertad.

Dominic frowned gravely, rolling the words around in his head. What the hell was going on in this town?


To be continued …

Notes: Just for giggles, here are some of the references. I hope you managed to catch some of them, but whatever. The title 'Physical Graffiti' is a Led Zeppelin album. Since all Eureka Seven episodes are based on musical references I thought that was fitting. The names of the ACCs, Simon and Art are references to Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel, and Jan van Eyck was a famous Flemish (that is, Dutch—from Holland. Get it?) painter. There's more but I'd rather let you find the stuff out by yourselves.