not written for more than amusement. some ideas (such as the Choose Your Own FanFic idea i'd come up with for my webpage) that i thought i'd monkey around with that were left over from Reluctant Bet. If you want Social Commentary and Meaningful Insight Into The Human Condition, well, good luck. It sure ain't here. This is a fanfic, any resemblence to a professional job is purely coincidental (and possibly a sign of the Apocalypse).

Labor of Love & Time
THIRD LABOR: Time for Revolution chapter 1 (Prologue) by Gregg...

Note that this builds on events in "Skysaber's Choice" and directly follows the events in "Reluctant Bet", is part of an SI (i'd been accused of it in some other works, so might as well be hanged as a goat than as a sheep, ne?) As with RB, there are attempts to come up with new twists on old stuff. Both Reluctant Bet and Skysaber's Choice can be found at:
http://studio-aesir.net/

----------

Grey sat at the edge of Mimir's Well and observed as the chosen timeline continued now without Divine OR Infernal Intervention. Some parts were funny, some were sad. All of which was perfectly normal for such things.

There were the Sailor Scouts, each orbitting their love interest. There was the perky Ranko, the Reluctant Hero-Student known as Scarlet, and the hentai disciple of Happosai - Akane Tendo. The Tendo twins, Nabiki and Kasumi. A seventeen year old Cologne chatting amiably with her mother-in-law Nodoka in the Saotome kitchen. Various sundry other girls all drawn to the eldest child - Jared Saotome. Queen Serenity and her daughter (multiply removed - sort of) Serena and granddaughter Rini.

Though they were fated to fight dire foes and have to deal with numerous problems, it was obvious that the vast majority of them were content if not happy. Far more were happy than not. It was a time of exploration and invention, political turmoil and social upheaval. Just little projects like terraforming Mars was bringing censure from various sources around the world. Not to mention all the horrors of rumor and innuendo that were turned against them. Nonetheless, they were *mainly* happy.

He saw no indication of any of the not-Senshi from this last timeline in the Scouts of that timeline. It looked as if the merger had gone seamlessly.

A sound brought his attention to the arch that marked the entryway to the Well's area. How long she had been there and watching him, he had no idea.

"This is unexpected," understated Grey. He indicated a place nearby. "Have a seat?"

She nodded and moved forward to sit in the indicated area, remaining silent for her own reasons.

Grey glanced at her out of the corner of his eye, catching her own look and slight smile. Maybe, just maybe, they could be friends at least?

That wasn't too much to hope for, was it?

She looked at him speculatively. He somewhat reminded her of her Ranko-chan. She would miss her, but this was far better than merging with a pervert.

"Ak-a-ne," was all she said as she curled up beside him, her tail twitching at the sight of the poke-ball that had just appeared on his belt. Well, perhaps it would work out.

Grey pondered this and suddenly saw why. Toltiir had said that they would all understand. In the world they were to merge with, Akane would have either merged with Scarlet - the *very* reluctant geased student of the Pheonix Mage, or the perverted disciple of Happosai - Akane Tendo. As it was the disciple of Happosai who was native to that plane, Akane had seen that she would merge with... a most unpleasant version of herself.

How she had ended up reverting to the pokemon form, Grey wasn't sure but suspected it was because Amaterasu's influence had been temporarily suppressed by the shifting timelines.
Taking out his laptop, Grey put in a request for a human/pokemon translator. "Okay, I understand why you didn't want to merge. How did you get re-merged with your pyrolion aspect?"

Akane growled under her breath. Having a limited vocabulary sucked. She was tired, she was upset about losing her home, and this guy wasn't Ranko (but Ranko was a part of him as she understood it) and she wanted to go off and sulk.

Grey looked over the pokemon. "Beautiful..."

Akane startled at that, before turning a wary gaze towards him.

"No, not like that," assured Grey. "Have you seen yourself?"

Akane shook her head. No, she hadn't merged with this previous aspect for long.

"Look then," Grey used the properties of the Well to make it reflective. Simple stuff he could handle.

Akane gasped as she got a good look at herself. Roughly the size of a mountain lion, and with a similar build. A long tail ended in a plume of flame that didn't seem to burn anything. Red fur covered her, except for a pattern of orange flame-shaped stripes, those luminous golden eyes, and a slightly darker flattened nose. Her ears went from flat to extend out to tufted points as she examined her image.

She'd known at the moment of transformation that she was powerful, with strong jaws and teeth, powerful claws, and a tight musculature under that short thick fur. She instinctively knew that she was now an elemental creature of fire. She agreed now with Grey's assessment. She *was* beautiful and deadly, a form that was powerful and graceful and strong. She grinned experimentally and was rewarded with the sight of some impressively sharp white teeth though the back group looked as if they were flattened much like human teeth. She wasn't exactly human, but then she kind of wished she could run into Kuno-sempai while looking like this.

Grey took out his pokedex, and let Akane see her entry.
Pyrolion (Akane)
Element: Fire
Type:Unique
Length: 6'3"
Weight: 250 lbs
Techniques: Scratch, Ember
Other Techniques: Roar, Bite, Fire Spin, Flamethrower, Takedown
Good Against: Grass, Bug, Ice
Bad Against: Water, Rock, Dragon, Psychic
Evolution: normal
"Pyrolion - fire elemental lion. This pokemon is best avoided by beginning trainers."

Akane snorted at that. Let ANY trainers avoid HER, thank you very much. "Aka NE!" Her ears flicked as she heard others approach. Well, she was tired anyway, so she nosed the white/red sphere on Grey's belt.

SHOOM!

Grey watched Akane enter the pokeball and was curious. Why had she done that, anyway? It wasn't often he could have a conversation with Akane without a fight starting out.

A wood nymph stepped within the arches. "Pardon me, Candidate Grey, but you're wanted over at Freja's Field."

-----------

Toltiir's tail twitched. As he had reverted to cat-form (it wasn't his *true* form, but it was familiar and comfortable) this was not a good sign.

While it *had* been his idea, the arguing girls were not very amusing at present. Each of those who had made this choice had excellent reasons (at least in their own opinions) for being the one to marry Grey, or at least accompany him on his next Labor.

Then, despite warnings, Son Usagi and Usagi Tsukino were sufficiently curious that they made physical contact. And had merged as having both of them bleep out of existence would not have been funny. Toltiir had some regrets about influencing things so that they had merged, especially after the new Son Usagi Tsukino had unleashed an experimental denki ball attack.

Now everyone was arguing. Not amusing. Toltiir was bored and beginning to get annoyed.

Edema saw this and walked over to the currently-feline Elder god before all Chaos broke loose. "Well now, Puck. Hardly what you had planned, eh?"

"Hardly," agreed Toltiir.

"Grant me three wishes and I'll cut through all this nonsense," Edema indicated the fight about to break out.

"Fine, fine. Just don't make it boring will you?"

Edema shrugged, nearly popping out of her top in the process. She was a dark elf and had spent many years as a talented sorceress in the evil city of Mezonobarren. No matter that she had learned other methods or had left that city to pursue another path, the culture one is raised in constantly colored one's perceptions.

The drow was a friend of Grey's, or so she considered herself. They were both outsiders in Asgard, and though he was often a pale-skinned human and she a darkskinned elf, there was a certain pleasure in each other's company. They had dated a couple of times, but the loveplay of her homeland included things that would make a Klingon warrior squeamish. She liked it rough while Grey was the gentle nurturing type. So they remained friends but would never get past that hurdle.

Edema considered. Being a drow mage and running an ice cream parlor were both occupations where careful thought was a handy trait. It was not uncommon in her land of origin for a woman, particularly of the priestesses, to have many male slaves whose purpose was to entertain her on her couch. Marriages were less common, as sacrificing a particularly loved one was a common practice. Still, the common people had marriages, though it was usually for safety or advancement, not love. And Grey was more self-sacrificing than other-sacrificing.

She was listening to the arguments around her. Minako claimed that as she had known Grey the longest, and he had once been her pet cat, that SHE should be the first to marry him. Rei was arguing that as the psychic girl, she was the best candidate. Setsuna argued that she had seen her counterparts and knew them to be nearly the personification of loneliness, that SHE should be first.

Edema was listening, and didn't hear love mentioned once. She knew this was important to Grey, though she wasn't quite sure she knew what love was. Affection, yes, she had her favorite cloak, her favorite magic wand, her favorite daggers.

"First wish. I wish that all these girls deeply loved Grey and were comfortable with the concept of a group marriage."

Toltiir, already having manifested a rather large ball of energy, was a little surprised but let it go. The shimmering field shot out. Judging from Edema's surprised look, she'd apparently forgotten that she was technically a girl and present. As were a few *other* observers present.

Sasami innocently supplied the next wish due to her dislike of the continuing conflict. "I wish they'd all kiss and make up... oh my!"

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

Grey climbed the stairs to the small park, wondering why the mysterious summons and why *him* in particular. He finally reached the top and saw...

"Hades' pointy beard, why me? Well none of THEM need me, that's for sure." Grey continued to grumble, walking past the confused wood nymph messenger. "Tell whoever wanted me that I got the message. Oh boy, did I get the message. If anybody wants me i'll be getting the info from Hades about my next mission. Yeeeeshhh."

"Oh dear," said the wood nymph as she looked out over the field, wondering exactly how *this* had happened.

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

"This Labor is a bit tricky," explained Koenma as he leaned against a building, "in keeping with the first two Labors, it is a task that needs doing in a different timeline. Your first mission, reconciling Queen Serenity and the Pheonix Mage, was successful even if..."

Aphrodite snorted and waggled a finger. "Even if she's convinced that he's actually Serena's father from their Silver Millenium incarnation."

"Not my fault. Most *definitely* not my fault." Grey was quite certain of this, he certainly couldn't think of anything that he'd done to encourage that illusion. And he knew darn well he'd never been some Silver Millenium consort. (He was wrong about this, but then he made no pretensions about perfection.)

"The second mission, though simple, was accomplished as well," Joe pointed out. "Though the chaos level was a bit high."

"So there will be no resets, no divine interventions or assistance," Koenma glared directly at Aphrodite on this last point, "except for behind the scenes in case of a major demonic intervention. Due to the difficulty of this task, you will be allowed to take your apprentice and one other non-divine assistant as well as your usual bag of tricks."

"Apprentice?!"

"Apprentice." Aphrodite gestured and a picture appeared.

"Sasami? Isn't she back in her homeverse?"

"No. Ryoko and Aeka got into a fight in her kitchen. She left and is now resuming with the RRO. Per her request." Koenma shrugged. Juraians, who could figure them?

"Continuing your briefing on the Third Labor," said Celeste with a wince. "The problem is in timeline AK-RN 204171, we have two seperate problems. There was an Infernal Intervention where some Chinese warlord named Dong Zhao was posssessed and unifed China, setting up an infernally influenced empire that lasted nine hundred years and had serious repercussions throughout the East.

"The second intervention was the result of the Continuum Knights."

"Wait a minute, i thought they were just interested in returning errant timelines to mainlines." Grey couldn't help but interject a comment here.

"That's originally what we thought. Unfortunately, many of the actions so far don't fit the sort of pattern you'd expect from that." Celeste rolled her eyes and shook her head. "Anyway, you're to go to March 13, 1774 where the problem occurred."

"What did they do and what was the effect?"

"Unclear, other than the deaths of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Samuel Payne, and a half dozen other pivotal American revolutionaries within the period of, " Celeste consulted a display, "March 13 1774 to May 12 1774. Resulting in the American Revolution failing, and the 'uppity colonists' are pretty well suppressed by the British until WWI. America ends up actually being three seperate nations that are continually having border disputes. We've noted that while there were indications of these 'Continuum Knights' entering this timeframe, they may have stayed in there for awhile. They're apparently using a 'Boom Tube' like device for interdimensional transport."

"Hmmm. So basically," Grey interpreted, "my mission is to keep the assassinations from taking place."

"Essentially," agreed the huge Koenma, eyeing the clock but he still had an hour before his poker game with Hades. "What matters is who you'll be taking with you on the trip. Remember that many of the girls will revert to an asian appearance in a non-anime timeline, and if you rely on a translation spell or device then either failing will mean a major language barrier for the girl you take with you. Also that as this is Colonial America, noncaucasians are frequently viewed as being less than a white counterpart."

"Though frankly with Franklin, Jefferson, and a number of others, they won't care a whit." Celeste pointed out. "Not to mention that the attitude is less hostile in 1774 than it becomes later. These are the current list of volunteers..." A holographic display showed nine girls who had gotten the rules ahead of time and had put in for the duty.

"However, you should note that the 'Senshi' lost the powers gained in the past timeline." Koenma grumbled. "As dominant timelines have them as Senshi they've reverted to similar core abilities. As this universe doesn't have a Silver Moon Kingdom to draw power from, they're not able to do some of their Senshi tricks if they accompany you. Something close might be possible, I hear Sif's gotten 'inspired.'"

"i see. Therefore, i should choose..."

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

There were six water fountains in Freja's Field. Each was being used. Each had a line waiting to use it.

"Bleh! Bleagh! Shampoo no can believe she did that!" Shampoo carefully spat the water out to the side and rinsed her mouth out again. "Pah!"

Ukyo tapped her on the shoulder. "Come on, Sham-chan, my turn."

"At least she used the last wish to wish we were cured of the effects of the second wish, it *could* have been worse." Ed wasn't *that* unhappy with the way things had turned out. He'd just been curious, so he and Kiyone had come by to see what was going on. Serious liplock had commenced as *everyone* in the area of the field had started kissing everyone else. What a pity he'd been in his Pikachu form at the time!

"I noticed Minako just turned herself into her dragonform and flew off, suppose that the 'Soldier of Love' and the 'Cupid of Love' are planning something?" Kiyone looked over at her partner, wondering why Ed was still grinning like that. How odd.

"Oh look! A karaoke bar!" Ed decided to deflect a few suspicions. Just in case.

"Don't go there."

Edema shook her head, amused for the most part. She hadn't been bothered by kissing a woman, though humans did it a bit different. And at least having this guy around had gotten people to stop calling *her* Ed.

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

Makoto Kino spat water out and regarded her fellow victim of Sasami's well-intentioned but not terribly thought out wish. "That was disgusting."

"I've always suspected Usagi of swinging both ways," Rei growled. "Not only does she have to pursue almost any guy in sight, but her reaction when she's meeting cute girls..."

Makoto winced. "I think she's still hitting on Honey-san."

Rei grumbled at that.

"Guys, here's the ones who passed the review board," Ami said, accessing a data terminal set into a tree. ~At least my computer skills haven't faded upon leaving my home timeline.~

"WHAT?!" Makoto was quick to determine that there was a name conspicuous by absence. "Why aren't I on the list?!"

"Hang on, I'm scrolling down. 'Lack of English skills, inability to look American.'"

"I'm *half* American! Where do you think my height and 'talent' came from? And, well, I kind of..."

"You spent most of your life fighting or defending that you were Japanese so taking English courses didn't seem too cool, eh?" Rei had pieced the story together over the past few years.
"Until recently..."

Makoto blushed. "Hey, we've been hitting it off lately. And when he was an angel..."

"When he was an angel he was cute," Ami said, then almost fainted from the force of her blush when she realized she had said that out loud.

"Sif took Setsuna to merge with one of her Senshi aspects," Rei looked up. "She's still playing matchmaker, I guess."

"Why are *your* names on here?! Ami speaks English but she and you are pure Japanese!" Makoto looked at the two nominees. "You couldn't pass for American in... 1774?! Time AND space travel?"

"Admittedly the American Colonies at that time were primarily of Anglo-Saxon derivation," agreed Ami, "mainly of English descent but a few others as well. Most likely we'd be mistaken for some odd tribe of American ainu there or Chinese from descriptions passed on by traders. You'll notice that the main reason is listed here in the sidebar for our inclusion."

"Well," said Makoto, a determined gleam in her eyes, "I'm going to find a way to get in on this mission one way or another!"

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

Timeline SM-301417:

Sailor Pluto took a deep breath. The future ended in fifteen minutes. Beyond that she could not see and the Gate Of Time would be forever closed. The timelines would merge and she would cease to exist. She would become part of another her that was so close that there were no differences at all. Which was why they were merging, of course. It happened all the time and was nothing to be worried about.

Except that when the timelines merged she would go irrevocably, stark raving, insane from the memories of TWO lifetimes of isolation. She'd only have to deal with it for thirty seconds while the merger built up around her place of guardianship. By the time the wave crested, she'd be giggling and imagining herself back at the Silver Moon Palace with her Queen and flirting with that handsome young Nebula Knight.

"Excuse me?"

Sailor Pluto, the dignified guardian of the time gate, nearly wet herself. Nobody sneaked up on her. She had been alone a very, very, long time.

"Who dares....?!" Sailor Pluto looked at a version of herself who was not a Senshi, who was dressed in a fairly cute green turtleneck and a pair of tight jeans. Her skin was more tanned too, and she had a healthy look about her. "Me?!"

"So, in this timeline, my Queen failed to send anyone forward in time, and so you have been guarding this timeline alone since then?" Setsuna looked around at the place, noting hundreds of sweaters, quilts, blankets, stacks of trashy romance novels, a few sculptures, a Navajo flute, and a guitar.

Sailor Pluto leaned on her staff and stared. "It's finally happened. I've gone mad." She knew she had come close on several occasions. She'd learned hundreds of skills such as knitting and playing every variant of solitaire that she could conceive. If you could do it while you were alone, and get the supplies by fishing in the timestream, she'd done it. A million years was a VERY long time. But loneliness was a poison and boredom a constant companion.

Setsuna shook her head. "I'm one of your Analogues, the other you from a timeline where I was one of those sent forward by the Queen, though I am not a Sailor Scout." She held a slender hand out. "I offer... an alternative."

"An alternative?" Sailor Pluto wasn't born yesterday. "What's the catch?"

"Your aspect merges with me." Setsuna blushed a little. "There is a good chance, if we play our cards right, of ending up with someone special. Of loving and being loved in turn. There are jobs to be done, important ones as well as those not so important. But you needn't go mad, and you needn't go lonely."

There was a blur as the two aspects met, and Sailor Pluto blinked as the memories of this other life flowed through her. He made her feel... special. Appreciated. She had sworn an oath and would serve him as a samurai served her daimyo, as a knight did her lord, and if she could manage it - as a lover served the one they loved.

Sailor Pluto blushed and vanished from the room.

--------

Eyecatch #1:

A framed picture of Rei Hino in her priestess hakima. With a click, it flips over, revealing a picture of Rei in a plugsuit. Click/flip: Rei in Jedi Knight robes. Click/flip: Sailor Mars. Click/flip: Rei as a Rifts SAMAS Samurai pilot. Click/flip: Rae Hino in a yellow gi, leaping towards a Dojo Destroyer. Click/flip: Rei as an angel.

Eyecatch #2:

A framed picture of Sasami in her Juraian princess clothes. With a click, the picture turns over to reveal Tsunami wearing Dragonball Z style fighting clothes. Click/flip: Magical Princess Pretty Sammy. Click/flip: wearing jeans and a "Nuku Nuku" t-shirt. Click/flip: Tsunami with the forehead and cheek markings of an OMG style goddess. Click/flip: Sasami as an angel with Tsunami standing right behind her.

--------

Everyone copes with events beyond their control in different ways. Setsuna Meiou moved to secure her position and increase her usefulness, and even if she still failed to capture someone's heart, then she'd have a job waiting for her guarding a gate.

Ami Mizuno gathered information. Makoto Kino aggressively sought action. Rei Hino tried to analyze the data and get a feel for the situation. Usagi found a buffet and was not heard from for several hours. Michiru and Haruka weren't particularly bothered by kissing other women and wondered what all the fuss was about. Likewise, Cutey Honey didn't see the problem, though she'd have much preferred to have kissed a guy. Edema wasn't bothered about kissing a woman, but human women were slightly different.

Minako Aino had flown around until she spotted a Karaoke Bar near the valkyries. Shortly thereafter, the underage girl was being escorted *back* to the Park, but not (alas) in time. She'd watched too many Westerns, had gone up to the bar, and asked for the strongest thing they had. Then, perfectly in keeping with the source material, had knocked it back in a single swallow.

"I've got it! Yeah baby I've got it! I'm his Venus, I'm his fire, I'm pure desire!" Then, as she had done the past three times she had broken into song, Minako Aino passed out.

"She can still move after drinking that stuff," the valkyrie holding Minako's right arm noted aloud, "that's fairly impressive."

"Y'know, Tendo-chan, you've got something there. Though she's got a dragonseed, so maybe she's not the frail little girl she appears." The valkyrie holding Minako's left arm looked over the girl whose heels were dragging in the dirt.

"Call me Kimiko, Helga-chan, we're off-duty. I would *count* on them being more than they appear, otherwise they wouldn't be heroes."

Minako's eyes opened, though still crossed, "Yeah baby...."

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

Grey looked over the candidates again.

"Ami, i suppose i could use the 'world explorer' guise and her English skills are going to be pretty good. She's physically quite Japanese, being all of 5'3" or so, but probably knows a lot about world and US history. Probably knows more than *i* remember, that's for sure."

"Ami Mizuno it is," noted Celeste, scribbling it down. Not who *she* would have chosen, but then she had access to information Grey did not.

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

"Oh my," said a currently-normal-if-genius Japanese schoolgirl, turning red and sweating profusely as she stared at the display. "It looks like..."

"Ami won?!" Makoto blinked. "*I* look more American than she does!"

"Minako's really going to be upset about this," Rei noted.

"Oh my," repeated Ami. "I've got to get some supplies and equipment. And review American History..."

"That's the one subject in the world you're *not* conversant on, isn't it?" Makoto smirked, sensing a weakness.

Ami acknowledged the hit, cocking her head to the side and wincing. "Well... it's not like that is a subject that is normally taught in Japanese schools. I think I ought to get some supplies."

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

Makoto knew just who to contact. What surprised her was some of the others accompanying her. "Why are *you guys* all here?"

"I could ask you the same question, but it's kind of obvious." Rei straightened the white top of her hakima. "This mission could take several years, right? Ami having all that time alone with him gives her an unfair advantage! So we need a way to stake our claim now or else accompany the 'happy couple', don't we?"

Makoto frowned. "So you figured it out too."

Rei rolled her eyes. "EVERYONE figured it out. The people who aren't here are over at Urd's getting potions, or Hephaestus' place, or laying traps."

"Except for Minako-chan, who's currently passed out," noted Setsuna as she leaned against the wall.

Rei blinked. She had been *sure* that Setsuna hadn't been there a moment ago. "So, uhm, how did it go?"

"Well enough," said Setsuna, looking off into the distance.

"What's it like, errr, merging with your other self..." Makoto wasn't sure how to put this.

"It's like becoming slightly more complete. It's confusing and odd and...." Setsuna shook her head, sending her long green hair swaying. "If it were normal, though fusion of timelines, there wouldn't have been any knowledge of things being different. In this case, though, the differences between were quite high. As it is: I remember being alive and knowing most of you in an ancient Silver Millenium. I remember my rivalry with Sailor Jupiter over the Knight Of Duty. I... remember watching you all die, and the Queen trying to send you forward in time to reincarnate when she died of her wounds. I remember a million years of watching humanity struggle back, only to capture only a tiny portion of the glory of the Silver Millenium. I remember learning all sorts of skills as I guarded the Gate Of Time, the last duty given me by the Queen.

"I also remember being reborn as Setsuna Meiou and growing up in Juuban in the '70s. My graduation from Crossroads in 1989 and then meeting all of you and your 'pet cat' Orion. I remember learning that Orion was also Minako's 'boyfriend' Grey and accompanying you all to China. I remember all the things that happened, including that time we were all turned into babies and Grey had to take care of us. When the cure was found and we grew up, a year a day, I remember that as well. He certainly had his hands full with you, didn't he, Makoto-chan?"

Makoto looked extremely embarassed at Setsuna's reminder.

"WHAT?!" Edema practically screeched, which was enough to get everyone's attention. "What do you mean 'the Binding is with *Ranko* now?!'"

"I mean the Binding got confused. There are currently three of him after all. Ginseng, Grey, and Ranko." Hephaestus shrugged and tapped his cane on the ground. "Why are you so upset, Edema?"

"Errr.." Edema started fidgeting. This had the effect of drawing further attention towards the pair walking by the crowd. "Well... I sort of gave him selfalis root."

"WHAT?!" Hephaestus now looked shocked. "Bridal Root! Edema, how could you do something so foolish! You know he won't do any of that until after a marriage..."

"I know but those girls are *so* damn shy! I figured it would get them moving!"

Rei turned to the proprietor of Rajin's Potion Emporium as Edema and Hephaestus turned the corner. "What is 'selfalis root' anyway?"

"Ahhh, young one, that is a drow poison, difficult to prepare. If the husband does not manage to fulfill his husbandly duties within 24 hours..." Rajin drew his finger across his throat.

Much blinking. "Why the..." "How..." "That's INSANE!" Everyone naturally started talking at once. Setsuna put two fingers in her mouth and gave a piercing whistle that caused silence to follow.

"Anyone who knows him, knows DARN well that he won't do anything until he's married," Setsuna said calmly after everyone had silenced. "Otherwise, when that Lust daimon had possessed Ami and she spread it out... frankly Makoto would have had children by now."

Makoto blushed and fidgeted at further embarassing memories.

"Not that she would have minded," added Setsuna, "nor would have any of the rest of us that Ami managed to tag with that particular enchantment."

"He was twitching quite a bit by the time it wore off, I think another day and he'd have flown off and never come back. Or he'd have saved us all a lot of problems." Rei frowned prettily.

"We never *did* finish that little contest, did we?" Honey realized.

Rajin rubbed his hands together. This sounded... profitable.

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

Grey looked up from his packing, something felt wrong. Kind of like that time that Ami...

"Something wrong?" Ami finished putting her purchases away. The RRO "Bag O Tricks" stored all of them away fairly nicely. She had all the books and other supplies that she could afford the time to get. Now she had other things that needed done, such as planning the mission.

"Pssst! Ami-chan, can I see you a moment?" Makoto's voice came from the other side of the door. "It's REALLY important."

"Hai, Mako-chan," Ami smiled at her fiance, then let herself out. Hmmm. Maybe she ought to get some sex manuals, after all they *were* engaged and they *were* going to be camping, and they *were* going to be alone together a lot of the time.

Grey frowned, the odd feeling of danger intensifying as the door closed behind Ami.

A face appeared at the window, slender fingers sliding the glass open quietly.

Outside, in the hallway, Ami stared at her friend. "You're kidding!"

Makoto Kino held her hand up. "I swear, that Rajin guy confirmed it. A horrible death if he doesn't consummate the marriage within 24 hours. That's why I got *this*!"

Ami looked skeptically at the little bottle, noticing that it resembled one of those "energy drinks" that were popular around exam time. "What is *that*?"

"Rajin sold a bunch of these." Makoto held up a similar vial. "Some sort of extreme courage potion, guaranteed to make you a 'warrior of love' or your money back."

Ami blushed, fidgeted, then got a peculiar determined look in her eyes. "All right then!" She popped the top, swigged it down, and hit the floor as stiff as if she'd just turned to wood. Makoto hit with a similar thunk at the same time, having mimicked her friend's actions.

Inside the room, Grey had tried to fit this into his worldview. He wasn't that attractive to women, except as a target for practical jokes. Therefore, Setsuna Meiou had dressed as Sailor Pluto and appeared from under his bed because of some jest she was playing on him. Cutey Honey slipping in the window and attempting to rip his clothes off was obviously some other weird sort of joke, but as he didn't think Honey was this mean or vindictive (the two often conversing about loneliness and trying to do the right thing in a society that rarely rewarded such conduct) this meant that Urd or some OTHER mischievous being was trying to hit him in an admittedly sore area.

Dodging, ducking and otherwise avoiding the various attacks, Grey made his way towards the door, especially noting with alarm that Rei and Minako had joined the crowd. (Though Minako looked puzzled and Rei looked tired from the strain of teleporting with someone.) Having lately gotten practice at this sort of thing, Grey opened the door in midleap, closing it behind him as he landed in the hallway.

"Ouch!" Ami said, having had someone land on her.

"Ami, we've got to get out of here! One of the love goddesses is playing kick me again, and I don't know how..." Grey's voice ran out as he realized that Ami and Makoto were both on the floor. Which meant... "Uh oh."

Ami and Makoto both looked up at Grey simultaneously, and there was a moment of near silence. Then came several things at once: Ami and Makoto pouncing, the door opening, and Grey... well, he screamed. He knew darn well that this would end in disaster. How else could it end?

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

Edema smirked at the girls confronting her. "Of *course* it was all a joke. Did you honestly think I would pull such a crude trick on a friend of mine? No, it might be a perfectly normal prank among the drow, but Grey is the 'gentle cuddlesome' type and would never go along with such a thing. Not prior to a marriage, at least. Having the vows and such, he might well relax enough to begin trusting again. Not that such a thing..."

Edema's discourse was interrupted by a small group of girls in wedding dresses jogging by, carrying a figure so tied up that he resembled a mummy, while singing "Going to a chapel, and we're...gonna get marriiiied, going to the Chapel Of Lovvvvve..."

Haruka and Michiru looked at each other, then at Hotaru, then Belle, at the odd procession now down the street, and finally at Edema.

Edema stared down the street with a puzzled expression. "I think they're heading for the wedding chapel a block over, the one run by Hestia. My word. Was I too subtle in my humor?"

"AAAAAaaaa!" Haruka, Michiru, Hotaru, Belle, Usagi, Nabiki, Sash, Fumika, Queen Serenity, Shampoo, and Ucchan all summed up their assessment of the situation. Kasumi merely looked moderately alarmed. Then, of course, they took off in pursuit.

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

"Mmmmfff! Mmmmmffff!"

Minako bid her time (and also waited for the ground to stabilize under her feet) while watching the others. She had no idea what was going on, but only one thing made sense! Ami had had a relapse of that Lust demon seed!

Her stomach hurt, she felt unsteady, it felt as if someone had stuffed a whole box of cotton balls in between her ears, and her vision kept going blurry among other things, but at heart Minako Aino was a hero and knew what she had to do!

Rescue Ran... Orion... Grey... oh whatever her pet cat/boyfriend was calling himself lately.

She'd been his Owner, then his confidante, then his friend, then his girlfriend, then his comrade-in-arms, then his fiancee. She'd been informed since Rei's psychic powers awoke that Ranma/Orion's "real" name was actually Grey. And, after years of associating with him, even if she knew that most of the memories were just a computer backtracking, she knew him about as well as it was humanly possible to know another person. The only person who *really* came as close was Makoto- the two being kindred spirits of a sort.

He'd slept on her bed (as a cat) for over a year. He was safe and protective and many other things that she valued. So, while still under the effects of a rather potent alcoholic beverage, the princess saw that the fair dragon was in danger. In danger of what, Minako couldn't quite be sure of, but in danger of *something.* Therefore she had to save him!

She wasn't really in shape for figuring out what was going on, and she was quite unsteady on both a physical and mental basis. As a woman of action, she decided to do what came natural, and *act*.

Finally she saw her chance as a crowd of other fiancees confronted the group around her. Shifting Grey's weight fully onto her, Minako shifted to Angelform and quickly became airborne, though carrying his weight she wouldn't be able to maintain it for long.

Especially as she was going from Drunk to Hangover stage, though she didn't know it. Yet.
Minako faltered, her wings fading as she glided to a roof. "Ohhhh. I don't feel so good."

The mummified Grey started struggling to be free, especially on seeing the far edge of the roof approaching. Especially as Minako seemed to be getting rather ill.

Finally, as Grey struggled to get free, it looked as if he hadn't escaped after all.

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

Minako clutched her head as a million dwarves with icepicks started in on it. Nausea, weakness, and a whole lot of pain seemed to have reduced her ability to notice anything outside herself. "Nnnngggg!"

When she began to feel herself again, there was a cool cloth lying across her brow and she was lying in bed. "Huh? Wha..." Who'd put all this cotton in her mouth anyway? And lying next to her was...

Grey. From the look of it, he had been there for awhile. Minako's blue eyes blinked in confusion. The last *clear* memory she had was of going into that bar and asking for the strongest thing they had. She got the distinct impression it hadn't gone well after that.

"Mmmmph," came a sound from the figure near her, and Minako felt some of the haze recede as she noticed the injuries. Not hers. His. Something had ripped him up in straight little lines. *She* wasn't hurt, but he'd apparently been taking care of her while *he* had bloodied and torn clothes and the skin inside didn't look that good. Knowing him as well as she did, that meant only one thing.

"Idiot," pronounced Minako, tears forming. "You always pull this stuff!"She traced a line down the boy's cheek with a finger. "What did you do that..." A detail penetrated the remaining haze. A slender ring gracing her hand, on THAT finger.

"Shhhh!" Rei let herself quietly in. "He was tied up in his own clothes when he transformed to dragon to save you. The clothes eventually broke but they didn't give as quickly as skin and bone."

"EEh?" Minako held her hand in front of her mouth, regretting the outburst immediately.

"Urd used a healing sleep spell, as long as you don't yell or hit him or something, he'll keep sleeping." Rei sat down on the edge of the bed. "Not much chance of that, is there?"

"Then why..."

"We bought potions from 'Rajin's Potion Emporium' which turned out to be not terribly wise." Rei shrugged. "Unless you know what you're buying, that is."

"Oh." Minako considered that, yes, she had heard stories about drinking the *wrong* magic potion. "but what about...?!"

"What about? Oh. The ring. Congratulations." Rei had the grace to look embarassed.

Hair was toinging. "Congratulations?!" Grey stirred but Minako wasn't noticing at the moment.

"Well..." Rei hemmed and hawwed but finally got to the point. "When we caught up to him, he agreed to our terms providing we got you to a healer. I guess he didn't know what was wrong with you. He was holding you, or trying to, you were curled up in lap moaning and looking just absolutely horrible..."

"Thank you," mumbled Minako, staring now at the matching ring on Grey's finger.

"So, right now, he's married to you, me, Setsuna, Honey, Ami, and Makoto. And no, he hasn't been in any condition to consummate anything." Rei shook her head. "You were apparently together enough to say 'I do' in all the right places, though you kept throwing up and complaining about pain."

Minako found herself picturing the scene and was appropriately mortified. What had happened?! She still felt nauseous and there was the twinge of a headache... but... her wedding had apparently gone from a dream to a nightmare and that moment was now past her.

Minako clutched her sleeping husband and cried as her "most special moment" had apparently been interrupted by some really horrible incidents.

Rei considered mentioning that anyone who wanted out of it could do so, apparently it wasn't binding when done under the influence of potions. Acceptance of the marriage, however, would mean that one essentially accepted the whole thing as binding. As Minako was apparently asleep again, she decided not to bring this up yet.

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

Some time had gone by and the explanations made. Son Usagi and a few others had *insisted* on getting their own inclusion in the wedding but had been put off as now he had to get to the Labor.

Ami sat down on the bench of the wagon next to Grey and Sasami. "Our cover identity is that we're spice merchants. The wagon in back is our stock. There's also some silk and other trade goods appropriate to the cover. I've also got some synthetic gems to use as funds should something happen where we lose the wagon. I'm the expert on the spices, a girl you married overseas, Sasami is my younger sister. We're married, and have been so just under a year."

Grey nodded and handed two weapons out. "In 1774, the main weapons are flintlocks, knives, swords. There are still a number of people who practice the Code Duello, and arguments are settled usually in fisticuffs. Small weapons are usually all right in these cultures, as long as you don't make a habit of using them or threatening people with them. Sasami, yours is a simple Swiss Army knife. It also contains a distress beacon hidden in the panel, leave the corkscrew out for five seconds to activate. It's made of high grade steel, a bit better than what the locals will have but not outrageously so. Ami, as a merchant you're expected to carry a weapon. The design is of a simple Amerind knife, buckskin for the handle, watered steel for the blade. At least that's what it looks like. It was copied off a prize knife given by a Chesapeake tribe to an Outsider."

Ami looked at the knife, simple but elegant. A working knife as opposed to a showpiece. "Cerametal?"

"Yeah, next best thing to diamond. Better in some ways. Also this..." Grey held up a fairly plain looking ring with a single ornamental stone. "The gemstone is *your* beacon. If you break the stone the alarm goes off. If either of you finds yourself in trouble, set off your alarm and you'll be yanked back to Asgard."

Sasami looked behind them into the wagon's interior, wishing that she could contribute something. "Oh my! There's a lot of books there."

"Well, uhm," Ami blushed and fidgeted a little. "I wouldn't want to get behind in my studies..."

Sasami picked a book off the stack. "Huh? 'Dragontaming for Beginners.' Are we going to run into any dragons?"

"i don't think so," said Grey, puzzled. As far as he knew, he would be the only dragon present. Ah, Ami must be thinking ahead to future missions!

The gate swirled with mists. Grey directed the two horses pulling the wagon forward.

"Warning," the computer said in a feminine voice. "Expected values exceeded."

"Oh heck," said Celeste as the adventurers rode forward into the mists. "Someone must have stowed away."

"Gate's malfunctioned." Amaterasu noted. "Wagon's intact but the people are getting seperated from the vehicle. Expect they'll be scattered when they land. Looks like they'll crash in..."

=========================

The Choose Your Own Fanfic idea, as the voting/feedback has gone so far:
Who does Grey end up married to?
1. Usagi Son, the Sailorjin princess, unsteadily stepped out of the shadows.
2. Queen Serenity (from Skysaber's Choice) regally glided forward, her silver hair shining in the odd light.
3. One of the non-Senshi from the last timeline: Ami , Haruka & Michiru, Hotaru, Makoto, Minako, Rei, Setsuna, Usagi
4. One of the Chinese Amazons from the last timeline (further choices) stepped forward warily, wearing a Western style wedding gown?! Azure, Fumika, Sash, Shampoo, Sugar and Spice,Wing
5. A number of girls egged each other on, gawking at their surroundings, a black cat seeming to herd them forward.
6. Three elite marionettes built by Sakyo stepped forward, looking around for threats before joining Grey near the Well.
7. As a small army of assorted girls started wending their way forward, Grey distinctly heard a feline laugh and reminder of his promise.
8. Edema stepped out, holding up the scroll that was to be his next assignment. (Alone Again, naturally...)
9. Sasami steps forward and Grey thinks someone must REALLY hate him. Well, at least it isn't Pretty Sammy.
10. Kasumi the djinn and Nabiki the dao, with a glance towards the Armlet still on Grey's forearm.
11. Akane Tendo stepped out, causing Grey to develop a sudden migraine.
12. Ukyo is still pursuing 'Ranma', sort of.
13.All four of the elementally inclined girls are still linked to the Armlet. (Shampoo, Ukyo, Kasumi, Nabiki)

Usagi Son - 7, Ukyo - 1, Small Group - 5, The 3 Elite Marionettes - 3, Setsuna - 5, Sasami - 7, Rei Hino - 2, Queen Serenity - 2, All the Senshi - 2, Minako- 3, Large Group -8, Kasumi and Nabiki -4, Haruka & Michiru - 1, Four Genies - 7, Alone Again -2, Ami - 6, Akane -3, All the Amazons -1. Rei & Minako -1

Cao Cao's China, or 1774 America?

China - 7, America-14

who goes with him on the Labor?
1. Minako Aino, after all she's blonde and speaks English.
2. Nobody, it's dangerous and i should go alone.
3. Setsuna Meiou, she can pass for European most likely.
4. Usagi Son is blonde, she might not speak English but i could pass her off as some Nordic country.
5. Why's Nabiki up there? Doh! i didn't mean! (On the other hand, Nabiki having an effect on the Constitution...)
6. i thought i'd gotten away from Queen Serenity... no, i didn't mean to choose her! (This is the mother of Princess Serenity from Skysaber's Choice)
7. Ami Mizuno, she can speak English and likely knows more about American history than i do...
8. Shampoo ought to be able to handle the HTH stuff for me, and primitive conditions wouldn't be a problem for her.
9. Ukyo selling okonomiyaki to the Founding Fathers?
10. You specify.

Shampoo -2, Setsuna Meiou/Sailor Pluto - 8, Queen Serenity - 3, Ami Mizuno- 9, Edema - 2, Nabiki - 5, by himself -1, Minako Aino - 2, Son Usagi -2, Cutey Honey -1.

What would Ami (a non-Senshi Japanese cram student) be likely to shop for when going back to 1774 for a prolonged stay with her fiancee?

1. Camping supplies, it's fairly primitive in 1774
2. Weapons, it's fairly dangerous in 1774
3. Ami follows Sailor Pluto's lead to gain a Senshi merger
4. See what sort of odds & ends she can get at the Rival Relief Office

Camping Gear- 3, Odds & Ends - 8, Senshi ID -8, Ami gets weapons -3

Where does Grey end up?
1. That Sailor Marionette World... (a Sailor Moon + Sabre Marionette fusion world)
2. That world of the Knight Senshi fighting the Dark Corporation and their Boomers (Sailor Moon + Bubblegum Crisis fusion)
3. oh heck, Grey's Shinji Ikari?! (In a Sailor Moon + Evangelion fusion world)
4. Right timeline, wrong time- they're in feudal Japan!
5. Right timeline, wrong time- they're somewhere in the Age Of Dinosaurs
6. Tropical Island, hmmm. This is where Jared wanted them to go anyay... let's leave 'em there for awhile
7. That world where the pokemon and human roles are reversed and even further polarized...
8. It's the right place and time? It's a miracle!
9. They're seperating! Looks like the stress was too much for the wagon. They'll all be thrown into different timelines!
10. Into Jared Saotome's timeline
11. A dimensional Nexus point, identity: Aramar.
12. RIFTS Earth
13. That world where Senshi and Yoma are all types of Pokemon. (SM+Pokemon fusion)
14. A timeline where Serena didn't survive her battle with Metal'la. (SM Darkline)
12. Grey's world of origin
13. An Eva+SM Fusion, as #3 but Grey is Usagi Ikari?

Real World - 5, World where Serena died -4, Aramar -3, Gilligan's Island -5, PokeSlave world -2, Sailor Marionettes -4, Jared's world -1, Right World -3, SM+EVA fusion -15, Senshi as Knight Sabers -4


THIRD LABOR: A paler shade of Grey (Chapter One)

Note that this builds on events in "Skysaber's Choice" and directly follows the events in "Reluctant Bet"

---------

Grey felt things fall apart, the Worldgate shutting down in mid-transport, and did what little he could, gathering Ami and Sasami close with his arms as he used a leg to hook around a support and try to anchor himself. The horses screamed, and there were other screams as well that indicated other people were caught unawares by the vortex.

Something slammed into the back of his head, and Grey loosened from the impact and it felt as if Ami and Sasami vanished in that moment as well as the comforting solidity of the wagon.

---------

"Shinji? Shinji!"

Grey groaned, not wanting this to be confirmed. He opened his eyes to see Misato Katsuragi looking down on him. ~Oh, crap!~

"Shinji! You *are* Shinji Ikari, aren't you?" Misato stood up.

"Certainly looks that way," Grey held up a skinny arm, without any of the callouses or scars he'd had at Shinji's age. Certainly without the muscle he'd developed later, particularly after going through battle training by some particularly sadistic Valkyries. ~Okay, dimensional vortex, and now i've 'leapt' into Shinji Ikari. Best to go along with this until i figure out what to do next.~ "Uhm, you're my contact, right?"

"Captain Misato Katsuragi! C'mon, we've got to get out of here!" Misato jerked a thumb at a 60ft+ tall figure walking away from their position. At that point a shot from a UN Combat chopper struck Misato's car, instantly transforming it from "sports car" to "flaming wreck".

Misato rose up from where she'd ducked behind a bench and whimpered.

"You *did* have Giant Monster Battle insurance on that, didn't you?" Shinji (best to go with the flow) asked as he scratched his head.

Misato whimpered again in reply, staring at the ruin. "...I've still got payments..."

Shinji nodded and took stock: no equipment, no backup, and he was in the physical body of an anemic spineless wimp. This sucked. "Okay, how about calling for alternate transportation?"

"My phone was..."

Shinji winced. "In the car. Right. And the phone lines here are down. Well, that leaves us with only one option, doesn't it?"

Misato kept staring at her car and mumbling about the damage to her bank account.

Realizing he wasn't getting anywhere, Shinji paused. He could *feel* someone's presence. One of the benefits of having your wedding ceremony performed in Asgard by an actual goddess. Even if it *had* been rather crowded and a shotgun affair. Telepathy wasn't possible, not here at least, but he could feel the presence of a wife in THAT direction.

Shinji opened his eyes. "C'mon, Captain, this way."

"But..." Misato eyed the boy as he went walking off with determination. Certainly he carried himself differently than she expected. "...but..."

Shinji smiled as he heard Misato following him. It didn't take long before he found someone sprawled unconscious on the street and ran towards her. Shaking her gently, the girl finally stirred.

"Who's she? Why isn't she evacuated?" Misato was a little surprised but still in shock and going over her monthly payments on a car that had attained the past tense.

Ami blinked, not recognizing the face, but something told her..."Grey?"

Shinji smiled and nodded at Ami's hesitant response, he whispered just loud enough for her to hear: "We'll talk later. Check your purse for identification while I keep Misato there occupied. Then introduce yourself, please follow my lead."

Ami nodded, so Shinji walked back to where Misato was finally coming out of her "I'm financially doomed" trance.

"Well, Captain, what's with the Giant Monster? You obviously know what's going on around here!" Shinji went on the attack, knowing that keeping Misato off guard would buy them some valuable time.

"Hey, I wanted to know who's this girl! And... oh man, how am I going to explain this to the Commander?" Misato winced at the thought of the report she'd end up filing.

"She's with me. We go everywhere together. Now, what's with the Giant Monster? You're not getting either of us until we hear some answers more than that irresponsible deadbeat poor excuse for a father -Gendo Ikari wants to see me. After seeing a Giant Monster from way too close, *i* am supposed to just swallow my questions and go gallivanting off after him. Next thing you know there'll be Giant Robots in a Hidden Base and Secret Plans of World Destruction."

"I don't..." Misato bit off the rest of her reply and went thoughtful. "Actually we're the Last Best Hope For Mankind's Survival."

"That's what they *all* say in the old cartoons." Shinji cocked his head to the side and regarded her. "So you're not denying the Secret Base and Giant Robot stuff? You didn't hit your head when you dove behind the bench, did you?"

"No!" Misato yelled, briefly losing her temper.

"Excuse me," Ami said, easing up to Shinji's side and taking his hand. "I'm Ami Mizuno, you know Grey-chan?"

"'Grey-chan?'" Misato repeated.

"A nickname i got after my horrid excuse-for-a-father, Gendo Ikari, dumped me after he turned my mother into a puddle of goo during an experiment. As you might expect, it was a bit of a traumatic event." Grey smiled at Ami and squeezed her hand. "You ought to call me Shinji just to avoid confusing people."

Ami blushed but smiled herself. "Uhm. Well, I, ah, anyway I'm... Shinji-kun's girlfriend. Here's my ID. When the request for his school records came through, I took the liberty of having my own transferred as well."

Misato's hair was toinging again. "I think I've heard of you... Rits mentioned something about some girl genius transferring to Tokyo-3. That's you?"

"H-hai..." Ami's shyness was returning with a vengeance and she felt the need to lean on something. Naturally, she chose the boy who's hand she was holding.

"But why aren't you in a shelter? It's dangerous out here." Misato winced as the rumble of autocannon in the background punctuated her sentence.

In answer, Ami lifted a keyring out of her purse and punched a button on the side of a 'pillbox' hanging from it. A rental truck flashed its lights in response.

"You're fourteen, and driving?! No no no no NO." Misato held her hand out. "Kids nowadays. Geez! I'M driving. How'd you..."

Ami just shrugged and smiled happily as she leaned against her boyfriend. Using the action to whisper to him. "There's a little diary in my purse. I need more time to read it."

Shinji nodded and whispered back. "It may have to wait. i'll see if we can't drop you off outside of NERV, otherwise they'll probably search your stuff."

Misato found herself wincing. The two were whispering to each other, and she'd seen enough to extrapolate. A couple THAT close and unchaperoned... If they hadn't been sleeping together she'd be *very* surprised and they probably couldn't bear to be apart very long at THAT stage of their relationship. The 'girl genius' showed every sign of having been transformed into a giggly schoolgirl, while the 'pilot' probably wasn't able to think of anything beyond his girlfriend for long periods of time. She wondered what other details were going to pop up and start slapping her in the face.

---------

To Misato's considerable relief, the rental truck had a working phoneline and a call to NERV HQ did manage to go through. The relief was only temporary, however.

Ritsuko's annoyance was quite obvious despite the line static. "What do you mean you're driving a rental truck?! What happened to your car?"

"Uhm, well, it looked like a small missile managed to hit it," Misato tried to laugh about it.

"Did you get the insurance package that covered military actions?"

Misato winced. "Well..."

"Translation: no. Well, did you at least manage to get the pilot?"

Misato's wince was joined by a sweatdrop. "Errr. Yes... he's here with me."

"I hear a 'but' in there."

Misato's sweatdrop was joined by several cousins. "Well... there's kind of a complication..."

Ritsuko's voice dropped slightly. "What *kind* of complication?"

"He brought his girlfriend... or she brought him, or something like that..."

"WHAT?!" Ritsuko's voice was loud enough that it drew curious looks from Shinji (who was otherwise just watching the scenery) and Ami (who had had her nose in a book since Misato had started driving). "What do you mean 'girlfriend'?!"

"Her name's Ami Mizuno, you remember mentioning some girl transferring to Tokyo 3 High School?"

"Mizuno-san?!" Ritsuko's voice lost the edge that had appeared in it. "That's... interesting. I read her term paper on the longrange climatic effects of the Second Impact, and her theories about the dwindling number of children being born- particularly male children. With the scanty data she was able to access, it was quite impressive. Completely wrong, but impressive nonetheless..."

"Something occur to you?" Misato was glad the streets were so deserted, it made driving this ornery thing much easier than it otherwise would have been.

"This is not a secure line," Ritsuko reminded.

"Talk to you when I'm there, then." Misato hung up the phone as they approached a tunnel.

"WHAT THE?!" Shinji yelped. "Ami-chan, does your compact have a mirror?"

"What's the problem?" Misato looked over the boy but couldn't see anything different. His girlfriend, on the other hand, was definitely blushing *again* as she handed him the requested article.

Shinji fumbled it open and stared long enough for Misato to notice.

"Shinji, is something wrong? You didn't get too much sun, did you? With that fair skin, I've bet you've got to be careful." Misato wasn't sure why Shinji had that "punched in the gut" look to him.

"Oh yeah," Shinji nodded. "Albinos like me tend to burn pretty quickly out in the sun..."

---------

Fuyutsuki looked at the report. "So it's happening much as you've planned. Chairman Keele has his hopes pinned on this Human Instrumentality Project (HIP), but SEELE's backup plan..."

Gendo nodded, his gaze never wavering from the geofront view outside his window. "The Genetic Upgrade Test Series (GUTS) is progressing ahead of schedule. So Shinji has been seeing the Alpha unit..."

Fuyutsuki glanced at his superior, not bothering to mention that the Alpha unit had a name. Gendo would use it when he wanted to. Not before.

----------

"Estimate fifteen minutes until the yoma arrives," a female voice announced over the intercom.

Another female voice spoke immediately thereafter. "N2 Mine has successfully destroyed 90% of 'troop' yoma, the General *is* regenerating."

Ritsuko watched the monitor. "Look at that, the boy's being quite protective of his little girlfriend. How... useful."

"Useful?" Maya wasn't quite sure what to make of that comment.

"It gives us a tether by which we can manipulate him," answered Ritsuko absently. "Look at how he's ready to start a fight with that one security guard for copping a feel while frisking Mizuno-san. Despite the guard being quite a bit larger. With territorial instincts like that, we'll be able to get him jumping through any rings we want."

"A guard did what?!"

"Actually he was planting a chempatch onto her skin, the grab was just to distract attention." Ritsuko Akagi pursed her lips and considered the display briefly. "Now we just have to seperate the two of them and we'll be able to get Alpha ready."

Maya blinked. "She's the Alpha unit? What about..."

"Shinji will pilot Unit One. Asuka will pilot Unit Two. Ayanami will pilot Unit Zero. The others all have their own places."

Maya winced. Yes, she had a crush on Ritsuko Akagi, she admired the woman's fierce intellect and ability to pull solutions out of nowhere. That didn't mean that Ritsuko didn't scare the piss out of Maya every so often.

---------

"Mizuno-san will have to stay here, it's too late to get her to a shelter." Misato didn't mention that the security teams were likely going through the packed belongings on the truck with a fine tooth comb right now.

"I don't trust Secret Government Organizations running out of Hidden Bases," noted Shinji with a calm voice, fingering an odd little marble in his pocket. "The prediliction for secretive behavior often copies over into other areas, like hidden agendas and secret plans. Therefore, Ami-chan should stay with me."

"I'll be okay," Ami reassured her boyfriend (that thought sending a fresh blush across her cheeks). "I'm feeling a bit tired, anyway."

Shinji frowned some more but finally nodded. "Okay, if you insist."

"I insist. Go out and save the world or whatever." Ami sat down in one of the plastic "bus station" sort of chairs, ending the argument.

Ami watched the two go off and tried (unsuccessfully) to find a magazine of interest. She finally settled on an old issue of Cosmopolitan and started reading THAT with a fair heaping of guilty pleasure. Especially when the first article she turned to was on how to rate your relationship using the Kinsey-Matsumoto System.

Acting out fantasies was the first question. Maybe if she played Doctor...

She was sound asleep with an odd little grin when the men in dark suits came for her.

---------

Eyecatch #3:

Minako Aino in a framed picture, wearing a skirt and blouse. With a click, the picture turns over and she's wearing a plugsuit. Click/turn. Minako's wearing a Sailor Venus seifuku. Click/turn. Minako's wearing a cheerleader outfit. Click/turn. Minako as a Lodoss style elf. Click/turn, Minako the cute lil' angel.

Eyecatch #4:

Ami Mizuno in a framed picture, wearing a labcoat and stethoscope. The picture turns over with a click, revealing a picture of Amy Anderson as a Vulcan in a Star Fleet science uniform. Click/flip: Sailor Mercury. Click/flip: Ami as a RIFTS Rogue Scientist in a suit of Urban Warrior megadamage armor. Click/flip: Ami as a cute little angel.

---------

Ritsuko, Misato, Gendo, and half the crew from NERV HQ noted the difference between the sulking albino led into the storage bay to the fierce boy ready to do his level best to defend his girlfriend at the security checkpoint.

"Are you sure about this? Isn't there someone better? What about the effect on the environment? Has anyone even *tried* to talk with these yoma?"

"Commander," mumbled Fuyutsuki as he stood behind Gendo, "maybe we *need* Alpha after all."

Gendo smirked (smirk#7) and didn't respond verbally.

Misato, in the bay, pointed towards Unit One. "Get in there, you're a boy you know!"

Shinji blinked at Misato for a moment, then very deliberately, looked down the front of his pants. "Oh my lord! You're right! Well, no sense sending a boy in to do a woman's job. Good luck, Misato, go kill that yoma-thingie..."

Misato blinked as she realized that Shinji was halfway towards the door. "HEY!"

Shinji got to the door, found it wouldn't open, and sighed. Not that easy to get out of this Reality...

"WHAT ARE YOU DOING?!" Misato screamed, having absolutely no idea what to do about a suddenly *very* reluctant pilot.

"Shinji. You will pilot Unit One."

Shinji dropped the pretense. "What are you doing to Ami-chan?"

Gendo frowned and it showed in his voice. "The girl is safe. For now. This will not be the case if the Yoma accesses this Geofront."

"Let Ami-chan go and i will pilot Unit One."

"You are not in a position to negotiate," replied Gendo. "Bring the First Child. The spare is proving difficult."

Shinji blinked. ~Waitaminute. If Rei Ayanami is *also* here, then why am *i* a half-angel clone... and of *who*? i certainly don't look like Yui Ikari, Gendo Rokubungi/Ikari, or anyone else in the series i remember.~

The answer was swift in coming, with identical wounds to what he had seen in Evangelion, the figure of Rei was moved through the door by several large officious types. However, her hair and eyes were dark, her skin several shades darker than his own bleached-looking albino skin. Rei was quite obviously a relatively normal human.

The wounds, the bloodstains, the gurney, were all the same from the Evangelion series he'd seen.

"Rei, you must do it again," Gendo's voice echoed over the "waters" of hangar bay.

Rei winced and tried to get up.

Shinji turned his attention towards the observation booth. "I'll pilot it. But I swear on my mother's grave," here he pointed at the Eva unit, "if you do *anything* to Ami I will find a way to hunt you down and kill your sorry ass. And don't forget I *always* keep my promises."

The cold, heartfelt, sincerity in that statement reached a few of the people there. Misato and Ritsuko had absolutely no doubt that the albino was serious. Gendo made plans for finding another pilot immediately, this one appeared to have some will.

Nobody saw him pull a marble out of his pocket, inflate it to the size of a baseball, then release a mountain lion as Shinji got into the entry plug. They just noted his presence in the entry plug and accepted his brief absence from camera view as continued jitters.

---------

In an odd place that combined aspects of a late 70s MIS Department, a garden, and the Starfleet Administration Computer Research Center (she'd worked there once, and discovered that Klingon Warriors could be repelled quite easily with Hello Kitty merchandise) a young-looking goddess frowned and checked her readings. "Oh, fubar!" This was both an assessment and a term of lack of endearment.

"Ama-chan!" Celeste held the button on the intercom down briefly. "Amaterasu! I've done traces on the explosion. Looks like Grey's little red wagon and the horses ended up in Staging Area 3. I've sent Joe to recover them. The problem was caused by Son Usagi's battle aura interfering with the gate process. I *know* she wasn't supposed to go! Yeah. Sixteen. No, I'm not sure."

Celeste listened a little longer. "Because those were just the obvious trails. Look I think the best thing to do is get Grey to accept the marriages as valid. Because THEN he can use the connection there for Similarity & Contagion, and use the bond to trace them to wherever they ended up. Uh huh. Looks like Ami and Sasami are there in the timeline where he landed. Depends on your definition of danger."

Celeste nodded. "Actually they're all genetically engineered beings. SEELE is planning on having them mate with 'Shinji' so as to produce a next stage in human evolution. They call their plan GUTS. Genetic Upgrade Test Series or something like that. No, Makoto is in another timeline, so are Usagi, Minako, Honey, Belle's here merged with her local aspect, Haruka and Michiru ended up in Sky's homeplane merging with their aspects there, Hotaru's in another plane, so is Setsuna. Actually she's not that manipulative in this variant.

"Well, of course they're in trouble. Ayanami and Misato didn't sneak aboard. The four bracer-genies are in the wagon. He's got his weapon-bracers, but what use he can get out of them... No, there *are* local versions of Ami's friends, they're just not the ones who tried to sneak on his Labor."

------

On the monitor, the bridge crew could see Shinji settling back as the LCL rose around him, finally taking a deep breath of the fluid and making a face. "It tastes like blood, it smells like blood."

"Cut it out, you're a boy you know!" Misato fussed at the albino, momentarily forgetting his last reaction to that statement.

"i'd really like to hear Ami's comment on that."

Maya looked up from her board. "General has released soldier-yoma. Actions?"

"Release our soldiers," ordered Gendo, "tell them shoot to kill. They only have to hold them off long enough for Shinji to defeat the General anyway."

--------

Shinji looked at the interior of the Entry Plug with a certain degree of surprise. It more resembled the cockpit of a Gundam unit (later series) than a Evangelion plug that he was familiar with. "Ami-chan..."

"Cut it out, you're..."

"OH SHUT UP!"

Everyone in the bridge stared at the monitor briefly as Shinji lost his temper.

"i DON'T need some criticism from some drunkard washed out military dupe who can't even fix INSTANT RAMEN! Someone whose failed relationship with her high school sweetheart continued to set the pattern of dangerous rebel and self-destructive behavior all her life."

Ritsuko blinked, making a little squeegee noise. "Misato, how does he know you that well?"

Misato turned to her friend with a startled expression. "What?"

"Man, he really nailed you," Makoto Hyuga said thoughtfully.

"Hey!"

"Fuyutsuki. Check our security files and find out how Shinji could have such accurate intelligence on Katsuragi."

"HEY!!!" Several hairs had toinged by this point.

Shinji hadn't stopped talking. "AND you're not getting any younger, you know! What do you think that 'drink till you puke' lifestyle is gonna do?"

"STOP THAT!" Misato yelled at the screen, thoroughly rattled.

"Well *excuse me* Captain Mushroom!" Shinji fussed as he checked the controls. "i'd be a lot less stressed out if you'd let Ami go!"

"Mushroom?" Misato pondered that.

Hyoga volunteered some information. "Means everyone keeps you in the dark and feeds you..."

Maya decided to interrupt. "Registering a synch rate of 52%. 64%. 72%... stabilizing at 74%."

Everyone sweatdropped except Gendo, who merely smirked.

Ritsuko finally gave a low whistle. "Rei's best synch rate so far is 14%, and that was just before her Eva went wild."

"Mushroom?" Misato repeated. There weren't things going on around her she wasn't aware of, were there? She was in the loop, wasn't she?

"Launch Eva Unit One," commanded Gendo.

"Unit One, Launch!"

"I am *not* 'washed out'," muttered Misato.

Aoba looked up at her and temporarily disabled the mike to the Eva. "He's just stressed out about his friend being in detention. Maybe if we put her on voicelink he'll settle down."

"We can't do that in her present condition," Ritsuko said ominously.

"What?! Why wasn't I informed?" Misato looked to her friend for answers.

"Need To Know, Captain, and you don't." Gendo interrupted as the EVA unit sped up the shaft to the streets above.

---------

From a catwalk above the LCL to the bay, from the bay that had contained Unit One to a hallway, something walked.

"A-ka-ne!"

Another security camera became molten metal and cracked plastic as a mountain lion stalked the top secret corridors of NERV.

"WHAT THE?!" A NERV Security agent saw a large carnivore, decided that one of the soldier-yoma had penetrated the security perimeter, and drew his weapon. That was as far as he got before said large carnivore did a head butt attack that sent the agent into dreamland.

Akane considered, lashing her tail about as she pondered. Wandering around aimlessly was no good. Grey (she'd recognized his scent even if the face had changed) had told her that Ami was in trouble and he was counting on her to effect a rescue.

Akane *liked* that. None of this smarmy superior male crap she'd had to put up with from Kuno or the Hentai Horde. No condescending at all. He'd taken her seriously, and asked her to do something really important. Save his girlfriend, that weak little bookworm, if she remembered the briefing right. Oh, and there'd been that video party while they got ready for this mission. She remembered Ami, and Ami smelled like...

Akane sniffed the air. There it was, faint, but it was there. Akane grinned, revealing sharp teeth. Her senses were so acute now, she felt so vital, it was like this form was a drug and she was thoroughly enjoying it. Eventually she'd return to being human, but she was enjoying the enhanced senses, the power and strength of this form.

"Aka." Another burst of flame caused a suite of sensors to curl up into a blackened molten nub.

She didn't have any camouflage abilities, but she could move pretty quietly, and she was quite capable of shredding some of the walls and doors she ran across. And if anyone happened to see her, well, she'd cross that bridge when she came to it.

--------


"Where..." Shinji immediately started looking around for the villain, only to notice all the little robot-thingies running around in the street. "What the hey?!"

"Ignore the soldier-yoma, destroying the General will end their threat as well," Hyuga's voice advised in the cockpit.

Shinji blinked as he saw the big guy step out. "Jadeite?! Errr. Where are my weapon systems?"

"You have a progressive knife in the right shoulder. Can you walk?"

Shinji thought about walking. The EVA responded. Shinji thought about giving Jadeite the finger. The EVA responded, then Jadeite responded.

Black lightning shot from Jadeite to Eva, knocking the big purple robot on its butt.

---------

There was silence in the control room for a few moments.

Aoba broke the silence first. "He must *really* be distracted by his girlfriend being held incommunicado."

Hyuga nodded. "Yes, that does appear to be the case."

"That's pathetic," Misato watched as the fallen Eva was being pounded on by the Yoma General.

"Chest plate has just been cracked. Cracks occurring in the faceplate. Right arm broken," Maya kept up a running commentary about the amount of damage being done. "Structural integrity of abdominal wall compromised."

Gendo watched as the broken arm of the Eva unit was ripped out of its socket and the General turned his attention to ripping the chest plate off.

Fuyutsuki sidled a little closer. "Commander. If this keeps up, the Unit and the pilot will be destroyed."

"Eject the entry plug, get that pilot out of there!" Misato commanded.

"The signal's being rejected," Hyuga noted.

"Nerve connections are failing across the board," continued Maya, "synch ratio is plummetting, 45% and dropping. Power cord severed. Pilot's synchrograph is nearly flatline, if I didn't know better I'd think he was in a depressive fugue, but that's not possible in these conditions. Is it?"

Gendo scowled.

"Commander!" Fuyutsuki looked down on the seated Gendo.

"Feed the video of Alpha to the cockpit of Unit One," Gendo reluctantly allowed, "and if anyone asks, I've just left for our Kansai base."

"Do it!" Fuyutsuki waited until the appropriate orders had been given. "Commander?"

"If he chases this misdirection to Kansai, his power will run out," explained Gendo. "We'll have to find a substitute for Shinji after this..."

---------

In the Unit One cockpit, a little videobox opened, revealing Ami. Revealing Ami drugged out of her mind. Revealing the same Security agent as earlier...

---------

"What is that person doing?!" Misato was more than a little upset.

Maya eeked and turned her eyes from the display.

"That's not going to look good in his personnel record," remarked Ritsuko. She glanced up at Gendo. "Isn't that a bit much?"

"If it motivates the pilot, then it is sufficient." Gendo frowned at his subordinate. Was he not the Commander? Dr Akagi publicly questioning his authority was not something he was prepared to tolerate.

Misato twitched as she heard enough to indicate that Gendo had ordered the guard to do this during the transmission.

A bleep returned Maya Ibuki's attention to the console. "Synch rate rising, but..."

"That's odd, it looks like higher brain functions have shut down." Ritsuko began to run an analysis of the readings. "Fascinating."

"He's...." Maya's voice trailed off as the Eva unit braced one finger with another and drove it deep within the eye of the General.

The Eva roared animalistically, and started kicking and punching at the General. When the General's head snapped back, the Eva bit deeply into the neck of the General, causing a fountain of blood to spew.

"Berserker," said Ritsuko.

Maya pulled her wastebasket out and began to spew herself.

"The right arm's regenerated! But that's impossible!" Ritsuko glanced at the synchrograph. "110%! How is this possible?! This can't be!"

"Less than two minutes remaining of power," noted Hyuga.

Disdaining tools, the beast ripped open Jadeite's chest and lifted the still beating heart of the General to its mouth and fed. Maya looked up in time to see this, and was quickly excused to the Ladies room. She was joined by Misato a moment later. She was joined by Hyuga as well, but they quickly ejected him from the Ladies room a moment later.

"That's... pretty gross," indicated Aoba, looking a little green himself.

"Eva is taking in the S2 unit!" Fuyutsuki stared at the screen. "It's too early."

With another roar, Eva slashed Jadeite's head off, snapped his back over one knee, and then threw the Dark General's body down the street where it imploded. Then the Eva turned its attention to the elevator shaft that had delivered it.

"Uhm. If THAT is coming back here..." Aoba's green was rapidly turning pale. The Eva's eyes were glowing, blood spattered its hands and mouth, and its stance definitely indicated that whoever was home wasn't exactly running on all cylinders. "Then, may I ask permission to evacuate?"

"Permission denied. Activate all barriers in elevator shaft nine. DO IT!" Gendo raised his voice slightly for the last.

On the screen, the first barrier came apart like aluminum foil.

"Shinji? Shinji? You can calm down now," Hyuga had returned to his post in time to see the barrier get wadded up and the Eva begin climbing down the shaft. "The General's dead and the minor yoma have vanished. You can stop any time now!"

Eva roared in reply, leapt down the shaft, and began pounding away at the next layer of armor. It immediately started to crack.

"Well, on the good side, he's really got over that indecisiveness problem..." Aoba offered as a quick joke. Nobody laughed.

"How quickly can you get his girlfriend coherent? That might snap him out of it." Fuyutsuki's voice was slightly louder than he intended, he was a little paler than normal himself.

"Barrier three is at 50%," noted Aoba. "Maybe you overdid it a little, Commander."

Unit One ripped another section up and threw it to the side, growling all the while.

"Timer's at zero," noted Hyuga quietly. "Isn't the Eva supposed to stop?"

"It hasn't fully absorbed the S2 unit into itself," Fuyutsuki noted with rising hope, "it's slowing down."

The Eva on the screen held it's hands together as if cupping an invisible ball.

"AT Field is folding in upon itself!" Ritsuko stared at the displays. "The Eva is concentrating its entire AT Field into a single point, feeding the field into a closed loop!"

"Um, I must have missed that class. What does that mean, exactly?" Aoba wasn't too proud to ask for directions, and he certainly felt lost.

"RRRRRRRAAGGGHHHHH!" The Eva on the display roared and the "ball" began flickering into visibility and then up through the spectrum.

"The AT field is increasing in density and power output," Ritsuko noted. "Fascinating."

"Uhm, is this dangerous?" Misato made her way back into the room, followed by Maya.

Eva Unit One released the AT Field missile, which cut through four more layers of armor plate.

"I'd say so," supplied Aoba.

The Eva slowed and gradually came to a stop.

"Get teams up there immediately," Gendo ordered. "Get the pilot out, arrest him, throw him in the brig, and put Unit One in cryostasis before the S2 unit is completely absorbed!"

--------

The Security Guard glanced up, bored out of his skull, when the door to the cell suddenly came apart in neat little one-inch slices.

Akane entered the room, took in the girl mindlessly babbling into some recorder, the guard trying to draw a gun from his holster even as some magazine he was reading fell from his lap, and the presence of recording equipment.

The recording equipment ended up in little slices, a flame burst sent the guard screaming to the floor, and the recorder was left for the moment. Akane's eyes glowed as she regarded the man in front of her.

"It was under orders!" The man backed away. "It wasn't my idea!"

Akane wondered what he was talking about briefly, then looked at Ami's state of undress and the camera. ~Chemical interrogation? And recording all aspects of it? How *dare* they take advantage of such a nice (if overly bookish and terribly naive) girl as Ami? They. Must. Be. Punished!~

-------

The discussion between Ritsuko and Misato (regarding Rei's ability to cover) was cut short as the entry plug of Unit One ejected itself and then burst open.

"Aaaaaa!" Aoba managed. "What the hell is *that*?!"

"A yoma!" Ritsuko gasped and stepped back. "During the attack the General must have infected Unit One!"

Gendo frowned. That was as good an explanation as any, he'd use it.

"Looks more like a dragon to me," opined Hyuga, having played AD&D years ago.

The dragon flickered and vanished from Elevator Shaft Nine.

Ritsuko had had too many shocks lately, and was freaking out. "Where'd he go?"

A roar from directly outside their building answered.

---------

Akane looked up as the lamp began swaying and a shudder racked the building. "Aka?!"

The security guard reached for his weapon, Akane swatted him with a paw, claws retracted. The security guard ceased to be conscious.

Now the pyrolion examined the chair that the girl was tied into. She could cut through the straps without problem, but how to...

"Believe in a sign of Zeta, yappa pai, yappa pai, Miracle Romance..." Ami's babbling abruptly cut off, catching Akane's attention. Ami had gone all stiff.

"Aka? Ne? Ne?" Akane frowned but delicately bit through the steel restraints holding the girl in place. Actually, Ami reminded her of herself. Physically at least. If a bit anemic.

"He's angry. He's been submerged in anger, the nature of the Evangelion units..." Ami's voice was weak.

Akane heard something that sounded like part of the building collapsing and wondered what was going on out there.

---------

Guns blazed as the two security guards began sweeping the dragon before it could get in. Gendo fled, going to an elevator and vanishing as his bridge crew tried to find cover.

Scales began flying off under the barrage, and the dragon reared its head back to blast again with a cone of frost that stopped everything in the bridge. After another moment the dragon shredded three supercomputers and tried to claw its way through the bridge until it shuddered and collapsed.

"Damn," summarized Aoba as he crawled out from under his console.

Fuyutsuki stared at the huge head lying a few feet away from him.

Shinji suddenly realized where he was, what he was, and that he was dying.

"Hold it right there!" Misato held her pistol and pointed it at the dragon's head. "Don't move! You..." Her aim didn't seem too steady.

"Not a yoma. There was no AT Field." Ritsuko pulled herself up and tried to look unshaken. She wasn't successful.

The dragon raised his head and regarded Misato directly. "Beware Gendo. He's planning on starting the Third Impact by... dummy plugs... I..."

The dragon's form slowly shifted, becoming an albino boy whose eyes stared at the floor.

---------

At the moment that Shinji died, Ami shook her head. What had been going on? Where was she? She was a genetic experiment?

Of Akane there was no sign.

---------

"Man, did *i* blow it. Remind me not to try piloting an Eva unit again."

"Uhm, where are we? And why are you a dragon?"

Grey checked himself. "Silver dragon again. Can't seem to shift back. Likely because of the injury level in the last timeline. That and if you're altered significantly in one timeline, you need to fix it before you travel or it'll still be altered in the next."

Akane sniffed the ground. "Aka. Ne."

"Sure, go ahead Akane. We'll stick around here for awhile. Just don't go too far off."

Akane and Ami both stared at Grey.

"Huh?" The dragon considered them. "Oh. My breed of dragon is able to understand most intelligent species. If i'm a dragon, i can understand her."

"Are you okay?" Ami considered the large vaguely reptillian creature before her.

"The wounds aren't bleeding, though the translation to this universe has the injuries as being a day or two old. They ain't pretty though."

Akane snorted at typical male-foolishness and trotted off, she needed to stretch her legs and maybe get some water.

Ami considered the dragon again. "So any idea where we are?"

"It feels familiar, but I don't immediately place it," Grey announced. "Hmmm. I seem to have downshifted in age categories."

"Age categories?" Ami decided she was going to examine his wounds while talking to keep the dragon distracted.

"Yeah. Just like humans go through age categories like baby, infant, adolescent, etc, so do dragons. Ours is a bit different than yours though. If i'm guessing right from your relative size, you're normally just over five feet in height, right?"

Ami winced at the chewed scales and flesh that marked a line from Grey's "collarbone" down to the abdomen. "Five feet, four inches." She paused as something about his speech patterns penetrated.

"Well, i'm looking, and i think i'm about ten or twelve Ami-lengths. Add another four Ami-lengths for the tail. That means i'm a 'adolescent' in dragon terms." Grey winced as Ami probed the wound. "Do you mind? That's rather sensitive. This is a problem in that i wouldn't have the full range of clerical spells i'm used to."

"Is that a big problem?"

"Yeah, it looks like i can only access third level spells and below. Which is a problem if those dragons over there keep coming closer."

Ami looked. "Those birds?"

"Dragons who normally hunt in the air have greater visual acuity than a land-dragon or a human." Grey made a grumbling noise. "If this is where i think we are, remain really close to me."

Ami watched the "birds" get closer and resolve into dragons, though different in shape and color than Grey. They landed a short distance away and seemed to regard Grey with suspicion.

"What do you here, silver?"

"i rest from battle most strenuous, and given rest will fly on without harm to your lands. i am but a travelling priest."

"Battle, silver?" The lead red said in a questioning tone. "With what?"

"Humans who would be dragonslayers. i escaped, and did their castle grievous harm."

"Humans? Where? I see no humans, silver."

"They don't like humans?" Ami realized she'd blurted that out, and the way the other side was looking at her, she didn't think that drawing attention to herself had been wise.

"A human? HERE?!" The lead red dragon snarled at Grey. "What do you think you're doing, bringing HUMANS into our territory!"

"The human is my bonded Kindred," Grey replied. "She accompanies me."

The lead red was prepared to argue when one of the other dragons nudged him and whispered something to him. The leader blinked, stared at Ami, then back to Grey and slowly began to smile.

"Well, well," he chuckled a moment later. "I'd always heard you Silvers were into some kinky stuff. Bet you couldn't do anything like THIS in your own aeyrie, eh?"

"Hmmm?" Grey was momentarily lost but was willing to go with the flow if that meant Ami wasn't eaten.

"Playing a little game with your mate using polymorph, eh?" The red leader started laughing out loud now. "The (hee hee) terrible Dragonslayer (bwah hah) and the (snicker) poor dragon victim (snort)! No doubt using her (snicker snort) 'special attacks' to (hits the ground laughing uncontrollably) 'dominate' the dragon and (starts crying from laughing so hard) have her way with him..." At this point the red leader wasn't the only one laughing and many of the other dragons were at least openly snickering.

"Well, that's not quite it," said Grey, managing an embarassed look, "she's not a dragon, at least at the moment.

This, of course, convinced the rest of the dragons that their leader was right and they all began laughing themselves silly about it. Especially when the mage among them remembered something about how some of the metallic dragons used their transforming ability only to get "stuck" in their other shape and not be able to transform back. Many suggestions and speculations followed.

The leader recovered enough to notice a tiny little creature come running up to where the "human" stood, then vanish into a gem or something in the female's hand. "What's your name, O Perverted Silver?"

"Grey," said Grey.

"Well, Grey, you're on Bloodtide Isle about six hundred wyrmlengths from the city of Malice. If you go that way, you can keep your perversions away from decent red dragons. Though wait'll I tell the boys in the barracks about this...(hee hee hee)."

Taking as much of his dignity as he could, Grey lifted Ami to a point just behind his skull and advised her to hold onto the spikes back there. Then he lifted off, hearing another roar of laughter as further jokes were made at his expense.

"Uhm, do you know where we are now?" Ami gripped as tightly as she could, her face quite red from some of the suggestions that had been made about their relationship.

"This is the land known as Io's Blood, where dragons are relatively civilized and rule over the lesser races. Humans are all but unknown, as humans have the ability to become a feared thing called a DragonSlayer." Grey took the flight as easy as he could, knowing that Ami had no saddle or experience. "We're currently flying over Bloodtide Isle, which is red dragon territory. Reds are not nice people, by the way. We're heading over towards the lands ruled by silver dragonkind, if i'm right."

Ami spent a lot of time in silence, considering carefully. The rocky ground below them turned to swamp, which turned to ocean, which eventually became a beach again. Finally, she thought she had the right idea. Why had they been so convinced that she was a dragon? Because of that 'dragonseed' she'd heard mentioned, no doubt. Which meant that...

Grey felt a moment of panic as the tiny weight of Ami vanished from his head. He immediately wheeled and looped around, his eyes scanning for the tiny form that should be falling to her doom.

And collided with another form in midair that was slightly smaller than he was. The two fell in a tangle, crashing to the sand dunes below them.

Grey's nostrils twitched at a bewitching scent and he opened his eyes to behold a picture of loveliness. Her scales were a waterfall of gleaming silver, her head-spines slender and refined, her limbs and tail the very picture of feminine delicacy. That she was sprawled rather inelegantly in a heap was beside the point.

"Ouch," said the strange dragon in a voice that was nonetheless familiar as she uncoiled.

"Ami?" Grey stared. Her wings were so delicately tapered, with a hint of deep blue along the vanes, while her claw webbing had that iridiscent feminine sheen. Her scent hit him like a blast of lightning, rich and feminine.

"Grey?" Ami stared herself. He made quite a handsome dragon now that she was looking with draconic eyes herself. His scent filled her nostrils, and she found it oddly exciting. She found herself taking off and looping in the air, Grey following as instincts took over.

He moved, she moved. He quickly found a thermal- cleared bare rock heated by the sun which caused the air above it to rise. He swirled lazily into it, the female pursuing and then slipping around and over him.

He half-furled wings and flared his "light" - the magical aura that allowed such a massive creature to float as easily as a seagull. Ami swerved closer as she rode the "bow-wave" circling her larger partner, acting on instincts she hadn't possessed a few minutes ago and letting her own light flare.

The pulsings of that magical light began to synchronize as the two dragons circled each other and steadily rose within the thermal.

Some nearby silvers noted that two others were initiating a mating flight and sat back to watch until their superior told them to give the lovebirds some privacy.

The two finally pulled out, beginning another phase as Ami became the center of another aerial ballet, though the larger dragon was slower and more clumsy than the female. Almost but not quite touching, the two glided to a clumsy landing, both in the grip of set of behavior that was ancient and engraved in the dragon's racial memory.

Ami went to all fours, flattening her wings against her body, then roared to the sky with a blast of frost. Grey answered similarly and moved closer. Ami lowered her neck, Grey moved his own so that their head-spines briefly touched.

"WHOA! Major bad timing!"

A burst of cold water would not have been more sobering. The two were shocked into awareness of what they had done when a blaze of light appeared before them, solidifying as a 3x lifesize hologram of a human-looking woman.

"Ahem, well, I'm kinda sorry I interrupted now..."

Even though Ami was a dragon, she still managed to look embarassed.

"Celeste? What the heck happened?" Grey looked at the sort of landscape damage that had occurred from a 54 foot long and a 45 foot long pair of dragons without a lot of experience landing. "Wait a minute, we didn't... did we?"

"Dragons have their seasons and instincts too, and Grey you should know that your default form is a dragon at present. Though, no, you didn't actually mate. Just all the normal things leading up to it. Back to the shapes: the angelform, humanform, and cyborg shell are all dependent on which universe you're in, and they're overrides. Right now in any universe where there is a close match to your type of dragon, that's what you'll be. Ami is your mate, and got a dragonseed, so if she's in a universe where you're a dragon - she will be too. Same type too, and it oddly fits her: scholarly type with a frost breath weapon. Thor wants to know if you two are available for parties. (He's always running out of ice.)" Celeste shook her head. "Kids nowadays, I tell you."

"So we both basically went into something like the Vulcan *pon farr*? Geez. And how come i lost age categories?"

"They were swiped from you to form the dragonseeds." Celeste shrugged. "So you're a teenager again. Deal with it. You're still a silver dragonpriest, and since you're of Etragar, that means you've got to deal with his weapons restrictions. Better learn an unarmed style of combat."

"i'm not *too* bad with a staff, but you're right," grumbled Grey. Dragons could grumble particularly well. "Most of what i know is *armed* combat."

"Now are you ready for the rest of the bad news?" Celeste paused until both dragons craned their heads closer. She had to admire them, they really were quite attractive - regal looking in fact. "The other brides tried to tag along. The gate might have handled it anyway, but Son Usagi's power level was quite enough to destabilize that." Celeste listened to something going on outside the holocam's range. "Thor wants to know if Usagi would like to wrestle sometime. Sif's objecting to the entire concept."

Both dragons nodded at the sounds of off-camera violence.

"So i need to go pull them out of where they are?" Grey guessed.

"We," corrected Ami, craning her long neck closer, not entirely sure what to make of this newest development.

"Got it in one," agreed Celeste.

================

the Eva timeline was cut short to avoid any comparisons/parallels with Skysaber's Otaku Rising chapter 2.

The votes were:

1. The usual Senshi-candidates are the idummy plugs/i in this timeline.
2. The usual Senshi-candidates are part of an attempt to genetically engineer a next stage in human evolution. Ami has an enhanced intellect, etc. The GUTS plan by Seele has them mating to produce a superior human race whose development they can guide.
3. The usual Senshi-candidates are actually ifatima/i and are necessary processing units to run an Evangelion.
4. Since the Second Impact in that world, 80% of the world's male population and 40% of the women died. Ami is Shinji's first girlfriend, but he has others as you might expect.
5. The usual Senshi-candidates are power-armor pilots who take care of the smaller yoma while the big General/Angel/Yoma is fought by the Eva unit.
6. I haven't been able to make bany/b sense out of this Timeline. It looks like Ami's his girlfriend, but I don't see any sign of the rest of the usual Senshi-candidates.
7. The usual Senshi-candidates are actually the yoma, and Ami is filling Kaoru's role.
8. The usual Senshi-candidates are actually unawakened Senshi in this timeline.

Senshi are Dummy Plug Inserts - 1, Senshi are genetically engineered New Types - 7, Senshi are fatima - 2, Senshi are girlfriends in a man-poor environment - 4, Senshi in Power Armor -1, Senshi are missing - 1, Senshi are Yoma - 1, Senshi are Senshi - 4


Go for next:
1. Usagi, at the Tenkaichibudokai in a Dragonball setting...
2. Makoto Kino, who ended up in a Sabre Marionette timeline.
3. Minako Aino, who is either in Lodoss
4. Minako Aino, currently a freighter pilot/gunner in the Rebellion against the Empire.
5. Rei Hino, who is currently in RIFTS - Kyoto in the New Empire.
6. Setsuna Meiou is a Vulcan science officer who is assigned to researching the Guardian Of Forever.
7. The bleak human vs robot future of the Terminator movies, where a young warrior named Haruka Ten'nou tries to survive each day.
8. Something else that you can think of.
9. Usagi is in a SM/Cutey Honey fusion timeline, as Cutey Moon
10. MM Xover This could only happen with Sky's permission, but one or more of the worlds he's written of and then abandoned is where one or more of the tagalongs end up. Such as the world where Moongirl is a Batman-esque defender of Justice.

Usagi at the Tenkai -3, Makoto in SMJ -4, Minako as a Lodoss elf -2, Minako in Star Wars -4, Rei in RIFTS -0, Setsuna in Star Fleet -1, Haruka in the Terminator future -1, Cutey Moon -2, Mirrors Multiplied Xover -1, the Senshi as dragons -1, All the Senshi as being Cutey Honey style androids -1



while i think the experiment was largely a success, the "Choose Your Fanfic" feedback system is on hold until i get this monster more under control.


THIRD LABOR: chapter two (prologue) Silver tidings/Golden dreams

various universes/characters by other people.
other stuff the fault of gregg sharp

Silver light glowed into being, resolving as four bodies briefly appeared, then the darkness was held back by the glowing flames that marked the tail of one of the four.

"Hang on, we'll switch the reactor back on and be set to go in a half hour or so." Grey turned on a lantern, which made a bit more light than Akane's tail.

"Aka ne ne." Akane voiced her disapproval. All she could smell was metal and plastic, and that damn Irish Spring that Grey had been using lately. Oh, and some lavender stuff that Sasami and Ami had started using, but it wasn't as VILE as the soap Grey was using. Ick.

"Where exactly are we?" Ami looked around at the metal room, noting the patches and discolored sections of metal, the tubes and hoses lining the corners, the odd boxes with their yellow and black markings.

"Repair Bay One. It's used for speeders, hovercraft, just about any kind of personal vehicle. Or did you mean the ship. It's the last one i had when i visited this timeline, the 'Dewclaw' - a Lu class repairship that goes out to various ships in space and repairs them, does a bit of salvage, occasionally ferries passengers."

"It's a spaceship?" Sasami looked around. "It's kinda..."

"You're used to Juraian treeships and a higher class of living, Princess Sasami. This is a working vessel used in an entirely different timeline using technology that's a bit grittier than you're used to." Grey patted a wall affectionately before leading them out into the corridor.

"That's actually, uhm, what I meant," Ami spoke quietly, noting the oppressive stillness was making her a bit nervous. It reminded her of *way* too many SF Horror movies. Not that she watched them.

Grey shone his lantern about, peering into the darkness."Since i've been here before, i'm using my old identity. i'm Grey, owner/operator of the 'Dewclaw' - like i said, this is essentially a mobile drydock/repair bay. The Death Star was destroyed six months ago and the Emperor is dead."

"So this goes after 'Return of the Jedi'," remarked Ami, briefly surprising Grey. "I *do* get away from my studies occasionally."

"Right," Grey nodded and smiled an apology. "So the Empire is without a single head right now, more a lot of little governors each of whom claim to be the 'rightful successor' to the throne and each is trying to claim as much space as they can. Tensions are actually higher, and pirates and the like are taking advantage of the confusion. Many of the Rebellion have bailed, as the Emperor is dead, though the Empire's bureaucracy is still trying to run."

"Something like Japan's 'Warring States' period then," commented Ami, still nervously trying to look in all directions. She couldn't even see her companions clearly still.

"You got it," Grey jerked his thumb towards a side corridor in which large plastic barrels could be seen. "Technology's a polyglot. Ancient vanished civilizations, the Makers for one, have some really advanced tech contributed. There's also a number of civilizations which developed their own tech, so not everything's compatible. And then there's the Force. My record here indicates i'm a minor league force-sensitive though a heckuva long way from being a Jedi. Sasami's chi levels will have her recognized as a *major* force sensitive. Though neither of you have any records as of yet. When we get to a starport, i've got a databurster guaranteed by Celeste that'll register you two with whatever identities you want."

Ami continued to get progressively more nervous as shadows shifted with each movement of Akane's tail.

Akane glanced up at the girl. "Ne Ne. Aka NE." (You're making *me* nervous NOW!)

Grey tapped a touchplate, putting in a long series of numbers. A door opened with a loud crunk.

"AAAHHHH!" Ami jumped at the sudden noise, her hair sticking up.

"AAAHHHH!" Akane sent a burst of flame at what had startled her. Unfortunately this was Ami. Sasami jumped, ending up 12 feet up and clinging to the ceiling. Grey, ready for the door but not a pair of screams, had turned and was looking for whatever was attacking.

Grey holstered his blaster, grumbled, and went into the room. A moment later lights began flickering on in the hallway.

"What a piece of junk," summed up Sasami, being unusually blunt as she landed on the floor.

"It's supposed to be," answered Grey from inside the room. "This vehicle is for anyone out of the RRO or similar Celestial agencies. If it looked *nice* it would be targetted by thieves."

An odd vibration started going through the deck, and Ami noted with relief that the air began moving.

"Okay, life support and power are back on. Systems will come fully online in another fifteen or twenty. If you'll come this way... Something wrong?" Grey stopped when it was obvious that the three others were stuck staring at each other.

"AMI-CHAN?!" Sasami squeaked.

"Welcome to a non-anime universe," said Grey. "Both of you look like humans of Asian ancestry. Perfectly normal."

"B-bu-but..." Ami dove for a compact and squeaked on seeing the difference in herself.

"Don't worry about it, you look fine. Quite cute, in fact." Grey was being quite honest, walking along the corridor so that the two had to follow. "Black hair and dark brown eyes are normal for a Japanese girl, though you're still a bit pale."

"But my eyes are so..." Ami tried to quantify the overall changes. She looked so *alien* but still like herself somehow. Her eyes weren't round, they didn't quite sparkle the same way, and they weren't blue. These were brown eyes, almost almond shaped, and not nearly as big as she was used to.

"They're perfectly normal Japanese eyes. Hmmm. Actually this might make good training before we get to the mission in that regard. That *also* is not an anime universe."

"Hmmm," Sasami said, examining herself. "My hair's shorter and I'm thinner, but I don't feel any different."

"You look like a young Asian girl. Though here in Empire space, that means you come from Cathin, Wu, or Setooine. i'd recommend Wu for both of you. Wu is a bit isolationist, mainly composed of farms and very provincial villages. It's a rough and tumble world, known for all sorts of nasty carnivorous beasties which tend to rip the weak and unwary apart at an early age. Particularly as the local leaders only allow their own servitors to own weapons more advanced than simple knives. Not a planet anyone will regard as a threat, but anyone who survived living on that world and that managed to escape is going to be thought of as either having connections or being fairly dangerous themselves."

"Oh my," Sasami commented, catching a look at herself in a mirrored panel as they passed it.

"These ladders lead to the gun blisters, standard on a lot of vessels that had to run blockades or operate in dangerous areas." Grey pointed at the two ladders, the righthand one leading up, the left leading down. "Top hardpoint is a pulse laser. i'd really like you two to use a simulator program and make yourselves familiar with its operation. This ship isn't terribly fast as things go and so we may end up in a running battle. Bottom hardpoint is a high energy blaster. Don't use the blaster if we're being observed by any authorities, it's something i cobbled together and packs a bit more punch than is strictly legal."

Ami and Sasami looked down the tube to the bottom hardpoint before realizing that Grey was continuing on.

"This corridor has five bunkrooms. Choose the one you want, they're all the same. Over here is the galley and kitchen. This corridor leads to the main hatch and docking controls. An extensible web forms a sort of drydock partition that can be used to moor and protect a ship while repairs commence." Grey continued on. "Bridge is this way. Lifepods are down these chutes. You'll notice there are five. Each pod can take three people. Normally, though, the ship has a crew of five. One can run it, but not as well as five."

"I see." Ami wondered if there was some point to all this. "We're just going in after Minako and then back out again, right? So we won't need any of this, right?"

"Ami, when has anything in my life gone as planned?"

-----------

A week later, Ami had reason to regret her earlier statement. "I picked up some protein-wafers at the..." Her voice trailed off as Sasami made a shushing gesture.

Holding his hands over a palm computer, Grey was casting 'Augury' again as he had once a day since entering this universe.
"Spirits of light and servants of good,
Spirits of metal and plastic and wood,
Advise me now on my simple task,
Truth that lies 'neath confusion's mask,
In this starport controlled by Hutt,
Is there where Minako's shut?"

Ami blinked as the display on the palm computer altered to green. "We found her?!"

Grey continued concentrating. In *this* universe, he'd learned he could ask up to four questions. And as it had to be a yes/no question, he had to be careful of the wording.

"So that we may our friend soon see,
I ask the second: is she free?"

Ami suppressed a groan as the palm computer's display went to red.

"My third question, i seek to know,
Is fourth level where i must go?"

Sasami gasped as the display turned green again. The fourth level was a rather unsavory marketplace, overseen by the Hutt. As the Hutt were a race of interstellar gangsters whose culture emphasized ruthlessness and profit over all, this was not a good thing.

Ami clicked on a display of the fourth level, noting aloud that there was one major place to purchase slaves, and four which served a lesser clientele.

"Fourth question is now the thing,
Minako's jailers, on outer ring?"

The display remained green. Ami noted that the outer ring, cheaper because the traffic wasn't as great, had two of the shops. 'Luftwig's Exotica' carried darn near anything. 'Dzz'kk's Sundries' was cheap and disreputable. "Should I carry the lightsaber?"

"No, just blasters." Grey took a deep breath. "Sasami, do you want to stay here? It's not exactly a nice neighborhood."

Sasami smirked and formed a ball of chi over her hand. "I can take care of myself, and you still have that weapon restriction, remember?"

Ami frowned, not liking having to have a gun, but here it was a required item of dress.

"Why don't you stay here, Ami?" Grey offered. She'd gotten ill during their first check of the station's less savory levels. The first level was relatively tame. Further in, the influence of the Hutts became more obvious. At least with the first level there was a veneer of civilization. "That way if we need to launch immediately, you can have the engines primed."

Ami nodded, grateful she wouldn't have to go down there again, though it shamed her a bit that Sasami could handle the atmosphere down there better than she could. Of course, since Sasami had made that wish that gave her a power level equivelant to a Sailorjin, Sasami wasn't exactly a helpless kid either.

-------

Eyecatch #5:

A framed picture of Usagi Tsukino, wearing her school uniform. The picture turns over with a click, revealing a picture of Son Usagi - the Sailorjin princess. Click/flip: Sailor Moon. Click/flip: Usagi as a playboy bunny. Click/flip: the five year old from Skysaber's Choice. Click/flip: Usagi panicking in the cockpit of a Gundam unit. Click/flip: Usagi as an angel (tripping over a cloud).

Eyecatch #6:

A framed picture of Kiyone in her Galaxy Police uniform. The picture turns over with a click, revealing a picture of Kiyone in jeans and workshirt, with a Pikachu on one shoulder that is giving a "V" sign. Click/flip: Kiyone in a gi, Ed (Pikachu) in a matching gi at her feet, both of them in identical martial arts poses. Click/flip: Kiyone's dressed as a Southern belle, with a very diminuitive Rhett Butler at her feet. Click/flip: Kiyone's sitting on a cloud, while Ed's holding a fake halo by a wire over her head.

------

"Yes, we have just such thing," said the odd lumpy being behind the counter. "We get shipment in just few day ago." It flicked a switch.

Sasami gave an involuntary gasp.

Grey winced. "I see. Not much meat on them. Any useful skills?"

The lump considered what little he knew of human facial expressions, also human aesthetics. Not much in either case, though some things were nearly universal. The little one (a larva?) was showing distress. The big human was sneering, which was an expression shared by 127 different races. "They hotwire spacecraft. Big bad. Now on auction block. You buy, I sell? Or you want different group, more skill? I got that too!"

"Well, they're..." Grey checked out the proprietor, realized that it was one of those species that gave birth to hundreds of young and then had a feeding frenzy. Children were not considered valuable. "They're just kids, but I might be able to train them to something useful. How much?"

"How much you got?" The lump twitched, sensing a sale.

Sasami frowned as the dickering got underway. Grey making a vast number of statements showing his contempt for the six figures, as well as how much money he'd spend clothing, feeding, and training the "raw material". The odd collection of lumps and hairy warts was arguing back that they were worth more than that as meat animals, that they didn't take that much room, and they were thin - so how much food could they intake? Besides, he had an interested buyer from another spaceport that could use waitresses.

Finally the deal was concluded, though both sides argued about how the other was robbing them blind, and Grey waited for the girls to be brought in.

"Do we have enough money for this?" Sasami whispered.

"Barely," confided Grey. "We'll have to sell the speeder to make the docking fees, and we'll be eating nutripaste for the foreseeable future."

"Yechhhh," summed up Sasami.

"Here is, we do deal?" The warty being brought the girls, hustling them forward.

"What are those collars?" Sasami asked innocently, trying not to look at a number of otherwise naked teenagers. This was embarassing.

"Slave collars," said Grey absently, trying not to react in any obvious way to the girls, "if they go too far from the control it zaps 'em. If a button on the controller is pressed, it zaps 'em, if a wearer moves too fast, it zaps 'em. Painful electrical jolt. Unfortunately fairly common."

"You look? These meet standards?" The slaver indicated the girls.

Grey didn't want to create any ripples, so inspected the girls' teeth and eyes, checked under the collars and tsked about the amount of burns, and finally went back to (apparently) grudgingly admit that these were suitable.

One of them stared at him briefly, then finally spoke. "You... I know you.".

The slaver held a hand out, stopping the transfer of credits. "Is relative yours human?"

"Is this some kind of trick to up the price!" Grey growled at the lumpy being. "Are the credits good or NOT!"

"Hi, I'm Sasami!" Sasami immediately tried to distract the blonde. The rest was spoken much quieter. "You really don't want to do this now."

"...but...I know HIM...." Life began flooding into the girl's face.

The lump looked back and forth momentarily, then pressed a button which summoned several wardroids from their alcoves. "Oh, I forget to add extra amount for..."

Grey snarled, this time for real. He pointed at the nearest wardroid.
"Metal born in fiery burn,
Now to that state return!"

Glowing hot, the wardroid came apart as internal circuits fried and then the batteries exploded.

"You... you're not a Jedi..." the lump attempted to move away from this crazy fellow. After all, if the wardroids opened fire now he'd be hit himself. "A Jedi would never buy slaves and they'd never use the Force to destroy things like that..."

"i never said i was," agreed Grey, letting the other fill the blanks.

The lump flattened slightly. "A Sith?!"

Grey never agreed. He didn't disagree either. "Sasami, the droid that's aiming on me from the right. Do it."

"Okay!" Sasami chirped, drew chi, and reduced the wardroid to metal shards. Also putting a basketball sized hole through the wall.

"i've heard, that with the Sith, there are always two," darkly hinted Grey. "And if a Sith Lord found out about certain individuals spreading news of his identity..."

"No, My Lord. Your credits are *quite* good here!" The lump was quick to restart the transaction, and he actually turned a pitying gaze towards the females. Fully aware of how much damage a Sith Lord and his apprentice could do to him personally, and his shop, the slaver immediately made the wardroids stand down and finished the transaction without further delay.

The lump waited until the Sith and his apprentice were gone before sending a report off about the new powers in town.

---------

Akane sat on the ramp to the 'Dewclaw' and watched the worlds go by. There was a boskun, and there a protocol droid, and there a kaolinite, and there a (sniff sniff) kaibur who'd had too much to drink.

This was fascinating to her, someone who had once thought of Nerima Japan as an odd place and for whom that had pretty much been her world. Now her ears flicked about as she listened to the buzz of alien conversations, her nostrils flared as strange otherworldly scents were brought to her on the errant breezes generated by foot and vehicular traffic. Her eyes, less color sensitive but better at seeing things in low light levels, were particularly good at picking up movement.

So the ebb and flow of traffic on Loading Bay 5, Outer Ring, was endlessly fascinating to the former girl. Her senses gave her information a human would have overlooked. So she knew full well that it was Ami coming up behind her.

"Aka neeee."

Ami checked her palm-sized computer and read the display. "Explosions? Are you sure?"

"Aka ne ne A." (That and blaster fire and, if I don't miss my guess, ki blasts.)

"Oh dear, I'd better start the engines up then." Ami looked out across the docking area. "I thought they were going to stay out of trouble."

"Akane ne. NE." (The operative term, my dear Ami, was TRY.)

Ami looked up from her translator. "Oh, I suppose you're right."

Akane looked back at the girl as she re-entered the ship. ~Nice girl, though she tends to overthink situations.~ Akane's ears flickered at a closer set of explosions. ~Dang! Sounds like a major battle going on!~

Grey was the first to round the corner, running as if his life depended on it. With him came six naked young girls. ~Pervert~ Akane started, then realized she recognized the crew. ~Hmmmph. I'll bet THIS is an interesting story.~

Sasami became obvious a moment later, flying literally around the corner, then stopping in midair to begin building a chi blast in between her hands.

Then one of the warehouses came apart as a huge Mobile Suit kind of thing crashed through and started reaching for Sasami who darted and dodged and threw the chi blast at the Suit. Unfortunately she missed, the blast shot through the remains of the warehouse, and a bunch of approaching sirens abruptly stopped blaring.

"Pfeh," said Akane, knowing full well that the cops here were literally owned by the gangsters.

As Grey approached he managed to gasp out a request and motion the girls forward. "Akane, please help Sasami. Burning torpedo."

Akane grinned and moved from lying down to a full run in a single sinuous movement, flames forming an aura around her as she ran. The flames increased in intensity as she leapt and Akane briefly formed a comet that flew over startled aliens and exploded against the hard armored plates of the robot vehicle.

Grey continued into the ship. "All of you, over there." He gestured towards the dining area with one hand, touching a comm-panel with the other. "Ami, why aren't the engines up?"

Sasami flitted into the airlock, followed by a bruised looking (but satisfied) Akane. Sasami keyed the door closure as energy blasts could be heard taking apart pieces of the 'Dewclaw'.

Another shudder indicated the engines at last coming on-line and the ship lurched as someone threw it into first gear. Another series of explosions on the outside of the ship was followed by what sounded like pieces of ship falling off and breaking glass.

In the cockpit, Grey was doing something he frequently did. Panicking. "What do you mean you didn't read the manuals! You're always reading!"

"Well...." Ami managed to look embarassed. "The physics in these things are completely wrong, there's no way they could work! I just..."

Grey gear-shifted to second, putting the autopilot to the setting of 'get the heck out of here' that he'd programmed for just such an emergency. Since the 'Dewclaw' handled like a heavily loaded eighteen-wheeler under the best of circumstances, they wallowed but were slowly picking up speed. "Never mind, get up to the top turret and start firing. That Mobile Suit is coming after us and it's a *lot* faster than we are."

Ami winced. "Well, I..."

Grey's face went flat. "You never ran any of the simulators, did you?"

"...no..."

Grey sighed. "We're doomed. Okay, *try* to use the top turret, *please* Ami. And don't let your duplicate come into physical contact with you."

"Duplicate?"

"Duplicate, Doppelganger, native Analogue," Grey pointed a thumb back to the rest of the ship. "We picked up the native versions of not only Minako, but you, Makoto, Rei, Usagi and Hotaru. I'll explain later as we need to..." A light began blinking on the console. "Who's using the *rear* turret?!"

----------

Minako/Vena rotated the turret with its odd weapon towards the pursuing ship and small cloud of snubfighters just beginning to launch. Fingers danced over the control surface, bringing power up and noting that she only had six shots with this thing. It showed an external capacitor that was fed by the main reactor and recharged slowly. How odd.

Minako drew upon her native self's skills and targetted the looming giant robot vehicle, pulling the trigger.

The blast slammed into armor plate that had been weakened by Sasami's earlier fight and shattered. The 'chest' of the robot was neatly holed, and the blast continued onwards, striking the spaceport behind it. A fairly sizable explosion resulted. The Vena part of Minako deduced that someone had figured out a way to put a planetary defense blast cannon on a starship, and that the capacitor was to keep gun's firing from burning out the engines or stalling the vehicle as all its energy was transferred to a single weapon system.

Minako sent three more discharges towards the cloud of snubfighters, taking out three vehicles that had probably seen service in the Clone Wars. The remainder continued forward, scattering around the ungainly repairship and raking it with lasers.

----------

"Ami..." Grey bit his lip, trying not to say anything that would further upset the girl who was wincing at explosions and fire alarms.

"I... can't." Ami stared at the console. "There are people in those things... I..."

"We can't take the whole group with us," Grey felt obliged to point out. "You didn't have this problem in China, did you?"

"But they could have gotten away," Ami said in a low voice, "these people are in space. Some may be slaves themselves."

The ship shuddered again. Grey reminded himself that Ami was just a sixteen year old girl. Maybe she'd been through a lot during the China campaign, and maybe she was a genius juku student, but she was only sixteen. "Okay, just pilot. It's on autopilot, but when THIS light turns green, you flick THIS switch. Okay?" Grey pointed out the hyperdrive enable light and activation switch. "The computer's running through the necessary data and will signal when we're ready."

Ami nodded, hating the feeling of helplessness. "What are you going to do?"

Grey shrugged. "i'm a cleric. i'm going to pray, i'm also going to try to keep the ship together long enough for the jump."

----------

In another world, she might have been known as Makoto or Lita. In another world she would have grown up to become Sailor Jupiter. She didn't know this, she didn't care. She was simply Julie, an asteroid miner's unwanted child. She and her childhood friends had decided (at Uria's suggestion) that they were going to get OFF that rock and never come back. So they'd stolen the fastest ship that had been available, the boss's jump-shuttle and tried to run. They hadn't gotten far.

She and her childhood friends had been caught. Uria, the tough tomboy, had been carried off and they'd never seen her again. Nessa still broke into tears about it. The slaver might have been lying when he told them she'd been fed to the Hutt.

Slave collars had been put on them and they'd been slowly but surely broken under the neuro-lash. Then, when everything had been as bleak as it could get, they'd been summoned to be sold off to some guy. How Vena recognized this guy was a weirdness - she was pretty sure she'd never seen the little girl OR the guy on the Asteroid and all their tormentors and slave handlers hadn't been human since they left home.

Julie brought the weapons systems up in the turret and sent pulsing laser blasts towards a few of the snubships. It was payback time. Their current 'Master' was, according to Vena, a friend who had just rescued them. Julie wasn't too sure about that, but being here was certainly better than being back THERE. And since the little one-man fighters were definitely the bad guys, she had no trouble centering the crosshairs on one fighter after another and blasting away with glee.

--------

The bottom turret gave a series of booms before going silent. The top turret was being used enthusiastically if not very accurately.

Ami fretted over moral issues, the impossibility of hearing laser blasts going past the ship, and the general weirdness quotient of what she was surrounded by. (ie: she was having an anxiety attack and getting cold feet about a relationship with this Grey fellow, especially as he had frustratingly been a perfect gentleman since coming to this timeline.)

Several girls recently rescued from becoming an Unhappy Meal were being nervous wrecks and had not found anything to wear (though this last was less a consideration for them than for the guy who had bought them and was still trying to avoid looking at them.)

A certain individual known as Grey (silver dragon male, C5?) was praying and trying not to look at the young girls shivering in the corner while running around with a fire extinguisher putting out fires.

At a point where large pieces of the ship were about to become free-floating debris, a light came on and Ami flicked a switch. The 'Dewclaw' sped into hyperspace, trailing a little cloud of smoke and debris in the best tradition of 'Star Blazers' and other space series. Which got further complaints from Ami, predictably.

---------

Ami eventually got over her snit, her ability to fit everything in a rational world having only been temporarily overwhelmed by a dragon-cleric in human form piloting a ship through hyperspace to rescue a merged dimensional analogue of her friend Minako due to Usagi trying to spend quality time with her husband who was actually Ami's husband too even if they'd never...

Ami shied away from the realization that THAT was the reason she was feeling both defensive and irritated at the whole situation.

"That was all i had for clothing," apologized Grey, "leftovers from other adventures and companions, as well as other operatives who also used the 'Dewclaw'."

Vena/Minako shrugged inside her too-large flight suit and remarked that it was warmer than not wearing anything at all.

Meria, the native Ami, kept staring at the twin she'd never had before and didn't comment on her own skintight latex spacesuit. It hadn't even been made for humans, and it literally hugged every square inch as if it had been spray-painted on everything from the neck down. If she *had* commented, she would only have noted that it was rather toasty.

Mareya, a shorthaired version of Rei whose left arm ended at the elbow, had gotten the worst of the lot. A tanktop two sizes too big and a pair of Dragonball Z boxer shorts. (Grey had been rather surprised to find those as he hadn't even known that those existed.)

Julie had followed Grey to his cabin, found a man's workshirt, pair of jeans, and old tennis shoes, and had the best fitting set of clothing among all of them. Grey had stated he could heal the scar marring her face, but Julie had brushed it off stating that she had had it since childhood and it was of little concern.

Moom was the near-Usagi, though with less than a 1/4 inch of hair on her scalp. She had found a Chinese dress that was merely a size too small and had eagerly put that on. She otherwise seemed largely to be in shock.

The Hotaru-clone was Sally. A young looking girl, related to Mareya apparently. Sasami's clothing was too small, and so she was wearing a set of pajamas that Ami had gotten for wearing during the Labor.

"So, what do we do now?" Sasami asked, looking over the crowd. "I mean we were just supposed to get Minako, weren't we?"

"Well..." Grey said with a wince, "it's not like i could just leave them..."

"So what happens to the me that *was* here when *I* leave?" Vena/Minako wondered, still trying to adjust a flight suit that would fit Chewbacca so that it didn't look quite so... overwhelming.

"Unless we use *this*," Grey held up what looked like a solid soap bubble, "this universe will be minus 'Vena' - you two will remain merged. If it's worded right, we can use this Limited Wish to seperate the two of you when we leave this plane of existance."

"What about the rest of us?" Julie asked, looking about. "I mean, we literally have nowhere to go. Uria was the one to come up with all the plans, well her and Nessa."

Sally moaned, the two had been almost like her parents.

"Well, what happened to them?" Ami asked, realizing that this were the Michiru and Haruka locals.

"Nessa got sold last week. Uria was taken away fairly early," Julie responded. "All we really know is asteroid mining and that's no future at all."

"The 'Dewclaw' is a repairship operating in this timeline, and you can continue to stay on board, though there will come other Captains. You're going to have to learn ship repair and the operating budget was skunked by purchasing you. Though we'll have to drop back into normal space for me to see if the purchase went through." Grey sighed. "i should have realized this wouldn't be easy. The laws of this universe tend to produce epic adventures regularly and this looks like the beginning of one."

"Huh?!" The number of girls asked in unison, except for Moom who was still lost in her own private daze.

"Look at the elements present," Grey explained, "an old beat up ship on the run from gangsters, though if you get out of the fringes you can avoid most of THAT. Crewed by young and attractive girls who are escaping their past. It is *so* in genre that i expect you to run into a fuzzy mascot at nearly any point (just so long as it isn't an Ewok- i've heard they're a lot like kender) and romantic lead. Probably Usa... Moom's."

"But we don't know HOW to fix spaceships or any of that stuff," Julie pointed out, wondering if there was a way that they could get this guy to stay.

Meria frowned and considered her other self. *She* got to leave, so maybe if she arranged to take her double's place...

"Well, THAT i can't do much about," Grey admitted. "We'll exit hyperspace in an out-of-the-way system called Dantooine. The Rebellion had a base there, then they abandoned it, then the Empire converted it to support for their Death Star, then THEY abandoned it. It should still have a lot of supplies that the Empire left there. Then on to Tatooine. There's still a power vaccuum there with the death of Jabba the Hutt, and there's a hermit who knows a bit about the Force hanging around over there. Don't know what he's calling himself nowadays, but he used to go by the name of Luke...

"i've programmed both sets of coordinates into the navcomp. As for me, Sasami, Ami, and Akane, we've got to get going." Grey held up the soap bubble. "i wish that Minako, Ami, Akane, Sasami and myself were now before the archways of Mimir's Well, and that Minako and Vena were seperated with Vena remaining in her native timeline."

---------

"You took quite awhile," said Celeste, checking an enormous pocketwatch.

"Extenuating circumstances," replied Grey as he and the others appeared. "Was the split successful?"

"Yes, you managed to abandon a bunch of untrained panicked girls on a falling-apart spaceship heading for a former Imperial base off in the fringes, without any clue as to how to operate that starship." Celeste was annoyed.

"Like i had a choice?! What was i supposed to do, MARRY them?" Grey was grateful that Celeste didn't answer that question. "i did the best i could! Dantooine doesn't have any native life that is particularly threatening, sort of like pre-colonial Georgia without the bears. i *did* do some research you know!"

"Not to mention the damage done to the 'Dewclaw'," Celeste continued. "The drydock webbing is spread through five systems. The blast shielding is gone in six places, the cargo bay is open to hard vaccuum, the fire control will break down at any moment, and the tractor beam is at less than 50% power..."

"The 'Dewclaw' isn't in a combat zone, the girls don't know how to use the drydock anyway, i couldn't do a dang thing about the shielding or tractor beam without replacement parts, and the computer's locked access to that bay. Fire control *might* be a problem, but can you come up with one thing that would have worked better at this?"

Ami actually spoke. "Yes, actually. You could have headed instead for the nearest colony and dropped them off at a spaceport. It was their own universe, their own time. They could have handled it."

Minako considered her dear friend for a moment. "Sorry, Ami, but you're wrong. I was part of Vena for awhile. Think 'Coal Miner's Daughter' or something like that. They've darn little in the way of education, were looking at a bleak existence on a barren rock, working twelve hour days digging ore without even a blade of grass for them to look at that wasn't a hologram. They wanted OUT of that life and I can't blame them. The reason they made a break for it was that Uria's arranged marriage was coming up, at which point she'd have been stuck as a baby factory and her dreams of being a pod racer would have been over."

Ami wasn't the only one taken aback by the bitterness in Minako's voice. "But... I..."

"No buts, Ami-chan," Minako tried smiling to take the sting out. "Grey-chan didn't do that badly."

"Well, just to be safe, maybe i should go into the next world alone, is the portal set, Celeste?"

Celeste finished glaring. She'd have to arrange a suitable hero to run across the girls on that ship, though fortunately heroes weren't that uncommon in a Star Wars universe. "Arch four. It should use your connection to Makoto to take you directly to her."

--------

Grey stepped through, feeling the automatic adaptations take place. In a universe where there were dragons, he would be a dragon - so any world like Oerth or Toril or RIFTS Earth - he'd become a silver dragon or the local equivelant. That was now his primary form. In a world where there were no dragons but the gods or goddesses of Yggdrasil or a similar system normally held sway, he became the 'sexangel' form with or without wings -which had been the case in the Star Wars universe. Without either of those influences, or if the environment was deemed hostile enough by what was left of the Binding, he ended up in cyborg form - that modified Triax VX-500 housing. Lastly was a purely human form, though he'd gotten a magic tattoo and some esper talent that was supposed to be useful if he ever figured out how to access it.

This world, for all its appearances, had no dragons or angels roaming its streets in disguise. The technology might have allowed for cyborgs, but clearly nothing near the full conversion type. That meant... human.

It felt diminished. Crippled. Small. He could fly (though the angelform was the only one where landing didn't end up in a crash) in all his other forms, but the human form was... weak. Defenseless. Soft. Grey was amazed how easy it was to get used to being big and powerful. Being a psuedo-angel had been glorious, being a silver dragon- bordered on joyful, being a hulking cyborg had been inconvenient and a large set of its own problems - but it had been comfortable in a way.

Stepping out into a rainshower and feeling the sudden ache of old tired joints, Grey realized that something was even more wrong with this. There was a burning sharp pain in his chest, and he felt the wet cold penetrating him far more than he remembered it.

Looking at his arm confirmed the worst. Wrinkled pale skin spotted with age and old scars. Not only human again. But his old human body. He'd been close to forty when he'd been remade into a demon. He hadn't kept track of time since then, time travel and dimensional jaunts had invented terms like 'subjective time vs objective time', but at least another forty years had passed on various jobs and missions. Judging from this pain-wracked, trembling, withered shell - another twenty years or more had been tacked on. This body was literally crumbling inside, and Grey could feel it.

Struggling for every step, Grey tried to make it towards the odd barely-seen buildings surrounding him. The Binding was still weakened or confused. Celeste hadn't immediately recalled him, which meant he was out of touch with them too. He was glad of one thing at least. That he had to go through this indignity and have his Final Death be of old age out in the rain of some alien timeline, at least Ami and Minako and the others weren't here to see this...

And somehow he'd always known, that even though he'd always done the best he could, and he'd always cared, that he would die cold and alone and unloved. It was just that sort of life...

So cold, so dark...

So alone...

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

heh heh. cliffhanger, eh?


ja ne,
gregg