Shikamaru Vs. The Logical Fallacies
Today's Adventure: Shikamaru vs. the Impact Bias
Kishimoto owns the Naruto universe.
Less Wrong "owns" Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality (a model for this story in many ways).
Everyone owns the Logical Fallacies.
Until we wipe them off the face of the Earth.
This story has some differences from Canon such as the implementation of tech already available in the Canon (like radio towers) and Kabuto being still in Konoha.
The Impact Bias chapter is a way to test out this concept and I'll likely restart from the beginning of Naruto if the Awesomeness yield is high enough.
Click the profile "FanFicBias" for full background and additional notes and references. Reviews very much appreciated.
SPOILERS for everything in Naruto up through the first Hidan/Kakuzu fight.
Shikamaru and Asuma looked at the wise-cracking Hidan, or rather his HEAD, in disbelief. Impossible.
Shikamaru's brain was completely derailed. It was hurtling off-track in Shikamaru's mind, screaming something about how it was totally reasonable to not have a contingency plan for cutting off someone's HEAD and then NOT having them die.
Shikamaru compromised and switched the tracks to accommodate his runaway brain-train, rather than trying to force reality to conform to his will, which was irrational.
Reality is true no matter what you think, Shikamaru thought.
Analyze the data you have, hypothesize from there.
Asuma had just cut off Hidan's head.
He wasn't dead. Not only that, he was still TALKING. How was that possible? Where was the breath to form syllables coming from? Why wasn't all the blood from his head rushing out of his neck in a gory tidal wave? Instead, there was just a pitiful puddle on the ground. How was his brain still getting oxygen? How could he keep thinking at all? He should already be nutrient-starved, pale and graying, with his tongue lolling out and his eyes floating into the back of his head from blood loss.
He took a deep breath, trying not to hyperventilate. The world was violating nearly every law of biology Shikamaru knew about.
That simply means those laws aren't universal, aren't always right, that this case is an exception somehow, Shikamaru thought.
Shikamaru and Asuma just stared for several long seconds while Hidan let loose a string of curse words.
It's been almost a minute, said the helpful time-keeping part of himself. Shikamaru imagined him holding a big stopwatch, and dressed in a top hat and twirling a cane.
Time-keeper Shikamaru wasn't concerned about trying to mentally deal with Things That Could Not Happen.
Time-keeper Shikamaru simply kept the time.
"Pretty please?" Hidan was saying. "Come get my head, Kakuzu!"
Shikamaru's beating heart was accelerating at a breakneck pace: he still couldn't form words, couldn't imagine how to deal with what was in front of him.
It was as if your parents had told you stories about Tengu demons and then you told them you were afraid there was one under your bed, so they came in at night to show you that was just silly but they would check for you-
And then a Tengu demon killed them.
Who could prepare for that?
Talking, beheaded shinobi were just like that.
In the back of Shikamaru's mind, he heard a distant, tinny voice. A new speaker he'd been unable to hear before. He didn't have any better ideas, so he gave it the floor.
Stab through his brain! It was screaming. Cut out his heart! Your life energy or chakra or whatever the hell it's called is generated by your heart, right? So maybe whatever bogus magic is keeping his pieces alive is connected to his chakra! How else does it identify him if he's not connected to his torso anymore?
Shikamaru dubbed him Rational Bloodlust Shikamaru. He imagined him holding a chainsaw.
"O-OK." Shikamaru said aloud, ignoring RB Shikamaru for the time being. "So at least he can't move now. So we just need to-"
Idiot! Said Rational Bloodlust. Aren't you paying attention at all to what's going on? Look at the other guy- what was his name again? Right- Kakuzu: he's about to move- to get Hidan's head, you can tell by the way he's tensing. You haven't taken Hidan out, you've only temporarily incapacitated him! He can't move his body but he can still talk; what if he can use jutsus from just his head? You think this is the first time he's been beheaded? He wasn't surprised at all, only surly. What if they have a way to reconstitute him and put him back in action? It might take a week but do you think he's really down for the count based on how he's reacting? Do you really want to have to go through all of that AGAIN? You need to finish him off right now while you have the chance! Rip out his heart! Do it!
Shikamaru imagined Rational Bloodlust raising his chainsaw and revving it a few times, smoke billowing all around him like a cloak.
He glanced down at his tiny kunai.
He found the task in front of him was kind of like being asked to mercy kill God. How can anyone be so arrogant as to think they can form a proper strategy against a god? Who knew that gods even existed at all? Shikamaru was having trouble keeping up with his rapidly changing world view.
He's not a God! Do you really think a God would be in Akatsuki? What could he possibly need from them? He's a man. His jutsu has limits. Because he has limits. TEST them.
"A-Asuma." Shikamaru stammered. "We have to-"
But it was too late.
The other Akatsuki- Kakuzu- was suddenly next to Hidan's head. He picked him up roughly by the hair.
"Ow that hurts damnit!" Said the talking head. "You're ripping it out!"
They kept talking but Shikamaru found himself drifting again. He was exhausted, and forming strategies based on the intel he was currently observing felt like forming a strategy from inside a dream.
"Dream-logic," they called it. Ever shifting, no rule ever the same for more than a minute or two. Everything worked like how it seemed it should, and not how it would rationally.
Like how, of course beheaded, talking shinobi heads could still talk afterward. They were immortal silly. Nevermind basic laws of biology, physics or common sense.
Shikamaru glanced over at the two bodies of his other comrades, Kotetsu and Izumo. Did they look a little grey? Were they dead yet? Or just unconscious?
It really was a shame that Kakuzu wasn't as emotional and irrational as Hidan. His refusal to "stay out of it" while calmly telling Hidan he was being irrational and that they would "split up and each take out two Konoha shinobi", had been a disappointment.
It wasn't often that your enemy gave you a gift like that. Maybe things wouldn't be going so poorly if Kakuzu had stayed out of it?
Kakuzu was somehow sewing Hidan's head back on now. Wonderful. What next? Shikamaru half expected Kakuzu to produce wings and fly around.
They were all spent. It didn't matter if Kakuzu's talent was just punching things real good (which was highly unlikely), there was no way they could face them like this; with the two other Chuunin dead or near-dead, Asuma half-burned to a crisp with a hole in his leg, and Shikamaru with barely enough chakra to perform a half-assed Henge.
Hidan said something about how he called dibs on the "fire-spitting bastard" and Kakuzu began walking toward Shikamaru casually, but with eyes alert.
No. This was no good. He needed a game changer, and now.
Think damnit! Shikamaru shouted at his beleaguered brain.
He took a deep breath and engaged his idea generation program.
Step 1) Calm down.
He took a deep breath.
Kakuzu was walking toward him in no real hurry, those weirdly colored eyes analyzing him. So he had at least like half a minute.
Plenty of time.
Step 2) Goals- Don't die, get them all OUT of here.
Step 3) Self assessment:
He had no chakra, and was near-exhaustion, so fighting straight was out of the question. Not that he had any chance in hand-to-hand versus this guy anyway, since he had nearly pulverized Shikamaru from behind without breaking a sweat at the beginning of the fight.
Did that mean he was a close-range type?
It didn't matter. The point was: Shikamaru would have to use dirty tricks, they were way too outgunned.
Kakuzu took a few more steps and Shikamaru saw Hidan stalking toward a wary Asuma.
Shikamaru took another shuddering, deep breath. He needed to think, and Kakuzu seemed too cautious to try taking advantage.
Step 4) Full Inventory:
He had his usual complement of gear, none of which was very useful right now.
Remember what "Full inventory" means, said Rational Bloodlust. Thank his bizarre childhood he was still around. Your inventory includes everything in your immediate surroundings, since you can use any of it.
Shikamaru glanced behind him, taking in what was nearby.
He reached a hand into one of his Chuunin utility packs.
His eyes widened a little. He tried to keep a sly grin off his face.
Dirty trick acquired.
But then he frowned. Kakuzu was approaching him. That was a problem. That guy was far too cautious. His calm dismissal of Hidan's demands to stay out of the fight proved that. Dirty tricks had to be pretty good to work on him. They had to be actual "tricks" and not parlor tricks you came up with out of desperation.
The way things were going, he would lose. They would all die. It was like the game was slanted against them.
Then change the rules! Said RB, giving his chainsaw a healthy tug for good measure.
Right. What was the rule he was having trouble with?
He needed to trick his opponent to win.
Kakuzu was not the easily tricked kind.
Easy, change the opponent then.
Shikamaru's eyes flickered to Hidan.
That would be much better. Captain Irrational and an emotional powder keg.
But how did he get him as an opponent instead?
Come on, he's been lobbing preschool insults at you without irony all day, remember?
Shikamaru almost laughed with relief. He had a chance now.
Kakuzu had crossed half the distance between them. Shikamaru released the breath he'd been holding, his fingers poised in his fingertips-together-super-thinking-posture.
It was about to strike again.
"Hey cowardly retard!" he shouted at the top of his lungs.
Kakuzu stopped and tilted his head appraisingly.
"Excuse me?" He asked mildly. "Is that supposed to make me-"
"Not YOU," Shikamaru said as loud as he could. "I mean the little GIRL behind you who can only kill people who are already wounded!"
Kakuzu shut his mouth and his eyes widened in understanding of Shikamaru's ploy. He whirled to look behind him.
Hidan glanced over at Shikamaru in surprise.
His spike-thing was already sticking out of his own chest. The bone paint on his face and arms was back. The scythe was embedded in his stomach.
Shikamaru looked over and saw Asuma on the ground, spitting up blood.
Tears sprang unbidden to Shikamaru's eyes.
"ASUMA!" he screamed. He hesitated, his body wanted to run toward Asuma, to get there.
To get there right now.
No! It's an emotional bias! A voice in his head said. What just happened matters, but reacting to it, as if it's impact were bigger than anything else happening right now, would that be logical? Do you want to cause Asuma's death by reacting to how you feel in the moment? You can still save him! But only if you survive- only if you incapacitate your enemies first! You don't even have to kill them, just render them momentarily immobile!
He took a deep breath, his lungs shuddering as his body continued weeping, though the part of Shikamaru that mattered had stopped.
He tried to ignore all the voices inside that were calling him a coward, a loser, a traitor for not going to help Asuma right now, before he was already dead.
Instead of fighting the feelings, use them, said Rational Bloodlust. How you feel can serve rationality too!
"YOU BASTARD!" Shikamaru screamed at Hidan. "You're a real big man aren't you! Offing the weak! Going for easy targets! Your cheap-ass God must be so proud. What, is Lord Jashin God of the Cheap Easy Kill now? Or-"
Shikamaru quickly found his rage subsiding as he ran out of natural insults. Hidan looked on the brink of exploding, but he wasn't there yet. Shikamaru scoured his brain for something else to say.
"-Lord of the... scaredy…pants?"
Hidan pulled the various blades out of his body and regarded Shikamaru with rage.
"YOU SHUT UP ABOUT JASHIN-SAMA!" Hidan shrieked at him. "YOU KNOW NOTHING YOU GODLESS FREAK! I'LL TEACH YOU! LORD JASHIN WILL TASTE YOUR BLOOD NEXT!"
Hidan sped at Shikamaru, wild, out of control.
That could've been you, said one of Shikamaru's inner voices. Beware emotional biases. Some of those voices were still seething at him, still screaming at him to go to Asuma.
Instead he gritted his teeth, tears falling down his face. He could only follow through with the plan, hope he wasn't too late. He felt like part of his mind was dying, was tearing off from himself in disgust, and was running to save Asuma like a good student would. Like a loyal friend would. But running to Asuma now would only succeed in getting himself killed, no matter what his emotional bias said. And then who would save Asuma?
He reached behind him and put both of his hands in one of his utility packs. He glanced at something in the pack and quickly rifled through it, finding the right type he needed.
He clutched a small pair of medical scissors and glanced behind him. He made a quick series of cuts, estimating the size he would need in his head.
He turned back to Hidan who was rushing at him with bestial rage.
"Hidan, wait," said Kakuzu in that calm rumble he had. "He's obviously trying to trick you."
"He can't trick me if I KILL HIM FIRST." Hidan cackled, throwing back his head.
Shikamaru threw a few shuriken at Hidan, who dodged effortlessly. Shikamaru kept at it, throwing and retreating back as far as he could. He had to time this absolutely perfectly.
Hidan leapt through the air, swinging his scythe.
Shikamaru managed to dodge just barely, his eyes widening as the scythe cut the edge of his shirt bloodlessly, but throwing off his timing. Shikamaru managed to spin and throw down a smoke bomb before Hidan could move again.
"Who's the coward NOW?" Hidan shouted triumphantly.
Hidan waited at the edge of the smoke, shaking in anticipation.
"You think I'm that stupid?" Hidan said to the smoke. "I know you're in there! You can't trick me that easily! You insult lord Jashin with your BULLSHIT."
The smoke cleared and Shikamaru was down on one knee, coughing, tears streaming down his face.
"Please… he was saying, pleading. "We can talk about this, can't we? Asuma please don't die."
"AHAHAHA!" Hidan laughed, throwing back his head. "Now who's a little girl huh?"
He raised his scythe and took a step forward.
The step pressed down on the dirt-colored cloth on the ground, and directly into the hole full of sticky water Shikamaru had seen his Chuunin comrades use earlier. It was a pool of translucent, blue-tinged syrup about a meter in diameter. Hidan's feet were hopelessly stuck the moment he stepped down.
Hidan swore loudly and tried to take another step.
"COWARD! Hypocritical coward!" Hidan shouted at him.
Shikamaru laughed, wiping at his only kind-of-fake tears, and favored Hidan with a smile.
Then he turned and ran like hell with Kakuzu fast on his trail.
If I pulled off such an outrageously awesome out-of-my-ass trick only to get killed by Kakuzu now I'm going to be really pissed, Shikamaru thought.
"I must advise against getting killed" said a voice in Shikamaru's ear in a calm tone. "They would probably make me do your autopsy, after all."
"It'll be really easy." Shikamaru said automatically. "There will be a giant hole in my chest." Shikamaru thought back to the ruined balcony he had nearly joined in being crushed to bits. He risked a glance over his shoulder at Kakuzu who was steadily gaining on him as he bravely ran away.
That's when it occurred to him that: 1) he had been speaking out loud when he had meant to say something only in his head and 2) the voice he had thought was only in his head was actually Kabuto speaking out loud through the radio receiver in his ear. He calculated that based on the fact that to his knowledge, none of his inner voices were actually physicians.
Right. He was also unlikely to be able to perform an autopsy on himself.
Kabuto sighed theatrically over the staticy line. "You know the Konoha brass, they'll bring me your hole-ridden corpse and say "Determine the cause of death" with no irony at all. I don't think anyone wants that awkward situation to happen. How can I help?"
"Finally." Shikamaru said, fingering the small camera on his vest shoulder. "Where have you been? Have you been getting any video feed from this TV camera?"
"In fact, I have been getting some images from it. Though it is still glitchy. I apologize for not making radio contact with you before now. There was a problem at one of the radio relay stations, but we didn't know which one so a team had to be sent to find the problem and as we're low on manpower due to the search for Akatusuki just now, it took-"
Shikamaru just barely got out of the way as Kakuzu shot a fist into the ground where he had been standing a moment earlier, pulverizing a good meter of rock.
The Akatsuki casually pulled in his hand with those bizarre tentacle things, as if he were reeling in fishing line.
Shikamaru landed in the middle of flying rubble, wincing as a few stray shooting pebbles cut his face.
"Remember when you were talking about how to make me not die? I liked that part way better than the monologue!" Shikamaru said.
Kakuzu cocked his head to one side.
"Who are you speaking with?"
Those disturbing green and red eyes zeroed in on Shikamaru's modified radio, which was fastened to his uniform's left shoulder.
"Ah. One of those civilian toys. I had wondered why you were wearing it."
Shikamaru took a step back again and felt bone-weary.
What a pain in the ass, he thought. I should be dead by now. At least then I wouldn't be jumping around so much.
"I suppose you have already told your village of our position and abilities. No doubt they have sent backup. But there is still merit in killing you. After all, you certainly have better analytical abilities than my partner" Kakuzu said in his even rumble. His eyes gave the slightest twitch of irritation.
Shikamaru tried hard not to shake. He shouldn't be in this position. Obviously he needed more minions to handle this kind of thing. He thought about Kakuzu's words. Backup. He scanned the surrounding forest out of the corner of his eye. No sign of it yet. But the Chuunin had sent for them.
With pigeons. Shikamaru still couldn't believe Konoha was still using pigeons for communications when there were long-range communication systems available all around them in the form of television towers. Even if pigeon travel was more secure, which he doubted, sometimes what you needed was speed.
". ..But you will be dead before they arrive" Kakuzu finished.
The Akatsuki extended his arms and widened his stance.
Damnit! If only they had worked faster with the radio and video, made those old fossils back at Konoha see sense sooner, this whole situation could've been avoided! He should've done something, been smarter, faster.
Stronger. He should've been stronger.
And now Asuma-
Shikamaru shook his head. It's an emotional bias! What mattered right now wasn't grief or self-blame. He had to incapacitate Kakuzu. Even for just one minute.
Was Asuma even still alive?
"I need any information you have on this guy's weakness, Kabuto. The guy with the weird eyes. And I need it right now." The quiet chill in Shikamaru's voice surprised even himself.
"Ah, right. Of course." Kabuto seemed taken aback, but he quickly recovered and resumed an academic tone of voice.
"One of the stills your camera recorded showed a man who attacked you with his fist, pulverizing rocks. His skin was nearly the same color."
"Yes, that's my opponent now." Shikamaru said quietly.
Kakuzu took a few cautious steps forward, as if he were more curious than apprehensive or afraid.
"Have you decided to stop running, yet?" He sounded like he honestly didn't care what Shikamaru's answer was outside of a clinical curiosity.
"So? Bottom-line it for me." Shikamaru took a step back in time with Kakuzu's strides forward. He felt like a deer giving way to a hunting lion.
What a concise summation of our current respective abilities, Shikamaru thought dryly.
"I asked around. It's an Earth Element technique," Kabuto buzzed in his ear.
Shikamaru started. He hadn't thought of that.
An elemental technique. That means it's weak to other elemental techniques. What was Earth weak to?
"Basically, you need a lightning technique to counter it. Otherwise you probably won't be able to hurt him," Kabuto said, matter of fact.
Wonderful. Now Shikamaru could add "Generate a lightning jutsu" to his growing list of impossible things he had to do.
Kakuzu increased his pace.
That impossible task is right under "Don't get a fist sized hole blasted in your chest," Shikamaru thought.
Kakuzu slide-stepped forward.
"This is an interesting dilemma." Kakuzu said in a dry rumble. "Do I simply attack you outright? Are you truly out of tricks? Was your trick with Hidan merely last minute desperation? Or was it planned from the beginning? Do you have any other tricks set up back here?"
So that's why he was sliding around. He thought Shikamaru had traps set up here like the one he'd pulled on Hidan.
He actually thinks I'm smart.
What an idiot.
Gallows Humor Shikamaru laughed darkly. He was wearing a hood, of course.
Engage idea generation program.
Shikamaru took a deep breath, though it was more of a wheeze considering how tired he was. That took care of Step 1.
Engage idea creation mode!
Come on, think. There's a way out of this, your only job is to find it.
Step 2) Goal Assessment: Avoid fist-sized hole in chest.
Remember, you don't need to kill Kakuzu, just stop him for a few minutes so you can help Asuma, maybe retreat or allow enough time for backup to arrive.
Step 3) Self Assessment:
He was tired out of his mind, out of half of his weapon inventory, and out of dirty tricks. Also he was telling himself stupid jokes and talking to himself a lot, which was probably a bad sign.
Step 4) Full Inventory:
A few kunai, one smoke bomb, a few shuriken. Cloth for hiding in things that aren't dirt like what he was standing on right now. He glanced around, noting how Kakuzu was getting closer to him, with an increasingly suspicious expression on his face.
Additional inventory- one theoretically exploitable weakness to lightning. Which was just one of a vast number of things Shikamaru had no hope of doing.
He's probably also weak to having an entire mountain fall on his head, gibed Gallows Shikamaru. Hey, that's something else you can't do!
Shikamaru tried not to hyperventilate as Kakuzu's step grew more confident, sliding less and less on the ground.
Additional inventory! Think! What else do you have?
It's not going to help unless any of them can spit lightning, Shikamaru thought bitterly. Hey that's not a bad rubric to use! Some half-hysterical part of Shikamaru thought, as every second brought Kakuzu one more-confident step closer.
One step closer to Shikamaru's death.
And the death of his team.
Let's see: they were around the side of the building now, with a few trees overhead.
Can trees produce a lightning jutsu?
How about concrete? Glass windows?
No and nope.
This is fun! Said Gallows Humor. It babbled on- Dirt doesn't normally shock you with lightning, and neither does-
He looked back at Kakuzu.
Noted what he'd just seen in the corner of his eye and fixed the point in his head.
He asked Kabuto a simple question over the radio.
"Wow." Kabuto said after a second. "I can honestly say I've never thought of that before, nor has any shinobi I've ever heard of. I don't know, Shikamaru, but it sounds like it's worth a try at this juncture."
Shikamaru said a few unfriendly things about the traditionalism of Konoha shinobi.
"Oh, it's not just them." Kabuto said. "Even in other villages they're only just barely getting used to new technology."
Kakuzu finally shrugged and began walking confidently toward Shikamaru, no longer worried about traps on the ground.
"I grow tired of this. You are likely bluffing by just standing there, making me think you have some trick prepared around you, hoping to buy time for your backup."
Kakuzu's skin suddenly darkened to a deep brownish hue, looking hard as a rock.
Could Shikamaru really use something so simple? Kakuzu wasn't an idiot like Hidan.
But he's probably traditional! It's hard to tell, but he's certainly not a young man. And remember what Kabuto said about other villages- "…they're slow to adapt to technology."
Come to think of it, hadn't Kakuzu remarked about how Shikamaru's radio was a "civilian toy" as if it were a piece of junk, just another part of the background?
He has a blind spot. He's biased toward tradition. It's another inventory item. Use it!
Shikamaru reached into his bag and pulled out one of his last remaining kunai.
Dirty trick number two acquired.
Now I just need to get him to follow me, Shikamaru thought.
The "want to kill you" part covers that! Said Gallows Humor Shikamaru cheerfully, hanging from a rope around his neck that stretched up into nothingness.
Kakuzu adopted the faintest of smiles.
"You're ready to fight me. Good."
"That's right." Shikamaru said, pointing his kunai in Kakuzu's direction and summoning all of his bravery.
Then he turned and ran as hard as he could, like the coward he really was.
Kakuzu actually snorted, and ran after Shikamaru with alarming speed.
It has to be perfect! A voice screamed in Shikamaru's head. You only get one chance at this!
What else was new.
Shikamaru spun on his heel when he reached the correct position.
Kakuzu was gone.
What? Where had he gone? Shikamaru looked left.
Turned his head right.
A shadow fell over him.
Panicking, Shikamaru looked up just in time to see Kakuzu falling down toward him in a mighty leap, his arm cocked for the coup de grace.
Shikamaru leapt back just ahead of Kakuzu's falling form. In mid-leap he spun the kunai in one hand, adjusting for the fact that he was moving backward now, so he had to release the spinning weapon going at a slight angle forward in order to meet his objective of throwing it straight up.
He took care not to let the awkward spin carry the blade into his own hand, since kunai were not meant to be thrown like this. He released the weapon and it cartwheeled straight up in a tight spin as if someone were still twirling it on their invisible finger.
Kakuzu looked puzzled for a moment, twitching his head to one side as he fell toward Shikamaru- but the weapon wasn't on an arc to hit him.
And then Kakuzu was crashing into the ground right in front of him and there was the deafening sound of exploding rocks.
One of the rock shards hit Shikamaru in the knee as his jump took him backward. He shouted in surprised pain and fell to the ground awkwardly.
If that didn't work, I am so screwed, Shikamaru thought.
That would've been true anyway, said Gallows Humor.
Kakuzu began standing up in the ruined crater he had made.
"Why did you throw that-"
There was the feeling of rushing air from above and Kakuzu looked up just in time to see a massive, cut power line sparking with live electricity hit him square in the chest.
Those weird green eyes of his widened in surprise as he was bathed in bright pops and sparks from the cable. The force of the snapping line hadn't even knocked him over.
What a giant pain in the ass that technique is, Shikamaru thought offhand.
The live "lightning" had no such trouble however, and it followed the inexorable rules of physics, merrily racing toward its balancing home in the ground.
And of course using Kakuzu's more conductive body, thanks to the Earth technique, as a road.
He didn't even cry out as his body spasmed uncontrollably and brown burn marks appeared on his chest. The smell of ozone and burning flesh filled the air.
Shikamaru stood up wearily, wincing and favoring his hurt knee.
Not too bad. He could still walk on it.
He began moving away, but then he turned back to the twitching Kakuzu.
Should he try to take him out now?
But with what?
No, it was too dangerous anyway. There was, after all, a live powerline right in front of him, and it was still dancing this way and that, joyfully showering Kakuzu in deadly light.
Still, he couldn't help himself.
"You Traditional-shinobi types are all insane." Shikamaru said to Kakuzu. "You carefully analyze me for signs of being able to exploit your weakness, when there was more lightning sitting right over your head than any village of shinobi could ever hope to produce with Chakra."
"Not a jutsu, but the real thing. Natural Lightning. It's not simply a "civilian toy.' Welcome to the age of Science."
Smirking, he hurried back the way he came.
He managed a half jog, going light on his bad knee, and cleared the side of the building.
Asuma was lying on the ground, not moving.
Shikamaru had nearly forgotten about him.
If he dies because I was busy giving Kakuzu one-liners, that'll be a real pain in the ass, Shikmaru thought dryly. But as he thought about it, the idea terrified him.
Hidan was still cussing and trying to extricate himself from the sticky water: mostly by thrashing around angrily, which was spectacularly ineffectual.
Shikamaru slid beside Asuma and laid an ear on his chest.
Heartbeat, but faint.
What do I do now?
"Kabuto, what do I do? Asuma looks bad."
"I can't see." Kabuto said. "What's happened to him?"
"He got burned and stabbed a lot." Shikamaru said, dripping sarcasm.
"Ah. By that guy you just hit with natural lightning?" Kabuto asked calmly.
"No, by himself! What does it matter?"
Shikamaru had meant it sarcastically but he realized it was true.
"Just tell me how I fix him!"
He heard Gallows Shikamaru cackling in the back of his head but Shikamaru ignored him and put both of his hands on Asuma's chest.
Don't die, I still need you, Shikamaru thought.
Kabuto had him angle the video cam tucked into the side of Shikamaru's lapel down toward Asuma.
But then a bunch of dark things got in the way.
Shikamaru looked around in confusion and realized that they were crows.
"Wait, what the hell am I doing?" asked Hidan, apparently to himself. He stopped thrashing and getting himself more covered in sticky goo, and chakra glowed on his feet. He stepped out of the goo. That's when he noticed the swirling birds.
"What the- ?" said Hidan.
"Ah GOD DAMNIT!" Hidan shouted. "THAT HURTS DAMNIT!"
Shikamaru craned his neck around, he could see two figures inside a mess of flapping and cawing crows. He recognized one as Hidan but the other-
He wore a uniform from Konoha.
It was Raidou.
Except they didn't know about Hidan!
"Get away from him!" Shikamaru screamed. "Don't let him cut you!"
The Konoha shinobi sped backward, landing lightly. There was a black sword in his hand. It dripped blood.
"Stupid birds! Damnit!" Hidan said, flapping his arms at the birds. "You goddamned birds are lucky my scythe is still stuck in that sticky shit!"
Then Hidan seemed to notice Raidou's black sword.
"You have a black sword! Inside this mess of black birds! That is so cheating!"
"But-but that's impossible." Raidou said. "I hit him in a vital point, how is he-"
"Cheating, huh? Says the man who can't die," Shikamaru said.
Raidou raised his eyebrows at Shikamaru in surprise.
Then Ino and Choji emerged from the trees.
"Ino," Shikamaru said. "Fix him."
She gave him an irritated look and then spread her hands a few centimeters over his chest, chakra glowing over her fingertips. She concentrated, and moved her hands from one point to another.
Her eyes widened.
She bit her lip and turned away.
She shook her head from side to side softly, not even looking at him.
"No way," Shikamaru said, his heart sinking. "You've got to be kidding me."
She began speaking in a clinical, dead-sounding voice, describing Asuma's injuries. The ruptured organs. Kabuto said something out of Shikamaru's radio that mostly agreed with Ino, judging by what he saw over the cam.
How long, Shikamaru mouthed to Ino.
Minutes, She mouthed back, her eyes watering.
Asuma looked at them, choking.
"I'm finished, Shikamaru. Even I know that."
"No," Shikamaru said firmly, pushing back his rising emotions.
"I have something to say to each of you." Asuma said.
"No," Shikamaru repeated stubbornly.
"These are Asuma's last words, pay attention." Ino said.
"No" said Shikamaru again, lamely.
"Please Shikamaru," Asuma said weakly, blood dribbling out of his mouth.
Shikamaru looked away and let Asuma start monologuing. Death speeches were so overrated. What could you possibly say in the last few moments of life that you couldn't say better, and in more detail, later when you were still alive? Why do we feel compelled to listen to people who are dying more than we did while they were alive?
It was obscene.
Shikamaru looked up, caught sight of a passing cloud. He felt like he was going to start sobbing or raging or both at any second. What a pain in the ass.
He wished he could just detach from all of this, float up into the sky, weightless and free like that cloud.
I fought two Akatsuki by myself and WON. I gave you TWO miracles.
No. Don't get overconfident. It wasn't you who produced the miracles: they were solutions to the situation that were there the whole time. It was the removal of those blinders, the Logical Fallacies, that let that locomotive Rationality churn right through and save the day.
And the universe isn't a person. The universe doesn't care. And what were two miracles anyway? Now you need three. Big deal. Your first two miracles were against human opponents: Hidan, Kakuzu.
Now you have a new opponent.
Death. The greatest opponent of all, but it's not even sentient.
But what weapon could he use on this opponent? He was fighting death.
Death is a problem, just like any other, Shikamaru thought. Use the best weapon there is-
Alright brain, lay it on me. Shikamaru said to his brain. Only you know, without actually saying that out loud.
Current Problem: Asuma is about to die. According to Ino, he's suffered multiple organ failures, and since they are all connected in a system, it's like a sinking boat. If only one section is flooded, the other parts could have enough air to keep the boat above water; but flood a majority of the sections-
One dead boat.
Think! What else did she say?
She said he was hurt and couldn't be healed, that death was inevitable given his injuries. And Kabuto concurred.
Which means that the only way out of Asuma's death in just a couple of minutes would be if Kabuto and Ino were BOTH wrong. No one else was close enough to help.
They were the medical experts: how could Shikamaru, an amateur, poke holes in their medical assessment?
Ok, so they're medical experts, what are you an expert in? Said a voice from some lonely corner in his brain.
The Logical Fallacies.
So don't poke holes in their medical expertise, poke holes in their logic.
Shikamaru took a breath.
OK. So examine their argument.
Fact 1: Asuma's internal organs were shutting down all at once.
Fact 2: The injuries to his organs could not be healed by any science or jutsu they possessed.
Therefore, Asuma was going to die.
How could he possibly poke a hole in that argument? In some dark attic in the back of his mind, Gallows Humor was gibbering and chuckling to himself.
Asuma finished monologuing to Choji and was moving on to Ino now.
Shikamaru looked down at his hand, he was shaking. When Asuma got to him, the jig would be up. He couldn't just ignore a dying man, could he?
Illogical, but Shikamaru was having trouble imagining him telling Asuma to shut up while he thought how to save his master while Asuma-sensei was coughing up blood. He really needed to come up with miracle three before then.
So he had the argument, the chain of events that led to Asuma's death. Now he just had to find a way to break up the argument.
How would he do that?
Of course. The Logical Fallacies. They were great at breaking up arguments.
So- assume for the sake of argument that there is an inherent flaw in the reasoning, due to a Fallacy lurking under the surface. What could it be? What likely fallacies would there be?
Answer: Probably a false assumption. That would break up that argument the easiest, if either fact 1 or 2 were predicated on a false assumption. So what assumptions did they rely on?
Well, Fact 2 also implies that no outside force, situation or object can cause healing, or prevent death.
Ok, weak, but he would take it. Hmm. Prevent death. False assumption- that they had to heal Asuma. Could they prevent his death without healing him at all?
Shikamaru took another deep breath. It didn't seem like he was getting anywhere, but he felt a glimmer of hope, a tiny avenue was open and damnit he would follow it.
So what object, outside force, or situation can prevent death without healing? Assume that healing is impossible for now. That fact likely depends on medical stuff you won't understand. You want a logical hole, not a medical one. Focus on preventing death by itself.
He was drawing a blank. That was bad.
Asuma was wrapping up his monologue with Ino.
Keep going! He had to prevent death, yet could think of nothing on hand that could prevent death without healing.
Engage idea Creation Mode, 3.0!
Shikamaru looked around. It was absurd, but it had already worked TWICE. So why not?
Could a kunai prevent death?
No, it caused death more often than not. He could cut stuff with it, but tourniquets were insufficient for organs.
Konoha shinobi? A puddle of syrupy goo?
No, he was more into the causing death thing too.
Why couldn't he think of anything?
Maybe another Fallacy?
How about functional fixedness? Said Shikamaru's heroic brain, showing up hopefully not too little too late like a bastard.
Right, Functional Fixedness- the idea that objects could only be used for their intended purpose. In other words, as he looked around at his surroundings, he couldn't think of anything that could prevent death because he was used to thinking of objects in terms of what they were meant to do, what their obvious function was, instead of what their possible function could be, which was anything you thought of. Their function was fixed in place, until you broke free from the fallacy. Like how a sword was for combat, but it could also hold open a door like a doorstop.
He reviewed each of the objects again, in turn.
A puddle of sticky goo was for trapping people, could it also…trap…death?
This is ridiculous, said Gallows Humor. Just accept it already.
Power lines. For providing electricity. Did they stop death? Shikamaru had heard at Fire University about jolts of electricity restarting hearts but not like, kidneys.
He threw back his head and laughed. That guy had caused Asuma's death.
"Shikamaru," Asuma said, coughing.
Shikamaru stopped. He realized everyone was staring at him as he was sitting there cackling like a crazy person while his dying mentor struggled to find the breath to give him his final wishes.
"I know this is hard for you to accept, Shikamaru, but-"
NO! Don't accept it!
Could he? Was he being irrational?
Fighting the inevitable?
No! It was never irrational to fight death until the very end.
But maybe it was irrational to fight what logic dictated had to happen.
Shikamaru hesitated. He felt his shoulders sag and he was about to open his mouth to accept the forgone conclusion.
You didn't finish the exercise, said his brain firmly. You have one more question to ask. Ask it before you accept anything.
Fine, Shikamaru thought, holding back another hysterical chuckle. I'll ask it. And now, for the fate of my master's life, the million Ryo question-
Can Hidan be made to prevent death?
He froze. His eyes widened.
Of course he could. He prevented his own death all the time.
Right in front of Shikamaru's eyes.
He swore under his breath and stood up from where he'd been squatting beside Asuma, thinking furiously.
Yes! A plan blossomed in Shikamaru's mind and he clutched it like driftwood in an ocean storm.
Speaking almost too fast to be intelligible, Shikamaru rattled off what he wanted from Ino and Choji.
They stared at him.
In horror? Awe? Both?
"But that's insane," Ino protested.
"Yes," Shikamaru said, dripping venom. "That's way more insane than LETTING ASUMA DIE."
"But-" Ino started.
"OK Shikamaru." Choji interrupted, giving Ino a look. "We'll do it."
Ino sighed, gritting her teeth.
"Shikamaru…" Asuma said, a hint of reproach and a tinge of pleading in his voice.
Shikamaru repressed the urge to tell Asuma to quit being a pain in the ass and shut the hell up.
"Your job is to not die for two minutes, Sensei." Shikamaru told his master firmly.
Then he stood up and the three of them approached Hidan where he was squaring off with Raidou.
Dirty trick number three acquired.
This time their target was death itself.
END OF PART 1