$Id: loneliness.txt,v 1.60 2002/05/18 07:37:50 gjo Exp $


A Nadesico fanfic by Greg O'Sullivan (gjo@unimelb.edu.au)

Akito's pink Aestivalis was keeping close station off the right
shoulder of flight leader Subaru's red machine. Maki Izumi's and
Amano Hiraku's yellow and blue robots trailed behind. Izumi sniggered
something over the comm about giving Tenkawa and Subaru some privacy.

"Cut the chit chat, Maki," screamed Ryoko.

The flight of Aestivalis was intercepting a Jovian cruiser.
The Nadesico was currently in no shape to deal with the threat.

"They haven't launched any fighters yet, I don't like it," Ryoko barked.

"I'm reading a huge power buildup in their PT engines, they have a
PT cannon. Get out of there!"
A holograph of Inez had appeared in all the pilot's cockpits.

There was nowhere to run to. The blast radius of a PT cannon is huge.
The Nadesico itself was still outside the danger zone, but the
Aestivalis were doomed.

Akito felt the same rage and panic that had overcome him that time,
once before, on Mars. He reached out with the mechanical hand of his
Aestivalis and grabbed the shoulder of Ryoko's unit. He thought of
safety, Ryoko, Izumi and Hikaru. Would this work without CCs? Dammit,
why had Izumi and Hikaru got out of formation, and so far behind!

Akito's body glowed with a strange white hot fluorescence, as a boson
jump bubble formed around the pair of Aestivalis units. Time apparently
slowed, retreated, then advanced again. The distorted imploding space
of the Jovian PT cannon blast, expanded like a tortured glowing soap
bubble from its focal point.

Hikaru! Izumi! The boson field expanded, twisted, elongated, seeking
out the other friends Akito strove to protect. The PT blast intersected
the wobbling boson bubble. The space inside was apparently protected,
for the moment from the space shredding effect of the PT cannon.

The bubble winked out of existence. A pocket of normal space now
existed within the non-space of the PT cannon blast. Like a balloon
in a vacuum, space expanded and exploded, flinging two giant robots as
if they were toys, clear of the PT cannon ravaged area.

* * *

"Nadesico to Aestivalis, Hikaru, Izumi, report!"

"Akito and Ryoko, they are gone!" sobbed Hikaru.


"I don't know, I think Akito was trying to jump us clear."

"What is the status of the Jovians, Ruri?" inquired Yurika.

"The Jovians PT engines have overloaded and burnt out, they are unable
to fire their PT cannon again, Captain."

"Captain! Hiraku reports, that Akito and Ryoko are missing,"
blurted Megumi.

"Akito!" Yurika wailed.

"The Jovians are launching fighters captain!" Ruri reported.


"Izumi, Hikaru, what is your status?"

"We are shaken but not stirred, Captain."

"Engage those fighters, we almost have our PT cannon back online."

"Yes Captain, but I think two dead fiances are enough for any girl."

"Quit clowning Izumi, we have to contain the situation so we can start
looking for my Akito."

* * *

Akito stumbled, almost upsetting a giant pot of ramen cooking on a stove.

"Tenkawa is flipping out again boss!" chirped a waitress.

"Where am I?" Akito mumbled.

This is the ramen restaurant, Akito though, why did I jump here?

"What am I doing here?"

"Not cooking ramem by the looks of things." The boss was scowling.

"You're finished this time Tenkawa! I knew I shouldn't have given you
another chance, you are really freaking out the customers."

"But I thought you liked my cooking, you made me a chef!"

"In your dreams Tenkawa. You have only been here a few months.
I know you can boil a noodle, but you ain't no chef yet.
I'll make up your pay, and then you can get on your bike."

"Haven't we done this all before?"

"No, not quite. Last time I decided to give you another chance
to shape up, this time it's for real."

My bike, what is it doing here? It should be on the Nadesico, it
shouldn't be here. This is far too weird Akito thought. Where are
Ryoko, Izumi and Hikaru? I've got to find the others and get back to
the Nadesico.

Akito furiously pedaled toward the waterfront and the Nergal docks.

* * *

Ryoko awoke in a bunk bed and screamed something incoherent. It could
have been her bed in her room on the Nadesico, but something was
subtly wrong. She peered around the dimly lit room. Then another dim
light came on, as one of the rooms other occupants roused themselves,
woken by Ryoko's outburst.

"What is it now Ryoko?" Kazama inquired. "Bad dreams again?"

"Kaaazama," Ryoko stammered, "you're dead?!"

"Ryoko, you have to pull yourself together, otherwise you won't get a
pilot slot on the Cosmos! I know you were pretty shaken up by what
happened at the Satsuki Midori 2 space station. It can't have been
pleasant stuck in that tool chest. You were lucky to be picked up by
that UE frigate before you suffocated, but at least you made it.
You will still get your shot at piloting, on the Cosmos, even if
you can't be with your friends Hikaru and Izumi on the Nadesico.
You might catch up with them again, it will work out OK. Anyway
keep it down or you will wake up Sakura. Goodnight."

Ryoko bit her lip, better to keep quiet until she knew more about
what was going on. Izumi was in the tool chest not me, and we all
made it to the Nadesico. What the hell is going on!

She had part of the picture now, they must be at Nergal's base
where the Cosmos was being constructed, but that was in the past!
Where was Akito?

* * *

Akito burst past the guard on the Nergal dock gate house, pedaling
like a man possessed. He felt a strong sense of deja vu, but things
weren't quite the same. Ditzy Yurika's luggage hadn't knocked him off
his bike enroute this time.

The Nadesico wasn't docked.

Slowly he was working it out. There must have been some time travel
component to the jump this time. The ancient alien boson jump
computer must have been unable to compensate for the interaction of
the PT cannon blast with the jump. Inez would love to explain it all,
Akito thought, but Inez wasn't here.

The Nadesico had already left, was there another Akito on board?
Probably not, he hadn't been sacked in time to make the Nadesico
launch this time. The point was moot as a jeep full of security staff
was on an intercept course with his bike.

* * *

Ryoko tried to act normally while she got her bearings. Tenkawa could
be anywhere or any when. Ryoko made some discrete inquiries about the
Nadesico crew. As far as she could find out, Tenkawa hadn't been
amongst the crew of the Nadesico when it shipped out. Aoi Jun had
piloted an Aestivalis as a distraction while the Nadesico launched,
instead of Akito.

The Cosmos was about ready to be launched. If things were going to happen
as they had in her memories, the Nadesico would soon return from Mars via
chulip boson jump. If she had the dates right. But how could
that come to pass without Akito? This time paradox stuff was making
her head hurt. How can it be the same without us on the Nadesico?
How can I get back? This isn't my life!

Ryoko's team got their orders in the morning, they were to report
to the Cosmos at once. Ryoko, Kazama and Sakura were making their way
across the docks from the pilot training centre crew quarters, to the
lift head above the Cosmos's underground dock. Their progress was
rudely interrupted as a maniac on a bike, pursued by a jeep full of
dock security staff, careered into view.

Akito swerved and braked viciously. His bike clipped a stack of metal
pipes and he sailed through the air in a graceful arc, bowling Kazama
off her feet. The pair collapsed in a tangle of limbs on the ground,
Akito's head cushioned by something soft and yielding.

"Tenkawa! If you are quite through with mauling Kazama, pull yourself
together and get up!" bawled Ryoko.

"RRRyoko?" Akito stammered as he struggled to his feet.

He recognises me! Ryoko thought.

"Sorry Miss, are you OK?" Akito bowed to Kazama.

A look of horror crossed his face as he recognised the supposedly
dead Kazama.

The jeep screeched to a halt and the guards slowly circled the
group with weapons drawn.

"Please step away from him slowly ladies," boomed one of the guards.
"This joker crashed the gate, he looks crazy and dangerous to me."

Ryoko turned to Akito and slapped him hard across the cheek.

"Owwww!!! What was that for?!"

"This idiot is my boyfriend, he was just running late to see me off,
it's OK," Ryoko lied to the guard.

"Boyf.." Akito started, then thought better of it.

"Ma'am, he shouldn't be on the base without a pass."

"Just write him out a day pass, I'll take responsibility for him."

Ryoko hoped her Nergal pilots uniform and lieutenants pips would
have some sway with the local security staff.

"OK, if you are sure ma'am." The guard produced a grubby card on a
cord from the jeep. "I'll need a signature here."

Ryoko signed the card and tossed it to Akito.

Kazama and Sakura were whispering to each other and giggling.

"Can the chatter you two and get moving to the ship," Ryoko ordered.

Kazama and Sakura thought something strange was going on. Ryoko had
changed. This wasn't like the nervous survivor of the Satsuki Midori 2
space station disaster they knew. Sure Ryoko out ranked them, but she
had never thrown her weight around before. Where had she found the
time to sneak off the base and find a boyfriend in the short time she
had been posted back to Earth? They gathered up their luggage and made
for the lift still whispering intently.

The jeep drove off and Ryoko and Akito were alone on the dock.

"Ryoko, we need to talk."

"What happened out there with the Jovian cruiser Tenkawa?"

"I tried to jump us all clear of the PT cannon blast, but something
went wrong. I think we went back in time, Ryoko."

"But where are the ourselves from this time, Tenkawa?"

"I don't know, we need to find Inez for an explanation."

"We don't have time for this now Tenkawa, I'm due to ship out on the
Cosmos, I thought I'd go along with it, because it seemed like the best
chance to get back to the Nadesico. I'll try and get you on-board
some how, but we have to get going now!"

* * *

Akito was in the dark, the air was stuffy. It seemed like hours ago
Ryoko had stuffed him inside an Aestivalis tool chest on the goods lift
waiting to be loaded on the Cosmos. He complained at the time
it was a bad idea. Ryoko told him not to be a cry baby, Izumi
had survived 30 minutes in such a box in the cold hard vacuum of space.

The box cracked open and Ryoko peered in.

"You OK, Tenkawa?"

"Apart from being half dead you mean?"

"You wimp, you were only in there for 15 minutes. I came straight down
from my cabin after I signed in. I didn't even unpack. We have to get
you hidden away somewhere. The male pilots quarters are unused,
Akatsuki doesn't bunk down there, he has a private cabin next to the
Captain's. It's strange seeing all these familiar people and they just
don't know you. We had better get moving before someone sees you.
Keep quiet."

Akito and Ryoko silently made their way through less trafficked
corridors to the pilots accommodation. Ryoko opened a cabin with
her access card and pushed Akito inside.

"Stay put in here, don't go out, you won't be able to get back in
without a card. I'll be back later when I am off duty."

Ryoko shut the door and stormed up the corridor. Great Akito thought,
now I'm stuck in a bigger box.

The room was much like his room on the Nadesico with one important
lack, no Gekigangar disks or player! I'm going to go crazy waiting
in here. Nothing to do but dwell on the current mess.

Things were different here. Had we altered history in some way with
our jump or were we in an alternate time line? Could we return to
our own place in time? Inez was the only one who could help us.
Inez had met herself in a time travel event, so why didn't we meet
ourselves? There seemed to be only one copy of Ryoko and I here.
Inez/Ai might be made to remember me, some kind of tenuous link to
that other lifetime perhaps? What happened to Hikaru and Izumi?
Perhaps Ryoko knows something.

* * *

Ryoko glanced nervously up and down the corridor as she carded open
the door to Akito's room.

"Akito, I've brought you some food," she called softly.

She sat down beside him and handed him the tray. Akito eyed the food

"Did you cook this?"

"What if I did?!"

"Oh, nothing."

"Honestly Tenkawa, you're such a jerk! It was those other girls food
that poisoned you."

You never even tried mine she thought.

"This food came from the cafeteria, it should be safe enough.
I doubt it is up to Howmei's standard though."

Akito tucked into the rice with gusto.

"It's OK, just a little bland."

"Ryoko, what happened to Izumi and Hikaru? I tried to jump us all, but
I think they were too far away."

"Izumi and Hikaru are on the Nadesico, I don't know if they are our
Izumi and Hikaru though. Things are different here Akito. The Cosmos
is under way now. We will be joining the UE fleet attacking the Jovian
force holding the moon. I'm hoping the Nadesico will show up during
the battle and we will get a chance to see Inez and find out if Izumi
and Hikaru share our memories of what happened."

"Ryoko, .... I'm glad you're here, I'm glad we are still alive."

"Akito, Yurika will be on the Nadesico, you will want to see her..."

"She won't know who I am yet, none of the things that brought us
together will have happened yet. It will be like we are different
people, our memories are what we are, this Yurika won't have those
memories. Unless we can find a way to undo what has happened,
it's just us Ryoko, we are all that's left of our Nadesico."

Ryoko put a sisterly arm around Akito's shoulder.

"I know Akito, I want to put things back they way they were too."

Do I really, she thought to herself? She still felt something for
Akito in spite of him apparently now returning Yurika's love.
She knew Yurika truly loved Akito. She now felt closer to Akito than
she had before. Like that time on the overland Aestivalis march when
she had tried to talk to him and they had been interrupted first by
Akatsuki and then the Jovian attack. Guiltily she began withdrawing
her arm.

Just then the door to Akito's room slid open and two girls and some
security guards tumbled into the room.

"I told you Kazama," chortled Sakura. "She did smuggle her boyfriend
on board."

"Hey I'm not her boyfriend," complained Akito.

"Miss Subaru, and ...", the guard paused to read the name off Akito's
day pass still strung around his neck, "Mr Tenkawa, will you please
come with us. Mr Akatsuki wishes to speak with you."

* * *

Erina Won and Akatsuki were seated behind a desk in Akatsuki's
room. Akatsuki dismissed the guards.

"Miss Subaru, you have some explaining to do. Why is Mr Tenkawa
present aboard this ship?"

Ryoko looked flustered.

"Can't you see the poor girl is embarrassed Akatsuki? She obviously
couldn't bear to be parted from lover boy here and smuggled him
on board."

Ryoko was blushing a brilliant crimson now.

"It wasn't her idea, I heard you were hiring staff for the ship and
wanted to get on-board before you lifted off. You see I just lost
my cooking job and...." Akito interjected.

"A cook, huh, it is usual to apply via personnel at the front office
you know!"

"Tenkawa is actually a top Aestivalis pilot, I knew you were short of
staff and having recruiting problems after that Nadesico debacle..."
Ryoko chimed in.

"Any reason we shouldn't just toss him out the air-lock, Erina?"

"Hold on Akatsuki, I want to verify his identity first, that name
Tenkawa rings a bell."

Erina jabbed a DNA tester abruptly into Akito's mouth. Akito Tenkawa,
Mars Utopia Colony, read the display.

Erina gave Akatsuki a meaningful glance.

"How did you get to earth from Mars, boy!" Erina snapped.
"What is a cook doing with an IFS?"

Akito decided silence was the best policy.

"OK Tenkawa you can help out in the kitchen. We are short staffed.
Report to Mr Mina. As for piloting, we might schedule some time in
the simulator later, to see what you are made of."

Akatsuki dismissed them.

Akito and Ryoko both heaved a sigh of relief as they walked up the
corridor away from Akatsuki's quarters. Ryoko's complexion was
gradually returning to normal.

"You know you look pretty when you are blushing, Ryoko," Akito teased.

"Why you little..." Ryoko didn't have the energy to go off into a tirade.

* * *

"Are we doing the right thing?" Erina asked Akatsuki.

"Yes, it's better to keep him here on the ship where we can keep
an eye on him."

"Do you think he knows about his parents?"


"There is only one way he could have got here from Mars, a boson
jump. We need to find out how he survived it. It could be vital."

* * *

Mr Mina was a competent chef, but lacked Howmei's flair. Akito was
coping with work in the kitchen fine. He was keeping his head down
and staying out of trouble. The UE fleet was still massing for the
attack and there wasn't much for the Cosmos to do presently.

Ryoko was off flying patrols with the day shift pilots. She tended
to sleep as soon as she was off duty, he only got to see her briefly
at meal times, when he was run off his feet preparing food. She seemed
to be avoiding him. I'm lonely, Akito thought. Ryoko is my only link
to the real life I used to have.

Akatsuki strolled into the cafeteria.

"Mina can you spare Tenkawa for a few hours, I want to run him through
some Aestivalis combat simulations to assess his piloting ability."

"Sure, it's quiet now, but get him back before the dinner rush."

"Tenkawa, you up for it?"


Akatsuki and Akito walked down to the simulator booths above the Aestivalis
hanger. Akatsuki tried to make polite conversation.

"You known that Subaru girl long, Tenkawa?"

"No we just met at the dock," Akito lied.

"She seemed to know something about your supposed piloting abilities."

"That was just a line I spun her to stop from getting thrown off the base."

"So you aren't actually going out with her then?"

"No, I hardly know her."

"Good, I think I'll ask her out, she seems a fiery one."

Akito cringed inwardly. He didn't think Akatsuki had any chance with
Ryoko. After all, they both knew what Akatsuki had done in the past
and would do in the future. Still, he felt a disturbing twinge of

They climbed into the sim booths, Akito was annoyed with Akatsuki and
out for blood.

"OK hotshot show us what you've got." Akatsuki appeared on the holo
comm link between the booths.

Akito replied with precise, accurate and measured cannon fire, while
simultaneously moving his simulated Aesti in a complicated evasive
pattern. The sim was on full realism mode and ammunition was limited.
Akito was being careful, he had learned some painful real life lessons
about wasting ammo.

Akatsuki took some pretty heavy hits before he got his Aesti moving
and returned fire ineffectually at Akito's dancing unit.

Akito closed to hand to hand combat range to make best use of his
early advantage. Their distortion field edged weapons clashed with
scintillating showers of sparks as they traded blows, counter blows,
thrusts and parries.

Akatsuki was skilled and holding his own but was losing ground under
Akito's flurry of attacks. His Aesti's mobility had been hampered by
damage from Akito's cannon fire.

Here it comes Akito thought, not this time Akatsuki....

Akatsuki leaped into the air with his rifle reversed to club Akito's
Aesti. Akito twisted slightly out of the way and brought up his own
rifle, firing cannon shells through a gap in Akatsuki's Aesti armor.
Akatsuki's blow glanced harmlessly off the shoulder armor of Akito's
unit and Akatsuki's simulated Aesti exploded in a shower of shattered
ceramics, as the cannon shells struck home on an unprotected part of
the frame.

Akatsuki was puzzled by his defeat. Tenkawa fought like a combat
veteran, but that was not possible. There was no way he could have had
access to a Nergal Aestivalis, let alone had combat experience in one.

"Tenkawa I'm taking you out of the kitchen and putting you on the pilot

"Can I keep cooking?"

"No, Mina will have to do without you. We will be in battle soon and
we need more pilots. Go to stores and get a pilots uniform and flight
suit. Report to Lt. Subaru and go out on the next patrol with them."

* * *

Akito was loitering, leaning over the railing above the Aestivalis
hanger bay.

"Tenkawa, what are you doing here?"

"Pilot officer Tenkawa reporting for duty ma'am!"
Akito mustered an overdone salute.

"Cut out the ma'am stuff, Tenkawa!"

"Akatsuki has assigned me as a pilot, Ryoko."

"What happened?"

"I kicked his butt in the simulator and he decided I would do, in view
of the staffing problems."

"Haa, good for you, Tenkawa."

"I'm supposed to go out on the next patrol with your flight."

"Good, go down and see the chief engineer and get him to assign you
a unit. They are all the same here, unlike our lovely custom zero-G frames.
Any colour you want as long as it is battleship gray I'm afraid."

Ryoko felt odd, she was pleased and proud that Tenkawa was going to
pilot again. She couldn't think of anyone she would rather have at her
side in a fight, but it was going to be impossible to avoid seeing
him now.

Kazama and Sakura were going to give her hell about Akito, she was sure.
Why was she avoiding him? She longed to see him. That was the trouble.
They were the only two that were aware of their plight, and could talk
about it openly. The only friend she had in this strange world.

It was more than that though, her feelings for Akito had been eating
away at her. She respected Yurika and couldn't take advantage of the
situation like Megumi would have, in the days when Megumi and Yurika
were rivals for Akito's affection.

Ryoko was also terrified that Akito would reject her and end their
friendship if she told him how she felt. Ryoko thought, how do I feel?
I don't really know myself, god I'm a mess.

"Ryoko..., have you been avoiding me?"

Damn damn damn, thought Ryoko.

"I've been busy and tired, in case you hadn't noticed Tenkawa!"

"We really need to have a plan of action for when the Nadesico shows up."

"Don't you mean if the Nadesico shows up?"

"We need a plan in any case. Perhaps we can get to Mars and find Inez
if the Nadesico doesn't show."

"How would we do that fry boy? Take over this ship and fight our way
to Mars ourselves?"

"Shhh Kazama and Sakura are coming...."

"Akito, we can talk tonight after the patrol, I promise."

Oh god, Ryoko thought.

* * *

Sakura and Kazama made a beeline straight for Akito.

"Mr Tenkawa, everyone is talking about how you beat Mr Akatsuki in
the simulator," Sakura gushed. "I'm sorry I reported you and Ryoko to
Mr Akatsuki. It's all worked out for the best though, I'm sure we will
all be great friends."

Kazama politely offered her hand to Akito.
"Welcome to the squad, Mr Tenkawa."

They shook hands and a slight flicker of amusement crossed Kazama's
face, as Akito squirmed, remembering the accidental intimacy of their
last encounter.

Sakura steered Akito away from Ryoko, with Kazama in tow, down the
ramp to the Aestivalis bay.

"How long have you known Ryoko for, Akito?" Sakura inquired.
"Where did you learn to fight like that? It must be incredibly romantic
being pilots together."

Akito looked shell shocked. Ryoko stormed down the ramp after them.
Just what is it with that Tenkawa idiot and girls? Ryoko cursed under
her breath.

"Sakura, Kazama, listen-up! Now we have a flight of four units we will
be practicing proper wing-man tactics. Sakura, Kazama, you are together.
Sakura will lead your wing, Tenkawa will wing with me."

"Yes ma'am." Sakura released her grip on Akito's elbow and snapped a mocking
salute. "We understand perfectly ma'am," Sakura replied winking.

"Cut the funny stuff and get to your units, we launch in five."

Akito sighed, grateful Ryoko had cut Sakura's interrogation short.
Akito gave Ryoko a nod and headed for his unit.

Ryoko smiled to herself. Akito couldn't help it, it was the age and
sex imbalance on these Nergal ships. Most of the crew were female and
most of the few men aboard were middle aged. All the young men were
drafted by the UE. Nergal had slim pickings to recruit from.
Of course Sakura would find Akito interesting. There just weren't
that many young guys around.

The patrol was uneventful.

Akito enjoyed being out in space with Ryoko in the Aesti again.
The other girls seemed to be good pilots. Kazama in particular
seemed professional and competent. Sakura was a bit of a smart alec,
but both girls had the sense not to wind Ryoko up any further about
Akito. Izumi and Hikaru would have shown no such restraint in similar

* * *

Akito retired to his room. It had been a long day. He hoped Ryoko would
show up soon. They needed to talk. There was a soft knock at the door.
It was Sakura.

"Can I come in Akito?"
She had already brushed past him without waiting for an answer.

"Fine," Akito sighed.

"Do you and Ryoko have anything planned tonight?" Sakura inquired

"Ryoko and I aren't an item, Sakura," Akito replied crossly.

Damn, Akito thought, I should have maintained Ryoko's lie, I don't
think I like where this is going.

"I thought there was something odd about you two, Akito. You never
visited her since Akatsuki found you out and I know she hasn't been
to see you either. But why did she help you out at the dock and
smuggle you on board? Did you have a fight or something?"

"Something like that," Akito mumbled dejectedly.

"Cheer up Akito!" Sakura said brightly. "You can come to the VR room
with me and Kazama. We can use that karaoke bar program."

Sakura dragged Akito by his arm toward the door. "Come on lets go!"

Sakura opened the door, revealing Ryoko, hand poised to knock.
"Tenkawa, what's going on here!"

"Akito is coming to the VR room with me and Kazama for some karaoke
Want to come too Ryoko?"

Akito looked pleadingly at Ryoko, wishing she would get him out
of this mess somehow.

"No way Sakura, karaoke sucks!"

Sakura towed Akito up the corridor. Akito glanced back over his shoulder
at Ryoko, who was scowling with her hands planted firmly on her hips.

Ryoko's loss, my gain, thought Sakura smugly to herself.

That little minx, how dare she put her paws on my Tenkawa, Ryoko fumed.
My Tenkawa, I've got to stop thinking like that, Yurika's Tenkawa,
Yurika's Tenkawa, Yurika's Tenkawa. Ryoko repeated it to herself again
and again as if the repetition would make her believe it.

* * *

Akito enjoyed the Karaoke in spite of himself. The girls both had
pleasant voices. Kazama's presence seemed to keep Sakura in check.
The virtual audience was appreciative and the VR singers provided a bit
of variety. The girls prodded Akito to sing and he gave them a passable
rendition of the Gekigangar theme tune. It was getting late and they
said their good nights. Akito made his was back to his room,
thankfully alone.

Akito turned up the lights in his room and started to undress.
A dozy Ryoko stirred on Akito's bunk.

"Ah, it's lover boy back from his date," Ryoko muttered.

"RRRyoko, what are you doing here?"

"You said we needed to talk, Tenkawa, I'm here so lets talk."

"It wasn't a date, Ryoko, Kazama and Sakura were both there.
Nothing happened."

"Why did you go with them? You knew I was coming tonight!"

"I couldn't get out of it. Sakura started grilling me. I told her you
weren't my girlfriend, then she got it into her head that we must
have had a fight and I needed cheering up."

"Jesus, Tenkawa, am I so hideous that you have to run around
denying that I am your girlfriend to everyone you meet.
It was a convenient cover story, why couldn't you just stick to it?"

"I'm sorry, Ryoko, I'm overly sensitive about it. It seemed like at
one time, half the girls on the Nadesico were claiming me as theirs.
I just got mad and forgot myself that's all."

"Tenkawa, you shouldn't get too friendly with Sakura or Kazama,
it could interfere with our plans to get back."

"I know that Ryoko, can we kiss and make up in public at least?
If you spend the night here you can tell the girls about it,
that should put the brakes on Sakura."

"Tenkawa, you pervert! I'm not going to sleep with you!"

"I didn't mean it that way Ryoko, there are extra bunks here.
Now who's not playing along with the story?"

Ryoko softened, "What are we going to do Akito?"

"We know Akatsuki and Erina will probably join the Nadesico, if it
returns. They will want to take me because Erina already seems to be
onto my boson jumping capability. We just have to make sure that you
get posted to the Nadesico too, Ryoko."

"What happens if the Nadesico doesn't return, Akito?"

"If we can work out where Inez is, I could try to boson jump to her."

"What's stopping you from doing that now?"

"I don't have any CCs."

"But you jumped us into this mess without any!"

"I can't do that at will, Ryoko. It only seems to happen when I am
under stress, in an emergency, like when I first jumped from Mars to
Earth. I didn't have any control over that, even then I had one CC
as a pendant around my neck. I'm not sure how I managed to get us
here without any CCs and so far away from the jump control computer.
I guess our fall-back plan is for me to work with Erina on her jump
experiments and try and find Inez that way."

"Are we even sure Inez can or will help us, Akito?"

"If we can awaken Ai's memories in Inez she will have to believe us
and help us if she can. We have to try for the Nadesico first,
we need to find out about Hikaru and Izumi."

"We need to get some sleep Akito, the fleet may be advancing tomorrow.
We'll be flying combat sorties rather than patrols, more than likely.
Turn around Akito, I want to get changed."

Akito obliged and Ryoko slipped out of her uniform. Dressed only in
her bra and panties she climbed up to the top bunk and got under
the covers.

"OK, all clear," she called.

Akito grabbed the lower bunk and shed the rest of his clothes, dimmed
the lights and was soon soundly asleep.

Ryoko wasn't sleeping at all well.

The room smelt of Akito and she could hear the gentle sound of his
breathing on the bunk below. It was more than a girl could bear.
Damn damn damn she cursed. One thing was sure, they couldn't pull this
sleeping over stunt again, she just couldn't take it.

* * *

Akito awoke to the sound of his alarm clock, he hauled himself upright.
Ryoko was gone, slipped out early. Just as well, avoided any
potentially embarrassing morning scenes. He killed the alarm and got up.
The top bunk smelled of Ryoko, a crisp non-fragrant deodorant kind of
smell. He liked that about Ryoko, she didn't fuss and bother with makeup
and perfume like the other female pilots.

Akito's mini daydream about Ryoko was interrupted by the more strident
alarm of the the general quarters klaxon. Akito grabbed the nearest
clothing to hand, his crumpled yellow cooks tunic which he hadn't
returned to stores yet and threw it on.

He bolted up the corridor to the lift, almost colliding with Kazama,
who was running the other way from the female pilots quarters.

"Do you know what's happening Mr Tenkawa?" Kazama gasped as they
waited for the lift to arrive.

"No, not yet," Akito spluttered.

Ryoko was already on the flight deck dressed in her flight suit,
Sakura was just emerging from the changing rooms.

"Tenkawa, Kazama, get down here there's no time to change, you
will have to go out as you are."

Great, Akito thought, more bruises.

Akito remembered their talk from last night and decided to give Ryoko
a peck on the cheek, for show, as he passed her on the way to his
Aestivalis. The kiss turned out to be a bit more melting and lingering
than he intended, somehow he couldn't help it.

Ryoko's eyes went wide and her insides turned to jelly.

"I see Akito and Ryoko have made up," Kazama remarked quietly to Sakura.
"She didn't come home last night."

Sakura was furious, that tramp Ryoko must have waited for Akito in his
room, then put out for him. Well two can play at that game thought
Sakura evilly.

"Oh, I don't think it will last, Kazama. Ryoko doesn't seem the type to be
able to keep a man."

"You two get moving," yelled Ryoko, her cheek still tingling from
Akito's kiss. "The fleet is advancing, we are going out to fly cover
for the Cosmos."

The four units launched and formed up in perfect formation.

"The Cosmos is a rear guard in this fleet. We are not expecting any
trouble yet. The mission is to protect the Cosmos at all cost.
Stay alert," ordered Ryoko.

Ahead Akito could see the flicker of weapons fire as the lead elements
of the fleet engaged the Jovians. Akito guessed Nergal wasn't happy
about the Cosmos being here. The UE had ordered it. Looked like Nergal
had arranged for them to be as far out of the action as possible.

The fighting was becoming more intense. The Jovian's were reinforcing
their fleet with extra ships via a chulip gateway. Kazama and Sakura
were forced to eliminate a few stray Jovian grasshoppers that had
outflanked the main fleet and seemed intent on targeting the Cosmos.

Suddenly space became bright with white light as the chulip exploded,
illuminating the silhouette of a large ship. It was the Nadesico,
right on cue.

"Ryoko, you see that?" Akito buzzed excited.

"How could I miss it."

"Is that the Nadesico?" Kazama comm'ed.

The Nadesico looked more heavily damaged than Akito had ever seen it before.

"The Jovians are attacking the Nadesico," Ryoko reported.

The Nadesico was launching fighters, four Aestivalis. Akito wondered
who was piloting them, Izumi and Hikaru certainly, but who were in
the other two?

Yurika had refrained from indiscriminately opening fire on everyone
with the gravity blast cannon this time and was targeting the Jovian
forces only.

"Ryoko, we should help them out, they look in pretty bad shape,"
Akito exclaimed.

"Sakura, Kazama stay on post guarding the Cosmos. Tenkawa and I are
going to assist the Nadesico."

Akatsuki appeared before them as a hologram.

"All Aestivalis protect the Nadesico, the Cosmos can look after itself.
I'm launching now."

"Lets go girls!" Ryoko yelled.

Akatsuki's custom Aesti caught up and joined their formation.

The space around the Nadesico was thick with grasshoppers. Akito was
swatting them like bugs as they fought their way closer to their
objective. A red custom zero-G frame from the Nadesico, flashed by.
The one that would have been Ryoko's machine, but the comm link
confirmed Aoi Jun was piloting.

"The Cosmos is moving up to give us covering fire with the new Gatling
gravity blast cannon," Akatsuki comm'ed.

The continuous fire from the Cosmos was visibly thinning the ranks of
the Jovian small craft.

Another Nadesico Aesti whipped by, Akito's pink unit. Gai!

The Jovian forces were on the back foot now, the Nadesico's and
Cosmos's extra fire power was proving decisive.

A Jovian light cruiser, wounded, sensing it's time was near had started
a suicidal run on the Nadesico. A single pink Aesti arced out to
intercept. Gai! Akito was tied up clearing a bunch of grasshoppers that
had Ryoko bailed up.

"Ryoko, you're clear!"

"Quick, we have to help Gai, we have to stop that cruiser,
they're going to ram the Nadesico."

"We won't make it in time Tenkawa!" Ryoko comm'ed, horrified.

Gai plunged his blade through the weakened contortion buffer of the
stricken Jovian vessel. The blade went through, it's distortion field
edge biting into the hull plating below, cutting it like a hot knife
through butter. Gai applied full thrust and skimmed along the cruisers
surface, opening it up and gutting it like a fish.

The cruiser's contents poured out in a fiery torrent.

They were close to the Nadesico now, too close. Gai lost directional
control in the maelstrom of the exploding cruiser. Fragments of the
cruiser harmlessly buffeted the Nadesico, neutralised by the distortion
field. Gai's uncontrolled trajectory intersected the Nadesico's field.
The Aestivalis field failed, overloaded by the stronger Nadesico field.
Gai's unprotected unit struck the field at an oblique angle careened
off, the whole cockpit area rent open to the vacuum of space.

"Gai......" Akito wailed over the comms.

Akito had seen his friend die for the second time.

The Jovians were pulling out.

Akito and Ryoko flew off to recover Gai's body and the Aesti frame.

Akatsuki ordered Kazama and Sakura back to the Cosmos. Akatsuki, Akito
and Ryoko were to dock with the Nadesico. The Nadesico was to dock
with the Cosmos for repairs.

* * *

Hikaru rushed over to Ryoko, leaped in the air threw her arms around
her and hugged.

"Ryoko, we thought you were dead when the space station exploded!"

Ryoko disentangled herself and swatted Hikaru away.

"Calm down Hikaru."

"Ryoko, who is that handsome young pilot, err cook, with you?"
panted Hikaru, pausing to look at Akito's uniform.

They don't remember, thought Ryoko. They don't know Akito. She had a
sinking feeling in her stomach. It really is just me and Akito.
Ryoko grasped Akito's hand and drew him closer.

"This is my boyfriend, Aestivalis pilot Tenkawa Akito. May I present my
former squad mates from training academy Amano Hikaru and Maki Izumi."

Izumi had wandered over, looking like she had seen a ghost, then started
chuckling softly to herself as she spied Akito.

Akito bowed politely to the girls. He was still in a state of shock.

Damn that was dumb, thought Ryoko. Their little fiction was fine on
the Cosmos, helpful even, but how would it go down here when he meets
Yurika? She hadn't stopped to think. It might keep Megumi off his back,
but nothing would save him from Yurika once she found out he was her
Akito from Mars.

That damn kiss, it had her all confused. Did Akito have to have done
it quite so enthusiastically? We have to see Inez, get everything
fixed up and get out of here without messing up these peoples lives
too. What if it can't be fixed and we are stuck here for good? I might
have spoiled his chances with this Yurika!

"Who is that hunk?" Izumi sniggered.

Akatsuki was climbing down from his Aesti cockpit.

"Mr Akatsuki, senior pilot from the Cosmos," Ryoko replied, regaining
her composure.

"Tenkawa, Subaru we are transferring to the Nadesico I'm going up
to see the Captain and make arrangements, you can pick up your gear
once we dock with the Cosmos." Akatsuki smiled at Hikaru and Izumi.
"Excuse me ladies."

"Great Ryoko, you can bunk in with us. It will be like old times,"
Hikaru chortled. "Akito can bunk up with Gai."

Hikaru stiffened as some medics wheeled Gai's body past on a trolley
wrapped in a blood stained sheet.

"Gai's dead?"

Akito stared impassively.

"But his Aesti is in the hanger."

"Akito and I brought the frame in, Hikaru, to recover the body.
Gai died protecting the ship from a Jovian Kamikaze, he couldn't pull
out in time and hit the distortion field. He saved everyone on the
ship, he died a hero."

Hikaru's glasses were misting up.

"Lets get out of here, Tenkawa, I could use a shower."

Ryoko led Akito up the ramp. Hikaru and Izumi followed somewhat

Ryoko dropped Akito off at the men's quarters.

"Will you be OK, Tenkawa?"

"I'll be fine, Ryoko, I just need some rest and a chance to think."

"I'll have a chat with the girls and see what I can find out, I'll
drop in and see you later? OK?"


Akito slid the door shut, this was his room on the Nadesico, all Gai's
stuff was here, the Gekigangar disks, the player, the wall scrolls.
He picked out an episode, sat down and started it playing. It was the
one where Jou died.

* * *

Ryoko picked up a clean uniform and some underwear from stores and had
a shower. Ryoko always wore the standard ship issue undergarments.
She couldn't be bothered with that frilly junk the other girls wore.
Traveling light made life easier when you moved around unexpectedly, a
lesson she had learned from her father, a military jet pilot. Now that
she felt human again she headed for the female pilots quarters to
chase up Hikaru and Izumi.

Hikaru had flipped back into that annoying cheerful mode and
yelled out "Hi!" as Ryoko entered the room.

Izumi was humming tunelessly and strumming her ukulele.

"So what happened on Mars girls? Did you find any survivors?"

Hikaru responded.

"No Ryoko, we recovered some data from some Nergal research bases,
which our Mr Prospector seemed very pleased with. The Jovians counter
attacked with distortion field equipped vessels. We were outnumbered
and only escaped because the Admiral and the Captain had the idea of
entering a chulip. We could have all died."

"You didn't visit the Utopia colony?"

"No, Ryoko, there wasn't any point it was completely destroyed."

Ryoko felt sick, Inez isn't on board then! She must still be on Mars,
in that cavern under the Utopia colony.

"But what about you, Ryoko, tell us about Akito! How did you get out
of Midori 2?"

"I apparently shut myself in a Aesti tool chest and spent half an hour
floating around in space till a UE frigate picked me up."

"Was Akito a gallant pilot on the frigate who came to your rescue?"

Ryoko groaned inwardly, she didn't know what to say. Hikaru and Izumi
were going to be more trouble than Kazama and Sakura had been.

"I was right next to an escape pod," chimed Hikaru.

"Izumi was sitting in her Aesti tinkering with the fire control
circuit trying to improve targeting accuracy."

Ryoko left the girls as soon as she could and went to check on Akito.

* * *

"Akito can I come in?"

Akito stopped the Gekigangar disk and opened the door.

"Come in, Ryoko."

Ryoko entered and sat down on the cushions beside Akito.
She drew her legs up to her chest, pensive.

"You were watching Gai's Gekigangar disks right? No need to stop
on my account."

"I know you don't like that Anime stuff, Ryoko. I don't really want to
watch it any more either, it's just there wasn't anything else to do."

"Seeing Gai die again like that must have been a real shock."

"No it's OK, Ryoko. I know Gai is dead, I've already mourned him,
I can't be sad again now. This time he died a hero like he always
wanted rather than accidentally by a traitors bullet."

"Our Hikaru and Izumi aren't here, Akito, what happened?"

"I know, they didn't recognize me."

"Did they die back with the Jovian cruiser and our Nadesico?"

"I don't know, Ryoko."

"Hikaru says Yurika is seeing a lot of Aoi Jun."

"Jun and Yurika have always been friends."

"Hikaru thinks it's more than that. They go on dates in the VR room,
does it worry you Akito?"

"No, not really, this isn't my Yurika, part of her is missing, she
can't be whole without those memories we shared together on the

"But if we can't leave...Isn't part of Yurika better than nothing?"

Akito didn't want to think about that.

"I told the girls you were my boyfriend, I didn't have to do that here."

"It's OK, Ryoko, it will stop Megumi bothering me."

"Didn't you love Megumi?"

"Oww, Ryoko, that's a bit personal. Megumi was the first person I met on
the ship that seemed to care that people were dying. I shouldn't have
kissed her, we didn't really know each other yet. I don't want to
repeat all my mistakes again here."

"You kissed me today, was that a mistake?"

"Ryoko, that was just for show."

"It felt real."

Akito flushed.

Ryoko quickly changed tack. Get a grip girl, she thought, you may as
well have blurted out your undying love for him or something equally

"Akito, Inez isn't on the Nadesico."


"Without you they didn't visit the Utopia colony. They didn't find the
survivors, Inez must still be with them."

"They're still alive?"

"How can we know for sure? But yes it seems likely."

Akito's mind whirred.

"We should try and save them!"

"Perhaps we should consult Inez before getting carried away with such
grand plans, Akito."

"You're right Ryoko, but still they are alive!"

Akito was slowly coming to a terrible realisation. Those people died
because of Yurika! The only reason the Nadesico was over the cavern
sheltering the survivors, was because Yurika was jealous of Megumi
being alone with him. That was why she had followed them in the
Nadesico. The Nadesico wouldn't have been anywhere near the cavern
when the Jovians attacked, otherwise.

They still wouldn't have been able to rescue them successfully, but at
least they would have still been alive. No wonder Yurika had been sick
after that. It wasn't just the choice between raising the distortion
field or not, that had not really been a choice at all. Yurika must
have known she had placed the Nadesico in a tactically bad situation,
just to keep tabs on Megumi and people had died because of it!

"Yurika killed those survivors, Ryoko."

"She didn't have any choice, they would have died in the bombardment

"The Nadesico shouldn't have been there, she was chasing me and Megumi."

"She couldn't have known the cavern was under where you parked your
Aesti before she arrived, Akito."

"It wouldn't have happened if Yurika wasn't jealous."

Ryoko didn't have any answer to that.

"The Nadesico won't be returning to Mars for months Ryoko. I'll have
to start working with Erina, I can jump to the Utopia colony and
find Inez."

"Where does that leave me, Akito?"

"You'll be OK here with Hikaru and Izumi, I can try and bring Inez
back with me, there are plenty of CCs on Mars.

"Promise me you won't leave me here Akito, I couldn't stand it.
Take me with you when you jump to Utopia."

"It might be hard to organise that with Erina and Akatsuki."

"Promise me you'll try."

"OK I promise."

Ryoko uncurled and got up.

"It's late I've got to get some sleep."

Akito half expected her to make for the top bunk again, but she headed
for the door instead. Akito was slightly disappointed.

"We don't need to put on a show for Hikaru and Izumi, I'm going back
to my own bed," Ryoko said, as if anticipating his thought.

"Goodnight Akito."

"Goodnight Ryoko."

* * *

The Nadesico was docked with the the Cosmos. Repairs were under way.
Ryoko returned to the Cosmos to pick up her meager possessions.
Poor Akito didn't have anything to collect, there hadn't been
room to smuggle any of his stuff on-board as well as himself.

Akito had gone to confront Erina before she sought him out.

Sakura and Kazama were sitting on their bunks when Ryoko walked in.
Ryoko crammed her few crumpled casual clothes back into a small case.
She hadn't really had time to unpack anyway. Sakura was glaring at
Ryoko. Kazama popped down off her bunk and offered her hand to Ryoko.

"It was a pleasure to serve with you Miss Subaru, goodbye,"
said Kazama formally.

"Goodbye, Kazama, I'm glad we met."

Ryoko wondered if this Kazama was predestined to die soon, fighting
the boson jumping Jovian robots as the other Kazama had. I can't think
about that, it will drive me crazy. Sakura, however might still be a
problem for Akito in the here and now. She resolved to try and fix
things up with Sakura.

"Sakura, can we have a chat?"

"What about, Ryoko? You want to warn me off Akito? Not much point now
is there, since you managed to wangle getting both of you posted to
the Nadesico."

"It's not like that Sakura, Nadesico is short of pilots, they lost
one during the battle and they already had their XO filling in as
a temporary pilot. I was meant to be assigned to the Nadesico
originally anyway."

"You can't stop me seeing Akito while the Nadesico is still docked,

"Akito can do as he likes, Sakura. I'm just trying to stop you from
getting hurt. I'm not his girlfriend, we made up that story to help
get him aboard. He is just a friend. Akito is in love with Misumaru
Yurika, the captain of the Nadesico. They knew each other back on
Mars years ago. He won't look twice at you, he was just being polite
going to the Karaoke."

"I don't believe you, Ryoko, you slept with him!"

Well this is going well, thought Ryoko.

"I didn't sleep with him, Sakura, I just stayed over and crashed in
another bunk. We wanted everyone to think that we had, so you girls
would leave him alone. He has enough problems to deal with without
having to fend off every young woman on the ship. I was just running
interference for him."

Sakura realised Ryoko was telling the truth. Ryoko had nothing to
gain from blatantly appearing to sleep with Akito and then denying it.

"He really loves Yurika?"

"Yes, Sakura."

"Does she know that?"

"I don't know, Sakura, it's been a long time since they last met."

Ryoko turned to leave.

"I'm sorry, Ryoko, I've been a fool, forgive me."

Ryoko paused.

"You love Akito don't you Ryoko, but he loves Yurika!"

Ryoko fled. How did Sakura know?

"That was unkind, Sakura," admonished Kazama.

"But accurate," Sakura replied.

* * *

Akito found Erina in her quarters.

"Mr Tenkawa, what can I do for you?"

Erina was puzzled by his sudden appearance, she had been planning to
visit him soon, to quiz him about his trip from Mars. Perhaps using
her inside information about the death of his parents, as a lever to
extract information from him and gain his cooperation in her live
boson jump experiments.

Good looking guy she thought, distracted. Why he was with that tomboy
Ryoko, she couldn't figure.

Akito decided to be direct and use his pre-knowledge of the situation
to put her on the defensive.

"Miss Won, what do the words boson jump mean to you?"

Erina's eyes narrowed.

"What do you know about that Tenkawa?"

"Interesting earrings you have there, Erina."

"You know what they are?" Erina gasped, caught off guard.

"My parents had some crystals just like that."

His parents she thought, trying to regain control of the situation.

"Do you know what happened to your parents, Akito?" Erina said sweetly.

Akito grabbed Erina by the shoulders and pushed her roughly against
the wall. Erina's heart was pounding.

"How does it feel to work for murderers, Erina? You probably passed on
the command from the Nergal chairman to kill my parents yourself."

"I don't know anything about it Akito, I wasn't working for Nergal then,"
Erina sobbed.

I'm over doing this a bit, Akito thought. Erina isn't the type to
crack up easily. Akito released her.

"But you knew Nergal had them murdered. I know it all, Erina. Tell me
about your experiments."

Erina straightened up.

"We have been experimenting sending live subjects through chulip
portals, but all our test subjects come back dead. Recently as you
know the Nadesico made a boson jump via chulip and everyone survived."

"I made a jump from Mars to Earth using a CC, Erina."

"We suspected that Akito, will you help with our experiments?"

"On two conditions, Erina, one Ryoko can observe the trials and
two you will look for survivors on Mars if we ever return there."

"Ryoko is no problem, but it may be a long time before we can return
to Mars, Akito."

"Fine, Erina. I'm sorry I pushed you. The death of my parents still

Akito left.

Erina sat down and tried to regain her composure. She was annoyed
with herself for being excited by Tenkawa manhandling her. She
called Akatsuki on the communicator.

"Akatsuki here. Ahh, Erina."

"Tenkawa has signed up. It is as we thought. He did jump. We can start
the tests tomorrow."

"Well done, Erina, see you in the lab tomorrow then."

* * *

Akito and Ryoko met for lunch in the Cafeteria.

Akito was tempted to join Howmei in the kitchen, but Ryoko cautioned
him, that it was probably better not to interact with too many people
here until they knew if they were stuck here for good or not.

"How did you get on with Erina, Akito?"

"I think it's sorted, they are starting some tests tomorrow,
I've cleared it with them for you to be present at the trials.
If they use enough CCs in the test we can probably jump to Utopia
first time."

"That's good news isn't it Akito?"

"Did you get your stuff off the Cosmos OK?"

"Yes, and I think I got Sakura sorted out too, I told her you
were in love with Yurika and neither of us could have you.
That seemed to satisfy her."

"I hope she doesn't start blabbing that, about the ship!"

"Don't worry we will be undocking from the Cosmos soon."

Yurika and Aoi Jun walked into the cafeteria.

Akito attempted to become invisible and melt under the table.
Yurika was heading straight over to them.

"I'm sorry I wasn't available to welcome you new pilots aboard,
I was busy doing captain things on the bridge," Yurika bubbled.

"I'm, Misumaru Yurika, Captain, welcome to the Nadesico. This is my
XO, Aoi Jun."

"Lt. Subaru," Ryoko introduced herself, "and this is Pilot Officer

"Tenkawa? I know that name, are you related to the Mars Utopia
Colony Tenkawas?"

"Not that I'm aware of ma'am," Akito lied.

"Oh well, I hear you both did a great job out there defending the
Nadesico, I'm glad to have you aboard!"

Yurika and Jun strolled off to another table and sat opposite each
other holding hands across the table.

"Doesn't it bug you to see Jun holding Yurika's hand like that Tenkawa?"

Akito's head was still swimming with Yurika's perfume. Yurika, he
remembered her weak and vulnerable, pleading for a kiss. His Yurika,
his future wife. Their first adult kiss. Funny how Yurika had forgotten
all those kisses she had planted on him during their childhood.

"No Ryoko it doesn't bug me, that girl isn't my Yurika."

Less appealing recent memories intruded, My Yurika, obsessed Yurika.
Jealous Yurika, mass murderess Yurika.

"Come on, Ryoko, lets go up to the observation deck, for some privacy.
It should be quiet up there at this time of day. Maybe we should just
grab some stuff from the vending machines and eat in our rooms from
now on. Less chance of bumping into people. I'm sure Yurika almost
recognised me."

Ryoko was happy with the idea, Yurika's presence was making her feel
uneasy. She had an irrational fear Yurika would jump up and grab
Akito away from her, leaving her all alone in the world. Pushing the
dumb thought away, she got up and followed Akito out. Yurika was
smiling in goofy way and waving at them as they left.

* * *

"Don't you think they make a lovely couple?" exclaimed Yurika.

"It must be romantic piloting together."

"And Subaru outranking Tenkawa doesn't seem to have effected their
relationship at all. Dear Jun, I wish you could be a bit more
assertive with me sometimes, I promise I won't have you up on charges
for insubordination."

Jun muttered something darkly about Yurika being welcome to join him,
out in a Aesti anytime.

"No silly, a Captain's place in on the bridge, with you beside me.
You don't have to fly anymore, now that the new pilots are here."

* * *

Ryoko and Akito sat down on the simulated grass gazing at the blue
sky and wispy clouds.

"If all goes well, we will be out of here tomorrow, Ryoko, before the
Jovians counter attack. If we have to fly another sortie, at least
this time I won't freeze up and have to suffer the ignominy of that
bungled Megumi/Yurika rescue mission."

Ryoko Snorted.

"Hell, Akito, Megumi and Yurika wouldn't lift a finger to get you
this time, I'd have to go out and get you back myself."

Ryoko started to chuckle.

"We won't have to rescue that damn polar bear again either, Akito!"
They were both laughing now.

"Ryoko, that's the first time I remember hearing you laugh."

Akito thought ahead to what happened to them after the polar bear
mission. The day at the beach. Ryoko had saved his life that day. Aqua
had poisoned him to setup the tragic lovers death she dreamed of.
Ryoko had smashed the Jovian spider crab with unparalleled ferocity.
Even Akatsuki had been impressed.

Megumi, Aqua, I've made a quite a few mistakes with women, Akito thought.

Ryoko had cooked him a meal that day. He'd almost forgotten. The other
girls had been trying to force their home cooking down him all day,
and with the Aqua incident, it wasn't surprising he fled from the girls
next meal offers. Ryoko had been there. Ryoko had been interested in
him too. Something clicked in place in Akito's brain.

"I'm sorry I didn't try your meal, Ryoko."

"Don't worry about it, Akito, Hikaru and Izumi said it was probably toxic

So he remembers that now Ryoko thought. I'm embarrassed, I don't know
what I was thinking, trying to impress him by cooking a meal, after the bad
food day he had. I was a nut case.

Ryoko loves me, the thought dawned on Akito. Except for the slip up
with the meal, she kept it from me well. Various things made sense now.
Izumi and Hikaru must have known, the way they teased her. Ryoko's
suicidal Aesti flight during the talent competition must have been
because she thought I didn't like her, and preferred Megumi or Yurika.
How could I have been so thick? She might have died out there all alone.

These days since the accident must have been hell for her, with all
this pretend girlfriend, boyfriend stuff. Yet she hadn't tried to
take advantage of their current predicament or Yurika's absence.
He looked at Ryoko with a new admiration, she was an attractive girl,
in spite of her severe short green dyed hair cut. Akito resolved to be
more careful in future, determined not to cause her any more pain.

"Ryoko you will have to be ready at the jump test tomorrow, there
won't be much time. You will have to get close to me as quickly as
possible and concentrate on the Utopia Colony. If you don't, there's
no telling where you could end up, you could wind up like Inez."

"I understand, Akito."

"We've still got all afternoon to kill, Ryoko. How about we go and do
something in the VR room?"

"Are you asking me on some kind of date, Tenkawa?" Ryoko bristled.

Akito ummed, thinking of the physical exercise style programs she

"Can't friends just go to the VR room together? How about some

Basketball should be safe enough she thought.

"OK, you're on Akito."

She smiled.

* * *

Ryoko was enjoying herself. She didn't mind getting physical with
Akito on this level, and had sent him sprawling on the court several
times. She was leading 20-8.

"Aww Tenkawa, lift your game, don't you know it's shameful to be
beaten by a girl," Ryoko called, as she lazily dribbled the ball
and took another shot.

Akito hadn't been taking it easy on her. Ryoko was good. The shot
missed and they both charged to get the rebound. They both reached
the ball at the same time, face to face they tussled for the ball,
trying to wrest it out of each others grasp.

Their eyes meet and locked. A look of great affection passed between
them. God, he's onto me thought Ryoko, panicked. I love him and he
knows it. It was the first time she had admitted that much, even to
herself. She broke the deadlock by twisting sideways and shooting as
she pirouetted.

"22-8 Tenkawa, full time," she called. "I'm going to get a shower,
grab some food and have an early night, see you tomorrow."

They were both sweating as they put down the VR helmets and gauntlets.

"Thank you for the game Ryoko, I enjoyed that very much."

"So did I, Akito."

She turned and quickly left.

* * *

Akito went back to his room and got cleaned up. He grabbed some instant
ramen noodles from the vending machine in the hall. He didn't want to
chance the cafeteria again. He went to turn on the disk player and
watch some Gekigangar again.

He stopped short. Anime was just an escape from the real world and
it's problems. Some of the Jovians had twisted the noble ideals of
Gekigangar to justify evil actions. It make him sick to think about
Shiratori's death. He couldn't bear to watch it anymore.

He climbed on his bunk and stared upwards at the webbing of the bunk
above. He wondered what he might say or do to help Ryoko. Would it be
better to let on he knew and get it out in the open? What if return
was impossible?

He had no intention of taking up with the Yurika here if that was the
case. Akito loved Ryoko as a friend and comrade, as he had loved his
friend Gai. Perhaps more than that, certainly stronger that the
mistaken love he had felt for Megumi.

Would Ryoko accept him? Could they be happy together if return was
impossible? He'd never seen this much of the real Ryoko before, she
had always hidden behind a gruff, almost macho facade.

I wish she'd told me of her feelings earlier. Maybe she had tried,
like that time when she brought me that bowl of food I had cooked
myself, while we were out on the overland Aestivalis march. Akatsuki
had interfered. Would I have listened to her though, with Megumi and
Yurika chasing me?

He decided to do nothing about Ryoko yet. All he could do was try and
be kind. He still loved his Yurika deeply and would continue the
struggle to return to her.

* * *

Ryoko wasn't resting easy either.

He does feel something for me. I could see that, she thought.
I should have thrown my hat in the ring with Yurika and Megumi and
fought for what I wanted. God, I was such a coward.

It's far too late now.

Should I go to him now and tell him how I feel?

He'll have to knock me back, while there is still a chance of us
returning. Maybe that will kill this pain I feel inside.

She got up and went down the corridor to Akito's room.
She hovered outside his door, turned and headed back to her own room.
It wasn't honorable to say anything, no matter what the pain.

* * *

Akatsuki and Erina were watching the experiment from a raised platform
in the lab leaning on a safety rail. Ryoko was standing beside them.

Technicians fussed about Akito, who was standing in the centre of a
sparse matrix of chulip crystals suspended on fine wires.

"We're ready to go, Akito," Erina called. "Just try and visualise the
observation deck and attempt short jump to there."

The techs withdrew to a safe distance and activated the circuits that
would stimulate the crystals.

The crystals started glowing faintly blue. He concentrated his
thoughts on the Mars Utopia Colony. Akito himself was now glowing
with a white light. Strange outlines that looked almost like printed
computer circuits raced across his skin.

"Now Ryoko!" Akito yelled.

Ryoko quickly vaulted the safety rail, raced across the room, flung
her arms around Akito, nestled against his back, holding on tight,
her cheek on his neck.

The pair disappeared from sight.

"Telemetry reports they are not on the ship anymore," wailed Erina.

"Fantastic, Erina, You've lost our test subject and our best pilot."

Erina looked crestfallen.

* * *

Ryoko and Akito appeared at the exact spot on Mars where Akito and
Megumi had parked the Aestivalis artillery frame and gone to look at
the Utopia colony ruins.

Ryoko was still holding on to Akito as if her life depended on it.
She didn't want to let go yet, it felt good to have him in her arms.

Akito gasped. The thin cold air, the strangely dark blue/purplish sky
that seemed normal to him. He was home again, they had made it.

"You can let go now, Ryoko, we made it."

She slowly released him.

"What now Akito?"

"We should be right above the cavern where the survivors are."
He took a few steps forward through the crunchy red sand.

"Be careful, Ryoko, the ground subsided last time I was here."

His words were carried away as he fell through a hole that opened
under his feet.

Ryoko halted, but it was too late. The ground gave way under her feet

They tumbled through the darkness, striking a pile of loose rubble
that slid away beneath them cushioning their landing a little.
Ryoko landed on top of Akito, they were both winded, and shocked
unable to move.

A dark figure approached dressed in a hooded cape and dust mask.
Ryoko scrabbled for her service pistol. She wasn't in the habit of
carrying it, but she'd checked it out of the armory this morning,
a girl could use a gun when jumping into the unknown.

"There's no need for that," said Inez, throwing back the hood and
removing her mask. "By the way, you might like to get off your
boyfriend, he is turning blue."

Ryoko ceased fumbling with her pistol holster and stood up, she hadn't
even managed unbutton the flap yet.

Akito sucked in his first full breath for some time and spluttered.
Talk about deja vu he thought.

"How did you two arrive here?" asked Inez.

"We came via a boson jump," replied Akito.

"Boson jumping is an unproved theory. It is believed the Jovian
chulips are gateways that allow objects to be transported instantly
across space. As far as we know the Jovians are the only people who
have mastered boson jump technology. We know they cannot jump living
objects, hence their highly automated robot attack forces. Your
story therefore is dubious," reasoned Inez.
"It is possible you are Jovian agents sent out to locate survivors
so they can be rounded up. Hand over your pistol please Miss."

A group of people in similar garb to Inez, carrying rifles loomed out
of the shadows. Ryoko had no option but to comply.

"Bring them along," Inez instructed. "Don't look so worried, we are
just taking you somewhere where we can talk in more comfort."

* * *

Inez made them a cup of tea and listened to their story.

She found their story intriguing but she didn't believe all the

"I can't help you, all our resources are tied up just trying to
survive. My first duty is to the surviving Mars colonists. When the
war is over we can rebuild what was lost here. We don't want to get
involved with the war, we don't want to be rescued. I don't believe
you are Jovian agents. You can stay here with us if you wish, and
wait the war out. We can use extra fit young hands."

"Don't you remember me, Ai?" asked Akito pleading.

"Your story of meeting me as a young girl is enchanting Akito, but
I've never been known by that name," said Inez coolly.

* * *

Inez organised some sleeping mats and blankets and pointed them to an
empty alcove where they could doss down.

"You can hang a blanket up for some privacy, it's the best we can
do," apologized Inez, "it's the same for everyone. I'll talk with
you again in the morning about the duty roster etc, assuming you
are staying."

"Where would we be going, Inez," said Akito dejectedly.

"True, you didn't exactly arrive in a ship, now did you," Inez
chuckled. "Goodnight."

Akito got busy stringing up a spare blanket to close off the alcove.
The temperature was fairly stable and warm underground at this
latitude, one blanket each would be enough for sleeping.

Akito politely turned his back as Ryoko undressed and slid under the

"All clear," Ryoko called.

Akito shed his tunic and trousers without bothering to check if
Ryoko was looking or not.

"Don't tell me you wear Gekigangar boxer shorts, Tenkawa?" Ryoko

Akito took her gentle ribbing as a good sign. Ryoko was OK. Akito lay
down beside her, their faces close together due to the cramped

"Don't give up yet, Akito." Ryoko looked at him misty eyed. "You can't
expect Inez's memories to be awoken so easily. It took a boson jump
with you and Yurika, plus the intervention of a Jovian hacker crab
to do the trick last time."

"I haven't given up Ryoko, how can the Nadesico's two best pilots

He respects my piloting ability, Ryoko thought.

They rolled away from each other, as far as space permitted.

"Goodnight Ryoko."

"Goodnight Akito."

* * *

In the morning Inez briefed them on shelter life.

They would go out with a scavenging team to recover non-perishable
food items from the ruins of the colony. Food, Inez explained was the
big problem, they couldn't grow enough underground with UV lamps and
hydroponics for their needs. They couldn't farm on the surface for
fear of being detected by the Jovians. Water wasn't a problem, they
had dew collectors. Power was available but limited by the amount
they could use, and still remain undetected.

They traveled out to the colony site in small solar electric vehicles.
Their arrival had to be precisely timed to avoid patrols of spider
crabs and grasshoppers. The Jovian mechs weren't dangerous in
themselves. They weren't programmed to attack individual people or
small vehicles like their electric cars. The telemetry from them
however could be monitored by the manned Jovian units in the north
excavating the old Nergal digs and those looking for the main
Ancients base.

Their job was to remove tinned food from a semi-collapsed warehouse.
It was dangerous work because they couldn't setup any bracing or
scaffolding in case it was detected.

Ryoko and Akito worked smoothly together and quickly filled their
vehicle. They couldn't leave till the scheduled time when their exit
path would be clear of patrols again.

A middle aged woman who had also finished came over to chat.

"How long have you two young ones been married?" she inquired.

"We aren't married," they chorused.

"But you work so well together."

"He's my wing-man," Ryoko explained. "We are pilots, we fly together
all the time."

"Ah that explains it," the woman said. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to
be nosy, I just assumed your were because Inez only gave you one room."

"It isn't a problem," said Akito. "We are shipmates, we are used
to cramped quarters."

Someone called out it was time to roll. The woman returned to her
vehicle. The convoy of cars drove off.

Ryoko thought, I could be happy here, these are good people.

* * *

It was the evening of the seventh day since they had arrived on Mars.
They had been working on Inez, prodding her as much as their dared.
Trying to awaken her memory. They were out of ideas.

Inez was getting sick of their pestering.

They had formulated one last plan. They asked Inez for some CCs,
intending to abduct her and jump back to the Nadesico.

Inez denied that she had any. They suggested traveling north to the
Nergal dig to obtain some. Inez said the Jovians would just capture
them, the trip would take months in the slow electric vehicles and
they would probably die in the Martian desert anyway.

She forbade them to go, they couldn't spare the cars and she hinted
that she would use force if necessary to prevent them if they were
foolish enough to try.

They turned in for the night.

* * *

Well, now we know Ryoko thought, there is no way back. Akito's spirits
were at the lowest ebb they had been.

Ryoko undressed without waiting for Akito to turn away. She removed
her bra and stepped out of her panties.

She walked toward him and helped him pull his tunic off. Akito didn't

They climbed under the blankets and held each other.

They slept together that night.

* * *

Akito woke up first.

Ryoko was still in his arms sleeping peacefully, a small smile on
her face.

I've done the right thing Akito thought. I couldn't turn her away
last night, I truly love her in the same way I love Yurika. It would
have destroyed her if I had refused.

Ryoko awoke with a small flinch and saw Akito gazing at her. Ryoko's
face became serious and a little fearful.

I'll make it easier for her, thought Akito.

"You've loved me for a long time haven't you, Ryoko?"

"Yes, Akito," she whispered.

She couldn't lie, asked directly. She had been holding onto the fact
that her love for him was still unspoken. That seemed to make what
had happened last night still alright, less of a betrayal. Now that
was gone.

"Have you slept with Yurika yet, Akito?"

She needed to know.

"No, Ryoko, Yurika wanted to wait until we were wed."

Ryoko felt like a thief, she had taken something precious from Yurika
and Akito.

"Ryoko, we know we aren't ever going back now. I love you Ryoko,
I wouldn't have let last night happen if I didn't. You know I love
Yurika too, can you accept me, Ryoko, knowing that Yurika came first
in my heart?"

She heard the sincerity in his voice.

"Yes Akito, I think I can." Ryoko smiled.

* * *

After breakfast they took a car out to the colony ruins to scout
around for more food supplies. They left the car and proceeded on
foot through a wrecked fruit orchard. All the trees were dead, they
had depended on the broken irrigation system for life.

They walked hand in hand.

Ryoko was happy for the first time in years. Since her childhood in

The pain Akito felt at the loss of Yurika was dulled by his new found
love for Ryoko.

"Look over there!" Ryoko called excitedly.

She ran over to a still living, but stunted orange tree in a corner,
by a wall. Condensation running off the wall must have somehow been
keeping it alive. In spite of it's struggle for survival it was still
fruiting heavily. They gathered up all the oranges and took them back
to the car.

* * *

Akito took some oranges to Inez.

"Here, want an orange?" Akito tossed one to her.

"Does Ryoko know you are bringing me such succulent treats, Akito?"
Inez joked.

"It's OK I've just been to the market, I have plenty."

Inez peeled the fruit and took a bite, her eyes went wide as the
taste of the orange unlocked some memories of a previous orange she
had eaten.

"Are you married Mr?" she mouthed silently.

Inez promptly fainted.

Ryoko joined them, back from distributing the fruit to the others.

"What's wrong with Inez, Akito, is the fruit bad?"

"I think she's remembering, Ryoko. I gave Ai an orange in the shelter.
The taste of the these oranges must have triggered Inez's memory."

Inez was coming round.

"Akito, I remember it all now." Her eyes were filled with tears.

Akito moved forward and embraced Inez. They were both crying now.

* * *

Inez had recovered now. She made them recount their story in every
detail. She grilled them on the technical advances they had seen in
the future, that she was not yet aware of like the PT cannon and the
manned Jovian boson jump capable craft. Inez finally relented and
let them go to bed.

Inez wanted to work out how Akito and Ryoko had got into this time
and what it might mean for the future.

Inez thought it would take months of research to unravel the mystery.

* * *

Akito was still being tender with her, but Ryoko felt like she was
living on borrowed time. They never mentioned the dreaded "Y" word.
Inez might well conclude that it wasn't possible to put them back
where they had come from.

* * *

Inez somehow got it all worked out in record time and called them
together for an explanation session.

"This is a talk about the Fressange probability strand multiple
universe theory," Inez began.

"Will this take long?" Akito asked.

"Yes Akito, it will, but refreshments will be served."

Inez continued.

"Parallel multiple universes have been been a popular concept for
some time. Many have theorised that an infinite number of these
universes exist, a new one being created every time there is a time
travel event. I now know this to be incorrect.

"There are in fact a finite small number of alternate realities or
probability strands as I call them. These strands are not exactly
parallel in space or time but weave in and out of each other in a
multidimensional fashion too complex for the human mind to visualise.
These strands actually touch in some places where the surface tension
is weak. Such places occur near black holes for example or inside the
blast effect of a PT cannon.

"Akito and Ryoko crossed between two of these strands when they
jumped. Using quantum spin analysis techniques I have been able to
determine Akito and Ryoko are from the prime probability strand. All
other strands are of lower probability. The strand we currently
inhabit is a low probability strand containing an event stream that
was less likely to happen than the prime strand.

"The action of moving matter between strands produces effects that are
very hard to predict with any accuracy. Backward time travel within
a strand is possible, allowing the instantaneous boson jumps.

"Moving living objects between strands seems to be a special case,
perhaps due to free will and the cognitive processes having the
ability alter the event stream, or perhaps it is because living
things have a soul.

"Where as with simple time travel it is possible to meet oneself and
cause temporal paradoxes, cross strand travel seems to prohibit the
meeting of alternate selves. Akito and Ryoko merged with and replaced
their counterparts in this strand."

"But can we get back Inez?" Akito interrupted.

"I'm just coming to that Akito. In theory it is easier for people to
pass from low to high probability strands, especially if they
originated in a higher probability strand, in essence you don't
belong here and the universe will work to put you back where you
belong. All you need to do is find a suitable crossing point again."

"What will happen in this strand if we leave?" asked Ryoko.

"I believe, your original counterparts will come into existence
again, this strand will go back to the way it was and none of this
will seem to have occurred from our point of view."

"Won't that like having part of yourself die?" Ryoko asked, concerned.

Inez shrugged

"Low probability strands like this one will eventually collapse and
merge into a higher probability state, this explains deja vu type
phenomena people sometimes experience, our memories will live on
somewhere in our counterparts in another strand. Strands come and go
all the time, people usually don't notice when they merge."

"Will we remember what happened here?" asked Akito.

"Yes Akito, all that information will survive. I believe I can create
a crossing point for you with CCs."

"But we don't have any CCs."

"But I do, Akito." Inez opened a small back case containing the
glittering crystals.

"You lied to us," Akito complained.

"I wasn't about to let you waste them on your idiot schemes."

* * *

Ryoko tensed herself for the jump. They were both suited up. Inez had
insisted as a safety precaution. Ryoko's arms were around Akito. The
ideal skin to skin contact needed for two people to boson jump
together was not possible through the suit. Inez said it wasn't really
required, it just improved the chance of success.

Ryoko had thought of staying behind, or killing herself or any number
of damn fool things rather than having to face Yurika again.

Akito and I are finished now she thought sadly. She couldn't seek
death again like she had alone out in her Aestivalis that time when
she feared that she was no more than a inhuman killing machine.

She had felt love and she now knew that wasn't true. She couldn't
bear to be alone here in this strange strand. There really was no
choice but to attempt the return with Akito and await what fate had
in store for her.

* * *

They jumped back to to their original probability strand several
weeks later than they had left.

Akito had been aiming to jump them onto the Nadesico, but apparently
such precise navigation was impossible on a cross strand jump. It was
only possible to arrive in the rough vicinity of a crossing point.

They drifted alone in space, with only a few hours life support
capacity in their suits.

I've gotten us both killed, Akito thought, just so I can be with
Yurika again. Thank god Inez had insisted they wear the suits as a

Akito activated his suits distress beacon.

They put their helmets together so they could talk without using the

"I'm sorry it's come to this, Ryoko." His voice sounded distant and
muffled through the helmet.

"It's alright, Akito, we might still be picked up by someone."

If these were to be her last hours she was glad she could spend them
alone with Akito.

* * *

Fortunately, Yurika had kept the Nadesico in the area, scouring space
looking for Akito. The Nadesico had found Akito's and Ryoko's Aesti
units virtually intact with no bodies inside. The units had been thrown
clear like Izumi's and Hikaru's had been. The Aesti didn't make the
cross strand jump with Ryoko and Akito because according to Inez's
theories, it was hard for large masses of inorganic material to cross
over. With no bodies to be found, Yurika was convinced they had jumped
out and could still be somewhere nearby.

The Nadesico soon homed in on their beacons and picked them up.

All their friends were waiting at the hanger air-lock to welcome them.

Yurika rushed forward and embraced Akito with tears in her eyes.

"I knew you were alive, Akito."

Akito stiffened slightly.

Ryoko fled, avoiding Hikaru and Izumi.

"What's wrong Akito!"

Akito gently disentangled himself from Yurika and pursued Ryoko.
I have to give Ryoko a sign that I still care, that what happened
between us meant something, Akito thought.

Yurika looked flabbergasted. Inez watched the scene with a knowing

* * *

He found Ryoko collapsed on her bunk sobbing uncontrollably.
He gathered her into his arms and turned her face toward him.


He came to me she thought, that has to mean something. It must have
cost him a lot to do that in front of Yurika.

Yurika was hot on their heels.

"Akito what is going on here?! Where were you two all that time?
You couldn't have survived in those suits for weeks! Ryoko, get your
hands off my Akito!"

Yurika tugged insistently on Akito's arm drawing him away from Ryoko.
Akito's act of kindness and Yurika's jealous rant set something off
in Ryoko.

Ryoko seized Akito's other arm. There was fire in her eyes now,
instead of pain.

"Tenkawa is mine now, Yurika."

No more being noble and self sacrificing Ryoko thought. I'll fight,
that's what I do best. Fight for what I care about. I should have done
that a long time ago. Akito's let me know there is still something
there to fight for.

"We slept together, Yurika."

"We are lovers," Ryoko added for dramatic effect.

"My Akito would never do that!" Yurika spat.

Akito somehow contrived to extract himself from the seemingly
superhuman grip of the two girls, and ran for his room.

Yurika and Ryoko glared at each other.

Akito made it to his room ahead of the girls, closed the door and
jammed a metal knife into the card reader on the door shorting it out.
He was safe from Yurika's master key now.

This was the best that could be hoped for at present Akito thought,
Both girls were very angry with each other and with him. That was
healthy, it would stop them going really crazy rather than normal
crazy during the voyage back to Earth.

He would have a hard decision to make when they arrived, someone was
going to be hurt. The pure gold of Yurika's love or the hard diamond
of Ryoko's. He didn't want to discard either.

Akito got out the Gekigangar disks and turned up the volume to drown
out the frantic banging on his door.

He retreated once again into the world of Gekigangar.

Ahhh, Miss Nanako, Akito thought.


Greg O'Sullivan (gjo@unimelb.edu.au)