$Id: despair.txt,v 1.76 2002/06/12 06:09:42 gjo Exp $


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

Ruri and the pilots looked up into the sky at Akito's ship, as it dwindled
into the distance. It appeared to boson jump before it was quite out of sight.
Akito's pilot comrades were experiencing sorrow and anger at the parting.
To find him again after he had been presumed dead and then for him to leave
without explanation, it was hard to take. Hikaru and Izumi wondered how Akito
could leave his wife, Yurika, like this, after all their efforts to
rescue her had paid off. They couldn't understand it. Ryoko and Ruri just kept
staring upwards long after the others had ceased to do so.

Ruri thought she understood Akito's actions. He had the blood of innocents
on his hands now. It wasn't just that Akito felt that his guilt and
damaged mind and senses made him unfit for normal human company.
Made him too different from the man they had loved. He has Lapis, she thought.


That strange girl. Ruri had seen into both Akito's and
Lapis's minds during her brief contact with Lapis. Lapis has seen and felt
things via her link with Akito that no girl her age should experience.
Together they had killed. The bond between them was strong, closer than that
between lovers, yet they were not. Akito would find it impossible to resume
his life with Yurika. Lapis would always be between them.

A plan began to form in her mind of how they might reclaim Akito.
Lapis is like me, she thought, those eyes, the enhanced IFS
interfaces on both hands. Even the name, Ruri means Lapis Lazuli.
They had meant her to be an enhanced version of me, a superior operator.

Akito, she thought, come back to us. I can take up Lapis's burden,
I can do anything she can. I would do it willingly, it would be easier for
Yurika to bear.

Ryoko had thought all this was behind her. Akito had died two years ago.
No one except Inez seemed to remember anything of the time she had spent with
Akito in the alternate probability strands.
He's run from me and Yurika again, she thought, run from everyone this time.
The scabs on her mental wounds were picked open again, bleeding and raw. I
never really did get over it. I just pushed it aside.
Akito, Ryoko thought, please return. We have to resolve things finally this
time. I can't leave it like this.

* * *

The group returned to to the complex to see to Yurika.

Yurika's mind was seemingly undamaged by her ordeal.
She was weak. She recognised them all, puzzled why Ruri seemed more grown up
than she remembered. To her it had all seemed just like a dream.
Her love for Akito has sustained her.

"We are going to have to sedate her while we remove the connections to the
machine," one of the medics warned.

Yurika slipped back into sleep.

Ruri spoke to them all.
"He will come back. If he doesn't we will find him again, we must,
he is special to me."

"Ruri, what are you planning to do?" Ryoko asked.

"The enemy forces are still mainly intact. A lot of them will
not surrender, even though we have their leaders.
There will have to be a campaign against them, there will be fighting again.
If Akatsuki and Nergal will let me retain command of the Nadesico "C", we
will search for Akito. We will take any of the original crew who wish to come
and return the others to Earth. Otherwise, I will resume command of the
Nadesico "B" and do what I can through the UEASF."

"Count me in Ruri, those bastards who did this to Akito and
Yurika will pay."

* * *

Ryoko flew her Aesti frame back to the Nadesico parked it in the docking bay.
Everyone was preoccupied with Yurika. Inez would be alone now, she thought.
She would still be recovering from the effort of boson jumping the ship.
Ryoko went to find her, they had some unfinished business to talk about.

She wondered why only Inez could remember, and others who had been closely
involved with them in the other strands could not. Inez, like Akito and
Yurika was also another recent miracle resurrection. Inez, always Inez.
She seemed to be the key. Ryoko suspected that Inez had always known more
about every situation they had encountered than she ever let on.

* * *

"Ryoko, come in. I thought you would want to see me."

"You should call me Mrs Tenkawa. I've been waiting a long time for this
Inez, I thought you were dead, of course."

"You know that Yurika is Mrs Tenkawa here, Ryoko."

"Why didn't Ruri remember anything, Inez? I thought you said people
who interacted with us would remember. No one remembered anything,
you died and I was all alone."

"I think Ruri does have those memories, Ryoko. They are just walled off
and inaccessible to her currently. It's probably for the best that she
hasn't remembered yet. Yurika probably knows too, but she has dismissed
those memories as bad dreams."

"How long have you known Akito was alive? Nergal obviously knew
something about all this ages ago. Why weren't we told!"

"Nergal security had me under wraps all that time, Ryoko. I would
have been captured too, if they hadn't faked my death."

"Inez, I want to hear it all, as much as you know. What happened to
Akito and Yurika?"

"Are you sure you want to hear, Ryoko? It can't bring you any happiness."

"I need to know, Inez."

"As you know, Akito and Yurika were captured while they were on that shuttle
flight to their honeymoon. The Martian Successors performed boson jump
experiments on Akito for almost twelve months. Then he escaped from them.
Nergal played a part in his rescue. They didn't manage to free Yurika at the
same time. The Successors worked out enough from these experiments to use
Yurika as part of the boson jump controller. Akito was damaged by those
experiments, Ryoko. His mind and senses were damaged. He isn't the same Akito
we knew. He has no sense of smell anymore, he can't cook. When he escaped
they also recovered a girl, Lapis Lazuli.

"Lapis is the result of a Nergal genetic experiment. They were trying to
produce another Ruri, with superior abilities. Lapis and Akito are bound
together somehow. She assists him, compensates for his diminished senses,
he is almost helpless without her. It's hard to say where Lapis ends and
Akito starts. That is why he shuns us now, he wishes to spare us the pain
of seeing him like this. This past year Akito had been searching for
Yurika. Nergal provided him with a ship and weapons and let him keep
Lapis, in exchange for any information he could turn up on the

"You knew for a year, that Akito was alive!" Ryoko was very angry.

"I couldn't say anything, Ryoko, until we were ready to move against the
Successors and the Crimson group. Akito had to uncover enough information
and the Nadesico "C" had to be ready."

"I'm going to kill them all, Inez, anyone connected with the people
that have done this to Akito. I'm going to see Akito again, no
matter what the cost."

"What about Yurika, Ryoko?"

"Yurika had three happy years with Akito, and two years in a dream world.
I've had five years of hell, it's time she had her share of the pain.
What exactly did they do to him, Inez?"

"I haven't had the opportunity to examine him, Ryoko. All I can tell
you comes from Nergal's files. The Successors introduced some discontinuity
between his conscious mind and the subconscious mind that processes
his senses. The aim was to allow him to become more focused on computing
jumps. Obviously it didn't work out too well, because they seem to have used
a different approach with Yurika. They were using Lapis to control
him via those masks they wear, a kind of remote direct brain neural
interface link. A side effect of this control link is that an
operator like Lapis can bridge the gap and relay sensations to Akito's
conscious mind, from either her own senses or Akito's senses.
That is why Akito can function while he wears the mask and is linked
to Lapis. He can also probably pilot an Aestivalis unaided because
the IFS interfaces the Aesti sensors straight to the conscious mind."

"So he really is helpless without Lapis?"

"It's worse than that, he would slip into a sensory deprivation
induced psychosis if he is not interfaced to some sensory input via
the IFS or linked to an operator like Lapis.

"Can't something be done to repair the damage?"

"Advances in nano brain surgery techniques might
make it possible one day, but we can't do it at present."

"What about bridging the gap with electronics?"

"Nothing we have can processes the data like another human mind can.
Even then only special people like Lapis or Ruri have the ability.
The best we could do for him is some kind of sensor net interfaced
through his IFS. We could give him vision and hearing again and a
crude sense of touch. We can't do anything about his sense of smell
or taste."

"You look tired Inez, I'm sorry I've been so hard on you."

"Yes, I am tired, jumping an entire battle ship does place a certain
strain on oneself."

"You will try and do something for him, if we can get him back, won't you

"Of course I will, Ryoko."

* * *

The Nadesico "C" was en route back to Earth. Nergal had given the go ahead
for Ruri to retain the Nadesico "C" for now. Some of the crew had asked be
returned to Earth and others like Prospector, Miss Howmei and the girls had
asked to be picked up. Currently they were proceeding through normal space.
They would boson jump eventually, but Inez need to recover her strength first.

Ryoko took advantage of the lull in action to seek out Ruri.

"Captain, can I speak with you in private please?"

"Of course Ryoko, we can use my ready room."

"Ruri, I want to talk about Akito. I love him you know, in spite of Yurika.
I never stopped loving him. I know you love him too Ruri. I know how
he fought for you in Peaceland. I know that song you sang was for him."

"Did Akito tell you about that, Ryoko?" Ruri was puzzled.

"Ruri, Akito is my husband."

"Ryoko, you aren't making much sense." Ruri was looking worried.

"Ruri, try and remember."

"Remember what, Ryoko?"

"That time when Akito and I went missing..."

"The jump accident, the alternate probability strand?"

"Yes, Ruri."

"I remember Yurika was suspicious that something happened between you
and Akito then."

"Something did, Ruri. We slept together, I really fell for him."

"But he is married to Yurika now, Ryoko, what are you getting at?"

"We didn't actually return straight to this probability strand, Ruri. We
came via another strand of possibilities, one where Akito chose
me over Yurika and you came and lived with us. That strand collapsed and
now I remember both lives. A life with and a life without Akito.
According to Inez's theories you should remember too, at least the times
you spent with us."

"I can't remember anything about that, Ryoko!"

"Ruri, please try and remember. I've been alone all these years.
I attended Akito's funeral as his widow and nobody knew.
Inez mysteriously "died" before I could ask her about it."

Ryoko sized Ruri's hand and forced their IFS markings into contact.

"Remember, Ruri!"

Ruri gasped as she saw herself through Ryoko's eyes.
This had happened between her and Ryoko before, but where and when?

A pizza place on the L3 space station.

Ruri sagged and Ryoko released her hand.

"Akito remembers too, Ruri. Or at least he did. He knows you love him,
you confessed it to him yourself."

"We were on the L3 station together?"

"Thats right, Ruri."

Ruri was slowly remembering, the hidden information was linking itself back
into her consciousness.

"You were hurt, Ryoko, thats the last thing I remember from there,
you were hurt and I was wondering if you were serious when you said
that I could have Akito if anything happened to you."

"So you were hoping I was going to croak, huh?
Don't worry, it would take more than a busted rib to get rid of me."

Ryoko laughed.

"Ruri, you don't know what it means to me that someone else remembers now.
I thought I'd go mad."

"Akito is changed now, Ryoko."

"That doesn't matter, Ruri, he is alive and that is still Akito's soul in
there. Tell me you've stopped loving him because of what he has done or
because he is damaged and different?"

"No, Ryoko, I still love him. I can't stop it. There isn't just
Yurika to consider now though, Ryoko. That girl Lapis is almost a part of
him, he depends on her."

"Ruri why didn't he come to us once he was free? We could have helped him,
you know we could."

"Are you sure he remembers, Ryoko? Perhaps his memories are locked away
like mine were."

"He knows Ruri, he left me a message on his wedding night. Why
didn't he come back to us? He didn't even acknowledge me when
I realised it was him in that black Aesti."

"He had to save Yurika, more depended on that than just her life.
He didn't want to put us in harms way. Involving us would have alerted the
enemy. I think that was his original motivation. Now he believes we would all
suffer more by seeing what he has become."

"Doesn't he realise that this is worse? I think he is
just running away from his problems again. We have to find him
and talk some sense into him, Ruri."

"Thats what we'll do, Ryoko. This mission is primarily about finding
Akito. Mopping up the Martian Successors is only our secondary objective.
We could leave that to others. I need to find him too, Ryoko, we all need to
settle this. I think Harri loves me, Ryoko, but I can't be what he wants me
to be, while Akito is still out there like this."

"That's very honest of you Ruri. I thought you were getting over Akito
in the alternate strand."

"I can't remember it all, Ryoko, there are gaps, it's like I only
remember events where you or Akito were present."

"That sounds right, according to Inez's theories."

"I never let on here, Ryoko. I just kept it bottled up. It was hard
sometimes, living with them in that small apartment. I don't know
why I could tell Akito there, but I couldn't do it here. You're right
I was getting over it there, but here and now I still love him,
in an inappropriate way. I know no good can come of it, Yurika and
yourself both have prior claims on him."

"Poor Ruri, he has two wives already."

"I could take Lapis's place, Ryoko, free her from her burden.
I can be Akito's senses. It might be our only chance to get him back.
I can be with Akito, share some part of his life even if he can't love me."

Ryoko was shocked by Ruri's fervour.

"Akito and Lapis might not see things quite like that. Where do Yurika and I
fit into this master plan of yours, Ruri?"

"Akito can choose one of you and we will be together again."

Ryoko almost gasped. Only Ruri could think something like that
was normal. Perhaps this one of the things Akito was trying to protect them

"Let's not get ahead of ourselves Ruri, we have to find him first and
if he doesn't want to be found, that will be an impossible task."

"Our two mission objectives are complementary, Ryoko. I sense Akito still has
unfinished business with the Successors. Find them and we will find Akito

* * *

Ryoko joined Hikaru and Izumi for lunch in the cafeteria.
She was surprised that they had decided to stay on with the crew.
After all, they had some kind of lives to return to.
That Jovian, Takasugi Saburota was still with the Nadesico too. Ryoko had
known him in two lives now. He had been Ruri's tactical officer and chief
Aestivalis pilot on the Nadesico "B". Here on the Nadesico "C" everyones'
status was uncertain. The ship was still Nergal's, but Ruri was still a UEASF
officer. Ryoko, Hikaru and Izumi hadn't signed up as Nergal employees. Ruri
will have to sort something out, Ryoko thought. I don't want to be butting
heads with Takasugi over who is in charge of Aestivalis combat operations.

"Ryoko, you have to let go of Akito you know.
I saw that look on your face as his ship left."

Hikaru appeared concerned.

"What are you babbling about now, Hikaru? I was never interested
in Tenkawa in that way."

"We know better don't we, Izumi?"

"My Tenkawa, come and save me from the giant Jovian bug," Izumi chuckled.

"Akito, I've cooked you a meal," Hikaru giggled. "We saw how miserable you
were at their wedding. You still haven't had a man in your life have you
Ryoko? What about Saburota? He seems interested."

Saburota was a good looking guy, but the gossip was that he was a womaniser.
Ryoko might have been interested in him if she hadn't found out
Akito was still alive. Saburota had made some flirty remarks to Ryoko
and it hadn't escaped the attention of Hikaru and Izumi who were up
to their old games, giving Ryoko a hard time.

"He's a jerk, Hikaru, one of those girl in every port type of guys."

"Maybe you prefer women now, Ryoko?"

"Will you two shut up! I'm not like some character from your kinky manga
stories, Hikaru."

Saburota came into the cafeteria. He joined the girls and sat down
opposite Ryoko. Hikaru winked and nudged Ryoko gently in the ribs.

Ryoko wasn't used to guys coming on to her. She was less inviting looking now.
Her dark hair was cut even shorter these days. Her face was a perpetual
determined grimace.

"Miss Subaru, how nice to see you again. The Federation's loss is our
gain. You sure are some Aestivalis pilot."

Saburota was turning on the charm.

"You aren't so bad yourself, Takasugi."

"Ruri has designated you as leader of the Aestivalis wing, Miss Subaru. You
have more flight time than me in Aestivalis units. I just want you to
know I am cool with that. It's a pleasure to serve with you ladies,
your exploits during the war are legendary."

"A legend in our own lunchtime," quipped Izumi.

"Oh mister Takasugi, you are embarrassing us," gushed Hikaru.

"Please call me Saburota."

They finished their lunch and got up to leave.

"Miss Subaru, are you doing anything tonight? I thought perhaps you
would like to see our new VR facilities. They are much improved over
what you would have had on the Nadesico "A". There are a lot of new
programs. You can choose."

"Forget it, Takasugi, I'm not interested," Ryoko replied bluntly.

"Woo chilly! What's with the ice maiden routine, I was just asking you
out. No need to be so hard on me."

"It's best to make things clear."

"That haircut isn't fooling me. There's a real woman inside that uniform

"I'd stop right there if you know what's good for you, Takasugi."

Hikaru saw the look in Ryoko's eyes and started to warn him to
be quiet.

"I see it now, Ryoko, you're still hung up on that Tenkawa guy, just like
the Captain is."

Saburota was still oblivious to the danger he was in.

"Shut up, Takasugi, you don't know what you're talking about!"

"Some hero that Tenkawa is. Running out on us, leaving his wife
and you ladies just lap it up."

Without warning Ryoko punched Saburota in the face with all of her
considerable strength. Saburota crumpled against the wall, dazed.
Hikaru and Izumi rushed to his aid.

"Ryoko, you've killed him!" Hikaru exclaimed.

Saburota was stirring now, moaning in pain.

"He'll live, Hikaru, worst luck. What a loser."

"The guys just fall at Ryoko's feet," Izumi chuckled.

* * *

Ruri had summoned Ryoko to explain herself.

"Ryoko, I don't know what Saburota said to you, but I can't imagine
what he said was bad enough to justify what you did to him. He has
depressed fracture of the cheek bone, he won't be fit to fly for
weeks. If this was a military operation I'd have to court martial

"He asked me on a date, I turned him down. He wasn't happy, too full
of himself, thinks he's a real ladies man. He started implying things
about my relationship and your relationship with Akito. I just lost my
temper, thats all."

"Couldn't you have just slapped him or something?"

"I'm sorry, Ruri, I didn't mean to do it. This version of Ryoko isn't as
nice as the one that married Akito. I've had plenty of time to get
bitter and hostile."

"You are going to have to apologise to him, Ryoko. That's probably the
worst punishment I can give you. I need you all to work together as
a team if this mission is going to succeed. Sabu san is OK, he has
always been a good officer for me. His private life never got in the way
until now."

* * *

Ryoko turned up at the sick-bay with some fruit for Saburota.

"Help Inez, that crazy woman is here, please protect me," Saburota joked.

"You're obviously feeling OK. I've come to apologise for hitting you so hard."

"Only sorry for hitting too hard?"

"Yes, Ruri said I should have just slapped you. So, I'm sorry. She
wasn't best pleased that you have been spouting off about her
and Akito."

"Umm err well, yes, I guess I shouldn't have said that. Apology accepted.
Boy am I glad you are on our side, that is a fearsome right cross you
have there. Friends?"

He offered Ryoko his hand. They shook.

What a woman, thought Saburota as he watched Ryoko leave.

* * *

The remnants of the Martian Successors
were adopting guerilla tactics, never standing to fight, always
melting away to one of the countless small bases they had scattered throughout
the asteroid belt. The Nadesico "C" had fought dozens of small skirmishes
with the enemy, destroying many small bases, but the enemy seemed to have
an infinite supply of these hiding places.

There was no sign of their main force or a major support facility.

Ruri had been playing it safe, always engaging the enemy with the Nadesico's
main weaponry at long range. She choose not to expose the Aestivalis pilots,
her friends, to danger when it could be avoided.

The time had come to change tactics, the next base they found they would
try and capture intact. It meant deploying the Aestivalis and ground forces.

Ruri could sense Akito's ship, the Eucharis was out there somewhere shadowing

* * *

They had located another Successor base. This base seemed a little larger than
any of the previous enemy facilities they had encountered. The Successors
also seemed willing to spend more of their resources to defend it. There was a
small fleet of three heavy cruisers guarding the base.

Ruri called the pilots together for a briefing.

"The mission objective is to capture the facility intact for analysis.
We also want to take some command staff alive to interrogate.
We could easily destroy this facility ourselves, but my calculations show
our losses would be unacceptable if we attempted to capture the base alone.
I've requested the UEASF provide us with some assistance for this mission.
Aoi Jun is joining us with the Nadesico "B".
Jun will engage and destroy the enemy cruisers, leaving us
free to provide maximum covering fire for our assault teams. The
Nadesico "B" Aestivalis wing will concentrate on engaging enemy fighters.
Our Aestivalis wing will clear the way for our ground troops and provide
fire support."

* * *

Ruri had neutralised the enemy computer system, lowered the contortion buffer
and suppressed all defensive fire from the station.
Jun had the enemy cruisers tied up and it was only
a matter of time before they were all destroyed by the Nadesico "B"'s
superior fire power.

The uncoordinated attacks from enemy fighters were ineffectual against
the defensive fire of the Nadesico "C". The Aesties from Nadesico "B"
were being very effective at keeping the enemy away from Ryoko's wing
and the marine shuttle. Nothing came near them as Ryoko's team swept
into the enemy base docking bay.

"Hikaru, Izumi, cover the approach."

A fusillade of small arms fire from rebels in space armour greeted them
as they charged through the docking bay. Ryoko sprayed the area with
her rapid fire rifle. The defenders retreated as fist sized explosive
shells burst around them.

"Ryoko, we are supposed to take some of them alive you know."

"Can it, Takasugi, I was aiming short of them.
They can't hurt us with those pop guns, but our marines won't be very
happy if we don't neutralise some of them. These foot sloggers aren't the
ones Ruri is after anyway, they'll all be holed up in the core of
the station at central command."

The marine shuttle landed unopposed. The Nadesico marines disembarked.
They were all wearing heavy combat armour with personal distortion fields.

Ruri appeared in a window.

"Ryoko, I don't think we will be able to secure the station in time.
You will have to smash your way into the power reactor room to
prevent any manual self destruction attempts."

Ruri displayed the station schematics on their screens.

"Hikaru, Izumi, guard the shuttle," Ryoko barked.

Ryoko punched a hole in the wall and ripped back the plating opening
a path to the stations main axial shaft.

"Takasugi, follow me, the reactor is this way."

They reached the reactor room and tore the large access door open.

A group of suited technicians were messing with the reactor controls.

Ryoko brushed them aside.

"Ruri, we might be too late, they were already messing with the
reactor controls. Do you know anything about reactor power systems Takasugi?
all those red lights on this panel don't look good to me."

"Ryoko, one of you is going to have to get out of your Aesti and
do something about it. The marine engineers can't get there in time,
they are meeting fierce resistance.
Make sure the coolant pumps are on and the safety circuits are active
and not on override."

Ruri displayed the relevant information on their screens.

"I'll go, Ryoko." Takasugi opened his cockpit climbed down and ran for
the controls. He flipped the safeties back on and re-activated the
pumps. The red lights on the panel were flicking out one by one.

"Watch out, Takasugi!"

Ryoko carefully fired a few rounds at some approaching enemy soldiers.
She ceased fire. They were too close to Takasugi now. He was only wearing
a normal space suit, even a near miss would shred him.

She had killed one of them but the other armoured soldier had a gun at
Takasugi's head and was dragging him back to the control panel.

Shit! Ryoko thought, I'm going to have to go out there.

Ryoko opened her cockpit and jumped clear of the Aesti, rolling as she landed,
diving behind the leg of Takasugi's Aesti for some cover. The enemy
hadn't seen her yet, still intent on Takasugi and the control panel.

Damn, all I've got it this pistol it won't make a dent in that armour.

Ryoko burst from her cover firing as she ran, rapidly emptying the full
clip into the enemies armour.

The soldier took his gun off Takasugi to return fire. That was all Takasugi
needed. With lightning speed he delivered a kick to the enemy's suit knee
joint and tumbled his opponent to the ground. Another well placed kick knocked
the weapon away.

Ryoko, panting slightly from exertion paused to reload her gun.

The rebel wasn't giving up the fight. Takasugi scrabbled for the weapon,
some kind of assault rifle, presumably loaded with armour piercing rounds.

Ryoko barrelled in, using her momentum to knock the enemy to the ground

"I've got his gun, Ryoko."

"Hey you it's over," Ryoko bawled, still covering the enemy soldier
with her ineffective pistol.

The soldier got up and charged at Ryoko attempting to smash her head with
his armoured fist.

Takasugi fired a burst from the rifle, the soldier was knocked to the ground
but kept advancing on Ryoko on his hands a knees. The bullets hadn't
been able to fully penetrate the armour.

Takasugi ceased fire, Ryoko was in the way. The rebel had her now and was
using her as a shield.

Ryoko still had the pistol. She jammed the gun into the suits armpit and
rapidly pulled the trigger. The armour was thin there. The enemy collapsed
as a round finally penetrated and the inside of his helmet splattered with

"Ryoko, are you OK?"

"Fine, Takasugi, get your butt back into your Aesti before any more of
them show up."

Ryoko was shaking. She'd never had to kill anyone like this before.
The blood, the fanaticism of someone who would rather die than surrender.
It was deeply disturbing to her.

Ryoko dashed back to her Aesti, she didn't want to look at this anymore.

"Ruri, the reactor room is secure. should we move on and assist some where

"Negative, Ryoko, you can't get access to the inner parts of the base in your
Aesties, they are too large. You would have to wreck the stations structure
too much. We want to try and limit their casualties if possible. Stay put and
ensure there are no further attempts to sabotage the reactor."

"What you did out there took guts, Ryoko, I'm surprised you would risk
yourself for me like that."

"Don't get a big head, Takasugi, I would have done the same for any of my
team. It's called looking after your comrades. I thought you Jovians
would understand something like that."

"Still, that was above and beyond the call of duty, taking on an armoured
soldier when you were only armed with a pistol."

They waited, alert for further trouble.

Ruri appeared in a comm window.

"Ryoko, it's over, our Marines have reached their command centre, the
enemy have surrendered. We are pulling out, Jun's people will hold the
station till the UEASF can get here in force. Return to the Nadesico."

* * *

Ryoko's wing docked with the Nadesico "C"

The marines had several casualties. A man with his whole side crushed
was wheeled past the pilots at high speed on a trolley surrounded by medics.
Inez wasn't going to be able to save that one.
Ryoko had seen enough blood and death today to last her a lifetime.

She got cleaned up and joined the other pilots in the cafeteria.

* * *

"Ruri, are we any closer to finding Akito?" Ryoko inquired.

"He is out there watching us, Ryoko, every time we fight an engagement with
the Successors, Omoikane picks up faint sensor readings of a ship at
extreme range. I am certain it is the Eucharis. Akito is waiting for

"I think we have them now, Ryoko. We have obtained some coordinates.
Next time we fight it will be a full fleet engagement, we will need Jun
again. The UEASF won't give us anymore ships than that.
The Nadesico "B" and "C" are the only ships that will be effective anyway.
It won't be so easy. They have some jumpers among them. Not in the same class
as Yurika, Inez or Akito but they will cause problems."

* * *

The Successor main base was located deep in a dense part of the asteroid belt.

The conditions limited the advantage the two Nadesico class ships had in terms
of speed. Although they were reluctant to risk them, both Jun and Ruri
had their Aestivalis deployed, as a defensive screen.
They needed the cover against the possibility of boson jumping enemy fighters.

Ruri hailed the rebels, demanding their surrender.
Nagumo Yoshimasa responded, informing her that she had the wrong idea about
who had the advantage in this situation and that it would be a fight to the
death with no quarter asked for or given.

Ruri gave the order to proceed with the attack.

The enemy fleet was of strange composition. Some Joint Forces ships that
sympathisers had delivered into the hands of the rebels. Some new types that
the Crimson group had custom constructed for them, plus some older Jovian
vessels left over from the war.

Ruri analysed the data.

"Jun, there is a danger, they have one of the old Jovian battleships armed
with a boson cannon."

"I thought they were all destroyed by the Nadesico at the fourth battle
for the moon?"

"Apparently not. We have to keep out of their effective firing range."

Ruri indicated the position of the enemy unit on the holo plot tank to Jun.

The conditions in the asteroid field worked both for and against them.
They couldn't make full use of their speed advantage, but it also prevented
the enemy from assembling enough fire power in any one place to present
any danger to the strong distortion fields of the Nadesico ships.

Ruri analysed the enemy tactics. They were depending heavily on the
boson cannon equipped ship. They were trying to lure them into firing range
with a series of feints.

Ruri's tactics were simple. Pick off isolated enemy units one by one while
keeping maximum separation between themselves and any concentration of heavy
enemy units.

The Aesti pilots were fighting hard, keeping hoards of grasshoppers at bay.
Ruri's strategy was effective. They had managed to eliminate half the enemy

The enemy sprang their trap. Two enemy ships boson jumped in close to the
Nadesico "B".

"Recall the Aestivalis. Jun, we have to run for it," Ruri ordered.

"Ruri, the only escape vector takes us within firing range of the enemy
boson cannon."

An explosion rocked the Nadesico "B" as a warhead exploded inside their
distortion field, thankfully outside the hull.

"Those ships closing on us also have boson cannon, Jun."

"I thought no one had been able to replicate that piece of ancient's
technology yet, Ruri?"

"It seems the Jovians had more stocks of that ancient's weapon than they were
letting on."

"We can out run these two, and concentrate our fire on the boson
cannon equipped battle ship. We should be able to destroy it before
we suffer serious damage."

"Ruri, they have anticipated this, they have pulled in other units to form
a defensive screen around the battle ship, we won't be able to deal
with them all in time.... You should get Inez to jump us out."

"Jun, she can only handle one ship. I can't leave you here."

"What about Yurika?"

"She still isn't strong, Jun, I don't want to risk it."

Yurika was on the bridge.

"Ruri, let me help. I can do it, I'm sure. Let me be of some use please."

Another ship jumped in, right in front of the Jovian battleship.

A single Aestivalis launched. It's lance opened a hole in the contortion
buffer, and the enemy leap cannon barrel exploded under a fusillade of fire
from the Aesti's rifle, but not before several salvos had been fired at the
newcomers ship.

"Jun, It's Akito and the Eucharis, the enemy battleship's boson cannon has
been destroyed."

"Akito!" Yurika called his name, wide eyed with surprise.

Akito's ship turned on the ships pursuing the Nadesico "B" and "C".

The Eucharis was taking further hits from the two boson cannon equipped ships.

"Jun, reverse course and engage. Support Akito, protect the Eucharis,
four targets will be too many for the enemy to cope with. They can't hit
Akito's Aestivalis because he is random jumping."

"Affirmative, Ruri."

The enemy shifted their targeting to the incoming Nadesicos but they were
too late. Akito destroyed one vessels boson cannon. The other disappeared as
the Nadesico "B" and "C" concentrated their main guns on it and it's
distortion field failed.

The Eucharis was immobilised, its engines had been shot to pieces.

Ruri scrambled the Aestivalis again.

"Ryoko, cover Akito's ship. We have some mopping up to do."

"I'm on it, Ruri."

A fifth distinctive pink Aestivalis formed up with Ryoko's wing.

"Tenkawa, is that you?" Ryoko yelled into the communicator.
"Turn on your bloody comms, you idiot!"

Ruri reached out to Lapis through the ships systems.

"Lapis, are you alright?"

"The ship is damaged, Ruri, but I am unharmed."

"I've sent my Aestivalis to protect you."

"I see that, I understand, Akito is with them."

Lapis cut off the communication abruptly.

The enemy resistance crumbled. Seeing their plan had failed the Successor
leadership was split, the majority wanted to surrender.

Nagumo attempted to escape the base in shuttle with some men still loyal to
him. Ruri had Jun intercept and apprehend them. More UEASF forces arrived on
the scene to take charge of the situation. Now the hard work had been done the
UEASF would happy to step in and take credit for the victory.

* * *

Akito's ship was tethered to the Nadesico "C". It was damaged and undergoing
repairs. He had been too exhausted to boson jump the ship away to somewhere
else where it might be repaired. He had no choice but to wait here on the
Nadesico "C" until Seiya had completed the repairs for him.

He'd asked Ruri to arrange a private room for him and Lapis. He'd insisted
they be left alone. He'd promised that he would try and see everyone
from the old crew again before he left, but only a few people at a time or
otherwise the strain on Lapis would be too great.

He asked to see Yurika first. Lapis knew this woman from Akito's dreams.
She was the one Akito had done all those terrible things to save.

* * *

Yurika entered Akito's room.

"Akito, they told me what happened. How I'd been dreaming for two years
as part of that machine. They told me what they did to you and how you
escaped. They told me how you rescued me. I know you have been changed Akito.
I still don't understand, why did you leave me?"

"Yurika, this is Lapis."

"She's beautiful, Akito, those eyes, just like Ruri."

Yurika hugged Lapis.

"You see for my Akito now don't you, Lapis?
If Akito won't answer will you tell me, Lapis?"

"We killed a lot of people while trying to save you Yurika, not all of them
were the enemy. Akito is ashamed. He feels guilty because of what he made me
do. He wants to protect me from his strong feelings about you all.
He doesn't want Ruri to know him as he is now.
There is another woman as well that he doesn't want to hurt.
All these things keep him away."

"Akito, tell me yourself, is what Lapis saying right?"

"That's enough Lapis, I thought I had been able to keep my memories of
the past from you."

Lapis was in his head now. "In your dreams Akito, I can see your dreams,
you can't control your thoughts then."

"Who is that other woman, Akito?"

"You know the answer to that, Yurika, you were there too. You just made
yourself forget."

"Ryoko?" Yurika whispered.

"Do you see now why I left, why I can't stay now?"

"No, I don't understand, Akito, I am your wife."

"Ryoko can make that claim too, Yurika. Now I have Lapis to consider as well."

"I know your relationship with Lapis must be special, Akito, but what kind of
life is it for the girl alone with you on that ship?"

"I won't let any of his old friends take him away from me!" Lapis warned.

"I can love both you and Lapis, Akito! She will be safe with us."

"You don't understand do you, Yurika, Lapis shares everything with me.
I can't expose her to our relationship, she is too young for that.

"...but it's acceptable for me to experience hatred, revenge and death though,
isn't it, Akito." Lapis's sad voice sounded in his head.

* * *

Ruri had sought Ryoko out in the pilots quarters.

"Ryoko, will you help me with Akito? Yurika doesn't have the heart to
do what must be done. I want to separate him from Lapis so we can talk to
him alone. I've made a replacement visor for him, attuned to Omoikane and

"Are you taking my side rather than Yurika's, Ruri?"

"Lapis won't allow Akito to be free. Yurika has too much empathy for
Lapis to allow us to sever the link. We can share Akito, Ryoko. I'll be his
guide and you can be his wife again."

"Ruri, I don't understand what's got into you, how can you turn against
Yurika like this? Don't you care about Yurika?"

"It's hard, Ryoko, but we have to try to do it, he will just leave again
otherwise. I don't want to hurt Lapis either, but she can't be allowed to
keep Akito. It's not good for either of them. We can all look after Lapis and
make sure no harm comes to her."

* * *

Ryoko entered Akito's room.

"Remove the visor, Akito and come with me, you must decide your fate not
Lapis. Lapis will be safe here with Yurika."

Ryoko handed Akito the visor Ruri had made.

"Put in on Akito, Ruri will be your eyes for now. The Captain wishes to
see you."

"It's OK Lapis, Yurika will see that you come to no harm. I'll
be back soon I promise. They are my friends, they mean us no harm."

"Akito, don't go with her," Yurika implored.

* * *

Ryoko launched into Akito as soon as they were out of Yurika's earshot.

"Why didn't you come back for me Akito, you left me that message.
You were free for a year, why didn't you let me know you were alive?
I could have helped you save Yurika, even if only as another pilot to
watch your back. Did you think I would have let what was between us
stop me from helping you save Yurika? If you think I'm going to let you leave
without me, Akito, you've got another think coming. If you leave on the ship
of yours, I'm coming with you, be it as a wife, a lover or just a friend.
You aren't going to leave me alone again."

"Ryoko, we can't be lovers again, I can't function without Lapis.
I can't force more of my life on her like that."

They reached Ruri's cabin.

Akito thought Ryoko and Ruri needed a demonstration of what the link
was really like.

He embraced Ryoko.

Ruri felt Ryoko's lips on Akito's mouth, no, on her own mouth.
She felt the excitement as blood rushed through her body.
Ruri cried out in shock.

"Stop it please, Akito, Ryoko."

Akito started to glow, he broke away from Ryoko.

"Ruri, you understand now don't you, why I can't do that to Lapis?"

"You mean Ruri was getting off on us kissing?"

"Yes, Ryoko, she was feeling what I feel.
I can't be around anyone I have strong feelings about.
Every time I get emotional it starts a boson jump reaction. You saw the

"You've killed while linked with Lapis haven't you, Akito? Isn't
that worse than love? You have treated Lapis badly. She has
had to feel your anger and rage. Lapis is so young Akito, how could you do
that to her?"

"I've had to become ruthless like my enemies to save Yurika and protect
everyone. I have to try and make amends now and do what I can to help Lapis.
Lapis needs me, I need her, we have no one else now."

"You can help Lapis best by letting her go, Akito.
Ruri can take her place. Ruri is older, she can cope better.
We will all look after Lapis, she will be amongst friends.
Inez can do something to help you."

"Too many people love you Akito.
You can't shoulder responsibility for all the people that love you.
You can't protect them all from pain.
You have to look out for yourself at some point.
Be true to your heart.

"Akito, what would you do if you were free of all these encumbrances?
Would you go to Yurika or would you be with me?
Inez told me that we were the main deviation from the prime strand,
the universe had to erase our relationship because it was never meant
to happen. Does that mean you were meant for Yurika all along?
Tell me something, Akito, did you choose me just because you felt sorry
for me? You never really loved me as much as Yurika did you?
Even if you won't stay with me, I'm not going to let you run out on Yurika
and Ruri again. We waded through a sea of blood to get to this point,
we won't just let you go again."

Ruri and Akito were both crying now. The glow was still flickering
across Akito's skin.

"Lapis deserves a chance at a normal life, Akito, I feel how much she depends
on you, but we can all support her," Ruri sobbed.

"Ruri you deserve a normal life too, what about Harri?"

There could be no secrets between Ruri and Akito while they were linked like

"Will you at least see if there is anything Inez can do for you Akito?"
Ryoko pleaded. "Some kind of sensor hookup via your IFS to give you some

Ryoko hugged Ruri in between herself and Akito.

"I want it back, those Sundays all of us together at the L3 station.
Akito, can't you feel how much hurt you have caused us by staying away,
the grief of coming to terms with what you have done and the way you are now
is nothing in comparison, can't you see that?"
"I'm not buying your macho "I've got to stay away and suffer for the good of
everyone" bullshit. You just can't face up to things, can you?"

There was no running from it while he wore Ruri's visor.
Akito felt Ruri's years of pain, the joy of being with him again.

"You have to let Lapis go, Akito. Accept what help Inez can give you
and get on with life. We'll all be here to help Lapis.
I'll be here if you still need me."

Akito took off the Visor.

"That's enough. It's like a drug, Ruri. Being inside someone else's head
like this. Too long in and you won't be able to do without it.
Take me back to Lapis, she needs me."

* * *

Lapis was shaking and clutching onto Yurika.
Akito put his original visor back on.
Lapis immediately calmed.

Ruri interfaced herself to Omoikane via a terminal in the room.

"Lapis, it's me Ruri."

"Ruri, you are like me aren't you. You helped Akito defeat the Successors
and save Yurika. I thank you for that. You are like me, but not as good.
You won't replace me."

Ruri sagged as Lapis unleashed an electronic assault against Omoikane.

"Harri, help me!" Ruri gasped. "Setup some defensive blocks quickly.
Omoikane is under attack."

Harri was on the bridge sitting in the backup control chair.

"I'm on it Ruri, what is it?"

"It's Lapis, Harri, quickly stop her, I can't hold her alone, she is too fast.
Akito make her stop!"

"Lapis, thats enough, these people are my friends."

"I see it in her mind, what she has planned, she wants to take you away
from me."

The assault subsided.

"No one is going anywhere Lapis, we want you and Akito to stay with us.
We all miss him."

"Harri, go to full interface mode and greet Lapis."

Harri appeared in the virtual world that Ruri and Lapis were communicating in.

"Lapis, this is Harri. He is like us."

"Akito, Lapis will you agree to stay with us a while and talk things
through? There's no need for you both to run from us."

* * *

Inez had created a blocking drug for Akito that would damp down the
emotion triggered boson jump effect. She had also constructed a sensor net
that could be interfaced to Akito's mind via the IFS.
They had to sever Akito's link to Lapis while Inez worked on tuning the
bio-sensor interface.

"Harri, I want you to link with Lapis and keep her company while Akito is
away from her. Will you do that for me?"

"Sure, Ruri"

"You just wear this transparent visor Harri, it will connect you directly
to Lapis."

Harri was curious about Lapis. She was just like Ruri and himself.
They had a lot in common.

Harri's breath whooshed out of him as he joined Lapis. He wasn't prepared
for the strength of the contact.

"Hello Lapis, I am here to keen you company while Akito is away."

Lapis shared with Harri some snippets of her life with Akito.
He felt her fear from the time she was a captive of the Successors.
Lapis had operated the Eucharis alone. She was a different person when in
command of the ship. Fearless, ruthless. She had wanted revenge as much as
Akito had. Harri was astounded.

Harri showed her his time aboard the Nadesico "B", His computer skills
hacking into the colony computer. His timidity at taking control of
the Nadesico "C" while Ruri was busy sabotaging the enemy systems.
Stray thoughts leaked out. The night he spent with Ruri.

"There was no need to worry about controlling the Nadesico, Harri, you are
capable," Lapis said silently in his mind. "You blocked my attack on Omoikane

"Lapis what will you and Akito do now?"

"I don't know Harri, I'm frightened. I must follow him, I have no one else."

"Will he stay?"

"You want him to go don't you, Harri? You think Ruri likes him more
than you. I'm glad we could meet like this Harri. You are kind. Akito was
like you once."

* * *

The mission was over. The civilian Nadesico "C" crew were scattering
again. This time they hoped that peace would last and there would be no
need for them to gather aboard a warship again. Ruri had resigned her
commission in the UEASF. Nergal had reclaimed the Eucharis from Akito and put
it in mothballs. The Nadesico "C" and Omoikane were to be handed over to the

It was a strange group that made it's way down the ramp from the Nadesico "C"
to the Kawasaki dock. Harri and Lapis, holding hands, led the group. Akito
followed with Yurika on one arm and Ryoko on the other. Ruri trailed behind.

They all looked almost happy. A kind of deal had been hammered out between
them. Lapis had accepted they weren't trying to take Akito away from her
permanently, but that her visiting rights to Akito's mind had to be more
limited in future. Akito was to rely on the sensor net Inez had made for him
as much as possible. Harri and Lapis had become friends and they linked
together from time to time, as Harri helped her get over her dependence on
Akito. Ryoko, Yurika had come to an understanding that they wouldn't
try and force their attentions on Akito yet. They were all going to live in
the Misumaru household temporarily. The Admiral was away on active duty and
there was plenty of room. Ruri had made it plain to Akito that she was willing
to serve if he needed more sensory input than the sensor net could provide.

* * *

It all seemed very strange to Ryoko the way things had worked out so far.
Here she was enjoying the ocean air and a cool drink on the balcony of
the palatial Misumaru house. Having a friendly chat with her two main
rivals for Akito's heart. They had all been through a lot together.
For now it was enough that Akito was alive and back with them again.
Ruri was siting in the shade of an umbrella, talking to Omoikane via her
laptop. Akito was out playing tour guide with Harri, showing Lapis around.
Lapis had never experienced the Earth firsthand and was fascinated.

* * *

They all lived together in relative harmony for two months till suddenly
Ryoko announced she was going to move out.

"I'm just in the way, Akito, each day that goes by you and Yurika are looking
more and more like the happy couple who wed two years ago. She'll soon want
to resume a normal marriage with you Akito. Inez told me about the sensor
net, Akito, I know it's not enough for you to function, you'll need to link
with Ruri while you are with a woman. I can't share you with Ruri like that,
Akito. I can't. It's not fair on Ruri either. I'm not going to fight Yurika
and hurt Ruri just so we can be lovers again."

"You seem awfully sure Yurika and I will get together again, Ryoko."

Ryoko said her farewells to everyone over breakfast.

"I'm not leaving town people, I'm just moving into an apartment in town.
The Holiday is over. I've got a regular 9 to 5 job lined up with Nergal as
an Aestivalis training consultant. I get to train pilots and the consultant
bit means they pay me a lot more. It's local, down at the Nergal dockside
facility. I'll keep in touch I promise."

They were all disappointed she was leaving, even Yurika.
Ruri felt as if Ryoko had been providing some kind of counter force
keeping the household dynamic stable. Things were bound to change now.

* * *

"Ryoko left to give us another chance, didn't she Akito?"

"Yes, Yurika, she did."

"Can you make love to me Akito? It's been so long, I want you so much.
I know I promised not to do anything until you were ready, but it's been
hard Akito. Share my bed tonight if nothing more, I want to wake up
with you in the morning."

"I need Ruri or Lapis to connect my senses, Yurika, the sensor net
isn't enough. Are you sure you know what it means to ask Ruri to do

"Ruri wants to help, Akito, she is a friend, she loves us. I don't mind if
she has to observe us making love, it's better than if it had to be Lapis.
Ruri is a grownup now, she understands."

Yurika was still clueless about some things, thought Akito.
Ryoko understood what this would entail, that was part of the reason
why she had left.

* * *

Akito had been right, thought Ruri, the mind link was like a drug.
They had weaned Lapis off it. Or had they just sacrificed Harri to feed
Lapis's addiction? Ruri yearned for the touch of Akito's mind again.
She was very willing to assist Akito and Yurika this night. Who would save
her from this temptation? The hint of sexuality that Ruri had tasted when
Ryoko had kissed Akito while she was linked to him, was intoxicating.
Ruri wanted more.

Akito and Ruri donned the link masks.

"I don't have to be in the room with you Yurika, I'll be in the room
next door."

Ruri retired.

* * *

Yurika fell asleep, satisfied after their love making, a relaxed smile
on her face.

Akito rose and went next door to Ruri.

"Are you alright, Ruri?"

"Yes Akito, that was unbelievable, so intense. I feel so good.
I guess we are lovers now, or is Yurika my lover, no it's like both you
are my lovers."

Ruri was smiling uncontrollably. The muscles she used to draw her face into
it's usual dead pan expression just weren't working for some reason.

"Yurika doesn't realise, Ruri. she thinks you are just looking in like
an observer. I tried to explain but she doesn't want to know."

"It's our secret then, Akito. I'm so happy. I can have part of you without
hurting Yurika. It's like an impossible dream come true.
Is this what ordinary sex is like for people Akito?"

Ruri rummaged around in Akito's memories and came up with an image
of Akito and Ryoko. Ryoko was different to Yurika, stronger, more
athletic, more demanding.

"Ruri, stop it. keep out of my head."

Akito ripped off the link mask and activated the bio-sensor net instead.

"I'm sorry Akito, I just wanted to know more about what it was like, I didn't
mean to upset you."

With the touch of Akito's thoughts suddenly withdrawn, Ruri felt alone.
A new kind of loneliness like she had never felt before.

Akito had been able to keep such memories away from Lapis, except for
the occasional snatches she caught from his dreams, but Ruri knew too much,
he couldn't keep her out.

It had been a mistake. He knew it would go like this. He had been weak.
He should have stayed away. Now Lapis was getting better he could leave
again, leave for good before it was too late for Ruri.

* * *

Ryoko had a truck load of sorrows that needed drowning. She contacted Hikaru
and Izumi and organised to go out for a drink.

"So you finally moved out of the Misumaru's house. I never could see how
you could stand living with the Tenkawas while you still have feelings for

"Gee thanks for your sympathy and understanding, Hikaru."

Ryoko sipped on some sickly green cocktail that Hikaru had ordered for her.

Hikaru had her sketch pad with her.

"What's that drawing you have there, Hikaru?" asked Ryoko.

"It's something I dreamed about last night, Ryoko, I thought I'd draw it
up and give it to you."

Ryoko looked at the sketch. It was Ryoko's and Akito's wedding.
It was detailed, she could see her engagement ring, so unique.
Hikaru couldn't have dreamed that up.

"It's funny, Ryoko, it seemed so real, like I was there."

"You were there you stupid ditz. Ask Inez about her probability
strand theory some time when you have half a day to spare.
I did marry Akito, it's all part of that boson jump accident that
happened before the Nadesico "A" returned to earth."

"You're being weird again, Ryoko."

"Don't worry about it, Hikaru. It's a lovely drawing. Thank you. I've never
looked so good. Have another drink. Hey Izumi I don't suppose you have any
photos from my Wedding? I seem to remember you were the only one with a

"No Ryoko, I don't have the photos anymore, but I do remember your wedding."

Izumi was being straight for a change.

"No freaking way, Izumi, why didn't you say something earlier."

"Let's drop the annoying little one back home and go back to my
club and have a proper drinking session." Izumi spoke in a serious tone
that she seldom used.

"Sounds good to me, come on Hikaru it must be past your bed time."

"That's pretty tough talk coming from a virgin," Hikaru sneered.
"You two weirdos never take me seriously."

Ryoko though about that, Hikaru was right, I guess I am technically a virgin
again. How sad, twenty three and never been kissed.

* * *

They helped themselves to a bottle of some blue orange liquor from behind the
bar and retired back stage to Izumi's room.

"Drink up and tell auntie Izumi all about it, Ryoko."

Hikaru had insisted on coming along. She only lasted through
two trips of the bottle round the table before curling up asleep
in the corner on a cushion.

"How come you can remember what happened and Hikaru can't, Izumi?"

"I guess my thoughts linger in the past too often, Ryoko, I don't have
anything to look forward to. I couldn't help but notice
some new memories appear out of nowhere.
Hikaru still looks to the future. She has her art.
She'll eventually find someone again, that loser boyfriend of hers wasn't
really the one for her.

"The last thing I recall about it is you leaving for L3 with Ruri and Akito.
You didn't stay in touch with us there either did you?
What was it like being married to him?"

"It was good, Izumi, really good.
The only little hiccup came when Ruri got a crush on him, but
we all talked that through.
I lost him to Yurika when the probability strand collapsed.
Bang, suddenly three years of different memories.
Before I had a chance to get used to that, Ruri called, all formal
like we hadn't lived together for three years. She told me he was dead.
Just to top it all off I got a message he left me just before they departed
for the shuttle. He said he still loved me, it sounded like he was going to
ditch Yurika and come back to me. I was devastated.
I could have done with this talk two years ago at the memorial service,
Izumi. No one knew except Inez and she "died" before I got a chance to see

"I understand you better now, Izumi, you went through something like this
twice. I don't know how you kept going."

"I kept fighting because I thought I'd die eventually and be with them again.
I couldn't kill myself, that wouldn't be right, I couldn't let you and Hikaru
down in a fight by doing less than my best. We were just always too damn
skillful or lucky. So I'm still here."

"Which one of them will you be with in heaven, Izumi?
Who will Akito be with in the end?"

"They will have to take it in turns for my favours," slurred Izumi.
"Where as you my girl, are going to have to join a long queue for Akito."

"I think I've finally given up on him, Izumi.
I couldn't fight Lapis, Ruri and Yurika for him.
He's hopeless, he can't make a move without taking everyones feelings
into account. I know he loves Yurika best, so I decided things for him."

* * *

Ryoko answered a knock on the door of her apartment.

It was Akito, alone, wearing the sensor net.

"Come in, Akito, what brings you here?
Sit down, can I get you something to drink? I'm not much of a hostess
I'm afraid, I haven't had a chance to get organised yet. This is
the first time I've had a place of my own rather than sharing with people."

"Don't fuss, Ryoko, I don't want anything. I've just come to see you and

Akito saw Hikaru's framed sketch of the wedding hanging on Ryoko's wall.

"That a nice drawing, Ryoko, where did you get if from?"

"Hikaru drew it. She's started having some memory flash backs from the
alternate strand. She thought I would like to have it. It's good isn't it.
It's nice to have some physical proof of our time together. We can't
always rely on our memories and it's good to have a reminder of things that
shouldn't be forgotten."

"Ryoko, I've been sleeping with Yurika again."

"You used Ruri?"

"Yes. I don't know what I'm getting into with Ruri and Yurika, Ryoko, it
frightens me."

"Is Yurika happy, Akito?"

"Yes, but she doesn't understand what it is like for Ruri."

"Ruri is a big girl now, Akito, she can make up her own mind.
If they are both happy with the situation where is the problem?"

"The problem is with me, Ryoko, I guess I just don't feel comfortable.
Ruri is hooked on it like a drug. Ruri wants too much of me.
I can't block her out of some things, like I could with Lapis.

"I'm glad you came to talk to me like this, Akito. It means a lot to me
that you can still consider me a friend.
I was right wasn't I, Akito? Even with these problems, this is better for
everybody than if you had just stayed lost, alone on your ship with Lapis."

"Lapis is doing well, she is spending less and less time linked now.
Harri is becoming very fond of her. I think a little romance is blossoming
there. I regret things didn't work out better for you, Ryoko. You deserved
more than this. Ruri is the one I am afraid for now. Yurika is pretty much

"I'm cooking lunch Sunday week. Lapis is going to assist me, I hope
you will come. Minato, Yukina, Jun and the girls are all coming."

"Of course I will be there, Akito."

"I hope you will visit us often, Ryoko."

"I'd like that, Akito. If ever you need to get away from your harem you can
always come here and see me too."

"Ha ha, it's not that funny, Ryoko."

"I only meant that you needn't stay away, just because of your situation
with Ruri and Yurika."

Ryoko saw Akito to the door.

"Goodbye Akito, I'll see you Sunday week for lunch then."

"Goodbye Ryoko."

She closed the door.

Akito seemed more like his old self again. Not having Lapis in his head
24 hours a day was making a difference. Akito still cares about me, she
thought. Their friendship was still strong in spite of everything. Things were
different between them now, but at least the pain she had been suffering for
years was gone now. She could start to live again.

* * *

Ryoko leaving had made it too easy for them to slip into this arrangement,
Ruri thought. She realised something was wrong. The old Akito would never have
made this compromise. She had practically given Harri to Lapis, she should
care more about that but she didn't. She had more of Akito now than Yurika
did, but only Yurika would bear Akito's children. Ruri wondered how she might
feel about that, no children of her own. Ruri was beginning to see the trap
she had fallen into now. The price for having Akito back. It had all seemed
logical, but feelings couldn't always be analysed or understood.

* * *

Akito arrived unannounced on Ryoko's doorstep. He was carrying some overnight

"Can I come in Ryoko? I need a place to stay tonight.
Ruri and Yurika, it's too much. I have to go away again.
It's fine for Yurika, but it's really messing up Ruri."

"Can't you just take Yurika away with you somewhere Akito,
there's more to a relationship than sex."

"I don't think I could convince Yurika to leave Ruri.
I have to get away from Ruri for both our sakes."

"Tenkawa, I left because I thought Yurika was the most important thing
to you. Now you are just going to run away again? Unbelievable!
Just get Yurika and go, leave Ruri to me."

"I'm tired Tenkawa, I'm going to bed, you can crash in the spare room."

* * *

More uninvited visitors disturbed Ryoko's sleep.
It was Harri and Lapis.

Ryoko let them in.

"Jesus, what do I have to do to get some peace and quiet around here."

"Is Akito here?" Lapis inquired.

"Yes, he is asleep in the spare room."

"He is leaving isn't he?"

"He spoke of it, Lapis, yes."

"He didn't say he was going. He promised he wouldn't leave me."

"But you won't be alone Lapis, you have Harri and the others."

"Why does he want to leave?"

"He doesn't want Ruri to get too attached to him and he doesn't
think Yurika would let them leave Ruri behind."

"He is right," Harri spoke up.

"Can't we sort this out in the morning," Ryoko moaned.
"He isn't going anywhere tonight."

"We'll stay here," said Lapis.

"Whatever, the sofa folds out, there are some more blankets in
that cupboard. I'm going back to bed again!"

This was getting farcical, Ryoko thought. What the hell are Yurika and
Ruri going to think if they find them all here?

Harri wasn't comfortable about sharing the sofa with Lapis.
Lapis seemed unconcerned. She insisted on cuddling up to him and
was soon sound asleep. Harri was tense. He couldn't stop thinking
about Ruri and Akito. Harri liked Lapis. He could understand what she had been
through. She had had a far rougher time of things than he or Ruri had.
Harri knew Lapis didn't mean anything by it, sleeping with him like
this. She was lonely and needed the comfort. She needed to know there would be
someone there with her when she woke. Still, it was nice having Lapis close to
him like this.

It's wrong to think about her in that way, Harri thought.
She is too young, still a child really. He was embarrassed to think he had
even considered it. Is that how Ruri thinks of me? A child?
The thought upset him.

He didn't like what was happening between Ruri and Akito.
He didn't want Akito to have Lapis either. He just wanted him
to go.

* * *

Ryoko was in a foul mood in the morning, short of sleep.
With three uninvited house guests there was a shortage of food for
breakfast and she was running late for work.

Frustrated, Ryoko burst out, "You can all boson jump into a black hole for all
I care."

She stormed out the door and screamed off on her motor bike towards the docks.

* * *

Ryoko pondered what last night had all been about. What did Akito want from
her? It was curious how people in such situations, either thrown out or
leaving, always landed on their long suffering friends rather than checking
into a hotel. I guess I should be flattered he came to me.

Lapis and Harri turning up and staying didn't make any sense either. They
couldn't keep Akito from leaving if he wanted to. He could jump unaided
anywhere in the solar system.

* * *

Takasugi showed up unexpectedly at lunch time to visit Ryoko.

"Takasugi, what are you doing here? I thought you were still with the Nadesico

"Didn't you know? The Nadesico "C" docked yesterday. I thought I'd look up
some old friends, Izumi told me to come and see you. She thought you needed
cheering up. Let me take you out and buy you some lunch."

"Don't you ever give up?"

"Don't be like that, Ryoko, it's all above board, just old comrades having a
meal together. I would have thought I'd proved to you by now, that I am
trustworthy, if nothing else."

"OK then Takasugi, since I'm starving. Some uninvited parasites ate
all my breakfast this morning. I'll accept your offer."

* * *

"How is Tenkawa doing, Ryoko?" Saburota enquired.

"It's complicated...."

Ryoko continued stuffing her face.

"I'll bet it is. Izumi told me some stuff....."


"It made me think about some things I remember, things that don't make any
sense. Like that time Tenkawa and I hauled your broken Aesti up so you could
get out, you had a busted rib. But that could never have happened because I
never served with Tenkawa or yourself on the Nadesico "B".

"No wonder you smashed my face in. You were actually married to Tenkawa
at one time!

"Izumi said you had given up on him now.... You know I've always liked you."

Saburota was blushing.

I don't believe it, Ryoko thought, he is actually feeling embarrassed and
nervous about this.

"Listen, Saburota, things aren't really resolved yet.
So don't go wasting your time thinking about me, OK?"

She called me Saburota, he thought. She's never done that before.

* * *

They had all gone by the time Ryoko got home. She breathed a sigh of
relief. Damn that Saburota, messing with her head. She could see now he had
genuine feelings for her. She looked at Hikaru's sketch on the wall.
Tenkawa was an idiot, but she still loved him. It might hurt less
now, but it still wasn't over.

People at the door again. It was Yurika this time.

"Have you seen Akito, Ryoko?
Akito, Lapis and Harri aren't at home. They weren't there when I got up
this morning. I'm worried something has happened to them."

"Come in Yurika, let's talk."

Yurika noticed the sketch. Ryoko hadn't thought Yurika would ever be
a visitor in her flat. It was a bit tactless, she guessed, having it out
on public display.

"Akito, Lapis and Harri spent last night here, I haven't seen them
since this morning."

"What were they all doing here!"

"Akito wanted to get away from you and Ruri.
Lapis was worried Akito was going to leave for good so she followed him
here. I guess Harri was just along for the ride."

"Akito wants to leave? I don't understand. I though we were doing fine."

Yurika was suspicious. She was staring at the sketch.

"Ryoko, nothing happened did it? You, Akito and Lapis?"

"Nothing happened, Yurika! Akito slept in the spare room.
Where is Ruri, Yurika?"

"Ruri is out checking other places they might be."

"Akito was talking about leaving. I don't know why he had to drag me
into it. It's Ruri, Yurika, he can't stand what this is doing to her.
Do you understand what it is like for Ruri when you make love, Yurika?
She feeds off it, she imagines Akito is hers. She is in love with him.
Not a child's love Yurika, Ruri is a woman now."

"It can't be like that, Ruri is like our daughter, we are her guardians.
Akito wouldn't have done that...."

"He did worse with Lapis to save you, Yurika."

"Little Ruri...."

Yurika was crying.

"I can't sleep with him any more can I?"

"You need to talk to Ruri, Yurika."

There was a call, it was Ruri for Yurika.

"We can stop panicking, they are all at home now Yurika.
Akito took them out shopping."

* * *

Akito wanted to prepare them all the meal he had promised, before he
departed for good. Lapis was off somewhere with Harri. Of course Ruri
volunteered to help out, wearing the link mask so Akito could smell and taste
the food.

"Akito kiss me. Just one kiss please."

She reached up to him and her lips brushed his cheek. Ruri wasn't playing
fair, she rummaged through his mind and was feeding his own memories back
through his senses. She was Yurika, she was Ryoko, it was his first kiss with
Megumi. She was Ruri, her love for him flooded across the link. Their lips
met and they started kissing passionately.

Yurika entered the kitchen and yelled at them to stop.

Akito tore off the link mask. Ruri collapsed from the sudden shock of the
disconnection. She lay on the floor feebly twitching and silently mouthing
Akito's name.

"Akito, Ryoko was right! Ruri does love you.
Why were you kissing her, how could you!"

"Yurika, you don't understand, the link gives her power over me.
She wanted it so badly she almost forced me to respond."

* * *

Ruri went to see Ryoko.

"They both know now, Ryoko. Yurika caught me kissing Akito, I made him do it.
I used the link to turn his own memories against him. I've been a fool.
Akito and Yurika will never trust me again.
Can I stay with you for a while Ryoko? I just can't face them at the moment."

"I won't throw you out on the street Ruri, but I think it would be better
if you went to stay with Minato and Yukina. I'm still too close to
the problem, so to speak, I think you need some space."

"You are right of course, Ryoko. I'll call them now."

It was fine with Minato and Ruri took a cab straight over.

As soon as Ruri left, Ryoko called Minato again to explain the full
situation to her. Minato wasn't surprised. Ruri had confided in Minato before
about her love for Akito back when Ruri was working the Ramen cart with
Akito and Yurika.

"Just take care of her Minato, she'll be a bit fragile right now."

* * *

Ruri called up Omoikane from her laptop computer. The Nadesico "C" was still
docked so the link latency was low.

"Omoikane, please display the romantic love search results again, cross
referenced with the unrequited love data, the love triangle data and factor in
age differences."

"Omoikane I need to know, what did I do wrong. Why didn't it work out.
Help me please Omoikane."

Ruri was crying again.

* * *

Akito went to see Ryoko again.

"What's the problem this time, Tenkawa, running away from home again?"

"Nothing like that. I just need a friend to talk to.
I've screwed up big time again. Yurika isn't talking to me at present.
Ruri is off with Minato. I shouldn't have come back."

"It's not that bad Tenkawa, Lapis is happy. The Ruri thing is out in
the open again so she can deal with it and you still have two women
who love you even if they can't sleep with you. It could be worse."

"You have been very patient with me, Ryoko.
I don't have a dream left anymore. The Ramen cart and Yurika, the
Restaurant and you, Ruri, it's all gone. There's nothing left to go on
for. No one left to fight, nothing to fight for."

"Don't talk such rot Tenkawa. We're all still alive. Even Izumi manages to
carry on somehow and she really lost people she cared about.
You will find something again."

"Can I stay over again, Ryoko? I can't face Yurika right now."

"All right Akito, but there's a price this time. You have to share my bed.
I'm not washing extra sheets on your account.

They went to bed. Ryoko snuggled up against him, content to have him
in her arms again finally. Her patience had paid off. Akito took what pleasure
he could from the fuzzy impression of her body pressing against him, that the
sensor net relayed to his brain. He was glad she was still here for him in
spite of his behaviour and his physical handicaps.

* * *

Akito tried to call Yurika in the morning but she still wasn't talking.
Yurika had forgiven him a lot of things over the years, but the betrayal
with Ruri had hurt her too much.

Ryoko was in good cheer in the morning and suggested that Akito come in
to work with her and run through some Aestivalis sims with her.
He tagged along. It wasn't like he had any other pressing business to attend

"Akito, you could be a trainer here too."

"No, Ryoko, I could never work for Nergal again."

They tried out some of the new Aestivalis MkIII models in the sim.
Akito beat her again.

What was Akito going to do with himself, Ryoko thought.
He needs to find something.

* * *

Lapis came to visit Akito during the day while Ryoko was at work.

"Akito, you never come and see me anymore."

"It's hard, Lapis, Yurika doesn't want to see me anymore.
She can't forgive me for what happened with Ruri."

"I don't understand that, Akito. We were closer than you and Ruri ever
were. Yurika still likes me."

"Sometimes the physical aspects of relationships carry more weight with
people, Lapis. Yurika caught Ruri kissing me. That mattered more to Yurika
than what we had shared in our minds."

"So Ryoko is your woman again now?"

"Well not like we used to be, but yes I am with her again now."

"Harri will be my man when we are older," Lapis announced.
"Only he doesn't realise it yet." Lapis smiled.

"You could do worse, Lapis, Harri is a nice person."

"We could come and stay with you and Ryoko, Akito."

"No Lapis, Yurika needs you. You can come and visit us whenever you like but
Yurika needs someone with her. Will you please stay with her for me?"

"Yes I will do that for you, Akito. I like Yurika, she cares about me.
Can I help you with Ryoko?"

"No Lapis, we can't allow that. You need to live your own life now.
You are not my operator any more."

"We were a good team weren't we, Akito?"

"The best, Lapis."

Lapis left in silence.

* * *

Saburota had come to see Izumi at her club.
Izumi was still on stage doing her bizarre performance.
At the conclusion of her set she came over and sat with him.

"Mama Maki, Ryoko is back with Tenkawa, I'm heart broken."

"There there my little one, plenty of fish in the sea."

"Ryoko is special though."

"Ha, retired Aesti pilots are a dime a dozen around here, what about little
Hikaru? She's actually technically a better pilot than Ryoko, if you admire
performance. I've seen her go all gooey when you are around."

"Hikaru is a child, not a real woman like Ryoko."

Izumi put her hand on Saburota's leg.

"Oh if it's a real woman you want I think I can help out."

Saburota started blushing furiously.

"Ha I thought so. Sweet little Sabu is actually a virgin. All those
girls were just a charade."

Saburota started to object but he realised it was a no-win situation.

"Come on Sabu, you're coming back stage with me to get educated."

Izumi had a wicked glint in her eye.

* * *

Ryoko didn't want to push things with Akito. He seemed content to stay
with her and share her bed again, even if sex wasn't possible.
It was nice to come home to someone again. It was paradise compared to
those bleak lonely years she had spent out on the Hisago plan space colony.
They had settled into a routine, like they were a married couple again.
Since Akito wasn't working he was doing all the house work.
It was great to come home from work and just put her feet up.

Akito had tried to see Yurika again recently, but she was still refusing
to see him.

* * *

Akito was disturbed from reading a Manga by a knock at the door.
Admiral Misumaru had come to see Akito.
Akito opened the door. The Admiral pushed his way inside, accompanied
by two aides.

"Tenkawa, I want you to stop trying to see my daughter."

"But Sir, she is my wife."

"A mistake that can be rectified.
You disgust me, Tenkawa. First you have an affair with your young ward,
Hoshino Ruri, then you take up with that cold hearted bitch of an Aestivalis
pilot. A real man couldn't act like that. How could you do this to my
lovely Yurika! To think you took me in with your cooking. You can't even
cook anymore. People say you aren't actually a complete man now!"
I have the divorce papers here. All I want from you is your signature
in front of these witnesses. Then my Yurika will be free. Yurika has
already signed. I won't have her dragged through the divorce courts.
My men here will persuade you if you are feeling reluctant, Tenkawa."

"I want to speak with her first, I need to know this is what she really

"Her signature on this document is enough proof, Tenkawa! Sign!"

* * *

Ryoko arrived home from work.

"I've got a bit of news for you, Ryoko."


"Yurika and I got divorced today."

"That was sudden, we never even talked about it."

"Admiral Misumaru paid me a visit. He was very persuasive."

"Is this what Yurika wanted too?"

"I don't know, they still wouldn't let me speak to her, but she had already
signed the papers."

"I'm sorry, Akito."

"Don't be, Ryoko."

"What does it mean for us, Akito, or am I being presumptuous assuming
their is an us?"

"Of course there is an us."

"I keep coming home expecting to find you gone, Akito."

"I won't leave you, Ryoko. If you can stand things as they are I am
here to stay."

Ryoko hugged him close for a long time.

* * *

Hikaru called Akito and Ryoko. She had heard about Yurika and the divorce.
She suggested they all go out to cheer themselves up. Akito and Ryoko were
keen for a distraction and agreed. They decided to meet at Izumi's club.

Izumi and Hikaru were already seated at a table and motioned for Akito
and Ryoko to join them. Izumi seemed uncharacteristically cheerful this
evening. Saburota came in joined their table. Izumi seemed to behaving in a
proprietary way towards Saburota. A little touch on the arm here, a sideways
glance there. Hikaru and Ryoko exchanged quizzical looks.

A young guy came in and looked nervously about the room. He caught
Hikaru's eye and she waved at him.

"Over here, Satoshi," Hikaru called.

"Who is that, Hikaru," Ryoko asked.

"Oh, Satoshi? He is one of my assistants on the manga, I asked him along
tonight to make up the numbers."

"Satoshi, this is Akito, Ryoko, Saburota and Izumi."

"Pleased to meet you all."

Satoshi bowed and sat down beside Hikaru.

Izumi signalled to the barman, "Drinks are on me, order what you like."

They all chatted about about Hikaru's manga, which was becoming fairly
popular. There was talk of making an OVA of it.

The girls got up to go to the ladies rest room.

Satoshi asked Akito about how they knew Hikaru.

"We are comrades of Hikaru's from the war," Akito replied.

"Hikaru was in the military?"

"Not exactly, she worked for Nergal as an Aestivalis pilot. We all
served onboard the Nadesico."

"The Nadesico, you have to be kidding me? They are all Aestivalis pilots

"That's right."

"Hikaru is that Amano? Those other two are Subaru and Maki?
The Nadesico and those three are famous. Hikaru never said anything."

"Some powerful people consider a lot of what we know about the war is better
not aired in public. We still have to watch what we say, Satoshi.
Hikaru was just being careful."

* * *

"So what's going on between you and Takasugi, Izumi?" Ryoko interrogated.

"Nothing's going on, Ryoko, but something might be coming off later," Izumi

"You haven't, have you? I thought you had sworn off men, Izumi?"

"If I don't love him nothing bad can happen.
What's the problem? Jealous, Ryoko?"

"Bah, you are welcome to that Jovian lunk head."

* * *

The girls returned to the table.

"So what have they been saying about us while we were gone, Satoshi," Hikaru

"Well I've just found out you are a famous war hero, teacher."

"Satoshi, this is supposed to be a date, you should call me Hikaru."

Satoshi was blushing.

Ryoko and Izumi grinned at each other.

Izumi declared that the food from her club's kitchen was not fit to eat,
so they decided to move on to Miss Howmei's restaurant.

* * *

Hikaru had organised things in advance. Howmei had closed the restaurant to
the public, it was going to be a private party for the old Nadesico crew.
Some more guests were scheduled to arrive.

Minato, Yukina and Jun entered the restaurant.

"Akito, I'm so sorry this happened to you and Yurika." Minato hugged him.
"Ruri is here if you want to see her."

Yukina gave Akito a hug and kissed him on the cheek.

Akito saw Ruri hovering in the doorway.

"Ruri, come and sit with Ryoko and me," Akito called out.

Ruri came over and sat down.

"I'm sorry Mr Tenkawa that I caused trouble between you and your wife.
Please forgive me."

"Ruri, there is nothing to forgive. Yurika and I shouldn't have used you like
that. I should have made her understand."

* * *

Yurika arrived accompanied by Lapis and Harri. There was a
momentary hush in conversation. Lapis headed over to
sit with Akito, Ryoko and Ruri. Yurika sat at a table by herself.
Jun hurried over to sit with her, much to Yukina's displeasure.
Yukina made to get up and join them but Minato checked her.

"It's not you concern, Yukina."

"Jun is my boyfriend. Yurika is available again now, I don't want him
getting any ideas."

Jun and Yurika talked for a while. He held her hand.

Jun returned to Yukina and Minato.

"So how is your old girlfriend doing, Jun?"

"She's not my old girlfriend, Yukina. Yurika is just a friend. She has
had a rough time recently I just wanted to see how she was doing."

"You didn't have to hold her hand to do that. You are with me now, Aoi Jun
and don't you forget it!"

* * *

Akito saw Yurika was free and excused himself from Ryoko.

* * *

Ryoko was glad of the chance to talk to Ruri without Akito.

"How are you feeling, Ruri?"

"I'm fine Ryoko, I had to come here tonight to find out if Akito hated me
for what I did. I needed to know. I couldn't bear it if he did."

"He doesn't hate you Ruri, you know that, he could never hate you.
You weren't wrong to love him. If things had been different he could
have given you the same kind of love you had for him."

* * *

"Yurika, do you mind if I sit down and talk?"

"Yes, please do, Akito. How did it come to this? I know I must take
some of the blame. You tried to tell me about Ruri, but I didn't want
to understand. I wanted us to be a normal couple again so badly, I was

"Why wouldn't you see me, Yurika? The divorce. You wouldn't even discuss
things with me."

"I was angry and hurt, by the time I had cooled down my Father was involved.
The divorce was his idea. He forced me to sign. I knew he could never
get you to agree if you still loved me..."

"He threatened to have me beaten by his men if I didn't sign. You had
already signed the papers. I thought it was what you wanted, Yurika,
I'm so sorry."

"It's too late for us now, Akito. I saw you with Ryoko when I came in.
You are together again aren't you? She isn't just providing you with

"Yes, I've promised to stay with her. I intend to keep that promise."

"How do you manage without Ruri or Lapis?"

"Ryoko loves me and she accepts the way things are."

"If only I had been as strong, we would still be together."

"I'm glad we can talk again, Yurika. We don't need to avoid each other
and act like strangers do we?"

"No, Akito, we can still see each other. I'd like to see Ruri too if
she can bear it. Father will just have to get used to it. I won't be
cut off from my Nadesico friends because of what happened to us."

* * *

Akito returned to Ryoko.

"What have you been up to Ruri?" Akito asked.

"I've been tutoring some of Yukina's University friends in higher
mathematics. It is interesting and I get to meet new people."

"I'm glad you've found something, Ruri. I'm still at a bit of a loose end
myself. Minato was saying you went on a date with one of your students."

Ruri blushed.

"Oh, it was nothing serious. He took me to the museum."

Saburota and Izumi came over to see Ruri, Harri and Lapis.

"Hello Captain, it's been a while."

"I am no longer a Captain, Mr Takasugi."

"Harri, you've grown up some more. What does the Captain think of your
new little girlfriend?" Saburota looked at Lapis.

"Saburota, she isn't my girl friend, why are you always trying to
embarrass me?"

Lapis looked offended by Harri's quick denial.

Ruri smiled at Lapis. "I don't think Harri is being truthful," Ruri said.

Lapis put her arms around Harri and gave him a kiss.

"There's no need to be shy about it, Harri," Lapis said as she winked
at Ruri.

* * *

The party was starting to wind up. Hikaru was off in the corner snogging
Satoshi, who didn't seem to be resisting. Izumi and Saburota had disappeared

Akito and Ryoko said their goodbyes and went home.

* * *

Ryoko shoved Akito out of bed.

"You better get going or you'll miss that shuttle flight for you appointment
with Inez."

"Do I really have to go through with it? We know they can't fix me.
I still won't be able to cook."

"Inez says she has made some worthwhile improvements to the sensor net
technology. It will improve your quality of life. You can't weasel out
of it now, the flight has already been booked."

Akito groaned.

Ryoko got ready for work.

She kissed him at the doorway as he left. She knew it wouldn't feel like a
proper kiss to Akito, but it made her feel better to act as if it would.

"Inez said it wouldn't take long, you should be able to get the afternoon
shuttle back from the station, you shouldn't be back much later than me."

* * *

At lunch time Ryoko went out to have her hair done as a surprise for Akito.
She had grown her hair out again since they had left the Nadesico "C".
She got it cut and dyed back to the style she had worn during the old days
on the original Nadesico.

* * *

"Hello Inez, it's been a while."

"Hello Akito, You look well, more like your old self."

Inez embraced Akito.

"Yes things have settled down. Ruri is with Minato, Lapis and Harri are
with Yurika and I am with Ryoko again. You already knew that though."

"Yes, Akito. Your relationship with Ryoko has been remarkably resilient,
for something born out of a boson jump accident that was never meant
to have happened. You are lucky to still have her, Akito, she is not one to
give her love away lightly."

"I know, Inez, it was her determination that brought me back to the world.
She gave Lapis a chance of a better life. She forgave me for what I did to
Ruri and Yurika."

"Akito, please take of your clothes and lie down on the couch."

Akito complied.

"Fine, I'm going to have to disconnect your visor and the sensor net now.
You will be without senses for about 5 minutes before the replacement is
activated. Try to stay calm and don't panic. We will get your vision online

The world went black for Akito as Inez disconnected the visor and sensor net.
She peeled the net away. It was a fine silvery spiders web that fitted
like a second skin.

Inez applied a nano injection to Akito's neck. It was the new vision sensors.
A nano tap directly into the optic nerve that relayed messages straight to
the IFS circuitry.

Akito's vision returned.

"I can see again Inez!"

Inez continued with the next injection.
The auditory nerve nano tap.

"Can you hear me now, Akito?"

"Yes, Inez, it seems more natural somehow.
My vision too, less like a camera."

"It should be better. You are using your own eyes and ears again via nano
taps attached to your nervous system."

"Can you do that to restore my sense of taste and smell too?"

"No, Akito, the signals from those nerve groups are too complex and diffuse,
they rely on more processing by the isolated sections of your brain."

"The next injection will be uncomfortable and take a while to take effect.
It will build a network of nano sensors throughout your body, like
the sensor net but part of your skin. It has a much higher sensor
density than the sensor net did and the sensors are more sophisticated.
It will give you much improved touch sensation once you get used to it."

Akito winced as Inez injected the nanites. It felt like ants were crawling all
over his skin and inside his brain. The burning subsided and Akito experienced
feeling returning to his body. There was a mild pins and needles sensation as
if he had been keeping still too long and various parts of him had fallen
asleep and were now awakening.

"Lay still for a while Akito, it will be another few minutes before the
nanites complete their work."

"OK, you can try and get up and get dressed now."

Akito stood easily

"I can feel clearly again. It's a lot better!"

He rubbed the cloth of his tunic against his face.

"I can feel the texture of the cloth again, before I would only have
been able to tell something was pressing on my face."

"Good Akito, it's been a complete success.

"We'll keep working on the problem, Akito, perhaps one day we will be able
to correct your sense of taste and smell as well.
Come over here, I need to run a few checks and then you can go."

* * *

Akito arrived home.

"Ryoko, you've had your hair done!"

"You don't like it?"

"Sorry, I thought for one second I had boson jumped back into some strange
alternate universe again. It's nice Ryoko, it reminds me of happier times."

"How are you feeling, Akito."

"I feel great, no sensor net or visor but I can see, hear and feel better
than ever."

"I'm glad, Akito, Inez told me it would be a big improvement for you.
I've cooked dinner for you. Inez said you might enjoy your food a little
more now. You should be able to feel the texture and temperature of it.
It's OK, guaranteed non-toxic, I've tried some already."

Akito ate up. Inez was right, now he could feel the texture of the rice,
the tofu, the consistency and temperature of the sauce, he could imagine the
tastes and smells that went along with them.

"Thank you Ryoko, that was a kind thought, did you pick that dish specially?"

"Yes, Akito, I choose something that had a variety of textures in it."

* * *

They went to bed early.

Akito was already in bed, naked. He was glad to be free of the irritating
sensor net. He could feel the sheets against his skin.

Ryoko came in dressed in her old style Nergal pilots uniform.

Akito was puzzled, she looked just like she had when they had been together
at the Mars Utopia colony.

Ryoko slowly unbuttoned her tunic and exposed her bra.

She un-zipped her skirt and let it fall to the floor.

She sat on the edge of the bed. Slowly and deliberately she removed the rest
of her clothes. She looked down at Akito and smiled.

Akito was smiling back at her. He could actually feel his body start to

Inez had tipped Ryoko off that certain things might be possible again now.
She suggested that Ryoko should make a special effort to kick start things

They made love again for the first time in over two years.

* * *

Akito and Ryoko held hands over the breakfast table and smiled at each other.
Everything seemed different now. It was as if the sun had finally come out and
burned all the dark clouds of despair away. Akito kissed her goodbye at
the door, as she left for work. A proper lovers farewell kiss now.

Akito had plans for today. He trekked across town to see Seiya. On the way
back he went shopping and bought some fresh food instead of the instant
dinners that Ryoko seemed to subsist on.

Akito cooked dinner that evening. He choose something simple, the Mars bowl,
that he could make from memory and not get wrong.

Ryoko arrived home.

"You've been cooking!" Ryoko exclaimed.

"Just something simple that I couldn't mess up, I thought it would make
a change from those vile TV dinners you eat."

"Thank you, Akito, what a nice surprise. I though you couldn't bear to cook
without being able to smell or taste it?"

"It's a special occasion. Don't start expecting it every night."

She joined him at the table and started eating.

"This is fantastic."

Akito passed a small box across the table to her.

"For you. Open it."

Ryoko opened the box and gasped. It was her ring, iridium and sapphire.

"Yes, Akito, the answer is yes."

Ryoko started crying.

"Damn you, Tenkawa, look at what you've got me doing now."


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