Anata No Ichiban Ni Naritai

Chapter 21 – A simple experiment – re deux

Resting her chin on her palm, Erina thumbed through Inez's report about boson jumping. While she had been hoping for a more detailed accounting of how to perform the technique Erina had to accept what she was presented with. It was detailed enough that she knew the two women weren't lying or covering up for anything, but it was frustrating. "Guess we just have to use Tenkawa," she murmured. Just thinking about how to get Yurika to allow her to use that man as a test subject was going to give her a migraine.

But if she could get Akito to want to do the test, "Then that floozy would have no choice but to accept it!" Erina's eyes widened as she connected the invisible dots. Yurika didn't question Akito on anything, Akito wants to do the test, and then Yurika would have to let him. It was perfect, or so she thought. In a stroke of luck or fate, the final puzzle piece in her plan walked into the galley where she had opted to review her plan. Waving over to the man who had a tray of food in his hand, "Tenkawa-kun, do you have a moment I have something I'd like to talk to you about?"

Looking between the woman and his tray of food, Akito shrugged his shoulders. Sitting across from Erina, Akito was perplexed as to what the woman could want. They hadn't spoken much aboard the ship and the only time they had spoken it was when he was forced off the ship. "What did you need me for Erina?"

Having been watching Akito since she'd seen the footage of his jump so long ago, Erina could sense a more positive air about the man, a good sign. Now did she want to use the knowledge she had about Akito's connection with Ruri or not…? In a moment of conscious she decided, "I've been talking with Inez about boson jumping lately and we've come to some conclusions. Akito," she took the hand not holding the chopsticks into her own, use every advantage. "We've developed a test that could put us on par with the Jovian's technology."

For a moment Akito respected Erina for just coming out with her request. But only a moment as he felt her thumb roving over his hand, she'd try and use that against him would she? While he wasn't in a real relation ship with either Ruri or Yurika right now he wasn't about to let Erina seduce him. Pulling his hand free, "You want me to be a guinea pig for your little test is that it? How dangerous is this test?" He had no doubt it was very dangerous but would she tell him.

She'd seen countless men and women die back at the Nergal headquarters trying variations of the test, a test with zero successful completions. It was almost suicide for anybody to accept the test. "You'll be fine Akito, you've already jumped before. We just want to document it and study the findings to make it so others can jump too." She felt part of herself die as spoke, lied, and trying to condemn a man. She wanted to stop this type of work, this deception, but with this if it succeeded she would be done with it forever!

Before Akito could open his mouth to reply a holoscreen opened in the center of the table effectively blocking the conversing pair's line of sight. It was Inez and her face was drawn and her eyes narrowed in accusation, "She's not telling the truth Akito-kun, this is a very dangerous procedure." The screen rotated and Inez and Erina were face to face, in a manner, "so is this what you wanted my research for?" Inez was torn thanks to her foreknowledge. She knew that the test was what sent Ruri into the past, but if things were wrong, if her data wasn't right then she'd be killing them both. Something could have changed, something small that she hadn't thought of and she'd be killing three people.

"You're 'research' if you can call it that, states that not only has Akito jumped from the Earth to the moon, but that he also jumped from Mars to Earth! He's the only person we can use, unless you want to provide another subject for me," Erina was sure that Inez would know who she was talking about. Sure Akito was the optimal subject having survived multiple jumps, but the older Hoshino had demonstrated at least a small percentage of Akito's abilities. And again if either of them did die it wouldn't be a big loss.

A moment of panic at the most crucial event being ruined, Inez fought for words. "Jovian mecha isn't present though as it was during all of the previous jumps that Akito made. How do you plan to compensate for that, or has that even entered your mind?" Inez looked around her room for Ruri, she needed to know what she did, to make sure she wasn't damning her by talking Akito out of the tests. She found not her friend but a note. She'd have to read it later.

Sensing the tide moving in her favor, Erina pressed her weakened opponent, "We've been able to open stable jump fields before its just the subjects haven't been able to complete…the…jump." Damn she'd slipped and let it to her hopeful pilot that nobodies lived, peaking around the screen, her breath held in her chest and her eyes blinking rapidly. Nothing, he'd left during the conversation. Perfect. She could say whatever she wanted to Inez now and not care.

But Inez had signed off too, she had to read Ruri's note and find that damn girl. Where was she at such a crucial time? By Ruri's account the test, if she didn't just ruin it, should be held in less than three days! "Damn it!" Inez said in a rare showing of frustration. Unfolding Ruri's note, Inez read the few scribbled words with trembling hands.

I'm going to leave now, if Kami-sama is willing I'll see you in four days. And don't think you can find me, the Nadesico is big enough for me to hide in.Naka

The note was crumpled and thrown at the wall as Inez fell to her knees and a lone tear left her eye as she thought of Ruri.

X-X

Ruri walked the long bland corridors of the Nadesico in a daze. Seeing the doors, computer panels, and pathways but not knowing it. Her mind was occupied with other matters of more importance. Her life, her very existence, was to be decided in a very short period of time. Why had she run from Inez, easy to spare both of them the pain of the loss if she were to die. Did she like what she did? Not at all. Its selfish of me to run and hide from her, from him, from everything but its to hard to see them.

Ruri stood to the side absently as Ryoko, Izumi, and Hikaru walked by her. She boisterous laughing from Hikaru as Izumi again joked about Ryoko's crush on Akito. The haze in her mind cleared as fog does once confronted with the light of the sun. "I want to see them," she muttered as she started walking towards Akito's room. Her hand stopped centimeters away from knocking on the door. Voices, two of them, were coming through the door. Inez? She's trying to talk Akito into doing the tests.

Feeling dirty eavesdropping but unable to stop, Ruri leaned closer to the door and prayed nobody walked by to see her. Listening to Akito voice his fears about risking his life to advance Boson jumping knowledge, of being a pilot, and Inez's calming but one sided counters to his questions left Ruri stunned. Having been thinking of her life and the risks she lived with she forgot about his. He was risking his life daily and though she knew she survived the jump she truthfully didn't know if he did.

"Have I been selfish this whole time…thinking of only myself and my problems and not acknowledging the same problem in others?" she said aloud. A giggle from behind her alerted Ruri to Yurika's presence. Turning on the balls of her feet, Ruri winced as she saw the captain smiling widely at her, head tilted slightly to the left causing her hair to sway.

An unexpected pleasantry, finding Nakushita outside Akito's door Yurika thought. From the man's words, Yurika concluded he was ready to take his place on the pilots' roster. "I was here to invite Akito-chan to lunch, but if you wanted Naka-kun we could make a quick trip to the bridge and set things right if you want. You do want to be put on the pilot rotation now correct?" Yurika's hand was already pulling on Ruri's dragging the confused young woman with her.

"Captain, what do you mean? I was under the impression I wasn't to be put on the line up as Ak…Tenkawa-kun didn't think I was ready yet." Ruri lied knowing Akito believed her more than a capable pilot. Feeling the captain's hand tighten, Ruri noticed a change in the air around the woman. It was something dangerous.

Stopping outside the bridge, Yurika turned to look at Nakushita. She was done with putting Akito in danger. She knew he loved her and wasn't going to risk his life any further if she had to. "Listen Naka-kun, my Akito is done piloting in combat. I'm sorry that you have to do this, but you're the only other capable pilot and we need you to take his place." Yurika's eyes were fierce, the warmth and caring replaced with determination and determination.

So stunned at not only the decree but the sudden change in temperament Ruri just let herself be lead by Yurika to the bridge. How could she refute the woman in that? Yurika had every right to remove Akito and replace him with another suitable pilot. Akito was listed as a cook and not Aestavalis pilot after all. While the motivation was not for crew safety and purely selfish reasons, Ruri wondered if she would have done the same thing if she had been the captain. Signing her name on the pad Yurika presented herself with Ruri had to fight to suppress the laugh. Jokes on her if I vanish in the next few days, Akito will be right back out there.

The moment the order was made official to put Ruri on the roster, Yurika's features reverted to that of the carefree if not vacant captain the crew knew so well. "Now that wasn't so hard was it?" Patting Ruri's shoulder, Yurika was overjoyed as one more problem had been dealt with. Turning around and setting the pad back down, Yurika's eyebrow twitched as she noticed an order being broken. "Ruri-chan! I told you to take a break. Go to the VR-deck or the recreation room or something. You spend too much time with the computers." Satisfied when the young child stood up, muttered something and headed off, Yurika was going to thank Nakushita again but the man had left as she wasn't paying attention to him. Well no matter he did what she wanted.

Following her younger self, Ruri watched from the relative safety of the door way as history repeated itself before her. Akito laying on the ground under the fake sunset, her younger self walking up behind him, and the talk that lead her to learn about his orphanage. Watching it now, Ruri felt a powerful hope blossom in her chest. It threatened to break the view she had on the future, threatened to make it change from 'if' she could un-mask herself forever to 'when.' She saw the admiration on her young face, the sympathetic and caring look on Akito's, she saw hope in physical form. This could happen, it really could. I remember this almost exactly like how it just happened. I…she…we could go back in time and set the cycle.

X-X

How can this woman be so stubborn! Was all Inez could think as she was well into the third day of trying to convince Yurika to let Akito test the Boson jump theory she formulated. She didn't know how she'd work the young Ruri into the equation but if things got bad enough she'd just throw the child in one of the extra weapons compartments and hope for the best. "I keep telling you he'll be safe, we've seen him jump before we just want it under controlled conditions."

Leaning back against her console, and the rest of the bridge, Yurika stood unconvinced. She didn't remove Akito from active duty so he could die in some science experiment. "Did you say before that you thought the jumps might have been influenced by Jovian technology why has that changed now?" A distinct accusing tone in her voice.

Oh how Inez wished Ruri hadn't left before telling her exactly how this test went so she could just get Yurika to agree to it. "It hasn't changed technically but it was a very off chance that the jumps were influenced by the Jovians." Judging from Yurika's body language, her hands taught and clenching the edge of the console, her eyes twitching, and her breathing increasing to heavy labored breaths, Inez could feel the time running out. Yurika was about to deny this test soon if she didn't come up with a way of calming her. Then it hit her, an epiphany. "What about if we add a kill switch of sorts? We have a manner of monitoring Akito in his Aestavalis that could stop the test if his life is put in any danger."

Yurika's grip lessened. If Akito was going to be completely safe and they found a way of helping to end the war via technology everything would be better. The crew could take some shore leave after the war, they could get closer, maybe even marry! "What would we need for this?" Yurika was careful to keep her voice level and show nothing of her budding willingness to this project.

Her heart almost stopped as she heard Yurika talking, Inez had succeeded! "Somebody would have to go with him, somebody with an IFS," bad wording Inez realized instantly as Yurika's brows furrowed. To Yurika anybody with an IFS and a pilot was a problem, those harpies would love to be alone with her Akito and she wasn't going to let that happen. Yurika opened her mouth to veto that plan when Inez cut in again, "Miss Hoshino here would be the optimal choice. She could easily monitor both Akito and his Aestavalis and she already has an IFS." Inez hoped to kill two birds with one stone.

Sparing the computer technician a glance, Yurika saw potential. Ruri was a child, and while she was a cute child, Yurika doubted Akito was a pedophile. And in honestly Yurika had a pleasant dream that night that involved not only Ruri but Akito as well. Of the three of them being a family. Akito the father and husband, her the wife and mother, and Ruri as the child. Sure they'd have to adopt her, if it was possible with her real family being found, but not impossible. Could she trust Ruri, yes she could. "She'd have to agree to it and I'd like to see this in writing before you risk either of their lives."

Inez didn't have a chance to ask the young child as Ruri spoke before either had realized she'd been listening. "I would be willing to be involved in this test." Her young voice sounded to mature for the body producing it. Ruri was standing before both women with a hint of embarrassment adorning her face, adding a slight pink to the otherwise pale skin. "I would like to keep Tenkawa-san safe."

Inez's smile was twofold but genuine in ever respect. She saw how the Ruri she had known on Mars was buried under the surface of the child, and saw promise for seeing that older Ruri again. "Well captain, I'll have that report for you in a few hours. I'd like to have the test as soon as possible. I'd hate for an attack to occur during the test." Feeling giddy with success, Inez took the young Hoshino with her to a lab to conduct a few tests to apiece Yurika. Was this how it happened before, Inez didn't know as she made a point of keeping the older Ruri from divulging to much information, but who cared if it worked.

"Inez-san, you're strange. Why are you so set on helping Wong-san, she has intent that is obvious not in our favor," the young Ruri asked flatly. Inez looked down at her and wondered where her older self's ability to speak with some emotion came from. That was answered as Akito waved at them as he walked into the galley ahead of them. Something's never change.

Hiding her smile behind her hands, Inez giggled at the irony of it all. "You'll understand when you're older Ruri, trust me."

X-X

"You want me to risk both my life and Ruri-chan's?" Akito's voice was filled with doubt and apprehension as he sat in his Aestavalis. Sure he was ready to risk his own life for this test, but he hadn't wanted to risk any others, least of all Ruri's. He'd grown fond of the young girl after the time he'd spent with her. She had such a hard life growing up without parents, being viewed as strange, and that harsh upbringing she had. The more he thought about her the more he saw his own childhood and the Ruri he grew up with in the child in the seat in front of him in his modified cockpit.

A vid-screen immerged to his left, Inez was looking less than confident at the moment. "She'll be find Akito. She'll be linking directly into your IFS so whatever allows you to jump will let her as well. And if she detects anything strange she'll be able to shut down the unit and abort the test." She hoped, hoped and prayed with all her might she was right. This is it, he has to let her stay or its over.

Yurika's face popped up in a screen on Akito's right, concern but confidence was her expressions. "We can trust Ruri-chan to keep you safe Akito-chan. And after this test we can all have dinner and talk about a dream of mine, both of you." The content smile on her face told much to those viewing. It was a surface act to keep them all confident. Inside Yurika was still very close to stopping the test, her palms were sweaty and her throat dry.

Looking at Ruri, Akito wasn't so convinced, patting her head. "Are you sure about this Ruri-chan, I could still drop you off before I start the test." He hoped she'd say yes, that she had second thoughts. He was nervous as hell just thinking about what he was going to do, he couldn't fathom what she was thinking. What worried Akito the most was why he couldn't get his Ruri out of his mind? She hadn't been around to talk to him in a few days and it was worrying him. He thought they were going to try and be friends again, but then why the prolonged absence? "I won't be mad if you want to," Akito added just in case.

Blushing at the contact, Ruri turned to look at Akito, "I wish to do this Tenkawa-san. I am the most qualified to keep you safe and I wish to." To what degree she didn't know, but at that moment that child would have followed Akito through hell to keep him safe. "Lets begin this test so we can see what the captain wants with us," she tried to smile but only ended up drawing her lips up into a thin straight line.

Closing his eyes and breathing out slowly in frustration, Akito relented. He'd never been good at standing up to women, why start now. "Alright let's do this thing." Tightening his grips on the controls, Akito listened intently to the commands Inez gave him. If anything was going to go wrong it wasn't going to be caused by him, not with somebody else's life on the line.

From her station on the bridge, Inez could feel her stomach tremble and quack as her nerves beset her. "Starting count down Akito…Ruri. Concentrate on where you to go and this should be over in ten seconds. Beginning count down." Inez heard Megumi start counting but couldn't be sure what the numbers were. She knew that the older Ruri was somewhere aboard the ship watching this mission with the same intensity as she was.

Dozens of tiny blue crystals flooded out around the pink mecha as the count reached five. Inez could feel the bile rising in her stomach as the anxiety hit her. Ruri was watching with her helmet off from the hanger bay. What good would it be to hid things now, and it wasn't like anybody was watching her. She felt numbness. Life or death was only a few moments away. I want to live, I want to live with Akito, I want to live with Inez, I don't want to die. A lone tear tracked its way down her cheek as the fear settled in.

Akito's palms opened and readjusted as the count reached two. How was Ruri handling this? Was that little girl as nervous as he was? Don't think about that think about the bow of the ship. The bow the bow the bow the bow the bow the bow! "One…" Akito didn't hear Megumi say 'field open' he knew it. His eyes were accosted by such a brilliant white light that he was sure he'd be blind from it. Try as he might to shut his eyes it mattered not, the light got in anyway. The felt the sensation of having the ground drop out from underneath him. It was maddening as much as it was exhilarating.

Then it stopped, the light was gone, he felt whole again, and he was looking out at the bow of the ship.

It took him three minutes calm down and looked around. He didn't know if the test was a success or if it'd even happened. Taking some steadying breaths he heard a voice calling out to him, was it Ruri in front of him? It had to be right? "Akito…Akito!" Why was the voice so frantic? Did they abort the test after all. "Akito what happened where is Ruri-chan?" Yurika's frantic voice tore through Akito's adrenaline filled mind. His eyes snapped open and sure enough he was alone in the cockpit, Ruri was gone.

X-X

Akito didn't get out of his cockpit as much as he threw himself out of it. The whole crew had rushed to the hanger bay after the jump. Ruri's disappearance rattling more than just a few cages. Running straight at Inez, a mad glint in his eyes, Akito wanted answers. "You said she'd be safe! What the hell happened Inez! What was all that talk about her being able to jump because she was linked to my IFS! ANSWER ME!" He screamed in her face. He didn't know what he felt, anger, hatred, sadness, betrayal, but mostly he felt guilty. He was responsible now for what happened to Ruri, and what else could he think but she wad dead.

"Akito-chan," Yurika said softly to try can calm him, but her own tears did little to sooth Akito's mind. The eyes of the crew on him were all accusatorial, they knew he didn't mean for it to happen, but it did. The young woman was gone yet Akito was still there. Was it his fault, not directly but enough to make them blame him.

Taking several steps away from Akito, Inez could only speculate on what happened as she hadn't seen the older version of the woman in days. "I don't know what happened Akito. The test was a success you jumped…we couldn't have predicted this would have happened." Inez scanned the room, looking for that familiar blue hair, that damn mask, a sign that Ruri had in fact survived. Nothing…she saw nothing, and her heart sank.

"I know where she went," Ruri said from behind the saddened scientist stepping out from behind the large mass of a man named Goat. A smile on her face larger than anything she'd shown to others before, yet tears of joy streaming down her face marring the beauty in ways, accentuating it in others. Gasps and hushed murmurs erupted from the crew as the strange woman stepped forward. Akito just tilted his head confused, unknowing why his Ruri took now to show herself to the crew.

Throwing her helmet on the ground, the plastic creation shattered. "She went into the past Akito. She…I jumped back to a small Martian orphanage where I met a boy…I grew up with him…fell in love with him. I hurt him to keep my secret safe so I could live to this day hoping I didn't change things enough to prevent this event from happening. Akito…she's happier now than she's ever been in her life!" The last few words where shouted as Ruri finally told her secret to the man she hide if from for so many years.

"Its true," Inez said as the murmurs of disbelief grew in volume. "I've known Ruri for years. She told me of her time on Mars…of how Boson jumping isn't just teleportation in a location sense, but in a temporal sense as well. We seen this when Akito jumped back in time two weeks. This girl here is Ruri Hoshino." A joyous cheer erupted as the fear of the girls death was cleared, sure some were skeptical but nobody wanted to think the girl dead, they'd check the validity of the statement later, but for now they wanted to believe and it was enough.

Ruri rushed to Akito, threw her arms around him, and kissed the man firmly on the lips. Yurika looked on disapprovingly but for the moment said nothing. Things were uncertain now, Ruri no longer had foreknowledge of the events that would befall her, but she knew some things. She was alive, she loved Akito, and she would fight for him. Not wanting to let go of the man, nor he her for the moment, be it confusion at knowing the truth of his half thought speculation, Ruri's return, or the guilt leaving his body Akito just held her and kissed her.

For the future was now and they'd have to face it together either as friends or as lovers they didn't know. The moment decided it all for them, they could see a plethora of futures before them now as Ruri's fears had been removed, the gloves were off and she was a fighter. The other thing that Ruri knew now was the answer to a question.

If I had met you before anyone else You would have loved me as in my dreams...as I wish, right?

And that answer was yes, yes he would. And that was more than she could have ever hoped for.

-The End-