Chapter Nine: InfectionEdit
Doctor Sarah Jenson frowned at the old General as he came out to meet her. The air of absolute annoyance that she put out told anybody she passed within ten feet of that she was NOT in the best of moods.
But then, who wouldn't be? The good doctor WAS taken from her hospital room, loaded into a chopper and dragged from Cedar Grove to El Frisco without so much of a simple reason. Even worse yet, she was still fuzzy over the demerol that had been administered to her before being taken from the hospital, and had a rather one track mind.
In this case, it was to be annoyed and ask a lot of questions why she had been taken against her will.
Which would explain why she didn't quite register the fifty foot tall robot that knelt on the ground next to the chopper.
"Doctor Jansen," General Leonard greeted as he came out of the terminal, followed closely by her colleague, Doctor Sandhu. Someone else trailed just behind her, but she didn't notice him.
"What is this, Leonard?" Sarah growled as she was lowered in her wheelchair to the ground. "I may be under contract, but that doesn't give you the right to--"
"Doctor, we need your help. It is of the utmost importance," Leonard interrupted. "So I don't have time to listen to you gripe. Can you get the project working again?"
Sarah blinked. "What? What the hell are you trying to ask me? The Cedar Grove facility is in tatters. Which just happens to be the fault of YOUR people. Excellent screening job there, boy!"
"Doctor Jansen," Sandhu said, walking up to her. "He is dead serious. There was a monstrous side effect to the... previous experiment."
"Monstrous? I'd say a bit worse than THAT," the third person said, from behind Sandhu.
Sarah looked over to the source of the voice, about ready to tell him off. Then she paused as she realized who exactly it was.
"James?" she asked, jaw nearly to her lap. "What the hell are YOU doing here?"
"What's going on?" Jill asked from behind the corner.
"Would you be quiet?" Serge ordered. "It's bad enough we're in here. We could be like... shot or something, you know."
"Oh please. We're press. They won't shoot us," Jill scoffed. "So, can you make anything out?"
"I can't hear them over the chopper," Serge replied. "But the girl looks like she's in bad shape. Pretty angry, too."
"Hold on, let me see," Jill said, pulling Serge back.
"Are you crazy? This place is full of soldiers!"
"Bah," she replied. "Not nearly as much as usual. They're all out dealing with the evacuation. I'd be surprised if anyone figured out we were here. Besides, I think there's enough action going on inside. We could probably slip in without them noticing."
Serge started to get butterflies in his stomach. But when Jill didn't say anything, he REALLY got worried.
"Oh my God," she said. "That's James!"
James scratched his head. "Well," he began. "That's complicated."
"I bet," Sarah frowned. "I tell you I can't say nothing, and you go straight to the source? A journalist in every respect, aren't you?"
General Leonard raised an eyebrow. "Journalist? I thought you were a biologist."
"Err... Xenobiology was my major, Sir... Journalism is my job," James admitted.
Leonard shrugged. "I'll get you to sign something later, boy. More important matters to deal with right now. Come on," he said.
"Wait," Sarah said, rolling herself toward the others. "I still don't get what this is all about."
"I guess the giant robot over there missed your attention?" James said, pointing to the large blue and white craft, kneeling on the grass.
Sarah noticed it, and did a double-take. "What... what's that?"
"It's called The Xenogears," Sandhu said, a smile on his face. "It's just one of the... side effects of the experiment. Would you like to meet the others?"
Sarah turned her attention from the craft to Sandhu, and then slowly nodded.
"Who?" Serge asked as he noticed the four people walk away from the chopper, past the craft and into the terminal.
"James Lofield," Jill exclaimed. "He's... you remember him, don't you?"
"James... James, James, James," Serge repeated. Suddenly, he snapped his fingers. "Hey! Didn't you used to date a James?"
Jill bopped Serge over the head. "Bingo, boy! I dated him last year... But what the hell is he doing here?"
"Maybe the girl in the wheelchair is his girlfriend?"
Jill concentrated for a moment. "No... I don't think... She's a doctor... Ooh! Wait! Sarah! That's Sarah!"
"Sarah?" Serge asked.
"Sarah... damned if I can remember her last name. I met her once with James. Seemed nice enough at the time, but I still think there was more between them that they were letting on... She's a scientist or something, but... How are they involved in this?"
"Who knows? Let's just leave this to--"
"Us!" Jill exclaimed, smiling at Serge. "We're going in, boyo."
"Oh God, no," Serge cried.
Zelgadis ran his hands across the wall, feeling the texture underneath. The place had a strange contruction. The walls were stone, yet smoother than any he had even felt before. Smoother than his own skin. They were painted a light shade of blue, not quite matching his hair, but close.
And the sciences. He had seen biological sciences in his own world. The chimera workshops and such, but... here the sciences were so much different. Captured images from a small device allowed people to view said images on another device.
Zelgadis looked up at one such small device in subtle curiousity. He smirked from the corner of his mouth and waved at it, knowing full well that someone was watching him.
It was easily done with the right magic back on his world, but here... They had actually found a way to do it WITHOUT magic.
His own world... Did that mean he was on another staff of existence, floating upon the Sea of Chaos? Locked somewhere in his own world, only at a different time, where magic ceased to be? No... he felt no magic on this world, save for the power that lingered around himself, Lina and the magic users from the other worlds.
Still, many things were ingenious.
But now, if only he could find a way--
"What do you mean, FIFTEEN?" a voice asked from down the hall. Zelgadis didn't recognize it, but as he turned to face the source, he DID recognize the other three.
Strange. She was sitting in a chair... with wheels. That IS ingenious.
"Well, technically sixteen now," James said. "Seventeen if you count the robot."
"Eighteen if you count Hastur," Sandhu corrected. "But Ms. Katsuragi apparently wasn't a direct result of Churchill."
"How could there have been that much of a divergence, though? Project: Churchill barely had enough power to transport Margaret. Hell, we were'nt even sure it would support Gordon. But to take THAT many from various points in space? The time thing, too. Where the hell did THAT come in?"
"Who knows?" Sandhu asked. "Perhaps we found some way to breach time, and didn't realize it until now."
Sarah shook her head as she looked up at Zelgadis, and then brought her wheelchair to a complete stop.
"What the hell is that?" she asked.
Zelgadis frowned. "That," he said, "is not a 'that.' I have a name. A gender, a life. I will not be referred to as some thing that bars your path."
"Ahh," Sandhu smiled. "Mr. Graywiers, may I present to you Doctor Sarah Jensen."
Zelgadis looked down at the woman. She too had her shortcomings, but at least Zelgadis could walk. He dropped his frown and extended his hand.
"Pleased, I'm sure," he said, not completely sincere, but a big step better than before.
Sarah shakily and uncertainly extended her own hand, making contact with his own. The briefly shook hands and Sarah was left rubbing her palm.
"I'm... I'm sorry, sir," she said. "I... your... your skin, it feels like stone."
"As it should," Zelgadis said, cocking his head. "I'm one-third golem."
"Golem, did you say?" Sarah asked. What was this? Dungeons and Dragons?
"I know," James said. "Boggles the mind, doesn't it? It's as if the stone had been grafted on to his skin, but... it moves along with his movements. Strange, wouldn't you say?"
"Strange it may be," Zelgadis said. "But I'm well used to it."
"Look, we don't have all day to talk about granite," Leonard interrupted. "Doctor, you and Sandhu need to get to work on Churchill before Hastur makes his appearance."
"Hastur?" Sarah asked.
"Mr. Lofield, I'll leave it to you to brief her," Leonard said. "Right now, I've got to speak with the Kitsuragi woman."
Sandhu and James nodded as the General made his way down the hallway. Zelgadis cocked his head in curiousity.
"You wouldn't mind if I accompanied you? I'd be more than interested in learning about the inner mechanics of how we were brought here."
Sarah blinked at him for a moment, and then began to smile. "I'm sure that would be okay," she said.
Serge was NOT amused.
Following the four people inside the base was one thing. Slipping past the guard was another, seeing as he had been more concerned in paying close attention to the... mech. But now THIS had to take the cake.
Jill had slipped the both of them into a smelly broom closet not ten feet away from the others.
"Dammit," Jill growled. "I can't see who they're talking to."
"Probably a good thing," Serge mentioned. "If we can see him, he could probably see us."
"Shhh," she barked. "I'm trying to listen."
"Then don't talk."
Serge just shook his head. He could hear no more than the odd mumble from outside, mainly because Jill was blocking any sound from coming through.
"Hmmm," she began. "What the hell is Churchill?"
Serge looked up. "What, like Winston Churchill?"
"Hard to say. Have you ever heard of a guy named Hastur?"
Serge shook his head. "Don't think so. Sounds Arabian."
"Ah hah!" Jill said. "They're evacuating San Francisco because of a terrorist!"
"Umm. Why would they evacuate the entire Bay Area?"
"Don't know... But this Churchill must be some operation... or a weapon, if that scientist chick is gonna be working on it."
"Hold on, they're leaving."
Serge sighed. "Thank God," he mumbled.
"So, what's your story?" Lina asked, as she walked up to Akane, who was sitting at a corner table, her legs pressed up against her chest.
Akane looked up and blinked. "Huh?"
Lina shrugged. "Well, you're in the same boat as the rest of us, right? I figured everyone had a story... I want to hear yours."
Akane put her feet to the ground and smiled lazily. "Well, it's... hard to explain."
"Believe me," Lina said, chuckling to herself as she grabbed a seat. "Can't be any worse than my story."
Akane smiled and extended her hand. "My name's Akane. Akane Tendo."
Lina took it and shook. "Lina Inverse. So... how'd you end up here?"
"Much the same way you did, I guess. The last thing I remember before showing up in the woods near a lake was... well, being nearly dead in China."
"China?" Lina asked, one eyebrow raised.
"Yeah, it's... across the ocean. You've... never heard of China?"
Lina shook her head. "Can't say I have. But then, that doesn't surprise me."
"Where are you from?" Akane asked.
"I was born in a place called Zefielia. I was in Lyzeille, just outside of Atlass City when... well, Gourry, Zel and me ended up in that city. From there... well, we founds ourselves here."
"Gourry and Zel? They're... swordsmen?"
"Well, Gourry is," Lina said. "Zel is... Well, I don't know what to make of Zel."
"I'd thought he was a sufal mutation when I first saw him," a third voice said from a few feet away. Akane and Lina looked up to see the woman, Elly, walk toward them.
"Sufal mutation?" Akane asked.
"Not long ago, in the world Fei and I came from, there was a... mutagenic virus released into the atmosphere... It mutated nearly ninety percent of the population into creatures that we called the Sufal."
"That's horrible," Akane said, aghast.
"Yes, it is... but things will be different now, I think... if we ever make it back. Fei... destroyed Miang and Deus."
Lina blinked. "Okay, I'll bite. Who were Miang and Deus?"
Elly laughed, and then began to launch into a brief, yet detailed explanation.
Shinji spent a lot of time looking at his hands. Examining them as closely as he could, and then turning them over to examine the other side.
They were HIS hands. They had to be. But it still... didn't explain a few things.
The entire experience up to and including the third impact had been a complete blur. He could remember bits and pieces, mainly. Feeling a force driving him to get inside of his Eva, absolute loss of sanity-- yes, he could REMEMBER that, and the subsequent calming...
He remembered what his mind showed him. Three children sitting in a playground, building a pyramid in the sand. An argument with Asuka that ultimately led to... pain. More pain.
Shinji sped up his breathing pattern involuntarily. His mind was likened to swiss cheese at the moment. Full of holes, memories that didn't exist, experiences that had never occured.
But deep within it all... He couldn't make sense of it.
Blood. He could bleed. That much was assured of, after having dealt with the short period of time on the Californian freeway and rough asphalt on his tender skin.
But... was what Asuka saying... true?
Come to think of it, was any of this true? Was this whole experience of the world just another piece of being trapped within his own mind? Was he still inside of his Eva, high in the Earth's atmosphere?
Or even better yet, was he sleeping in a bed somewhere? Maybe he had never been an Eva pilot. Maybe there never was a second impact. Maybe he was just dreaming it all.
"What about fingerprints?" Misato asked from nearby, breaking Shinji from his solipsism. "Can you tell?"
Then again, maybe this WAS reality.
Asuka shook her head. "We've got them," she replied, examining her own fingertips. "But I never paid close attention to what my own fingerprints looked like. I'm sure it's on file back in our world somewhere, though."
"We could look it up, couldn't we?" Misato asked, resting her arms behind her head. Everyone had left the Ops room now except for her, Asuka, Shinji and the Technician, Andrews.
"We might have to travel a bit. The Geofront is completely destroyed. But there should be some structures still standing elsewhere. Maybe in Tokyo-2."
Misato sighed. "It's weird," she said. "The last thing I remember is..." she suddenly blushed.
"What?" Asuka asked.
"Err... nevermind. It's not important," she said, nodding toward General Leonard as he entered the room. "General." She smiled.
"Miss Kitsuragi," Leonard greeted. "I wonder if I might speak with you for a moment?"
Misato nodded. "Privately?"
"Gotta go Asuka," Misato said, standing up and walking over to the General. "Adult stuff, you understand."
Asuka just shrugged and turned back to the console before her.
General Leonard closed the door behind him as he and Misato entered the office. Double checking to ensure the door was locked, he met Misato's gaze.
"Miss Kitsuragi," he began.
"Miss Kitsuragi," Leonard insisted, levelling his gaze on her. "You are by far the oldest of this whole... troupe, but you've also arrived by the most bizarre circumstances. You'll forgive me if I don't seem very lenient right now."
"I was the Tactical Officer at NERV. I... can understand where you're coming from," she said, sighing.
"We've just ordered a full evacuation of the San Francisco Bay Area for one reason, Miss. That one reason is what you call Hastur. Tactical Advisor or not, you're treating this like a game, and quite frankly, I'd prefer for you to take your little troupe back to your own world, as soon as we get Churchill up and running again."
Misato smirked. "So basically, you're saying that this is your own mess, and you'll dig yourselves out of it?"
"That's exactly what I'm saying."
Misato stifled a chuckle. "Let me tell you a story, General. September of the year 2000. The Second Impact. I was fourteen years old at the time, and my father, a Japanese man who doesn't exist in this world was more than likely THE main cause behind it. Not only was Japan affected by it, but the rest of the world as well. Canada, China, Australia, America. Every continent in the world was affected. Entire countries drowned under miles of water. It's a wonder Japan survived it. But you know what? The world banded together. American military worked alongside Iraqi and Chinese military in an effort to save whatever they could," she said. "General, Hastur isn't just a mere war. If what I hear is right, he could not only kill you with a gesture, but given time, he could destroy this world."
General Leonard narrowed his eyes. "We can kill him."
"Oh, I don't doubt it," Misato said. "But at what cost? How many lives need to be destroyed? How many major metropolitan cities need to be evacuated? General, you'll run out of cities before long. You want to take this thing on by yourself? Something that, as far as we know, cannot be killed by conventional weaponry? You've got right now at your disposal a small, yet insanely powerful group of youths, if what I hear from Asuka and Shinji is correct. Youths that just might possibly have the means to kill this thing without further loss of human life."
The General reclined in his chair. "You think those kids can take him on? You have enough faith in them that you would go so far as to trust KIDS, none of which who are any older than twenty-two, against an entity with no physical being? Who can kill without excercising a fraction of his power?"
"I don't know them all yet," Misato said. "But I know Asuka and Shinji."
He sat and thought for a moment. "You've got two hours," Leonard said.
Misato blinked. "For what?"
"Get to know them, Miss Kitsuragi. Each of them. Have them tell you about Hastur. If you're so completely positive that killing him with be as easy then... Then I'll go with your idea."
Misato blinked. "Huh?"
"You heard me," he said. "Two hours, and then I'll allow you to show off your skills as Tactical Officer."
"Wait-- you're telling me that it branched out at random? How can it have done that?" Sarah asked the technician, not looking up from the computer screen in front of her.
"Unknown, Ma'am. But at you can see from the buffer system-- the mass involved was no small amount."
"Yes, I can see that. But... it's strange. Here-- the first pattern, it was obviously Gordon. It dropped him off at a random universal point, but we can see from the log that it was local. There's no reason Churchill should have branched out beyond THIS reality," she exclaimed. "I mean, we've just crossed the Einstein-Rosen bridge, and all we TRIED to to was recreate 'The Fly'... except better."
Zelgadis listened intently, though most of the things spoken made no sense to him. The one thing that should have made sense just passed through one ear and got caught inside.
"The Fly?" Zelgadis asked.
"Oh, it was a movie. Some guy creates a teleportation thingie and gets his molecules mixed with that of a fly."
"So... he became half-man, half-fly?" Zelgadis asked, not entirely sure what a movie was.
Sarah nodded. "Yeah. The first one was second rate, but the Goldblum remake was okay."
"Did he manage to... reverse the process?"
"No, in the end the fly took over. Messy business, really... But... I think he had a theory on how to reverse it," she said, then blinked. She looked up at Zelgadis. "Why?"
"I was turned into a Chimera not by accident, but mostly against my will... I've been searching for a way to reverse the process ever since. Do you think his... theories will work?"
"Oh, jeez. That technology doesn't even exist," Sarah said. "I wouldn't even know where to begin."
"But you said the man had a theory-- and he DID turn himself into a Chimera through accident, didn't he?"
"Yeah, but that was just a movie," Sarah said.
"What's a movie?"
"Oh," she said sheepishly. "Err... Do you have plays where you come from?"
Zelgadis nodded in understanding. "Well, there was always a chance," he said.
Sarah sighed. "I'm sorry... the technology just doesn't exist here... I would think in your world, it would. If you could turn into one, you could change back."
"The magic that changed me was weilded by... a master. He... no longer exists now."
"Magic?" Sarah asked, looking up. "What are you saying? Just... high science, right?"
"Science and magic, while similar in some ways, are far from the same. They may accompany one another, but in the end, each has its own advantages and disadvantages."
Sarah blinked. If he was speaking of magic and science as two different things, then... "Can you describe it for me?"
"Your magic. Can you describe a typical spell?" She asked. God, I sound pathetic, she thought.
"I can do you one better," he said, drawing his hand up. Slowly, a soft light began to gather within his hand, and soon became a solid mass of light.
Sarah's jaw dropped to the floor.
The Nameless One looked about the bus in mild amusement. He had waited until the bus had started on the road, but since it was going in the opposite direction from San Fransisco, he figured it was time.
Twelve people, including himself and the driver were on the bus. Twelve altogether. He knew how to do it, although he'd never attempted it before-- for obvious reasons. He had less control when split into many, and much of his essence still relied on the life force of the shell.
But now, he could do it. And those fools in San Fransisco wouldn't know what hit them.
Slowly, he expanded his essence. The man sitting next to him convulsed momentarily, but calmed as his thoughts and memories were taken over. Soon, it expanded a few seats away, taking the shell of the couple sitting with each other. And further, it expanded...
Soon, it had enveloped the whole bus, including the driver.
"Now," he began, communicating with all of the others on the bus. "Let's turn around, shall we?"
"Indeed we shall," the driver said. While they were all essentially his essence, there was no telepathic link. For the time being, they would have to communicate using words.
"What can you see?" Jill asked.
Serge turned from peeking around the corner and frowned. "The coast is clear," he whispered. "Now keep quiet."
"Yeah, but what's down there?"
Serge sighed. "Mess Hall."
"Mess Hall? There might not be anyone in there-- if there are, we can just... make something up, right?"
"Are you kidding?"
"I need to get some information. There's gotta be SOMEONE willing to talk. I need to know the link between that robot, Churchill and Hastur!"
"Maybe the robot IS Churchill... or Hastur."
"Who knows?" she muttered. "Come on, let's go."
Serge nodded and slowly began to creep down the hallway, with Jill in tow. Before long, they reached the door to the Mess Hall.
"Well, open it!" Jill said.
Serge put his finger to his mouth. "I'm trying to listen."
Jill tapped her foot impatiently and cocked her head to one side. "I don't hear--" She stopped tapping her foot. "Umm... Oh, crap," she whispered, turning to one side. "Serge, someone's coming!"
Serge acted quickly and opened the large door, pulling Jill inside... once they WERE inside, however, their entire demeanor changed.
Jill stared, her mouth agape at the population of the Mess Hall-- none of which were military.
There was a young Asian man in a police uniform, a tall blonde guy with... a sword. A shorter, blonder guy with a much BIGGER sword, another young Asian jumping at the man in the police uniform, another blonde guy wearing a bandanna unsuccessfully trying to stab another blonde man with a pair of brass knuckles that were... damn sharp, and a bunch of women, staring from the sidelines.
"Jill?" Serge asked.
"When did we step into the twilight zone?"
"Not bad," Ranma said as he smiled, keeping his defensive stance up. "How long you been training?"
"All my life, as far as I can figure," Fei replied. "You?"
"Same. Went on a ten year training trip through China," he replied, while blocking a kick.
"That where you got your curse?" Fei asked as Ranma leapt up over his head.
"Yeah," he replied as he landed, and lashed out in a leg sweep-- but caught nothing but air.
"If I'm going to stick around here for a while-- whether by choice or not-- I'll have to check this place out," Fei said from several feet above Ranma's head.
"Not bad at all for someone who pilots a mech," Ranma quipped.
"It's a Gear," Fei corrected as he tried to punch Ranma in the head, but ended up shattering concrete in every direction.
"Mech, Gear, whatever. It's a giant friggin' robot."
Fei laughed. "I'll give you that."
Cloud grunted as he hefted his Ultima Sword over his head, which Gourry deflected easily.
"How the heck can you lift that thing?" he asked, trying to make conversation.
"Enhanced strength. Mako-induced," Cloud explained as he went for another strike.
"Yeah, well... You move that thing quick enough, it might as well be a short sword."
"Your sword is pretty strong, too," Cloud said, motioning toward the beam of light emanating from the hilt.
"Sword of Light," Gourry explained. "It's a... family heirloom."
"I could imagine. So what's the deal with you and the redhead?" Cloud asked.
"Lina? She's just a travelling companion," he explained. "She hangs around 'cause she wants the sword."
Cloud passed a glance over toward Lina, who was talking to Akane and Elly in the corner. "She doesn't seem interesting in it right now," he said.
"Yeah, well... Dragons aren't always breathing fire..."
"So, what do you think?" Locke asked as he tried to drive his dagger into Sabin's chest. "Situation weird enough for you?"
"Weird isn't the word," Sabing replied after having deflected the dagger. "I mean, they're a helluva lot more developed, but not in all ways. Their airship, for instance. It's nowhere near as fast at Setzer's ship, but... It's more... I dunno, luxurious."
"What about-- hey, who are those two?" Locke said, stopping for a moment to get a eyeful of the two visitors.
Sabin turned his head to get them in view. "Military?" he asked.
Locke narrowed his eyes as he took in the visitors. "Don't think so," he said. One was a woman, looking to be in her late twenties, while the other was a man around the same age. In his hands, he carried a black object.
"Hey," Sabin called over. "Now who are you? Was there another crossing?"
The woman blinked. "Crossing?"
"Yeah, what world did YOU come from?" Locke asked.
The man coughed. "The Land of the Pixies," he said.
Suddenly, the door behind them swung open, and caught the attention of the entire room. A walking mass of paper and tools made its way into the room.
"All right, everybody," the mass called. "I've got to talk to all of you!"
A moment later, the paper dropped to the tabletop and Misato appeared from behind it.
"Single file, please! I've got two hours, and I want to make this count!" she exclaimed. "First.... you!" Misato said, pointing into the small crowd of men sparring in the middle of the floor.
Ranma blinked in surprise. "What?"
"Come on over here, I've got some things to talk to you about."
Ranma looked over toward Fei, and then Akane. Both of them shrugged. Sighing, Ranma took a walk over to Misato, and sat in front of her.
Misato took out a pad of paper and held a pen between her lips. She seemed to be... studying Ranma. His every moment, all of his body language.
Needless to say, Ranma felt like a piece of meat.
"Name?" Misato asked.
"Uhh... Ranma Saotome."
Misato wrote it down. "Very good, age?"
Scribble. There, all written. "Now, Ranma--"
"Look, what's this all--"
"Ah! I'm askign the questions here, Saotome! Now... I imagine you have some sort of power, correct? Flight? Super strength? Eye lasers?"
"Seriously... what can you do?"
"I do... martial arts."
"Kempo. Anything-Goes style."
"Are you good?"
"Belt? Bah, who needs belts? I'm good, that's all there is to know."
Misato gave him an intrigued look and scribbled something down in the notepad.
"Now, Ranma... I'd like you to tell me everything there is to know about yourself... And you've got five minutes."
Ranma sighed and then launched into a lengthy explanation.