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Chapter 4 Main Chapters Chapter 5

Chapter 4

"Wait a minute," Kazuki said. "There was another me in that world, so maybe there isn't another Zinv. But what if Zinv is still intact at the bottom of that hole?"

Dee's eyes widened; she hadn't thought of that.

The Mrs. Nanjyoin from another world considered this. "He may or may not be at the bottom of the hole; we never looked."

Dr. Sanada spoke. "I don't think we can count on being able to use the other Zinv, though. We're just going to have to use the wide-area transporter and hope Ayuko doesn't find out."

Dee nodded.

It was now dinnertime, time for the new Mrs. Nanjyoin to grow used to the sight of all Kazuki's servings of food. After a few bites, Kazuki commented, "How can we possibly conceal the fact that Zinv is missing?"

Mitsuki Sanada said, "That's easy, Kazuki. You'd certainly notice if Zinv disappeared, but Ayuko doesn't care at all about what happens at the lab. If we just can convince Uncle Rara to be quiet, she'll never be interested enough to find out what's going on there."

Mitsuki Rara nodded.

Mrs. Nanjyoin asked, "I take it that all of you have some interest in going?"

Akane shook her head. "It was an exciting time, but my other self and I would not enjoy tripping over each other."

"Yeah," her husband agreed, "the two of you would probably start pulling U.N. regulations on each other!"

Akane eyed him, "Why wouldn't that be a valid way to settle any differences that arose?"

"Maybe because U.N. regulations don't address parallel worlds? What do they address anyways? Anything important?" Dr. Sanada joked.

Akane had learned enough to avoid such obvious baiting. "I also think it'd be unwise for there to be two commanders," she commented.

Dr. Sanada frowned. "Not again. I already had to say goodbye to one daughter when she went off to fight in another world. Now I'll have to do it for all of you."

"Ken, the Earth Defense Force can't have two leaders who look and act exactly alike," Akane insisted.

The frown remained on Dr. Sanada's face. "She's right, but that doesn't make it any easier."

The other Mrs. Nanjyoin commented, "If I understand the situation correctly, everyone else present would like to go to the other world. That means that Ms. Rara would be absent from her family, possibly for months or years. I believe this would alert her mother to what is happening."

Yayoi looked at the counterpart of her grandmother. "Are you certain? She can be somewhat neglectful."

"Perhaps," Mitsuki Rara spoke up, "but she'd definitely notice I was gone within a few days. I don't want to consider what she'd do if she thought she could enter the other world and win the war for her side."

Dee asked, "What can we do? I don't want to leave you behind!"

The bodyguard trio exchanged a sly look. Ryla spoke up, "We have an idea. It's simple, really. We just need a good excuse for her not to be there for a long time."

"This is the age when girls become women," Alice thought aloud with a mischievous grin.

Mena finally outlined the plan, "So all we have to do is tell Ayuko that she eloped with Kazuki!"

Kazuki coughed violently for no apparent reason. Mitsuki Rara blushed as Mitsuki Sanada shouted, "What!" Yayoi arched an eyebrow in irritation and D shrunk back into her seat.

Dr. Sanada looked at them all in surprise. "What's the matter with all of you? It makes sense to me!" Akane put her head in her hands.

"I cannot stand for such permissive conduct," Yayoi asserted.

Mitsuki Sanada suggested with an undertone of irritation, "Maybe she eloped with somebody else and Kazuki eloped with me!"

"He got to elope with you last time," Mena pointed out.

Kazuki gasped aggrievedly, "I've never eloped with anyone!" and continued to drink in the hopes that his throat would heal.

Mitsuki Rara looked at her friends. "Do we really have to lie to my parents?"

Kazuki finished frantically sipping his drink and pointed out, "It's a little overused, too. Dr. Rara already knows Uncle Sanada used a similar one on my parents."

"But this is your golden opportunity!" the trio hissed at both of them in loud whispers.

"I'm going to be fighting in Zinv; I'll be too busy for anything else!" Kazuki was trying to be reasonable. He was uncomfortably aware of everyone's eyes upon him.

Dee pointed out anxiously, "This isn't really too hard. We could just tell Aunt Ayuko that her daughter is going to be staying with us for a long time, which is true. If we had to, we could even get Mitsuki to return to this world from time to time. Aunt isn't caring enough to probe further, and Uncle Rara won't tell her where she's staying with us."

"Dee has a point," Mrs. Nanjyoin from the synthesis world declared.

The trio huffed and looked at Kazuki. He decided to attempt changing the subject.

"I just realized I assumed we'd be fighting the same enemies as last time. Mrs. Nanjyoin, can you tell us what sort of enemies we'll be facing?"

The counterpart to Mrs. Nanjyoin considered and said, "The RaRa Army used to field a wide variety of giant robots that fought alone. Now they simply deploy the giant gold and brown unit, Himc as you call it, and smaller brown robots that have purple beam weapons on their shoulders."

Mitsuki Sanada was shocked. "They've finished Himc already?"

"Father must've done things very differently in that universe. What could've caused the change?" Mitsuki Rara wondered aloud.

Yayoi told them, "From what grandmother was telling us earlier, the RaRa Army apparently chose early on to curtail their production of other robots in favor of Himc and the jeweled robots. Those were always their most effective units."

"They must've found a suitable pilot very early on," Mitsuki Rara said softly.

Mrs. Nanjyoin, the one from another world, looked at Kazuki, "Could this young man be the pilot?"

After a moment of being stunned, Kazuki recovered and replied, "No, there was another me out on the street watching as Himc fought. We don't think that other me even knows he can pilot robots."

"I was only checking," she assured him.

Dr. Sanada leaned forward. "I'm a bit surprised, though; I'd have thought the fights would go at least a little bit smoother with those extra Core Robots you said we have in that other world."

"Unfortunately that is not the case. Himc has managed to intimidate most of our pilots by its merciless and instantly destructive use of several of its tentacles and its beam." Mrs. Nanjyoin related.

"Huh?" Kazuki said.

"Please elaborate, grandmother," Yayoi requested. "Those are new tactics for Himc."

Mrs. Nanjyoin paused and thought further. "Himc will grasp a robot by its four limbs in four of its six tentacles, and then use the beam weapon to cut off its arms and legs in two sweeps. Even if the control systems are intact and the pilot is not backwashed, the robot is helpless."

Everyone looked at each other in confusion.

She continued, "My granddaughter's counterpart has contemplated many tactics, but to no avail. Sometimes it dodges bullets, sometimes it simply takes the hits on its shields. It is simply too powerful for us to take down with our current strength."

"It can dodge things?" Dee asked in astonishment.

The other Mrs. Nanjyoin agreed, "I also thought it was far too slow for such things."

The Mrs. Nanjyoin from the other world nodded and qualified, "It dodges slowly, which is perhaps why the pilot doesn't do it often, but it does make the attempt sometimes."

Mitsuki Rara looked at Mitsuki Sanada. Mitsuki Sanada said with certainty, "No one's ever piloted it like that before."

Mitsuki Rara added, "There aren't many people who can pilot it, either, so I thought that the only people who can control it are in this room. It tends to reject most pilots. I can't imagine anyone would be at its controls without any manipulation, and yet that seems to be the case if it fights regularly."

Dee had almost forgotten her meal. "Himc has never tried to dodge an attack!"

"I should clarify, grandmother," Yayoi clarified for the new Mrs. Nanjyoin, "that Dee has fought Himc from a long time ago."

"Sometimes it uses many of its tentacles," Dee went on, "but it never used them to grasp an enemy and then slice it apart."

Yayoi concurred, "Its whole design strategy is to absorb any hit with its shields and overpower the enemy by sheer force. Someone trying to give it an edge with evasive maneuvers is unheard of. No one we have any knowledge of is the pilot, and that pilot has made full use of Himc's abilities."

Mrs. Nanjyoin from the other world calmly stated, "Himc is unusual and dangerous. If you would rather not make the journey, you do not have to."

"Mrs. Nanjyoin," Mitsuki Sanada said firmly, "we'd all fight the RaRa Army even if Kazuki here couldn't beat Himc easily."

Dr. Sanada stood up. "There's another reason that someone has to go to the other world," he stated. "Mrs. Nanjyoin, this universe was made when two universes were colliding. Today, Ms. Hayase finally had enough data to run her crash simulation. This universe, the one Mrs. Nanjyoin came from, and a third one for some reason, are all converging. In less than a year, they're going to collide and annihilate each other."

The entire table was silent.

"Dr. Sanada," Mrs. Nanjyoin from the other world asked, "what does this mean?"

"Somehow," he explained, "we have to reconcile all the contradictions between all three worlds. I suppose that means we're going to have to destroy every piece of artifact technology again, since from what you tell us, it only exists in your world." He looked at Kazuki, who finished for him, "Right, Uncle. Zinv and I are ready to do it again."

His face was set and determined, and everyone looked sadly at him.

"Hey, I just thought of something!" exclaimed Dr. Sanada, and all eyes were turned upon him. "We ought to take Ms. Hayase as well! Since we gave her a chance, she's turned out to be a pretty good pilot!"

The very room they were in, the floorboards and walls, seemed to groan.

"Dear," Akane sighed, "we thought you had come up with an idea to stave off disaster without risking Kazuki's life."

"Hey, it turned out fine last time. In fact, better than fine," Dr. Sanada pointed out.

"Dad! It's easy to say that when you aren't risking your life!" Mitsuki Sanada pointed back.

"Who is Ms. Hayase?" asked Mrs. Nanjyoin from the other world.

Her counterpart answered her, "She's a talented scientist whom we've been teaching to pilot the giant robots. I believe that she'll be an excellent addition to the piloting team."

"Kazuki, I have one request to make of you," Dr. Sanada said suddenly. Kazuki looked at him. "Kazuki," he continued, "why don't you let me be the one to make the parallel universe this time?"

"Why you, Uncle?" Kazuki asked, totally confused.

"Last time, you and my daughter had the controls, and you got to marry Akane and me. This time I want you to elope with somebody! Hahahaha! My words shall be as law! It'll be the ultimate use of artifact power! Hahahahaha!" He waved his arms in the air.

Kazuki blanched as Mitsuki Rara gasped in surprise at this outburst. Mitsuki Sanada deliberately stopped eating, allowing only a small trace of her building anger to radiate from her. Kazuki ventured, "Uh, I think, uh," and he couldn't get much further. For one thing, he was encountering Zinv's reflection of his wild panic, resulting in an amplified feeling of alarm in his head. For another, Mena was whispering into Dr. Sanada's ear, "He says yes, and he wants to go with Mitsuki Rara!"

Mitsuki Sanada fumed silently a moment, and Kazuki braced himself for her explosion.

Then she smiled. "Kazuki doesn't have to elope. After all, when we made this universe, Mom and Dad were able to have a proper wedding."

"What a good point, Mitsuki," Yayoi leaned forwards. "Of course, I'm sure Kazuki already has this arranged and will be able to incorporate it into the new world himself without anyone accidentally sitting on levers."

Dee giggled with a strange gleam in her eye, almost like that she had in her days as a bioroid.

Kazuki now had an entirely unexpected anxiety about this mission's ending.

Chapter 3 Main Chapters Chapter 4