he turtle moves.
    "How long is this going to take?" Zelgadis asked, reaching out to nudge the little reptile onward.
    Dayvid grabbed Zel's wrist before he touched it.  "Don't disturb it!  It needs to make very precise calculations.  Otherwise, it won't read the stone's programmed vision correctly and will lead us to the wrong part of--"
    "Okay, okay, I get the point," Zelgadis said, sitting back.  "But we've been staring at this stupid thing for the better part of an hour now.  When's it going to get where it's going?"
    "You are very impatient," Chi'Nai observed.  "You should simply sit and wait.  No other actions will make the machine work faster."
    The chimera kept his silence, studying the thing in irritation.  Dayvid had explained how the thing worked... some odd mix of dreamstuff, with Xelloss doing the forging, and Dayvid's science to guide it.  He had the map-stone hooked up to an Apparatus (the boy did specialize in making them), piping the vision into the turtle over and over.  The turtle would 'resonate', whatever that meant, and would feel unbalanced in the direction of the vision's pull, etc., etc... and somehow, it'd stop with the little pen pointing to the right spot on the map it was crawling over.
    The others had more important things to do.  Gourry had gone to visit his aunt, Lina had gone off to visit her god, and Amelia was helping Timmy get settled in.  Naga was presumably still in the waking world, hunting Mazoku.  Xelloss had run off on his usual enigmatic little errands.  All that was left of the posse were himself, Chi'Nai and Dayvid... and all they had to do at the moment was this.
    Zel considered wandering around Sailoon, but A) he wanted to be close to the action, and B)... it wasn't Sailoon.
    He recognized all the buildings and streets, and the details were there.. but not all of them.  A loose cobblestone that he had for some reason remembered sticking out in the middle of Main Street was repaired.  A building wasn't really the same shade of white he had remembered it to be.  Buildings themselves felt.. wrong.  Too large, too small, too clean, too dirty.  It wasn't bad, exactly, just different in creepy ways for someone used to the city at large.
    Since no real conversation was going on, he decided to dig further.
    "So how'd you rebuild the city?" he asked.
    "Oh... that was the winged's idea," Davyid said.  "This is how they made things.  Back when they lived here, I mean, before our world existed.  They just took every memory of the city the survivors had, mixed them together and made a dream-city based on it."
    "It's not the same, though."
    "Nobody remembers things the same way," Davyid said.  "Whenever two minds conflict over how they see something, or if only one person remembers it, there's bound to be some differences to reality."
    "It is still an amazing feat," Chi'Nai said.  "I don't think chimeras could accomplish the same task, even with these resources."
    "Eh?  Why?"
    "They suck at dreaming," Zelgadis said casually.  "They're not human anymore."
    The boy didn't quite get it, but shrugged, and let it go.  "Anyway... you know... we've been theorizing.  I know some people are saying the world's going to end -- although I don't quite see how given that the war isn't much of a war -- but if we tried, we could pull a LOT of people into the World of Dreams and just live here forever.  I mean, it'd be hard work, but we've got an evacuation plan ready."
    "It's better to be safe than sorry," Zelgadis agreed.  "Lina'll probably know more about that world ending thing after her talk with the Lord of Nightmares, anyway.  You can make extra preparations based on--"
    "Sounds good."
    Zel turned to look at the door to Dayvid's laboratory, and the sorceress framed in it.
    "Better to be safe than sorry, right?" Lina repeated.  "Especially given what I've found out.  Call a staff meeting, guys, we need everybody in on this."
    The scene looked familiar.
    The Great Hall of Sailoon Palace remained quite identical to its destroyed counterpart, thanks to the combined memories and dreams of hundreds of servants.  But the real deja vu, in Lina's opinion, was the way everybody was staring at her.  Waiting for her to command the troops.
    This was really the first time they had all been together since setting off on this madcap quest.  Going clockwise around the table, Lina mentally counted off: Gourry, Amelia, Zelgadis, Chi'Nai, Xelloss, Dayvid, Love, Myth, Paradox, Reason, Luck, Drama.  Twenty four eyes in all.
    Lina cleared her throat.  "I suppose you're all wondering why I've called you here."
    "No, not really," Xelloss chirped.
    "Oh.  Well... okay, then, let's get right to business," Lina said.  "I'm happy to report that the Lord of Nightmares has given me basically nothing to report.  She's relying on us wacky humans to just sort of figure it out and act as we go along."
    "We're doomed," Zelgadis doomed.
    "Actually, according to her, that's what I'm.. what we're best at," Lina responded.  "So, here's what's gonna happen.  We'll go to the place where that last thing is and take it and then proceed to step two!"
    Gourry raised his hand politely, like he was in math class.
    "Yes, Gourry?"
    "What's step two?" he asked.
    "There is no step two yet.  We'll burn that bridge when we come to it," Lina said.  "Any questions?"
    "What's step ONE?" Zelgadis asked.  "In more detail.  Please."
    "I think I can help with that.." Dayvid said, pulling some handwritten notes and papers from his Pocket Organizer (a strange invention he made that crumples all your papers up into a tightly packed wedge with some kind of key-based indexing, unless of course it loses track of them.)  He uncrumpled the papers, picked the right one, and tapped it.  "This is where we're going, according to my navigational makes-math-go-faster.  Chaos Island."
    "It'd HAVE to be named that, wouldn't it?" Zelgadis said dryly.
    "Remember, kids, chaos is our friend," Lina cheered.  "So!  We'll just take the Sub Ways, and--"
    Reason cut in.  "The Way Station to that island has been disconnected for generations.  All links to it collapsed days after they were built, and the creators of the Ways refused to rebuild them."
    "...and according to the research I did with some sailors in town," Dayvid continued, "The island is surrounded by a stable hurricane that never goes away.  Any ship approaching is usually destroyed in the winds.  In fact, that's the way it always has been.  I don't think anybody's ever set foot on that island."
    "Hmm.  Setback," Lina admitted.  "Okay.  I'll fly out there and figure out what to do when I get there."
    Paradox jumped in.  "Fly over the ocean?  Are you out of your mind?  Even with magic and with our.. your wings, it's ridiculously far!"
    Lina shook her head.  "My memory's not the best, but... anybody got a Way Station map?"
    Dayvid looked up from the dozens of little wads of paper that were popping out of his organizer, and picked one seemingly at random, rolling it to Lina.  She uncrumpled it, and studied the diagram.
    "Okay... I can take a Way Station to Algeriya.  That's a mini-continent right next to the island.  I cross that, then it's a short hop across a sea inlet and through the storm and BAM!  I'm there.  Seems reasonable.  Eh, Reason?"
    "No," Reason said.
    That gave Lina Pause.  "No?"
    "What... um.  I think what Reason means to say is that you can't go," Gourry said, speaking up without raising his hand.  "Not alone.  We've got to come with you."
    Lina groaned.  "Guys!  This is my fight.  I doubt you could do much, anyway.  The Lord of Nightmares picked me to handle this, and--"
    "What, and pass up such obvious entertainment?" Xelloss put in.  "Oh, I wouldn't miss the end of the world for the world!"
    "Hey!  Don't make me cash in that promise, buster!"
    "What prom... ah!  I remember," Xelloss said, recalling.
    "Exactly.  You promised you'd leave if I asked you to," Lina said.  "It was the only thing you could do to get me to trust you.  It might've been months ago, but it still holds."
    "Oh, fine.  If you're going to be a spoilsport about it, I'll stay here in the World of Dreams," Xelloss grumped, giving in easily.
    Zelgadis coughed lightly, and spoke.  "I didn't make any stupid promises like that," he said.  "I'm coming whether you want me to or not."
    "Me too!!!" Amelia squealed, hurting many ears.  "I mean, whenever you run off to fight somebody big, all your friends are with you!  That's just how it is."
    "Father would want me to ensure that our relic was used appropriately," Chi'Nai rationalized.
    "Actually," Reason said, "My original objection is because Algeriya was vaporized a week ago, and the Way Station along with it.  But I suppose this other reason is valid."
    Lina.. stared at her for a moment, before shaking it off and addressing the group at large.
    "Look, I know you all want to do the dramatic thing and stick around for the Battle Royale with Cheese, but let's be serious here," she insisted.  "You don't HAVE to put yourselves in absolutely obvious danger.  I mean... you guys would be safer up here, where no matter what goes boom, you won't go boom too..."
    The looks in those twenty four eyes were solid.  Lina glanced to Gourry, who had the hardest look of determination she could ever remember seeing in those two globs of glazed putty that were his eyes.
    "...and I take it you don't care about any of that?"
    "Not really, no," Zelgadis said.  "Since when did we let you go do anything alone?"
    Amelia remembered.  "What about the time Lina had to go into the World of Dreams to face Nightmare, and--"
    "BESIDES that," Zelgadis said.  "The Lord of Nightmares told us not to go that time.  Did L-sama say the same thing today, Lina?"
    "Um... no."
    "Okay, then.  Issue resolved," Zel said.  "Actually, we resolved it before you got here, Lina.  Gourry, Amelia, Chi'Nai, Dayvid and I are all coming with you.  It was just a matter of letting you know."
    "Oh, good to know my command is being taken seriously," Lina sarcasmed.
    Myth spoke up.  "The winged are going to stay behind in the World of Dreams.  That way, we can pull people in if everything starts going wrong."
    "Besides," Zelgadis added, "Dayvid here's got a better means of transportation than any silly pair of wings..."
    The S.S. Guppy, the world's most heavily modified leaky little battered wooden boat, rocketed across the ocean at a incalculable speeds.  The last time he had tried to lower some knots in the water to check their rate of velocity, the rope tore in half from the drag.  The thing was moving so fast that Lina's vomit spewed over the side in a technicolor dream which stretched for double digit amounts of feet before it even reached the water, a fact that didn't comfort her in the slightest.
    Still a bit green, she hauled her torso back over the railing and into safety.  The absolute last thing she wanted to do was fall into the ocean.
    "I should have flown," Lina mumbled to herself, keeping a firm hand over her stomach.  "I should have flown.  I should have flown..."
    "I'm the queen of the world!  WOOOO!" Amelia called, from the crow's nest high above, waving her arms in the wind.  "Lina-san!  Isn't this new thing Dayvid made fun?"
    "Fun.  Yes, that's a word you could call it, if you had no common sense," Lina muttered. She switched volumes and called back up.  "The hell does he call this thing again?!"
    "The Makes-Boats-Go-Really-Really-Fast Engine!" she called out, flinging herself out of the crow's nest and to a water grav-- no, actually, she grabbed the rope ladder and scaled down the mast, to join Lina.  "He says it uses this funny spinny thing in the water that goes so fast the boat actually skims over the surface, which is why he put that big fin thing in the back to spoil it!"
    "What, like milk?"
    "Umm.. I dunno.  But BOY, is it fast!"
    "If you don't mind, I think I'll go to my cabin now, pull the pillow over my head and pray to suffocate peacefully," Lina said, lurching along the slightly bouncing deck of the ship.  "Wake me when we get there."
    "But we won't get there until tomorrow," Amelia said.  "You can't stay in your cabin until then!"
    "Name six good reasons why."
    "Uhh... uh... one!  I'm throwing a party tonight!" she said.  "A big celebration, now that we're all together and on a quest again!  We--"
    "A celebration?" Lina asked.  "Since when is being on a quest a GOOD thing?"
    "Well.. of course it is!" Amelia declared.  "A quest is a journey against hardships to prove that goodness can overcome any obstacle!  With our proud spirits burning bright, we will win!"
    "A quest is a series of irritating tasks that lead to a really large, painful fight and a letdown of a reward," Lina countered.
    "Gosh, it's a wonder you're so good at them with that attitude," Amelia said, amazed (but in an impressed sort of way).  "I guess you just have natural talent!"
    "Yeah... I guess I do, at that," Lina had to admit.  After all, God told her so, and that usually was a good indicator.  "But a party?"
    "So we can all have fun and be friends and catch up on old times!" Amelia nodded so hard that her head almost came off.  "After all, we've been separated for awhile!"
    Lina's will wobbled a little.. but she shook her head, with a sigh.  "I'm just not up to it... I'd prefer to go to bed and be woken around the time the world ends, if you...... oh, god.  Not that!"
    Yes -- Amelia was giving her sorceress pal the infamous 'Sailoon Royalty Kicked Puppy' look.  Huge, watery eyes, cute little balled up fists under her chin, humble posture... if it was possible to radiate hurt needing, Amelia was giving off at least sixty thousand rads of it.
    And the voice... "But.. but I just wanted to do something nice for everybody, and--"
    "Okay!  Okay!" Lina agreed, before that went into dangerous, cavity inducing areas.  "Groovy.  Let's party.  Wahoo."
    "WAHOOO!!" Lina shouted, downing the last of the sake bottle.  She tipped it over upside down, shaking it just in case there was anything hiding up there, then tossed it aside.  "Gimmie annudder!"
    This time, Amelia was the worried one.  "Anoooo... don't think you should have--"
    "More!" Lina demanded.  "Or I won't shave the world."
    "What, is it hairy?" Gourry asked, not quite following the slurring.
    The party was loud; the party was disjointed.  Dayvid had brought along a karaoke machine, which had become a near permanent fixture in Amelia's life to date, but it had gotten stuck in PLAYBACK mode and was continually pumping cheesily sweet pop music into the ship's galley.  After awhile, all ears had filtered it out, but it did mean you had to shout a lot to be heard.  Fortunately for the group, the nearest police station was hundreds of miles away, and nobody would be knocking and issuing a complaint from the neighbors.
    Off in the corner, the chimeras were busy having their usual debate of the hour.
    "I never said her dancing on the table and yelling was a GOOD thing, just a normal thing," Zelgadis said.  "That's how humans react to alcohol.  It amplifies feelings, like feeling good, in this case."
    "Another reason to lack emotional responses," Chi'Nai counterpointed.  "That way, alcohol does not affect you so drastically, aside from ordinary dehydration."
    "Okay, I'll concede that it'd help when drunk.  But how often is someone drunk compared to sober?" Zel asked.  "Why ditch it all just so you can tank up?... god.  WHY am I arguing this?"
    "My argument is too logical to continue such a protest."
    "No, not that," Zelgadis said.  "Look... I don't like emotions much either.  The few times I really caved to them, stuff went bad.  In a big way.  One time, I got totally angry at what I thought someone had done to Lina that I didn't notice an obvious trap until I was caught... I mean, if I could have stayed as cool as you do, it wouldn't have happened."
    Chi'Nai had to give pause.  "Then why ARE you arguing it?"
    "Because... because!  I don't know.  Because you're arguing against it, maybe," Zel guessed, dismissively.  "I'm supposed to be helping you and your whole race recover from this state, you know.  I promised your dad."
    "It can't be done," Chi'Nai stated, hard fact as hard as her skin.  "At least I have mastered living without them, unlike my father."
    A germ of an idea festered in Zel's head.  "Prove it, then."
    "Prove it?"
    "Get drunk," he suggested.  "Right here, right now.  It holds a magnifying glass up to your feelings, right?  If you don't change in the slightest, if you don't go nuts, I'll believe you.  But if you've got even a shred of something in there, it'll show.  Makes logical sense.... doesn't it?"
    The chimera girl hesitated.  "That.. would be juvenile.  At best."
    "Chicken," Zel accused, smiling all the way.  Now he was starting to enjoy this.  True, it WAS juvenile, but... somehow, he was getting a kick out of psychologically fencing with the girl.
    "You will not goad me," she defended.
    "And you're just afraid you could be wrong.  Then you'd have to face the fact that you DO have some emotions.  Boy, that'd shake your world, wouldn't it?"
     "...I will prove you wrong.  Get a bottle," Chi'Nai agreed.  "Then perhaps you will learn how silly this is."
    Lina was already dead asleep by the time Chi'Nai had gotten to her fifth bottle.
    "I'd better get her to a bed to rest," Gourry said before departing with her.  "I mean, otherwise, she'll be in terrible shape to save the world tomorrow."
    Amelia and Dayvid retired next, both a little bit drunk as well.
    Even after the others had exited, Chi'Nai was still going.  Zelgadis watched, curiously; the two hadn't talked very much during the process, not trying to tip the hand to each other, other than the occasional taunt.  The only sound was the occasional clink of a bottle, and that karaoke machine, which still hadn't run out of the compressed air that kept it playing.
    "I'll... have you know," Chi'Nai said, wheezing slightly, "That I am experiencing many ill.. illll... negative effects of alcohol by this point.  My motor control is not very......... fast."
    "I can tell," Zelgadis said.  "Feeling emotional yet?"
    "Of course not," Chi'Nai said.  "You should just admit failure.  More drink won't change anything... won't.. no, it won't change anything.  You and father are wrong.  I'm sick of fighting about it."
    "We could discuss anything else.  Weather, literature, sports, poetry, intellectual pursuits.. but no, every time you're always goading me about THAT!" Chi'Nai said, an edge sliding into her tone.  "You're very, very--"
    "Irritating?" Zelgadis offered.
    "Repetitive," Chi'Nai adjusted.  "I don't need feelings.  And I don't need to explain why I don't need feelings to you, of all people.  I don't like you or how you make me fe.. act.  And that's a fact.  So....."
    She got up unsteadily, setting the empty bottle she held aside, took three places, picked up the karaoke machine, tore it in half and dropped it and jumped on the bits until it stopped playing the music that had been quietly driving her up a wall throughout the whole experiment and went to bed.
    Then only Zelgadis remained, utterly speechless.  The mangled remains of the music box gave off a few yellow sparks, and collapsed once more.
    He was tempted to say some metaphor aloud like 'Looks like I cracked her stone' or 'Perhaps there's gold beneath the rock' but just went to bed as well, shaking his head.  That is what he had done, however; she had admitted the truth, whether she accepted it or not.  But what did she mean, how HE made her feel?
    With luck, Zelgadis thought, he could fill her father's wish somewhere in the course of this impending endgame disaster.  Then maybe he'd understand.
Story copyright 1998 Stefan Gagne, characters copyright H. Kanzaka / R. Araizumi.
A Spoof Chase Production.