TURN AND TURN ABOUT

I can't get them all! Oh, damn, this is going to hurt...

"RHIIIIIINNN!!" Azami dropped another Rec with the trank gun, then broke cover to run to Rhiannon's side. "Doctor!" Azami shouted into the headset, "Shea's down!" Rhin had fallen backwards and lay still. She'd been hit several times in the upper torso; she was alive, but Azami was unwilling to make any assumptions beyond that. A swarm of Recs were coming over the hill right above her. Azami kept picking them off, but there were so many, and they fired their shotguns and rifles haphazardly as they charged. Several times, she felt bullets whiz by her; once, she felt a sharp pain in her right leg, but she ignored it.

Mendi got to them just before Dr. Helding did and helped Azami fend off the Recs. Helding ran a quick scan on Shea.

"We have to get her inside, now!" she said. Azami kept up covering fire as Mendi lifted Rhin and ran with her to the ops truck, Helding and Azami close behind. But, as they reached the truck, Azami hesitated; there wouldn't be much room in there, with all the refugees, and she'd just get in Dr. Helding's way. She paused at the foot of the steps, thinking she should take her usual place with the transport team in the smaller vehicle. Everyone was already scrambling inside.

Then Mendi leaned out of the door, extending a hand to help her up. "Inside, Major, you've been hit, too!"

"What?" Azami started up the steps, then cried out as pain suddenly lashed her leg and the knee gave way. Mendi caught her and hauled her inside, hitting the door-closing panel with an elbow as soon as they were clear. He nodded at Valdoon, who gave the word to M'Kinzie. Bullets continued to ping off the armored vehicles as they drove away.

Inside the truck, Dr. Helding put Shea in the BRD and began work on her injuries while Mendi tore away Azami's uniform trouser leg to inspect her injury. If the femoral artery had been damaged, she could bleed to death in minutes. There didn't seem to be enough blood to indicate that, fortunately.

"Looks like it went straight through," Mendi said, gingerly probing the entry and exit wounds. Azami bit her forearm to keep from screaming.

"I...don't think it hit...the bone either," Azami ground between clenched teeth. Mendi nodded.

"It's gone just to the outside, then," he said, applying a pressure bandage.

"Give her this," said Dr. Helding, sparing a part of her attention long enough to toss Mendi an ampule of anaesthetic. He pressed the hypospray in above the wounds.

After a minute or so, Azami sighed and slumped against the bulkhead. "How's Rhin?' she asked the doctor.

"Not good."

Azami closed her eyes and prayed to every god she could think of...

Back at the City, Rhin, and one of the refugees, who had slipped into shock, were rushed into the Infirmary. Dr. Lasco met them there and took over Shea's care from Dr. Helding. One of the medtechs ran the regen wand over Azami's leg to close the wounds, then Azami hobbled over to join Mendi, 23 and the others at the diac chambers, all the while casting worried glances over at the ICU where Rhin was. She even forgot to ogle Mendi when their turn came to disrobe and step into the machine.

She collected her vitals chip and bolted from the infirmary. 23 looked after her worriedly.

"Hey, M'Kinzie," he said. The blond, lanky driver shrugged into his uniform jacket and approached.

"Yes, sir?"

"Do you know where Azami and Shea's quarters are?"

"Uh, yeah. Why?"

"Azami just took off, I want to make sure she's okay."

"That's weird; I would have thought she'd stay here to keep an eye on Shea."

"Me too," agreed 23.

"There's nothing she can do here," Mendi pointed out. "Maybe she wants to be alone." If that was the case, he knew how she felt. Everyone pestering you; wanting to know what happened, how you were doing, offering condolences...

23 regarded his big friend closely. "Sometimes, Mendi, people shouldn't be alone, even when they think they want to be." For a moment 23 looked all of his sixty-five years.

Mendi avoided those suddenly old eyes, but said, "You...must not have seen her expression."

"Oh?"

"She looked like she was going to kill something."

"Oh." 23 gnawed on a knuckle. "That's different."

M'Kinzie grimaced. "Well, at least we know where she is, now." The other two turned to him in query.

"Dojo." M'Kinzie started down the corridor, the others following closely.

The door to the dojo was locked, no surprise. Judging from the violent pounding sounds from inside, Azami was definitely here. M'Kinzie put a hand on the doorpanel, but 23 and Michael shook their heads. He let his hand fall, and stood there for a moment, listening. "I'm going to the Snake Pit to wait for results. If anything...happens, let me know, will you?"

"Of course," 23 assured him. He and Michael watched the driver walk back down the hall.

With a sigh, 23 slid down the wall to rest sitting on the ground. He leaned his head back and covered his eyes with the heels of his hands.

Mendi sat also, crosslegged, with his chin propped on his fist, staring at the door, wondering what it was, precisely, she was doing to make such an awful racket.

About ten minutes later, 23's comdeck cheeped at him. He made a face, but, "This is 23."

Valdoon, unusually formal, "Lieutenant-Colonel, General Mede has called a Command meeting. We need to gate over in five minutes."

23 got to his feet. "On my way, Colonel." Turning the comdeck off, he looked at Mendi.

"I'll stay here," Michael promised. The meeting was for senior officers only; the Lieutenant could keep vigil.

23 briefly closed his eyes in pain; he wanted to say something, anything, but he had neither words nor time. "Thank you," he murmured finally, inadequately, and left.

Mendi stayed, and tried futilely to keep at bay the thoughts and images of Shea, bleeding to death in Surgery. Her blood was still on his clothes...

Perhaps half an hour later, Dennis, the sensei who had taken over most of Azami and Rhin's classes when they had joined the RCF, came to retrieve something he'd accidentally left there that morning. "Can I help you?" he said, noting Mendi, and his bloodstained and rumpled RCF uniform. Mendi stood.

"I'm Michael Mendi, a friend of Azami and Shea's," he said. How odd to say that so casually... "Rhiannon was hurt on a mission today; Azami's inside. I...don't think it would be a good idea for anyone to walk in on her right now."

"Oh jeeze." Dennis' distress was plain on his face. "How is Rhin?"

"She was critical when I left." He shoved away the image of her tiny body in his arms; her chest torn, blood running down his arms...

Dennis' dark golden skin had paled. Michael shook himself. "Look, um, I have good reason to know that the doctors can do some amazing patch-up work..." He trailed off uncomfortably.

Probably because they've done so for you, Dennis was thinking. Most civillians were aware of the Haz Lib's high casualty rate. "All right," he said aloud. "You can stay here if you want; what I was after can wait. Have Azami call me when you hear anything about Rhin." He considered the HL officer for a moment. "If Azami doesn't come out in a reasonable amount of time, here's the key code. Be careful, though; if she picks up anything with an edge, run."

Mendi managed a half-grin. "Thank you, I will."

When Dennis had gone, Mendi turned back to the locked door, wondering how long a 'reasonable amount of time' was. The thumping inside had calmed down somewhat. Then Azami gave a shout that raised the hackles on his neck, and there was a final, heavy thud. He punched the code and leaped inside as soon as the door was open enough to admit him.

He immediately spotted her over at the far corner, standing over the remains of the sparring bag. The chain that suspended it from the ceiling had broken, and the canvas was torn in several places, spilling sawdust onto the mat. Blood trickled down her leg; the regen wand was better than stitches at closing a wound, but the effects tended to be fragile for several days.

Azami turned at his entrance. "Mendi," she growled, making his name a warning.

He turned and relocked the door behind him. Very carefully, he threw his belt and jacket onto a bench to one side, then knelt and removed his boots and socks before stepping onto the mat. He knew to bow, as well.

Racks of wooden practise weapons stood against the wall to his left. He knew from training sessions that she could take him apart bare-handed, but Uncle Carlos had taught him how to use a staff. He eyed the hardwood lengths and chose the two longest ones. Slowly, he walked across the mat and proffered one to Azami.

"Idiot," was all she said, taking the staff.

"Maybe," he answered. "You already killed the bag."

She struck with no warning -- Gods but she's quick! -- putting him on the defensive right off the mark; but he'd expected that. All he wanted to do was give her rage and frustration a target, and hopefully keep her from doing any irreparable damage to himself or the dojo.

He had reach on her, but once inside that circle, she wasn't pulling her blows much. He was going to have bruises...

He had no idea how long they fought. It didn't matter. Finally her strikes began to lose their ferocity. He caught her across the upper arm, knocking her to the floor. Instantly contrite, he held out a hand to her. She took it...and threw him. But she dropped her staff and left him where he fell; walking away, her back to him.

She stopped near the far side of the long room. Her breathing went ragged and her shoulders were shaking as she hid her face in her hands. Mendi crawled to his feet. Approaching warily, he came up behind her. He touched her shoulder. She didn't react, except to allow him to put his arms around her. He ignored his bruises and held her when her wounded leg collapsed; slowly lowering them both to sit on the mat, silent while her quiet flood of tears cleared the helpless anger out of her system.

Wearily, he let his own tears fall; not sure how much of his reaction was at Azami's pain, or his own fear for Rhin. Shea was such a bright spark; it hurt -- even after having only known her for a few months -- to think of that flame going dark.

Losing a limb would be easier than this, Azami thought over and over. Dying would be easier. She and Rhin had been virtually inseparable since the age of five. Neither the meteor nor the Recs had come between them. She had lost her parents, lost two of her brothers, including her twin, lost Billy-Bear... To lose Rhin now would cut away too much of herself. She felt as if she stood on the edge of a high, grey precipice, with only a void before her. Not even darkness to swallow her if she fell; if Rhin fell.

And Azami would follow.

Some time later, with Azami limp and silent, leaning against him, Mendi collected their gear and escorted her back to her quarters, locking the dojo behind them and gating over to the RCF complex. Under other circumstances, he would have been intrigued by the decor, for it was unusual; but for now he ignored it. She sat impassively as he cleaned the now-clotted wounds on her leg, then tucked her into her bed.

"Azami," he said, shaking her a little, unwilling to leave her in this listless state. "Azami." He took her chin in one hand and turned her face toward his. She blinked, and, for the first time since their staff-duel, looked at him. Her eyes were an odd light brown, flecked with amber; rather bloodshot now, and tear-swollen. But the emptiness he'd seen in them earlier was gone, or had at least retreated for now. He got up from where he'd sat at the edge of the bed, but paused at the doorway.

"Isn't 'Azami' your last name?" he asked. Azami sat up, staring at him quizzically. "What's your first name?"

She snorted. "Tethys. A Greek goddess, wife of Oceanus, daughter of Uranus; also a moon of Saturn and a sea on Earth during the Permian. Why?"

"Tethys," he said musingly. "Suits you. Why don't you use it?"

Azami flopped back on the bed, pain shadowing her face again. "Got teased about it a lot as a kid." She said flatly. "Rhin would beat the crap out of anyone who did it in her hearing...That's why she calls me 'Tes'; for short."

Michael groaned inwardly. There was probably nothing he could say now that wouldn't be a reminder. He went back over and sat on the bed again. "Listen to me; you remember when you and Rhin were first transferred to HL-1; what a mess I was. I still have the scars." -- although those were starting to fade, -- "If they could put me back together, Rhin will be all right." He managed a lopsided grin. "Besides, you know she's too stubborn to die!"

"You're probably right," she sighed, closing her eyes. Unsure if he should content himself with that or not, he hesitated.

Then Azami sat up suddenly and hugged him hard enough to make his ribs creak. He gasped and winced, but hugged back, not quite as hard. She released him and lay back down, pulling the covers up to her chin. He understood.

"'Night," he said, getting up. He turned out the lights and shut the door behind him.

Outside her quarters, he bumped into 23, literally.

"Mendi!" 23 said, rebounding off the big Lieutenant's chest. "Is Azami in there? Is she okay?"

"Yes, and maybe. Any word on Rhin?"

"Uhh, yeah, she's out of surgery, but Doc won't lay any odds until morning. What did she do to you?" 23 indicated the dark splotch spreading across the edge of Michael's jaw. The weapons officer was holding himself rather stiffly as well.

"Craig, I'm really tired, I'll talk to you in the morning; I'm going to bed now." He put a hand briefly on 23's shoulder, then lumbered off down the hallway, holding his midsection gingerly.

"Waitaminute, Michael," 23 called, following and catching the other man's arm to halt him. "You'd better stop in at the Infirmary and let Doc do something about those ribs; you'll feel much worse in the morning if you don't."

Michael closed his eyes and thought about it, doing an internal tally of the damage. "I...think you're right." He did a slow about-face and headed toward the Infirmary.

23 watched him go, a bit dazedly. An impending headache told him that he had best get some sleep soon. He groaned and shuffled off to tumble into his own bed.

That night, Michael dreamed that he stood, unable to move, unable to scream, at the edge of the cliff while Jacine fell, her face turned upwards to him in silent terror; and coyotes howled in the dark...

He woke with a shout, drenched with sweat and shaking. He gasped for breath against the pain; of sore ribs, and the pain he endured and supressed every day. But when he was exhausted, the pain threatened to overcome him; he ran through the disciplines frantically, but it was hard when his mind was in disarray like this. He thought of calling Jacine; she could calm him down even when he felt like his bones and brain were gong to explode. And he needed to see her safe and whole. He rolled heavily out of bed and stumbled for the phone. The number was in the memory... Please let her be home...

His sister answered after the first ring, awake even at this time of night, in her workshop. "Hey, Michael, what're--? Michael!" She immediately saw what was wrong and leaned forward, grabbing the phone as if she wanted to gate through the vid-link.

"Michael, breathe deeply, easy, now,--" She kept her voice low and reassuring, taking him through the steps even though he knew them; saying anything just so he knew he wasn't alone...

After several minutes, the lines of pain in his face eased and Jacine sat back in her chair, relieved. "What happened--? No, nevermind; you go back to bed. Call me back later and tell me, or leave a message." She gave him a measuring look to make sure he was going to be okay. "Get some sleep!"

Michael smiled wanly at her and nodded. "Thanks, Sib."

***

***

***

The next morning, the HL-1 officers were hard put to not converge on the Infirmary. Azami and Mendi both looked awful. Valdoon came in a few minutes after the beginning of the shift to report on Shea's condition.

"She's in the ICU, and listed as 'severe', but Dr. Lasco says she ought to pull through." Sighs and quiet cheers ran through the room. "Major Azami, the doctor will page you as soon as Shea regains consciousness."

"Thanks, Colonel," she sighed. Michael reached over and squeezed her shoulder gently.

"I told you so," he said, grinning. She stuck her tongue out at him, feeling a bit giddy. She got up from her console and bounced over to 23 at the ExSat display.

"Anything out there, 23? I'm going to go nuts if I have to sit around here all day, polishing the desk!"

"You need something to do, Major?" Valdoon asked.

"Oops. I asked for it..."

23 tsked at her. "You should know better than to volunteer for anything!"

***

***

***

At the end of their shift, the next morning, Azami was in the Infirmary, at Rhin's bedside, poking at the bag of regen gel surrounding her friend. Rhin had come to a couple of hours past dawn and had immediately asked for Azami. She had the day off, and had come as soon as she'd eaten breakfast.

"Help, help," Azami said quietly, in mock distress. "I'm trapped in a bag of Jello!" Rhin grinned weakly at her. "You look like an amoeba."

"Thanks a lot," Rhin said, her usually beautiful voice still husky from the entubement she'd undergone during surgery. They chatted for awhile, Azami doing most of the talking, telling Rhin how Mendi had offered himself as a sort of sacrificial lamb the evening before.

"The man's nice enough to make sure you're doing okay, and what do you do? You pound him! Tes, you are not a nice person!"

Genuinely embarrassed, Azami ducked her head. "Well, I suppose better him than 23."

"Better who than me?" came 23's voice from the doorway. Azami beckoned him in. "And for what?"

"She was telling me how she clobbered Mendi last night at the dojo," Rhin explained, as 23 came over and leaned over so she could see his face. "And I told her she wasn't nice, and she said it was better that it'd been Mendi there than you."

"Oh," said 23, grinning. "Lucky I got called off to that meeting. How're you feeling, Rhin?"

"Not bad for a human pincushion. How's Mendi?"

"Dunno, haven't seen him yet this morning." 23 smiled. It was interesting, and heartening, to see the links between these two, and Tamlynn, and Michael grow. Michael had his work cut out for him to choose between the three, if that's how it was going to work out. No, 23 was fairly certain, even so soon, that one of the three, at least, would get through Michael's black armor. Right now, though, he wouldn't lay any bets as to which one... In any case, 23 in no way envied him!

"Tes, you beast, he's probably too stiff to get out of bed!" Despite the levity of her words, Rhin's voice was growing fainter. Dr. Lasco came in and greeted them, checking her bioscan readings. Azami and 23 watched him anxiously.

"Visiting hour's over, you two; get out of here and let her rest. And tell the rest of your unit to stay out, too."

"You're no fun," protested Rhin.

"I'll let them mob you in another couple of days, if that'll make you feel any better. Isn't your family gating in this afternoon?"

"Some of 'em anyway," Azami said, grinning. Dr. Lasco nodded.

"Let me know when they arrive, then, Major, and they can come in to see her as well, but no-one else."

"Tes is family, too," Rhin said, adopting a petulant whimper for effect. Dr. Lasco raised an eyebrow at her, then turned to Azami.

"In-laws; two of my brothers married a couple of her 'cousins'," she explained.

"Fine, now get!" Dr. Lasco shooed them out like a mother hen. 23 and Azami waved at Rhin and scurried out.

"She comes from a pretty big family, doesn't she?" 23 asked as they walked down the corridor, heading for nowhere in particular. Azami laughed.

"Huge is more like it," she answered. "Or it was, before the Youth Drug." 23 nodded, understanding. "And they've been doing their darndest to rebuild their numbers ever since! Some of those Sheas breed like rabbits."

23 laughed. "And your brothers married into the Clan, to ah, help..." Azami chortled.

"Absolutely! And twins run in our family."

"Oh no!"

"Oh yes! I'm a twin myself."

23 looked up at her in surprise. Two women her size? Or... "Identical or fraternal?"

"Fraternal."

Oh. But still-! "I feel sorry for your mother."

"Hey, Martin and I were the second set; by the time we came along, she had the routine down!"

"Was the first set fraternal, too?"

"No. Ethan and Eric are identical. Then James came two years later, and seven years after that; Martin and I. And for your next question, Martin's older by seven minutes."

23 shook his head. "Four older brothers." He wished all he'd had to contend with was four...

"Yeah, and all but Martin hit black belt before I did."

"Oof." Well, at least I didn't have that kind of expertise to contend with. 13's bellicose, but he's not as good a fighter as he thinks he is. He's just a lot better at it than I am... He knew the martial arts were suposed to teach discipline, and how to avoid conflict, rather than exacerbate it; but he also knew that all children tested their limits, especially on their siblings. "By the way, where are we going?" Actually they were near Michael's quarters; he wasn't sure if Azami knew that or not, though.

"Oh," said Azami. "Well, where are we?" She twirled around, getting her bearings.

"Very graceful," 23 commented.

"Where are Mendi's quarters?"

23 stifled a chuckle and pointed down the left-hand corridor at the cross-section they had come to. "Just down this way."

When they came to his door, 23 knocked, in the unlikely event that Michael was still asleep. Michael answered after a moment and waved them inside. The bruise on his jaw had been taken care of by regen wand; it was hardly noticeable.

"How're the ribs?" 23 asked, half concerned, half jovial. Michael quirked a smile at Azami's horrified expression.

"Not too bad, all things considered," he said. "Only a couple were broken."

"Oh gods, Mendi, I am so sorry...I-"

"I'm kidding, Azami! Nothing's broken...just felt like it, till I got to the Infirmary."

"Ohh, jeeze!" Azami's cheeks had turned bright pink, and she was biting her fingertips. "You were so nice, even after I...I know better than to go after someone like that! Mendi-"

"Michael."

"-Michael, I'm...really sorry..."

Michael and 23 exchanged a look.

"Azami, I knew, more or less, what I was in for when I walked onto that mat. You'd already broken one punching bag..."

"Oh, gods!"

"I heal quickly...and I'm not exactly made of china, either."

"Good thing, too," 23 murmured, mostly to himself, though he supposed Michael heard him. He was beginning to wonder if he should manufacture some excuse to leave them alone -- so Azami could apologize in a more personal fashion, perhaps...

"But--"

"I'm fine, honestly."

"But..." Rhin would have jumped up and hugged him, or something, (well, maybe not, considering...) Azami knew, but all she could do was stand there writhing in guilt, whimpering, with her face no doubt as red as Rhin's hair; damned Oriental Blush Syndrome! She reached out and laid her hands on his arms, wanting to do more, but not wanting to embarrass Michael in front of 23.

"How's Rhin doing?" Michael asked them, cutting off any further apologies Azami might make. Azami broke the contact.

"She's awake and cracking jokes," said 23. "But Dr. Lasco chased us out of the Infirmary until day after tomorrow; he says we can all descend on her then. And apparently half the entire Shea Clan is going to show up this afternoon."

"No," said Azami. "Only about six of them."

"How many Sheas are there?" Michael asked.

"Lots; I only know three or four dozen of them personally, and I've been around 'em for most of my life."

"And I thought I had a big family," chuckled 23.

"Which reminds me," said Michael. "I just got off the phone with Jacine when you two showed up. She told me to tell everyone hello."

"What's she up to?" 23 asked.

"Oh, some ______________ project for ____________. She's _____________________________________________." Michael gestured them finally toward the couch and chairs while he headed for the kitchen. "Either of you want anything to drink? It's still a couple of hours before noon, but if you're hungry..."

"Just water, thanks," said 23.

"Um, do you have any apple juice?"

Michael checked the fridge. "Nope. How about grape?"

"That's fine, thank you." Azami glanced at her watch while Michael got their drinks. "So, it's about ten now, and the Shea bunch won't be gating in till two; so I have four hours to kill."

"What would you like to do?" 23 asked, with the air of a gentleman inquiring of a Lady.

Azami bit her lowerr lip in thought for a moment, then her eyes lit with mischief. "I have an idea, if you guys don't mind moving the party to my place...?"

23 shrugged. "Fine with me. Michael?"

Michael returned from the kitchen and handed them their drinks, having decided to join Azami with grape juice. "Lead on, Mac Duff."

"Shakespeare," said Azami, as they rose and headed for the door.

"Ladies first," 23 said, bowing Azami ahead of him out the door.

"You..." she huffed, swishing the end of her braid across his face and sauntering past him. 23 waggled an eyebrow at Michael and followed; Michael came last, letting the door close behind him.

As Azami led them striding through the halls, her long braid swaying in front of them like a sinuous pendulum, 23 snuck a look at Michael, walking beside him. The Lieutenant-Colonel smiled to himself. Michael was watching her all right, and not just that braid, either! There were chinks in that armor...

They got to Azami's quarters and she ushered them in. Michael got the chance to look around this time, while Azami rummaged around in her bedroom for something.

[DESCRIBE ROOM AS SOON AS I FIGURE SOMETHING OUT, DON'T FORGET MIDGARD!]

"Ah HAH!" Azami rejoined them, waving a viewdisk over her head. Michael and 23 made themselves comfortable on the overstuffed couch amid a dozen pillows while she put it into the machine. She winced as squatting down pulled at the not quite healed injury.

"Oh, hey, how's the leg doing?" 23 asked. Michael leaned forward, ready to extend a hand to steady her if necessary.

"It's all right," she answered. "I just forget to be careful of it."

Michael knew the feeling. Wounds treated by the regen wand could fool you into thinking they were healed completely and catch you off guard if you moved in the wrong way.

"Ah," said 23. "So, what's on the disk?"

"Rhin was in a small production of ______ a few years ago, and a friend of hers made a disk for me. Thought you guys might like to see it, and I sure could use the lift. She was in Les Miserables awhile ago, too, as Eponine, but I couldn't watch that right now, I'd be a great big puddle on the floor."

23 nodded sagely. "That'd ruin the carpet."

Azami shot him a grin and started the disk. She settled herself on the floor with her back against the couch, comfortably between 23 and Michael; close enough to rest her head on either of their knees if she wanted to. Out of habit, she flung her braid up onto the couch so she wouldn't be sitting on it. Michael reflexively caught the heavy plait in midair, to keep it from spilling his drink.

"Hey, watch it with that thing," 23 said, watching Michael decide what to do with the braid, now that he had it. Michael set his drink on the side table and carefully coiled the length into a neat loop on the cushion between them. He was thinking that with JRhin's hair being so long, also, one could tie the two braids together, like shoelaces... 23 was strongly tempted to reach out and toy with it; hair that long was rare, and Azami had said more than once that she was used to people -- even relative strangers -- playing with it. It was like having a tail. During the course of the musical, he noticed Michael's hand straying more than once to absently twiddle with the thick, shiny rope of it.

She could tie me up with that hair anytime... 23 chased that stray thought out of his mind with a net; and was heartily glad neither of the other two could read his mind! Just watch the disk, you dirty old man...

[DESCRIBE PLAY IN MINOR DETAIL, AS SOON AS SOMEONE FIGURES OUT WHAT THE PLAY SHOULD BE; SOMETHING THAT THAT BROTHER OF 23'S WROTE THE SCORE FOR, BUT OBVIOUSLY AZAMI DOESN'T KNOW THAT]

"She's good," 23 said, impressed. Michael nodded mutely, thinking. He was comparing the way she had sang to him in the courtyard with the way she sang in the play, and the difference was interesting.

Azami gazed at Michael for a moment, then grinned at 23. Poor Micahel, she thought, we have him so turned around it's a wonder he hasn't told all three of us to go jump in a lake! "Rhin practically sang in the womb, to hear her mother tell it," she said.

"She's not a twin, too, is she?" 23 asked mischievously. Azami laughed.

"Oh no; there's not enough energy in any one mother to give birth to more than one like her at a time!" All three laughed at that.

"Are you a twin, then?" Michael asked.

"Yep; I have -- had -- a twin brother; Martin. He went Rec, and so did the middle brother, James."

"That must have been..." 23 trailed off, with a slight shudder.

"Scary," said Azami, finishing his sentence for him. "I was fairly alarmed. Kept waiting for it to happen to me, too. Rhin's family was decimated, despite that the Clan isn't as inbred as the town people thought."

"This Clan of hers sounds more interesting every time one of you mentions it," said 23.

"Well, you'll get to meet a handfull of them in an hour and a half," Azami replied. "Speaking of the time, I'm starving; do either of you have any preferences of lunch, or shall I try to toss somehting together here?"

"Oh, no," said Michael. "I've heard about you in the kitchen. Rhin says you can't boil water without burning it first!"

"Hey, she should talk," Azami protested. "The pancake disaster was as much her fault as mine!"

"Pancake disaster?"

"Well, they were supposed to be buckwheat pancakes, only they came out sort of greyish brown, with little black spots all over them; and even the dogs wouldn't eat them. Where do you want to go, then? Or do you guys have plans...?"

"I do have some errands I ought to run..." 23 began, but a slightly alarmed look from Michael changed his mind. "But they can wait. I want to meet these relatives of Rhin's."

"How about ________, then?" Michael suggested.

"Sounds good," 23 and Azami said together.

"Oh no," 23 groaned. "Now they have me doing it too!"

They left Azami's and headed out of the RCF complex, out and up into the City, to the South Pyramid, where _______ was. They dawdled over lunch, killing time, but enjoying the conversation. At quarter till, they wandered over to the main City gate terminus to wait for the Sheas.

[NEXT, MEETING THE SHEAS. MOIRA--A MATRIARCH, RHIN'S MOTHER OR GRANDMOTHER OR SOME CLOSE, MATERNAL RELATIVE. BRANNAN, SEAN, SIOBHAN, CONNOR & KYLA. AZAMI RUNS AND FLINGS HERSELF INTO MOIRA'S ARMS, CRYING AGAIN. 23 AND MICHAEL LOOK ON, BRANNAN MAKES INTROS...]