"She's too young. I won't have it."
He stopped braiding my hair and stepped back. I didn't really blame him. The girl felt the same way, but I knew what needed to be done. It would have been better if he'd waited to bring it up, though. The girl loves being fussed over like this, and it's one of the few pleasures I can allow her.
"Sir, it's the only way to settle who's right about the 'other world', and we need to know that answer. How can we fight them if we don't know?"
"Is that what this is about, Riri? You want to be right so badly you'd expose Katie to the ANIMa?"
The girl recoiled - that stung her - but I wouldn't let her show him how on target he was. I did want to be right - because if he was right, then there's no way for us to win. You can't fight unreason and magic with science.
The nature of our disagreement was simple. I have always maintained that the so-called "other world" that the ANIMa allows access to is a real place, probably the home world of the enemy, and that the ANIMa enables us to hijack a physical being or construct there, much as the Monsters are most likely a terrestrial organism that has been re-purposed by the enemy and modified. The imagery - giant robots, bizarre monsters, flaming swords, an altered San Francisco, all the rest - is simply the byproduct of a human mind attempting to map something alien through an interface that was never designed with human perceptions in mind. It's a clumsy system, and refining the instrumentation we use to monitor the Pilot's nerve activity is the surest method to get a clearer picture of what is actually going on in the other world.
The Professor, on the other hand, is not a particularly scientifically-minded person. His background is literature, of all things. And of course he takes a more romantic and mythical view.
His position is that the "other world" is a telepathic state of communion with the aliens. In this state, imagination and access to a broad library of potent fictional and mythic archetypes are the key to success - thus, the appearance and potency of the ANIMa being linked to things out of fantastic fiction of humans defeating alien invasions and supernatural menaces, and the apparent scaling of effectiveness based on specific emotional formations in the Pilot's psyche.
Of course, there is no known - or even theoretical - mechanism that could allow for something like that, whereas my interpretive model is well-founded on known neurological phenomena such as NDEs, drug hallucinations, and even so-called "alien abduction" narratives caused by disorders in the sleep/wake system. It's ludicrous. The girl adores him, but I confess I find the Professor rather tiresome much of the time.
Still, Professor Daulaire is the nominal leader of our ragtag army, so it's vital that I show him how wrong he is. It's regrettable, but the only good experiment available to us is to recruit a Pilot with a markedly stronger imagination and a deep devotion to colorful fictional monster-fighters and see if her performance is better or worse than the others.
I just wish it wasn't the girl's best friend.
"Professor. We've already agreed that this is the only experiment available to us. Please stop wasting our valuable time and help me get dressed. Riri needs to tell her soon."
"Marie! I wish you wouldn't talk about yourself like that. It's very unhealthy for you to perpetuate this dissociative fiction. I know perfectly well that you enjoy the attention. And that Katie is *your* friend, not 'the girl's'."
I hand him the hairbrush and let the girl have her way. She snuggles against him as he starts the braid again.
I am sorry, Riri. But it's best you keep your innocence. So I will bear what needs to be done.