25th September, 2091
Gendo smiled, a hint of genuine happiness entering his smirk. He had got back from Chicago, the capital of the New Earth Government and the Ashcroft Foundation alike to find that the Fourth Herald had been killed. Surprisingly, he was not at his desk, instead standing by a transparent wall, looking out.
Him and Fuyutsuki were in his office, looking over the London Geocity. The temperature had been reduced, to mimic the evening, and trigger the diurnal cycles of the lifeforms which made the Geocity an ecosystem. Indeed, a migration of its own was occurring, as employees of the Foundation flocked upwards and outwards, to their homes in London-2, above. Very few people actually lived in the Geocity, what with the fact that it was more expensive, due to vastly lower housing density, and the fact that even the strongest at heart were somewhat offput by the knowledge that arcane research occurred down here.
Above the transparent dome of the room, the false stars, D-Engine powered lights, began their tracked movement over the ceiling, replicating the movement of the night sky from before civilisation.
“Has the origin of the data leak been traced? AHNUNG are furious with whoever managed to subvert Ashcroft security, and broadcast data from our own security cameras, leaking it to the public, and outing the Third Child to the entire Academy. They seem to be taking it personally. The fact that the Evangelion Project is now public knowledge among the intelligence community, and the public itself knows that there is some kind of large mecha in London-2, seems to have enraged them”
The tone was cold, dispassionate, and studiously neutral, revealing nothing about his feelings. Kozo Fuyutski answered in kind.
“I am afraid not, Ikari. The Magi have not been able to locate the source except in the broadest sense. After it was released, a second virus wiped every single optical or magnetic storage device. We will have to live with the fact that the Project appears to be an open secret among anyone who might know, and the information about it is spreading through the public metanet very rapidly, to the extent that the OIS isn't even trying to slow it. They have decided to go public with a speed that stops those old meddlers from pulling on what strings they have. They're already deliberately leaked a second set of images, of Unit 01 against the Kathirat. SFS-level edited, of course.”
“Such a shame. This deliberate blow against the secrecy of the Project has made it impossible for AHNUNG to keep the Evangelions, which are a necessary component of the Human Iteracy Project completely secret. They do not have the NEG completely eating out of their hands; there are other groups with influence, and the vast majority are members of no group.”
“Yes. Such a dreadful shame. It is likely that the GIA and the OIS will be poking around, to find out what else is being hidden by Ashcroft.”
Gendo looked over his shoulder, smiling broadly, his blank façade cracked.
“Well, we wouldn't want that, would we. It would be terrible if the OIS or the GIA were to find any conspiracies. Of course, they would have considerably more problems telling apart AHNUNG, the Eldritch Society, and the attempts by Chrysalis to get people into the project.”
“About that, Gendo,” his old teacher said, frowning, “we caught another infiltrator from the Children of Chaos in our intake pool. Someone had tagged him as suspect, although we have no record of that alteration being made in his file. Probably an assassin; he was a Dhohanoid. Someone (another someone, by my guess) had altered his DNA profile to conceal that marker that those monsters all share, thus he read up on clean with scans.”
Gendo raised one finger to his temple.
“Don't worry. The Chrysalis Corporation has been having trouble recently with the Eldritch Society, from espionage reports from my network. They don't know what we're doing, they're just poking into secrets. Their master will know, for He always knows. We can only hope that what we plan will amuse Him enough that He will not be bored.”
“Gendo,” Kozo said, with a hint of irritation in his voice, “you don't need to explain this to me. I know just as well as you do that the Crawling Chaos basically holds veto over the success of our plan, or of AHNUNG's.”
Gendo shrugged, adjusting his glasses as the movement caused them to slide down his nose.
“I know. I was just seeing how long I could delay you before you asked me where I had been when the Fourth attacked, old friend. In justification, I did take the first flight back when I heard.”
The elder man snorted. “I knew it. Very well, then. Where were you? You knew that the Kathirat was predicted to attack just then.”
“Preparing for the reactivation of Unit 00,” replied Gendo, any hint of levity gone from his voice. “I had to visit the Auburn Facility in Chicago. I talked with the director of the Herkunft Institute, about Rei. We don't want a repeat of the problems we had with her synchronisity with the previous attempt.” He paused. “It is worse that we might have thought. From the omissions in what he said, from what I could tell they were trying to hide, they might be resolving the problems with the Fourth Infant, and thus opening the route to the completion of Xue'Vehulu'Ia'Ia.”
The white haired man looked shocked. “Really? They have found a use for the brain-dead shell?”
“So it would seem. We must keep their agents away from the Heralds at all costs.”
The next day, the day after the death of an entity which had pre-dated the evolution of mankind, its killer, Shinji Ikari, was in pain. Not major pain; nothing had been broken in the fight with the Kathirat, but all his muscles ached, and his fingers felt numb and uncooperative. The backlash from repeated use of the Lightning Cannon at close ranges when one would have normally been enough to reduce him to smoking flesh, had left him with minor neurological damage; damage equivalent to that of a very minor stroke. Of course, the command staff had known about it from the internal biomonitors, and as soon as they had extracted him from the entry plug, they had taken him to an arcanotherapist, where the comparatively minor damage was fixed. However, the new neural tissue was still not an exact replica, and thus he had been warned that he would be clumsy for a few days.
Adding insult to injury, he had been reprimanded by Misato, for the use of the Lightning Cannon in such close proximity. According to her, it had risked damaging both the Evangelion and the pilot, which he had found out the hard way. Unit 01 was having to undergo a full cleansing cycle, because the blood of the Kathirat was both mildly acid, and highly carcinogenic, before the repair cycle to fix the damage which the Lightning Cannon had self-inflicted could even be fixed. He hadn't even been permitted a day off, to recover. It was like... it was like she didn't know really how to treat him. She flipped between treating him as a room mate (and thus leaving him to do the cooking and cleaning), and as her command (in the combat situations). She seemed to try to be somewhat motherly, but she had no experience at that, so just followed what the media told her that a good parent did. And one of the things that were done was that parents did not permit their children to miss school. And thus she did it.
The rest of the class didn't flock around him, like they had yesterday. The talk from the headmaster, and the knowledge that he had been the one piloting the Engel in the images that were circulating the metanet put an invisible barrier around him, one of respect, and almost fear. He looked again. Many of them seemed to be stealing glances at Hikary first, before they tried to furtively stare at him, averting their gaze from him if it looked like she was looking.Ah. Another reason for the lack of the swarm. Obviously Hikary had a talk with them. She's like a secret policeman... no, that's not the right word. And where were Ken and Toja? Maybe the OIS hadn't released them yet.
The two arrived late, sprinting in about an hour before lunch, doctor's notes paraded in front of Hikary, who had leapt to “greet” them at the door to the classroom with such speed that she appeared to have not bothered with passing through the intervening space.
“Doctor's note... it's... valid... don't kill us...” panted the out-of-breath Toja, bent double with exertion.
“Not... our fault...” added his equally winded compatriot.
stared at the two notes, and at their faces.
“Amli katu wha disnu
...” she breathed in shock.
Both of them were wearing medical eye protectors on both eyes, just like the one that had been over the left eye of Rei Ayanami. These ones looked like blue-tinted goggles.
“Don't worry... class rep,” Toja said, recovering his breath. “We're not blind... or anything. They're just protectors... just 'till they recover. Where's the teacher? We gotta hand these in.” He waved the pink piece of paper. “Bit stupid if you ask me. Why can't they just transfer the note to our files?”
Hikary shook her head briefly, as if waking up. “This is English Literature, remember. He left us reading the set text for this term.”
“We finally got given it?” asked Ken. “What is it?”
“It's a late twentieth century book, part of the science fiction genre. Called...”
“You know, I don't really care,” said Toja definitely, adding, after Hikary's look of sympathy transmuted into a laser capable of cutting diamond “... in my current, injured state. We had to wait up most of the night for a free arcanotherapist. Obviously I care about such an important part of my ASCIETs... obviously. I would never disrespect the education system... please don't hurt me,” he added, muttering the last bit.
Shinji looked up from his aching attempts to concentrate. The interactions of Hikary and Toja were better than a circus, honestly, he wanted to know how they were injured (although he already had a sinking suspicion, and indeed felt that he might be hit again) and frankly he wasn't in the mood to read. The text just seemed too plodding.And, honestly, who really cares about an obscure moon of Saturn? The offworld colonies got destroyed in the First Arcanotech War, and the only moon of Saturn we tried to colonise was Titan.
He looked around the rest of the class. Pretty much all of them had been distracted by the combination of the improvised stand up show and the fact that two classmates had walked in with injuries. Characteristically, the only one still reading was Rei, now devoid of bandages, who was flipping through the pages with detached efficiency.My god... is she really already a third of the way through?
Toja's babbling had come to a stop, while Hikary stared at his face dispassionately. Then;
“So, are you going to tell me what happened, and how you got hurt?” Her voice was surprisingly soft, compared to her previous expression.
“We... um got caught outside when the sirens went off for the second time,” Ken replied. “The... the ceiling...the light...” his voice trailed off.
“We... well, you know that the Arcology got attacked yesterday. The thing... the thing, it got into the Arcology. Punched all the way down to the Wade Plaza.”
“Yes,” replied Hikary, in a slightly confused tone of voice. “The extradimensional entity was crippled by the fleet, then crashed into London-2, where,” Hikary glanced over at Shinji, “it got finished off.” She saw their faces. It looked like they were staring at her from underneath the googles. “That's what it said on the news.”
“There was no way that thing was crippled when it hit,” Toja declared loudly. “It had these... tentacle things, but they were burning bright, like the sun, you know, but closer. We got this from just looking at it.”
Shinji massaged the back of his neck.Oh dear
An apology was probably best, now. At least here, they wouldn't punch him.
“Um... I'm sorry about that, guys. They did try to kill it before it hit, but the air defences did nothing, and I killed it as fast as I could,” he said, holding his arms before him, against his chest. “In all fairness, I killed it as fast as I could.”
The head of every member of the class, with the exception of Rei's, swivelled to face him. He ignored them; the ones which mattered were the ones up the front. Toja and Ken appeared to be shocked at the apology.That's... probably a good sign. I hope. Please.
“Seriously, there is absolutely
no way at all. At all! That you need to apologise to us. At all!” blurted out Toja. “We're in your debt massively... even more,” he added, shiftily.
“It was the most awesome thing I've seen in my entire life, ever,” declared Ken to the class. “This thing had just broken through the ceiling, with these bright tentacles made out of plasma or something. They certainly looked like a plasma cannon would, if you made a whip out of it, and they made this noise *whuuummm...whuuummm*,” he waved his arms around, synchronising the movement to the noise, “when it swung them. We thought we were going to die! It hurt so much! It was so bright!”
“And then,” Toja continued, taking up the story, for the accolades, and the fact that it appeared to be distracting the class representative, “and then, it moved those tentacles backwards, punching through the ceiling. We never really saw much of the creature; it was too bright at first, and then we were almost blind. But what I really saw was... there was this... orb on the front. It was wrong... the red... it was weird, not like red should be, you know,” he said to the class, who, with two exceptions, didn't. “And then, something tore its way out from the inside of the creature, and starting punching... the orb,” he shivered, and blinked, heavily “ with claws.”
“We kind of fainted with the pain, at that point,” Ken said, softly.
“So you didn't see anything else,” said Shinji hastily, and with reflection, somewhat unwisely. “Did you get any of the blood on you?”
“No. To both questions. But when the medics found us, we could see the tech teams trying to move the Engel.” Both boys glanced at each other, and then walked over to Shinji's desk.
“We owe you our lives,” they said, in not-very-well-rehearsed unison. “We're eternally in your debt,” said Toja, and “We're forever in your debt,” said Ken simultaneously. They glared at each other.
“I thought we agreed on 'etern...'” began Toja, before the applause of the rest of the class drowned out the rest. Even Hikary smiled, faintly.
Rei was still reading. She was up to half way.
Asuka Langley Soryu, designated Second Child, and pilot of Unit 02, sat by the mirror in her room, performing the mundane ritual of self-examination and cosmetic products which she carried out twice daily. Once, it had only been had to be performed once a day, but it was happening more and more.
She stared at her face in the mirror. She hated the first part so very much.
Asuka paused, adjusted her dressing gown and got up. She had managed to get a medium sized room in the Beweglichkeit Base, when they had moved Unit 02 forwards, which meant that most of her stuff was still in the house she had been staying in, back in the Berlin Arcology. It was probably for the best; she wouldn't have been able to move, she thought, with it all here. Military bases just weren't big enough. You know, for the accommodation and everything. There was no possible way that she might have too many material possessions.
She put on a thick pair of red, woollen (actually a synthetic fibre, constructed in the nanofactory in this house, but it felt the same) socks, and returned to her seat by the mirror.First things first. Contact lenses out, into the cleaning fluid.
There were two faint splashes, as the two flexible lenses sank to the bottom. Asuka avoided the gaze of the other girl, the one in the mirror, who stared back at her. It wasn't her at all. She didn't look like that. Those were not her eyes.Skin... remains fine. I won't need another MSH top-up for another few weeks.
This was her skin, shown as it was now. When the MSH was low, she ceased to be herself. She didn't look like that. That was not her skin.Hair. My hair. My pride and joy. The first thing to be affected.
I hate it.
I hate it.
I hate it.
The roots are showing. I need to get it done quickly. It makes me look old.
Most of her hair remained a thick, lustrous red, the rich, deep scarlet of open veins. The same red as Mama had had (but she wasn't going to think about that. Not now. Not ever.). But there, lurking at the roots, was the other girl's hair. It wasn't hers. She didn't look like that. That was not her hair.I have to put the contacts back in. I can't let Kaji see me like this. He knows, of course, but who would willingly go around looking like a freak? I'm not a freak, not at all.
Not at all.
Asuka could look at herself in the mirror again, her blue eyes staring back. That was her. The examination was done. Now it was time for the lotions, and the other things. She kept herself normal with the first step, now she kept herself looking positively divine, if she could say so herself.
Downstairs, Ryoji Kaji, field operative of the GIA, member of the Blackspire division of the GhOST wing, murderer, spy, parapsychic and double-agent was watching television. Well, not really watching it. Looking at it, and paying attention with a tiny shard of his mind so it gave the appearance that he was watching the escapades of a hyperactive Nazzadi and her sardonic human henchman, while he thought of other things would be a more accurate description. But to a theoretical invisible being watching the room, who had managed to get past the multiple and layered wards against mental projections, Outsiders and sorcerous influences which covered such a high value target, it would appear that he was watching television. This was the first time in a very long time that he had been able to use his own name, his own identity. As a member of Blackspire, this particular mission had required his government profile to be “rediscovered after its temporary loss”.
It turned out that he had been working in a low level position in the GIA since he left university, as a data analyst, had anyone broken into his files to find out what he had been doing. To his certain knowledge, there had been three thousand, nine hundred and thirty one attempts to do so as of last Monday, of which twelve had been successful. To be fair, it had come as a bit of a surprise to him that he had been a data analyst all that time (he had thought that he had been legally dead), but he had adjusted, after it had been explained why he was needed for this mission, and why he had to use his natal identity. He was looking forwards to seeing her again.
The phone rang. He picked it up.
“Excuse me, but is this the home of Tanous Reiter?”
Kaji smiled. He thought he recognised the voice, but he had to make sure that protocol was being followed.
“How do you spell the first name?”
“T-A-M-U-S,” the voice at the other end replied.
“Well, no, not any more. We only just moved in, I'm afraid.”
“I'm sorry for disturbing you. Do you have the new number, then?”
“I think I do. Let me just check.” Kaji put down the phone for five seconds, then picked it up again. “Ah, yes, here it is. 456 920 920 445 182 384.”
“Thank you very much.” There was a click. “Okay, Kaji, the line is secure.”
“Good to hear from you, Pax,” replied Kaji, smiling. “I'd thought that you and your “boys”, and the rest of VREES had forgotten about me when I got moved to looking after the Second Child.”
“Now, I'd think that I wouldn't do that, would I,” replied the man, in his cold tone of voice. He always sounded like that, slightly husky, made worse by how heavily encrypted the line was. “I was just sitting on a beach, surrounded by beautiful women, drinking a martini, and so I thought of you.”
Kaji snorted. Pax on a beach, in that red jacket of his, with that slightly hungry look in his eyes that he always had, was an image which just didn't work. The pale man was a very powerful parapsychic, and made more so by the experiments that GhOST was conducting into remote battlefield command, but people were not something that he really got. Or maybe he got them too well; after all, when you can puppet men, controlling them as marionettes, then normal human interaction is always going to be made difficult by the nagging thought that you can just make them do what you want.
“Now, now, Paxy...”
“Don't call me that. I can put up with Pax, but I draw the line at Paxy.” A slightly wry note entered his voice, an unusually strong emotion for him. “After all, I'm not Nazzadi and I am not female.”
“Sorry. Yeah, without me, the rest of the team wouldn't even know where to find a bar. No, what I think you've been doing is practising infiltration of hostile beaches, and the “beautiful women” was Jin being used as the OpFor and shooting at you with a sniper rifle.”
“So you know about Operation CATO, then.” It was a statements, without even the customary pause.
“It relates to my current mission, actually. That's all I can say.”
“Ah.” There was a pause. “So the Children
are getting involved, too.” A faint chuckle. “How ironic. You think they'll be sending along the adults, too?”
Kaji frowned. He knew the man had a higher clearance than he did, and he'd liked to appear from nowhere, make cryptic remarks, then leave, but he'd used those words before. And the Commander (his nickname in VREES, he wasn't actually in charge) laughing? Something was up.
He could hear the verbal equivalent of a shrug over the phone. “Never mind. You're assigned to the Second Child, aren't you. She's not the one who's also an infant, too, is she? Childish behaviour?”
Kaji looked around. There was the faint sound of a hairdryer from upstairs, but that didn't mean anything. He didn't put it beyond her to listen in on his conversations.
“Bit of a brat, to be honest. Seems to have a crush on me, although she thinks it's more than that. She lives up to the codename of Superbia. Quite astonishing pride, and didn't respond well to the news that the first Herald kill was made by someone who wasn't her. And even less well when she found out that the Third Child, Acedia, hadn't even been in an Evangelion before.”
There was a chuckle over the phone.
“And you haven't told her that Acedia made his second kill yesterday, have you?”
“Well... no. I'm just glad she was training most of today with the Branch and didn't catch the news. Out of curiosity, though,” Kaji added, “how do you know about that? Just curious.”
“I can actually tell you that; no need to say “It's classified” in an annoying yet cute tone of voice...” the pale man began.
“Pax, I tell you with the greatest kindness, that you couldn't do cute to save your life. And, yeah, Jin is a bitch when she does that.”
“True. True. I can affect a man's mind so that he remembers someone being cute, though, which is the same thing. Anyway, it's relevant to Operation CATO. And I got Mother
to check Sister
is quite interested in the Third Child.”
“Really? I checked Sister
, before my current mission, and it didn't have much on the Project,” said Kaji, with a slight hint of confusion in his voice.
“You probably didn't check in the right way,” came an answer.
“Ah, of course. That's why they're moving them to be ready. I'm going to be sorry to miss the black-ops before CATO. That is why you 'phoned me, after all. You were trying to see if I could be reassigned, because you want your pointman back from the nasty evil reassignment of bodyguard.”
“Well, partially,” the voice admitted. “I also wanted to talk to you. After all, you and the rest of VREES are the closest thing I've ever had to a family. I think.”
“That's... well, I'd guessed that before, but I'm surprised that you'd admit it over the phone. Don't get any more sentimental, though,” he added playfully, “or I'll be sick from all the sweetness. As sick as I was at certain times in college, like at... some girl's twenty-second birthday party, or that nasty bug I came down around the start of August.”
There was silence at the end of the phone.
“Lighten up, Pax. Just a joke.” Kaji heard footsteps on the stairs, very light, but enough to know. “Listen, Pax, I'm sorry. And I've gotta go, now. I probably won't be able to talk to you before... the C-word, because these conversations are a pain to set up. Give them hell. After all; they all deserve to die. All the Dagonite bastards.”
“They all deserve to die,” replied his colleague, repeating the team's motto. “Just think about what I've said.” The phone went dead.
Kaji held the phone up, puzzled.What justified such a comment? What was Pax doing?
Was he trying to warn him? Had he heard something about Herkunft and the strange links that 108 companies had to it? And he knew things about the Evangelion Project too, things that Kaji suspected that the GIA as a whole didn't, and which he only knew from certain... anonymous leaks, confirmed by independent sources, once you linked the clues together.
Which made him suspicious, of course. Reality didn't usually work that way, even in the intelligence community.
His confusion allowed Asuka to get the drop on him, grabbing him around the neck with quite astonishing force, and mashing her breasts up against his arm. He resisted the trained instinct to punch her in the face (target confirmed human, will not risk being bitten
), and roll off the chair, drawing the UT-9 at his hip (gas-launched needle weapons are subsonic and silent, and will not risk drawing attention
).Known capabilities of target do not require the use of hyperspeed or any other abilities.
The full flight-or-fight reflex ran through his head in less than a second, before being suppressed, all completely invisible to Asuka.
“Who were you talking to, Kaji?” came the voice in his ear. She was quite deliberately breathing into it, under the misapprehension that he found it romantic. From... some women, yes. From a sixteen year old; under half his age, no.
“A colleague from the GIA. I think you can understand if I don't say anything more,” he added with a chuckle, which sounded perfectly genuine.
Asuka loosened slightly, slumping in disappointment.
“So the Army hasn't got back to you about letting me take the tests to get a commission, then?” she asked, a hint of whine entering her voice.
Kaji twisted to look at her, putting his free hand on the back of his neck, as he tried (yet again) to explain. That was a mistake, allowing Asuka to ensnare his other hand.
“They did... and they said no. Again.”
“But why?” she asked, in a sullen tone of voice. “I've got a degree already, I'm the pilot of a war machine that's bigger than any other one in the NEG... that is, any other mecha, they trust me, and need me, that much, I've been through effectively all the experience needed to get the commission, and yet they won't let me take the stupid tests. So, why, Kaji, won't they let me get a commission?”
“Because you're sixteen, remember? You've still got two years of mandatory schooling, even if you already have the degree...”
“Which is stupid in itself,” the red-haired girl pointed out. “Why should I be forced to go to a school full of idiots who just happen to be my age, rather than be out there, saving the whole species.”
“Well, for starters,” Kaji raised as a counter-point, “the ASCIET is more than just education. It's also psychological profiling to check for cult influence...”
“Which I already have.”
“It's a rounded education, ensuring that you know about history, language, and logic. You may already have a degree in Natural Sciences, but that doesn't make you a well rounded human being.”In fact,
he thought, it pretty much guarantees that you aren't, given that you've been spending your time pushing ahead of normal society, you've been piloting a Engel-equivalent since before there were Engels, and you've been passed between foster parents. I just really hope that Ashcroft can keep you sane enough that you don't either snap and breakdown in combat, or go on a mad rampage in a giant war machine that would probably take nukes or a capital ship to reliably take down. Because I sort of like you, not in the sense you'd like Asuka, even though you're pretty damaged, and I don't want to see what I've seen happen to you.
What kind of a moron makes the control scheme for a vehicle dependent on using teenagers (or something like that. We haven't been able to get how they are controlled from the Foundation.), anyway? No wonder Engels, which
only require invasive brain surgery superseded their prototypes.
“Yeah. I would have done Arcane Sciences, but they said “No” then, as well. But they're deploying Unit 02 to a forwards base for 'Advanced Field Testing',” said Asuka, making the inverted comma signs with her fingers. “When are they going to give up the stupid fiction that I'm just a 'Test Pilot'!”
“Well, maybe you can show them on the battlefield that you're not just a Test Pilot, then,” replied Kaji, trying to changed the conversation. “Anyway, think of what you'd have to give up to become Second Lieutenant Soryu. They'd make you cut your hair, for one.”
Asuka flicked her glossy hair, still subtly damp from the recent wash, into Kaji's face. It felt like a velvet whip.
“Oh,” she asked, in an artfully innocent tone of voice, “do you like it?”
Kaji knew better than to answer such a loaded question. Sadly, the presence about his neck forced him to give a response. So, as any good GIA operative would have done, he cheated.
“Listen, Asuka,” he began. “You're probably going to be told about it tomorrow, but there was another attack on London-2 yesterday.”
“What! Why wasn't I told about it earlier,” shouted the girl, jumping up, and (he thanked... well, not anyone specifically, but just generically thanked) letting go of his neck.
“Because it was classified. As usual.”
“Well, what happened? From the tone of voice you're using, it must not have gone well. It would have been better had they had me there, I bet.”
“Actually... no,” said Kaji, wincing internally for the outburst he knew was coming. “It was ambushed by a Navy taskforce in the North Sea, and heavily damaged. It got past the ships, though, and broke through the arcology wall. The Third Child, in Unit 01, killed it.” He closed his eyes.
After a moment, he opened them again. Asuka had a strand of her hair in her mouth, and was chewing on it, as she stared intently at the other wall. Her left hand was clenched into a fist, its twin still clamped around Kaji's wrist. Then she relaxed, letting go and taking a step back.
“Kaji...” she said, leaning forwards with both hands clasped together in front of her, and a broad smile in her face, “could you maybe see about, if it wouldn't be too much trouble, getting some videos of the Third Child, in his training, and of his two victories so far. After all, if I'm going to be working with him, I should get to see his piloting skills personally, rather than just relying on data and statistics. Please, Kaji, please.”Yes, I'll see how good he really is. After all, the real advantage of the Evangelions is that they have the AT-Field. That's what makes them better than any other synthorg. And no-one has ever said how hard it is to kill the Heralds, just that they need an Evangelion for it. That just means that they're weak. And so if they let me do it, and I have a lot more than less than two months practice, it will happen a lot faster. Because I'm a better pilot than he is. He probably hasn't even started to have... it show up yet.
And he's an Ikari. He probably only got the position from nepotism. The whole family is useless. It's just as well that Gendo married into that family, or Ashcroft would really be in trouble.
Wait! Why am I thinking that? It's a little extreme, even about such an upstart, trying to steal my position as pilot of the first Mass Production Evangelion.
Kaji was dubious about the request. He knew the girl was exceptionally competitive, and seemed to take the appearance of the mysterious Third Child from nowhere, to suddenly achieve high Synchronisation ratings which she barely exceeded herself, as some kind of personal insult. On the other hand, an unhealthy obsession with someone her own age had
to be better than one about someone twice her age, right?
“I'll see what I can do, Asuka,” he said, leaving room to back out later. “The files may be beyond what I can get, but I'll try, okay?”
She nodded her head, a smile on her face.
“Oh yeah, Asuka, and they'll be doing a restart on Unit 00 on Sunday. The First Child seems to have recovered enough from the last time.”
He only received a non-committal shrug. Asuka had already decided that anyone who couldn't even managed a start-up sequence was no threat. And Unit 00 was obsolete, after all, a test-bed for the technologies, while Unit 01, as the first proper Eva, was much more important.
The phone rang, an unregistered PCPU with its ID tag wiped by an industrial strength electromagnet, using a randomly generated caller identity. The incoming call marked it as from “James Elford”, but that was a lie. It was being called by an identical twin of itself. Its owner picked it up.
It was a middle-aged woman on the other end of the line.
“Heya, just to tell you... well, you know that couple we were meant to be taking out to dinner?”
“The one with the two kids? The younger one's a cute little brat, you know.”
“The younger one? Only her? That's not very nice.”
“Hey, I report what I see.”
“Yes, yes. Anyway, they cancelled on us. Said they have a pre-existing appointment at the Too Sinned Sins
, that experimental Nazzadi cuisine place just outside the arcology.”
“We were meant to be seeing them on Saturday, right?”
“Yes. I'm not actually complaining... well, complaining much. It's still a bit rude of them. But that means I can work. The agency has found me a placement in catering, and I was going to have to reject it, but this way, I can get some extra cash.”
“Have you told Many,” he pronounced the name as you would 'manny', “about this. She was complaining about being short on cash last time I saw her at a gig.”
“Yeah, actually I have. She's with the same agency, and got the same placement. That's nice, because she's a bit confused, and I can make sure she turns up on time.”
“It's a bit unusual for a restaurant to be hiring so many temp staff at once. Do you know why?”
“Not really. It might just be a bug, or a busy night with a lot of books, or a big party. But I heard, on the grapevine, that a bunch of staff had been like... attacked, arms broken, fingers crushed, beaten senseless with a pool cue, so I'm guessing they got drunk as a group after their pay came in, and tried to pick a fight with people they underestimated.”
“Well, sucks to be them, but it's good for you.”
“Yeah. I'm not complaining about extra cash. What are you going to be doing, now that we have Saturday free?”
“I thought I'd probably go out and get a meal with Jonathan. I still owe him for the last set of concert tickets, so this might be a good way to discharge my debt, and then, maybe hang around, you know, trying to see if we could get into a club for free.”
“Well, make sure you're on time for the big day. We wouldn't want you to be late for the surprise party. You're meant to be finding the location, after all.”
“I kid, I kid. Listen, I've got to go; my break is almost over, and I've got to get back to work.”
“Awwww. Are the hard taskmasters of a reliable, consistent job, which means that you have no problems getting food on the table, getting to you. My heart bleeds, it really does.”
“See you, sometime, then.”
The line goes dead.
The man pockets the phone, and finishes the drink he got from the small nano-factory, chucking the can into the recycling receptacle. He still has to finish coding that modification to the EFCS for the restart.
It's just annoying when work and your private life clash in this manner.
~'/|\'~Monday, 17th August, 2091[i]
Representative Gendo Ikari stared at the projected screen. He adjusted his glasses, pushing them back up onto the bridge of his nose.
The buzz of the Technical Centre started up again. Status updates came from all the technicians
“Focus on yourself, Rei,” ordered Dr Akagi. “You need mental fortitude to interact with the synthorg.”
Rei turned inwards, her mind calm and cool, an ice-still pool in a blizzard.
[i]The root of the mind is the culmination of emergent effects on an immature neurological morphology. Trace the roots, and I am the end result.
What's the first thing I remember?“
What's the first thing you remember?”
Her own face loomed out of a fog towards her, seemingly projected from the inside of the Evangelion. She was almost invisible to herself, white skin, white hair, only the faintest dusting of grey around her pupil. Only inside her mouth was the faintest hint of the red blood that coursed beneath her skin; even her lips were white, tinged slightly with blue, like snow under a full moon.
She accepted the appearance before her. If she were to become the Evangelion, then it would become her. That was simply logical. She did not fear the loss of self. Why fear which you did not have. She was a fact. Someday she would cease to exist, and then the statement of reality that the individual that had been named Rei Ayanami existed would be false, and it would return to the state in which it had been beforehand.
She was but a momentary aberration. This was a fact beyond her existence, because it would remain true for her, even as it would for the rest of humanity, when she had ceased. It was a comforting thought. It would be a terrible thing if you meant something in the cosmic scheme of things, for when you ceased, the other things which depended upon your existence would also cease. Through meaninglessness, she was free.
She stilled those thoughts from her mind, and turned inwards again. An exclamation, a bestial shriek of pain and anguish, like a trapped beast. But worse than that, for it was unmistakably human and female, a terrified cry of denial.
Another voice. It may have been the same, or it may have been another one, but it was young, female and desperate.
Was it her own voice?“What are you doing with her!”
She, her past self, opened her eyes. The blurred light hurt. Everything else was the same white fog, and another face, seemingly massive, filled her entire field of vision. It stared back at her through glasses covered in data read-outs, the black hair and neat beard the only dark patches in this luminescent white fog.
Rei Ayanami stared at Gendo Ikari
(a younger one, her current self observed) for the first time ever. And then he spoke to her, in a soft tone, barely above a whisper.
“You will show men that they do not need gods.”
Rei stared back at him blankly. She could still hear the screaming in her ears. That was anomalous, for she could not identify any entities capable of making such a noise, and she knew, despite the lack of indicators, obscured by the (illusionary, a product of memory, by her estimation) fog that concealed her eyes, that no-one was trying to communicate from outside the Eva.
And then it happened.
“Pulses are flowing back!” The alarmed voice echoed through the Technical Centre, as red elements began appearing on AR projections all over the room. This was the cue for a cascade of warnings from the techncians.
“Trouble in the Third Phase!”
The orange Evangelion, still painted in colours which indicated its test status, unlike its siblings, strained and thrashed against the bindings, and the powered armour which contained its flesh.
“The pilot's nerve readings indicate that she is synchronising, but the Evangelion doesn't seem to be synchronising to her!” reported Aoba, from the right of the room.
“Impossible,” declared Ritsuko. “The Synchronisation Function is a linked operator. You can't have a one-way synchronisation with an Evangelion! Evangelions do not work that way!”
“Rejections in the central nerve elements. They're all slamming shut,” added Hyuga.
As the Evangelion strained, an odd wave of static washed over the communications equipment. It faded. As Unit 00 exerted itself more and more, the static came louder and longer.
“Cease the procedure!” commanded Gendo, without taking his eyes off the uncontrolled synthetic organism.
“Cut all contacts now!” ordered Ritsuko. “Release all circuits up to number 6!”
The instruction came up negative.
“I can't! It's not responding! The signals aren't being received,” said Maya, in a panicked voice, as her hands worked furiously over the keyboard.
The Evangelion surged, tearing its shoulders free from the binding that restrained it. As the tiles of the test chamber fell to the floor, the lights above the Evangelion all failed, blowing in a shard of hardened plastics. In the technical centre itself, the lights closest to the large class window began to flicker, giving a strobe effect upon those closest to the out-of-control mecha.
“There's a strong EM field in the chamber, even though there shouldn't be anything capable of making it,” reported Aoba.Nice to see that he's keeping cool
, thought Ritsuko. Now, if I can just survive this, I can let myself have a panic attack later.
“Mental contamination! Mental contamination!” blurted out Maya. “Mental contamination, despite the fact that Unit 00 isn't synchronising with her!”On the other hand, a panic attack now might be appropriate. Or maybe catatonia from stress.
No, I won't let myself do that.
Gendo stared as the giant orange mecha clutched at its head, roaring. It swung its fist in a perfect arc, smashing into the left side of its face. The head armour fractured, the white skin underneath quickly obscured by the red blood that welled out, running down the orange armour, giving it a new, barbaric appearance.
“Not as planned,” he muttered to himself, softly enough that no-one else could hear. He raised his voice. “Abort the experiment. Eject the D-Engines. Retrieve the Pilot!”
The orders were carried out, with a smashing of glass and a pulling of the big red-and-black lever. Even nowadays, the best compromise between the ability to shut something down, while minimising the risk of accidental activation was the button under emergency glass.
The Class-B D-Engines were ejected from the 40 metre robot, one for each limb, and another bank of four from the small of its back. That was one of the perennial problems with the Evangelions; they were much larger than conventional mecha, and even the Engels, but not large enough to use a Class-A D-Engine, the same one used by the Battlecruisers and major power distribution plants, forcing them to use large numbers of D-Engines. This had been taken into account by the designers.
“Unit 00 has switched to back-up power,” announced Maya.
Ritsuko started swearing loudly in her head. These curses were mostly directed at her mother, but she saved quite a few for Yui Ikari and Kyoko Zepplin Soryu. Yes, they had taken into account the fact that the large number of D-Engines left the possibility that one or two might be damaged, and thus designed the Units to contain back-up supplies, D-cells operating as capacitors, to allow them to function at full efficiency for a short period even if the main engines were damaged.
What they appeared to have not taken into account was the fact that the Evangelions were vicious monsters which had a complicated and dangerous method of starting up which risked losing control and going on a fucking rampage (and didn't members of the Engel Project who knew about the Evangelions know it! They loved pointing it out at scientific conferences. “Oh, Dr Akagi? Good to see you. Would you like some tea? It's made in a long, unnecessarily complex and completely inefficient way. But don't worry. We haven't had a rampaging kettle since last Saturday, and the nano-fabricator has hardly ever killed the repairmen. Aha!” It was so unfair, especially since Engels did occasionally kill people if someone without an ESI implant tried to get in, or the pilot was knocked unconscious, or if they'd used the emergency shutdown feature recently, the Engel was in a bad mood, and it had a chance. Insufferable pricks. Oh yes, and she hated her mother too, for that stupid design decision.) Who the hell had let the power switch occur automatically! She swore, at the next re-fit, she was going to make it so that there was a hard-wired necessity for the pilot to flick a switch to activate the back-up power.
Meanwhile, of course, there was still a rampaging giant robot-thing with claws and spurred feet. Thank goodness they had deactivated the weapons-systems, was all she could say.
The comms link from the Evangelion crackled to life, filled with static. It sounded like the First Child.
There was no response. The Evangelion continued to move, lit only by the emergency lighting, and then only intermittently, giving a tableau of freeze-frames tinted by red. While Unit 01, one week later, would roar as it tore apart Asherah, Unit 00 screamed
, a vile dissonant resonance like that of a natural disaster, not some mere lifeform.
It slammed its fist just above the clear viewscreen. The fist went though the wall, ripping and tearing the superstructure of the building. The room had been built to contain an Evangelion in a full rampage. It was failing.
Blood began to drip from the hole, rich and almost black, so dark was its colour. And in much greater volumes than the damage to the armour plating of Unit 00 should have permitted. The second hit the viewscreen, and was stopped. The entire window had been made out of diamond, and was actually the strongest part of the room, in part because it had been calculated that it was the most probably target for a rampaging Evangelion.
But against the unnatural strength of Unit 00, even diamond had its limits. Fractures cascaded over the surface of the clear material, the worlds most expensive depiction of a spider's web. The entire frame screamed, as metal twisted and tore under the force transmitted to the window.
Gendo could hear a faint giggle, or at least the memory of a giggle, as he watched his plan fall apart.
“Force an ejection.”
“But Representative! The pilot is likely to suffer severe injuries if we do it...”
“Do it now,” he ordered. It's better this way, than the alternative. Oh, Rei...
The back of Unit 00 opened up, as the tubular entry plug was ejected in a plume of gas. Gendo winced as the on-board A-Pod, powered by an internal battery kicked in. It was designed to send the plug far away, away from the threat which forced and ejection. All it succeeded in doing was slamming the tube into the ceiling, where it snaked its way cross, before slamming into a wall and falling, landing with a sickening thud. Gendo was already sprinting down to the fallen plug when the Evangelion shut down from lack of power, the automated systems locking down any attempt to move.My... whole body hurts. I appear to only have one eye operational. I will need a replacement grown. From the intense agony reported to me by this body, I would suspect that there is a source of intense heat nearby.
Rei looked around the cylinder.I am impaled upon the broken control sticks. They have entered my lower abdomen. Given the fact that I am able to move my feet, there is no spinal damage. I will not attempt to remove myself from them, for fear of causing extra damage.
She coughed, LCL leaving her lungs. The vortices that it induced in the fluid could be seen by the blood which emerged with it.The heat is probably coming from the filaments within my suit. The damage seems to have caused them to malfunctioned. I am being cooked alive.
It is exceptionally painful.
Rei realised then that she was screaming.
The blood from her lungs swirled around in the currents caused by her lungs trying to empty themselves. She pulled herself off the control stick (it had pierced her plug suit, she could see), which prompted a fresh flow of blood. The foam within the suit staunched it, but she was feeling faint, indicating that her brain was suffering a problematic lack of oxygen.By removing the short circuit in the suit, I will not die. However, I am badly damaged. It is fortunate that I have no spinal damage, because that would mandate six months for the regrowth and reforming of connections.
She could hear a voice from outside, screaming in turn. The door opened, letting the LCL flow out in a bloody torrent, and there was light.
Representative Ikari stared at her, slumped back in her seat, her face obscured by her hair, and her white plug suit marred by the yellowish-grey sealant foam, soaked in blood.
“Rei,” he said, tears running down his face, and a look of intense agony on his face. “Rei, are you all right?”
Rei turned to face him, a grim façade soaked in blood and LCL, blood oozing from her punctured eye socket. She nodded.
“Good.” The relief on the Representative's face was palpable. He collapsed to the floor, curled in a foetal position, as the agony of his hands then overwhelmed him.
The first medical team called for a second one.
Five individuals dived into the pool. Four splashed upon entry, but one cut into the water like a knife, leaving barely a ripple in her wake. Under the water, her pallid presence was masked, visible only by the black swimming costume she wore. The white walls of the pool were camouflage enough.
She won, of course. Ayanami Rei always won in swimming races, to the extent that unofficially the sports teacher had decided that she was automatically in first place in any school leagues, and thus judged places, and awarded prizes, on the assumption that she wasn't taking place. She was at home in the water, in a way that the other girls were not.
There had been snide comments about Hybrids and Deep Ones from the girls who cared about always losing to her, but Hikary, upon hearing it, had pointed out that there was no way that a Hybrid would be allowed into an arcology, as they show up on the genome scans, and furthermore passed the names of anyone she heard repeating the rumours up to the headmaster, whereupon detentions descended, like manna from the heavens. Not out of any personal friendship for Rei, merely due to the fact that the rules stated that such slanderous rumours were not permitted.
Rei was alone in the world. Like a large natural diamond, a cold, hard-edged wonder, valued by others, but locked away to keep it safe. If asked, she would have said that she preferred it that way, but who can distinguish between desire and the lack of comprehension of the alternatives?
She got silently out the other end of the pool, and walked around to take up exactly the same position where she had been sitting before. She stepped around one of the maintenance staff, a dark-skinned woman drying the floor around the pool, to prevent slipping, without looking or responding to her presence. It was not a necessary thing. While the other girls congratulated the “winner”, she sat, and stared into space.
The Academy separated the genders for certain sports. Swimming was one of them. It was cited that studies had shown that both sexes swimming together resulted in distractions and the possible development of body-image issues.
When the fact, that almost all of the boys not actively participating in the basketball game were trying to stare through the glass wall of the swimming centre, was taken into account, the studies were probably correct.
Toja was almost salivating, as he gazed at the distant figures. Even from that distance, it could be seen that many of them were dripping wet. The mandatory enforcement of a school swimming costume, one of the few items of clothing not to have a Nazzadi variant, somehow made matters worse, as the hormone-driven male imagination worked overtime to fill in the concealed parts.
“Man. All the girls are so hot. They've all got great breasts...”
Ken raised an eyebrow at him.
“Careful, man. That's probably sexual harassment. At the very least, it would have Hikary down on you like a tonne of... very pointy nails. Mind you, frankly that gaze is sexual harassment.”
“You could at least stop staring at them yourself, if you're going to point that out,” Toja raised.
“Not a chance. I didn't say I was opposed to it, at least when the view is this good. And if you looked away, that means that there's more of them for the rest of us.”
“That's really not how it works, you know. Eh, Shinji?”
Shinji was, along with the other bearers of an XY chromosome not forced to engage in physical activity, staring at the glass back of the swimming pool. Unlike the fellow males, he was not doing it out of a sense of hormonal lust. He was just looking at Rei Ayanami, trying to figure out the other pilot.
Really. He assured himself that, although she was very attractive, in a sort of cold, foreign way, he wasn't paying attention to that. Any attempts to compare her to the other girls were not happening.
“You are staring at them, even worse than Toja does, you know,” said Ken, in a tone of voice that should be classified as a public indecency. “You... like someone, don't you?”
“Rei Ayanami, by any chance,” added Toja, in exactly the same tone of voice.
“Uh... no, n...not exactly...” began Shinji, stammering. He may have been, but they'd just misinterpret his not-in-any-way sexual interest.
He wondered to himself why he was being so feverish in denying that he had an interest. Could it be because he had seen her with his father? Chatting to him in a way that Gendo had never been with him? Actually smiling? Being treated like a daughter by his father?No, it wasn't exactly that.
His deep, introverted introspection was broken by Toja, using a deliberately childish voice.
“So... Shinji likes Rei, Shinji likes Rei.”
“But what about her, do you think,” began Ken, in a deliberately leading tone. “Her legs, perhaps?”
“Or maybe her tits?” continued Toja. “Or the fact that she's a sidoci
, and it is a fact proven by surveys that both amlati
are exactly ten percent hotter than an equivalent human or Nazzadi.”
“Or those china-coloured calves, and the way that they merge into the rest of her leg,” added Ken. He looked at the stares he got from the other two. “What?”
“You like her too? Why are you so interested in legs in particular,” asked Toja.
“Well, a little,” Ken admitted. “You have to see that she's hot.”
“Anyway,” said Shinji, trying to get the conversation back on topic so he could quell the potential rumours once and for all, “that's not it.”
“So what is it?” said Ken, sceptically.
“Well, I was wondering why she always seems to lonely,” began Shinji.
“And you wanted to be the one who comforted her,” finished Toja. “Seriously, man, that chat-up line sucked. It wasn't even amusing, like, say, 'Are your clothes made by the Migou, 'cause we need to get rid of them!' Or 'I wish you were a mecha, so I could take you for a ride!' Yeah, so they are pretty bad. But they're at least funny, and girls love a sense of humour, right?”
Shinji stared at him blankly for a second, then, “Okay. Two things. Firstly, those were terrible. Really. Hearing them was like dribbling acid into my ears. Please. No. Just no.”
“I'm sorry, Toja, but I'm going to have to second that. Save those chat-up lines for... say, one of those Nazzadi Culture girls, like Taly, say, so they can get Hun Zuti on your arse,” added Ken.
“Hey. They're not that bad, and I know Hun Zuti, too. I can defend myself, and my honour, in unarmed combat.”
“Okay. Just let me finish explaining, and then we can drop this subject, never to return again. Okay. Right,” interjected Shinji. “It's just that, if she's a pilot, too...”
“Aha! So she is an Evangelion pilot! I suspected it, ever since I noticed that you two always seem to leave early on certain days,” announced Ken triumphantly.
“Yeah. And you didn't hear it from me, okay. You just put it together, and told Toja. Anyway, if she's a pilot, I should know more about her.”
Ken and Toja looked at each other.
“Well, we're blank, too. She's been here as long as we have; hasn't made any friends, doesn't talk to people,” said Toja.
“She's got a sort of reputation of an ice queen, who doesn't talk to anyone, always seems to excel at school and at swimming, but doesn't push herself any further. Like, she's got a bad attitude,” added Ken.
“I heard some teachers bitching about her a while ago, when I got sent to the staff room by the Secret Policewoman. Complaining about how she didn't volunteer for anything, how she could make the Academy swimming team brilliant, but apparently refused even when it was heavily suggested that she take part.” Toja paused. “Anyway, should you at least talk to her. It's more than we can do, but you've got to communicate with someone you might have to fight with. Uh, along side, that is.”
“No, we... barely speak,” Shinji replied, pausing. “I was hoping someone else might know more.”
There was silence, as the noises of male competition were joined by the slight buzz which followed the interior climate changing, and the temperature dropping.