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Quote of the Week: "A great civilization is not conquered from without until it has destroyed itself from within." - Will Durant, American historian (1885-1981)

Aeon Natum Engel (NGE cross-over)

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EarthScorpion
PostPosted: 2008-11-01 08:58am 

Padawan Learner


Joined: 2008-09-25 02:54pm
Posts: 209
Location: London
Table of Contents

Firstly, I would like to thank (or possibly condemn to be consumed by Cthulhu, for the role in taking up my time by making them read their very, very cool stuff.) a few authors for this;

John Biles, and his awesomeness incarnate of Children of An Elder God. This may prove to be a problem; the “giant organo-technological mecha against the Cthulhu Mythos” genre is quite amply filled by something a lot better than what I can hope to write.

The creators of Cthulhutech, for making such an awesome setting, which can sort of be summed up as “In the Grim Darkness of the Near Future...”

Most of all, however, Academia Nut, and his Thousand Shinji 40k/NGE crossover, and its equally cool sequel The Open Door. He is personally responsible for getting me to buy Cthulhutech, watch Neon Genesis Evangelion (and put aside a rabid dislike for all anime), and generally being a Licensed Purveyor of Cool to a humble Physics undergraduate.

I own none of the series detailed in this work, most specifically neither Cthulhutech nor Neon Genesis Evangelion. They belong to their respective owners. I'm just writing a story about a pair of universes which fit together unsurprisingly well that I happen to like.

This is partly a fan-fiction, partly a make-work, and partly an exercise in improving my writing skills. As a consequence, criticism is most welcome.


~'/|\'~



Aeon Natum Engel


A retelling of Neon Genesis Evangelion, set in the Cthulhutech universe.


Chapter 1

Herald Assault




AD 2091


The sea lapped at the remains of Old London. Those buildings which had survived the First Arcanotech War rose like macabre tombstones to those who had died under the Nazzadi bombardment, while between them, smothered by the devouring tide, were craters, burned into the ancient city by indiscriminate bombing from orbit and the lightning waves of mecha that had swept through the city, putting all to the sword. The flooded streets, grey channels between grey buildings, under a grey sky, seemed to tell a melancholy tale of the hubris of a city that had once considered itself centre of the universe. Once, Old London had sprawled over most of the South of England, a revocation of the anti-urbanisation laws of the twentieth century allowing a phase transition that had turned large amounts of the country into one massive metropolis. Now, Old London was split between the various enclaves, that were towns and even cities within the ruins, and the wastes, which were left to slow succumb to entropy. To the east, the London Arcology, capital of New Earth Government Europe, and Inner London, the domain of the Ashcroft Foundation, held thirty million people, human and Nazzadi; its order a stark contrast to the decay of Old London.

The gently lapping water was barely disturbed by the low passage of a wing of F-109 Komets. Their glowing A-Pods hummed the obsolescence of reaction-based engines, as they flew barely one hundred metres above the ground, the eleven-metre aircraft armed with smart missiles, and a blue-green (optimised to allow air-to-sea strikes) Laser Cannon. Fifty-four million Terranotes flew in that formation, a proud declaration of humanity's will to survive. Let the Migou and their bio-mechanical mechanoids come, they spoke; give us suitable air cover and they can not stand against us. Let the monsters of the Rapine Storm come to Europe; those degenerates and their unnatural allies shall be given a brief lesson in why charging at your opponent, screaming for blood and other bodily fluids, has been considered unwise for three hundred years. Let the abominable hybrids of the Esoteric Order of Dagon and their inhuman parents emerge from the seas where they have cowered for untold millennia; we shall fight them on the beaches, and turn those open plains into a killing field.

The eyes of First Lieutenant Cevy were drawn to a dark shape, swimming up the mouth of the Thames. Her on-board scanners had only just picked it up at all; a liability of modern days. So many of the creatures that emerged from the shadows with the start of the Aeon War were invisible to anything technological; a reason for the large canopy of the Komet. More importantly, this creature was massive, swimming up the blasted channel of the river.

First Lieutenant Cevy frowned. How the hell had that thing got past the battlegroup in the North Sea?

“HQ, this is Komet Mantis-One. Hostile target detected at 57 degrees 27'06.27 north, 0 degrees 25'26.77 East. Shape is bipedal, blackish in colour. It doesn't match with anything known. Target is Vee-Oh. Might be Eee Oh Dee; shape is wrong for a Migou weapon. Someone get a Sentinel over here!”

“Em Oh, Mantis-One. Target acknowledged and position updated. Reinforcements are five minutes out; do not engage until then. Be aware for hostile AA; target has multiple CB-type weapons and can use them against aerial targets.”

“Em Oh, Command. Mantis-One out.”

The wing, as one, pulled up and away, up to just below the clouds. When the reinforcements arrived, they would hit this monster with enough fire-power to flatten a village.

The land forces held up their positions around the enclaves in Old London. Rows of Vreta Main Battle Tanks, painted blue-grey and hidden under urban camo were placed to fill the killing grounds with 120mm railgun slugs, backed up with M-111A2 Jaeger Howitzers. A Jaeger could punch through a Migou Spider in a single shot, and start firing from twenty four kilometres away. The mecha made possible by Arcanotech were the poster-children of the New Earth Government, but the good old tankers were still around, and the wonders of non-euclidean technology served more traditional designs just as well, if not better.

In the rubble of Old London, the poster-children positioned themselves. Nine metre tall Broadswords were the main punch, backed up by Claymores and specialist Gladiuses were ready to let the monstrosities taste their white-hot flamethrowers. The lighter Nazzadi mecha were in reserve, their gaudy colours not really appropriate for an ambush. And while the final preparations were completed, the loudspeakers blared their warnings into the air.

“Today, at 12:30 pm, a special state of authority has been declared by the New Earth Government. All inhabitants with an arcology pass are to return immediately. All inhabitants of the enclaves within the Eastern Greater London Area are to head to their designated shelters. Temporary martial law is in full effect. Message repeats, today, at 12:30 pm, a special state of authority has been declared...”



~'/|\'~




By Old Waterloo Station, a teenager, clad in a white shirt and dark trousers, stood. The entire station, already merely a minor terminus for the maglev network, thanks to New Waterloo in the London Arcology, London-2, had emptied in what seemed like seconds. Shinji Ikari was only here because of his father, but the bastard hadn't even arranged for him to have an arcology pass. He looked down at the picture of the woman he was meant to meet. What kind of a person sent a what appeared to be a holiday picture as a first introduction? Especially, he added to himself, one of what appears to be a holiday to Nazza-Duhni, the world's first “clothing optional” city. She was actually decent by the standards of human beachwear, but quite a few figures in the background were most certainly not, something which the sixteen year-old had “appreciated”. The words “Look here” and the attendant arrow just added to his initial wariness.

He flipped his mobile phone shut in irritation. The phone network had been shut down; all he was getting was the same message as the one blaring through the loudspeakers. He checked his watch, and yawned. He had had a two day stop-over in Chicago, after the plane had been diverted due to Migou activity under the flight path, which had left him less jet-lagged than he might have been, but his body was still screaming at him that it needed sleep and food. The Ashcroft Foundation had paid for the trip, which only added to his surprise; Shinji knew that his father was an important man in Ashcroft Europe, but that they would use a private jet just to carry him was... surprising.

“Where is she?” He paused, and looked around for a sign to a shelter. The speed at which the residents had evacuated indicated that they were used to it.

There was a figure, standing in the half-gloom of the entrance to the arrivals section, a strange, pale girl. An albino, maybe. No, he realised with a gut-clenching feeling. She wasn't pale, she was actively white, with both her skin and hair the colour of fresh milk.

A White xenomix.

A flock of pigeons flew straight towards him, and he ducked, shielding his eyes reflectively. When Shinji looked up again, she was gone. Brow crinkled in puzzlement, he stepped towards where he had seen her. She might be a White, but maybe he could find out where to go to get to safety.

A series of thudding explosions began, from behind him. Reflectively, he ducked back down again. The noise was joined by a chorus of tortured metal and a deep thrumming noise.

Shinji decided that getting out of there was perhaps the most sensible thing to do. He headed as fast as he could to where he had seen the girl, to find where she had gone. And if something really bad was happening, a parapsychic would be a fairly sensible person to be near. Unless they were burning, of course, which would make them the source of the trouble.

The internal dialogue was shut down, as he ran. Looking up, he could see quite a lot of aircraft heading in towards were he way, tearing through the cloud cover as multiple sonic booms added themselves to the cacophony. Yet more shrieks and explosions filled the air as, unbeknownst to Shinji, large number of Jaegers opened fire.

For Shinji Ikari, it felt like the world was ending.



~'/|\'~




Inside the NEG military headquarters, the mood was sombre.

“The unknown entity is still approaching. It has left the Thames, and is moving as a biped.”

“The Magi believe that this rules out it being Migou. Two-to-one certainty predicts that it belongs to the Esoteric Order of Dagon.”

“Sentinel Drone has visual. I'm putting it up on main screen.”

At the back of the room stood two advisers from the Ashcroft Foundation. The elder, a white-haired man in a brown suit stood behind the younger, watching the NEG military, while the black haired man stared at the glowing orange Augmented Reality Feeds scrolling across his glasses. The military seemed to edge away from the pair, leaving Gendo Ikari, the local head of the Ashcroft Foundation, and Kozo Fuyutsuki, his second-in-command, in an invisible bubble.

“It's been seventeen years.” Fuyutsuki spoke softly. “Since 2074 and the start of the Second War...”

The main scream filled up with the image of the beast that had shrugged off the best that the New Earth Government could throw at it.

It was horrifying.

Unnatural.

It dwarfed the buildings below it, with them barely reaching its knees. The main, hunchbacked body was black, but the black of the void, and like the void, it had tiny speckles within it, that seemed to capture the gaze of those who stared at it too long. Ribs and viscera protruded from the front of the abomination, like someone had taken a human corpse, disembowelled it, then coated it in the essence of the night sky. A glowing red orb, like the eye of some creature that had walked the earth long before man and was merely waiting for the mammals to get over their tiresome delusions, glowed from the front, casting everything before it in a sick red light. A mask was worn upon its face, like the beak of some Stygian plague doctor, from ages past, who came not so much as to heal as to speed his victims to their final destination.

The entire room recoiled at it. Most were able to hold onto their sanity; though the beast was horrific, the children of the Strange Aeon were made of stronger stuff, and beings that would have driven their ancestors screaming into the arms of an asylum orderly could be tolerated. A female human with the stripes of a Second Lieutenant let out an involuntary shriek, and a male Nazzadi fell off his chair, huddled in a foetal ball weeping. As the unfortunate was dragged away to the Ashcroft medical facility outside, Gendo stared at the image of the entity, without any outwards sign of disturbance.

“Heralds...”



~'/|\'~




As Shinji watched, the Herald (though what dynasty would spawn such a prince?), even as it strode inexorably towards London-2, raised its hands, covered with too many leech-like fingers. From the mouth of each of the wriggling appendages, vomited a sick, greenish yellow beam that lanced through the air. They each burned cleanly through the gunships strafing the monster, even cutting down the missiles that were volleyed against it. They couldn't seem to track the Jaeger shells that ripped down from over the horizon, but they didn't need to. The 155mm high explosive shells that the howitzers were throwing forth burst like harmless rain against the void-dark body of the Herald. Occasionally, one would knock it back, make it stumble, but something seemed to stop it being hurt.

Shinji glanced at it just once, and then flinched away even as he ran from it. An intense wave of nausea and a nagging headache struck him; that thing shouldn't exist, be allowed to exist. Nothing should be able to take that much fire-power; it was like watching a man run into a flying insect and go flying backwards. It just screamed, in a guttural tone that belonged to the monkey before man, that the world should not, and does not work like this. Even with his back turned to it, he faltered, almost tripping, as the world faded to black.

“...Area are to head to their designated shelters. Temporary martial law is in full effect. Message repeats, today, at 12:30 pm...”

The hum of an A-pod bought the world back to normal for him. A new, very nice looking aircar dropped from the sky and, in an incredible act of handling, pulled to a stop in front of him, the wheels deploying automatically as it shifted into ground mode. The door slid upwards and a dark-haired woman clad in military issue body armour and a pair of sun glasses, the woman who he was meant to meet, smiled at him.

“Sorry to keep you waiting,” she smiled.

Shinji could only stare blankly back, the mixture of jet lag, the shock of the being and now this surprise addling his wits. After a second or two, her expression changed to a frown.

“That means, “get in!” This is a warzone! And put on your seatbelt”

Shinji could only clamber in, still dazed. The woman kicked at the throttle, and yanked the control-shaft downwards. The wheels folded back up, and the Zephyr Enforcer 2000 pulled a tight corkscrew upwards, accelerating to one hundred and eighty miles an hour in six seconds.

That was enough to make Shinji finally lose control of his stomach. Luckily, the woman, Misato Katsuragi, had anticipated the effect that such a manuever might have on those not used to her... idiosyncratic driving style, and had activated the automated sick catcher. This miracle of modern technology had saved innumerable car interiors from the corrosive contents of the human stomach, and had made its inventor, a refugee from what had been China before the Rapine Storm happened, a very wealthy individual.



~'/|\'~




The air in the command centre was turning to a type of professional panic. Glances were being surreptitiously directed against the two Field Marshals in charge of the NEG forces for the United Kingdom, the third currently organising strikes against Dagonite forces in the North Sea.

“All air units within range have been destroyed. Artillery bombardment is having no effect.”

“Ground forces are engaged. Target has broken off attack to target Alpha Squadron. Their Auphan reports that it is jamming its extra-sensory equipment.” The woman pauses. “Their Cherub has just been destroyed by the charge beams it is using. They are reporting that their...”

“Alpha Squadron's Auphan has been incapacitated. They are requesting permission to...”

Field Marshal Lehy leapt to her feet, and banged her coal-black hand into the table. An old school Nazzadi general, she had been one of the individuals responsible for the death of Old London, favouring cold, sterile strikes on anywhere where humanity could get food. She considered it somewhat appropriate, as her penance, that she would keep London-2 safe.

“Get those Engels out of there. It seems to be targeting them. Retreat away from London-2. Mobilise all conventional forces in the area, and prepare for a simultaneous strike.”

Field Marshal Jameson glared at her.

“We'll get nowhere with that level of fire-power. It's already withstood three divisions worth of artillery.”

“It's protected by an AT field, as we suspected.” Fuyutsuki said softly, for the ears of Gendo only, in the hubbub of the command centre.

“Like Yog-Soggoth's Shield, conventional weapons will not harm it,” was the reply.

The Field Marshalls were by now locked in a staring contest.

“Three nought point one kiloton pure fusion bombs set to airburst above it,” stated Jameson, calmly. “They will not damage London-2, and they should at the very least hurt this Herald.”

“And the enclaves? There are four within the kill-radius, and you will destroy Old Waterloo,” hissed Lehy back.

“They knew the risks when they chose to live outside London-2. Anyway, if they are in the bunkers as they should be, they should be fine from an airburst. We have to do it now, before the Herald gets too close to the arcology.” His calmness had by then become ice cold.

Field Marshal Lehy looked away first.

“Project the effects of a Clover-type tactical strike.”

She stared at the three overlapping circles, and their positions relative to the marked populations.

“Rotate pi by twelve, then deploy.”

She activated the implants in her left hand with a thought, the subdermal lights glowing blue beneath her night-coloured skin. Jameson's hand was already glowing.

“On the count of three, authorise.”

“One.”

“Two.”

“Three.”

Both hands were placed into the complex three-dimensional hologram before them, and they made the code gestures to authorise the use of pure fusion devices in a circumstance where there might be human fatalities.

“We're going to have to move the Sentinels away, commanders. We'll lose visuals on the Herald until we can move them back.”

Lehy nodded her head. “Approved.”

Jameson was heard by some to faintly mutter something about a desire that they still had satellites. The Nazzadi ignored him.



~'/|\'~




Shinji Ikari was a quiet boy. He was polite, fairly intelligent, a good chef, and good on the cello. He would make a nice, somewhat submissive husband for someone someday. That comment had actually been written in his file by the school's councillor. The existence of widespread psychiatric councillor in the Strange Aeon had left him quite a lot more mentally stable than he might have been otherwise; he still preferred to be alone, but he was capable of more than he might have been.

And circumstances were much altered from what they had been one hundred years ago. The population of the Earth was 4.3 billion individuals. Only 2.5 billion of them were human, down from a peak of eight billion only a few decades ago. The definition of “mental stability” had undergone quite noticeable redefinition. Almost no-one over the age of twenty had not lost a close family member, to the First Arcanotech War, to the genocidal Migou, to the depredations of the Rapine Storm and the rape camps of the Esoteric Order of Dagon, and many of the younger ones were similarly bereaved. What was one more child with a dead mother and a father who would not care for him?

Shinji had been raised by a foster couple employed by the Ashcroft Foundation, by two women, Gany, an Ashcroft-employed sorceress, and Yuki, an FSB agent, both of whom refused the title of “mother”. He was fluent in Japanese, English (the tongue of the New Earth Government), and the Nazzadi tongue, and Gany had insisted that he keep up the cello. He had also picked up enough German to swear, but Gany had not appreciated him repeating those words in front of Yuki. He was clear, though, as were they, that they were not his real parents, and since the twins were born, he had subtly retreated away from. He had thought that this summoning from his father, despite its brevity, might even be a chance to properly know him. Maybe Gendo had changed. Maybe it might be good.

Being in the car of this madwoman, with her mad driving and general madness was not his idea of a good time.

Not one bit. He had already thrown up twice more, especially since Misato (she insisted that he call her than, rather than Ms Katsuragi), seemed to like the idea of streets in general, but not the actual driving along the ground bit, which just resulted in too-fast jaunts at the high of the lamp-posts. And bent pieces of metal. And the occasional collapsed tenement. And the far-too-frequent barrel rolls, just for fun.

He was sure that she really needed a councillor. And, preferably, some kind of leash. He clamped down on the resulting thoughts after only a brief interlude, as they were rather enjoyable thoughts, they were not quite appropriate when he was hurtling five metres of the ground in an entropic... my gods, did she just drive through that crater in the row of houses rather than take the corner. Yes, yes she did.

Shinji Ikari threw up again. As his stomach was empty by now, there was only bile left, and it was an unpleasant experience.

Misato looked at Shinji with a mixture of pity and contempt. He really didn't seem to be good with motion sickness, did he. Mind you, she'd heard from Ritsuko that his father was the same, which was always good for a smirk. Shinji and Gendo; they didn't really belong in the same picture, from what she could tell. The reports she'd read about Shinji generally said the same things; quiet, polite, somewhat forgettable. The Representative of Ashcroft Europe, and former second in command of Ashcroft Oceanasia, fit none of those boxes.

Her radio chattered. It was on the priority band, over-riding the classical musical channel.

“All units, evacuate. Sigma-Sigma-Gamma-Delta-Pi. All units, evacuate.”

Her mind put the code together. A Clover strike!

Damn. She had to get out of the air. She checked the automap; there was the Hammersmith Enclave nearby. It'd be safer there, with modern buildings to shield them.

“Shinji, get down! Close your eyes! They're using nukes on the entity! In the city!”

The car twisted, and bumped gently as she pulled it to a stop that would be impossible without modern D-Engines, braking from one hundred and twenty miles an hour to still. As soon as she could release the steering column, she threw herself on top of him, pinning him down.

“...calling, see we ain't got no high//Except for that one with the yellowy eyes// The ice age is coming, the sun's zooming in...” screamed the radio, until the wash of static cut it off.

Three new suns bloomed over London, as the earth pulsated. The fireball washed out, demolishing the already decaying buildings in a cleansing wave of atomic, while the blast wave tore age-softened concrete from steel frames like bread. The Old City earned itself another scar from Lehy the Butcher.

The blast was mostly spent by the time it reached Misato and Shinji. The car rocked a bit, but remained upright.

Then a lamp-post fell on it, crushing the back of the car.

Misato raised her palm to her forehead.

“Not the A-pods...”

Misato was somewhat aggrieved by the time she badgered the ill-looking Shinji to shift it. It was positively plastered with posters, all of a handsome Arabic male model. He really was attractive, she thought, as she strained. Almost a little pharonic-looking. Although the poster could be improved by the removal of the boxers...

The A-pods seemed to be intact, but the D-engine was damaged, and, frankly, the inclusion of non-euclidean technology in car engines made the repair liable to damage your sanity worse than the engine. Her eyes flicked to a nearby Tescorp shop. They wouldn't miss a few D-cells, would they...



~'/|\'~




“Detonation successful. The target exhibited anti-missile defences, but the dummy warheads served their role.”

The main view screen was whited out.

“T-minus one minute before we can move the Sentinels back in position.”

Field Marshal Jameson nodded his head.

“Move the units back in position. It should be destroyed, so have a collection team ready to salvage what we can.”

Field Marshal Lehy's red eyes reflected the white screen back, like catseyes. She sat, silently, her face impassive.

“Sentinels back in position. Thermal bloom prevents IR, too much dust in the air for visuals. Switching to X-ray.”

The screen protruded out, the Augmented Reality of modern holography giving a true three-dimensional image.

One single spike towered in the clover-shaped gap in Old London. As the resolution improved, the shape was confirmed.

The antediluvian monster had survived.

“Kokopy!” yelled Lehy, slamming her fist into the data-desk before her. “How is it still upright!”

“That was not expected by the Magi.” Jameson looked over at Lehy, his cold blue eyes meeting her red ones. “I propose another Clover strike.”

“What is the status of the target? Has it been damaged at all?” The comment was directed at the tactical officers.

“Unclear. The target has stopped moving.” The Nazzadi officer, lit by the three-dimensional AR panel she was manipulating, paused. “The target's X-ray profile is changing. It's getting more dense, and protrusions are... growing. I can see the bones under the skin as a patch of density. They're more dense than lead!”

“Focus, Lieutenant,” snapped Lehy. “What are growing?”

“Unknown. They appear to be appendages, and appear similar to the things upon its hands. Weapons, as a first degree projection.”

“It's regenerating, as we expected,” said Gendo softly, from the back of the room. “It is appropriate for its status as a target.”

He pushed his glasses up, back onto his nose.

“And we will lose E-9 coverage within a matter of seconds.”

“Energy pulse detected in the new appendages,” yelled a tactical officer.

The main screen cut out, as the big red words “Signal Lost” lit up.

“Strike approved.” The Nazzadi Field Marshal nodded at the human. “Let's nuke that thing until it... dies.”

Gendo sat back in his chair.

“That is not dead which can eternal lie. And with strange aeons even death may die.” These words were so soft that even his old teacher could only lip-read him.

“But Alhazred could not really see now. He was a primitive in a society that could not even solve the Ashcroft-Yi equations. Now is the Strange Aeon, and the Herald bears his message too late,” Fuyutsuki mouthed back.

“The next missiles will not get through. The Herald can learn and change.”

Gendo's words were proved right by yells of rage from the front of the room.

“Ah.” Fuyutsuki frowned. “It has acquired intelligence.”

He paused.

“What will you do now?”

Gendo stood up, staring at the blank view screen. They were already re-routing as much informational coverage of the eldritch abomination. Even as he stared, a new visual lit up of the Herald, its ribcage extended and fused, and prehensile tentacles emerging from its shoulders, waving here and there in implausible, spasmodic fluctuations. The barrage of shells from the Jaeger artillery had already resumed, but these new tentacles were intercepting many of these.

He glanced back at his sensei.

“I will wait for them to come to me. They know about the project they ridiculed as a “primitive Engel”. And then?”

He smiled faintly.

“I will activate Unit 01.”

“Unit 01.” A faint hint of disappointment crept into Fuyutsuki's voice. “But we don't have a pilot.”

“One will arrive soon.” The words were not so much stated as declaimed, written into reality as an irremovable statement.

It only took three minutes for the NEG Army's will to accede to what Gendo Ikari knew to be an inevitability. A few quiet words were all that was needed with the resident Field Marshals. They knew it already. They had the best arcanotechnicians outside the Ashcroft Foundation (excluding the Chrysalis Corporation, but Gendo knew that most of the NEG was not familiar with that) advising them, and they knew what the creature had taken. Officially, the Evangelion Project had been subsumed by the Engel Project after Dr Anton Miyakame had worked around many of the issues with the Evangelions. But the Engels were conventional weapons of war, that used inhuman flesh twinned with the two branches of homo sapiens. They relied upon kinetic energy and human weaponry. The Evangelions may be seen as an obsolete white elephant, flawed in their control scheme, but Gendo had his trump card...



~'/|\'~




Shinji Ikari stood deep in the bowels of Inner London, the subterranean dome below London-2 that was the domain of the Ashcroft Foundation. London-2 had been amazing, an entire artificial ecosystem within a building, complete with animals and vegetation. They had been fast waved through the system, subjected to only three blood checks, and one neural scan, the latter to get into Inner London.

The Inner Sanctum.

Before him, immersed in fluid like an drowned idol belonging to a long dead civilisation, was a massive biped, its head glaring from the depths. Even from a distance, Shinji could feel a sort of ancient malevolence, like he was desecrating a tomb merely by being near the construct.

“A giant face,” he blurted out. “It's... it's a massive Engel, isn't it.”

A blond scientist standing in the middle of the gantry, holding a clipboard, glared at him.

“It's not an Engel,” she snapped. “Engels are inferior copies of the technology invented for the Evangelion Project.”

She tucked a loose hair behind her ear, and pointed somewhat dramatically at the Evangelion.

“Behold, Humanity's Original Synthorg, Evangelion!”

The Evangelion was painted in a mottled purple, blue and grey camouflage scheme; a classic urban pattern, despite its size. Its red eyes glowed a dull red, set as they were over a jaw shielded by thickened armour. One massive horn, hyper-edged, protruded from its forehead.

It was a creature of war, death, and fear.

“This is Unit 01, the Second Prototype Model. We believe that this is humanity's last chance.”

Shinji frowned.

“Excuse me, Doctor...?”

“Doctor Ritsuko Atagi.”

“Doctor Atagi, but the Engels have been around for over ten years. How is this the prototype if the Engels have been around for so long, and I've never heard of them.”

She narrowed her eyes. Evidently, she had a wonderful speech ready which he had disrupted, or this was a major raw nerve.

“After the construction of the first prototypes, funding was shifted to the cheaper, more... controllable Engels. We have suffered reduced funding for a long while because of Dr Miyakame and his defection.”

Shinji cringed.

“I'm sorry, I'm sorry. I didn't know.”

A light flicked on, above the Evangelion, creating a backlit silhouette, and an amplified voice boomed out throughout the chamber.

“No, you didn't. And you wouldn't.”

Gendo Ikari stared down at his son. Around him, camera feeds showed his progeny from every angle.

Shinji's eyes widened in shock. Father, he subvocalised. Memories threatened to overwhelm him, years of ambivalent hatred for the man who abandoned him after the worst day of his life. He restrained them, ignored them. He would not look away. He had the willpower, the tenacity to resist the urge.

He glared up at the light, putting on his coldest voice, the one that Gany had used to scold him.

“What am I doing here, Father. Why did you summon me to this place from Japan? Since I arrived I have been abandoned, nearly been killed by an entity, and been subjected to some of the least responsible driving I have ever experienced.”

Gendo stared back down. Deep down, a tiny scab was knocked off his soul. That tone of voice; that sounded a lot like Yui when she had been in a mood. Even the facial proportions were similar.

He flexed his new hands, still sore from the transplant. The protective gloves covered the new, soft skin, and they ached.

None of the emotions showed on the Representative's face. Ashcroft had merely added to his natural skills in that area.

Behind Shinji, Misato and Ritsuko began to argue about the Evangelion. Shinji half ignored them, most of his his attention focussed upon staying calm in this war of wills with his father. A few phrases clicked together, though, and he felt a terrible prescience about what they would have him do.

“You want me to be an Engel pilot?” Shinji said, staring up at the shadow.

“Evangelion. It's an Evangelion, not an Engel,” muttered Dr Atagi from behind him. “And, yes, we do.”

“Impossible.” Shinji stated, flatly. He raised his hand to forestall the doctor's objection. “You need a special implant to use one of these things, and I don't have it. So, unless you want...”

Shinji cut himself off, suddenly fearful about where this was going.

“And anyway, I won't. You can't make me, you can't conscript me; the NEGA and the NEGN are purely volunteer armies, and I don't want to go any closer to that creature.”

He paused, and shook, involuntarily, as he saw it cut apart the air strikes and shrug off the artillery.

“I saw it this afternoon, far too close. I don't want to see it again.”

He straightened up.

“You abandoned me. At age four. Go find some professional soldier to do it. Why would you need an untrained sixteen-year old, anyway?”

Gendo glared back down at him.

“Target has opened fire on London-2. Arcology wall breached by energy weapon.”

Gendo Ikari nodded his head once at the message.

“The potential pilot is useless. A replacement will be obtained.” He switched to Fuyutsuki, up in Command headquarters. “Prepare Rei. I don't care about her physical condition. We need to get Unit 01 working, to save the city.”

This makes no sense, Shinji thought. Why would they go to all the effort of getting me from Japan if they could obtain a pilot here, in London-2. Thus, I am preferable to whoever the replacement is. Which means that the effort required to transport someone to the other side of the globe is considered less than the effort required to find a replacement. Who on earth would keep a potential pilot so far away from the vehicle, anyway? Or not give them any training?

The conditions in which an individual is raised can have drastic effects on their personality. Some Shinji Ikaris, in the tumultuous depths of the narrative universe, had been raised by uncaring foster parents, left to retreat inwards until their self-loathing reached approximately the same density as degenerate matter. One, via an exceedingly complex series of events that had involved time-travel, malevolent deities (on his side), and a very special tutor, had ended up as a Machiavellian genius who put his father to shame. The Shinji Ikari, though, which this tale concerns, was raised from age four by a Federal Bureau of Security (Behavioural Analysis Unit) agent, and an arcanotherapist (medicinal). A bright child cannot help but pick up a few things, especially when heritage is taken into account.

His internal questioning was broken by the humming of a A-pod equipped hospital bed being pushed into the hall. A girl, clad in what looked like a pilot's suit, was lying upon it. Shinji could not help raising his eyebrows, for she looked a lot like the White he had seen by the train station. Then again, Whites tended to look fairly similar, as the lack of normal pigmentation removed so many of the traces that humans and Nazzadi alike used to identify each other.

As she got closer, though, he could see that her skin looked wrong, far too fresh. She had the protective eyepiece that a newly regrown eye required on her right eye, and all the skin he could see was that disturbing, infant-like texture. Gany would have screamed and demanded to see who was in charge if she had seen that; patients shouldn't be out of a sterile environment when it was like that.

Shinji stared back up at his father.

“So, this is your pilot,” he said calmly. He felt a sudden wave of anger, just from seeing her like that, as a petty affront to him. His father was right; they did need him.

He balled his fists in rage

“She shouldn't be out of a sterile environment,” he shouted up at the glass. “She shouldn't be out of hospital!”

Gendo smiled, faintly. He had his son, now. “Your cowardice makes it necessary.”

His moment of triumph of wills was cut short by the Herald firing a beam, down into the earth. Exhibiting more fire-power than a NEGN Battleship, it punched through the thick shielding of Inner London and left a three dimensional hole of death and destruction through the layers of the arcology. Debris rained down through the domain of the Ashcroft Foundation and a section of the ceiling in the Evangelion hall broke away, plummeting towards the White xenomix, who had herself been knocked from the bed as the A-pod gave out as the floor rocked.

Shinji grabbed her to haul her out of the way. Sadly, even the weakest of the four fundamental forces still provided more acceleration than he could provide, and too late he realised that all he had managed was to get himself into a position where he could be crushed. Surprisingly, the lethal debris was stopped short of crushing the two of them as the Evangelion-class Engel lifted its massive hand from the lake to shield them.

“Impossible!” yelled Dr Asaki, prone on the floor. “It broke free! It should even be able to move; the entry plug hasn't been inserted!” She paused in her rant, and checked the AR tool around her wrist. “The D-Engine isn't even enabled! I'm going to get to the bottom of how this could happen,” she added, more softly. “Anyway, prepare Evangelion Unit 01 for a new pilot.”

“Yes, Doctor. Preparing new profile,” came the reply over the loudspeakers.



~'/|\'~




Within a few minutes, Shinji had been changed into a standard issue Engel Suit and loaded into their entry plug. Dr Atagi had been insisting on calling it a “plug suit”, but he was beginning to suspect that, as an Ashcroft Foundation scientist who seemed to work regularly with arcanotechnology, her grasp on reality was a little bit looser than most.

He felt around the neck, feeling a rigid seal. It felt vaguely noose-like

“Hey,” Shinji asked the floating head of Misato projected on the interior wall of the plug, “Isn't there meant to be a helmet for this?”

“Well, Engels need a helmet, but the control scheme of an Evangelion requires that you don't wear one,” she replied. “The plug should start filling with fluid; you can breathe it it, as it's hyper-oxygenated.”

Right on cue, a thick, viscous fluid started pooling and rising in the capsule at an alarming rate. It was a dark orange-red, he saw, and vaguely necrotic, like the colour of a scab. The entire plug stank of blood, with strange currents and undertones to the scent.

Shinji held his breath until it covered his head, feeling somewhat unclean just from its clinging contact with his skin, and then exhaled all the air in his lungs in one go.

The liquid (LCL, he heard the doctor's voice in his ear) tasted exactly as it smelt. That is to say, absolutely vile. Shinji began to gag; a difficult proposition when you have no air in your lungs, and an act that mostly results in pain.

“Don't worry, you'll get used to it soon,” was the somewhat heartless comment over the radio.

Dr Atagi turned to her main assistant, Maya Ibuki, a short, cheerful, yet somewhat withdrawn woman, who was manning the main control desk.

“How is it?”

“The pilot's body remains intact. Vitals are elevated, likely from stress. No abnormal brain patterns.” Maya looked up at her mentor. “He's still alive. Your predictions on the necessary qualities for a candidate were correct. Shall I connect the D-Engines?”

Ritsuko nodded once. “Do it.” She paused. “Monitor the synchronisation ratio once the Evangelion boots up. If it goes above 90% or dS/dt exceeds 3 percent per second, abort immediately. We don't want a repeat.”

“Yes, senpai. Acknowledged and logged” Maya moved her hands through the three-dimensional matrix before her.

A complex spiral appeared in the air before her. Consisting of two sin functions around a central axis, the projection resembled a double helix more than anything. As they watched, the two lines rotated around the axis, moving closer.

“Synchronisation is forty eight... no, fifty one, no, fifty two percent. Stabilising... fifty four.” She snapped her fingers within the AR matrix. “dS/dt is constant, plus or minus 0.8%.”

Ritsuko stared at the graph, almost hoping for it to be wrong.

“Incredible.”

“Harmonics are steady and strong. Vital signs are still strong. No mental contamination, as of yet.”

“It took Rei seven months to achieve a stable connection. This is astonishing. If we can replicate this, we can beat Dr Miyakame and his damn Engel Synthesis Interface.”



~'/|\'~




The mood within the Evangelion itself was somewhat less tranquil, as Misato briefed Shinji on what they expected him to do.

“... so, you don't exactly want me to fight the thing, even after all this,” Shinji said in surprise.

“No, not at all. You'll be backed up by a squadron of Engels, which will be the ones which will kill the target. Your job is the most important, though.”

She pulled up a projection within the capsule.

“You've seen the creature, and some of what it can shrug off. We believe it has a protective field which replicates a second-tier sorcery. It seems to naturally produce it, as the spell shorts out all machinery on the person if we use it. The Evangelion can produce a similar field; we call it an AT field. Two fields, if put in proximity and set similarly, can cancel each other out. Phase, anti-phase, see.”

“So, wait.” Shinji frowned, even as the feeling of the LCL moving against skin made it feel like he was covered in bugs. “Why can't other Engels produce this “AT field”? Or can't you just use the sorcery against a weapon, to put the field it, and then just give it to something else?”

“Because this is an Evangelion, not an Engel!” came the inevitable response from the good doctor. Shinji groaned. He'd hoped that she hadn't been listening. “And anyway,” Ritsuko continued in a more normal tone of voice, “for your latter point, we have.”

An image of Unit 01, certain areas highlighted in red appeared before Shinji, levitating in a messianic pose.

“Evangelion Unit 01 is more heavily armed than anything in the New Earth Government that isn't a naval unit. Note the Hyperedged Horn, Claws and the Spurs on the feet. All these objects have been enhanced with a weaponised variant of Dimensional Shield. We hope that the spell will replicate the effects of the AT field, allowing the weapons to stab through. You also have a Hyperedge Blade, mounted under your left forearm. There are also two, head-mounted XV4 heavy laser cannons, synchronised with the eyes, an LR-15 lightning cannon on your left arm, and twinned CB444/AA charge beams attached to the right arm. We've disabled the ranged weapons though; you aren't trained to use them.”

Somewhat overwhelmed with the list, Shinji simply nodded his head once.

“Prepare launch!”



~'/|\'~




Within London-2, four more unnatural hybrids of man, Nazzadi, machine, and inhuman monstrosity stalked their target. James in Tabris, his Auphan (Codename: Tragedy), Sarah in Ramiel, her Malach (Codename: Mantis), Wera in Iruel, his Aral (Codename: Shadow), and Jenny in Lilith, her Shinnan (Codename: Bloodmare). They'd heard that Alpha Squadron had been completely destroyed by this thing, and so they were trying their very, very best to keep out of sight.

“Shadow, what's the status on the target?” First Lieutenant Jenny Intry, their CO asked their stealth specialist. Around her, Lilith snapped her claws reflectively.

“Target is still advancing through the arcology. It's firing repeatedly at the ground. It's headed somewhere, and that somewhere is down.” He paused, hidden under his stealth field. “It's like it's digging. And it's going straight through the arcology levels.”

The unspoken acknowledgement of all the casualties it must be causing passed between the quartet.

“Ashcroft better hurry with their secret project. I've seen it sniffing the air, and it's jamming most of my unconventional senses. I think it suspects something,” added Tragedy. “And it's a lot more heavily armed that we are. And it shrugged off a Clover strike.”

“Cut the chatter,” ordered Jenny, from within the warm, uterine, control capsule. A panel, embedded in the fleshy wall lit up with a priority message. “Okay, the prototype is coming up through the mag-tunnels. Says it's an “Evangelion-class Engel”, whatever that is. Haven't heard of it myself.”

“But what good can one more of us do?” Wera whispered, in his rather attractive Nazzadi accent.

In front of the target, the ground opened up, with a hiss of supercooled magnets. Riding up on rails, a titanic figure, the same size as the target appeared, in the blues and greys of the NEG. It dwarfed the Engels; Lilith and Ramiel were only (only; it seemed like such a petty word) 13 metres tall, while Iruel and Tabris were shorter.

“Now that is a humongous mecha,” stated Sarah. “If it's similar to the target, we might even be in with a chance.”

“Ready up,” ordered Jenny. “We hit the bastard when he's distracted by the prototype. Try to take out its legs, so it'll stop moving and we can hit it at will.”

Shinji Ikari would have been less than reassured by their confidence. For one, they had disabled his ranged weapons. For seconds, they had also put him in a prototype war machine without any real training. He was able to move; the Operator Side Effect luckily worked even with the massive discrepancies in size, and so he knew instinctively how to make the Evangelion do as he wished.

The figure of the Herald loomed before him. Oddly, now that he was in the Evangelion, it didn't seem so horrifying. Of course, maybe the fact that he was now the same size as it played a role in that. He followed the instructions over the radio; it seemed that the movements of the giant Engel were controlled by his own thoughts, with the controls almost just a prop. He flexed his (the machine's?) clawed fingers reflexively, and took a few, slow steps towards the target.

“Good, Shinji!” Misato sounded delighted over the radio. “Now, try activating the AT field!”

Shinji frowned. Somehow, they had never got around to explaining how he did that.

“How? How do I do that?” he exclaimed.

Back down in Inner London, Misato looked helplessly at Ritsuko.

“Yes, how does the pilot use the AT Field?”

“We don't exactly know,” the scientist hissed back. “We know that the Evangelion can do it, but we're unclear as to how it is performed.”

Misato raised her palm to her forehead. There was a faint slapping sound.

“You mean we risked an Evangelion and an Engel squadron in the hope that the pilot would, in his first go, work out how to use a field that consists mostly of shredded spacetime which we don't understand ourselves.”

“We had no other choice. And, anyway, it would be more accurate to say that no-one sane and still human understands AT theory,” Ritsuko added, more thougtfully. “Research into something that involves rotating a one dimensional object that curves through two higher dimensions outside the World of Elements has a very high attrition rate. It's predicted by an expansion of the Ashcroft-Yi equations into an n-dimensional chaotic system. I don't think I have to remind you about what happened to Ashcroft or Yi. Or notable amounts of my mother's team. Or Soryu. Or the other Ikari.”

Misato shuddered. Arcane physics was a closed book to her, and Ritsuko, as an accomplished arcanophysicist, arcanobiologist and sorceress, was weird even as an old friend.

“Nevertheless, what should we do?”

Just a little closer, mouthed Jenny within her Engel, as the squadron snuck up on the Herald. The Evangelion-class didn't seem to be doing anything, but it had all the monster's attention. They just needed the field to go down, and they could kill the thing.

The Herald seem to come to a decision. All of its leech-like fingers and the apendages mounted on its shoulders, as one, swivelled to face Unit 01. And in perfect synchronity, they vomited forth their yellow-green beams. The cutting light swivelled and cut scores across the plating of the Evangelion, knocking it down, onto its back.

Within Unit 01, Shinji screamed and clutched at his face, his body, his limbs. He could feel the monster cutting into him, like hot irons on his skin. His body started convulsing, wracked by the pain. Most of the wounds on the Evangelion were cauterised, but some, such as the one punched through his left arm, began spraying blood all over the wrecked interior of this district of London-2. Even the LCL around him seemed to grow warmer, as heat was conducted through the body of the beast.

He slumped back in his pilot's chair, at the edge of unconsciousness. A faint sussuration filled his ears, the whispering of a thousand voices, in perfect harmony and peace. He rolled aside, trying desperately to get out of the way of the burning and pain, but only his body moved, not the Evangelion.

And then it clicked.

Pain is bad, yes.

Like a wire in the head.

But wires are small, thin.

Easily avoidable.

So if you rotate the pain, it cancels itself out.

And if you rotate it again, it can be used as a stabbing tool, to give others pain.

Good, good, yes.


Normally, Shinji was sure that that sentence... chain of thoughts would make no sense.

And yet it did. Like the world itself had been rotated, and he had remained static.

He opened his eyes. A filigree network, like a cage of fractured glass, protruded over him. The beams of the Herald licked harmlessly at it, like a match held against a brick wall.

Shinji fainted.

An observer who was not enthralled by the pyrotechnics would have noticed other things about the filigree cage, the AT field. Like the fact that the strands reflected light wrong, not always showing the same scene, or showing it at another time. Through one strange glimpse, Eva 01 lay against a building, blood pouring from its head. A thousand thousand tales of woe were reflected in that mesh, and a few would be soon enough.

Evangelion 01 picked itself up, off the ground, and roared. A mass of tendrils emerged from its mouth, hungry and scenting, from within its mammalian jaw.

The Aral pilot nodded.

“That's certainly an Engel. Permission to engage?”

Jenny, in her Shinnan, nodded.

“I think this is our best chance. Keep out the way of the Eva-class, though; we don't know what else that prototype can do.”

The Herald was confused.

brotherdietime
bearmessageofill
whyfightwhywhywhyrescue
smallchildrenwerebrothersnotnow
painpainpain


The Evangelion roared with glee, a dreadful sound, like the scream of a drowning man, a reptilian cry blocked and attenuated by the tentacles that filled its mouth. It grabbed the Herald by both arms, and lent in, a bright corona where the two AT fields met, as the tears in space and time, in the corpus of an great being, tore the air apart at the sub-nuclear level.

As the bubbles of shredded insanity breached and passed each other, Unit 01 vomited more tentacles forth, and affixed them to the glowing red core of the Herald. And the ancient scion of a race that pre-dated humanity knew fear. And pain. And endless suffering.

Fuyutsuki stared at the view screen, deep in Inner London.

“He's won.”

The core dimmed, its radiance consumed by a great blackness. As the Evangelion squatted on the body of the Herald, its jaws locked, lamprey style, on the orb, the Engels were belatedly assisting. Twin charge beams from the Shinnan scored further gashes on the core, while the Auphan, its acid-covered manibles slathered, was locked onto the being's hand, consuming a leech-like finger like some alien lizard eating a worm. It consumed the entire finger, then stuck its lightning gun into the wound, its white carapace soaked in blue blood, and fired, leaving the entire hand to convulse.

As the core began to splinter, as the tentacles of Unit 01 moved from place to place, devouring what they could, the Herald realised what danger it was in. Its mask protruded upwards from the blackness of its body, on a tendril of blackness, looking nothing as much as a primordial cobra.

“Get back, Tragedy!” yelled Wera.

As the Auphan jumped away, activating its A-Pods and soaring away into the sky, more appendages of void emerged from the fallen Herald, all wrapping themselves around Unit 01, while the parts of the Core that the Evangelion had not gotten to began to glow even brighter. The synthorg ignored it, mindlessly trying to consume all that it could.

A barrage of fire slammed into the core. Already damaged, and overloaded with power, it shattered, sending pseudo-crystalline shards tearing through the arcology. The Herald, by now nothing more than a mass of black pseudopodia trying to envelop Unit 01, slumped to the ground, flooding the area with its liquefying, unnatural flesh.

Looking to the artificial sky above it, coated in its own blood and the black, tar-like remains of the Herald, Evangelion Unit 01 raised its head and cried out. The gargling, dying scream shifted to a hideous roar, as the tentacles retracted into its jaw.

And the people throughout the land knew fear.

Lasciate ogne speranza, voi ch'intrate

Deep in Inner London, Gendo Ikari steepled his fingers and smiled, faintly, in satisfaction.

“And thus it begins. The saving of the world.”

~'/|\'~

Last edited by EarthScorpion on 2008-11-02 04:57am, edited 1 time in total.
   Profile |  

EarthScorpion
PostPosted: 2008-11-13 08:58pm 

Padawan Learner


Joined: 2008-09-25 02:54pm
Posts: 209
Location: London
I cut this short from what I was planning; it seemed like a better idea this way, for the events to be covered in a separate chapter. A large amount of this chapter, of course, is the preparing and loading of Chekhov's Guns. Or is is? :roll:

Opinions are not only welcome, but desired. Even rude ones; I'm looking to improve.




Chapter 2

Transitions of a Terminus


Shinji Ikari woke to the sight of a smooth white ceiling above him, and the faint smell of antiseptics in the air. The bed below him was nice and soft. Soft was good. The skin on his front itched, like he had been bruised all over.

Raising his head and looking down, he noticed that this was, in fact, the case. A multitude of red welts, like he had been whipped or pressed into a heated wire, covered his bare torso. They looked days old, though, which raised two possibilities. Either he had been unconscious for that amount of time, after... whatever had happened in the Engel, or arcanotherapy was boosting his healing time. As a primary conclusion, he suspected the latter; a suspicion made more certain by the fact that the door was marked with the symbol of the Ashcroft Foundation, and the room had obviously been prepared as a concecrated area for ritual workings.

In the Strange Aeon, all children were taught to recognise that at a very young age. Bad things (things unspecified to young children, but as they aged some of the badness, such as being smeared across thirteen dimensions while still conscious) happened if a sorcerer were distracted. The more inquisitive, those who showed the greatest interest in sorcery and the occult, were shown some pictures by a New Earth Government visitor to the school. Typically, the interest died down after the twelve-year olds were shown what the human body looked like when that had happened. Lots of pink and grey.

Shinji, of course, had already known that. The room upstairs, where Gany had kept her books and her circle, had been locked at all times, and the four year old had been told explicitly that if he made noise around there, bad things could occur to everybody in the house.

His thoughts were dismissed by the noise of the door hissing aside. A nurse, a dark-skinned human in a gleaming white medicinal suit, entered.

“You are awake.” The English voice came from the ceiling, from the Augumented Reality display that had just lit up, bathing his face in a cool blue light. It was not a question; they quite obviously had access to his vitals.

“Yes.” Shinji blinked his eyes heavily, trying to get his head in shape to speak English. “Uh... who am I speaking to? Is this a LAI or a real person?”

“This is the Type-65H Limited Artificial Intelligence System, attached to the Charing Cross Hospital (London-2), an Ashcroft Foundation medical facility. This hospital is a specialist facility for New Earth Government soldiers and members of the Ashcroft Foundation with both-slash-either physiological and-slash-or psychological injuries.” The voice paused. “Your file indicates that you are fluent in English, Japanese and Nazzadi. Would you like this Limited Artificial Intelligence to switch languages?”

“Yes, please.” Shinji winced, as he tried moving an arm.

Limited Artificial Intelligences (or LAI, pronounced as an abbreviation) were common in modern society. They were standard in nearly every computer system or computerised device. Indeed most people (excluding the types of people, who, years ago, would have been the type of people who used Linux) wouldn't be to even able to use their computers without the installed LAI, and its voice recognition and gesture interpretation. True AI, on the other hand, was outlawed for the same reasons as cloning; a cocktail of ethical issues, technical problems that made it difficult anyway, and the League for the Preservation of Nazzadi Culture. For some reason, the race of altered humans created and brainwashed to wipe out their progenitors by space fungus from Pluto (or Yuggoth, as they apparently called it) viewed the idea of creating any other kind of life rather negatively. Of course, inevitably, the rules were bent and ignored. The Magi computer system, developed as an offshoot of the Evangelion Project, was one of those little breaches, both from its composition and its theorised potential intellect. Other exceptions existed; top secret projects linked to the Engels, penguins, the GIA FACADE project...

Anyway, in an Ashcroft Facility, the LIA was always going to be more advanced than that on a laptop. The Type-65H was a high operating one, able to monitor the patient, administer drugs, and respond to the typical questions that patients tended to ask. And call for security, to have the subject subdued or terminated. Such things were needed in the Strange Aeon, sadly.

It took the LAI less than a second to upload the Japanese files to active memories.

“Patient Shinji Ikari.” The voice itself remained exactly the same, but it switched to flawless Japanese. “Do you wish to know your physiological status? You have not yet submitted a psychiatric evaluation to this facility.”

Shinji indicated assent. The machine proceeded to give a full diagnosis, the majority of which Shinji couldn't really understand. After getting it to simplify, he found that he had bruising and some first degree burns, and the LAI indicated that he had been approved for release, subject to mental evalutation.

Well, Shinji thought to himself. Well, well, well. Yesterday...

“LAI, what is today's date?” he asked the ceiling.

“Today is Wednesday, the 22nd of August, 2091. The time is 10:37 am,” the voice added, without prompting.

Okay. The day before yesterday. He'd been out for a day. Flexing, he ached, but nothing really hurt, in the stabbing way. Shinji swung his legs out of bed, and held his head in his hands.

Monday, as a day, all things considered, had really been terrible. He could still see the creature. It shouldn't have been. It was wrong. And whatever had happened with the Engel. He'd fainted after the laser (and that in itself was wrong; why was he being hurt when it was the Engel being hurt. He could understand transmitted pain, even if it seemed stupid not to put in some kind of buffer, but there was no way that he should have been burnt by being in the Evangelion.), and then...nothing coherent. There was the memories of thoughts which didn't make sense now, but in the memory of the thoughts they did.

And worse, in the memory of those thoughts, the monster had made sense.

And that was a horrific concept. Cold shivers ran up and down his spine, just at the thought of that.

Shinji Ikari groaned. He was sure that he could have to climb in the entry plug again. All he could hope was that there were no more creatures with AT fields. The other threats to London-2 could obviously be dealt with by conventional forces.

But the body of the creature had been horrific. That one glimpse, that hurried slight backwards, was burned into his mind. Suddenly the evaluation seemed like a good thing...



~'/|\'~




Inner London, sometimes somewhat jokingly called London-Minus, and one of the prototypes funded by the Ashcroft Foundation as a test bed for the technologies involved in the construction of a geocity, was a construction marvel. The sealed buildings, organised for mass public transport and transport by foot, were interspaced with gardens and parks. The arcology even imitated weather, with wind, rain, and snow every Christmas. The D-Engine powered lights, gleaming far above in the greater dome of the geocity, were currently set to day, giving a good replica of daylight, but during the night the lights would dim, and new stars would twinkle above. These were not the night skies of the modern days; the stars were wrong, and kept deliberately so. For one, the glint of the Migou Hive Ship, hypothesised to be the body known as Charon, did not hang above the world, a seemingly ever present reminder of the threat of the Aeon War. The Foundation had designed the entire geocity to have a historic feel, reaching back to the Earth before the modern wars and the ecological damage of the twentieth century. In the midst of this primal beauty, Inner London, a pale girl with a lily, beauteous to the eye, lay. The red lights of the NEG positions, even underground, pooled around the city, marring the corpus while reminding the inhabitants of the price that humanity must pay every day.

The office of Gendo Ikari, in the heart of Inner London, below the London-2 arcology, was the gleaming interior of a sphere. The entire room was a potential source of Augmented Reality projections for his glasses, and the walls themselves could be made transparent, to look down over the domain of the Ashcroft Foundation. The dome, at the peak of Central Dogma, centre of Inner London was the tower for a modern wizard, properly consecrated for rituals as it was.

Currently, the walls were set to dark, and the Ashcroft-Yi equations, source and seal of the wealth and immeasurable influence of the Ashcroft Foundation (still technically a private trust, something its horde of lawyers were very clear to the NEG media, despite the fact that it had a word in every level of government) hung over the surfaces in a profusion of Greek letters, sub-and-superscript characters.

Fuyutsuki stood before his superior.

“We have a problem with Rei.”

Gendo looked up from his computer, the code flowing across its surface reflecting off his face like society of eldritch insects. Fuyutsuki shuddered. This place always put him in a morbid frame of mind. But Gendo seemed at ease here, or at the very least concealed it so utterly that he could neither sense, nor feel in any way, discomfort from the man. But he never had, not apart from that one day, locked in the past.

“Explain.”

“Because of her removal from a sterile ward while the epidermis had not yet fully acclimatised to its new body, we are getting an immune response against her left arm. Moreover, there is a necrotic bacterial infection in the same limb.” The elderly man paused. “Your son was right, you know. Mind you, you were the one who picked out those two women for foster parents. The Nazzadi one was a doctor.” A slight smile passed over his face. “I've always wondered why you did that.”

Gendo's eyebrows raised slightly in irritation. “I know. But you wouldn't be here to tell me about a routine infection; not in person. Therefore, something else had come up.”

“Two somethings, actually. The Committee wishes to speak with you. But, there is a more pressing problem with Rei. The left arm is suffering both dystrophic calcification epidermally and hypophosphoric softening in the actual bone. Moreover, unusual blemishes have appeared around the hand.”

Gendo's hands moved through the projected screen, as fresh data rippled over his glasses. Then:

“It is certain.”

“It is certain.”

He blinked, once.

“Amputate immediately, and grow a fresh one.” The black haired man paused, as something caught his eye. “There has been unauthorised tampering with her samples on the medicinal database. Specifically, chromosome 10.” His voice grew colder, if possible. “I want a full list of every single person who had access to that data. We will need full DNA and mental scans on all of them, and prepare for full use of the Clauses.”

“I anticipated that. The individuals have already been noted to Internal Security.”

“Thank you.” The words were a pleasantry, nothing more or less. “Now, I must talk to a few... people. I will have to justify activating Unit 01 ahead of schedule, and with what they will see as the wrong Pilot.”


~'/|\'~




Rei Ayanami lay in her hospital bed, her lumiescent white skin beaded with sweat. As Ashcroft-loyal medical orderlies swarmed around the bed, her left arm already encased in a MAU, she was left to silently blend into the room; almost an irrelevancy. She looked up. The arched ceiling, two metres above her head, was white. To the left, the plain, clinical walls were the same.

She was a ghost.

A non-entity.

And as the sickly-sweet smell of lilies suffused the room, she looked at the orderly (Dr Phyl Laforge, MArcTher), and knew that he was mourning the loss of his wife to him.

And she wondered at the choice of words.


~'/|\'~



The vast flatscreens, mounted against the walls of the interior of the steel canyon that was London-2, blared out their approved message, on every channel. The current channel showed a very attractive Nazzadi, her hair dyed snow white to match her facial tattoos, in what might be generously called a skimpy dress.

“The latest news; the defeat of the latest strike in the Aeon War deployed against the valiant New Earth Government forces on the European front, against London-2. Although the New Earth Government has made no official statements, highly placed sources have stated, off the record, that they believe the vehicle, a bipedal walker roughly seventy metres in height, to have been of Dagonite origin.”

Misato snorted in a rather unladylike manner. She knew very well that the “highly placed sources” were the official briefing, at least at first. She shivered, and wrapped her arms tighter around her HEV suited body. The recovery attempts upon the dead entity, now codenamed by the New Earth Government as “Asherah”, were going as planned, and Ritsuko was positively delirious at the fact that they had a (nearly) intact corpse to poke around in. She had over-heard her old friend talking with some of the NEG scientists poking around in the innards of the beast, and the words “non-euclidean”, “extra-dimensional”, and references to exceedingly complex mathematics were being thrown around far too casually. With signs of intense enjoyment, too.

While obviously better able to deal with such things than, say, her grandmother would have been, Misato Katsuragi still held that there were some things that man was not meant to know. Like, say, how to bend space in a way that parallel lines intersected and then start showing them to her.

Moreover, because Evangelion Unit 01 had still been an internal Ashcroft project, rather than a NEG Army project, she had been the ranking officer, as the individual formally in charge of the military affairs of Inner London. Now, normally she could have deputised someone to over see the project, and got back to filling in some of the paper work that accumulated, like flies on a carcass, on her in desk. She would actually have done it, too. It would have been preferable to spending time around here, with the Arcology wall punctured and the ever-so-pleasant British weather blowing in.

It was raining, despite all her experiences with such things as gravity, horizontally.

Someday, she swore to herself, she would hunt down and find the individual who had approved her promotion to Chief Operations Officer for the Foundation in London. And then she would have words. Words involving coldness, wetness, and being forced to listen to arcane scientists explain what they were doing for very long periods of time. It was clinically proven to drive you mad, after all; what more did they have to show to get it banned...

But maybe she could start with the idiot in the New Earth Government Army who had decided, after their failure to kill the Asherah entity, that they had to be seen to be doing someone big and brave and heroic. As a consequence, they'd sent a dammed O-8, a Marshal to oversee the operations. She'd only been an O-4, a Major, when she'd left the NEGA for the better pay working for the Foundation. As an individual in the odd legal status of being a member of the Foundation's state-within-a-state (and didn't they know it, she added silently, her mind substituting the name “Gendo Ikari” for “they” as soon as she thought it), she wasn't technically outranked, but her instincts were yelling at her to defer to him.

She ignored them. Reluctantly, she got up from her section behind the wind (and rain) shadow of a wrecked piece of wall, and went to get some more coffee. Coffee was warm. Warm was good.

That was the kind of maths that she approved of.

Unfortunately, the path to the nano-fabber set up for hot drinks was blocked by scientists. Talking science. And not even proper science; arcane science.

Approval rating dropping, she thought to herself.

As the black liquid came out of the machine into her waiting voice, she heard the unmistakable tones of Dr Atagi from over her shoulder.

“...so, yes, it seems that the entity, is, quite apart from protruding an extra-dimensional bubble which warps space-time in the same fashion as a massive body to an extent that we'd only really see this degree of the imposition of a non-Euclidean geometry around a singularity... oh yes, did I mention? The WEYL and RICCI tensors are themselves complex... I know! This thing should give research materials for years.”

Ritsuko's voice dropped in enthusiasm, suddenly.

“And keep the whole damn psychiatric wards of the Foundation with a regular influx of patients, too.”

Misato could feel the change in the atmosphere. Colder, suddenly, as if it had just dropped ten degrees. Was that a sniffle she heard? Yes, it was, she decided, and more than one.

She turned around. The flock of arcane scientists was already dispersing, leaving Ritsuko staring down at the ground.

She shuffled towards her friend, steaming cup of coffee in her hand, and a decidedly neutral expression on her face.

“Rits? You want a cup of coffee? It's black?”

Her friend grabbed at it, with a hungry, almost inhuman expression on her face.

She then downed it in one.

“Uh, that was very hot...” Misato began, before fading away.

Ritsuko was crying, her dyed blond face obscuring her face. She began to sob, a thick burble halfwhere between a sob and a giggle.

“Ow. Yeah.” She pulled out a pack of cigarettes from within her HEV suit, and lit up.

“Gods, yeah. Ow. My tongue feels like, well, like the taste buds and the muscle itself have become scalded and engorged from the excess heat.”

Misato looked at her wryly. “I think you meant “I burnt my tongue!” she replied, in a somewhat forced light-hearted tone of voice.

“Yes, sure.”

“Are you sure you don't want to talk about it.” Misato paused, a slightly stricter tone entering her voice. “Have you been going to your weekly evaluations? Have you been taking your pills?”

“Yes, Misato, I have.” Her voice steadied somewhat. “It's just... well, the day before yesterday, I went to the Twin Obelisks. Some new names had gone up.”

The black-haired woman didn't say anything, but merely hugged her friend around the shoulders. Of course, Misato thought. She tends to get like this when she goes near that place.

The Twin Obelisks. There were copies of them in any major Ashcroft Foundation facility, although the originals stood in the Foundation's headquarters, in Chicago-2. The larger White Obelisk, which, engraved upon it in minuscule text, listed the names of every single researcher and arcanotechnician lost to insanity, locked up in the permanent wards of the Foundation's cavernous mental facilities. And the Black Obelisk, listing every single individual killed directly in the line of their duties.

“It's just,” Ritsuko, in a shaky voice, as she wiped her eyes on her sleeve, “it's just, well... the year before last, over half my graduating class in now on one of those two Obelisks. My mother's on the White one.”

NAOKO AKAGI


“You remember Asuka, right, over in the German branch.”

Misato nodded her assent.

“I heard this morning that they're putting Unit 02 off the training position its been in, since the funds were cut, and attaching it directly to the NEGA. Her mother was driven mad by the Evangelion project, and now...” Ritsuko clammed up.
KYOKO ZEPPELIN SORYU


“Hell, you know how I bitch about Dr Miyakame, but he's the only sane one left out of his entire research group. The rest are on the monoliths, one way or another. Simon Yi, the man who developed the D-Engine, is up there.”

SIMON YI


“And then there's Teresa Ashcroft. She did all the theory, from scratch. She's responsible for all much modern technology. People in the past would have killed for the almost free energy, 100% environmentally sound...”

“Apart from when gribbly things burst out and eat the technicians.” Misato bit down on her lip, well aware that her attempts to interject some humour into the situation might just make the situation worse.

“That only happened with the first few prototypes, back in the '30s, as you know quite well,” Ritsuko snapped back, sounding more like herself. “But, anyway, what did that brilliance get Teresa Ashcroft...”
TERESA ASHCROFT


“Nothing, that's what. She was committed in '22, aged 27. If she's alive now, do you think she cares about anything at all.” The doctor took a deep pull on her cigarette. “And that's just the White. I can name several more on the Black. You know the Ashcroft college we'll be sending the Third Child to. Almost all the children there have a parent on the Obelisks. That's what we're doing. The dammed D-Engine is eating up all our best and brightest, and spitting some out, mangled, while it swallows some whole.”

Inside, Ritsuko Atagi was shaking. She realised, now, that she was having one of her episodes. She hadn't told her friend yet that they'd bumped her up to twice-weekly examinations. She was losing it, she knew. But still, all the people she knew were going slowly crazy. And what they were doing to get the Evangelions working. Sometimes, she doubted that the human race was worth what they were sacrificing for it. What she, personally, was sacrificing. It wasn't even going crazy, not really. Because when she looked at it through the new viewpoint that she got through arcanotechnology, it made more sense. What did human emotions matter when you knew, as a clear statement, that all humanity was was a collection of three-dimensional molecules arranged in a complex pattern, embedded in the fourth dimension, and with slight intrusions into the fifth. But whenever she wavered, out of the mists of her subconscious emerged that face. She would never be free of him.

She pulled herself together, internally, following her councillor's guidance. There were a lot of things that Misato both shouldn't (both for the reasons of their friendship and the classified nature of the information) and couldn't (unable to understand from her limited perspective) know, and she would not blab it out to her. She took several deep breaths.

“Don't you have to collect the Third Child from the hospital, anyway? He was assigned to you.” She looked at her friend's face, her eyes still red and damp. “What did you think of him? Before he got in the Evangelion, obviously; they haven't given him a full analysis yet for mental contamination or any of the... problems we had with previous candidates.”

Misato gave a dark look at her friend.

“Don't remind me. I kind of liked him, which is a good start. No tolerance for motion sickness, of course, but you said that the Representative is the same.”

Her friend laughed weakly, her voice still shaky. “Misato, remember Pola? The fighter pilot. He only let you drive him around twice before he left. You know, I think you burned out your vestibular system right when you joined the NEGA.”

Misato looked blank at her for a few seconds.

“Oh. You mean I-N-N-E-R space E-A-R, I think.” Inside, she felt somewhat better. If Ritsuko could needle her by the use of too long words, then she was getting better.

“Yes, Misato, I do.” She pulled a handkerchief out of her suit, and blew her nose, noisily.

“Not my fault I was assigned an Eclipse as my first mecha,” the black-haired woman added in a deliberately childish voice.

“What happened to Pola, anyway. I thought you quite liked him, back in college.”

Misato shrugged “He was only really a handkerchief after Kaji.”

“Handkerchief? Ah, something to sob into, then discard.”

“Well, actually I meant it in the sense that it's only good for a few blows, but your version can be safely explained to children. But, yes, he ended up being moved over to Shanghai from Tokyo-3.” Her voice went cold. “He was probably still there when the Rapine Storm hit China.”

Words were not necessary to explain what that meant. The human Disciples, if the term could apply to those degenerates, would rape you to death, eat you and wear your skin as clothing. These actions could even be re-arranged, without nearing some of the worse things that they could do, things that weren't even released to the general public.

“Look at us,” Ristuko said, in a black tone of voice. “We're in our mid thirties...”

“Early thirties!” Misato replied, in a hurt tone of voice. “I'm still thirty two!”

“Thirties, then. So many people we know are dead. Dead in this stu... this war.”

“Yes, yes,” she replied, her voice shifting into a more authoritative tone of voice. “For your own sake, Rits-chan, I'm formally, as Director of Operations, giving you sick leave. I'm going to the Charing Cross Hospital to pick up the younger Ikari. I'll drive you there, and leave you at the out-clinic. You can't work in this state, and you won't help up if you have a break-down like this when the Evangelions are active.”

Ritsuko sniffed. “You're right. You know, you might actually be maturing.” A weak smile covered her face. “As I can recall, in university it was me driving you to hospital, to have your stomach pumped...”

A pained look entered Misato's eyes. “That hurt. Man, my twenty-second birthday sucked...”

“Among other activities, yes.”

“That was low, Rits, that was low.”

“As low as you went shortly before you tried rock-paper-scissors with absinthe? And, before you ask why I'm bringing this up, I still haven't forgiven you for what you did to my carpet.”

Clutching her rather tattered dignity around her, Director of Operations Misato Katsuragi stalked off to her car, scientist in tow.



~'/|\'~




It was three days before they released Shinji from the in-clinic. He felt better, now. A full psychological profile, of the same level assigned to Engel pilots, had been generated, and he had been subject to eight sessions of talk therapy. They'd prescribed him a course of prochlorperazine, a mild relaxant, which should help with his still elevated nerves. He had been deemed stable and sane, capable of normal activities within society, and, he noted with a hint of displeasure, fully able to operate a standard NEG Sword-class mecha. He wasn't sure how that related to ability to climb into an entry pod, and he wasn't really sure if the psychiatrists knew, either, but he knew that what this meant was that they would pretty inevitably try to make him pilot the Evangelion again.

Well, if they thought that he merely acquiesce, subject to the blackmail of the White xenomix and her physical state and the demands of his father, then they didn't know Shinji Ikari. He knew the law. The New Earth Government required all mecha pilots (excluding certain civil-assigned power armours, defined as D-Engine powered vehicles subject to the Operator Side Effect less than 3.5 metres in height) to have a commission, and they didn't usually accept candidates before age of eighteen. The New Earth Government couldn't legally deploy him. He was vaguer on the somewhat extra-judicial nature of the Ashcroft Foundation and their operations, but he wasn't an employee of the group, and so they had no authority over him when he was outside of one of their facilities.

He smiled faintly. The Ashcroft Foundation. So much like the historical papacy of Historical Christianity, with its own authority and its whispering voice in the ear of the powerful. And, in the faint whispers on the grapevine of society, just as willing to sacrifice a martyr for them.

On the other hand, though, it seemed that they really needed him, to the extent that they would fly him from Japan to pilot the Engel. He was sure that his father would find a way to make him do it. The name of Ikari bore its own baggage; that of the eminence grisé.

Shinji was quite unaware of how true that was.

And anyway, there was the guilt, that he was needed, and to run away was... well, against his social conditioning, for the protection of the tribe. The very fact that he could articulate the thought, that the desire make grandiose gestures “For Humanity's Sake!” was merely biological programming designed to subjugate the mind of the individual to the collective good didn't make the sick, roiling feeling in his stomach, when he considered the so-called cowardice, go away. What to do, what to do?

As his mind ran over these problems, Shinji's body removed the clothing he had been assigned in the mental health hospital. He looked out over the clothes that they had given him to wear. His white shirt and black trousers had been destroyed, he had been told, by the immersion in the LCL.

The question to what that would do to his health in the long term was a nagging itch at the back of his head.

As a replacement, they had given him a generic light blue T-shirt, and dark grey trousers. They were obscured, though, by the ballistic vest. Its black mass lay under the white lights of the sterile room he was in, soaking in the light. He had been told by the orderly who had laid this clothing out that, as pilot, he was obliged to wear this in all places not deemed secure. Apparently he was now a potentially valuable assassination target for Migou infiltrators, Dagonite cultists, malcontent, and possibly even people who might view the late deployment of the Evangelion as the failure of the NEG to save their loved ones.

Not a happy thought at all.

Outside the gleaming entrance to the facility, in a courtyard filled with flowers under the artificial sun, a figure waited for him. As his eyes cleared from the unusual brightness, Shinji was somewhat surprised to find that the Foundation's Director of Operations waiting for him.

With, he shuddered, her car. That loathsome machine, that was merely a tool for her deep seated desires to make perfectly innocent individuals suffer. That finely bladed weapon that was the way that her desires to be a pilot (again, he judged, looking at her posture) could be made manifest. Many fears have been attached to objects in the past; a fear of uncontrolable attached to alcohol, a fear of the unknown attached to mimes, a fear of the unseen attached to shadows. Shinji Ikari was far too logical, in his own mind, to displace fears like that. No, what truly terrified him was the car, specifically when it was in motion. And when the individual greeting him was driving it.

“Hello... uh... Misato,” was all that he could get out, past the waves of nausea and fear. “I... uh... thought that I was just going to be collected by ... someone less important than yourself.” He paused. He would not hyperventilate, he would not faint. “What will... uh... be happening to me now?”

Misato smiled at him, in a slightly desperately hopeful way. She didn't have much experience with children (though Shinji wasn't really a child. On the other hand, he wasn't even born in the '70s, and she was damned if someone who couldn't wasn't really a child, because that would make her old), and it had just been her luck that had resulted in her accommodation being selected from among the few with the appropriate security for such a high value target. She had volunteered for that list, true, but that had just meant that she had got a bigger apartment up in London-2, and a small Foundation funded tax rebate. She hadn't expected them to actually use it, damn it, beyond possibly a nice, sober officer who could maybe help with the tidying. She hadn't expected Rits' Evangelion project to ever a) bear fruit, and b) land her with one of the pilots as a flatmate. Especially since they'd already told her, in private, that if they had to move Unit 02 over to London, she'd be getting yet another visitor.

The fact that, unbeknownst to her, her psychological profile had been noted to “have deep rooted, unfulfilled maternal tendencies”, had also helped narrow the choice, when the first choice for supervision and guardianship of the pilots had refused to have his son living with him.

“I've been appointed your legal guardian. You're an important military figure now, after your success against the first Herald... you do know that we're calling them that, right?” Misato flapped her hand. “Doesn't matter, anyway, silly name if you ask me. Anyway, I've got a big apartment, and one of the few in the entirety of London-2 that fit the security criteria. I volunteered.”

Well, it wasn't technically a lie. She did have a big apartment, it did fit the security criteria, and she supposed that she had sort of volunteered when she filled in that form when Ritsuko had pointed out that it seemed like an easy way to get preferential treatment. It wasn't the boy's fault that she was being forced into it.

“What about Yuki and Gany?”asked Shinji, referring to his foster mothers back in Tokyo-3.

“They agreed, said that they couldn't really legally guard you while you were in London-2. I'm sorry, I meant to collect you three days ago, but they wouldn't let you out before they'd given you the full works. Anyway,” she continued, brushing quickly past the sensitive subject whatever had happened in the psychiatric facility, “It'll be fun, honestly. I'll go out and get food, so there'll be no need to cook anything from the nanofab. We'll have a welcoming party!”

Shinji paused. He wasn't even sure that he wanted to stay here, let alone go anywhere near that monstrous Engel they wanted him to pilot, and here was this woman barging into his life, taking it over, and dragging him off, importantly, in her devil-forged car.

“Excellent,” Misato declared, grabbing him by the elbow and pulling. “I've put in a form to have the rest of your stuff shipped over. I doubt anyone could have enough stuff to fill up my place.”

Shinji, for his part, was merely running to keep upright. How the hell could that woman move so fast? Did she have little A-Pods in her feet?



~'/|\'~




Lieutenant James Hawass, known to his co-pilots as “Tragedy” sat beside his wife's bedside, the bleep of the hospital machine unheard. His olive skin was grey with fatigue and stress, his hair lank, his posture bowed. He'd sent his daughter back, to stay with her friends. It wasn't much, or even the right thing to do, but it was the only thing that he could think to do.

Dammit! It wasn't fair.

It wasn't meant to like this.

He'd helped kill the Herald, felt its finger fill the gullet of his Auphan, while the new Evangelion class tore it apart. He'd helped save London-2. He was getting a commendation for this.

Except it was now just meaningless. He'd come home to find his daughter sitting in the corner, hands clutched over her eyes, crying, while his wife lay motionless on the floor, in a pool of her own vomit. That wasn't the worst of it.

She'd clawed her own eyes out.

She'd clawed her own fucking eyes out.

And now he sat, the big damn hero, saviour of the New Earth Government, by her bedside. She was tied down, with the full in-patient treatment to stop any extra damage.

The doctors had said that they could fix the physical damage. A new set of cloned eyes could be grown; that'd take a few days, and then maybe a fortnight of recovery while her brain got used to it. No, it was the mental damage that would be the problem. They'd said that this was Aeon War Syndrome, which just made it worse for the Engel pilot, who knew what that really was.

Somehow, Katrina, his beautiful wife, had been exposed to something that should not be. He'd seen things like that, and killed them. Hells, he sat in a uterine pod inside something that man was not meant to know, and used it as a tool. That was fair. He knew the risks when they offered him the surgery to get the Engel Synthesis Interface. He was a volunteer.

But what had she been doing wrong? She wasn't an arcanotechnician or an occult scholar. The OSI had already torn up the house, and they'd found no sign of sorcery. She'd been genescanned; one human female of Caucasian/Indian sub-continent origin, no outsider taint. She had no previous records of parapsychic abilities.

It wasn't meant to happen to people like that.

But it did. All too frequently. And so he was left to sit here, waiting. He'd seen friends, comrades, in a less bad state, who had taken years to get out of the in-clinic.

God-fucking-damn it. It wasn't fair.

All over the city of London-2, and the rest of Europe to a lesser degree, the same melancholy tale had repeated itself like a sick joke. A mysterious wave of madness had swept through the populace like a dark tide, leaving most unaffected, but dragging some poor, hapless souls into its malevolent vortices where few surfaced. Average people and businessmen; the majority of the populace of the New Earth Government mostly survived untouched, with but a few suffering disturbed nights, and a slightly increased death rate in local hospitals, as those already weakened succumbed to the darkness that lurks behind eyes other than theirs. Some ran screaming from their workplaces, and ran to the nearest bodies of liquid, to cast themselves in, claiming that they must walk the waters to placate that which awakes. The scientists, of both the mundane and the arcane, sorcerer and biologist alike, oddly, were affected less, with most feeling no difference. Perhaps the pursuit of logical thought had in some way inured them to the ripples in the pool behind the senses, where it is all put together. But it was the artists; DJs, painters, and dancers who suffered the worst. In one strip-club, specialising in the Nazzadi, the workers fell upon the clientèle, consuming them in a madness that seemed quite beyond what many of the sickened OIS Agents, who put down the mad souls, had seen before. Painters produced masterworks beyond their skills, with sickening words in Aklo, R'lyehan and Tsath-yo that proclaimed profuse truths about the universe. And scultors made figures cast in bronze, clay and tin, that portrayed a morbid, yet horrifically gravid, vaguely female figure, like a Stygian Medusa stripped of all the romance of myth.

And in a blacked room, under stars which were wrong, a figure, cast in white light, nodded to Gendo Ikari.

“You know what must be done. You cannot back out now. The Human Iteracy Project comes above all. For the Greater Good.”

The figure vanished.

And the glint of the eyes behind the orange glasses spoke of the plans of the Ikaris. The Old Men had their plan, and he would follow his.

~'/|\'~
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EarthScorpion
PostPosted: 2008-12-08 04:38am 

Padawan Learner


Joined: 2008-09-25 02:54pm
Posts: 209
Location: London
Chapter 3

All Alike in Circumstance



~'/|\'~




The earth shook as the beast strode through the bombed out ruins of Old London. A black silhouette, its over-long arms dragging along the ground, as it casually smashed its way through an apartment block. And then it roared, a thin keen, impossibly loud, like a kettle fit to boil seas. The streets were abandoned; those among the squatters dwelling in the ruins who could seek asylum in the Enclaves had done so, while those who feared the scrutiny of the New Earth Government hid themselves in those parts of the Underground that had not flooded.

Target 0005-T was the latest iteration of the Herald-substitute for use in the Evangelion training programme. The direct data derived from the Third Herald, Asherah, had been deemed fully unsuitable for use in training, as the simulation body lacked the filtering effect that helped maintain the sanity of the pilot. The idea that an Eva pilot might be reduced to insanity by a training exercise had been duly considered, and had been deemed enough of a threat that such measures had been put in place. Why this was the case was only known to a number of individuals in the Ashcroft Foundation that could be counted on both hands. It had been justified to the NEG, however, by the little truth that it was considerably cheaper to run a simulation body than a full operation with Unit 01.

Up in the control centre, Misato frowned, and stroked the golden badge of a Major, restored to her shoulder. The operations staff of the Eva Project were, without exception, former officers in the NEGA; after the defeat of the Herald, the Project had been assimilated into the military with almost indecent speed, given the same odd status as the Engel Project. Ritsuko had been crowing about that; not only were they separate, as opposed to subordinate, to the Engels, but, as head scientist on the project, she was, technically in the eyes of the New Earth Government, possessing the same status as Dr Miyakame. She was getting a little intolerable, actually. Misato made a mental note to ...no, it was better than her depression, far better.

She mentally shrugged, and focussed back on the operation.

“Shinji. You have full control... now.”

From the main screen, and the three-dimensional projection in the centre of the room, the control room watched the training of the Third Child. Two projections were up; the first, and larger, showed a model of the environment the alleged Unit 01 was supposedly operating in. The second showed the activities of the simulation body, suspended in fluid. The simulation bodies lacked most of the components that made the Evangelions unique; in practice, the bodies were closer to scaled up Engels. They were mostly unarmoured, only covered enough to help the sanity of the maintenance technicians, and, were they to be removed from the Pribnow Box, strategic removal of muscles and ligaments would leave them barely able to stand. Indeed, the fact that they could remain upright was a worrying situation in both Foundation and NEG contingency planning; despite the lobotomisation of the synthetic organisms, the regeneration that conventional Engels (although not Synthorgs derived from... whatever the Evangelions were) displayed was enough of a theoretical threat that the defences turned in around the simulation chamber rivalled that of front-line bases.

Shinji squatted behind a wrecked front of houses, his (or was it his? No, it wasn't. It was the Evangelion's body. He was just borrowing it)...

Back in the control room, First Lieutenant Aoba frowned. The synch ratio was dropping. He input a series of commands, silently, and the drop ceased. He nodded, once, to himself.

Ritsuko nodded, too. She'd noticed his activities, even though he hadn't unnecessarily announced them. Aoba was a good technician; he had great patience, kept his temper cool (unlike some people in the control centre), was doggedly determined, and had an especially good eye for detail. He wasn't as gifted a scientist as Maya, though, and his dress and habits were... annoying.


...blue-grey arms cradling the 120mm High Velocity Penetrator they'd given him. This was his second week of training, although the first ten days had been a very cut down version of base camp, teaching him to hold a rifle properly, use cover (although the concept of cover for a war machine forty metres high at the shoulders was rather different from that for a man-sized target, so they'd had him in a stripped down conventional mecha, with its control scheme modified to match that of the Eva), and generally some much abbreviated tools of the trade of the modern soldier. The training sergeant, a grim faced man who claimed that his entire body had been replaced over the course of the Aeon War, had groaned and told Shinji that he was useless at first sight, but he had been told by one of the assistants that the sergeant said that to everyone. Then there had been two days, filled with endless repetitions of the tedious phrase “Centre the rifle on the target and pull the trigger.” only yesterday had they actually let him engage in combat simulations, against a varied group of enemies that all seemed to be built around the same template as the Evangelion and the Herald.

“Remember the HUD,” Shinji muttered to himself. “Watch the map. Remember the HUD. Centre the reticule and pull the trigger.”

The Herald's footsteps stopped. The HUD showed that it was five hundred metres away, and he'd chosen this position well. The building in front of him was solid, but the area beyond that had been flattened by a Nazzadi strike, he assumed, and so he had a good field of fire. He straightened up, levelling the rifle on the target, and focussing the head-mounted lasers, and squeezed the...

... and a blue-green beam of light yawned out of the creature's mouth, punching through the building and his (no, the Evangelion's, he reminded himself) body. As the first of the magnetically accelerated Penetrators hit the target, it jerked, knocked back, as its night-black body, resplendent of cthonic depths, was torn apart.

Unfortunately, all that did was cause the beam to arc upwards, cutting through the body and neatly bisecting the human war machine. Shinji felt a slight ache, the faintest hint of the agony that such an injury would cause him if he were a proper Evangelion. The lights in the entry capsule went out, leaving him in complete darkness, in the dense, warm viscosity of the LCL. It still wasn't a nice taste, of blood and other, stranger, undertones, but he was getting used to it.

The lights clicked back on, showing the projected image of what the inside of the entry tube would look like, were it not flooded with reddish-orange goo.

Misato's voice came in, over the radio. She was definitely in “Officer Misato” mode, rather than the indolent, empty-headed, hedonistic, lazy, lowbrow (and Shinji could go on) slob which she seemed to really be.

“So, Pilot Ikari. What do you think you did wrong this time.”

Was that the faintest hint of sadistic glee, like that from his cello teacher, who enjoyed the shouting at a student who had made a mistake almost as much as he praised one who did it correctly? He suspected it was. How could one woman be such a different person from one moment to the next. He vaguely wondered if it were possible to “save up” seriousness and responsibility. If so, Misato was obviously following a Keynesian economic policy.

He blinked heavily.

“I think I waited too long. I was waiting for it to pass me, then I was going to open fire. I didn't realise this was a new type. I thought it was the same as the second one you used against me...”

“...which was, in itself, stupid. You can't fight the next war against the last opponents, and we noticed in the last few simulations that you were relying upon knowing what they were going to do.”

“That's why we programmed in the mutator,” Dr Akagi added. “This was the first test of it. And I have to say, we did rather well,” she said, a smirk emerging in her voice. “It takes the behavioural patterns of the observed Herald, all NEG, Nazzadi, Migou and Dagonite mecha, as well as various extra-normal lifeforms, and develops hybrid attack patterns. Moreover, its weapons are randomised, too, and subjected to a learning algorithm.”

“But I can't even use the AT-field when in this thing,” Shinji protested. “That's not really that fair.”

“It's not fair, is it, Pilot Ikari? Would you like me to make a complaint to the Heralds?”

“But how can I train with the AT field, if I can't actually use it? Perhaps you would like me to practice flying in this flightless simulator?”

“We haven't resolved the issues with mounting enough A-pods on the Evangelion to actually achieve flight, but it does account for the jump pods. As you showed us so very well on trial zero-zero-three, when you managed to jump over the target and land in the Thames.” Dr Akagi paused. “Well, when I say you landed in the Thames, I meant that your flaming wreckage did. Inertial trajectories and momentum are that ever so great bane of the hot-shot mecha pilot, and that just made you an easy target.”

Shinji paused. “Point accepted. There was no need to be so pointlessly sarcastic, though,” he added, in a slightly hurt voice.

He was fairly sure that he was just putting it on.

“English is a good language for being sarcastic in. Would you like to make a complaint to the Ashcroft Foundation?”

“Point also accepted, Doctor.” Shinji smiled wryly. “Nazzadi is a lot more pleasant in that regard,” he added in that language.

“If you have finished with your all-so-clever banter,” Misato interrupted, “and, yes, I do realise that I am being sarcastic too... no, I could see you open your mouth, Rits-chan, don't even start that sentence.” She cleared her throat. “We have a Pilot to train, so that, in real life, he doesn't get bisected by one of the Heralds. Perhaps we could get back to that.”

Ritsuko nodded her head.

“Anyway, yes, to answer the question you initially put, Shinji, you seem to have natural talent at projecting an AT field. What we really need to do is to teach you to use the basics of Unit-01; movement, integrated and external weapons, cover. We'll be running live tests when Pilot Ayanami recovers, and we can pit the two Units against each other.” She shrugged. “Depends if we can work out an attack pattern for the Heralds. If they attack all over the world, we may have to split the Evangelions up. Really, the political pressure to station one in Chicago would be too much. After all, Miyakame's precious Engels can't do anything to a Herald-level entity; they're too small, too weak, and use inferior genestock.”

Misato gave a meaningful cough.

“Anyway, yes. Maya, begin a full program restart. Randomise starting location and feed the new data into the mutator.”

The control room swung into life once again.



~'/|\'~




Shinji clambered out of the opened door to the entry port, and immediately threw up, emptying his stomach of a rancid mixture of LCL and breakfast.

He groaned. He was feeling physically exhausted from the training, despite his body (or was it? No, this was certainly his body.) having done nothing more strenuous than sit in a chair all day, with the pseudo-weightlessness of the fluid in the chamber even removing the necessity to hold his own weight. Perhaps that was part of the problem, he thought to himself. Getting out, and that horrible moment when the tube replaced the LCL with air, just made what seemed like gravity had tripled. And it seemed so cold outside the Entry Plug. He was sure that the London Geocity was kept around five degrees colder than London-2, above them.

He felt one of the technicians take his arm, guiding him gently over the patch of vomit. They had got quite used to that happening; about half the time he threw up, and those incidents coincided with times that he swallowed the stuff. He wasn't quite clear what the LCL actually was, and, frankly, he suspected he didn't want to know. Logically, it was probably related to amniotic fluid, given the whole immersion thing and the biological nature of the Eva-class Engels, which was a thought which had the word squick attached to it.

Indeed, the fact that he had just thought that thought was making him feel somewhat worse. Stupid mind making stupid logical connections.

Someone had just passed him a towel. That was a good thing, he thought, as he wiped his face, and made it so he wasn't dripping wet, and turned to thank his potential saviour. It was Kozo Fuyutsuki, his father's henchman and second-in-command of Ashcroft Europe. The old man, clad in his brown suit, actually seemed to be trying to be nice; at the very least, he was smiling, and, of course, he had provided the towel.

“Pilot Ikari. You did well in the training today; better than yesterday. You're learning rapidly.”

“Th... thank you, sir,” Shinji managed to stammer in return. With surprise, he found he was oddly nervous around the man. Nothing compared to the cold presence of his father, but there was something slightly unsettling about the man, as if Gendo had rubbed off on him.

And, of course, praise from an authority figure felt good. He knew that it was an ingrained instinct, a legacy of the fact that people who didn't settle for just praise from authority tended not to breed, and of the social structures of the apes before mankind, but it did.

“After you've changed out of the plug suit, the Representative... your father wants to see you in his office, to discuss the terms of your employment here.”

Shinji nodded silently.

Fuyutsuki turned to leave, stopped, and, not quite looking at Shinji, said, “That was well done, Shinji.”

The boy frowned, staring at the man's retreating back, towel in hand. This contemplation was broken by Misato snatching it from him, and beginning to vigorously dry his LCL-soaked hair.

“Aaah! What are you doing! Stop...Mmmph” he complained, as his plaintive protests only succeeded in getting an orange-goo soaked towel in his mouth. He tried to squirm away, but the woman was horribly fast and strong.

“You really did improve faster after Ritsuko put in the mutator. For the last few ones, you were really moving as if it was your body. With luck, we'll get permission for some field tests soon,” said Happy Misato happily. “And stop struggling. We don't want you dripping LCL all the way to the changing rooms.”

“But when you do this to it, before it gets washed out, it just ends up sticking all over the ... mmmph,” the reply once again interrupted by the taste of towel.

Misato sighed.

“Very well,” she said, handing the by-now sodden towel back to Shinji. “Go. Clean up, then you can see the Representative.”

She noted the slump of his shoulders as he walked away.

Behind her, Ritsuko and Maya stood silently, on their way back to the offices of the Evangelion Project. Ritsuko, she knew, was judging her. Misato could feel it from the way that she didn't say anything, from her pose that screamed that she wasn't just not saying anything, but that she wasn't saying anything.

But Dr Akagi was most certainly thinking. And what she was thinking was;

“That psychological profile was right on the money. Looks like I owe Dr Tam 20 Tn.”

Maya Ibuki was less skilled, or less prepared to keep quiet than her mentor and teacher.

“How does he do it? How does he bring himself to pilot it?” she asked, softly.

Whether the question was rhetorical, or directed towards Ritsuko or Misato was unclear. Nevertheless, the good doctor took it upon herself to answer.

“It's complicated. It's in part ignorance. We know the truth about what the Evangelions are, and importantly the fact that the numbers of the Children only count the successful candidates. If we counted all of them; well, let's just say that the Second Child would be actually in the double digits, and he'd be even higher.”

She paused, her face lowered in the pure white light of the hallway, staring at the reddish-orange footprints on the white floor.

“And it's his personality. He has an outer shell of cynicism and sarcasm, but he'll go along with what others say eventually. The complaints, inconvenient questions and objections are just a way to make it seem like he has control over the situation, without having to make decisions himself. It's how he copes with life.”

Because you're so different, her inner voice sneered. You're the facilitator, the one who hammers others' dreams into reality, paying for their flights of fantasy with your grip on sanity. He's bright and he asks questions, instead of just obeying, like most of the people around here. You don't know that he'll obey no matter what.

Because asking questions is such a good idea, another voice replied. If Teresa Ashcroft hadn't asked all those questions and read The Mysteries Within, and Simon Yi hadn't asked all those questions about what exactly had driven his colleague mad, and so on to the current day, the Migou wouldn't have come. Were the five-and-a-half billion lives from the two Arcanotech Wars really fair exchange for the knowledge.

“Senpai?” There was a tone of worry in Maya's voice. “Are you okay? You just tailed off.”

“Yes. I am fine.” Her voice came out, cold as ice.

The voices were silenced by a nootropic mood stabiliser, swallowed without the aid of water.

Misato stared coldly at her old friend's retreating back. The Aeon War Syndrome was getting worse with Ritsuko, she thought. The insanities and mental disorders, worrying though they were, were human problems. They were human ways which humans used to cope with things that they shouldn't have to; Ritsuko had her delicate mental stability, and her horde of cats. But the coldness, the apathy, the dehumanisation that some people showed (like the Representative, her mind whispered to herself, within its deepest depths), was worse. Because those people were stable, but their equilibrium point was not that of normal people.



~'/|\'~




Gendo's breath rose before him, in the chill room at the top of the geocity. He stared at his second-in-command over his glasses.

“You talked to him.”

It was a statement of fact, not a question.

“Why do you make these statements, if you already know the answers?”

There was no answer.

“You are nervous, aren't you, Gendo.”

It was also a statement.

“You've closed in on yourself rather than show nerves ever since I've known you. You've preferred to be seen as a magnificent bastard, as the chessmaster, than a human being, ever since it happened. Since they happened, actually.”

Gendo ignored his words, and spoke softly, as if the criticism had not occurred.

“Misato was told to evaluate his performance honestly to him. You praised him, as we planned. Ritsuko made the last few easier than they should have been, deactivating the learning algorithm.”

A faint smirk appeared under the glasses.

“Honestly, Gendo. You shouldn't feel so proud about setting things up so a sixteen year old signs a contract,” Fuyutsuki chided, gently.

“Not a normal sixteen-year old, no. But this is imperative for the YI-plan. It must happen.”

“True, true.”



~'/|\'~




Shinji took his shower while in the plug suit itself. The garment was sealed around the neck, after all, keeping the rest of him dry and clean. He knew, intellectually, that the thing was cleaned in a high technology facility every time it was worn, but it just felt better to leave it superficially clean. He raised his head to the ceiling, eyes closed, and let the warm water wash down upon his face. Unseen, the rivulets of water and other fluids flowing off the suit swirled together, staining the drain red, and making it look like an ancient film, which had almost died from the public consciousness. All that was remembered by most was the music, a shrieking violin tune, and the image of blood on white tiles.

Fortunately, Shinji managed to complete the shower without any unfortunate stabbing incidents. Leaving the plug suit on the hook intended for it, he caught the eye of his reflection in the mirror. He stared at himself, as he pulled up his trousers, and did up the ballistic vest and shirt.

Who is the boy looking at me from the mirror?

Well, obviously, I know it's me. But who is me.

Yes, that question can also be answered by the word “me”. But that's trivial, trite and a bit pointless, like some overblown pseudobabble, of the type that Yuki had always been a bit intolerant of. Has. She's still alive after all. I mean, I only saw her less than three weeks ago.

But why do I feel like I'll never see her again. Who'd have thought that I'd end up being dragged to England, almost killed, and then essentially blackmailed by my bastard of a father into piloting a humongous mecha.

Let's start with the basics. My name is Shinji Ikari.


He unconsciously smoothed his hair down, while staring at his own face.

I am ethnically Japanese. I am looking rather pale, more so than usual. I am one metre, seventy two centimetres tall. I am thin, and rather lacking in muscles. My hand is covered in grey, blue, black and whitish armour plating.

What the hell! That isn't right at all!


Shinji stood, staring and blinking at his hand (was it his hand? It looked like the hand of the Evangelion, the one he had been using all day). He flexed one finger. The hand before him flexed the same finger. He slowly transferred his gaze to the mirror. The hand in that appeared normal.

Well, that's reassuring. I'm not turning into the Evangelion, or some horrific, extra-dimensional being. I'm just going mad.

Wait a moment. That's only reassuring in the sense that... dammit, I can't even think up a good metaphor.

If I close my eyes
he thought, in the dreamy sense of terror that was now overtaking him it might go away. If it goes away, I might have just dozed off. I mean, I'm feeling rather tired from the last two weeks, with no days off. Yes, it's a nightmare. Therefore, if I close my eyes, and then open them suddenly, that will wake me up. And if it's still there, then I think I'll start by screaming.”

He closed his eyes.

Rubbing his fingers together, they felt like flesh, warm and yielding, rather than hard and cold advanced composites. That was probably a good sign.

He opened them again.

The hand was back to normal, if it had ever been otherwise. Human flesh, with human skin, bitten nails, and long, thin fingers.

Had my fingers always been like that? The hand looks thinner, somehow, possessing of more finesse.

He compared it to the other one. It was identical to its chiral twin. He also noticed that he was lying down on the floor of the changing rooms. He didn't remember falling.

No, I was just creeping myself out. I'm fine. My hands are fine. Everything is fine.

Rapidly, Shinji checked that he was, in fact, fully clothed (an important deed, after the incident with the bath), and left the changing room as quickly as he could. It had just been a nightmare, after he collapsed with exhaustion. He wasn't going to tell anyone about that. Actually no, he would tell them in the next mandatory counciling session. Yes, it would be logical that you might have dreams about being in the Eva-class; after all, if he understood Dr Akagi right, with a synchronisation ratio of over fifty percent (which he had been keeping rather consistently, a warm little thought linked to her mixed admiration and perplexed rage that such a thing was possible), it was at least as much your body as your normal one. Yes, he could tell them then, and it would be a bad dream, not real.

And in the upper corner of the mirror above the sink, seen by none, an imprint of a pair of lips, marked by condensed breath, faded into non-existence, as if they had never been.

They would leave no DNA evidence, no layer of the oils that human skin carries. Perhaps they had never been.

Perhaps.



~'/|\'~




Gendo Ikari stared at his son from across his elaborate desk. The walls had been set to black, the dome arching overhead invisible outside the pools of light on the floor. The room appeared as nothing less than an open area on a clouded, moonless night, or, alternatively, depending upon your mode of thought, a vast, cosmic egg.

That mode of thought was possessed by Gendo Ikari. That thought made him smile on the inside.

He stared at his son across the desk, even though the only kin that he would acknowledge in public was genetic. The boy took after Yui in appearance, too. Another thing that drove a wedge between them, though Shinji would not know of it. Could not know of it, for they had been careful to destroy all the images of Yui they could.

And that had been difficult. The metanet was possibly one of the worst things ever for an individual trying to destroy all records of another's appearance. It had taken almost five years to get all of her social networking sites, and he was fairly sure that in some server, there was a back-up copy. It would not do, when the Evangelion Project went public as a separate entity to the Engel Project, for any images of her to be available. It would not do at all.

Shinji was tired, his father could see, and nervous, more so than usual in their infrequent encounters. They'd been working him hard, only slackening off just at the end to make sure that he was in a good enough mood to feel required, to feel proud of himself.

Pride, Gendo thought to himself. Such a wonderful tool. People are proud when they are praised, proud of what they can do, and proud of what they will refuse to do. Gendo had no time for pride. What he could, and would make time for was hubris. Because, when the facts of the universe were taken into account, what god deserves worship? What action is too extreme if it would save mankind from ancient species that care nothing for it, not even giving it good, honest, hatred.

“Shinji,” he began. “You are wondering why you are here.”

He got a nod in return.

“Remember when you first saw Unit 01. You said that I couldn't make you pilot it.”

Shinji glared back at him. His father could tell that the boy wasn't letting himself speak. He was still bitter about the extortion (not blackmail, as that would involve the threatened revelation of secrets) of his services by the means of the injured Rei. She had suffered worse for Shinji's initial cowardice, Gendo knew, but he wasn't going to mention that.

You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar, after all.

“I still cannot. You cannot be legally conscripted, due to the leaving age. You are the only other individual we have found that can pilot Unit 01. Pilot Ayanami can, too, but we only have one of her. Therefore, I will make you an offer.”

Shinji perked up a little bit, staring at his father's eyes. Or, at least, where they would have been had they not been obscured by the glare on the orange glasses. Nevertheless, he held the gaze for a good five seconds, before shifting.

“What do you mean?”

“You will become a legal employee of the Ashcroft Foundation, as what will be formally classified as a “test pilot”.”

Gendo lowered his hands from their steeped position, placing them together on his lap, behind the desk.

“You will continue your schooling at an Ashcroft academy as planned; the same one that Pilot Ayanami attends. They will account for the necessary absences for training, and ensure that it proceeds as uninterrupted as possible. You will remain a full-time student, or as close to that as can be achieved until the age of eighteen, when you would legally be able to leave school. The contract will be renegotiated at that time.” Gendo paused. “Hopefully, you will only be deployed against Heralds, although that is one matter that I cannot guarantee.”

Shinji coughed nervously. “Aa... why not?”

“Because the Project is now partially under the jurisdiction of the New Earth Government, and they could, within the limits I mentioned above, use the Evangelion Titan-class Engels as they wish.”

“I suspect that they will not, however,” added Fuyutsuki, right on cue. “The Evangelions are expensive to deploy, and not as battle-tested as the conventional mecha and Engels of the NEGA. Moreover, to be frank, they are piloted by people five years younger than the normal minimum.” The old man smiled, somewhat wryly. “It would be a public relations nightmare if we let any of you get killed.”

Shinji frowned. “Why are you using sixteen year-olds, anyway? What makes me able to pilot an Evangelion, when the rest of the population cannot.”

The question was directed towards Fuyutsuki, perhaps because he saw the older man as an easier target, more likely to answer truthfully, but his father intercepted it.

“Genetic factors. We believe that they're related to the ones that determine parapsychic abilities, although they, of course, have not been fully mapped. In fact, it might turn out to be a low level form of empathic talent; a form of Machine Empathy, one might say.”

Gendo watched a faint glow of panic grow in his son's eyes. He could understand that. Parapsychics were treated in a manner similar to that members of socially unacceptable subgroups had been in a less enlightened time, with the fear of the different and of the unknown. The metaphor was imperfect, due to the fact that gays, for example, lacked the ability to set people on fire with their mind. In the more metropolitan cities they were tolerated at the very least, but in more backwards places, the force of social pressure was turned against them; social pressure somewhat stoked by the fact that the government and big companies were the most enthusiastic employers of the parapsychic community.

“This is merely a hypothesis, so you would not, under current laws be forced to register.” The threat there was obvious, though veiled. “And, naturally, you would be paid well for your services. The salary would be 12000 Terranotes a month, after tax. Three thousand of that would be available at the time, with the rest paid into a trust fund I will have set up.”

Shinji muttered something, seemingly to himself. Gendo continued, apparently not hearing him.

“You would not have to live with me; I have no time to look after anyone, and, frankly, feelings between us are bad enough that I believe that this would be for the best.”

“Yes.” That one word was spoken with a coldness that made the room seem like a tropical paradise.

“You will live, full-time with Major Katsuragi, who will be your guardian. If any more Pilots are found, they will also live there, unless they happen, by chance, to be already resident in London-2.”

Gendo leaned forwards.

“So, I ask you. Will you do this. For the salvation of mankind?”

He watched Shinji massage his face with his hands. He wasn't even trying to hide his emotions; a mixture of nervousness, fear, anticipation, worry, and a myriad of other human weaknesses.

Shinji was torn in two by his father's sudden presentation. These were the most words that the man had spoken to him in twelve years, and he suddenly presented him with this, this mixture of incentives mixed with a threat.

Why was he doing this?

That, at least, was obvious. He wanted a pilot for his war machine. He wanted someone to get in it to kill things that shouldn't exist, and risk dying in the pursuit of the goal. But it was a good goal, after all. As a human, Shinji was very much in favour of the survival of humanity, and he included the Nazzadi in that category. They could produce fertile offspring, and that damn well made them the same species, despite the protests of the League for the Preservation of Nazzadi Culture.

And why the niceness... that wasn't the right word. Why was his father giving him an incentive to do this, rather than just demanding that he do it, and using a combination of emotional blackmail and whatever leverage he could find to ensure that Shinji got in the Evangelion?

Shinji realised that that had been a silly thought. It was a lot easier to give someone incentives to do something, to back up the guilt in what would have happened to both Pilot Ayanami and London-2, than just leave Shinji overly bitter against him. Well, that at the very least wasn't going to work. The man had abandoned him

and shinji's mind flashed back to the image of a floor almost covered in opened cylinders white and smelling of hospitals and a dark shape in something white

and he wasn't going to be forgiven. But at least he didn't seem to being actively malevolent, just... uncaring. And Shinji wouldn't have to live with him, which was something, especially since he had gotten Misato's apartment almost clean, now. And that was very good money for a sixteen year-old; for anyone. And, fundamentally, he could see that someone probably had to do it. They had the Heralds...

“One question. How many Heralds do you think there will be? Do you have any way of knowing when they'll come.”

“To answer your two questions,” Gendo replied, putting a heavy emphasis on the number, “there will be more, although we don't know exactly how many. And we can track them through advanced reconnaissance units, and we believe that some satellites may be able to, although we didn't have any in the right position for Asherah.”

That didn't actually answer anything, thought Shinji. But it can't be too many; after all, if only one has shown up (because they don't know if the satellites can track them), then they must be fairly infrequent. I mean, it would be implausible for too many to attack in too short a time, and if they did, then, well, I'm not sure how I killed that one, so if the conventional military is useless, then I'm dead anyway.

Shinji swallowed hard. “I'll do it.”



~'/|\'~




After Shinji had signed the document, and been sent out, to be taken home by Misato, Fuyutsuki looked at his superior.

“You have secured the Third Child. You know why he's doing it, of course.”

Gendo smiled. “Naturally. It's not just one thing, though. He's doing it because he's good at it, because he likes the way that the scientific team praise him, he still secretly wants praise from me, or at least any father figure, and, I suspect, the way that Dr Akagi glares at him for throwing out her theories on AT-field development, which match perfectly with the development patterns of the First and Second Children.”

“You take a bit of pleasure from that, too.”

“A bit. She gets too arrogant sometimes, and too consumed by her inferiority complex towards Miyakame. She needs some problems closer to home, to keep her away from the fevered dreams of the Nobel Prize in Arcanobiology. She doesn't really understand the different between a Type 1 EFCS and a Type 2, and the presence of Rei, who is neither, in her sample data just throws her out more.”

“She is disconcerting, it is true.”

“It is not her fault.” Gendo sounded vaguely defensive. “Anyway, yes, the second reason is that he is a realist. He's seen the Third Herald. He's seen how the conventional forces failed against it. And he, although I didn't plan for it, saw it without the filtering level of the Evangelion. I'm very much surprised he stayed sane. The Heralds and their kin,” his voice dripping with sarcasm, “have been known to seriously damage human mental health. We have the first examples of Aeon War Syndrome from the big incident that allowed us to find Baal Haddad.”

Gendo shook his head.

“Yes, anyway, he knows that he's actually safer in the long run if he pilots the Evangelion. If the Second Child were here, he might not think so, but he doesn't know about her, and knows that Rei is too injured to fight. Call it the kind of cowardice that leads men to do amazing deeds, although, of course historically those individuals didn't have access to devices that cost a notable fraction of a region's GDP. There is the issue of Rei, too. When he first saw her, the biosensors picked up a notable change in his vitals. He showed all the signs of having seen her before, although that's impossible. The chromatic shift and the difference in age should have prevented a pattern match.”

Gendo turned away from his former teacher, and began typing at his computer.

“The money is useful in the persuasion. He wouldn't do it just for that, but when given good reasons, then it becomes a sweetener, a deal-maker. Man is a very corrupt beast. If you wondered what he said, by the way...” Gendo, added, pressing a button on the computer built into the desk.

Shinji's muttering of “Carrot and stick” floated in the room, before being absorbed by its vastness.

“... then you can see he's right. He was able to notice that, at least.”

“Was that a hint of pride?” Fuyutsuki asked, lightly.

Gendo frowned.

“No, it wasn't.”

“I thought so,” replied the white haired man, sighing. “I just furtively hoped that I was wrong.”



~'/|\'~




Shockingly, Shinji managed to not fall asleep on the maglev trip back up, out of the Geocity and to Misato's apartment. He dragged his feet through the DNA scanner separating the two new Londons, aroused their suspiscion, and then got subjected to a brainwave scan, after they got it into their head that he might be under some kind of mental control. The scan had exposed extremely high levels of fatigue, and, after the apology for the fact that he had been wrestled to the ground, the municipal police had, after one look at the profile he had brought up, ordered a squad car to take him home.

Thanking them, he got through the extra blood test at the entrance to the AF-owned apartment complex, and made his way, falling asleep on his feet, to Misato's specific apartment.

The door slid open.

“Wark! Wark!”

Shinji smiled fuzzily.

“Hey, Pen-Pen.”

The penguin was standing on the table, his wings, closer in appearance to feathered ape-like arms turning the pages of the newspaper. There was a pen held in his left “hand”. His prominent red crest was standing upright.

Most people would have dismissed such a sight as a hallucination. Those individuals who resided with Misato could not take refuge in such sweet nepenthe, though, forced by the daily existence of her food to accept that there were things that man, truly, should not be permitted to know. Those who let her drive them anywhere added the seemingly non-Euclidean manoeuvres that she could subject an innocent product of Euro Wagon, and more importantly, the other passengers, to. That she had a pet (or as she called him, room-mate), seemingly sapient penguin, with a fondness for beer and the Daily Telegraph crossword paled against such atrocities against life, physics and chemistry. It had been rumoured by Ashcroft employees that the New Earth Government had investigated her “Many-Meated Chow Mein Ramen Tababsco Tongue-Burner XXXtreme” (or as she called it, breakfast) for use as a chemical weapon, and rejected it as too cruel for use against even the Rapine Storm.

“Wark! Wark-wark-wark.”

“No, sorry. No clue. Nothing of six then three letters,” he replied after a pause.

Yes, and the penguin talks, Shinji thought, quite unaware to whom he was directing the comment. Himself he suspected, but frankly, he was tired enough that he wasn't sure if he existed, and that sentence didn't even make any sense. The penguin talks in penguin, and we hear him in penguin, but I hear him in Japanese, except when I think in English.

This makes no sense. And it's probably illegal.

Misato had, at some point between him leaving his room, and them leaving the house in the morning, found time to leave him a message on the bed, scrawled in somewhat childish handwriting on a piece of paper.

SHINJI

TODAY IS SUNDAY. YOU HAVE COLLEGE TOMORROW. SET YOUR ALARM FOR 7.

DON'T WAKE ME UP WHEN YOU GO, OR I WILL KILL YOU. AND I WON'T COOK ANTHING FOR YOU FOR A WEEK.

MISATO

Shinji frowned, fuzzily. Did that mean that she wouldn't cook for him after he was dead, or she would kill him with cooking, or she'd only cook for him a week after he died. He supposed that it was meant to be a threat, and noted it down, mentally.

“Wark! WARKARK!”

Pen-Pen poked his beak around the frame of the door. One... wing seemed to be holding a chessboard.

Shinji paused in the middle of slipping off the ballistic vest.

“No. No games. It might only be 7 pm, but I need to sleep. Bother Misato when she gets home.”

The penguin disappeared, with only a disgruntled “wark” which didn't see fit to translate itself.

Shinji slept soundly that night, the sheer fatigue of the last few days kicking in together. He had no dreams; no nightmares. He considered that a fair trade.



~'/|\'~




The next morning, he left the house early. Following the instructions on his Personal CPU, connected to the arcology's PAN, he made his way to the academy. He was somewhat surprised that it was outside Sub-London, just as he had been that Misato lived in London-2. He was beginning to get the feeling that not many people lived below the arcology, that it was much more a research facility, experimental type of geocity, and a work place than it was an actual, functional city.

The collar of his new shirt, of the school uniform, was stiff. He slid his fingers under the neck, trying to release the noose-like tightness of it. It really wasn't designed to be worn with the ballistic vest under it, Shinji thought. He needed to go get the next size up from the 'fabber at home. After all, he was sure that they would appreciate it if he suffocated on his own shirt. And it was Monday, and he was feeling still physically a bit tired, like he had been doing some form of great exertion yesterday. Which, he supposed he had. But, as more of a permanent issue, Monday was a loathsome day, only serving to ruin the weekend.

Shinji knew that the thought was illogical. He didn't care. Mondays were a bad day because they connected to the weekend, but were not of it.

The maglev pulled in to the designated station. The school was meant to be nearby, close to one of the botanical areas. Municipal planing interspersed the internal structure of arcologies with frequent areas of “nature”, carefully pruned and designed for psychological effects. The enclaves in Outer London were largely inhabited, in fact, by the people who either had problems living in arcologies, so-called “Sick Building Syndrome”, or were too poor to afford the more expensive accommodation in the superstructures.

Shinji did not expect to see what he did.

The school, from what he could see, was a fairly standard arcology structure; a selection of cubes, built close together, maximising the volume for their surface area, reaching almost up to the dome separating this layer from the one above. It was a little older than some of the other structures, built in the glass-and-stone aesthetic of the early 2080s', if he was any judge, but kept clean. However, it was surrounded by rather impressive defences. A two-storey wall, reinforced and resembling a castle wall, surrounded it, with some integral hatches that, he guessed, concealed heavier defences.

And there were two suits of power armour at the entrance. And a DNA-scan point.

Shinji was sure that this couldn't all be for him. That would be just... excessive.

Oh wait, he reminded himself, they said that Pilot Ayanami also went here. That would mean that it was only half because of him, which still left it excessive. Mind you, Ashcroft Academies were considered by many to be the pinnacle of education. There were only meant to be two ways to get in; either being very bright indeed, or having a parent working for them (which often meant that genetically, you were likely to be the former.) That made more sense, actually. Ashcroft Europe had headquarters here, and so there were some very high ranking people here indeed, at least as high as in Tokyo, and almost as high as Chicago. That would make their children targets for terrorism and cult activities.

Actually, come to think of it, he was the only child of the Representative of Ashcroft Europe. If his father wasn't an arrogant bastard who had abandoned him to the hands of strangers, he'd be a target for kidnappings. If Gendo wasn't dead inside... well, cultists who hadn't done their research migth still target him, or any of his to-be-classmates.

Yes, that made sense. And was perfectly normal. It would just be silly and overblown to set up all this to protect two pilots.

Guiltily, he glanced down at his hands.

Fine.

Shinji Ikari drew a deep breath, and stepped towards the entry gate.



~'/|\'~




From the other side of the road, in a room supposedly for residential purposes, a pair of FSB operatives watched the entrance; one with his mundane eyes, the other through a video feed mounted on the front of the house. They both hated stake-out duty, but it was necessary.

“We've got an entrance at main gate,” called the one on the computer, a Nazzadi woman with dyed white hair. “DNA profile shows it's Acedia. NBV confirms appearance.”

The other one, another Nazzadi, this time male, nodded.

“Yes, BV matches appearance of Acedia.” He lowered his binoculars. “Right, both Acedia and Invidia have arrived. We can ping MS1.”

“Man, she really creeps me out. I mean, I'm fine with normal amlati...”

“I should damn well hope so,” muttered the man.

“... but sidoci just creep me out. And she obviously hasn't been raised as a proper 'mix should be; she really acts more like a... well not like a house-ape, but closer to that than...”

“Listen,” snapped the man. “Just shut up, okay. You don't know what you're talking about. Go on and radio MS1, and then just shut up.”

The woman glared at him.

“Okay, okay. Keep your shirt on, Mala. I'm doing it.”

A brief report was input into the computer on the table, and sent. The data was converted to binary, split up, insinuated into a network of deliberately virus-infected computers, which triggered a burst of spam to an anonymous email account. This was then copied, and the data extracted, whereupon it was noted by the duty officer, and filed in the records which related to the Evangelion Project, with a cross-link to the files on the Ashcroft Foundation.



~'/|\'~




Shinji was directed by the receptionist to a classroom on level four. The door was open, and from the noise coming from within, there either wasn't a teacher, or the teacher was very liberal on discipline, which, from what he had heard of Academies wasn't that likely.

He stepped, somewhat nervously through the door. The room within was big enough for maybe thirty, but he could only see fifteen or so individuals within, all,he guessed, of his age.

So at least this is probably the right room, he though.

The teenagers were somewhat typical of the new demographic emerging. About half were pure human, he guessed, although... there actually seemed to be more xenomixes than pure Nazzadi. An oddity; they only made up about ten percent of the population as a whole. Oh yes. And Rei, sitting by the window, bandaged up, still with the protective thing over her eye. At least, Shinji though to himself, she seemed a lot better than the last time he had seen her. The skin actually looked like normal human skin, for one, rather than the slightly wrong appearance that recent grafts had.

As he looked over in her direction, a xenomixed girl, an amlati, to use the Nazzadi word for the normal offspring of a human and their altered cousins, stepped over, after noticing him hovering around the doorway. Her jet black hair was bound up in pigtails, and he noted that she was wearing the human version of the girls uniform, rather than the Nazzadi one (which would be called “sluttier”, with its shorter skirt and optional bared midriff, were it not for the fact that you were not meant to think like that), which probably meant that she had been raised in human cultures, rather than the rather... experimental Nazzadi one. She certainly had a serious look; she was probably the classroom monitor, or something.

He put on his best smile. Hopefully it wasn't too close to a deathly rictus.

“Hello. I'm Hikary, the classroom representative for L6-5. May I help you?”

A Nazzadi name, though, he noted, with a hint of surprise. And I was right about the position of authority.

“My name is Shinji Ikari,” he said, politely, trying not to stutter. “I... uh... I was told to go here. That I was part of this class. Um... is that right?”

“Ikari, Ikari...” said Hikary, thoughtfully, tapping her silvery-grey fingers on the door. “Yes, I think I saw the name in the register. I'm sorry, a lot of people didn't turn up for the start of term last week, after the attack on London. Let's see...” she added, walking over to the teacher's desk, and gesturing for him to follow her. “G... G... H...H... I... ah, yes. Shinji Ikari. It noted that you transferred here right at the start of term.”

“Yes, well, you know. My father was moved here from Japan.”

About eight years ago, he added to himself, but she didn't need to know that.

The look she gave him was unusually penetrating.

“Another Japanese person. Well, well.”

“Is there something odd about that?” Shinji asked her, somewhat perplexed.

“Oh, no, not directly. It's just that the Foundation... I'm assuming that you're an AF Child, too. I am, too. Well, it's just that there seems to be disproportionately many Japanese people at the Foundation, in London-2. I mean, both the head scientist and the Director of Operations are. It's said that it's some kind of favouritism by the Rep...re..sent...”

Her voice trailed away.

“Wait, “Ikari”. As a surname? The name is written the right way around here, and you're not called Ikari Shinji really? In that case, are you...”

Shinji winced. “Could you keep it down?” he muttered. “He is my father, if that's what you're thinking of, but we don't get on, and I wasn't raised by him.”

Hikary nodded, in an understanding manner. “Okay,” she replied back, softly.

She raised her voice again.

“You should sit here, until the teacher comes to assign you a position. Do you know how the system works at Academies? Have you decided on your options.”

“Well, I honestly wasn't planning to come here. I'd chosen my options for...”

“But you were going to be sitting ACIETs, weren't you.” She pronounced the acronym, short for Advanced Comprehensive Individual Educational Tests, as the word 'assets'.

Shinji nodded silently, somewhat intimidated by her bossy efficiency. She was exactly the sort of person who would become an Ashcroft Advisor, those mysterious individuals who, thanks to the massive debts incurred by the NEG to the owners of the patents on almost all arcanotechnology, wielded massive influence over the affairs of the government.

“Then the options will transfer. Here, we do the broad education that everyone does in the mornings, with this class; that's the languages, the history and the basic humanities. Your options will take place in smaller classes in the afternoon.”

“Um...okay. That's actually the same as where I was going would have done it.”

She smiled. “Then that's fine.” Hikary turned away from him, and stared at the rest of the class.

“Ahem.”

The word was spoken, rather than just a simple cough. Surprisingly, such a simple pair of syllables did quieten down the sixteen year-olds.

Shinji was frankly shocked by this. Either she had some form of mind control (and she wasn't wearing the identifiers than an individual with Invasive parapsychic powers would have to), the other students respected her authority as class representative (and, frankly, that wasn't likely), or she had a truly fearsome reputation, somehow obtained in the week or so since school had started.

Shinji decided that it would be a very, very good idea to get on her side, as a friend.

“Thank you very much,” he said to her, politely.

“No problem,” was her reply.

Shinji took a seat near the middle of the classroom, and left his bag there. He then began watching the rest of the class, seeing what names he could pick up from their conversations. He hated that bit of meeting people, the bit where you're forced to learn a large number of new names, and the phrase “Sorry, what was your name,” is used far too much; at least twice per person.

Such solace could not be held, as Hikary seemed to be intent on introducing the entire class to him. She really seemed to like organising things. Shinji survived through the questions about why he had joined the school with vague answers about his father, and the usual questions about likes and dislikes with the truth.

Then;

“That's a Sentrytech Mk-V, isn't it.”

Shinji looked up. A brown haired, bespectacled boy, ethnically Caucasian, was staring at him, holding a PCPU in his other hand.

Shinji raised an eyebrow unconsciously.

“I'm sorry, I don't think I know your name yet.”

“Ken. Ken Aide. But the ballistic vest with trauma-plate additions. It's a Sentrytech Mk-V. Retail price 495 Tn.”

“Er, probably. I don't really know. I just was given it.”

“Okay.” There was a pause. “Did you see anything of what happened with the thing that attacked the city?” There was far, far too much enthusiasm in that sentence. “It was a massive biped according to reports, which means that it can't have been a Migou unit. They're not bipeds... well, apart from Assimilated, but they're brainwashed human beings, so it doesn't count, and Loyalist Nazzadi. Apparently the army used a new type of Engel against it, bigger than even the Seraphs and Chashmals. It's so awesome!”

Shinji groaned, inwardly, a little bit. Ken obviously held the life ambition of becoming a mecha pilot, but would settle for arcanotechnican, as long as he got to open up high technology and have a poke around. He zoned out a bit.

“And anyway, what additional units are you taking? I'm doing Maths, Extended Maths, Conventional Physics (so I can take Arcane Engineering at university) and Chemistry. It looks to be good; the SCIETs were a bit simplified.”

“Conventional Physics, Maths, History and, Chemistry, I think.” Shinji wasn't quite sure why he chose those options. Obviously, his foster mothers wouldn't have let him take any soft subjects, and he had done best at those four things at the SCIETs, but seeing how Ken had planned out his entire life in front of him, it made him feel...

... well, like a more well balanced person, actually.



~'/|\'~
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EarthScorpion
PostPosted: 2008-12-08 01:27pm 

Padawan Learner


Joined: 2008-09-25 02:54pm
Posts: 209
Location: London
Ah, now my comments on this chapter, which I didn't have time to add this morning.

Yeah, it's a fairly slow one, as chapters go. I was going to cover Episode 3 completely in my initial plan, but I got verbose, and a little distracted in setting up a few plot elements, and thus I would have roughly had to double the chapter in length (maybe a bit less, like 175%) to fit it all in, including the next Herald. I felt it was better to end it there, then skip a bit of time. I also got distracted in working out exactly how the NEG education system worked, knowing that school, plus a three year degree ends at age 21. There's mandatory schooling until the age of 18, and in arcologies, I decided, it was illegal to homeschool your children. For pretty much the same reason that it is in Germany, except replace "indoctrinate with Nazi beliefs" with "indoctrinate with cult beliefs". You can, if you want, understand it as the controlling, Big Brother tendencies of the NEG, though.

I have to say, Ritsuko and Gendo are my favourite characters to write, at the moment. The latter comes with his own dialogue template, in the form of "Veiled Reference", "Suspicious Implication", and "Something something something Darkside" :), while it's a bit worrying how easy I find a neurotic scientist to write for.

Ken is Kensuke, in case anyone hadn't realised. I needed to westernise or Nazzadise the names of the characters (also note "Hikary", which was particularly good, as the name sounds exactly the same.) It's a bit annoying, actually; they haven't posted up any art of amlati, normal xenomixes, because they have their own appearances. The Whites are easy; you just take a person, then run a paintbrush in the Colour mode, with white as the colour, then touch up the hair with more white from the grey it becomes.

Anyway, I've also made some "artwork" (aka, a few photoshops (technically GIMPs)), for this, mainly to solidify the differences between canon Eva and this one.

Firstly, a scale comparison chart. This is the size of Eva I'll be using, because I actually found a measured scale, and how big it is compared to the normal Cthulhutech units.

Image

Yes, Unit 01 also got a paint job. Dammit, we are not letting a green and purple mecha loose in an urban environment. I also tried a bit of an urban camo scheme on the grey.

I also thought it would be good to give a bit more information on Cthulhutech mecha and the Engels, as they;re getting quite a lot of mentions. The Seraph is the joint largest mecha that the NEG has, classed as a superheavy Engel. It's a monster, able to take the heaviest Migou mecha on 1-1 and win most of the time. It has an integral Charge Beam, Plasma Cannon, Rocket Pod, and can shoot tentacles out of its forearm. It regenerates horribly fast, once you break through its armour; you pretty much have to keep on hitting it until it's dead, as there's no such thing as a crippled Engel (of course, once the armour is blown away... a lot of people will have to make Insanity checks). It's dwarfed by the Evangelion, as you can see. In universe, too, it's quite a lot cheaper. The Malach is the main-line Engel; it's generally an inferior Seraph, but faster and almost as heavily armoured. Both of them can fly, too, while they haven't quite worked out how to get the Evangelions under stable flight, although A-pods do boost their jumps.

The small one, the Auphan, is the specialist reconnaissance Engel. It's the one that, in the first chapter, managed to bite off a finger of the third Herald, and swallow it. It flies at 180mph, so really is the best thing to hunt down and kill cloaked Migou mecha, while jamming comms with its own ECM. That's a Medium sized mecha by NEG standards, the same size as their main battle non-Engel mecha. The Evangelions are really, a lot, lot bigger than anything else that the NEG fields; apart from their battlecruisers (aircraft carrier/ battleship hybrids that mount a massive gun that you can already guess where it will see use, and can fly. Into orbit. Yes.)

Image

A picture from inside an arcology. This is from the Core book. It's pretty standard pseudocyberpunkish, but with added green vegetation, as these arcologies were planned from scratch to be places where people want to live, instead of outside, away from the eye of the NEG. Living standards are also quite good; the average person is pretty comfortably off (thanks to the combined forces of massive amounts of energy from D-Engines, and widespread nano-fabrication, which is energy hungry, but efficient in the form of natural resources, and is also used for recycling)

Image

And here's a picture of what might be deemed the main cast. The paint scheme on the Eva I changed to the one on the profile, and really, the only reason for this picture is so I knew what Rei would look like as a White.

Possibly even more creepy, to tell the truth. :|
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EarthScorpion
PostPosted: 2008-12-08 03:55pm 

Padawan Learner


Joined: 2008-09-25 02:54pm
Posts: 209
Location: London
Yes, so I'll admit it. I got a little carried away, writing this, so I decided to write it in character. Then I realised that I hadn't actually shown you the SEELE equivalent, so it gave me the mechanism to convey it from the people who knew.

And I'm rubbing my hands and laughing after writing this, and I'm not telling you why. :twisted:


______________________________________

Interlude 1

Exposition of a Dream


~'/|\'~



Five figures sat around a table.

Red. White. Green. Blue. Yellow

Physically, genetically, they were human. Mentally, they were less so. None of them could have passed a psychoanalysis test without preparation, and access to memories that the eldest among them had not used in almost seventy years. They could portray humanity, true, act like they still thought like the populace for short periods; act like the people who scurried around on the ground, unaware of the beauty of the higher dimensions that they had all seen up close.

Act like the people that they would save, from the Migou, the cults and the ignominy of extinction. The people that they had given their lives and their minds for.

White spoke.

“It is good to see you all here.”

Green spoke.

“Likewise. Let us proceed, without meaningless pleasantries.”

White spoke.

“I am sorry. I see so few other people directly. Yes, let us proceed.”

Blue spoke.

“The third of the beings that we have designated the Heralds has emerged. The lure of the priest was enough, it seems.”

Green spoke.

“It was to be expected. They are foolish beings. Were they always so, or did the power that they received from the Endless Ones rot their brains?”

Red spoke.

“And, yet such powers. All our intellect will not save us from their dumb wrath if our Evangelions cannot kill them, and thus empty shoes.”

Yellow spoke.

“Yes, they are ours. We can control them.”

Red spoke.

“Are they truly ours, though?”

White spoke.

“Speak your mind. I know what you will say.”

Red spoke.

“I do not trust Ikari. I fear he has been compromised, either by the Society, or the Avatar of the Endless resident on Earth right now.”

There was a note of worry in her voice.

Yellow spoke.

“It has always been a problem. The Society would not compromise with the Crawling Chaos, for they oppose each other innately, but we know that Ikari has had links with people that had links with the Society.”

Green spoke.

“The Society has many contacts in academia, which is where he was before we recruited him. Statistically, it would be more improbable if he lacked a third degree connection to them than the fact that he does. In that case, I would suspect subversion by Chrysalis, as a deep cover agent by them serving the goals of the Lord of Masques.”

Blue spoke.

“Or he may be in it for himself. Or he may be truly loyal to us and our goal. There are so many possibilities. We cannot consider them all.”

White spoke.

“Yet.”

Blue spoke.

“The passage of D-4 granted by the Endless will not suffice. We cannot consider them yet, so we must anticipate. When we can see them all, we will not need to plan. We will merely need to act, and it will be so. Humanity will be safe.”

Red spoke.

“Nevertheless, it is the Society I fear more. I remember her.”

Yellow spoke.

“She is dead. That is why you are here. And bitterness against anyone who died a human does not suit us. We are the loathesome ones, the bloody-winged angels that show the truth and are hated for it. And we accept that role fully, as anyone who condoned what we seek to do while limited by the mindset of an uplifted ape would rightly be declared mad.”

Blue spoke.

“We are not mad. We are sane. The philosopher said that sanity is for the weak, but he was wrong. Madness is for the weak, those who cannot fight through its embrace, and bend. Sanity is for the truly strong.”

White spoke.

“We have recovered a shard of the First. Now, only his kin stand between us and the role that he was slain for by one of his own. The Second is contained.”

Green spoke.

“We have an updated list of that which stands in our way before the Human Iteracy Project can be completed.”

Red spoke.

“Display it on the hololith.”

A list appeared before the five. Few alive could have read it, for it switched between Aklo, Pnakotic, R'lyehan and Tsath-yo at random.


1st CODENAME: El
LOCATION: CENSORED, DECEASED
IDENTITY: KNOWN, CENSORED

2nd CODENAME: Baal-Haddad
LOCATION: CENSORED
IDENTITY: KNOWN, CENSORED

3rd CODENAME: Asherah
LOCATION: DECEASED
IDENTITY: KNOWN, CENSORED

4th CODENAME: Kathirat
LOCATION: UNKNOWN
IDENTITY: SUSPECTED - 4th ORDER PROBABILITY

5th CODENAME: Mot
LOCATION: UNKNOWN
IDENTITY: UNKNOWN

6th CODENAME: Yam
LOCATION: SUPECTED - 3rd ORDER PROBABILITY
IDENTITY: UNKNOWN

7th CODENAME: Shalim-Shachar
LOCATION: UNKNOWN
IDENTITY/S : SUSPECTED - 1st ORDER PROBABILITY

8th CODENAME: Moloch
LOCATION: KNOWN
IDENTITY: KNOWN - 2nd ORDER PROBABILITY

9th CODENAME: Melqart
LOCATION: UNKNOWN
IDENTITY: UNKNOWN

10th CODENAME: Yarikh
LOCATION: UNKNOWN
IDENTITY: UNKNOWN

11th CODENAME: Resheph
LOCATION: UNKNOWN
IDENTITY: UNKNOWN

12th CODENAME: Choron
LOCATION: UNKNOWN
IDENTITY: UNKNOWN

13th CODENAME: Kothar
LOCATION: UNKNOWN
IDENTITY: KNOWN

14th CODENAME: Shapash
LOCATION: UNKNOWN
IDENTITY: UNKNOWN

15th CODENAME: Shamayim
LOCATION: UNKNOWN
IDENTITY: UNKNOWN

16th CODENAME: Qadeshtu
LOCATION: UNKNOWN
IDENTITY: UNKNOWN

17th CODENAME: CENSORED
LOCATION: CENSORED
IDENTITY: KNOWN, CENSORED


White smiled, the corners of her wrinkled mouth barely turning up at the corners.

White spoke.

"How goes the Dummy Plug system?"

Red spoke.

"Not all well as might be hoped. Even with all the aid I can provide in my current state, we are limited by the status of Xue'Vehulu'Ia'Ia."

Most would have shuddered at those horrible words, not designed for a human throat. Yet even that name was but a codename for another project, not a blasphemous entity in itself.

Blue spoke.

"Ikari's project, with the prototype, and access to the Second, goes better."

Red spoke.

"It is the difference between a Type 1 EFCS and a Type 2. I am only familiar with the Type 2."

Green spoke.

"True. The meeting is conluded."

White nodded.

"Yes."

~'/|\'~
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EarthScorpion
PostPosted: 2008-12-20 04:08pm 

Padawan Learner


Joined: 2008-09-25 02:54pm
Posts: 209
Location: London

Chapter 4

Of the Flight of Birds



~'/|\'~



Time passed, as it had a habit of doing.

Shinji settled into his class, although the constant training reaped a toll upon his homework. Three nights a week were spent down in the London Geocity, in the simulation body, and, as he got used to the control, in Unit 01 itself. This was saved purely for the AT-field practice; the cost of activating the Evangelion in repairs to both the machine and the surrounding environment, Dr Akagi had snappishly informed him, was rather high.

Two weeks later, he was sitting in the main classroom, with his .daf5 player on, when a Nazzadi student he didn't recall entered; very tall and lanky, with a sports jacket on, over his uniform. However, from the reaction of Hikary, she seemed to know him, so he put it out of his mind, and let the music of long dead composers drown out the rest of the class. His main desire was for sleep; he had been in a simulation body from six in the afternoon to ten at night, and then had been up until half midnight finishing his homework.

Apparently Misato found it preferable that he fell asleep at school, than he handing in homework late. She didn't really get it, did she?

Groggily, he glanced over at the other Child, sitting by the window on the side of the room which was, most definitely, hers. She was staring out the window, the pseudo-sunlight of the arcology casting her porcelain (and it wasn't just that in colour, he thought, shudderingly, but in some indefinable way in texture too, too smooth and perfect) skin in a yellow light. She was still in bandages, and yet he hadn't ever seen her miss a homework. It was vaguely creepy, like a perfect, clockwork mechanism.

Shinji shrugged, and looked away. It was almost certainly nothing important.



~'/|\'~





“... and we now come to the Second War. This is defined by most reputable,” and here the teacher put a heavy emphasis on that word, “authorities on modern history to have begun with the arrival of the Migou Hive ship in an Earth orbit, on the 12th of January, 2074. There are some who argue that the explosion in Tibet in late December was the true start of the war, in the “First Strike” hypothesis, but study of the radioisotopes found there, before the conquest of that area by the Rapine Storm in mid-2077, clearly confirm that the explosion was that of multiple nuclear-fission devices. These matched warheads that had been missing, ever since the foundation of the NEG in 2059. More specifically, when the Migou,who at that point were using the Nazzadi as pawns...”

There was a faint muttering from the Nazzadi and Nazzadi-raised amlati members of the class. This was still a very sensitive subject; Nazzadi loyalists still appeared in Migou forces, to a level that they were breeding more, or that there were a lot more defections than anyone was willing to admit. The Legion was still active too, and sanctioned by the New Earth Government to carry out inquisitorial purges on their own people, to remove anyone accused, with some (but not enough, according to critics) evidence.

“... attacked by proxy, the predecessor to the New Earth Government, the New United Nations, attempted to unify Earth against the invaders. This ended the Second Cold War, bringing China and the Middle East into the New Earth Government, but hardliners in the Chinese Government opposed this, including an attempted coup which noticeably compromised defences around the east of China, resulting in that region's rapid fall to the Nazzadi military.”

The teacher took a sip of water from a glass on his table.

“Naturally, the hardliners, deprived of military support and facing a foe armed with Migou designed war machines...”

The hands of about half the non-homo sapiens sapiens member of the class shot up.

The teacher sighed.

“Now, I'm sure that you're all going to raise the same point, so I'm just going to pick one of you, and you can make the objection. Taly?”

The girl, her hair dyed white, rose to her feet.

“While it is true that the Migou did create the warfleet from... the First Arcanotech War, the design was done by the Firstborn Nazzadi themselves. The Migou stayed out of it. I mean, it's not as if their bodies are compatible with the Operator Extension Side Effect.”

“But the Firstborn had been created by the Nazzadi with full knowledge of what they were, as opposed to the vat-grown. Even if they did the design work, which is debated...”

“It is not!” snapped back Taly, angrily. She stopped, blushing, as she realised that she had gone too far with that response.

A good percentage of the adolescent male population of the room sighed internally, and a few externally, at that blush. The general consensus was that she was very attractive indeed.

“It quite obviously is, Ms. Taly, or else it would not be the viewpoint held by the academic community. If I may finish what I was saying before you interrupted... it wouldn't be too much, would it? Yes, as I was saying, the Firstborn were raised by the Migou, as the individuals who would create a false culture to rule over when the Nazzadi had wiped out humanity (which is to be more specific, homo sapiens sapiens). All their work would be a result of their exposure to Migou culture, not the false mythology that they themselves constructed. I don't believe that I would be wrong in saying that, even if there were no direct Migou involvement in the design of the mecha, they are the ones that designed them, none the less.”

The teacher stared at the class. The gaze implied extra homework and detentions for those individuals who did not quiet down. The threats seemed to work wonders on the more agitated students.

“To break off from this detour, the hardliners were defeated, but it was never determined whether or not they had been completely exterminated. The epicentre of the so-called First Strike was an Ashcroft Foundation facility, and the Chinese hardliners had always been militantly opposed to the Foundation, and the de facto military supremacy it gave to the New United Nations, with the provision of arcanotech. Now, it is possible that the attack may have been provoked by the Migou, as they have been known, historically, to operate in that area; indeed, their name comes from the Nepalese “Mi-Go”, their name for the mythology of a creature called in English “The Abominable Snowman.””

The teacher paused.

“Of course, now we know that the Abominable Snowman is a completely different phenomenon to the Migou, as seen by the use of white-furred beasts, resemblant of humanity in only the most distant, atavistic way, by the Rapine Storm in the Fall of China.” He took another sip of water. “But, again we must return to that dreaded state known as being “on topic”.

Shinji was listing rather intently to this. The Modern History teacher had a pronounced tendency to go off on tangents about things barely related to the overall course, but which still tended to be quite interesting. And, of course, the inevitable arguments that arose over any piece of history which concerned the Nazzadi, before the Firstborn Marshal Vreta, had rebelled after the realisation that the people he was exterminating were far more alike to him than his masters back on Yuggoth, and had taken three quarters of the fleet with him.

Some hadn't really forgiven the Nazzadi for what they'd done before that. There had been over eight billion people alive before the First Arcanotech War. Less than four billion humans saw the end of it. From the way he acted, the way that he was a little colder around Nazzadi members of the class, Shinji guessed that the teacher was one of them. He was the right age to have fought in that war, with the first wide-scale deployment of arcanotech in warfare. The older generations were far less open-minded about Nazzadi and xenomixes, than the younger ones.

He glanced over at Rei. She was surrounded by a circle of empty desks two thick. Of course, there were limits. Normal amlati were fine, but Whites, sidoci, just creeped everybody out. For one, scientists didn't know why they looked like that. Amlati were what you expected someone who had both melanin and... whatever the pigment Nazzadi used, Shinji couldn't quite remember the name, in their skin. Plus, they were all, without question, parapsychics. Shinji wondered what Rei could do. She wasn't wearing the emblems that all Invasive or Dangerous ones had to wear, like some of the ones he had seen around the school. Did it make her a better pilot? He remembered his father's words about parapsychics. No, he wasn't one.

Ken, however, was paying very little attention to the lesson. Why bother? He already knew all the military history that they taught in schools, and quite a bit from higher levels. It wasn't as if they were going over any interesting bits yet, like the battles (the Fall of New Kuala Lumpur, the Assault on Florida, the Defence of Paris). So, as a result, he had his PCPU out on the table, concealed by his datasheets.

Oh, no, he wrote, the older versions of the game, classic ones dating back about 100 years, were rather different. For one, everything in the fluff was a lot darker. The bugs were nerfed, you know, as from a galactic level power to a more minor threat; after all, who wants to play the Migou? The cults were kept, but it was set so that no-one could say that they were the good guys, 'cause of how different modern society is. Of course, they did the opposite to the I...

Ken's train of thought trailed off. He quite carefully made sure that he deleted the last sentence. The moderators were rather harsh, and it was an IP bannable offense to criticise the NEG even by implication, with a possible reference to the FSB, too. Sure, the anti-sedition laws weren't that harsh yet, but the fans of a game that some would already consider treading on thin ice were extra sure to keep themselves beyond reproach.

The screen flashed white, then grey.

Bugger, he thought. It's crashed. Stupid PCPU.

Then an image loaded onto the screen, followed by text.

The headline read:

TOP SECRET ENGEL SAVES LONDON-2

There was a picture of a mecha, doing what looked like a military exercise, to his eyes, in the middle of a forest. But if that was a forest, then the Engel was massive. The normal Seraph was just over seventeen metres tall, the pride of the NEGA. From the scaling provided by the side of the image, that thing looked to be over forty metres at the shoulders alone.

Ken began hyperventilating into his hand.

And the sky above it didn't look really real. It looked a lot like... the London Geocity! From the school trip, back in fourth year.

This means, he thought to himself, that the stories about the NEGA unit that killed the thing that almost got to the arcology were true. It's here. It's very, very nearby.

He scanned through the rest of the text, as fast as possible. There were more pictures. They were so unbelievably cool. The blue-grey behemoth blew up inflatable targets, what looked to be some old Jayne-class artillery units, sprinted through a forest.

Then he got to the last image, and promptly fell off his chair.

The teacher paused his lecture on the early events of the Second Arcanotech War (with occasional detours into other subjects), and raised one eyebrow at the fallen teenager.

“And what exactly do you think you're doing, Kenneth?” the question came, dripping condensation.

Ken picked himself up.

“I... I... I f-fell off m-m-my chair,” he said, wheezing heavily.

Ohmygodohmygodohmygod his interior voice ran. He knew, vaguely, that it made him sound like a thirteen-year old girl. He didn't care.

“Are you hurt? You look like you winded yourself.”

“I... I think I did,” he replied. “Wind myself, that is...I'll be fine; just need to c-catch my breath.”

“Well, if we can get through without any more failed attempts at flight...” and then he paused, for the due sycophantic chuckle from the rest of the class, which merely highlighted the pre-existing sniggering at the fall, “we can continue with the New Earth Government's policy of withdrawal from areas where the superior strategic manoeuvrability of the Nazzadi forces counted most, forcing them into areas where their inferior armour suffered most at the hands of the Army's firepower, which was still, at that time, based around the tank squadron. You see, the mecha is inferior to the tank in the type of battle that was prevalent before the Arcanotech Wars, in the internal Earth conflicts before Unification. Only the systematic violation (and, yes, I am aware of the synonym for that word that I am sure that some of you are applying) of the laws of physics, as commonly understood at the turn of the last century, makes them a viable alternative. I have personally seen an old Mal-class Main Battle Tank gut a Storm main battle mecha...”

But Ken wasn't listening. And the PCPUs of most of the school had received an identical message, spread by a virus which had subverted the internal school network. When the student population switched them back on at break, they too would get the same file, and a corrupted version would be sent to the main PAN of the arcology, spreading further, and alerting the population to the existence of the Evangelion Project.

Something that a lot of very powerful people did not want. At all.

And a few did.



~'/|\'~




A collection of figures met in a darkened room; three humans, one amlati, one Nazzadi. The general effect would have been somewhat more intimidating and melodramatic had they been wearing robes embroidered with occult symbols, the air filled with scented incense devoted to the blind god that was reality, and the walls had been daubed in blood spelling out blasphemous curses against the very fabric of reality. The fact that they were all clad in the functional, slightly dirty clothing of sanitation workers, and the room, which stank of cleaning fluid was crammed with mops and the other tools of the janitor, really ruined the dramatic suspense.

That was because they were professionals.

Well, technically not professionals. For them to be professionals, they would have to be paid for the killings, torture and acts of terrorism that they committed in the service of their organisation. Only one of the people in the room was fully human any more; the others would be shot on sight by the New Earth Government if it had an inkling of what they were, who they worked for, and what they intended. It had no clue. Their organisation had its tendrils deep, buried into the occult underground, the New Earth Government, higher education, the Ashcroft Foundation, and even the Evangelion Project. What it lacked in breadth of influence, it more than made up for in depth.

“This area is clean and safe. There is no monitoring equipment here.” The eldest-looking of them, a Nazzadi woman with prominent strands of white in her jet hair, and pronounced crows-feet around her eyes spoke first, in a manner that clearly would have stated to a hypothetical observer that she was the one who was in charge, and that she would permit no discussion about that fact.

The individual who called herself Jalimony had not been born on Earth, but was in fact a child of the original Nazzadi invasion fleet, grown in a vat by the Migou in 2058 as a three year old, to back up the implanted memory of her genetic parents.

Yeah, she idly thought. Macbeth would be screwed nowadays, what with any Nazzadi over the age of forty.

She had been made as one of a set of tools to ensure Nazzadi loyalty, to make them believe they had a history other than the ones which the Yuggothian fungi had given her people. That loyalty had been broken in 2064, when she was biologically nine. And now she served to enforce loyalty in other ways. She was the handler for a group of monsters. And she was good at her job. She enjoyed it, in the way of the true believer. She looked at her charges.

A nihilist metalhead, an over-curious occultist who we recruited before any of our rivals could, an innocent looking amlati with borderline schizophrenia, and a fanatic who uses her belief to quiet any conscience she may have possessed before we found her, her internal monologue ran. These are the tools I have to use to save mankind.

I'm so proud of them! They're close to perfect! They're a group of devoted killers who nevertheless retain enough of their humanity to appear sane.


She didn't let that internal smile show on her face. She had to maintain her appearance in front of them, after all, even if she was sure that at least three of them viewed her as the murder's mother. And she had to think about them in the names that they'd taken after the change, forget that she knew their real names, to prevent her from telling things if she was captured by the NEG or... others.

“Obviously I've seen the effects of your last task. The D-Generator was crippled right on time, which allowed our other agents to perform the tasks that they had to at the See HQ and in Armourcorp. I must ask a few questions about your choice of methods, though.” She turned to stare at the amlati, a girl who looked barely old enough to be out of school, probably still 18 or 19, with long hair that, in this disguise, was twisted up into a bundle at the back of her head.

“Mantodea. I would question how you disposed of the bodies of the men that See had left to guard the secondary generator.”

“What makes you think that I killed them?” the girl replied, in a slightly dreamy voice, with definite undertones of confusion.

“I do have the police reports, you know. Only you would generate that much blood.”

“I accidentally tore out the throats of one of them. I meant to barb them both, but one got around a corner, and, well,” she raised up her petite hands, “these things aren't meant for subtlety.”

“Mantodea.” The handler's voice was gentler than when she spoke to the others. “What did you do with the bodies?”

“Oh, that?” She chuckled. “I handled them down to manageable chunks, then flew up and stuffed them into the coolant vents in the See facility.” A faint reddish blush emerged on her grey cheeks. “I just thought it would be nice for the See men to get a surprise after we were gone. I mean, they didn't even give us any Dees to make us play with, which was nice, so I thought they could get something pink and sticky.” The smile was too wide. “People like that, don't they. I got some nice sweets on Valentine's Day.”

Internally, Jalimony sighed to herself. Something inside Mantodea had broken when they had transformed her into her true role. Most came through relatively intact, but she had emerged as something slightly stronger than her psyche could handle, and thus it has warped and bent, like a piece of wet wood left out too long under a burning sun.

“Yes, good thinking. However, try to minimise the amount of blood you cause.” She tried to put herself into the girl's mindset. “They'll now suspect something about your present, while if you'd kept it clean, they might not have found them until later.”

The amlati blinked, wide eyed. “Oh, yes. I understand.”

“Good, good,” she said, her gaze returning to the group as a whole. “I presume the rest went as planned? Strange planted the bombs, while Ocellus monitored the facility, and Deva kept the way out clean?”

The three other members of the cell nodded. The one who called himself Strange was a slight man; his face long and thin, with a strong thin nose, which seemed twisted almost permanently into a wry expression of sardonic humour. This pale visage was framed with shoulder length hair, black and greasy, tied into a crude ponytail that it always seemed to be wanting to escape from. He was their field expert in the occult, with a talent for finding books for the organisation; the very talent that had seen him selected first as a agent. He had been subjected to the Rite to help ensure his loyalty, the group had deemed that he knew too much to risk any defection; had he not been loyal, he would have been devoured. Ocellus beside him was almost a younger, cleaner version of the same, with the same style of hair, although his was a medium brown. His fingers idly twitched, sometimes, as he picked out chords on an imaginary guitar. He was a slight problem for their organisation, a valuable resource somewhat underused. He had been expected to leave the Ashcroft Foundation shortly after his ascension to the role of a sacred warrior, but an unexpected promotion, into a top secret Foundation project (Jalimony didn't dare think its name, even in the privacy of her own head), mean that he was more valuable as a computer technician on the project, able to leak information to her group. They had other agents, she was sure, because she knew things about the project that very few other humans did.

And Deva. A little plump, and slightly maternal looking, she was the most experienced of her murder. This normal, maybe even comforting-looking woman, ethnically from the Asian sub-continent, trained as a doctor from a long line of doctors, had, by Jalimony's estimate, the blood of several hundred on her hands, although not necessarily the hands that she was wearing at that moment.

“Then we have another task.” The Nazzadi woman handed over a PCPU to Deva, the leader of the pack. “Contained within are the details on Unama, who uses the surname of Bright. He's...”

“Some figure in See.” It was Ocellus. “He's an engineer-scientist type. He's in charge of a group at Armourcorp, who provide advanced composites to the Project, without overt knowledge of what it is.”

The handler nodded. “Correct. We need him dead.”

“Is he a Dough-Boy?,” asked Strange.

“No, we don't believe so. He checked out negative recently, and he's too prominent for them to risk the exposure. However, we suspect his wife is, although we're not sure exactly which type. Thus we want her dead too. That means that he'll be one of the Children.”

“Do they have children?” It was Deva. Jalimony nodded. She knew that Deva already knew the answer to the question.

Mandotea nodded, frowning. “They need to die, too. They're unclean, all of them.” She paused, screwing up her face. “School run. I can kill them all easily, when they're bunched up.”

“Where do they live?” Deva asked. “I suspect this will be difficult. High ranking Sees, especially when they've got Dees in the family, and are still pretending to be normal, like their space, and will have a lot of security.” She put her hands on her waist. “You know, Manny really did have a good idea, although it depends on whether they're playing family. Doesn't matter, they're unclean anyway. We'll just kill them all, anyway, even if Strange has to just run in through the house next door and drop a bomb in their bedroom,” she added, in a colder tone.

“I'll leave planning for you,” Jalimony replied, rapidly. “We've been in here almost long enough that the next shift should be coming in. Take your cleaning stuff with you, we don't want them finding extras. I'll find you, once the family is dead. All of them, plus the Dee bodyguards they'll inevitably have.”

The janitor's closet emptied after that, leaving at forty second intervals. A family was going to die, because it was necessary.

And because every individual in the room, only one of whom was still fully human, held them to be inhuman monsters, that deserved to be put down rather than murdered.



~'/|\'~




The student concourse was in uproar. A light, airy room, it was given to the elder two years as a privilege, a place with comfy sofas and a nano-fabricator with some good coffees and teas loaded. It was not being used for its intended purpose. A heaving mass of people, members of L6-5 forming the nucleus, was reaching the approximate density of degenerate matter, and was in severe risk of violating the Pauli Exclusion Principle. Hundreds of hands held a PCPU, and all of them were at the last image on the page that the virus had distributed.

The image that showed Shinji Ikari, in the suit of an Engel pilot, standing on the gantry in front of the powered down Unit 01, talking to Misato, who herself was wearing her Major's uniform.

He was getting crushed in here. Despite the advances in material science, a bullet-proof vest, even with integral stab-proof plates, didn't prevent you from being flattened by a horde of sixteen, seventeen and eighteen year olds. Shinji felt vaguely betrayed by this, especially since the thing was hot and heavy, and felt so more that usual.

And the voices. So many of them, calling at at once in a manner that made it obvious that mankind evolved from apes, with the communal cadence as close to nothing as a troupe of chimpanzees. Not bonobos (sadly now extinct), as everyone still had all their clothes on (excluding the people who wanted him to sign their shirts), but still more befitting pan than homo. Certain questions, recurring ones, could be picked out from the refrain, though.

“How were you selected!?”
“Were there any special exams?”

“Is it frightening?”

“What're the controls like?”

“How do you pilot it?”
“Do you have a chip in your brain?”

“What's its name?”

“What do you call it?”

“Is it really an Engel? Not a large normal mecha?”

“Please,” Shinji called out. “Just back away. I can't really breath!”

But his voice was drowned out.

There was a sharp whistle, from over near the entrance, at an ear-piercing volume. As one, the mob turned to face the noise, but with that terrible slowness that indicated that they already knew what it was. A deathly silence washed from the outside, in to the core.

It was worse. It was two teachers, flanked by soldiers in full combat carapace. The teachers looked enraged. The soldiers had stun batons out. To the left, but slightly behind the authority figures, stood Hikary, her face locked in a mask of superiority.

Without any words,the emergent behaviour of the mob played out. The individuals on the other side of the crowd from the teachers began to drift off, their attitude quite obviously screaming that they had absolutely nothing to do with any swarming, and they had just been there to see what all the fuss was. Meanwhile, a subtle shift in the position of those who had been closest to the centre of the mob made it look like they had been valiantly defending their classmate, and had, in no conceivable way, been the ones who had trapped him in the middle and been most feverishly asking questions.

It didn't work. The teachers weren't that stupid. The room ended up sealed, while the Headmaster of the Academy was dragged away from his tea (black, sweet) to give the lecture, complete with warnings under the New Earth Government Official Secrets Act, which he had prepared ever since he had taken over the school, and been told of the status of the other pilot, Rei Ayanami. The warnings were both dire and in the uttermost seriousness. Ironically, of course, he suspected that the parents of quite a lot of the students could have explained it better to their progeny than he could have, given how many layers of NDAs and legal barriers to disclosure they were under. After the speech, he went to his office, and made an urgent call to the Ashcroft headquarters, to reveal that there had been a breach in operational security. The message had already been reported in dodecahedrate by the legions of individuals watching the Academy from Ashcroft, the GIA, the FSB, the OIS, the NEGA and he suspected even more groups, before he had finished the speech, but he had to do it properly.

Shinji himself, the boy who, indirectly, had sizeable amounts of the global intelligence community swearing very loudly at the top of their lungs at the security breach, wasn't actually called into the lecture theatre. That was a small mercy, to be permitted an escape from the inevitable pointing and the stares at his unintentional celebrity. He slumped down into one of the abandoned chairs.

Well. How the the hell had that happened? How had they found out that he was the pilot of the Unit 01? Was this some kind of viral marketing stunt, to “raise morale” and distract people from the fact that the New Earth Government had let an extradimensional creature break into the London-2 arcology itself? Quite possibly, actually. Great, so he got to have people staring at him all the time, as well as being forced... well, he admitted to himself, he had signed the contract freely, that is, now being made to spend his time training in the Evangelion.

He felt a presence behind him, as the hairs on his neck rose.

He turned.

“Oh, hey, Hikary. Thanks for...” he began.

“I'm sorry about that happening...” she said simultaneously.

They stared at each other uncomfortably for a moment. Shinji gestured at her to continue with a slight movement of his right hand.

“Yes. Um, I'm sorry about everyone acting like that.”

Shinji snorted. “Like you could have controlled them on your own.” He shuddered slightly. “It was like they were crazy.” There was a pause. “Aren't you worried about, you know, what people think about you. I mean, you got soldiers to come.”

“Oh, that wasn't really me,” she replied. “They were just standing around a coffee fabber, and as soon as I mentioned your name, to the teachers, that is, they came running.” Hikary perched on another one of the seats, sitting on the back of the chair, and smoothed her skirt down. “And I'm already the goody-goody monitor; have been to them since we were eleven. All the ones who might hate me for reporting on them already do.”

“Eleven?” Shinji queried.

“Since coming to this Academy. This one only covers secondary education. Most of us have been here from the start.” She stared at him, a shrewd look in her eyes. “What do you know about Rei?”

Shinji blinked. The question had come completely out of the blue.

“I... uh... what?”

“Rei Ayanami. The sidoci? Bandages?”

Shinji tried obfuscation. “Not much. She doesn't seem to talk to anyone.”

“Yes. Not talk to anyone for over five years.” Hikary looked at the puzzlement in Shinji's eyes, interpreting it correctly. “Yes. Quite. She's been here as long as any of us, and we don't know anything about her. I mean, she's odd... that is, quiet and introverted even for a sidoci, and that's saying something.”

Shinji raised an eyebrow. “You know any more Whites?” The strange children, who sometimes, among those who knew their 20th Century literature, bore the name of Midwitch Cuckoos, were rare. Perhaps one in a hundred xenomixed children were born completely colourless, with the prodigious paraphysic powers that often manifested in the cradle.

“I know a few. My dad kept in touch with his people, and quite a lot of the ones like him, the ones made as children, ended up marrying humans. It's why there's a lot of us,” and then she held her hands wide, raising attention to her greyish skin, “at the Academy; the scientist types ended up mixing a lot more that the combatants,” she said, smiling vaguely, “and one thing led to another, and my sisters and me happened.” The smile vanished. “My grandfather is an old-school type, one of those “The Nazzadi Race must remain Pure until we have a Cultural Identity” types,” Hikary said bitterly, putting on an affected heavy accent, “so I ended up spending time with my mother's side of the family.”

“I'd wondered about the name, in all honesty, when you act so...” he replied.

“Human?” she said, completing the sentence. “Yeah. I happen to think that the whole Nazzadi culture thing is a bit of a scam. I mean, the original was made up by the Migou, and really, they were not that original. I mean, the whole “Proud Warrior Race” thing. Looks more like the fungi were spending too much time abducting fans of bad 20th century fantasy and sci-fi.”

“I'm sure that... what's her name? Taly? Tary? I'm not really sure, but she wouldn't like you talking like that,” added Shinji, with a faint smirk on his face.

Surprisingly, Hikary frowned. “Okay, don't smirk like that. It makes you look... it just looks weird, okay.” Her face returned to normal. “But, yes, admittedly this little rant was partly annoyance at her and her silly points. You haven't seen how bad it can get; I ended up with her for my SCIETs and we barely finished the History course because of how they dragged out the “The First Arcanotech War” module with their silly objections. But, anyway. You should get away from here. When the lecture finishes, they'll all be returning, and they'll be... annoyed, let's just say, for missing quite a bit of lunch.”

Shinji stood up. He liked Hikary, he didn't mind admitting. She was attractive, in the special way that xenomixes seemed to be; hybrid vigour et al, but that didn't seem to be as important as her personality, to use that eternal cliché. For one, she'd kept the secret about who his father was, or at the very least he hadn't had a mob of people screaming about how he was the son of the Representative. From the resemblance between a legion of fans and a lynch mob, he preferred it that way. Secondly, she actually liked him, or seemed to, at least as far as he could tell. He wasn't a mind-reader, and the female mind was an odd thing.

He sincerely hoped that she wasn't just rescuing him out of some duty to her role. Or that she wasn't a spy working for his father, as a means of control beyond the contract. Shinji wouldn't put it past the bastard to have an elite clan of child ninja to watch over his “elite” Evangelion pilots (putting inverted commas around the word “elite”, unless the definition included grabbing someone who hadn't even been in a suit of powered armour before) .

But, no, that wasn't a good way to think. That way led to paranoia, and not trusting anyone, isolating yourself from humanity for fear of what other people would do.

Shinji was struck by a sudden, inexplicable urge to find out about his paternal grandfather, and whether the man had possessed his own legion of child ninja, of Clan Rokubungi. But, no, that was still a silly thought. Even if it would explain so, so much...

He suddenly remembered that he was still part of a conversation.

“Oh, yes. Seriously, Hikary, thanks. I'm in your debt.”

“No, honestly,” she replied, the faintest hint of a reddish-black blush on her grey cheeks, “it was fine.”

“So, um, yes. Uh, bye.”

“Bye.”

Shinji felt like whistling as he walked away. Sure, the morning had been unpleasant, and there were probably future unpleasantness from the revelation of his identity. But it was quite hard to see how the day could get any worse.



~'/|\'~




Major Misato Katsurugi of the New Earth Government Army and Director of Operations (Military) for the Ashcroft Foundation and the Evangelion Project was not having a good day, and she couldn't really see how it could get much worse. For one, she was still feeling a little hungover from last night, and the beers she had imbibed after returning home at one in the morning. She had been dragged from her nice, soft, warm bed, first by Ritsuko's mundane questions about the status of the Third Child, and then followed by, at around lunchtime for the rest of the population, insane screaming phone calls from ever single agency that knew about the Evangelion Project, and a few that had just found out about it.

She had managed to get from bed to full military uniform and out of the house in four minutes, thirty two seconds, which was an achievement even for her, considering the effort it required to put on heavy carapace armour. It was a compromise. By wearing her Spectrashield Heavy, it excused the lack of make-up, and also reminded the rest of the room that she was a member of the military, not just an Ashcroft civilian.

She looked around the room to which she would have to be explaining the reason why there appeared to be a leak in a supposedly top secret project. The Federal Bureau of Security agents were on the left, as the police with control of pan-jurisdiction crimes and matters of potential regional importance. They wouldn't be too hard to explain to; they were only involved in a fairly minor role, mainly in the protection of the Children, and they too would have to explain how the virus had got past the protection they had put on the area network of the PAN which covered the sector in which the Academy was located. Likewise, the Global Inteligence Agency only valued the project in the sense that it was a valuable military resource, and thus the intense secrecy that the project had enjoyed beforehand was, in a sense, opposed to their goals. They were the NEG's spies, counter-spies, propagandists and information analysts and so, if the project went public, it could see considerably more deployment, and heaven knew that the Fronts were heavily pressed. She had received complaints of the under-use of the Evangelions, even when the project had been on ice, with only the Prototypes and one Mass Production Model. It had been planned that it would happen at some point, so the contingencies would kick in. The New Earth Government Army would side with the GIA, if she was any guess, although they would push for heavier involvement from the NEGA side, probably for a “pure” military officer to have direct control over deployment and tactics, rather than split loyalties she had.

Both the GIA and the NEGA had something to gain from the Project going public. Thus, they were suspects in the leak. After all, nothing important had been given away. By linking the project to the Engels, it gave a false view of their capabilities, and no technical specifications had made their way into the information, not even a formal height. It was almost as if it had been designed this way, which almost certainly meant that it had been.

The Office of Internal Security would not be so forgiving. Name a law that the FSB had to follow, and it was almost certain that the OIS were exempted from it. Due process, habeas corpus, human rights; the OIS had no need to follow those guidelines in their tasks; the regulation of all forms of extra-dimensional activity, whether technological, sorcerous or parapsychic. They took a great deal of interest in both the Engel Project and the Evangelion Project; it was rumoured that they were the ones who had applied the pressure which had seen the latter put on ice, and the former developed in such secrecy. They believed that the public should not know about such things, that they should only see sorcery in strictly controlled situations, and they ran the registration scheme for the parapsychic community, enforcing the markings that all individuals classified as Dangerous or Invasive had to wear, all the time. They would not be happy at a new project entering the public domain which did much the same as the Engel Project, especially the oddities of the pilots, and the use of ... well, child soldiers, if Misato were to be honest with herself. If there was one blessing, it was that when the Evangelions weren't doing... the tentacle thing, she recalled, shuddering, they were about at mundane looking as a Malach or a Seraph. If they looked like a Tarshish or a Hamshal, it would have been a lot worse. They'd propose damage control, she knew, a tailored virus released into the global information network which purged any copies of the leaked data, any scan of it, and certainly any attempt to upload it to anywhere.

Misato cleared her throat, and shuffled her data-slates. She really wished that she had had time to put on make-up. Her face felt naked in front of all of these gazes, some of which were wanting for her to slip up, so they could supplant her role.

“Ladies, gentlemen. I regret to inform you that, at 12:38 GMT today, images of Unit 01 of the Evangelion Project, and of the individual code-named Acedia and designated by the internal standards of the Project as the Third Child, found their way into a virus which overrode all Personal Computer Processing Units it infected and displayed these images, which appear to have come from the internal and external cameras in the London Geocity. Accompanying these images was an overview of the nature of the Project, although only at the lowest security levels,” and here she rolled her eyes, “which is an entirely relative term when it comes to the Evangelion Project.”

The entire audience already knew this.

“The source of the virus appears to have originated from within the grounds of the Ashcroft Academy codenamed “Malebolgia”, which the individuals codenamed “Invidia” and “Acedia” attend. Fortunately, the “grey-box” type firewall installed around Malebolgia by the FSB,” Misato nodded to their contingent, “although not completely stopping it due to the adaptive nature of the virus, at least corrupted it. The phage sub-system ensured that the data was corrupted. Of the virus that escaped to the main PAN, only the first half of the document remained even partially intact.”

That part of the statement should mollify the OIS at least somewhat, she thought.

“That means that, yes, the identity of the Third Child, Acedia, remains a secret to all outside the Academy grounds, in the realworld area of its partially isolated network. This makes this a data issue, not a direct threat to the pilots themselves.”

She noted the slight loosening of the faces of much of her audience,as the level of the threat was downgraded.

“I can assure you that both of the Children are perfectly safe.”



~'/|\'~




The incoming first collided with Shinji's nose, with the impactor coming out considerably for the better. He fell back in surprise and pain, the hot sensation from within his nose telling him that he was probably having a nosebleed.

The tall, lanky Nazzadi boy massaged his fist, and stared at the prone Child.

“Sorry, transferee, but I had to do that. I couldn't really be satisfied with a harang like you getting to walk around unless I got one hit in.”

Shinji stared up at the black-skinned boy, with the skin like anthracite and red eyes glinting, like the eyes of cats, in the false sunlight. Now he really got why the Migou had made homo sapiens nazzadi like they did. The teenager standing over him stood with one foot in the Uncanny Valley.

“You... you just hit me,” Shinji said, his voice muffled by the fingers that he had clamped around his nose. “What the... why... what the fuck?!”

The Nazzadi didn't answer, instead letting Ken, the military geek from their class answer for him. Shinji guessed that he must have been the one that came in in the morning, because he didn't remember seeing this one before. Ken leaned in a conspiratorial manner, his AR-enhanced glasses gleaming in the light. Modern medical technology had made optical correcting lenses redundant; the only people who wore glasses were people who couldn't bear to be away from Augmented Reality, or the types who wore them as a fashion statement.

“Sorry, really, but his younger sister got hurt in the battle. That's why he did it.”

People who might view the late deployment of the Evangelion as the failure of the NEG to save their loved ones had been one of the reasons they gave for why he had to wear the (so far, completely useless) ballistic vest. Just typical, Shinji thought, the one that I think of just being institutional paranoia is the one that comes true first. Not that I'm complaining, he thought hastily, to the malevolent deity which seemed to be managing his life. Upset school students can be dealt with. Migou assassins might be a bit more dangerous.

The mismatched pair turned to walk away.

“Wha... I didn't do it on purpose,” Shinji complained, hoping to reason with the obviously unhinged boy.

The black-skinned boy turned around, face contorted in rage.

“Leave him alone, Toja,” the shorter, bespectacled one said, hastily.

The voice of reason was ignored. Toja yanked Shinji up by his collar, pulling his fist back, red eyes shining.

“Just for that, idiot,” he muttered softly in Nazzadi, the tone in his voice beyond rage, I'm going to give you the beating of your...”

“Drop the boy,” a synthetic voice commanded. When there was the faintest hint of reluctance, the voice continued. “Do it NOW!”

Shinji was dropped, blood running out of his nose and down his face. He licked his lips, tasting the warm, metallic tang, and tried to staunch the flow as he got away from Toja.

A squad of NEG troopers, stun batons and tasers in hand, accompanied by one of the Mk-5 Crusader powered armours that seemed to have nothing better to do than hang around the Academy, all had their weapons levelled at the tall Nazzadi, who, quite understandably, looked terrified at the gaze from the glowing eyes of five helmets and the four optical sensors of the Crusader.

“Get down on the floor! Now!” the Corporal of the squad, his voice filtered by his sealed helmet.

One of the troopers, a single white band around one arm, rushed over to the now-prone Toja and Ken.

“DNA checks human, no Outsider taint or trace of Hybridisation beyond tolerated gene-pool levels,” the trooper, his or her voice cloaked, reported back.

“Secure them, and take them to the OIS examination room, subject to testing for Blanks or sorcerous influence.” At that, both Toja and Ken began to shake, as the troopers handcuffed them both, and walked them off at a brisk trot. “Get up, Acedia.” Shinji blinked, before remembering that was his codename for non-Ashcroft matters, who insisted on calling him “the Third Child.”

“Acedia. Are you injured?” Apparently not trusting his opinion, the one with the white band, who Shinji presumed to be the squad medic, moved over.

It was really difilcult to tell them apart, when all you had was the synethic voices over the external speakers, Shinji thought. Then again, it was sort of the point.

“Scanning. Raised vitals corresponding to an adrenaline rush. Nasal haemorrhage; that's a nose bleed, corporal. Should be fine; the blood will stop on its own, and here's a cloth,” the medic added, handing over a thick white absorbent thing to Shinji, who promptly clamped it to his nose.

“He... he just said that he was doing it because his sister was hurt,” said Shinji, shaken almost as much by the response of the soldiers, who he was beginning to suspect were part of the OIS, as by the fact that he had almost had quite a beating from an angry individual who was both bigger and stronger that he was.

“Hmm,” replied, the corporal, the synthesiser rendering the sound as a word, rather than a noise in back of the throat. “Acedia, you are to accompany Invidia to the Evangelions.”

Behind them, Shinji suddenly noticed Rei standing. He could have sworn that she wasn't there a moment ago, although five soldiers and a suit of power armour do tend to block lines of sight and draw attention, in the same fashion that an elephant in a room does, when the room is specifically an abattoir.

He pulled himself to his feet.

“Right,” he said, following Rei, who had already started walking off.

This was possibly the second time this day that he had been saved by a girl, and a xenomixed one at that. It depended upon whether the soldiers had been bodyguards, or whether they had been searching for him to get him to go.

“Um, yes. Ayanami, thanks,” he said, catching up with her. She walked fast, even with one arm in a cast and still quite heavily bandaged, including a lack of depth perception.

“You had your phone off.” Her voice was quiet, soft, and chilling in an almost literal sense. Shinji actually felt actively colder when she spoke. “It was an emergency call, so I went to where you were.”

Shinji checked in his pocket. He was sure that the phone had been on, and it wasn't likely that the Class 3 D-Cell was flat. They gave 30,000 mA hours, enough to run the mobile phone for over a year.

The battery was loose. Shinji pushed it back in, and made a note to complain. There was something wrong with the design from the nano-fabricator if a new phone could get so damaged so quickly.

“But... how did you know?”

The answer came back like a perfect volley, level and smooth.

“I knew.”

Shinji began to get an idea about how difficult she was meant to be to talk to, even though these were the most words they had ever exchanged.

“Uh, actually I was thanking you for getting the, you know, soldiers. It looked like I was going to be in trouble there, but you showed up at the right time.”

“Yes.”

Surprisingly, she continued, actually adding to a conversation.

“It is a good thing that I waited.”

Wait, what?

A siren started up



~'/|\'~
   Profile |  

EarthScorpion
PostPosted: 2008-12-20 04:11pm 

Padawan Learner


Joined: 2008-09-25 02:54pm
Posts: 209
Location: London
~'/|\'~




“Today, at 1:21 pm, a special state of authority has been declared by the New Earth Government. All inhabitants within the Arcology are to remain so. All inhabitants with a temporary arcology pass are to leave, and go to their designated shelter within the Greater London Area. Should conditions change, all individuals are to follow the instructions of their nearest municipal authority, inducing heading to the Internal Arcology Fortifications. Temporary martial law is in full effect. Message repeats, today, at 1:21 pm, a special state of authority has been declared by the New Earth Government...”



~'/|\'~




The Fourth Herald cruised at just over the speed of sound, serene in front of the booming roar it left behind as it tore through the air, its AT field tearing those diatomic molecules unfortunate enough to get in its way in two. A trail of free-radicals from these unnatural severances whirled and bloomed in the atmosphere.

The creature was grossly cephalopodian, its bulbous body, bloated and white like a corpse drowned in some cavern hidden from the face of the sun for countless aeons, trailed by vile tentacles. The appendages twitched and writhed in a manner which suggested that they were not fully under the control of the main body, for, were the beast subject to the restrictions of aerodynamics, the movements would have obstructed its flight. They glistened and gleamed; a thin layer of oil-like protoplasm coated their surface, reflecting the light wrong with the tentacles appearing coated with sea one minute and sky the next. Its main bulbous section possessed three great eyes upon it, a triangle of vision which allowed it to watch the skies and seas alike. The eyes did not glow, as a creature from a bad film might, but instead they reflected an iridescent, shifting pattern hypnotic to the unwary eye. And like its deceased kin, it bore a sanguine orb on its front, a sign of the favours bestowed upon it.

As the Kathirat, as the humans called to it conceal its name (ah, the sweetest of ironies), flew over the North Sea, it brought madness to the birds that swarmed over the sea, in pursuit of the recovering fish stocks. It had been astonishing how fast the seas had replenished themselves after the near destruction of stocks in the early 21st century. Of course, the tendency for the Estoric Order of Dagon to board fishing vessels, and take the crews away to be brainwashed into service of dread Cthulhu, Dagon and Hydra, or taken to the rape camps of the EoD, probably had something to do with it. But now the birds abandoned their foods, and swarmed, regardless of species, towards the Fourth Herald. It cared not for them, and they were ripped apart by their intersection with the AT-field, or sent tumbling out of the air, falling like a fair maiden defenestrated by a cruel patrician to the oceans, where the fish which they had so long preyed upon devoured the corpses. Those which had eaten took on an odd iridescence, and dove immediately, to escape the sun.

The Herald would have been pleased, for the food would go to feed the weak, and thus, by feeding the weak, they become yours, yours to control, yours to own, yours to use. They would make good slaves for Her (insofar as such a concept of gender applied to the species to which the Heralds belonged) beloved Children, and food for Her Children.

After all, the Children were the future. The priest was vulnerable, for the first time since the First had been overthrown and slain. The First, her father, had been a good mate, and their Children had been strong.



~'/|\'~




The New Earth Army's central command post in London-2 was in what could accurately be called a state of organised panic. The operators around the edges of the room were using full access to StratNet to co-ordinate the naval assets in the North Sea with the land-based Army aircraft.

“What's the status of the Migou Hive Ship? Can we use a satellite without risk?” Field Marshal Jameson demanded of SpaceCom. The Hive Ship, an armoured behemoth the size of a small moon, 1207 km in diameter, and held with a fair degree of certainty to be Charon, binary partner of the dwarf planet Pluto, or Yuggoth as it was called by its denizens, was the bane of strategic planning. It forced all of the few intact satellites to go dormant, silent under their stealth fields, to avoid their destruction, and thus locked down satellite communications for almost half the planet at once. Moreover, it could dispatch the lesser Swarm Ships, each larger than a Victory-class Battlecruiser, to potentially any place it could see. It was cursed daily by senior NEA and NEN officers, but it had proved proof against coordinated missile strikes from across the globe, failing to even get past its point defences, let alone harsh words.

“Hive Ship is over the Pacific, 121 degrees, 23 minutes, 3 seconds. Satellite requests are permitted,” came the answer.

“Well, get Burachev-4 on the Herald. See if the Dimensional Analyser can detect the AT Field. If this works, it can maybe find where these things are coming from.”

“It'll be three minutes before its in position, Field Marshal,” noted the operator.

On the other side of the room, Field Marshal Lehy was in overall command of the air forces. She closed the comm channel she had open, and called up a new face, floating bodiless before her.

“NEA Norwich, we have a hostile target of extradimensional nature. The previous encounter with its type was found to cause widescale Aeon War Syndrome. Colonel, you are hereby authorised and demanded to utilise the experimental RALCL serum on all pilots.”

“Yes, ma'am,” the ranking officer at Norwich replied, a specialised fortress-facility designed to protect that part of the east coast from EoD raids, as well as project force over the Sea. Lehy noted the hint of worry on her face. The RALCL (pronounced “Ral-Cal” serum had few noted immediate side effects, but it had never been used on this scale. The potential losses were acceptable, compared to the mass psychological damage that had affected the ground forces which had fought the last Herald, and they couldn't afford to lose pilots, especially when an Aeon War Breakdown was considerably worse when you were piloting a supersonic aircraft.

The third of the Field Marshals, Kora, was back from operations against Iceland, which was completely under the control of the Dagonites, who had turned it into a veritable fortress in the Atlantic. He was in contact with Chicago, the capital of the New Earth Government and the Ashcroft Foundation alike. He was talking to an elderly woman, her white hair tied into a severe bun.

“Field Marshal Kora, the NEG formally instructs you to active the Evangelion Project, and grants you the authority to command it until the current crisis is dealt with.”

The Nazzadi officer smiled slightly.

“Thank you, Minister. I shall do so immediately.”

The old lady, Minister of War, stared back at him.

“See that you do, Kora. You've asked for this control; now let's see what you do with it. This will cost considerable political capital should you fail.”

The Field Marshal saluted his superior.

“We shall not fail, Minister Aristide.”

The old lady did not answer, merely cutting the link. The Nazzadi permitted himself a brief smirk, then turned to face the rest of the room.

“We have the authority to activate the Evangelions. Contact Major Katsurugi, and inform her to prepare them.”

“Not that they won't be doing that, anyway,” remarked Lehy, drily. “If we ask why they're doing it, they'll claim that they're just readying it for training, of course.”

“Something will have gone wrong if it gets to land this time,” added Jameson. “Is the Ashcroft in position?”

“Yes, it is,” answered Kora.

“And multiple wings are on route to intercept. If the serum works, and really does counter Aeon War Syndrome, then this should be a dramatic first test,” added Lehy.



~'/|\'~




Four groups of five F-1 Spitfires roared in towards the Fourth Herald at Mach 1.65. Named for their ancient counterpart which had also taken off from Norwich to defend the UK, the nomenclature was all that they had in common with their spiritual forefather. The modern Spitfire was modular, with a single piece wing and an over fuselage structure design. Twin-linked 20mm railguns with limited autotracking and 16 semi-smart missiles that could threaten ground units (although that would be a bit of a waste of their air-to-air functionality) made it noticeably better than its Migou counterpart, the Dart, and left the attempts of the Rapine Storm, who either went for looted airplanes held together with spit and covered in skeletons, or just rode monstrosities (when the creatures tolerated them), in the dust.

And these pilots were better than they would have been normally. The doctors had given them an awareness booster before take-off, for the purpose of heightening their senses, and now they all were feeling more sane, more aware than they ever had before. They may have been intellectually aware that they should be terrified of the presence they hung over keeping pace with it, but there was no fear. There was merely the knowledge that it was their task to kill this intruder.

As one, synchronised perfectly, the wings rolled in, and began the attack on the Herald. Soon, more aeroplanes arrived, and the sky was filled with missile contrails and the snarl of hypersonic bullets.



~'/|\'~




The Kathirat was getting annoyed, for that was one emotion it most certainly shared with the uplifted apes that assaulted its majesty.

The primitive beasts in their metal boxes that could only just touch the higher dimensions dared attack it? Leave its Children motherless?

The stress of the impact of all of the explosives began to tear holes in the AT field, collapsing the phase potentials of the shredded dimensions that permitted a bullet to be stopped. A raking line of fire from a buzzing metal insect punched into its cephalodian skin, flesh that had withstood the wrath of ages pieced and punctured by magnetically accelerated armour-piercing rounds.

Well, it would take their metal boxes from them!

It slowed down, diverting its gift from the Endless to reinforcing the blessing of Yog-Sothoth that enveloped it, especially its top, where the apes wounded its grace. The bullets and missiles bounced off, or were shredded by the strengthened grace of the Gate and the Key. It then added a pair of burning bright tentacles, like false stars, and sliced at the pests, puncturing their crafts and drawing their souls into it. They tasted somewhat familiar, although the Kathirat could not place them. It lowered itself further, its flight slowed by the effort of maintaining its defence against the upstarts.

The Fourth Herald barely had time to feel a presence beneath the waves, like one of the metal boxes, but massively larger, before it realised how it had been tricked.



~'/|\'~
~'/|\'~



The Victory-class Battlecruiser, the Ashcroft, one of the prides of the NEN fleet and moved to here from the Atlantic specifically to close this trap, surfaced from beneath the waves like some leviathan from the depths of the minds of medieval sailors. The Ashcroft could sail the voids of space; a little water was nothing to immerse itself in. The air force had forced the Herald low enough that it could target the creature from the surface, instead of having to engage its A-pods, and thus it was all prepared.

Its main, hull mounted Plasma Cannon belched three times in quick succession, draining the hastily installed D-cells that functioned as capacitors and taking almost all the power from the main reactor. Three new-born suns, outshining even the tentacles that the beast extruded, were vomited forth by the steel leviathan. The first was smeared against the AT-field, the ionised gases that it fired dispersed as every single baryon within was given a pseudo-random transformation which excluded the possibility of it touching the Kathirat. The second was partially blocked by the layer of plasma that now clung to the Herald, but it punched through its elder brother, and collapsed the AT-field, boiling away at the hide of the beast with the remnants of its fury, mostly spent.

The third shot tore the Fourth Herald in half, leaving its tentacles and part of its body to fall, severed and partially vaporised, into the ocean. The waters boiled as vast amounts of heat were dumped into them, even as dumb fish swam towards the maelstrom, overcome with an unnatural hunger.

The Ashcroft was not content with that, of course. It followed up its devastating first strike with the rest of its armaments, run off separate reactors. Charge Beams and laser cannons tore at its flesh, punching holes clean through, while further waves of missiles from both the Ashcroft and the air component tore at its armoured carapace. There was no celebration from the pilots or the crew of the Ashcroft, but there were certainly smiles, and declarations of “Fuck, yeah!” in the NEG military command centre back in London-2.

Smiles which disappeared when the Herald, showing speed that it had never before, tore upwards in a hypersonic boom, knocking several planes out of the air with the shockwave that it left in the wake of its still-considerable bulk, leaving a slick of phosphorescent purple ichor floating on the water like some horrific oil.



~'/|\'~




Shinji was positioned on the eastern side of the Arcology, in the middle of a collapsed street of apartments. He had been sitting here, waiting for instructions for a while. It seems that the NEA and the NEN had ambushed the Herald in the North Sea, crippled it, but then it had escaped. He wasn't that pleased about that; they should have just killed it, and then he wouldn't have to be sitting in here. For one, the LCL did absolutely nothing to prevent his bottom going numb from sitting in the control couch.

Suddenly, Misato's head appeared on his HUD. She looked seriously worried.

“Shinji. They've picked up the Herald again! It's dropping in from a low orbit, right on top of London-2!”

Shinji clutched the HV Penetrator closer.

“Where? What should I do?”

“Stay where you are for the moment. We need it to get closer, so that we can work out where it's going to go.”

Shinji heard a voice, over Misato's channel, but not directed at him. They obviously had another set of channels open in the Ashcroft Operations Centre.

“Target acquired. AA opening up!”

And a different one, but with the same slightly distorted edge that showed that it was coming over two heavily encrypted channels. Around him, the missile batteries placed around the arcology and over its surface sent plume after plume at the sky, where a cone on his HUD projected its current location and potential landing zones.

“Target is slowing slightly.”

Misato turned away from Shinji in the HUD, and replied to that, talking to someone off screen.

“That means that it probably wants to live, rather than just die as a kinetic kill vehicle.”

Doctor Akagi's voice interjected into the conversation.

“The AT field is limited in how the phase space can dissipate energy. As it is, the AT field may penetrate through London-2, and even slightly into the armour over the Geocity, but the creature will be crushed. There is no way by arcane physics to dissipate such an impulse. Moreover, it's injured.”

It was going in a straight line, Shinji could see, not even trying to dodge the missiles. As the cone got narrower and narrower, its centre still didn't move.

“It's using the impacts to brake!” he blurted out.

Misato stared at him, and nodded, a respectful smile on her face. Then she turned to the other screen, all business again.

“Shinji... the Third Child is right. Could we stop the SAMs?”

“I'm afraid not,” the voice answered briskly. “It would cause too much damage if it impacted with London-2 at this velocity. The civilian casualties would be horrific. We'll need you to get the Evangelion over to where it comes down as fast as possible, and take it out. And, maybe,” the voice added acerbically, “this time you can not lose control of it.”

“Yes, Field Marshal,” Major Katsuragi replied in a studiously neutral tone of voice. Her face relaxed, showing that her superior was gone. “Right, Shinji. The Herald is going to hit the Arcology itself, so we're going to have to try something a little unorthodox. Get up the side of the Arcology, at least half way.”

A dotted line appeared, projected onto reality, up the side of the pyramid-like arcology.

“But... won't I crush people?” Shinji asked, somewhat desperately. “The outside of the arcology is covered in windows.”

“They should all be in the bunkers; they turned the sirens back on five minutes ago when they relocated the Herald. If they get crushed, it's legally their fault,” Misato replied, heartlessly. When Shinji hesitated, her voice took on a military overtone. “Do it, Shinji! Be a man, not a child!”

Yes, be a man and ruin people's houses and possibly crush them to death, Shinji though, as he began the climb up the arcology, his foot smashing through the outer wall. It was like climbing a sand dune at times, the sides always ready to give way. He holstered his rifle on his back, and crawled sideways, until he got onto a solid slanted beam, which ran all the way up.

“Hurry up, Shinji,” Misato commanded.



~'/|\'~




The Fourth Herald was angry, in a way that passed beyond annoyance, beyond rage, and into the cold, clear waters of diamond fury.

They had wounded it.

They had crippled it.

They had destroyed its tentacles and large amounts of its body. It would be long time before it could bear Children again.

They had dared strike a blow against it. If its kin were to hear about this, it would be devoured as an embarrassment to the species.

Well, it would make them pay. It had learned. They would not be able to use their metal boxes; neither the small, annoying ones, or the large one which had wounded it so grievously, if it were inside the large thing packed with millions of their souls, above the priest. It could feast upon them, mind, body and soul, and then it could claim transcendence, for the saving of its race.

The insects were throwing more of the propelled objects against it. It laughed, a shrieking gurgle that echoed through metal and stone and time

and deep below london-2 something stirred

and it plummeted down, buffered by the objects which could not hurt the gift of Yog-Sothoth but merely allowed it to lose its momentum

ohtheyhavecrippledmytentaclesiwillmakethemallpay

and as it fell, it noticed one of its sibling's children on the side of the artificial mountain. Well, it would get there first, for the feasting and the anointment.

The Kathirat spread out its tentacles and pieced the Arcology wall like a drill.



~'/|\'~




Ken and Toja had just been released by the OIS, after a series of rather invasive tests (the small holes in the back of their skulls, to check for Migou-induced Assimilation would heal in time, and the cavity search had been... unpleasant), when the sirens went off again.

“What the hell! Not again!” the black-skinned boy moaned.

Ken grunted.

“What? Do you know where to go?”

“I'm not in a very good mood with you at all,” he replied, icily. “Because you had to act like a bloody idiot and punch a mecha pilot, who has full bodyguard protection from the fucking OIS, we both got arrested and cautioned. And,” he shifted uncomfortably, “probed.”

“Listen, man, I had no idea that would happen...”

“Then why didn't you f...”

The argument was interrupted by the ceiling exploding, and a pair of tentacles, burning like the sun, intruding. The two boys fell to the ground, their eyes seared, with their hands clutched futility over their eyes, faces pressed to the ground in the horrific glare.



~'/|\'~




Shinji saw the Kathirat's strike only through its aftereffects. The area was lit very briefly, as if the sun was seven times as bright, then the walls of the Arcology further up exploded.

“It's hit!” Misato yelled.

Shinji drew the Penetrator, and charged up the slope, feet crushing even the reinforced support beneath him. The hole was almost as wide as the Evangelion was tall, easily large enough for him to fit down. He could see the deep wound through the corpus of the Arcology, punching through multiple domes, and, deep down, he could see the flare of the sun-tentacles of the Herald.

Shinji cocked his head slightly. The entry wound was at about eighty degrees to the horizontal.

Yes. Yes, that should work

Of course, the punctured domes wouldn't provide a continuous slope to slide down.

Unless...

Back in the Ashcroft Foundation's Centre of Operations, Ritsuko Akagi could only stare blankly at the screen.

“What... what in the name of empiricism is he doing?”

Maya looked up at the screen, checking it to the synchronisation data.

“He appears to be... sliding down the hole, ....on an AT field he is projecting in front of himself... while firing the HV Penetrator on full automatic at the Herald. And his synchronisation is in the seventies; 73 +/- 2.”

The white coated arcane scientist stared, slack jawed.

“You shouldn't be able to do that!” she finally blurted out. “It... it's like picking yourself up by pulling on your own collar!”

“Cool! Shinji can do that? Sounds a lot easier than A-Theory!” Misato added, in a most helpful way that just happened to have every single individual with a scientific education in the room staring at her in annoyance, rage, disdain, or all of the above.

Shinji, meanwhile, was somewhat more occupied. The Herald had come to a stop several levels down, the raw bulbous flesh where it had been torn in half cancerous-looking to the human eye. The high velocity slugs impacted against the injured Kathirat, forcing through its weakened AT field, and punching into its already injured body. The Fourth Herald shrieked again, and tried to turn, but its weakened body, and the loss of most of its limbs left it slow.

The rifle clicked empty.

Shinji dropped the rifle, and slammed his right hand back, pushing him from a slide to a headfirst dive and triggered the head-mounted laser cannons, which lashed out, caressing the Bearer of Children with the red-coloured wrath of the Third Child. The AT Field was still down, but the weapons punched straight through, over-penetrating the carapace and the porous, spongy flesh.

It was getting really, really close now.

Now I know what to do.

He stretched out his arms. The burning light coming through from the hole in which the Herald was stuck glinted off his out-reached hyperedged claws and the protruding horn on his head.

He morphed his AT Field into a perfect arrow, falling like a silver blade thrown to take the life of a king. The impact was exquisite, the Evangelion, Unit 01, weapon of humanity released to kill its foe. The Herald managed to throw up a last, stronger Field, which stopped him tearing straight through.

Just as well,I suppose. I knew it would do that.

But how did I know?

Nevertheless, I did.


The claws got to work, ripping and tearing gouts of phosphorescent purple blood from within the elder beast.

Down below, where Toja and Ken cowered, eyes obscured, the ichor poured down, covering them.

The Kathirat finally acted, in mortal fear for its own life. The sun-tentacles, already weakening in intensity writhed, and plunged into its own corpus, seaking out the upstart who would slay a being which had spawned races and weakened Savaty'ya for Gurathnaka in aeons past (but not this one! Ah, how strange it is!). One missed entirely, guttering and dying like a dying flame as it broke its own hide, but the second went straight through the chest of the Evangelion, with all of Shinji attention focussed on tearing out the innards of the Herald.

Shinji screamed, as a burning pain seared through his chest. Slumping forwards onto the controlls, he squeezed the trigger that fired the Lightning Cannon on the left arm. Hundreds of thousands of amps flooded through the Evangelion, the Herald, and the the area around them, as the charge earthed itself.

Shinji was racked in agony, spasming in the same way that the muscles of Unit 01 did. Around him, the cancerous flesh, so soft against conventional weapons, turned black and singed. Through bleary eyes, he saw the change, and so squeezed the trigger again.

And again.

And again.

Back in the control room, Misato was aghast.

“What the hell is he doing! Why is he acting like that! He's damaging the Evangelion and himself. Shinji, retreat!”

Kozo Fuyutsuki, in Gendo's normal seat, the Representative being absent, leaned forwards.

“He's winning.”

Inside the Kathirat, the flesh looked carbonised enough. Shinji knew that that wasn't enough to kill it, though, so he began to crawl forwards and down, hollowing out the Herald with his claws and with his jaws, like a very large maggot in a small apple.

Eyes screaming with pain, Ken and Toja looked up. The burning pain in the form of light was gone. And so they got to see, through tear-filled eyes, the final Child of the Kathirat.

The red orb on the front of the Herald remained bright, even through the injuries to it. That was, until a clawed fist emerged from inside the body of the Herald itself, from within the Kathirat, and started punching it with bladed fingers. It was then joined by its chiral twin, and as the light dimmed, and cracks emerged, by the head of Unit 01, which vomited forth tentacles onto the core.

It was probably for the best that Ken and Toja lost consciousness at that point.

With one final blow, the orb cracked and shattered. The burning tentacle protruded into the Evangelion solidified turning the livid purple of a fresh wound.

And in a grotesque parody of birth, the Kathirat, mother of species, Patron to her Children was torn apart, as the Third Child, finally falling unconscious from the pain, emerged from the bloodied split in the front, tearing the beast apart, and fell to the ground, still connected by the purple fleshy-rope through its midriff.



~'/|\'~




White spoke.

“The Kathirat, if we are to follow the naming convention we had adopted for everyone else, is dead, and more than dead.”

Blue spoke.

“Do you suggest that we should mourn.”

The ancient man, of Asian appearance but with a North American accent, said those words in the same, deadpan serious voice he used for all conversation.

Green spoke.

“Hardly. It was an idiot beast, maternal yet voracious in its appetites. It was stupid enough to fall for the inept plan of the NEN and the NEA.”

Yellow spoke.

“Although, the performance of Unit 01, and its Type 1, continues to outshine Unit 02 and its Type 2.”

Red spoke.

“Silence.”

There was a hint of stress in her voice.

Green spoke.

“And now that the Kathirat is dead, the path opens to its mate and fellow Patron, and the completion of Xue'Vehulu'Ia'Ia.”

Blue spoke.

“We need it, it is true. Ikari,despite being less informed, has a viable substitute, but I would prefer not to leave it in his hands. And, of course, Xue'Vehulu'Ia'Ia would be a useful pawn.”

White spoke.

“If Xue'Vehulu'Ia'Ia is a pawn, then we play White. And must strike first.”



~'/|\'~
   Profile |  

EarthScorpion
PostPosted: 2009-01-01 07:53am 

Padawan Learner


Joined: 2008-09-25 02:54pm
Posts: 209
Location: London
Chapter 5

Rei 01




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.

The amlati 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.

“I'm sorry?”

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. 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.

“Hello?”

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.”

“Yes, mother.”

“Mother!”

“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.”

“See you.”

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.

“Activate.”

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.

“Noooooooo!”

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.

Puzzling.


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.

“...*crrrsh*...ll...deser*crrsh*... *crrsh*e”

“Rei! Rei!”

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?”

“Wha?”

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.

Honestly.

“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 and sidoci 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.”

“Nope.”

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.



~'/|\'~
   Profile |  

EarthScorpion
PostPosted: 2009-01-01 07:56am 

Padawan Learner


Joined: 2008-09-25 02:54pm
Posts: 209
Location: London
~'/|\'~




Shinji got home on Friday, to Misato's house, to find an acrid smell coming out of the kitchen.

He sniffed. It was... like someone had been trying to fry chilli seeds, spicy sauces, bacon, and some long grained rice, using chilli oil in the pan. The scent prompted a fit of coughing.

“Oh, heya Shinji,” said Misato, as she walked out of the kitchen, seemingly unconcerned by the burning (both in the sense that it was the product of burnt food, and the fact that it hurt his nostrils) smell. “What's the matter?”

Overcome, Shinji groped towards the door, and took deep breaths of the cleansed arcology air.

“Yeah, Rits-chan is meant to be coming over for dinner, so I thought I'd prepare the food. It went a little wrong, although it's still edible.”

Shinji doubted that, or at least doubted that the species for which it was edible was humanity. Maybe some creature that lived in volcanoes, feeding off the liquid magma. And even that would probably say, “My, you do like the chilli stalks a lot.”

“So I thought we could go on a little outing. There's a really good new restaurant just outside the arcology, went there a little while ago, and the food was great. Experimental Nazzadi cuisine. Brilliant. Seriously, it's one of the best things their search for a culture has produced. You'll have to change, but it's not that formal.”

From the safety of the entry, Shinji saw Pen-Pen poke his head out of his fridge. There was a choked “Wark”, and the door slammed shut again. From the slight humming from within, it seemed that the penguin, at least, was prepared for this kind of use of chemical weapons, and had installed some kind of machine which filtered the air within the fridge.

And for the moment, I will ignore the fact that there is a sapient penguin living in a fridge who can install a detoxifier on his own. Which probably means he has his own bank account, to operate the nano-factory, as Misato probably wouldn't pay for it herself. There are some places I will not go.

“And, as it means that we're going outside of the arcology, I can justify using the car!”

A reflection of the nausea Shinji knew that he would be feeling travelled back in time, leaving him to clutch his stomach.

“Misato,” he began. “One question.”

“Yes?”

“How... just how do you manage to burn food, when you have a nanofactory which can assemble it whole, with the right recipe downloaded from the PAN.”

Misato smiled broadly, and sauntered over to the refuge of the door.

“Ah, Shinji. You've got all of student life ahead of you. You'll learn when you're too poor to buy recipes, and have to learn to cook for yourself.”

Any attempt to point out that a) he already knew how to cook and b) most of the time, he did cook, getting the nanofactory to make the ingredients rather than buy a meal template, was overwhelmed by a fresh wave of coughing.



~'/|\'~




Actually, the restaurant, after he had gotten over the nausea induced from Misato's driving, wasn't that bad. It was decorated in a manner best described as techno-Arabian Nights, with lots of brass, neon lighting, and geometrical designs everywhere. And although the food was sold as “Experimental Cuisine”, the owners had been smart enough to realise that by making it truly experimental, they were alienating too much of the market, and so actually made a bunch of dishes which, although superficially quirky, were actually quite edible. And they did chips for fussy children.

Misato would have none of that pandering to the common tastebud and its proclivity for not being burned to a crisp by pure capsaicin extract, and had promptly wandered off to find various chemicals to add to her coconut-oil fried rice dish.

Ritsuko stared across the table at Shinji.

“You know, I'm surprised you're still alive.” She waved a hand in the air. “From the cooking, I mean. I smelt that apartment, and... well, I'm shocked the sniffers in your rooms didn't activate. On the other hand, the men monitoring Misato's building probably have experience. Or they just don't care any more.”

“Uh... well, actually, I cook most nights, and I think I've managed to get it so she... well, that is, most of the time, she just downloads a meal rather than trying to make one from raw ingredients.” He shuddered, a legacy of remembered pain. “The next stage in Operation: Not Die From Misato's Food will be to train her not to put all the condiments in the mean itself, rather than just on her plate.”

Ritsuko snorted. “Good luck with that. I tried that at university. Failed. Was forced to eat her chilli rice once. She was under the impression that the recipe asked for two kilograms of chilli, rather than 20g.” She rolled her eyes. “Science, and that includes accurate measurements, has never been a strong point of the Major. Try not to ruin your life under the influence of a bad room-mate.”

“I'm sort of used to it. I'll just look at it as good practice for, you know, child raising.” He shrugged. “I think Pen-Pen worships me as a god, you know. I'm the one who feeds him, most of the time,” Shinji added. “He actually gets fish, not just curry ramen.” He raised one eyebrow. “How on earth does a person end up with a sapient penguin as a roommate, anyway?”

Ritsuko shifted, and looked distinctly uncomfortable. “Well, it's a long story. A long, and rather complic... wait. Is that Lieutenant Aoba over there?”

Pretty sure that it was just a distraction, Shinji nonetheless looked. It actually did appear to be the long-haired computer technician over there.

“I think that's him. It would be a bit of a coincidence, given that there's, what, 20 million in London-2.”

“I wonder what's he's doing here.”

“Having a meal, maybe?” Shinji pointed out.

“Yes,” said Ritsuko, in a very precise manner. “The trite, trivial, factual and yet utterly useless answer. Nice to see that you're maintaining your standards, Shinji. The point I was making was that I thought he was meant to be going to one of his metal concerts tonight.”

“Well, the one he's with... is it a man or a woman. Long black hair.”

“It's a man,” stated Ritsuko, definitely. “The build is wrong for a woman.”

“Well, that's a sort of metal hairstyle, right. Maybe they wanted a meal beforehand?”

“You may be right. I'll note it down, nonetheless.”

Note it down, thought Shinji. Why? Isn't it a bit paranoid to be so attentive to a member of your staff being at a place where they have a logical explanation to be, just because you didn't think that you'd see them.

A waitress trotted up to their table, a young amlati, maybe about 20.

“Hi!” she exclaimed. “Is everything okay with your meal?”

“Yes,” stated Ritsuko, shuddering slightly at the voice, which grated at her nerves.

“Would you like anything else?”

The doctor shrugged. “Uh, yeah. Get me another beer.”

Shinji raised a hand. “No thanks, I'm fine.”

“Thank you very much!”

Ritsuko shuddered when the waitress had left.

“So. Very. Annoying. Even more annoying than that Nazzadi couple over there with the kids. The younger one won't be quiet. Someone should shut it up. Where is Misato, anyway?”

“She...” Shinji scanned the area. “She...appears to have got distracted while looking for sauces. She seems to be... drinking with some man, over by the bar. Over there.” He pointed, where Misato stood by a tall Nazzadi, the green light washing over her skin.

Ritsuko turned to look. Then she slowly raised her palm to her forehead.

“She's such a cheat.”

“Pardon?”

“Oh, right? You don't know?” She looked at his expression. “Right. You ever wondered why she is so very, very bad at cooking? It's because... well, she's terrible, there's no doubt about it. Always has been. But in the Fall of New Kuala Lumpur, she took a hit from an acid weapon from some extradimensional monster that the Rapine Storm took with them. Burned though the front of her Blizzard, and some of it got on her face, though the inside of her machine. It missed her eyes, but left her with horrible burns on her face; took off most of her nose and ruined her tongue. When they evacuated her, they didn't have any free arcanotherapists, and so she only got mundane treatment. Left her with almost no sense of smell or taste. They ended up replacing the organs, but the damage affected her brain somehow, and so she still can't really taste things properly. That's why she always uses so much sauce. She couldn't really even smell the apartment. She's trying to taste anything, to feel anything...”

The doctor's voice trailed off into nothing. Shinji felt embarrassed. He'd treated her cooking as an amusing character trait, and looked down upon her inept attempts to cook.

Yeah. I was laughing at a disability. That's terrible. I'll need to make it up to her.

“And so she cheats at these drinking games. That thing she has. It's a Burning Well. A bunch of hot (that is, they taste hot) chemicals dissolved in oil, floating on top of water with their counter-agents dissolved. You're meant to drink the top half, swill in in your mouth for as long as you can, then drink the rest and down it. But if you can't taste the stuff in the oil...”

“... you can always win,” finished Shinji. And indeed, with tears in his eyes (from the burning sensation in his mouth), the Nazzadi was withdrawing a noticeable wad of terranotes (and they were rare enough in hard form, given that most transactions were done by card.)

“Anyway, yes.” Ritsuko snapped her fingers. “That reminds me. Well, not directly, but now I remember, can you give this new Ashcroft Protocol Access Card to Rei, the next time you see her. Before the start-up on Saturday. I missed the chance to do it myself, and I'm going to be busy preparing for it.”

“Why me?” asked Shinji.

“Because you go to the same school as her, because you're her co-worker, and because there's more chance of you having time than me, to name just three reasons,” replied the blond.

Misato leaned over Shinji's shoulder, and grabbed his hand.

“Oooh, what's that there?!” quoth the raven-haired woman.

“Just Rei Ayanami's new APAC. I told him to give it to her.”

Misato, meanwhile, was staring at Shinji's.

“What's the matter? You seem to be staring at Rei's photo very intently.”

Oh no, thought Shinji. Not from her as well!

His wishes came to naught, though, as Misato teased him about throughout the rest of the meal, only stopping to briefly swear as the car refused to start due to her failing the auto-breathalyser test, to resume on the public transport, and only dying out when she got bored.

He supposed that he could have protested, and she would have stopped, but, frankly, being laconic was both easier and more enjoyable than being hot blooded. He suspected that his refusal to rise to her suggestions (which were getting more explicit as the alcohol in her blood kicked in) was in fact making her continue, but he could have the last laugh.

He could turn on Child Safety Mode on the nanofactory. She'd never be able to turn it off while hung-over.



~'/|\'~




“Well, it's been fun, Jonathan, but we should probably get going if we want to make the concert on time,” said Lieutenant Aoba. “You should probably ask for the bill; I'll pay.”

The young amlati waitress trotted over.

“Have you finished?! Would you like to pay?!”

“Yes, we have finished,” he stated, clearly. “I'll pay.”

“Right that it!” replied the waitress. She patted her pockets. “I'm sorry, but I think I left my Ident Reader over by the bar. I'll go fetch it.”

Johnathan nodded to the waitress, who nodded back, a broad smile on her face. He slipped a piece of paper into her apron.

Shigeru Aoba rolled his eyes. “Must you, at every opportunity? She's quite a bit younger than you, you know.”

Jonathan shrugged. “She smiled back, didn't she,” he replied, in his broad, Yorkshire accent. “Not my fault that I'm so devilishly attractive to women.”

The Nazzadi couple with the noisy child, a toddler, of perhaps three years old, and an older child of about seven, were trying to quieten down the younger one. Or, at the very least, the mother was, talking quietly in a soft, intense tone of voice. The father, a sallow looking man, insofar as such properties could be distinguished in an individual with coal-coloured skin, was complaining to the staff about the medium rare guinea pig being over-cooked and over-spiced.

In the substation a few hundred metres away from the restaurant, a small explosive charge placed on the superconducting cables carrying power from the grid blew, plunging the area into darkness.

The dining area was plunged into near total darkness, with only the emergency exit signs providing illumination, not enough for any human eye to see what was happening in the room. Luckily, that was not what was required.

And a very specialised sensor might have noted the slight change in air pressure induced by four smaller objects suddenly becoming larger.

It was not speech, but it was akin to it, an organic system of communications which included body position, fifth dimensional extrusions, and even thought. It was as if you had the memory of them speaking, without it having to pass through the ears.

And what Deva spoke was “Go!”

Tagers did not need normal levels of light. Without exception, every one of the Ta'ge symbionts gave their hosts the ability to see perfectly well in any level of light. Of course, all of their malformed siblings, the Dhohanoids, had exactly the same ability, and furthermore had that in all their forms, which somewhat negated the advantage. In addition, all pure Nazzadi and sidoci had near perfect night vision, giving them the world in grey, and amlati had the inferior version of that, adjusting quickly to low light levels. So, all in all, cutting the lights was a considerably less useful tactic for the Eldritch Society than it might have been, and perhaps even less useful in a restaurant specialising in experimental Nazzadi cuisine, staffed mostly by homo sapiens nazzadi, and with a clientèle disproportionately composed of the dark-skinned siblings of humanity.

But surprise still worked.

A huge figure, bat-like wings protruding from its back, with skin the colour of an old bruise, the four eyes on its head glinting green in the low light raised an arm as it ran towards the table where the family sat. A huge, hooked barb, the width of one of its massive fingers, shot out from under its wrist, and took the father through the shoulder, punching through, and nailing him to the chair like a butterfly. He yelled in pain, aware of the three metre figure baring down on him, but unable to move.

“They all deserve to die! They're unclean!” yelled Mantodea, over the mind-link.

A faint buzzing arose from the other side of the room, like some vast insect from the prehistory of the world, from hundreds of millions of years before humanity dared profane the surface of earth. The air temperature dropped, too, as a thick, creeping fog began to flow across the ground, running footsteps emanating from the centre of it. The human waitress whom the father had been arguing with, a middle aged woman of Indian ethnicity, had been replaced by a figure, two and a half metres tall, which bore most resemblance to a flayed corpse; a clawed, flayed corpse, from whose forehead protruded a single eye, moved, and in a single blurred instant, picked up the squalling child and slammed it into the mother's face with a force enough to break bones.

Human bones, that is. The mother, thin and graceful in her movements... turned inside out, a snake-like creature, horned and retaining its arms, replaced the lithe figure, and vomited forth a barrage of needles into the arm of the flayed corpse, the Phantom Tager. They tore through the flesh, behaving more like 9mm railgun rounds than something organic, as they leaked their paralysing venom into the unnatural flesh of the Tager. It roared, in a saurian fashion quite unlike its appearance.

“We've got a Gelgore here, and the child is one too. That should have broken its neck,” Deva stated over the mindlink, her mental voice cold, showing none of the pain the symbiont felt. “I think I can hold off the poison, but I'll need help.” She emphasised the mind-words by throwing the infant Gelgore, its shape in flux as parts of its body flipped between its two forms into a wall, head first, and following that up with a uppercut to the chest of the beast which spawned it, which dove out the way, only taking a glancing blow which still cracked the scales on its shoulder.

“Ahhhh, Tagersssssssss,” the ophidian beast hissed, emphasising its words with another burst of needles from its maw. Deva grabbed it by the throat, and directed the needles into its other child, a set of spikes sinking into the seven year old boy, who fell off the chair, stiffening up as the venom paralysed his muscles.

But the Vampire had arrived now, exceptional in size even by the standards of its kind (quite in opposition to its host), and it clamped its hands around the neck of the father. Livid marks appeared on his throat, as the winged monster crushed his windpipe, and as the skin broke like thin tissue paper, a thin red mist seeped out, the scent of burning blood overpowering the rest of the room.

It was joined by the scent of the grave, as the approaching fog and the thing which generated it enveloped the fight between the Gelgore and the Phantom. A rapid-fire sequence of punches left frost-blooms on the snake-thing's scales.

It was trying to regenerate the damage, but she was not a Zabuth, in His Name. The probable outcome was her death, the creature which was known as Yualy, knew. They normally required a four-to-one advantage to reliably beat the cowardly things which opposed the work of the Children of Chaos.

Luckily, they had that.

Occelus, flying overhead, all of his profusion of senses active, suddenly realised that the majority of the restaurant was not trying to leave due to the powercut. No, what they were doing was getting into what he recognised as advantageous combat positions. Which meant...

“Fuck, it's a trap!” he broadcast. “Most of the restaurant is probably Dhohanoids!” He then twisted his flight, insectoid wings shifting, and dove, fastening the whips which he extended from his forearms around the neck of Unama Bright.

And let momentum do the rest...

The head came off. Mantodea turned, and fired another spike from her wrist into the eye of the Gelgore, which went into convulsions on the floor. The Phantom knelt beside it in a flowing manner, sticking both of its wrist blades into the side of its head. Strange, the mist still flowing, dispatched the two children dispassionately, crushing the human's skull, and choking the small reptile with the Gravewind emanating from his body.

“And get out of here!” commanded Deva, as she flicked back to human form, pressing the detonator at the hip of her waitress costume, before flicking back to her Phantom.

The ceiling blew out, destroying the glass and causing it to shatter, and powdering the décor with plaster.. Occelus added to the confusion by secreting a gossamer bomb, letting it fall, where it burst with a blinding light, even more extreme in the darkness. He flew out of the new hole in the roof, wings buzzing, joined by the Vampire, who was carrying the Phantom.

That left Strange, alone in the room full of Dhohanoids. He darted towards a wall, hidden by the fog which he released. He passed cleanly though the reinforced steel-and concrete wall, such a barrier no object for a Spectre.

They left behind one butchered family for the Chrysalis Corporation to clean up. It really wouldn't do for the NEG to find an inhuman taint in such an important family.



~'/|\'~




Shinji inserted his hand into the 'scanner by the door to the apartment complex. The reader pinged up green, inducing a grunt of surprise from the solider by the door.

“Huh. That's unusual,” the mechanical voice from under the helmet filters stated.

“What is?” asked Shinji.

“A visitor. For the HVT in here. I've only seen adults. But, hey, your profile checks out. Go on through.”

The door slid open, and Shinji passed though. He checked the list of residents by the unmanned reception. There was only one, up on the fourth floor; Room 402, Rei Ayanami. All the other five floors were completely empty.

So. Why would they put her in a building, on her own. This is a big, fairly high quality apartment complex, in a fairly good part of the arcology, and she's the only resident. Come to think of it, why isn't she in the same block as Misato, say, which has even better security than this place.

And didn't Misato say that any other pilots would be living with her? Curious and curiouser. Well, actually “Curious, and more curious”, and even then the sentence doesn't make more sense.

Focus, Shinji! We... I can argue grammatical semantics (stupid English as the official language) later. Now, we just have to go to Rei's room, and give her this card, then I can get out of here. The only way this place could be any more creepy would be if it was all mysteriously decaying and littered with rubbish, instead of being worryingly clinical, slightly dusty and seemingly unlived in.


By this point, his wondering wanderings had led him to room 402. He knocked at the door, a neo-oak design that looked like it was from the '50s, and really did not fit with the white cleanliness of the rest of the building, built in an '80s neopostantimodernism style.

“Excuse me.” He paused.

The door swung open, the lock seemingly not engaged.

“It's Shinji. Shinji Ikari?” He paused again. “Ayanami, I'm coming in.”

The room beyond the small antechamber was... white. Very white. The walls were bare, the floor uncarpeted, the curtains barely aside, while a single LED illuminated the room in harsh brilliance. And the entire place was a tip. Discarded newsheets, printed from a nanofactory and then discarded, littered the floor. He bent down, and picked one up.

Words had been highlighted, seemingly at random, in red pen, underlinings and and scribbles marring the aged paper. He read the one in his hand.

________________________________________________________________________________

TERRORIST [1] ATTACK ON GENERATOR [2]

NEG [3] blames cult [4] activities

An attack on a power plant in the Industrial District left the Armourcorp Knightsbridge-2 facility without power for over six hours [5], causing production of power armour to cease. The NEG has condemned the attack, and it has been classified as cult activity[6], putting it under the jurisdiction of the OIS, a declaration condoned by Armourcorp scientist, Dr Unama Bright[7], the man responsible for the production of hull-grade materials at that site. In an exclusive [8] interview, he stated that any attacks against such facilities fundamentally weakened the NEG war effort, by crippling vital[9] supplies, and so should be prosecuted and condemned with the utmost severity. “Only an inhuman[10] cultish [11] freak [12]could work against the NEG in this way.”

Armourcorp share prices fell [13] slightly at the news, before recovering later, ending down 4.50 points at 1337.25”


And then there were the annotations, in red ink, which jumped between English and Japanese characters.

[1] What is terror when you don't feel vrees? I have a terrible feeling of anhung about this case. What do words mean?

[2] “He who controls the power controls the people. And I control the power.” Taym Saleh, PACC Chairman, 2032.

[3] GI?

[4] GI2?

[5] “Thou art a dreaming thing; // a fever of thyself – think of the Earth.” - John Keats.

[6] Lies from liars about liars at the prompting of liars. I see the lies; they are unclean.

[7] Words from a dead girls; or a dead man in this case. It is an inevitability that he will be targeted, I know that, but I do not know why?

But I can guess. But guessing is all I can do, the silent one, the wilted lily held in the hands of a pale girl thrown off the Acropolis. Which will rise again, from the waters, but empty of the hierophant and his acolytes. The acolytes throw themselves at an island made out of tin. Tin was linked to Jupiter by the Romans, king of the Gods. And the Purple Caesar is reading this now.

[8] Exclusive? Or inclusive?

[9] These vital supplies only produce death. The Fourth Infant wakes, and he will be of the Environment. The Third Infant is the Senses. The Second Infant is Manipulative. And the First, the Eldest, is so very hard to see. He is shrouded to my Senses. But it is only logical, therefore, that he is somatic. That would please (0, 0, 0, 0, 0) 5 Position Vector, and one mother. Or Mother?

4 is 2 to the power of 2.

She can, though every face will scowl
And every windy quarter howl
Or every bellows burst, be happy still.

William Butler Yeats. These words were not written for me, for I can see the edges of it. They do not terrify me. Vrees reassures me.

[10] Mother? Or Mother? Or Mitochondrial DNA?

[11] It tastes like fresh blood, you know. The statement here.

[12] And we'll laugh and laugh and laugh and laugh. That is a statement of a computer from long ago, though, had it been real, the hounds would have been there.

[13] “Look at my works, ye mighty, and despair! Do you really think I'd explain my masterstroke if there was a slightest chance of you affecting its outcome?” - Percy Bysshe Shelley

It will happen. The white who loves will betray the GI because she can and must to save more people than the GI and the oblong would have saved in their attempt to subvert the plans of the foreboding to prevent chaos from crawling its way across the land and a butterfly emerging and flapping its wings. A storm is coming, and the watch ticks down to midnight. The sleeper stirs too late, because he is already in a jail cell and dreams of freedom. The dead one overthrown by his sibling, hail Caesar of Sins who read this, tries to reclaim his authority, but the fool is dead and his name is not his anymore and yet he knows when they use it. Red fire, terrible and prideful, will enter my life, my envy and the life of the Caesar of Sins who does not move, clad in purple, but hidden under the clothes of these days, blue and grey in urbis, green and brown in the wilds.

I am two. I am what I am, but I am in what I am for I am the thing and the thing which controls the thing that I am. No, I am three. The labelling system is incorrect. There are walls to see beyond, and I can see past more one more wall than most to see what might be to come. Maybe. Inevitably.

//<Giggles>// In my sleep.

Triskaideka is a good thing, for it best describes this world.

________________________________________________________________________________

Shinji dropped the piece of paper. It floated down, drifting in the air, left and right, before landing to the left of his foot.

What. The. Fuck. Right. So, she is most probably completely insane. Great.

There is a madwoman in the seat of a 40 metre giant Engel that can take down considerable amounts of the NEG's forces.

And because they monitor all the dwellings of the pilots, they must know about this. And thus consider it an acceptable risk.

Fuck.

So, I'm just going to leave the card here, then esc... Argghh!


Rei was standing immediately behind him as he turned to leave, clad only in a towel draped around her neck and dripping wet.

Shinji screamed.

“How the hell did you get there,” he yelled in Japanese, when he was sure that he wasn't going to have a heart attack.

“What are you doing in my room?” Rei asked in the same language, her voice level and quiet as usual, and somehow exceedingly intimidating for that simple face.

“Uh... I... that is, Doctor Akagi told me to give you... that is,” he began haltingly, his system flooded with adrenaline, backing away from her, and both trying not to look at her nakedness while still trying to keep an eye on her, to stop her from... going for his throat, or something.

He realised that his path of retreat had led him into her main room. The room was very bright, he realised, which just made the mess worse; the bare walls and floor in their unity of colour profaned by the bloodied bandages and dirty clothing which littered the room. She seemed almost invisible in here, her unclad state blending into the walls as surely as modern stealth systems.

Shinji found himself able to relax slightly, as Rei moved away from the entry way, and began picking clothing off the floor, and putting it on.

“... and, uh, the door was open, so I thought you might not be in... and uh, I thought I'd leave the card,” Shinji scrambled around in his pocket, before drawing it out, “here it is, see... uh, yes, I thought I'd leave it here... so I didn't bother you... um.” He trailed off. “Um. Yes.” He waved the card in the air. “So, here it is.”

He decided to clarify, and took a deep breath, as Rei dressed behind him.

“Ritsuko told me that she'd forgotten to give it to you. It's true. But no-one answered when I rang the doorbell at the entry, and the door opened when I knocked on it... Anyway, yes, I had to give it to you before you went to the start-up today, and forgot about it yesterday, because they'd make you go through the whole brain-scan for Assimilation, and all those tests.”

There was a click as the door closed as Rei left without a word. Shinji turned, and ran to catch up. He just had to give her the card, and then he could get back to not talking to her, and maybe even return to that state where she was an object of mystery, not of fear.

But some things cannot be unlearned.



~'/|\'~




Test Pilot Asuka Langley Soryu crouched behind field fortifications, clad in Unit 02. Her Evangelion (hers. Not anyone else's.) was painted from its ceremonial red, in the browns and greens of this muddy field in Eastern Europe. Only the red stripes on its face and shoulders showed it as hers. The 120mm High Velocity Penetrator was clutched in her arms, trigger discipline (even in a 40 metre high mech) in full effect.

She ran a diagnostic over her integral weapons.

Head:
Twin Linked CB444/AA Charge Beams – Status: Green, running off Evangelion D-Engine
Right Shoulder:
MPACK 4 Missile Pod – Status: Green, 20/20 Missiles remaining.
Left Shoulder:
MPACK 4 Missile Pod – Status: Green, 20/20 Missiles remaining.
Torso:
CNFS Chaff Canister – Status: Green, 10/10 Uses remaining.
CNFS Chaff Canister – Status: Green, 10/10 Uses remaining.
Right Arm:
Hyperedged Claws – Status: Green, Dimensional Shield Inactive
Hyperedge Blade – Status: Green, Dimensional Shield Inactive
Twin Linked HP42 Heavy Plasma Cannons – Status Green, running off Evangelion D-Engine. Molecule feed: Air
Left Arm:
Hyperedged Claws – Status: Green, Dimensional Shield Inactive
Hyperedge Blade – Status: Green, Dimensional Shield Inactive
PP1-P (Prototype) High Energy “Flamethrower” - Status: Green, running off Evangelion/internal D-Engine. Molecule feed: Air.
Right Leg:
Hyperedged Claws – Status: Green, Dimensional Shield Inactive
Hyperedged Spur– Status: Green, Dimensional Shield Inactive
Left Leg:
Hyperedged Claws – Status: Green, Dimensional Shield Inactive
Hyperedged Spur– Status: Green, Dimensional Shield Inactive

She smiled, broadly. The Mass Production Evangelions had sorted out the problems with the armaments of the earlier [i]prototypes
. She'd seen the damage reports, after Kaji had so sweetly persuaded the NEA that she could have access to the action reports on Unit 01. The idiot Third Child had actually managed to damage the Unit with the Lightning Cannon; it was no surprise that it had been replaced in Unit 02 by a “flamethrower”. The name was actually an inaccuracy, because the weapon bore more resemblance to a plasma cannon, with the magnetic confinement used on the projectile removed. When fired, it flooded an arc of thirty degrees with the raw material of stars. The charge beams had been moved to the head, making it easier for the exceedingly heavy weapons to be fired with another weapon in her hands, and their old position filled with twin linked plasma cannons. Sure, they had got rid of the hyperedged horn, to make space for the charge beams, but that wasn't really necessary, honestly.

The Migou were making a broad advance along the Eastern Front, using too many troops for a mere probe. Worse, Command had seen hint on radar and from orbit that the Hive Ship, up in orbit, had deployed multiple Swarm Ships to aid in the attack. Those things were the equal of a Battlecruiser, and it was quite possible that they had deployed more Swarm Ships here than humanity had of their counterparts. They had in the Conquest of Russia, they had in the Fall of Alaska.

All along the battlefront, NEA units began picking up blips on their long range radars. There were a lot more hostile blips than there were human and Nazzadi units to defend. And then the bombardment began. Migou Hailstorms, scuttling on their four biomechanical legs, and Wasps, coming in low and fast with their equivalent to the A-Pod, technology stolen from humanity, opened up with direct fire Null Cannons, which temporarily weakened the strong force, tearing their target apart in a burst of alpha radiation, and indirect salvos of long range rockets. The NEA counterbatteries opened up, their LAIs locating the sources of fire, and opening up with the Jaegar artilery.

The sky filled with the shriek of NEA shells, the hum of the Migou missiles, and the dreadful tearing noise that the Null Cannons, a black core surrounded by a blue-green corona, made. The humans bunkered down, trying to survive the barrage. There was nothing more that they could do.

Up in the skies, Migou Darts, almond shaped craft which tapered to a laser cannon mounted point at one end and a three-finned protrusion at the other, fought F-1 Spitfires. One on one, the Darts were notably inferior, until the Spitfires ran out of missiles, which allowed them to engage from long beyond the range of the mass-produced Migou craft. But it was not one-on-one. The Migou outnumbered the air forces of the NEA four to one, and moreover merely had the goal of delaying the human interceptors from hitting the Migou troopships, and preventing them from running their own air-to-ground missions.

And that they did most admirably.

“Fortification Alpha-Bravo-Zeta, we have lost air superiority over your location, and have no reserves to reclaim your position. Be advised that you will see ground forces within the next five minutes. Hold until ordered to retreat.”

Within the entry pod, Asuka shivered in anticipation. The other senses of the Evangelion showed her that there was a massing just over the horizon, just as her HUD picked up the air units it could identify. She set her head-mounted charge beams to autotarget, and watched as the onboard LAI hit craft after craft with relativistic particle beams, swatting the Migou out of the air like the insects that they resembled. Now that the airspace had been declared to be hostile, non-specialised units were permitted to engage, by NEA doctrine.

A floating head appeared on screen. It was Captain Qualy, commander of Alpha Beta Zeta, and the individual with local tactical control.

“Test Pilot Soryu, the Migou are going to hit us soon. Intel reports at least three Behemoth-class mecha, and a horde of smaller ones.” She paused, concern showing in her dark face. “Are you holding up all right? Under the barrage?”

“Yes Captain, I am fine,” Asuka replied, coldly. “There is no need to hold my hand, or treat me me differently.”

The Captain sighed. “No, there never seems to be. Your task is to preserve the integrity of Unit 02.”

“Understood, Captain. Test Pilot Soryu,” how she hated that rank, a meaninglessness title that only displayed the sophistry they had used to get her onto the front lines, “out.”

She annoys me so much! She assumes just because I'm young, I must be weak. I'm not weak! Hell, I've probably been in training longer than she has. She doesn't look much above 25!

“Asuka, your synchronisation ratio is good, in the sixties,” Control told her, back from the Ashcroft Foundation Institute back in Berlin-2. Gendo Ikari had taken most of the staff with him to London-2, but the Berlin Institute was where Kyoko Zepplin Soryu had done a lot of work on what would become the Evangelion project, and it remained one of the few places in the world capable of running and monitoring an Evangelion.

Asuka smiled. “Thank, Control.”

Next to her crouched position in the redoubt, a Hurricane, a Nazzadi mecha classed as a Tactical Reconnaissance Mech, opened fire with the hand-held Charge Beam it was carrying. She dwarfed it; the sniper was just under five metres tall.

The beam lanced out, its path bright as the sun. Just under 100 metres away, a Migou Dragonfly, their stealthed reconnaissance mecha fell to the ground, its core pieced by the high energy beam.

Asuka turned off the autotargeter. She'd need those Charge Beams sooner rather than later, it looked.

And indeed it seems that the destruction of their forwards unit was enough incentive for the Migou to attack.

“They're coming!” was broadcast over TacCom to all pilots. “Looks... looks like six Locusts, four Scorpions, four Wasps... oh god! Two Spiders, two Mantises! We've got four Behemoths coming our way! And a horde of Cockroaches!”

A shudder passed down the spines of all of the officers in the fortification. They only had conventional mecha here, excluding the prototypical Evangelion-class, and both Spiders and Mantises outmassed, outgunned and outarmoured any of the units they had here.

A thud hit the base, followed by a second one, which both shook the ground.

Oh yes. And Mantises could just almost a kilometre in the air, and land safely, firing as they came. Screams began to fill TacCom, filtered out by the LAI Morale Filters, but a harbinger to those who had access to the unfiltered stream.

The Migou pilot of one of the Mantises realised its mistake in jumping into a hot spot without sufficient intelligence, though, when a greenish-brown shape, which on its approach it had taken to be a human building, turned worryingly quickly and hit it with a fully automatic burst of 120mm shells, which at such short range punched straight through its armour, the pyrophoric bolts of depleted uranium (with an iron core) pinning it to the ground. Its legs weakly spasmed, as the biomechanical muscles gave out, before a foot, whose shoe size required scientific notation to record came down, crushing the cockpit under the its mass.

Asuka turned, and opened up with burst fire on the advancing forces, punching into the Migou forces. The Migou design philosophy (which in part had been passed down to the Nazzadi) favoured light armour; the Migou to make the vehicles cheaper, while the Nazzadi for reasons of speed. The Yuggothian fungoids, though, were probably regretting it, as a massively upscaled version of an AP cannon reaped their ranks in the same way that its lesser version did infantry. The twin-linked Charge Beam took its toll, too, as relativistic particles punched through one Scorpion, tearing a line straight through it. That missed any vital components, but it did slow it down enough that it took an HV round in the next sweep.

The rifle clicked empty. Asuka growled in frustration, and ducked back down, only to feel a horrible burning sensation in her back, as the other Mantis opened up its entire arsenal into her from behind.

The second Null Ray shot was blocked by a hastily erected AT field.

I know you're working for them, she had said. I know you're involved in that group.

What group, the other woman had replied. They're just some friends from academia, and I'm sure that you've already abused your privileges and checked all their records. And found them clean.

Yes, she had said. Where the security of the Project matters, nothing is abusing my privileges.

The other woman had smirked, in an exceptionally annoying way.

Well, she had replied, that is a well known trait of yours. Just ask your husb... Oh, wait.

And then she had laughed, and walked off.

Bitch.


The Migou within had just enough time to feel their species equivalent of surprise, before Asuka span and slammed the empty rifle into the biomechanical monster again and again, until it broke, whereupon she set upon it with her clawed fists, filled with rage, until the Migou within was a squished mess.

Asuka became aware of Control on the radio.

“Asuka,” the German-accented voice had stated. “Get a grip on yourself! And that was a very expensive prototype rifle!”

“I'm sorry for damaging the rifle, Control,” she replied, “but that really hurt.”

“If you're getting too much mental feedback, Soryu, try dropping your synchronisation ratio. You peaked into the high eighties just then, which means that mental feedback is a real issue.”

“Where is it now?” she asked, swatting at the advancing forces with her Charge Beams and Plasma Cannons.

“Sixty, plus-or-minus four percent.”

“Acknowledged, Control.”

Command's face appeared on the HUD

“Test Pilot Soryu, we're pleased to report that the Migou are pulling back. And congratulations on taking down those two Behemoths; they'd have gutted us from the inside out had we not stopped them, and even if we had, we'd have had pull troops back, which means that we'd likely have been overwhelmed.”

Asuka smiled broadly.

“I'm just honoured to serve humanity,” she declared in an exceedingly immodest voice. “Do you know why they pulled back?”

“We haven't a clue, Test Pilot. It's just as well that they did, though, because a Swarm Ship was headed our way, and we had firm orders from High Command to pull you out if they got one of those monsters over here.”

“Well, that's lucky,” Asuka said. “I suppose it was just a test push, anyway.”



~'/|\'~




In the London-2 High Command, the Field Marshals were moved from their monitoring of the data feed from the Unit 00 reactivation test by an urgent message from the monitoring specialists.

“What is it?” asked Jameson, as they strode into the room.

“Two things, Field Marshal,” answered the man on the terminal. “Firstly, Migou forces are pulling back from their push against the Eastern Front. That'd be good news, Sir, if we hadn't just lost contact with NEAF Norwich.”

“You think it's a feint,” asked Lehy, stating it, rather than asking.

“Yes, Ma'am. It looks like they have Swarm Ships coming in over the North Sea, moved from their attack on the Eastern Front. Our defences are crippled if Norwich is down.”

“Those bastard bugs!” she declared loudly, making a fist and punching her other hand. “Right, we've got to get ready. You're right; we can't stop multiple Swarm Ships before they get to London-2, especially with the Ashcroft back in the Atlantic.”

“We have to look to the worst,” stated Kora. “Is this mass treachery? Do they have a new form of Assimilation, which we can't detect.”

“We've got video from one of the defence outposts around... around Norwich,” stammered another officer, her fingers flying over the keyboard. Putting it up on main screen now!”

A black trapezohedron, the colour of the void between galaxies, enormous in dimensions hung over the ruins of the New Earth Government base. Beams of utter darkness, an extension of the fabric that made it up, lashed out from each of its points, hitting anything that moved. A pall of smoke hung over the scene, making the bright day into twilight.

The video cut off.

<<SIGNAL LOST>>

<<FACILITY IS NOT RESPONDING>>

<<ASSUMED DESTROYED>>


"It's a pattern blue," stated the comms officer.



~'/|\'~

Last edited by EarthScorpion on 2009-01-31 02:29pm, edited 1 time in total.
   Profile |  

EarthScorpion
PostPosted: 2009-01-18 01:58pm 

Padawan Learner


Joined: 2008-09-25 02:54pm
Posts: 209
Location: London
Work is occurring on Chapter 6, now that I'm back at university. 4739 words so far, and... yeah, it's divergent. Very divergent from the OT. It should be converging back towards the original storyline towards the end of the chapter though. And Episodes 7 and 8 will end up merged into one, as Jet Alone on its own is a bit pointless in this version, where hopefully Gendo wouldn't be as petty as to sabotage an important NEG project, especially since the pre-existing Engels are more of the threat to Evangelion funding than the Daeva Project and their Araska-class prototype.

Anyway, the real reason for the post is to provide you with this. It's both a clue to the next chapter, and a fully functional and balanced Cthulhutech unit for the NEG.

Mk-11 Hussar


Type: Special Operations Strike Powered Armour (3AP)
Size: Tiny (3m tall)

A variant based upon the Mk-10 Crusader, the Hussar is designed specifically for military operations. By reducing the modularity of the unit, Armourcorp freed up room which enabled them to make the Hussar void-capable, able to survive both the cold and the heat of re-entry. Although not able to reach orbit on its own, squads of Hussars can be dropped from high altitudes for strikes against the Migou and the Rapine Storm. Lacking A-Pods, it instead uses D-Cell powered thrusters to manoeuvre in from whatever height it is dropped, which are then ejected after landing. Heavy Assault Formations, such as the infamous Task Force: Valkerie, make the most use of this model; the Mk-10 and Mk-5 are preferred when the specialist ability to conduct drops is not needed. This is also a practical proof of concept design for Armourcorp, as investment into the possibility of assaults upon the Migou Hive Ship.

Attributes:
Control response (Agility) -1
Sensors (Perception) 0
Frame (Strength) 1 (-1 Damage)
Multi-Task Systems (Actions) 0
Warning Systems (Reflex) -1

Sensor Systems:
Broadband Audio
Nightvision
Radar/IFF
Targeting (+1)
Scan

Support Systems:
Ejector System
Life Support
Manipulator Arms
0-G Systems
Cold Resistance
Heat Resistance

Movement:
Ground Speed: 50 kmph (70/16 mpt)
Acceleration Code: C [2/2]
Jumping Distance: Double (4/2)
Airdroppable
Grapplers
Jump Pods
Re-Entry Thrusters

Structure:
Integrity 5
Armour 1/1
Damage Control System 1/Turn

Weapon Systems:
Plasma Cannon (Small)
Hyperedge Claws
   Profile |  

EarthScorpion
PostPosted: 2009-01-27 05:56am 

Padawan Learner


Joined: 2008-09-25 02:54pm
Posts: 209
Location: London
Music for this Chapter is “Don't Say a Word”, by Sonata Artica

Chapter 6 - Part 1

Hunters/Hunted in Darkness




~'/|\'~




Things were tense in the NEG High Command.

“Are you sure that it's a Code Blue?” Marshal Lehy asked.

“Certain, Marshal,” the technician replied. “Our LAI is certain, we've just got a response back from Ashcroft's MAGI LAI which matches, and this level of spacetime deformation has only been encountered with the previous Heralds.”

“We've calculated a velocity vector,” called another one of the women at the computers, projecting it up onto the mainscreen. “ Direct point-to-point to London-2. It's impossible for it to have been moving like it is before we lost contact with Norwich. They'd have seen it, not to mention the naval assets in the North Sea. It's like it...”

“Just appeared,” completed Jameson. He paused. “Well. Fuck.” He stared up at the projection, reading off its speed. “It's only moving at 20 kmph; that should mean that it should be in range within... it'll be able to see the top of London-2 from seventy-two kilometres away? Is that right?”

“The target appears to be a black regular tetragonal trapezohedron, of side length 300 metres plus-or-minus 10 percent. That's eight interlocking kite-shaped faces, four on top, four on the bottom,” read off an analyst. “It is hovering, without obvious signs of A-Pod assisted technology or more crude methods, 100 metres off the ground at its centre of mass. Well, we don't know that it is its centre of mass; it's where its centre of mass would be if it were a uniform solid. The AT Field on this thing is strong enough that it's scattering light out of the visible spectrum. That's why it's black. We're getting a really bright scatter off it in the mid infra-red, all the way into the far radio.”

“Is that disrupting comms in the area?” asked Marshal Kora.

“Yes, sir. We only got the images we did through optical cables; radio is effectively jammed.” The analyst paused the video, grimacing slightly as he stared at the Herald. “Look at it. You can actually see the heat shimmer about it, and even from its height the ground around it seems scorched.” He took a deep breath, letting it out slowly. “We'd have problems operating a coordinated assault on the thing. The standard comms channels are flooded with the noise that thing is giving out.”

Lehy glanced at her comrades.

“What options do we have? We have this Herald... do we have a code-name assigned for it yet?”

“It's been assigned the name “Mot”, Marshal,” said the analyst, as he folded up his laptop, ready to colonise one of the empty seats and power points in the command centre.

She sighed. “Okay. Who comes up with these... never mind. Assets. We have affirmation that Ashcroft has managed to get the second Evangelion-class Engel operating, yes?”

Jameson nodded. “Correct. That gives us two units which have an observed ability to kill these entities. Can we get the third one, over on the Eastern Front, over in time?”

“No,” called one of the technicians. “The Herald will be in sight of London-2 in less than five hours, and the third Evangelion was deployed to fight off the anticipated Migou assault.”

“Which brings us to our next problem,” interjected Kora. “We have between eight and thirteen Migou Swarm Ships crossing the North Sea, through the new hole we have in our defences. Even if we threw all our assets against them, projections estimate that two to seven would still manage to get within firing range of London-2. Each of those Swarm Ships carries at least 80 conventional units, and over forty mecha, both native Migou and Assimilated. At the low end, that's enough to cause considerable damage, with our forces already weakened by the incursion of Asherah. At the pessimistic end of projections...”

He didn't complete his sentence. He didn't need to. If London-2 fell, the rest of the British Isles, already pressed by Dagonite incursions in Ireland and in the north of Scotland, would be doomed. With the destruction of the capital of the European State, the Migou would be able to open a second front against the rest of Europe, launching raids over the Channel.

Lehy took several deep breaths, head bowed, biting on her index fingers. She swallowed deeply.

“What can we evacuate?”

Jameson stared blankly at the screen, his gaze passing beyond the screen.

“Not enough. It'll be here too fast to evacuate even ten percent of the civilians, and judging how fast we lost contact with Norfolk, that might quite well be.... the end.” He slammed his fist into his hand. “Damn it!” he snarled. “If only we knew more about whatever these Heralds are! What do they want?!”

Marshal Jameson started pacing up and down.

“Save our conventional forces,” he said slowly, his rage displaced by horrific coolness. “We need to save them for the Migou fleet. If the Migou can hold Britain, after we wasted our troops against the Herald, then they can hit the rest of Europe, instead of battering themselves up against the Eastern Front, then we will have failed. We don't know what the Herald wants; if it wants death, then I will willingly give it London-2 if we can save the rest of Europe.”

Lehy glared at him, red eyes filled with a horrified rage.

“There are thirty million people in the Greater London Area and the Arcology. Over half a percent of the global population.”

“You think I don't know that!” snapped Jameson back, face suddenly haggard. “Of course, it isn't good. It wouldn't have been so had...” he shook his head, forcing himself to be calm.

The unspoken words hung in the air. It wouldn't have been so had you lot not killed almost two billion in the First Arcanotech War. Alexander Jameson had been a young mecha pilot in that war. He'd been part of the assault which had killed the Nazzadi Firstborn Reluty. He'd seen the fire that rained down upon London that a certain young Nazzadi officer had retaliated with, pulling the alien forces back together after the decapitation strike.

There was a slightly uncomfortable silence. The youngest of the three, Kora, broke it. Born during the First War, he lacked the memories and prejudices of his peers, and was typical of the new breed that was rising through the ranks; ambitious, resolute, and used to the compromises of the Aeon War. He had been conceived on an Nazzadi invasion ship, and that made all the difference; those of his age and older had none of the false memories that the rest of the subspecies possessed.

“I agree with Jameson,” he said, choosing his words carefully. “It's been said; better than the devil you know that the devil you don't. That's wrong. We know that the Migou will be able to do if they break through; the Herald is an unknown.” He paused. “It may be that Ashcroft's Evangelions can kill Target “Mot”; they have succeeded against the previous ones, and they now have two. However, we cannot rely upon it.” He turned to one of the specialists working on the computers in the room. “Do we have calculations on the weapon displayed by the Target?”

“First order approximations, sir. It's a capital grade weapon, for certain, but... it isn't acting like it should. The beam itself, from the images we have is acting like a relativistic particle beam, but there's also an explosion at the end.” The technician cleared her throat. “That is, there's an explosion beyond that which a relativistic particle beam should cause. It's a bit like AM annihilation; there was a burst of exotic particles, but they were the wrong ones for a positron or anti-proton weapon.” Diagrams on the holoscreen matched her words, as high energy equations scrolled across the screen.

“It looked like that, from the links we were getting,” Kora continued. “Putting it bluntly, from what I just saw, this thing would be able to destroy a Victory-class in a single shot.”

There was a a sudden, almost perfect moment of silence, as all three of the Marshals just realised what has been said.

“Perhaps we don't need to save our forces for the Migou,” Jameson said slowly. “Perhaps we just need to slow down the Mot until some “friends” can arrive...”



~'/|\'~




“The reactivation of Evangelion Unit 00 was successful, Representative,” Ritsuko said to Gendo. “The First Child is holding her synchronisation ratio at a steady 51%. We have had none of the issues with synchronisity that we had in the previous start-up.” She paused. “While both Units are technically capable of field deployment, it is my personal consideration that, as it is, the design of the Test Model is woefully inadequate for operations against the Heralds, both from previous experience and from the data we have received from the NEA High Command on Mot.”

“What reasons do you have for those opinions, Doctor?” asked Gendo.

Perhaps you could even call me by my name, Ritsuko thought, peeved.

“To put it frankly,” she replied, letting none of it show on her face, “Zero-Zero is underarmoured, underarmed, and Rei lacks the synchronisation ratio which we have become accustomed to. It was nothing more than a test-bed, originally, and it hasn't been upgraded to keep in line with military developments, unlike Zero-One.”

Gendo nodded. “I agree with your conclusions, Doctor. Keep Rei active, ready to provide back-up, but we'll be sending the Third Child out on his own. I'm authorising the deployment of the prototype Evangelion-scale Type-9 charge beam; the HV Penetrator looks to be inadequate for this. Unfortunately, there isn't time to retrofit Zero-One with the MPACK-4s, but on the back... Load the Harlequin Type-1KT Mortar. We will retain control.”

Gendo stared straight into her eyes.

“Understand; this Herald must be killed. The Harbinger of Cessation is greatly favoured.” His glasses began to slip down off his nose; he pushed them back up with a finger. “It must be done, Ritsuko.”

He watched her leave the room, the faintest hint of a smile on her face. Gendo tapped at his wrist-mounted PCPU.

“Phone, Contacts, Berlin-2, Ashcroft Command, High Security. Run,”, he said to the device's LAI



~'/|\'~




Shinji Ikari loped along at an easy running gait, his thirty metre strides eating up the distance. Around him the decaying ruins of Greater London, the vegetation reclaiming the all-too-brief domain of humanity. The canyons of steel, concrete and glass were succumbing to the inevitable embrace of entropy, the rain softening the edges and causing flaky bits of building to shatter upon the cratered ground.

It was just as well that Shinji was using one of the modern roads that cut through the urban decay like a scalpel, the existence of old buildings no distraction to its path. The Evangelion exerted a ridiculous ground pressure, and the ruins of Old London were rife with forgotten underground holes, whether basements, ruins of the Underground, or simple subsidence, which the foot of a 40 metre tall humanoid could fall through.

In his arms, he cradled the Type-9 Charge Beam they had given him before he was sent to the surface. It was a long weapon, with no obvious barrel. The body of the weapon, bulky and a little squarish, took up its full length, painted in an urban colour scheme to match Unit 01. The end was strangely rounded and stubby, compared to the rest of the gun.

He checked the map on his HUD, altering his course slightly. It really was remarkable how closely the interior display of the Evangelion resembled a computer game, from the targeting reticle superimposed over the view of the world that he received from the eyes of the war machine, to the ammunition counters on the edge of the viewscreen. The marker on the map that represented him followed the line that linked to the location of “Silo 92FF”.

Misato's head, floating seemingly without a body appeared before him.

“Shinji, are you okay?”

“I'm fine, Misato,” he replied, frowning as he focussed on taking the right path on the intersection. “Sorry, yes. Yes, I'm fine.” He looked towards her. “I'm going to Silo 92FF, yes? What are silos? Do I need to protect a missile?”

“Oh, right,” she said, “I forgot how young you are. They were an inter-War thing. Basically, back in the sixties and early seventies, the Migou hadn't invaded yet. There was this big thing in military planning... well, it was before my time, too, but there was this big thing about building fortifications we could protect military units under, even if the Migou resorted to orbital bombardment.”

“But they haven't ever done that,” pointed out Shinji, as a flight of Werewolf transports passed over his head, each carrying six power-armoured troopers inside and a medium mecha slung under the back.

“They didn't know that at the time. We hadn't even seen a Migou first hand; the only information on them came from the Nazzadi Firstborn, and they used precision bombardment.” The floating Misato head rolled its eyes. “Just look around you. But the Migou haven't ever used anything larger than the main guns on a Swarm Ship.”

Shinji swallowed hard. “There are Migou incoming, aren't there. There are Swarm Ships. I... I don't want to have to fight them.”

Misato forced a laugh. “You've killed the last two Heralds, Shinji. The Migou ships are just machines.”

Yes, Shinji thought, acerbically. Just six hundred metre long machines, covered in guns. Just. And I was forced to fight the first Herald, as my father basically extorted it out of me, and the second one was already injured. The Swarm Ships, by contrast, are crewed by intelligent beings, and come in swarms. The name is a bit of a clue.

But there was no use complaining. It wasn't as if they would do anything. “I... I suppose,” he replied, trying to keep the shake out of his voice. “Talk to me about the Silos, more, please,” he asked, trying to distract himself.

“Well, Ritsuko can probably explain it better than...” Misato looked away from him. “No, she's busy.” She shook her head. “Anyway, yes, they're hollow tubes bored down into the Earth, with a bunker and vehicle hangar at the bottom. The tube has an elevating platform that runs up and down. It's powered by a dual A-Pod/D-Engine combination, entirely internal, so the power can't be cut. The point is that the troops at the bottom can be deployed rapidly, while being safe against anything but a direct hit.” Her eyes flicked as she read an invisible diagram to the left of his face. “You'll be concealed down there, safe, before we deploy you, and it's somewhere safe to retreat to.”

Shinji felt a little better upon hearing that. His comfort was broken by the angry voices that erupted from offscreen. There was swearing, in Japanese, English, Nazzadi and German, and some of the voices were mixing that.

Misato saw his eyes widen. “It's fine,” she said hastily. “Just a little technical issue...”

Ritsuko's head appeared, floating near to Misato's. Her eyes were narrowed, lips pursed, and generally she was displaying signs of extreme annoyance.

“We have a problem with the mission,” she said, her voice quite clearly forcefully controlled. “We've just, finally been told by the NEA that the Herald is throwing out wide-band EM radiation in everything with less energy than the mid-infrared. After we sent you out,” her voice dripping with sarcasm. “So we can't protect the equipment properly. We'll be able to talk to you; we can punch through the jamming through local transmitters, but we won't be able to hear you when you're near it.”

Shinji had a horrified look on his face. “Wait... wait... wait...” He shook his head. “Wait.”

“You've said that bit,” interjected Misato.

She received a glare in return. “If I can't even talk to you, how are you meant to even... you know, monitor me. What if something goes wrong? How will you know what I'm doing? If something goes wrong?” He turned his head to look at Ritsuko. “I can't... what will happen if whatever happened to Ayanami happens now?”

“It won't happen to you,” Ritsuko answered confidently.

“But why not?” There was a pain hint of panic in Shinji's voice.

Back in the control room, Maya stared at her screen.

“The pilot is showing elevated oxygen consumption, his synchronisation is falling, and slightly erratic brain waves. He's starting to panic.”

Ritsuko stared back up at Gendo, enthroned in his vantage point above the floor of the control centre, a slightly helpless expression on her face. He nodded back, once.

Shinji was met by his father's face, joining the other floating faces.

“Shinji,” Gendo began, his voice cold. “Do you know what will happen if you don't calm yourself down?” He paused, watching his son's face. “Thirty million people will die. And it will be your fault.”

The words hit Shinji like bucket of water to the face. Gendo watched impassively, as shock, rage and guilt flashed across Shinji's face in turn.

“The Army can't stop the Herald, and there is a Migou fleet coming in through the hole in the defences that Mot opened. You will follow orders, and you will kill the Herald, or the loss of London-2 will be your fault.”

Below him, Lieutenant Aoba scurried over to Ritsuko, handing her a datasheet. He really didn't want to interrupt the Representative.

Shinji blinked hard, several times. If there were tears, they were gone in the warm LCL that surrounded him.

“I... I understand. I won't run away.”

Gendo nodded. “Good.” His floating head disappeared from the HUD.

“Lieutenant Aoba just came up with a possible solution, that should, at the very least, give a data stream and sound, if not video,” Ritsuko added, after a few moments of silence. “The Silo has an optical data stream that won't be affected. If we can set up an ad-hoc network there, you'll still able to be monitored.”

Shinji was silent, inclining his head in response.

Misato looked up at the Representative, her face as neutral as she could make it.

“Was that necessary, Representative?”

Gendo stared back.

“Yes.”



~'/|\'~




All along the European, a delicate calculus of time, resources and need was being computed. All the mobile reserves were being depleted, pulled out and split. The ones nearer to the breach that the Herald had opened were being scrambled to the defence of London-2, to prevent the Migou from conquering the islands. The ones which could not reach in time were instead being formed into hasty battlegroups. The dreaded contingencies, that a Migou sneak attack could open a Northern Front, were removed from the collection of plans that no-one wanted to use, and put in active status.

In Chicago, capital of the New Earth Government, alerts were sounding to all important government and military figures. The Minister of War, Geniveve Aristide, was almost bodily dragged out of bed by the (female) officers sent to fetch her to an emergency Council of Ministers. Contingency sterilisation plans were approved; the missiles had their D-Engines inserted, and the co-ordinates of London-2 loaded in.

The NEG would not permit the sensitive research nor the population of the arcology to fall into the hands of the space-fungi from Yuggoth. In the case of the former, the Migou had stolen the plans for the D-Engine, and who knew what they could do with the knowledge on the Engel or Evangelion Projects stored in London-2, even with standard destruction protocols enacted. For the latter, the Migou could use the millions of human beings as Blanks, victims of strange biochemical and physical alterations which kept them almost the same person as they had been before. Almost the same, were it not for the fact that they were now completely loyal to the Migou, and capable of hiding it, unlike the changes which sorcery could inflict upon a person. Blanks were a terrible menace; comparatively far worse than the Hybrids of the Esoteric Order of Dagon. Deep One Hybrids could be found by a simple genescan; Blanks required a brainscan, and for the subtle changes to be picked up.

Asuka Langley Soryu lounged in a comfy chair, back at the Beweglichkeit Base. For all the technical sophistication of the Evangelion Project, they still hadn't solved the problem of the discomfort which sitting in one place for extended periods of time; it was a relief to get out of the machine, after almost ten hours in it. They hadn't let her change, though, so she was still in the plug suit. The bulky garment, shaped much like her Evangelion, had been hosed down, but it still smelt faintly of LCL.

Although it was very annoying that they weren't telling her what was going on. She had just given them the first front-lines test of an Evangelion, personally saved an entire fortification from Migou Behemoth-class mechas in a way which would have taken multiple Engels, and they had left her out here in the anteroom, locked out from whatever was going on. And Kaji wasn't even here; he wasn't on base, to be suitable impressed by the exploits of Asuka, heroine of the New Earth Government.

Oh, well. Might as well get something productive done.

She pulled out her PCPU, setting the screen to “Reflect”, looking at the face of the now-blooded warrior that stared back at her.

It's good. I'm me... no. Wait. What's that!

She stared furiously at her face. A clump of hairs, right at the front! They weren't hers! They were the hairs of the other girl!

Wincing, she yanked them out, one by one. The clear, wet follicles at their bases glistened at her in the light, mocking her in the way that the other girl corrupted her flesh and made her cease to be.

The door to the room opened. Asuka quickly dropped the hairs, letting them drift to the ground.

“Test Pilot Soryu.” A female Nazzadi Brigadier in full combat armour, stood in the door to the anteroom, with pursed lips. “We have a problem. Now, technically, we can't make you do this, as it is outside the boundaries of your contract with the Ashcroft Foundation, and thus the arrangement where we have access to you...” Her voice was soft, and slightly lilting, her Nazzadi accent notable in the phonetic way that she pronounced certain words.

Asuka smirked. “I'll volunteer.”

Brigadier Timany, of Task Force: Valkyrie made a small noise of satisfaction in her head. The Test Pilot had proved as predictable as the psychological reports that she had been given suggested.

“Good. What I am about to tell you is Code: Ultraviolet information. You're involved with the Evangelion Project. I'm sure that you know what that means.”

Asuka inclined her head. “I do.”

“At exactly 1200 hours today, an entity appeared on the East Coast of the British Isles. Its appearance was concurrent with the destruction of a major lynchpin in our defences. Now the Migou have pulled off their assault on the Eastern Front, and all air units, including multiple Swarm Ships, are converging on this hole. The entity was determined to be a Herald, with the appearance of a black trapezohedron of side roughly 300 metres.”

“And you wish to move me up to take out the Herald,” completed Asuka, her heart swelling.

“No. Task Force: Valkyrie is a heavy assault formation, of brigade scale. With the exception of our power armoured infantry, it consists purely of Engels. And we're hitting a cluster of Swarm Ships before they get out over the North Sea, as they move parallel to our lines.”

Asuka frowned. She wasn't going to get a chance to prove her worth against the Heralds today, as well as the conventional (insofar as the term applies to bio-mechanical monstrosities piloted by creatures that defy classification by Terran taxonomy) Migou units.

“Are we going to be assisted by the Navy? I'm pretty sure that a single Swarm Ship outguns even my Unit 02...”

“It does. We checked,” interjected the Brigadier. “And we're a direct assault formation. There is no naval assistance. They're busy holding off what they can. To be clichéd,” she said, rolling her eyes, “we are the reinforcements. We're taking the fight to them, in the air. Ashcroft technicians are fitting your Evangelion-class with extra A-Pods, to allow it to be carried by a super heavy bomber.”

The woman smiled broadly, her prominent incisors and red eyes glinting in the light.

“We're going to show the damn bugs what chimpanzees do to them.”



~'/|\'~




Toja sat by his sister's bed.

Bleep

Crrrshhh

Bleep


He looked around the room. The walls were cold and sterile, the LED panels in the roof giving a uniform light that left almost no shadows in the room. Everything in the room seemed slightly curved; no sharp angles anywhere. It was like this all the way throughout the Aeon War section of the hospital.

Bleep

Crrrshhh

Bleep


The patients here were all in comas; most of those were medically induced. The Aeon War Ward was there to ensure that the patients were physically fit, not to deal with the metal issues of Aeon War Syndrome. The visitors here were a disparate bunch. A fatigued woman sat next to the bed of a small boy, reddened eyes staring hopelessly at her son's torso. She was not clutching his hand. There were no hands for the grieving woman to clutch. To the left of him, a man sat slumped in a hospital chair, asleep. His hair was cut, short making the metallic implants affixed to the bottom of his skull and the back of his neck clear to see. He sat over a woman, her hands tied down even in the coma, whose bandaged head stared up at the ceiling.

Bleep

Crrrshhh

Bleep


Kany had been like this for five weeks. They'd put her in the coma after what she'd done to herself. She'd... Toja choked up at the thought. No brother should have been forced to see that. And it had all been because she'd looked out of the window. She'd stared at it, that thing that had burst through the arcology wall, and then collapsed. He'd managed to drag her back under the table. When that bit of the ceiling came down, it broke her legs. He'd followed them to the hospital, stayed up all night outside the operating theatre, while they pieced her left leg back together from the mulched flesh and shards of bone that comprised it. They'd given up after seeing how bad it was, and simply amputated and replaced it with a vat-grown new one, but said that the rest of the internal damage had to heal on its own.

When she'd woken up, the next day, she'd screamed until her throat was raw. Mad things, about an empty tomb and a walker in white. She'd said the same words over and over again, words he didn't think she knew. “Metis”. “Hierophancy”. “Trapezohedron.”

And then they'd put her in the Aeon War Ward, when the OIS had come in, after she did it.

They'd told him that there was a good chance that she would never recover, that she'd spend the rest of her life in an Ashcroft Clinic. It was lucky that his father worked for the Foundation, or the costs would have been crippling.

There was a bleeping, as the man to his left got a message on his PCPU. Rapidly, he got up and left. Toja didn't even notice him go, sunk in misery as his sister's chest rise and fall, the machines that she was wired up to confirming that she still lived.

Bleep

Crrrshhh

Bleep




~'/|\'~




Nine vast bio-organic monstrosities flew through the clouds, disturbing the vapour and leaving a shredded passage in their wake. They most resembled, if their appearance was to be put in terms that one who had not seen Migou designs before could understand, gothic spires, their engines a bilious green glow at the back. The concentric rings of organic blades that protruded from the hull and mounted the heavy laser cannons glistened wetly, in what light got to them and in the emanations of the A-Pods of the other ships. Each of these leviathans were six hundred metres in length, and outmassed the Victory-class by a factor of two.

Around these great behemoths flocked lesser ships. The Spinners, domed saucers that would not have looked out of place in films 140 years ago flew around their progenitor ships like seagulls around an yacht, bearing more of the Migou ground units, while the air was thick with Darts, the fighters running escort around the capital ships. This was just the first wave, the group that would have been hitting the north of the European Front. More were converging on the target location.

The sorcerer-scientists that commanded this fleet were desperately afraid that they were to be too late. Vibrations and buzzings that translated to panic filled the air in the command decks, safely secreted away in the centre of the ship. The catastrophe that came from the current correct stellar convergence threatened their civilisation, the galaxy spanning empire of which the representatives on Yuggoth were but a small mining outpost, taking the vast resources of the Kupiter Belt. The forces to engage in this war were but of the volunteers from fifty light-years around. But things had deteriorated rapidly, from their point of view, since just before the arrival of the Hive Ship in a lunar orbit. An avatar of the Dead God was present on this planet, this planet where the Hierophant of the Old Ones, as the uplifted mammals so inaccurately called them, slept. But the empire was massive, and stagnant, and the hierarchy of sorcerer-scientists responded but slowly, distracted as they were by the discovery of the D-Engine. A thing which the uplifted mammals had developed, and they had not. Those Migou who knew of this held this to be the most dangerous thing about the situation; a younger race, wilfully ignorant of the proper order of the universe, who played around with things that they did not, and would not comprehend.

Eventually, consensus was reached, and a message sent out from the core of the flagship, to the pilots quarters. They would be obliged to contact the pathetic tribal organisation of the monkeys, to at least alert them of the threat. It was likely that they did not even know what came upon them. And the creatures could not even comprehend the nature of the universe properly, forcing them to go through a translator-ape. Such beings were not truly sentient.

A smallish NEG monitoring station picked up a signal from the incoming Migou fleet, broadcasting completely unencrypted. This was anomalous in itself; the Migou did not use detectable communications; even Blank-piloted craft were retrofitted with the fungoid species' communication devices, which used something akin to telepathy to communicate. The message was passed on up, all the way to London-2, even as the Migou fleet got closer.

Kora was the one who chose to watch it. The message had been scanned for the nasty things that the Migou could include in their broadcasting, and come up clean, but they still didn't trust it.

The message was a simple two dimensional video. It was set to play, as Kora looked on. A man, who looked to be of Chinese ethnicity was standing in front of the camera, in an immaculate NEG uniform. The overlay on the image noted the individual to be one Chen Gong, MIA on the border between the remnants of China and the Migou-controlled territories which had once been Russia.

“A Blank. Figures,” muttered Kora to himself.

The man swept his hair back with his left hand, and cleared his throat. Those gestures, so unconsciously human, were something that most infiltrators could not do.

“I come here freely on behalf of the species you, incorrectly I might add, call the Migou. They are not monsters. Those savage worshippers of He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named are monsters. The horrific cultists that in acts of savage miscegenation interbreed with the degenerate spawn of Dagon and Hydra are monsters. The Migou are not monsters. They do not mean you harm.”

Kora ground his teeth. They often sounded so reasonable, so intelligent compared to the other foes of humanity. It was necessary to remember that they were the ones who had kidnapped humans throughout the ages, and used some of their samples to create his parents as a weapon of war, to kill their own kind, unknowing of how they were used.

“The thing that approaches the city of London-2, however, is most certainly a monster. Understand this. The Migou only came to Earth in the numbers that they did, only created the Nazzadi to save us from ourselves. The fields that we have explored, are exploring and will explore are too dangerous to look into. The D-Engine itself tears a whole into reality, and drains the Orgone, the ruach of the universe itself. We can perform sorcery, although not with the skills that they can, but the emergence of parapsychics threaten our entire species. Too many extra dimensional and other monsters, from when they were forced to occupy the planet the last time, remain for it to be safe for us.

They repeat the offer they made to your governments over and over again. If we but ceased our meddling in things that damage the very fabric of reality by what we do, the Migou will be kind. They understand enlightened self-interest. They are disappointed by how the Nazzadi turned on them, but they will offer them amnesty, too. All we need to do is give up and be accepted into their empire. They are good; they are the first-among-equals of the species under their banner. They will kill the cultists that threaten us, remove the degenerate followers of the Old Ones from our planet, and deal with their servitor races. All we need to do is obey.”

This was the standard propaganda of the Migou. For all they talked of a greater good and first among equals, they could not be trusted in anything that they told you that could not be empirically confirmed from multiple independent sources.

“And one of these great threats that they would protect us from is Daoloth, who even now approaches our great city of London-2. The Migou will kill it for you, remove it from Earth. It will save thirty million of us. Do not let people die, due to your pride and the refusal of your government to accept that they are wrong. The Migou only intend to kill this being, and they are capable of doing so. After they have done so, they will quite willingly welcome you into their empire, and give you access to their technology to replace the crude and damaging ones that we have invented on our own.

However, if you are to continue to refuse, they will be forced to press the offensive. Before that, though, they will not attack us except in self-defence. The whole invasion is to protect life itself, from the depredations that certain beings could inflict upon it. They do not wish to take more life than that which they must.”

Kora pulled out an empty data-sheet, and snapped it in half, slamming it against the table as hard as he could. It made him feel somewhat better, his red eyes glinting with anger at the words that their tool parroted.

How can they lie like that?

The man in the video bowed.

“Remember. They mean us no harm. Please,” and Kora could see actual tears in his eyes, “make the right choice.”

Kora left the safe booth, and put himself through an immediate brain scan, to check for any alterations. The scan detected a slight agitation, but no other changes. The other two Field Marshals were waiting for him outside the medical ward.

He summarised the offer to them, with the occasional interjection of swearing in Nazzadi. The other two had read the transcript by this point, and Lehy, who had herself been made in a vat in Yuggoth, displayed similar degrees of agitation. Jameson, however, remained calm, and was the one to ask the question.

“Do you think that was genuine? I suspect, at the least, the Herald worries them. Enough that they would prefer to destroy it that us; their force deployments seem to confirm that. They'll probably not divert forces,” he said, emphasising the last two words, “to attack us while the Herald remains, although they almost certainly will attack anything that looks like threatening them.”

“That's what I think, too,” replied Lehy, eyes aflame, “because that's good. We certainly have no intention of not attacking them. But if they want to attack Mot, then they're more than welcome to.”



~'/|\'~




Mot, the Fifth Herald, and called by the Migou, Daoloth, held its bulk off the ground. The perfect sacred geometry mocked the weak beings of this world, by stooping to their pathetic attempts to understand the universe, and proclaimed its allegiance. Mot had given itself fully to the Crawling Chaos alone out of the Outer Gods, and thus proudly wore its shape. The perfect blackness, letting no visible light radiate from its majesty, was the resplendence of the incarnation of entropy. The death and noise that it bought was a veritable prayer.

On the ground, one hundred metres beneath its mass, it scorched and burned the ground, as it gave out infrared electromagnetic radiation, even as it flooded the lower spectrum with the words of its prayer. The lower beasts, all of them, would not understand it. It did not matter. It must be done.

Through the cloud layer, the first wave of the Migou fleet dropped, the sheer mass of their forces tearing holes in the clouds, through which the mid-day sun could shine. The first of their number vomited forth a small sun, radiant in its burning whiteness, as it discharged its ventral plasma cannon into the Herald.

Which promptly slammed into the shining mesh that the Herald projected from in front of it. The guard of Yog Sothoth, which the humans so feebly called an AT Field was proof against such weakness. Mot was not those foolish beings which had already fallen to a species which lacked any patronage.

Its edges glowed a brilliant white, focussing onto the nearest vertex to that box of flesh and metal that had profaned its brilliance. From such light came darknesses. Impossibly, a beam that appeared to be of the raw void tore out of the black trapezohedron, its passage through the air marked by a horrific shrieking, and bore down upon the Migou ship.

The beam punched straight through the Swarm Ship, neatly punching through its core. The airborne behemoth, larger than the Herald, faltered and fell, its heart torn out. The six hundred metre ship slammed into the ground, buckling and twisting, its hollowed carcass a useless shell.

One dead. Eight remaining. The rest of the Migou fleet recovered from the shock of the death of a capital ship near instantly, pressing the attack. New suns were born over the barren wasteland that Mot left in its wake, while the twin Null Cannons that each Swarm Ship mounted lanced out. Against such firepower, even the blessed shield that the Herald could call upon weakened, holes poked into its impossible black carapace, marring its geometric perfection. It did not stay its wrath, as more of the stygian beams that it projected lanced out, sweeping through the air in precise arcs which cleansed the Darts, mere annoyances to the Herald, but their destruction was the will of the Outer Gods, and it was their instrument.

Naturally, it was at this point that the NEG decided to open fire with their artillery. Salvos of long range missiles, fired from Heterodyne missile vehicles, joined the shrieking shells of the Jaeger self-propelled guns. The fire was split between the conventional foe, the Migou, and the extra-dimensional threat that had appeared in their country. The human forces had been dosed with the RALCL serum which had proved to be so effective in the previous attack, upon the Fourth Herald. It had been deemed that the negligible side effects noted in the analysis of the test group was worth the protection that it gave against Aeon War Syndrome, and that wager appeared to be paying off. A massed barrage of long range missiles slammed nearly simultaneously into one of the Swarm Ships, fire rippling over the hull as the missiles tore slight gashes out over the thick armour. One slammed into a pair of twinned laser cannons, detonating the D-Capacitors which tore apart the cannon, as the Riemann curvature tensor reasserted itself in the warped domain of the cell.



~'/|\'~




It comes, incarnate in the void it bears,
A false robe of Euclid is what it wears,
Loathsome new stars shall be born on the day,
That the slothful lord of Rome in its way,
Shall make a new sun. He will but fail then,
Death's midwife shall be the strange white maiden.


Abdul Alhazred, in the dread tome known as the Necronomicon.

This verse is conventionally held,in most translations, to be one of the signs that the stars are right. Certainly, the idea that new stars shall be created has been held ever since it was written to be a clear sign of the interference of the Gods in the realm of man, for the power to create a sun is far beyond that which man can ever achieve. This particular verse also contains mention of the entity known as the “Slothful Lord of Rome”. I personally believe it to be the dread soul of the Outer Gods himself, for the depravity of that city in its final days makes it obvious to the impartial observer that Loathsome Nyarlothotep, the Crawling Chaos himself, corrupted the city from the its former glory, as it imposed culture on the world, overthrowing those barbaric races that existed prior to Rome.

Jeremy De'Eath, “Commentaries on the Necronomicon”, First Edition, 1921

It's the nukes, man! They're going to doom us all. They're going to wake up things that really shouldn't be woken up. Goddammit, you fascist pig! You're oppressing up all, making us serve your vile gods! I know you're a member of one of those goddamn cults. People gotta know the truth, man. They gotta know, to stop your conspiracy from dooming us all. I've seen the foreboding tides of the future.

Look out for the motherfucking pale chick! She'll kill us all! She works for the Crawling Chaos! They all do! You all do.

Not your wife, though, you pig-judge. Turns out she liked the free spirit, if you know what I mean. All night long.

### The accused was then silenced, by order of the judge. ###


Court transcript of the trial of one Kenneth Williamson, in 1963, for attempted sabotage of American nuclear launch facilities. Williamson was found to be in compos mentis, and thus was sent to Massachusetts State Penitentary. Williamson was stabbed by another convict one month later, during the middle of the night. The suspect was never caught. The judge in his case later filed for divorce, citing marital infidelity.

Twinkly Star, twinkly star.
Very far, very far.
Because eight kites rock and eight kites roll,
And I'm going to fuck all of your souls,
Cause I'm a star, man, a starman, a nuke in the bed,
And pale-looking chicks like to give me head.
Screw all your robots, they're actually men,
What will be soon, was once long ago then.


Black Star Shine (2031), by “Klock Maker”. A classic example of Lullaby Post-Metal, a popular genre in some youth subcultures in the early 2030s. The band's label was Lyricun Incorporated, a subsidiary company of Chrysalis.



~'/|\'~




Into this chaos, Shinji emerged from the Silo. He immediately threw himself on his face, which produced a noticeable impact, rolling into cover over a few crumbling, old buildings and behind a few more solid ones. The scene was one that would have given an ancient prophet raw madness, as horrors beyond the comprehension of ancient times bloomed and blossomed in fire. Shinji pulled the Charge Rifle they had given him off his back, and flicked it on, the rifle thrumming as it cooled down the barrel, ready to spill forth its beam of relativistic particles.

He raised his head over the building. Two Swarm Ships were already down, gutted by the incredible firepower of the Herald, and the ground was rife with the carcasses of the lesser Migou ships, shards of warped metal, the unnatural flesh burnt away, like a hail of liquid metal.

Good, thought Shinji, ... but it is horrifying. All that death, even if it is of alien fungus that wants to kill us all.

And that could be me, too.

This building is nothing near enough to protect me. But, nothing is around here.


His comms link to HQ flickered. They were trying to talk to him, but the battlefield was flooded with jamming, both from the Migou, who for some reason seemed to expect human forces to attack them when they were trying to kill Mot, and from the Herald itself. He'd lost contact even before he emerged from the Silo.

Back in the London Geocity, the display showing the readout from Unit 01 flickered and jumped. They were getting data in 5 second bursts, then about three seconds of silence. On the jumping image from Zero-One's viewpoint, they saw the corpses of the Migou ships upon the ground. Unit 01 bounded up from its cover, getting behind one of the crashed behemoths ripped from head to tail, even as another leviathan was gutted by the weapons of the Herald, plummeting to Earth.

“He won't be able to do anything against it,” said Ritsuko, her face white. “That monster is taking multiple shots from capital grade weapons. It's having to focus its AT-Field in one direction to stop shots, but the ones that it misses, and the ones that punch through the Imposed Hamiltonian Phase Space are just scratching the body. It's like trying to kill a man in armour with a sharpened fork.”

“We have to pull him back,” stated Misato. “If he can't hurt it, then it's useless throwing Unit 01 away. One of those Swarm Ships could kill him, even with the Herald gone.” She paused, waiting.

The room remained full of the babble of the technical staff, but the one voice that mattered remained silent. Gendo Ikari stared up at the screen, fingers arched and eyes unreadable.

“Representative?” said the Director of Operations, her voice terse.

Up on the screen, the inconsistent data stream show Shinji straighten up from behind his cover. The LAI firing guide converged the variables for him, the target reticle rapidly calculating the adjustments for the spin of the Earth, its magnetic field and the changes in the Weyl and Ricci tensors induced by the presence of dimensional technology.

Shinji fired. The hydrogen “shell” within the weapon was split, electrons torn from protons as the weapon polarised. The electrons were accelerated forwards, towards a positive charge at the end of the barrel, tearing through the atmosphere, ionising the air and creating a temporary area of low pressure as the high energy electrons imparted their momentum to the air, randomising their velocity. The polarity of the barrel then inverted, sending the protons in a quixotic chase for their partners. The stream, curving slightly, slammed into the black fabric of the shining trapezohedron. All this took place in a time period so short that it made a second seem like an age of mankind.

This fearsome force, this pinnacle of the union of human science, of conventional physics and the incredible energy densities provided by the arcane, chipped the Herald. Chipped it like a knife into a hardwood table.

Shinji ducked back on, waiting for the ten second cooling cycle as the rifle dumped the excessive heat that had left it glowing red hot and its internal D-Cells recharged from his main reactors.

Come on, come on.

He didn't have time for a second shot. Another impossible beam, a minuscule flash of light the precursor to the loathsome darkness of the lance stabbed out of the nearest corner of the Herald. It tore through the Swarm Ship, the armour that could withstand barrage after barrage of conventional arms now pierced twice in quick succession by the gift of the Outer Gods that Mot bore.

Shinji screamed, and Unit 01 screamed with him, the armour melting and burning into the unnatural flesh of the Evangelion even as the horrific beam tore through his lower gut and out the other side. The Evangelion screamed, the scream of a dying god even as it pawed and clawed at its armour, trying to tear off the sheets of ceramic that went far beyond the white-hot, so hot that they were invisible. Shinji, racked by pain, let his human instincts control him, diving sideways along the corpse of the Swarm Ship, just trying to get away and make the pain stop. The lance of death still tracked him, copying his movements perfectly. The torn, broken screams made their way to the control room, where activity ceased, the men and women shocked by the agony in the voice.

Yet perhaps it helped, the beam attenuated by its passage through the hull of the Migou vessel. A twin of twin of Null Cannon shots ripped into the unprotected side of the Herald, punching through its black outer layer, and letting strange ropey filaments, fractal intestines that seemed oddly furred by the budding growths that duplicated themselves, passing through impossible angles and each other with the joyful whims of a mad painter. The Herald ceased its beam in Shinji and turned its weapon on the fungii from Yuggoth, a glancing blow disembowelling another of the Swarm Ships. The Migou focussed on that new wound, the aerial vehicles whittling down the beast like children with knives against a boxer.

Back in the control room, Gendo stood up, even as crackling screams filled the air.

“Fire the 5-KT Mortar,” he ordered, his voice steady even as he raised it over the sound of his son.

“Acknowledged,” stated Ritsuko. “Rho-sigma-alpha-5-10-93-53-beta-21. Authorisation: Ritsuko Akagi,”

“Authorisation: Gendo Ikari,” completed the Representaive.

Misato turned to stare at her friend, then at Gendo.

“You fitted Unit 01 with one of those?!” she said, her voice shocked.

Attached to the back of Unit 01, a railgun swivelled and turned, its gyroscopic mount unaffected by the damage to the front or Zero-One's attempts to pull off the molten metal. It hummed, as it lobbed its shell into the air, in a high trajectory. A result of attempts to provide more subtle technology for launching ICBMs, the original project had been a failure due to questionable decisions for a launch vehicle and the energy requirements for trans-continental weapons.

It had, however, proved admirable for the battlefield delivery of tactical nuclear munitions. And for an Evangelion, the definition of “tactical” was a little broader than it might have been for an unarmoured infantryman.

The five-kilotonne clean fusion device detonated in an airbust over the Herald, and a new sun was born over the skies of England, the radiant light of a star washing down on the marred darkness of the Herald Mot and into the bio-mechanical cathedrals of the Migou, tossing their smaller craft out of the sky like child's toys.

And there was a great noise.

And after that, a great silence.



~'/|\'~
   Profile |  

EarthScorpion
PostPosted: 2009-02-11 04:17am 

Padawan Learner


Joined: 2008-09-25 02:54pm
Posts: 209
Location: London
Chapter 6 - Part 2

Rei 02


~'/|\'~



“The jamming's stopped!” called Aoba from his control console.

Misato turned her gaze, silently fuming, to the main display. “How is Unit 01? Do we have any signals from it? Is Shinji still alive?

Maya ran her hands over her keyboard. “Zero-One's onboard communication's equipment should be rebooting in... 3, 2, 1... we have contact back. We have life signals...” there was a collective sigh of relief, “... except the Third Child appears to be unconscious. The Evangelion is in a very, very bad state.”

A profile of Unit 01 appeared on the screen. The entire front was a blur of red warning lights, warning of internal damage, breeched hull, and warped servos.

“The armour at the front is completely melted,” stated Fuyutsuki, staring at the figure. “The control servos are completely melted. The organic muscles remain, and that'll be the only way to move it.”

Gendo adjusted his glasses, which had begun their inexorable, inevitable descent down the bridge of his nose. “Does the pilot remain synchronised, even when unconscious?”

Misato turned to stare at the wall. How could he? He just sent his son out to fight some extradimensional entity for the third time, just fired a nuclear weapon he'd attached to the Evangelion while Shinji was within the blast radius, and he wouldn't even call him by name!

Misato realised then that it was even more than that. She was beginning to care for Shinji.

While Misato looked away, Maya replied, “Yes, he remains synchronised, despite the lack of consciousness. Do you want to eject the entry plug?”

Gendo shook his head, a single jerking motion to the left.

“Keep him in there. Sedate him; try to keep him calm,but lucid. We have to keep the Evangelion content, and if the synchronisation wasn't broken by unconsciousness...

Which it should have been, thought Ritsuko. All the projections indicated that the pilot had to make an effect to keep connected to the EFCS. We tested it on the Second Child. But now there's two anomalies; Rei's asymmetric synchronicity, and the EFCS Type-1 remaining linked.

What is going on? Only Unit 02 seems to completely reliable, with nothing more than the expected side effects. The Fourth should really be a Type-2, along with the political benefits that kind enables.


“... then it remains active. We cannot eject the D-Engines, as we need to retrieve it, the restraining armour is damaged so we cannot lock it down, and thus we cannot control it in the case of rampancy.”

Ritsuko turned her gaze from the Representative. “More importantly, what's the status on the rest of the battlefield?”

“We're getting a feed from NEA Headquarters,” replied Aoba. “The Migou fleet is destroyed. The... the Herald is still alive, although motionless. It seems to have dug itself into the ground, point first, and there's a massive AT-Field over Mot. The phase shifts and the warping of the Riemann tensors are clearly visible.” He turned to stare at the Representative, flicking his gaze to Ritsuko. “It appears, as a hypothesis, to be repairing itself.”

“The Migou were really beginning to damage it,” said the blond haired woman out loud, seemingly to herself. “They'd managed to neutralise the phase differences by brute force. And Asherah changed after we hit it with a Clover burst, adapted to the new situation.” She sighed, in a deep shuddering breath. “We won't be able to hit it now. Look at that Riemann tensor. It would take the combined NEN fleet to take that down.”

What was not being mentioned by anyone in the room was the price that the Migou would extract for this use of nuclear weapons. The invaders had made it very clear, through private channels to the NEG, that any use of nuclear weapons would see a retaliation. The nukes used against Asherah had seen the deliberate defoliation of one percent of the Amazon, the Migou salting the ground to prevent anything growing there again. This would be worse. Perhaps they would use some engineered virus against an arcology, to make it into a charnel house if the infection was not caught. Perhaps they would introduce some alien lifeform into the Terran ecology, to throw it out of balance. The specifics did not matter. What mattered is that the Migou would contact them again, and blame them for the necessity of their actions. These messages would also be incorporated into their propaganda, making it more devastating because it was, in a sense, true.

“Will it remain like that?” asked Fuyutsuki.

“Purely as a hypothesis, I'd say no,” she replied, after a moment's thought. “It's not moving now, so at least it's been slowed down. I'm fairly sure... that is, I really, really hope that it can't use that beam weapon in this state, either. Although that's actually a misnomer. The data we collected from the broadcasts suggests that it's actually an extended barb of the AT-Field, using the local control of spacetime and the fundamental constants that it grants to make such an impossible weapon.”

“So it is safe to approach the Herald?”

Ritsuko nodded. Fuyutsuki cocked his head slightly at Gendo.

“Deploy Rei,” ordered Gendo Ikari. “She is to retrieve Unit 01 for repairs.”

Misato turned back to the rest of the room. “We won't be able to use the Evangelion in its current state,” she said, a slight undercurrent of hostility in her voice. “Almost all the onboard weapons are fried from that, and the DF blades seem to have been activated by the blast. They'll need to be replaced, too. How long will we have to repair Zero-One and work out a way to kill the Herald?”

“We don't know,” said Ritsuko, scanning her eyes over the MAGI's interpretation of the feed from the NEA spy drone. “Less than twelve hours, certainly. Maybe even less, if the smaller ships break the NEN cordon, or TF:V fails to stop that second fleet.”

“So, Director of Operations, it would be best if you started thinking,” added Gendo.



~'/|\'~




Rei ran along the road, following the footprints which the mass of Unit 01 had previously imprinted into the hardened surface.

Her objective was to recover Unit 01 and Pilot Ikari. She would perform that task, because she had been instructed to.

Her pupils contacted, shrinking to tiny black dots in her pale grey irises.

There are not active threats in the target zone. I can proceed with less caution than was suggested in the mission parameters. Pilot Ikari will be found behind one of the Swarm Ships.

She turned a corner, and then saw what she already knew. A blasted heath choked with smoke, fires coruscating over anything that could burn. The five kilotonne explosion had torn a five and a half kilometre wound in the remains of Old London, the edges of that once-great metropolis protruding all the way out. In the midst of the shattered buildings, levelled by the bomb, lay the carcasses of nine great beasts. Many of the Migou vessels had been slain by the human weapon, the unexpected attack knocking their ships aside with no respect for their noble goal or their wishes. One had ploughed nose first into the ground, its mass penetrating the urban layer and thus it stood as an impromptu tombstone for its kindred. Other Swarm Ships had been picked off by Herald in the aftermath, the unnatural being recovering far faster than the Yuggothians, who were still restricted by the nature of flesh, alien through it may be. Around the deceased leviathans lay the smaller corpses, infants to them, of the other Migou vehicles. Slagged, melted wrecks whose nature could only be guessed at, so great was the damage inflicted upon them.

Above this wreckage, matching the ash that covered the land, the skies were overcast. The clouds had returned, bringing with them a polluted rain, stained black with the debris thrown into the atmosphere. It fell down onto Rei, painting the orange armour of her Evangelion with layers of charcoal dirt. Her onboard Geiger counter flared up; she ignored it. These levels, though potentially hazardous to an infantryman, bore no threat to her body, ensconced as it was within the protective womb of Unit 00. Pilot Ikari would be fine too, she thought, because if the entry plug had been breached, he would already be dead. And if he was alive, there was no need to compromise the mission with undue haste, which might draw the attention of Mot.

Over the Herald, however, the skies remained clear, the clouds around it swirling like in the eye of a hurricane. The reason for this devastation stood, bottom embedded in the ground, enveloped in a thick, twisting web of shining white strands. These cast a strange light over the ashen wasteland that surrounded it, a harsh, white glow that reduced everything to black and white, draining the colour from the world and drawing it into the body of the great beast.

Rei stared at the Herald. Under the mesh of its AT Field, she could see that it was changing. It had been injured, she knew, and injured badly. Had the Migou been permitted to continue, they would more than likely have killed it.

Rei did not question the Representative's decision to use a nuclear weapon against the Herald. He had his reasons, and she did not doubt them.

But now Mot knew about that trick of the apes, impressive though it was. And it would not permit another such blow. It would heal from its wounds; both the Migou lances that had torn into it and the horrific scarring that had melted the entire side facing the blast, warping it and twisting the once-perfect geometry. And it would not be as foolish as to deny the evident wish of its master and lord, the Beast Nyarlothotep. It had been foolish to impose such anathematical order in this incarnation, it realised. No, it would let the perfect progressions of fractals determine its healing, and give itself to the whim of its master in shaping it. And it would not let such object, so small yet bearing destruction from the unity of its components, near it again, it thought, as new shapes budded from the edge of its wounds, similar to their parent body in shape, but each subtly flawed, even as they budded forth their own, even smaller, shapes.

It didn't matter, though. Rei knew where Pilot Ikari was, and she knew that the Entry Plug was not compromised. She would have know had something happened to the pilot or the EFCS. And that left her able to complete her mission. With her white hair waving in the LCL that surrounded and embraced her, like that of Ophelia as she floated down the river, Rei headed down into the centre of this hell.

Lasciate ogne speranza, voi ch'intrate, she thought.



~'/|\'~




Major Misato Katsuragi, Director of Operations for the Evangelion Project, was planning. She had commandeered one of the main Ashcroft Foundation meeting rooms, mainly for the fact that the entire table was the newest projection suite, of the same quality as the Operations Room, allowing her to access everything she could in there, along with the fact that this room had proper food delivery. And so she stood there with a sandwich in her hand, the bread filled with nanofactory-produced tuna. The genuine stuff was exceedingly rare; the fact that the seas were owned by fishmen who tended to to view fishing boats as “fresh breeding stock” made it rather hard to obtain.

Some would have viewed that as frippery and distraction. The Major knew that she didn't want anyone fainting or suffering from low blood sugar. The human body activated its primitive adrenaline response, even when it was not necessary, and this operation had left her on edge.

She stared at the projections containing all the information about the Herald and its predecessors that they had. She could feel a nagging headache coming on, from having to wrap her mind around the concepts that this entailed. This would probably take a few counselling sessions to deal with. She was still having the occasional nightmare about the Kathirat, joining the horrors of New Kuala Lumpur and of Tibet. The Major took another bite of the tuna sandwich, cheeks chewing frantically as she tried to make sense of these counter-intuitive impossibilities.

She glanced over the table at Ritsuko. She was frantically typing away, mixing it with voice inputs in her attempts to get the MAGI to properly model this particular AT-Field.

“Let's review the evidence,” she commanded. “Lieutenant Makota, run through the collected data.”

The Nazzadi technician adjusted his glasses, the AR flows converging then increasing their flow rate, and cleared his throat. “The target, classified as a Herald and designated “Mot” by the New Earth Army has proved to be the most dangerous of the encountered Heralds so far. When it appeared, it destroyed the Norwich base, opening a hole in our defences and permitting the Migou to break through our...”

The Major raised her hand. “I was actually talking about the tactical and technological data. We need to find a way to kill it.”

Makota blushed, the red bringing a hint of colour to his blackish-grey face. “I'm... I'm sorry, Major Katsuragi.” He cleared his throat again. “The Herald is armed with a weapon which defies conventional physics and current arcane engineering. It is notably more powerful than the main weapon on a Victory-class battlecruiser.” An image appeared of from the onboard cameras of Unit 01, showing the night-black beam lancing straight through a Migou Swarm Ship. “It also appears to be able to project multiple lesser beams at once, with high precision, tracking and accuracy. They emerge from the points where three or more of its faces meet. As a tetragonal trapezohedron, that gives it ten possible projection points. However, at most, seven can face one target at any one time.” The imaged changed to show Mot using its beams to swat the smaller Migou ships from the air.

Makota coughed twice, and took a sip of water. “It appears that the source of the energy for the beams all comes from a single internal source. The output of these lesser beams matches that of a BI-class charge beam; still dangerous, but notably less so than its main weapon. It possesses an increased refire rate on those lesser projections, though. For 12.9 seconds after it destroyed that Swarm ship, it did not manifest any beams. It was switching between targets every 0.8 seconds in the lesser mode. Moreover, it compromises its main AT Field to use the main weapons; the points when it was damaged match up with the points which it was firing.”

The Major swallowed her mouthful of sandwich, and a strange expression occupied her face.

“I see...” she said, tilting her head slightly. “Analysis?”

“According to the data we've collected to far,” began Makota, as the Major took another mouthful of sandwich, chewing intently, “it is presumed that the Herald automatically attacks any target within a certain range, or anything which attempts to harm it. Note the way that it ignored Unit 01 until the Pilot opened fire on it with a charge beam. It appears to prioritise based on threat, too. It switched fire from Unit 01 to the Swarm Ship, when the latter damaged it.”

Makota glanced from the display at the Major. She was reading it too. Misato Katsuragi seemed like a bit of a joke most of the time. It had been rumoured that she had been given this position because the NEA wanted someone who, despite having all those medals from the Fall of New Kuala Lumpur, lacked a real grasp of strategy, in a project that had been largely viewed as a waste of money, an obsolete predecessor to the Engels. It had been like choosing to invest in increasing efficiency of oil production in 2033. But this new Misato was strange. Not quite her.

He concluded. “Close range combat with an Evangelion is too risky.”

The Major frowned and swallowed. “What about its AT Field?”

“Still active.” He pulled up the images that Unit 00 had collected in its recovery of the crippled Unit 01. “It's so strong that you can even see the phase-shifted space, the barrier between its universe and ours.”

“What?!” snapped the Major. “Its universe?”

Ritsuko looked up over the table at her friend. “It's not quite true, but it's a useful way of modelling it.” She glanced at the Nazzadi. “Makota is a bit too much of a theoretician to explain it properly,” she said, smiling slightly. “Basically, within the domain of an AT-Field, the physical constants are anything but that.” Ritsuko paused for dramatic effect. It didn't seem to be doing anything to impress the black-haired woman. “Basically, the Herald can do whatever it likes, while it can maintain the interface layer between the area under the AT-Field and the rest of reality. That's why its weapon is so dangerous, the MAGI have finally calculated. Within the beam, the colour force is weaker than the electroweak force. Matter is unstable under those conditions, hence it rips apart. Armour means nothing, unless you're applying principles from outside the World of Elements to hold it together.”

The Major frowned. “But in that case, how was Unit 01 able to survive? It took less damage than a Swarm Ship, for goodness sake.”

“Because Unit 01 has its own AT-Field, remember,” chided Ritsuko. “That's why they can do the things they can do, why they can kill the Heralds. Shinji wasn't focussing on it, so it wasn't active at anything less than a background level, and he has access to less power, anyway.”

“So what's it doing now?” She was looking at the most recent images, at the strange protrusions that budded from all of its faces, producing its own offspring.

“At the moment? It's enforcing a strongly non-Euclidean local Lobacheveskian geometry to permit it to have an infinite fractal volume.”

Misato blinked. “What?”

Ritsuko sucked in air between her clenched teeth. “It's complicated.” She paused. “An easy example. In normal, which is to say Euclidean geometry, the sum of the angles in a triangle always equals pi radians. In Lobacheveskian geometry, pi radians minus the sum of the angles equals a constant.” She commanded the LAI to bring up the “explanation image”, that of “Circle Limit IV” by MC Escher.

“Here we are. This piece of art is ancient, but it's still really useful,” she said, gazing up at the black and white image. “In non-Euclidean geometry, all of these angels and devils are the same size. If you stood in that geometry at any point, it would appear to be the same to you no matter exactly where you were.”

A voice interrupted on loudspeakers. “Sorry to disturb you, but we've recovered Unit 01. It's being transported down to the maintenance facilities as I speak.”

Misato looked away. “How... how is Shinji?”

“We're keeping him placid with drugs administered to the LCL, until we can get the armour repairs done. There are low level first-degree sympathetic burns as a consequence of N/Phys feedback.”

Misato stared up at the ceiling, then the Major turned back to the main computer. “Once the Emergency Constriction Armour is fitted, get him out to the medical facility. I need the best arcanotherapists we have to see to him, to get him back on his feet as fast as we can. You have three hours. If he isn't fixed by then, dope him up with smart painkillers and get ready to get him back in the Evangelion.” She paused, and turned to look at Ritsuko. “What is the exact condition of Unit 01? What can it do in its current state?”

Doctor Akagi picked up a cup of coffee. “The chest plate and the third defence armour were completely slagged. It's fortunate that the central control unit remained intact.”

“Another three or so seconds and it would have completely overcome the residual AT-Field,” added Maya.

The older woman nodded. “We're fitting the emergency control armour, but that just serves as a restraint. It won't provide anything like the protection of the proper armour. It's not designed to be deployed in this armour.”

The Major nodded. “Roger. And what about Unit 00?”

“No problem with the restart, nor any recurrence of the synchronicity issues. Some minor feedback in the neural networks, but that decreased as Pilot Ayanami moved around and got used to the Evangelion in the recovery of Zero-One,” answered Maya, reading a fresh update off her data-slate. “A real battle is...”

“... not advised,” finished Ritsuko.

“I'll take that advice under consideration,” replied the Major. “Back on the topic of non-Euclidean geometries, though? You said that the Herald is impossible under conventional physics, yes?”

“Well, not directly,” replied the doctor, somewhat taken aback, “but, yes. The universe may be Lobacheveskian on a universal scale, but the difference between that and Euclidean is very slight. That degree of space-time curvature does not happen normally. It has an infinite volume within the field, and its surface area tends to infinity as it expands fractally. The geometric interface drawn by the AT-Field really does separate universes. That's why Mot is black. With what it's doing to itself? I doubt you'd be able to hit its main body, even if you pierced the Field.”

“So it's just the AT Field, then. If it's impossible without the AT-field, then if we punch through it...” said the Major, with a note of satisfaction in her voice. Misato smiled. “Get me the NEN database on the naval vessels in production.”

“Excuse me?” asked Makota.

“I have one little thing to try first...”



~'/|\'~




The Field Marshals stared at the Evangelion Project's Director of Operations. There was a moment of silence. Then;

“You want to have the Academia?” blurted out Lehy.

Misato nodded. “Yes. I want to borrow the incomplete frigate in the Portsmouth naval yard.”

Jameson asked the obvious question. “Why?”

“The Academia has had its ventral laser fitted, and its Class-A D-Engine, as well as some of its A-Pods. However, it lacks any of its hull armour or any of its other armaments.” She smiled. “It is, basically, a giant laser rifle for our purposes.”

Kora cocked his head. “Ah. Long range fire from outside the target's hit detection range. We've seen what your charge beam did to it; I can see how you might want more firepower. But a Skuld-class frigate has less firepower than a Migou Swarm ship, and we saw what that did.”

An alarm went off in the NEA Headquarters, and both Jameson and Lehy left the camera's viewpoint.

“Yes, Field Marshal Kora. That's why we have all the nanofactories in the Geocity ready to make some changes to the ship. Transmitting the files now.”

Misato waited, her gut roiling with nervousness she did not permit her face to show, as the Marshal read through the alterations. The Nazzadi raised one eyebrow.

“So... you intend to case the ventral laser in supercoolant refrigerant units, run the entirety of the Class-A into them, and use the internal D-Engines of your Evangelion to boost the A-Pods to allow one of your Units to move it. The power for the laser itself will be drawn from almost the entirety the London-2 grid.” The Marshal sat back. “Well, it's never been tried before. It is novel, I give you that.”

“The MAGI give it a 12.6% percent chance of downing the Herald in a single shot, with an increased chance of 46.5% for eventual victory.”

“Although I will also note that it also gives a 37.1% chance that the Academia will be destroyed. That ship could, well, from what the Foundation has informed us, it could fund your Project for almost half a year.”

He sighed, as she knew he would. “Approval given.” His face suddenly looked very haggard. “I'd tell you to make sure that you don't fail or I'll have your head, but that won't mean much. If we can't stop the Herald, dead men can't fire you.”

Misato nodded. “Understood, sir.” She cut the connection to Headquarters, took a deep breath and adjusted her hair behind an ear. “Open a connection to NPF Portsmouth,” she ordered.

The face of a slightly plump human woman appeared on screen, frowning at the Major over the top her AR glasses. Her eyes opened in shock as Misato used the over-ride function to open a new window on the woman's viewscreen, showing her authorisation documents.

“For all the reasons detailed on the document to your right, and authorised by the European High Command, the Evangelion Project, a specialist military research group of the Ashcroft Foundation has the right to commandeer the incomplete Academia, a Skuld-class frigate as of 15:00 today.”

“But... but it's impossible. It's not finished...” the woman began.

“Please activate the A-Pods in preparation for transport by our Unit 00,” added Misato.

“Wait? What?”

A broad smile crept over the face of the black-haired woman. “Just look out the window.”

The head of the naval engineering team almost fainted when she saw the bulk of Unit 00 approaching the naval yard. There was a period where the engineers and arcanotechnicains argued among themselves, some objecting to the “theft” of their work-in-progress ship, and others acting like rampant fangirls at the sight of the Evangelion. Some of the fangirls were even female.

Eventually, they managed to boot up the internal engines, getting the A-Pods functioning, and formally transferred responsibility of the 200 metre long ship to the 40 metre tall Evangelion. With the A-Pods in neutral, merely keeping the ship off the ground, Rei began to pull the frigate behind her, as she headed back to London-2.



~'/|\'~




High above the freezing wastes of what had been Scandinavia, when humanity had still owned the north, a wing of high altitude bombers, stealth-proofed against detection hung in the air. You could see the curvature of the Earth from up here, and the sky seemed mostly black, the superior sensors of the craft permitting you to see the stars, should that be your desire.

Captain Schwartz, commanding officer of the 120 madmen and madwomen of Charlie Company turned off the link to the external sensors of the aircraft and focussed back on the interior of his Mk-11 Hussar powered armour. The first two companies of battalions in Task Force: Valkyrie were always Engel assault formations; he had command of the elite of the Hussars. Some would argue that a mecha pilot, by definition, was more sane than an Engel pilot, given that they had not had invasive brain surgery to implant cybernetics. Those people had not encountered Hussar pilots, who gleefully and willingly jumped out of planes at the edge of the atmosphere. Delta and Echo companies were also up here, but he was ignorant of their location, hidden as their craft were.

He ran a full check on his Hussar. The suit, akin to its predecessor, the Centurion, moved as its artificial muscles flexed and shifted beneath its matt black armoured shell. He moved his head, its robotic, inhuman head rotating as he checked left and right. To the left and right of him, and in other planes, the other veterans were doing the same. If your armour locked up mid fall, the best that could be said was that they wouldn't need to bury you. Normally shortly after landing his role was to get to a safe place, where he could command his troops, but the drop remained dangerous. Hussar Assault Formations had a very clearly defined chain of command, due to the risk of the higher-ups catching AA laser fire from a Strepsiptera. Those Migou units were evil things, small mecha that could cling to the outside of a larger vessel and had a hideous number of rapidly tracking laser cannons that could fill the air with coherent light.

“What's the difference between a punch in the face and a broken Hussar?” he muttered to himself. “One goes 'Whack! Aargh!'. The other goes 'Aaaaaargh! Whack!'”

Dark humour was a favourite of the soldiers of Charlie Company. And pretty much all of Valkyrie, come to think of it.

Except this wasn't just Valkyrie here, was it. There was an extra bomber with that giant Engel that the Brigadier has assigned to him strapped to the bottom, wrapped in radar-proofed foil. It was still compromising the stealth of the unit. He only hoped that the Migou would mistake it for a monitoring plane, if they noticed it. The Lares bombers were almost unarmed, to maximise their carrying capacity when so much was already taken up by the stealth systems and their dedicated D-Engines.

A bleep went off in his cockpit. It was time. He flicked on the broadcast system, dedicated laser communications allowing the other craft to hear his speech.

Asuka was hanging in the neutral buoyancy of the LCL, stretching as best she could by swimming around the Entry Plug, when an alert pinged up on the main screen. With a few movements, she pulled her way back into her seat, getting ready at the controls. She was vaguely aware that she was floating facedown, but they'd given her an injection to temporarily knock out inner ear function, leaving her with only the OSE from the Evangelion itself to tell if she was upright.

It was the Captain of the company she was being dropped with. She didn't really see how it was relevant to her. She was outside the conventional chain of command, had already been given her mission by Berlin-2 Command, and couldn't contact them due to the need for stealth.

“Valkyries,” the man began, “it's that time again. We're sitting in our tin cans, at the edge of space, and let me tell you, that is a profoundly unnatural place to be. Well, we don't like unnatural stuff, do we, people?” He paused.

Oh, Asuka realised. It was some kind of speech, encouraging the rest of the troops to be big damn heroes or something. It just happened to be showing on her screen too, without the sound from the others.

“Damn straight, we don't like unnatural stuff. We don't like the fucking savages of the Rapine Storm,we don't like the butt-ugly fishmen and their fish-fucking worshippers, and we most certainly don't like the motherfucking bugs from Pluto.” Captain Schwartz grinned then, the smile of a predator. “Well, it most certainly looks to be our lucky day!”

“We in Charlie Company have been chosen to be the ones who get first try at the Migou fleet below us. Delta and Echo are going to be following us in, but we're the tip of the spear that's going to tear the guts out of these bastards so that the rest of Valkyrie can finish them off. And you know why? We're the ones, because we are just that damn good. We wiped out the Loyalists at Calgary, burned their homes and put down their bug-serving support. We were first to the scene in the Dagonite attack on Santander, and we held the fish-fuckers off until the city was evacuated, killing six of them for every one we lost. And in China, we took down that flight of Shantaks who tried to intercept our drop, and went on to rip the heart out of that branch of the monsters despite having lost half the unit. We're the best of the best, and we know that as a fact.”

His face become more sombre. “And this mission matters more than normal. The Migou have torn a hole in the defences of the British Isles, and the targets below us are rushing in to fill it. The Navy boys are trying to hold off the first fleet, but if this second one survives, the bastards will be able to push onto London-2, and maybe even open a second front in Europe. Some people might be scared by the prospect of going up against a Swarm Ship. Some people might be scared by the prospect of going up against ten Swarm Ships. Well, those people aren't the right sort of person for Charlie Company, because that is exactly what we are going to do! There is no god-damned way that we will let the Migou through do that while any of us can still kill. And so they won't succeed, because we are going to stop them!”

“Each squad has three demo charges. Two should breach the hull, then the third gets used in one of the listed locations, to cripple the bug ships. If that doesn't work, we'll do it as we have before; the hard way, with Mr Plasma and Mr Claw.” His face shifted, taking on a subtly different appearance set in a look similar to that of heroes of old. “Do not fear the Migou, for they are weak when compared to you. I'm merely human and I have crushed their damn fungoid and Nazzadi traitor forces more times that I can count! And how did I do this? With human technology, human wrath and human genius, with you, my men and women! You! I look upon your faces and I see the salvation of the planet written in every single one. The fury and righteous indignation that will send the enemy reeling into the utter dark, I see in every one of you! I look upon you, and I feel no fear for our future. I have lost most of my body, and had it replaced because of the Second War and the Aeon War! Every piece of my flesh, every drop of my blood I gave willingly, because it served Humanity! I look upon you, and I can see the same willingness.” The captain's eyes gleamed, bright in the light, reflecting blue in the glow of his control consoles. In that moment, he seemed to go beyond a man, and become an idea, that of the inevitability that humanity would prevail.

Asuka breathed deeply. The man had changed completely in that speech, becoming the kind of messianic leader that could rally a squad and lead them to certain death, in the knowledge that their deaths would be worth it for the species. And she would follow him.

But such righteous wrath could only last for a moment, and his voice returned to normal, as the man returned. “We've also got a new hell-jumper with us today. A new prototype Engel, one that can be dropped as we can, survive the burn from the edge of the atmosphere. Test Pilot Soryu will be assigned to target A1. Do not get distracted at the sight of something that weighs the same as two platoons coming down with us. Keep out of its way on the trip down. We are here to destroy the fleet, and I don't want my men taken out by bloody stupid mid-air collisions with something that we haven't trained with. We drop in two minutes. And remember. Morituri Nolumus Mori. Captain Schwartz out.”



~'/|\'~




“We've got the restraining armour fixed,” reported Maya.

The Major nodded. “Good. Sedate the Pilot, and get him to medbay.” Misato frowned at the screen. “I'm just finishing this list of recommendations for High Command, then I'll be down to medbay myself, to check in him.”



~'/|\'~



The clamps released, and the Hussars fell, their graceful arcs adjusted by their onboard Limited AIs. The challenge in this was roughly that of hitting a dart board from the other side of a city. Brute computation and the laws of motion prevailed where human intuition could not. In amongst the Hussars, like a hawk in the middle of a mob of sparrows, was Unit 02, arms spread wide as the experimental A-Pod booster packs on its back kicked in, adjusting its fall in the same way as the lesser human units.

Asuka concentrated, and projected out an AT-Field. She would get superior aerodynamic properties from it, the impossible, frictionless flat edges of the field cutting through the air like a heated blade.

She sat idly in a chair,flicking through a book bound in vermilion leather. The type on the front was solid gold, she remembered, and that was important. The white walls seemed very oppressive, this was a book for richly decorated reading rooms and dim libraries.

“The soldier-leader relationship is one of the great flaws of humanity, you know,” she had said to the elderly woman opposite to her. “Orders are obeyed without thinking, but also without believing. If you want to look at a superior model, I would recommend the hierarchy of the medieval Catholic Church. Faith and reason combined are superior to either separately.”

The old woman had smiled, her voice cracked and ancient. “You have done well indeed. Most fail to learn that even throughout their life, too limited by their belief in flawed reason over faith.”


Down below, the Migou second fleet was cutting over what had been Sweden, a fortified Migou hold-out against the NEG forces stationed in the Danish Territory. The humans could not attack them here, and much as they loathed having to evade the human defences, the first fleet had failed, taken down either by human treachery or the favour of the Endless Ones incarnate in Daoloth. Privately, the latter was believed to be more likely, but they had lost contact so quickly. The Hive Ship would be around soon, parked as it was in an opposing orbit to the freakishly large moon of this world.

It was then that they picked up a veritable hail of trajectories above them, all glowing hot and on an intercept course with the fleet. The fleet immediately flipped to full alert, as the Migou scrambled for their fighter craft. They didn't match the ballistic profile of missiles; they were dropping in far too steep an angle, and no launches had been detected. The possibility that it had been missed in the concentration on Daoloth was briefly considered, and ignored. As the objects got closer, their course adjusting for the evasion attempts of the Swarm Ships, a Migou technician on the command ship buzzed a warning. It had detected the Shield of Yog Sothoth from the targets, namely the larger one that they had assumed was ablative armour for the missiles. It was then that the Migou matched the smaller objects to the profile of human orbital drop armour, and a hail of fire opened up on the descending angels, as the Migou realised what the humans were doing.

Asuka's HUD was going wild, flashing icons all over the place as it picked up the Migou fighters that had just scrambled in a futile attempt to intercept the ballistic mecha. She ignored them, and adjusted her position, rotating in mid-air to let the A-Pods on her back have full effectiveness in slowing her, and co-incidentally getting in position to land hard on the Migou Ship the LAI was heading for.

Unit 02 slammed into the top of a Hive Ship, phantom pain shooting up Asuka's leg as the unnatural muscles of the Evangelion protested at the forces subjected to it. The Swarm Ship buckled and twisted under her impact, and lurched down notably as the momentum was transferred. She quickly recovered, leaping backwards, enabling the Dimensional Shields on her claws, and crippling a heavy laser cannon that was swivelling to face her. Rushing forwards again, she ripped the blades into the damaged hull, tearing a hole in the gut of the ship.

A flight of Darts strafed her back. She barely noticed it, as the biomechanical plates gave way to the strength of the Evangelion. She decided to aid it, and opened up with her lasers and charge beams, the beams cutting through the second layer. Suddenly, the plate came away, and she roared in triumph, her Evangelion roaring with her as she picked up the hull plate and hurled it away. The innards of the ship were vulnerable now.

Over on the ship to her left, a pair of blasts indicated that a squad had hit that ship successfully, breaking into the hull. The new hole was used as a gateway to the corpus of the ship, power armoured soldiers, clambering over the hull with their own, smaller claws to break into the guts, purging them with exceedingly hot plasma from their integrated cannons

Well, she lacked the ability to get inside, but she did have hot plasma. Asuka stuck her left arm into the wound, and triggered the experimental PP1-P, white hot ionised gas flooding the chambers of the ship. It burned through the interior walls, much weaker than the outer hull, expanding and tearing apart the Migou technology. The control centre of the ship, buried deep within the body for safety, had only time to watch the cancer of melted walls and blown out hangars spread through their vessel before the white heat claimed them too. The ship gave a shudder, and began to fall.

Asuka straightened up, scanning the rest of the fleet. She triggered her comms device.

“Captain, I've killed my assigned target. Do you have anything that your men have failed to get?”

There was a pause, and then Schwartz' face appeared, sweating profusely.

“Target A3 doesn't appear to have anyone,” he gasped. “Plant that fucking charge, then we can get out of here,” he yelled offscream, before the link cut.

Asuka smiled to herself. “A chance...” She then leapt up, in a great arc, landing on the next ship along, pausing only to crippled a laser cannon that tried to track her, before leaping into the air again, from Swarm Ship to Swarm Ship.

A thermal bloom arose from the hangar on the side of another ship, as the charge planted on the main D-Engine blew. Smaller figures scrambled out of the crippled beast, throwing themselves off the side. They were on their own from now on. They had to find a place for pick up, or make their own way back to NEG lines. They had nothing to fear from Assimilation, though; the NEG had thoughtfully implanted detonators in their skulls which exploded if they tried to leave the Hussar when they had set the device active.

There was chaos in the Migou lines, as the tip of Valkyrie was thrust into their own invasion force. It was only made worse when the large forces of the rest of the Task Force thrust north into Sweden, taking advantage into the hole in the defences which, in some inexplicable way, had now become the Migou's.

Asuka neared her target, which, perhaps aware of her presence, something that the Migou had long feared, was turning to retreat. She was firing as fast as she could with her head-mounted weapons, the gouges not doing much to the superior armour of the Swarm Ship. A rain of heavy laser blasts bore down on her; breaking the armour in multiple places and tearing into the flesh of Unit 02. The blasts and the phantom pain caused her to stumble.

This is not an advisable activity when one is trying to play hopscotch with 600 metre biomechanical leviathans, even when one is encased in a 40 metre tall cybernetic organism. The leap went wrong, her trajectory worryingly flat, which sent her slamming into the side of the Swarm Ship. She stuck her claws in, the blades enough to prevent her falling, and instead leaving her spread eagled onto the side of the ship, trying desperately to hang on.

“Nicht wie vorgesehen,” she muttered to herself. Activating her feet claws, she dug them in, and began to work her way around the hull of the ship, trying to get on top. Two annoying sets of plasma cannons were silenced by the resort of her head mounted charge beams, and once again she blessed the fact that she was not using the obsolete Unit 01.

Imagine the fact that the Third Child only has lasers mounted on Unit 01's head, and he lacks the PP1-P altogether. What would he have done against the last one? Electrocuted himself again?

In her escapades, she found a hangar, unsealed. Perhaps it was launching units, or perhaps they were just trying to save what assets they could. Nevertheless, the opening, large enough to fit a Mantis out (it was, in fact, one of the typical ways they deployed, leaping from their ships in an inferior version to what she had just done), would also permit her access.

The Migou on this ship were, in fact, getting an introduction to Mr Plasma; a brief, though mostly painless (due to the speed of the death) one, when the icon for it on the HUD began bleeping an urgent red.

“Weapon Offline. Shut Down for Safety Reasons. Cooling Systems Fused,” the LAI informed her. She had chosen a male, Nazzadi accented voice for hers.

“Idiot!” she yelled. “It's not safe to take my flamethrower from me!”

The LAI simply repeated the message. She decided secretly that she would get it changed; it suddenly sounded a lot less attractive. She withdrew her arm, and swung along the hull of the ship, now obviously listing as the damage she had inflicted began to tell. Hanging on with all four limbs, she adjusted her shoulders so that both of the mounted M-PACKs faced into the cavernous hangar.

She didn't wait for a lock bleep, instead triggering them together as a salvo of rocket death, the warheads blowing away the inner walls, already slagged and melted by the plasma cannon. The third salvo must have hit something important, as the glow from the engine ceased, and the Swarm Ship began its final decent. Asuka pulled herself up onto the top of the ship, the weapons now dead and no longer trying to target her.

The rest of the fleet was further away now; too far to jump. Even as she watched, the rest of Valkerie hit the six remaining ships... no, make that five, as she watched the internal explosions consume another vessel.

Asuka smiled broadly. She had done well, hadn't she. The Third Child was still ahead, as a Herald was obviously worth more than a Swarm Ship, but she had narrowed the lead considerably, and was now certainly thrashing the First Child. And given a chance to face the Heralds, well, she'd show them.

I'll show the Ikari's. All of them.

She rode the carcass of the Migou ship to the ground, leaping off and landing gently as the behemoth was broken by its impact, crumpling and dying. She watched the carcass, the warmth of self congratulation filling her.

Then she headed off to the rendezvous point. This was Migou territory, after all.



~'/|\'~
   Profile |  

EarthScorpion
PostPosted: 2009-02-11 04:18am 

Padawan Learner


Joined: 2008-09-25 02:54pm
Posts: 209
Location: London
~'/|\'~




Shinji opened his eyes, staring up at the white, well lit and subtly curved hospital ceiling. Again. Well, he wasn't going to move. He ached all over, and there was a horrible cold feeling in his chest.

Rei Ayanami leaned over into his field of vision, white hair cascading down over her face. She stared at him impassively. He got the feeling that, somehow, she was staring straight through him, that he was as pale and translucent as she seemed to be in this environment.

His eyes snapped wide open as his flight-or-fight reflect started to kick in. He could feel a major preference for the former.

“I've come to inform you of the schedule for Operation Ishtar,” she said, in her soft voice. “The time of start has been provisionally set at 21:00 hours, but it is subject to change, based upon the activities of the extradimensional entity classified as a Herald and given the codename 'Mot'.”

She reached into her pockets. She was still wearing her school uniform, he realised. Why was that? This was a Sunday? Didn't she have any other clothes to wear? Actually, come to think of it...

“What day is it? How long I have missed?” he asked.

Her hand froze, and she turned her head to stare at him. Shinji suppressed an urge to cower beneath the covers. “Today is Sunday, the thirtieth of September, 2091,” she replied.

“Well, how did I get here?” he asked, hoping to get an answer which delayed whatever they wanted him to do now.

The gaze; not cold, as that would imply engagement with the target, but cool and dispassionate, similar to how a scientist might view a bacterium under a microscope, continued. “I retrieved Evangelion Unit 01, with you inside, from the combat zone. I then gave the damaged Unit to a recovery team, as ordered, who returned you to London-2 for repairs and the fitting of emergency restraint armour.” The dread gaze ceased, as she looked down and drew out a PCPU.

“Pilots Ikari and Ayanami, come to the cage at 16:30 today. 17:00, activate Evangelion Units 00 and 01. 17:05, deploy the Evangelions. 17:20, arrive at the location where the Academia has been positioned, and wait for orders. The target is expected to arrive in visual range at 20:42. The operation begins, subject to changes, at 21:00.” After that singularly helpful briefing, the utility of which few others could achieve, she flicked the off button on the PCPU, reached down, and tossed a shrink-wrapped package onto the bed. It hit Shinji's legs; it was remarkably heavy.

“Here's a new one.”

Shinji didn't pick it up. He'd been thinking, while she talked.

“Listen, Rei. Um. Thanks for rescuing me. I owe you... that is to say, I'm in your debt. Um.”

Silently, he cursed how he always seemed to get tongue tied around her. Admittedly, the traumatic events of the Incident of the New ID Card (which he tried hard to forget, and she didn't seem to acknowledge even happening) probably had something to do with it. But during his stammering apology, her stare didn't change at all nor did, disconcertingly, any nuance of her expression. A slight curve upwards of the corners of the mouth, a raise of the eyebrows, a slight widening of the eyes were all classic signs of gratitude, the body language social glue that kept the unwritten rules of human (and Nazzadi, who had practised it even before contact) society functioning. The responses were unconscious, dating back to the common Chimpanzee, which only existed in managed enclaves, and the now-extinct bonobo, which languished in DNA records, waiting until the war was over before they would bring it back.

Yet Rei Ayanami showed none of them.

“It was my mission.”

Shinji sat up, and looked at the package. It was a new plug suit. Internally he groaned. He saw Rei looking at him. Although he could not say if her expression had changed, he nonetheless received a different feeling off of her.

Amusement? Sarcasm? Something else?

She spoke. “Don't come out looking like that. It will be cold out there.”

Shinji frowned at her for a moment, confused by her cryptic comment, then he realised that he was wearing nothing under the sheets. In sitting up and reaching out to see the contents of the plug suit package, quite another package had been revealed. Sheets were hastily gathered to cover himself.

And was that just a joke? It was literally true, but it could also be deliberate understatement, and, well, we're in Britain...

“Sorry.” He managed a weak grin. “Well, at least we're even now.”

There was no response.

“Sorry again.”

An alabaster hand was raised to point at the tray by the side of the bed, without any words. Shinji picked it up. They quite thoughtfully hadn't provided anything solid, replacing it with the high-nutrient brew that soldiers were fed on in extended operations. He punctured the seal, and began sipping at it, staring into the middle distance.

“We depart in one hour.” Rei's voice passed through his consciousness.

“Must I? Again? It hurts...” His voice was as soft as hers, filled with self-pity.

“Yes. You are the Pilot of Unit 01. It is your role to pilot.”

“But I don't want to!” It came out as an agonised cry. “You can say that because you haven't...” Shinji fell silent. That was a very stupid thing to say. He'd seen her day after day in those bandages, growing used to her new eye; and the skin, he could see it was still slightly too young looking. He'd be right to say this to anyone else, but not to Rei, not to another Pilot.

He continued, in a softer tone. “You do know what it's like, don't you. How you always seem to end up hurt all the time. That feeling you get when the A-10s activate and your body suddenly becomes not yours. That you get the odd feelings when you're out of it, that you're back in it and that it's your own body that's not yours. The noises in your head when you make the AT-Field. The way that the LCL is just wrong, wrong, wrong!” The last words were shouted.

He looked over at her face. Rei's expression had shifted once again without changing. He felt, paradoxically, embarrassed to be saying this to her, and yet her presence seemed to suck the sound out of him, like a childish confession.

“I'll pilot Unit 01,” she said, softly.

Shinji looked down at the bed covers, eyes closed. It was tempting, the deeper parts of his mind whispered. But his rationality overwhelmed it.

He wouldn't be safe if the Herald came to London-2. No-one would. And he'd seen it shred the Migou Swarm Ships. They did need everybody. And it felt wrong to leave it to Rei. She'd saved him last time, and unusual instincts, ones that he couldn't analyse and that pre-dated humanity were telling him that he needed to protect her.

“No,” he muttered. “No,” more clearly this time, “Tell them I'll be there.”

Rei turned to depart, a pale ghost in this clinical purgatory. She paused in the doorway, turning back from the rounded portal to stare at him with those grey eyes.

“I will see you at the cage.”

Shinji slumped back into the bed, feeling exhausted.



~'/|\'~




A gaggle of teenagers stood near the top of the arcology, looking out through the armoured windows to the north-east. Well, the north-eastish. They were not entirely certain where the spectacle they intended to observe was to emerge. Moreover, they were somewhat jumpy; there had been an arcology-wide broadcast telling everyone to retreat to the lower, subterranean levels, and although the deadline had not yet passed, the arcology police were likely to start moving people along. It was already dark in the direction they looked, the bulk of the arcology, like an artificial hill blocked the sun from those in its path. There had been complaints made by the enclave-towns in the Greater London Area, which had been viewed somewhat unsympathetically by the NEG.

We already help you enough by protecting you, was the gist of the argument. If you would but move into the arcologies, where you can be monitored, classified and genescanned properly, you wouldn't have to worry about the vicissitudes of natural weather and sunlight.

The group was a somewhat eclectic mix of individuals. The people who would be, by any reason classification be deemed 'geeks', 'nerds', or any other pseudo-pejorative linked to their intellectual obsessiveness and tendency to spend a lot of time in what what would have been called “indoors”, were they not resident in an arcology, were there in force, complete with specialised cameras ready to seed the images all over the metanet. They were not there alone, however, as there was also a sizeable number of the Nazzadi Culturists. As their unofficial leader, Taly, had put it, “Giant killing robots are an important part of our culture as a race, and just look at those lines. Tell me that the Evangelion doesn't look more like a Vadoni or a Oryladi than a Scimitar or a Claymore. Well, in fairness it looks more like a Seraph than either, but it looks more Nazzadi than human.”

The fact that she could name the models off by heart was memorised by a fair number of males and a lesser number of females. That she also appeared to be a bit of a mecha fangirl was a useful bit of knowledge for potential dates.

Toja drummed his fingers against the transparent wall. “We should go get to the cover. I'm tired of waiting.”

“I think that's the right lift shaft on the arcology wall down there.” asked Ken. “I was only able to get the general location from what I could glance of my dad's stuff.”

“But they're not here,” replied Toja, dragging the last word out in a deliberately childish manner.

They waited.

“And what are you doing up here?” asked a cool, authoritarian voice.

“Dammit,” muttered Ken. “I'm sorry, officer, but we were just looking out at the natural world,” he began.

There was only Hikary, standing there with her arms crossed and strange, half-smile on her face.

“Did you say that?” asked Toja, a stupefied look on his face.

She grinned, then. “Yes. My father's had me taking Command and Elocution out of school, and I wanted to see if it worked. It does.”

“What are you doing here,” the Nazzadi boy asked.

“Some of the girls invited me along, for a “surprise treat”. Just because I'm half-Nazzadi, they keep on trying to get me to be more like that. What are you doing here? And you can't lie, Kenneth Suke Aide. Not to save your life.”

Under this ferocious interrogation, and the rather more real prospect of her gabbing him by the ear and dragging him off, Toja cracked.

“We heard that Shinji and Rei were being deployed from here. We wanted to get a look at them before we were forced to go down...”

“That's what she...” began Ken, somewhat reflexively, before a many-eyed glare from most of the surrounding students silenced him.

Toja was chief among the glares. “To go down to the bunkers,” he continued. “Idiot...” He turned to exclude Ken from the conversation. “We will be going soon, if that idiot,” gesturing at Ken, “was wrong about the location.”

Hikary sighed. “No, he's not.” Noticing the stares, she shrugged. “Well, we're almost all Ashcroft Children here. I... had a look,” she confessed, a faint pink blush on her grey cheeks.

“It's moving! The wall's moving!” called Taly, over from by the window. The teenagers rushed to the wall, and flattened themselves against the transparent material.

From the wall, the literally Cyclopean bulk of Unit 00 emerged first, orange armour given a plain grey covering, the anonymous grey of plastic swathing its colour. There hadn't been time for a proper camouflage scheme, what with the necessity of obtaining the Academia and, later, the large section of its hull that was strapped to Rei's arm, the massive plating trimmed down to the size of an Evangelion by layering it multiple times. It had been hoped that the bulk might, with the reinforcement of an AT-Field, take one, and possibly even two blasts from the Herald, which was all that they could hope for. As it emerged, the single eye swung its gaze over the environment.

It was followed by Unit 01. That Evangelion did not look much like the images that the watchers had seen. Everything from the waist upwards had been replaced with the cruder restraining armour. Where there had once been the sleek lines and organic curves, vaguely similar to a demon from Japanese myth, the top half of Unit 01 was now obviously a machine, a thing of harsh angles and blue-grey steel. The restraining armour, despite being thicker than its normal armoured shell, provided less protection. The bulked artificial muscles ran, exposed, over the surface of the obscuring materials that concealed the unnatural flesh that composed the Evangelion. As it walked, the force applied could be seen. Even the head was different, as the beam of the Herald had melted the face of the Evangelion. A crude armoured skull-like mask, the jaw sealed in and only the glow of the eyes emanating from the empty sockets, masked the synthetic organism's visage.

There were, nonetheless cries of “Awesome!”, “Cool!” and other such comments from the watchers. As they looked on, the two forty-metre figures strode off into the ruins of the Greater London Area, around the enclaves that clustered around London-2 like chicks beside their mother-hen.



~'/|\'~




And now the two titans lay face down, positioned to prevent them poking out over the buildings. The NEG had commandeered the entire Kensington Enclave, for the proximity of the now-overgrown Hyde Park, and the population had been evicted and moved into the arcology. It was silent; the calm before the storm. The air was quiet, as the military preparations here had already finished, and faintly, in the distance, a nightingale sang. It was astonishing how the ecology had changed, as the Greater London Area returned to nature and wildlife recolonised the world. Once, this place had been packed with museums, embassies, and a university. All of them had now retreated to the arcology, although many of the museums were rather bereft, as the predecessors to the OIS had gone through their entire inventory and confiscated huge numbers of historical artefacts. It remained a home for the rich, though, as the proximity to nature and the large houses, updated to modern standards, drew in those who, for one reason or another, preferred not to live in arcologies.

It was for that reason that the NEG ran very frequent blood and brain scans through this area. The choice of the location was not purely tactical, too. The London-2 authorities would not in any way be displeased if this Enclave was destroyed through hostile action or 'accident'.

Shinji sat beside Rei, on top of the building that had been the Royal Albert Hall, now converted into a private residence. It seemed odd that the dome had survived the Nazzadi bombardment in the First Arcanotech War, but it had. They sat and stared out over the wooded area before them, bathed in moonlight. It was a full moon tonight, and it shone bright. Shinji looked over at Rei, who sat, gazing out over the decaying ruins of the city. The light made her seem ethereal, transient, like a piece of transparent paper folded into the shape of a girl, ready to blow and fall like a leaf, ending up crumpled on the floor.

He thought over the plan for the upcoming battle, imparted to him by Misato. She seemed completely different, as if another woman, with all her memories but little of her personality was occupying her body; a cool, efficient commander. He was manning the Academia. Frankly, he had disbelieved the idea at first. It seemed some special plan to get him, Shinji, to commit suicide. But the 200 metre long ship, mounted like a squad support weapon on the fortification they had erected in the middle of Hyde Park, was really real. She had told him that Unit 01 was the damaged one, and thus he would be the one manning the weapon. When the fact that ventral laser and its assorted D-Engine and all the supercoolant systems that Ashcorft Foundation technicians had spent all afternoon welding to the exposed superstructure was five times as long as Unit 01 was tall, it made a rather peculiar image. A metre thick cable snaked from the weapon into the body of Unit 01, which gave him control over the firing. Some of the technicians had suggested making a giant trigger for him to squeeze, until Major Katsuragi had found out about it and had, with much profanity, told them to stop being stupid.

Rei hadn't moved since he had last looked at her. She had a shield, made from the welded together parts of the hull of the Academia, layers of superfluidic helium-4 sandwiched between the separate pieces. It was hoped that the superfluid, where the waveforms of the helium overlapped, making them move as one, would help negate the effects of the attack by the Herald, but it would only do so much, as the puncture from the front would rapidly heat the Bose-Einstein condensate up, blowing off the front layer of the shield as the gases expanded. And Rei was directly behind that shield, to interject her self between him and the Herald that had hurt him so much.

“You know, we may die,” he said to her.

On reflection, probably not the best conversation starter in the history of mankind.

She didn't respond to the stupidity, though, giving it the due thought that she gave everything.

“You will not die,” she stated softly, “because I will protect you. If you die, then London-2 will die. And then I will have failed.”

He looked at her, his head cocked at an angle. “Is that why you do it? Why you put yourself through... the things with the Evangelions?”

She looked down at her crossed legs, gloved hands resting on her lap, and then up again. “I pilot her because of my ties.”

“Your ties?” asked Shinji. “To London-2? To my father?” he said, hating himself for the last one.

She then looked at him. “To everyone. If the species does not survive, then everything will have been pointless. The world needs to be saved.”

Shinji nodded. That line of logic, although somewhat nihilistic, made sense. The Strange Aeon was not a time for faith. The gods, loathsome entities which cared nothing for mankind had slain God, or at least the idea of God. How could one have faith in something that did not exist? And so people had regrouped to humanism, taking reassurance in shared humanity and the declaration that we were better (in some indefinable sense) than everything else in the cosmos.

“I have nothing else,” she muttered, her voice a sighing in the wind

Shinji heard it, though. “Nothing else?” he queried. He realised then how little he knew about her, at a more than superficial level. He knew that she lived alone, but he did not know why. He knew that there was something between his father and her; he had seen her (seen them both, the cynical voice in the back of his head added) acting like a normal person.

She did not answer, standing up and stretching, elegant on the balls of her feet even in the heavy plug suit. Her face was raised up to the moon, and as the gaze of one pale maiden met another, Shinji got an inexplicable shiver down his back, and he thought he heard some kind of movement of air currents above him, a faint leathery sound.

“It's time to go” said Rei. She turned those grey eyes on him, limpid pools of superfluid helium, and blinked once.

“Goodbye.”



~'/|\'~

The Herald floated serenely towards London-2. Nothing struck against it; no projectiles fell to break upon its AT-Field. The NEG had gambled a lot on the behaviour observed in its first contact remaining true. It had only attacked things that came close to it, or that attacked it, and so they had let neither of those two states occur, retreating any forces out of its way.

But the Herald itself was changed from its original shape. The tetragonal trapezohedron was marred now, the smooth geometries covered in the fractal shapes that protruded from its surface, each one tessellating impossibly; a smaller, budding version of its original shape. The entire thing was the product of a warped mind, a true madman, and yet it was real. The NEA had exhausted its stocks of RALCL serum on doping these troops; the process in the London Geocity that produced it was still experimental, they had been told, and so production quantities were limited. It was already rationed; the rear echelon troops had not been given it, and so were under strict instructions not to look at it. It was all that they could do.

The mass of the London-2 Arcology was a darker silhouette against the night sky. The power had been cut, as superconducting fibres, a fine capillary network throughout the city, all converged and were prepared for the massive currents that would flow through them. As long as the electrons within were restrained to their superconducting state of Cooper pairing, they would be fine, but were any to fail or warm up, the cascade of heat that the burnout would cause could cripple veins. Inside, even the ventilation had been set to a minimum, and the weather systems turned off. It was already starting to get a little warm inside.

“The time is approaching Zero-Hundred hours” Maya said over the network as the counter on Shinji’s HUD ticked down the last few seconds, then went to zero.

“Commencing operation!”

“All right Shinji, we’re trusting nearly the entire power output of London-2 into your hands. Do it right!”, stated the Major.

You could have at least said “Do your best!”, thought Shinji. I don't like Misato as the Major. On the other hand, the Major might actually clean up after herself...

No! Focus, baka Shinji!


“Okay,” he replied.

“Right, this is it!” commanded the Major. “Begin the connection sequence!”

In the NEG Headquarters, they received confirmation that the power-up had started for the Academia. Thus, the conventional assault began as planned.

The vast array of the defences of London-2, silenced by the orders from Headquarters, opened up with the vengeance and the wrath of an angry god. The atmosphere filled with ionisation trails, as the ferocious batteries of charge beams, plasma cannons and lasers opened up, blue-green trails sketched in the air. The rocket exhausts filled the sky, a false dawn out of the wood etchings of the medieval Catholic church as the flames lit up the sky.

A livid sky on London, thought Rei, ensconced in Unit 00. And I knew the end was near.

The Herald did not sit back and take it, though. The new, fractal facets, shifting in a motionless way most disturbing to the eye reached out with their black beams and kissed the missiles. The aflame sky was filled with detonations, as a cascade of metal rain bounced off the AT-Field of Mot. It then began firing off more beams, each one perfectly placed, into the things that dared harass it. A larger blast punched into one of the major banks of charge beams and dug a cavern, perfectly spherical, five hundred metres into the London Arcology.

“Third connection, no problem!” called out Makota, his voice calm as he monitored the banks.

“Release the final safety connections,” ordered the Major, as she watched the map turn to ill. The Herald punched all around it with its Stygian embrace, removing blue NEG icons from the map with horrific ease.

“Temperature of the Academia is functional. We should have twelve seconds of sustained beam before we have to let it cool down, given current input,” added Lieutenant Aoba, his thin, spiderlike fingers running through the AR interface.

The advanced targeting system was displayed on Shinji's screen, as he crouched behind the fortifications, the stripped-down frigate mounted on the defences like a stationary machine gun. Rei was in front of him, crouched behind her own fortifications with the additional benefit of the shield. With the amplified senses of the targeting mode, Shinji could see the frost on the supercold slabs of metal. Code ran across his screen (eyes? Was it running along the inside of his eyes?”;

Code:
##OPEN “MKPLANOFDOOM”
# RUN “TARGETINGBIGLASER.EXE”

Program designed for compatibility with Skuld-class frigate to allow advanced targeting and interface, accounting for variables

Last alterations 19:46
Authors: S. Aoba, M. Ibuki,

Adjusting direct parameters...
Fluctuations of power source...
Corrected
Local spacetime curvature...
Corrected
Arcanotechnology induced variables...
Corrected
Atmospheric composition...
Corrected
Ionisation of atmosphere (Inferred)...
Corrected
Effects of AT-Field (Evangelion)...
Corrected
Effects of AT-Field (Target)(Inferred)...
Corrected
Miscellaneous Corrections...
Corrected

Outside effects have been adjusted for.  Targeting reticle synchronisation complete.

Fire when able.

Program is running in tabs.


He raised his eyebrows at the naming convention. He knew that the technicians had a somewhat peculiar sense of humour, and he supposed that the “Big Laser” bit was right, but still...

There is such thing as propriety, after all.

Red lights screamed in the control centre.

“Channel 3-44!” called out Maya. “We've got a heat cascade. Isolating the superconductors... isolated.” Her hands flew through the AR model before her, looking more like martial art katas than conventional computing. “Re-routing... and done,” in a triumphant voice. “Minimal loss in efficiency.”

“Fire when ready!” ordered the Major. “Don't take too long; we don't know how well the system can hold!”

Before Shinji, in the urban ruin before him, the Herald could only be seen as a blacker shape in the night. No stars were visible through it, and the black lances of the AT-Field that came from its bulk, no longer a pure tetragonal trapezohedron, could only be seen by inference. He swung the mass of the ship towards it, but before the reticle could turn red, the converging parts in unity, Rei in Unit 00 stood upright, in front of him, bracing the shield.

“What is she doing!” yelled Ritsuko.

The Herald fired then. It obviously had detected the massive energy build-up far from it, in a quiet sector where the barrage of fire that had been hitting it did not originate.

It lanced out. Rei stood resolute. The white girl in the grey Evangelion was engulfed in a beam of ultimate darkness, the black of the interstellar void. The first layer of the shield was torn away, the baryons that composed it flying away in all directions at high speeds. The wrinkle in spacetime, generated and restrained by the will of Mot, then hit the layer of superfluid helium-4. The peculiar quantum state, that that form of matter possessed, proved to thwart its will for three seconds, until ambient heat broke the unified waveform into separate wave packets. The liquid helium then quickly evaporated, tearing the front of the shield off as the freezing gas expanded, each cubic metre of liquid becoming 754 cubic metres of gas. Rei was forced back by the horrific momentum imparted by the flash-heating, but the clouds of vapour and the atmosphere that froze around it severed to alabate the beams of the Herald.

The clouds of gas had knocked the calculations of the LAI out. It readjusted, and Shinji followed its dictates to swing the ship into position. He squeezed the trigger in the cockpit, sending the signal to the ventral laser.

Against the Stygian beams of the Herald, Unit 01 fired pure light, of the blue-green wavelength used in naval operations. Powered by 96% of the energy output of London-2, an arcology of 30 million souls, the beam suddenly was, punching into the lowered AT-Fields that fuelled the beam. It punched clean through the Herald, the hideous energy of the laser frying the air around it. Even the scattering from atmospheric particles was enough to blind anyone who looked at it, the blue-green blade the colour of the planet Earth against the extradimensional invader.

The Herald remained aloft, though, even though now, stars, the usual stars, could be seen through the wound. All of its beams, those dark manifestations ceased, as it pulled all back into a concentrated AT-Field. The burning white light of the field, so concentrated was it, outshone the scattering of the laser. Shinji swept the Academia's laser across it, but it moved the AT-Field with him, the shield of its soul protecting its body.

The Herald had all of its AT-Field in that place, leaving only a little to maintain its integrity in the cold cosmos. The fire of the rest of the NEG forces still alive slammed into its unprotected facets and fractal curves, chipping tiny fragments of the void that fell to the ground and writhed and wriggled. It did not care. It now did not care for anything but survival. What it encountered now threatened its life, its very existence. If it fell now, it would not be. In some sense, if it was destroyed, it would have never been, for the Crawling Chaos did not appreciate failure and could remove its self, the sense that it had been anything other than a mindless automation that had appeared to think, like the beings that tried to kill it now.

No, that was not true. The Beast Nyarlothotep appreciated failure greatly. It was amused by the fall of empires and the deaths of gods. What it lacked was any possible sympathy or regrets for the fallen, or for the victor too, for they would fall soon enough.

It held out the Shield of Yog Sothoth and willed to live.

The heat levels on the ventral laser were rising rapidly.

“It's not breaking through!” called Lieutenant Aoba. “10 seconds until automatic shutdown. Seven...”

“Keeping firing, Shinji,” called Misato, hand on mouth.

“Six...”

Rei straightened up, the crude shield damaged but not useless. The blue-green beam ran over her shoulder, clashing with the blinding white. The air was boiling, streams of ionised gas flowing away from the lance of light. The very air around her was a plasma; she could feel it burning, weakly, though the sympathetic pain. Yet it wasn't enough. The Herald could weather this storm; though its sails may be torn and its side splintered, it remained afloat. And then, when the laser overheated and fused, it could annihilate Unit 01 in a apocalyptic blast.

“Five...”

She could not stop that. Even the blast that she had stopped had burned away a quarter of her shield, and it had been interrupted by the actions of Pilot Ikari. Saving her by opening fire. And if Pilot Ikari died, she would have failed in her mission. Failed in both of them. And as it currently lay, as the future ran in front of her pin-prick eyes, it was inevitable. The laser would over heat and he would die first. She would die next, trying to stop the floating fortress with a charge.

Then London-2 would die. And she would die again. And Representative Ikari would die.

Rei clutched her shield tight, and rose into a sprint directly towards Mot.

“Four...”

“Die! Die! Die!” screamed Misato into the microphone, as if the Herald could hear her. “Just die!”

She demolished buildings as she ran through the dead city, the buildings of a more civilised age crushed by her shins. The Evangelion roared, even as she remained ice cold, a strange pricking feelings in her shoulder blades.

“Three...”

“What's Rei doing?” asked Ritsuko, voice muffled by the knuckle clamped in her mouth.

She was getting closer now, the strange geometries and the hyper-dimensional intrusions curving and twisting to her sight as her change in position altered the way that the immersions of the n-dimensional objects appeared in three dimensional space. The interface between the universes was warped and twisted by the damage that they had inflicted upon the Herald, and so the scars and wounds seemed to flow across its apparently protean surface; even as the cross-sections changed, the gashed stayed still. It did not move, however, the void seemingly crawling before Rei's eyes as it tried to save its own life. Even with the buffering of an EFCS, the other Pilots would have been severely affected by the impossibility before their eyes. Rei was not. It existed, so it was not impossible. It was real, so it was not imaginary. It was no use judging the universe by the preconceptions of an uplifted race of chimpanzees whose brains were designed for the vector calculations of passage through trees, when the true beauty of the n > 3 + 1 universe stood before you.

But the beauty must die, she thought, in the name of the species and the ties that bond me to it.

“Two...”

Aoba's voice remained calm; almost unnaturally so.

“Focus on the centre of the target, Pilot Ikari,” ordered Rei, even as threeplex universes ran before her eyes as she charged the Herald, shield locked in front of her body; the air resistance no objection to her passage. Shinji complied, and the roar of the vaporised air swung towards Rei, the beam nearly directly over her head.

Lit by the light that shone through deep oceans, the White girl leapt into the air and slammed the shield into the mass of the Herald, the infinitesimally thin fractal edges of the abomination piercing the layers and lodging into it. Even as the superfluid flash-boiled into gas, she pulled the legs of Unit 00 up in mid air, digging them into the hooks for her arms and pushing up again, riding the force of the gaseous helium and the explosive blast.

Right towards the centre of the Herald and the point where the ventral laser of the Academia clashed with the AT-Field.

“One!” Some emotion finally crept into the Lieutenant's voice.

The pale girl in her grey Evangelion was lit by the brightness of the nigh unstoppable force and the near unmovable object. Silhouetted by the brilliance, that of some malevolent angel whose only hypothesis was on the destruction of all life, she ascended into the light, hands outstretched and a nascent AT-Field forming around them.

In that frozen moment of contact she reached out, gently (and yet oh so quickly), and ripped open the soul of the Herald. The blue-green light, seeking, questing, reached through the hole and pieced the heart of the ancient god-like being, piercing the red orb that blinked but once when its veil of darkness was broken. The red was extinguished by the focussed light, the wrath of humanity, and the spear continued, breaking through the other side with no effort and shining out, far into space.

And thus the Herald ceased.

Rei continued in her path, though, and the terrible bladed darkness was still there. It pieced the ceramic shell of Unit 00 in many places, even as the corpse of Mot shattered and fell, like the abode of a dead king, extinguished by the blue-green light of the sea. It listed and fell, crashing down to the ground.

“Weapon shutdown. We've got widescale meltdown of components, the cooling units are fried and...” began Lieutenant Aoba. He blinked, as the distorts of the target's AT-Field vanished from the sensors. “And the target is destroyed.”

The technicians and the rest of the Ashcroft team whooped and cheered. The celebrations spread to the NEG Headquarters almost instantly, as they picked up the death of the Herald too.

Shinji, however, dropped the converted ship, as parts of it glowed red hot, and ejected the link-up, following Rei's path through the old city, a twin pair of footprints smashing the concrete to rubble. He paused as the bulk of the deceased Herald became evident, then launched himself upwards onto the splintering bulk. Without the AT-Field, the fractal spikes were no long infinitesimally sharp, and so they could be climbed on, even by the more bulky Restraining Armour fitting to Unit 01. Even though occasionally fractal branches, now sometimes seeming to be made out of some kind of strange glass that was not natural to the world, would break off, Shinji could still pull himself up.

Unit 00 was impaled in a large branch, one that did not penetrate the back. It no longer shifted when the viewer moved, because with the death of the Herald, the immersion in three dimensions became the object itself. Gently, Shinji picked up the mecha, holding it in his arms like a child. The grey armour was marred, pierced all over the front, and red blood leaked out, cascading down the ruined breastplate. There was a faint bubbling over the surface, too, as the massive amounts of energy he had been dumping into the environment had made the air into a plasma, and melted her armour.

Carrying it, he lowered it to the ground a distance away from the black hulk and the obsidianesque needles that it shed, as it crumbled after its death. The back, where the entry plug was inserted, was pried open, and the tube removed, as gently as he could.

He placed her entry plug on the ground, and ejected his own. Running over to her metal tube, hair and face soaked in LCL, cold in the breeze, he put his hands on the wheel, and turned as fast as he could.

The prongs bent and warped in his hands. He continued to wrench at the wheel, and eventually (and how long it seemed) the door opened, soaking him in a second flood of LCL. He poked his head inside.

Rei sat slumped in her command chair, fingers clutched into claws on the arms of her chair. Soaked in LCL, just as he was, she appeared more normal, the orangish veneer giving her skin a melanin-like tint.

“Ayanami!” he called desperately. “Are you alright? Ayanami? Rei!”

She twitched, and stirred, opening those pale eyes and staring at him. The gaze was, as usual, cool.

Shinji,however, felt his eyes well over. He smiled weakly.

“That was... that was a bit stupid. And utterly amazing.” He wiped at an eye. “Don't... don't ever say that you have nothing else. You have more to fight for than just that. You're... you're just brilliant, like a star.”

She listening to his babbling with an impassive face. Shinji began to sob, overcome with the release of all the accumulated stress and nervous energy from the last day.

The pale girl sat forwards.

“Why do you cry?” she said, in a voice even softer than usual. “Ambition should be made of stronger stuff.” Shinji looked at her, from between hunched shoulders. “I'm sorry. I don't know how to express myself in situations like this. I... I,” she continued, her voice, unbelievably breaking somehow, “... I just know this to be true.”

Shinji then looked at her, properly, a faint look of pity (he knew not from which source) in his eyes.

“You could try smiling,” he suggested.

He watched her eyes flicker, like the movements of a dreamer, then they focussed on him again.

Her face twisted into a half smile.

It wasn't much, but it was a start.



~'/|\'~




The Director of the Chrysalis Corporation, nearly on the other side of the planet, sat back in its seat and laughed and laughed and laughed. Around it, its Dhohanoid servants frolicked and played, the perversion of their activities enough to challenge sanity.

All empires must end. All thrones must be toppled. It is a law of the universe.

The being that the humans had, with their limited insight, called Mot, had been favoured by it. What it failed to see was that the Crawling Chaos had merely granted it a whim of favour because its worship had amused the Faceless God for a while. And the amusement had ceased all too long ago; it was so lacking in imagination, so caught up in the petty machinations of its fellow priests of the Outer Gods, that it had calcified and decayed from what it had once been.

And too many have reigned too long, holding their authority over their worshippers, subjects and citizens. Even its cult, the Children of Chaos could not comprehend it, for they would not see the fundamental truth. So many thousands worshipped it on this petty rock, and none of them would see that every action ensures the spread of entropy in the universe. There is no need for deeds that primitive morality systems would have called evil, because every deed further its goals. It was merely that some deeds amused it more than others. And they were all so blind to that simplicity. The Second Law of Thermodynamics described Nyarlathotep's nature much more accurately than a thousand occult texts, yet again and again the barely sapient beings (and all beings were barely sapient, compared to it) fell upon ritual and ceremony, where simple knowledge would have sufficed.

All, but its servant in the Evangelion Project. That one had seen right through to as much of its true nature as such a pathetic being could.

That servant would ensure that the most amusing outcome would emerge. And all though their own plans; the Queen in Red had not needed to suggest anything.

That one bore promise...



~'/|\'~

Last edited by EarthScorpion on 2009-02-11 04:28pm, edited 1 time in total.
   Profile |  

EarthScorpion
PostPosted: 2009-02-28 08:40pm 

Padawan Learner


Joined: 2008-09-25 02:54pm
Posts: 209
Location: London
And once again I naughtily go behind my beta reader's back, and post this chapter while still only partly betaed. I confess; this is a bit of a filler chapter. I'm merging the Jet Alone and Asuka incidents, but I ended up getting diverted by other things I wanted to cover first, as the focus of the story is going to shift a bit once the Second Child is introduced. Originally, this was only the first half of Chapter 7, but really, we don't want 30,000 word chapters.

For one, they don't get read at all on FF.net. And that little graph (oh, so addictive with the way that it tracks the numbers of unique visitors and the hits) doesn't increase. More seriously, I've found I can't drive myself to work on the next chapter until the previous one is up. And I'm sure you'll agree that the next chapter should be good. I've got the structure already planned out, so as a payment for any possible spelling mistakes or grammatical inaccuracies, I give you a little preview from my notes for Chapter 8. Yes, I do put down little bits of dialogue I think would be cool;

<REDACTED>, "Nice dre*WHAM*", "Dr Wade, Dr Miyakame, Dr Akagi.", "Oh yes, that's very familiar", "The paradigm of bipedal combat is outmoded and flawed", "Where's he gone?", Q&A EXPOSITION!, "It looks like a tree!", "Is a Herald or a Swarm Ship worth more points?", BOOM!, "You know, this doesn't really fit. At all.", "Deploy the Prototype! Charge the Laser!", "Hurts. So. Much." *nosebleeds*, "It's jammed again!", "What the hell are you doing!", "It's swallowed it whole!", "You made the armour out of what?!", OM NOM NOM!, "Initiate Procedure Beowulf.", "And so the slave race turns on its old masters. Again...", "A negative asynchronous sychronisation ratio?", "He was killed for his position and title by the one who replaced him".

And with that out the way, I present Chapter 7.



~'/|\'~




Chapter 7

A Quantum of Respite




~'/|\'~




The nanofactory bleeped as the coffee granules were assembled. They were promptly removed, and immersed in boiling water, while a cupboard was opened and, with a slight rush of air, the seal broken on the fish-substitute. There was a second, different bleep as the rapid infusion process was completed, even as a scraping noise indicated the 100% vegan-compatible fish (like almost all modern meat) was served to the ravenous penguin on the floor, which began to devour it, the teeth lining its beak tearing the shaped protein into something that could be swallowed by a creature that, despite all its genetic alteration from its giant albino ancestors, still lacked the ability to chew.

Yes, it was amazing how the abnormal could become mundane.

Shinji sat back down at the table, and stretched, feeling the ache of the healing skin over his chest. The bandages had come off, but it still felt slightly raw.

Someday I will find whoever first suggested the idea of a giant robot where the pilot gets physically hurt if he's piloting well enough. And then we will have a short talk, about not being bloody stupid.

He sipped at the tea, as Pen-Pen wolfed down his faux-fish. There was yet another ping, as the toaster proclaimed that it had not only cooked the bread, but also strategically applied butter and a predetermined spread. Shinji recovered the food, and bit down just as a disorganised amorphous mass of flesh, strange black tendrils sprouting from its head, face locked in a grimace that could induce fear in the bravest man emerged. A strange noise, half-roar, half-screech emerged from its maw as it pulled its upper appendages back, perhaps to strike.

Misato stretched. Her dishevelled person was still only clad in her sleeping garments, although she didn't seem to care about that.

Ah. They obviously went to the same school of thought as the genius who suggested making a slob, with what might be seen as Nazzadi attitudes to clothing, the guardian of a teenage boy. I really cannot believe that this is the same woman who was running the operations against the Herald.

For all that the Evangelion Project is in theory staffed by geniuses, they seem to have found all new and remarkable ways to be stupid.


Misato shuffled over to the fridge, opening her first beer of the day, enveloping rather than drinking the alcoholic beverage. Shinji concealed his slight sneer. She had caught his attempt to stock the fridge with non-alcoholic beer, justifying her apparent rampant alcoholism with the idea that she worked better when she was “slightly buzzed”.

“Yeah! This is how my morning begins,” she declared, as she slammed the can down onto the table, crumpling it.

“Not with coffee?” replied Shinji, staring at her.

“Wark! Wark-wark!” added Pen-Pen, staring at her through his small eyes.

“Shinji, we both know that the traditional Japanese breakfast begins with miso soup, rice and sake,” Misato said, as she pulled up a chair and sat cross-legged upon it. “You are dishonouring your ancestors with your disapproval of me drinking a little beer at breakfast. And,” she continued, wagging a finger in his general direction, “it's practically a law that beer can be drank at any time you wish in England. So, there!”

Shinji didn't reply.

“Oh, yeah! Misato 2, Shinji 0!” she added triumphantly, as she grabbed some toast.

Shinji finished the rest of his breakfast in silence, while Misato got to work on devouring the toast. He cleared up his plates, and began to load them into the machine. He then remembered what was going to happen today.

“Are you really coming to school today?” he asked, dreading either answer.

“Of course,” she replied, spraying crumbs of toast over the kitchen floor. “It's one of those half-termly reports as well as a parent-teacher conference on your future.”

“But it's not like I'm really going to have a choice, is it?” he answered, a gloom descending upon him as he contemplated his future. “I'm going to end up piloting Unit 01 no matter what happens. My father will see to that,” he added, with a twist of bitterness. “And aren't you going to be busy, anyway?”

“Oh, come on, Shinji,” Misato said, finally removing the toast from her mouth. “You'll always have a choice. The NEG doesn't do conscription; we're all volunteers. There'd be an outcry if we started dragging people off to fight.”

Shinji grunted, in a non-committed way.

“And anyway, we're sort of quiet right now. They've finished the repairs on Rei's Eva, and they can't start work on yours until... something technical, about spare parts, happens. I've got an update this morning. And, quite a few parents are going to be away at the Academy's PT conferences. And I don't mind doing it, it's part of my job.”

There was silence in the apartment, underlined by the hum of the dishwasher, as both Misato and Shinji realised what she'd said.

It was broken by the doorbell ringing.

Shinji glanced over at Misato.

“Please, don't come out looking like that. It's embarrassing,” he said, blushing faintly, before heading off to the door with his bag.

“Don't forget that you've got a PyschEval at the Clinic after school today,” she called after him.

He managed to guide the pair of Toja and Ken (his brain mentally substituted “those slobbering idiots”) away from the building without giving them the chance to stare at Misato that they so obviously desired, forcing to console themselves with a wave from her arm.

Cleaning up after Misato, keeping these two away from her, piloting a giant ferocious biomechanical eldritch abomination which kills cosmic horrors... it's hard work. No wonder that I'm getting a few white hairs; the stress can be horrific at times, he thought to himself, with a mixture of self-pity and self-parody.

Back in the apartment, Misato picked up the phone, and called a designated number.

“Acedia is away, in company of,” she ran her eyes down the list on names with attached pictures on her PCPU, “uh, 'Pentheus' and 'Hector',” she reported, referring to Toja and Ken respectively.

She sat back down, as she got the affirmative. Misato really didn't know why they insisted on her phoning in; it wasn't as if Shinji wasn't tracked every metre by multiple cameras. Arcologies were heavily supervised anyway, and the routes either one of the Children could take were more so than usual.

She slumped back, grabbing another beer. She really wasn't looking forwards to the parents-teachers meeting (formally called a parents-guardians meeting in the Academy.) Usually, parents had... some years to get used to it, when the children were more playing around with paint and clay and stuff, rather than long term academic choices. Man, how many employees had she had to given permission to take some time off today? Something nagged at the back of her mind about that. Something about the technicians and staff on the Project.

She shrugged. She still had to be in for the morning, for that status update.

You'd think that they could have chosen a better day for the meeting, was all.



~'/|\'~




“So, give me the full status of the two Evangelions,” stated Ritsuko, sitting back in her chair. The senior staff in the Evangelion Project were all gathered here, although the meeting was moved forwards from its original time due to the number of staff that would be unavoidably absent in the afternoon. She was somewhat annoyed by this, but the status report was not high enough priority to justify cancelling their leave. Through the window, they could look down upon the two massive figures, waist high in coolant in a matter akin to statues to drowned and forgotten gods. Small figures clustered around the orange figure, its layers of camouflage paint removed to better inspect it for damage. The figure beside it, purple on those bits not obscured by the restraining armour, on the other side of the partition, stood alone and silent, its armour marred and untouched.

Maya cleared her throat. “Both Unit 00 and Unit 01 suffered major damage during the engagement with the last Herald,” she began, bringing up images of the two mecha on the tabletop projector. The swathes of red that marred the holographic projection only layered emphasis upon her words. “I can report that Unit 00 is almost fully functional. Its biochest was heavily damaged, but the Damage Control System managed to seal it off, along with the natural clotting factor. It's a flaw of the Evangelion genetic material that its natural regeneration had to be dampened to install the cybernetic components.”

Glancing over at the grimace on the face of her mentor at the unfortunate comparison that bought to the Engels, Maya blushed slightly, and continued. “The DCS put down the initial layer of nanites to repair the interface layer, so we can fit a replacement breastplate tomorrow. We're going to have to scavenge the Type-A Prototype armour to repair some parts, but the Type-A and the Type-B are fairly similar in most regards. The difference only really lies internally, rather than in the nature of the armour. We would formally like to put in a request for extra funding in the next report to the Representative, though, as we've almost depleted our reserve of spares compatible with Unit 00.”

The meeting was interrupted by Lieutenant Aoba arriving, late. His apologies for oversleeping were brushed aside, as the discussion continued.

“That's already in motion,” replied Ritsuko, to the final point. “After the performance of the two Evas against the latest Herald, and the recommendation of TFV, they're taken Unit 02 over to Chicago, for a 'full independent analysis',” her tongue curled with sarcasm over the last phrase, “by NEG military staff for expansion of the project.”

Misato frowned. “What's your objection to that?” she asked. “Surely a budget increase is worth a bit of poking. Although, I have to say,” she added, “it doesn't really make much sense to take the one certainly battle fit Eva away from both the Eastern Front. I'd heard that Asuka was being transferred here instead, after the damage that we took last time. Actually, come to think of it, it's obvious. She's the one in the first MP Eva, of course. That's the one they'd want to look at.”

“No, it's not obvious, and I'll tell you why,” stated Dr Akagi, contempt in her voice, as her lips turned up in a sneer. “Doctor Miyakame and a bunch of the high-ranking members of the Engel Project are going to be some of the people doing the 'poking', as you put it so well. They're not exactly neutral. In fact, they're out to ruin us and take over the Project, assimilating it into the Engel Project!”

There was an embarrassed silence around the table, as Ritsuko seemed on the verge of going on another of her rants about the Engel Project and her belief that they were trying to ruin the Evas. Misato gritted her teeth.

I will not say “So what?”. It is not good for Rits' sanity. I will not say “So what”, even though I can't see any problems with letting another NEG project look at the Evas.

One of the Nazzadi sitting around the table cleared his throat. As a vat-Nazzadi, created from Asian gene-stock, he was biologically 48. He looked older. His hair was almost completely white, the traces of the original jet black almost completely overwhelmed, and wrinkle lines drew a topographical map on his face. The Migou had been through into their construction of a fake genetic population, and one of those parts was the fact that some people draw a bad genetic hand in life. But then again, Chief Engineer Timana seemed good at drawing bad hands. He'd lost his wife, a fellow Ashcroft arcanotechnician, shortly after the birth of their second child, a daughter, in an accident that had taken out an entire building of staff, her body never found like so many of the others. He'd taken it badly, the presence of his children all that really kept him sane. Now his daughter was in an Ashcroft Clinic as a long-term patient, and his weekly psychological evaluations were showing high levels of both mundane stress and Aeon War Syndrome markers. He was being flagged as being only a few steps away from a complete breakdown; if another thing happened to him, it was suspected that those suicidal thoughts that emerged after the accident would return.

He was one of the older ones involved in the project, Misato knew, one of the arcanotechnicians from the first team. Indeed, he'd known and worked with Dr Miyakame then, along with all the other figures who loomed, metaphorically, over the modern staff on the Evangelion Project. This may have partly been behind the hints of annoyance she could see on his face.

“My apologies, Dr Akagi, but this meeting has a deadline, and I still need to report on Unit 01.”

Ritsuko blinked heavily, and took a deep breath. “I'm sorry. Go ahead, Timana.”

The arcanotechnician in charge of the team assigned specifically to the Evangelion that Shinji piloted bought up an enlarged image.

“To put it simply,” he began, “we're out of parts for Unit 01, and even if we had them, we'd need to wait for the organism under the armour to recover from the replacement parts. We haven't even been able to graft the replacement flesh to the chest, to repair the chest wound that Zero-One received from the AT-Beam that Mot used.”

Misato cocked her head curiously. “Why not?”

The engineer grimaced. “The organism is furious and in pain, to put it simply. We can't remove the restraint armour to perform the operation, because it'll run rampant if we don't keep it locked down. We're having to carefully balance the growth-and-immunosuppressants we give it with the need to get it repaired. We've removed most of the more delicate components and we're letting the organism regenerate on its own, slowly. Once it repairs that, we can fix the mechanical parts. But at the moment, it's completely useless for combat...”

“Well,” began Ritsuko, only to be interrupted.

“... which brings me neatly to my second point,” continued Timana, brushing a loose strand of wiry hair back. “We're out of parts for Unit 01 completely. It never had a full set of Type-A armour, because the original team had us change part way through its construction, and we've exhausted all the stocks of Type-B. The organic material from Asherah... well, that black oily stuff contaminated the first set completely; it had even begun breaking down the armour, and the ceramic compound is treated to be as unreactive as possible.” His voice became softer. “It was the same with the arcology dome where it died.”

“As for the set which was coated by the activities of the Third Child in killing the Kathirat, it had appeared to be in good condition, once we decontaminated it and removed the highly carcinogenic ichor.” His face screwed up into disgust. “And then we got abiogenesis. Yes. We got harangoy abiogenesis in Unit 01's armour. First time we found some single celled prokaryotes inside a hairline crack in the armour, we just thought that there had been a breach of hygiene in the factory. When we got the mandatory H&S testing back from Bio, the next day, it turned out that it was completely unrelated to any other form of terrestrial or encountered-Migou life. We ran another scan, and there were already eukaryotic lifeforms worming their way through the armour, adapted to that environment. The three staff that ran the tests are on compassionate leave at the moment from what they found when we cracked open the shoulderblades, and may I also point out that all the damage that Unit 01 keeps on suffering means that we're all... the entire team is suffering from elevated AWS, even by arcanotechnician standards. That armour's with Bio now, being studied by a arcanoxenobiology group.”

He shook his head. “Please, can someone stop the Third Child from taking so much damage and getting covered in the blood-substitute of these creatures? Each one has some hideous bioarcanochemical trick hidden in it which has some effect on the armour, and forces us to replace it all. And I don't even want to consider what the effects on the Evangelion organisms are. They're somewhat tetratamutable, and we don't want the Evangelions replicating the AWS-inducing properties even with the armour on.”

The scientists and engineers around the table were all slightly wincing as they heard in depth what the engineers on Unit 01 were having to deal with.

“So, what you're saying,” asked Ritsuko after that report, “is that Zero One is completely out of operation at the moment.”

“Correct.”

He had been prepared to propose that they ask for help from the Engel Project, but the irrationality of Ritsuko had already made it clear what the response to such a proposal would have been. There was something about the name “Dr Akagi”, he suspected from first hand experience, that just drove people mad. But there was the generation divide in the Evangelion Project. The theoreticians and the higher up staff were young. Many of them had been in university when the technical staff had been building the damn thing, and the rest had been even younger. They hadn't seen the brilliance of the original team, and complained all the time about so-called design flaws in the Evas.

“And that we're out of spare parts for it.”

“Correct.”

“And we won't be getting replacements until...”

“Six days for more Type-B equipment.” Timana sucked air in through his teeth. “It's almost not worth fitting the armour; ETA for the Type-C is about a fortnight from now. It's only a slight iterative improvement, bringing the older two Evangelions up to about the standards of Unit 02, but it'll make it easier to fit and means that we can do a better job on the repairs.”

“That's an idea, actually,” added Maya.

Misato tapped her fingers on the table. “No,” she said after a while. “We want to minimise the risk from the period of time that we only have one Eva available here. When the NEG return Unit 02 to us, we can run a full refit cycle. We were only able to kill Mot with the use of two Units. Had Rei been unavailable, Shinji would have been vaporised by that first shot, or when the Academia overheated.” She winced. “You wouldn't believe the paperwork that commandeering a partially complete ship, tearing off its armour for uses as a shield (which then gets destroyed), making massive systematic changes to it to handle...” she took a deep breath, “...the entire output of an arcology and then melting the main gun, causes.”

Ritsuko frowned at her. “Yes. Yes I can. It's kind of obvious, you know, and a very silly thing to say. You wrecked a half-a-billion terranote ship. That produces paperwork.”

The black haired woman sighed. “Joke, Rits, joke. Unless you're willing to reprogram the Magi to deal with it...”

“Experimental bioelectronic super-computers that mix the raw computing power of hardware with the specialised pattern-recognition skills of wetware optimised by genetic algorithms are not be used for paperwork,” stated Maya, firmly.

“That's right. It's on the list,” added Makota.

“There's a list?” asked Misato. This development seemed interesting.

Makota coughed guiltily. “'The Things That the Technicians Are Not Allowed to Do with the Magi' list,” he said, blushing slightly. “It's just a joke list that we have in Central, an in-joke with us. We haven't actually tried any of the things on the list. Really. Well, some of them, but it's sort of split between jokes, like that and not trying to teach them sorcery, and things like GOTO functions and remembering to use the appropriate space-time model when analysing data.”

“But the paperwork restriction is there?”

“Yes. They're meant to be completely isolated from the outside world, to prevent violation of such a sensitive project. Any data input has to be approved by external sources, and the code analysed on a virtual computer, due to the damage that could be done to the organic parts by bad code. To summarise, they're there for big things, like resolving the nightmare of how to get a walking giant biped, not for paperwork,” answered Maya, in a manner most final.



~'/|\'~




It was really unfair, Shinji though, that they had needed to attend normal lessons in the morning when the parent-teacher meetings were in the afternoon.

Sorry, guardian-teacher meetings.

In a world such as Earth during the Aeon War, and especially in a school where so many of the parents have such hazardous professions, vocabulary and language must adapt to the situation.

But the conference was still a little distance in the future, and thus the inevitable questions that would be raised about his dropping marks. Because, of course, having training four out of seven days a week, and a PsychEval on the fifth day was not a sufficient excuse, at least for Misato. Actually, it was quite disappointing for Shinji too; he'd always managed to stay in the top half of the year, but had dropped down to the third percentile.

Slightly annoyingly, Rei didn't seem to have any problems staying near the top of the year, despite the fact that she seemed to be training every single night. She didn't seem to even work for it; she either knew something or did not, and the latter was far more common. Actually, the things that she knew could sometimes be quite worrying. If made to answer in class, she would give a near-perfect technical answer, in which would be mixed facts which were far beyond their level. Like, in questions on the “First Strike Hypothesis”, exact casualty figures. That wouldn't have been a problem, were it not for the fact that exact figures were not actually available, lost in the chaos caused by the start of the Second Arcanotech War and Migou strikes against China, and any hope of recovering them buried by the Rapine Storm.

Yes, Shinji had been thinking about Rei a lot after the events on the 30th of September, 8 days ago. Once they'd released him from the full debrief and treatment of the sympathetic burns at the Ashcroft Clinic (which had taken up all of Monday), he had returned to school with a different view of her. She was very intelligent, almost suicidally brave (although was it bravery, or apathy?) and, yes, it must be said, rather attractive.

Currently, he was sitting in the lunch hall, trying to divert his attention between eating, gazing at her in a way that he had convinced himself was not creepy, and Toja and Ken (who were quite aware of the fact that he was interested in Rei, although they used the term “interested” in the special way that double-entendres that only have one meaning possess).

“So... Shinji,” began Ken, slowly and deliberately, “how are you going to manage it in a forty metre giant Engel?”

He frowned. “Manage what? And it's an Evangelion, not a...” Damn! He was turning into Dr Akagi! “Forget it. Manage what?”

The bespectacled boy's face broke out into a wide grin. “Your epic seduction of Rei, of course. Will you climb up the Dome Spire with her in your hand, being attacked by planes?”

There was a brief pause, as all three boys considered the worrying attractiveness of that image.

“Or perhaps you will give her a bunch of redwood trees?” added Toja, joining in the fun.

Shinji tried to lighten the situation through humour. “She has her own Eva. She can go pick her own trees, not force me to do it. Whatever happened to gender equality?”

“So you do admit it,” declared Toja the Inquisitor, red eyes glinting in triumph.

The triumph was somewhat ruined by a eighth of a cucumber, thrown rather accurately down the neck of his loose shirt. The black-skinned boy began to squirm as the cold, wet vegetable presed against his shirt.

“Nice shot,” said Ken, admiringly.

There were twenty other sidoci in the entire school, a massively disproportionate number even when the higher number of inter-subspecies marriages were taken into account. This was a sign of Ashcroft's inclusive policies on the peculiar children of humans and Nazzadi. Many were taken into care at a young age, as the parent found themselves incapable of dealing with the constant surveillance from the NEG, along with an infant that didn't connect to them properly, and, perhaps more importantly, was parapsychic from the cradle. The Ashcroft Foundation would pay for them to attend the best schools, the altruism a thinly veiled investment in their future value. They either, depending on personal preference, sat with their classmates, the parapsychics group, or the xenomixes. The parapsychic lot were particularly obnoxious, older than their years as a consequence of the responsibilities of their powers, and possessed of an almost boundless egotism and thinly veiled disdain for “Mundanes”. That was not to say that all parapsychics were like that, of course, but the ones who made it into the defining characteristic of their personality, discussing feverishly their “power levels”, were, at least to the people they believed to be their inferiors, thoroughly unlikable people.

But Rei sat on her own in a corner of the room, wolfing down the protein supplement and leaving the energy-rich soup that she had ordered. There was an invisible bubble around her, which no-one seemed to want to enter. Even a cleaner, the bulk around his shoulders and under his loose clothing giving the truth about his role in the school, avoided the cordon of exclusion around her. She sat alone, a pale flower on barren snow. She looked up from her meal in time to see Toja move to whack Shinji in the head with a piece of bread. But as his hand descended, he pulled it back, pulling the blow, as he flinched subtly.

Of course, momentum is a bitch, and the top half of the baguette broke off, bouncing off Shinji's skull and landing on the floor. The cleaner straightened up, and Rei saw his hand move towards his waist. He relaxed, as the bread turned out to not be a cunningly disguised hyper-edged blade. The normal proceeds of school life returned with a rush that was imperceptible to all but the most focussed observer.

Such a return naturally involved Hikary dragging Toja away by the ear for a little talk, on the necessity of not acting like an idiot, not that he was even capable of such a challenge, and other such riffs upon a common theme. And Rei saw the small smile on her face that appeared when she was not exposing him to a glare with roughly the wattage of the main gun on the Ashcroft.

She really wondered how the rest of the world was so unobservant. How could they not see the obvious?

Shinji and Ken got rapidly tired of the spectacle of Toja being scolded. It wasn't that it wasn't hilarious (for it was), it was that familiarity breeds contempt, and the sight was a rather common one.

Shinji just hoped that Hikary wouldn't find out about the cucumber.

“So, what exactly happens on these GT conferences, then?” he asked Ken.

“GT?”

“Guardian-teacher. I can't be bothered to say it every time.”

The bespectacled boy shrugged. “Fair enough. I kind of forgot that you haven't been to one before. There's a boring speech from some guest visitor every year in the main hall, then we get set loose to meet with our guardian and then we show up to the pre-appointed time, in which we get told that we're doing very well in the proper subjects, but need to work more on the humanities and try associating more with our classmates and possibly get involved in the school sports teams, honestly, it'll be good for him.” Ken adjusted his glasses. “That may be just me, though. My dad is rather sick of the speech, too.”

“Your dad?” Shinji asked, mildly curious.

“Yeah, you won't have met him. He's in Armourcorp, as one of their higher ups. He's overseeing one of the Powered Armour groups contracted with the NEG.” The pride could be heard in the boy's voice. “Powered Armour is awesome. A Mk-10A Centurion could take down any twentieth century tank you care to name, and it's all crewed by a single man. It's airdroppable, has DCS systems that restore 2.91 functional kg/s, and Charge Beams are just amazing. Fire one, and they just go and they won't stop until they hit something hardened to military standards. Relativistic proton beams... just wow.”

Shinji winced as the memory of the Evangelion-scale Charge Beam doing nothing to the black shape of Mot arose from his mind. It bought with it the pain that had followed so soon. His hands suddenly felt very cold and smooth in his lap, and the room seemed to spin.

He shook his head and focussed, bringing the world back into shape. It took time, the people at the Ashcroft Clinic had said, for the trauma to be unravelled; certainly more than a week. He meant to ask Ken something, but he had forgotten.

Just then, a loud noise could be heard from outside the window that ran along one of the long sides of the room. In a fundamental human instinct that so often, in the Aeon War, played against the species, a large proportion of the room flocked over and stared. Shinji and Ken were among them.

What looked like a full armoured convoy had emerged through the gates. Multiple Broadswords tore holes in the lawns,while Gladii and Sabres took up the flanks, even as powered armour flocked around the larger bipeds like children. Down the middle rolled a moving glimmer, which became, as they moved to a stop in front of the school, six Ranger IFVs, as they turned off their stealth fields.

Shinji turned to Ken with a confused look on his face, who was keeping his video camera active, rolling from vehicle to vehicle, to take in as much as possible.

“I love GT Conferences,” the boy said happily in response. “Oooh! Oooh! The new MV-16A-B3 model of the Gladius! Look at the modified lenses; they're meant to give an improved optical resolution and give autonomous control of a sensor to the LAI, allowing better target tracking!”

“What's happening?” Shinji shouted into Ken's ear, over the noise.

“The parents. See, every one who gets in this way is a High Value Target, and so there's enough of them that this becomes one of the most guarded places in London-2. My dad'll be coming later, in a normal car.”

The ramps to the APCs opened, and a flock of quite ordinary looking people, dressed in work clothing entered the school building without ceremony.

Naturally, Misato, emerging from the fifth Ranger, would not go so quietly. Although she was wearing a proper suit (although Shinji, personally, felt that the skirt was too short), she had decided to, for whatever reason, open the top of the shirt. This had the side effect of giving Ken a target, and the focus of the camera moved to straight down the blouse.

Evidentially, she could feel the presence of the eyes upon her. Either that, or she could hear the wolf whistles, which were probably more of a give-away, now that Shinji thought about it. She gave the floors of slathering, mostly male students a V-sign. Had human biology worked that way, there would have been explosive nasal haemorrhages. It was perhaps fortunate for the onlookers, not to mention the suspiciously fit and bulky cleaning staff, that it did not.

Shinji sighed.

“Man, Misato's really hot,” declared Ken, camera still trained. “And she's the Director of Operations in one of the Ashcroft Projects, too! That's even hotter. I like a woman with...”

“How do you know that?” asked Shinji, somewhat sharply. “That's classified.”

“Yeah, but it's a pretty open secret on military forums. The project went public today with a display in Chicago.”

“Wait. What?” Shinji paused. “What?”

“Big red thing. Awesome. They're keeping the ID of the pilot secret, but I know it wasn't you, because it was filmed when I was watching you fail to write a fairy tale,” pointed out Ken.

“Not important right now.” Shinji shook his head. “They went public and they didn't tell me that people know? About them?”

Ken shrugged, putting down his camera as Misato went inside. The crowd dissipated, with the exception of the tech-heads who were still admiring the military hardware standing sentinel on the once-pristine lawns.

And so it was that Shinji was one of the few who noticed the sealed car decloak, after all the other parents and guardians had gone inside. It was mat black, and frankly looked like it was violating the speed limit just by existing; more akin to a low-flying aircraft than a car. Of course, that was also true of any vehicle which Misato was allowed behind the wheel, but not by design or the intention of the arcane engineers who had designed the locomotion.

A sole figure got out of the car, dressed all in black, and wearing his customary glasses. Even from this distance, Shinji could recognise his father.

He suddenly knew who the guest speaker would be this year. It wasn't as if the bastard was going to his Parent-Teacher Conference.

A movement of white in the corner of his eye caught his attention. He looked over, to see Rei waving down, slowly and solemnly, each movement of her hand a precise tick of some unseen metronome. She was smiling slightly, her face unusually animated by her standards.

Shinji looked down to see his father wave back up at Rei, ignoring his biological son completely. He felt rage well up in his stomach, fourteen years of suppressed anger at those horrible memories that he didn't think about from the second worst day of his life, immediately after the worst.

Who the hell did she think she was! And he certainly doesn't think that he's my father, I've known that for a long time!



~'/|\'~
   Profile |  

EarthScorpion
PostPosted: 2009-02-28 08:42pm 

Padawan Learner


Joined: 2008-09-25 02:54pm
Posts: 209
Location: London
~'/|\'~




It was always late evening in the St James Plaza.

One of the side effects of arcology life was a subtle disconnection from the normal circadian rhythms of the natural world. This disconnection became a sudden dislocation when certain themed districts, mostly in the commercial centres, had a fixed time of day. Perhaps unsurprisingly, one of the most common of these fixed times was the late evening, about 7pm, with the weather typically that of a warm summer.

The St James Plaza was unusual in that it was reserved for active members of the internal security forces of the NEG. In the line of duty, many of them were exposed to things both mundane and extra-dimensional that left them with a pronounced urge to get drunk; hence the Plaza existed as a place for them to blow off steam while still monitoring them. The bars were staffed with people with psychological training, and a duty to report to the official counselling services. People always loosened up when inebriated; this way it helped maintain their sanity and prevented them from blabbing anything that should not be public. There was also the role of stopping the agents from doing harm to themselves from excess consumption of any of the large array of legalised pharmaceuticals available in the New Earth Government. The drug laws in the NEG were liberal; it had been found that it kept the populace happier (and that was all so vital in these dark days), and moreover the income from taxation was most useful. However, there was still the risk of excess.

Outside, in the warm, still air, crickets chirruped. Mixed in among these live animals were centrally controlled sentry drones, their networked cameras monitoring the area. The neon lights on the buildings cast a strange light on the cobbles, still slightly wet from the brief, cooling rain that had fallen three hours ago. There were tables set up outside, the Mediterranean feel incongruous with the steel, glass and velvet of the buildings that loomed over them. A buzz of conversation reverberated between the artificial canyons, echoes distorting and altering until the world seemed filled with the sussuration of human voice.

Inside the one of the bars, whose sign proclaimed that it was called “Deus ex Euphoria”, Mala, an FSB agent attached to the Counter-terrorism Department (CTD) was nursing his second drink, staring morosely into the blue-green liquid. Over on the other side of the bar, his duty partner, Akiry, was chatting to two men, her dyed green hair shining under the light.

They weren't talking to each other. You didn't after this kind of case. You went out and found something to distract yourself with, until the proper shrinks could schedule a meeting for you. They really should have done so by now, but they were still dealing with whatever had happened at the end of last month which had caused breakdowns in a quarter of the parapsychic FSB agents, and so the more mundane cases were being slowed.

Mundane! Hah!

Mala got drunk, then high, then drunk again. That was how he coped with it. Akiry found some men and shut off her brain for a while. That was how she coped with it. Though it wasn't really coping. It was just delaying the problem for later, they both knew.

But the thing was, later wasn't now. Later meant that you didn't have to have the horrible roiling feeling of guilt, shame and failure brewing in your gut, noxious fumes burning your throat and leaking into your mind right now.

The bartender leaned across the counter, and tapped him on the hand.

“Do you want to talk about it, Mala?”

The Nazzadi snorted. “What makes you think I have anything to talk about,” he growled, taking another mouthful of the drink.

“Your PCPU tells me that you're on enforced leave, and, frankly, I don't see people in here at,” the barman said, as he checked the clock in the bar, “11 am drinking as you are unless something's happened.”

He let the words hang in the air, idly polishing a glass. You had to let clients proceed at their own speed, rather than pushing them too hard and ending up with silence.



~'/|\'~




Asuka smiled broadly as Minister Aristide herself, the Minister of War for the whole NEG, presented her with the single gold bar of a Second Lieutenant. After her success against the Migou fleet, they had made an almost unique exception for her. Just for her. Alone.

It may have been true that the official commission, rather than just the derogatory title of 'Test Pilot', wouldn't change anything for her. She would still be outside the formal chain of command, under the auspices of the Evangelion Project rather than the New Earth Army. Some might say that they had just given it to her to placate her, and then bound her up in regulations so that it didn't mean anything. That didn't matter. She had won it fair and square, over five years before most people. It meant she was better than them.

If they'd deployed her to the front lines before, she could have won it earlier.

And it meant that she outranked the other Evangelion pilots. That was good; it put her as the only logical leader of the team. The First and the Third had worked well together in the censored video she had seen, against the most recent Herald, although there were quite a few flaws in their training. The First Child had certainly improved, to be able to handle her cumbersome, inferior war machine in that fashion. It was just as well. Incompetent subordinates reflected poorly on their leader.

She saluted the military leaders present. There weren't any mass-media cameras in attendance, which she thought was a bit of a pity; she was the youngest officer in the NEG military, and this should be a record. At least they had broadcast the images of her in Unit 02, demonstrating the superior abilities of her precious weapon to the onlookers. The Evangelion Project had gone public, a sudden declaration that she had only been informed about shortly before getting into the Entry Plug. But the tension had been good for her, she knew; the technical staff from Berlin had congratulated her on her highest sustained synchronisation ratio yet.

She turned, and saluted the audience, packed with high ranking members of the military and important scientists. She knew she looked wonderful, too. She was wearing the deep green dress uniform of the military, which fit her perfectly, tailored as it was and produced to order. She particularly liked the way it emphasised her figure, curving in and out at the right places. Her skin and hair all looked perfectly natural. Perfectly natural.

She hoped that Kaji liked it.

Ryoji Kaji was paying very little attention to the ceremony before him. He was considerably more busy worrying about the buy-in that he knew that the Representative of Ashcroft Europe needed. He was worried about the fact that he was going to have to steal something from the Auburn Storage Facility, that ultrasecret location where some of the most dangerous artefacts, phenomena and creatures captured by the NEG and the OIS were stored. He was worried by the fact that the stress was getting to him, nightmares of running down endless hospital corridors filling his sleep since he arrived in Chicago, doors and walls bloodied and shifting, like the Segumé incident, one of his first missions. He was worried by a horrible gut feeling that this was the wrong thing to be doing, that it would be safer for everyone to just leave the Shard in the storage facility.

But he had to. It was necessary to find the truth behind this network of conspiracies. He had linked the hints that Pax had given him to detailed analysis of that data he had about Project Herkunft and its front companies. It was all connected somehow, he knew. Ashcroft's parapsychic research project was linked to Project Evangelion; they had been the ones who had found the Children, the few people who could pilot the synthorgs. Yet only one of them was directly parapsychic, and it was a consequence of her subspecies.

Whites only seem to exist to muck up data, he thought, only half in jest.

It was frustrating. It was like being led around by the nose by some cosmic sadist, some being beyond his comprehension who took joy in only giving out the least information possible, just enough that you could, were you able to think like it in its ineffability, solve the demented puzzles that it placed before you. Everything was so obscured nowadays. There were the hints of hordes of people-who-could-become-monsters, and monsters-that-could-appear-like-people fighting in the Occult Underground, there were coded references to “fear”, “origin” and “notion”. There was the obsession in the military with meaningful naming schemes; there were the Engels, named after types of Angel. There were their ancestors, the Evangelions, which followed the same scheme. There was the Sword-class mecha, and the Trooper-class Power Armour, built by Armourcorp. There was the running theme of transition and change in the logos of Chrysalis subsidiaries, and butterflies everywhere. The veiled references, the allusions; it was some code that he lacked the key to.

And with that, as the audience applauded, and he absent-mindedly joined in, he realised that he had made up his mind. There was something rotten at the heart of human society, its tentacles spread through so much of the NEG. Buried deep underground, guarded by a shell of lies and deceit, it would be hard to find. But he would break it, or die trying.

Now, all he had to do was get through the next week, until the unveiling of the Daeva-Class Araska on Saturday, without Asuka doing anything that would embarrass herself and him. She was getting worryingly assertive. The Third Child was going to be attending the unveiling on Saturday; perhaps he could get her interested in this Shinji...

It would be healthier in the long run for her, after all.



~'/|\'~




Gendo sat back in his office, making sure that the lights had been set to maximum. Even unsealing this archive bore risks, with the ever-potent threat of the Old One, Gurathanka, hidden within shadows and watching. Of course, that being, paradoxically puissant and yet rendered stupid by its power and hunger, could not watch the entire world at once, but were he to be found by that hideous monster, then terrible things could happen.

Quite beyond him being devoured and his soul tortured until the Great Old One grew bored.

The room was isolated from all external data sources. The computers were operating on a sealed, physically isolated network, lacking any wireless communications that might give them away. The wards were still holding, preventing eavesdropping mundane or arcane. No Outsider could enter this room without massive pain and alarms triggering, so thick were the arcane barriers.

Yes, it was safe.

The metamorphic material of his desk unfolded, as the archives were displayed to be read. Here, he had some of the most comprehensive data on the history of the universe. Texts from throughout history were stored here. The Dyer Papers, with his photos from the doomed Miskatonic expedition were here, along with the attendant Danforth Notes, the collected ravings of his companion. That Cyclopean city that they had explored and detailed was now destroyed, and these notes could have done harm far out of proportion of what the author, so feverish in his desire to protect humanity from the extra-dimensional, could have known. Those notes had been what had lead the Chrysalis Corporation to that obsidian city, and what had permitted them to find the texts from which they had almost constructed the Rite of Sacred Union.

Gendo's lip curled, as he thought of the damage that could have done to the world. Yet a by-product of those texts would also be the saviour.

Those papers were not alone, of course. The Thurston Papers were there, along with images of the Wilcox sculptures, that spoke of and showed that which the Migou feared so much. A copy of the Armitage Archive was here, cross referenced to those things that the misshapen spawn of one of the Outer Gods had been researching. The old man had promised his fellows to destroy this, but he had found himself incapable of doing so. The papers had been found by the OIS in the Miskatonic archives, and taken into safe storage. They had gone missing twenty years later, when an operative of the Eldritch Society had heard of them.

Oh, Miskatonic. Mistaktonic. Paranoid, perilous Miskatonic. How was that one small, insignificant university in Massachusetts has been the source of so much of the modern world? The Ta'ge Texts were found because of an expedition to Antartica funded by that university, over a century earlier. The Armitage Archive has proven itself so very, very useful in my aims. The West Formula has an entire Ashcroft Project dedicated to reconstructing it from the doctor's expense claims. The Mysteries Within found its way there for Teresa Ashcroft to find, and create arcane theory from.

The closer we get to the celestial concordance, the more and more worried I become that this is just a ploy by the Crawling Chaos, towards some unknown aim. But I chose my path, twelve years ago, and I must walk it

The texts contained within were not all the by-product of the voracious hoarding of data that the Miskatonic archivist practised, of course. The data archives of the Stellar Eradicators, the Slan(t)ers, and the Tangency Network were there, early 21st century groups that had someone got their hands on a surprising insight into the nature of the universe. The Tales of the Black Freighter, with its details of a Caribbean manifestation of a Cthulhu-worshipping cult independent of the Esoteric Order of Dagon, was there as a historical note, its popularity as a comic book a sign of the ways that the dreams of that squamous god could leak into the zeitgeist. He had texts and even a single device that belonged to the alien and unknowable Tsab, that strange, seemingly matriarchal species that interfered but rarely with lesser beings, but displayed apocalyptic firepower from the least of their agents; single individuals with weapons akin to a Victory-class Battlecruiser, who mind-controlled those who they defeated into servitude. Most shockingly of all, Gendo had managed to obtain the full product of that unknowing seer, Nagura Tanigawa, even though the predecessors of the OIS had destroyed all traces of it from the legitimate datasphere. That, hidden in a commercial product, had been such an explanation of the relationship between mad, blind Azathoth and its soul, Nyarlothotep, still amazed the Representative of the Ashcroft Foundation.

It was superior to the explanation provided by the Necronomicon. Though that text was feared above all by the NEG, Gendo knew the true source of the fear.

AHNUNG.

Gendo knew why they feared it; in between the inaccuracies introduced by a mad Arab who could not really understand what he saw through the gaps in the fourth dimension which he peered, there was sometimes quite shocking accuracy. Almost as good as the prophecies of Nitt Prophecies at times, but the later only existed in fragments, and about nine-tenths of the time seemed to be designed to be misinterpreted, in a way that only became obvious after the event. And so they spread around the myth that merely reading the Necronomicon could drive a man mad, that it was fundamentally inimical to sanity. That was a lie. Compared to many texts, the Necronomicon was safe. There had even been a fad among academics one hundred and fifty years ago, or so it seemed sometimes, to have read it. Almost all copies contained no actual occult rituals, and there was a good case that the copies that did were often later additions, to such a useful primer on history. Uniformly, it was fairly good with its history, but bad when it came to the future.

He ran his fingers down the spine of his copy, flipping it open. He knew that it would be on the right page, and, as his eyes scanned down the page, it was;

Nor is it to be thought (he read) that man is either the oldest or the last of earth's masters, or that the common bulk of life and substance walks alone. The Old Ones were, the Old Ones are, and the Old Ones shall be.

That pair of sentences embodied the flaws of the Necronomicon. The former was true, although vague and fed through the misunderstandings of a primitive, unfamiliar with the scientific mindset. That was a fundamental flaw; it was a scientific mindset that would save humanity, not blind faith. The latter sentence, meanwhile, was as demonstrably as false as Cake's hypothesis on the nature of existence.

Gendo, smiled, as he pulled out an item from the Nagura Tanigawa file, transcribed from its original DVD to modern data storage devices. He knew that the man from the GIA would be obtaining the fragment of the First Herald from the Auburn storage facility. As he hit the play button, he thought that that man was one of maybe three individuals who could safely obtain that fragment of the First-And-Deceased without being caught. Yet he didn't know his own value. He was a veritable infant, despite thinking himself a master of espionage.



~'/|\'~




Mala sniffed heavily, and stared down at the polished floor. He was on his fourth drink by now, and the combined effects of the alcohol and the minor mood stabilisers which had been added to the third drink onwards, to partially negated the effects of the alcohol were letting him relax. In such government run facilities, the staff were licensed to perform such involuntary medication under the Personal Competency Compliance and Public Prevention of Mental Disorder clauses, in Public Health Act, 2067, which permitted the administering of approved categories of drugs to any member of the public by an authorised individual.

“First major incident after being moved back off stake-out, and this had to happen. Just lolasy, Neil. Foweda haysti yavob sasily...” His voice tailed away.

Neil knew Mala, and the he knew just enough Nazzadi to understand swearing swear. He was probably about ready now, Neil thought, and mentally switched to “Counselling Mode” in his brain, his body posture subtly shifting. He also flicked on the recorder, so that the details of this conversation could be passed to the proper FSB psychiatric staff.

“We were hitting the Bountyists. The Church of Gaia's Bounty? Their public line is that the Earth Mother watches over all of us, giving all life the vitality it needs, and so we should respect nature, and give it due respect. Standard hippy bullshit. Standard cult concealment stuff. I swear, we should just ban all religion; every single fucking belief in a higher power or sky pixies just gets used as a way for fucking cultists to control people. From this pagan stuff to the damn belief that we need to fight against some space tyrant who killed people with volcanoes; they're all cults worshipping extra-dimensional creatures.”

The barman listened to the man's inebriated rant for a while, still unnecessarily polishing a glass, then, as the diatribe died down, cocked his head, and asked;

“So, what did you see?”

The Nazzadi shuddered. “I was on back-up, along with Akiry, as the infantry while the PA boys hit the building from all sides. Standard formation; two of those tin cans working together. Pretty much nothing on foot that can survive when a pair of Baraki or Flame-Crusaders run through a wall. Even if you're stupid enough to fire an RPG inside and actually hit one, the other'll get you. They go in. Nothing. We get the call in, to cuff the people found.” His red eyes were hollow, staring through the mirror behind the bar, as if he knew that there was a monitor behind the two way mirror.

“The place was grim. And dark. There were skulls everywhere, and spikes everywhere. Most of the skulls had rotted away to just bare bone, but a few were fresh. Some of the skulls had spikes on them. Some more skulls were on those spikes. How the hell had they managed to kill so many? We hadn't had any elevated disappearance rates, and they can't have been smuggling that many past ArcSec. And everywhere... there was these Roman numerals.” His finger traced them, almost unconsciously, in spilt drink on the table. “XV. Carved into everything; skulls, furniture, the floor, the ceiling. Fifteen. And there were slogans on all the walls. 'Send down your love!' 'Hurray, Hurray, it's a Happy Day! 'The Sky Smiles' 'Love is All We Need.' All these happy, cheerful phrases.” He shuddered. “This was in the private bits, of course. The public bits, and the false private bits were what you might expect; built out of false wood, symbols from the OIS-approved list of religious iconography, plants, you know, the works.” He emptied his glass. “Give me another one.”

Neil turned over the nanofactory, and ordered a new farayuti, a Nazzadi drink from their fictional homeworld. Judging from the black-skinned man's level of inebriation, he couldn't take much more. The alcoholic content was thus duly dialled down, to near zero.

The bartender passed it over to Mala. “Here you go. On the house.”

“Thanks, man.” He downed a third of it on one go. “We get down to the basement, following the instructions from the PA boys. I probably shouldn't call them that; they were both girls this time, but frankly I don't care. They'd dug a sort of crude cavern into the arcology superstructure. No clue how the hell they'd done it. You'd need all sorts of mining tools to be able to, and it'll surely be noticed. All these people in cages around this statue thing.” His hands began to shake. “It was... it was like some kind of bird thing, but far... far too many wings. The angels... angles were wrong. They'd made it of almost completely clear stuff. Diamond, maybe, although they obviously couldn't have made it in an authorised nanofac. All the lights, too. All the lights were centred on it, bright spotlights.”

He gulped, deeply. “It was at the same time weirdly beautiful and absolutely horrible. You could only see the rest of the room by the light that it sent bouncing around the room. And there was blood pooled around the claws. No skulls in here, though. It was weird. You'd think that a cult would have all their sacrifices made into a skull throne or something by their altar. All around it, though, people in cages. Filthy cages. A good thirty of them. And still no sign of the cultists.”

“I haven't seen you affected like this before,” Neil said, a faint furrow of worry in his brow. “You were involved in the raids on the Fabrimortife, and that was a worse case.”

Mala sighed heavily. “It's not the building. You can only see the inside of the human body used as decoration so much before you just stop caring. But that statue... it was wrong. And then... well, as we starting letting the captives loose, one by one, cuffing them ready for extraction to a secure facility, none of them took their eyes off the damn thing. They were covered in whip marks, everywhere. We found some links of fibre-optic cable lying around, made into these really nasty whips, but they didn't even seem to be in pain. I could see the spines poking out the backs of some of them, but all they did was stare at that damned statue.”

Mala sunk his face into his hands. “Some of them tried to fight us when they realised that we were taking them away from it. They actually tried to fight us when we were trying to take them away from the whipping and the cages. We had to zap a few as they went for us. We were in full armour and they were all injured and malnourished, and they went for us.” A burbling sob left his lips. “Two died from the shocks we had to use to control them. I killed a man who was too weak to survive a stun baton, and so he just died. Heart stopped. And then when Akiry and me and the rest of the FSB had extracted them, the OIS showed up. They disappeared everyone we'd released.”

He shook his head. “They're never going to be seen again. They'll be declared non-human, and they won't pass the OIS sanity checks to be given back their rights. Fucking spooks and their disdain for rule of law. You shouldn't be able to declare someone non-human when they're just horribly traumatised from being taken captive by a bunch of sick bastards and subjected to who-knows-what.” His voice dropped, to a near whisper. “And that wasn't just it. I was sure I saw something, as I left the place. Like a ferret, or some kind of rat-like thing, but it wasn't like the ferrets I kept as a kid. It had these weird eyes, like jades or emeralds, and they seemed to sparkle. I shot a burst at it, but missed. We didn't find anything when we searched the area. But I saw the damn thing. And nothing like that is natural. There's some sorcerer involved with that whole thing and that's why we didn't find any cultists, and that was his familiar," he slurred. "I'm sure of it.”

The barman nodded. This was a bad case. He was going to submit a request that counselling for everyone involved in this case was bumped up in priority.



~'/|\'~




Nothing you can make that can't be made.
No one you can save that can't be saved.
Nothing you can do but you can learn how to be you in time.
It's easy.

All you need is love.
All you need is love.
All you need is love, love.
Love is all you need.

All you need is love.
All you need is love.
All you need is love, love.
Love is all you need.

Nothing you can know that isn't known.
Nothing you can see that isn't shown.
Nowhere you can be that isn't where you're meant to be.
It's easy.


The prisoner was partially vivisected, her central nervous system connected up to the machines snaking down from the ceiling. The clean white light of the room shone down upon the transparent biofoam that covered her exposed organs, metal links into her cerebral cortex and spine glinting in the cold light. Extensive arcane markings in Enochian and Tsath-yo covered the walls, methodically engraved by laser-cutters, giving them a flow and precision beyond that which the human hand could achieve. The specialised sorcery allowed a merger of the machine and the human beyond that which even modern technology could achieve. The technicians at the work station had complete control over her sensory input. With the added ability to erase their short term memory, the subject could have every response to stimuli mapped, to build a complete psychological profile which could then be used to extract every last piece of information. It was possible to restore them to their previous state, but the process was long and painful, and widely considered to be too much effort in most cases.

Such a procedure was horrifically cruel and against every fundamental human dignity.

But non-humans do not have human rights.

The agent, a female xenomix, operating the machine moved methodically down the list of stimuli. She began a test-run of fear stimuli, and switched to analysing the already gathered data even as the mound of opened flesh on the table, barely recognisable as something that had once passed for human, began to twitch, the few muscles not subverted by the neural jacks violently trying to break free. The agent ignored the motion, adjusting her neat skirt and taking another sip of the coffee by the machine.

After all, it had been a long day. Nothing much interesting.

The rounded door to the room slid open, and a blond woman walked through, dressed in a smart, greyish suit that matched her practical, page-boy styled haircut. The lapel pin marked her as an parapsychic, and one classified as “Invasive”. She waved at her subordinate to sit back down.

“Stay seated, Agent Anderson. I've just come to check on the feedouts.”

Inside, the grey-skinned operator was puzzled. Since when did the Deputy-Director of the L2 Branch come down to check on a mundane Total Stimuli Evaluation and Analysis Package?

“Uh... we're incomplete as of yet, Deputy-Director. We've just finished the A7 set, and it's starting on the F1 grouping.”

“And.” The word was said without any intonation that would mark it as a question.

“Well, frankly, the subject is not responding as expected. The whole Affection sequence on the TSEAP is wrong. We're getting these images and junk rhymes even in A1, which should be mapping basic primate responses. It didn't even register any of the basic arousal functions to direct neural stimuli,” she looked up from the screen, “which is just... wrong.” She tucked a pitch black strand of hair behind an ear. “Instead, the nucleus accumbens, the septum pellucidum and the hypothalamus seem pre-flooded with euphoria. The entire basic brain chemistry is altered.”

The Deputy-Director tapped a button on the PCPU on her wrist. “Yes, another one. All the “captives” are exhibiting the classic responses of a code-Shamayim cult. We've IDed this one. Kidnap victim from an Outer London Enclave, reported missing three years ago. Turns up as a cultist. Typical modi operandi. They'd locked themselves in the cages, hoping that the FSB would just let them go after counselling and they could spread afresh. The cults are like a tree, and their roots lie in the darkness whilst their leaves wave in the sun and to those who suspect nothing they can have an attractive and pleasing appearance. You can burn away their branches, or even cut the tree to the ground, but they will grow up again even stronger and adapted to the selective pressures we impose. But if we don't eradicate them, their root grow thick and black, gnawing at the fabric of society, drawing its nourishment by leeching from us, and growing even greater and more deeply entreched.

The older woman looked pensive. “And it's happening far more than it used to. Even five years ago, the only cults you'd encounter were code-El and code-Baal. Now, we've got all these other cults showing up. And we can't allow that.”

The xenomixed agent felt a slight cold feeling in her head, like icy feathers running across her scalp, and shivered.

“You understand, don't you? That's why your PsychEvals have remained so consistently strong, even as a T-Seaper.”

Agent Anderson nodded. “Yes, ma'am, I do. They forfeit their humanity by choosing what they do; they sacrifice it in the deluded worship of extra-dimensional beings.

The Deputy-Director nodded, pleased, and straightened up slightly. “Agent Mary,” she pronounced the name in the Nazzadi way, as the xenomix preferred, “Anderson, you are being moved to a special task force to combat this revised threat. They'll be specialising on the newer codes; we have infrastructure already in place for Baals and Els. They need more trained T-Seapers. Go report to your new assignment immediately.”

Mary Anderson jerked her head towards the room beyond the glass, where the vivisected woman still twitched, as atrocities and fear calculated to produce all degrees of emotional response flooded into her brain, down the cables that connected straight to her optic nerve. The eyes were a hindrance to their work, and thus they had been removed.

“And this subject?”

“We've got all we can from them. Previous experience from code-Shamayim cultists show that the mental alterations can't be reversed, and the ones who haven't already begun the T-Seap have already been transferred to the experimental laboratory. We've got to find a way to undo the process.” The woman looked over through the glass, at the machine. “Terminate the subject.”

Mary moved her hands through the AR display, and in the room beyond the control centre, what was legally a bag of meat began to cool, the squirming stopping. The spiderlike arms that protruded from the floor and the ceiling removed themselves from the jacks, moving back into position for decontamination.

And Mary Anderson picked up her coffee and followed the Deputy-Director out of the room without a second thought.



~'/|\'~
   Profile |  

EarthScorpion
PostPosted: 2009-04-11 08:34pm 

Padawan Learner


Joined: 2008-09-25 02:54pm
Posts: 209
Location: London
So... yeah.

The chapter ended up bloating in a way that I didn't quite expect. 17,676 words, and the Herald hasn't even arrived yet. :shock:

And, so, as I felt this was a good split point, and since I really think people would prefer two chapters, rather than one which probably would be getting on for 30,000 by the time I've finished, I present, with only a bit of extra comment, Chapter 8.

WARNING: This chapter is rated C, for Conniving, and contains scenes of moderate loading of Chekhov's Guns, scenes of moderate sarcasm, scenes of extreme dramatic irony, and scenes of moderate to major deviation from canon. This chapter might not make much sense yet, unless you are familiar with Neon Genesis Evangelion, Cthulhutech and FEAR. Those alarmed by EarthScorpion's idiosyncratic writing style or strong authorial voice are advised not to read this story.




Chapter 8

Araska and Asuka



~'/|\'~


April 22nd, 2044

The bright light shone through the window. It was a beautiful morning. Outside, the sky was a near-perfect blue, the occasional fluffy cloud only accentuating the day, bringing a relief when it would otherwise be unseasonably hot. A faint smell of the flowers that packed the garden wafted in, a floral scent that mixed with the smell of the coffee that bubbled on the table.

A man, ethnically Caucasian and perhaps in his early thirties, sat at the table, reading the paper. The sheet of memoform display flicked as he changed pages, the words shifting on the physical object when he thumbed the button on the side. He sipped at the coffee, letting out a restrained yelp when he realised that it was too hot.

He felt a pair of arms enclose him from behind. He smiled, and put down the paper.

“She... is she finally asleep?” he whispered.

His wife pulled up a chair, and sat down, grabbing a cup of coffee. “Yes. Finally.” She sighed. “Why didn't they warn us?”

He looked at her, one eyebrow raised. “They did, Alba. Babies are noisy things, and we all knew that we'd lose some sleep.”

“But she was up all night,” Alba said with a hint of desperation, the red rims around her eyes testament to that fact. “I can't believe that's normal. I fell asleep before she did!”

“Listen, listen,” the man said, a look of concern on his face. “I know it's really bad of me to leave this to you. I work too much, honey...”

“... no, really?” replied his wife, a hint of irritation creeping into her voice. She took a mouth of coffee, swallowing the hot liquid without a sound. “No, no. Ignore that. That's just the tiredness talking.”

“I know, I know,” he replied, hugging her. “It's just that we're hitting the crunch time in Project Prometheus. We need to have those specialist O2 recycling plants properly sequenced, for the nISS, or the station won't be able to launch on schedule. And I'm head geneticist on our part of the team. I can't take my paternity leave. But I'll make it up to you later. I promise you that. I can take all that leave I've earned up, and we can have a proper family holiday. In fact,” he said, smiling, “I signed that damn waiver for my paternity rights for Ashcroft. I think I could wrangle them into paying for a family trip up to the commercial part of the nISS. How would you like that? A holiday IN SPAAAAAAAACCCCEEEEEE!!!”

Alba giggled, then clamped her knuckles into her mouth. “Sssssh! You'll wake her.”

“Sorry.”

“So, yes,” she continued, softly. “Anything in the news? I don't think I'm really in a state to read now.” She waved her hand in front of her face. “Everything is blurry, everything is blurry, because I spent all night trying to make her go to sleep and she's a baby,” she sang softly, quite evidently making up the words on the spot.

He smiled. “The Google-McDonalds-Halita merger is going ahead. It's been approved, although they haven't announced what they're calling the new conglomerate TNC. Elsewise, stuff on the tensions with China, mostly. They're still not going to consider their application for the New United Nations until they fulfil the democratic criteria.”

“I don't like the way that they don't let the biggest economy in the world into the governing body,” Alba said, frowning.

“It's been like that since 2015. When they reformed the UN, they said 'democracies only'. It was one of the fundamental principles of President Stimson and her predecessor; kind of the point of the New Internationalist Movement, well, that and bringing all the nations together due to the massive interdependency they'd found. They'd just lived through a global depression, after all.”

“Yeah, but it sets up an unnecessarily adversarial relationship with the Chinese. They've been looking for allies against what they view as the western attempts to sideline them. After all, dear, your employer has alienated pretty much all the old energy nations...”

“... don't blame me for that! I'm a geneticist. I have nothing to do with those crazy physicists. All physicists are terminally insane. Seriously, if your work is driving you mad, I'd call that a bloody good hint that you should think again about what you're doing.”

She held his hand. “Listen to me, Harlan. I don't want Alma to grow up in a world with a Second Cold War. Our parents were born towards the end of the last one. We're not them.”

“But we need a proper foundation. Democracy is the only way forwards, and we don't want to be letting a nationalist police state into the NUN. I mean, we don't ever want people in the NUN dragged away because they read the wrong things, because they disagreed with the government, because they followed the wrong religion, people called “non-human” because the government doesn't approve of them.”

“I'm not disagreeing with you, Harlan...”, his wife began.

“Yes, you are,” he said. “If we give up our ethics, what do we have left? The future is bright; it's neither grim not dark. We've got the potential for a post-scarcity economy from the work on nanofactories that I'm seeing, what with the combination of the D-Engine. God, if Project Prometheus works properly, we're maybe ten years away from a colony on Mars, and less from a Luna mining base. We need a proper foundation for the world that's going to come.”

“I'm not going to argue politics with you. Right now, that is. At the moment, I just want to sleep until she wakes up again, and starts crying. Hopefully not. But hope seems futile at times like this.”

Harlan pointed towards staircase, in a mock serious style. “Jah! You go uppen das stairs unt get sum sleep unt stop begink das sad gurl! I vill look after der kinder!” he said, putting on a truly atrocious German accent.

Alba merely cuffed him over the back of the head, and left, smiling. Harlan finished his coffee, and got up, stretching. Wandering through the house, he poked his head around the doorway to the room where his little girl slept.

The two-month old slept in the cot, her mass of dark hair, just beginning to grow, ruffled and messy. Somehow, in the night, she'd twisted around, and was lying the wrong way around, feet on her pillow and head resting on four rag dolls. She cried if you took any of the four away from her, and then it was hell to quiet her down again.

Harlan lend over and kissed his daughter on the cheek. She was going to see a better world, he was sure of it. One where there wouldn't be war, wouldn't be famine, wouldn't be disease. One where humanity owned the solar system, the planned network of colonies given air by his altered plants. She, and eight billion others.

There would be no child soldiers. No unethical experiments. No thought police. No liberties sacrificed in the name of security.

The future was bright.



~'/|\'~




October 8th, 2091

The view from the screens mounted along the inside of the aeroplane showed only the greyish-white of the cloud layer, even as the plane descended. In the Aeon War, transport by plane, especially for High Value Targets, which took them anywhere close to the Migou was done by specialist stealthed, sub-sonic aeroplanes. More mundane transport took routes that wasted time avoiding the Migou-controlled north but could go supersonic, as they were unconstrained by the need for stealth. The crossing of the Atlantic had become a problem with the Migou domination of the polar regions, forcing planes to take the much less time-efficient (fuel consumption no issue to a vehicle with A-Pods) routes that, although appearing straight on a map, were not when the non-Euclidean nature of the surface of the Earth was taken into account.

Not the bad kind of Aeon War Syndrome-inducing non-Euclidean geometry, though.

How certain examples of geometry which defied the mundane, intuitive understanding of the world induced AWS, while other examples could be accepted with a shrug, was a question which occupied psychologists, neurobiologists and philosophers (although the former two were observed to be considerably more useful in discussions) across the globe. The prevalent hypothesis was disturbing in its implications; Aeon War Syndrome was a flaw in human mental processing, optimised as it was for such ape-like actions as identifying the best fruit and clubbing other rivals over the head. This research was not classified, but it remained unofficially restricted to professional circles. It was demoralising to consider the fact that humanity was flawed in a way that the Migou, and even the Deep Ones were not; unable to look at the world without breaking.

As the plane passed over the coastline, glints metal in the water could be seen. Before the Second Arcanotech War had become the Aeon War when the Dagonites and the Rapine Storm had attacked, there had been a massive expansion of ship building, to transport cargo by sea. Now those ships had been uparmed, into crude, almost fully autonomous defence platforms which manufactured mines from large on-board nanofactories and placed them around in the area around them as a defence against the depredations of the Esoteric Order of Dagon. But this was a purely defensive measure. The Deep One cities known about by the NEG, close to land, had already been eradicated. Y'ha-nthlei was long since ruins, the records from February of 1928, though more than one hundred years old, was enough for the amphibious forces of the NEG; power armour and mecha alike, backed up by Skuld, Verdandi and Urd-class frigates, had razed the city. The strange spires, buoyed up by the water, had shattered and fallen by the actions of a species that aged and died, in a manner unlike their builders.

Of course, to Shinji Ikari, one of the individuals actually sitting in the plane as it passed into the North-East American Territory, all this information on such disparate subjects from logistics, human psychology and military tactics was wasted. The Second Innsmouth campaign was a topic in Modern History, an example of how the NEG could defeat the Dagonites and how they were much less of a threat than the sapient fungoid insects from Yuggoth, while the other subjects were completely unknown to him.

No, what he was mostly doing was sulking, in that bitter, slightly irate way that is characterised by being snippishly polite to everyone around you (and often accompanied by sarcasm and sickly sweet smiles), and thus has much more long term endurance than overt anger or a tearful breakdown. He had been in this mood for almost a week. It was self-indulgent, he knew, but self-indulgence had its place when you were stuck piloting a war machine which hurt you when it was damaged; a result which was both rather common and had led to several of the technical staff making heartfelt requests that he try keep the Evangelion intact. As if he wasn't already trying. It wasn't helped by the slightly-too tight collar of the clothes that Misato had picked out for him for the conference, in a greyish blue that reminded him too much of the skin (no, he reminded himself. It was the armour, in the camouflage scheme) of Unit 01. The prime cause, however, was what he had seen during the guardian-teacher conference.

Sitting in the dark auditorium, listening his father give a speech on how the NEG required the next generation to do everything they possibly could to ensure that the species would survive. Noting how similar the vocabulary was to talks that he had heard before from the man and from Fuyutsuki; being sure that Gendo was talking to him alone out of the audience.

Watching how, after the end of the speech, his father had left rapidly, along with “Ayanami, Rei”, at the start of the alphabet, to have a whistlestop talk with each of the teachers. He seen through one of the windows, and observed Rei, surprisingly animate, sitting beside Gendo; a benevolent, paternal smile on his face. He would certainly have no objections to her academic performance, Shinji knew. She always seemed able to keep her marks up, even when he was slipping, worn out by the rigorous training regimes and the lack of time to do homework which ensued.

Seeing that faint flicker of surprise from each the subject teachers in turn to see that “Ikari, Shinji” was accompanied by a woman not related to him. That had perhaps been the worst part; the flicker of the eyes that showed relief, and the slight raising of the eyebrows when they saw Misato enter, clad in her too-short skirt, when they had so obviously, to his mind, been expecting a second nerve-racking meeting with the local Representative of the Ashcroft Foundation.


Misato had noticed this, and had, with what appeared as unusual tact to those who underestimated her, decided that it would do Shinji good to get away from London-2 for a while. With Unit 01 still out of operation due to Shinji exhausting their supply of spare parts, he was not needed in London, and thus she could take him to the Araska Conference, in the Chicago Arcology, capital of the New Earth Government.

“An ASTA-447 “Firefly” transport aeroplane,” gushed Ken for the nth time, from the other side of the hold, as he danced around the other items being transported. The Firefly was a general transport plane, as it was not worth it to send a specialist passenger plane, and so Ken was receiving a double bargain by getting a good look at the other mecha being transported to the American Territory. “I never thought I'd get a chance to be on one!” He swung his specialist recorder (as opposed to the more common smaller ones, integrated into almost all Personal CPUs) onto a pristine Xiphos Amphibious Artillery Support Mech, crouched and locked into position for transport. “It's great to have friends like you, Shinji,” he added yet again, his attentions entirely consumed by the cornucopia of technological delights that surrounded him.

Shinji shrugged.

Misato smiled broadly, from across the hold, strapped into her military crash seat. This appearance was incongruous with her dress, a black, long sleeved garment cut to the knee; an obviously human style, trimmed in dark red. “I thought it was very stuffy stuck in the arcology day after day, so I invited you three along with us to Chicago.”

Ritsuko looked up from the tome that she was reading on her PCPU. “You're showing your age, you know. Those three are used to life inside. You can probably count the number of times they've been outside on your fingers.” She paused for a moment. “Hmm, you'd probably have to add in toes, too. Besides the point.” She looked back down at her document, her blue dress considerably less militant in its style than Misato's.

The black-haired woman shook her head. “Shut up, Rits,” she said, without malice.

Toja had remained almost silent for most of the flight. This had partly been because he had been staring at Misato in the dress, using all his talents for misdirection to make it seem that he was not. Sadly, these were quite deficient; the older woman was quite aware of his hormonal interest.

She just chose to ignore it.

“Are we landing soon?” he asked, his anthracite-coloured face a paler tone, obviously uncomfortable in the smarter clothing which had been made a precondition for him going on this trip.

“Why does everyone around me seem to get air sick?” Misato grinned, with pointed glances at both Ritsuko and Shinji.

Dr Akagi sighed. “That's not air sickness. That's having a functional cochlea. The only person who I've ever met who drives as badly as you do was an English teacher I once met when I worked in...”

Toja shook his head. “Oh, no, that's not it. It's just,” he grimaced, “...it just that, outside. On the displays on the walls...”

“... she reminded me a lot of you, actually,” trailed off Ritsuko, frowning slightly at Misato,even as she was ignoring Toja.

The walls were showing the approach to the massive conurbation of the Chicago Arcology. As the capital of the NEG, it had been the first to have construction begin, and so its design was slightly older; the poorer, outer districts more akin to a warren of hermetically sealed skyscrapers, connected by innumerable walkways which made the city below appear like some hellish spider of glass and steel had run rampant.

“Hmm?”

“Look, never mind. It's just nervousness about landing. Ignore me.” He checked that his straps were securely fastened again.

Misato shrugged. “Okay, then. Nice hat, by the way,” she added, as an afterthought. She successful suppressed a smile at the dim-witted smile that crept across the Nazzadi's face.

“Don't get any ideas,” muttered Shinji to Toja, breaking out of his self-inflicted sulk to direct a sideways glance at his friend.

The seatbelt lights flashed back on, and with only a modicum of force, Ken was persuaded that it would be best for his long term health to sit down when the plane switched to VTOL mode, in preparation for landing.



~'/|\'~




The red-haired girl stood on the wide expanse of the airfield, one hand on a hip even as she shaded her eyes from the sunlight that streamed through the thinning cloud layer. It looked like it was going to be a pleasant day, lacking the autumnal chill which was common this late in the year. Of course, to the population of the Chicago Arcology, sealed in their self-contained ecosystem like (since eleven years ago, when the arcology-dwelling population exceeded 50% of humanity) the majority of the human population.

Asuka Langley Soryu didn't care about that. For one, she liked having a properly variable climate. Weather made things interesting; rather than just another day of a pleasant twenty five degrees Celsius. The kind of people who started shivering or sweating if the temperature moved three degrees from Arc Standard were, in her very precise opinion, weak and unfit. Moreover, this airbase, attached to the secure Chicago naval yards, was deemed secure; the eight hundred metre skeletal bulk of the first Invictus-Class Battleship that loomed to the north was cause and testament to that fact. This security enabled her to shed that annoying, bulky body armour which they insisted that she wear all the time.

The lose clothing required to conceal that fashion disaster could thus be discarded. Despite the slightly chill wind, she was wearing a yellow dress of a pronounced Nazzadi cut. That was, in fact, a slight point of regret; her midriff was getting rather cold. After all, these clothes were really meant to be worn, if they were to be worn outside at all, in the autonomous Nazzadi nation of Nazza-Duhni; what had once been Cuba. However, Asuka felt that the increased mobility of the garments of the dark-skinned siblings of humanity, as well as the fact that, in her humble opinion, the dress looked damn good on her, more than made up for a brief inconvenience.

Even if a chill wind seemed to be picking up. She had made her decision, and to go back into the warm would be a sign of weakness.

As the Firefly landed, manoeuvring A-Pods flaring blue one last time to soften the inevitable bump, Ken was already loosening his restraints, camera at the ready as he sprinted down the still descending ramp. He was temporarily silent as the sight before him, a tech-head's personal dream. The bulk of the Invictus-class, the first, true battleship of the current design paradigm made a wonderful backdrop to the cornucopia of aeroplanes, stationary mecha and lesser ships.

“Great...” he muttered to himself, his voice rising in a crescendo. “Great... great... great! This is the kind of sight that should have a man on his knees!”

“That's what she said!” added Misato softly, with a smirk.

Ritsuko sighed, and rolled her eyes. Those eyes promptly crossed, as she parsed Misato's meaning (as opposed to merely running off reflex for that kind of comment), then returned to their elevated position.

“You know that they're really going to take it away from him,” muttered Toja to Shinji, as they left the plane at a somewhat more sedate pace. “And wipe the memory. Probably take it full stop.”

“Oh, yes,” the Japanese boy answered. “It might make him be quiet for a little while and calm down.”

“Do you want to tell him?”

Shinji thought for a moment. “Nah. He's having fun. Plus,” he added, a smile twisting the corners of his mouth, “it'll make it funnier when we see the look on his face when they take it.”

Toja snorted, the snort turning into a shout of alarm as the autumnal breeze caught the cap from his head, pulling it away with a fine caress and sending it moving chaotically through the air, tumbling and teasing.

“Hey! Wait! Wait!” he yelled, pursuing the errant head covering.

The glorious revolution of the proletariat hats against the evil, corrupt tyranny of the bourgeois head was brought to a calamitous end by the intercedence of the class treachery of a single red shoe, oppressing and enslaving it beneath its bulk. Not content with that, the shoe also ground the hat into the hard tarmac of the runway, covering it in the dirt that builds up in a place where heavy machinery is transported. Toja dove to the ground, trying to free his new hat from its other captor.

Asuka stared at the new arrivals with eyes like sapphires, radiating an aura of certainty and confidence. “Hello, Misato,” she said to the older woman. “And Ritsuko. How have you two been?”

“I am fine,” answered the doctor, discretely pressing a few buttons on her wrist mounted PCPU.

Misato winced slightly, and massaged the back of her head. “As well as might be expected. You look even taller than the last time I saw you, back in '89.”

Asuka smiled broadly. “Yes. And I've filled out, too. It means I can get away with proper Nazzadi dresses.”

Both Toja, down by her feet trying to recover his hat, and Shinji, back over by the two older women, went a little blank as the truth of that statement hit them. Ken, still running around exactly like a small child given roughly half its body mass in caffeine, was also slightly blank, but that was due to his proximity to large amounts of shiny, shiny things designed to kill.

“Well, anyway,” continued Misato, “let me introduce you... let me introduce both of you. Shinji, this is Asuka Langley Soryu...”

“Second Lieutenant Asuka Langley Soryu,” she interjected.

“I'm sorry,” Misato apologised. “I forgot; I guess I'm too used to thinking of you as little Asuka,” she smiled, not noticing the slight hardening of her expression that caused. “Let me begin again. This is the Second Child, Second Lieutenant Asuka Langley Soryu, the exclusive pilot of Evangelion Unit 02, the first Mass Production Model.”

It was, of course, at that precise moment that the breeze picked up, a short lived gust sweeping across the open tarmac, whipping at legs with a sudden chill. And for those people who had chosen to wear loose fitting dresses, the wind had a certain elevating effect.

Three slaps followed in remarkably quick succession to the trio of Ken, Shinji and Toja, who had been in the prime position to discover that the Second Child wore white underwear.

Scrambling to his feet, cap in hand, Toja glared at the girl, red eyes glowing with rage. “What'd the hell you do that for!”

Asuka sniffed. “Pretty cheap for the view, yes?” she replied, a steely tone in her voice.

“Cheap! But... but,” the Nazzadi spread his hands wide in confusion, “why? Why? Why would you wear a loose dress like that when it's windy! It's just asking for that to happen!” He degenerated into inarticulate noises of frustration.

“So, anyway, where is the much vaunted...”

“And another thing,” interjected Toja. “I think it's harangi hypocritical to wear one of our dresses and then get pissy about showing something as small as underwear!”

The Nazzadi received a matching blow to the other cheek as a response, his coal-coloured skin leaving the growing red marks almost invisible. He clutched his face in pain and moaned, even as Asuka strode by.

“So, anyway, as I was saying, where is the much vaunted Third Child?” She looked around, before matching the face on the file to the Japanese one in the smart blueish-grey clothes, glaring at her, with a prominent red hand print on his face.

Hmm. Collateral damage from my defence of my dignity.

Oh well.


She turned to face him properly, their eyes; hers a pair of unyielding sapphire crystals, his a darker blue, locked for one moment that seemed to exist out of time. And on both sides, there was a terrible stirring, as something within them recognised the other on sight, something that screamed that they were as alike as two sides of a coin.

It was not a pleasant feeling.

Those eyes...

That bone structure...

That feel...

I've met this person before.

Asuka broke the eye contact first, turning to Misato.

“He seems rather dull. Not like the kind of person who could kill a Herald.”

Inside, her thoughts were churning.

How does he look so much like his picture in the file and from the training videos? It's really uncanny. And it's obvious that he's horrible untrained. The first signs of it are only just starting to show. I'd bet that he hasn't even noticed the physical changes.

Misato held her face impassive. “No, he's the one. Asuka, this is Test Pilot Shinji Ikari, the pilot of Evangelion Unit 01, the Test Model.”

Shinji cocked his head. “And it's up to three Heralds, so far. Actually,” he added with a slight smirk. He was sure that this was probably a bad idea, aggravating the Second Child in this way. On the other hand, she could deal with some hurt feelings, if he could deal with the fact that he had just been slapped around the face. Toja was right that it was all her fault, anyway, for wearing that stupid (although he did have to admit, very attractive) dress.

“Only because Command haven't let me near one, yet, idiot!” Asuka replied, surprising Shinji with her vehemence. “I'm 'merely' a veteran of the Eastern Front, with two Swarm ships, as well as many more lesser Migou mecha under my belt. And I haven't taken any damage, unlike you. I heard that you've basically forced your inferior machine to have to undergo several full rebuilds.”

“Well, it's just as well that I've still managed to kill more Heralds than you, with an 'inferior machine'. I wonder how I could have done with your 'superior' Mass Production model,” Shinji retorted back.

“Your choices were always flawed!” riposted Asuka, deep-running anger (at the NEG for putting her in the wrong place, at Kaji, for rejecting her yesterday, at the world) boiling forth with a palpable throbbing in her skull.

Misato sighed loudly, surprised at the way the conversation had escalated. “Please, you two. If you are going to start fighting, please can we get off this chilly runway into some place warm?”

Asuka blinked twice, heavily, then turned to Misato, her face innocent. “I'm very sorry, Major,” she said, in a tone of voice that she knew sounded perfectly sincere. “We just got off to the wrong foot.” She laughed. “I think we can put that down to the wind. Shall we go?”

Misato stared at her for a moment, her face dubious. Then she shrugged. “Okay, let's go inside, and try to work out how to get to the Conference.” She paused. “Uh... Rits?”

The blond haired woman looked up from the PCPU she had been reading throughout the brief conflagration of egos, watching the Children with half an eye. “Oh, no. I've a meeting to go to before it starts.” At the expression on Misato's face, at the prospect of having to find her way around, not helped by the fact that high security facilities did not put their maps onto the local metanet, she smiled, a grin with a faint hint of anticipation. “Don't worry. I called ahead; there's someone to meet you in Primal.”

The Major sighed in relief. “Right, you four. Come with me,” she said, as she headed off to the Terminal building on one side of the runway.

As they walked, Asuka leaned looked sideways at Shinji, holding that innocent expression on her face. “Ich bin eine Göttin der Gewalttätigkeit,” she said, softly, to Shinji, smiling widely as she stared into his eyes with an emotion that she couldn't identify, the faintest hint of a headache pounding as she stared at her primary rival. “Mach mich nicht wütend, Schwachkopf, sonst wird dich das deinen Kopf kosten.

Shinji frowned, trying to recall what German he had picked up from one of his foster mothers, Gany, even through a slight nausea and the ache in his face from the slap. “Ich bin traurig,” he began, hesitatingly, “aber Sie ... breten... Brechen...ie vierte ... um...Wand dort...”

Her eyes widened as she realised that he may have actually understood that, before setting in a narrowed glare, as she interrupted his broken German. “Dein Akzent ist sehr schlicht. Du klingst teilweise japanisch, teilweise englisch und benutzt einen archaischen Wortschatz,” she said, very rapidly, staring at his eyes for a flicker of recognition. When she saw mostly confusion, she relaxed slightly, repeating what she had said in English. “Your accent is terrible. It's part Japanese, part English, and you're using a rather archaic vocabulary.” She frowned. “Why do you even speak any German, even that badly? I'm not sure that's right.”

Shinji noted the fact that the revelation that he understood even a little German had shaken her. Mind you, the way that she had calmed down so quickly was rather... strange.

“Oh, I wasn't ever taught,” he said, with a smile almost as sweet, and about as genuine, as hers. “I just picked it up from one of my foster mothers. Although,” the smile remaining fixed, “I can't see what you mean by 'not right'...”

Misato noted the incipient tactical use of excess politeness, and moved to prevent the skirmish going strategic. Again.

What was up with those two? Is it hate at first sight? I'm not really sure. Why are they acting like two of Rits' cats who've been shut in a room together?

Okay, maybe they got off to a bad start, what with the whole slapping thing. Yeah, that explains it. Silly me.




~'/|\'~




By the time that the group had got to Primal, a heavily reinforced, squat building, the roof bristling with semi-autonomous air defences, which looked like it could survive a direct hit from a Swarm Ship (and was in fact designed with that intention), Misato had positioned herself in-between the two Children. Primal was in fact the terminal for the airport attached to the construction yards; the name a legacy of the somewhat quirky sense of humour common among engineers, and would lead into the secure transit system which ran below Chicago-2. This infrastructure was used for the transport of large objects which would block up the main arcology system, but also had a secondary role in moving troops and important people around, away from spying eyes. In the situation of a direct Migou assault on the arcology, it would also serve as shelter, although strategic estimates were that the main role such as shelter would play would be to lure Migou forces into tight quarters where their numerical superiority could not be used. The survival of any civilians was tertiary in the role of the shelter. The whole network was so theoretically important that the entire system had been built by the NEGA, with only limited access permitted to even the Ashcroft Foundation.

Of course, all this security mean nothing if Ms Katsuragi was incapable of finding the entrance to the system in Primal, a situation which was proving to be true. Naturally, with the efficiency so beloved of military secrecy, the entrance to the network was not marked on the public map of the area, and deep and detailed inquisitions of Asuka had only revealed that she had been driven here in an IFV, as she had been staying in military quarters while they went through the tests on Unit 02.

Sighing at the stupidity of the world and its inability to put up proper signposts, Misato balled up her fists, stared at the ceiling, and let out a soft moan of frustration and irritation at the world.

A hand tapped her on the shoulder.

“I'm sorry, but are you lost, unknown yet beautiful lady?” said a far, far too familiar voice in that smirking tone she could still remember, the cadences unchanged since university.

Her eyes opened wide in shock, then after a few surprised seconds her face set itself in a façade of weariness, eyes narrowed. Ryoji Kaji presented himself for examination, leaning against the wall behind her, briefcase in hand, in what had been a neat blue shirt and tie before he had gotten his unshaven face through the collar. He looked almost identical, up to the same laconic grin; how she had failed to notice him was surprising.

But then again, showing up when not expected was always one of his major talents. Like that time he came in through the window when we were trying to hold a secret 21st for him, because he couldn't be bothered to take the stairs... no! That's irrelevant! Focus!

Misato's concentration was not aided by Asuka's squealed cry of “Kaji”, nor by her look of glee nor the position that younger girl's hands took, clutched together at her chest.

“What are you doing here?” she growled at him.

Kaji shrugged. “I was assigned monitoring duties over Superbia until she was transferred to London-2. And, before you ask, I have no clue why an intelligence analyst was made to do that.”

The Major glared at him. “You. An intelligence analyst.”

“Yes. Ryoji Kaji, GIA,” he added in a deliberately 'film spy' tone of voice. “I'm with the OCI, and I think you can understand if that's all I can tell your.”

The glare continued. “You. With the Office of Central Intelligence. I think we can both remember the time we saw your most recent EMSS scores, and they wouldn't waste such a talented somatic on data analysis.”

The glare was countered with another shrug. “Let's not get into silly arguments about the past. You seem to be lost, and I'm headed in the direction of the Araska Conference.”

“You mean you were told to show us the way by Ritsuko,” Misato growled. “She knew. She damn well knew.”

“Well, yes, but it was more fun this way,” replied Kaji, the laconic grin turning temporarily impish before returning to its normal state of slightly detached amusement.

The black-haired woman sighed. “Come on, then. I was careless,” she muttered, more to herself than to anyone else. “I should have expected this sort of thing to happen. No one else has skeletons in their closets like this.”

Kaji stepped aside, to reveal that he had been standing in front of an admittedly small sign pointing towards the “Chicago Deep Transit Network”, obscuring it from sight. Then, totally ignoring the capital-grade intensity of Misato's stare, he led the party to a wide, open spacious lift that could have held three times their number, leading down from Primal to the transit network, a trail of muttered curses in Japanese following him.



~'/|\'~




“Alice.”

“Ritsuko.”

The two blond women, both not naturally that colour, sat facing each other over a table. The room was empty apart from them; this meeting of the Project Directors for Project Evangelion and the Herkunft Institute, the formal sub-component of the Ashcroft Foundation responsible for Project Herkunft, was of such sensitivity that no-one else would be allowed in. Formally, too, there would be no surveillance. Of course, both women knew that at least one group would almost certainly be observing them, as the tendrils of AHNUNG could reach (even? Especially? Neither one knew which word was more appropriate) into the depths of secure Ashcroft facilities., and despite the countermeasures, there was no guarantee that other groups, such as the OIS or GIA, could not be watching.

Such paranoia was but routine for a Project Director in the Strange Aeon. Although even the term paranoia was not quite accurate, as the fear was quite justified.

Dr Akagi stared across the table at her... she didn't even have a correct word to describe her relationship with Dr Alice Wade. As heads of independent Projects, they lacked the innate opposition that Evangelion and Engel had with each other, and against the rival NEG Project Araska; the fields of the military applications of arcanocyberxenobiological studies and of general research into the innate use of personal arcanonoetic orgone were not competitive, and indeed were highly complementary. And of course, the manipulative cabal and Gendo Ikari together had made it so there was overlap between the Children and the Infants. At a more personal note, they were both top-end scientists in a field of study where the average working career was measured in the single digit years before the inevitable burnout and the usual resultant confinement to an asylum (oh, they tried to dress up the name, but it meant the same). Both of them were already defying the odds with their sanity, such as it was.

Yet neither of them trusted each other. They didn't know how their personal instructions differed, and of course there was the personal loyalty to their patrons; Ritsuko suspected that Alice's loyalty to the Minister of War went almost as deep as her own loyalty to the L2 Representative, but she couldn't be sure. And there were secrets in both of their pasts. They had both lost a parent in the kind of accident that most call an “accident”, not to mention the various things that they both did with Grade A Hazardous Arcane Materials (as determined by the RTE) without the knowledge of anyone but their immediate superiors in Ashcroft.

The two women continued staring at each other. Ritsuko cracked first.

“We need to talk about the First Child,” she said, to the Caucasian woman. “You know quite clearly that on the twelfth of August, we almost had a Synchronisity Incident.”

“I know,” Alice replied in a cool tone of voice. “Gendo has already told me in person the details of that incident.”

Ritsuko held her face still at the way that she talked about Representative Ikari.

He... he couldn't be sleeping with her, could he? No, that's just petty rivalry getting in the way. He wouldn't do that.

“But it has not happened again, despite the same conditions, correct?” continued the other woman.

“Correct.”

“Then I would suggest that it was caused by one of two things. This is merely a hypothesis, of course.” Alice cocked her head. “Unless you would like to give us full access to your files and work logs, so we can perform a proper analysis of the Potential SI?”

Ritsuko shook her head. “Of course not.”

“As expected. Well, the prime hypothesis is that the noetic link between the Thir... the First Child and the 00-Natum you're using in your Engel...”

Dr Akagi narrowed her eyes, then relaxed them. Dr Wade knew fully the difference between the two, and knew too the fact that it was a trigger for her.

“... then that opened a conduit between her and the fifth dimensional standing waveform of Subject Lilitu.”

This time the eyes opened wide. “You mean that the waveform is still intact?” said Ritsuko, her voice full of shock and even a little terror.

Dr Wade's eyes twitched slightly, an unconscious jerking movement to the right. “Yes. Not only is it intact, but it's actually growing in potency. Trapped in the ABN Grade-A facility, it's proving to be self-reinforcing.” She sighed bitterly. “Not many people can just refuse to die. Almost none, in fact. Subject Lilitu can. And has.”

There was a chill moment of silence.

“We'll need to get going soon, or we'll miss the conference,” said Ritsuko, trying to reassert normal conversation.

“We have some time, still. Who's going to be there? I know that there's Miyakame, and others from Engel.”

“Yes, he's actually showing his face from his office,” Dr Akagi said,with a hint of bitterness. “Have you seen the Hamshall-Model Aquatic Assault Engel? The old man is slipping. He hasn't even really bothered to hide the source of his arcanocyberxenobiological template. The main change appears to have been the removal of the wings.”

“That is worrying, it is true. You might not like him, Ritsuko” the other woman said, with a hint of sadness, “but it'll be a tragedy when we lose his mind. And he does too, of course.”

Ritsuko winced. “Very poor taste.”

“I'm sorry. Yes, it was. Who else? There's a delegation from Project Amunet, of course. You're there with Project Evangelion. Anyone else from your team?”

“The Director of Operations, Major Katsuragi is with me, along with the Third Child. You know, too, that the Second Child is already here; we're taking her back with us.”

“Yes, I saw the demonstration. The MP Model really is impressive, you know. It's a line-breaking super-heavy unit, of course, not a mainstream unit like a Vreta, a Broadsword or even a Malach, but I think, from what I've heard if you can sort out the problems with the control scheme and find a way to get pilots who are actually legal, there probably will be a wide expansion. I was particularly impressed by the video of Unit 02 deployed with Task Force... was it Valkyrie or Einhejar?”

“Valkyrie, and I know. I really didn't expect dropping giant robots out of planes to attack flying ships to be a good idea,” said Ritsuko, with a hint of sarcasm, “but it worked. This time.” She paused. “Pentheus and Hector from Paragon are here, too,” she added, very deliberately. “I'm sure Herkunft would like to see that.”

Dr Wade stared at Dr Akagi over the top of her AR-enhanced glasses. “So, you know about that.”

“It wasn't exactly subtle. I only had to put a few things together; personal records, EMSS Latency Tests, the fact that the L2 AA was already a Grade B facility, the security around the Wade AP... Of course, having access to the First Child helped enormously; the retro-viral gene markers were rather obvious when you knew what to look for.”

“Well,” the woman paused. “Thank you. I think. I'm certainly going to have a chat with those two about the Project.” She called up the time on her glasses. “And now we really do have to go.”



~'/|\'~




One rather pleasant lift journey later, had it not been marred by the simmering annoyance of Misato towards Kaji and the way it filled the room, or the fact that Kaji was trying to keep at least two people between himself and a clingy Asuka without looking like he was doing anything, and a short walk to the nearest point, and they found themselves seated in a somewhat smaller transit car.

This was, of course, the site of more intermittent skirmishing. Kaji had managed to obtain the seat opposite to Misato, and was leaning in a pseudo-infatuated manner, gazing into her eyes, while his feet tried to entangle hers. From the way that his expression failed to change when her shoes made contact with his shins, as they would when she felt he was getting too forward, Misato suspected that he was doing it deliberately, to annoy her. The irritation was further raised by the presence of Asuka hovering on Kaji's left, who was herself glaring at Misato for the undue attention that the elder woman was raising from her unrequited beloved. Toja had claimed the seat beside Misato, but was actually backed away from her in his seat, the waves of distemper positively palpable, while Ken and Shinji were left to head the table, safely away from the social combat.

Leaving his coffee to cool, Kaji, out of the blue, asked Misato, “So… are you seeing anyone?”

“It's none of your business, is it?” Misato replied, arms folded defensively, staring out of the window at the sights from the passing tunnel network.

“You're ice cold, that's always been your problem,” the man replied, with a perfectly straight face. That was a little too much for Shinji, and he snorted, narrowly avoiding spraying drink from his nose. Kaji smiled broadly, and turned to Shinji. “So I hear you live with Katsuragi-san now?” he asked

“Yes,” the boy replied, his own cup of coffee in hand, after swallowing hard.

“So... how much is she actually in her bed? If you know what I mean. Has she ever... wandered through?” the older man asked, the corner of his mouth turned up in a way that would have contravened public decency laws in the old restrictive societies before the NEG.

The comment caused an instant recoil in the other individuals around the table. In retrospect Shinji felt, instinctively, that he should have had some witty comeback, some dry remark or even some impromptu prop humour. However, sadly, he had no knowledge that such a remark would come out of the blue like that, and so he recoiled in shock along with the rest of them.

Misato, of course, did not recoil, but instead ignited, her face turning bright red as she went from seated to arms slammed down on the table, looming over Kaji without passing through the intervening space.

“What the hell do you mean by that!” she roared, drawing back a fist to punch him in the face. And it would have quite explicitly been a punch, not a slap.

Kaji sighed, and smiled, seemingly not concerned by the wrathful erinys shadowing him. “So, no, she hasn't changed a bit, has she?” he said, in a tone of voice that sounded somewhat sad... even disappointed. “I've never known anyone to get so upset about sleepwalking.”

That comment deflated Misato, the red rage departing leaving only a blush of embarrassment at the cheeks. “It's still not nice to talk about someone's private life in that manner,” she muttered, as she returned to her seat. “Or shall I start talking about...”

“Nope, she hasn't changed at all, Shinji Ikari,” the man added loudly over Misato's mutterings.

“Well, lacking any context to compare her to any time before,” Shinji made a big show of looking at the calender feature on his wrist PCPU, “... uh... carry the nine.... add five... subtract five... the nineteenth of August, 2091, I really can't comment on any changes or lack thereof.”

Kaji smiled. “You'll do well in any public appearances you have to do for the NEG with that kind of attitude. Nicely done. I especially liked the way you avoided mentioning any changes which may have occurred since that date.”

“Uh... thanks,” Shinji replied, hesitantly. “So, you... um... Mister Kaji...”

“Ryoji Kaji, GIA,” the man answered, in exactly the same tone of voice he had used before. “Most people just call me Kaji.”

“If we're made to be polite,” muttered Misato.

“But, yes,” he continued. “You are of course the famous Third Child, who piloted an Evangelion without any prior training and managed to kill a Herald who had broken through all of L2's defences.”

Shinji could suddenly feel a concrete burning sensation all over the surface of his skin, as Asuka turned her narrow eyed glare at him.

“That one was luck, I have to say,” Shinji admitted. Much as it irked him to appear to lessen himself before that aggressive red-haired girl, he felt that this might just be a suitable peace offering. “I wasn't in control; that was all Unit 01 doing it.”

“But before that,” the older man pointed out, “you were walking and had full limb control. I heard it took the First Child seven months to form a stable connection.”

“And that's not all,” interjected Misato. “Shinji, you've killed all the Heralds so far. You shouldn't sell yourself short.”

Is that pride in her voice?

“Well, I guess,” he stammered out, concious of Asuka's glare and its intensity, even through the resurgent headache.

Kaji stood up and stretched. “Well, I'm not actually here for the conference. I'll be getting off the stop after next.” He winked. “I may end up seeing you all again sometime, though.” He turned, to look down at Asuka, beside him. “This is... well, farewell for now.” He turned to face the others. “If you will excuse us for a while, I need to say goodbye.”

Shinji shuffled out the way to let them past, sitting back down. Misato had, by this point, collapsed on the the table, arms cradling her head.

“So... um... Kaji. He seems... rather lively,” he ventured, wincing slightly.

Good. The headache seems to be going.

Misato groaned. “This. This whole thing. It's just a dream, or a nightmare. It has to be. Please.”

Outside, in the connection to the next car along, a specialised cargo transport, Kaji searched the racks for his briefcase, while Asuka slumped against the wall, a look of disdain on her face.

“So,” said Kaji, deliberately off hand, “what do you think of Shinji Ikari, then.”

Asuka narrowed her eyes again. “He's stupid, annoying, arrogant, and far too dependent on fluky skill than actual talent. Just being around his not-very-attractive face gave me a headache.” She sighed melodramatically. “You know, I'm worried about the candidates they have for the Evangelion Project if he's the best they could come up with.”

“So it isn't anything to do with the fact that he got a synchronisation ratio of 54%, with a dee-ess by dee-tee of less than 1% the first time they put him in it, is it,” asked Kaji, testing the waters.

“Oh, I'm not denying that he has natural talent,” she replied, blushing slightly. “But natural talent isn't enough,” she added. Kaji was sure that there was a hint of wistfulness in that tone.

Good. Sounds like a nascent crush. This will be good for her. The first prolonged period of time she'll have spent with anyone her own age since she was four.

“But, Kaji, I don't understand why you need to leave me,” she added, in a sad (too sad, he thought, to be natural) tone of voice. “Why do I have to go to live with that woman. Why can't I stay with you. Why can't I stay with anyone, ever!” The last words were said in a hushed shout.

“Now, now,” he replied, as he, unusually, did up his top buttons and straightened his tie, raking his fingers through his hair in an attempt to tidy it up. “It's a matter of security. The Children were always intended to be deployed as a single unit, at least for the first group, and Misato was on the candidate list of people with sufficient clearance to host the Children until they were legally adults.” He shrugged. “And you two have met before, after all.”

“I know,” she replied, her face wracked with genuine anguish, as the train pulled to a stop. “It makes sense. It's logical. It's just that... just that... I'll miss you, Kaji.”

“Welcome to Auburn Central,” announced the train LAI. “Please have all appropriate security documentation ready.”

The man nodded. “I know.”

And with that, Kaji stepped off the train, off to the Chicago-2 Grade A Storage Facility. He had a date with destiny, and certainly didn't want to keep it waiting.

Last edited by EarthScorpion on 2009-04-12 10:26am, edited 1 time in total.
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EarthScorpion
PostPosted: 2009-04-11 08:35pm 

Padawan Learner


Joined: 2008-09-25 02:54pm
Posts: 209
Location: London
~'/|\'~




The rest of the trip passed without incident, if one were not to count the confiscation of Ken's camera and the wiping of all of its memory as an incident. Hence, the group that arrived in the Li Lecture Centre was somewhat desolate although individually for completely different reasons.

Therefore, when they arrived at the anteroom to the main conference centre, group cohesion disappeared very rapidly.

“Man,” Toja muttered to Shinji, as they migrated towards the snacks that were being served, “I don't know why I even agreed to come with you lot on this trip.”

“As I recall, you seemed convinced that this was some kind of date with Misato,” pointed out Shinji. “Despite my attempts to point out that it wasn't.”

“I don't remember any attempts to point it out,” the Nazzadi replied.

“That's because there weren't any,” admitted Shinji. “I found it sort of amusing.”

Toja shook his head. “You're a really bad person, you know.” He sighed. “Some day, you'll be the death of me, with your evil plans to get me to waste away while in pursuit of the fair Major Katsuragi.”

“Well, then. You know what to do,” Shinji replied, with a half-smile on his face. “You can stop chasing after my guardian. It's annoying when it doesn't succeed, and it would be creepy if it did.”

Toja made a non-committal grunt. “How are you holding up, mate?” he asked Ken, changing the subject. “They may have wiped your camera, but at least you'll have all your memories, right?”

“And uploaded a hunter-seeker to your storage account, too, don't forget that,” added Shinji, gingerly. “That is why they took the camera, to hit your upload server.”

Ken sighed. “Yeah, I guess. It's just really, really annoying. The rest won't believe what I've seen. And I promised Taly a shot of the C2 docks, too...”

There was a moment of shocked silence.

“You... and Taly,” stated Shinji.

“As in, Miss Annoying Nazzadi Idiot Bigot. Miss Humans-are-House-Apes,” added Toja.

“Miss Everything Nazzadi Is Better, Especially The Mecha... ah. I see,” continued Shinji, as something clicked. “Mecha fangirl, am I correct.”

Ken grinned, widely. “Yeah. Like you wouldn't believe it. And I just happen to be the best informed about everything military and bipedal in the whole Academy, which is quite an achievement, I can tell you that.”

Toja grabbed Ken in a head-lock. “Nice one. Even if she's a horrible person, she is hot. Really, really hot.” He sniffed, in an excessively melodramatic fashion. “I'm so proud of you.”

“Guys,” warned Shinji, “there are probably more security guards here than at school, and that's saying something. Not to mention the cameras. So let's keep the tactile affection to a form that doesn't look like you have in a head lock.”

The boys sprung apart. “Yeah,” muttered Toja. “I don't want to be tased again.”

They both shuddered.

“Anyway,” continued Shinji, “yeah, the fact that she's a subspeciesist jerk is overcome by her hotness.”

“Seriously, guys, she's not really that bad,” Ken replied, with a hint of indignation. “Yeah, she can be a bit unpleasant, but she mostly puts it on to annoy her step-mother.”

Toja nodded, understandingly. “Ah. It all makes a lot more sense now. It's kinda common for kids whose parents end up remarrying humans. Making them put on more clothes, or even some clothes, and speak in English; you're all a bunch of horrible fascist tyrants,” he added, flashing his prominent canines in a grin.

“We are not,” Shinji replied, also with a smile.

“Are too... nah, it was a joke. I love all you barely evolved tree dwelling apes... although only in a friendly way for you men.”

“Lots of collateral damage there,Toja. You're the same species as we are, just repainted and with a new set of headlamps... oops, I mean 'eyes',” Shinji pointed out, “installed.”

“Hey, I didn't say I wasn't a barely evolved ape too,” said Toja, reasonably. He grabbed a banana (a real one; few expenses were being cut for this conference) from the fruit table. “See. I love bananas. Wow, fancy,” he said, getting distracted by the genuine grapes on the table, and taking a handful. “Anyway, we're getting distracted. We were meant to be mocking Ken for being interested in Taly.”

“While feeling slightly jealous about the fact that she appears to have some interest back,” added Shinji. “You know when they say that a girl's got a wonderful personality, what that's really meant to mean? Yeah. She's the opposite of that.”

Ken shrugged. “And it isn't anything beyond friendship, yet. Sadly. She showed up at TechSoc, we got into an argument about the MV-14 Scimitar against the ASM-XI Oryladi and their role as an artillery support mecha, we both shouted down Pauleyon when he dared suggest that the M-111A2 Jaeger was cooler, and things went from there.”

Shinji shrugged, as he helped himself to an apple. “Well, I suppose it makes about as much sense as the fact that our friendship sort of started the day you punched me in the nose. I guess.”

“Hey, Shinji!” called Misato, as she walked towards the three boys, two others in tow.

“Mmmph?” he asked, mouth full.

“Sorry, introductions first. Shinji, this is Colonel Rury, of the NEGA Special Weapons Division, and Juan Carlos, a Sub-Project Manager for Project... Herkunft, wasn't it?”

“Herkunft, yes,” the man nodded.

“Juan, Rury, this is Shinji Ikari, Test Pilot of Evangelion Unit 01, the Prototype.”

The Nazzadi woman, in a strict military uniform nodded. “Yes, I've read his file. Nice to meet you, Shinji. I suspect we're going to see quite a bit more of each other over the next few months, as the Evangelion project is fully integrated into the New Earth Government military.”

“I can't help but feel a little apprehensive about that,” Shinji remarked.

Red eyes stared at him, before her face broke into a smile. “Ah, good. Apprehension is probably the most human response when a mysterious woman in a NEGA uniform tells you that she's read your file and expects to see you a lot more. And much as certain elements might be disapproved of, necessity is a harsh mistress.”

Shinji frowned.

That wasn't reassuring at all.

“Well... I suppose...”

“Anyway,” interrupted Misato, “what I came over to say was that I think it would be best if you went and tried to talk to Asuka. Perhaps, this time, without getting into a flaming row,” she added, with a strong hint of sarcasm.

“She started it,” muttered Shinji.

“Hmm,” said the Major, and it was the word, rather than a sound. “Look, if you're going to be living under my roof, compromises will have to be made,” added Misato.

Shinji sighed. “Very well.”

He scanned the crowd, looking for any sign of that shock of red hair. This quest was not aided by the fact that the ante-room was filling up; the conference was due to start fairly soon, which would at least provide a concrete end-date for the upcoming conversation. He did vaguely consider just prevaricating, then telling Misato that he hadn't been able to find Asuka before the event, but, though he was loathe to admit it, she was right. Mutual hatred was probably not the best relationship to have with a girl who would be piloting a forty metre tall war machine along side him. And by “piloting”, really, “controlling with her mind” was more accurate, bringing whole new areas for things to go wrong.

He found her in the corner of the room, slumped against a pillar, intently reading something on her PCPU. Asuka looked up as he approached.

“Oh, it's you,”she said, in a curiously impassive tone of voice quite out of sorts with how he had seen her act before. “Major Katsuragi told me that you might try to talk to me.”

“Ah,” Shinji replied. “She suggested that I come over and... well, talk to you.”

Asuka shook her head. “I'm not really surprised. Warnings about not getting into a flaming row in public?”

“Uh huh.”

“Harsh words about how compromises would have to be made if we're going to be living in the same house?”

“Yep.”

“Those words coming immediately after I pointed out that it was all your fault?” added Asuka, confidentially, in a tone of voice that wasn't really a question.

“Switch the direction of blame around,” replied Shinji, “and... yeah,” he admitted.

“So let's be at least partially civil to each other for a few moments, and then we can go back to not talking,” Asuka concluded.

“That works.”

There was an uncomfortable silence.

“So, um.”

“Yes.”

The silence continued, just as the room filled up more.

“How can people who are so smart be so petty-minded,” Asuka blurted out.

Shinji frowned. “I'm sorry?”

“All the people around us. Honestly, I try to contribute to a discussion about military tactics on the Eastern Front, and those idiot locked me out of the conversation. It's never anything overt, but I can see the way that they turn to ignore me, the way they look at me as if I'm a little girl, the way they dismiss me as not knowing enough.” She snorted. “Close-minded fools.”

“Maybe you didn't make a good first impression,” Shinji blurted out, before he could stop himself. Internally, he winced. This was going to flare things up again.

Those eyes locked onto his. “What do you mean?” she replied, in a chilly voice.

“Well,” he began, and paused. Honesty, or an attempt to defuse the situation? “You kind of started with me by slapping me, then calling me dull. Before I'd even said anything to you,” he added, a hint of sarcasm creeping in. “I hope you didn't try that with them.”

“Yes, but that was because I was defending my honour. In here, I didn't have a trio of perverts staring at me!”

The temporary truce was already breaking down.

“My heart bleeds, it really does. Honestly, haven't you spent enough time around Nazzadi to know their attitude to nudity? It shows in their fashion sense!”

Asuka looked shocked. “How dare you! And I suppose you're a master of Nazzadi culture, Mr One Of My Best Friends Is Nazzadi!”

“As a matter of fact, yes,” retorted Shinji, trying to keep his voice down. “One of my foster mothers is one.”

Asuka cocked her head slightly, and raised one hand. “Wait. Pause for a moment. I thought you lived with Misato.”

“I do now,” he replied, taking a deep breath and trying to calm down. “Since late August. When I was basically conscripted.”

Asuka's eyes narrowed momentarily, at the reminder of how little training Shinji had been through. “Sometime today I'll show you what a real Evangelion looks like; a proper, MP Model.”

Shinji blinked. “Wait, what? Where did that come from?”

A sigh escaped from the girl's mouth. “You've never seen what the finished model is mean to look like, only the incomplete Test Model and the Prototype. You'll want to see what the final design will look like; after all, they're obviously going to retrofit yours.”

“But why...”

“Because it's obvious that the MP design is better! What are you, stupid?”

You're dead!” shouted a voice from nearby, in a shocked tone. The surrounding conversation fell to a hush. “What are you doing here!”

A man, his hair snow white, was pointing at the pair of them, hand shaking as if with some palsy. He looked like he had some Caucasian blood in him, despite his predominantly Asian features, premature wrinkles etched into his forehead. A younger, Nazzadi man rushed up to him, lowering the arm, and gently tried to guide him away.

“Dr Miyakame, I think...”

“Don't 'Dr Miyakame' me,” the man snarled. He stared at the pair, Asuka in particular, and blinked twice, data rolling across the AR glasses he wore. “I'm quite all right,” he said, in a softer tone. “I just had a momentary shock.” He shrugged off the younger man, in a way that showed he was considerably more fit than his prematurely aged features would suggest, and stepped towards the perplexed pair of Shinji and Asuka, hand (still shaking) held out.

“You would logically, therefore, be Kyoko's ... daughter,” he said, carefully,as the conversation rose back to its previous level. “The spitting image. He turned to stare at Shinji, an unwrinkled hand taking the boy's chin, and moving it to various perspectives. “And you, of course... that nose, that facial shape. You're Gendo and Yui's, aren't you.”

This somewhat unorthodox method of introduction left them both momentarily speechless, before Asuka, overcoming the surprise first, answered, “Yes, sir.” She paused, smiling sweetly, in a rather rapid change from how she had been before, before continuing, “But you are?”

The old (though not as old as he looked) man frowned at her, slightly, before his face took on a slight smile. “Don't try that on me. Your mother used to try that; didn't work then, either. But to answer your question, well, I suppose neither of you would remember me. I'm Doctor Anton Miyakame, Director for Research and Development for the Engel Project. I...” he paused, eyes suddenly far away. “I worked with your parents in the development of the Evangelions.” He blinked rapidly. “I'm sorry. It's been twelve years, and I've forgotten your names. Looking at you... well, time makes a mockery of a man who's suddenly feeling very old.”

“Second Lieutenant Asuka Langley Soryu, pilot of Evangelion Unit 02,” she replied, saluting the man.

“Shinji Ikari,” Shinji added, considerably less triumphantly.

“He's the Test Pilot of Unit 01,” Asuka added, emphasising the peculiar rank that resulted as a consequence of Shinji's dubious legal position.

Dr Miyakame went pale for a second. “Oh my,” he said, quietly. “Oh my.” He blinked rapidly. “Oh my. It was just yesterday, it seems like sometimes, that you two were toddlers. And you're both piloting those... things.”

“Yes,” Asuka nodded proudly.

“Dr Miyakame,” it was the young Nazzadi man, again, “there are some people who want to talk to you...”

“Go!” the doctor barked, and it was an actual bark, a feral sounding noise from deep in the back of his throat. The assistant flinched away, half-raising his hand above his head, disappearing into the crowd. He blinked twice. “I was the leader of the team,” he continued, in the same calm tone of voice, “that worked with the noetic interface of the arcanocyberxenobiological organisms; those A10 Nerve Clips you have in your hair?” he said in a tone that mixed pride and sorrow, pointing at Asuka, “I designed them,” he said, with what almost sounded like a guilty undertone in his voice. “I remember when I showed them off, in that team meeting,” he added, his eyes going cloudy. “Your mothers had both bought you along. It was... well, towards the end of my... work with Evangelion,” he continued, slowly, choosing his words. “It was already... getting tense. There were frequent... discussions. Heated discussions. Especially between Yui and Kyoko. I'm sorry about how I acted earlier. It's just... those words, and that tone of voice,” he said to Asuka. “I suppose it's natural for you to look and sound a lot like her.”

“No, honestly, it's fine,” Asuka replied, with a broad smile.

He shook his head, a brief reflexive twitch. “Never mind. It's natural. Very natural. Exactly the same words. Anyway, we left you two with the Paragon child care.” He chuckled then, a young-sounding noise quite out of line with his appearance. “I was with your mothers when they came to collect you; someone had to work as an intermediary, because, well, they weren't talking again. They had got into a design argument about control schemes, and well, Yui had started needling Kyoko about her... never mind.” He shook his head, and blinked twice. “Apparently you two had squabbled for about five minutes, and someone had pushed the other one over. But then something had happened (which we never got the full story) and you'd ended up building a fort together.” There was a faintly indulgent smile on the man's face. “And then you'd started bombarding the other children with plasticine bombs that you'd built, cheering when you scored a hit.” The smile was replaced by sadness. “Of course, your mothers snatched you up and walked away without talking to each other. And then a few months later there were the... never mind.”

The prematurely aged man sniffed.

“We have our own debts to pay. I failed them both. I tried to pay it off with the Engels, but seeing you two has reminded me of another one I have. Tell your Doctor Akagi that she'll be hearing from me.”

And with that, the man walked off into the dense crowd, shoulders slumped.

“Uh, Dr Miyakame,” Shinji called, but the man gave no sign of having heard.

He and Asuka gave each other worried glances out of the corners of their vision.

“That's pretty bad AWS,” they both said, simultaneously.

He's pretty crazy is what they both meant. Not that it was very nice to think like that, but it was true.

They then smiled faintly at the fact that they had shared that thought, then looked away; Shinji in embarrassment, Asuka in irritation.

“What was that about?” Shinji asked.

“Look, it's pretty obvious,” Asuka replied, her normal personality reasserting over the shock that had almost given the other girl a foothold. “Obviously our mothers were colleagues...”

“He said 'parents'. Possibly my,” Shinji felt bitter inside, at admitting the relationship, but continued, “father too? I know he's Ashcroft in a big way. Yours?”

“No.” Asuka stated that absolutely. “Not a chance. Anyway, he worked with them.” She swallowed. This would take some courage. “And then there were some... accidents.”

She fell silent.

“Yes,” Shinji said, softly, staring down at his hands.

There was a silence, though through this one there was some understanding.

“Did you hear him?” Asuka asked, staring blankly into the crowd. “He worked on the Evangelion control systems. That means he blames himself for the accidents.”

The silence which followed was broken by a man in a NEG military uniform calling all guests into the main hall, for the start of the demonstration.



~'/|\'~




“The undue dominance of the bipedal weapons platform in modern military affairs has gone on long enough.”

These were indeed fighting words. In the audience, after all, were both the Director for Research and Development, and the Director of Operations of Project Evangelion, and the Director for Research and Development of Project Engel. Not to mention, of course, the presence of several senior staff from the NEGA High Command. But, then again, the Daeva Project had always been a Navy plaything, and those words were not irregular complaints from the NEGN. The Director of the New Earth Government Project, Daeva, a weapons project unrelated to the endless sequence of Ashcroft Projects, knew this, and he was sure enough that he felt he could rile the audience a little before displaying the main project.

“A bipedal, humanoid design; it is fundamentally flawed as a weapons platform. I look before me, at the audience. I know that you are all intelligent individuals. I know you're all familiar with the concept of surface area-volume ratios, pressures, centres of mass and all those other little things that make the bipedal design a sub-optimal combat design. And I know that you know that. Despite the pressures from... certain groups and committees in the Army, the Vreta, despite its “official” role as a combat support unit, despite the fact that it uses last generation battlefield protection, despite all that... the Vreta is still the practical mainstay of the majority of the army outside of urban environments. It out-ranges every single mecha in the NEG arsenal... why do you think that is? Because it is designed so that the recoil of its main cannon is absorbed through a solid system, not stuck out on the end of limbs which reduce the size of weapons that may be mounted. Because it uses A-Pods as its exclusive method of transport, giving it a combat velocity twice that of a Broadsword. Because it is cheaper to build and easier to train crew to engage in combat operations in a Vreta than the multitasking required for a Broadsword. And yet there are elements in the High Command of the Army that want to phase it out.”

The Nazzadi man, his red eyes gleaming in triumph, paused and took a sip of water.

“You might ask how this state of affairs came about. Indeed, I do so myself. The best explanation I have is that... we grew lazy.” He paused, to let his comments sink in. “We got used to the D-Engine, and the fact that we now had a dependable source of constant, finite power. We got used to the Operator Side-Effect and the intuitive skills for piloting (though not, I may note, actual combat) that arcanotechnology granted us. We got so used to the current technological paradigm that we did not think outside the narrow walls of our box. It is true, yes, that with the D-Engine, we can overcome the massive power consumption required for mechanical bipedal locomotion. It is also true that if we cut out the middleman, and simply installed A-Pods, we would obtain a more stable firing platform, which could also carry more armour, mount larger weapons and move faster. Yes, all three. That is how much better, in a purely mechanical context, an armoured roughly cuboid shape is over a humanoid.”

He inclined his head in turn towards Dr Akagi, then Dr Miyakame in turn, keeping a slight smile on his face.

“That is not, of course, to belittle the stellar work which our colleagues, and, yes, sometimes competitors in the various Ashcroft Projects have been doing. Thanks to them, we have a new element, that of the arcanobiological in military science. Their work in the fields of arcanocyberxenobiology have been instrumental in the continued survival of the human species. In the years since the deployment of the first Engel, they have proved their worth many times over. It is not surprising that twenty percent of the military bipeds larger than Powered Armour are now a product of the Engel Project. Indeed, the... unfortunate effects,” and here, his voice took on a downcast tone, “that the Engel Synthesis Interface has on those pilots which volunteer for those cybernetic implants, and the necessary mental fortitude that candidates must have, are proving to be the main limiting factors on Engel deployment, not production. Likewise, the products of its predecessor group, Project Evangelion, which went public just this week, have proved astonishing in the termination of High Threat Extra-Normal Entities, even through their size and exceedingly limited numbers will mean that they will be never more than a highly specialised Heavy Assault Unit.”

Shinji felt somewhat ambivalent about that. On one hand, it was true, and the man did make a lot of sense. On the other hand, it didn't feel right for this arrogant Nazzadi to be lecturing him on 'inefficiency' and damning them with faint praise. Around the table, though, both Ritsuko and Asuka appeared to be fairly livid at his words, while Misato was so bored that she... he squinted... she was drawing something on her napkin. Toja appeared to have gone to sleep, although that was uncertain; he had somehow propped up his head in a way that made him look like he was paying attention.

“But the point is,” the Chief Engineer on Project Daeva continued, “they were still working with flawed materials. Before now, only bipeds, or, in the case of the Ish, snake-like aquatic creatures, have been able to incorporate the wonders and marvels of ACXB into their design.” The man put both hands on the lectern, leaning forwards. “That, gentlemen and ladies, changes today.”

Naturally, Ken was soaking it in. There had been a few squeaks of near terminal levels of happiness, but the boy appeared to still be alive, though approaching catatonia from endorphin overdose. That the speaker was insulting mecha with his every word and intonation seemed to have been overcome by the fact that he was sitting in a real, really real, technical briefing.

The man snapped his fingers, loudly, the amplified click echoing throughout the hall. At that command, the wall behind him faded to transparency, the amorphous material aligning to permit the passage of light.

“Behold, the Araska. The first functional battle-ready prototype from Project Daeva.”

Behind him, beyond the metamorphic wall, was a leviathan. The first impression was one of massive, irresistible bulk. It looked almost as if it had originally been built with the harsh, square lines of human design, but all the edges had been smoothed, rounded off, while smaller bulges, ovoids protruding from the smooth, almost organic surface, covered the vehicle, giving it a look worryingly akin to pustules. Floating roughly half a metre off the ground, the blue tinge to the air below a sign of the use of A-Pods, the Araska was roughly forty metres wide, ten metres tall, and seventy metres long. The A-Pods seemed to be concentrated in larger rounded, armoured sections protruding from the hull somewhat, at each of the four corners. A single, capital grade laser gazed like a Cyclopean eye from the front, while triplets of Charge Beams were mounted over each of the A-Pod clusters. A multitude of lesser, anti personnel weapons clustered the hull.

“That's no tank,” muttered Ken, in the last stages of terminal ecstasy. “That's a land battleship.”

The Chief Engineer paused for a while, letting his audience soak in the spectacle. “The Araska is but the first, and the largest of the tanks of Project Daeva; with the experience gained from the construction of this unit, we hope to miniaturise the process to allow the Daeva-Process to be applied to tanks of the size of the modern Vreta. But I get ahead of myself. I'm sure that questions are being raised about what makes this tank so special. I'm sure that, from your perspective, all we have done is create a very light frigate. There may be some impressive miniaturisation, true, but there is nothing that seems to justify the bragging that I have been engaged in, seemingly deliberately alienating large amounts of the NEGA, along with two Ashcroft Projects.”

There were, indeed, nods from the audience.

“What if I were to tell you that almost all of that bulk is armour? That the armour is superior to conventional materials, is self-repairing at rates incomparable to that which even the Seraph is capable of, and comes with pre-existing optical sensors that can, with very little effort, be re-purposed for military goals. That the Araska, though extensive use of automation and high grade military LAIs, only requires a crew of nine?”

There was general uproar in the hall.

“No...” muttered Ritsuko, in shock. “They wouldn't dare...”

“Yes, it's true. Project Daeva has accomplished a paradigm-changing event in the field ACXB; we have developed a functional, modular form of extra-dimensional organism which functions as regenerative armour. We call it... Type-S. It is lighter, harder and tougher than conventional materials,” he continued, as the voices died away, triumph filling his voice. “Although the Daeva series of tank will be designed to maximise the advantages which the Type-S Armour provides, we believe that we will be able to design a variant which can be retrofitted onto capital ships, thus giving them a concrete military advantage over Migou ships of the same weight grade.”

Dr Miyakame, on the next table along, blinked twice. “So, they did it...” he said softly.

“Welcome to a new era of warfare,” Tokita said, staring out at the audience. “We hope it will be bought to an end very quickly.”

The light on the podium moved to a younger looking human male, in NEG naval uniform, his hair tucked neatly back, standing at the side of the room.

“Ladies and gentlemen, we will now take a short break. When we reconvene, there will be a demonstration of the Araska prototype, as well as questions from the floor.”

The buzzing sussuration of conversation filled the vacuum.

Asuka stood up, and grabbed Shinji by the collar.

“Excuse me, Major Katsuragi,” she said, smiling sweetly, “but may Shinji and I be excused? This man is just being pointlessly insulting, and I think the time would be spent more efficiently if I could show my co-worker Unit 02.”

Misato flapped her hand in their general direction. “Sure. Just don't get in trouble or try to severely injure each other.”

Asuka left, half-dragging Shinji by the arm, albeit in a way that wasn't recognisable as such unless you knew what you were looking for.

Misato smiled at Ritsuko, who had arrived just before the start of the speech, slightly out of breath. “See. I had some words with them, and they seem to be getting on better.”

The blond woman stared at her, her expression dubious. “If you say so, but that's not what I saw.” She turned in her seat to look at Toja and Ken. “That reminds me. I'm sorry, but you two don't have the security clearance to watch the next part of the demonstration, as it's quantitative, not qualitative. I'm afraid you'll have to leave the room. Just go talk to the woman waiting outside with the badge consisting of three linked squares. She'll show you to an entertainment room.” Toja sat up immediately, but noting the reluctance in Ken's eyes, she added, with a glint in her eye, “Unless, of course, you'd report your observation of classified ACXB development to the OIS?”

That was enough to evict the two.

“So, anyway, Misato...” She noticed the other woman's gaze was not directed at her, but instead was over her shoulder. She turned, and her eyes immediately narrowed at the sight of Dr Miyakame, standing not a metre behind her chair, completely silent. His eyes looked just as cold as hers.

“Yes?” she asked, in an acidic tone.

“Dr Akagi. We need to talk. In private. Now.”



~'/|\'~



It had been incredibly easy to get to the space where Unit 02 was being stored. Both Asuka, and, somewhat surprisingly Shinji, had arcology access granted at blood scanners to a number of surprisingly sensitive areas, including the series of stripped out bays in an Engel Project facility where the Evangelion was being stored.

Shinji stared up at the vast crimson shape, the red so dark as to be almost vermilion. The hangar was designed for much smaller biomechanical abominations against all human sense, and so Unit 02 knelt, hunched over in a way that almost made it look like it was giving itself in supplication to a higher power.

“Hmm,” he stated, as he stepped into the shadow of the best, looking at it with an almost clinical eye. He'd seen the other two Units close up; for Unit 01, he'd even seen it without most of its outer shell, locked down by the restraint armour that left only a thin layer of biofoam between the creature underneath and an onlooker. “Four eyes instead of two. The head is a bit differently shaped. And those things on the shoulders?” He stared at the boxes, trying to evince their function. “Some kind of rocket pod thing, I think. Looks like the front opens up, certainly. Otherwise, it's pretty much the same as mine. Bar the colour. Did you get to choose it?”

Asuka glanced back at Shinji, as she walked towards her Evangelion. “What?”

“The colour. It's different.”

She shot him a glance which spoke poorly of her view of his mental capacities. “That's only the base. The camouflage goes on top,” Asuka explained, as if to a child. “It's only this colour so that the technicians can check for cracks in the top layer of plating.”

“I know that,” Shinji retorted. “Unit 01 is usually purple and green, but it doesn't actually fight like that. You'd have to be an idiot to send a war machine out like that; some kind of ignorant feudal knight.” He thought for a moment. “Or a Nazzadi, I guess,” he added, correcting himself.

“They do have a tendency to be a bit style over substance,” Asuka stated. It was rather chilly in the hangar, actually, as the coolant that snaked in tubes wrapped around the Evangelion, not to mention the fact that the next hangar stored Seraph Engels in serried ranks, and the organisms liked the cold. So maybe the Nazzadi cut of the dress was leaving her chilly. But she would be damned if she was going to let him see that.

“The colour isn't the only difference, though,” she continued. “After all, Units 00 and 01 are prototypes. They're just test models. That's why your one synchronised with someone who hadn't had any training.”

Shinji couldn't let that one pass. “Yes, I certainly see why they'd want to cut that feature from the Mass Production Model. I mean, we wouldn't want for it to be too easy to find suitable candidates. That would take all the fun out of it. No, what we really want is a war machine that's really hard to...”

“Shut up, idiot,” Asuka replied, without turning her gaze from the sight of her Evangelion. “But Unit 02 is different.”

“You mean it's really, really hard to synchronise with?” Shinji interjected. He was having surprising amounts of fun; certainly more than he would have had, staying in London-2 and sulking about the fact that his father was a better parent to a weird creepy White who writes odd notes in her room and is quite possibly crazy, than he was to his own son. Sniping at this volatile redhead was like shooting explosive barrels with a rocket launcher; the trick was to not get caught in the resultant explosion.

He had a sudden urge to join the Academy's Debating Society.

“I said, shut up, idiot,” was the response that comment produced. “This is a true Evangelion, the first on Earth to be built for actual combat. The final model,” she proclaimed, turning to face him with her arms spread out wide, eyes catching the light from the distant ceiling.

It was, Shinji had to admit, a stirring image.



~'/|\'~




The meeting had reconvened. They were taking questions from the floor.

Ritsuko elevated her hand.

“Ah, the famous Dr Ritsuko Akagi. I'm very glad to see that you're here,” said Tokita, the Nazzadi speaker, with what was widely assumed to be insincerity despite the lack of any obvious inflections which would indicate its nature. “Please, go ahead.”

“According to your initial speech, the Araska is equipped with a capital-grade D-Engine. How have you solved the instability issues which arise when the WEYL and RICCI tensor fluctuations induced by a D-Engine reach a critical density? Moreover, how will you prevent a dimensional rupture if the core of the Black Box is ruptured before the automated shutdown can fuse the confluence?”

“That's a very good question, and was in fact the second highest hurdle we had to overcome in the project. We solved it via a combination of advanced LAI handlers which can adjust the power flow to prevent a resonance cascade, which, yes, is a known problem if the WRT fluctuations become too dense, along with a distributed power grid which, using Unita and Xu's work on metastable dimensional taps, decreases WRT density by 21.8% over a conventional mono-engine. Moreover, by embedding the cell-source structure in the tissue of the arcanocyberxenobiological organism, its natural dampening abilities mean that a rupture should, we calculate, proceed along geometrical, not exponential rates, allowing the deadswitch to fuse the rupture. Should that situation arise, of course.”

“But I would query the use of Unita and Xu's work on the grounds of safety issues,” stated Ritsuko. “mD-Engines are still a theoretical prediction, and applying their work to a standard D-Engine is far too risky, in my opinion. And to deploy such a mD/D Hybrid-Engine into a weapon designed for close range ground combat invites the possibility of a localised metastable space-time collapse. I need not raise what happened last time one of those occurred.”

“And I would protest that the comparison of the mD/D Hybrid-Engine of the Araska to the events in Las Vegas is mere scaremongering,” retorted Tokita. “If I were so inclined, I would perhaps raise that we should not be stationing a certain arcanocyberxenobiological organism so close to a city when the Evangelion Project has repeatedly refused requests from both the NEGA and the NEGN to reveal the source of the the extradimensional lifeform used as a template.”

“Which is irrelevant to the subject at hand,” shot back Ritsuko.

“Perhaps,” the representative of Project Daeva stated, quite deliberately. “Nevertheless, such arguments have been raised multiple times in the development of the Araska, and have been noted.”

“Stop it,” muttered Misato to her colleague. “You're embarrassing yourself.”

“Ah... you there, I'm sorry, I don't know your name,” continued Tokita, waving aside any other points from Ritsuko, pointing at a female xenomix sitting on the Engel table.

“Opuly Ladislao, Sub-Director of ACXB Research, Project Engel,” said the woman, who looked like she was one of the oldest xenomixes alive, in her mid twenties. “You accuse Project Evangelion of refusing to release data on the ACXB organisms used in their work, when you yourself refuse to permit other groups to examine the extra-dimensional organism used in Type-S plating. Do you not consider that hypocritical?”

“Not at all,” he replied. “You, over there, on the NEGA table. No, the one on the right. No, my right, not yours.” He sighed. “It would be lovely to have an absolute frame of reference.”

There was a notable amount of laughter from the audience.

“Lieutenant Colonel Remi Obasanjo, New Earth Government Army. Project Daeva is a New Earth Government Navy pet project. How can you justify the production of tanks within the funding auspices set for Navy Special Weapons Projects?”

The engineer grinned widely. “Under the Auspice Protocol of 2076, void-capable and submersible craft are under the jurisdiction of the Navy. The Araska is both void-capable, and submersible. In truth, yes, the Araska can function as a super-light naval vessel as well as a super-heavy tank; Project Daeva does in fact have its roots in attempts to make the smallest vessel which could mount a capital grade weapon, before the innovation of Type-S plating. Later models will be more specialised for land warfare, subject to the ratification of the Daeva Project as a New Earth Government Project. They would then come under the command of the Army for operational purposes, with maintenance remaining with Project Daeva. As per the current arrangement with the Ashcroft Project Engel.”

The woman smiled. The Army had heard what it needed to hear with that reply, which had removed their major objection to the Project. Now all that was left was to see if it would live up to all that it had promised.

“Next, please.”

A Nazzadi woman stood up, on the same table. “ Colonel Rury, of the NEGA Special Weapons Division. The Araska seems designed to challenge the eponymous products of Project Evangelion, and even if it was not, it is the only land unit within the same weight category. From observed data, how would the Araska fare against a Herald?”

The hall went silent. This was the question which everyone had been waiting for. That it had come from the NEGA SWD was not surprising, as the SWD was one of the major backers of Project Evangelion, and was, according to many members of the Navy, a hold-out of bipedalist favouritism.

“Well, firstly, I would disagree with your contention that the Araska is designed to compete with the Evangelions.” The man smiled to himself. “It's designed to replace them.”

There was a hiss of indrawn breath throughout the hall.

“Circumstances have seen us out on this, too. The most recent Herald, code-named Mot, was killed by the use of a Navy vessel and its ventral laser. True, an Evangelion may have been squeezing the trigger, so to speak, but the damage was done by brute force Direct Energy Transfer, not some special feature of the Evangelions.”

Ritsuko sprung to her feet. “So the fact that the laser, powered by the entire usable output of the L2 grid, was not able to breach the AT Field until the AT Field of Unit 00 neutralised the protective barrier somehow escaped your analysis?” she asked, as calmly as she could.

“No, it did not. However, it might have escaped yours that the entire AT-Field of the Herald was concentrated in one point to stave off destruction. Which brings us to the other advantage of the Araska. We aren't reliant upon 'special candidates' and we don't need to use teenagers,” the man spat, disgusted, “as child soldiers.”

Misato winced. “It's a really good thing those two aren't here,” she muttered to herself.

“We aren't dependent upon the unreliable human mind, which is fallible and prone to breaking, to deploy our war machines. Anyone could, with training, pilot the Araska or any of its planned successors. Since the start of your Project, you've found, what, three suitable candidates. We already have trained crew for five Araska P-Types. Just from our test pilot program. So, to return to the original point, against a Herald, we know that brute force works. And we can bring a lot more of it to bear for a fraction of the cost.”

He smiled, his grin blatantly patronising, at Ritsuko then.

“And it's inevitable that we will find a way to replicate the AT-Field. Science, whether conventional, arcane or sorcerous, will always find a way.”

He pressed a button on the desk, and the lights dimmed, the wall behind him fading to transparency once again to show the bulk of the Araska.

“And now it is time for the demonstration.” He paused. “Silence in the audience, please,” he added, over Ritsuko's attempts to answer.

He flipped out a PCPU, dialling a number in a blatant act of showmanship.

“Hello? Yes, hello, Captain Wupata.... yes, yes, I'm fine. Listen, I have a little favour to ask. Would you mind telling your charming men and women to open fire. All together, please. Yes, thanks. No, really, I owe you one. Well, see you. Ciao.

He snapped the PCPU shut.

“Captain Wuptata. Wonderful guy. Known him for quite a while. Do you know, he heads an artillery company now?”

And with that, the shells hit. A full salvo from a company of M111-A2 Jaeger Self-Propelled Howitzers, the magnetically accelerated shells following a near-perfect parabola before slamming down as one into the hull of the Daeva. From the point of view of the audience, the sight was a horrific burst of sudden violence, the transparent wall behind the speaker showing fire and smoke. Shrapnel tore into the wall, leaving in off colour and opaque in areas.

There was utter silence in the hall, as the smoke cleared. You could have heard a pin drop.

The veils thrown up by the explosions parted, to leave the Araska. Its back had been flayed, torn open by the blasts, deep wounds torn into its hull by the barrage. But even as the audience watched, a black, tar-like substance welled up through the scars, filling them. Odd blisters floated in the tar, which glowed a strange luminescent green, even from that distance. The tar kept on swelling and bulging, bloating out of the wounds, even as the rate of expansion decreased, forming what looked like cancerous bulges on the hull. Even as they grew, though, a strange flaky layer, in military green, grew over the black, coating it; and where it coated, growth ceased. Within seconds the Daeva stood before them, not identical to how it was before, because there were new growths on the top, but intact.

There were panicked yelps from the audience at the sight, and two people were nosily sick.

“Lieutenant,” Tokita called out, “are you all right in there?”

A face appeared on the wall behind him, the transparency becoming an opaque, moving image. The Hispanic man grinned.

“Bit noisy in here, but we're fine.”

There was a burst of nervous laughter from the audience.

“Anything damaged?”

“Well, charge beam FR-2 took a direct hit from a shell. It's broken 'til we can take her in for a proper repair cycle.”

“Damn,” declared Tokita. “I'd said that I'd take her back unscratched. Looks like I owe the engineering team some drinks.”

More nervous laughter.

“I'd just like to point out what just happened. The Araska took an entire company's worth of artillery shells. We timed it so that they hit as close to simultaneously as we could make it, just to put the self-repair functions of the ACXB organism to the limit. If they'd hit further apart, the damage could potentially have been repaired before the next shell hit, depending on spacing. The only permanent damage? One of the charge beams took a direct hit from an artillery shell, beyond the ability of the on-board nanofactories to repair. Now, let's run the Araska through her paces...”



~'/|\'~




The room was a vast sphere, shaped to atomic level precision. There were neither sharp angles nor shadows nor reflections anywhere in the man-made void. Such things could have disastrous consequences, for it had been found that the presence of sorcerous wards too close to this place disturbed the thing contained within.

The ABN Facility was a Grade-A facility. It was designed to hold things of such a level that their mere presence induced Aeon War Syndrome; ancient horrors spoken of in myth, entities which induced AWS in the Migou, things which would not die, would not sleep and should not exist. Those true horrors of the universe which mankind had encountered (or, in its worst moments, made) were sealed here, undying and restless. Was it any surprise that the Auburn district, on the edge of New Chicago, in which it was located, was viewed as a hell-hole slum by the NEG as a whole, a place where cultists gathered, and extra-dimensional beasts were attracted, before the near-absolute military lockdown around the place terminated them? Where the AWS score of the inhabitants was a good two to three points higher than average for the population? Where children were sometimes born with Outsider taint through no fault of their parents, and the parapsychic rate was nine times that of the ambient population?

Of course, a cynic could say that characteristic made it useful, made it worth keeping so close to a population centre.

But legally, Vault-H2 did not exist. The thing contained here exceeded what the highest grade storage facility acknowledged by the NEG was permitted to keep. If the Migou knew that humanity had it, their galactic empire would have been stirred into action, the countless masses of their hive worlds thrown against Earth to wipe it out, regardless of the consequences. If the Rapine Storm and the Death Shadows had known that the NEG had it, they would have done anything to secure its release. If the Dagonites knew that mankind had it, they would have thrown away all their lives and their search for the sunken city of their master to ensure that it was ended.

Only two members of the New Earth Government Cabinet knew of the existence of the ABN facility in any detail. No member of the New Earth Government Cabinet knew that Vault-H2 existed. The number of people 'in the know' could be counted in the low double digits, and almost all of them were servants or members of AHNUNG. The others were believed by AHNUNG to belong to it.

Ryoji Kaji stood on the platform that wrapped its way around the equator of the interior of the sphere, in a full-body glowsuit which cast no shadow. No flesh was exposed; the internal air supply was designed to only last for three and a half minutes, to limit exposure to the threat within the Vault. The air, thick and heavy from the 3 atmosphere pressure of pure helium weighed down on him almost as much as what he was about to do. As an inspector certified by the Ashcroft Foundation; in reality, AHNUNG, as the guards of this containment sphere were compromised from the very beginning, he was tasked with the inspection of the contents of Vault-H2.

He was in here alone. Mental proximity to the thing sealed within usually produced Late Onset Aeon War Syndrome within minutes. The air limit was just an artificial means of controlling exposure. But Kaji had been chosen by AHNUNG because of his observed resilience to Aeon War Syndrome; the selection for this mandatory check on Vault-H2 had come about after the Ballydehob Incident and the deployment of VREES in clean-up. Just another incident where the VREES selection criteria had produced agents for AHNUNG with extreme tenacity.

The duty was simple. A pathway would be extended half-way to the inner sphere, which would be opened. The agent would observe that the physical manifestation of the entity remained within the seal, quiescent. The agent would mark this as affirmative, the inner seal would be resealed, and the agent would be extracted, for examination of mental well being and for signs of cellular taint from proximity.

It was completely impossible for someone to release the entity. Not only would they have to pass the fifty metre gap between the end of the walkway, and the inner seal where the entity was contained, but if someone got that close, the entity would crush their mind through its presence. It was anathema to humanity, not through malevolence (though it had that, boundless reserves of vitriol which could transmute the oceans and consume the land), but simple otherness. And even then, the security watched everything that happened in this dome, each watcher vigilant for, unlike a human being, the Panoptican Limited Artificial Intelligences could view this place without breaking. They were sentient, but not sapient. And even if all that could be subverted, the wards that wrapped around the facility at a safe distance would trigger if the entity tried to escape; they would be rent asunder by its presence, true, but they would fulfil their role and raise the alarm.

Vault-H2 was impregnable.

Unless AHNUNG had been pushed into selecting this very special agent by another player in the game, without them even knowing it. Unless that agent had been chosen by the other player because they were able to resist the taint of the First. Unless the Panoptican LAIs could be subverted by an external source, backdoors opened into their sealed network at the time of the construction of the Vault, only exploitable by the three most powerful super-computers on the planet. Unless the agent had been provided with a piece of valued and arcane technology stolen from the alien and ultimately unknowable Tsab, their mastery of dimensional pockets brute forced out of a stolen device by the crude techniques of human sorcery, which would permit the entity to be concealed by a thief, hidden outside the normal five dimensions.

Unless the Soul of the Outer Gods willed all of this to happen.

a discontinuity

And Kaji was in the inner seal, already flipping open the hidden compartment in the briefcase that the man in London-2 had provided him with. Obsidian black and a yellow gemstone with angles which were wrong which glowed with a sick internal light stared out at him, seemingly the eye of some malign intellect. All around it, the interior of the compartment bore its repeating, interlocking motif, of an asymmetric, five-branched tree-like shape.

The Elder Sign.

Kaji reached out a gloved hand.

Now comes the hard part, he thought.

I think it goes “morituri nolumus mori”...



~'/|\'~




And in the unfathomable, unspeakable depths that were neither here nor there, but were instead other, something stirred.

Its lord and master called, and unlike the other faithless servants, who followed the traitor who had supplanted the true Hierophant, it was still loyal.

And so the elect called to it, and it would obey.

It wanted to.



~'/|\'~
   Profile |  

EarthScorpion
PostPosted: 2009-05-10 09:06am 

Padawan Learner


Joined: 2008-09-25 02:54pm
Posts: 209
Location: London
Chapter 9

Yam Strikes!


~'/|\'~




The alarms began to scream in geological monitoring stations all across the planet. These places had an even more important role in the Aeon War; orbital bombardment would show up, just as earlier nuclear tests had, if the Migou were ever to escalate the war. They also functioned, on the instruction of the GIA, as watchtowers for any possible sign that the antediluvian Valusians might awaken. Those sapient reptilian creatures, to the dinosaurs as humanity itself is to the mammals, were thought to be long extinct. However, certain of their facilities had been found in the construction of the various geocities that now dotted the globe, in tectonically stable regions of the planet, staffed by automated systems watching over cyrogenic pods. Although no awake Valusians had ever been encountered (barring those individuals from the pods who were shipped off to labs, to be interrogated and vivisected), and although the discoveries had not been made public, the Valusians were now viewed as a potential threat. There was no desire, after all, for another side to join the Aeon War.

The reason for their alarm, though, was not so critical. They were detecting an earthquake, which, as the network which connected these facilities linked up their data and fed it through the processor Limited AIs, appeared to be shallow, and producing movement directly above the epicentre calculated to be categorised as a VII on the Modified Mercalli Scale.

Of course, the worry increased when it was noted that the epicentre was directly below Lake Michigan. And that was a concern, because there shouldn't be any tectonic activity in that location. Considering the proximity of such a site to the centre of government for the entire New Earth Government, there was a mass collective grabbing of secure telephones and hurried use of the emergency number to the local military.

The water purity facilities on Lake Michigan were having their own problems, of course. Quite apart from the fact that the sides of the lake were caving in, as the water impossibly swelled, flooding the flat land around it, the temperature of the water was rising precipitously, currents of heated water flowing up from the bottom of the lake. In the wild ideas thrown around by the local scientists and engineers trying to explain what the hell was going on, suggestions of a precision Migou strike against the mantle, creating a volcano by punching through the Earth's surface, were thrown about. These made their way back to the NEG military, where they matched a low probability prediction for how a Migou limited scale bombardment would begin.

Global threat levels were raised to Code Sigma to deal with the possibility that the Migou had begun orbital bombardment, with a resultant rise in the latitude for deployment of nuclear weapons. Across the world, forces moved to high alert. This build up was noted by the Migou, who began moving reserve forces forwards, from their fortified stationary bunkers they occupied on Earth as well as dispatching extra Swarm Ships from the Hive Ship in orbit. This fed back into the NEG, as the actions of the Migou raised the LAI estimates of this being a serious offensive.

Global threat levels were raised to Code Tau.

This activity looped into the Migou hierarchy, who noted that human military behaviour conformed to their predictions for a suicidal last stand, by their predictions of the psychology of those uplifted apes. As a result, they took activities to remedy that, making sure that victory would occur, despite the costs.

Global Threat Levels were raised to Code Upsilon.

A cascade of worry flowed through the machinery of the New Earth Government, slowing the cogs as the ruling authorities of humanity collectively turned their thoughts to the possibility that this was the way that the world would end; not, as the poet had said, with a whimper, but with a bang.

Fear and panic began to fill the air when, despite the attempts to calm the situation, only desolation and despair could be foreseen. The spy satellite tasked to study this phenomenon reported a Code Blue STE Rift. At the revelation that a Herald appeared, contrary to all previous predictions, to be launching a direct assault on the New Earth Government capital, it was feared that all the plans and contingencies that had been sown in preparation for a Migou assault since the Fall of Alaska in 2085 would now be swept away, quite literally, by whatever this new Herald was doing.

Control was reasserted. Humanity would refuse to let go. Globally the level of alert was lowed, even as all forces which could be spared in North America converged on Chicago-2

The presence of one of the Heralds of the Outer Gods was noted, too, by the Migou. The fungoid Yuggothians re-evaluated the situation. The reactions of the mammals below were re-examined in that light, and found to be consistent with previous behaviour. However, after the loss of two entire fleets by the treachery of the humans and the twice-traitor Nazzadi, it was decided that they would not be able to tolerate the losses from an assault on a location so close to the human capital, while retaining enough force to euthanise the monster that had just woken. However, they could not also permit such an entity to roam free, for it could wake the Hierophant, which would be a direct strike against their federation. Orbital bombardment was considered, and rejected, for the risks of such force against this planet were calculably high.

And so the Migou hung on the edge, unable to act, but also unable to let what would happen occur.
They hoped that the hominids would achieve the improbable again, for it was the lesser of two evils.

A decision was made by the sorcerer-scientists, the leaders of the Migou fleet. They began a notable withdrawal from their gains across North America, hoping that the uplifted apes would spare more troops for what must be done, loathe as were to give up territorial gains.

Of course, they left the extensive minefields and automated defences in place. It would be stupid to left the humans just waltz in to what they had sacrificed lives to gain.



~'/|\'~




The Herald, which the NEG naming convention so inaccurately called “Yam” paused slightly, as it tore through the wall that it had built, extending the gift of Yog-Sothoth, through the lacuna in what the limited beings that inhabited this world (with the exclusion of one native species) called reality. Hot water flooded through, rich in noxious chemicals and hydrocarbons, as it ceased its relentless assault on what kept it from its target destination, thick and dark currents swirling in the chill autumnal waters of Lake Michigan.

Its intellect was alien; it had last been upon this ball of iron and silicates before the Elder Things had lost control of their autonomous amorphous construction devices, and it had been aware all the time since. It had aeons upon aeons of experience in the seas of billions of planets much superior to this one, untainted by the annoyingly reactive gas that polluted and permeated this planet through unrestrained pollution by chemical factories.

And so it thought.
third|tertiary|inner iron|silicate|miscellaneous residence|dwelling|territory
disgust|disappointment|loathing ineptitude|lack-of-forethought|laziness starfish|inferior|xeno because|correlation|link solvent|water|fluid vile|polluted|toxic gas|reactive|eighth!
second|hierophant|traitor held|possessive|indicating-ownership residence|dwelling|home|territory
intrusion|impolite|offensive? dangerous|threat-to-life|risky?
possible|potential|mid-to-high.
necessary|needed|desire!
puppet|marionette|projection being|possessive|indicating-existence first|dead|rightful-hierophant local|present|resident-not-indicating-possessive now-time|now-space|all-dimensions!
necessary|complete|desire!
puppet|marionette|projection request|desire|need-indicating-other assistance|servitude|completion-of-oath!
self|ego|entity loyal|kin|vizier! negation|impossible|clarity traitor|rebel|fool!
servitude|oath|being necessary|mandated|desired!


Its path was clear. It tore through the barrier in full, the alien waters of where it had slept pouring through, volume upon volume, supplanting the inferior native ecology. Its lesser children had come with it, too, and they would sing their beautiful songs, a choir of seraphim for an angel upon high, chosen of the Outer Gods.

It spread the beauteous gift of That Which Defines Time And Space wide. Its children could huddle under its auspices, protected from the malign vicissitudes of an alien, hostile, inferior, locally and freakishly stable set of universal so-called-constants.

And the bulk of the Herald passed through the hole in space, that would take it from its home to where it would need to be.

self|ego|entity prediction|being|statement enjoy|pleasure|emotion state|future|soon!




~'/|\'~




Sirens began to wail throughout the Engel silo, the high-pitched scream of urgency deliberately akin to that of a crying infant, as a pleasant, hermaphroditic Limited Artificial Intelligence voice began to issue commands over the loud speakers.

“All Engel pilots cleared for deployment are to report to their attuned vehicle, ready for immediate deployment. This is a Gaghiel-level order; this is a Gaghiel-level order. A massive extra-dimensional entity is in close proximity to the Chicago Arcology. This is not a drill; this is not a drill. All Engel pilots cleared for deployment are to report...”

This cacophony was also broadcast into the converted Engel bays that held the kneeling Unit 02, and the two teenagers.

Shinji looked around. “What's going on? Are we meant to be here?”

“...this is a Gaghiel-level order. A massive extra-dimensional entity is in close proximity to the Chicago Arcology. This is...”

Asuka sighed at that comment, even as her eyes lit up. “Idiot. It's almost certainly a Herald.” She smiled to herself. “A real one...”

“Then why don't they just tell their Engel pilots that?” Shinji asked.

Her eyes locked onto his for a moment, before leaving in disgust, to rest upon her Evangelion. “Because the Heralds themselves are classified. Well, not that there are large extra-dimensional creatures, but their nature, and that they're part of a linked phenomenon. Honestly. Don't you ever watch the news?” She waved a hand at him. “No, don't answer that.”

“What should I do?” Shinji said to himself, ignoring her. He turned to the exit. “I need to get back to Misato.”

Asuka made a small noise of disgust. He was getting rather sick of that; just being around her was giving him a headache from the litres of scorn poured down upon him.

“And do what?,” she asked. “As far as I can recall, your Evangelion is both on the other side of the Atlantic and out of operations right now. So unless you're going to spontaneously manifest Grade-3 Somatic Teleportation, nothing you will do will matter.” She paused. “Are you a parapsychic, by the way? You're not wearing the marks, but that just means you don't have Dee or Eye powers.”

Shinji shook his head. “No. You?”

“No. I just like to know.”

“Well, then, what do you want to do?” he asked, sarcasm creeping into his voice despite his certain knowledge that it would only make matters worse. “I mean, after all, you're the...”

She was already striding off towards a set of lockers, near to the feet of the Evangelion.

Asuka was finding this boy rather frustrating. He was so... passive. And not even passive in the “sit there and do nothing unless prompted” way; no, he insisted on arguing with her, even when he wasn't coming up with anything helpful, and making comments that she was sure that he thought were funny, even when anyone with a functioning brain could see that they were the product of a mind that thought it has a much better sense of humour than it actually did. She was sure that he shouldn't be like that. He was causing a minor headache, and it would be nice if he'd just do what he was told to.

She put it out her mind, as she headed over to the lockers, planting her hands flat on the memoform surface, which read her hand prints then shaped itself into handles, to allow her to open it. She pulled out a sausage-shaped bag, in the same deep red as the kneeling forty-metre figure beside her.

“Wait there for a second,” she commanded, stepping behind one of the legs of Unit 02 for some privacy, as she began pulling the plug-suit out of her bag and stripping off her dress.

At least the plug suit will be a lot warmer than this thing, Asuka thought. Important lesson learnt; Nazzadi dresses are not to be worn outside of arcologies or Nazza-Duhni itself. Right, so underlayer first...” as she pulled out a thin black garment which looked most like a full length wetsuit.

The underlayer was one of the personal changes she had persuaded the Berlin team to implement in the design of the plug-suit. The original design had been fine if you were to only wear it in the entry plug, where the neutral buoyancy and the lack of movement were fine, but she had quickly found that it tended to leave skin raw at the joints if you walked around in it. It appeared that whoever had designed the plug-suit had cared far more about optimising the design so that it could generate the highest possible synchronisation ratios than about petty things like comfort. The scientists in Berlin-2 had waved aside her complaints, until she had pointed out, in a patronising tone, that she couldn't focus on moving the Evangelion as her body if her real skin was hurting from a badly designed suit.

She had been seven at the time.

There was a movement of feet from the other side of the Evangelion's leg. Obviously, the idiot was just going to ignore what she'd told him to do. Honestly, why wouldn't people just do what they were told?

“Peek, and I [i]will
beat you senseless,” she called out, not even looking up from where she was sealing the smart material up the legs.

Shinji quite believed that. He'd moved around to see what she was doing, because she hadn't deigned to tell him, and caught a glimpse of her before she'd done up the top of the black thing that she seemed to wear under her plug suit. Asuka was very fit, in both the formal and colloquial senses of the word; she was built like an athlete with (from the brief glance he had obtained) almost no superfluous fat.

Wow...

He waited.

Asuka did up the neck seal, a slight hiss echoing through the chamber as the secondary seal rotated into place, shaking out her hair and pulling it behind her. She checked that the A10 clips were properly in position, flat against the scalp.

Yes.

She stretched out, right up to her maximum height (she wondered idly if her father had been tall; her mother certainly had been), then rotated her neck in a circle, clicking her knuckles together.

“Asuka, let's go,” she said softly to herself, her voice level, calm, and filled with determination.

She reached down into the bag as she came out from behind the leg of Unit 02, noting that Shinji had his back turned, in what she judged to quite possibly be a sign of guilt.

She punched him hard, in the arm.

He yelped, and clutched at his limb, jumping away from her.

“What the hell was that for!” he yelled at her in Japanese reflexively.

“Looking,” was the answer he got, in the same language. Asuka noted the slight flush, as well as the lack of protest.

So he did peek. Thought so.

She hit him again, in the same place.

“Stop that!” he moaned. “It was an accident. You didn't tell me what you were...”

“Put this on,” she instructed him, a spare plug-suit in her arms. “You're coming with me on this.”

“What are you, crazy!” he shouted back, clutching at his arm. “You can't just hit people and make them do what you say!”

Asuka tensed momentarily, moving her arm slightly, watching him flinch and recoil away. It amused her. “You're wrong. The whole of human society is based on a mixture of that and tribe-level altruism.”

“What are you talking about!”

“Put this on.”

“It won't fit,” protested Shinji. “I'm taller than you.”

“You're not,” Asuka replied, their eyes level. Generations of good diet combined with mild sexual selection had resulted in a slight decrease in human sexual dimorphism with regards to height, which, combined with the difference in ethnicities, meant that she was in fact slightly taller than he was.

“... and... shaped differently,” he continued, making vague gestures at about chest level with his hands.

“You'll survive. It'll just be a bit loose around the chest. Just do what I say and put this on.”

“And tight somewhere else,” he said acidly.

“You'll be fine. Just do what I say and put it on.”

“Uh uh.” Shinji shook his head. “There is no way you're going to make me wear that.”



~'/|\'~




Commander Matthew Martensson, of the NES Blade of Athena, a Triumph-Class Destroyer, rushed into the bridge burrowed deep into the middle of the ship, his blond mane clearly ungroomed. The wail of sirens greeted him, as well as a clamour from his subordinate officers.

“Report!” he snapped at his First Mate, all traces of his normal good humour gone.

“We're under attack from... something,” Kagamy stated, red eyes cool and steady. “Global threat levels pinged recently up to Upsilon; they're back down to Tau, but we received coded orders for a Grade VII.”

The Commander swallowed hard, a flash of worry in his somewhat bloodshot blue eyes. “They were unsealed and the authorisation codes checked?” he asked, trying to keep his voice as level as hers.

“Yes, sir. They checked out.”

Both of them knew what a Code VII meant.

“Well, have there been any signs of a Migou strike yet? What does Comms say about troop movements?” Matthew said, while authorising his command of the ship as he took the central chair.

“Negative,” called Lieutenant Tonaka, over from the AR screen that even now flared massive amounts of sensory information. Communications Officers on a capital ship were a rare breed, required to handle massive amounts of sensory information. Most of them as a result came from AR gaming sub-cultures, to the extent that they came with pre-existing permanent hard AR contacts. They tended not to blink much. “In fact,” a new window was maximised with a series of hand movements, “they appear to be retreating... oh. Turquoise message from NEGNC C2. Beyond my clearance. Forwarding it to central desk.”

The Commander read the document that the High Command had just felt like issuing. It was short, and rather unhelpful, yet still contained a potent revelation. He blinked, heavily, then authorised the unlocking of the censored version to his senior crew.

“Short version,” he said, staring around the bridge. Everyone was in position; all posts filled. “An exceedingly dangerous extra-dimensional lifeform has appeared in close proximity, somewhere in Lake Michigan. Satellite recon cannot give us more precise details; it appears to have some kind of some kind of...” he paused, “I can't believe I'm saying this. Some kind of massive force field slash arcane shield, that makes it impossible to be more accurate. No known attributes, although it does note that the entity will probably be able to take multiple shots from capital grade weapons. We are to kill it, and prevent it from reaching Chicago-2. I don't need to tell you why.”

“Well, that was useful,” called out one of the Sensor Officers. “Nothing more, sir? Even a profile what we should be looking for.”

Commander Martensson sighed. “No.” he replied, rubbing his eyes as he reached to authorise a combat stimulant to wake him up properly. “Damn useless OCI”, he muttered to himself as an aside.

His hand never reached the button, as the consoles all around the room began to scream. The AR projection of the fleet bloomed in red, as one, then a second icon flashed to the “Destroyed” status.

“Report!”

“The Cybele is going down!” stated his First Officer, Kagamy, her voice as calm as ever. “The Mithras has not sighted the target.”

“Damn it”, Matthew swore. “Commodore Clarke was on the Cybele. What the hell is going on!”

“Vice-Admiral Xu has taken command, from C2 Fleet Command,” reported Tonaka. “Patching him through to main speakers.”

“This is Vice-Admiral Xu, of the New Earth Navy,” the message came from, the man's voice that slightly metallic buzz that came from the massive levels of encryption used on Fleet channels. “All ships, check distance between ships. Take evasive manoeuvres, and elevate yourself from the water. I want those ventral weapons pointing downwards!”

Commander Martensson nodded. “Right, Helm.” He switched to the ship-board announcement system. “This is Martensson. All hands to F-Suits and acceleration couches.”

All across the ship, there was a buckling of clasps, as the crew prepared for flight mode. Most merely strapped into their acceleration couches at their battle stations, which kept them bound whatever the alignment of the ship, while those who had to move got into their F-Suits, stripped down, void-capable powered suits, designed for use even in zero-g conditions, with magnetic boots and their own integral A-Pods, enabling them to move around the ship.

“We have a clear for preparation,” announced the officer at the Helm. “Permission to take her up?”

“Permission granted,” said the Commander. “Let's get clear of this water and get revenge for the Cybele.”



~'/|\'~




All across the lake, New Earth Government ships were breaking the water, vast volumes of water pouring off their flanks as they rose into the air. These ships were rather different in appearance to their ancestors, those ships which had been limited to the surface of the water. Modern naval ships were roughly cylindrical; vast cigars covered in protrusions in the form of missile pods, direct-fire weapons, point defence and sensor equipment. The ships with a carrier role were bulbous and curved, pregnant with offspring that they could vomit forth onto their foes, while the dedicated warships were sleek and knife-like, their front sections designed to reduce the surface area they exposed while their lethal ventral weapons were aligned with a target. The bridge was nested deep within the superstructure of the vessel, though its nerves and senses spread throughout the whole ship, so that a lucky shot or an enemy fighter on a kamikaze run could decapitate the command structure. The old balance between “weapons of war” and “weapons of terror” had been raised, and it has been decided that what made a weapon really terrifying was the ability to kill you as efficiently and as quickly as possible while taking the least possible damage.

They were more kin, in design, to submarines than surface ships, as the advent of the A-Pod opened the prospect of true three-dimensional battles at sea. Against the Migou, concealment below the waves was an advantage, because the heavy weapons on Swarm Ships, which outgunned even a Victory-Class Battlecruiser, could not be fired properly in such an environment. Against the Esoteric Order of Dagon, the opposite was true; to face them below the waves allowed them to bring the best of their assets into play, while above it they were notably deficient in things which could hit aircraft, or indeed anything which could deal with a capital-grade ship. What was being done now was a standard tactic against aquatic foes. They could only hope that the Herald would stay there.

The clouds broke above them, autumn sunlight poring through the gaps in the sky to light up the emerging behemoths. The matt paint and pseudodermal layers of absorbent memo-material, designed to minimise visibility and radio signature gave them an almost toy-like look, like some cheap plaything for infants, designed to reduce choking hazard. From above, the scene looked almost faked, like tiny scale models in some ancient science-fiction show with a poor budget and a lead actor with a toupee. That was irrelevant. Efficient design should always override aesthetics, according to the doctrine of the New Earth Navy. And with modern flesh vat-growth techniques, toupees were a thing of the past.

The Herald, of course, neither knew any of this, nor would it have cared had it deigned to tear the structure of the organic composite matrix these strange creatures, which lived in an atmosphere comprised of a deadly toxin, used to cognate (insofar as they could do that) from its protective casing, and find out how to extract the information it desired. With a flick of its tail, it drove itself through a network of mines, the charges detonating harmlessly on the surface of the AT-Field, displacing vast quantities of water which surged upwards to plume on the surface.

The Limited Artificial Intelligences installed on the New Earth Government vessels noted this pattern, and calculated the velocity and depth of the object which was causing the explosions in about as much time as the humans controlling them took to notice the blossoming explosions. These were independently verified over a tight-band combat network with the other ships, and corrections made through statistical analysis of the data points observed by each separate vessel. When they were satisfied, insofar as a non-sapient system could feel any emotion, they informed the organic beings in their chain of command of the extrapolated position of the Herald. In a show of dreadful inefficiency, it took the humans several seconds to request permission from the commanders of their ships, then give the command to fire.

A veritable shower of torpedoes descended from the elevated ships, falling as projectiles before impacting with the water and their engines activating. Explosions cascaded along all sides of the Herald's AT-Field, unable to penetrate the warped spacetime, the phase space of possible results of the explosion turned against them. However, a surprising number missed, the telemetry sent back to their ships reporting that the target was not where it had been calculated to be, and that local conditions in the water were different from what they should have been. Error reports blossomed on the feed-outs from a non-negligible percentage of the weapons, informing their operators of impossibilities, of water that did not act like water and other such things.

And the Herald itself was not passive in its effect in causing confusion. The surface of the lake bulged up, unbelievably, engulfing a low hanging frigate in a very final way. Something could be seen in that pustule of water which defied all human knowledge of fluid dynamics, a colossal, corpse-white shape which moved like some leviathan from the Permian.

Anyone who made such a comparison would be wrong, though. The Herald was considerably older than that; that era was long after this insignificant planet had become inhospitable for it and its kind after the run-away atmospheric pollution induced by the irresponsible genetic tampering of the Elder Things, and, anyway, life of terrestrial origin in the Permian had not advanced to the level where it could support such a thing. It could never support a creature of that magnitude; it never had, and never would. The laws of nature state that such a beast could never come about; the mass scales up faster than the muscle strength, even in an environment where fluid buoyancy would permit it to become larger, while the forces which its movement would subject its body to should tear it in half.

It was just as well that the favour of the Gods gave the Herald sanctity against the arbitrary declarations of this place.

The water surged again, the white shape devouring a destroyer, its path taking it towards the metal boxes which the odd creatures hid within, taking them away to be assumed for its greater glory and that of its children.

But always, inexorably, taking it closer to Chicago-2.



~'/|\'~




Shinji was grumbling to himself, even as the entry plug flooded with LCL.

“How did she make me do this? I honestly don't know why.”

He shifted, uncomfortably, trying to loosen it around his groin. His prediction that it would not fit there was proving painfully accurate.

“Stop complaining,” Asuka told him, as the fluid reached neck height. “Sit behind me, and keep your hands to yourself.”

The unpleasant moment when your lungs scream at you that they're filled with fluid, and that you're drowning, and the feeling of the viscous LCL washing over against your eyeballs passed, for both of them.

Shinji shuddered, once he had got the panic instinct under control. Asuka, he noted, didn't react to it at all. The LCL tasted... wrong; not like how it normally was. The only component he could recognise in the LCL of Unit 01 was something like, but not quite, the metallic taste of blood, but there was something else here, some indescribable yet very familiar taste that hovered right at the edge of his tongue

How long has she been doing this if she doesn't have a problem with drowning?

He made a face. “Your LCL tastes different.”

Asuka grunted, as she ran the beginnings of the start-up procedure. “Really.” It wasn't a question, and there was a notable hint that any use of that as a criticism would result in conflict.

“Where do the Evangelions store the LCL, anyway?” he wondered out loud, more as way of changing the subject than out of interest. “Is there some internal reservoir or something?”

A one-shouldered uni-shrug was all he got in response.

“What is is, anyway?” he wondered. “Why don't they just use impact gel and sealed helmets, like I've heard that the Engels...”

The red-haired girl turned to glare at him, her hair waving like seaweed in the viscous orange liquid. “Stop babbling and complaining. Unless you'd like to run the start-up procedure... which you can't, anyway, as you haven't even done independent operations yet, then you can shut up while I need to concentrate.” Shinji shut up.

The start-up procedure continued, until the screens that surrounded them, on the inside of the entry plug, degenerated into red warnings screaming that something was wrong.

“Have you tried turning it off and on again?” asked Shinji, innocently.

Another glare was his payment for them. “What are you, stupid? Are you trying to be annoying? You're making mental noise, which is disturbing the calibration. I told you not to disturb me!”

“So you don't think it might be because two people are in a war-machine only designed for one, and it's controlled by thought? That maybe two people aren't meant to be in an Evangelion entry plug?” he continued, in the same tone of voice.

“No,” replied Asuka, taking on a similarly saccharine tone, “because I already accounted for that. For one, you're not even wearing A10 Nerve Clips, which means that any motive force you provide will be minimal. No, this is a higher level function.”

“That doesn't explain anything, you know.” The conversation was getting worryingly polite.

She sighed. “Of course. What language do you think in?”

Shinji frowned. “Mostly... well, I'm not even sure about that. Sometimes in Japanese, sometimes in English.”

“Yes,” said Asuka, poking at the screen at the front, “that would explain it. Idiot. LAI, add language slash Japanese slash standard to the active dictionary.”

“Are you sure that you want to change the default language settings? Some systems may need to restart for the changes to take effect,” asked the onboard voice.

“Yes. Change language then restart.”

The lights in the entry plug dimmed, then came back up, the complicated flickering of the walls proceeding without interruption this time.

“Evangelion Unit 02; activate!”

Shinji groaned. That girl was giving him a headache.



~'/|\'~




The conference centre where they had been showing off the Daeva had been evacuated remarkably quickly, a considerable number of the people in the room taken directly to one of the command centres buried into the superstructure of the Chicago Arcology. The resident members of the OIS were already considering the possibility that the command structure had been compromised by cult influences, to arrange for so many high ranking members of the New Earth Army and Navy to be focussed in one place. They had watched the surge in global threat levels, after what was found to be a simple mistake ballooned into reports of Migou orbital bombardment, and attempts to clamp down on the scaremongering and misunderstandings had originated from this location.

Major Misato Katsuragi stood in a corner, and watched. She was significantly outranked here, and nothing yet could justify her involvement. She half suspected that she had only been escorted here by accident in the chaos. And if she could trust Asuka's PsychEvals, she was probably going to start up Unit 02 and try to help, without permission. She'd already gone off with Shinji to show him her Evangelion (that sounded dirty in her head), so she's wouldn't even need to go very far to get there. This had the potential to go very wrong.

A sussuration of whispers began to fill the room...

”A Herald?”
“A Code Blue?”
“A Herald?”
“Code Blue?”
“Seriously?”

... and at that cue, she straightened up. She really wished that Ritsuko was here, as together they would have backed up the viewpoint of Project Evangelion from both a tactical and scientific point of view, but the blond-haired woman had disappeared with Dr Miyakame immediately after he had come over to talk to her.

Yes, that was most suspicious. Ritsuko loathed him, Misato was sure; she had heard enough rants, but the way she had crumpled and acquiesced to his request for a talk was quite unlike how she normally was. It was worth looking into, certainly.

And, hey, Misato thought, if they do start sleeping together or something, we might be able to borrow some of the Engel technicians for an armour redesign, and ours are suffering from the constant damage which the Evas keep on suffering. It's an ill wind that doesn't have a silver lining, or something like that.

The Major stepped forwards.

“Project Evangelion offers its assistance, subordinate to main NEG command,” she stated to the Vice-Admiral who seemed to have taken charge.

The naval officer, a hardened-looking man in his early fifties, of Chinese ethnicity, glanced over at her. “Aren't all of your assets on the other side of the Atlantic?” he said, bluntly. An aide leaned over and whispered in his ear. “Ah. You have one here.”

The Major nodded. “It was here for a full test of its technical capacity, before it was moved over to join the others. And before you ask, sir,” she continued, seeing the glint in his eye, “Unit 02 is complete and has already seen battle on the Eastern European Front. It personally took down two Migou Swarm Ships,” she added, with a hint of pride.

“We have multiple impacts from the simultaneous torpedo barrage... nothing,” called out an officer, from the other side of the room. “Not a damn thing.”

“Vice-Admiral,” the Major pointed out, “remember that it took the Ashcroft three over-charged shots from its main plasma cannon to take down the AT-Shield of the one code-named “The Kathirat”, and even then it failed to kill the target, only crippling it. And it took all the spare capacity of L2 to power the laser that killed Mot.” She took a deep breath. “And with all due respect, sir, as long at the Herald stays under water, we can't use the ventral plasma cannons on the destroyers against it, and the ventral lasers on the frigates aren't powerful enough.”

“What are you leading up to, Major Katsuragi?” growled the Vice-Admiral.

“Permission to mobilise Unit 02, and tactical battlefield control over it. We should station it by C2, as a last line of defence.”

Elements on the AR display in the middle of the room flashed red.

“That was the Southampton,” called out an officer. “Another frigate lost.”

“The torpedo bombers are coming around for another swing,” called out another. “They're going to have to rearm after this strike.”

“WQS reports massive environmental disturbance. The water is becoming toxic; there's a current flow from where that thing appeared. Sats say that it seems to be some kind of space-time rift, and it's growing.”

Vice-Admiral Xu sighed. “Permission granted. I still don't approve of the use of child soldiers, but we need everything we can get, and the Evas have a record of killing Heralds. Use that station over there for TacCom; get it deployed in Sector 4.” He snorted. “The Araska's in Sector 3. Who'd have thought at the start of the day that we'd get to see a direct comparison?”

“I'd have preferred not to,” called the Brigadier who was trying to co-ordinate the air forces so that they'd do something. He wasn't having much luck. The weapons that a bomber mounted weren't scratching the hide of the beast, unable to even get through the AT-Field. And they weren't prepared to go nuclear in these circumstances, with already elevated tensions with the Migou and how close the entity was to the capital.



~'/|\'~




Kaji stepped outside, in a casual walk which he had been explicitly trained in. He was feeling rather light headed. Something red flashed in front of his eyes; he blinked, and it was gone.

He shook his head. He now had what was quite possibly the most valuable thing on the planet in his suitcase, folded into its own pocket dimension by the reality-breaking Bah'ri Diß artefact. If he was caught with this because he fainted after that, well, he didn't want to think about what would happen to him. Bad things, probably starting with a TSEAP and moving upwards from there. And vivisection did not appeal to him, all things considered.

He managed to make his way to the train, without showing any sign of weakness, and slumped heavily down in his seat, eyes listlessly staring out the window at nothing.

And as the train departed, something felt him go, and wailed.



~'/|\'~




Commander Martensson was not having a good day. At all. The light frigates, the only damn ships which could use their ventral weapons against the target (because some idiot designer has decided that the increased yield of a ventral plasma cannon was worth not being able to fire the goddamn main weapon underwater) were taking horrific casualties as the bloated corpse-white monstrosity seemed to take a pleasure in swallowing them whole. The larger ships were trying to batter at the bulge of water within the shimmering net it bought with it, seeing if it could be disrupted, but whenever a good few hits were landed on it, it would dive back down.

And the damn thing was constantly getting closer to Chicago. They were slowing it down, true. But they weren't killing it, and they weren't stopping it.

And it was coming for them, now.

Martensson shared a glance with Kagamy. She blinked, heavily, red eyes suddenly filled with sorrow, and nodded her head. He swallowed hard, and took a deep breath.

“Charge the ventral cannon up to full. Push it beyond the safety margins; I want everything I can get out of it. Authorisation code: Charley-Hotel-Uniform-Uniform-Tango-Romeo-India-India-Tango. Make it so that we'll get that one shot before burning out everything.”

“Sir?” one of the Weapons Officers said, with a worried look on his face.

“We can't stop it from getting us. We've seen what it did to the Jupiter. But maybe, if we can fire from inside the force-field thing it has, we can hurt it.” He swallowed again. “All non-essential hands, abandon ship.”

Sirens began to wail, a newborn cacophony screaming for the incipient death of its ship. Lifepods began to eject from all sides of the ship, even as that horrific, impossible bulge of water bore down on them like a tidal wave.

Commander Martensson turned to his First Officer. “Kagamy. It's been an honour.”

She nodded. “Likewise, Matthew.”

“If this doesn't work...I'm sorry.”

“Charging,” the Weapons Officer called out.

“Hold her steady,” the Commander replied, staring at the AR projection which gave their location.

“Charging.”

“Steady. Fire on my mark!”

The Blade of Athena never got its chance to fire. Faster than the human eye could respond, the Herald suddenly surged forwards, and as the bubble of liquid (not truly describable as “water”) encapsulated by the AT-Field surrounded them, the power throughout the ship suddenly ceased, the capacitor banks storing the charge for the ventral cannon discharging unequally, which tore the front of the ship apart in a blossom of internal explosions.

Commander Martensson had the chance to swear once, before the impossibly shard teeth of the entity they called Yam tore the ship in half, crushing the bridge in the guts of the ship as it took the front into its gullet, and reducing the crew within to mangled puppets.

The Herald continued onwards.



~'/|\'~




Within the entry plug of Unit 02, the walls flickered, a cold feeling blowing down the spines of both the Children. It was a familiar sensation, the feeling that occurred when the Third Phase was passed. It felt less than usual for Shinji; a reduced sensation, but what he did feel was odd.

He suddenly shuddered, overcome by a feeling like thousands of spiders crawling over his skin. It diminished as the chill in his spine went, but remained present. That wasn't usual; it was like his skin was in the wrong place, someone pulling it into positions it was not meant to be in.

Asuka made a noise of annoyance, the sound transmuted into a gurgle in the back of the throat by the LCL.

Shinji shivered again. “What now?”

She didn't glance back. “The roof is sealed. How am I meant to be able to stand up?” she asked rhetorically. The girl reached down to the AR panel before her, fingers dancing a brief waltz over the unreal display. “NEG Command, this is Second Lieutenant Soryu, assigned pilot of Evangelion Unit 02. Requesting the unsealing of the Evangelion Hangar.”

There was a brief pause, then Misato's face appeared on a projected panel on the front of the entry plug. She was smiling.

“Nice, Asuka!” The Major's face became serious. “I have SubTacCom for you this mission, so I'm in charge. Follow my orders; in an emergency like this, procedure is important. I'm unsealing the roof now.”

The Engel hangar, almost gutted to fit the Evangelion, had not been designed to permit something of its magnitude through the doors. Even crawling, Unit 02 would not have been able to get in. It was fortunate that the roofs were retractable. The vaulted roof split down the centre, folding and arcing down into the ground below the hangar, allowing the Evangelion to stand up.

It was a... complicated movement. From its starting position, prostrated in supplication, it almost unfolded upwards, in a way which both reminded onlookers of how a human being, scaled up to an impossible size, would do it, and gave them an impression of inestimable wrongness. Perhaps it was the way the proportions of the arms and legs were off from what they should have been; perhaps it was the way its neck hung forwards, limp and inactive without any motion throughout the whole movement. It was fortunate, perhaps, that everyone in the immediate vicinity was qualified to work on the Engel Project, and thus blasphemous hybrids of mind, machine and extra-dimensional entity were the kind of thing you saw every day.

Finally, the neck straightened, and the Evangelion gazed over the industrial district, outside the arcology proper, with four eyes that glowed a necrotic green. And while Unit 00 had screamed during the incident during start-up, and Unit 01 had roared as it tore its first Heraldic victim to shreds, Unit 02 hissed, a tumultuous escape of gas which left a smell like rotting carrion and fresh blood throughout the area, a vile stench which remained even after the creature had stepped out of the building, loping in a springy run towards the location Major Katsuragi gave them.

The Evangelion slid to a stop right behind one of the thick barrier walls that protected the arcology and surrounding areas, the contaminated waves lapping, thick with noxious, hot hydrocarbons from wherever the Herald had come from.

Shinji groaned and covered his face with his hands. “Urgh...”

Asuka glanced back at him, a look of mild contempt on her face. “What?”

He blinked heavily, the feeling of the thick LCL pushed aside by his eyelids rather unpleasant. “I...” he swallowed, “I'm just feeling a bit dizzy. It doesn't feel... it's sort of odd to have someone else moving your body... well, not my body, but that's what it feels like. And I feel like I've just been spun around.”

“Don't be silly. LCL neutralises cochlear balance, leaving you with only visual,” pointed out Asuka.

“I'll... I'll be fine. Just ignore me. I'll get used to it.”

There was a slightly pitying sigh, the harmonics changed by the fluid. “Try not to throw up inside my Evangelion. I don't know what happens if you do that, and I don't want to find out. Even in the name of science.”

The communications window appeared again. “Shinji?” asked Misato. “What are you doing in there?” The Major waved her hand. “Irrelevant. Asuka, are you able to operate at peak operational capacity with him present? If you can't I'll pull you back.”

The red haired girl smiled politely. “I believe I am able to function at full capacity, yes.”

The Major nodded. “Good. Major Katsuragi out.”

Asuka turned to Shinji, smile gone. “Screw this up for me, Third Child, and I will personally make you regret it.”

Shinji shuffled, insofar as he could, further towards the back of the entry plug.

Back in the control room, Misato could see several high ranking officers frowning at her. However, it was a civilian who spoke up.

“That is not wise,” stated Tokita, the chief engineer for Project Daeva.

“The Fist of Perseus is going down!” called out someone, from the other side of the room, igniting a babble of voices.
“We're down to three cruisers!”
“That bastard is just picking off all our heavy ships at its leisure, zigzagging back and forth, but it keeps on getting closer!”
“What does it take to kill this thing!”

Misato glared at him. “Is there a reason that civilian is here, in C2 Command?” she asked acidly.

“Yes, actually,” he replied, his tone matching hers in pH. “Project Daeva is managing the deployment of our Araska. We don't deny that it's still in the prototype stage, and so needs close watching. However,” and at this, his voice actually became more polite, albeit the politeness that freezes oceans and burns to the touch, “perhaps we won't spend fourteen years in the prototype stage. And as for why it's not wise, you are risking two-thirds of your pilot complement here. A loss here would cripple the only thing we have right now which is certain to kill a Herald. We can't pick up your slack yet.”

Misato turned her back on him, jawline locked rigid. Without Ritsuko here, to make her act as the sane one, she was succumbing to the same craziness, it seemed.

“Tokita, we've got the umbilical cable connected,” called out one of his subordinates, from behind Misato's back. “Efficiency is at 90%; we lost one set of superconductors in sub-section 3, but the crew have rerouted around it and the DCS is effecting repairs. We can boost the laser with power from the C2 grid.”

“Good, good,” he replied. “Polana,” turning his head to another one, “how does the ventral laser read?”

“It's green across the board. The coolant systems are in place and locked; power has been diverted from the cee-bees to them.”

“Sustained fire is go?”

“Yes, sir. We can maintain it for 310 seconds, plus or minus 40 seconds, before we have to do a 20 second coolant flush slash refill.”

“Damn. That's suboptimal.” He waved a hand. “Someone, make a note that we'll need to check the heat management systems. That's less than 80% of what it should be. Nevertheless, can we greenlight firing?”

Polana paused for a moment, then nodded her head. “Yes.”

“Then do it.”



~'/|\'~




From the vantage point of the Evangelion, both Asuka and Shinji could see the beam that cut out from along the shoreline, on their right. It wasn't visible from what it was, but from what it did to the atmosphere, the green-blue of a naval laser scattered into the atmosphere. It was very familiar to Shinji; two weeks ago he had fired one which made that one, potent though it was, look like one mounted on the lightest of powered armours. They may have been plugged into the Chicago power network, but the Araska had not been modified in the same way as the Academia, and it would have fried had it tried to use all the power which an arcology could generate.

What it lacked in yield, however, it compensated for with duration. The laser lanced out to kiss the bulge of water which moved around, a vast mound of water akin to a hill, which shimmered with dark threads and the iridescences of a layer of oil. The familiar shattering of the AT-Field could be seen; the blue-green scattering of the laser stopped dead by the sidereal shifting shapes which layered around the impact point. And it kept steady; the beam focussed on the white shape in the water, no matter how it moved.

And the water sang, the call of the Herald echoing and amplified by the entire lake, filled with emotion, which struck all that heard it. It would have been understandable had it been a bestial roar, some hellish yell from a leviathan that had last been on Earth before the Oxygen Catastrophe. That could be conceptualised, categorised, limited. No, the song of Yam and its annoyance was one of inestimable beauty; the harmonics perfect, the melody extending far beyond the human range of hearing. And its magnitude was such that audio detection systems in NEG vessels and units burned out, tearing apart a frigate too close to the Herald, as it changed its pitch to the resonant frequency of the vessel's hull, shattering it apart.

self|ego|entity sense|behold|perceive potential|possible|inferior target|victim|threat!
self|ego|entity future|be|certain consumption|nourishment|devour.


The Herald turned, the water around it boiling off as the AT-Field shifted the phase possibilities so that the coherent electromagnetic radiation had always been absorbed by the water, and headed straight towards the shore.

Under Asuka's control, Unit 02 twisted, sprinting to the point of closest It had been another row. approach, the feet leaving massive dents in even the reinforced surface on which the shipyards were built, the reinforced permacrete crumpling under the incredible pressure of a forty metre biped. The square-cube law was the bane of mecha designers, akin to how thermodynamics had been prior to the invention of the D-Engine. Nevertheless, the floor held, even when one leap proved necessary to bypass a The others had condemned it as immature and unprofessional, but, frankly, she hadn't cared. bunker than blocked the way, its armoured bulk too slow to go around.

A few drops of blood seeped out of Shinji's nose, vanishing in the already vital liquid that surrounded them.

And then things started going really She was right; wrong.

Back in the command centre, the SubTacCom from which the Araska was operating began screaming red, alarms crying out with an urgency normally only saved for catastrophic D-Engine problems, a so-called “Horizon Event”. The scientists and engineers monitoring the prototype began to babble almost simultaneously.

“Weapon emergency shutdown. Trying to reboot.”
“Fluctuations in the mD/D Hybrid Engine. Connections are being cut at random and reforming!”
“Allergic reaction! Allergic reaction! DCS slash SEN nanites are being rejected by the Type-S”

“Rampancy! We have... rampancy!”

Wrapping his arms around himself, Tokita glanced from screen to screen, his eyes never stationary for more than a few seconds at a time. “Renar op camapy!,” he swore. “What's going on?! What's causing this!”

“The Type-S is going rampant. It spontaneously rejected all the stabilising nanites infused through its flesh. Look!”

Indeed, the Navy project seemed to be bulging and warping, its surface twisting as the artificial shell that covered it was torn apart from within by the black, tar-like material within, its shape morphing and twisting, forming organs and organelles at random. A phosphorescent constellation of eyes gazed from the night sky of the Type-S, gazing up at the sky for the first time.

Tokita swallowed hard, running his hands up and down his forearms in a repetitive, unconscious motion. “Get them out of there!” he ordered. “Tell the crew to eject, before it breaches their capsules!”

There was a flurry of discussion between the handlers and the crew of the Araska.

“Pods G1 to G4 are away,” Polana said, blinking heavily. “Crew reports that the Type-S has blocked the tubes for the central command pods. Escape pods will not fire.”

“Damn,” Tokita said, face suddenly haggard, as if he had suddenly aged twenty years. “They were good men.” He turned to face Xu, taking a deep breath. “ Vice Admiral, I regret to inform you that,” he swallowed again, “there has been a catastrophic breakdown in the Type-S armour, which has renatured and returned to its original instincts.” He paused and then continued. “The Araska Prototype is to be considered hostile from this moment on.”



~'/|\'~
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EarthScorpion
PostPosted: 2009-05-10 09:08am 

Padawan Learner


Joined: 2008-09-25 02:54pm
Posts: 209
Location: London
~'/|\'~




“Hey,” said Asuka, frowning. “The laser's stopped.”

Shinji winced. “Maybe it overheated, and's running a cooling cycle,” he suggested.

“Maybe,” and that was all there was to it. the red-headed girl replied, obvious doubt in her voice.

The visual display popped back into existence. It was the Major. “The idiots at Daeva have lost control of the Araska,” she said, obviously biting back an invective. “Consider it hostile. Kill the Herald, then clean up as best you can.”

Asuka swore. “I knew it was suspicious. She was right; the other woman was wrong, and that was all there was to it. We're going after the Herald personally!”

Shinji groaned. It really didn't seem like a good idea, and he was feeling really, really bad.

“Just watch me, Third Child!”

And with that said, Asuka bent and leapt, wrapping her AT-Field tight around herself and

This time, the idiot had been supporting the older design for incorporation into the new model. Honestly, what was she? Stupid? The upgrade to cranial firepower far outweighed the downside of the increased power consumption and reduced rate of fire.

“Look,” she had said, “you're not looking at the plans for what the final model will look like. You're too limited by the incomplete Test Model and the Prototype. Just look at what the final model will look like; after all, the older ones are obviously going to be refitted.”


thrust up into the air, a perfect, impossible arc that ended up with her on top of a cargo ship holding position over the coastline, out of the water to protect itself. The ship lurched hideously as the momentum of the Evangelion slammed into it, but miraculously the hull held, even as it buckled.

Blood began to flow freely from both of the boy's nostrils, the hot blood unnoticeable in the LCL, heated to body temperature. Shinji began to feel dizzy, though, and grabbed the side of the tube as best he could.

Unit 02 crouched on top of the ship, like a predatory animal, green eyes staring intently at the oncoming rush of the Herald. Asuka clenched her hands around the control sticks, and the DF Blades on the hands and feet of activated, “No,” the other woman had replied. the arcane ward blending with the superior AT-field to allow it slice through the skin of a Herald with ease.

“I wish we had more guns,” said Shinji, weakly.

“The DF-Blades should be enough,” she replied, confidently. “And I have a little surprise for the Herald, too.” And then she pounced, casting off from the dented vessel in a way that damaged it more, up into the air only to come down like the fist of an ancient god, claws aimed right for the Herald's head.

It was a good leap. All four limbs, sharpened for cutting and tearing and slicing to the limits of mundane technology and enhanced further by sorcery and the physics-raping AT-Field slammed into the Herald's field. But one was wrapped tightly around the biped, while the other was larger, holding a hill of water safe from the volatile, toxic gas that filled the atmosphere of this world, and so the Herald's protection was popped like a ripe carbuncle, jets of oily water spraying out at high pressure from the hole that the neutralising

“You're sacrificing control for something which does not optimise the mission profile. Need I remind you what would happen if control is not maintained?”

“Oh, I know it,” she had said, smiling sweetly. “Control must be maintained at all times.”


effects of Unit 02 had punched in the Field.

The Evangelion was embedded in the head of the leviathan, the forty metre walker dwarfed by the beast. The claws tore into the thick white skin, letting a creamy-white ichor seep from the wounds into the surrounding waters.

“You really like jumping off things so that you can kill other things,” said Shinji softly, breathing deep gulps of LCL. “Are you looking for a fast-track promotion to Major, or something?”

He only received a quick glance back. “Shut up, idiot. Watch this.”

And with that said, Asuka worked the Evangelion's left arm out of the thick skin, making sure to open the wound further with the exit, then, folding her fingers into a fist, punched the Herald as hard as possible in the back of what she thought corresponded to its head, triggering the PP1-P Plasmathrower, to send a rush of energetic particles deep into its body. Hopefully, it would burn out the inside of the monster, just as it had melted the first Swarm Ship she had killed.

In theory.

In practice, it went considerably worse. The sensors detected that the PP1-P was immersed in what it read to be water, and so switched to aquatic mode, taking the raw materials it would ionise from the fluid that surrounded it, turning on the suction pumps which would take in the liquid. What had not been expected was that the thick, viscous oils of wherever the Herald had come from, combined with the vile ichors which made up its blood, would jam the intake, causing it to detect a blockage and switch to internal supplies. Of course, once the pressure ceased, the fluids began to move normally, causing it to register that the error had been fixed, and switch back to external mode. This would not have been a fatal problem, except the extent to which the PP1-P had been miniaturised from its intended version, a ship-mounted weapon intended to flush out Deep One cities, meant that the tolerances had been dramatically reduced. The pumps began to heat up drastically. In addition, a build up of gas from the internal reservoir, atomised but not yet expelled, meant that, even with the magnetic containment, the weapon began to heat up.

“Then why do you insist on these changes?” had been the response she had got.

“Because it's obvious the MP design is superior!,” she had replied, angrily. “What are you, stupid?”


It only took one of the superconductors to fail for the ionised gas to spill out into the main weapon, fusing the components and causing the internal D-Engine to shut down to prevent a Horizon Event. An explosion blossomed out from the left arm of the Evangelion.

And then the hydrocarbon-saturated water, oxygenated by the hole that Unit 02 had punched though the AT-Field which had kept that loathsome, reactive gas away from the Herald, caught fire. With a whoosh which surrounded and embraced Yam, the protective layer of the waters of its homeworld combusted, thick black clouds soaring forth.

Traitor|traitor|traitor! Traitor|traitor|traitor! Traitor|traitor|traitor!
Toxic|reactive|16 burns|corrodes|hurts hurts|burns|hurts!
Scars|wounds|pain back|head|centre pain|agony|hurts kill|kill|kill traitor|heretic|usurper!


It did not sing this time. It did not make a noise. It turned to get away from the agony, from the heat from inside the Guard of Yog Sothoth for the first time in hundreds of millions of years of existence, from the scars dug deep into it by the heretic that hung on its back, from the noxious, horrific gas which the monsters which lived in this planet used for respiration. It hurt so much. It seemed like it would always end up hurting.

"Gottverdammt! Scheiße, scheiße, scheiße! Sie haben behauptet, sie hätten ihn repariert, aber der Plasmawerfer ist schon wieder kaputt. Hören Sie mich,Sie Schwachköpfe?” yelled Asuka, mind overcome with rage, as she tried to contain the damage through the phantom pain in her own arm. “Sie haben die Reparaturen versaut und jetzt ist er hochgegangen. Wenn ich hier rauskomme, werde ich euch alle zur Strecke bringen, euch zu Muß quetschen, auf euren Leichen herumspringen und dann euch selbst zum Fraß vorwerfen!" she continued as the synchronisation ratio dropped and the attempts for Unit 02 to hold onto the back of the Herald became more spasmodic and jerky.

Yes, Unit 02 had its own problems. Prime among these was the fact that it was in the middle of a burning cocktail of oil and whatever the white leviathan used for its blood. Indeed, the cream ichor which flowed forth burned in the water, reacting even with the oxygen dissolved in the water. The temperature gauge was rising alarmingly. The left arm was damaged; the torn muscles on the left arm were exposed, bright red blood flowing forth, though it remained usable. Moreover, they were being dragged

Shinji sat at the back of the entry plug and “No,” the other woman had replied. clutched his skull. His head was a solid lump of agony, the worst migraine he had ever experienced thumping behind both eye sockets, like something was trying to push out his eyeballs. Even his eyes were blurring; he was seeing red lines before them. Everything hurt so much, in a way that felt like it would never stop. His right wrist locked up, twisted into a claw that tore at his cheek, and Unit 02 mimicked the movement, tearing out of the hide of the Herald in a way that only released more of that reactive blood.

Before his red tinted vision, the communications window opened up.

“Asuka! Shinji!” shouted Misato. “What's going on?!” She blinked, eyes worried. “Report,” snapped the Major.

Asuka forced all thoughts of revenge and rage against the designer of the PP1-P out of her head. "Beruhig dich, Asuka, ruhig Blut. Konzentriere dich. Cool bleiben," she muttered to herself. She took a deep breath of LCL. It tasted of blood... more so than usual. “The Plasmathrower malfunctioned and blew up... and we seem to be on fire,” she reported.

“I know that,” said the Major, with forced calm. “You've almost lost the AT-Field. Get a grip of yourself, and get it back up. Try to keep with it and do as much damage as you can.”

Asuka focussed. Her mind was still. She was herself, and no-one else. She was the pilot of Unit 02. The AT-Field came back at full strength, spiking up as both the shield and the sword of the Evangelion.

Shinji screamed.

“I'm not the stupid one here. I don't have certain,” and there was a pause, “proclivities MINE which resulted in something which had to be covered up at notable cost. Not to mention the long term consequences.” The brunette ENEMY had smiled, triumphantly.

She hated her so much. The idiot ENEMY didn't understand at all, and she kept on bringing it up. Everyone else was inferior; she had ensured that the negative recessives would not show, while maintaining the best common features CARE. It was necessary.

There was a hum, as the door slid open. The man WEAK who entered had flinched, slightly, as he saw the two women staring at each other.

He had sucked in the air between his teeth. “I'm sorry,” heWEAK had said, “but you're needed in the main lab. I think we have progress with the neural links, with my refined design for the nerve clips.CARE

And together they had left, the man in the middle as a barrier between the two.

BODY MINE
ENEMY MINE
SELF MINE



Shinji spasmed, autonomous, uncontrolled movements replacing any thought, blood rushing forth from his eyes, ears, mouth and nose alike. His unconscious body detached from the seat, and floated, limp, in the LCL, gravity meaningless in the neutrally buoyant fluid.

The AT-Field back active, Asuka resumed her task of dismantling the Herald, even as it tried to flee. The PP1-P may have broken, but she still had her charge beams, and she still had her claws. Digging the Evangelion's feet, and its spur, into the leviathan's back, she straightened up, relativistic particle beams lancing down from the head mounts into the wounds on the back of the beast, even as she clawed down into it, slashing down with precision, over and over again.

“Die,” she muttered to herself. “Die, die,die!”

Yam twisted furiously, trying to detach the murderous being, the traitor and usurper, attached to its back. It even dared the noxious atmosphere, leaping clean out of the water, twisting through the poison that burned it, but Asuka rode the burning white behemoth, feet fastened into its body through the aerial roll. In fact, all that produced was a clean shot for the NEG ships, and they took it, nascent suns vomited forth from the surviving ships with ventral plasma weapons, which impacted against the 'wings' of the somewhat ray-like beast, burning holes which merely sped up the oxygenated fires that licked up against it.

Back in Command, a notable percentage of the higher ranked members of the NEG military watched the auto-censored image feed. Auto-censors were a particularly useful tool for individuals not stationed on the front lines, watching image feeds. The fairly smart LAIs which made up the programmes were designed to reduce the image to a form which could be dismissed as unreal by the ape-brain, thus evading some of the more blatant triggers of Aeon War Syndrome. The most common way was to render the image as if it were an animated cartoon from at least a century ago, before the advent of photorealistic computer graphics. Sadly, the loss in clarity and the image lag for each frame to be rendered made it impractical for front-line use, and there was still AWS symptoms from the higher brain functions, which realised that the images were real, even if they appeared false. To use the long-discredited psychology of Sigmund Freud, as a 'lie-to-children' to help explain the phenomenon, the auto-censor prevented AWS induced by the Id (which was responsible for the “Viewing” AWS), but left the others open to “Knowing” AWS. But it was a help.

Of course, even the conscious mind has problems accepting that you are watching a forty metre robot surf a giant white monster which is on fire, and which just leapt out of the water and did a barrel roll.

“I'd like to say that shocked me,” declared Misato, “but frankly I'm getting a bit jaded about what the Evangelions do.” She looked around. “It's just as well that Ritsuko hasn't shown up from that meeting with Dr Miyakame; she'd be going crazy over this,” she added, sotto voce. “Possibly literally.” The Major began to gnaw at a finger nail, noticing that she seemed to have ended up in a position in this room quite outside her actual military rank from the fact that the Evangelion seemed to be able to hurt the target. “Do we have any more assets at all?” she asked the room.

“All naval assets are engaged.”
“Air assets have withdrawn; they're not doing anything. We have four wings of heavy bombers headed down from the NA Frontline, from the Migou pullback, but they're not going to be here for thirty minutes.”
“This isn't a conventional mecha fight. They're all deployed by the waterfront; we don't have enough amphibious units stationed in C2 to make a difference.”
“The Engels are there too. The Herald is out of their weight class. Even a Seraph or a Chashmal couldn't get through the AT-Field, even if the presence of your Evangelion within it is weakening it. This is a fight for ships.”

A light went on in Misato's eyes. “That ship... the cargo vessel that Asu... Unit 02 jumped onto,” she said, barely breathing. “Can we use that? I know it's unarmed, but...” She turned to Tokita, the Chief Engineer for the rapidly discredited Project Daeva. “We're going to need everything you can tell us about the Type-S.”



~'/|\'~




Asuka paused for a moment. She seemed to only doing superficial damage; without the PP1-P, she couldn't flood the lacerations she opened in the creature with ionised gas. She needed to do more damage. Unit 02 bent down, AT-Field wrapped tight around itself, protected from the intense heat from the chemical reactions in the water, and stuck both claws into an open wound, bladed fingers thrust aside, as she pulled the wound open even further, causing a fresh rush of heat, and the white leviathan to twist and turn under water as a fresh wave of agony filled its mind.

The pain only increased when the crimson titan, dwarfed by the beast it rode, began firing charge beam after charge beam into the wound, the relativistic particles in the beam tearing worm-like tunnels into the softer inner flesh.

The Herald then knew that it had to get out of here. Its oaths to the First were not worth this pain, this agony. It would retreat and sleep beneath the waves of a planet not like this one, one with a proper atmosphere and proper, truly sapient life. And it would not even be able to return and destroy this pitiful ball of iron and silicates, for this was the traitor and usurper's planet, and such action would result in its death. If only it could get rid of the thing on its back...

It was at this moment that Asuka felt a hand brush against her breast, as she fought to retain the hold of the Herald, as it tried to spin to get her off.

“Pervert!” she yelled, pulling a hand away from the controls to slap the boy in the face. “Do something useful, damn it!”

The blow, softened by its passage from the LCL, collided with Shinji's right cheek. The body, knocked by the impact, floated gently towards the back of the plug. His unseeing eyes, pupils dilated and rolled back in their sockets, gazed at nothingness.

Asuka drew in a deep gulp of liquid. “Misato,” she called, “there's a problem with the Third Child. He's unconscious or something.”

There was a pause. “His vitals are stable, but weak,” the older woman reported, an odd note in her voice. “What the hell happened?”

“I don't know,” she yelled back, as the Herald bucked from side to side, trying to build up a resonant frequency which would throw her off. “He... argh... he wasn't sounding well a bit... maybe some reaction to fact 02's calibrated differently.”

A pinch of guilt ran through Asuka's mind. This is my fault. I shouldn't have taken him in here. After all, he isn't prepared for a MP Evangelion; Unit 01 is probably different enough that there are problems with synchronisation.

No! she thought immediately. Unit 02 is mine, and I care for it. He's weak if he can't synchronise properly and faints at a time like this. It shows that you can't rely on anyone but yourself.

But still, he did look rather pathetic floating there, in the plug suit that didn't fit properly and the darker cloud of LCL around him. It was just as well, she thought, that from what they'd told her, LCL could be used as a substitute for human blood. From the change in the colour of the fluid, he'd lost a lot.

No. Focus. It can wait until after we've killed this thing.

“Right,” ordered the Major, “keep it in as much pain as possible. Hurt it. And be prepared to get away from the Herald when necessary.”

“Okay.” The clawing and mutilation of the ancient being resumed.

Back in the control room, Misato took a deep breath. “Damn. Damn. Damn. Poor Shinji.” The Major shook her head. “Doesn't matter; he's still alive. I want a full medical team to be prepared for when we recover the Evangelion. How is the clean-up of the lakeside going?”

“We have the rest of the rampant Type-S contained. The Engels have it trapped within a perimeter, and they're systematically cleansing it.”

“Good.”

Most of the room was watching the AR map projected onto the central table, as a blue icon, marked “High Priority”, pursued the Herald icon. The fires were spreading across the lake surface, the inferno of the Herald igniting the oily scum which had followed it through the hole in space, forming thick black clouds.

“One question, Major.” It was the Vice Admiral.

“Yes?”

“How did you come up with an idea like that? It's almost the epitome of 'so stupid it might just work'?”

“When it was coming in, I noticed that it would devour anything that got in its way. It was the death of the Blade of Athena that really gave me the idea. I was going to suggest that we feed it Unit 02, and have it cut its way out from inside,” she glanced at her audience, who were staring at her. “Don't worry. We've done something similar before.” They didn't stop staring. “But then there was something else to feed it. Let's see if it gives the bastard stomach ache.”



~'/|\'~




A cargo ship, with a notable dent in its side, flew over the top of the Herald, its A-Pods burning a bright blue. A fight of Auphans, the fastest of the Engels, flocked around it, firing their Plasma cannons at the surface of its hull. The miniature suns that they birthed slammed into the black, tar-like secretions which covered the ship, emerging from within the breached cargo hull through burst open hatches. More Engels stood on the surface, hand-held flamethrowers cutting a white-hot swath through the extra-dimensional entity, casting their balls of fire at the darkness.

Suddenly, they all peeled off, their own A-Pods glowing as they jumped from the carrier ship, letting the blackness well up, thick and oozing, the implicit viscera forming eyes to gaze from this new place.

The escape pod fired, expelling the last humans from the ship. The crew within the hull of the crippled Araska, as much of the ship and its Type-S armour scraped and contained within the damaged cargo ship,had been long since digested by the entity which had been intended to protect them. The ship took a tight dive downwards, into the water.

Right into the path of the Herald.

It swallowed the vessel reflexively. Why should it not? It would need nutrients to help rebuild the horrific damage which had been inflicted on it.

There was a moment, as the oozing blackness hit the back of its gullet, when it realised what the abominations which lived on this monstrous planet had done.

Just a moment, before the night-like tar-beast burst outwards, the programmed imperatives of the long-dead Elder Things still present for this particular foe.

Yam came to a stop almost immediately, as the Type-S, resplendent with its sidereal eyes, spread through the white body like a cancer, digesting and tearing apart the ancient entity from within. It now knew true pain. The agony, from the noxious gas and the burning and the high-energy particle beams; it was nothing to being digested from inside out. It could not even use the gift of Yog Sothoth, because the presence of the traitor on its back weakened it enough that the faculties which the entity had been engineered for, the ability to negative the shifting phase spaces, could allow it free reign.

The Herald did the only thing it could do in those circumstances. Shifting its somewhat protean biology (though it was nothing compared to the black cancer, which was sprouting teeth coated in enzymes designed to tear apart its flesh in the most painful way possible), it pushed the core of its soul, the glowing red orb, upwards through its body, away from the Type-S and towards the usurper that clung to its back.

Preferable|desirable|better die|cease|stop by|caused|induced specified|selected|chosen method|way|cease,

it thought, mind overcome with pain.

Asuka saw a glint of red, in the wounds she was opening, having resorted to using the Unit's teeth as well as the claws to sped up the destruction, swallowing the meat without chewing. Flexing the muscles of the Evangelion, even the damaged left arm, she tore a vast swath of hide off, pulling milky white flesh (now shot through with tiny black tubules) away. A red sphere, remarkably similar in colour to Unit 02 lay there.

And now to finish off, she thought, as she wrapped both hands about the globe and pulled it out, all the time pounding charge beam after charge beam into its surface, cutting out small chips as its surface rang like some unearthly bell. Prying it free, with a fresh current of reactive creamy blood, she lifted it up in both hands, noticing the black protrusions which grew from it, their vital vicissitudes quite unlike the geometrical perfection of the sphere. Pulling back, she slammed the forehead of the Evangelion into it.

At least, that was what she intended to do.

She wasn't quite sure what had actually happened; her jaws suddenly ached, like they had been very quickly dislocated and relocated. Moreover, her body felt wrong, as if she were subtly the wrong shape. Nevertheless, the orb had gone dim, turning grey before her eyes, flaking apart and shattering, as if something vital had been taken from it.

Then it exploded.

The explosion cast the Evangelion out of the water, hurling it through the air. It landed again, head first,in a slick of burning oils, and vanished below the surface.

It came up again, floating face down, unmoving.



~'/|\'~




Dr Akagi and Major Katsuragi sat by the window, staring out over the lake far below. Before them, vehicles scuttled over the surface of the water, trying to contain the situation. The consequences of the release of what the Araska had been using in the Type-S armour lay before them; while the entire surface of Lake Michigan was on fire, the thick black smoke roiling and burning as the polluted waters burned, a core of differently coloured flames indicating the presence of the transition metals in the water. It was like some scene out of a medieval book of the end of the world. There was a burning lake of fire beside the city, that many primitivist superstitionist groups comprised of those that dwelt outside the arcologies, called Babylon, ruled over by the Anti-Christ, leader of the New Earth Government.

Most of those groups were under investigation for Code-El cults.

Misato shuddered. The Evangelion had just devoured the black tar-like things and the Herald alike. And this wasn't the first time. That first time, Unit 01 had latched those tentacles it had vomited forth onto the red orb on the front of Asherah, and had consumed its way through the Kathirat.

They're volatile monsters, she thought. If we didn't have control of them, they'd be worse than those things from the Fall of New Kuala Lumpur. Poor Quien and the others...

She shook her head, sadly, slumped back in her soft seat.

Ritsuko glanced at her. “You did it again.”

“I was stupid. This was a strategic disaster. The lake is ecologically dead, and we've released whatever the Type-S was into the wild. I saw how fast it split and grew. And on top of that, wherever the Herald came from, it was rich in oil; the entire lake is burning.”

“You know, a hundred years ago, we'd have been preparing to invade.” She caught Misato's glare. “Yes, I know. Inappropriate. But you were thinking it too. Even you know that before the invention of the D-Engine, everybody invaded everyone else to get oil.”

“The whole thing was a farce,” she continued, ignoring the doctor. “The plasmathrower malfunctioned, the C2 fleet took massive casualties, the Araska prototype went rampant. And we should have been prepared for an attack from a Herald.”

The blond woman cocked her head, adjusting the AR sunglasses she was wearing. “Why? They haven't attacked anywhere else before.”

“Yes, but of course,” she layered on the sarcasm, “of course the first time we take time away from L2, we're attacked here. How the hell did it come here? What was it looking for?”

Ritsuko looked her steadily in the eye. “We have no idea. All we have is hypotheses and wild ideas.”

“What draws all the Heralds?” continued Misato, ignoring her. “Is it the Evangelions? Are there cultists that summon them to try to sabotage the war effort? What does it all mean!”

The scientist poured out a second pair of drinks. Neither of them were alcoholic; they had far, far too much paper-work (and in the case of Misato, explanations to superiors) to be inebriated, and so ethanol was switched for caffeine.

Misato sighed. “Thanks, Rits. I'm not going to be sleeping tonight after all this... not that I'd want to, from what I've seen, even from the auto-censored TacCom data,” she added darkly.

“It's fine. I'm sorry I wasn't there for everything; Dr Miyakame were in the safe null-bunker for the entire length of the incident.” She coughed. “And it's not the Evangelions,” she added, “since, after all, Unit 02's been active in Germany longer than either of the other two, and hasn't attracted any Heralds.”

“Forgot about that. Yeah.”

There was silence, as the two women looked out over the water.

Then, suddenly, Misato balled up a fist and punched it into her other hand. “Damn it! I'm really pissed off!”

Ritsuko leant back, a puzzled expression on her face. “Where did that come from?” she asked.

“I saw both the teenagers off to studied confinement. Shinji was on a stretcher; he was bleeding from everywhere on his head; eyes, nose, mouth, ears, everywhere. What the hell went on in that thing?! And what the hell did Asuka think she was doing by taking him in it!”

“Calm down,” said Ritsuko, quietly, taking a look around. “You're drawing attention. And, in all honesty, we had no clue that would happen. Seriously. In retrospect, it's kind of obvious that you can't just put someone in a improperly configured war machine, but no-one really thought about it in design. We've got plenty of things that mean that only the proper user could start it up, but we never thought that the pilot would take another person into the entry plug, especially not one who was already trained to operate them and thus sensitised.”

Misato made a noise of disgust. “But Asuka is meant to be a genius; she has a better degree than me, for goodness sake. And she's half my age.

“And none of us noticed it, either.” There was a bitter laugh. “Really bright people can break foolproof systems in ways that fools can only dream.”

“And the bastards in the Daeva team!” continued Misato. She really felt like breaking something right now, but she restrained herself. “Snide jerks who went wrong a lot more catastrophically than we ever have. Why the hell did the Araska go rampant like that, at the worst possible moment! And what the hell were they using in that thing?”

“I have no idea what happened,” stated Ritsuko, her face perfectly blank. Oh, some people might have suspicions about why the event happened just as the Evangelion moved towards it, but they would only ever remain suspicions. The Daeva team certainly wouldn't have known that the biological programming encoded by the Elder Things would lead the 'Type-S' to attack what it perceived to be two of its old enemies, and she certainly wasn't about to tell them. “But for what they were using; well, I have my suspicions, and, frankly, it's a sign that you can go too far with ACXB research.”

She didn't know whether to laugh or cry after saying that. She repressed both urges.

Misato sighed. “Yeah, I guess you're right.” She snapped her fingers, pulling out her dark green PCPU (the secure one), logging on, and tossed it over to Ritsuko. “There's some pretty important data in there; the entire contents of Unit 02's black box. Copy and back it up, then give me back my PCPU.”

The doctor started the data transfer, and began to flick through it while she waited.

Misato made an inquisitive noise.

“This is important,” Ritsuko said softly, even breathing with care. “Very important indeed.”

“Did they break any synch-ratio records?” asked the black haired woman, taking a sip of her drink.

“Asuka did, but that's just a normal procedure. There's a seven second period where her ratio spikes up to 99%, probably because of the danger. But look at Shinji's data,” she added, eyes narrowed. “Most of the time he's tracking as normal, a good 20 to 30 points below Asuka; probably due to the lack of A10 clips and the fact that some of the things in Asuka's LCL cocktail would be bad for the concentration of anyone with a Y chromosome...”

“Wha...?” asked Misato, sitting up.

“LCL has a cocktail of various drugs designed to maintain mental stability in solution,” explained Ritsuko, in a distracted tone of voice. “The male and female brains work differently. LCL-f, for example, has, well, a very large number of compounds, but examples include pherohydamulate, assorted hormone modulators, tetrapentaline benzoate, hexadasophospate rezol-3-4,4-ulate...” She paused. “You're not understanding any of this, are you?” At Misato's negative noise, she continued, “Well, all of the standard compounds given to soldiers, then a number only issued to special forces, the GIA, and certain branches of the OIS. You know, as a commissioned officer in a high AWS-risk assignment, you're on some of them, too, you just don't know their names.” She shook her head. “But we're getting distracted. Look at these regions, before he drops to zero from the loss of consciousness.”

A number of graphs displayed on screen were pushed towards Misato, who indicated that, yes, they were visible to her.

“Look at those points. If I run a mod function over them, they appear to be fine, and even increased over those regions, but they drop down to almost zero on the graph.” She shuddered. “That's impossible. It shouldn't be doing things like that. You ... it's impossible.”

“That word,” began Misato, “I don't think it means...”

Ritsuko smiled excessively sweetly. “Not another word from you, thank you very much. Yes,” she declared, thumping her hand down on the table, making the drinks rattle, “this is important. And impossible, yes. We have yet another anomaly with synchronisation ratios. As if that incident with Rei and Unit 00 wasn't already bad enough. And it's completely different from that.”

She tapped her fingers on the table.

“This may need some further study...”



~'/|\'~




“Hmm.”

“And what is that supposed to mean?”, the female Nazzadi with the insignia of a NEGN Colonel asked, with a pronounced hint of irritation in her voice.

“Nothing,” the blond woman replied, still staring at the computer screen. “Well, that's not strictly true.”

The black-skinned woman sighed. She hated her assignment with the Special Weapons Division at times like this, she really did. The projects and developments were often brilliant, revolutionary, and had potential for paradigm shifts in warfare. This one was a particularly good example; it could massively reduce the number of recruits that the NEGA needed, by an ingenuous Command-and-Control system that would, through extensive automation and specially trained commanders, replace many of the basic infantry and power armoured troopers. But the scientists who came up with these things... well, a colleague had described them as a bunch of opera divas prancing along a catastrophe curve, and frankly, right now she was inclined to agree with him.

They always seemed to prevaricate, and took a perverse pleasure in being obtuse in ways that meant that you looked ignorant for asking them. And bloody stupid word games in coming up with names for their projects, who could forget that? It was a plague infecting the scientific community, and even the damn engineers!

Nevertheless, she bit. “Please, explain.”

“The EMSS scores for these two candidates are point three zero four over what they should be. Both of them. To as precisely as we can measure it.”

“So?”

“It's a common trait for that entire test group. But only that one. B2, P2, C2, T3; all of those ones have been within half a standard deviation of the expected results. But all of this group are consistently higher than they should be.”

The Nazzadi Colonel stared into the other woman's eyes. “Is that a concern? What's causing it?”

The blond woman sucked in air through her teeth. “For the first question; no. There does seem to be a corresponding increase in LAAM score; three point nine one on average, but that's still safely below the safety threshold. We've screened out all the high LAAM candidates; an 83, for example, would be horribly risky. The retroviral modifications would leave them very prone to synchronisation; they'd probably lose control of the part of their brain that would permit them to distinguish between reality and psychically induced hallucinations.”

“And yet I've heard it mentioned that you've tolerated the existence of single candidate with an LAAM of 100?” the Nazzadi asked, acidly.

“It is true that the Second Infant has that score. He is a one-off; the test bed, so to speak, for the technologies. At no point has he suffered a synchronisity incident, however. It was a necessary part of producing the gene templates and mapping the different nature of these parapsychic powers.

“Why then do you permit the continued existence of the subject then?” she continued, in the same tone of voice.

“He is a stable Perseus commander; you have access to his VREES records. I can assure you that we have no other subjects with an LAAM of over 50 involved in Project Perseus, and the mode is 21.41.”

“And the other part of my question?”

“No, there is no theory that could explain this.”

The blond woman hoped that her choice of words would go unnoticed. The ignorance so prevalent in society about the difference between a hypothesis and a theory could even be useful sometimes, annoying though it was.

“It may be an diet factor outside our control, or even something to do with arcology air quality,” she continued. “All newer Batch-Types are being raised in proper control groups, but these ones are in a normal environment, and so we can't account for all the variables,” she added. “The Batch-Types are promising, but the eldest candidate in that group was only born six years ago, and none of them have the mental fortitude nor the established personalities to be able to synchronise with the adult, albeit blank minds of the Type-Numerals, without, as we have found, catastrophic damage to their immature minds.

The black-skinned woman nodded. “But what we at the SWD are really interested in is whether you will be able deploy sufficient Paragon candidates as Perseus commanders for Operation CATO.”

The blond woman nodded. “That is already under way. Arrangements have been made for all the batches that we're deploying, and the cover stories are in place. C2, L2 and T3 are to be put in command of the new Type VII models. Each candidate should be able to command a force about the size of two companies; this is their first major operation, and they are not properly trained. We can only justify yearly immersion sessions, beyond their normal check-ups.”

“Despite the given consent?”

“Yes; it was only limited, and there are the cross-contamination effects from the other Project. Both of us need the retroviral alterations to make them suitable candidates, although we're looking for different functions in the expressed qualities. It's fortunate that the Second and the Third are what they are, which allows us to share resources.”

She cleared her throat.

“Anyway, they're only serving as motive force and command, through; we wouldn't actually make them marionette the Type VII. Only the Second has displayed such abilities and survived; we lost several candidates in the old training regime. In addition, the candidate groups for B2 and P2 were viewed as too weak for the Type VII, but they will be deployed in command of the obsolete Type VI, in company sized formations. Moreover, the Second Infant, the Prototype, will be deployed with VREES, commanding a brigade level formation, as usual.”

The Colonel nodded. “Excellent. The B2 and P2 groups are a bonus. I'm glad my predecessor maintained funding to keep the Type VI models in storage. And PR?”

“Cover stories are in place. By preventing new memory formation, they'll be easier subjects for trained Grade Three MMW implantation. They won't remember a thing.” The blond woman's voice was tinged with regret.

The Nazzadi woman's face took on a sympathetic look. “I understand that from an outsider's viewpoint, what we're doing is horrific. But so would the casualties in CATO if we didn't do this, or the long term strategic implications if we let the Dagonites maintain control.”

She sighed.

“It's all about the strategic implications. Some people would ask if we have the right to make a thousand people suffer so that one million can live. And I would argue that we don't have a right not to. Necessity is a harsh mistress. It's what distinguishes real life from fiction. If this was a story, we'd be able to wish upon a star, believe in ourselves, rescue the prince and save the world. But the world doesn't work that way. Honourable warriors are wiped out by those who use all the assets they have, and if you're hot-blooded, you can't go beyond the impossible and defy probability and break the heavens.”

She turned to leave.

“What you can do is get yourself and people who rely upon you killed. I've seen it far too much.”



~'/|\'~




Kaji looked away from the window, a slight grin on his face.

“Well, that was an eventful day,” he said, staring over at Gendo Ikari, who stood, impassively, at his desk, his eyes concealed by the way that the artificial life in the geodome reflected off his AR glasses. The case lay on the desk, sealed, the internal wards still up.

Kaji tilted his head slightly. “It was because of that, wasn't it,” he said, trying to get a response.

There was silence, as the two men stared at each other across Gendo's vast office. Slowly, Kaji walked over to the table, keeping his eyes locked on the Representative.

“It's but a fragment of the whole... but I think a fragment is enough. It's alive, I'm sure of it, even though it's encased in diamond and trapped within the Bah'ri Diß. I could feel it.” He moved his gaze to the case. “It's the key to the Human Iteracy Project, isn't it?”

Gendo then flipped open the case, revealing the black and yellow of the artefact, with its Tsabian occult symbols lit on the surface as the active binding held. Within the central crystal, a figure could be seen, vaguely foetal, sealed within.

Gendo then spoke. “Yes. This is the High Priest of the Outer Gods.”

They stared down at the object, as the thing sealed within squirmed.

“I shall not say his name so close to him, but you know to whom I refer.”



~'/|\'~




It was Tuesday, and they had finally released Shinji from the Ashcroft Clinic, after they had failed to detect any major consequences from... well, from whatever had happened. Shinji wasn't quite sure what had happened (but how it had hurt!), and Dr Akagi, when she had come to visit him, had been remarkably incoherent about the specifics, mutterings about impossibilities.

“... and then she told me that,” Shinji put on a voice, “well, of course we never put two pilots in the same entry plug. I mean, it's only a highly sensitive war machine controlled by a direct noetic interface specifically calibrated to a single pilot, so of course it will be fine when you put someone calibrated for a different system in the same machine as the intended pilot. No, of course, we just have those pilot profiles there for fun!” Shinji looked around the classroom, then sighed, turning back to Toja and Ken. “It went on like that for a while, using rather excessive amounts of sarcasm. Long story short; they're never doing that again, we're never to do that again, and what the hell were we thinking.”

Ken gave a suppressed groan. “Oh man, I can't believe I missed everything. I mean, now I'm never going to get to go in an Eva entry plug. I feel like I've been cheated my look around, you know. And I missed that battle and everything!”

There was a snort from Toja. “Knowing you, you'd have been busy mourning the loss of all those ships and stuff. You'd probably have been on the floor, sobbing, one arm held in the air filming. Of course, with the other hand, you'd have been busy...” He noticed Shinji's glare, and tailed off.

“Did you even pay attention to what I was saying? What are you, stupid? You're lucky not to have to do this. It hurts. It always ends up hurting. And they ended up bringing me all the classwork I needed to catch up on in the Clinic, so I didn't even get to have a rest.”

Ken's face screwed up. “But they're so awesome...”

“Then you're an idiot.”

Toja patted the other boy on the head patronisingly. “Don't get upset. It normally takes him a few days to get back to his old self after this kind of thing. A bit more snappy than usual, though.”

“If I'm being snappy, it's because I'm surrounded by idiots who think it would be fun to be put through a skull splitting migraine then locked up in a mental ward for a few days while they run checks for mental contamination,” snapped Shinji. He held up a hand. “I'm sorry.”

Toja shook his head. “You shouldn't be. Ignore him. He's just being an insensitive jerk.”

“No, I'm just being irritable.” He pinched the bridge of his nose, trying to change the subject. “So, what did you two end up doing while everything was going on?”

Ken shrugged. “Not much. They basically took us to a sort of games room. We played some DoEA III...”

“... which I totally crushed you at,” pointed out Toja. “You were very cocky right up until I got that flank attack.”

Ken crossed his arms and looked away. “I still don't get how the hell you managed that. I had your landing zones locked down. How did you managed to slaughter my main comms centre?”

Toja deliberately flashed his incisors. “Assassins, you forgot about assassins. You only had basic troopers staffing the facility, and you were too busy stopping me landing more Replicas that you didn't notice that I'd noticed the gap in your sensor grid. Stealthed right in, then hacked your sensors, which allowed me to turn off your AA radar in a narrow arc and land all those troops I'd cued up.”

“No, that's not right. I had an AWACS up in the air, too. I know that you took my radar down, because that was obvious when the Comms Centre didn't let me select it, but the AWACS didn't spot it.”

Toja only smirked at that.

“No, seriously, tell me that.”

“I don't think so. Tell you want, we'll have another game...” he paused, “can't do it tonight, I've got the homework I didn't do yesterday... well, we'll see if I can do it, then get online.” He cocked his head at Shinji. “Hey, Shinji, do you play DoEA III? Want to see if you can slap some sense into Ken, because he's an idiot. Despite being a military freak, he's actually rather bad at RTSes.”

“Am not.”

“Are too. Remember the last LAN game? You got slaughtered, even though we let you have extra resources at the start.”

“That's because RPGs are better, anyway,” retorted Ken. “Better graphics, better immersion, a proper MMO system.”

Shinji coughed. “Let's back up a bit. DoEA III?”

“Doctrine of Eternal Aeons 3. It's a Real Time Strategy game for the PC. Basically, you're controlling an army. There are three factions, the humans, the not-Migou-honestly, and the orcs-in-space; pretty standard RTS fare, all in all. The AI is awesome; they've got the individual AI for your units down really well; they take cover properly.”

Shinji shrugged. “Meh. I'm more a Syzergy 2 player.”

Ken moaned. “Hurgh. Consoles are worse. The graphics are worse and nothing quite controls like a proper, desk-mounted AR scheme.”

“Well, then, sometime you can let Misato kick your arse at... wait a moment. I'm trying not to let you anywhere near her. Ignore that. So that was it? You got to sit around playing video games while I got a splitting headache and bleeding from my eyes, mouth and ears. Pfft.” He sighed. “Life just isn't fair.”

“Well, someone else wanted to use the PCs after a few games, so we ended up watching a documentary on Iceland.”

“Iceland?” said Shinji, in a disbelieving tone of voice, one eyebrow raised.

Ken shuddered. “Don't do that. It makes you look creepy. It was pretty interesting, not your normal InBroad rubbish. All about the Dagonite conquest from the Migou and the defences and stuff.”

Toja nodded. “Yeah, all about the Dagonite conquest from the Migou and the defences. I thought it was going to be boring and rubbish, but it was pretty interesting.”

Shinji grunted. “As I said, not fair.”

Toja grinned wide. “I can tell you something else that's unfair. You're going to have to see more of that girl. She may have been hot, but you could use her personality to, like, cut metal. Like some kind of acid or... help me out here Ken, what's the name of that stuff you use to, like shape, metal.”

Ken cocked his head to one side. “A nanofactory?”

“No, when you've got the thing out, and want to polish it.”

“You recycle it, then make a new one. The 'notes you get for the recycling mean that you're only paying for the energy, and that's pretty cheap.”

“No, idiot. Damn it. This is going to annoy me all day if I can't remember the word.”

“What word?” called out Hikary, from the other side if the room, eyes on Toja.

“What's the stuff you use to polish and grind stuff down?” Toja replied.

She sighed, “Do you mean sandpaper?”

He snapped his fingers. “That's the word!” He saw that Hikary was still staring at him. “What?”

“It means that I know that you haven't done your Historical Literature homework, Toja”, she snapped back. “If you'd been paying attention, you'd picked it up from reading.”

The Nazzadi flapped his hand in the direction of the amlati. “I just didn't have much time this weekend, you know.” He turned back to the other boys. “Anyway, you're going to have to spend tonnes of time with someone with a personality like sandpaper, grinding away at your nerves.”

Shinji frowned. “What are you talking about? Who said she wasn't coming here?”

It was, of course at that exact moment that Asuka Langley Soryu confidently strode through the door, thus once again proving that reality was a bit of a dick, and excessively fond of irony.

Ken and Toja groaned simultaneously, bringing their hands into contact with their faces with a notable slap.



~'/|\'~




White spoke.

“It proceeds. Another Herald slain, and the chain of inheritance is pulled closer.”

Blue spoke.

“Indeed.”

Red spoke, a hint of agitation in her voice.

“But the way it proceeds is not liked.”

White spoke.

“Explain.”

Red spoke.

“How was it that it was not known what the Navy was using in that military project? That should not have been possible.”

Green spoke.

“The involvement of a higher power is suspected?”

Red spoke.

“The involvement of Gendo Ikari is suspected.”

Yellow spoke.

“Excessive paranoia is being displayed. Fact: we do not control everything. Fact: we must rely upon agents, who are fallible and cannot be guaranteed to be loyal to us exclusively. Fact: the security on projects, whether Naval or otherwise is immense. The plan must remain flexible.”

Green spoke.

“That is true. Excessive rigidity will only lead to breakage. A failure, and that which shall be broken shall be humanity.”

Red spoke.

“Then how did Project Daeva get its collective hands upon the extra-dimensional entities known as Shoggoths? Consider this; in the Necronomicon, Abdul Alhazred denied most feverishly...”

Green spoke.

“... that they could exist on this planet. Yes. It is known. Alhazred was wrong. Empirical evidence exists that they were present in Antarctica; both the Dyer Papers and the Danforth Notes confirm this, and let the First Innsmouth Incident not be forgotten.”

White spoke.

“Yet it would not be wise to dismiss Alhazred so quickly. Remember the name appears in the ancient histories of the unknowable Tsab. Policy must be to note correlations whenever they occur. A precipice is being walked here; a fall, and all shall fall.”

Blue spoke.

“Agreed. And this is what is worrying. It should not need reminding that Antarctica is solidly under Migou control,and has been since the start of the Second Arcanotech War. The New Earth Government Navy would not be able to extract arcanoxenobiological samples from there.”

Red spoke.

“There is a ninety-seven point zero one three percent probability that the Migou have cleansed the site in its entirety. That is why the subject was raised.”

Yellow spoke.

“Nevertheless, the paranoia displayed is excessive. There are no known links links to Gendo Ikari, when there are so many players in this game; albeit so many unaware of their participation.”

White spoke.

“Absolute control is impossible. Absolute precision is required. Absolute knowledge is required. Absolute knowledge is impossible. These facts must be faced, and overcome them as best as can be achieved, by eliminating as many variables as possible. Control must be maintained”

There was silence.

Green spoke.

“Do the Nine Daughters of Ægir still slumber? Does control still remain?”

White spoke.

“Control remains. The Nine Daughters of Ægir must be concealed until they are deployed, so that the Texts are fulfilled. Remember this; the Texts are not our prophecy. We seek to corrupt them from their original meaning, and for our control over the Celestial Concordance to come about, the initial conditions must proceed as prophesied. Hence, the Nine must wake before the One, and if we have replaced the Nine with our own, who fulfil the criteria, then the One cannot wake.”

Green spoke.

“Agreed.”

Blue spoke.

“Agreed.”

Yellow spoke.

“Remember; CATO is soon. Only one more.”

Red spoke.

“And then Xue'Vehulu'Ia'Ia shall be made whole, and under control.”

Green spoke.

“Not to mention the peripheral benefits. CATO shall remove one major threat to the plan.”

Yellow spoke.

“Indeed. It need not be reminded that the consequences should anyone else control Apotheosis be dire.”

White spoke.

“Everything we do. Everything we have given. It is all for the species as a whole.



~'/|\'~

Last edited by EarthScorpion on 2009-05-14 06:23pm, edited 1 time in total.
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EarthScorpion
PostPosted: 2009-05-11 07:32pm 

Padawan Learner


Joined: 2008-09-25 02:54pm
Posts: 209
Location: London
Item 1: The Fane Relief

Image

Discovered in 1929 by the moderately famous Welsh scholar and archaeologist, Edward Fane, the so-called "Fane Relief" was found in a dig in the north of Mesopotamian, and appears to be an example of pre-Sumerian writing. It is estimated to date back to approximately 8500 BCE.

Although the language has been observed to share some characteristics with Linear A, a paucity of samples means that it has never been translated. The item itself appears to have been some kind of veneer with stone, so to speak; a thin layer of a greyish clay was layered upon a metamorphic rock {A}, and the clay scraped away and fired to produce a permanent record. This is a fascinating technique,which appears to pre-date similar attempts in the rest of the world by at least a millennia, although precise dating has proven difficult.

The Relief was bought almost immediately by an American eccentric, resident in Providence, and remained out of the public domain until his death, whereupon it was donated to Miskatonic University. It was one of the items rescued during the Nazzadi assault in the First Arcanotech War, and currently resided in the New Miskatonic Museum of History in Chicago-2, until its removal from display, early in 2087.

The contents of the Relief have generated considerable amounts of speculation, due to the fact that the language remains, as yet, untranslated. The culture appears possibly related to the proto-Indo-European of the time, although even that is debated, with claims that it is more akin to proto-Semetic also flying about. This speculation has only been enhanced by the images that accompany the text:

- Top Left: There are two figures. Unfortunately, only one of them remains intact; the one to the right has lost most of its head. The one on the left, designated [1] appears, to the modern eye, to conform to a female body shape, but we cannot apply modern gender stereotypes, and so it might as well be one of the "Long Haired Kings" of proto-Indo-European mythology as the "Mother Goddess" figure so often theorised by the untrained {B}. The proportions are akin to that of a child, but the artistic skills of this culture are underdeveloped, and modern recreations have shown that this layered clay is hard to work with. There is an arrow pointing towards [1], which may suggest that the text is linked with it, but this is not known.

Figure [2], the damaged one, is a classic "stick figure". There may have once been more detail on the head, but this is not known. One of its arms appear massively malformed, twisted out of shape in a manner not dissimilar to a claw. [2] is also accompanied by a circle, and a circle with a dot in it. This may be a method of counting, although the mathematics base used by these people is unknown, and moreover it may have been an honorific or a name, given the warrior-like pose of the figure.

Top Right -There are three figures along the top of the tablet, designated [3], [4] and [5]. Both [3] and [5] appear worn away to nothing, nothing more than roughly diamond shapes, but [4] is more intact. Superficially, it resembles a humanoid figure,but its hands are drawn claw-like, in a manner quite unlike any of the other figures, and there appear to be extra appendages extruded from the back. From the way that the three are grouped together, with the words below them, this may be an early form of what might be viewed as classic Trinity worship, which is a recurring memetic theme in human societies. {B}

Figure [5], by contrast, below the text in the top right, is considerably more simple. It appears to be a human figure, gender indeterminate, standing beside what it obviously a lake of some kind. This may show that these people relied upon fishing for their survival, or some other kind of link to the water.

Right: There are two figures on the right, [6] and [7]. They both are drawn in a similar fashion, and appear to be intact versions of [2]. [6], on the left, appears to be a warrior; it carries a spear. Notable about [6] and [7] are the unusually thin waists, perhaps a sign that they were a militaristic culture that despised the fat. [6] has two circles beside it, both with two dots in each of them. The meaning remains unknown. There are also two protrusions from the figures shoulders; what these are meant to represent are unknown.

[7] is drawn in a fashion very similar to [6], with only minor differences. The circles beside it have one and three dots in them, indicating that they are unique individuals. Moreover, [7] has a vertical protuberance from its head, which, from its asymmetric nature, appears somewhat like a ponytail,or perhaps a Mohawk. The figure does not carry a spear; instead, in the same hand (the right hand), it carries what appears to be a shield. This is interesting, and might be a sign that this is a dual pair of gods; the spear-bearer the hunter and the shield-bearer the protector. In classic Indo-European mythology, therefore, [6] would represent the male aspects of the tribe and [7] the female. If so, the way that [2] is isolated from [6] and [7] might indicated that the clawed one is somehow opposed to the shield and spear. {C}

Bottom left - The object, [8], has generated perhaps the most speculation, and the least is known about it. There is text in proximity to it, with an arrow connecting the two. The vaguely building-like shape has lead many to suggest that the creators had permanent settlements, and thus a somewhat agrarian lifestyle, a hypothesis backed by the bread-like shapes in the top section. If that is the case, then the bottom might represent a well; the vertical line is classical for depictions of water.

In conclusion, the Fane Relief is a fascinating example of early writing, but we remain crippled by our lack of knowledge of what it actually means. The hope still exists that more samples can be found, as the Middle East remains under NEG control, but that must wait for a dedicated expedition.


{A} An Examination of Primitive Clay-Working, Clarkson, 1978, Elisabeth Hastamet

{B} The Unknown Gods, SFP, 2042, Aramdeep Faziz

{C} Mythologies and Memes, Chyrsalis Publishing, 2071, Paliny Wise-Fingers
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EarthScorpion
PostPosted: 2009-06-01 02:45am 

Padawan Learner


Joined: 2008-09-25 02:54pm
Posts: 209
Location: London
Chapter 10

What Must be Done to Win?





~'/|\'~




Tokita, the disgraced Chief Engineer of the similarly disgraced Project Daeva sat slumped in his chair, fingers tapping against his front teeth.

Of course, this wasn't going to be his office for much longer. When the mighty fell, they fell hard. Project Daeva was being vivisected before his eyes. The Engel Project had already leapt for most of his best arcanotechnicians, and other groups were going for the rest. He had just had to fill in the transfer form for his best arcanobiologist to Project Amunet, that bunch of fucking necromancers who dressed their actions up as arcane applied physics, and he had had just about enough. They were going to be moving him out tomorrow, to “house custody”, while the Registered Technology Enforcement division of the Federal Security Bureau asked him very pointed questions and tried to find out as much as they could about the Type-S

Yes, he hadn't registered with the FSB for the use of the extradimensional organism. That was sort of the point of a secret weapons project. He had received permission from his superiors from the Nay; permission which had vanished all too quickly after the Chicago-2 fiasco. So what? Project Evangelion hadn't registered whatever the hell those things were, and the Engel Project,he knew, normally only went after permission after the first field tests.

But they were Ashcroft groups.

The Ashcroft Foundation. That mass which switched between cancer and symbiote at its own will. It had the thrice-damned monopoly on the D-Engine and the A-Pod, which mean it controlled all modern power generation. The last nuclear fission plants had been shut down in between the First and Second Arcanotech Wars, hanging on slightly longer than the coal plants, which even now mouldered outside of the arcologies, often home to small communities of Rainers, those barely registered, barely supervised transients who dwelt outside of the safety of proper habitation. The Foundation had drained the countries in the New United Nations dry, the Nazzadi engineer had heard, and forced the issue of the Second Cold War by wrecking the economies of the gas-and-oil-dependent states with the D-Engine, then the old manufacturing economies of the East with the nanofactory. From what Tokita had learnt of pre-AW1 history, the recession which had resulted from the mass unemployment and government defaults had been localised to the countries who hadn't accepted in the Foundation, bartering their wealth for massive infrastructure projects and the insidious influence of the Ashcroft Advisers.

Because, after all, everyone knew that the best people to “advise” (and by advise, it was more like “issue ultimatums to”) a government were the appointed, unelected representatives of a massive transnational corporation that didn't even issue shares and was the sixth largest economy in the world in 2050. Sure.

And so it came to the modern day, where the NEG Global Debt to the Ashcroft Foundation was greater than Global GDP. But they were kind creditors, weren't they. They didn't call in the debts, and they charged a negative rate of interest. All they asked for was near total autonomy from the practical rule of law, entire areas of major arcologies under their control where they enforced control, not the NEG (Tokita thought of the London-2 Geodome, of its near identical twin, the Tokyo-3 Geofront, and of the C2 Headquarters, which was practically an arcology in its own right), and nearly unlimited influence over government figures.

It was enough to make you vomit.

And so their Projects, with excellent salaries, the best medical care, both mental and physical, in the world, had come and poached almost all of the staff he had so carefully built up. Oddly enough, none of them had gone to Project Evangelion. No, those bastards had just swooped in and taken the plans for the mD/D Hybrid Engine from the Navy, in return for some unspecified aid in the future. The mD/D Hybrid Engine; superior even to the innovation of the Type-S. It improved on the standard D-Engine, still basically the same device which Czeny had designed using the theory calculated by Ashcroft and Yi, notably, allowing a distributed grid without the whole issue of space-time rips, which usually occurred when too many D-Rifts were bought into close proximity. And now it was going to vanish into Project Evangelion, into the Project which had destroyed the people who had actually invented it.

Oh yes.

Tokita was quite sure that everything that had happened was all the fault of Project Evangelion. It wasn't a coincidence, after all, that their Mass Production Evangelion, the only such model they had built in all the time that they'd had, was present for the unveiling of the Araska. It wasn't a coincidence that a Herald had attacked just in time for them to show off in front of all of the top brass that they were the superior model, in a way that left them almost completely undamaged while the C2 Fleet was wrecked.

And it certainly wasn't a coincidence that the Type-S went rampant exactly as the Evangelion approached it.

It was probably their Director of Research and Development, the disgraced engineer pondered. She had tried to sabotage them via the medium of opinion, in the demonstration where she kept on claiming, without proof, that the Araska was unsafe. And, surprise surprise, it went wrong just as she had predicted. Suspiciously like she had predicted. She had probably taken out the nanites infused into the flesh of the Type-S, the ones that kept the organism under control, probably by introducing a flaw into the computer code that managed the distributed network, given the way that the runaway growth had proceeded. The Evangelion Director of Operations probably wasn't involved, though, he thought; too stupid and rash for such subtlety. It was sensible to keep track of the staff of your rivals, and her records clearly showed why Evangelion wanted someone like her. She was practically made for the job.

Tokita suddenly knew that there was someone else in the room, from the way that the acoustics of his breathing shifted.

He looked up.

A women stared back at him, eyes boring deep into him. She tilted her head slightly, and spoke;

“I believe, Tokita, that you would like both a talk and a new job.”

He stared at the woman blankly, hand groping under his desk for the panic button.

“Who are you? What are you doing here?”

The woman's expression did not change. “You are bitter about the loss of your Project, your humiliation by Project Evangelion and the shame of having released Shoggoths into the wild. Funding will be provided in return for your sole allegiance and your servitude to the maintenance of control.”

He found the button and pressed it.

Nothing happened.

Red smiled broadly, and took a step towards the terrified engineer.



~'/|\'~




“You know, I would have said a while ago that you're going a bit far,” said Toja, idly.

Ken shrugged. “What changed?”

“Now I know you are. Way too far.”

“Why?”

Toja sighed. “Use your brain, Ken. I know you have one. She's an Evangelion pilot. You're taking pictures of her and selling them off. At some point, someone is going to catch you with your camera, and if you're very lucky, it will just be her. If you're not... well, do you want to have another chat with the Foundation, or worse with the FSB or OIS. Or Hikary, if she finds out about those pictures you got in the changing rooms.”

“It's fine. I locked the files for no-sharing. They won't even be able to transfer them from their PCPUs without effort.”

“Listen. You're being really stupid. Do you want to be expelled or something, or worse? Give it up.”

“Oh, don't worry,” said Ken, airily. “I'm not taking pictures any more. I'm just using stills from,” he dropped his voice, “the security cameras around school. You know, the low sec ones that're really old; not the newer ones. They won't be able to trace me.”

The Nazzadi's jaw dropped. “You're a moron. I want nothing more to do with this. I know nothing of this. Right, maybe before the punching incident I'd have helped you, but after the OIS thing... I never want to go near them again. I still have nightmares from being in the room, with them asking all those questions.” His voice dropped. “Almost as bad as the red glow from that thing. No fucking way ever again.”

Ken's eyes darted around. “Oh, shit. Damn, I didn't realise that. Yes, I'm stopping it right now.” He paused. “Oh god.”

There was a brief silence.

“Out of curiosity, how much have you made?” asked Toja, his voice purposefully innocent.

Ken pulled up a document on his wrist PCPU, datafiles streaming across his glasses as he scrolled down. “Almost one hundred T-notes. Yeah, it was good.” There was a moment of breathless silence. “Toja.”

“Yes?”

“The objection would surely only be to pictures of her, you know, like real pictures...”

The boy narrowed his red eyes. “Maybe. What are you getting at?”

“There wouldn't be any objections if we just used the pre-existing images, took some pictures around the school, and then edited in the shots of her, adjusting for lighting and stuff, would there?”

The silence extended.

“Yes.” Toja rolled his eyes. “Yes, there would be. Just give it up.”

Ken made a frustrated noise. “Fine.”


~'/|\'~




Timana, the head engineer of the team assigned to Unit 01, looked up at the knock on his door.

“Come in,” he called out, without looking up from the model of the Evangelion that floated before his eyes. He pulled his fingers apart, magnifying the join where the RA-09 plate meshed with RA-10, seeing if the issue with the carapace-dermal interface had been fixed.

There was a cough from in front of him. He looked up.

“Oh, it's you, Lieutenant Ibuki.” He flapped a hand over the desk. “Please, have a seat. I'll just be a few minutes.”

And... yes, it's bonded properly this time. The issue with the stresses from the missile packs shouldn't arise.

He shrunk the projection back down, down to a 28mm figurine on his desk, then took off the AR glasses, massaging the bridge of his nose.

“Sorry to leave you waiting,” he told the young woman. “I was just checking that we'd resolved the problem with the new Type-C armour.”

“And have you?” asked Maya.

The man nodded. “Yes. It wasn't vital, but if the problem hadn't been fixed, then there was an outside chance that firing those new missile packs that the Type-C added might cause slippage between the dermal layer of the ACXB organism and the the ceramic plates.”

“Well, that is good news,” she replied, then hesitated. “What do the engineering teams think of the Type-C?” Maya asked.

“In all honesty, it's a slight improvement for us. The Type-B is very close to the Type-C anyway; the Zero Zero team are much more thrilled with us, as they'd been operating with a hybrid Type-A/Type-B before this refit. Really the only changes are slightly better modularity, those M-Packs on the shoulders, and thicker chest armour.”

She cocked her head. “Really? They didn't replace the integral weapons with those installed on the MP Eva?”

“No, Lieutenant.” The man sighed. “Don't get me started on Unit 02. The Berlin-2 team have transferred over here fine, and they're... well sort of professionally annoyed at what happened. They've removed the Plasmathrower prototype completely and installed one of the Lightning Cannons that Unit 01 uses. It's malfunctioned twice in battlefield conditions, despite good performance in the lab. Miniaturisation issues, they say. They had to refit the entire arm, including reducing the local immunosuppressants to allow tissue regrowth, to repair the damage from the exploding prototype.” The Nazzadi shuddered. “And they've had to replace several armour plates due to XB contamination. Is there something about the presence of the Third Child which gets the Units contaminated by extra-dimensional entities?” he asked, in an aggrieved tone.

Maya blushed slightly. “I don't think it's his fault,” she protested. “It's just that the Heralds are biological nightmares.” She shook her head. “How many spares do we have for each of the Units, anyway?”

Timana made a frustrated noise. “It's not as bad as it was just after Mot,” he began, “but we only have one full set of spares for each Evangelion. Both Zero Zero and Zero One are right on the edge; we have the Type-C plus one full set, and that's all. The Type-B was pretty much too contaminated to use again, even though it's cross-compatible. Did I mention that one set of Zero One's armour was undergoing abiogenesis!” he added, in an exasperated tone.

“Yes, you did, Timana,” Maya answered. “At the last meeting. But only one full set? That's not good.”

“Quite. The Heralds are attacking faster than we can built fresh replacements. We're suffering from a lack of economies of scale, basically. We have to get them made in Navy Capital-Grade nanofactories, and we're only scheduled so much time. If we had our own plant, we could handle it, but there's no way,” the man with a voice of authority, “that we could get a dedicated plant. They're needed for the Navy; they can lay a frigate backbone down in the time it takes for us to make a new breastplate.” He shook his head. “From what I've heard, the Zero Two team are better off; they have at least three breastplate sections, which we could... that's Zero Zero and us 'we', by the way... can use, now that Zero Zero and Zero One have been upgraded to use the Type-C armour. But even they're suffering from a lack of left-arm sections, due to the fact that they've had to scrap the PP1-P, which had been integrated”

Maya nodded. “Thank you,” she said. “I'll let you get back to what you were doing; I just was asked to get a personal evaluation of the states of the Units,” she added, as she left.

The Evangelion Project had been chronically underfunded since before she had been transferred here by the Foundation, the young woman thought as she walked back through the hallways. A sudden new flood of funding had come after they had killed that first Herald, but money could not buy time. That was the problem they kept up running up against, and the young woman knew that Dr Akagi had been keeping back something about the armour since coming back from Chicago-2. The Director of Research and Development had been the one who had personally told her to get a first hand account from the Chief Engineer of the Zero One team, even when she had all his reports in front of her, accessible with the wave of a hand.

She shrugged, as she entered the changing room adjacent to the sterile area which the detailed Magi work was done. Oh, sure, the supercomputers could be operated from conventional AR panels and even antique keyboards, but that wasn't optimal for the really high-level analysis work.

She began to unfasten her uniform, the loose slacks the Magi technicians wore on days they knew they would have to do a dive.

The interface between the human brain and the horrifically complicated unison of the organic, the arcane and the machine that was the Magi could not be properly utilised if there was another barrier between them. Inside the Magi, the foibles of the human mind, its inability to comprehend higher dimensional objects, its tendency to get confused by a mere hypercube; all those were washed away by the Magi. The mind-machine interface which the Magi used was another spin-off from the Evangelion Project, a parallel evolution to the Engel Synthesis Interface implanted into the central nervous system of every single Engel pilot on the planet. With it, the brain was no longer restricted to its component neurons; tasks could be instead be performed by the Magi.

Maya removed the grafted synthflesh from her scalp, exposing the sub-dermal interface layer below. With great care, the synthflesh and the hair that grew from the engineered organism was placed in her storage facility. She winced slightly as she ran her hands over the ceramic composite that was bonded directly to her skull, warmed to body temperature yet so alien in feel to flesh. Underneath the hard outer layer, where the top of her skull should have been, lay layers of microelectronics, cortical jacks hanging down into her brain tissue like silver icicles.

In the initial trials, the brain had even delegated autonomous functions to the more efficient Magi. Dr Akagi's mother had almost died in the first trials; other technicians had. The Etemennigur defence system maintained a necessary level of separation between the technician and the Magi, but the alien view of reality (or, perhaps, the more accurate view) when connected to the supercomputer trio took its toll. Extracted its price. Claimed its victims.

Magi technicians burned out fast, at a rate comparable to that of front-line Engel pilots.

Maya winced as she stepped into the cleanser, grabbing the handles at the sides. She really hated this part, she really did. All her hair stood on end, as a static charge built. She kept her eyes closed, even though the permanent contacts protected them, and waited, as the machine stripped away her top layer of skin. The sudden blast of cold air on the newly revealed epidermis told her that it was complete, even as the faint scent of ozone filled her nostrils.

The woman groped in front of her for the immersion suit (really a glorified name for a short wetsuit), not opening her eyes until she had found it. The donning of this garment was nothing more than ritual by now. Without prompting, she went into the newly opened clean room, and lay down in the coffin-like vat of clear fluid, thick and viscous.

Oxygen mask... check. Test function... and there's the hiss, good.

“Breather is fine from this end,” she announced into the mask.

“Oxygen supply reads green from this end,” Makota announced from the monitoring facility, on the other side of the black glass which filled one side of the room, a discontinuity in this place of sterile whiteness. “Releasing the Demon.”

The Demon was technically the DMIN, the Direct Magi Interface Node. But as Makota watched Maya fasten the helmet, the thick cable snaking out from the back; one end into the Magi, the other splitting into the tendrils which fed into her brain, he really felt that the nickname was more apt. The Nazzadi was not qualified to operate the Magi in this way, and he preferred to keep it like this. Part of it was that he would really rather not undergo surgery which removed notable amounts of the skull, leaving a hole in it like a newborn infant's, covering the hole with ceramics, and sticking two-way probes into his brain. But he also guessed that it was something cultural. Humans, homo sapiens sapiens would do things to themselves that people like him, homo sapiens nazzadi would not consider.

It probably came from not having been created as a weapon of war by alien fungoid insectoids to wipe out your base genetic material.

And so he watched the neural feed, looking for anything that would mean that he would have to pull the plug. Meanwhile, below, the woman's limbs twitched as Maya began swimming through the true virtual reality which the Magi generated, trying to fit together the data gathered on Yam into the models based on the observations of the previous Heralds.

Lal had told him something, he remembered, suddenly, with a pang of guilt. He hadn't thought of Lal in a while, ever since the man's nervous breakdown. Gurpreet had mentioned that he was out of the Clinic, now, away from the Magi. Now, what had he said?

Oh yes.

“I think,” he had said, explaining what the Magi felt like, “and my thoughts cross the barrier into the synapses of the machine, just as the good doctor,” and that had been said with heavy sarcasm and an ironic twist of the neck, Makota thought, “intended. But what I cannot shake, and what hints at things to come, is that thoughts cross back. In my dreams, the sensibility of the machine invades the periphery of my consciousness: dark, rigid, cold, alien. Evolution is at work here, but just what is evolving remains to be seen.”

No, Makota did not trust the Magi at all. They were a tool, but a tool which was potentially dangerous to its users must be watched. But then again, so much of what the Evangelion Project did was like that. He hadn't expected to encounter this when he had accepted the promotion, recruited from among the arcanotechnicians of the New Earth Army to the Ashcroft Foundation. Something inside him screamed that some sacrifices were too great, that you shouldn't play around with peoples' brains, that it would be better to let the Migou win and wipe out the collective human subspecies than lose everything that made us different from them.

The Migou made their mecha from an unholy hybrid of machine and organism, transplanted brains from organism to organism, made decisions based purely upon their alien logic rather than based on any care for their men. They were alien monstrosities, utterly inhuman, but intelligent; more intelligent than mankind, in many ways. Cold, methodical and precise.

What became difficult at times was distinguishing any single thing that they did which the New Earth Government would not go.

Such thoughts Makota kept to himself. If he expressed them out loud, when employed by such a sensitive project, he'd probably be disappeared by the OIS or the Ashcroft Foundation. If anything reappeared; well, it certainly wouldn't be unmodified, possessing all the same memories and beliefs.

And the fact that he could think those thoughts was the only proof he had that something akin to that had not already happened him already. And technically all it meant that the hypothetical people building his memories were smart.



~'/|\'~




Second Lieutenant Asuka Langley Soryu, designated pilot of Evangelion Unit 02, Slayer of a Herald was being bored to the point of insanity by the inanity of the babble of teenagers.

Gods, they're just so stupid.

And, in a related and somewhat more direct fashion, she was also being annoyed to the point of violence by the gratuitous amount of junk letters and messages to her PCPU that they were sending her. Not only was she having to run a tight spam filter on the hand-held device, the idiots were resorting to meatspace spam, clogging up her assigned locker with paper jammed into every corner. An additional aggravation was that they weren't even bothering to hand-write the letters; they'd just chosen a personalised “Hand-Written” font and printed them out. There was such a thing as effort after all.

And, on top of all that, she was being forced to sit through basic ASCIET classes; not even undergraduate stuff. The stupidity of most of the human population amazed her, sometimes. Well, a lot of the time. Pretty much always, come to think about it.

Some people might call her intolerant of others, and perhaps suggest that she might consider lowering her standards. She would immediately dismiss them as willing to settle for less, and suspect that they had anti-intellectualist tendencies.

Of course, she was not about to let that show. If they were going to make sure that she sat her ASCIETs, even if she already had a better qualification, so that she would mingle with others and undergo the mandatory continually assessed socialisation testing, then she was going to do the best that she could.

Because if she didn't, they would probably be sarcastic at her and suggest that she failed at normal human interaction.

And she wouldn't have that. Couldn't have that.

She had been placed in the same class as the other two Children. The presence of the Third Child, Shinji, was annoying her, especially since she was forced to live under the same roof as him. She didn't particularly like him, and she was fairly sure that the feeling was mutual. Her queries to why she was staying with Misato and him had been brushed aside when they told her that any Children not resident in London-2 would be staying there, due to 'security reasons'. Nevertheless, at least he understood somewhat life as an Evangelion pilot was like, despite his inexperience, unlike the rest of the masses at the Academy.

Which bought her neatly onto the subject of the First Child, Rei Ayanami.

You can see just from looking at her that she is not a brand new pilot.

Of course, the fact that she's the First Child, while I'm only the Second, might also indicate that she has been doing it longer.


Asuka mentally rolled her eyes at that comment, and tuned back into the conversation.

“... and, yeah, it really stunk!” said a blond (rather plump, if the athletic Asuka would say so) girl, a thin pair of AR glasses perched on her nose.

“I know exactly what you mean!” replied another one, who would have been described as 'mousy' were it not for her coal black skin and red eyes.

“But you got the results, yes?”

“I'm sorry,” interjected Asuka, politely despite the boredom she was suffering, “but do you know where the First Child... that is, Rei, is?”

She received shrugs all around.

“No-one really... knows what she does or where she is,” the blond one said, picking her words carefully. “She's... odd.”

“Even for a White. There's something about her that sets your teeth on edge,” added another girl, with streaks of blue in her hair. “Like she's watching you. Really really watching you.”

“There's this way that she can give you her full attention,” muttered the Nazzadi.

Asuka frowned at that last comment.

“Normally, you see, when someone's talking to you, they're also thinking of what they're going to do next, whether there's any good food for lunch, whether they'll be able to get some games in this evening. You know, thinking stuff,” the girl continued, softly. “She doesn't. She looks at you, and she's thinking of you. It's like...” she wrung her hands together, “help me out here.”

“Like when your father caught you doing something where you were really small, and he would glare at you even before he'd entered the room where you'd broken something because he'd heard the smash, only you didn't know that because you were like five or something,” the blue-haired girl whispered, body instinctively curling up in the memory.

“My dad never did that,” said the plump blond one. “That was always my mum's role.”

There was a subtle change in the air.

“... but the principle remains the same,” she continued, hurriedly. “It's a feeling of shame and guilt, as if she disapproves of you interrupting her time and you should go and find something better to go do. It's the same sort of feeling that...”

“What are you lot talking about?” asked Hikary from over their shoulders, a subtle tone of menace in her voice.

“... uh, nothing, Hikary,” she continued almost seamlessly, with only the implication that the individual who she had about to mention had somehow appeared (with near perfect comic timing) behind her. “Asuka here was just asking if we knew where Rei Ayanami was.”

“And you were going to tell her, were you?” the amlati continued, in the same tone of voice.

“No, because we don't know where she is,” answered the Nazzadi, muscled tensed. Asuka found this somewhat perplexing; the class representatives on TV seemed to be studious, slightly mocked teachers pets, not the figure of fear that the slight xenomix with her pigtails seemed to be.

“And you weren't 'spreading rumours about a fellow classmate', were you?” continued the grey-skinned girl.

“Of course not,” the other girls chorused.

Hikary smiled wide. “Good. Just as well, really. Come on, Asuka. I'll show you where she is most lunchtimes.”

As the German got up to leave, “Have fun with the Tyrant,” was whispered by one of the other girls, in a tone so soft that Asuka couldn't recognise which one it was.

They walked down the corridors for a while, in silence.

“I have to say,” Asuka said, a smile creeping up her face, “I was rather impressed by that.”

“People just need to be reminded that there are certain standards to be followed,” Hikary replied. She sighed. “Look, whatever they told you about Rei, it's not really true. She's just not a people person.”

“You know her?” Asuka queried. If the amlati girl was friends with the sidoci, it would both be an easy pre-existing friends network, and useful.

“No. No-one really does, but you pick things up when you've been class representative for seven years.”

“Seven years.” Asuka was surprised by that. The other girls hadn't seemed to like Hikary, but she had to be popular to keep on being re-elected. “That's pretty impressive.”

The other girl shrugged. “I get good grades and I can organise things, unlike most of the class.” She smiled faintly. “And I'm the class champion of DoEA III, although that's not really the right criterion to be selecting people for a position of authority.”

“DoEA III?” The red-haired girl frowned. “Oh yes, that PC game.”

“The design team graduated from this Academy. They use us as beta testers and balance for patches, and they made it an interclass tournament. We've held the record ever since III came out, and we held it for II, as well.” Hikary cocked her head. “You play?”

“Nah,” she shrugged. “I'm a console gamer; Syzygy 2. Fighting games are just better.”

“You're wrong, you know,” the other girl responded, “but we'll just have to let it slip.” She paused. “What were we talking about before?”

“You were telling me things about Rei Ayanami.”

“Oh yes.” The grey-skinned girl sighed. “Yes, it's not her fault. Some of us xenomixes are just born as sidoci; about 1%, as I recall. They're always a bit strange. Well, she's a bit stranger than most,” she admitted. “She's been here all through, but we really don't know anything about her. The L2 Representative is the one who visits her guardian-teacher conferences, and we haven;t seen any other family,” and then she gave a somewhat bitter laugh, rather unlike her normal demeanour, “although, since this is an Ashcroft Academy, it's not as if people who've lost parents are uncommon.”

Asuka's eyes widened. Two questions were due to be asked, and she asked the one she thought was more important. “Wait? She's related to Shinji?”

Hikary frowned. “I've been trying to work that out myself. There's something about the jawline that's common to both of them, but if you look closely, past the fact that she's a sidoci, and you can see that she's doesn't have exclusively Asian features. There's something about the eyes. But, logically, if they're related, they'd have different mothers. A Nazzadi built from European genestock, probably, or maybe a second generation mix between European and Asian genestock.”

The Migou had not build the Nazzadi fleet from scratch; the black-skinned, red-eyed constructs had been based on samples of human genetic material. What was fascinating for Nazzadi genealogists was the fact that the fungi from Yuggoth had even maintained a high degree of continuity between gene sources, to keep their mass produced army realistically diverse. There were genetic testing services which tracked the area where the sample biological material had come from. There had even been cases where the people taken had proven to be recent, and there were living homo sapiens sapiens relatives; where the truth of what had happened to Great Uncle Jim-Bob, who disappeared from his car late one night, finally came out. It was still infrequent enough that it made the local news, but it had a small-but-noticeable effect on human-Nazzadi relations, as a sharp reminder that the two branches of humanity were so very close.

“But I've seen pictures of the Representative,” pointed out Asuka, “and he doesn't really look much like either of them.”

“Shinji has his eyes,” stated Hikary. “You see it sometimes, if he raises an eyebrow. It completely shifts his face.”

That in turn caused one of Asuka's eyebrows to raise. “You've been “seeing” that idiot's eyes,” she stated, somewhat in disdain of the other girl's bad taste.

Hikary shook her head. “No. He's nice enough, when he's not having time absent... I hope you don't intend to get beaten up in those things...”

“I'm better than he is,” the red-haired girl stated.

“... but he's not that attractive. For one, he's built like a stick, no muscle anywhere. I bet he forgets to feed himself; he looks like the sort.”

There was an odd look in Hikary's eyes as she said that.

“How far is this place anyway?” declared Asuka. “Does she really trek all the way over here in all her free time?”

“Just two more slights of stairs. She goes up to the roof and reads, as far as I can tell.”

“Why did you find this out, actually,” she asked curiously.

The other girl shrugged. “My father always says that knowledge is power, and that knowledge is useful. Mind you, he's the Ashcroft Representative on the AEB, so he says things like that a lot.”

“AEB?”

“Arcology Education Board.”

The eyebrow returned to its elevated position. “And you wonder why you keep on being made class representative,” Asuka smirked.

“It's not like that at all,” Hikary protested, as they emerged into the fake sunlight of the arcology dome, only about thirty metres above them at this point. The reinforced spires that supported the mass of buildings above them, strengthening the roof, could be seen to surround them. The Academy was in the middle of this level, at the centre of the dome.

Rei Ayanami sat in on one of the benches on this roof, beneath a fake sun, a fake wind blowing through her hair. It was scheduled that there would be a slight shower of water from the ceiling at precisely 13:45 today, lasting for 15 minutes, before stopping. She had noted this down, and was aware of the risk of getting wet should she prove to be outside at that point in time.

But for now, she was reading.

Sol shrugged in the darkness, the words on the page said. This was a real book, too, manufactured in a nanofactory, but the words printed rather than just displayed on a screen. 'I really know nothing about politics... or the Core's accuracy in predicting things. I'm a minor scholar from a small college on a backwater world. But I have a feeling that something terrible is in store for us... that some rough beast is slouching towards Bethlehem waiting to be born.'

Duré smiled. 'Yeats', he said. The smile faded. 'I suspect this place is going to be the new Bethlehem.' He looked down the valley, towards the glowing Tombs. 'I spent a lifetime teaching about St Teilhard's theories of evolution towards the Omega Point. Instead of that, we have this. Human folly in the skies, and a terrible Antichrist waiting to inherit the rest.'


A shadow fell over her book. She moved it away from the obstruction. The darkness returned.

“Hello,” a voice declared in a tone that burned with arrogance to her ears. “You're Rei Ayanami, pilot of the prototype.”

She lives in her name, Superbia, Rei thought, ignoring the annoyance.

“I'm Asuka. Second Lieutenant Asuka Langley Soryu, pilot of Evangelion Unit 02.”

Rei closed her book, keeping a finger in between the pages to maintain her place, and gazed up at the other girl, pupils the only point of darkness on her face. Behind Asuka, Hikary flinched back slightly, then straightened up again, forcing herself to meet that gaze.

“Let's be friends!”

“Friends?” Rei echoed. She really wished the other girl would go away and leave her in peace. “For what reason?”

“Why? Because it's convenient.”

Rei opened her book again. “Convenience is a sufficient reason. However, other directives stand before the preservation of the friendship which now exists between us,” she replied, turning that terrible gaze from Asuka, who seemed entirely unaffected by it.”

Asuka paused, stance deflating. “You... do understand what friendship is, right?”

“A mutual bond entailing benefits and obligations for both parties,” Rei stated in her monotone, all attention seemingly on the book. “It is a legacy of the social pack-pursuit origins of humanity.”

The German's face took on the appearance that most people's did, when they had an extended conversation with Rei. “You're strange.”

“Asuka!” gasped Hikary, in the background. “That's not right.”

“And you're charming,” said Rei softly.

Asuka turned to leave, as this wasn't getting anywhere.

“Oh, hah hah,” she added over her shoulder.

“Thank you,” Rei replied, in the same monotone.



~'/|\'~




Shinji was slumped in front of the television, flicking through channels. He knew that he really should be doing his homework, as the combination of training and a PsychEval tomorrow would mean that he wouldn't have any time, but at the moment, he didn't really care. He just wanted to sit in a wonderful state of apathy.

Frowning, he picked up several beer cans left on the table, and transferred them to the recyclic. Honestly, there was no excuse not to just put the cans, made out of a hardened resin (which was much easier for a nanofactory to make from base materials, rather than tapping its metal reserves), in the recycler as soon as they were finished. He hoped that Asuka would be less avowedly indolent than Misato.

Not that that was difficult. There were pre-recylic landfill sites (now mostly salvaged and used as raw materials for the voracious nanofactories of the arcologies) with a better sense of cleanliness than Misato.

//Flick//

A studio audience was chanting a name.

“Sindry! Sindry! Sindry!”

Of course, they almost certainly weren't real. In this age of easy computer modelling, the production company had in all likelihood merely bought a standard “Low Brow” package, with each individual specimen given a randomised behaviour set to provide a suitably heterogeneous audience. All in all, though, they were probably less sophisticated than the AI opponents in a computer game.

A rather maternal looking Nazzadi, her black hair shot through with grey in a way that made her look almost grandmotherly, walked on stage, her clothes stylish while remaining understated, and smiled in the direction of the cameras, letting the applause from the audience wash over her.

She raised a hand. “Thank you, thank you,” she said, in a voice that, despite her origins as a vat-born, showed no trace of the Nazzadi accent, instead elongating her sibilants in a way that had made her memorable among the perfect elocution that pervaded television . “Thank you. I'd like to say hello to all of you, and to all of the viewers watching from home. Welcome to the Sindry Show; I'm your host, Sindry.” She cupped her hand, and turned to another camera. “That's me, in case you hadn't guessed,” she said in a stage whisper, as an aside.

The audience laughed precisely on cue.

“Thank you, thank you,” she said, blushing slightly. “And ladies and gentlemen, have we got a show for you.”

“Have you?” called back the audience, all those who had an Enthusiasm quotient of over 0.43 joining in.

“Oh yes I have,” she replied. “In the back room, we've got Bayl waiting with a girl born from an act of egocest.”

There was a mixture of jeers, hisses and indrawn breath from the audience.

“Yes, I know,” she replied. “Her mother, perfectly legally, went through the arcanotherapeutic sorcery which flips your gender, turning men into women and women into men. They call it 'Beckon the Unexpressed',” Sindry said, making the inverted commas with her fingers. “But what was not expected when it was developed by arcane researchers was that some people would use it to get themselves pregnant.”

She turned to the other camera again. “You know, I don't think that those scientists and sorcerers were all that bright,” she added, in another stage whisper. “I mean, haven't those eggheads ever been on the metanet? Once anything to do with human sexuality is invented, it's guaranteed that it will be used.”

There was a mixture of boos and cheers from the audience.

“Before we can begin, we've got another one of Dr Eliphas' Explanations, for the weird and strange things that biology does. Over to you, Eliphas.”

“Egocest can only be performed with the aid of the arcanotheraputic sorcery known variously as Beckon the Unexpressed, Aphrodite's Touch, or, more colloquially, Gender Bender,” began a man's voice, speaking in refined, somewhat archaic Received Pronunciation over animated images. “After this rite is performed, over three days the subject's body painlessly shifts to what it would have been like had they been born as a member of the opposite sex. This is not a genetic shift; a man keeps his XY chromosomes when he becomes a woman, and a woman keeps her XX chromosomes when she becomes a man. However, apart from that fact in genetic testing, it is impossible to tell that it has occurred. This was originally developed as a method of gender reassignment far better than the crude surgeries of the twentieth century, allowing people to live out their lives happily as members of the gender they feel that they should have been born as. Of course, it did not take long before it saw wider use, by people who wanted to see how it was like for the other gender, and, inevitably once it had been found that it could make mixtures which did not occur in nature, in pornography.

The image focussed in on a strand of DNA, showing the classical double helix. “It was found that the individuals who underwent this process remained fully able to produce children if they had been fertile before hand. This immediately saw its uptake by same-sex couples who wished to conceive a child which was naturally theirs. This is where a few of the oddities with the procedure were found. You see, an individual born as a man has XY chromosomes, and these remain, even if their body becomes that of a woman. That means that one quarter of all pregnancies began by an individual born with male genetics miscarry immediately, as a foetus with the YY pairing of sex chromosomes cannot survive. Meanwhile, all babies conceived by individuals with a female genetic code are all female, as there is no genetic male to provide the Y chromosome. This has raised questions about whether men are now fully redundant,” there was jeering from the male members of the audience, “as for the first time ever, an all female population could now perpetuate itself. However, such a unlikely prospect has been overshadowed by the tragic cases of egocestuous children which have emerged.”

“Egocest can be performed by either gender, although it is easier for women, due to the issues of genetic men with their Y chromosomes bearing children. The individual obtains sperm while male, then switches, whether to or back to, female, and inseminates themselves. The infant conceived thus has their mother and father as the same individual.”

The camera cut back to Sindry. “So, they're clones,” she said. “Haven't scientists failed to make successfully cloned individuals, even before pressure from us made it illegal?” added the Nazzadi.

The camera cut back to Dr Eliphas. “No, they're not clones. That's what makes it so bad,” he replied. “You see, normally, half your chromosomes come from one parent, and half from the other. That's 23 from each. But each egg, and each sperm doesn't carry the same 23; that's why brothers and sisters aren't identical. It's why there's even such a thing as brothers and sisters. And in the case of egocest, the children don't inherit the same mix as their parent had. Some genes which their parent had different copies of, so-called “heterogeneous” genes, they inherit two copies of the same one. And in many cases, that means that the child ends up with multiple recessive inherited diseases, even if their parent was only a carrier for them. The consequences for the children is the reason it is illegal, and classified as zeroth-degree incest.”

“Thanks for explaining the facts, Dr Eliphas,” replied Sindry, when the camera cut back to her. “He's such a bore, but we love him anyway,” she added as an aside, to laughter from the audience. “Well, now that the good doctor has said his thing, let's bring out the guest!”

There were cheers from the audience which turned to gasps, as they saw that the somewhat brutish looking man, Bayl, was pushing a wheelchair. In it was a woman, looking to be in her early twenties, but from the way she shook, a constant tremor in her hands, and the slight twist in her facial features, it was clear that she was not well. The wheelchair was positioned opposite to Sindry, who sat down.

“And what's your name?” she asked.

“H-h-han-n-n-ah-h,” the girl stuttered heavily, her voice thick as if she couldn't move her tongue properly. “I-i-i a-mm tw-tw-tw-e-n-n-n-ty w-w-on.”

Shinji shuddered. These kinds of show were sick. They'd grab dysfunctional families and people from wherever they could find them, especially the poor from outside the arcologies; no, worse than that, because people actually volunteered to show this kind of thing on television. It was inevitable that they would bring out the egocestuous parent at some point too, subjecting that poor girl to even worse humiliation on television. Where they got those dysfunctional people, screwed up in all those novel and interesting ways, was a mystery to him. Was there some kind of agency that found them all and recruited them, for their own purposes?

Nah. No-one would employ anyone who was as dysfunctional as the people on these shows.

He actually thought less of either Misato or Asuka for watching that show, given that it had been left on that channel.

//Flick//

“Save Humanity! Join the New Earth Government Arm...”

//Flick//

“and after all, it's better!” stated out a rather enthusiastic female voiceover.

The screen was filled with a horde of butterflies, a multicoloured chaotic mess of brightly coloured insects, flapping in random patterns which coalesced into a drink can.

“Gulmoth! A better drink for a better person!”

The drink cans split into their component butterflies, one last time filling the screen before the advert faded to black.

Shinji shuddered. The targeted advertising had picked up Misato's taste in goods, and so the unskippable adverts had homed in on her demographic with unerring accuracy, showing her exactly what she wanted to buy. It would take the LAIs a while to overcome the inertia of choices, and realise that there were more people resident in the house.

A solemn violin replaced the previous pop track.

“In 1999, humanity stood alone, unaware of the greater cosmos,” a deep voiced man stated, over the sad music. “Bush the Younger had inherited the throne of the United States from his father. The violence of the Cold War had died down with the conquest of the Middle East by the United Nations. But secessionists who deny their authority are everywhere, and in the background, religious cults lurk.”

A silhouette of a man stands before an open doorway, clad in a long black trenchcoat.

“And one man knows all about them.”

The man pulls two machine guns from his belt.

“Parapsychic.”

Two swords are unsheathed from the scabbards on his back, levitating free in the air. Around him.

“Spy.”

The man's sunglasses glint in the dark.

“Saviour.”

The man speaks, in a deep, gravelly voice, with a notable Nazzadi accent under his obviously affected South African accent.

“Let's see how your cult does against my Colt.”

A guitar chord strikes.

“Piyumana is,” states the voiceover.

“SNAKE!

FIST!”

The theme music strikes up.

The boy sighed. The Snake Fist series. He'd forgotten that a new one was coming out. Critically panned; really, really commercially successful. People were idiots.

//Flick//

“But have you found the murderer yet?” asked a pale faced man, notable streaks of white in his hair, despite his youth, as the camera focussed on his face. “We are paying you a lot, detective.”

The Nazzadi woman, hair dyed purple, and dressed in a suit just a little tighter than might be expected, smiled faintly. “I'm afraid I can't do that, David,” she replied.

“And why not,” the man demanded, angrily. “We heard you were the best, T.”

“And I am,” she answered calmly. “The Tangency Detective Agency is the best around; we can find information from anyone on almost any subject, no matter how obscure.”

“Then why can't you find the person who killed my wife!” he shouted at her, moving towards the woman.

T was completely unruffled by that; despite the immanent threat of violence, she merely adjusted her hair, and wondered over to look at the plants on the desk. “Bodies... they're such a peculiar thing, you know, David. Flesh, blood, skin; they're just a machine. You can take a human apart piece by piece and replace every single bit. You can even systematically replace the entire brain, through vivisection and systematically applied arcanotherapy, although they will lose all the memories in those removed parts. Nevertheless, autonomous functions remain, and the new brain tissue has the learning ability of a newborn. There are even people who cut out and regrow their own language centres, so that they can learn new languages at the same rate as an infant.”

“What are you getting at!” snapped David.

“And yet,” she continued unabashed, “kill someone, and there's almost no way to bring them back. Oh, sure, there are myths and tales, but the only way really known is sorcerous, and doesn't bring them back as much as lock an extra-dimensional entity into the shell, which believes, at least for a short while, it is them. Even when we could replace all the broken parts, making them as good as new, something vital leaves the body around the point of death.”

The man gave a cry of frustration, turning his eyes to the ceiling. “Just... leave! You aren't helping find her killer, and I'm paying by the hou...” He was silenced, as an arm wrapped around his neck from behind, and he felt the pressure of a gun barrel against his ear.

“That wasn't your wife's body,” hissed T into the same ear, as she held a UT-9 needle pistol up against the skin. From the shock on the man's face, he had no idea how she had moved so fast. “The skin was too soft, too fresh. I considered briefly that she was a New Flesher, with an obsession with regular skin graphs to keep her seeming young, but the inside of her mouth was wrong, too. That was a vat grown replica, unliving but genetically her, so that someone could fake her death. And you are an illegal sorcerer.”

“Oh, come on,” began the man, before T tightened the arm around his neck.

“The plant on your desk is not Dactylorhiza sambucina, as you would have people believe, but instead is Dactylorhiza licinii, a close relative under strict control by the OIS due to its use in summoning rituals. Now,” she said, sweetly, grinding the pistol against his ear, “why don't you tell me where exactly your wife is?”

The audience can see a flicker of panic in David's eyes. “They'll kill me!” he stuttered, eyes wide.

“The OIS won't kill you if they have proof that you're human,” T replied.

“Not the OIS!” he shouted, eyes dilated wide. “Never the OIS! I won't be me that long! It's already started! Kill me now!” He swallowed, a trickle of blood running from his tear ducts. “Look for the goddamnned Soul and Seal!” His body wracked in agony. “Oh, gods! Kill me! God's in her heaven...” he screamed, his voice degenerating into babbling, as the blood flow increased.

T squeezed the trigger. The needler didn't make a noise, the thin shard of metal accelerated silently to subsonic velocities straight into David's brain.

He slumped to the ground.

T squeezed the trigger a few more times, standing impassively over the body, making sure to destroy the brain and heart. Seven shots, in total.

“The Soul and Seal?”

The screen faded to the credits, with an anachronistic Tudor piece of music playing in the background.

Shinji made a noise of annoyance. He'd forgotten that the new series of T for Tangency was on. He'd have to watch the episode properly some time later; he wasn't in the mood for kind of convoluted plotting in a T episode, not to mention the fact that Season 1 had shown how much they loved foreshadowing. This time he wasn't going to fall for it; he was going to keep a notebook and watch for any catchphrases or hints of theme arcs. Yes, T for Tangency, with its pronounced tendency to get diverted into things that the script writers felt were interesting at the time, was a hard show to watch when you didn't want to have to think. No one even knew what the entire running theme of cats was in the first series was about, although that wasn't to say that the metanet hadn't guessed. Some people had speculated on the connections to the old Bast myths of ancient Egypt, some that the fact that there had been cats at all of the important scenes of the Castellan arc meant that the cats were secretly controlling everything, and some just that the writers felt that cats (especially kittens) were cute, and liked putting them in surreal or humorous situations.

He checked the menu. The news on EBC wouldn't be on for a while.

I wonder if Unit 02 will be in any pictures?
   Profile |  

EarthScorpion
PostPosted: 2009-06-01 02:46am 

Padawan Learner


Joined: 2008-09-25 02:54pm
Posts: 209
Location: London
//Flick//

“We hold life to be sacred, but we also know the foundation of life consists in a stream of codes not so different from the successive frames of a watchvid,” said the Chinese man on the panel. “Why then cannot we cut one code short here, and start another there? Is life so fragile that it can withstand no tampering? Does the sacred brook no improvement?”

There was a round of polite applause from the audience; a real one, as these kind of topical debate programmes needed a sapient audience to pose their questions, even if anyone who wanted to attend had to be vetted.

The host inclined his head. “Well, I can see that Miriam is positively dying to respond to that answer. So, Miriam, what is your opinion on that question from the audience, about whether the genetics laws should be loosened to allow for prenatal repair of embryonic defects?”

The red-haired woman nodded her head vigorously. “Thank you, Pravin,” she said, in an American accent. “I am fully opposed to such a violation of sacred human dignity, and I believe that all right-minded people would oppose such a potentially slippery slope. After all, if we begin to tamper with the human genetic code, where will we stop? The next generation may be similar, but the one after that? And after that? What monsters will be spawn from our genetic material; beasts akin to the horrific cannibals they call ghouls? Will we next create false gods to rule over us? How proud we have become, and how blind!”

“I object strongly to such a blatant slippery slope argument,” interjected the Ashcroft scientist on the panel, as he adjusted his AR eyepiece. “Who really believes that just because we repair the faulty genes that would produce a congenital defect that would kill the child by the age of 30, that we would lose all sanity and become inhuman monsters. Rational discourse should be what decides these laws, not an appeal to the authority of a Bronze Age text written by people who would have been driven mad to see humanity in the Steel Age, let alone now. Man's unfailing capacity to believe what he prefers to be true rather than what the evidence shows to be likely and possible has always astounded me.” The Russian sighed in a rather patronising way. “We long for a caring Universe which will save us from our childish mistakes, and in the face of mountains of evidence to the contrary we will pin all our hopes on the slimmest of doubts. God has not been proven not to exist, therefore he must exist.”

There was loud, but unevenly distributed clapping from the audience. Several of the faces that the camera panned over looked offended, as did the red-haired woman on the panel.

The host cocked his head slightly. “Although this is a provocative topic, I'm afraid I'm going to have to end it here, so that we can cover the other questions before the end of the show.” He flicked down on the desk. “The next question is from Warata, from the Loughton District of L2.”

The camera focussed on a middle aged Nazzadi who stood near the front of the audience, his hair dyed a dark brown.

“Does the panel feel that use of a Migou bioweapon against Chicago-2, which was successfully contained, was due to the recent string of triumphs across the North American front, where our forces rolled back the Bugs all across a wide front? And does that mean that the Migou are feeling under pressure, if they resorted to the use of such a weapon?”

The host nodded. “Yes, that has been one of the major news stories in the last few days. Sweeping triumphs all across the Canadian province, combined with the Migou use of a large extra-dimensional entity as an attempted decapitation blow against the New Earth Government capital. I'd like to reassure everyone that the entity was stopped, although Lake Michigan remains sealed due to biological contamination.” He paused. “Over to you first, Colonel Santiago.”

“Well, firstly I'd like to congratulate our forces for the wide-scale triumphs against the fungi from Yuggoth,” she began, and paused while mass applause erupted from the audience.

“Okay, quieten down, so that she can continue,” said Pravin, after about a quarter of a minute.

“Thank you. That we could push the forces back was a sign that the increase of funding in the last few budgets is paying off, as the Engels enter into full use. In fact, I think we can put a large amount of credit for these victories down to those high-tech additions to the NEA, which have allowed us to push the biomechanical creations of the Migou back through superior firepower and armour. And yes, I do have to say that the use of biological weapons in this way was very alarming, but we've known for a long time that...”

Shinji snorted. That would probably have had Dr Akagi ranting and raving over the credit that the Engels were getting. That certainly seemed to be the official story they were putting out; there was no official connection between any of the Heralds; that first one had been “an advanced Dagonite mecha”, while Mot had been some kind of unidentified spacecraft.

He yawned and stretched out. The bickering on Query Hour was relaxing in its own way, and he really couldn't be bothered to move right now.

And then the doorbell rang.

He groaned when he realised that Misato wasn't home yet, and so he would have to do it. A somewhat unlikely saviour showed her face, though, as Asuka went to do it. Over by the door, there was an exclamation of “Finally”.

And then the boxes started flowing in. Shinji could only watch in horror as crate after crate began flowing through the door, an endless succession of delivery men gushing forth and spreading out like a liquid, maintaining their volume but filling all available floorspace with the boxes.

He managed to hold his tongue, as Asuka directed the stream of crates to wherever she felt they were more convenient, until after the deliverers had left.

Shinji took a breath.

“What the hell are all these? What are you doing!” he said, in a somewhat panicked voice.

“That's not very nice,” Asuka replied without looking at him, having already peeled open one of the boxes. “This is my stuff.”

“All of this?”

“... yes.”

Allof this?”

“Uh... yes.”

“This stuff... it is all yours?”

“Look, if you're going to stand there, slack jawed like some imbecile, then you can help me unpack.”

Shinji waved his hands in front of himself, still not quite fully comprehending the situation. “You had all of this stuff shipped over from Germany, so that it could sit around and obstruct my bedroom door.”

“Well, that wasn't the end goal,” Asuka replied, as she sorted through clothes, “but the fact that you'll have to unpack that one...”

“Those ones,” interjected Shinji, acidly. “Plural.”

“Whatever. The fact that you'll have to help me unpack those ones to get into your room so you can lock yourself away is, from my point of view, a benefit, yes?”

“But... but... but,” Shinji spread his hands wide, voice filled with confusion. “Why would you even have this lot shipped over? Why didn't you just recyclic them, then fab some new ones?”

“It's not the same!” exclaimed Asuka, a hand pressed against her temple.

“Why not? A standard licence lets you have one physical copy at any one time, and if you recycliced the old ones, you'd only be paying for the energy costs.”

“Because the things wouldn't be the same, obviously,” replied the girl, speaking slowly, as if explaining to a child. “They'd just be copies. A copy of a thing is not the same thing, even if it started off the same at the molecular level.”

“Yes, it really is. They'd be identical to the ones you had before, and more importantly you wouldn't be cluttering up the entire house with boxes.”

“No, they're not,” she replied, voice slightly raised. “Just because they began with the same initial state doesn't mean that a newly fabbed copy is the same thing. Things change and grow.”

Shinji raised an eyebrow. “Your clothes change and grow.”

A frown was sent back in his direction. “Don't be an idiot. It was a metaphor; I'm sure that even your minuscule brain can understand such things. But, yes, actually, the clothes are a lot more comfortable when they've been worn a few times. And it means I have all my things accessible right away, instead of waiting for the fabber to make a new one.”

Shinji threw up his hands in frustration, suppressing a nagging headache. “Whatever. I don't really care any more. Just get this stuff packed away somewhere. I'm not helping.”

Asuka made an annoyed noise, turning away to unseal another package. “Just typical. You're not even needed here any more, you know,” she added, after a slight pause. “You complain about practically being a conscript; well, now you can go. Back to wherever you came from.”

“Toyko-3,” muttered Shinji.

“Whatever. The point is, I'm a professional. I have to say that you've done a nice job filling in before I was moved here from the Eastern Front...”

“... just wait a moment,” replied Shinji, jumping up, something inside snapping. “From what I saw of the reports Misato showed me, you've only actually been deployed twice in real life, and I was there for one of them. I actually have more physical experience than you.

“Irrelevant,” she snapped back. “You have, what, less than six months training. I've been a candidate since I was four. Some natural talent at Evangelion synchronisation doesn't mean that you're suddenly actually able to fight. From what I've seen of your combat, you rely on either just pulling a button... oh yes, incidentally, anyone could have used that cut up ship to fire that laser; I don't see why they needed a giant robot to pull the trigger...”

“... there wasn't a physical trigger, like there aren't for any of the Eva-scale weapons,” Shinji retorted. “Direct link to the main Eva control...”

“It doesn't matter! I know that! Stop interrupting! The point is, the Kathirat was the only kill which was really yours, so really, we're even. Look; it would be better that way. You can go back to before, as you obviously don't want to pilot an Eva, and I don't have to put up with your constant unhelpfulness and annoying comments.”

“I don't see how you can call me annoying,” Shinji muttered. “Given how you're always angry, all the time, I don't think you can really tell the difference.”

“I'm always angry?” she shouted back. “I have to put up with your constant passive-aggressive attitude. No wonder I've got a headache.”

Whatever Shinji said in response was drowned out by alarmed squawking coming from the kitchen. He took a sudden breath, and got up, heading towards the source of the noise.

“Oh, right. Pen-Pen. Yes.”

Asuka frowned. “Pen... Pen? Some pet?” she asked, in a less confrontational voice.

“... sort of,” was the response. Shinji manoeuvred his was around the boxes that filled the kitchen, finally finding the bird trapped in a jail cell of crates. “He's... well, he's a penguin.”

“A penguin,” Asuka said, flatly.

“Yes.”

“A penguin.”

“Yes.”

“You have a penguin living in the house.”

“In the fridge, actually,” said Shinji, massaging the back of his neck. Come to think of it, it sounded a lot more ridiculous than it really was. “In a custom compartment.” He stooped down, and begin shifting the boxes that trapped the bird inside.

“Wark! Wark-wark! Wark!”

The girl took a deep breath. “Okay. I can accept that.” She watched, fascinated as the penguin waddled over to the other fridge, and pulled out a can of beer. “How long did it take to train him to do that... wait a moment. He's using his hands like wings! I mean, his wings like hands! Penguins don't do that,” she said, lowering her voice as the tiny, beady eyes of the pale bird gazed towards her.

“Wark!” Pen-Pen said, in a tone of voice which was decidedly warning.

“... He. Has. Teeth,” muttered Asuka to Shinji, the previous animosity gone. “Birds. Do. Not. Have. Teeth.”

“This. One. Does,” he whispered back.

“Why. Does. This. Bird. Have. Teeth?”

“... okay, we can stop doing that,” said Shinji, as the penguin continued to gaze at the two of them. “He can hear us, after all. Misato said that he has very good hearing.”

“But he's a bird,” Asuka almost sobbed. “Why is there a bird... a penguin living with Misato? Why can he open things? Why does he have teeth? How can he understand English? He's a penguin! Penguins are not sapient!”

There was a hiss, as Pen-Pen opened the can; a surprisingly sinister noise. “Wark,” he said, coldly.

“This whole thing makes no sense,” added Asuka, switching to Japanese. “Have you even asked Misato what she's doing with that freak of nature!”

The tiny beady eyes of the penguin narrowed further. “Wark,” it said again.

“Yeah, he understand that too,” said Shinji, wincing. “And he can do the crossword.”

Asuka threw up her hands. “That's it. I give up. I'm not going to question the sheer irrationality of having a sapient penguin living with us. I'm not going to question what produced him. I am going to accept it, as long as it keeps its hands... its wings... its whatever off my stuff.”



~'/|\'~




Dr Ritsuko Akagi was running through the details of what little of the Fifth Herald's corpse that had not been consumed by the Shoggoth. Masses of data filled her vision, a matrix of possibilities in Augmented Reality. Possibilities were shaped, plotted on three dimension colour coded graphs, and then discarded. If people from an earlier age had seen what she was doing, they would have called it more akin to magic, as obscure symbols (the scientific discoveries from arcane theory had left the Greek alphabet suffering from massive degeneracy, and thus science had pillaged alphabets from all over the world to get symbols to represent concepts which were undreamed of before) were moved around, changing colours used to plot data just as classical Cartesian co-ordinates were.

And it still didn't make any sense. Silently, she cursed the new drugs that she was on, even as she understood their purpose. Every time they switched mental stabilisers, or added a new one to the cocktail, her performance at the cutting edge of arcane theory took a hit, taking several months to climb back up. She knew why they were needed; they kept her sane (by the rather lax standards of arcane scientists), but it was a balancing act. Too many of some metal stabilisers would effectively lobotomise her, and an overdose would actually do so, requiring extended arcanotherapy to remedy the neurological damage. Too few, and she would break, her mind shattering into a million shards; each one brilliant, astonishing, useful, but fundamentally dangerous and broken.

She took a sip of coffee, and grimaced as she realised that she'd let it go cold, before a man's arms encircled her from behind.

“You've lost weight,” said Kaji softly into her ear.

“Oh, really?” she asked, a hint of sarcasm creeping into her voice.

“You're wasting away,” he continued, hugging her closer, “doomed to eternal unhappiness.”

“And why would that be?” Ritsuko replied, in an arch tone, amused by the sheer patheticness of the approach. Honestly, she had much better reasons to waste away than self-centred unhappiness.

“Because a woman who has a mole in the path of her...” Kaji paused, in the process of stroking her cheek. “You had it removed, didn't you?”

“Yes,” she replied, pulling his hands away. “Quite a while ago, in a routine physical. There was no reason to keep it.”

“But that was, well, at least ten percent of your charm,” said Kaji, in a decidedly melancholy tone of voice. “Is it some man, responsible for such a change? Or some woman, come to take my fair princess away to another castle? Tell me where I may find them, so that I may slay them and thus take your hand in marriage.”

Ritsuko sniffed. “Do you smell ham?” She shook her head, smiling gently. She sort of missed the casual flirting of university; in retrospect, she hadn't made enough of the opportunity. On the other hand, she had left with a first-class degree, which had proven essential for her career plans, while Misato had only obtained the bare minimum to be accepted for her officer training, which said something. “Never mind. But I do believe, Mr Kaji, that you are trying to seduce me.”

“And what if I am?” he answered with a blatantly seductive grin.

“Then the green-eyed, very, very scary lady over there, the one carrying the Enforcer, will shoot you,” continued Ritsuko in the same tone of voice, gazing at Misato, who was pressed up against the glass glaring at the two of them, flared nostrils leaving twin patches of fog on the transparent wall. “And blood will get everywhere, because a fifteen millimetre hole in your cranium is not a viable path for sustained survival. And even you would have problems dodging that, if you didn't know that she was there.” She gave an exaggerated sigh of annoyance. “And then I'd have to fill in even more paperwork, and the blood would get into some of the sensitive electronic here, and even worse I'd get blood in my coffee.”

Kaji let go. “You do know that the coffee is cold, yes?” he pointed out.

“I found out just before you arrived.” She made a small, non-committal noise, as Misato pried her face from the window, and actually came into the room. “Long time, no see, Kaji.”

The blue-shirted man sighed. “Well, it's been a long time. For all of us.”

“You're not as discreet as you used to be, now that you're single again,” Ritsuko said with a smile in her voice. “Although you still appear to be quite discrete.”

Misato frowned, and Kaji stared blankly at that comment.

“Discreet? Discrete?” She waved a hand. “It would have looked better written down. What I said what that, although he remains slightly separated from other people, behind that attitude, he is less subtle.” She paused for a moment. “Actually, it might work the other way, too. He might have become more sympathetic and thus better at subtlety through understanding of others.”

“I'm perfectly sympathetic,” protested Kaji, smiling.

“No,” Ritsuko replied. “You've always been very empathetic. That isn't the same thing at all.”

“He's an idiot, I know that,” interjected Misato. “Always has been, always will be.” She stopped by Ritsuko's desk, glaring at the man. “Now why don't you go back home and sit at your desk analysing intelligence, like you told me you do. I'm not sure how you'd recognise it, of course...”

Kaji clutched a hand to his heart. “You wound me,” he said, in a light-hearted tone. “But I was just notified of my transfer to London-2 this morning...”

“Wait a moment,” Misato exclaimed. “What are you even doing here in the first place? What are you doing in an Ashcroft facility? Last time I saw you, you were getting off the C2 Transit System. You don't have a valid reason to be here in L2.”

The man just broadly smiled with his habitual grin and shrugged. “It'll be fun. We can hang about together, like we used to.”

Misato whirled to face him, face contorted and hands twisted into claws. “You? You! Who in the hell would willingly spend time around...”

In what might be viewed as an act of cosmic censorship, before Misato's tirade against useless men who she would prefer to never see again, let alone spend time around, who spend all their time smirking and not enough time actually being useful, and n-plex other reasons, the sirens began to sound around the base, screaming out their warning with such frequency that those prone to infantile anthropomorphism would wonder why they were not losing their voices.

Glancing at the type code on the alarm displayed on the walls, Misato could only stare up at the ceiling and give an inarticulate yell of rage that ended in the words “Not again!”.



~'/|\'~




“The defences around London-2 remain somewhat depleted from the casualties inflicted by the previous Heralds. The stationary defences were especially badly hit; we only have 26% functionality along the projected line of assault. Replacement parts for the Evangelions remain critically low. However, we now have all the Units available to us,” stated the Major, a hint of triumph in her voice. “We will defeat the Herald before it comes into range of any high value targets, right as it emerges from the North Sea. Units 01 and 02 will engage the target simultaneously, while Unit 00 is positioned in reserve in case it pulls another surprise out from nowhere. This should be a close range battle; we've found that the easiest way to win is to neutralise the enemy's AT-Field as fast as possible. Moreover, this is the first proper night battle against the Heralds, as Mot was an ambush, so... be careful,” Misato added.

Three titanic delta-shaped aeroplanes, super-heavy bombers who now carried a different (although some would say equally dangerous) cargo, cut their way through the dark sky, above the clouds, towards near where the ruins of NEG Norfolk, destroyed by Mot. The three Evangelions, dwarfed by these fliers, were slung underneath like toys.

Misato felt that they were actually looking like a proper military operation, as she gazed on the viewscreen back in London-2. For once, all the Evangelions were in the same colour scheme, the blueish grey-white of urban camouflage and were all using the Type-C armour. The only way to tell them apart was by their heads, where the legacy genetics of the underlying organism had produced a different number of eyes.

She hoped that this would go well.

“Are you sure that we should have deployed all three Units at once?” Ritsuko asked her, paralleling her own doubts. Yet, paradoxically, this had the net effect of calcifying her own certainty that this was the right thing to do.

“Yes,” she nodded. “ We have access to all three Evangelions; we should be trying to guarantee that the Herald is killed with the minimum risk to any of them individually.” The Major paused. “And we're getting far less Army or Navy support for this mission,” she added in a darker tone of voice. “The previous targets have been eliminated with considerably more support. Against a Herald, I'd prefer overkill than defeat.”

Her friend nodded. “Good. You should be able to justify this to the Representative when he gets back.” She paused. “Assuming things don't go really wrong, that is.”

Misato shuddered. “Don't say things like that. You'll jinx the operation.” She licked her lips nervously. “And I did get authorisation from Deputy Representative.”

“Just so you remember,” Ritsuko warned.

Meanwhile, back in the Evangelion entry plugs, Asuka was feeling a little bit annoyed.

“This is my combat début in L2,” she complained, “and I'm not allowed to fight alone? This sucks,” she added, in a sullen voice. “What possible reason could there be to bring those two along, in their obsolete Units?”

That comment was inevitably going to draw a response, and on cue a window appeared in the front of the entry plug.

Surprisingly enough, it was Rei. “Your statement is incorrect,” she informed the other girl, her cold eyes, only a frosting of pale grey around the pupil serving as an iris, somehow gazing through the redhead. “After the recent refit, all three Units are using Type-C armour. The tactical difference between the Evangelions in a technical capacity is negligible.”

“Did I ask your opinion?” snapped Asuka back.

“Your statement was factually incorrect. It needed to be remedied,” was the response.

Shinji's head appeared on the wall too. He was actually rather surprised. That was the most words he had ever heard from Rei in one go, and more than he had heard from her on most days.

He vaguely wondered what kind of image adjustment they had to do to the picture to remove the LCL tint.

“Look, we're just going to follow the plan,” he said, trying to defuse any tensions. And possible diffuse them, too. He wasn't quite sure what quite was the difference between the two words.

Stupid English and its homonyms... is that the right word? Stupid language and all the words that sound alike, he thought.

Shinji shook his head, bring his attention back to entry plug. It was funny how the mind wandered. He found Asuka staring at him, and realised she'd been talking while he was not paying attention.

“So you don't agree, Third Child?” she said, leaning forwards towards the camera, voice hostile.

Shinji!” he corrected.

“Answer the question!”

“Ego is irrelevant,” interjected Rei.

Asuka spluttered, an odd noise with the harmonics shifted by the LCL filling her lungs. “What? It is not ego! It's just that I should be the one to...”

“Ego is detrimental to the cause,” the white girl replied in a tone which would have been described as icy had anyone but her used it. “The salvation of the world requires that the ego is subsumed to the greater good of humanity.”

“What? What are you talking about?” Asuka was getting increasingly annoyed by the girl. The First Child always seemed to be like this; annoyingly cryptic, a discrete voice which spoke alone. She could see that Shinji was just as perplexed, although... was that a hint of fear in his eyes as he listened to her words. No, not quite fear, but something akin to it. Apprehension, perhaps.

She would have to find out more about those two.

“The Heralds are beings of pure ego. Their inability to co-operate is what has doomed them,” the pale girl continued.

The command team was getting worried, too.

“How's the First Child's synchronisation ratio?” asked Ritsuko.

“Holding steady at sixty-one, plus-or-minus three percent,” reported Maya calmly.

The blond woman started biting at a thumbnail, before realising that she was doing that, and tucking both hands into the pockets of her lab coat. She was the only one here who really knew the potential danger of the First Child, but she was so orthogonal to normal ways of thought (which would logically mean that she would actually be tangential, the scientist thought) that it was very hard to distinguish between her normal behaviour and possible mental contamination.

“Immediately force an ejection if we get a repeat of the Start-Up Incident,” she ordered the technical staff, turning to the Director of Operations. “Misato, I recommend that we keep the First Child in reserve.”

The black-haired woman turned her head and looked at Dr Akagi in a peculiar manner. “I'm already doing that,” she said. “I do know her synchronisation ratio is notably worse than the other two's, and she has had the worst loss of control,” a patronising hint leaking into her voice. “Now, if you'll excuse me, they should be deploying soon.”

Ritsuko sighed inside. Thank goodness she thought I was merely worried about the low synchronisation ratio and the inferior control...

She made a note on her PCPU, though;

HERALDS: BEINGS OF PURE EGO? UNABLE TO CO-OPERATE?



~'/|\'~




Unit 00 was detached first, the blue-grey cyclops falling through the dark sky. Inside the fluid-filled entry plug, the First Child was calm. It was not as if this utter weightlessness, immersed in the almost-blood taste of the LCL, was an unfamiliar sensation to her.

She's been in there for ten years. Floating in darkness.

The A-Pod harness kicked in, reactionless thrusters producing an action which lacked an equal and opposite reaction, or so it was believed. That was not true. It was merely that, when the fabric of space-time was being used in such a manner, the opposing force could be spread out across the entire system.

She landed as gently as could be hoped by the standards of a forty metre biped, feet leaving massive dents in the hardened road as she sunk to one knee. There was a moment of stillness, as Rei held that position, motionless.

Then the single red eye of Unit 00 turned, its gaze scanning the landscape. In the darkness, it cast the land in a bloody red light. Once, the skies above them would have been polluted by light. Now, however, with the retreat of the populace into arcologies, the night was returned to a more primal state, stars fully visible through the holes in the cloud layer.

She found what she was looking for, the weapons drop, and loped over to it, leaving scars in the landscape where she stepped. Cradling the Charge Beam she had been assigned, she then returned to a waiting position, both body and Evangelion motionless, waiting for further orders.

The other two Children were dropped close to the coast, on the decaying ruins of what had once been a commuter village.

“Oh,” Asuka said with a sudden glint of happiness in her eyes, as she examined the weapons crate marked “02”.

“I thought you'd like the Deef Spear,” commented Misato, a similar hint in her voice.

“I know I'd trained with them, but I thought they were stuck on the drawing board. Too many issues with the superconducting fibres and keeping the staff strong enough to be used by an Evangelion,” the girl replied, as she reverently lifted the polearm, a good ten metres longer than the Unit was tall, from its case.

“There were,” interjected Dr Akagi. “There were beyond modern materials technology, and required far too much fine control over the AT-Field to be truly useful in a combat situation.”

Asuka paused as she swung the spear around, getting a grip on the balance. “What changed?”

Ritsuko grinned, a smile with a disproportionate amount of malice. “The Heralds changed.”

Dimensionally Fielded weapons, she explained, were an innovation of the Evangelion Project. They were commonly in use; the integrated bladed weapons on the Units were all subject to a D-Field. The sorcerous ritual that produced the D-Field had been known about by occultists (and cultists) since before the discovery of Arcane Theory, but before had only been used as personal protection. The D-Field functioned as a catalyst, to promote the formation of an AT-Field around the weapon, and locally boost the strength, giving a concrete advantage against other AT-Fields. But there were problems with scaling; the two warped spaces were similar (but fortunately not the same, because if two D-Fields overlapped, anything in the intersection was torn apart at a sub-atomic level), and reacted in funny ways. Even the massive computing powers of full immersion Magi dives had not been able to find anything more than an empirical formula for how they interacted.

“And so we found that the remains of Mot, the fractal black crystalline structure, had an exceptionally high Arcane Field permissibility,” explained Dr Akagi. “A solid core of that runs down the centre of the D-Field Spear, meaning that for the purposes of AT-Field generation, the spear is part of the Evangelion.”

Most of the explanation had been meaningless to Shinji, as he hefted the weapon provided out of his own equipment crate. A small autonomous series of cables snaked out of his wrists as he (no, he reminded himself, as Unit 01) picked up the multi-barrelled contraption.

Ah, yes. The one that they insist that I not call the plasma minigun, but I can't remember the real name for.

As the targeting reticle appeared in screen, the name “Multi-Barrelled Automatic Magnetically Confined Ionised Gas Accelerator Prototype” appeared. It was another product of the fact that Evangelions stood at an uncomfortable level in the NEG armoury. They were three times the height of the next tallest bipeds, the Seraph and Chamshal Engels, but were too small for the naval-sized D-Engines which could enable them to chuck out capital grade firepower. The MBAMCIGAP was a workaround for that problem.

The design process had obviously passed through certain mental steps. It had started with complaints about not being able to use capital grade weapons, then moved onto asking for suggestions for how they might be able to compensate for that. The thought train got vaguer at that point, but at some point someone had obviously pointed out that often weight of fire could compensate. And then the phrase “What if we strapped eight plasma cannons, each with an independent smaller D-Engine, together, and made them spin to promote cooling?” had been uttered. Some back of the envelope calculations had been thrown together on someone's PCPU, and it had been found that, despite the blood alcohol level of the person who had come up with the idea, it actually had the potential to work.

Misato's face appeared before him. “Is everything operation, Shinji?”

“Yes, it looks fine from here.”

The woman smiled. “I told them that the plasma minigun would be a good idea, but they didn't believe me until they actually did the calculations.”

Ritsuko sighed. “One of your drunken ideas was good. The rest were bad. As I recall, you wanted to attach rocket boosters to the Deef Spear.” There was chuckling from around the command room, releasing the tension.

“Shush,” ordered the Major. “Pilots; contact with the Herald is ETA six minutes.”

They sat in silence.

Far off, something broke the surface of the water. It would not have been visible in the darkness with the human eye (though it would with the Nazzadi eye), but the visual enhancements built into the Evangelions (as with all modern military gear) detected the water pouring off the titan that strode in from the sea, a figure of solidity in the protean waters.

“Right, this is it!” announced Asuka, with a predatory grin on her face. “I'll take it down, while you cover me.”

“You could wait for me to weaken the AT-Fields first,” countered Shinji. “At least wait to see if it can't shoot back before charging in!”

“Both of you, hold back,” ordered the Major. “We've got an airstrike incoming.”

Misato hated having to keep that from them, but orders from her superiors in the New Earth Government Army had necessitated it. After the attack on Chicago-2 just as Unit 02 was there, suspicion existed that it was the Evangelions which drew the Heralds. Certainly, the fact that so far the Heralds had conveniently only attacked places where there were Evangelions was screaming on the “Not-A-Coincidence” alarms of counter-intelligence units. Either the Evangelions attracted the Heralds, or there was someone who was arranging it so that the Units would be there. If so, that would be indicative of some greater conspiracy, that someone in the NEG had the ability to predict when the Heralds would attack. Such information would be very useful, as it would allow proper deployment of troops, rather than this slow seep of forces away from the front lines to protect the most important arcologies from such a potential threat.

And thus the higher-ups (the orders had come from the European Field Marshals themselves) had ordered her to see if the Evangelions could be used as bait, to place them slightly off the direct path of the Heralds, to see if the monster would adjust its course to make sure that it engaged them.

And it had. The behemoth now striding from the waters had notably turned, to engage the three Children in the three Evangelions.

That was not a good sign. Both in the short term, in that they were about to be attacked by a Herald, and in the long run this called the survival of the Evangelion Project into doubt.

It was then that the first wave of bombs hit, as the skies echoed to the crack of supersonic aircraft. Vast amounts of water were thrown up by the blasts, as well as the rippling explosions which broke against the coruscating mesh of the AT-Field. The behemoth did not fall, though, but instead broke into a run towards land, running through the fire and mist, AT-Field shaped like an arrow before it, parting the waters and running clear on the seabed.

A light on the display flipped. “You are cleared to engage,” ordered the Major to the two pilots.

“Cover me!” called out Asuka, as she sprinted towards the fast-encroaching Herald, deef spear held in both hands as a lance.

“You're getting in my way!” shouted Shinji into the comms, as he was forced to cut off the plasma minigun, the stream of eight new suns no longer burning away the night and casting weird shadows on the ceiling above. Making a noise of frustration, he checked the lock of the MPACK 4s on his shoulders, one of the new things that the Type-C armour gave, then triggered with a thought a salvo of 8 rockets. The tiny computer brains within them recognised the presence of a friendly unit before them, and took evasive action, cutting upwards into the air before curving down onto the target, the explosions (which would have wrecked a Locust) doing nothing but producing more of a lightshow.

I hate AT-Fields! Shinji thought in a matter most intense.

The red-haired girl in the blue-grey Unit 02 saw the rippling explosions before her, as missiles cut over her head, and twisted her gait slightly, to allow her to mimic Shinji's actions, a second salvo of missiles flying flat and straight at the oncoming, round-shouldered target.

“Cover me!” she screamed over the comms.

“You're in my way!” Shinji shouted back, staring at the scene before him, as he triggered a second set of missiles.

Asuka lived for moments like this, she really did. Adrenaline flooded her system, overcoming the limiters in the LCL-f, designed to keep the fine muscle control and the clear head needed for optimal Evangelion operation. Each foot was placed perfectly, time slowing to a crawl to permit her to leap from area of solid ground to solid ground. She was the blademaster, and the Unit was her blade. A perfect harmony of war.

She reached the coast even as the Herald closed in closer, pushing hard against the ground and leaping up. Reaching out, she extended the cosmic, enveloping AT-Field out, down along this marvellous new spear and

Are you sure it will work, she had asked.

Oh, don't worry, the doctor had replied. By doing it this way, the usual risks are completely negated. As long as you are willing to put up with the ... wastage from the inferior specimens.

If I cared about inferior specimens, I wouldn't be here, she snapped back. Who do you think I am, some sort of superstitionist?

The doctor had smiled. Good to know that, he had said.


thrust it straight down, into the heart of the Herald, the blade going straight through the body. With a flourish, she pulled the weapon free, tearing upwards through the beasts flesh. With the AT-Field wrapped around and through it, the spear was more akin to a guardless long blade than a mere spear.

The round shouldered beast, covered in oddly compelling geometrical patterns that seemed to twist and turn from out of the corner of your eye, fell apart, split from mid-section to right shoulder.

Shinji gazed, eyes wide at the scene before him. That was shockingly fast and easy.

“... good job,” he finally managed to stutter out.

Asuka cocked her head, eyes aflame and the demonic grin of a central nervous system flooded with adrenaline plastered across her face. “Now, how about that, Ikari,” she declared proudly, voice filled with pride. “Battle should always be elegant and without waste. I just guess my design is better than yours, then.”

Rei's head appeared. “The target has not been eliminated,” she stated.

Asuka's eyes wided, and she blinked twice. “What?” she asked, screwing up her face.

“What?” queried Shinji, eyes widening ever further.

“What!” shouted Misato back in the control room.

The torn apart Herald, body oozing ichor into the water, began to twitch, the water around it sublimating straight from liquid to plasma as the coruscating AT-Field tore electrons from their orbits. In a beautiful mutilation of topography, the mass turned inside out into two duplicates of itself, the black and white patterns shifted into the red for one and the blue for others.

Twitching, these newborn (or were they really?) beings pulled themselves to their feet by flowing so that they were standing up.

Or at least tried to. The four eyes of Unit 02 burned white as Asuka whipped the spear around, shattering the hastily erected AT-Field and lopping the left arm off the red one. The spear continued through, before bouncing off a second AT-Field, the two areas of distorted spacetime irradiating the area as high energy protons and neutrons flew off in all directions, in a blast as the fundamental forces briefly, and just along the Planck length edge of the Evangelion's AT-Field, reunited into a GUT superforce.

As they collapsed back into the separate forces, the area of space where it had happened underwent rapid expansion, as in the first few moments of the universe. In the impossibly high energy densities, brief life evolved and died out as the universe suddenly became cold and dead to them, the magnetic monopoles and exotic particles that made up their body dissipating. They lived and died in subjective eternities, a brief blossoming of life unheard of since the early stages of the universe, and indeed never to be heard of by any of the unknowing gods, vast beings that survived in this cold dead cosmos where the least actions took untold aeons, and who never knew of the brief ecosystem that they had created.

No, more of a worry to the horrific beings which had birthed that stillborn cycle of life was the expansion of space-time they had unknowingly caused. Some of the participants, snug within their own realities which they called an AT-Field, could weather this sudden flux in universal constants, as reality tore itself apart, the distance between proton and neutron suddenly much greater than what the strong force could support.

A sphere of matter roughly one and a half kilometres in radius ceased to exist. Under most circumstances, this would have released vast amounts of energy, but the energy densities had crushed some matter to under its Schwartzchild radius. And a number of nascent, short-lived black holes were exactly what the abused fabric of spacetime did not need.

To explain what had just happened with the classic metaphor of heavy weights and a rubber sheet, the presence of the blackholes were akin to a heavy weight on the sheet, stretching it down and attracting things to them. Meanwhile, the spacetime expansion was the rubber sheet being stretched, each point getting further away from each other, while keeping the same amount of material between them.

To expand the metaphor, the AT-Fields had an effect on space and time roughly similar to taking a knife to the rubber sheet and slashing at it in a methodical pattern of cross hatching, leaving only enough material for it to just hold together, allowing it to be shaped to the will of the user. With all the opposing stresses, was it really a wonder that a rubber sheet, weakened by the knife, would fall apart?

Now, convert the rubber sheet into the five known dimensions and n higher dimensions, where n is not even necessarily a natural number, and the effects of what had just happened could be appreciated.

To cut things short, spacetime gave way under the strain.

And all these events had taken a period of time to which the firing of a single neuron would look like an aeon.



~'/|\'~




Misato stared up at the viewscreen, hoping for anything. Contact with all three of the Evangelions had been lost, along with a large number of NEG aircraft in the same airspace.

“Oh Gods, oh God, oh God,” someone was muttering. Misato wanted to join in.

But I won't pray any more. Not after the Fall of New Kuala Lumpur. Not after the First Strike.

“Massive thermal bloom!” called out Liutenent Aoba. “The Reality Engines,” he used, in the stress of the moment, the technicians term for the scanners which detected ripples in the fabric of reality, “they're screaming. Something happened there, and it's completely unheard of.”

“Not again,” said Ritsuko weakly, as she clutched at her forehead.

“No, no it's not!” yelled Aoba, as more data flowed in, breaking through his usually laconic outer shell. He swallowed hard, and licked his lips nervously. “ We.... I found a... a match. It... it matches the Zone.”

A silence fell over the room; a dreadful, terribly loud silence that drowned out the panic that hummed in the air. The noiselessness held; quiescent and horrible, for what had been said could not be unsaid.

The Zone had consumed the city of Las Vegas right at the start of the Second Arcanotech War, amid dark whisperings of illicit research into teleportation technology. A swirling void of darkness, reality given way to the random shifting of an infinite number of dimensions, one hundred and thirty kilometres in radius. Things came from the darkness, vile protean shapes which had to be contained, and slowly and surely the Zone was growing, consuming the lands of mankind. Even those who were not sucked into that Well of Oblivion were affected, because the Zone produced the rogue parapsychics known as Zoners, normal individuals driven mad by the powers which they had thrust upon themselves. Normal parapsychics were theorised to be a natural progression of humanity; they possessed innate powers which were determined by their genetics.

Zoners were not natural. They were insane by human standards, even the most stable of them, and many could crush an APC full of soldiers into a ball.

And they had quite possibly created a new one.

The Major was the first to break the silence.

“Shinji! Rei! Asuka! Report!”

The pale face of the First Child appeared on screen. She appeared completely unruffled by the hideous tear in reality, her face as emotionless and impassive as ever.

“I am alive,” she informed the Major. “I was outside the rift.”

“Any sign of Shinji or Asuka?” the woman asked, frantically.

“There is no sign of them as of yet,” Rei replied, as if she was merely reporting that they were late for a meeting. “However, as long as they retain the ability to generate an AT-Field, they will survive. If they do not, they will be killed instantly. And painlessly,” she added, a hint of unrecognisable emotion flashing across her face.

Misato turned to Ritsuko. “What do you know about that thing? How do we get them out of it?”

“... I really don't know,” replied the blond woman, hands clutched at her temples. She groped around inside the pockets of her labcoat, pulling out a small cylinder, which was screwed into an injector. She relaxed as the device clicked, removing her other hand from her forehead. “Okay.” She took a deep breath.

“Do not worry,” Rei continued. “Aleph-one-dimensional local space is not stable in conjunction with forced 5-plus-n-dimensional space. Only three contingencies are stable.”

“But... how do you know this?”

Rei managed to, while keeping her expression completely motionless, convey a similar feeling to what you get when you ask an adult why basic addition works like it does.

“And what can we do?” she continued, somewhat breathless at the ... well, the only really applicable term was alien intelligence before her.

“There is no need for concern, as nothing that can be done to change the inevitable results,” the First Child replied, in a way that Misato guessed was meant to be reassuring.

“The Zone... it's shrinking,” reported Makota.

“Five-plus-n-dimensional space is calcifying around the AT-Fields,” clarified Rei.

“That doesn't clarify anything,” blurted out Misato. “Ritsuko, what is she talking about?”

“Uh...” the blond woman paused, “Yes, that makes sense. I think. Basically, although we'd need to run it through the Magi, I think it's a distinct possibility that the stable AT-Fields are closing it. That is to say, what the First Child has said is one of the possibilities of an Arcane Field interacting with a shattered dimensional space. On the other hand, there are more than 9 times 10 to the power of 3 configurations predicted, and the theory hasn't been worked out properly yet. How she would know what would happen in such a complex A-Theory problem is... a puzzle.”

Rei continued to stare from up on the screen, white hair floating around her in the LCL.

“Go do whatever you can to help,” ordered the Major.

The girl nodded. “Understood.” The window on the viewscreen blinked off.

A subtle tension left the control room, for everyone apart from Fuyutsuki.

She should not be able to do that yet.



~'/|\'~


The decay in the radius of this nascent Zone proved to be exponential, the perfect sphere of shredded space vanishing into nothingness as the mundane “reality” reasserted itself. As it shrunk, water flooded down into the crater, pooling under the new pit in the surface of the earth, the continental crust scarred by the new wound carved into it.

Unit 01 was the first to emerge back into the mundane, appearing at what had been the land level.

Shinji screamed, a noise more of surprise and shock than horror, as suddenly Unit 01 fell a hundred metres, landing heavily on one arm. There was a second scream, but that was from the sympathetic pain from the damage to the arm of the Evangelion. His eyes darted around the entry plug, trying to work out what had just happened.

The last thing... what the hell? Rei had just said that it wasn't dead... and then... something happened.

He looked around, pulling himself up with his (no, he reminded himself once again, the Evangelion's) good arm. He was at the edge of a vast, hemispherical crater, geometrically perfect. Gales were blowing into it, sucked towards the centre. But such an anomaly was nothing compared to the swirling blackness at the centre, opaque wisps of blackness (and colours within the blackness, colours only describable with phrases like “a sort of yellowish greenish purple”).

He screamed and clapped his hands over his eyes. The Evangelion mimicked him, but it did no good, as the external cameras across the Unit still gave images to the interior of the plug walls, the blackness and the strange light shining through the hands before his eyes.

“Cut his viewscreens!” ordered the Deputy Representative, back in London-2. The order was rapidly implemented, and Shinji relaxed as the walls went back to their normal, solid appearance.

The proto-Zone continued to close, right to the epicentre, where it sealed itself with a rippling bulge that seemed to produce a shockwave in the universe itself. Two figures exploded away from one another, momentum conserved from the impact arcing down, to the waters now rushing into the bottom of the crater over a kilometre below. Asuka overcame her confusion to what had exactly happened, and tucked her AT-Field tight around herself, bringing her uncontrolled spin into a tight ball, spreading her limbs eagle wide.

And the Herald screamed, a cry of infinite agony and infinite loss.
It<[--]>gone
Half <[--]> soul <[----]> half <[--]> mind <[--------]> by <[---]> Daemon <[------]> himself <[-]> cannot <[----]> like <[----]> and <[--]> I <[----]> die <[---]> live <[--]> this <[------]> death <[-]> hate


It was half-dead already. The blow from that cursed weapon, hewn from the corpus of the Herald of Nyarlothtep, who had dedicated the totality of its existence to the promotion of entropy in emulation of that which it had worshipped, had torn apart reality, opening it up to the Ultimate Reality.

And half of it had not been warded by the Guard of Yog-Sothoth.

Now it was half-lobotomised, half its soul and half its flesh consumed by something far greater than itself. Life like this was impossible. Even before its ascension, it had always been twinned. And now it was alone, truly alone. It had always had another mind, to the extent that they had been two, and now it could do nothing but stare at the horrors of a cold cosmos where one was isolated, cut off from the minds of others.

I <[--]> not <[----]> if <[-]> die <[-]> am <[-------]> dead.
Kill <[--]>

It saw another loping figure approach the edge of the crater, now flooding with water. A single red eye stared at it, and it suddenly knew how it could make things right.

A half-life was no life at all. Cessation was better than this existence.
Kill <[--]> now!

<[---]> did <[---]> do <[----]> to <[--]> I <[--------]> your <[----]> call!


The Herald thrust its AT-Field down into the waters, sending it flying up into the air, towards the figure of Unit 00, which stood in the darkness, the clouds above the crater shredded by the release of the cosmic energies, letting the stars of the Strange Aeon shine in.

Rei aimed the charge beam she was carrying. The target was moving in a conventional parabolic trajectory, not even attempting to adjust its flight path.

She fired.

No AT-Field manifested to prevent the beam of relativistic particles punching through the centre of mass, tearing through the red, eye-like core.

Briefly, the landscape was lit up by another explosion, the waterfalls into the 1.5 kilometre crater cast in a harsh light.

“Target eliminated,” reported Rei.

“Make a note,” snapped the Major. “We are going to have to work on their training. We don't want to 'win' like this again.”

And even as she sighed in relief, inside, Misato's mind was whirring.

If this incident involving two AT-Fields caused a Zone, what does that mean about what happened in Las Vegas?


~'/|\'~



Outside Space He waits. Outside Time He waits. He is neither Space nor Time, because an Other is those. No, He is the hanging frame upon which Space is suspended. He is the One who provides the Sands for the Hourglass of Time. The Flutes must play and the Bells must ring, and the Mysteries of the Earth must be Mapped out so that we may go where we wish, rather than descend into that Primal Chaos. All Things come from Him; all Things will return to Him. And if He wakes, that Day shall Come.

And Time and Space Shall be Warped, and all that is Felt shall be Looped. He will Play, when the Music stops and He wakes, and Mankind will not survive that. The Days of Sun shall end when the Gift of Yog-Sothoth, the Mantle of the Gate and the Key, does connect with Growth and matter and the rays of the Sun shall become One and the Same. That shall be a sign of the End Times.

I Feel for the Generation who sees the two Holes into the Body of the Daemon-Sultan. It shall be a Sign that They are all not Long to Live. Man Shall be wiped from the Earth, in a Wave of Darkness, and all the Constructs which We build for Ourselves shall prove to be no more permanent than a Hand of Sand in a wind.

The End is Nigh!



~ The Necronomicon, attributed to the infamous Arab author, Abdul Alhazred
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EarthScorpion
PostPosted: 2009-07-08 04:31am 

Padawan Learner


Joined: 2008-09-25 02:54pm
Posts: 209
Location: London
Interlude 2

Fool's God




~'/|\'~




The air was thick with pungent incense, the tailored hallucinogenic compounds loosening the minds of the robed figures from the constraints of their bodies and what might be laughably called mundane reality. The light was dim, yet all pervasive, a dull yellow that surrounded the figures and enveloped them, the walls themselves glowing. In this, the gold robed figures were almost invisible, only observable by the shimmers and reflections that they gave off as they swayed. The only truly distinguishable feature in the room was the pool of black fluid in the middle, which writhed and bubbled, fine tendrils protruding from the formless surface and tracking the individual figures even in the odd light.

The music came to a stop, and all the figures froze. All bar one, who stepped forwards, pulling off their golden veil and hood, to reveal a crimson shroud underneath, still leaving their figures anonymous.

“Friends!” the figure announced, in an androgynous voice, “It is good to see you all here today. Our numbers remain unchanged. It is a good sign, for it tells us that the Elder Gods protect us from the evil of the agent of the terrors which ruled the world long ago. Blesséd be Their names!”

“Blesséd be!” the figure echoed, the voices resonating strangely in the curved walls of the chamber.

“We must abhor the evil of the group which publicly calls itself the New Earth Government, but we know to be nothing more than the puppet of the Hand of the Crawling Chaos himself. The Elder Gods have revealed this to us, blesséd be Their names.”

“Blesséd be!”

“The Hand of the Crawling Chaos would burn the world to ash, and rend down the bodies of the people of the world to be consumed by their vile master. They may try to hide, but there are signs of their malignancy hidden in every deed. Even their name reveals the vile purpose they intend for the world. They are reviled and forsaken!”

“Reviled and forsaken!” the others echoed.

“Down with the Servants of the Crawling Chaos!” one of the other figures in the crowd shouted, in the same anonymous, androgynous voice.

“Down with the Traitors to Humanity!” yelled another.

“Death to the Blasphemers of the Flesh!” added a third.

“Death to the Ashcroft Foundation!” shouted the group as a whole, each voice perfectly synchronised. “Destroy the technology they use to control the New Earth government! Let Freedom Reign!”

The red veiled figure, the only one distinguishable, raised both hands. “Friends. Our righteous anger at the corruption which permeates the very basis of the world is justified. The Elder Gods know this, blesséd be Their names.”

“Blesséd be!”

“But,” the figure raised a finger, “but, their reach is long and terrible. They control everything. The scanners in every arcology door, the cameras that watch every move. Only in this one sacred place, guarded from their tainted eyes, can we be safe, and plan how we can overthrow their blasphemous tyranny. For a tyranny it is. The Hand of the Crawling Chaos controls everything about this war. They invited the Migou to invade, only to turn on them, so that they could steal their technology. How many of you have lost friends and family from the activity of those loathsome insects, or found that your entire race was created as a lie to be used as a weapon? For that, the Hand of the Crawling Chaos are reviled and forsaken.”

“Reviled and forsaken!” the group repeated.

“The Hand of the Crawling Chaos puppets the monsters of the Rapine Storm, using them as the monster at the gates so that people are confined to the arcologies. Those poor fools who have joined those monsters are used as experimental subjects by the Ashcroft Foundation, testing out new drugs and genetic engineering, to produce supersoldiers. They care nothing for ethics or morality; it is said by some that the Hand of the Crawling Chaos even have produced child soldiers who they use in their cult-army right now! For that, and ten thousand other crimes, they are reviled and forsaken!”

“Reviled and forsaken!” the echo came back.

“And for the greatest of the crimes, the Ashcroft Foundation is the force behind the Esoteric Order of Dagon! It was they who bought back an ancient cult as a tool, for they believe that they follow the Crawling Chaos and so they do not fear the High Priest of the Outer Gods. Fools! For that, they are reviled and forsaken!”

“Reviled and forsaken!” the others answered, thus finishing the recital of the Three Crimes.

“But we,” continued the figure, “we are the loyalists to the cause of humanity. We will save it, because the Elder Gods, blesséd be Their name...”

“Blesséd be!”

“... have told us that we must. We have seen the darkness that will come if we do not follow them, and we shall prevent it, by any means necessary.” The figure paused. “But though the Elder Gods are our best hope, there is but one who is the best hope for us all. Though the corruption of the Hand of the Crawling Chaos holds the world by its throat, even as they use the Dagonites as a tool, we have our own, greatest ally. The elements themselves back us, under the command of their lord. Ia, ia. Ia Kthanid!

Ia! Ia! Ia Kthanid!” the cultists shrieked.

Ia Kthanid! Brother of the High Priest of the Outer Gods, the dread beast known only as Cthulhu, our Lord Kthanid stands against the depredations of his brother!”

Ia Kthanid!

"Ia Kthanid! He is as good as his brother is evil. He is our last, best hope. And so we, his favoured ones, must obtain all the information about the evil ones so that we may give it to him, and his other worshippers may save humanity from the evil of his Brother and from the evil of the Crawling Chaos. Ia Kthanid!

Ia Kthanid!

“Let the Keeper of Secrets present themselves!” declared the red-veiled figure.

Another figure stepped forth from the crowd, to stand before the writing blackness in the middle of the room. Unlike the rest of the group, it was wearing robes of what would have been white under normal light, making it even harder to see, for it lacked the shine of the gold garments.

Ia Kthanid!”, it called out.

“Oh Keeper of Secrets, the one who risks the most against the evil of the Hand of the Crawling Chaos, the Ashcroft Foundation, have you taken the words of truth from the other Friends?”

“I have taken the truth, and I have recorded it. Ia Kthanid! It shall go unto him, via his chosen servitor, and from there it shall be used to strike blows at the heart of the corruption of the NEG. To save us all from the evil of the Crawling Chaos and from the Dark Brother of our Lord.”

The red-robed veiled inclined its head. “So be it ordained!”

“So be it ordained!” the Keeper responded. “Master, we could have you call forth the Chosen of our Lord, so that we may speak with it and present it with our unworthy offerings.”

The red-veiled individual raised their hands. “Is it the assent of the Friends that we call down the Chosen of our King and Lord, so that we may offer what little information we have obtained? Is it sufficient to be a worthy offer? Call out His name if you feel that we have fulfilled the task set to us?”

Ia Kthanid!”, a good majority of the room called out, the sound of their voices echoing and rebounding off the walls.

“So be it ordained!” The figure removed its red veil, revealing that, underneath the concealing garment, was a pleasant looking, slightly balding middle aged man, of Japanese origin. “Ia Kthanid! We are equal before him, and his Chosen. Show his Chosen your face, so that He may know you. Only the Keeper of Secrets must go without this gift, for the Keeper is our scapegoat and so must remain unknown, so that their duties may be carried out.” His voice was no longer that of an anonymous androgyne with the removal of the sound-altering veil, but one which seemed much more right for his face.

The Keeper melted back into the strange yellow light, already almost invisible in the hallucinogenic smoke. Around the centre, the rest of the sect was unmasking, removing their yellow veils, and producing a set of normal looking faces, perhaps a little more human and middle aged than the main population. The Nazzadi among them were especially prominent; patches of darkness floating in the yellow lit fog.

“Now, come! Chosen of Kthanid, we humbly present our gift to you! We, the Friends of the Third Circle, offer our knowledge so that mankind may be saved.”

The group began to chant, slow, sonorous, ritualised words in a language which sounded nothing like the tongues spoken day-to-day in human-controlled territories. Slowly, matching the pulses of their cadences words, the bubbling, boiling black mass began to rise up, and as it did, the darkness fell away, leaving only a reflective golden mass. The lights around the room pulsed brightly, leaving a burning afterglow in the eyes of the spectators.

As their vision had cleared, the servitor of their Lord could clearly be seen. A golden figure, statuesque in proportions stood before them, with no trace of the former dark fluid. It was vaguely female in appearance, but its anatomy was like that of a doll; nothing was evident despite its nakedness. And it was not quite human; it blended certain draconic elements in its curved claws and backwards-facing knees.

The masses fell to their knees.

And the figure opened its eyes.

Ia Kthanid!” it said softly, in an androgynous contralto.

And there was much rejoicing.



~'/|\'~




It was almost 3am, many hours later, when the last two individuals left the room. They had been dribbled out strategically, to minimise the chance of anything amiss being detected by the New Earth Government. As an area outside of an arcology, the nearest one being Tokyo-3 itself, it was far less scrutinised than the superstructures themselves.

And that suited the pair just fine.

Of course, certain things were lost by keeping away from the arcologies. The lack of the rigid control from policing, for one, meant that the crime rate was considerably higher out under the real sky. There were whispers that the NEG didn't really care, as it provided an incentive for people to move into the monitored cities, where they could be subject to very frequent blood checks and periodic brain scans, all in the name of security.

But under the dark sky, a legacy of the reduced levels of light pollution even this close to Tokyo-3, the man and woman felt safe. He was clad in a smart, comfortable light coloured suit, made of modern artificial fibres interwoven with a heat transfer lattice which which regulated body temperature near perfectly, while she wore dark, formal business wear, of a Nazzadi cut despite her Japanese human ancestry. They obviously had money. They also had a company car less than five minutes away.

And a little butterfly badge, made of nanofactory diamond, on their lapels.

“Well,” the woman said, “that went well.” She flexed her shoulders, and reached around her back, scratching the small of her neck.

The man made a small noise in his throat.

She slowly lowered her arm. “I'm sorry, Huhugr. My mistake. But I was stuck in that imaginary inanity for too many hours.” She smiled, a perfect, symmetric grin on a supermodel-quality face. “How about we get something to eat on the way back.”

A very attentive observer would have noticed that these was something about the hang of the cloth that didn't quite sit right. It seemed tighter than it appeared from the outside, if that sentence made any sense.

The man shrugged, the expensive cloth sliding over his body without creasing or crumpling. “I think not. I'd rather not linger here. We don't need the inconvenience of some overenthusiastic local police deciding that this is not a safe area to be in, and deciding to give us a lift home. It would be nice, though, to blow off some steam. I know we had to be called in to give those idiots a show, and I know you were needed. I just don't know why I had to get stuck under that stupid robe.” He grinned too, a far more malicious reckoning. “I'm sure I will have fun tonight, though, helping ensure the survival of the species.”

The woman shot him a glance. “Your inferior species, you mean. We're the future. You're just tagging along because you are superior to the base.” There was a slight hint in the tone of the conversation that this had been said between them many times, and they'd entirely given up hope of persuading the other.

He flapped his hand. “Yes, yes. So you go on. But, honestly,” he continued, “I do see the purpose of these little sects. They're such a useful information source. It's an exchange, even if they don't see it as such. We get information, and they get bullshit.”

The woman smirked, the malignancy somehow fitting for the face despite its beauty. “It's hilarious when the OIS or the FSB raid them. 'No, we're not an evil cult',” she said, her voice entirely shifting to a deep male bass. “'You're the evil ones, under the control of the cult. And we don't worship Cthulhu, Lord of the Deep Ones! We worship his good brother, Kthanid, who is like him, but shiny!'” She laughed, a silver peal in the quiet night's air, as she returned to her previous voice. “Humans are such idiots. What kind of an idiot would believe that there are nice, friendly 'Elder Gods' who help humanity against the depredations of the Great Old Ones? That there exists Good, and Evil, aligned along some kind of primitive elemental correspondence?”

“Apparently, a surprising number of people,” the man replied, scrolling down the text on the screen of his wrist-mounted PCPU.

“Honestly, it's like some old myth, like what the Vikings, the Christians, the Aztecs... pretty much everyone, come to think of it, believed,” snorted the woman.

“Now, now. I wouldn't insult one of His jaunts in that manner,” the man chided, gently. “One missed call... excuse me for a moment,” he said, flicking on the touchpad to activate the implanted headphones and microphone. “And deal with them,” he added, nodding his head backwards towards a small street gang, of three youths, two Nazzadi and one xenomix, trying to sneak up behind them.

With almost liquid grace, the woman turned to face them, taking a step forwards while smiling in what seemed to be genuine amusement.

They stared at her for a moment.

She stared back.

The leader of the gang, the female xenomix, whose white facial markings were not quite symmetric, waved the katana she was holding her right hand hand , as she pointed a gun at them with the other. The other two had rather large knives, which they were holding in a threatening position.

The woman cocked her head.

The pistol was a cheap, Stallag branded one. Stallag, the bane of NEG law enforcement. At the time of the Migou invasion of Russia, one of their major major arms manufacturers had spent their last time designing a range of weapons which could be made with parts from a civilian issue nanofactory, from parts of legal non-weapons.

It had been a great success. They had designed a range of weaponry that any civilian, with access to some basic parts and the know-how to take the legal items apart, could build. The anti-Migou resistance in Russia had held out for several years, raiding Nazzadi Loyalist and Blank encampments for supplies, while doing what damage they could.

The problem had been that they had designed a range of weapons that any petty street crook could make from their home nanofactory. And they couldn't just make the parts illegal, because they were needed for many legally producible goods. The production of those legal items could be monitored, of course, but it wasn't too hard to conceal the purchase by spreading them out over time or using different machines. And so petty criminals all across the NEG were armed with somewhat reliable, very cheap guns, which lacked the fire sensors, ballistics records, or onboard monitoring systems of legal firearms.

This, understandably, drove the law enforcement mad.

All of this ran, almost instinctively, though the black-suited woman's head, as she stared at the young xenomix; maybe eight years younger than her. This gang was fairly poor quality, as they lacked proper firearms, they were carrying an illegal gun, and they really looked like a wild haired gang of teenagers.

Perfect.

They wouldn't be missed.

“What do you want?” she said, putting a stammer of fear (so alien to her, now) in her voice.

The xenomix grinned, revealing that she had the chisel-like teeth of the Nazzadi side of her family. “Give us all your onimaly money, your onimaly pissy-pews, and maybe we'll let you live.”

“You want us to get to the Okinawa facility?” the man, Huhugr said calmly into his PCPU, ignoring the drama around him. “Certainly, but that will take a few days for the transfer arrangements... I understand.... Yes... Yes,” he paused, listening for a while. “Yes... Oh, we're fine here.”

This utterly infuriated the petty gang leader, whose subordinates were ordered to grab the black-suited woman.

It turned out to be quite a mistake, when they found that what they had taken to be a black, formal suit of a Nazzadi cut was actually part of her body, insofar as terms like “her” and even “body” could be applied to the amorphous black non-Newtonian fluid, which grabbed onto their faces, and didn't let go. The bodies thrashed around, as the woman-thing (now not really anything more than a pillar of black goo, with the face 'she' had chosen to wear flayed across the surface) forced her substance down their throats, into both the respiratory and digestive systems, spreading out and tearing the bodies apart from the inside.

'She' let a certain amount of oxygen pass through her body, though, into their tar-like fluid-filled lungs.

It wouldn't do to let them die too quickly.

Naturally, the gang leader screamed and panicked, pumping the trigger on her semiautomatic wildly. Of course, such mindless, prehuman terror was not conducive to such things as fine motor control, rational though, or aiming (neither the concept nor the ability), and so all she did was make a lot of noise, send one bullet into the shaven Nazzadi's abdomen, and another into the suited man, taking him in the thigh.

The fire stopped when he screeched and part of his leg peeled off, as first one rubbery tentacle and then another, which wrapped themselves around both arms, inhuman strength lifting the grey-skinned girl into the air, and sending her weapons clattering to the ground.

Huhugr smiled, widely (too widely, as his mouth split apart into a beak), watching as the company car pulled up, even as the hole in the greyish flesh that had been his leg closed up.

“Well, looks like I was wrong. You get a meal, and it even came with a toy!” he said in a delighted tone, wrapping the gang leader up in more of the mass of tentacles which had once comprised his legs.

The gang leader could only scream helplessly into the thing that blocked her mouth as the black pillar of goo flowed into the car, taking both her friends into its mass, as the betentacled monstrosity grinned at her, before dragging her in too.



~'/|\'~




The Chrysalis Corporation – Evolving Processes from Within



~'/|\'~
   Profile |  

EarthScorpion
PostPosted: 2009-07-14 04:54am 

Padawan Learner


Joined: 2008-09-25 02:54pm
Posts: 209
Location: London
Chapter 11

To Play Always



~'/|\'~




The Deputy Representative was waiting for Gendo Ikari when he returned to his office.

Ah. The old man is exceptionally annoyed about something. Now to see if this will this escalate to a true confrontation... I do not believe so.

Gendo held a small, faint smile on his face, as much to mask the annoyance that he was experiencing as to annoy his former mentor.

“Where were you?” asked Fuytusuki, his voice perfectly level and impassive, perhaps with a hint of curiosity. That alone showed the man's irritation; he was normally more expressive than that.

Gendo didn't answer at first, instead walking straight to his desk, and ensuring that the wards remained intact. He nodded once, in satisfaction, then spoke;

“Some mutual friends had information about a potentially useful asset. It was necessary to liaise with certain of them, as well as pass on information about activities of AHNUNG.” Gendo pushed his glasses back up to the bridge of his nose with an index finger. “Certain individuals compromised will suffer accidents over the next week.”

The white-haired individual merely stared at the younger man. He quite obviously wasn't going to accept it without more information.

Gendo sighed. “The potential asset was a TDE available and detected both by the TPDD flare and the characteristic amnesia in the individual suffering Type-6 Seelenversetzung.”

“A Temporally Displaced Entity?” queried Fuyutsuki. “Intentional or accidental? Human or xeno?”

Gendo gazed out over the top of his glasses. “A Yithian TDE, to be exact. The individual suffering Type-6 Seelenversetzung was, prior to the incident, resident in Toyko-3. The entity had only just entered this timeplane, and since the subject was still at school, the personality change and amnesia set off systematic alarm bells. You can see now why I felt it was so urgent to obtain the asset.”

The older man leant forwards. “Did you get it?” he asked, in an urgent tone of voice. “All prior attempts have either lead to the death of the Seelenversetzung Y-Entity or its escape via TPDD.”

Gendo's mask cracked then, a flare of real anger surging through, muscles tensing in his jawline. “It was captured, but not by us.” The anger was suddenly gone, locked away behind an utterly neutral face. “The Children of Chaos got there first. They had subverted the local OIS; during custody transfer, the subject just disappeared. Not literally, but the data trail goes dead.”

A look of worry filled Fuyutsuki's eyes. “Oh dear,” he said, quite fully aware of the inadequacy of that statement.

“Quite,” stated Gendo, clamping back down in his emotions and hiding them behind the mask again. “We can but hope that the Em model of Temporal Dynamics is the true one. If the Fujiwara Static Hypothesis is true, then the Children of Chaos have just obtained a map for the events that are to come.” The man fell silent. “And we are all doomed.”

“No entity which is in any way comprehensible to our mode of thought will be able to resist a dedicated interrogation by the extranormal assets that Chrysalis have available,” replied Fuyutsuki, his voice morose. “Even assuming He will not involve himself.” The old man shuddered. “And the records we have, of the Peaslee, Bhati and Alvarez Cases, show that the Y-Entities can be understood; they operate fairly close to us on the Mabbott Logarithmic Sapience Scale” He paused. “Our best hope, then, is that the individual was suffering from Type-6 Seelenversetzung for reasons unrelated.”

Gendo got out of his seat, and walked over to the edge of the room, his gait that of a much older man.

“We can but hope,” he said softly, gazing up at the false stars in the night-time ceiling of the Geocity. “ If the Fujiwara Static Hypothesis is true, then everything has failed. I will devote an ORACLE cycle to trying to intuit anything about what they have found.”

He stood there, staring up.

Fuyutusuki cleared his throat.

“Have you read the PsychEvals for your s... for the Third Child?”

Gendo did not turn to face his former mentor.

“Yes. First Stage AWS, of the Navidson sub-type, if I am any judge. Frankly, he was lucky to escape with so little.” The Representative exhaled. “He will be fine. Do not remove him from the active duty rosters. No more Heralds are predicted before CATO, which exists to fulfil the Texts, and so there will be a period of relief.”

The white-haired man made an annoyed noise. “I do know that, Ikari, just as you do. There is no need to explain things to me in that manner.”

“It is necessary to keep such things in mind. We must never forget that we are shaping events to fit the Texts so that we may break from then when we wish, not playing their game to the end. Ultimately, the greater good of our plan means that we must sacrifice some pawns, but it would be foolish to dispose of assets before their full use has been extracted. And so we must conserve resources by whatever means we can extract.”

“It is fortunate that the EFCS exists.” Fuyutsuki paused, a faint aura of nervousness suddenly radiating around him. “That is, the noetic filtering side-effects of the EFCS are fortunate.”

“Indeed.” Gendo continued to stare out the transparent walls.

Behind him, Gendo heard the Deputy Representative turn and leave, his shoes clicking on the clean white surface.

I'm sorry, Yui.

This will not have been for nothing, I promise you. I will make sure of it.




~'/|\'~




Misato leant on the balcony, and gazed down at the lab area, cup of coffee in hand. Ritsuko was explaining the latest research idea to Asuka and Shinji.

“... and so we'd like you both to be wearing the A-10 Clips while we put you through the new intensive training regime.”

Asuka shrugged. “It makes no difference to me. I wear them already. And I don't really see the point of the training. I don't need it.” She paused. “Now, Shinji, on the other hand, needs the practice to get him up to my level...”

“You know, that's exactly why you both need it,” called down Misato.

Asuka glanced up towards the elder woman, eyes momentarily widening as she recognised her presence. “Why?” she asked bluntly, with a hidden undertone of hostility.

“Because, frankly,” the Major replied coldly, “the last operation was a mess. You obstructed his lines of fire, he isn't used to operating with others, and both of you failed to operate as a small unit. Now,” the Major admitted, “it is our fault for not having done this as soon as you were positioned together, but we see now how necessary it is.”

“But...” protested Asuka, before the Major cut her off.

“Protest will not be tolerated.”

The red-headed girl flinched slightly, at the singularly un-Misato-like attitude, before her face settled in a blank mask.

“And will the girl w... that is, the First Child be joining the training?” she asked in an excessively polite tone, hiding her disappointment.

“It was deemed that the First Child was unsuitable for the intensive training programme,” answered Ritsuko, stepping around into the line of sight between Asuka and Misato. “She will practice with you in Immersion Training Simulations in the dummy bodies, but the real issue, at the moment, is the level of animosity between you two. This is, in part, what the regime is designed to remedy.”

“There isn't animosity between us two,” Asuka countered. “There might be a... healthy exchange of ideas, sometimes, but I wouldn't call it animosity.”

Both Ritsuko and Misato stared at her for a while, silently. Her eyes flicked between the two of them. “That's right, isn't it, Shinji?”

The boy slowly turned to look at the other pilot. Slightly bloodshot eyes stared out from over noticeable bags. He stared at her for a moment, as if not quite comprehending.

“I suppose,” he finally said.

Misato winced. The after-effects of the fiasco that had been the fight against the most recent Herald (assigned, almost retroactively from how fast the thing had been slain, the code-name Shalim-Shacar, in recognition of its apparently dual nature) had reminded her of what they had been really doing. Namely, sticking teenagers in arcanocyberxenobiological weapons of war, up against monstrosities even more horrific than the ones she had seen back when she had been in the frontlines in the Aeon War.

All but one, that is, a small voice whispered in her ear.

It was horrifically amoral, only avoided violating several major laws due to the technicalities they had managed to find, and undeniably effective. That was the worst part.

I wish those two had been in Tibet.

For Shinji, it had been the sight of that pseudo-Zone which had briefly formed before its closure which had left in his current state, afraid of the dark and having problems sleeping. When they had finally released him from the Clinic, three days after they had given Asuka a clean bill of mental health, she had seen the diagnosis notes. The Navidson sub-type; a comparatively milder variant, at first, in that the symptoms could be contained and the cause attacked and removed, was still no laughing matter. She had found out what had happened to the first individual to exhibit those symptoms, after reading the Clinic notes, and it had not been pleasant reading. The second individual mentioned had watched an illicit text authored by the first, and the subsequent breakdown of his mental state had been fortunately recorded in personal, analytical notes on the book. Even the censored, OIS provided summary had provided too much information.

And stirred certain memories, best forgotten.

the coal black eyes stared up at her, the man-sized figure somehow dwarfing her Blizzard

Misato shook her head, and focussed back on the figures below. She frowned, as the conversation seemed to have jumped.

“... so we're to do a mixture of martial arts training... small-units...” Asuka was saying, as she ran her eyes down the list on a tablet PCPU, “in-Eva practice...”

Ristuko nodded. “And quite a bit more. But the main thing will be to spend as much time working together as possible. By the end of it, we want you utterly familiar with each other, and, more importantly, fully trusting each other.”

Both Asuka, and Shinji, snapping out of his reverie, recoiled slightly at that.

“You have to be able to co-operate in perfect unison,” continued the scientist, who apparently hadn't noticed the dual flinches. “Ideally, as a squad you could be perfectly synchronised, but... issues arise with that level of precision, so we'll have to see how coordinated we can make you two. You're already living together, which makes things easier.” A slight smile crept onto her face. “But I think you're going to be seeing quite a bit more of each other.”

The two glanced at each other, eyes locked for several long seconds, before they both looked away together. The mimicry of unison was somewhat spoiled by Shinji letting his head slump down, hands covering tired eyes and massaging his forehead.

Asuka made an annoyed noise in the back of her throat.

“I'm already getting a headache,” she muttered.

“You'll live,” was the heartless reply from the blond woman. “Now, you have a training exercise in the gym on level 12 in ten minutes. Don't be late.” When they hadn't moved, she added, “That means, 'Please leave my lab, as we have work to do'. Shoo.”

Misato watched the pair walk out, especially noting the look of disgust on Asuka's face from the Doctor Akagi's patronising tone.

“Was that really necessary?” she called down.

Ritsuko shrugged. “Not necessary, no, but it seemed like the easiest way.” She sighed, an undercurrent of resentment and annoyance evident in her voice. “I wasn't lying, though. You know, the Foundation and the NEG have together ordered me to strip all of the armour from 01 and 02 and submit it for independent analysis.”

Misato paled. “What? Are they mad? That leaves us with only Zero-Zero operational!”

“I know. It's stupid, and both Representative Ikari and the Deputy Representative fought it.” She sighed again. “They were overruled by higher ups in the Foundation.”

“It's funny to think that Gendo Ikari has superiors,” the black haired woman said in a thoughtful tone of voice. “You get so used to his authority that you forget about the Board of Directors and the CEO.” She paused. “I don't think I even know any of their names. It's the continental Representatives you always hear about; Gendo for Ashcroft Europe, that woman... Mariscy? Marescy? You know who I mean, the one with blue hair for Ashcroft South America.”

“Meresky de Terra,” corrected Ritsuko. “She's one of the ones who chose to take one of those Earth-centred “surnames” as a way of distinguishing themselves from the Loyalists back in the Nazzzadi Civil War.” She paused. “But we're going off on a tangent.”

“As usual.”

“Quite. The point is, they've only left us one with operational Eva, and the least advanced one at that.”

“But... I can't see a reason why they'd do that?” Misato protested, in an exasperated tone of voice. “Are they trying to get us killed or something?”

“They claim,” Ritsuko said, rolling her eyes to show what she though about the claim, “that they have to see what the effects of immersion in an aleph-one dimensional space has upon the armour, whether the AT-Field really shields the things within from the Zone effect. I can't see why they can't be content with one set, personally. As it is, it takes us down to the back old days of no replacements whatsoever.”

“Rits, those 'bad old days' were two weeks ago,” Misato replied, with a bitter smile.

“I know.” The blond woman sighed. “As it is, I don't think we can carry out proper in-Unit training. We just don't have the spares. And I think that's why they did it.”

Misato nodded. “The idea that the Evangelion,when they are active are somehow summoning the Heralds. Yes, that would make sense. After the attack of Yam, in C2, and all the attacks which have occurred since 01 was started up, I can certainly see how military counter-intelligence might think that.”

Ritsuko snorted. “I'm not even going to make the obvious joke about the military and 'counter-intelligence'.” She shook her head. “They want to keep us inactive,until,” she looked around, “we're needed for it.”

The black-haired woman scowled. “Typical handwavers and theorists. No idea on how we actually have to run a military operation, and little things like the necessity for live training.”

The scientist massaged her brow, and forced a smile onto her face. “Talking about handwavers, you still haven't finished all of the masses of after-action and phenomenon reports that the last deployment generated.” She saw the woman up on the balcony visibly slump, which made the smile somewhat more real. “Now, you can shoo too. I have a lot of work that needs to be done” The smile vanished. “We lost another Magi Operator, you know,” she added in a soft voice.

Misato winced. “Another one? Who was it?” she asked, more gently.

“Olivia Pierce, one of the newer immersion technicians. You wouldn't know her. Barely six months out of surgery.” She sighed. “The DMIN, specifically the Etemennigur sub-module glitched while they were analysing the data from the pseudo-Zone. Less than a second of full exposure, without protection, but it was enough to induce Terminal AWS. She's alive, but...”

The way Ritsuko's voice trailed off spoke quite clearly about her expectation that any recovery from Terminal-Phase Navidson Syndrome could ever occur.

The black-haired woman inclined her head. “I'm sorry,” she said, as she left, disappearing from the balcony.

Dr Akagi shook her head, as she returned to filling out the Health and Safety report for the accident.

I am far too familiar with Form 1198/CTR, she thought. And someday someone is going to have to fill this out for me.

She shut down the morbid thoughts. She was still sane, and still functional. She had dodged the bullet so far, and Dr Miyakame had dodged it even longer. There was still hope.

Is it really hope to not be permitted to give in to the blessed oblivion of madness and no longer be forced into an endless mantra of 'I did what had to be done'?, a little part of her brain asked. It was, likewise, ignored.

Hopefully, the new training regime should enable the two Children (and children, she reminded herself), to actually co-operate. It had been a rather good idea, after all, for that little modification to Misato's plans. Really, she was quite surprised that no-one else had spotted it, that recurrent little theme in their interactions. A moment of serendipity, induced by the Second Child's pride.

Such fortune.

Of course, smugness over what she had found out (even if the people she could actually tell could be counted on two hands) would probably prove to be necessary for what she was about to do.

She was going to have to take Doctor Miyakame up on his offer.



~'/|\'~




The remotely operated drones swarmed over the entity, diamond-bladed drills digging into the polypous, partially-unreal material in those brief moments when it existed. These holes were filled by the second set of autonomous probes, which flew in and extruded a fine lattice of superconducting fibres, plant-like, into the body of the beast. Around these tendrils, the flesh hardened and solidified, the curvature of space-time around the D-Engines of the probe forcing the creature into solidity.

The trapped fiend screamed, a thin whistling noise which extended far into the ultrasound. Its call heard no answer.

From the other side of a viewscreen, the autocensors sanitising the sight, the spectacle was being watched.

“How is it going?” asked Doctor Anton Miyakame, stepping up to the team supervisor.

The man jumped slightly, the motion slopping black coffee over the floor and Doctor Miyakame's shoes.

“Sorry... sorry... sorry,” the supervisor apologised. “Let me just find something to mop this up with...”

The older man shook his head. “It's okay, Mr Xi. Shoes dry. Now, how is it going?”

“The base organism has been isolated, obviously, and the wards are holding,” Chen said, as they moved away from the spill. “We've got roughly 12% of its body by volume subverted and under control, and a further 31% is contested.” He took a deep breath. “I'm sorry, sir, but this is going much slower than usual due to the fact that the extra-normal entity is only 'real',” he made inverted commas with his fingers, “less than 30% of the time. We won't be able to meet the deadline for complete control.” His face took on a placating expression. “I'm sorry this means that that the build team won't be able to start on the Erel prototype as predicted.”

The younger man glanced at the head of Project Engel. The other man didn't even appear to be paying attention, instead gazing at the autocensor screen.

He waited for a moment.

“For that reason, sir, I believe...”

Dr Miyakame made a noise in the back of his throat, a sort of mix between a gurgle and a hum. “I'm sure you do. Nevertheless, your group's tardiness is holding up work on the Erel. We need a counter to the Dragonfly desperately, Chen. I don't think I need to explain the stakes here.”

The supervisor nodded his head. “Yes, sir.”

“I assigned you, along with many of the others from Daeva, here because of your previous experience in the militarisation of unconventional ENEs. Was I mistaken?”

“Before, we had more than a few weeks!” Chen snapped back, his frustration overcoming him. He flinched slightly, as he realised what he'd done. He could feel the eyes of the rest of the room upon him.

Evidently, Dr Miyakame could see the others, too. “Get back to work, all of you!” he said, his tone angry despite the fact that he hadn't raised his voice. “Xi, come with me!” he added, as he turned to leave, his visage like thunder.

Chen Xi followed the man who looked so much older than he really was. This was worrying; very much so. Dr Miyakame was rumoured, from the time he had spent with the long-term Engel members, to have a real temper, and very little patience. He was said to barely sleep; a driven man who would not permit himself or anyone else on the team to perform at less than 100% efficiency. And, in darker whispers, he was more than a little crazy, leaving his teams on edge around him. Brilliant, yes, but brilliant like a cracked diamond; fundamentally broken and flawed. And sharp, very sharp, in the mental sense, but also with people around him.

The older man stopped, so suddenly that Chen almost walked into his back.

“Yes?” he said, in a more normal tone of voice.

“Nothing, sir,” Chen stammered.

He received a glare for his troubles. “Not you.” Anton Miyakame paused for a few seconds, turning so that the younger man could see that one finger was pressed up against an ear in the way that showed he was using implanted headphones.

“Sorry.”

The doctor removed the finger. “Just go,” he snapped. “Make suer you have more progress next time I check.”

He let the younger supervisor move out of sight, before he put back the finger, resuming the conversation.

“Sorry, you said there was an incoming call from Project Evangelion?” He paused. “What's the reference number?” There was a lengthy pause, which continued even after his secretary had stopped speaking. “Will, divert all other calls. I'm going to a secure room; shift this up to the highest security protocols,” he told his secretary, eventually, as he began to walk rapidly towards the nearest one, his pace putting a lie to the premature ageing of his face.

It took a few minutes for the high security to synchronise. The quickening of his breath showed the stress that the wait induced. Slowly, the breath slowed down again, as he clamped down on the primitive fight-or-flight reflex.

Finally, there was the short tune, generated procedurally from the machine chatter, which told him that the link was made. Slowly, he pressed a button on his PCPU.

There was silence on the other side of the line, too.

“Doctor Miyakame,” a voice finally said.

“Doctor Ritsuko Akagi,” he replied. It said something that he still unconsciously distinguished between the two women who would have responded to merely the title and the surname.

“I...” there was a catch in the woman's breath, “... I would like to, on behalf of Project Evangelion, in my role as the Director of Research and Development, to take you up on your offer of cooperation between our two Projects.” The reluctance in her voice was evident.

Anton Miyakame struggled to keep his voice calm. “I understand,” he said, trying to conceal his elatement. “I will instruct my subordinates to liaise with your subordinates, both for the access to Project Engel's nanofactories and the offer of more arcanotechnicians and -engineers.” He paused. “I must admit, Ritsuko, I was not entirely honest with you at the first meeting,” he confessed. “It was not just a spontaneous offer. I have lived with the guilt for twelve years now. I have tried to work out what went wrong, and failed. I thought I could keep it under-control, drive it into the work on Engel, but... the sight of Yui's son, and Kyoko's... daughter bought it out.”

There was a frigid silence on the other end of the line.

“We all have our debts to pay.” He laughed bitterly. “That's the real message of Frankenstein, not what pop culture would tell you. It isn't a warning about 'playing god'. It's that you should not mistreat or abandon that which you create.”

He coughed.

“I abandoned Project Evangelion the day after the second accident, driving myself into other work to salvage what I could from what I saw as a failed project, to make some use of it. You've seen the Engels; what they share with the Evas and how they differ. But like it or not, I'm one of the fathers of the Evangelions, and I owe the Project a debt.”



~'/|\'~




The only noise in the room was a periodic thick, viscous splash. The false sunlight from the arcology dome streamed in through the windows, giving light to the small room through the clouds of incapacitating gas which had still not fully dispersed.

What it illuminated was mostly red.

Agent Mary Anderson let her orange eyes skip across the room, not looking too closely at the decorations painted in vital fluids in the walls nor the lifeless ragdolls, that were once p