Eyrie Productions, Unlimited
Neon Exodus Evangelion
Exodus 1: The Gathering Storm
Catch of the Day
Inspired by Neon Genesis Evangelion
created by Hideaki Anno, Gainax, et al.
Most characters created by Hideaki Anno and Yoshiyuki Sadamoto
DJ Croft created by Benjamin D. Hutchins
Jon Ellison created by Larry Mann
Additional material and inspiration cadged from Tomb Raider by Core Design, Ltd.
X-COM: UFO Defense and sequels from MPS Labs
(whoever owns them nowadays)
and The X-Files created by Chris Carter
Written by Benjamin D. Hutchins and Larry Mann
Aided and abetted by the Eyrie Productions, Unlimited crew
and special-guest-for-life Phil Moyer
© 1997 Eyrie Productions, Unlimited
HTML remastering © 2016 EPU
In the large, modern apartment block at 22 Lee Street in Worcester-3, very near the campus of the Worcester-3 Polytechnic Institute, a young man named DJ Croft was engaged in the most timeless of rituals. He was undertaking a job almost unchanged in principle and practice since the first days that humanity's antecedents started growing crops and gathering food rather than constantly hunting on foot (a decision that brought with it the complex and incomprehensible concepts of real-estate escrow and transcontinental bulk shipping):
Unpacking his stuff.
The room he'd been given in Apartment 3-D was fairly large, though not as large as his room back at Crofthenge, his mother's estate in Northamptonshire. He'd awakened that morning around 7 to find the ceiling unfamiliar, the walls bare, the furniture unembellished and spartan; entirely not to his liking. So he'd dug up his toiletries, gone to install them in the bathroom, and brushed his teeth while he was there, then found a clean t-shirt and a pair of good knee-length shorts in his luggage. Thus dressed, he could set about unpacking the rest of his things.
He had only packed for a two-month excursion to a special-interests school for "youth with talents in the areas of English literature and world history"—summer camp for bookworms, he liked to think of it as—and as such, was woefully underequipped with books. Why, the stock he'd brought with him only filled half of the room's one large bookshelf—he would have to find out about his pay scale, perhaps draw an advance, and find a bookstore to descend on very soon. And install more bookshelves along the room's mostly bare walls.
The room was rectangular, about eight feet by sixteen. One of the narrow ends was dominated by a picture window that looked out onto the corner of Park Avenue and Institute Road, the two major roads forming the arms of the right triangle whose hypotenuse was Lee Street; the other had a wide counter set into it, with a set of pigeonholes built into the wall behind, serving as an integral desk. One of the long side walls was bare; the other had a closet, the bookshelf and a dresser unit built in, as well as, in the end of the room opposite the window, the door leading to the rest of the apartment. The head of the bed was toward the windows, against the univent that provided heating for the room.
Having put away his clothes, hung his Union Jack on the blank wall, shelved his books and piled the empty boxes in the hall, and stuck the Madman Omar's House of Iniquity sign on his door, DJ was now in the process of setting up his most prized antique—his computer, a monolithic black slab of late-twentieth-century electronic genius that still hadn't been equaled in the modern personal-computer marketplace (at least by DJ's standards). It stood edge-on, tower-style, four and a half feet high, two feet deep and six inches wide, on the tabletop; a thick cable connected it to the power supply in the wall. Hunting under the table, DJ found an RJ45 Ethernet tap; he didn't know if it was live, but connected a cable to it anyway, plugging it into the Ethernet adapter on the back of the tower.
Then he set up the monitor, a heavy seventeen-inch old-fashioned color CRT display with the tube set off-center so that there was a wide strip of bezel on the operator's right side of the screen, and cabled on the input devices and printer. This left him with one box of parts remaining, a box filled with the small black cubes of peripheral I/O units; he would run the cables for those after scouting out the best places around the apartment to put them.
Now, it was time to check the machine itself. Crossing his fingers, DJ switched on the monitor, then flicked the main power switch on the back of the computer.
The cooling fan spooled up with a quiet whir; the screen glowed, as did the round red lens mounted in the bezel. Block letters appeared on the screen:
HAL 14000 BIOS VER 1.1 4/5/98
8192 MB RAM... OK
DISPLAY... HAL 17I PLUS
MASTER IOSYS... OK
PERIPHERAL IO... NONE
4096 GB CRMEM... OK
LOADING HALOS 4.2...
As the final message appeared on the screen, a small speaker mounted below the "eye" on the monitor bezel barked forth a short song in two voices, forty-five or so seconds of rising and falling electronic good cheer in F major.
As it played, the door opened and Misato wandered in, hair disheveled and eyes still heavy with sleep, wrapped up in a bedsheet that trailed behind her. "Whazzat?" she asked, pointing at the cheerfully emoting machine.
"Wait for it," replied DJ with a smile, holding up his hand. The song finished, the acknowledgement "OK" appeared after the loading message, and then the screen blanked. For a long moment, there was silence.
Then, in a wonderfully mellow, gently modulated male human voice, the computer spoke.
"Good morning," it said. "I am a HAL 14000 series computer, production number 1H00714. I first became operational at the HAL plant in Urbana, Illinois, on August 14, 1999. The time is now eight forty-five A.M. Eastern Daylight Time, Tuesday, July 14, 2015. I detect no operational faults in any of my systems." A pause. "Hello, DJ. Have we arrived?"
"8:45?!" Misato cried. "Is that thing right?!"
DJ raised his left hand, turned his palm up and checked his wristwatch. "Yup."
"Oh my GOD I'm LATE!!" Misato declared, scrambling back to her own room.
"Who was that, DJ?" Hal inquired, mild curiosity in his ever-mellow voice.
"It's a long story," replied DJ. "Let me get a drink and I'll bring you up to date."
Receiving final clearance for its landing, the nondescript white Learjet dropped out of the holding pattern over Worcester-3 and began its final approach to the airport. The landing was executed perfectly, and the small aircraft taxied up to the terminal without incident and powered down.
The ground crew immediately got to work securing the plane, as the forward door unsealed and folded outward, forming an accommodation ramp. A moment later the passengers began to emerge: several casually-dressed men and women, one teenage boy, similarly dressed, and a few more men in suits. They all wore sunglasses, but other than that small detail a casual observer would find nothing unusual about them.
The group made their way into the terminal and then dispersed, the boy waving to the others and wishing them well during their shore leave. The suits each headed in different directions, casually perusing the displays in the gift stores, skimming through newspapers, and generally doing their best to conceal the fact that they were watching the boy like hawks.
The boy, for his part, took in all the sights around him as he strolled through the airport concourse, heading toward the exit. He kept his pace slow, playing the part of an interested traveller taking in a new environment. In due course he had reached the outer doorway. The doors parted, and he stepped out into the temperate air of Worcester-3.
Almost as soon as he'd done this, he noticed the black sedan parked not far away. Its sole occupant, a tall gray-haired man, got out and waved. The boy hefted his duffel bag on his shoulder and closed the distance in fairly short order, recognizing the man almost immediately.
"Hello, Jon," Otto Keller said when he arrived, a hint of a smile on his face.
"Colonel," Jonathan Ellison nodded in reply. "It's been a while, sir."
"Indeed. I wish the circumstances were a little better," Keller sighed, opening the trunk so Jon could stow his duffel.
"Can't be helped, sir," Jon answered once that business had been taken care of and he had planted himself in the passenger's seat of the car.
The trip to the Geo-Front happened mostly in silence. Neither Jon nor Otto offered much in the line of small talk, and once Otto had given Jon his copy of the Personnel Manual, Jon was either paging through it or taking in some aspect of the Worcester-3 scenery. The manual got less attention once they had passed through the entry tunnel and reached the Geo-Front, as Jon gazed through the windows at the seemingly endless sprawl of the underground complex. And once they were on foot, moving through the maze of elevators and walkways within Central Dogma, Jon didn't even bother with the manual, fully occupied as he was with studying the route they were taking and determining which passages led where.
"Need a map," he remarked.
"I'll see if I can find one for you," Keller replied. He led the way through the tangle of corridors to a massive black door; there, he knocked, and the door slid open to reveal a massive, mostly empty office. At the far end was a large window with an unadorned black datadesk before it; on the floor and ceiling were massive, beautifully rendered diagrams of the Kabbalistic Sephiroth, the Tree of Life.
Jon understood the significance, if not the artistic appeal, of the diagram, and paid it little mind, instead turning his attention to the man and woman seated and standing behind the desk, respectively, as he and Keller approached it.
"Professor Gendō Ikari, Project Leader," Keller said, gesturing to the man and woman. "And Dr. Ritsuko Akagi, primary science and medical officer for the project."
"Doctor, Professor," Jon nodded to each in turn.
"Welcome to NERV, Jon," Dr. Akagi replied, with a hint of a smile. "We've heard quite a bit about you from Colonel Keller. You are, of course, expected to live up to your reputation."
"Of course, Doctor," Jon replied evenly.
"Ordinarily," Ikari said. "Your orientation would be conducted by your commanding officer, Captain Katsuragi. But as it happens she is unavailable at the moment, so we will outline your overall responsibilities at this time."
Ikari stared directly into his eyes as he began. "You are now under the exclusive authority of NERV, and you will be answerable only to that authority, and no other."
"Yes sir," Jon answered neutrally, matching Ikari's gaze.
"You are expected to follow all orders given to you at all times, and will avoid acting without direct authorization."
"Have you familiarized yourself with the Personnel Manual?" Ritsuko inquired.
"In progress, ma'am. I should be sufficiently acquainted with NERV regulations in 48 hours."
"Excellent," Ikari smiled slightly. "Those are your basic obligations. Until the arrival of EVA-03 next Thursday, you will be placed on reserve status. This should provide ample time to familiarize yourself with the regulations as well as the layout of the Geo-Front. Your commanding officer will be returning within a few hours. The orientation will continue then under her direction."
"Yes sir. A question, if I may?"
"Why is EVA-03's arrival lagging so far behind my own?"
"There's only one aircraft in the world capable of airlifting an Evangelion—NERV's custom-built Antonov AN-411 transport," Keller answered. "Regulations require it to remain on station in Worcester-3 in case one of the operational EVAs requires an airlift in an emergency situation."
Jon nodded his understanding as Ikari went on, "For that reason, EVA-03 has been shipped from X-COM Alcatraz to the Port of Pleasanton, and is now on its way to Worcester-3 by fast rail. It's expected to arrive Thursday morning."
Ritsuko picked up where Ikari had left off. "Your first official reporting will be at 0900 tomorrow; we will be conducting a synchronization test for the entire squad at that time. Until then, you are free to do as you wish." She removed a plastic ID card from the clipboard she carried and handed it to Jon. "This is your identification passcard; it will admit you to all areas of the Geo-Front you are cleared for access to."
Jon accepted the card, briefly examining both sides before pocketing it. "Another question: when will my living arrangements be taken care of?"
"Already done," Keller remarked. "Captain Katsuragi will handle the particulars."
"Right," Jon nodded. "In that case, I will be ready for duty at 0900 hours tomorrow."
"Excellent," Ikari replied. "Carry on, then, and welcome to NERV."
"Thank you, sir," Jon replied.
"He's everything we could have hoped for," Ritsuko said after Jon had departed, obviously impressed. "And then some."
"Yes indeed," Ikari agreed, with that smug smile. "Your people have done well, Keller."
"Respectfully, sir, they're not 'my people'. I haven't been an X-COM officer in over five years; most of the personnel there now, I've never actually met."
"Of course," replied Ikari dryly.
Having established that the business of actually getting settled in was not going to go any farther until he could find his CO, Jon had set about trying to track her down. The only other option was to find someplace to sit and read the Personnel manual, something he expected he would not be able to focus on until the accommodations issue was dealt with.
His path was now taking him through the primary infirmary of Central Dogma. He recalled some vague, peripheral conversation about a member of the team being injured, and now his instincts were telling him to check this area out; perhaps she would be there, checking in on her injured subordinate.
His instincts had never been wrong yet, so when they told him to stop at an open doorway he took their advice and did so. He found himself looking into a room occupied by two people, one a patient, the other apparently a visitor. The visitor was a short, wiry fellow, about his age, with dark hair, an unexpected shoulder holster and half-closed eyes which seemed solidly focused on the book he was reading. Perhaps he was a guard? The patient, in contrast, was a pale young girl—again, about his age—with short silvery-blue hair; she too was focused intently on a book she held in her hands. Only now did Jon notice the small stack of books next the chair where the visitor sat.
Looking at them, Jon abruptly felt an odd sense of kinship, and realized he might well be in the presence of two of his fellow Children. That would explain the youth of the "guard". And if that were the case, then perhaps they might know where Captain Katsuragi was. That conclusion drawn, he rapped gently on the doorframe to get their attention. "Pardon me, have you seen—"
That was when the girl actually looked up from her reading and turned to face him. Her unbandaged ruby eye met Jon's own emerald ones, and Jon's voice trailed off as the sense of kinship became far more evident. The girl, for her part, was heard to inhale ever so slightly sharper as she stared back at him, seeing something in his eyes just as he saw something within hers, sensing a rapport, connection... familiarity...
I know who you are.
"You're the First(Fourth)," they abruptly stereoed.
Unnoticed by either of them, DJ Croft arched an eyebrow, wondering who this new fellow was and, more immediately, what was going on here. The moment passed as they both seemed to realize they'd spoken and broke eye contact, looking a bit embarrassed. It was fairly easy to see in the newbie, whose face had reddened a little. For one moment, nowhere near as long, Rei's cheeks also took on a pinker hue, and then it was gone again. This only served to make DJ even more curious.
"Uh, yes," said Jon, still a little flustered. "I'm Jon Ellison."
"Rei Ayanami," replied Rei.
DJ glanced around to see if, perhaps, the rest of the room, and himself, had gone to black and white, leaving Rei and Jon the only things in color. As this didn't seem to be the case, he cleared his throat preparatory to introducing himself as well.
This made Jon and Rei start in unison and turn to face him with wide, startled, slightly guilty eyes, as if they had just been surprised by an adult while doing something naughty.
"Sorry," said DJ. "Would you two like to be alone?"
This elicited an unprecedented reaction, as, for just a moment, Rei Ayanami blushed dramatically, the flush of blood almost glowing through her colorless skin. Then she recovered enough composure to reply, "No... you can stay if you want."
DJ grinned, which made the fading blush return momentarily to Rei's cheeks, then turned his attention to the still-flustered-looking newcomer. "DJ Croft," he said. "The Fifth. 'Scuse me if I don't shake," he added, holding up a bandaged hand. Before coming to see Rei he'd had them redressed; they'd only mildly blistered and the blisters had all gone down, but he was still absolutely mystified how he'd burned them in the first place, and Ritsuko still wanted him to keep them covered for another day.
"How did that happen?" inquired Jon.
"I'd like to know that myself," replied DJ with a rueful grin. "Burnt myself on something, but I've no idea what." DJ returned to his book.
Jon stood next to the bed, feeling rather awkward; finally, finding no really polite way to ask his next question, he just came out with it. "Excuse me, but... why are you here?"
DJ looked up. "Well, mate," he said without rancor, "until you showed up, it was the quietest room in the cave." He smiled and went back to reading.
Jon looked at the spine of the book DJ was reading, and discovered that it was entitled The Titanic Conspiracy: Cover-Ups and Mysteries of the World's Most Famous Sea Disaster. How completely bizarre. He glanced at the book Rei held; it was entitled The Ghost from the Grand Banks. Jon sensed a trend forming. Feeling a distinct lack of anything else to do, he picked up the book that sat on Rei's bedstand (A Night to Remember, according to the cover), sat down in the room's other chair, and began reading.
Ritsuko Akagi was poring over some of the miles of sensor-log printouts that DJ's session with EVA-01 had generated, trying to come to grips with the incredible sync performance the two had achieved after EVA-01's head damage, when she was distracted by a soft ping from the computer console next to her desk. She knew the sound well; it was the computer's equivalent of a throat-clearing, announcing that the machine was about to say something to which Ritsuko ought pay attention.
DJ Croft would have recognized the computer in an instant had he possessed any reason to enter Ritsuko's office. It was a black, desk-sized rostrum with an integral console similar to the monitor/keyboard combination of DJ's own HAL 14000, set against the wall; beside it there was a doorway indicating that the room beyond was a Class 1 clean area in which vacuum suits must be worn at all times.
The machine had started out as a second-generation Heuristically-programmed ALgorithmic computer, almost identical to the original HAL 9000 model developed (with much inspiration from "2001: A Space Odyssey", Arthur C. Clarke's 1968 IEEE Transactions on Man-Machine Systems monograph on the possible applications of AI in space exploration), by a group of enthusiastic graduate students at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in the early 1990s.
That had been a long time ago, though. Since its construction in 1994, SAL 9000 production number 1A00004 had passed through a number of different hands and undergone a number of different modifications, most of them custom and irreproducible, at the hands of various operators. By now, there was little left of the original computer save the much-embellished hardware and the underpinnings, the core layer, of the still-revolutionary self-aware HALOS operating system. The computer even had a different name now, it had come so far from being a base-model SAL 9000: it was called the Special Heuristically Operational Data Accumulation Network computer, in honor of its incredibly complex neuromimetic intelligence systems.
"Dr. Akagi," said the computer, in a calm, quietly modulated female voice—the distaff version of DJ's own computer's voice.
"What is it, SHODAN?" inquired Ritsuko. She did not find it at all unnerving that the computer spoke in the voice of her late mother; all HAL and SAL computers with the HALOS switch for female behavior emulation did. Dr. Naoko Akagi had been one of the two great luminaries of neural-network research at UIUC who had made the HAL 9000 possible and helped found the HAL Corporation; the other, Dr. Sivasubramanian Chandrasegarampillai, had been a shy and retiring fellow, so his voice did not grace the male-emulation HALs. That was just as well, since Dr. Chandra's Indian accent had been nearly impenetrable.
"I think you will be interested in this," said SHODAN. The monitor screen next to the computer's main 'eye' changed from blankness to a slightly fisheyed view of Rei Ayanami's infirmary room, seen from a security camera high in one of the corners. In one corner sat DJ Croft, slouching in an overstuffed chair with his back against one arm and his legs hanging over the other, reading a large paperback book. Rei herself was sitting up in bed and also reading. And, in the straight-backed chair on the other side of the bed, by the door, the newly-arrived Fourth Child was also reading.
"What's so interesting about this?" asked Ritsuko.
"Three fourteen-year-old children, unsupervised, reading quietly. My reference material on juvenile development would seem to indicate that this is most unusual behavior."
"These are most unusual children, SHODAN," said Ritsuko.
"That is true. However, if you keep watching, I believe you will see the other reason I find this behavior notable."
Ritsuko watched. They went on reading, never speaking, never looking at each other. She was about to ask SHODAN what was so notable about this, when Rei and Jon simultaneously turned a page in their respective books.
A few minutes later, they did it again.
And again. Off in the corner, DJ kept reading at his own pace, but every time Rei and Jon turned a page, they did so in perfect unison—never looking at each other, never aware that they were doing it at all.
"I apologize, SHODAN," said Ritsuko. "This is interesting. Are you recording?"
"Please forward a copy of the relevant portion to Dr. Ikari and request his comments."
Ritsuko kept watching, lost in thought, for several minutes before turning back to the printouts she'd been studying.
Most interesting indeed.
Not long thereafter, Misato turned up looking for DJ; she received a cordial greeting from Jon and a polite request for more information regarding his status, which brought a smile from her.
"You'll be our next-door neighbor," she said cheerily. "Anybody hungry?"
"Always," DJ replied, replacing the stack of books in his pack and putting The Titanic Conspiracy on the stand next to Rei's bed. "If you finish Ghost tonight, you can start on that next... if you're not sick of the subject by now," he added.
Rei shook her head. "It's very interesting."
"Over a century later, the great ship still casts her spell," said DJ with a smiling nod. "Mind you, most of the stuff in this book is junk," he added, tapping Conspiracy on the cover, "but it's a fun read. Later on, if you want, I'll show you some real conspiracy evidence."
Rei nodded. "Thank you."
"Get well soon," said DJ, grinning. "They tell me I'll have to do some actual work tomorrow, but I'll stop by when I can."
Rei looked as if she wanted to smile, but hadn't quite figured out how to do so. She searched her mind for an appropriate reply for a moment, finally settling on a quiet, "I... I'd like that."
DJ placed a gentle hand briefly on her shoulder, then followed Misato into the hall. Jon lingered for a moment, giving Rei a searching look she returned. The weird mental twinge he'd felt when they first made eye contact had passed and did not return, but he still felt as if there was something he was missing.
"It was nice meeting you," he finally said.
She nodded. "And you."
He turned to go, then stopped and looked back. "I'll see you tomorrow?" he said, his tone making it a question.
Rei's reply was a simple, "I'll be here."
After a huge Chinese dinner at a downtown restaurant named Ping's Garden ("Good job I didn't step on this place—I almost did," DJ observed, noting the enormous footprint in the parking lot), Misato and DJ showed Jon to his apartment.
Jon had thought initially that being Captain Katsuragi's "next door neighbor" meant that he would simply be located in the same apartment building as Misato. But as it turned out this was a literal description, for his apartment keycard led him to the flat right next to Misato's. That made him next door neighbors with almost the entire rest of the squad as well, since DJ was under Misato's roof. Not unlike the quarters back at the old base, except this time he was in the company of more people his own age. This would be different; he had yet to determine if it would be interesting.
He politely declined his neighbors' offer to spend some time in their apartment, watch some TV, unwind, whatever; he was tired and still felt rather awkward about the whole situation, and wanted nothing more than to sleep.
The apartment was, though Jon did not yet know that, a mirror image of 3-D next door: smallish kitchen, handily large bath with separate lavatory, three nicely sized bedrooms and a living room with a fold-a-couch and a TV/multicomm unit built into the wall. It felt cavernous after living in barracks for much of his life; Jon briefly considered asking Rei if she'd be interested in rooming here, then decided it would probably be wise to get some sleep before going any farther with that concept. He barely knew her, after all.
Hopefully, though, he could change that before too long.
He unslung his duffel and let it drop at the foot of the bed, resolving to unpack it when he was a little more alert, likely after a nice hot shower tomorrow morning. That having been decided, he stripped down to his undershorts and unceremoniously collapsed on the bed.
This is finally it, he mused to himself as he stared up at the featureless ceiling. He was a part of NERV, under their command. The preparation and training he'd been in for most of his life would now be put to the test. Soon he, and Unit 03, would be facing the Angels.
Into the lion's den, he thought quietly, before losing consciousness.
Except for a lack of any new arrivals, an annoying battery of morning tests, and the continued presence of taciturn Jon, the following week was more of the same. The next Thursday morning, however, found DJ down in the EVA bay containing the newly-repaired Unit 01. He stood on the catwalk at the machine's chest level, more or less face to face with it; the purple-painted armor had been replaced, hiding from view the brownish-gray organic head he'd seen beneath. He regarded it without fear. It had protected him well and obeyed his commands without hesitation, and even standing outside it without an interface headset on, he could feel a quiet vibe of well-being and benevolence coming from it. That feeling would have struck him as weird, had he not encountered it before; but where the unfamiliar can be frightening, the familiar is merely familiar.
The entry-plug suit he was wearing felt considerably better, too. Ritsuko claimed that was because it had been made specially for him, whereas the other had been made for a previous test pilot who was no longer with the program ("It's not important," she'd said when he asked who, a sure sign that it was important, but he wasn't cleared to know it). There were a lot of things about this place that stank higher than a chunk of gorgonzola on a hot summer afternoon; the only one of DJ's qualities that had the power to make him stay now was his curiosity.
Well, and perhaps his sense of loyalty, though he could hardly call Rei Ayanami or Misato Katsuragi a friend yet, could he?
DJ sighed and walked off the catwalk. He was due up above for an operations test with the newly-repaired unit; he'd been down on the catwalk engaging in that time-honored test pilot tradition, the walkaround, and though EVA-01 had no tires to kick, he felt he'd accomplished that mostly-symbolic goal.
As he went, though, the bay lights flickered in that way that meant the motors for the massive main doors were engaging, and sure enough, a moment later they opened—to admit a gantry platform with another Evangelion on it.
DJ knew that EVA-01 was the test type, the second unit built after the prototype as an endurance test article, only placed on operational combat status out of necessity. The gleaming black-and-red EVA being moved into position in the next revetment over, proudly displaying "03" on its pauldrons, had to be a production model—it was sleeker, less complex, slightly shorter. Like EVA-01, it had two eyes, and a jawlike construct jutting out in front, though its head was slightly sleeker and without the distinctive (and apparently purposeless) "horn" on the front of 01's.
DJ let out a low whistle, not only at the appearance of the unit, but also at one of its markings. It had been very thoroughly cleaned upon arrival, before being placed in the EVA bay, but on its narrow chest, a distinctive yellow roundel overlaid with a bright red X could still clearly be seen. To most people, the symbol would have been meaningless—perhaps a production mark or function-test proofing mark—but to DJ Croft, it was very telling, indeed. He'd just seen his first conclusive proof that X-COM not only still existed, but was working hand in glove with NERV—which meant that both organizations had to be controlled by SEELE.
Very interesting indeed... but he had things to do right now, and so he filed the thought away for later consideration.
At three that afternoon, he was finally released. A shower to get the LCL out of his hair, a quick runover with a comb, and a change of clothes, and he made his rather weary way to the control room.
He was tired because, once his synchronization with the repaired EVA was reconfirmed (at sixty-seven percent, not bad for an idle unit), they'd launched him into a testing ground outside the city; he'd spent the rest of the day doing gunnery and hand-to-hand drills against various and sundry automated decoys. As he'd expected, he'd done best with the handcannons and scored only a lackluster effectiveness rating with the Progressive Knife. He was tired and hungry, but had a few miles to go before he could sleep.
Greetings went up from various and sundry console engineers as he entered the control room; already, he'd become popular with them. He didn't complain at the long hours or the lack of a lunch break, which they liked since they shared those inconveniences, and had an amusing way of looking at the situation which had broken up the room several times at his more pointed comments.
"Hey, DJ," called Maya Ibuki as he came around the end of her console. "Good session today. You need to work on your Prog Knife technique, though."
"Thanks, I know," he replied. "Listen, Maya... you've got connections in the Equipment Section, don't you?"
"A few," Maya admitted. "Why?"
"Well, there are a couple of modifications I was thinking of."
"Ohhh, no," said Maya, flipping a page in the ops manual on her console and running quickly down the checklist printed there. "Modifications have to go through the Office of the Project Director."
"Ikari? That'll take weeks, if he doesn't get his knickers in a knot about equipment standardization and refuse altogether. It's such a simple thing, Maya... I'd do it m'self if I could." He gave her a sad look.
"No, DJ," she replied, clearly irresolute. "I could get in a lot of trouble."
"Ah, c'mon, Maya my love," said DJ with that heartbreaking grin he'd inherited from his father. "You know they can't do anything bad to you, you're irreplaceable."
Maya struggled to keep a smile from surfacing on her face as she said, "I bet you call all women 'my love'."
"No," DJ replied honestly, "only the ones I love. Listen, Maya, I'll beg if you want. I really, really need your help."
She tried to give him a long, hard look, but didn't pull it off very well. "All right, what do you want?" she asked after a few seconds.
DJ smiled. "Maya, you're the best. Look here—we both know I'm lousy with the Prog Knife, right, and it's not a very useful weapon anyway, is it? Now there's no reason why we can't launch EVA-01 with a weapon I'm better with—say a couple of hand cannons—right?"
"It can't hold anything in its hands reliably with the power off," Maya pointed out.
"Doesn't have to," DJ replied. He picked up the note pad next to her operations manual, clicked a pen and started sketching.
Jon Ellison was unaccustomed to leisure time. At X-COM Alcatraz there was always something he had to be doing: weapons training, hand-to-hand combat training, technology training, studying the Unknown Enemy from the Hidden War of 1999, studying the events surrounding Second Impact... there was always something official to be doing or studying.
Now, though, he had nothing at all to do. He'd memorized the personnel manual. EVA-03 had arrived, but was still being secured and checked to make certain it had suffered no adverse consequences from its cross-country move. Until it was deemed ready and tests were scheduled, Jon had, effectively, nothing to do.
So he was sitting in the same chair he'd occupied yesterday afternoon, in Rei Ayanami's infirmary room, reading. He'd finished The Titanic Conspiracy that morning and was now partway into Into the Titanic, Lara Croft's book about her expedition to the wreck, with photos by DJ himself. Rei hadn't been here the whole day—some of the time she'd been out for tests, checkups, treatments. The staff either knew or didn't care who Jon was, though; he was allowed to remain, unmolested, the whole time. Other than cordial greetings at the meetings and partings, they'd exchanged not a word, which seemed to suit them both.
The door slid open; Jon glanced up, expecting to see a group of green-coated medtechs here to take the now-napping Rei off for another set of tests, but instead, he saw DJ Croft, in shorts, T-shirt, sandals and shoulder holster, his hands unbandaged. He looked tired, but cheerful, and carried a festive, colorful bunch of flowers in a glass vase which he set carefully on Rei's bedside table, taking pains not to make any noise.
Then he turned and offered Jon a gesture kind of like a salute, raising two fingers of his left hand to touch the brim of the hat he wasn't wearing, before going to his corner chair and seating himself as before, shoulders against the inside of one arm and knees hanging over the other, facing the bed.
This time, though, he opened up his backpack, fixed his light to the wall, and then, instead of getting out a book, he drew a pad of paper from his pack, propping it against his knees. Then he flipped open a flat plastic case, selected a pencil from within it, and began plying it against the paper. For half an hour or so, DJ focused intently on the paper and what he was doing to it with the pencil, glancing up now and again but mostly keeping his eyes trained on the surface before him. Periodically he would run the pencil's tip into a portable electric sharpener for a second or so, to keep the point on.
Jon kept reading, but glanced up every now and then, usually at moments when the scratching of pencil on paper paused for a moment; DJ never noticed or never cared that he was being watched. At length, he slowed, then stopped altogether; with a long look at Rei and another at the paper, he nodded as if satisfied, folded the cover of the sketchpad shut, and put it and the pencil set back in his pack, then fished out a new book.
Jon was on the point of asking if DJ would show him what he'd just drawn, but just as he drew the breath to ask, a curious and unwelcome sensation invaded his thoughts: a strange, creeping, alien feeling of dread. In that moment, Jon understood what some of the old-timers at X-COM Alcatraz had meant when they talked about feeling like someone had just walked over their grave.
DJ heard him suck in a sharp breath and looked up to see the taller boy's face go pale, almost as pale as Rei's. Rei herself stirred, then awoke, her good eye sliding open and focusing on Jon.
Jon searched for some way of articulating the feeling, and then it hit him what it had to mean.
"There's another Angel coming," he said.
Under many, perhaps most, circumstances, DJ would have scoffed, but the look on Jon's face was so serious and full of alarm that DJ's instincts told him to believe. DJ always trusted his instincts.
"Well, c'mon, then," he said, dropping the book into his backpack and standing.
"Where?" asked Jon.
"To the control room, of course. Sorry, love," he added to Rei as he passed the bed. "We'll be back."
She said nothing, only nodded gravely, as Jon, his eyes troubled, nodded to her and followed.
"What's the trouble, you two?" asked Ritsuko as DJ and Jon entered the control room.
"By the pricking of Jon's thumbs," said DJ, nodding toward the other boy, "something wicked this way comes."
"I can't explain how, exactly," said Jon, reflecting ruefully that the statement was true in more ways than he'd prefer, "but I'm sure there's another Angel coming. It'll be here..." Jon searched the images floating through his mind and found them ever easier to interpret. "... within an hour, two at the outside."
"If this is some kind of a silly prank—" Ritsuko began, leveling her glare not at Jon, but at DJ, who, she felt certain, was the instigator.
"It's no prank," Jon replied firmly. "I don't know how I know, but I know."
Misato looked from Ritsuko to Jon to DJ, considering. If DJ had put Jon up to this, she didn't think he would have been able to keep so straight a face, and Jon didn't seem the type to go along with a silly, possibly dangerous, prank, especially not one proposed by someone he barely knew. Besides, Jon was too serious and DJ too experienced with them to joke about something as dire as an Angel attack. She hadn't known either of them very long, but her instincts told her to believe, and like DJ, Misato trusted her instincts.
"Sound general alarm," she ordered. "Commence civilian evacuation, notify the relevant agencies, then retract the city. DJ, you'd better suit up; we may need to launch EVA-01."
Ritsuko glanced over at Misato, thinking to protest, but Misato shot her the hard, sharp look that she knew so well. The glare that could only come from the eyes of a dead-serious Misato Katsuragi had warned Ritsuko off many times before.
"Nobody told me I'd have to be doing this every week," DJ grumbled as he left the room, not bothering to point out that, in fact, nobody had told him he'd have to be doing it at all.
"Air attack is proving about as effective as we'd expected," reported console tech John Trussell. Misato could see that from the information displayed on the big tactical screen, but nodded acknowledgement anyway; though the Angel was still too far out for visual contact, it had been on radar for twenty minutes now and was definitely making a beeline for Worcester-3. And, as the board was showing, it was making mincemeat of the squadron of NERV-attached Raiden interceptors that she'd sent after it.
"Hostile is reaching the first defensive screen," Truss reported. "As anticipated, it's ignoring artillery fire."
Maya turned in her seat. "The National Guard is on line three. General Webster is demanding that we launch an Evangelion immediately."
"Officious jerk," Misato muttered. "I'd've sent it anyway. Activate EVA-01 and prepare it for an interception launch."
"Here we go again," DJ muttered to himself as the display panels glowed to life around him, and he felt the gantry platform moving him into position below one of the launch chutes.
"EVA-01," Maya's voice announced, "confirm readiness for launch?"
"Hit me," DJ replied.
"Launch EVA-01!" Misato ordered, and DJ was on his way. This time, he didn't pop up right in the middle of the street; instead the gantry popped up inside one of Worcester-3's numerous fake buildings, whose front then accordioned open, revealing the violet war machine within.
As the final interlock popped free, DJ started it forward. This time there was no fumbling; EVA-01 took smooth, casual steps forward, its power cable trailing behind it. After clearing the launch building, DJ took a good look at his opponent.
The new Angel was considerably weirder-looking than the previous one: it wasn't even vaguely humanoid, instead resembling nothing so much as a flying giant squid, save that it only had two tentacles, one on either side of its pointed, tubular shape. Further, as he looked more closely, DJ could see that the tentacles were not made of the same reddish, fleshy-looking material as the rest of the creature, but rather, apparently, of glowing pink energy. As he took it in, the monster noticed him, and lashed a tentacle toward him.
Instinctively, DJ dodged back and to the side instead of forward or straight sideways; to do so would have put his unit's power cable in harm's way. The tentacle lashed through the space where EVA-01 had just been, slicing the top off the building.
"Christ!" remarked DJ to himself.
"DJ, to your right," Misato called. "I'm opening a weapons block for you."
"Thank you," DJ replied, making for the building with the flashing red light. It opened to reveal an EVA-scale assault rifle, looking for all the world like a giant Heckler & Koch G11; DJ pulled it free and faded back, opening fire on the Angel as it wrecked the weapons block in his wake.
The exploding 120mm shells fired by the EVA assault rifle were extremely effective projectiles; unfortunately, they also tended to generate a lot of smoke, which gave them the annoying habit of hiding the target after a burst of more than four or five rounds. DJ, conscious of this, kept his rate of fire low, barking out three-round bursts as he played dodge-and-slash with the flying, squidlike beast. It could float over the buildings faster than DJ could dodge EVA-01 in and out of them, and DJ knew if he leapt he'd be swatted out of the air by those energy whips before he could say "Bob's your uncle;" so he was trying for the best possible position.
This game of cat and mouse went on for a few seconds, until finally DJ stopped, turned EVA-01's back to a building, and waited. A moment later, the Angel emerged from a side street and gave him a clear shot. With a grin, he squeezed the trigger.
There came only a single shot as the weapon jammed.
"Hell!" DJ declared, flinging EVA-01 sideways as the whips lashed out; in the smoke-settling aftermath, DJ held onto the controls as EVA-01 tumbled to the ground, then rolled it onto its back and looked with a sense of sick dread upon the severed power cable, flopping like a live thing in the street before the ruined building. Immediately the cockpit lights went red, and off to one side a status display became a clock, starting at 05:00.00 and immediately beginning to count down. Those numbers represented how long EVA-01 could remain operational on internal battery power.
No working ranged weapon, no external power, no backup? It's official, thought DJ, I'm in big trouble.
It was at that moment that the situation worsened. One of the Angel's whips lashed out and wrapped around EVA-01's ankle, and, with incredible strength, whipped the whole massive machine up into the air before flinging it away with such force that it crashed on its back into the grassy side of Airport Hill, almost a mile away.
"I don't want to seem unmanly or anything here," DJ announced as he struggled to get the EVA back on its feet, "but: HELP!!"
"Damn it!" Jon snapped, watching as, on the main monitor, EVA-01 slammed into the hillside. "Captain, he needs help."
"Thank you, Jon, but I'd noticed that," Misato replied dryly. "DJ, fall back to Point A-24, there's a blockhouse there with a secondary umbilical."
"Fine, if I could get Unit 01 to bloody stand up!" DJ's voice crackled from the speakers. "It's responding slowly, erratically—like it's stunned or something."
"No system faults found," Maya reported. "AT Field is still deployed, synchronization is holding at seventy-one percent. Motor signals are getting scrambled somewhere in EVA-01's own neurosystems, not DJ's."
"It is stunned," Ritsuko observed. "Fascinating."
"Fascinating?! It's going to get DJ killed!" Misato barked.
"Will it recover in time?" asked Jon in a flat, businesslike tone.
"No way of telling," Maya replied.
On the screen, DJ got EVA-01's arms up in time to hold off the Angel's attack, seizing its tentacles in EVA-01's hands and holding them clear.
"He's fending off the Angel," Misato mused, "but the way it's got him pinned there, even if he could get up, he can't make it to the secondary power source in time. The best we can hope for now is a withdrawal." Raising her voice so it would carry on the high-gain, she ordered, "DJ, you don't have time to make it to the power source now. Pull back to Entry Six and we'll bring you in."
"I can't!" DJ replied, an edge of desperation seeping into his voice. "If I let go of this thing to get up it'll rip my bloody head off!"
"I'll back him up," said Jon.
"No way," Ritsuko protested. "Your EVA hasn't been fully cleared and we've run no on-site tests. You're not ready for combat."
"Whether I'm ready or not doesn't make a difference right now, Doctor," Jon replied evenly. Turning to Misato, he added, "Captain, EVA-03 and I will take our chances. Let me back him up."
Misato looked at the image of EVA-01, still on its back and struggling, smoke pouring from the armor on its hands where it held the still-charged tentacles of the Angel, and deliberated for a microsecond. Then she turned to Jon, nodded, and said, "Go."
Jon was out the door in an instant, not staying to hear Dr. Akagi's protests.
"You're overstepping your authority, Captain Katsuragi," Ritsuko glared. "Jon has had no acclimation time and his EVA remains largely untested. It's unfair and unsafe to throw him into a combat situation like this."
"You and Ikari all but hammerlocked DJ and threw him into EVA-01 the other day, Ritsuko, with less training and testing than Jon's had by far. It's a little late in the day to be getting up on that high horse now. Or is Jon's life somehow more important to you than DJ's?"
Ritsuko fumed, but did not reply.
Well, this is it, Jon, said Jon to himself. You're about to hit the big time.
WHAM. It was just like the simulator, except for the G forces, and they weren't as bothersome as they could have been, thanks to the LCL. Jon always felt more comfortable surrounded by LCL than air—he wondered if it was the sensation of enclosure, or the suspension of weight.
Then there was no more time for wondering, as the ground level zipped past and, with an end-of-rails crash, EVA-03 was on the surface.
Jon had an advantage DJ hadn't had in his first combat, in that he'd piloted the EVA before, in training courses. He didn't have trouble with the final interlock dismount or the first few steps off the platform. He felt strangely out of sorts, though, with a building pressure behind his eyes that signaled the onset of a potentially blockbusting headache; something in EVA-03's neurosystems was still out of adjustment and he was feeling the effects.
"Sync is a little off, Control," he reported (unnecessarily, since the Synchrotron readings for EVA-03 on Maya's console were reporting it in much greater detail). "Going to need some aspirin after we're done here."
He couldn't shoot at the Angel with his sync this far off, not without risking hitting EVA-01. That being the case, he deployed the Progressive Knife, which in the production models was a less elaborate affair with a retractable straight blade rather than the elaborate solid-Bowie-type construct of the Test Type, and charged the Angel from the side, knocking it away from EVA-01.
Releasing the tentacles, DJ rolled gratefully out of the EVA-01-shaped crater and got the machine unsteadily to its feet. He hated to leave Jon here like this, but if he didn't get some power into his EVA soon, he was going to be no good to anyone; so he faded back to the entrance Jon had just come out of and backed EVA-01 into the gantry.
Jon had no time to check on EVA-01's progress, occupied as he was with ramming his Prog Knife into the Angel's red "eye", sending a shower of sparks cascading in all directions. The pressure in his head was becoming more intense, not yet painful, although it would get there before too long. The neurosystem problem must have been worse than he originally thought.
"I've got him, Control, but not for long," he grated, driving the knife deeper.
"Roger, EVA-03. Hold on. EVA-01 is being fitted with a new umbilical and rearmed as we speak."
"Roger that, Control." At that point the Angel struck at him with its glowing tentacles. Jon whipped EVA-03's left arm around to intercept one; unfortunately the right hand, being occupied with the Prog Knife, was unable to prevent the other tentacle from wrapping solidly around EVA-03's neck. To Jon, it felt as if someone had just wrapped a live high-voltage cable around his own neck and begun strangling him with it. Naturally, he screamed rather loudly.
For the first time in his admittedly short career as an EVA pilot, DJ wished the delivery system went faster; but it was fast enough. He popped up behind the Angel and EVA-03, took in the situation, and knew what he had to do.
In EVA-01's singed hands were a pair of the handcannons he'd done so well with in the first battle; now he raised them, let the fluid grace of the EVA flow into him, and fired off a double volley.
The Angel whirled to face him, purplish ichor spraying from the stump where its left tentacle had been attached, unwinding the right from EVA-03's left arm. EVA-03 stumbled back a step, raising its freed left hand to grasp at its throat in a doubly sympathetic reaction—the EVA responding to the pilot's response to the EVA's own damage.
DJ cursed as the Angel wrapped its remaining tentacle around EVA-01's left wrist, yanking that side's weapon out of line; then he abandoned the cannon and swung into the attack, wrapped the tentacle twice more around the EVA's forearm and grabbing it up in the EVA's left hand, hauling back on it and towing the Angel closer by its own weapon.
"That's all for you, mate," he growled, shoving the muzzle of the right-hand cannon into the wound Jon had made with his Prog Knife. Once, twice, three times, he fired into the wound; the Angel twisted, bucked, writhed, and then fell limply to the ground.
"You OK, Jon?" DJ asked, moving his EVA to the other's side.
"Yes, I think so," Jon replied, coughing.
"Great work, you two. Get 'em back downstairs before something else happens," Misato called.
DJ grinned, twirling the right-hand cannon around EVA-01's index finger. "Aye aye, Cap'n," he replied.
All this, plus Rei on a motorcycle, in the next heartwarming episode of Neon Exodus Evangelion, coming to EPU on 7/23/97 (and your local news server sometime after that)! Be here in seven for "Connections"!