Eyrie Productions, Unlimited
Neon Exodus Evangelion
Exodus 1: The Gathering Storm
Journey Toward the Center of the Earth
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
"I'm the luckiest girl in the world," Asuka Sōryū-Langley observed cheerfully as she walked through the racks of clothes at the Worcester Galleria's Nordstrom, hanging onto the arm of a bemused Ryoji Kaji.
"Why is that?" asked Kaji with an indulgent smile.
"'Cause it's a beautiful day, I get to go shopping with you, and that idiot Croft is going back to England," she replied. "That's why."
Kaji smiled indulgently. "Don't you think you're being a little too harsh? After all, he did help you out against the Sixth Angel."
Asuka snorted. "Got in my way, is more like it," she remarked. "I just thank God he wasn't around to foul up yesterday's operation. Getting stuck in an elevator, of all things, can you believe it? What a fool."
A shadow passed over Kaji's face, but it was almost immediately gone as he went on, "Yes, well... he paid for that by having to spend all that time trapped in an elevator with Katsuragi."
"You have something against Captain Katsuragi?"
"No, and that's the trouble," Kaji replied.
Asuka looked quizzical. "Huh?"
"Forget it," said Kaji dismissively. "What exactly are we looking for, anyway?"
"I'll know when I find it," Asuka replied. She scanned the racks of clothing, then grinned. "Ah! C'mon, this way."
"Hang on a second, where are you taking me?" asked Kaji with mock indignation as she dragged him through the girls' summerwear section.
"Yeah, here we go! This is perfect," said Asuka triumphantly, holding up a hanger on which were secured a couple of entirely-too-small patches of red and white striped fabric. "I've been wanting to take up diving again now that I'm settled here, and this is just the foundation for my new kit."
"Slow down, schoolgirl," said Kaji, crooking an eyebrow. "Isn't that suit a little... mature?"
"I think I can fill it out quite nicely," replied Asuka impishly, twirling around.
Steady, Ryoji, though Kaji to himself. Even Ikari might not be able to keep you out of prison...
"These pictures don't give us any clear data," Otto Keller grumbled as the map displays of the Kilauea magma flow scrolled across the viewscreen.
"But we can't ignore it," Truss replied. "USGS reported an anomalous sonar reading from the exposed magma chamber of Kilauea, and any anomaly has to be very closely watched. The last thing we need is more of Hawaii blowing up."
"What did the Magi say?" Ritsuko asked Maya.
"Fifty-fifty," Maya answered. "Hopefully Captain Katsuragi's on-site survey will tell us more."
In their bedrooms at Apartment 3-D, Misato Katsuragi and DJ Croft went separately through the motions of packing and preparing for a trip.
For his trip back to England, DJ didn't pack much. As a general rule, he disliked having more luggage than he could comfortably run away from hostile people while carrying—call it an occupational habit. He had a few changes of clothes, not enough to get him across the Atlantic, but then, he'd booked his passage on a properly civilized liner with a laundry service aboard, so he wouldn't need much. He had a few books, but planned on spending a good bit of the crossing in the ship's library. And so on.
That being the case, everything he was taking with him fit into his backpack. This was useful, since he intended to ride his Corley to his ship's port of departure—New York—and have it shipped across with him. One doesn't strap a steamer trunk to the back of a Corley Twin Atlas and ride it to New York City that way.
Misato was also packing light—she was being flown by fast transport aircraft to Hawaii to investigate the USGS anomaly, so the bulkiest piece of clothing she was likely to need was her uniform jacket, which she'd be wearing. Into an overnight bag, she haphazardly stuffed a few changes of underclothes, a couple of clean shirts, a pair of more or less presentable shorts and tights, and a bathing suit—well, you never knew, and hey, it was Hawaii.
They met in the hallway; Misato was leaving to catch her flight, DJ was just in search of something to eat. They stopped, facing each other, unsure exactly what to do.
Then Misato dropped her bag and pulled an unprotesting DJ into a hug.
"Take care of yourself," she said to him.
"You too," said DJ. "Don't let this place go to bits while I'm away, right?"
"We'll try to hold it together," said Misato, smiling through her anxiety. "Just make sure you do come back."
"No worry on that score," DJ replied. "I'll be back almost before you know I'm gone."
"You're really not worried about it?"
"Not a bit. Win or lose, I'll be back. Old Sir Henshingly can't stop me any more than he could ever stop Mum." He took a step back and held her shoulders in his hands. "Be careful, Misato," he told her, his eyes deadly serious. "I'd be terribly upset if anything happened to you while I wasn't around. Keep up your guard. Don't trust Kaji."
She chuckled wryly. "I never have before..."
"I'm serious, Misato. Something about that guy gives me the shivers. Don't believe anything he says. Don't let him charm you."
Seeing how serious he was about it, Misato nodded. "I'll be careful." She felt vaguely ridiculous, being warned to guard her virtue by a boy half her age, but she knew by now that he showed this intensity only when he felt it was truly necessary—and that his instincts were usually right.
And anyway, she'd noticed something... odd, more furtive than usual, about Kaji, anyway. She resolved to do a little investigating.
She hugged DJ again, then bent to kiss his cheek; he was having none of that, and kissed her firmly on the lips.
"Have a good time in Hawaii," he said as he showed her (slightly blushing) to the door.
"You'd better write to me," Misato warned.
"Go on, you know I will," said DJ. "I'll send you a telegram from mid-ocean just for kicks. Now you'd better go or you'll be late for your flight and irritate dear Dr. Akagi."
"We can't have that-," Misato observed wryly. "Bye for now, DJ... good luck."
"Cheers, Misato. See you in a few weeks."
The door closed, and DJ was momentarily alone with his thoughts.
Should have told her, he admonished himself. Just in case you don't see her again for some reason...
... Oh well. I guess this means that come hell or high water you'll have to see her again, won't you?
Cheered up by his own admittedly dodgy logic, he returned to his room to get in some quiet reading and perhaps an early start on the evening's rest.
Sadly, it wasn't to last.
Asuka got home a little bit after Misato left, and, finding DJ's door closed and nobody else home, she decided she might as well go and try on her new swimsuit. Humming happily, she shut the door to her room and took off her blouse and skirt, standing before her full-length mirror in socks and underwear.
Not bad, she remarked to herself, smiling. Not bad at all. Croft is right, after all—this view ought to be worth a slap in the face for anybody.
Not for the first time, she wondered what that red light on the wall next to the mirror was for. She'd determined that it didn't mean that there was any danger—initially she had wondered if it had something to do with the building's fire alarm system, but she'd never seen any elsewhere in the building or anywhere else. But there was one in every room of the apartment.
She continued to think about it as she removed her bra, panties and socks, tossing them into the laundry hamper. It couldn't be a motion detector, what would be the point of that? The building didn't have a security office or anything. It wasn't a receiver lens for a remote control—there was nothing for such an item to control, no automatic windows or lights or a music system or anything like that.
Bending down, she peered into the glowing red lens, trying to see behind it, but all she could see was the red glow.
"What the hell are you?" she murmured absently.
"I am a HAL 14000 computer, production number 1H00714," it replied in a mellow male voice.
DJ, who had dropped into a light doze, sat bolt upright, catapulting his copy of A Bridge Too Far to the floor from where it had dropped onto his chest, as Asuka's scream echoed through the apartment. Without giving it an instant's thought he bolted out of his room, down the hall, and took a hard left through the door to her room, which was pushed to but not latched.
To find Asuka crouched at the head of her bed, blankets and sheets pulled around her in a clumsy approximation of a toga, her face white, pointing at the red lens next the mirror on the opposite wall.
"What's the matter?" he asked breathlessly.
"What—is—that?" Asuka demanded, still pointing at the lens.
DJ looked. "Oh! That's a remote sensor for Hal."
"My computer. I installed remote sensors and speakers for him in all the rooms a while back, so that everyone who lives here can contact him easily."
"It... it talked!"
"HAL computers do that. They're artificially aware—you've never heard of them? A HAL 9000 was the majordomo computer on the Discovery mission to Jupiter, I thought everybody had heard of it."
"This is your computer?"
"Your computer has been watching me dress and undress?"
"... Well... yes."
"Hey!! It's not as if I can see through his eyes, and he's a computer, he's got no interest."
"He must record the things he sees."
"Everything he sees, all the time? Can you imagine how much storage space that would take up?" Here, DJ was indulging in a little white lying—Hal did keep records of everything he saw, but realtime video footage was only available for twelve hours, except for events Hal thought were significant or was asked to record. And even DJ didn't find a lot of stimulation in event log entries like "07h45—Asuka dresses."
Asuka glared at him, still not quite mollified, then said, "Can you cover it up?"
"Why would you want to do that? Hal wouldn't be able to see you if you did that."
"I'm not comfortable with the idea of being spied on by your computer, Croft!" Asuka shouted. "All right?"
"All right, all right, you don't have to bite my head off. Give me a minute and I'll take care of it." Going to the living room, he rummaged around in the coffee table junk drawer, repository for all things he and Misato couldn't find better places for, and found a spare nail among the twine, glue stick, chap stick (one would do well, he noted, not to confuse those two), condom, staple puller, old bus ticket, random change and lint. A stop by his closet for a hammer, and he went back to Asuka's room, where, with much aplomb, he pounded the nail partway into the wall a foot or so above the sensor lens. Then he opened her closet, took out a shirt on a hanger, and hung it on the nail so that the shirt blocked the lens.
"There. Happy?" he inquired. "This way if you want Hal to see you, you can just move the shirt."
"... OK... I guess it'll do. Why didn't you tell me about this?"
DJ shrugged and responded, mostly truthfully, "Didn't think it was important. I've had Hal for so long I never even think about what he sees anymore. You'll get used to him."
Asuka considered it, then grudgingly allowed, "I suppose so." Then, looking angrily up at him, she said, "Now get the hell out of my room! I'm naked under here."
"Ooh!" said DJ, who had already reached the doorway on his way out. "Say, you slapped me a bit back. Doesn't that mean you owe me a look?"
It was worth getting hit in the back of the head with a shoe, he concluded as he rubbed the sore spot and went happily back to his room.
"Depth 500. That's the limit."
"Not yet. 500 more, please."
The technicians regarded Misato with consternation, but complied with her orders, and the magma probe continued to descend farther into the searing depths of Kilauea's magma chamber. Presently a cracking sound could be heard.
"Anti-pressure armor compromised," the station computer announced.
"If it breaks we'll compensate you for it," Misato replied evenly. "Continue." The probe sank deeper, its tortured structure now groaning loudly in protest.
"Depth 700! Radar contact!"
Spying its quarry, the probe immediately sent a radar pulse back to the monitoring station. In the next second its armor failed completely, and it was crushed and melted by the tremendous heat and pressure.
"Probe imploded," the computer reported dispassionately.
"Did we get anything?" Misato asked.
"Just barely," the lead tech muttered, and the data on the target was displayed on the main screen. It was an ovoid object, with what looked like a half-human, half-reptilian fetus inside. And the DNA pattern was unmistakable.
Misato straightened up. "This facility is now under exclusive NERV authority!" she barked.
Unaware of the newly discovered challenge, Jon Ellison sat in a chaise longue next to the Central Dogma gym's Olympic-size pool, reading (of all things) a textbook. They were still a couple of weeks short of the Labor Day weekend and the traditional start of school in Worcester-3, and it was still a point of some contention at the higher levels of NERV whether the Children should even be required to attend regular schools, but Jon had always been something of a self-starter at study subjects he thought might be of some use.
Still, at the moment he was beginning to wonder if he'd made an unwise choice selecting a mid-level physics text; oh, he was fine with the kinetics, and even most of the light-and-radiation bit made sense, but in thermal transfer and magnetism he was completely lost.
Giving up on the problem he was currently considering, Jon turned his attention to the others. DJ, hanging around and killing some time before his planned afternoon departure, was in the lounger at the opposite side of the table; unlike Jon he was not concerning himself with the higher precepts of education and had, instead, chosen to relax and pass the time with a bit of light reading entitled ROSWELL: THE REAL FIRST IMPACT?
Of the three in evidence at the pool, only Rei was actually using it for its intended purpose. Clad in a simple, modest, completely appropriate white one-piece, she swam smoothly and quietly back and forth, unhurried, not trying to make good time, just enjoying the water and the work. Only now was she really starting to feel her full strength and mobility returning; the recovery from her testing accident had been long and arduous even after the visible injuries were gone.
Jon slipped completely out of comprehension of the world around him and focused all his attention on Rei, her sleek form gliding smoothly and silently through the water. It seemed inconceivable to him at that moment that such a creature could be an Evangelion pilot, could be involved in any way with the violence that wracked the world. Surely her presence here had to be an accident, some sort of cosmic joke of which she was the unwitting victim...
... Jon wondered who was laughing.
A voice broke into his reverie: "Ta-da!" Instinctively Jon turned his head to the right, whence came the voice, and found himself looking at something he could not immediately identify, mainly because, startlingly, it was only about two inches from the end of his nose after he turned his head. Drawing back a little, he was able to focus on it, and realized as he did that it was a swimsuit top. A red and white striped swimsuit top with a big silver zipper joining it together in front, complete with a big metal zipper tab. The mate to this top was in its appropriate place, too, now that he checked, and both were adorning the body of a cheerfully grinning Asuka Sōryū-Langley.
"Well?" she demanded. "What do you think?"
Jon thought, thanks to the suit's colors and the horizontal stripe pattern, that she looked like a candy cane, but he knew saying so would only get him slapped, so he merely nodded and said, "Good."
"What about you, Mighty Adventurer? What do you think?"
DJ looked up, lowering his sunglasses and nodding appreciatively. "As I've said before, much better than a sharp stick in the eye."
"What do you think of the suit?" she asked, frowning.
"Makes you look like a candy cane," said DJ, which made Jon fight to suppress howling laughter. "Not that I find that in the least objectionable. You shouldn't get too close while wearing that outfit, though. I'm a natural-born unfastener and that zip calls to me."
Asuka scowled. "Try it and I'll break your wrist."
DJ nodded. "Fair enough. Trouble is, it might be worth it."
Throwing her hands up in exasperation, Asuka turned to Jon and asked, "Jon, why are all boys such cretins?"
"... How should I know?" Jon replied. "Leave me out of this."
Asuka rolled her eyes. "Well, that was typically evasive," she remarked, looking down at the book in Jon's lap. "What are you reading? Oh, physics... you think they're going to send us to school, huh?"
Jon shrugged. "If they do, I need to be prepared."
"Well, if you need a hand with any of it, let me know. I breezed through that stuff in college."
DJ looked skeptically across at her. "You went to college?"
"Yeah, I graduated last year. That's the main reason I think it's stupid to send us to a local high school—or at least to send me. I already know anything they might care to teach me. Like this, for example," she said, picking up the book and indicating the problem Jon had been pondering a few minutes before. "Thermal expansion and contraction. Easy stuff. Materials expand as they're heated and contract when cooled because their temperature changes the size of their electrons' orbits. I didn't even learn that in school."
"Very impressive," said Jon dryly.
"There are some things I do wonder about, though." She looked curiously down at her own chest, placing her hands on either side of her swimsuit top, and mused, "I wonder if that means my breasts will expand if I heat them."
Jon shot a "where did we get this one?" look over at DJ, who shrugged and went back to reading.
"I suspect you'd need a micrometer to tell, love," said DJ offhandedly.
"And just what the hell was that supposed to mean?" Asuka demanded as DJ put his book aside, removed his t-shirt, and made ready to jump into the pool.
"Nothing as bad as you're thinking," replied DJ, and, with a smooth motion, he swan-dove into the pool.
Asuka glared at the ripple pattern left in his wake, then turned to Jon as Rei climbed out of the pool at the nearest ladder and made her dripping way to the table.
"How can you stand him?" Asuka asked Jon as he, unprompted, handed Rei a towel.
"Experience," Jon and Rei chorused flatly.
The EVA pilots (even DJ, though he was technically off duty) gathered in one of the conference rooms to look at a diagram of the newly spotted Angel.
"This is like a pupal stage before maturity," Ritsuko explained to the children.
"And our objective is to capture it," Jon stated.
Ritsuko nodded. "Correct. A live sample is crucial to our continued research into the makeup of the Angels. If we can capture this one before it metamorphs, we should gain a wealth of useful information."
"And if we fail?" Asuka asked.
"Then destroy the Angel as quickly as possible. Now, in order to capture it, one of you will need to dive into the magma chamber and deploy an EM cage around the cocoon. Ordinarily, we'd ask you to do this, DJ—you have the most operational time in your EVA, plus you're an experienced diver. Unfortunately..."
"That's not an option," DJ finished. "Sorry."
"Right. So, we need a volunteer."
"Me! I'll do it!" Asuka replied brightly. "I dive too."
"Excellent. Jon, you will serve as backup while Asuka handles the capture operation, and assist if necessary."
"Understood," Jon nodded.
"Rei, you'll remain here on alert in case of another attack."
"Understood," Rei nodded.
"Too bad, you can't go to Hawaii," Asuka said with a snide grin, leaning across the table. Rei did not reply or react.
"Equipment Section will fit the Type D equipment to EVA-02 immediately," Ritsuko announced. "Asuka, you'll have to be fitted for a Type D plug suit, as well."
"I'm ready," Asuka said firmly.
"Hm?" Asuka wondered as she hit the control button and the plug suit contracted around her. "You said this was a special Type D plug suit, but I don't feel any difference."
"Push the control button on the right wrist," Ritsuko replied, not looking up from her clipboard.
Shrugging, Asuka pushed the right control button. Suddenly her plug suit expanded outward, seeming to inflate like a balloon. "Wha??" she shrieked, realizing she had become large and round, barely able to fit through the doorway. "What's this?!?"
As Asuka wedged herself through the door from the changing room into the central pilot staging area, DJ stifled a bark of laughter, instead muttering, "It always goes wrong at the dessert..."
"Shut up!" Asuka snapped. "Weren't you supposed to be leaving or something?"
"Couldn't leave without seeing this first," DJ observed, earning himself a withering glare.
"Unit 02 is ready," Ritsuko continued flatly.
Amused, DJ followed the group to the EVA cage. It wouldn't throw his schedule off too much if he stuck around for the punch line.
Asuka was already mortally embarrassed by the plug suit, but this... this just added insult to injury. EVA-02 sat against the wall, encased in what looked for all the world like a bulky white deep-sea diving suit.
"Type 'D' extreme-environment suit," Ritsuko explained. "Anti-heat, anti-pressure, and anti-nuclear armor."
"Is that my EVA-02?" Asuka whimpered, looking up. Sure enough, she could see the face of EVA-02 behind the big round window on the spherical helmet of the environment suit. It wasn't a horrible dream... it was really happening.
"No!" she snapped, turning to Ritsuko. "I don't want to be seen in public like this! It's too embarrassing!"
Rei quietly raised her hand. "I'll go. I'll pilot Unit 02—"
Her hand was slapped down as Asuka got right in her face and snarled, "I don't want you touching my EVA!" She spun to face Maya and Ritsuko. "If it's me or the First, I'll do it!" she huffed, and waddled away.
"One of these days, someone's going to cut her into little pieces," DJ murmured.
Jon stared after Asuka's retreating form, simmering, when he felt a hand resting on top of his own right hand, which he only now realized was curled into a tight fist and half-raised. He looked down to see the whiteness of Rei's hands standing out against his black plug suit glove, and followed the curve of her arms upward until he met her eyes.
Don't be angry.
He let out the breath he hadn't realized he'd been holding, and his hand promptly unclenched and wrapped itself around Rei's. They held hands for a moment and quietly looked into each other's eyes, and Jon felt the tension leave him completely.
Thank you. I'm sorry.
"Be careful," she said softly.
"I will," he replied.
DJ studiously failed to notice any of this byplay.
The briefings and equipment tests completed, the pilot staff was dismissed; the operation would begin with the airlift of EVA-02 and EVA-03 to Kilauea at 0600 the following morning. Asuka gratefully shed the embarrassing plug suit and got back into more civilized clothes, and the group returned to the building on Lee Street for a somewhat more subdued evening than usual—tempered by the knowledge that one of them was leaving, and in some danger of not legally being allowed back.
That one trailed behind a little, spending a while in the Wedge alone with his thoughts and the psychedelic holography of Tempest 5000. Finally, as he prepared to leave, he headed over to the Tech Section office block, poking his head into one of the offices.
DJ was in luck; Maya Ibuki wasn't often in her office, but today she was, working on the collation and correlation of some reports from the previous day's rather exhaustive series of harmonics tests. She was intent on the work and didn't notice DJ entering until he'd walked up behind her and placed his hands on her shoulders. She was tense, and for a moment became even tenser, then relaxed as she realized whose hands were attempting to rub that tension away.
"Hi, DJ," she said, settling back in her chair and letting his strong, practiced fingers work their magic. "Must be about time for you to get going, isn't it?"
"Soon," said DJ. "My ship leaves New York tomorrow afternoon at six, so I'll ride down tonight, stay the night at the Waldorf and board first thing in the morning. 'Fashionable lateness' never really came into fashion for ocean liners... they have a nasty habit of leaving without passengers who haven't shown up, even if they are booked in first class."
"Mmm," Maya all but purred, leaning back against his hands and closing her eyes happily. "Must be nice to be independently wealthy," she observed.
"Hey, I earned it," DJ pointed out. "Tramping all round the world's secret places is hard enough work without worrying about a camera." He sighed. "Anyway... I just wanted to see you again before I headed out. You're more or less the only friend I've got in Tech Section."
Maya opened her eyes, looking up and back at him. "You shouldn't take Dr. Akagi's attitude personally. She... she's like her mother. She has a hard time warming up to people. Especially people who throw her off balance like you do."
"I don't take it personally, but there's no denying we're not exactly friends. Pity... she seems a good enough soul, if only we had any common ground at all. I don't want to bother her, particularly, but I won't change who and what I am because my present state doesn't suit her fancy, either."
Maya sighed and closed her eyes again, surrendering to the warm lassitude that was spreading through her, and murmured, "It's just a personality conflict. You'd have to work harder to get along than either of you is willing to do."
"Well... maybe when I get back I'll put a bit more effort into it."
"That would make things go a lot smoother at times," Maya said, nodding.
"At any rate, I'd best get going." Ceasing his massage, DJ leaned down and kissed her forehead. "Take care, love. I'll see you when I get back. Perhaps we should go to a picture show or something."
She smiled, turning her chair so she could see him out without having to watch him leave upside down. "I'm too old for you," she admonished him.
"I like older women," he said from the door. "Reflection of my well-earned Oedipal complex, I suppose. Cheers."
Maya stared at the closed door to her office for a few seconds, then dissolved into a fit of giggles. It wasn't for a couple of minutes that she was able to turn back to her terminal, soberly hoping that she wouldn't have to count this as the last time she saw DJ Croft.
"Mind the fort while I'm gone, Hal," said DJ to his computer as he stuffed the last shirt into his pack and zipped it shut.
"I'll do my best, DJ," Hal replied calmly. "Are there any special instructions?"
"No... just keep an eye on things, follow the last directives, and alert me if anything goes seriously wrong. I'll be at the Henge, evenings, not counting the time I'm at sea."
"Good luck, DJ," said Hal.
"Thanks, old friend," said DJ, shouldering the pack. "I'll need it." He went to the living room to go on saying his goodbyes.
"So you're leaving then?" Asuka asked as he entered the room.
"Regrettably, yes," he replied. "Don't worry, though. I'll keep faithful to you always."
"Hmph," said Asuka, turning her attention back to the television and pointedly ignoring him.
DJ smiled. He rather enjoyed these little tête-à-têtes, really. Letting the point go, he proceeded through the sliding door to 3-F, finding Jon and Rei side by side on their couch, reading.
"Well, you two," he said, crouching before the sofa so as to be more or less at eye level, "try to keep the place from falling apart while I'm away, won't you?"
They nodded, looking equally at a loss for words. DJ grinned. "Take care of each other," he said. "Unless I miss my guess, you'll both find that a much more compelling motivation than 'take care of yourselves.'"
The two both smiled—slightly and rather guiltily—and a light blush came to both of their faces. DJ chuckled.
"You're so cute when you do that," he said, patting each of them on a cheek, which only intensified their flush. "Anyway, be good, don't do anything I wouldn't do. I'll see you in a few weeks—one way or another."
"Good luck, DJ," said Jon. "I hope you win."
"Don't even worry about it," said DJ with a dismissive gesture. "Think of me as on vacation."
Rei smiled and spoke with unexpected impishness:
"Have a good vacation, then."
DJ chuckled and patted her shoulder. "G'bye, Rei, love," he said. "I'll bring you back something fun from rainy old England."
Rei nodded, smiling but with serious eyes, and DJ took his leave of them, back to his own apartment and out through the kitchen.
"Cheers, Pen-Pen," he said to the penguin, who favored his human housemate with a positive-sounding "waugh!" as he waddled into his refrigerator-bedroom.
The airlift to Hawaii hadn't been anything memorable, aside from the somewhat comical appearance of EVA-02, hanging from the first An-411 in its diving suit. Jon imagined that DJ would have found the whole thing amusing, had he been able to see it.
Even after the Second Impact, Hawaii was a place marked by beauty and splendor. Sure, the ocean levels had risen and swamped out a few of the old cities; the Hawaiians had merely moved inland a bit. The common line was that all they had to do was wait for the various volcanoes in the still-growing island chain to rebuild the islands back to their former size—a matter, they joked, of only a few centuries. There was still some of the world's best surfing off Diamond Head, and Kilauea was still a most impressive cauldron of Pele.
Within a few hours of arrival, NERV had set up its staging area and moved the giant crane which would lower EVA-02 into the magma chamber into position, anchoring it firmly into the surrounding rock. EVA-03 took up a guarding position at the edge of the vent, as 02 was hooked up to the crane and fitted with the electromagnetic projector it would use to contain the embryo.
"Hm? What's that?" Asuka wondered, noticing the silhouettes of aircraft cruising overhead.
"Raiden DX-3 interceptors," Jon observed.
"Correct," Misato's voice was heard over the channel. "They're on alert for the duration of this operation."
"Will they help us?" Asuka asked.
"No, they're here in case we fail," Ritsuko replied.
"If we can't recover or destroy it, they'll drop the N2 bombs they're carrying. They'll destroy the target, and us along with it."
"That's horrid!" Asuka protested. "Who'd order a thing like that??"
Shocked, for once Asuka had no response.
DJ Croft stood at the rail of the White Star liner Olympic and gazed northward at the hazy horizon. Somewhere up there was the planet's only remaining ice cap, and he found himself wondering if, in time, its mate would return. Logically, he imagined it would, though he would never live to see it. After all, how long had it taken the original to form?
And how long had it taken the Second Angel (when had the First really come, he wondered) to destroy it?
He turned away from the rail and looked instead at the ship he was traveling on, though this was, perhaps, not the best angle to see it from. Some people called it the world's most ridiculous waste of money, others the ultimate gleeful anachronism. Either way, it was a perfect exemplar of the flash of giddy survivors' glee that rushed through the remaining half of humanity when the upheaval following Second Impact settled down.
Some people would have been rather unsettled at the prospect of crossing the Atlantic on a ship which had been built, at great expense, to resemble exactly (at least with respect to what the passengers could see) the sister of the most famous disaster ship of all time. On the other hand, most people hadn't walked the halls of the Titanic and seen her with their own eyes; DJ had. It gave him something of a unique perspective.
At any rate, he was dreading the things he had to do when he arrived in England much more than anything that might happen along the way, and in the literally and figuratively turbulent atmosphere of post-Impact Earth, sea travel was safer than flying by a wide enough margin that only people in a hurry ever flew. Knowing that what awaited him in England was yet another tedious custody battle between his mother and grandfather (albeit one he hoped to throw a good-sized wrench of his own into, this time), DJ was in no sort of hurry.
Sighing, he went back to his first-class stateroom to study his legal options again. It wouldn't do to be unprepared when the time came.
"All systems in place and operational," said Maya as her portable operations board lit up green.
"Support equipment up and ready," added Truss.
"Fire laser pulse!" ordered Misato.
The small laser emitter attached to the crane fired a pulse of energy down into the rift, in the process mapping out the course EVA-02 would take during its descent.
"Course laid in. Preparing EVA-02 for descent," Truss reported.
"All cooling systems operating normally," Maya reported. "All systems green."
"Asuka, are you ready?" Misato called.
"Anytime," Asuka replied.
The crane engaged, and began to lower the EVA. Asuka regarded the burning magma below with trepidation. "Man, it looks hot..." she said, her resolve wavering for just a moment, but only for a moment.
«All right, Asuka. You can do this,» she muttered in German. To take her mind off it, she keyed her com. "Hey, Jon! Want to see a real live diving technique?" Without waiting for a response, she moved the EVA into a rather comical position, as if it were taking a stride in midair, and, as it entered the lava, she shouted cheerfully,
"Giant stroke entry!"
Jon glanced down at the perplexed image of Misato that appeared on his comm panel and shrugged. "Don't mind her," he said. "It's her way of handling stress."
"Depth 300, all systems nominal. Descending to 400..." Maya said, monitoring the progress of EVA-02 as it descended deeper into the lava flow.
"Visibility is zero," Asuka reported. "Switching to CT monitor... not much better," she sighed as the view sharpened a little. "Visual range is only 120 down here. This is poor... "
"You're doing fine, Asuka," Misato reassured her. "Remember, because of convection and drift you'll only get one capture attempt."
"Understood," Asuka replied, grinning. "I can handle it."
"Depth 600... 800... 1000, now passing safe depth limit... 1200... 1300."
"Predicted target point reached," Truss reported.
"Asuka, any contact?"
"Negative," Asuka replied. "There's nothing here."
"It must have drifted farther than we thought; there must be an error in the calculations," Truss said, already beginning to recalculate the location of the Angel.
"Continue descent," Misato said evenly. "We have to find it."
"We're past maximum depth limit!"
"Continue descent," Misato repeated.
"Depth 1400... 1500..."
Faint groaning noises began sounding throughout the structure of EVA-02 as the powerful Type D armor experienced stresses even it was never really intended to withstand. With a crack, one of the circulation pipes began to lose its integrity.
"Secondary circulation pipe cracked!"
"Captain!" Truss turned to face Misato. "We have a pilot down there!"
"I'm in charge of this operation, John," Misato answered. "Continue descent."
"1600... 1700—contact on radar!"
As Asuka watched the patterns of the flowing magma through the front viewports, a large black distortion came into her field of view, which her radar quickly confirmed to be the target. "Target confirmed! Deploying capture field!" The EM emitter telescoped outward, becoming slightly wider than the Angel pupa, and projected a glowing rectangle of energy which surrounded it.
"EM field deployed! Target captured!" Maya announced.
Asuka heaved a sigh of relief, as did everyone on the surface.
"Begin recovery," Misato sighed, and the crane shifted into reverse, pulling both Angel and EVA up from the depths as quickly as possible.
As Asuka watched her readouts, a communication window opened up on her display; it was Jon. "Are you all right?" he asked.
"Of course I am," Asuka replied offhandedly, grinning. "It was easy. It's always easier to just do things than worry about doing them."
"That's true. You did—"
"What?" Asuka asked, her smile fading as she saw him abruptly stop talking, the color vanishing from his face.
"Drop the cage! It's hatching!!"
Before Asuka even had time to reply, alarms went off on her own console, and the EM capture field began to fluctuate wildly.
"Damn! It's emerging sooner than we expected!" Ritusko said, alarmed.
"EVA-02, abort, abort, abort!" Misato snapped. "Get back to the surface and prepare for battle. Destruction of the Angel is now top priority!"
EVA-02 immediately released its grip on the EM projector and it fell away. Within the confines of the EM field the Angel completed its metamorphosis into a creature vaguely aquatic in appearance, bursting out of the cage a moment later. In the next instant it spotted EVA-02 and swung to the attack.
"Release ballast!" Asuka shrieked as the thing barreled in. The belt of weights around EVA-02's waist immediately unbuckled and fell away, and EVA-02 rose upward, barely avoiding the Angel's charge.
"Damn! It's fast!" Asuka cried, seizing her Prog Knife.
The thing was on her before she even realized it, opening its lamprey-like mouth and biting at EVA-02's helmeted head.
"I can't believe it opened its mouth in that environment!" Ritsuko gasped, observing the video feeds.
"IN-credible..." Truss sort of concurred.
Asuka grappled with the beast, slamming her Prog Knife into its forehead with no observable results. Its serrated claws were much more effective, latching onto EVA-02's left leg and crushing the thick armor.
"Left leg damaged! Cooling system rupture!"
"Anti-heat process!" Asuka shouted, and EVA-02's left leg was jettisoned immediately. Enraged by the necessity of having to do that (and the sympathetic pain her synchronized neural link to the wounded EVA caused her), Asuka brought her Prog Knife down hard on the Angel's head over and over again, screaming the vilest German and English obscenities she could think of at it.
"Asuka!" Jon shouted through the channel. "Hit it with the coolant!!"
Asuka was about to ask what in the world that would accomplish, when she remembered the poolside conversation back at the Geo-Front. "Right! Control, redirect all cooling pressure to pipe #3!!"
Maya didn't need to be told twice, diverting all the power to the third pipeline immediately. Below, a deluge of supercooled fluid was forced down the Angel's throat. It twitched and flopped ineffectually, but Asuka gave it no chance to recover. The monster's flesh contracted, becoming brittle, and Asuka sent her Prog Knife slamming home again. The Angel's core cracked and then broke apart, and immediately the rest of the Angel's body lost integrity and dissolved.
But not before getting in one final, giant slash which severed four of the five coolant pipes and left the fifth one damaged.
Asuka looked at her upper viewscreen in silence as the coolant oozed uselessly out of the damaged pipes, and then ceased altogether. Almost immediately the Type D armor began to buckle and crack, and the last cooling pipe began to tear away.
«Well,» she murmured in German, a tear drifting away in the LCL, «Mother always told me I would go to Hell one day. Looks like she was right...»
An unexpected bump jarred EVA-02, and Asuka looked up to see EVA-03, its red eyes glowing brightly, one hand latched firmly onto the cables, the other holding on solidly to EVA-02.
"Jon, you Dummkopf..." she murmured. "You'll get yourself killed."
"Dammit!" Misato growled, smacking her fist down on the instrument panel. "Truss, get them out of there!"
"Already reeling them up," Truss replied. Outside, the winch mechanism hit its limit as the two EVAs emerged from the volcano; then, swinging aside, it dropped them on the ground, where both lay smoking. EVA-03's armor had begun to soften from the heat, but it wasn't soft enough to sag badly under its own weight; the entry plug still popped up (but did not completely eject) as normal, and the outflowing LCL only steamed when it touched the hot armor.
Environment-suited techs swarmed around both EVAs, working feverishly to extract their pilots. Other than a distinct need for a cool shower and something to drink, neither was seriously injured.
"Well," said Misato to Truss, "that didn't go quite as planned... but at least we didn't lose anybody."
"Any second now, I'll be able to breathe again," Truss agreed, smiling.
"I understand. No, it's not important. Thank you."
Gendō Ikari hung up the phone and looked across his desk at Kaji Ryoji.
"Didn't get it, huh?" said Kaji.
"No," Ikari replied. "The Angel awoke ahead of schedule. They were forced to destroy it."
"Too bad." Ryoji shrugged. "But what do you want with another one, anyway? You've already got two."
"Like people, no two Angels are exactly alike," Ikari replied. "Each offers new opportunities for study."
"Can you really say that about people any more?" Ryoji wondered.
"That's not for me to decide."
The White Star Royal Mail Steamship Olympic pulled into Southampton, England, promptly at 4 PM, local time, the following Thursday. Like all but seven of the 2,103 other passengers, DJ Croft disembarked and cleared Customs without incident, reporting to the baggage claim area for his Corley.
While he waited, he noticed a man in a chauffeur's uniform moving through the small crowd of first-class passengers. DJ recognized him immediately: he was Franklin, Sir Henshingly Croft's driver. Well, three guesses who he's looking for, thought DJ to himself, and continued waiting.
Before long, Franklin spotted him, but DJ's look of total indifference must have dissuaded the man from trying to approach him directly. DJ couldn't totally blame the poor fellow—after all, he was only trying to earn a living—but still, anyone who would work for Sir Henshingly had to be hard up for work, or just too lazy to look elsewhere.
Moments later, the old man himself swept onto the dockside, smiling a broad and entirely affected smile as he approached DJ, arms wide for an embrace he wasn't going to get.
"Derek, there you are!" he boomed. "Welcome home, my lad! Come, let Franklin and I give you a ride home."
DJ gave the old man a perplexed look, then replied politely, "I'm sorry, sir—I'm afraid you must have mistaken me for someone who was expecting you to meet him here. I've my own transportation, should be along any minute—but it's most kind of you to offer."
Sir Henshingly's smile faded. One of the reasons DJ's grandfather didn't particularly like dealing with the boy, other than the fact that his rebellious mother had given him her disregard for the privilege and respect of the peerage in spades, was the fact that he had a singular knack for failing to recognize orders that were phrased, for politeness' sake, as requests.
"I'm afraid I really must insist," he said, his ebullience rapidly having cooled.
"I'm afraid I really must decline," DJ replied, his polite smile never slipping. "I have so many things to do this evening, and I really couldn't trouble you and your man here to run me round to every single one of my errands, to say nothing of taking me all the way out to Northants once that's done."
"Enough with this act, Derek," Sir Henshingly growled. "You're not going to Northants."
DJ's smile vanished as if someone had flipped a switch; his eyes became instantly arctic as he replied in a soft, deadly voice,
"We've not even got to court yet, mate. You've no leg to stand on. If the two of you try to force me out of here, I've only to shout to bring the White Star security people down round your ears. Back off, old man. Leave it."
Sir Henshingly stared malevolently at his grandson for a moment, the hate in his eyes more for the mother who had raised the boy to be so disrespectful than the boy himself. DJ never flinched. A moment later, the porter called his name.
Without another word, DJ turned his back on his grandfather and went to collect his motorcycle; then he swung astride, started it, and roared away without a backward look.
Sir Henshingly Croft stood on the dockside and fumed.
One day soon, he vowed, that boy will learn to respect me.
DJ goes to court.
Jon and Rei go into battle together.
Asuka goes just a little too far.
And SHODAN is proven right.
In seven days:
Neon Exodus Evangelion 1:9
Carry On Wayward Son
"I'm sorry, Asuka. You know I can't do that."