Eyrie Productions, Unlimited
Neon Exodus Evangelion
Exodus 2: Symphony of Terror
Ceremony of Innocence Part One
The Geometry of Shadows
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, Larry Mann, and MegaZone
Aided and abetted by the Eyrie Productions, Unlimited crew
and special-guest-for-life Phil Moyer
© 1997 Eyrie Productions, Unlimited
HTML remastering © 2016 EPU
Ritsuko Akagi huddled in the corner of her shower, the steaming water deepening the red in her usually pale skin. Her left arm hugged tightly across her breasts; her right trailed limply at her side. The wash rag that had earlier scrubbed her flesh nearly raw dangled loosely from her fingers before falling to the floor.
Despite the scalding water she felt cold, a cold that seemed to sit in her very bones. Some distant part of her mind tried to tell her she was in mild shock, but it went ignored. Hazy memories of the previous night played in a tortured loop behind the closed lids of her eyes.
She'd agreed to join Ryoji Kaji mostly from the feelings of loneliness and hurt that had been induced by her train of thought after the party had broken up. A night out with an old friend seemed like a reasonable cure for the blues, or at least a fair treatment.
Things had started out normally enough. They'd headed over to Ralph's, one of Kaji's preferred haunts. After fortifying themselves with burgers and chili in the diner they headed for the bar. Kaji declared that the evening was his treat and the drinking began.
They'd played a couple of rounds of pool on the battered table, monopolized the juke for a while, but mostly just talked about old times, the project, life, etc. It was just the kind of distraction she needed.
But as the night wore on, things began to get strange. She must have had more to drink than she realized. She started feeling distinctly tipsy, which quickly became drunkenness. Memory became spotty. She remembered Kaji making more pronounced advances, which she'd fended off clumsily, writing them off to the assumption that he was as intoxicated as she.
But something didn't seem right, her mind struggled with the muddled memories. She didn't understand how she'd become so inebriated, and Kaji hadn't seemed all that impaired. Well, he did drink far more often than she, so he probably had a higher tolerance. Right?
Memory became more dark than light. She didn't remember leaving the bar. One flash she was in the bar, the next she was being carried across her living room. She'd felt detached, her head full of cotton. Darkness again, then she was on her bed, Kaji grinning, removing her clothes. She'd tried to resist but found she could barely coordinate her movements, tried to protest, but her voice produced only inarticulate sounds. Her memory jumped ahead again.
His panting face grinned down at her through a haze.
"Not so bad, now, is it?"
There, memory failed. The images had come back to her as consciousness first returned. Their detached, dreamlike quality had at first seemed to her a dream, a nightmare brought on by her mood. But as she continued to surface, a dread instinctive certainty that it was not a dream sank in, and her stomach knotted. The pounding in her head told her she had certainly been drinking the night before. Her hangover was worse than any she could remember.
But worse than that, the tangled sheets were evidence that the worst of the memories were no dream. More so, she could feel in her body that it was true. Moments later she'd been in the shower, where she still remained, nearly an hour later.
How could she have allowed this to happen? How did she let herself lose control, to let herself become so weak that she couldn't take care of her self? What was wrong with her?
Perhaps if she had known what Kaji had previously attempted with Misato her thoughts would have taken quite a different tack. Surely if she realized why Kaji had insisted on always bringing the drinks from the bar, future events would have been very different indeed.
But she had no way of knowing.
Major Misato Katsuragi sat at her desk and read for the seventh time the memo she'd found there, turning its implications over in her mind. It was an annotated partial transcript of DJ Croft's third and last psych evaluation session with Commander Ikari, and it made for very interesting reading in spots.
IKARI: You have a history of travel and, for lack of a better term, adventure. Do you find your NERV responsibilities confining?
CROFT: We're all confined by something. I'm confined by my curiosity. Jon is confined by his sense of duty. What are you confined by, Gendō?
IKARI: We're not here to talk about me.
CROFT: But you're so interesting.
Yes, very interesting, but DJ's verbal fencing with Ikari paled in comparison to the volcanic explosion at the end—the point at which, through the simple expedient of asking directly, Ikari discovered that DJ and some person Ikari left unnamed had recently become lovers.
Hence this pleasant missive from Commander Ikari, laying out the basics of the interview and demanding to know why Misato had not known of, or better yet prevented, this obvious breach of propriety and protocol on the part of the pilot. The last page of the memo was a pastiche of dire warnings related to concerns over the operational implications and consequences of emotional immaturity in the Children, capped off with the ominous statement, "If you cannot control your charges, Major, we can find someone who can."
Misato glared indignantly at the signature on the memo. The truth of the matter was, she agreed with the comments DJ had made to Ikari after the issue had come up, comments which had been the subject of much discussion throughout Central Dogma as word spread of Ikari and DJ's very public confrontation in Corridor D-3A. They, the hierarchy of NERV, had forced the pilots to grow up ahead of their time. It was hypocritical of Ikari, the others, Misato herself, to expect the Children to act like responsible adults one minute, dependent children the next.
She dropped the memo on her desk and sighed. There was no way around it: this news made her feel old. Old and tired and not in control.
I wonder who she is, Misato mused. Somebody involved with the program? Maybe a schoolmate...
What should it matter to you, Katsuragi? she asked herself crossly.
Shut up, she advised herself. You know damned well why it matters.
Across the desk from her, DJ himself sat, looking indignant. A moment after Misato dropped the memo, he picked it up.
"Interesting phrasing," he observed. Then he smiled slowly as the importance of that phrasing struck him. "'Discretion forbids' nothing; he doesn't say who she is because he doesn't know."
Misato looked wearily across the desk at him. "DJ, this is a serious problem. Professor Ikari wants to have you removed from the program for your insubordination."
"My insubordination or my indiscretion?" DJ retorted. "He asked me a question that was none of his business and flew off the handle when I answered it honestly. If I went a little over the top in dealing with him, fine, but everything I told him is true. If he doesn't want to let me play with his toys any more, that's his prerogative, but see that he doesn't come crawling to me when the world ends."
Misato sat up, leaned her elbows on her desk, and rested her chin on her doubled fists, and looked thoughtfully at the boy. When she spoke, it was with a tone of sadness rather than anger:
"Do you think so little of the team we have here?"
DJ looked sharply up, then sat back with a sigh. "No, it's not that. It's just that Ikari makes me so damned mad. It's none of his business. He's no right asking, let alone getting angry about the answers."
"He has that right if he thinks it will affect your operational readiness, or anyone else's. So have I."
"Personal freedoms will be suspended for the duration of crisis," said DJ in the best BBC announcer tone he could muster.
"Damn it, DJ! Can't you see this is difficult for me?" Misato burst out. "I promised your mother I'd take care of you. I feel partly responsible."
"Why must everyone persist in acting as though something bad has happened?" said DJ. "I assure you, the people who were actually there at the time don't view it that way. We were in complete agreement, we were careful, we had an absolutely marvelous time, we cleaned up after ourselves and we didn't disturb the neighbors. What more do you want? How much more responsibility could we take for ourselves?" When Misato had no answer for him, DJ got up and shook his head.
"When you and Ikari figure out what the hell you want from us, let me know," he said, and left.
Misato Katsuragi sat in her office for a long time afterward, wondering just why she felt so much like crying. When John Trussell arrived, he found her still staring glumly at the memo.
"Major Katsuragi, we're almost ready to begin the—what's wrong?"
Misato looked up from her desk at the engineer, then shrugged and tossed him the memo. Truss scanned it, murmuring the highlights to himself.
"'... Grave indiscretion... project integrity in jeopardy... pilot Croft has taken undue advantage of a comrade and forced himself into a sexual relationship with a comrade, discretion forbids me to identify her by name,'" Truss read, then coughed as a sudden realization made him want to laugh, but the gloomy look on Misato's face told him such would not be a good idea.
"What's the matter with you?" Misato wondered.
"Nothing," Truss replied as he got his coughing fit under control. "I'm just having serious doubts about the 'forced into' part. Asuka seems pretty much an equal partner in whatever's going on between those two."
Misato leaned forward in her chair. "Asuka is DJ's lover?! When did you find this out?"
"Just now, really," Truss replied. "Asuka's said some things in the past couple of weeks that didn't make any sense to me until now."
"Well, I'll be goddamned," Misato mused, plunking back in her chair. She looked thoughtful for a few moments; then a mask of military bearing fell over her features. "Was there something you wanted, John?"
John didn't miss her shift in demeanor; dropping the memo on her desk, he replied briskly, "Just wanted to let you know that we'll be ready to start the cross-compatibility tests in twenty-five minutes."
"Fine, carry on," said Misato.
"Yes, ma'am," Truss replied, turning and leaving the office.
Misato watched him go, punched a key on her desk to lock the door behind him, and stared at the closed door for several minutes as her eyes grew hot and damp.
She could do a lot of crying in twenty-five minutes, but there seemed no sense in wasting any time.
Gendō Ikari was in his office, too, surveying his empire via SHODAN's security system and considering the widening cracks that were starting to develop in it. Ikari's outburst several days before had become the stuff of instant legend around Central Dogma, the first and only time that he had appeared as anything other than an unflappable, god-like figure, ruthless, single-minded purpose given flesh. It was as incomprehensible as it was unexpected to the rank and file of NERV that the Icy Commander should come unglued like that in public.
They would not have felt comforted to know that Ikari was mortified by his behavior, too. He hadn't realized how far under his skin his annoyance with DJ Croft had gotten until that one brittle moment during the psych evaluation Ikari had insisted on carrying out himself.
Fingers steepled thoughtfully before him, Ikari watched the playback again. From the small screen built into his desk, he had a security-camera's-eye black-and-white view of himself and DJ in the small conference room, and their voices, though a bit muffled, were clearly audible.
"Are you currently involved in a sexual relationship?" asked Gendō, reading it verbatim from the question list on his clipboard.
DJ scowled. "What the hell's that got to do with anything?"
"It's a standardized evaluation," replied Ikari, not looking up. "You should realize that the emotional noise involved with that sort of relationship can have potentially damaging effects to the calm state necessary for proper interface with an Evangelion. Answer the question."
"Is that really on the form?" asked DJ.
"Right there," replied Ikari, turning the clipboard and pointing with his pen.
DJ peered at the form, then frowned. "Well, I'll be damned."
"Answer the question," Ikari repeated, turning back his clipboard and sitting back in his chair.
"Suppose I think it's none of your business," DJ replied.
"Must everything be a test of authority with you?" wondered Ikari. "If you don't answer this question or any other, I'll have Security detain you in the holding center downstairs until such time as you decide to co-operate. Under NERV's charter I have that authority."
DJ glared at Ikari for a moment, then relented. "I suppose it's too early in the day for a foot race. Very well, here's your answer: Yes."
At this, Ikari's shoulders jumped a little, and, leaning forward a bit in his chair, he said, "I beg your pardon?"
"You do?" asked Croft, his face bearing infinite surprise. "God in Heaven! Let me get my camera."
"Your editorial comments are no longer amusing," Ikari cut him off. "This is a serious matter."
"Fine," replied DJ. "The answer's still yes. What d'you propose to do about it?"
Ikari flipped a page in his questionnaire. When he spoke again, his voice carried a new tone of urgency:
"Is your partner a co-worker?"
DJ nodded. "In one! Shall we play Twenty Questions?"
"No," replied Ikari, his voice stony. "You will terminate the relationship immediately."
"Like hell I will," DJ replied mildly.
"It was not a request!" Ikari barked, and DJ raised an eyebrow, clearly surprised at this outburst from the Icy Commander. "This is a military organization, not a dating service. You will end the relationship, you will cease to take advantage of the situation you've been placed in. NERV is under enough public pressure for its use of children as combat pilots in the first place—it doesn't need the potential feedback of a revelation such as this."
DJ snorted. "I wager you wouldn't be saying that if I were Jon."
Ikari slammed a fist down on the conference table. "I won't tolerate your insolence any longer!" he declared, standing and leaning over the table toward the boy. "You will cease your endless interference and follow orders or you will be removed from the program!"
DJ got to his own feet and replied, "The program you all but shanghai'd me into in the first place? How generous of you! The great Gendō Ikari, whose is the power to bind and to loose. Go ahead and throw me out—I've half a mind to take the others with me when I go!" He turned, threw the door open and stormed out.
Ikari followed, his cry of "I'm appalled at your conduct, Croft!" resounding in the room before the door closed behind them and cut the camera's weak microphone off from the rest of the confrontation.
Gendō stopped the playback, sat back in his chair, and sighed. The task at hand was almost as distasteful as interviewing Croft had been, but made much more necessary by the content of the interview itself. If the unforgivable had happened, the best thing to do now was assess the damage and go on with the program. That damage might not be completely reversible, but it could be minimized.
He pressed a key on his desk and said flatly, "Send her in."
Moments later, the door opened, and Rei Ayanami entered, walking in to stand silent and expressionless before Ikari's desk.
"Hello, Rei," said Ikari, trying to infuse his voice with a bit of warmth that once would have been automatic. "How are you today?"
"Well, thank you," Rei replied. "Why did you call for me?"
"We haven't spoken in a while," Gendō replied. "I thought it would be good to ask you how things are going at home, and such."
Rei regarded him for a moment, then shook her head. "No, there's something you want," she said flatly. "What is it?"
"You're too clever for me, Rei," said Ikari, trying and failing to make a joke of it. She merely stood and waited for him to get to the point.
Those who were surprised by Ikari's outburst would have been absolutely stunned to see him now—for now he was not angry, but uncomfortable. The one was, at least, imaginable for the Icy Commander. To lose his patience and shout—well, DJ could be a trial, everyone knew that. But to sit at his desk, fumble with his pen and be at a loss for words? Inconceivable.
Finally he stopped himself, put down the pen, squared his shoulders, and asked bluntly, "Rei, are you sexually involved with Croft?"
Rei blinked once, slowly, looked curiously at Ikari, and replied, "No."
The answer was so soon in coming, so direct, and so entirely not what Ikari was expecting that, for a moment, he was absolutely at a loss. He simply sat behind his desk and regarded her with something just to the dignified side of a gape.
"No?" he finally inquired.
"No," Rei replied.
"Are you certain?" Ikari asked, conscious as he did so of what an utterly lame question it was.
"I suspect I'd remember," Rei replied, her face perfectly straight. Then, after a moment, she tipped her head a millimeter to the left and asked calmly, "Should I be?"
Ikari coughed, caught completely off-guard by the question, and barely kept himself from showing a more marked reaction.
"No," he said. She did not respond—merely looked quietly back at him. He pushed his glasses up his nose and looked her in the eye, a long, searching stare that found nothing but that look that was so essentially Rei—inscrutable, yet strangely powerful, as though she were looking straight into his soul.
"Is that all?" Rei asked, jolting him out of his reverie.
"Yes. That's all," Ikari replied.
Without a word, Rei turned and left the room.
Alone in his office, Gendō Ikari slumped in his chair and let out a sigh of relief. Never in his life had he been so pleased to be wrong.
In a moment, he recovered his composure like shrugging on an old overcoat, and tapped his intercom control.
"Colonel Keller," he said.
"Yes?" replied the voice of Otto Keller.
"Cancel the board of inquiry."
"Yes. It's not Rei, and therefore not important."
"As you say, sir," replied Keller, who had never thought it was terribly important to begin with.
Jon Ellison stood at the center of the Bay Seven catwalk, surveying the Evangelions arrayed before him: EVA-00, back in its original orange coloration, EVA-01, as always the most visible of the three with its purple armor and the eyes that always seemed to be looking right back at the observer, and EVA-02, its red finish polished to a bright shine. Ordinarily the gantry next to EVA-02 would contain his own Evangelion, also cleaned and polished to a shine as all the others were, but of course that was not possible just then.
EVA-03 would be back soon enough, certainly. Or at least, whatever was left of it. He knew it would be physically impossible to fit an Evangelion inside the cargo bay of even the biggest aerospacecraft in existence (which the Venture Stars Babylon 2 used for its supply runs were not), so the TechDiv team sent to Babylon 2 would certainly have dismantled (or 'dismembered', depending on who you asked) the unit and brought it back to Earth in pieces.
As Jon mused, the orange warning lights on the EVA gantries flashed and klaxons blared. Automated gantry systems began shifting the massive warriors along the miles of gantry rails laid on this level of Central Dogma to their assigned test chambers for the day's harmonics and cross-compatibility testing. The layout of the system—gantries on rails, wall segments which were really part of the gantries—gave the whole arrangement a powerful resemblance to an old children's television program Jon had seen once, in which the pilots of various specialized aircraft were portrayed by puppets. Since the puppets couldn't be shown convincingly walking, the sets featured a lot of seats on rails, moving walkways, rotating doors and the like.
Jon wondered why, of all times, he would think of that now.
Even as he pondered it, the large main door at the end of the hangar ground open, and a tractor-drawn flatbed rail car entered. What was on the car was covered by a tarpaulin, but Jon knew full well what it was. The only thing it could be was Unit 03... or what was left of it. His suspicion was confirmed moments later when, as he watched from the EVA-waist-level catwalk above, a TechDiv team swarmed over the car, pulling away the tarp to reveal its cargo—in five pieces, looking battered, scuffed and forlorn, but largely intact.
The whole business of cutting the EVA up and rebuilding it would require a complete overhaul and resync of the neurosystems, and just about every other system for that matter, meaning it would be a while before he would be back in the pilot's seat. And in all honesty, he was not feeling particularly put off by that news, since it amounted to a brief respite from the incessant pressure of training and testing and combat.
Of course he wasn't about to get too attached to the idea of a forced vacation. If 03 were down long enough, Ikari would probably have EVA-04 shipped over from Japan and put him in that unit's entry plug. Oh well, it wasn't as if he couldn't adapt. The production models were all very similar, and hence interchangeable. (Of course he wasn't about to tell Asuka that.)
Jon thought about Asuka's attachment to EVA-02, and asked himself if he had any real attachment to EVA-03. The answer he had to give was 'no, not really'. The unit was familiar to him, certainly, from years of training and combat piloting, but really, after all was said and done, he couldn't perceive the production model Evangelions as any more than empty shells. He had watched his unit being built from the ground up at X-COM Alcatraz, and had known all the time that, despite its flesh-and-blood nature, it was not really alive. The only time any of the production model EVAs were "alive" in any recognizable sense was when they were empowered and synchronized with a pilot who briefly lent the EVA his or her own thoughts and SSV pattern. By themselves they had no consciousness or soul of their own; they were just empty vessels.
The production models were, anyway.
Turning away from the soulless remains of his own unit, Jon looked back up at EVA-01. Lucifer always seemed to look back at anyone who chanced to make eye contact with it, and the more he looked into the unit's eyes, the more Jon felt that presence which no other inactive Evangelion—with the possible exception of Moloch—had. A presence which seemed oddly familiar...
Perhaps if the cross-compatibility testing rumor were true, he might have a chance to learn more.
The rumors were true. Rei Ayanami stood at the window in the control room, looking down at the test chamber and remembering her own experiences with this test chamber and this EVA. They hadn't been overwhelmingly pleasant ones. She hoped DJ could do better.
"Main power engaged," said Maya, looking over the status boards. "All responses are nominal. Ready to engage first neural link."
"DJ, how's it feel? Noticing any difference, any impressions at all?" Ritsuko inquired.
DJ sat back in the command seat, closed his eyes, and, frowning thoughtfully, took a deep breath of the LCL through his nose.
Funny smell, he remarked to himself. Not at all like the flat, slightly metallic smell he was used to; this was a pleasant, piquant scent, and a familiar one. The ties of smell to memory are the strongest of any sense, and with every breath, some subconscious connection nagged at him.
A couple of seconds later it dawned on him, and he murmured incredulously, "Smells like Rei."
"What?!" came the voice of Asuka over the comm. "Croft, what kind of pervert are you?"
Annoyed, DJ opened his eyes and flicked an irritated glare at her image on his comm screen. "You, of all people, feel the need to ask me that?" he replied.
Asuka reddened and dropped off the channel. For a few long moments she sat in her EVA (where she was undergoing a conventional harmonics test in the next test bay over), alone with her thoughts.
What's wrong with him? she wondered. Why is he angry? What did I do? Or is it something I didn't do? We haven't really talked since...
Dammit... he can't push me away now.
Ignoring the byplay, Ritsuko turned to Maya and muttered, "Olfactory hallucinations?"
Maya shrugged. "That's a new one."
"Maybe, or maybe he's just being a smartass," Ritsuko replied. "Commence first-stage neural connection. DJ, try to confine yourself to reporting relevant impressions, would you?"
"Understood, stabbing pains and above only," DJ replied.
"First-stage neural connection complete," Maya reported. "No problems."
"Commence second-stage connection and neural synchronization."
The booth officers watched tensely as the synchrotron readings marched across the big board, heading for the critical break-even point at 12.8 percent. As the flow of green reached that critical point, it paused for a moment, fluctuated, hesitated...
... then pressed on, sweeping cleanly up to 25% and holding.
"Synchrotron stable at .25 to 1," said Maya.
"That's it?" Ritsuko inquired, looking puzzled. "He should be a lot higher than that. His first sync with Unit 01 was a solid 47%."
"That's it," Maya reported. Keying the comm system, she asked, "DJ, how's it feel?"
"Odd," DJ replied. "I feel distinctly unwelcome."
"Maybe there's a miscalibration," Ritsuko mused. "Are you hitting a noise layer?"
"No," DJ replied. "It's... it's as if it's pushing at me. The EVA is a definite presence and it's not welcoming me."
Ritsuko sighed. "Could you make your descriptions a little vaguer, please? I might accidentally get some useful data at this rate."
"Well, look," DJ replied, "you try to quantify weird psychic phenomena. This is what it feels like. You've got all the computers up there, you figure out what it means."
Ritsuko tried to rub the incipient headache out of the bridge of her nose and replied, "Fine, OK. If it's 'pushing' you, try 'pushing' back."
"All right," said DJ skeptically. He gathered his concentration and did his best to do as she said. For a long moment there was nothing but silence as he matched his will against the strange resistance coming from the EVA.
For a moment, he felt the mental presence almost seem to draw back away from him, and then WHAM it hurled itself against him, no mere resistance now, but an active, angry presence, outraged at his intrusion and determined to see him gone. The EVA convulsed, then began straining against its restraints in a very familiar manner as a jumble of thoughts, his own and otherwise, rippled through DJ's mind.
"Oh, hell!" Maya muttered, engaging the emergency power cutoff. "It's gone berserk again!"
"Dammit," Ritsuko muttered. "I thought we'd fixed that!"
EVA-00 tore itself free of its restraints, driven to a higher peak of rage by the power cutoff. Within, DJ reeled. On the one hand, it was obvious his sychrony with the EVA had increased; he could feel the shocks pounding all the way up to his shoulders as Moloch drove its fists against the control room windows. On the other hand, the torrent of information that was screaming into his brain from the neural linkage was like nothing he'd felt since his first outing in Unit 01, and the cacophony was eroding his sense of identity and sending him spiraling into a whirlwind of confusion.
"Evacuate!" Ritsuko Akagi shouted as the windows started to crack, but Rei Ayanami did not move. She merely stood, dispassionately watching the orange EVA hurl itself against the wall, watching the windows crack and splinter, the metal crossbraces begin to bend inward.
"DJ!" Maya shouted into the comm system. "Can you hear me? What's happening?"
What's happening? wondered DJ. Where am I? Who am I? What was I doing? I had something important I was going to do. I was on my way to meet someone. Who was it? Why were we meeting? Who am I? I must get out of here! Why do these people confine me? Who am I?
DJ clapped his hands to the sides of his head and struggled to regain control of himself; EVA-00 mirrored his movement and began smashing its head rather than its fist against the windows.
DJ's own eyes opened; through the monitors he saw himself about to shatter the windows entirely and crush Rei.
Crush Rei? I would never do that. It must be someone else.
I would never?
Almost painfully, identity returned with the sharp snap of crystal clarity.
"Stop!" DJ screamed, hurling all his will against the rage of the EVA.
In mid-lunge, Moloch hesitated, then reeled back away from the window. The EVA staggered, made as if to step forward again, then fell to one knee and slumped forward against the wall as DJ overrode the battery system and shut the unit down.
The test chamber, the cockpit, and the channel into his mind went silent.
"SHODAN, send the test data to my office terminal," said Ritsuko. "I'll go over it there." Nodding to Maya and John, she left the control room.
"Never seen her in such a hurry to get out of here before," Truss murmured.
"The fact that we all just nearly got crushed might have something to do with that," Maya replied dryly.
When the recovery crews extracted DJ from the prototype's entry plug, he was still a bit dazed, but he refused offers of support from the two medics who greeted him there and made for the dressing room under his own power.
"DJ, are you all right?" one of the medics asked.
"Sure, I'm fine," DJ replied, a little absently. At the catwalk landing he reeled against the railing; as he shook his head, the other medic took hold of his elbow.
"Are you sure? Let us get you to the infirmary and check you out."
"I said I'm fine!" replied DJ, a trifle more emphatically than was really necessary. Shaking his arm free, he stalked up the catwalk and disappeared into the locker room.
The medics looked at each other and shrugged. They'd never known him to be so short-tempered with members of staff, but then, he'd just had a very bad test; he could be forgiven. Knowing him, he'd apologize later anyway.
Two hours later, Ritsuko sat alone in her office, the shades drawn against the brightening day. She felt more comfortable in the relative darkness, with only her desklamp's sickly cone of light falling upon the papers spread before her.
She'd been sitting this way for a few hours, barely making progress on the test data, and the next test—Jon/00—was coming up soon. Her hangover had been pushed back to a dull throb with some painkillers, but that wasn't the real problem. Her thoughts kept slipping back to the memories that had begun to play in her mind with her waking. Should she close her eyes, she'd see Kaji's grinning face again, feel his hands on her bare skin—and the overwhelming feeling of helplessness would wash over her once again.
Of all the myriad of emotions, helplessness was perhaps the one Ritsuko had the least experience with, the one that gave her the greatest unease. Growing up alone with her mother, she'd taken second place to her mother's passion for work, so she'd learned early on how to be self-sufficient and how to protect her own interests. She was adept at defending her person and her interests, and never allowed herself to get into a situation where she felt threatened. It had served her well... until now.
Not only had she somehow slipped and allowed herself to be weak, actually let herself be rendered helpless, but now she didn't know how to cope with it. She'd never felt so ashamed, so weak, so violated—but above all, so guilty—in her life. Most people would have ways of coping with such feelings, built from years of experience. Most people would have correctly identified the true guilty party and seen to it that he was punished.
In this regard, Dr. Ritsuko Akagi was still a child.
Still, she had one person she felt should could turn to, who might understand. And so, with a sigh of resignation, she pushed herself away from her desk and went in search of Misato Katsuragi.
She found Misato in the commissary getting some coffee. Misato seemed not upset, but rather disturbed by something, and the faint traces of red in her eyes indicated she'd been crying. Wanting to buy some time to build her resolve, Ritsuko decided to focus on Misato.
"Hey—Misato, how are you doing? You look troubled." Ritsuko filled her own cup as she watched her friend.
"Oh, the usual. Ikari wants to get rid of DJ, and DJ, bless him, is being his usual difficult self."
"As though that were a surprise."
Misato stiffened a bit, surprising Ritsuko. "DJ really isn't like that. It's only when Ikari is involved—I swear they hate each other. DJ would just as soon spit at Ikari as speak to him, and Ikari would have kicked DJ out of the program months ago if only he wasn't such a damn good pilot. I think that galls Commander Ikari—not that he'd admit it, of course." Misato paused to sigh. "If only DJ could control that temper of his. He can't seem to stop himself from goading Ikari, and I'm afraid that no good will come of that in the end."
"DJ needs to realize that Ikari is in charge here. This is his project, his vision. DJ doesn't have to like Ikari, but can't he at least avoid deliberately provoking him? He might not care, but it doesn't make like any easier for the rest of us to have Ikari pissed off. He only thinks of himself."
"That's not true!" Misato answered with enough force to take Ritsuko aback slightly. Then, calming herself, she continued: "He's just, well... impulsive, I guess. For all his airs, he's really rather open. Ikari annoys him, and he lets that show. But afterward, when he sees that it makes life more difficult for the rest of us, he feels bad about it. I think he'd really rather not cause such trouble... but it's so much a part of his nature."
This last was said in a tone of unmistakable tenderness, which Ritsuko found interesting, but she left that to be pursued later. "So, what did he do this time?"
"Something he said in his review with Ikari. I..." Ritsuko didn't miss Misato averting her eyes. "I don't think I should talk about it."
Don't think you should, or don't want to? Both Misato and Ritsuko left the question unasked.
Misato decided to quickly change the subject. "So... what about you? Is the project keeping you busy?"
"Yeah, we're going to be running the rest of the cross-compatibility tests later today. Truss and Maya are seeing to the cleanup in the testing area now... I was just trying to get some paperwork done."
"Ugh. NERV never told us about the paperwork in the recruiting process."
"No, I guess they figured they'd never get anyone to sign up if they knew about that." Ritsuko smiled for a moment, but it faded when she remembered why she was here. "Look, there's something I wanted to talk to you about."
Noticing her serious demeanor, Misato too grew serious. "What is it?"
"Well, it's about Kaji. He..."
"What's about me?" a new voice asked from the doorway as Kaji entered the room. Misato scowled, while Ritsuko seemed to pull inward. "Here I find my two favorite women talking about me behind my back." Kaji seemed about to put his arms around the two ladies, but thought better of it when he saw their reactions.
After a brief, awkward pause, Ritsuko made a furtive glance at the clock and excused herself with a hollow, "Damn, the time. I'd better get back to work."
Watching her leave, Misato muttered, "I wonder what got into her?"
Kaji grinned. "I'm sure I wouldn't know."
Another test chamber; another EVA; another pilot; another test.
"How do you feel, Jon?"
Jon pulled the LCL into his lungs with a deep breath, and like DJ, he also noted the difference of scent, for him that much easier to recognize. "It does smell like Rei, Dr. Akagi."
Asuka felt an urge to make some snide remark but, after the earlier incident, she couldn't quite bring herself to do it. Ritsuko and Maya looked at each other again. "Guess DJ wasn't being a smartass," Maya remarked.
Ritsuko rolled her eyes. "We'll look into it later. Begin the first connection."
The displays shifted in the entry plug as power began feeding to the neural interface.
"First stage complete, no problems," Maya reported.
Ritsuko nodded. "Begin second connection and neural synchronization."
"Synchro-start now," Maya replied, unobtrusively crossing her fingers.
As Jon's awareness began to expand outward the differences became much more evident. Whereas synchronizing with EVA-03 always felt (for lack of a better analogy) like slipping into a new suit of clothes, this time it felt as if someone were already in that suit, and that there was not enough room for two people. He recalled DJ's mention of feeling a 'definite presence', and 'distinctly unwelcome', and bit back the wave of anxiety that tried to claw at him. This test was important.
"Approaching break-even point in 5... 4... 3..." Maya counted down as the indicators once again crept up to the border line and hesitated there for what seemed like an eternity. Unconsciously her right hand drifted closer to the emergency shutdown lever.
As the tension mounted, and the sensation of resistance became more apparent, Jon reflexively sought out the touch of Rei's mind to calm himself. But instead of Rei, his mind found the much closer, stronger presence within EVA-00. For a moment it seemed just as surprised at the contact as he was, and he felt as though it were looking back at him, just as he was looking at it.
It touched his mind, hesitantly. Its presence did not feel hostile, though. Curious, tentative, were the words that came to Jon's mind at first. It kept itself aloof, feeling out Jon's responses to it, and suddenly it occurred to Jon that it was afraid.
...Moloch? Jon thought.
The feeling of relief was almost palpable. It seemed to Jon that the EVA had expected him to be someone else, and was pleasantly surprised by who it had instead. Like a thrown switch, the resistance was gone, replaced by a wave of welcoming neural pulses.
In the control room, the synchrotron readings began climbing—and kept climbing, for many seconds longer than anyone thought they would.
When they finally topped out, Maya tapped the glass over her small master readout surreptitiously, then reported, "Synchrontron is holding at point five six to one," not hiding her astonishment.
"My God..." Ritsuko echoed, similarly stunned. It wasn't simply that it had worked, but that it had worked so well. "Jon? How do you feel?"
"I feel..." Jon hesitated, trying to put it into words. It was that 'musical' feeling again; different from Rei's music, but energizing in its own way. "I feel... alive," he finally said.
In the rear of the control room, a smile spread across Gendō Ikari's face.
After all the excitement of DJ's test with Unit 00 and the surprising (and pleasing) results with Jon's, it seemed almost anticlimactic to test Rei against Unit 01. Commander Ikari insisted, though, and so there they were. The afternoon grew late, everyone wanted to go home, but instead, they were back in the booth, testing or watching.
"First neural link established. No problems detected."
"Rei, how does it feel?" Ritsuko asked.
A pause; then, in Rei's quiet, clinical tone: "It smells like DJ."
Maya bit back a chuckle; Ritsuko scowled. Out of the corner of her eye, she could see Commander Ikari, who stood silently in the corner, grimace slightly.
Jon glanced at DJ, who shrugged.
"Initiating second neural connection," said Maya. "Stand by for synchro-start."
In the cockpit of the purple EVA, Rei closed her eyes and concentrated. Synchronizing with her usual unit was never easy for her; the resisting presence DJ had encountered was always there for her, so ever-present she had taken it for the normal state of affairs in EVA piloting and never mentioned it to anyone until she and DJ had spoken together of it after his morning test. Here, too, there was a presence, but where Moloch was faint and sullen, Lucifer was vibrant, a close presence, curious.
As the neural pulses began to blend and Rei opened her mind to the link, she realized with a shock that what she thought was one was actually two.
She opened her eyes.
The Evangelion cockpit was gone. She sat on nothing, surrounded by whiteness, a glow so brilliant she thought she would have to shade her eyes, until she realized that rather than being blinded by it, she actually felt comforted, at home.
And standing before her
"You're not supposed to be here," said the standing Rei with a reproachful shake of her head.
"Where is here?" the seated Rei replied. "Who are you?"
"Who are you?" Standing asked in return. "Is it important? Are you important?"
"I don't understand," said Seated.
"What makes you think you're supposed to?" Standing inquired.
"Why shouldn't I?" countered Seated.
"You ask too many questions," said Standing. "I don't want to talk to you any more."
Now the whiteness really was blinding; seated Rei closed her eyes, shielding them with a hand against the glare.
When it faded and she opened her eyes, she was back in the EVA.
"Rei," said the comm system, with Maya's voice. "Rei, are you there? Are you all right?"
"I'm here," said Rei. "I'm all right. What happened?"
"We're not sure. Some kind of neural feedback. You hit a max sync of 17%, but only for a few seconds; then the sychrotron started feeding back and we shut down."
"The unit doesn't want me," Rei stated matter-of-factly.
In the booth, Gendō Ikari frowned thoughtfully.
"Her sync ratio with Unit 00 has been steadily declining over the past few weeks, too," Ritsuko Akagi noted to him, well away from the comm system pickups, as Maya and Truss continued debriefing Rei. "Maybe her piloting ability is burning out. We've often wondered if such a thing were possible."
Ikari pondered, then shook his head. "No. I suspect the resistance from the unit is merely increasing. She said it herself, to Croft, earlier: the unit has always fought her, and lately it's been fighting harder." He seemed to consider for a moment, then said abruptly, "I want to test-sync her with a production model. Has the reassembly of Unit 03 been completed?"
"Almost. The main systems were quicker to repair than we thought, but many of the neurolinks still haven't been tuned."
"We'll have to use Unit 02, then. It matters little; one production model is much the same as another."
"Commander, with all due respect, it's nearly 5:30," Ritsuko protested. "We've been at this all day. We haven't even paused to examine the data we've been collecting since noon. Even if we stop now, we'll be analyzing the test results all night."
Ikari nodded. "I know. Run this one test and the technical personnel will be dismissed; we can analyze the data tomorrow."
"Very well, sir." Sighing softly, she turned back to the consoles. "Rei, everyone, Professor Ikari has asked for one more test... let's get it done."
The production model test was unexciting in action, but interesting in implication; for Rei had no difficulty achieving a 46% resting sync ratio with Unit 02, and reported neither resistance nor discomfort for the first time in her Evangelion piloting career.
So it was that at 6:20, the weary pilots and TechDiv personnel were at last dismissed, the Operations staff gathered for an important emergency meeting, and those who were not involved made their tired way home.
Or at least, tried to.
"DJ, I've got to talk to you for a minute," Asuka said as she and DJ followed Rei and Jon from the pilots' locker room toward the Wedge for some well-earned relaxation. So saying, she pulled DJ aside into one of the empty conference rooms.
"Hm?" DJ wondered as Asuka locked the door behind them. He hoped she wasn't going to rant about Ikari's calling for a test of Rei with Unit 02. It had surprised Ritsuko a bit that Asuka had voiced no objection at the time, and DJ had been wondering when the other shoe was going to drop.
As it turned out, he would much rather have listened to that rant.
"How many women had you... been with... before me?"
"You heard me, how many?"
"Asuka, I'm really tired," DJ replied.
"Please, DJ. I need to know."
"You were the first." DJ wasn't sure where this topic came from, but he didn't see what it would hurt to answer. This would later occur to him as proof that he had been extremely wiped out at the time.
Asuka's expression turned stern. "Derek Joshua Croft. Don't you dare lie to me."
Uh-oh, she used my full name, DJ thought to himself. Where does she get off taking this tone with me? "I'm not lying to you. I swear to you, you are the first woman I've ever known... in a Biblical sense, that is." That seemed unequivocal enough.
"If you don't want to tell me, then just say so!"
DJ had spent the better part of the day utterly confused as it was; he distinctly did not appreciate Asuka's making his day harder for what seemed to be no good reason. "Bloody hell!" he burst out. "What is wrong with you? If you ask me a question you ought to accept the answer. Why won't you believe me?"
"Because it's impossible!"
"I can't believe I'm having this argument," DJ muttered to himself.
"Where did you learn what you know, if not from someone else? Some older, more experienced woman, perhaps?"
"Christ, is that what this is about? Well, I bloody wish I'd learned what I know the way you think, but really, it's just that I read a lot."
"I read a lot," he repeated, somewhat less than patiently. "Look, I read Gray's Anatomy when I was twelve, just because. I've read a few 'everything you ever wanted to know' kind of books. And I admit that I've seen my share of Club International issues and the like. I am a healthy fourteen-year-old male, after all. Though, frankly, that sort of thing rather bores me. There can't be that many 19-year-old sex-maniac shop clerks named Samantha in the world."
"You honestly expect me to believe you got that from reading?!"
"Why the hell not? It's the truth! Look, books can teach you the anatomy, I have a natural knack for exploration of all sorts, and I am rather sensitive, if I do say so myself. Toss a healthy imagination into the mix, and there you are! No great mystery, when you get down to it. D'you really think that if I were seeing 'some older, more experienced woman', I'd have bloody gotten involved with you?!"
It occurred to him even before the words were out of his mouth what an unfortunate choice of phrase that was.
Asuka's face, already red from arguing, darkened, and the anger in her eyes turned first to hurt and then to rage.
"Well," she said through clenched teeth, "I can see you're going to be obstinate about this. Let me know when you're prepared to be honest with me. If you even care!" With that she stormed out of the room and slammed the door behind her.
DJ turned, as if pursuing her were on his mind, but his hand stopped a few inches from the doorknob. For a moment he stood, torn by indecision, his hand flexing ineffectually in the air; then he whirled and, with an inarticulate cry of frustrated rage, overturned the conference table.
He was still sitting there, raging at himself, when the attack alarms went off.
"Where the hell'd this one come from?" Misato asked upon arrival in the command center.
"It just appeared over the city!" Truss replied, sliding into his seat, his hands already flying over his console. On the monitor, an ominous spheroid hovered silently among the buildings in the center of town, its surface covered in strange rippling patterns of reflection. It cast a perfectly circular shadow on the ground beneath it, a shadow that was much too circular to have been cast by the waning rays of the setting sun.
"Anomaly is spherical, approximately 30 meters in diameter. That's odd... I'm not registering a DNA pattern at all," Maya observed.
"None detected," Maya reported from her console.
"Is this some new kind of Angel?" Ritsuko wondered aloud.
"Whatever it is, it doesn't belong here," Misato replied pragmatically. She turned to Commander Ikari. "I think we should send units to investigate—at least try to get it out of the city center."
Ikari nodded. "Send all operational units to investigate; they can box the anomaly in that way and better support each other. Use the new pilot assignments as discussed."
"Yes, sir." Misato turned to the four pilots, once again suited up. For the merest of instants, she wondered why DJ and Asuka stood so far apart and did not look at each other. Who were they trying to kid with that old tactic?
Shoving the irrelevant thought out of her head, Misato said, "You heard Commander Ikari. Jon, take Unit 00; Rei, since Unit 03 isn't operational yet, you'll wait here. Your team assignments are still the same. DJ, I trust you can get along without Rei for a simple recon?"
For a moment, DJ seemed as if he would protest; then he shrugged, and departed the control room, that shrug and his curiously closed expression standing as his only answer.
"I wonder what's wrong with him," Misato murmured.
"He wouldn't let Medical give him a thorough check after his sync test with Unit 00," Ritsuko said. "Maybe he's nursing a migraine." For once in her life, as the renewed pain in her head lanced through the space behind her eyes, Ritsuko found herself sympathizing with DJ. Damn it all! What kind of hangover doesn't a half-gallon of water and a thousand milligrams of acetaminophen get rid of?
"Unit 00, in position," Jon reported as he settled Moloch to a crouch behind the squat gray bulk of a Flagship Bank branch and surveyed the motionless anomaly. Again he marveled at how vibrant and immediate the responses he got from the unit were. He didn't know quite why it had fought Rei and welcomed him, but if that was the way it was going to be, it was fine with Jon. Rei had accepted the change of assignment without protest—par for the course, from Ikari's point of view, but Jon knew that, by now, if it had displeased her for some reason, she would have made it known.
"Unit 01, in position." Jon would have given much to know the source of the strange tone of DJ's voice. He'd never before heard DJ sound as if he didn't want to be out there, didn't want to be in action.
"Unit 02, in position." Asuka sounded upset as well. Jon wondered if it was naïve of him to hope the two circumstances weren't related.
"No reaction from anomaly," Maya reported.
"OK, you guys," said Misato. "Move in 500 meters; let's see if we can get it to notice you. Maybe we can herd it out of town."
Slowly, painstakingly, the units moved closer. Still the anomaly ignored them. Closer, and closer still, they crept, over the course of an agonizing half-hour. Their diligence was rewarded with total indifference by the anomalous black sphere; it merely hovered there, its shadow beneath it, waiting, as the evening gathered.
"This is getting weirder all the time," Misato observed. "Jon, stand up, see if you can get it to notice you."
Moloch stood, in plain view before the anomaly; it hovered grandly and ignored the EVA entirely.
"Ah, to hell with this," DJ grumbled, sending Lucifer to its feet and drawing the paired autocannons from their holsters. "I'll show you how to get the bastard's attention."
"DJ, wait, don't—" Misato cried, but DJ was already loosing a volley of shots at the sphere.
That got a reaction, all right; the patterns on the surface of the sphere stopped shifting, then faded away entirely, leaving a smooth, featureless blackness. Then its circular shadow moved, darting across the ground, up the street, taking up a position beneath EVA-01's feet.
Which promptly sank into it as if into tar.
"Mother of God—!" DJ cried, and then his EVA was gone, engulfed by the blackness as though it had fallen into a pit in the street.
"DJ!!" Misato cried. "Jon, Asuka! Save him!!"
"Jon! Cover fire!" Asuka snapped as she sprinted forward. Jon obligingly raised his assault rifle and snapped off three shots. The first struck the floating sphere and it briefly vanished, the next two shots only damaging the building directly behind it before it could reappear. The black shadow on the ground immediately began to expand rapidly outward, soon threatening the pavement under Grendel's and Moloch's feet.
"Shit!" Jon cried as he didn't quite jump in time and his left foot started to sink, but then Moloch's right foot found purchase and he hurled the unit backward, away from the spreading stain of blackness.
Buildings on all sides began to totter and sink into the shadow. Slamming her Prog Knife and battle axe into the side of the building she'd begun to scale, Asuka created steps for her EVA to make its way up to the top of the building.
"Mein Gott..." Asuka gasped as she reached the summit and looked around. The shadow had expanded to cover a huge area of the city, and dozens of buildings were being sucked in.
Jon, meanwhile, had taken this opportunity to reapproach the edge of the shadow and grab EVA-01's power cable. Quickly he began hauling it back, hoping to pull EVA-01 up with it—but intstead, the power cable suddenly went slack, and a moment later, Jon found himself holding a cable which was no longer attached to any Evangelion.
At that moment, Misato's voice sounded over the comm:
"All units, withdraw."
"Major—" Jon started.
"That's an order!" Misato grated, fighting to keep her voice from quivering. "Withdraw!"
Night fell over Worcester-3, what was left of it; it appeared that a good forty percent of the deep downtown had been "absorbed" by the shadow, whatever it was. With a fully-powered-down Evangelion, consuming power only for life support functions, DJ Croft could survive for sixteen hours.
While Operations racked their collective brains trying to come up with a plan of attack or rescue, TechDiv (in the form of the Magi and SHODAN, mostly, but with the supervision, brain-racking and sleep-deprivation-as-self-imposed-penance of their human keepers) pored over every scrap of data they had on the phenomenon and the EVA and pilot inside, looking for an angle.
Truss and Maya had been alone in the control room for two hours, looking over old data, most of it useless junk, trying to sift out the nuggets of useful information that would lead them to a clue. In tense but companionable silence they sat at their stations, faces illuminated by the glow of the displays, the control room lights long since deactivated—reading, thinking, and assimilating.
"Truss... look at this," Maya said suddenly.
"Hm?" said Truss, glancing up from the section of printout he was poring over.
"Look at this—it's one of the data logs from Unit 00's neurochannel 83 during DJ's cross-test today," she said, indicating the display before her.
"The deep subconscious channel? Isn't it all just feedback garbage from the control crash?" Truss inquired.
"That's what I thought too... but look, this pattern here, it... it just seems familiar to me. I know I've seen it before."
6968 6176 6562 6565 6e72 6f6c 616e 6462
656f 7775 6c66 6163 6869 6c6c 6573 6769
6c67 616d 6573 6869 6861 7665 6265 656e
6361 6c6c 6564 6168 756e 6472 6564 6e61
6d65 7361 6e64 7769 6c6c 6265 6361 6c6c
6564 6174 686f 7573 616e 646d 6f72 6562
6566 6f72 6574 6865 776f 726c 6467 6f65
7364 696d 616e 6463 6f6c 6469 6861 7665
6265 656e 6b69 6c6c 6564 6174 686f 7573
616e 6474 696d 6573 616e 6465 7665 7279
7469 6d65 6972 6574 7572 6e69 6669 6768
7466 6f72 7472 7574 6869 6669 6768 7466
6f72 676c 6f72 7969 6669 6768 7466 6f72
6c6f 7665 6966 6967 6874 666f 7262 6561
7574 7969 616d 6865 726f
Shrugging, he admitted, "just looks like garbage to me."
Maya nodded acknowledgement, but kept gazing pensively at the screen. "I know I've seen it before, though. Six nine six eight, six one..." Abruptly, she snapped her fingers, leaned forward and started typing rapidly. In a few moments, another block of text gleamed inscrutably on the monitor next to that one:
6968 6176 6562 6565 6e72 6f6c 616e 6462
656f 7775 6c66 6163 6869 6c6c 6573 6769
6c67 616d 6573 6869 6861 7665 6265 656e
6361 6c6c 6564 6168 756e 6472 6564 6e61
6d65 7361 6e64 7769 6c6c 6265 6361 6c6c
6564 6174 686f 7573 616e 646d 6f72 6562
6566 6f72 6574 6865 776f 726c 6467 6f65
7364 696d 616e 6463 6f6c 6469 6861 7665
6265 656e 6b69 6c6c 6564 6174 686f 7573
616e 6474 696d 6573 616e 6465 7665 7279
7469 6d65 6972 6574 7572 6e69 6669 6768
7466 6f72 7472 7574 6869 6669 6768 7466
6f72 676c 6f72 7969 6669 6768 7466 6f72
6c6f 7665 6966 6967 6874 666f 7262 6561
7574 7969 616d 6865 726f
"This is a logfile from neurochannel 83, too... but look at the date."
"Mm-hmm," Maya replied. She pointed to the longer block on the left. "This came in on Unit 00's neurochannel 83 just as DJ regained control of it this afternoon." Then she pointed to the other. "This came in on Unit 01's neurochannel 83 during DJ's very first EVA battle—just as he regained control of the unit after it sustained its head injury."
"What does it mean?"
"I have no idea," Maya admitted, sighing glumly.
The two of them surveyed the data in silence.
Suddenly, Truss gasped.
"What?" asked Maya.
Truss didn't answer; instead he leaned across her workstation and began typing, dashing out a quick conversion script and feeding the logged data through it.
Presently, his diligence was rewarded:
"Oh my... " Maya whispered.
"I have been Roland, Beowulf, Achilles, Gilgamesh," Truss mused, sitting back in his chair and regarding the screen, his face unreadable.
"What does it mean?" Maya unconsciously echoed Truss.
"I don't know," Truss replied. "I don't know..."
Asuka, Jon, and Rei stood together in the staging area. The tension in the air was palpable. There were two main reasons for that. First, DJ was out there, somewhere, and possibly still alive. Second, they all knew that it would be up to them to defeat this attacker, somehow. Up to them to defeat the very thing that had swallowed DJ, and half the city. And they didn't have a clue how to do that.
Asuka snapped first, unsurprisingly. "That damned fool! Acting on his own, all high and mighty because he's been here longest. Mister 'I'll show you how it's done'; this is all his fault! If that fool had stuck to the plan and done what he was supposed to none of this would have happened. He's still be here, and we'd all be back in the Wedge by now!"
Jon and Rei simply stood there, staring at Asuka and simmering quietly.
"What's the matter, you two don't want to hear bad things about the great and powerful DJ Croft?"
Rei answered quietly. "Do you pilot EVA just to be praised by others?"
"Hmph! I should say not! I do it to satisfy myself. I don't need others to tell me how good I am!"
Jon and Rei shared a knowing look. Jon spoke for the both of them: "Asuka, DJ will be OK."
Asuka's glared softened for a moment, the comment obviously striking home. Then she clamped down on her feelings and snapped, "I don't care if I ever see that idiot again!" With that she turned on her heel and stormed off.
Rei and Jon stared after her, a sad expression on their faces.
"She's frightened." Jon said quietly.
"Yes. And she loves him," Rei added.
Early evening became late evening. In the control room, a digital clock counting down EVA-01's remaining life-support time served as an ominous reminder to the tired techs why it was important that they remain and keep trying.
In a conference room near the control center, TechDiv's highest echelon were meeting with Operations to discuss the fruits of their efforts so far.
"What have we got on the anomaly itself?" Ritsuko asked her two chief engineers. Behind the chief scientist, Misato Katsuragi and Otto Keller stood, expectantly listening. Gendō Ikari was nowhere to be seen.
"We've figured out that the 'shadow' the buildings and EVA-01 have sunk in is the actual anomaly—a phase space, currently 680 meters in diameter and about 3 nanometers deep," Truss replied. "Exactly what it's connected to, nobody can be sure of, but the phenomenon itself has been documented before, on a much smaller scale. Dr. von Runstedt at the Munich Institute nicknamed it 'Dirac's Ocean' after it appeared during AT Field phase-space tests there four years ago—but the power it would take to create one this size is beyond calculation."
"How far beyond?" Ritsuko asked.
"No Angel we've yet encountered could produce a tenth of it," Maya replied. "No Evangelion has the power to negate it, either—even EVA-01's output during the Skyfall Incident was only perhaps a quarter of the energy output required for an AT Field to negate a phase space of this magnitude."
"What's on the other side, then?" Misato asked. "What's happened to DJ?"
"We're not even sure there is 'another side'. The original Dirac's Ocean phenomenon lasted for around an hour, then disappeared, and the test items that were placed into it were later found in the generator facility, six hundred meters from the test lab. As long as we can still see the shadow, our best guess is that DJ and Unit 01 are surrounded by... well... nothing. When—if—the shadow dissipates, chances are the unit and the buildings will emerge elsewhere... wherever whatever is causing it is located."
"Why would the Angels want part of Worcester-3? Or Unit 01, for that matter?" Keller mused.
"We don't know this is an Angel," Truss replied. "In fact, I don't think it is. That spherical anomaly we saw was just a phase reflection of this phenomenon, but it should have given us an Angel's spectrographic pattern when we analyzed it. It didn't."
DJ glanced at the clock panel, but couldn't focus on it. He blinked, then blinked again, but his vision failed to clear. Raising his hand, he realized he couldn't focus on it either. He'd been drifting in and out of consciousness all night, ever since powering his unit down to life-support mode; sleeping was the best way to conserve resources he knew of, and the day's events had left him exhausted anyway.
Now, though, while he wasn't paying attention, everything had become uniformly fuzzy, and he didn't think that was right. Surely such a phenomenon couldn't simply be the aftereffects of the bizarre, half-remembered-and-getting-sketchier-all-the-time dreams he'd had.
It's not my vision, he realized suddenly. The LCL is getting cloudy... and starting to smell funny, too.
The life support system is failing.
Any thoughts of his dreams were banished in an instant. Panic welled up in his chest and throat, and he fought to push it down. Panicking won't serve anything, it won't help, it'll just make you use up your remaining oxygen that much faster. Calm down, think, use your brain while you still can. There's got to be a way out of here if you can just think what it is...
The life support computer, attempting to cut its losses and conserve as much power as possible, turned off the cockpit lights.
Deep within DJ, an old, ingrained fear hissed cruelly and reared its ugly head. The panic DJ was trying to suppress went berserk—and DJ with it.
Young man transformed to animal by the most ancient of emotions, he clawed at the straps holding him to the seat, tearing them away; he pounded furiously at the hatch until his hands were swollen and his knuckles bloody; he screamed until his throat was raw. He cursed in every language he knew. At length, exhausted and bruised, he subsided into his seat, curling up into a miserable ball and crying for his mother.
I can't believe I'm going to die here, alone, in the dark.
Dammit, Rei, where are you?
Rei confronts the darkness without.
DJ confronts the darkness within.
Jon tries to hold the center.
Things are never what they seem.
Neon Exodus Evangelion 2:7
Ceremony of Innocence, Part Two:
Points of Surrender
"I will not let that happen."