Eyrie Productions, Unlimited
Neon Exodus Evangelion
Exodus 2: Symphony of Terror
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,
MegaZone, and John Trussell
Aided and abetted by the Eyrie Productions, Unlimited crew
and special-guest-for-life Phil Moyer
© 1997 Eyrie Productions, Unlimited
HTML remastering © 2016 EPU
"Okay, face test!"
The repairs and recalibration of EVA-03 were nearly complete. All that was left was a general reflex test of the neurosystems and, once that was done, fine-tuning them to Rei's SSV pattern through more testing and combat training.
The EVA's helmet had not been restored to the unit's head yet, and as Jon and Rei watched from the catwalk, the unit's eyes emerged from under the brownish-gray flesh and darted fitfully back and forth, pupils expanding and contracting in response to commands from the techs, routed through a dummy plug using a simulation of Rei's SSV patterns. A moment later the lower portion of the head split apart to reveal a jaw filled with white teeth which also twitched open and closed, erratically at first, and then the motions of eyes and mouth smoothed out as the calibration was fine-tuned.
"Right! That's as good as it's gonna get!" one of the techs manning the control system finally called after this had been going on for a minute or two. The others concurred, and as the power feeds were ramped down, EVA-03's eyes and mouth slipped shut, leaving the unit lifeless and empty once more.
"Looks like it's ready," Jon observed. He had always thought of the production models as empty shells, and after Moloch's vibrance and responsiveness, and the surge in his sync rate, this perception was greatly enhanced. He could only remember EVA-03 as terribly sluggish, now, and wondered how he'd managed to pilot it at all.
"Yes," Rei replied. She, in contrast, had welcomed the emptiness of the production models, her own sync rate improving in the absence of the resistance and discomfort Moloch had always confronted her with. Jon still had no idea why he had been welcomed and Rei had not, but neither of them was displeased with the new battle arrangement, nor the benefits to their combat piloting.
As Ritsuko Akagi surveyed the maneuvering of EVA-02's rail-mounted gantry to an outside rail line that would carry it to the nearby TechDiv Test Center in Framingham, Asuka came up beside her and took in the proceedings for a moment.
"Are you ready?" Ritsuko asked her. "We have to leave with the unit for Framingham."
"Sure. What's the test?"
"NERV Japan were developing a self-contained power source for the EVAs before the facility was destroyed." Asuka nodded; she'd read the report. As NERV's headquarters in Worcester-3 wrestled with the black ocean of unspace that had nearly consumed the city a week before, unknown to them, the NERV facility in Japan was being attacked by the same anomaly. Unlike Worcester-3, the Japan facility had no operational Evangelions (EVA-04 had been constructed there and was almost ready, but they had no pilot for it); the entire facility had disappeared and, unlike Worcester's affected structures, had not come back, since nothing in Japan destroyed the anomaly before it could disappear of its own accord.
"The prototype for that unit was shipped over a couple of days before the Dirac's Ocean incident," Ritsuko went on. "We were intending to test it with Unit 04 when it arrived, but obviously that's not going to happen now, so we'll do it with Unit 02 instead. You have the strongest engineering background of the pilots, so you should be able to provide useful information to the test officers."
"Why do we have to go all the way to Framingham?"
"Commander Ikari's orders," Ritsuko replied. "If anything goes wrong, he wants the test conducted in an above-ground facility away from the Geo-Front, so that it can be easily contained and won't threaten security."
Asuka shrugged. "Whatever makes him happy, I suppose. It's only a power system. What could go wrong?"
Later, when mentally reviewing the day's events, Asuka would realize that, just then, she had asked for it.
EVA-03, polished once again to a black shine, moved cautiously forward through the gunnery range. In the cockpit, Rei's eyes flicked from screen to screen, scanning for hostiles. Several meters behind, EVA-00 followed with Jon at the helm, also scanning. For the moment, they once again comprised Evangelion Combat Team #1.
This was the one aspect of the unit swap that neither Jon nor Rei had looked forward to: Ikari had insisted on another round of training on the gunnery range with the two of them teamed up again. The rationale was that they might perform better now that they were both in units that weren't resisting or unresponsive. Personally, Jon suspected Ikari was simply still looking for excuses to keep DJ away from Rei wherever possible, but there was no legitimate way of voicing such a sentiment. SHODAN and the Magi had concurred that it should at least be tried, so Rei and Jon had decided it would be best to humor Ikari and simply demonstrate to him again that they were not an effective combat team. Once demonstrated, that would be the end of that...
"Target, two nine nine," Rei reported as a target popped up behind one of the buildings, and brought her autorifle to bear.
Zero eight zero.
Jon had started to raise his own rifle toward Rei's target when the thought hit him, eclipsing the music of Rei's mind once again, and in a flash he was turning his own rifle to fire at the other target which had appeared on their other side. Both rifles spoke. Both targets fell.
"Three two five," Rei called, abruptly aware of the presence interposing itself between her and Jon. It was familiar to her, but now it was not fighting her. More like... guiding...
She was point. "Three five nine," she snapped, sighting another target.
He was mark. "Two one one, one eight zero," he answered, painting two more. Again the rifles spoke, and the aggressors were mowed down like wheat under a scythe.
In the control room, Maya blinked, both at the change in performance, and at the increase in their individual sync ratings as the shooting continued.
Behind her stood Ikari, looking very pleased, moreso with each shot fired, each target taken down.
A pity he hadn't thought of this sooner. It would have saved so much trouble.
In the cockpit of Unit 00, it began to dawn on Jon just what was happening, and what it might mean for the future, and despite the controlled temperature of the LCL and the flush of ongoing victory, he felt a chill.
The Framingham facility was a bustle of activity. Tech surrounded EVA-02 as it stood in its transport gantry frame, still atop the flatcar and rails that had brought it to Framingham in the first place. The procedure wasn't that much different from a standard operational fitting-out, with one important exception: instead of a power cable, the socket on the unit's back had been fitted with the new Elerium collider.
The collider wasn't all that much to look at, considering what it could do. A reinforcement collar was bolted around the power socket, and a matching collar around the collider apparatus mated to it. Protruding from the collar was a translucent orange-gold cylinder about the length of a standard power plug (out to where the cable would start), flat at the end. The housing, like much of the apparatus within, was made of a substance called Elerium-115, whose precise composition was classified at the highest levels of X-COM and SEELE.
"All systems standing by," Asuka Sōryū-Langley reported over the comm network to the experiment control room. "Ready whenever you are."
"Second Child reports ready, Dr. Akagi," one of the techs reported. "Collider is nominal and on standby, Major."
"Excellent," said Ritsuko Akagi, nodding. "Begin first connection."
"Engaging initial neurofeeds. Pilot is connecting." EVA-02 began to hum as the initial charge of external power was supplied. "All neurofeeds nominal. Ready to engage collider."
Ritsuko nodded. "Begin second connection. Activate the collider."
On the back of EVA-02, the Elerium "plug" glowed and began to hum softly.
"Second connection initiated," the tech reported. "External power disconnected. Nerve pulses approaching borderline in six. Five. Four."
"Energize all systems."
The collider's glow increased, and the hum it produced became a subsonic rumble throughout EVA-02's superstructure. In the cockpit, Asuka felt a surge not unlike a rush of adrenaline. "This is incredible," she said, mostly to herself. She'd been told that the power feed from the collider might make her feel different, but she hadn't expected this: she felt stronger, more powerful, and reached out to embrace the consciousness of her EVA, to feel the power in its entirety.
"Two. One. Neurosync borderline cleared—"
That was when the alarm went off, the synchrotron suddenly went berserk, and something unpleasant clawed at Asuka's mind.
"What's happening?!" Misato demanded.
"Synchrotron just went crazy!" an alarmed tech reported. "Neural pulses are feeding back!"
"Abort the test!" Ritsuko snapped. "Cut the power to EVA-02!"
"No good! EVA-02 isn't responding! Power output from the collider is at 400% and still increasing!"
"Eject the plug! Now!"
The dorsal armor protecting the entry plug snapped open, but only partway. Some kind of translucent pink webbing kept it from opening fully. Registering that the exit path was still obstructed, the EVA's safety computer overrode the entry plug's ejection sequence, preventing the ejection charges from smashing the plug against the armored panel.
"Foreign material is preventing entry plug ejection," reported the chief console tech. "DNA pattern Blue—it's an Angel!"
"What the—an Angel?!" Ritsuko gasped.
"Control, what's happeni—" Asuka started to cry out before her transmission was lost in a burst of static.
"AT Field generating!" another tech hollered as EVA-02 strained against the bolts holding it in place. Then its four eyes glowed brightly, and from within the confines of its helmet a roar could be heard.
Then everything went white.
When the test center's channel NERV's control center in Worcester-3 went dark, Otto Keller wasted no time in calling for a dispatch of one of X-COM's Raiden interceptors from Fort Devens for a reconnaissance overflight. What NERV got back from this was not at all encouraging: the Framingham test center, built on the site of an old shopping mall, was a twisted, tangled mess of half-melted steel and shattered concrete. Medical crews were on site trying to aid the wounded and count the dead. A trail of wrecked cars and surprised-looking motorists led through the Shopper's World complex to Route 9, the old Boston-Worcester Turnpike.
Walking along Route 9 was Unit 02, collider and eyes glowing, making for Worcester-3 with purposeful but graceless strides.
"It's making good time," Keller observed as he, Gendō Ikari, Maya Ibuki, and John Trussell watched it approach on the master monitor.
"What happened to the other personnel at the test center?" Maya wondered.
"We don't have complete lists yet," Keller replied. "The communications network was destroyed along with most of the facility, so until we can get some field equipment in or someone in the rescue effort finds a phone, we won't know."
Keller turned to Ikari. "A partial transmission that came out just as the test facility went dead indicated that this may be an Angel, similar to the one that invaded the simulation-body test facility."
Ikari nodded gravely. "How long until it reaches Worcester-3?"
"Fifteen minutes, present speed," said Truss after a quick mental calculation.
"Sound full alert," ordered Ikari. "All remaining pilots to their EVAs."
Jon and Rei half-expected to be sent into battle together when the alert sounded, but instead, once they were secured back in the cockpits of their EVAs, Ikari gave orders that separated them. Rei would be sent across the lake to Shrewsbury, on the east side of Lake Quinsigamond, to perform the initial interception of Unit 02, but instead of Jon and 03, DJ and EVA-01 would be posted to the west side of that bridge, to carry out a secondary interception should the rogue unit pass Rei.
"Ellison, you'll remain on standby below," Ikari ordered. "We may need you if the first two interceptions fail."
It occurred to Jon to ask Ikari why he was not being sent to back up Rei, as reclassifying her as Team #1 Point and assigning him as Mark was obviously Ikari's intent in arranging the morning's testing. It also occurred to him that Ikari would refuse to answer, and that the whole exercise would be a waste of time—worse, would give Ikari reason to believe that Jon suspected his motives. Jon recognized that his biggest asset in his search for the truth about NERV's operational motives was the fact that Ikari believed him to be too simple-minded and unsubtle to suspect ulterior motives; he didn't want to tip his hand too soon.
Instead of saying anything, Jon merely nodded, patching his sensor system through to the surface information net so he could keep track of what was happening to the other EVAs.
DJ, summoned from home, had arrived late, and he appeared on the tactical network only after the minimal briefing given Rei and Jon. To him, Ikari merely said, "A land-based Angel is approaching from the east. If Ayanami fails to stop it in Shrewsbury, you are expected to halt its advance no closer to the city center than the west bank of Lake Quinsigamond." Ikari then cut the comm channel, cutting off DJ's (under the circumstances quite reasonable) request for more details.
"Aren't you going to tell him the attacker is Unit 02?" Maya inquired as Ikari did so.
"If he knew that, he might refuse to launch against it," Ikari replied. "He will not, however, refuse to assist Ayanami if she has difficulties."
Maya and Truss shared a glance that carried their mutual distaste for Ikari's increasingly Machiavellian command style of late, but said nothing.
"Is there any response from Unit 02?"
"Negative, sir," Maya replied. "It won't recognize the shutdown code or the ejection signal!"
"We have her respiration and pulse, but..."
Ikari was silent for a moment, then steepled his hands. "From this moment forward, EVA-02 is expendable, and the target is identified as the 13th Angel."
"But sir—!" Truss spun in his seat.
"Draw the line at Lake Quinsigamond as planned," Ikari went on. "Destroy the target."
Hidden in the shadows, EVA-03 crouched against the flank of a hill, autorifle at the ready, as EVA-02 lumbered past, hunched over like a gorilla and apparently ignorant of the danger behind it. Silently, Rei raised her rifle, aiming for the back of the rogue EVA's head. Her finger tightened on the trigger.
...Asuka's in there.
In the next second the EVA paused, twitched, and leaped into the air.
"What—AAH!" Rei yelped as something slammed into Orcus and pinned it to the ground. The external camera revealed it to be EVA-02.
Grendel hunched down over Orcus, and pinkish fluid oozed out of its body, landing on the black Evangelion's left arm, which immediately began to distort as the Angel invaded.
"Unit 03's left arm has been compromised!" Maya reported. "Angel is invading the nerve joint!"
"Sever the arm," Ikari said flatly.
"But that will cut the nerve connection—"
"Sever it now." Ikari repeated. "Before the infection spreads."
He did have a point, Maya had to admit, and hit the button. A shaped charge blew EVA-03's left arm off, leaving a bloody stump. Rei howled in agony, clutching her real arm, and EVA-03 collapsed to the ground. EVA-02 jumped back, dodging the flailing arm, which smashed into a nearby building.
Deciding, correctly, that the black EVA was no longer a threat, EVA-02 turned and continued on its lumbering path toward Worcester-3.
On the bank of Lake Quinsigamond, EVA-01 stood, its weapons still holstered, and waited. In the cockpit, DJ fretted. He'd been rushed out without a proper briefing, par for the course at NERV, but still. He didn't even know what had just flattened EVA-03, though his patch to the command system contained, among other things, the reassuring indication that Rei was alive.
Presently, it came in sight, walking nonchalantly across the Route 9 bridge if it were the most ordinary thing in the world: EVA-02.
"Control," DJ inquired, his brow furrowing, "I don't see anything but EVA-02."
"That is your target, 01," said Ikari. "Evangelion Unit 02 has been taken over by an invasive Angelic presence. You are to intercept and destroy it at once."
"Er... roger," DJ replied, trying his best to ignore the spike of ice that had just been driven into his heart and keying an EVA-to-EVA circuit open. "Hullo, hullo, Grendel, this is Lucifer, come in. Asuka, are you there?"
"I can't raise Unit 02 on EVA-to-EVA, Control," DJ reported as EVA-02 continued to close the distance between them.
"Roger, EVA-01," Maya replied. "No luck from this end either."
Keying the nearest external camera, DJ zoomed in for a closer look at his quarry. It lumbered forward, silhouetted by the setting sun, its eyes four glowing points of white light in the midst of the darkness.
"Unit 02's entry plug is exposed," DJ reported as his view zoomed in close enough to offer some detail. "Looks like the auto-eject blew the socket armor off, but the end of the plug is covered with some kind of... crud." DJ peered at the image more closely. "Looks almost like it's been webbed in place by a giant spider. I'm going to try to cut it away with my Prog Knife, if I can get Grendel to hold still long enough."
"No," Ikari said flatly. "We don't have time for that. EVA-02 is to be treated as an attacking Angel, 01. Attack and destroy at once."
"Like hell!" DJ snapped. "One of our pilots is trapped in there!"
"Mr. Croft, you will follow my instructions."
"Let me say it slowly and clearly, Gendō," said DJ, the strain on his patience evident in his voice. "No—bloody—way. There's too much risk to the pilot in a direct assault. Let me get the entry plug out of there and then I'll go to town; not before."
"Your insubordination is intolerable."
"Christ!" DJ retorted, not believing he was hearing this. "Your inhumanity knows no bounds, does it, Ikari?"
Ikari decided he had had enough. "We haven't time for this. Control, cut Croft's synchronization with EVA-01 and remote-substitute the dummy plug signal."
"But sir—" Maya started to protest. Getting the entry plug out certainly wouldn't take that long.
"Do it now!" Ikari demanded.
"... Yes, sir."
Like a thrown switch, EVA-01 disappeared from DJ's awareness, and the cockpit went dark. A moment later, red emergency lights came on.
"Oi, what the hell—?!" DJ demanded. Then the front screen gave him an answer:
Dummy System Operational
>> 01:REI <<
"Signal reception confirmed. Control system switched," Truss reported.
"Good," Ikari said flatly. "Release the system. Commence attack."
Deep within EVA-01, something recoiled at the sudden switch of command inputs. Confused and in pain from the unexpected change, the unit reeled, then righted itself and lashed out at the nearest available target. Lucifer's eyes flared, and it lunged forward, charging EVA-02 even as 02 leaped into the air, intending to catch 01 in a choke hold. But when the two EVAs collided, it was 01 that remained standing, 02 knocked back by a solid left hook to the jaw. Before Grendel could get up, 01 was upon it and had its hands locked around the red EVA's throat, squeezing mercilessly, lifting it into the air. 02 clawed frantically at 01, trying to break free of its crushing grip.
Then 02's neck snapped, and its arms fell limp.
But EVA-01 wasn't finished, swinging EVA-02 around like a rag doll and breaking the red EVA's back across 01's knee, then flinging 02 violently to the ground, and pouncing on it. Lucifer reared back its fist and, with a feral howl of fury, smashed EVA-02's head, caving in the armor and the head underneath and sending a cascade of red gore in all directions.
In the control room, Maya covered her face and looked away.
Still EVA-01 was not satisfied, and began tearing pieces of EVA-02's armor off, hacking at the flesh underneath. Each blow shattered flesh and bones and sent blood fountaining into the air. Within seconds Lake Quinsigamond had become a lake of blood.
"Ikari! Good God, that's enough!" DJ bellowed as EVA-01 ripped both of EVA-02's arms off and flung them away, showering blood everywhere. He tore an access panel off the console, risking electrocution to cross a couple emergency circuits in the frantic hope that he would get control back. "EVA-02 is disabled, stop this nonsense! For Christ's sake! Are you listening to me?! Stop it! It's over, you've won! Grendel is down!"
But EVA-01 did not stop, flipping the remains of EVA-02's broken carcass over and tearing off the rear armor. DJ's eyes went wide with horror as he saw the entry plug, clutched in EVA-01's quivering hand. "No! Ikari, in God's name, stop it! Stop! Stoooop!"
With a sickening crunch, EVA-01 crushed the plug, spraying LCL in all directions.
Deep within Lucifer, the EVA's own consciousness realized that it was being lied to. A bit too late, it made the autonomous decision to ignore the input from the dummy plug and seek resynchronization with its true pilot. This went almost unnoticed aboard the EVA and in the control room, but later, the data gathered in this event (which was supposed to be impossible) would keep Ritsuko Akagi awake for hours, wondering how it had happened.
"E... EVA-02... I mean..." Truss fumbled, still in shock. "Target completely silenced."
Only now, after the gruesome noises had finally stopped, did Maya dare to look back up. EVA-01 remained in its kneeling position over the shattered corpse of EVA-02, the crushed entry plug in its unmoving hand, in the midst of a lake of blood and LCL. Maya gasped and looked away again.
DJ looked down in blank, flatline horror as the yellowish LCL dribbled out of the crushed entry plug and around EVA-01's fingers, mingling with the blood of EVA-02. Suddenly he realized that Lucifer had gone silent; then its consciousness touched his own again, ignoring the dummy plug signal. He had always felt Lucifer as a living presence, a powerful instinctive force barely contained within the flesh-and-metal shell of the Evangelion; only now did he recognize it as an intellect, a sentient spirit.
Lucifer knew itself. Lucifer knew it had been used.
Lucifer was filled with rage.
DJ could relate.
Carefully, gently, he set the mangled plug down on the ground; then he turned EVA-01 slowly toward the launch pad it had left a brief eternity ago. Tears welled out of his eyes, drifted away in the LCL as he ground his teeth together. His rage and Lucifer's mingled as the synchrotron shot back into the nineties, EVA and pilot united in a common purpose against a common enemy; hate for Gendō Ikari rolled up out of DJ's gut like a wave of bile, erupting from his mouth in a scream so primal it tapped his vital capacity, sending bubbles up to the top of the plug.
"Iiiiiikaaaaariiiiiii!" he screamed; then his rage congealed, hardening into a cold, solid core of hatred that made him much more frightening, from Maya Ibuki's point of view, than any red-faced rant could possibly have done.
"I'll kill you for this," he hissed through clenched teeth. "Do you hear me, you bastard? You are a dead man!" He set EVA-01 in motion, heading back to the launch pad not at a run, but at a purposeful, even, deadly-serious stride.
"Do you hear me, Gendō?" DJ demanded. "Answer me!"
"Disengage EVA-01's power supply," Ikari ordered. "I don't have time to deal with an irritated child."
Maya thumbed the disconnect switch; the cable fell away, and EVA-01 paused for a moment before switching to battery power.
"I've 300 seconds of battery power on board, Gendō," DJ reminded Ikari, the rage still seething in his deceptively calm voice. "Are you betting your life I can't reach you in that time? You're already dead, you fucker. Your body just hasn't realized it yet."
"This is ridiculous," Ikari snorted. "Take manual control of his plug suit's auto-defibrillator and shock him. We haven't time for this."
Her dark eyes deeply troubled, Maya looked about to protest; at Ikari's hard glare, she fought back her apprehension and did as he asked.
"EVA-01 is completely isolated from our command circuit," she reported, not bothering to conceal the relief in her voice. "We can't access life support control."
"Launch EVA-00 to intercept."
EVA-00 popped up from the same launch bay that had released EVA-01 a few minutes earlier; as Jon approached DJ, he saw EVA-03, one arm torn away at the shoulder, making unsteadily for the same intercept point.
"Rei, are you all right?" he asked on a closed channel.
"Not important," Rei replied in a quietly strained tone.
EVA-01 reached the intercept point; faced off with 00 and 03, it stood at an impasse for a moment.
Then DJ drew one of EVA-01's autocannons and leveled it at EVA-00's head, growling, "Get the hell out of my way, Jon."
"DJ, stop it, this isn't the way," Jon said.
"You saw what he did," DJ grated. "He used me... used me to murder Asuka. Swept her aside, an inconvenience to be disposed of. He could have stopped it, but he didn't!"
"Asuka's alive," Maya called to Jon on a sideband, having just seen that information pop up on her display from the rescue team.
"For God's sake, DJ!" Jon cried. "She's not dead!"
DJ was too enraged and aggrieved to hear; he merely shook his head violently and screamed, "You saw what he made me do! Jon, for God's sake! The man is insane, a monster! He should be put down like a mad dog! You should be helping me!"
Jon, thunderstruck, faltered; as he did, Rei slid past him into the conversation, the fingers of EVA-03's right hand splaying over EVA-01's chest and pushing him gently back, as her own would have against his, had they been face to face without the massive machines between them.
"DJ, don't," was all she said, quiet as always, but with a tight edge to her tone. "Not now."
There was a long, very tense silence as 00 and 03 continued to face down 01, each hoping none of them would do something regrettable.
Then, finally, came DJ's voice, sounding thirty years older, drained and weary. "This area is secure," he reported hoarsely. "This is Evangelion Unit 01, Lucifer... signing off."
EVA-01 sagged, the autocannon dropping from its hand to crash upon the ground, and its eyes went dark as DJ shut the unit down.
Jon sank back in his seat and let out a long sigh of relief, air bubbles escaping from his lungs.
The immediate danger was past, but he had a sickening feeling that things were about to take a marked turn for the worse.
In the control room, John Trussell abruptly rose to his feet. As the drama between DJ, Jon and Rei had played out, his face had slowly darkened from deep shock to its current state, a frozen mask of barely-restrained rage. Those who knew Truss knew him to be among the mildest-mannered of people at NERV; to see him this way was a powerful jolt to them. His hands shaking with anger, Truss slammed his chair into the kneewell of his station, pivoted on his heel and stomped toward the exit.
As he drew even with Ikari, the professor began crossly, "Mr. Trussell, where do you think—"
Truss rounded on him, eyes flashing, and cut him off with a stiff chopping gesture, locking eyes with Ikari.
"Don't," said Truss; then, after a lingering glare, he turned and left the control room, leaving Ikari staring after him with a look of mild shock on his face.
It didn't take long for the NERV Security officers to apprehend DJ once EVA-01 was back in the cage. Having showered and dressed under guard, his weapon being kept from him, he was manacled and marched to Gendō Ikari's office, flanked by two Men in Black, one familiar, one not. On the way, they passed Maya Ibuki, who was going the other way; she gave DJ a searching, sympathetic look and seemed almost about to speak, but then apparently thought better of it and hurried away. DJ couldn't blame her. His star was definitely not in ascendency just now.
The truth of the matter was, she didn't want him to see her crying.
He stood straight and defiant before Ikari's desk, meeting the scientist-administrator's steady, emotionless gaze with a glare filled with all the considerable hatred he could muster, wasting no attention on the two MIBs or Otto Keller, who stood at Ikari's right elbow.
"Croft," said Ikari, "since you joined this organization, you have been a constant source of difficulty for me. You are rebellious, undisciplined, immature and unprincipled, and you have no apparent appreciation for the extreme importance of our work here. You have shown unwarranted hostility to me and flagrant disregard for my authority.
"I have been willing to overlook all this due to your natural talent and its importance to Project EVA. However, your conduct in this last incident was beyond the pale. You were insubordinate; you deliberately refused direct orders; you seized control of Evangelion Unit 01 without authorization and you threatened the lives of senior personnel, myself included. This cannot be forgiven. Have you anything to say for the record?"
Never breaking eye contact with Ikari, DJ replied firmly and unhesitantly, "Gendō Ikari, you are a contemptible, manipulative, ruthless, murderous, unscrupulous toe-rag. If Colonel Keller and these two men weren't here, you bastard, I would strangle you with my bare hands. The best thing you can do is turn me loose and pray I never cross your path again... For the record."
"And risk disclosure to the press of the classified things you know? Unlikely."
"Keep me here, even under guard, and sooner or later, I'll kill you."
Ikari showed a flash of emotion, banging his fist against his desk and barking, "I have no time for juvenile bravado!"
Ice-calm, DJ replied flatly, "Nor have I."
Ikari stared into the boy's steel-blue eyes for almost twenty long seconds; DJ never flinched.
"Very well," Ikari said. "Your NERV clearance is revoked. Take your personal effects and be out of Worcester-3 by midnight. That's all. You're dismissed."
"Fuck you, Gendō," said DJ with tight restraint that carried more anger than any shout could contain. "Watch your back; one day I'll blow your fucking head off, I promise." Then, toe behind heel, he performed a tidy military about-face and marched from the office.
"Have him followed at all times, Keller," said Ikari. "If he discloses anything to anyone, I want him apprehended and brought to me immediately."
Keller's stony face revealed nothing of his state of mind as he replied, "Yes, sir."
Packing up the few things he had in his locker at HQ, DJ kept his face studiously blank. The guards had kept his weapon; if they didn't return it before he left, DJ resolved that he would have to bill them for it and find another.
Not that he would need a gun if he decided to kill Ikari right then... but no, let him stew a while. Let him wonder where and when death would come for him. DJ knew the man had read the depth of his intent during that long stare, and though he couldn't be sure, he was fairly confident he'd actually managed to frighten the bastard.
Good. Let him worry a while... meanwhile DJ would go home to England and gather his strength, then return to Worcester and gather the information he needed to destroy Ikari's world. Leave Worcester-3 permanently? Not while Ikari still had anything he could call his own.
Still, he didn't know when, if ever, he'd be able to see his friends again; so he made use of his last few legitimate moments in Central Dogma to have one last nose round.
Asuka was still in critical condition, being worked on furiously by the trauma staff in the Infirmary. He couldn't get closer than the far side of a six-inch-thick quartzite window, and all he could see was a face that was a patchwork of purple-red bruises and waxen white flesh, nothing at all like the face he'd come to be so fond of in recent times. He couldn't stand to look at it, so he fled to the Wedge.
Maya was there, as were Jon and Rei; so was Ritsuko, the bandage round her head and soot smeared on her cheeks and lab coat the only hallmarks of her experiences in Framingham. Though he had become increasingly disenchanted with her of late, nevertheless DJ's heart leaped to see her—for if she had survived, then possibly, just possibly...
"Misato?" he asked as he approached.
"Banged up, but alive," she told him. "She's in Infirmary Two getting a cast on her arm. You won't be able to get in to see her—I understand you've finally gone too far."
"That's one way of putting it," he said bitterly. "I'm on my way out now; just stopped off to say my goodbyes, so there's no need to call Security."
Ignoring her frown, he turned to Jon, taking him aside. "Listen. While I'm not around to remind you, don't forget to stick to your guns, right? Don't let them make you do anything you don't want to do. Don't forget what I told you."
Jon nodded gravely.
"Take care," said DJ, putting a hand on Jon's shoulder; the other boy placed his own hand on it for a moment, and then they returned to the group, where DJ managed to summon a genuine smile and turn it on Maya, who was still red-eyed and pale from crying.
"Maya, my love," said DJ, taking her hand and kissing it. "Thank you for everything."
She let out a sob and drew him into a hug; for a moment, he stroked her hair and told her he'd be all right, and presently she released him and sat back on the Wedge bench, sniffling but managing a smile of her own.
DJ turned to Ritsuko, and his smile became somewhat less warm. "Ritsuko. Thank you... for nothing." Then, on impulse, his right hand darted out; before she could draw back, he'd hooked his index finger into the ring on her top's zipper tab and snapped his wrist down, unzipping the garment and letting it fall open in one fell swoop.
"Well, almost nothing," he added with a mirthless version of his rakish grin as she flushed clear to the rounded tops of her well-formed breasts. "Hah! I was right," DJ added, his grin becoming a triumphant smirk. "Pink."
Ritsuko stood there agape a moment; her face working through a mixture of shock, embarrassment, and rage as a slow blush crept up her breasts and into her face. Her eyes finally narrowing, she made an incoherent sound of rage though clenched teeth, gathered the front of her top back together, and stormed out of the Wedge.
"She never could handle me," DJ chuckled wryly, shaking his head. He turned to see the others all staring at him—Jon incredulous, Maya embarrassed, Rei with a touch of reproach, as if to say, "That was beneath you."
Deflated, his glee evaporating, DJ sighed and let his shoulders sag. "You're right, Rei," he said, hanging his head and shaking it sadly. "Damn it... I should be better than that."
She stepped closer, and instead of speaking, she pressed her lips to his, kissing him once, gently and warmly. When she released him, there were tears tracking both their cheeks.
"I love you, Rei," said DJ softly. "Be well."
Overcome, Rei was unable to reply, so Jon did it for her and himself, whispering, "We'll miss you."
"You'll see me again," DJ replied, "one way or another."
Then he turned, shouldered his backpack, and walked out of the Wedge.
Uttering a single sob, Rei Ayanami threw herself into Jon's arms. Not knowing what else to do, he sat down, still embracing her, next to Maya. For a long time, he sat there holding Rei, as Maya put her hand on his behind Rei's head and cried with them.
Ritsuko sat slumped in her office chair, her top still hanging loosely open. The rage she felt immediate had quickly cooled, leaving a tangle of emotions in its wake. She felt more than tired: there was a weariness that had sunk into her very bones.
Even with her self-prescribed tranquilizers (which she'd started on a couple of days after the Dirac's Ocean incident) the nightmares had made sleep fitful at best. She hadn't dared tell anyone about them for fear of being relieved form her post. And right now that was all she had left to hold onto. At least while she worked she didn't think of other things, at least not much.
Her dreams were haunted by images terrible and surreal. In one recurring dream a gore-covered EVA stalked toward her across an open field. She, helpless, running for all she was worth, but still losing ground to the steady march of the EVA's feet. In the end she always fell, and the giant hand closed cruelly on her. Her ears filled with booming, maddening laughter. The EVA, laughing at her, only the EVA's helmet shattered and fell away; and it was Kaji, grinning and laughing as his fist slowly closed, and darkness overcame the pain.
It was that nightmare that had ruined her first few nights' sleep. When others at TechDiv started to notice, she realized it was impacting her work, and she refused to let anything detract from that; so she'd started medicating herself to get the needed rest. At least now she wouldn't wake up in a sweat, or screaming, with each new dream. It was better than no rest at all, she supposed, but how long could it last?
That wasn't the only dream to haunt her. Others were a variation on the same theme. The others would be there, and she would run to each, begging them to help her. And always they would turn her away, to run to the next. No one would help her. In the worst one she'd finally fallen at Misato's feet and pleaded with her to help—but as the hand closed around her Misato's answer was the same feral grin she'd worn in the commissary. The final words she heard as the grip closed the final time were: "You got just what you deserved!"
That one could still awaken her.
In another Misato came to her, carrying the limp, dead body of DJ in her arms. Her sobs and cries still rang in her ears as she remembered the dream. "Too late! We were too late, damn you! You did this! You're responsible! You killed him! Don't you care?" And then Ritsuko would see her own hands covered in blood, and behind Misato the bodies of Asuka, Jon, Rei, Maya, Truss, and so many more. The ground beneath her turned to crimson mud as the blood soaked in, and she sank as into quicksand.
Her mind seemed to have an endless supply of ideas which it would parade past her unconscious mind while she slept.
Through it all she kept her mind firmly affixed on the mission, on her job, and on Ikari. She felt she'd get through it if only she had something to hold onto, a beacon to steer by, and Gendō Ikari, while everyone else seemed determined to fly in their own orbit, still had his eyes firmly on the horizon. Only Ikari still kept his mind on the task at hand. To him, Ritsuko could still look for guidance, still reassure herself that what they were doing was right.
But, then, what about today? She'd barely escaped serious injury in Framingham, and Misato had fared worse than she. Others had fared worse still, and their days of worry were over. Was there anything she could have done differently? How had they allowed an Angel to invade in the first place? Had it come with the generator? If so, how had they missed it? In the end Ritsuko had been in charge of the test, and now she felt the responsibility for its failure. Most of all, she felt responsible for the deaths.
For that matter, what of Ikari? Asuka lay in a bed not far away, clinging to life. She was there, for all practical intents and purposes, on Ikari's orders. She'd reviewed the mission tapes and the comm records from the incident; and she just didn't know. Had Ikari done the right thing? It was important to stop Angels, at all cost, to be sure, but was there another option? Could DJ have gotten her out? Or would he have been defeated as Rei had, and Worcester-3 destroyed? She had to believe Ikari had done the right thing, for her sake; but part of her had started to wonder, and her last anchor wasn't quite as firmly affixed as it had been.
Her mind returned again to her recent experience in the Wedge. DJ opening her top, and the rush of shame and revulsion she'd felt as thoughts of Kaji swam into her mind. And the rage she felt, not as much rage at DJ for what he'd done, but for how he'd made her feel.
She remembered their eyes upon her, and the laughter she was sure she saw there. In her mind's eye she could see them all waiting until she'd fled, then falling over in great gales of laughter. Dr. Akagi, bested by DJ again, wasn't that just the funniest thing! In her heart she knew she could never be one of them. For her there was only the mission... and the mission was falling apart.
With these thoughts in her mind, Dr. Ritsuko Akagi drifted into a fitful rest in her dark office.
Two hours later, John Trussell sat alone in an empty conference room, the only light that which entered from the Central Dogma cavern through the room's windows. In his hand he held a pen; before him was a pad of paper. Scattered about on the floor were crumpled, ink-stained pages from the pad. He stared bleakly at the paper, trying to come up with a suitably eloquent way of phrasing how deeply horrified he was by Gendō Ikari's conduct, by way of filing a formal resignation from NERV.
Behind him, he heard the door to the conference room open. He ignored it; whoever it was could clearly see that he didn't want to be bothered, and if anyone tried to disturb him nonetheless, well, he could deal with that easily enough.
Moments later the door closed again, but a presence at his back told John that whoever it was had not left; they remained near the door, quiet, unintrusive, watching and waiting.
He turned to look, and saw Rei Ayanami watching him, her face impassive.
"Will you leave NERV?" she asked softly.
"I can't think of any good reasons not to," Truss replied.
Rei stepped closer, so he could look at her without craning his neck, and nodded. For a long moment, there was silence.
Then: "Will you go public with what you know?"
Truss blinked. "I... I'm not sure what you mean. I won't violate my TechDiv non-disclosure agreement..."
"No," Rei said. "Professor Ikari's illegal activities. Jet Alone."
Momentarily, Truss was dumbfounded. "How... how did you know about that?" he asked.
"Hal told me," Rei replied. "With Asuka's future uncertain and DJ gone, he felt it was best to seek new allies."
Truss looked perplexed, then nodded. "I forgot he could do that... " That answered, he mulled over her question for a moment. "I don't know," he finally admitted. "Maybe I should. He's obviously out of control... someone needs to do something about it."
"If he knew you know these things," Rei said matter-of-factly, "he would never let you leave."
The room was quiet for a few beats as John processed Rei's words; this was not something he had paused to consider in the heat of his anger. He grimaced slightly and looked down at the floor as he replied, "No, I don't suppose he would." After a few more seconds of consideration, he cast his gaze upward again. "I'm sorry you had to get dragged into this, Rei. I..." His voice trailed off as he ran out of words for his apology.
"I have always been a part of this," Rei replied unemotionally.
Unsettled by her tone of voice, Truss discarded his previous train of thought and studied the stoic girl for a moment.
"Rei," he asked softly, "will you make it through this? What will you do?"
Almost imperceptibly, Rei shrugged. "Professor Ikari is losing control," she said impassively, "and with each passing day there are fewer people in a position to challenge him. If things remain as they are, I will not survive the next Angel attack."
Visibly shaken by Rei's words, John was unable to reply.
"I'm disturbing you," remarked Rei. "I'll go." She turned and left the room, leaving Truss alone with his thoughts.
Several minutes passed before Truss rose from his chair, dropped the notepad containing the half-finished resignation in the corner wastebasket, and left the room.
Shortly thereafter, Jon was in EVA-01's entry plug, surrounded by a dark feeling of foreboding. As he approached the break-even point in synchronization, he felt no welcoming surge of neural pulses; merely a brick wall of indifferent resistance. He concentrated, stretching out his feelings, sending a pleading thought to the intelligence he instinctively knew lived within the EVA:
Please. We need your strength.
The reply he got back was emphatically negative.
Jon winced as the alarms went off and the nerve pulse almost fed back into his mind. He hit his own cutoff switch almost immediately, and EVA-01 fell silent.
"No good, Dr. Akagi..." Jon sighed. "It doesn't want me."
In his room on Lee Street, DJ packed a few more of his clothes into a duffel bag, sought out his long underwear and laid them out on the bed. It was a cold November night, no night, really, to be riding any distance on a motorcycle, but he had no other convenient way of getting to New York, and White Star's Britannic was leaving for Southampton the following afternoon.
As he packed, he was startled to hear a cough. He turned to see Ken Stanfield, the middle-aged fellow who seemed to be the de facto leader of the NERV Security "plainclothes" force, standing in the doorway in his usual black suit, his seamed, weatherbeaten face impassive as always.
"You really meant what you said to Ikari back there." It wasn't a question.
DJ nodded. "I don't know what his whole game is yet, but by God I'll find out, and when I do I'll bring it down right round his ears. If you've any sense you'll clear out fast."
Stanfield smiled—the second time DJ had seen him do that—and said, "Damned if I don't believe you'll do it, too." Then he stepped fully into the room, locked the door behind him, and said seriously, "Look, son, a lot of us are no happier with the way Ikari's been running things lately than you are. You've got guts and determination, but without some backup on your side, that's not going to be enough."
"So what do you suggest?" asked DJ sardonically. "Form an underground resistance?"
"Not form," said Stanfield flatly, handing DJ a small white card from his suit-coat pocket. "Join."
DJ looked at the card, an eyebrow crooking in surprise.
Kenneth J. Stanfield
Military Intelligence Bureau
X - C O M
"X-COM?" DJ murmured.
"That's right," said Stanfield, nodding. "A sizeable contingent of NERV's Security Division, a few people in TechDiv and at least one in Operations, we're all X-COM Intel agents. Ryoji Kaji was, too, until he turned traitor and became Ikari's errand boy. We've been keeping an eye on Ikari and his SEELE bosses and we don't like what we're seeing."
"And I'm supposed to believe this because... ?"
"I knew your father."
"We were FBI agents together. When the Hidden War started in '98 I joined X-COM, but he stayed with the Bureau. He was a thinker, not much of a fighter, and back then X-COM was almost purely paramilitary. He gave us some of our best leads on the Enemy, though. He used to think like you do, that he had a right to know everything and that people who tried to keep things from him were evil. Used to get downright obsessive about it. 'Damn it all, Stanfield,' he'd say to me, 'the truth is out there, I can feel it.'"
"He said that, did he."
"Often," replied Stanfield.
DJ mulled it over for a moment, then nodded. "OK, say I believe you. Why are you telling me this?"
"Hell, you'd have figured it out pretty soon anyway," said Stanfield with a grin. "When you did I was going to move on recruiting you. Ikari's move today just bumped my timetable up a little."
"You want me to join X-COM."
"Sure. You're prime MIB material, if a little young. You're smart, you're tough, you're stubborn as hell and you've got a problem with unjustified authority. You remind me of me. And, frankly, it'd take us months to dig up all the information I suspect you already have."
"What's so military about this Military Intelligence Bureau, anyway?" DJ asked, handing back the card.
"Damned if I know, son," Stanfield replied, brushing an imaginary piece of lint from one immaculate cuff. "I think they just made it up to facilitate the acronym."
DJ observed Stanfield's mode of dress and conceded that he did have a point.
"What do you want me to do?"
"Play along with Ikari. Pretend you're going home to England and hop a ship for the Continent. We need somebody to go to Germany and find out what the hell happened to Kaji; he used to be one of our most loyal agents, until about eight months ago."
"Germany? What about all that's going on here? I can't leave my friends in the hands of that madman Ikari and go trotting off to Germany just to find out why Kaji suddenly turned to the bloody Dark Side. Going back to England for some things is one thing, but I've hardly the time for a Continental vacation."
"We'll take care of your friends."
"Like you took care of Asuka? Where the hell was your magic network then?"
Stanfield nodded sadly. "That was unexpected," he admitted. "We didn't think Ikari was going to go so far so fast; Ayanami and Ellison's improved performance as a team must have made him decide that you and Sōryū-Langley were expendable earlier than we though he would."
DJ absorbed that statement, saw the truth in it, and fought back his anger. It wasn't Stanfield he was angry with, anyway; more even than Ikari, it was himself. He should have seen all that Stanfield just mentioned coming. He should have known Ikari would move to eliminate Asuka and himself at the first possible opportunity... but how could he have anticipated an opportunity like this? No doubt Ikari had seized it on the spur of the moment, hoping DJ would force Rei or Jon to kill him, to stop him from destroying the command center in his rage against Ikari. The Angel attack on Unit 02 must have seemed like, pardon the pun, a heaven-sent chance to tie up those loose ends and consolidate his hold on the program.
Ikari didn't know about the seeds of subversion that were already flowering in Misato, in Jon, and even in Rei; but then, neither did DJ, really.
DJ nodded. "All right, I'm in."
Stanfield smiled, reached into his jacket, and drew out DJ's .45, then handed the weapon and its ammunition over. "You might need this," he observed.
"I might," DJ allowed with a smile of his own. "What do—"
He was interrupted by a harsh, ululating wail that swelled in the air over the city, a sound all of Worcester-3's remaining residents knew well.
"Another Angel alert?!" DJ burst out. "They're not wasting any time."
A knock sounded at the door; Stanfield slid it open to admit a young black man in an identical suit—his recently-assigned rookie partner, James Edwards.
"You've got to see this," he remarked, and the three of them went to the living room to look.
Near the the campus of WPI, another land-based Angel had arrived, stalking through the buildings. Its bizarre, stump-legged shape and mottled black-and-white coloration made DJ think of nothing so much as a bizarre, giant, headless cow, standing up on its hind legs and menacing the city. Where a head belonged there was nothing; where arms belonged were mere stumps.
The Angel stumped forward, paused for a moment in the middle of Park Avenue, and then abruptly issued a bolt of blinding white power from the gem-like red core in its chest, blasting a great, gaping hole in the ground.
"Where did it come from?" Ritsuko Akagi demanded.
"I don't know! It just... appeared there," said Truss.
"Good Christ!" Maya Ibuki cried, down in the control room. "That thing just blew through eighteen barrier layers with one shot!"
"Station EVA-00 and EVA-03 within the Geo-Front itself, then," said Misato Katsuragi—dirty, bedraggled, her arm in a sling and her head bandaged, but out of the infirmary and back in command. She had insisted; concentrating on mastery of a crisis was the only way to keep from being overwhelmed by how much everything had changed, for the worse, in the course of the last twelve hours.
She tried not to think about what she would do when she no longer had a crisis to keep her occupied.
In the cockpits of their EVAs, Jon and Rei considered similar things.
As its unity splinters from the decay within, NERV must face its most rigorous test yet; and just when it appears that all has been revealed, the valiant find that they don't know anything yet. Ring out 1997 with the Symphony of Terror's shattering conclusion:
Neon Exodus Evangelion 2:9
"I don't know you any more.