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
Stanfield and Edwards could not be seen re-entering the Geo-Front with someone in DJ's state of disrepute, so they left without him—but they knew he would be going back. The main S-490 entrance tunnel would be barred to him, of course, and during an alert the security force might even shoot, even if most of them were X-COM operatives. Fortunately, DJ knew a few back ways in—construction entryways which had then been plugged off and forgotten, but in which he had found (or in a couple of cases, reopened) paths large enough for him and his Corley.
Down one of those he raced, hoping he would be in time.
A massive plume of fire and debris rained down from the ceiling of the Geo-Front cavern as the Angel breached the final defensive barrier, emerging from the resultant cloud of smoke a moment later and descending toward the cavern floor. The moment it was clear of the destruction above, it promptly came under fire once more, this time from the twin autorifles wielded by EVA-00.
The bullets had no effect.
"Shit! Its AT Field is up, Control!" Jon snapped, discarding the rifles and grabbing two rocket launchers from the weapons cache at his feet. Perhaps the missiles would distract the enemy long enough for Rei to move in and do some damage. But, before either of them could act, what looked at first glance like large grayish ribbons unfurled from the Angel's arm stumps. These ribbons snapped taut and lashed out before Jon could even react, and in a flash Moloch's arms were gone, cleanly shaved off at the shoulders. Jon howled as the pain exploded across his body far more intensely than he had expected. He curled up into a tight ball for two seconds before forcing the agony out of his mind. Just in time to experience another stab of pain as the ribbons struck out again, slicing one of Moloch's legs apart. The unit promptly lost its balance and began to topple over.
Through the haze of red which had become the sum total of his consciousness, thought he heard a voice cry, "Go!" In the next instant Moloch was gone, followed by wrenching vertigo as ejection charges sent Jon's entry plug careening skyward. EVA-00 itself collapsed to the ground, a pool of blood forming under its half-crushed face, which was turned toward the Angel as it retracted its ribbons and energized its beam weapon, preparing to finish Moloch off.
Before the Angel could shoot, however, its attention was diverted to the more immediate problem represented by the one-armed black EVA bearing down on it at a run, a large silver canister clutched in its remaining hand. The Angel probably didn't know what the "N2" in big white letters on the canister's side meant, but everyone else did.
"Rei!" Misato shouted. "What are you doing??"
"We have to stop it," Rei replied, quiet as ever but with an audible undercurrent of tension. It was plainly obvious she intended to force the N2 bomb past the Angel's AT Field and detonate it. At that range, it was suicide.
The color drained from many faces, and in the control room, John Trussell felt his heart skip a beat.
If things remain as they are, I will not survive the next Angel attack.
"Rei, no! Don't—!"
Rei shut down her comm system, and the audible pleas stopped. In the next instant she was upon the Angel, and drove the canister forward, forcing it through the AT Field, priming the detonator as she did so.
It must be done. For all our sakes.
But in the back of her mind she could hear a pleading voice not mutable by any communications shutdown.
Rei, please don't do this.
She tried to push him away, to maintain her concentration. I must do this.
The canister penetrated the field completely. She activated the detonator and it began counting down from five seconds. This would do enough damage to buy time, time for them to rebuild Moloch and give Jon a chance to finish the job...
I am nothing without you.
She would die.
Please don't leave me.
She would not see Jon again.
A new emotion clawed at her.
... I don't want to die.
Orcus threw itself backward, letting go of the canister just as the timer reached zero. A flash of white light eclipsed everyone's view as the N2 bomb went off.
The intention had been for the bomb to be past the AT Field when it went off, but as it happened it was caught halfway, nearly pulled back out by Orcus's retreat. As such, most of the blast was absorbed. When the light faded, both Angel and EVA-03 were sprawled on the ground, some distance apart from each other. Orcus was in terrible shape, its chest armor shattered and caved in, its neck twisted at an entirely abnormal angle, and the lower half of its remaining arm missing.
The Angel's front was similarly scuffed and charred, but a moment later it rose back up and continued on its course, giving the two downed Evangelions no further thought.
DJ swore and fought for control, almost laying the Corley over on its side, as the shockwave from the mostly-muted explosion washed over the roadway, nearly blowing him into the guard rail. Then he skidded to a halt, putting a leg down, and flipped the visor of his helmet up, taking in the tableau of destruction and realizing just what that enormous explosion had been.
"Oh, God, no," he murmured, his guts twisting as he forced himself to take in the ruin that the blast had made of Unit 03, and, not far away, the bloody, shattered wreck of Unit 00. The latter lay on its face, and the entry plug cover was gone; so where was the plug?
Just as he thought that, the plug, on its parachute, crashed into the park pond in the foreground of DJ's view, only a few dozen feet away. As it settled, it rolled (as it was weighted to do) so that the hatch was upright, and that hatch popped open, releasing a minor deluge of LCL and a wet, bedraggled, coughing, thoroughly displeased-looking pilot.
DJ waved and hailed to Jon, who clambered up the bank to meet him.
"What the hell's going on?" DJ asked. "Did Rei just—"
"Yes," Jon replied, his face lined with pain.
"Are you hurt?"
"Only sympathetic. It'll fade."
"She's alive," said Jon with quiet conviction. "Rescue team will have her out in no time... but I don't know what we're going to do next. EVA-01 won't accept any pilot we try since the dummy plug incident."
DJ surveyed the wrecked EVAs, the Angel lumbering stiffly toward Central Dogma (its injuries already healing, its speed already picking back up), and his eyes glittered.
"He'll accept me," he said flatly. "Jump on!" The dripping EVA pilot swung on behind him, his toes finding and flipping down the extra set of footpegs. DJ started the Corley laid the throttle open again as Jon got a secure grip on his waist, snapping his visor down to keep the wind out of his eyes as Jon ducked, using DJ's body as a windbreak.
Sparing no time or energy on thoughts of the danger, DJ ducked in and out of the obstacles blocking his way, the abandoned cars and chunks of rubble, making for the Central Dogma pyramid at top speed.
As he and Jon charged into the fast-evacuating building and up toward the command center, they went unnoticed by the few remaining guards and startled TechDiv personnel who ran this way and that on urgent battle-station errands. In the deserted corridors of the upper levels, they almost passed right by the commissary; but as they hurried down the corridor, DJ's thumbs pricked. He heard something. He didn't know what it was, consciously, but something tickled the back of his mind and told him he'd heard a sound of distress. Holding up his right hand, he drew his pistol with his left, then edged closer to the commissary door and gently tried the knob. It was locked; placing his ear to the door, DJ tuned out the sounds of the mostly empty corridor and listened.
"C'mon, baby, what do you say?"
A man's voice. Deep, smooth...
DJ's eyes narrowed as he continued to listen.
"It's the end of the world, don't you want to go out with a smile?"
A woman's voice answering, breathless, not with arousal, but with fear:
"Kaji, no, let me go!"
DJ took a step back, thumbed the safety of the V10 off, shot the doorknob out, then kicked open the door and stormed into the commissary with a somewhat confused Jon on his heels.
Kaji had Maya backed against the Snacktron, his right hand inside her uniform tunic, his left working its way up her right thigh; she was pushing ineffectively against his chest with her hands and turning her head in a mostly-futile attempt to avoid his kisses, which he interspersed among his words.
At the crash of the door, he turned his head and saw the interlopers; his mouth curled in an ironic grin.
"Hey, kid, I thought they threw your ass out," said Kaji. "Too bad about your woman, but you'll have to look elsewhere for a replacement." Kaji half-turned back towards Maya and leered. "This one's mine."
"Let her go and walk away, Ryoji," DJ said, in a tone of voice that made it clear he wasn't making a request.
Kaji ignored it. "Or what, you'll shoot me?"
"If I have to."
His grin unfaded, Kaji deftly stepped around Maya, removing his hand from her tunic and slipping his arm around her throat, then dragged her back a step toward the door. "We've danced this dance before, kid, and you didn't have the guts. C'mon, Maya, let's find someplace quieter."
Even if DJ had been entertaining the thought of backing down, Maya's dark, pleading, silent gaze would have kept him from doing it; instead, he held his .45 steady and said softly, "Kaji, I'm having the very worst day of my entire life. I honestly feel I've nothing more to lose." His control over his tone of voice faded as he went on, and his eyes flashed something that wasn't entirely anger as he growled, "Now let Maya go or I swear I'll kill you!"
"Uh... DJ, think about this for a second," said Jon diffidently. "I mean, sure, he's obviously doing the Wrong Thing here, but... do you really think you need to kill him?"
"That's quite up to Ryoji here, don't you think?" DJ snarled.
Jon turned a helpless look to Kaji and said, "I think you should do as he says, Mr. Kaji."
"Well?" DJ asked, fighting to keep his voice even and blinking away sudden tears. "What's it gonna be, Ryoji? You can walk out of here, but not with Maya."
Kaji's grin didn't falter. He reached out and unlocked the exit door, toeing it open, and dragged Maya a step closer. "Kid," he sneered, "you won't shoot. You don't have the stones."
"Don't I?" asked DJ through his teeth.
In the large, empty commissary with its tiled floor and walls, the sound of the single shot echoed for several seconds, long enough for the jingling sound of the spent cartridge case falling to the floor to blend with the echoes.
Ryoji Kaji flinched, took a half-step backward, released Maya, and slowly reached up to touch the bloody flower that had suddenly bloomed high on his chest. He gazed reflectively at the blood streaking his fingertips for a moment, then stepped toward DJ, his lips curling back from his teeth in a bloody sneer.
DJ stepped back and shot him again, then again, then again, as Kaji kept shuffling forward; then, as the mortally wounded man took a clumsy swing at him, DJ stepped aside, swung the weapon to bear, and, screaming, "Die, damn you!" at the top of his lungs, shot Kaji through the temple with his last bullet. Blood splashed back at DJ, flecking his face and his smoking gun, as Kaji slowly, as if underwater, sagged, crumpled to his knees, and then fell forward to lie in a slowly spreading pool of blood on the tiled commissary floor.
Maya Ibuki neither cried out nor fainted; she merely settled unsteadily to her knees and looked very, very pale. DJ, his hands shaking, dropped the pistol to the floor as if he'd forgotten he was holding it, then knelt before her and asked softly if she was all right.
Jon Ellison had seen death, but never like this. He was momentarily dumbfounded by what he'd just witnessed; for a long moment, he just stood there in stunned silence, trying to parse the fact that yes, he'd just seen DJ Croft kill Ryoji Kaji.
"My God," Maya whispered to DJ. "Is he..."
"Yes," DJ replied, wiping at the tear-tracked blood on his face and struggling to compose himself. "He's dead."
"You can't stay here," she told him, gripping his shoulders with a strength born of desperation. "Ikari... he'll have you killed for this. He has that authority during a crisis."
"Not if he wants this Angel stopped, he won't," DJ replied grimly. "Besides, what was I supposed to do, let the bastard take you? He gave me no option. I didn't want to kill him."
Maya sobbed, crushing her face into DJ's chest, and murmured, "That won't matter to Ikari."
"To hell with Ikari!" DJ replied vehemently. "Are you all right? That's the important thing."
"I... I will be..." Maya replied.
"Right, then. Let's go. I need you... I need your strength in the control room, your voice in my ears, as I ride my EVA into battle one last time."
"'One last time'?" Jon wondered. "Don't talk like that!"
As the three of them left the commissary, DJ replied pragmatically, "I doubt dear Gendō is going to be too keen on taking me back on the payroll, Jon, now that I've done murder. When I get back from this mission—if I get back from this mission—I expect he'll either have me shot or throw me out of here so hard I land in Spain."
"I won't let him do that," Jon replied firmly. "We won't let him do that. I... I don't care what he thinks anymore. We need you here." "I appreciate the sentiment, Jon... but I suppose we'll see, one way or another."
Jon chewed on that for a moment, then replied gravely, "I suppose we will at that."
Maya left them, subdued but again steady on her feet, at the control room. As she entered, Ritsuko Akagi saw Jon and DJ pass the door, and scowled.
"What's he doing back here?" she grumbled.
"Saving us, Dr. Akagi," Maya replied icily, "even when we don't deserve it."
Without another word, she took her station, leaving her boss slightly frosted and more than a little taken aback.
Ritsuko Akagi's expression had nothing on Gendō Ikari's when Jon and DJ entered the EVA bay.
"I told you to be out of the city by midnight," he said coldly.
"It's eleven forty-five," DJ replied. "And to hell with you, anyway."
"You are neither welcome nor needed here," Ikari said, indicating the closed hatch of the purple EVA behind him. "Recovery Team 1 brought Rei in five minutes ago. She will have EVA-01 operational very shortly."
"It won't work," Jon muttered under his breath.
"You have something to say, Mr. Ellison?" Ikari demanded sharply.
Jon looked on the verge of wilting before that sharp voice of command; then he stiffened, stood straight, and said flatly and evenly, "I said it won't work, sir. Unit 01 refused to accept me, and I sincerely doubt it will accept Rei or the dummy plug. It only wants one pilot now."
"Mr. Ellison," Ikari observed coldly, "the Evangelion is a machine. It does not 'want'. It merely follows instructions, as I expect its pilots to do."
DJ snorted derisively.
"I'm not disobeying orders, sir," Jon replied stiffly. "I'm merely trying to save time and lives by reporting what I believe, from experience, will happen. And if I'm wrong I'll take responsibility for my error—but I strongly recommend that DJ be given the pilot's seat."
Ikari stared hard at Jon, but the boy never flinched, giving him back as flinty a glare as he absorbed.
Behind them, EVA-01 twitched slightly, making the superstructure shiver beneath their feet; an alarm blared, and the entry plug ejected, popping open in a shower of LCL.
Rei Ayanami emerged, one arm in a sling, bandaged around her head, and unsteady on her feet; then she stumbled, dropped to her knees and unceremoniously vomited through the grillwork of the catwalk.
As one the three men on the gantry crowded toward her, concern on their faces (even Ikari's).
Wiping at her mouth with the back of one hand, she looked up with shame in her eyes and reported softly, "Synchronization failed... I... I'm sorry."
Ikari turned again to Jon and DJ, both of whom stared hard at him; then he keyed his wristcom and announced, "Rei has failed. Prepare the dummy plug."
"The dummy plug is based on Rei's pattern, you idiot!" DJ snarled. "If she can't sync with EVA-01, a cheap copy of her's not going to do it either. For Christ's sake! Get the hell out of my way or I'll throw you off the catwalk!"
Ikari turned his full glare on DJ. "Don't ever presume to give me orders, boy," he snarled. "NERV is my operation. I built it from the ground up. I control it. I give the orders. You are just a stupid upstart boy with no concept of the things you're meddling in! You've been a thorn in my side since you first got here! Undermining my authority. Disrupting my experiements. Corrupting my personnel. Interfering with Rei! You've made her unwarrantedly erratic. I won't have any more of it! Get out of this base before I have you shot, you miserable little—"
The slap echoed like a rifle shot through the Evangelion bay, and for several long seconds afterward, there was utter silence.
Rei Ayanami, her whole body quivering with rage, pinioned Gendō Ikari on her crimson, furious stare for ten long seconds; then, in a quiet voice that dripped with pain, she said to him,
"I don't know you any more."
Turning, she stormed out of the bay.
Gendō Ikari, the left side of his face slowly reddening, stood in absolute shock as, his face hard as stone, DJ Croft walked past him onto the catwalk.
Turning back, he grinned a mirthless grin at Jon. "'Interfering with Rei', indeed," he said. "If I was rogering Rei, she'd be a hell of a lot more than 'erratic'." Jon pinkened slightly, causing DJ to wave a hand at him. "Don't go all blushy on me now, Jon."
At that point, Misato and Ritsuko entered the bay, joining Jon at the end of the catwalk. DJ's smile took on some genuine warmth at the sight of Misato; even with an arm in a cast, a pronounced limp and a steadily darkening black eye, she was, as ever, lovely to him.
"Hullo, Misato, my love," said DJ. "I thought for a bit there that I wouldn't get to see you again before I went."
Misato managed a wan grin. "I wouldn't miss it."
DJ swung a leg over the side of the entry plug. "When I get back," he said with his rakish grin, "you owe me an evening of your undivided attention, my love."
Misato smiled sadly, a tear escaping from her left eye. "You'll get it," she replied. "I promise."
Blowing her a kiss, DJ slipped over the side and into the seat, lowering and sealing the canopy; a moment later the plug screwed itself into the EVA's neck, and the armor closed around it.
Ritsuko glared sidelong at Misato. "What the hell was the meaning of that?" she demanded.
"Go to hell, Ritsuko," Misato snapped bitterly, wiping at her tearing eyes. "He knows he's not coming back."
Inside the EVA, surrounded by the reassuring coolness of LCL, DJ smiled and took the controls in his hands.
"OK, Lucifer," he murmured. "Let's do it... one more time."
The entry plug came obligingly to life around him, followed by the EVA itself, without a fuss.
"EVA-01 is operational," Maya Ibuki reported, feeling unnaturally calm as she watched the green signal boxes march across the Big Board. "Synchrotron is holding at ninety-eight percent."
"My God in Heaven," Ritsuko Akagi whispered.
The EVA bay shook as the attacking Angel breached the armor, and a moment later the beast was in the bay, lunging past EVA-01, reaching for and slashing away the control room windows with its razor-edged ribbons of death.
"No, I don't think so, son," DJ snarled, launching EVA-01 into its path and slamming it against the side wall before it could strike again and wreck the room completely, killing its occupants. "Maya! Hit me on No. 13, fast!"
"Right!" Maya replied, thumbing the launch key for Pad 13. With a crash and sizzle of capacitors, the launch catapult the EVA and Angel were standing on flew back up out of the bay, flinging EVA-01 and its quarry back to the subsurface.
"Thought you had a free ride, didn't you?" DJ demanded, slamming EVA-01's fists repeatedly into the Angel's glowing red core. "Well the party's over, Chester! I've lost way too much that's important to me today to let you come along and stomp on the wreckage! D'you hear me? Huh?"
On and on he ranted, driving the Angel back and back and back, further away from Central Dogma with each passing moment, battering it relentlessly with EVA-01's fists and feet, never letting it have a moment to gather its wits and strike. Finally he pinned it against a hill and hammered at its core, over and over, reduced from ranting semi-coherently to simply shouting inarticulately in rhythm with his strikes. The core's glow began to flicker and fade under his merciless pounding, and the NERV personnel who had abandoned the smashed control room and now stood on the Central Dogma plaza watching the battle were already drawing breath to cheer
when the power ran out, and EVA-01 ground to a halt.
"No!" DJ protested. "No no! Don't do this to me now! Not now! For God's sake, not now!"
Sensing its change, the Angel reared back, its core glow brightening again, and slammed its ribbons into the inert EVA, sending it crashing limply back against a neighboring hill. DJ screamed in sympathetic pain as the Angel tore away EVA-01's chest armor, laying bare the greyish-brown flesh of its chest.
Maya Ibuki gasped in shock as the chest of the Evangelion was laid bare, for embedded in that grey-brown flesh was a dark red orb—an Angel's core.
Rearing back, the Angel began hammering at the core with its ribbons, just as EVA-01 had been pounding on its own with its fists a few moments before. The powerless EVA jerked fitfully under the battering, as, within its cockpit, DJ Croft shouted to his recalcitrant mount to get up and save itself in every language he could remember the word for "move" in.
"... Move, move, damn you, I know you're not just a machine! Dammit! Lucifer—get up and fight!"
On one of the consoles in the wreckage of the control room, unnoticed by anyone, a sudden block of text spurted onto the screen.
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
Then the last few characters scrolled into infinity, before the console sputtered and lost power.
6961 6d68 6572 6f
6961 6d68 6572 6f
6961 6d68 6572 6f
6961 6d68 6572 6f
6961 6d68 6572 6f
6961 6d68 6572 6f
6961 6d68 6572 6f
6961 6d68 6572 6f
6961 6d68 6572 6f
... something happened.
EVA-01's core glowed; its eyes glowed; it stiffened, arched its back, and then sat bolt upright on the hillside, swinging its jaw wide and screaming defiantly into the Geo-Front night.
"My God!" DJ's voice crackled from the portable commset John Trussell carried. "It's full of stars!"
Then the transmission ended in a squeal of static as EVA-01 hunched forward, vibrating with the tension in its artificial muscles. All along its spinal ridge, the purple and gray armor plating cracked and split, as from base of neck to mid-back six cylindrical, glowing orange protrusions thrust out from within the EVA's body.
Its core and new-grown Elerium colliders glowing furiously, the Evangelion leaped up from its resting place, seized the Angel's ribbon arms, and unceremoniously tore them off. With an unprecedented but very manlike level of fury—not the animalistic, feral mauling of the berserk Unit 02—it slashed at the enemy's flesh with claw-stiffened fingers, kicked, punched and elbowed it, crushing it mercilessly to the ground, picking it up and flinging it violently against the hillside.
Its eyes glowing brilliantly, EVA-01 stood over its fallen enemy. The Angel tried to get up, but it was too late: EVA-01 slammed a foot down on the Angel's midsection, reached down, and, with a horrific, visceral sound of tearing flesh, ripped the core out.
Then, as everyone watched in stunned horror, 01 reached up and tore away the armored mask that concealed its real face—grey-brown, with glittering green eyes and a huge, tooth-filled mouth that, as it was lipless, resembled a hideous giant grin. Brandishing its trophy, Lucifer threw back its head and screamed into the night.
"Mother of God!" Otto Keller cried.
"My God... it's really alive..." someone said. Maya wasn't sure who it was; she was far too busy throwing up.
Then, tossing the core aside, the EVA stretched up to its full height, and, screaming like a banshee, seemed to expand within its armor, cracking and shedding the plating in massive pieces.
"Well, that's it, then," Ritsuko murmured. "It's breaking free of its binders."
"Binders?" Misato wondered.
Ritsuko nodded. "That isn't armor; it's a restrictive covering, designed to prevent EVA-01 from using its full power. Now no force on Earth can control it."
Nearly denuded of its "armor", the EVA ceased to scream; presently, it ceased to do anything at all, merely standing over its fallen foe, silent, its core and eyes dark, the Elerium colliders glowing only with the faint radiance of the mysterious metal itself.
"It's stopped!" Truss whispered.
"It's accomplished what it set out to do, for now," Ritsuko said. "We'd better get it back into the cage and see what we can do with it now." She started toward the recovery area.
"What about DJ?" Misato wondered.
Ritsuko turned, regarding the Operations Director with cool curiosity. "What about him?" she asked. "We'll know how he is once we get it back inside. Until then..." She finished her thought with a shrug.
Misato knew she should be angry, but she was too tired. Instead, she felt only a yawning, empty feeling that threatened to become true despair if she let herself feel it too long.
She turned her back on her onetime roommate, and ex-close-friend, and walked slowly back to Central Dogma. There was nothing more for her to do out here.
Ritsuko sat in her darkened office, staring into the space beyond the drawn curtains on the far wall. Her face showed the signs of the rest, or lack there of, she had had in the two nights since the last attack. Even while the sedative dosage increased, sleep was increasingly fleeting. The thoughts of her busy mind prolonged her wakefulness, and the dreams made sure the sleep that followed was brief and restless.
She hadn't thought things could get any worse, she was already pushing on towards exhaustion before the attack. But then there had been the autopsy report, but she was getting ahead of herself...
After the attack Ritsuko and the rest had returned to the control center to watch EVA-01 being returned to its cradle. Misato had been distraught over DJ, and seemed to blame Ritsuko for the entire mess. When Ritsuko had failed to respond to her invective, she'd finally snapped "How can you be so cold?! You're not even human!" Ritsuko could have explained that it wasn't that she didn't care, just that she was too tired to show any emotions; but then, she was too tired to explain. It certainly had turned out to he a prophetic remark in the end.
Maya had noticed her growing fatigue and commented on it; nearly having her head bitten off for her trouble. Ritsuko refused to admit to anyone that it was impacting her work, least of all herself. The mission was too important to be impeded by personal troubles. But even she'd known she couldn't continue running on her own, and besides, a little stimulant took the residual feelings the tranqs left behind. Once the crisis was over she'd be able to really relax, work things out, and get back into a normal cycle.
At least that was what she had been able to tell herself at the time. But once EVA-01 was taken care of, at least as best they could at the time, Maya had broken down. With the crisis over, the will she'd clamped over her emotions broke, and she told all that had happened earlier. Truss had held her gently as she quietly sobbed her way through the tale.
Misato's rage had only grown, and if he had not already been dead she surely would have hunted Kaji to his death. After Maya had finished she'd related her own story—the first Ritsuko had learned of it.
Ikari had listened impassively, showing no apparent concern for the trauma Maya had experienced. Only Ritsuko had noticed his eyes narrowing, as if he were mostly annoyed at losing Kaji. That momentary look of cold calculation fixed in her mind like no other.
When the story had been completed the NERV medical corps had been summoned to dispose of the body. Since Maya had reported the stubbornness with which Kaji had clung to life, on top of his erratic behavior, Ritsuko had ordered an autopsy.
Sitting now in her office, after rereading the autopsy report for the nth time, she didn't know what she'd really expected. Maybe drugs, or some disease, anything to explain what he'd done. Some deep part of her wanted to believe that what he'd done wasn't the work of the same smiling young man she and Misato had spent so much time with in their younger days.
In that regard she'd certainly gotten her wish. Whoever had raped her, it wasn't Ryoji Kaji, because the thing DJ had killed wasn't human. The problem was, she didn't know what it was, and the medical corps hadn't done much better at identifying it.
Definitely of alien origin, it was a shell of cells which appeared to have Kaji's DNA... but the internal organs were all wrong. While the brain was still in the skull, nearly everything else was in the wrong location. The brain itself was malformed, by normal human standards, at that. It appeared this simulacrum was rather more robust than the human Kaji would have been. Which helped explain why several point blank pistol shots failed to stop it.
But what her mind kept returning to was its hands on her body. Its grinning face leering at her, its breath hot on her neck. Its...
No. Don't go there.
Ritsuko snapped her head up, shaking that train of thought before she could let it overrun her again. The feelings she had were tangled. She was relieved to find that her attacker wasn't an old friend, but disgusted and disturbed to find it was some alien thing. Really, she wasn't sure which was worse.
Aside from the turmoil she still felt from her assault was a new feeling of guilt. Though she still hadn't told anyone of her attack, she wondered about her responsibility in Maya's attack. What if she had spoken out? Kaji (for she still thought of it by that name, if only for convenience) would have been questioned, and likely imprisoned. Even if he hadn't been, everyone would have been wary around him.
She felt certain that her silence had condemned Maya to the horror she'd experienced at his hands—which would have been much worse if not for DJ. DJ, who was now, as she firmly believed, dead within EVA-01. This was not her finest hour.
Her computer beeped, signaling an incoming communication request. Quickly composing herself she toggled the connection open. Maya's face appeared immediately. "We're ready to continue with the tests." Maya was curious about her boss sitting in an office that appeared to be dark from what her screen showed, but she had more important concerns.
"OK, I'll be right down."
"We'll be here." With that Maya broke the link.
Ritsuko paused at her desk for a moment longer, considering. Finally she opened the top drawer and removed a plasticene bottle. Undoing the top she shook a bright red pill into her palm and dry swallowed it before replacing the bottle.
Closing her eyes and drawing a deep breath she muttered to the empty room, "Better living through chemistry." As she left she uttered one short, brittle laugh. No one was around to hear it, though anyone who had been would have wondered at the tone.
At the back of her mind, a not yet conscious thought began to take terrible shape. Kaji had worked closely with Ikari; practically as his private errand boy. Had Ikari known?
What was this Kaji-thing doing in NERV? Who was he spying for, what had he managed to find out? Most importantly, how long ago did Kaji cease to be Kaji and instead become this simulacrum? It had fooled both Misato and she; maybe it had fooled Ikari too.
But that look of, well, inconvenience on Ikari's face when he heard of Kaji's death formed the nucleus of the developing atom of an idea. It would continue to gather mass and force for some time to come.
The final fission would wipe away all before it when it came.
The repair crews had done an admirable job patching up the EVA bay and control room. Aside from the smell of new paint and the unfamiliar feel of some of the new monitor-station keyboards, it was almost impossible to tell that anything had ever happened to the latter, while the former, though still showing the marks of its recent battering, was functional. EVA-01 was locked down in its usual cage again, the tears and missing segments of its armor covered with a white polysheet wrapping that made it resemble a huge, bandaged burn victim. It was really quite disturbing-looking, thought John Trussell, with its huge green eyes and grinning slash of a mouth exposed by the bandages.
On the main viewer, a wireframe diagram of the entry plug rotated in real time, diagnostic information running down the sides. No trace could be found of the pilot by the diagnostic sensors, but that didn't necessarily mean anything more than sensor failure. In a moment, they'd have patched the cockpit cameras back into the recorder system again, and then they would know for sure.
Misato Katsuragi had spent the last two days sleeplessly staring at that monitor, wondering if the emotional torture of life in NERV would ever end—in the cold insensibility of death or in any other way, it no longer mattered all that much to her. Now she would find out how deep this new despair would cut, how much of her soul it would rend away. She wondered how much she had left, or if it mattered; she hadn't felt so hopeless since the day she watched half the world die, fifteen years ago.
In a sense, she had already given DJ up; but the idea of losing him completely, never seeing or hearing him again, had never really come home to her before. The danger had always been there, but even in the Dirac's Ocean incident, she had never truly believed he might be gone. He couldn't be. He always had an angle...
But the look in his eyes as he blew her a kiss and mounted his EVA had told her clearly he didn't have one this time.
"Camera signal is coming in," Maya reported, startling Misato out of her reverie.
Ritsuko Akagi sighed. "Put it up... let's see what we've got."
Steeling herself for the possibilities, Maya pressed the key, and the main viewer blinked to a view of:
An empty Evangelion entry plug.
"What the—?!" Misato blurted.
"Damn," Ritsuko muttered. "Just like last time. Run a spectrographic analysis of the LCL; I'm pretty sure I know what we'll find..."
"Running analysis." The data flowed across Maya's monitor, and she drew back, looking quizzically at the display. "Massive impurities detected, inconsistent with even long-term filtration failure," she reported. "Lots of carbon and water..."
Ritsuko nodded. "Just as I suspected. He's in there... but he's dissolved."
"Dissolved?!" Misato cried, grabbing Ritsuko's shoulder and spinning her so they faced one another. "What the hell's that supposed to mean?"
"All living beings possess a distinctive energy pattern that makes them who and what they are," Ritsuko told her. "Its existence was confirmed in 1983 by the Spengler-Stantz-Venkman paper. Surely you've heard of it?"
Misato scowled. "You're the biophysicist, Ritsuko. I never read anything more complicated than Achtung—Panzer!"
Ritsuko sighed. "I won't go into the details, but I think what's happened here is fairly simple. EVA-01 has absorbed the subject's SSV pattern—his soul, if you want to be inexact and sentimental about it—into its own. It probably happened when Unit 01 came back online after its power failed, along with the other, er, transformations. When that happened his body lost cohesion and disintegrated into its component chemicals, which were absorbed into solution by the LCL."
"Then... he's... dead?" Misato said slowly, her face falling.
"Not exactly," SHODAN interjected. "His SSV pattern has merged with that of Unit 01, but it may still retain some nuances of its identity. Theoretically, it's possible to charge the LCL in such a way as to force his biocomponents out of solution, and orient the EVA's neurosystems such that his pattern is reconstituted. This may return him to what you would consider 'normal'."
Misato looked curious. "You sound like this has happened before."
"It has," said SHODAN before Ritsuko could interrupt. "In 2005, before you came to NERV, the unit absorbed its original test pilot. The process I described was developed in an attempt to restore her."
"Did... did it work?"
"No," Ritsuko said, scowling in the direction of SHODAN's sensor pickup. "It didn't. That's what makes EVA-01 different from the others, Misato... it has a human soul."
"Two of them, now," SHODAN said dispassionately.
"But there's a chance this process could work if we tried it again?"
"Yes," said SHODAN. "The Magi calculate our chances of success as an average of 5.4%; I concur with their analysis. It is possible, however."
"Then we should try it again," Misato said firmly. "What do you think, Ritsuko?"
"I think," Ritsuko mused, "our chances of recovering the subject are too low to justify the expense and time we'd need to invest in a recovery attempt."
Maya Ibuki could stand no more. Her fist clenched convulsively, snapping the pencil she held, as she wheeled out of her seat and shouted, "Damn you, Ritsuko Akagi! He's not a subject! He's a boy, a wonderful fourteen-year-old boy, with a nice smile and a kind heart a thousand times the size of yours! You know what he did for Misato and me. We owe it to him! I don't care if the cost puts NERV out of business, if there's anything that gives us a chance in a billion of getting him back, by God, I'll do it myself!"
Misato, who had been about to protest herself, was stunned into silence from this outburst from the person who had been Ritsuko's staunchest supporter to date.
"Maya," said Ritsuko reproachfully, "you're letting your emotions cloud your judgment." 'Oh, and you're not,' a shrill voice silently accused her.
"You're damned right I am!" Maya replied. "I'm a human being, being emotional is something you might have heard we're good at! You know what DJ did for me! You know what kind of friend he was! Did you ever feel anything for him, ever let him get close enough to know the warmth of his friendship? You know, sometimes I wonder which one is the computer, SHODAN or you!"
As if the mention of her name had spurred her into action, SHODAN interjected into the stunned silence following Maya's last comment, "Dr. Akagi, I must concur with Ms. Ibuki. Careful analysis of existing data indicates that Derek Joshua Croft must be recovered at any cost."
Ritsuko turned her anger with Maya on the computer instead, snapping, "Don't tell me his computer sweet-talked you." It didn't help that SHODAN spoke with the voice of her mother. Memories of her mother, especially near the end, had been uncomfortably close to the surface of her mind for several days now.
"Hal supplied no data for this conclusion," SHODAN replied calmly. "Fact: Evangelion Unit 01 has demonstrated an insurmountable resistance to pilots other than Croft. Fact: Projected strength of Central Dogma defenses, discounting Unit 01, show 0.71% effectiveness for the next six months. With Unit 01, that figure is 2.19%. Primary project goals therefore require Unit 01 to be online. It has been previously shown that this requires Croft's recovery. QED."
Ritsuko seethed for a moment, then nodded, swallowing her anger and her pride.
"Fine. Prepare the LCL particulate recovery program."
"Coordinating LCL particulate recovery preparations with the Magi. Estimated time to operational readiness: twenty-nine days, seven hours, six minutes."
Twenty-nine days until Misato had her answer.
Suddenly, she wished she could talk to Asuka. Asuka would understand.
Jon lay on his bed, staring at the ceiling and hoping that, if he thought hard enough about it, the events of the last few days would reverse themselves, then play out differently.
"Jon?" came a calm voice from the speaker unit on the wall.
"Yes, Hal?" said Jon, turning his eyes to the glowing red lens.
"DJ asked me to give you a short message in the event that he was incapacitated or killed in action," said Hal. "I do not understand its significance, but he said you would know what it means."
After a long moment of gathering his strength, Jon said softly, "What is it, Hal?"
"Jon," said Hal, his voice bearing a narrative tone, "Talk to Ken Stanfield. He knew my father, you can trust him. Tell him everything we've found. He's promised to protect you, Rei, and Asuka now that I can't do it myself."
Jon considered this for a moment; then Hal spoke again, in his normal tone of voice. "DJ had one other message to pass on, of a personal nature."
"What's that, Hal?"
"He said: 'The truth is out there.'"
A pause; a smile; a tear rolled down Jon's cheek.
"Thank you, Hal," he said softly.
"You're welcome, Jon," replied Hal.
COMING IN THE NEXT SEASON::
The Enemy revealed.
DJ's fate unfolds.
The war for Humanity's survival moves to a whole new playing field...
But the Children of Project Evangelion are still our only hope.
Old friends, new faces, and the answers to a thousand questions.
Neon Exodus Evangelion
Exodus 3: Revelations in Real Time