Eyrie Productions, Unlimited
Neon Exodus Evangelion
Exodus 3: Revelations in Real Time
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)
The X-Files created by Chris Carter
and 2001: A Space Odyssey by Arthur C. Clarke
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
© 1998 Eyrie Productions, Unlimited
HTML remastering © 2016 EPU
Praying he could keep the wheels on the road in this rain, DJ Croft held his motorcycle's throttle as far open as it would go. He spared no thoughts for the idea of police intervention; it never occurred to him at all. The rain pounded against him, soaking his clothing further and making his grip on the handlebars less than certain. It lashed against his uncovered face and squinting eyes, reducing his vision, but he dared not slacken his pace. If he didn't make it, he didn't make it; but no one would ever be able to say he didn't try his damnedest.
The lights above Interstate 290 whipped past, the rhythmic flash against the wet pavement providing a counterpoint to the throb of the Corley's engine that, under other circumstances, he would have found most interesting. At the moment, he paid it no attention at all; all of his mental ability was directed toward the single goal of keeping the motorcycle upright and under control while making it go as fast as possible toward its destination.
He would never remember exactly how he did it, but somehow, he made it to Ritsuko's alive. He kicked down the Corley's kickstand even as his thumb hit the engine cutoff, and on a good day would then have set the bike down and jumped off in one smooth motion. This was not a good day, and so the smooth motion wound up being more like a headlong sprawl on the driveway and then a crazed scramble back to his feet, all momentum and no grace, but at least he didn't knock over the bike.
He ran up the stairs onto the porch of the modest frame dwelling. The porch light and the living room lights were all off, and from within, he could hear music: a haunting, melancholy violin, being played by a master with such emotion that the instrument sounded as if it were crying and mourning a lost love.
The front door, of course, was locked.
DJ pounded on the door, but there was no answer. He called her name and hammered harder; again there was no reply. Sickened by the thought that he might already be too late, with no regard for his safety, he drove his left fist through the door's window, then reached inside and unlocked the door. He barely noticed as the jagged glass slashed his arm, opening a bloody gash.
He swung the door open violently and flicked the lights to life, unsure what he might find.
The living room was empty, save for the slightly alarmed tortoise-shell cat who had been napping on the couch. DJ ran to the back of the room, calling Ritsuko's name and searching. No one in the kitchen. No one in the small dining room. No one in the master bedroom. No one in the guest room. No one in the closet.
He found her in the bathtub, looking for all the world like a tired professional woman settling down for a nice, relaxing, steaming hot soak, complete with fragrant bath salts and the whole nine yards, hair wrapped carefully in a towel. For just an instant as he barrelled through the bathroom door, DJ wondered if he had misinterpreted her message—if she was just going on vacation and he hadn't heard—if he had just barged in on exactly what it looked like.
Before he noticed the gleaming silver scalpel in her right hand, which she was just about to apply to the pale flesh of her upturned left wrist.
As ever, DJ didn't think about what he was about to do—he just did it. He dove forward, pushing her left hand away with his right just as she brought the blade down. The razor-sharp blade bit him as Ritsuko, unable to stop it, drew the line that would have begun ending her life. DJ grunted in pain. Shocked by his sudden arrival, Ritsuko released her hold on the scalpel. His left hand completed the swing it had started and knocked the scapel from her hand, to clatter to the tile on the other side of the room.
Momentum spent, DJ settled onto his knees next to the tub, leaning back a bit, and watched with curious detachment as the towel around her head came undone and slipped away into the water.
"Ritsuko, what in God's name—?"
"What does it look like?" Ritsuko replied. Her voice held no scorn; just a tired resignation. It didn't seem to bother her that the boy had just charged in and found her naked in her bathtub—but then, given what she'd been about to do, why should it?
"A mistake," DJ replied, trying valiantly to slow his pulse, calm his panting breath, and face the situation with the calm he knew he would need to come through it successfully.
"The mistake was that I didn't do it sooner," replied Ritsuko. "I could have saved everyone a lot of trouble. Can I have my scalpel back, please?" Then, almost as an afterthought, "You don't have to stay and watch if you don't want."
"No, you bloody well may not have your scalpel back!" replied DJ, outraged. "You think I would sit here and just let you kill yourself?"
"Why not? You don't like me, and I imagine your life would be easier without me, right?." Her words held no bitterness. In fact, her words seemed to hold no emotion at all. That frightened DJ more than anything. He would have rather had her raging at him than hear that flat tone.
DJ gazed at her for several seconds, the anger in his eyes cooling rapidly and settling into a low melancholy. When he spoke, it was with none of the strident indignance of his earlier tone:
"You really believe that?"
"It's the truth."
"No... I'm afraid it isn't. I'm sorry if I've given that impression, because it's really not true." He sighed. "We may not exactly be close friends, but I don't really dislike you. We just got off on the wrong foot, is all."
Ritsuko shook her head solemnly. "Do you know..." She sniffed, then sobbed, tears tracking down her face. "Do you know how many times I wrote you off? You and all the others? Sent you off to fight without really expecting you to return?"
DJ nodded. "But I just keep coming back, don't I? Look, I don't hold it against you. You were just doing your job... trying to run the project as efficiently as possible..."
"My job?!" Ritsuko sobbed even louder, tears streaming down her face. "I was doing what I was told! By that... that... that m-m-monster Ikari! Christ, I'm just like him. 'I was just following orders'..." She curled up in the tub, hugging her knees close to her. "God forgive me, I'm just like him. How did I let it go this far?"
DJ tried not to let it show, but inside, he was starting to feel very uncertain of his ability to bring this situation to a happy ending. Nothing in his variegated life had really prepared him for a situation like this.
"Ritsuko, it's no sin to be deceived. That's what the Enemy does best. We were all taken in by what they did to Ikari."
"You don't understand!" Ritsuko cried, sobbing. "I wasn't just fooled, I thought I was right! I was so dedicated to the man. I did whatever he told me, thought whatever he told me to, believed in everything he stood for. And all the time, I thought I was doing the right thing! The faithful servant, never questioning. He defined my world!" Then, almost to quiet to hear, she added, "And I let him."
"He was your teacher," DJ observed. "Of course you believed in him. We all have people we need to believe in. You couldn't know what Ikari was. No one..."
"You knew! You knew right from the beginning that something was wrong. You never trusted him, you were always wary around him. A fourteen-year-old boy knew in a few moments what I'd missed for ten years. I feel like such a fool, to be tricked so easily."
"It's easier to fool you, because you trust people. I'm a cynic. Despite my youth I've seen a lot more of the seamy side of humanity than you have, and I know how far back in human history it goes. But don't give me too much credit," said DJ, venturing to put his hand on her shoulder. "I just thought he was a regular old bastard. I never questioned his motives until very recently. I thought he was just a ruthless obsessive. Dangerous perhaps, cold definitely, but not evil. I didn't like the man, but I never suspected the full truth."
"Do you realize that I've been working for him almost as long as you've been alive? I've been with NERV almost from the start. Almost everything NERV is and does stems from my work." She lifted her hands from the water and stared at them like Lady Macbeth. "How many people have paid for my willful blindness?"
DJ was about to respond when he noticed something that brought him up short: her forearms were ruddy with something. For a brief moment he thought perhaps he had been too late after all, and had been sitting here chatting with a woman bleeding to death. That brought a fresh wave of panic that was only partially offset by the realization that it wasn't blood. Still shaken, DJ did what came naturally: he asked about it.
"What's that?" he asked, gesturing with his chin.
"Hmm? What's what?"
"That stuff on your arms."
"Oh, that. It's betadine—a topical antiseptic solution."
"Oh, of course. Wouldn't want to get an infection, would we."
Ritsuko looked at him for a long moment; the faintest hint of a grin appeared on her face when she realized how ridiculous it was really.
To DJ it was like the sun coming up after a long night.
"DJ?" Misato called his name as she observed the jacket and helmet tossed haphazardly on the kitchen table. There was no answer. She ventured further into the apartment, noticing the bathroom light was on. Poking her head in she found his HALcomm unit resting on the edge of the basin, and a wet towel carelessly discarded in the corner.
"Well, that's not like him," she muttered to herself. A slight grin crossed her face. Maybe he was in a hurry for a reason, she thought. She knocked on his bedroom door. "DJ? Are you in there? Can I come in?"
No answer again. Sleeping maybe? She poked her head into his room. Nope, empty. Hmm.
She moved along to the next room. Knocking on the door she called, "Asuka? DJ? Anyone in there?"
Still no answer. Should I check? she asked herself. Well, it is my house, she justified. Nope. No one in there either.
"I don't know. He arrived home some time ago, but he left in a hurry shortly thereafter, and failed to take his HALcomm unit with him. That is quite unlike him. I'm concerned," the computer admitted.
"You and me both. Do you know why he left?"
"I'm sorry, I was not monitoring him closely. He rushed out before I could ask him."
"That's OK, Hal. I'm sure he's all right."
I wish I really was sure, she thought.
Rei Ayanami sat in the Lower Wedge, gazing at the holographic eyecatches of the Tempest 5000 machine. Her face, as usual, betrayed nothing of what might be going on behind it.
As Kevin entered the Upper Wedge with Jon in tow, he turned to his tormented friend and said, "You'd better wait here for the moment. I'll bring her to you when she's ready."
Jon, shivering with a combination of despair and the effort of restraining the shrieking voice of mayhem, nodded miserably and sank into one of the Wedge benches, pulling his knees to his chest and wrapping his arms around them.
"I won't be long," said Kevin softly; then he turned and entered the Lower Wedge.
Rei's scarlet eyes flicked away from the T5K machine as the angel approached her, but she did not otherwise react until he took one of the observers' gallery chairs, slid it in front of her, and sat backward on it, his arms crossed over the top.
Then she studied his pale face, white hair and red eyes for a moment before observing softly and matter-of-factly,
"I know you."
"How much do you remember, Reilael?" asked Kevin.
Rei's right hand closed convulsively into a fist, and her eyes squeezed shut. "... Nothing. I am not Reilael."
Kevin shook his head slowly. "I can hear your celestial genes," he said. "I was uncertain before, when in hiding my song from the Enemy I muffled my own hearing, but... I cannot mistake you now."
"You're wrong," said Rei flatly.
"No," said Kevin. His face was sympathetic as he said, "They told you that you were like Jon, didn't they? That they had made you? They were afraid you would remember."
Rei turned to Kevin, her eyes flashing with anger, and her voice rose to a shout: "Leave me alone! I don't WANT to remember!" Then she turned away, with a quick, angry motion, and glared at the mural on the far wall.
"Nor do I," Kevin replied sadly. "It was a terrible thing, but you must remember now. You must take back what was stolen from you." He paused, then added gravely: "Jon's soul may well depend on it."
She turned to face him fully, and found herself looking into a pair of eyes as red as hers, eyes which seemed to peer past her own, touching something beyond...
"Tabris... you were there."
"Yes," said Tabris, nodding. "I was there, at the South Pole, on the first of April in the year 2000. I was there... with you."
For what needed to happen this day, a place which was "out of the way" was needed. There weren't many of those left on Earth anymore, except for Antarctica. A small science and military expedition was present, but they would not notice anything out of the ordinary; the Songs would see to that.
"Tabris," the Cherub inquired. "Is everything prepared?"
"All is in readiness," the other replied.
The Cherub and her Elohite mediator waited in silence, amid the swirling, icy winds of the Antarctic wasteland. Those they had come to meet would be here shortly. She still felt it was not entirely wise to have only two angels, no matter how powerful, to meet the beings they were about to deal with. But by the same token, anyone else would make this secret meeting no longer secret, and that could not happen.
Tabris suddenly looked up, his eyes narrowing as he peered through the snow with sight beyond the visual.
"They come," he announced.
"Are they alone?"
"I sense no one else," Tabris replied.
Despite her briefings and intense preparations for this moment, Reilael was, deep down, still surprised. The Lightbringer truly meant what he had said?
"... Lucifer... and Moloch," Rei whispered haltingly.
"They came to you, for protection."
Despite having been the case officer assigned to this, the most monumental of all defections, despite having handled countless clandestine communiques from the Pit over the two-hundred-mortal-year period known in Heaven's most closely guarded circles as "the Ambivalence", Reilael had never seen Lucifer. She was a fairly young angel, to whom the Fall was a history lesson rather than a painful personal memory, and there were many in Heaven who believed she lacked the power and experience necessary to handle such a critical redemption. No one, though, not even crusty Michael, Archangel of War, could fault her dedication—and so she went.
As the two figures emerged from the blowing snow before her, she was surprised by their appearance. During all her correspondence with the two defectors, she'd formed an unconscious mental expectation of what they would look like, and this was not it.
The bigger one, standing slightly behind and to the right of the other, would have to be Moloch, the Demon Prince of Fire. Lucifer's most—some would say only—trusted ally in Hell, his right hand during the events leading up to the Fall, Moloch was said to have a slow but terrible temper. Reilael wondered at the paradox he presented—the Fallen were said to have got that way through overweening selfishness, yet Moloch, if the stories were to be believed, had Fallen only because he had refused to leave his friend's side. Was that not the epitome of selflessness?
She shook off her reverie and chided herself. The first century's worth of communication with Hell over this had been with Moloch; she had known him longer, in a sense, and had come to empathize with him, but now was not the time to be ruminating over such issues. Instead she took a good, long first look at this creature she would almost call a friend. He was tall and broad, his skin the dusky reddish hue Hell inflicted on all the Fallen, his face craggy and scarred but somehow not unappealing, the patch over his missing eye giving him an almost funny piratical air. He was not the hideous monster everyone in Heaven spoke of, when they spoke of Moloch in the requisite hushed tones.
Lucifer, however, completely overshadowed him, and Moloch seemed happy that way. As the Lightbringer raised his long, slender hands to brush back the hood of the heavy robes he wore, Reilael, like all angels seeing him for the first time, had to catch her breath. He was thin-faced and dark, with an overhanging, somewhat unruly shock of hair blackened by the fires of Hell. His eyes were the purest green she could imagine, snapping with intelligence and perhaps even wily humor of a sort too esoteric for most to appreciate. Damnation had tarnished him, but Reilael knew the moment she looked on him that, restored to the Host, he would be the most beautiful angel Heaven had ever seen. The knowledge momentarily stunned her.
"Reilael. Tabris," said Lucifer, his thin face lighting up with a momentary smile. "You came."
Reilael found her voice in time to reply, "A request such as yours, given in apparent good faith, is not treated lightly in Heaven, Lucifer."
Tabris, concealing adeptly his relief that his mediation skills would apparently not be needed, merely nodded and let Reilael do the talking.
Lucifer nodded, then knelt in the snow before Reilael, bowing his dusky head until his forehead brushed Reilael's foot. "Mea culpa, maxima mea culpa, O messenger of mercy. I was wrong, and now I repent of my sins. Humbly, I beg to return to the light, to be the Bringer of Light as the Lord my God intended me."
"And do you also seek Redemption, Demon Prince?" Reilael inquired.
The craggy giant bowed humbly. "I, Moloch, Lord of Fire, so seek."
"You are aware of the gravity of what you are asking."
"We do what we know must be done now," Lucifer replied, rising. "And we seek your protection, and asylum."
"Very well." Reilael extended a hand, which both the Fallen took. If they noticed the slight shiver that ran through the young Cherub as the two most powerful Fallen touched her, both were too decorous to point it out. "In the name of our Father," said Reilael, fighting to keep her voice from quivering, "I will protect you to the best of my ab—"
the sky exploded.
DJ was starting to have trouble focusing on the task at hand. It was a bit cool in the bathroom, and he was kneeling on the cold tile floor. It certainly didn't help that his clothes were soaked to the bone from the cold, rainy dash over here.
Added to that, the adrenaline rush he had been riding was beginning to ebb. He was having problems controlling his shivering, and the cuts on his arms were beginning to throb.
It was also no mean distraction that Ritsuko was laid out before him, in all her glory, something he had fantasized about not a few times (albeit under radically different circumstances). It was no trivial task to ignore the hormones that had added themselves to the chemical stew his brain was simmering in.
He forced himself to focus on what Ritsuko was saying.
"How can I face all of you again? I can't believe you all don't hate me now. Ikari might have been the leader, but I was his right hand. I was the one who forced you to go through all of the dangerous tests, the one who sent you into battle again and again. If you knew the things I said to Misato while you were... missing... you'd gladly kill me yourself. What is there for me to go back to? Everything I believed in, everything I lived for, is a lie."
DJ focused his will to form an answer. "I don't want to hear you talking like that. You are not evil, no matter what you might be thinking. In time I know you'll realize that. You were fooled, fine, you're not the only one. I understand that, and I know the others will too. But you have to give us the chance, love. We can start over. Give us another chance and we'll do the same for you."
"I... I don't know. So many years, so many terrible things. I don't think I'm worth another chance."
"Nonsense! You're a wonderful person! I have always admired your drive, you know. I know we never really saw eye to eye, but I respected you. And I still do. We still have the Angels to deal with. With Ikari gone, now more than ever, we need you. How do you think your suicide would affect the team now? No, this is not the way."
"Thank you, DJ... but I don't know. How do you get your humanity back after denying it for so long? Do you think it's possible?"
"I do, love, I do. I won't say it'll be easy. But I think you can do it, with help. And I promise you, my most solemn promise, to stand by you and help."
She looked into his eyes for a long moment, and saw that he spoke the truth. Deeply moved, her voice broke as she said, "Thank you, DJ. Thank you."
Misato turned around quickly at the sound of the door opening, then slumped a bit. "Oh, hi, Asuka."
"Well, don't sound so disappointed," Asuka grumbled, leaning her cane against the table while she hung her raincoat by the door.
"Sorry, I thought it might be DJ. Is he with you?"
"No, why? Something wrong?"
"I don't know. His helmet and jacket are on the table, and his HALcomm is here. But he isn't."
"Did you look next door?"
"Yes, I've already checked next door, and the garage. His bike is gone."
Asuka looked genuinely puzzled. "His bike is gone?" She looked at the jacket and helmet, still piled on the table. "DJ never goes riding without those. He won't even let someone ride with him if they don't have a helmet. He's fanatic about it. Are you sure?"
"Yes, I'm sure. Hal says he came home, but left in a hurry just a few minutes later. I figured he might be running late to meet you or something. Now I'm starting to get worried."
Asuka was visibly involved in deep thought on the subject. "It's raining like hell out there. Cold, too. Hardly fit weather to be riding a motorcycle in, even with a helmet." She paused to let a thought gel. "Maybe he left the bike at HQ and got a ride back with someone else, and then went out again. That would explain why he went out without this stuff, and why the bike is missing too."
Misato seemed a bit calmer after hearing that. "Yeah, I suppose you're right. That would explain it. But why'd he leave his HALcomm?"
"I don't know, maybe the idiot just forgot it. He's probably cursing himself for it already."
"Well I'm going to give him hell for it. He might not be on call tonight, but he knows he's supposed to keep in touch. What if there's an emergency tonight?"
"We're big girls now, I'm sure we can get along without the Mighty Adventurer for one evening," said Asuka with a grin, heading for her room to change out of her damp clothes. "Besides, he's earned some time off."
"I suppose so. But he's still going to hear about it when he gets home," Misato grumped. "There's no excuse for violating regs like that, especially in the middle of this crisis." And certainly not for making me worry like this, she didn't add.
Rei Ayanami's eyes snapped shut, and she shivered, wrapping her arms tightly around herself.
Within, she remembered.
Kevin regarded her sadly. "It was an ambush, a betrayal. By the demons and by our own."
"...They didn't want it to happen..." Rei mumbled, shivering.
"Both sides had something to lose if Lucifer returned to the light," Kevin contined evenly. "Better to annihilate the lot of us."
A lock which had kept a long-lost horror at bay had been weakened at the moment of Jon's demonically-influenced attack. That horror had begun creeping back into her memory ever since, only now at much greater speed.
"My lord, we are undone!" Moloch bellowed, turning to face the attacking enemy horde.
Lucifer looked down at his hand, still clasping Reilael's, then up to her face, doubt in his eyes.
"This is none of our doing," Reilael said.
"My God," said Tabris, throwing off his cloak and unfurling his wings for battle. "Look at them."
Lucifer turned and Reilael looked past him, and both saw what Tabris meant at the same time: the attackers were a mixed group, angels and demons alike.
"They won't take us without a fight," Moloch snarled.
"Indeed they won't," Lucifer agreed, and the two demons transformed for the battle, becoming hideous literal giants clad in the garishly colored armor typical to Hell's legions.
There was no time for protest or parlay; the attackers simply attacked, without words or quarter. Spearheading the freakish strike force of backstabbing angels and vengeful demons was Natlateth, the Demon Princess of Betrayal. A Habbalite, a Fallen Elohite, Natlateth held the power to contort and exploit the emotions of her victims, the twisted opposite number to Tabris's calming impassion. Her hatred for Lucifer and the angels who were meeting him burned so hotly that the opposing angels around her, many of whom would never even have considered raising a hand against another angel in anger, tore into Tabris and Reilael like animals.
Tabris and Reilael were no warriors, and Tabris was the first defender to fall, pulled down, beaten, his wings broken by a group of Malakite avengers. His final dissonant scream galvanized Reilael out of her horrified trance, made her angry, and she too threw aside her heavy robes, her broad blue-white wings unfurling behind her. With a defiant cry, she leaped to the defense of her charges.
The Cherubim, the Guardians, are the most devoted of angels. When they have sworn to protect someone, they may fail, but only death will make them stop trying. Though not bred for the War like the Malakim, they are powerful adversaries when roused to battle.
The Malakim who broke Tabris's wings were the first to feel Reilael's wrath, their red-eyed, black, shadowy forms (more like the demons of lore than angels) rent by her silver sword, blue fire trailing behind its cutting edge wherever it bit the flesh of those acting in the service of evil. Some of the Malakim noticed this, and in noticing, realized their deception. With horrified cries—for nothing disgusts the Virtues more than evil—these turned on their deceivers.
Too many more, though, were too wrapped up in what they believed to be a holy mission to notice. Attention to detail has never been a Malakite hallmark. The lone Cherub, her few converts, and the two giants from Hell fought valiantly, viciously, for their survival, but they were far, too far, outnumbered, and the enemy possessed one of Creation's mightiest weapons.
Overwhelmed, they fell.
Reilael felt no pain, only surprise, as the scarred, twisted, hideous Habbalite at the spearhead of the enemy leaped forward and plunged the twin points of the Spear of Destiny into her breast. How did a filthy Habbalite get such a powerful weapon? Then the thought disappeared, tattered paper in the wind, as Reilael stumbled back, her very celestial structure disrupted by the attack in a way that went far beyond the rending of her flesh.
"Who are you?" Reilael demanded, sounding more indignant than all-but-slain. "What do you want?"
"My name is Natlateth," sneered the Habbalite. "I want you to die now, Cherub. You're extremely inconvenient to me."
Moloch, bleeding from a million wounds, stumbled, fell, struggled to rise, as a horde of Calabim and Balseraphim hacked at him with black iron axes and cackled. Through his one eye he saw Reilael torn by the lance. He lunged forward, stretching out one giant hand to protect her...
... And died, his great dead hand crashing down on the mortally wounded Cherub and pinning her to the ground.
The last thing Reilael saw as she lay, pinned and shattered, her celestial essence bleeding away through the terrible wounds inflicted by the Lance, was Lucifer—himself grievously wounded, his armor shattered, rearing up on his knees and roaring his eternal defiance in the timeless and musical language of the Host.
The sneering Habbalite answered that defiance by rearing back and hurling the Spear of Destiny into the Lightbringer's glowing red Heart, left exposed in his pitted, scarred chest by the shattered breastplate of his armor.
Lucifer screamed, the world exploded, and Reilael...
Her shattered essence reduced to a single glowing point of light, a tiny flame unable to illuminate anything more than the merest corner of what had once been a grand and holy creature.
When the stunned humans came to the place that had been the South Pole they found two dead giants and a child. The child was all that remained of Reilael, Cherub Friend of Destiny. The humans, perhaps unconsciously hearing an echo of her celestial name in their uncomprehending mortal minds, named her Rei. They took her back to what remained of civilization, cared for her, and studied her, hoping she would somehow explain to them what had just happened to set off a global cataclysm and kill half their fellows.
But since one of those humans was really the Habbalite who had killed her, it followed that Rei's ordeal was far from over.
The gene labs.
The cloning experiments.
The laughing countenance of Natlateth's human guise, enjoying every second, every drop of pain.
But the tiny, agonized, confused remnant of Reilael in the mind of the child named Rei grudged Natlateth none of it. To her it was not needless suffering; it was penance.
Penance for her failure.
Rei Ayanami fell to the floor, her legs no longer willing to support her, and clawed fruitlessly at the carpet, her face twisted in rage and self-loathing.
"...i swore to protect them..." she hissed. "...i failed..."
"No, that is untrue," Kevin replied firmly, kicking aside his chair and grasping her shoulders. "They survived, did they not?"
"Yes, but they did survive, and with the passage of time they regain their strength." He touched her chin and gently lifted her tear-stained face to meet his. "Just as you are regaining your strength, Reilael." He paused once more, looking into her glistening eyes again. "You can hear it. Can't you?"
And abruptly Rei realized that she could hear the sweet symphony of the celestial around her, faint, but no longer on the periphery of her mind anymore, no longer out of reach, and no longer incomprehensible. It was powerful, and beautiful, and her eyes filled with tears again.
Tabris held her as she cried, his mind on many things.
DJ was trying to explain to Ritsuko that Misato really didn't hate her. "Believe me, she doesn't hold it against you. She was a bit upset, understandably, but that's forgotten. She thinks you no longer like her."
DJ's head was starting to swim. His arms throbbed mercilessly, and he noticed with detachment that his blood was running from the gash in his arm and flowing stickily over Ritsuko's bare shoulder, down her pale skin and into the water. She hadn't noticed.
His left arm had started to ache deeply too. He'd been unconciously holding it against his body the whole time. Now he looked down and noticed the front of his shirt was sodden with blood, and on the tile beneath him was a slowly growing pool of crimson. The wound in his leg, the corner of his mouth, his blackened left eye, his raked and battered chest and back... every hurt visited on him in the last few days was now clamoring for his attention.
He felt separated from his body. Part of him wanted to take off his clothes and climb into the tub with her. Part of him wanted to shake her until her teeth rattled. And part of him just wanted to sleep, for a long time. He tried not to grit his teeth as he struggled to get his mind back together and focus on her answer.
"Really. Every night she picks up the phone, dials the first six digits of your number and hangs up. 'Ritsuko doesn't want to talk to me,' she says. 'She hates me.' Every day she does this. Breaks my bloody heart, it does. I keep telling her to make the damn call, but she won't listen to me."
Ritsuko's eyes grew wide. "Oh God!!" Ritsuko slumped lower in the water, sobbing heavily. "Oh, Misato... I'm so sorry... I'm sorry..."
Painfully, DJ moved his hand, putting the knuckle of his index finger under her chin and tilting her head up so he could look into her eyes.
"If you kill yourself," he observed with a steadiness he didn't feel, "you'll never get to tell her so."
Ritsuko looked for a long, long moment into DJ's blue eyes, staring at whatever she saw in them. Then, rising onto her knees, she threw her arms around his shoulders and hugged him tightly, her chin on his left shoulder, and began crying uncontrollably. He encircled her in his arms, right hand weakly stroking her hair at the back of her head, and held her. Time passed; he didn't keep track of it, but he was starting to feel decidedly lightheaded by the time she leaned back and sniffled,
"I... Well... I... Oh hell. DJ, thank you. I've been such a fool." She paused significantly. "If there's anything I can do to make it up to you..."
DJ knew what she meant, at least in part, and though part of him was sorely tempted—for she was a very, very attractive woman—he firmly clamped a lid down over that part and ignored it. In her current shattered state it would amount to nothing more than taking dreadful advantage, and he would never be able to live with himself. To him, there was no percentage in doing anything like that under circumstances that would taint the memory. He knew she'd never had to reach out to others before, and right now she desperately needed to be accepted and loved. Hurting her now would be all too easy.
Besides, he hurt too much, and he was so very bloody tired...
Instead he hugged her again and said, "Why don't we get dried off, go out to the kitchen. I'll cook us some dinner and we can talk. We've never really done that, and I think it's high time we started."
"All right." Ritsuko stood up, apparently not caring what she showed to DJ, and stepped out onto the bath mat. Opening the linen closet, she turned to get some towels for herself and DJ.
Behind her, DJ started to stand. Doing so made the room spin uncomfortably. His legs felt decidedly dicey, and the room seemed a bit darker.
Too late to do anything about it, DJ saw the end of his rope.
"Yes, DJ?" she asked, her back still to him.
"I think I'm in a spot of trouble here."
"What do you mean?" She turned, and, for the first time, noticed the dark stains on the front of his clothing, and the dark pool on the floor at his feet. Snapping on the lights she saw the water in the tub was pink, and the towel she had begun to dry herself with, formerly white, was smeared with crimson.
But most of all she could see clearly that DJ's clothes were soaked through—not just with water, but with blood. The entire front of his shirt stuck redly to him, and blood dripped slowly from his fingertips where they hung at his side. His face was decidedly pale, his lips had a slightly bluish tint, and, despite his efforts, his teeth were chattering violently now.
DJ favored her with a wan smile, which looked almost ghastly in his present state. "Sorry about the mess, love."
Then he sank slowly to his knees and pitched forward, prevented from hitting the floor with his face only by Ritsuko. His body, battered, slashed and chilled, exhausted, stressed to its limits by the day's events, had finally given in to shock.
She lowered him gently to the floor and ran to gather her gear. Upon returning she quickly set to work. He'd saved her life, and she'd be damned if she'd let him down now.
"Bored bored bored." Asuka lay on her back, staring at the living room ceiling. She was, obviously, bored.
Misato was sprawled on the couch, her head hanging over the back, arms outstretched. She too looked rather bored. "Yeah... Well... How about the turn of events today, eh?"
"Yeah, we've been working for the Ineffable Forces of Evil. Kinda makes you wonder about the 401(k), doesn't it?"
"You're not taking it very seriously."
"Well, what do you want me to do? Ikari was the enemy, OK, now what? We still have the Angels to deal with. The way our luck has been running lately we might not have to worry about retirement."
"Well, it's true, isn't it?"
"Yeah... that doesn't make it any better, though."
The two women sat in silence for a long moment. Misato finally broke the tableau. "Well, wherever DJ is, he has to be having more fun than we are."
"Waugh," Pen-Pen added in complete agreement.
That marked the high point of the evening's conversation at the Katsuragi residence.
Jon looked up, then flinched violently, backing away from Rei.
"Don't be afraid," said Rei softly.
"I'm not afraid of you," Jon replied, huddling in the corner of the Wedge bench and shivering. "I'm afraid I'll hurt you."
"Don't be afraid," Tabris repeated, coming around to the other side of the bench and placing his hand on Jon's shoulder. "Remember that the voice calling for blood is not your own."
"I'm trying," said Jon, his voice barely above a whisper. "But it's so hard..."
Rei stepped closer, knelt down, and placed her hand against Jon's cheek, feeling the feverish heat within him. A cacophony of emotions tumbled through his desperate green eyes.
Then she looked up at Tabris, the message clear in her eyes:
I don't remember what to do.
A hint of a smile played at the corners of Tabris's mouth, and then he began to sing.
As Tabris sang, Jon felt the Elohite's calm wash over him, and the panic in his heart receded. He felt his knotted muscles relaxing as the music drowned out the hissing, shrieking voice calling for him to strike. In that moment hope returned to his heart.
Rei saw it in his eyes, and behind her own another memory sparked. She waited for the appropriate moment in the cadence, and then joined her own voice to Tabris's, blending her love with his peace.
DJ slowly became aware that his surroundings had changed. He hazily remembered Ritsuko standing before him, naked. Then he was falling towards her... strange dream, not tough to figure out the symbolism in that one, though. Or...
He recognized the room as being Ritsuko's living room. His arms still throbbed, but not as urgently. He still felt a bit weak, though.
That's when he became aware that he was sitting on the couch, and he wasn't alone. He was leaning against someone who was gently stroking his hair. He was wrapped in blankets, but he could tell by instinct that it was a woman he was leaning on.
It was then that he became acutely aware that he was stark naked under the blankets.
At this point, he was fully awake.
Looking down he found himself staring into a pair of bright green eyes set in an adorable face.
Well, that explained the weight on his chest. "Hullo there, Chandra. How're you doing, mate?"
"Meow," replied the cat.
"Good to hear it."
Ritsuko's arm descended into his field of view and gently shooed the cat away. He marveled, not for the first time, at the smoothness of her skin. Quite fascinating, so pale, it looked so soft, inviting... His attention was quickly drifting away from conciousness. Blinking, he tried to focus himself a bit more, realizing he wasn't quite as on top of his game as he was accustomed to being.
"Are you feeling OK?"
DJ made an effort to sit a bit more erect so that he might look at her when he spoke, only to be rewarded with renewed spinning of his head. "Much better, love, thanks for asking." He raised his arms from their resting place on top of the blankets to better look at them. They were swathed in gauze. The right had just a simple wrapping—that had been a clean cut. The left was wrapped from the wrist half way to the elbow. The dressing was showing some red in a few places. "Very stylish. From the Ayanami spring collection, aren't they?" he quipped. Then, in a more serious voice, he added, "The left one looks a bit nasty."
She nodded solemnly. "You tore it up pretty badly. I take it you did that breaking in?"
"Frankly I'm not sure. I was in such an all-fired hurry to get to you and all. I think I broke a window, now that I think about it. Sorry."
Ritsuko looked stunned. "You're apologizing for a window?! I don't care if you came through the wall. Don't be silly, I'm just glad that you came."
DJ's head was still at least on 'mix'. "Where'd you get the stuff?"
"For these?" He held up his arms.
"Oh. I keep an emergency kit here. I never know when we might get attacked and I won't be able to get into HQ. Your right arm should heal OK. The left one is probably going to scar. Sorry about that... I was more concerned with closing the wound than anything else."
DJ attempted a cocky smile. "That's quite all right, love. Adds character, I say. Won't be the first scar I've bought myself today, anyway." DJ was becoming aware that Ritsuko was apparently wearing only the robe that had been hanging in the bathroom. "Say, I can't help but notice that, in addition to being patched, I don't seem to be covered in blood. Or much of anything else, for that matter."
Ritsuko averted her eyes and blushed. "I cut your clothes off and bathed you. I... I had to, to make sure you didn't have any other injuries, you understand... You were going into shock and I had to warm you up, so those wet clothes had to go... I was just..." Ritsuko was genuinely embarrassed, and DJ felt his heart go out to her.
"It's OK, love, I understand. Don't worry about it. You're a doctor, nothing you haven't seen before, right?" DJ said the last with a wink that made her blush all the more. "I don't really feel it all that much."
"Oh, I gave you some painkillers too. A topical and an injection. I wanted you to be comfortable."
DJ grinned mischeviously. "Oh, I am, my dear, I am." DJ leaned closer to her, pressed against her side, with his face close to hers. Ritsuko smiled as he did.
Er, hullo? asked DJ of himself. What's the program here?
Whatever, he replied, which wasn't quite the answer he'd been hoping for. What was the world coming to, when a man couldn't even count on his internal dialogues?
"It's been a long time since I've been in a situation like this," she observed.
"Oh, alone with a handsome young man," she said, gesturing airily.
"Not to mention nearly naked."
Ritsuko laughed at that. "Not to mention nearly naked."
"It's been a long time then?" Damn! That's none of your bloody business. Get your head together, Croft!
"Yes..." Her eyes took on a wistful look. "Too long really. There was no time in my life for love. Not with The Mission to attend to." She sighed deeply. "How could I allow myself to love someone when I was fighting to keep emotions out of my life? I couldn't just turn them on and off. And since I couldn't deal with them at work, they became something I needed to avoid."
DJ nodded sadly and, twisting to his right a bit, stroked her cheek tenderly.
Oi, knock that off, he demanded of himself, but he paid himself no mind.
She continued, a single tear rolling down her cheek. "All around me I've watched others enjoying life. But I was able to shut it out. I used to get so jealous of Misato. She always had men falling all over her when we'd go out." She looked off into space for a moment. "I wonder how many of them she went home with?" she asked, without malice.
"Not as many as you might think, love. None actually. Not in the way you mean, anyway."
"So she tells me, and I believe her. Sure, she went home with a few now and then. They might have a few more drinks, maybe snog for a while, but that's all."
"Why? I don't understand..."
Ritsuko's face revealed her confusion. "The scar she got during Second Impact?"
"That's the one. She's ashamed of it, or something like that. Seems many men get turned off by that kind of thing, and she can't take that kind of reaction to something so personal. So you've not a lot to be jealous of, love."
She looked him in the eye, her expression becoming one of appreciation. "And you didn't."
It was DJ's turn to be confused. "I didn't what?"
"You didn't react to it. You didn't let it turn you off, make you shun her too."
DJ shook his head. "No. To me the scar is part of her, and that makes it as beatiful as the rest of her. Any man who lets it repel him is a damned fool."
He said the last with such simple conviction that she had to smile. "You really are a special one, aren't you?"
DJ blushed slightly. "I don't know about that, really. I'm just me, this is the way I am... the way Mum taught me to be."
"Well, I think you're very special indeed. Thank you."
"No thanks need..." DJ was cut short by her lips pressed against his own. Her hand, which had been stroking his hair, pulled his head tighter to hers. His left hand, already raised to her cheek, began to instinctively slide around to the back of her head—before DJ recoiled and moved quickly away from Ritsuko.
"Christ! What'm I doing? This isn't right," he muttered, more to himself than anyone less, a hand pressed to his forehead.
DJ hastily sat up and pulled the blankets up to cover himself. Ritsuko looked pained. She pulled away from him and curled into a small ball on the end of the couch. To DJ she looked for all the world like a terrified child.
"Even you reject me. Not that I can blame you," she sobbed.
Oh shit! DJ thought. Good job, Croft, that was fucking magnificent. What the hell were you thinking, making moves on someone in her state?! Bloody marvelous! You are a complete sodding bastard! What do you do for an encore, kick puppies?
He wished the painkillers would wear off so his head would clear, but he didn't have time to wait for that now. He took a deep breath and plunged forward. "It isn't that, love. It isn't like that at all. It's just... just not right." Oh, well that makes a lot of sense, clears everything right up, doesn't it? Try again! He shook his head to try and clear the rush passion had induced on top of everything else.
"Ritsuko, please... look at me."
Ritsuko slowly turned her head so that she faced him. Fresh tears streaked her cheeks and her chest still heaved with sobs. DJ felt like he'd been punched in the gut. No one would ever look back at this moment and say, "This was his finest hour."
"I don't want to hurt you, I'd never do that. I respect you too much. More than that, I like you. Look... You're not really in the best condition to be making major decisions right now. And I'm not exactly thinking rationally with these drugs in me, and what with being down a pint or two to start with. We just shouldn't do anything now that we might regret later."
"You'd regret sleeping with me?"
DJ gritted his teeth. Nothing like being in a minefield with no map. Christ! If I only had a brain! "God! Ritsuko! I can't tell you how much I've wanted to do that. You're one of the loveliest women I've ever known. But there's more to it than motive, means and opportunity." Mind you, doped up on God knows what and missing so much blood, 'means' might be a little dodgy too—shut up! Shut up! I'm working here, trying to clean up the bloody mess you've made!
Taking a deep breath and shoving away as much of the confusion as he could, he plowed on, "Forgetting Asuka—just for a moment, mind you—you know that we're not really thinking clearly. And if we were ever to be together I want it to be because you really want to. Not because you're scared to be alone. So yes, I'd regret making love to you—if it were for the wrong reasons. I think too highly of you to let you do something now. Also I'm afraid I can't really call myself 'available' right now, and that kind of thing has too much meaning for me to just walk away from it."
Ritsuko sniffed and wiped at her face with the back of her hand. "I'm... I feel so confused. I feel like I'm completely cut off from everyone else. I just want to feel wanted... To feel close to someone. Does that make any sense?" She looked a pleading look at him.
DJ considered for a moment, and then decided. The passion of the preceding moments had definitely passed, and they were on a different level now. He held his blankets open, and nodded to her. Ritsuko sat up, her robe forgotten, and pressed herself against him. Her head rested against his shoulder and her tears felt hot against his skin. She embraced him as if her life depended on it.
Perhaps, he thought, it does.
DJ embraced her in return, drawing the blankets closed around them both in the process.
The sat that way for a long while: DJ silently stroking her hair, Ritsuko quietly sobbing. In time her sobs faded, and her tears ceased to flow.
She turned her face up to look at his. "Thank you... again."
"It's what friends are for, love."
"Friends... I like the sound of that."
DJ brushed stray hairs away from her face. "There are a lot of people who care about you. You could hear that word more often, you only need open up a bit more, y'know. Let people in."
Ritsuko averted her eyes. "I... I don't know how."
"Sure you do. You're doing it right now. Your problem is, you try to carry it all alone. If you open up, before you know it you'll find other people there helping you carry the load.... but you have to take the first step. I'm not going to lie to you, I respect you too much to do that, it is going to be very hard. People will expect you to be as you've always been, and you need to give them time to realize your not the same person you used to be. You're going to feel very alone at first. Just remember you have some good friends."
"I'm scared, DJ. I haven't been scared, I mean really scared, in a long time. I've never needed to rely on someone else. I've always counted on my own ability to pull things through. I do it all myself because I'm afraid to put that kind of responsibility on someone else. It isn't an easy thing to do, sending you out to fight. If the responsibility is mine alone, then the pressure is mine alone. Look at what it's done to me, how could I do this to someone else?"
"How can you keep going this way?"
"I don't know," she answered quietly.
"Well, I do. You can't. On top of that, I won't let you. Like it or not, you're stuck with me now. I'm going to help you through this, even if you end up hating me. I'd rather have you hate me forever than go to your funeral. I don't do tombs newer than the Italian Renaissance."
That last comment caused Ritsuko to crack a smile. "So, where do we start?"
"We already have. We're talking, that's how it starts. Simple, isn't it? All you have to do is talk, sincerely, with another person who is willing to do the same in return. You'd think everyone would be doing it. Unfortunately, it never seems quite so simple in the real world, more's the pity."
"You know, it's been years since I've had a real heart-to- heart conversation with someone. The last person was Misato, but that was so long ago. I guess once I put my guard up I forgot how to take it down."
"I'm glad I could be the one to help, then."
She stared at him intently for a long moment, then replied softly, "So am I."
They settled into a comfortable silence then, the crazy course of the evening having drained them both. They enjoyed the simple comfort of human contact. The only sounds were their breathing, the driving rain outside—clearly audible trough the missing window—and the occasional crash of thunder.
"Well, I'm going to bed," Asuka announced.
Misato glanced at the clock. "It is getting late. Where the hell is DJ?"
"He's such a tough guy, I'm sure he's OK." Asuka's tone implied that she wasn't quite so sure as she claimed. And perhaps there was a hint of jealous insecurity there as well?
Misato decided not to push the issue; no sense worrying Asuka any more then she was already. "Yeah, you're probably right. He's probably hanging out with Maya and John or something. If anything had happened we'd have heard by now. We'll just have to give him hell when he comes back for making us worry, right?"
Asuka adopted a stern expression. "Right!"
"OK. Sleep tight."
"Good night," Asuka replied as she closed the door to her room, "You should go to bed too."
"Oh, I will, soon."
Asuka's door closed.
"Well, it looks like it's just you and me, Pen-Pen."
He looked at her for a moment, head tilted. Then he stretched his flippers, let out a long "waaaauuuuuugggghhhh," waddled over to his fridge and tabbed the door open.
"Oh sure, just leave me all alone."
"Waugh," he replied apologetically. Then he entered the fridge and closed the door.
Misato lay down on the couch and stared at the ceiling. "DJ, you had damn well better be OK," she said to the empty room.
Anyone entering the Wedge would have been in for several shocks. The first would probably have been the unspeakably beautiful, utterly unfathomable music filling the air, a joyous sound that was not a sound, really—not audible to the ear so much as to the soul. The second would have been the darkness of the vending machines and video games, all of them shut down as if out of respect for what was happening in the corner booth. The third would have been the nimbus of blue-white light that surrounded the three people in that booth: the slender, silver-haired boy in the raincoat; the tall, lanky, disheveled young man with his torn clothes and wet, plastered, long black hair that made him resemble a glam-rock poseur; and the girl with red eyes, her chalk-white skin seeming to glow from within, thrown into stark relief by the black shaker-knit sweater and jeans she wore.
Jon's eyes were closed, his hands in Rei's, and the look on his face was one of strangely tormented ecstasy as the song Rei and Tabris were weaving around him built toward its peak. An outside observer might have found the effect curiously erotic.
Deep inside Jon's mind, something dark and sinister, something that was trying to stand firm while the rest of his psyche bent, reed-like, before the power of the celestial song, shattered.
His eyes flew open, eight pupils in stark relief against the glow, and he sucked in a ragged breath; then he slumped, strings cut, into Rei's arms.
Rei and Tabris wound down their song, and the glow died with it. In the deafening silence after they were finished, the video games flickered back to life, one by one.
At roughly the same time Misato was admonishing the air, DJ and Ritsuko were discovering something: they were both about to fall asleep.
"Um, Ritsuko, love... it's getting kind of late."
"Hmm..." She glanced at the clock. "Oh, God, you're right."
There followed a tense silence.
"Well... It's kind of late for me to go home." DJ blinked as something occurred to him. "Besides, it occurs to me that you cut up my only set of clothes. My, that's going to be fun to explain. Anyway, I'll sleep on the couch, if that's all right."
Ritsuko was very quiet for a long moment. DJ was beginning to think perhaps she wasn't comfortable with his staying when she finally spoke:
"I..." She turned to look him in the eye. "I don't want to be alone tonight."
Ah, Christ, didn't we just leave this party?
"Ritsuko, I'm not sure..."
She cut him off before he could finish. "I don't mean it like that. I just... don't want to be alone. Do you understand?"
DJ nodded solemnly. "Yes, love, I understand. I'd be honored to stay with you."
Ritsuko smiled her brightest smile yet at him. "Thank you."
"If you keep thanking me I'm going to develop another complex." DJ tousled her hair a bit. "C'mon you, let's get to bed. I'd carry you, but..." Instead of finishing, DJ held up his arms.
Ritsuko laughed. "My hero!" DJ's expression brought further waves of laughter from her. "That's quite all right, I can walk." Ritsuko stood, completely unselfconscious now in front of DJ, and helped him to his feet. His head felt a little light, but far better than he had felt in the bathroom. Ritsuko's expression became one of concerned professionalism. "Are you OK?"
DJ considered it seriously for a moment, running a mental inventory. Satisfied, he replied, "No, not really. But considering the big picture, I think I'm going to be fine. Shall we?"
Ritsuko smiled and led him by the hand to her bed.
"He'll sleep until morning," said Kevin Nelson of Jon, as the latter reposed in Rei Ayanami's arms. "When he wakes, he'll be himself again... or as much 'himself' as he can be, knowing now what he is and what we are."
Rei regarded her sleeping beloved for a few moments, then turned her eyes to Kevin.
"Now everything changes," she mused.
Kevin smiled. "Not necessarily. He loves you, you love him, or the song wouldn't have worked."
"What about you?" she wondered. "You were singing too."
"Balance," Kevin replied. "Am I not of the Choir of Elohim?"
Rei nodded, but Kevin hadn't met her eyes when he said it. There was silence for a few moments.
"Do you need help getting him home?" Kevin asked.
"No," said Rei. "I can manage."
Kevin nodded, and, without another word, turned to go.
"Wait," said Rei, making him pause. "Where are you going?"
"I won't be far," said Kevin. "I never have been... "
Then he was gone, leaving Rei with her memories, her questions, and Jon.
The next morning Ritsuko awoke to a wonderful smell. She rolled over and discovered DJ had slipped away while she still slept. She next discovered that her robe was missing. With nothing for it, and with last night's openness still in her mind, she strolled out of the bedroom to look for DJ. She figured the source of that smell was a good place to start.
DJ was in the kitchen, puttering happily between counter, stove and toaster, having put several different breakfast dishes down to cook and improvised a coffee percolator out of a Dutch oven and a pasta drainer (don't ask). He had on her terry robe, which, except for being somewhat oversized and pink, didn't look all that odd, and Chandra was draped over his shoulder, watching his every move intently. He noticed her approaching, selected a mug, and poured her some coffee. "Good morning, Doctor Akagi! How do you take it?"
"Black it is." DJ handed her the mug (Dr. Science: I Know More Than You Do) and she took a sip.
"Mmmm... This is wonderful!"
"Thank you. If there's one skill you developing travelling the world and exploring lost ruins, it's how to make a decent cup of java. Even if you are English. In some parts of the world it's a useful currency." DJ paused for her laughter. "I hope you don't mind, but I raided your cupboards a bit. I wasn't sure what you liked, so I kind of winged it."
By the looks of it, he'd outdone himself. Ritsuko was speechless.
"By the way, I cleaned up the bathroom for you. I felt guilty... after all, it was my clumsiness caused all the mess in the first place. The clothes went in the trash, of course. I think I managed to clean up all the blood. I put your things on the vanity by your clothes, though I trust you won't be needing them again."
Ritsuko still didn't know what to say, and DJ kept up his non-stop delivery.
"Hope you don't mind me wearing the robe. Pink really isn't my color but I have this phobia about frying food in my altogether. Anyway, we have pancakes, scrambled eggs, the toast will be up presently..." Pop! "...right on time, just like dear old BritRail. The bacon is just about done, and I think the oatmeal is just the right consistency. Which would you like, hmm?"
Ritsuko just stared at him, slack-jawed, stunned. She couldn't remember the last time someone had cooked her breakfast. In fact, she wasn't sure that anyone ever had, save her mother.
"You're not upset, are you, love?" DJ asked, concerned.
"No! No... Nothing like that. I'm just shocked, and... I don't know..."
Ritsuko smiled. "Yes... happy."
"So, what'll it be?"
"I guess I'll start with some pancakes and bacon."
"Coming right up!"
Misato was still on the couch where she had fallen asleep the night before, waiting for DJ to come home, when the phone rang. Startled, she nearly fell to the floor before catching herself and sitting up. Squinting at the clock she cursed whomever was calling at such an early hour, then answered the phone.
"Hello?" she croaked.
"Hullo, Misato, sorry to wake you."
"DJ! Where the hell are you?!"
"Good morning to you, too. Listen, I can tell you're upset, but I know you'll understand when you hear the story."
"It had better be a good one. Where are you?"
"I'm at Ritsuko's."
"Ritsuko's??" Misato jumped, she hadn't heard Asuka emerge from her room. She waved for Asuka to hush.
"Yes, Ritsuko's. Listen, it is a long story and I really don't want to tell it over the phone. I'd like you to get hear as quickly as you can, it's important."
Misato started to panic. "Why, is something wrong?"
"Everything is under control—now. But I really would like you to come here. Don't get yourself killed getting here, but please do hurry."
"OK. This had better be good."
"Oh, I assure you, it is. Oh, one other little thing..."
"The clothes I was wearing last night were... er, destroyed. Could you be a dear and bring me a fresh change? Oh, and my jacket and helmet if you could, I seem to have forgotten them in my haste last night."
Misato was stunned into silence for a second. "You're at Ritsuko's and you don't have any clothes?"
"What?!" Asuka demanded, causing Misato to hush her again.
"Now now, love, you should be ashamed. It's nothing like that, all will be explained. And I heard Asuka, tell her that for me, would you? I'd hate to have her getting all jealous and seething on me over nothing. Not that she isn't adorable when she's seething."
"Should I bring her?"
"Mmm... no, I should say not. This is something I need you alone for. I'm afraid I can't really explain it over the phone; but trust me when I say it is important."
"OK. I'll see you shortly. I can't wait to hear this one."
"It's worth it, trust me. If you hurry along you can still catch some of the fabulous breakfast I made. I'm afraid I went a little overboard and made everything I could find instead of picking something... "
"Right. See you in a few."
"Don't forget the clothes."
"That's a dear. Bye, love."
Misato just stood there in silence, staring at the phone, until Asuka burst out, "Well, aren't you going to tell me what he said?!"
"He wanted me to tell you that it isn't what you are thinking and he doesn't want you to get upset over nothing. He'll explain it all later, but right now he wants us to trust him."
"What happened to his clothes? Why is he at Ritsuko's?"
"I really don't know. He told me he'd explain it all when I got there. I'm going over as soon as I shower and dress."
"I'm going with you."
"No, you're going to stay here. He told me he needs to see me alone. I don't know what's going on, but he sounded very serious about that. Don't worry, I'm sure you'll get the chance to grill him later."
"You bet I will." Asuka was clearly relieved to know he was OK, but also clearly a bit confused and jealous. But then, how was one supposed to react to the news that one's lover had spent the night at the home of another, very attractive, woman. Let alone having somehow managed to lose his clothes! But she also knew DJ wouldn't do anything to hurt her—so mostly she was just trying to grapple with the conflicting emotions. Instinct vs. intellect had always been an uphill battle for her, anyway.
"Well, this mystery isn't going to get solved if I just stand around here." With that Misato went to prepare for the day; she suspected it was going to be a long and confusing one.
DJ hung up the phone and returned to the kitchen to rejoin Ritsuko.
She looked at him expectantly. "Well?"
"She's on her way. You might want to put something on. I suspect this is going to be a bit confusing for her to start. No need giving her too many ideas."
Ritsuko nodded, looking distinctly relieved, but also nervous. "What do I do when she gets here? How do we keep going?"
DJ smiled at her, and clasped her hand in his. "All we need to do, is make sure we keep talking."
With a soft click, the lights in the conference room went dark, and a projector behind the far wall began projecting footage on the screen.
The first scene showed a launch of Unit 03 from the POV of various NERV security cameras. There was no narrative accompaniment as the Eva was propelled up the shaft, only the whine of the machinery. The view switched to an above-ground camera just as EVA-03 reached the surface. For a few seconds, there was no movement; then a blinding bolt of energy from an offscreen source tore across the field of view and into the chest of the still-motionless unit. A second, smaller image popped up in the upper right of the frame, this one labeled "Fifth Angel". Apparently it referred to the giant octahedron which dwarfed the buildings over which it hovered, and from which the beam was emanating.
After the heavily damaged Eva was finally hauled back below the surface, the playback froze and a text overlay appeared at the bottom of the screen:
Evangelion Unit 03
PILOT: Jon Ellison (Fourth Child)
Previous to the Fifth Angel incident (in which pilot
sustained critical injuries), Ellison had suffered
through a combat situation aboard an untested and
improperly calibrated Evangelion unit. Despite this,
his loyalty to NERV has remained fanatical. He was
raised by the military, and is NERV's most experienced
fighter. Recently reassigned to EVA-00.
Fully brainwashed, and dangerously competent. Cannot be reasoned with. No regard for human life.
The next sequence was dated a few hours later. It portrayed a successful counterattack by Units 00 and 01, but also graphically displayed the damage done to the victors. As the camera focused in on the smoldering remains of the face-down orange Eva, another written commentary presented itself:
Evangelion Unit 00
PILOT: Rei Ayanami (First Child)
The trauma of the Mount Wachusett incident, among
others, has served to squelch any temptation to resist
NERV personnel. Ayanami has now become completely
loyal to NERV (motivated by fear of retaliation and a
near-total lack of self-worth), and is not above
sacrificing herself in battle in order to escape her
no-win situation. Recently reassigned to EVA-03.
Very dangerous. Suicidal nature makes her a constant
kamikaze threat. Be cautious.
Up next was a medley of EVA-02 footage, none of it pleasant. The undersea battle with the Fourth Angel, the near-fatal retrieval operation within Mount Kilauea, the orbital engagement with Sahaquiel... each scene more horrifying than the last, each image begging the question, "How could anyone have survived this?"
Evangelion Unit 02 (out of service)
PILOT: Asuka Sōryū-Langley (Second Child)
Most outspoken of all Evangelion pilots. Langley's
resistance to authority withstood standard intimidation
techniques, so NERV command staff began subjecting her
to excessive-risk situations in order to scare her back
into line. This, too, proved fruitless, prompting
subsequent extreme measures. Currently hospitalized
with extensive injuries, and facing a lengthy
rehabilitation period. Used by NERV as an example to
the other children. Assigned unit (EVA-02) has been
Physically crippled, and emotionally scarred. Currently
undergoing "re-education" by NERV personnel.
As if to answer the question, "What kind of extreme measures?" the final scenes were a dizzying montage of the most vicious moments of the EVA-01 vs. EVA-02 confrontation. Adding to the spectacle were overlaid sound clips of Asuka screaming and DJ Croft shouting incoherently in defiance. The latter were, truth be told, excerpted from a much later conflict—DJ's feral assault on Zeruel, before Unit 01 ran out of power. But there was no way to tell, unless you had been there. The audio splicing had been performed seamlessly.
Evangelion Unit 01 (temporarily out of service)
PILOT: Derek Joshua (DJ) Croft (Fifth Child)
Originally brought into NERV through a combination of
blackmail and outright threats, now one of their most
valued pilots. Extremely violent and erratic, has been
driven over the edge by NERV brainwashing and excessive
psychological trauma. Highly capable and unpredictable
in combat. Will follow any order given by NERV command
staff. Assigned unit (EVA-01) went berserk during last
engagement, and is currently inoperable. SEELE knows
of no other successful synchronizations between Croft
and other Evangelion units.
Extremely dangerous and unstable. Unlikely to appear
in combat until EVA-01 is repaired, but should be
avoided at all costs if encountered.
Calmly, Jacqueline Natla stepped away from her podium and stood directly in front of the projector, which displayed the final frame (the image of a giant purple fist clenched around EVA-02's shattered entry plug) onto the Colonel's white shirt. Turning her gaze to the young boy who sat across the table, she asked him, "Do you understand now why you have been brought here?"
Still terrified and shocked by the footage he had just viewed, unable to look away from the horrific scene, it took Shinji Ikari a moment to snap back to reality. "Not... not really," he finally stuttered.
"You have seen what has come of your father's ambition, and the atrocities that he has committed against children no older than yourself. It cannot be allowed to continue. We need you to stop your father, and to stop NERV, before they are ready to confront us."
It only took a moment for the words to sink in. Shaking his head violently, Shinji screamed, "I can't! He never has, and never will listen to anything that I have to say. After I left there the last time, he won't even acknowledge my existence!" Finally turning away from the screen, he added softly, "I'm sorry... but there's nothing I can do."
"Actually, there is."
Shinji hesitantly cast his gaze back toward the screen as he heard the mechanical click of the projector's remote control. It now showed a full-body shot of another Evangelion unit, its identifying marks unfamiliar.
A confident grin spread across Natla's face. She could tell from Shinji's expression that he understood the full implications of the slide. "This is Evangelion Unit 04, the third of the production models. NERV believes that it was destroyed in an activation accident, but as you can see, it is very much intact. We confiscated it from the Second Branch as an insurance policy, since there already were signs that NERV might try to move against us. We have equipped it with an Elerium collider, so there is no need for an umbilical cable, and the battery life limitations which NERV's units face will not apply to EVA-04."
"You want me to pilot it, don't you?"
"Of course. You're the only one who can. NERV possesses all of the other Children known to be capable of piloting an Eva, and it's quite possible that there are no more Children to be discovered. You could be our only hope." Turning back toward the projector screen, Natla quietly added, "But it's your choice, not ours."
The room was silent for several moments as Shinji gazed silently at the picture of the predominantly silver Evangelion. His mind raced and quarreled with itself as a myriad of emotions fought for control. He recalled the terror of watching Unit 00 go berserk before his eyes. He shuddered as he pondered what misfortunes might befall him as a pilot. A voice in the back of his mind implored him to turn down SEELE as he had turned down NERV, to spare himself the emotional turmoil which would only worsen if he became more involved with the conflict. Surely it was better for him to leave the crisis in the hands of others, as he had done so many times before.
And then, he thought of the other Children. Rei Ayanami, left battered and bloody as he watched helplessly. EVA-02's pilot, crushed and nearly killed by an armored hand that could just as easily have been his. The boys at the controls of Units 01 and 03, brainwashed and broken by his ruthless, out-of-control father.
Tears welled up in his eyes, and his resolve strengthened. Father be damned—the Children had to be set free.
I must not run away.
I must not run away.
I must not run away!
"I'll do it."
I'll tip my hat to the new constitution
Take a bow for the new revolution
Smile and grin at the change all around
Pick up my guitar and play
Just like yesterday
Then I'll get on my knees and pray
We don't get fooled again
Neon Exodus Evangelion 3:6
Welcome to the Machine
"I have nothing left to live for but the struggle against them."